“My primary objective is taking them far outside their comfort zone to offer the greater opportunity to change their perspective on who they are as a student.”
From teaching in the slums of New Delhi to taking safari trips with students in Tanzania, New England College professor Bryan Partridge infuses his life experiences into his courses.
His goal: inspire critical thinking, creativity and confidence in students’ abilities.
The Associate Professor of Writing joined the NEC faculty more than 12 years ago, bringing with him personal lessons of discovery from his time island hopping with his wife in Thailand and running a hostel in New Zealand.
After a year overseas, Partridge returned home, earned a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies and started teaching at NEC.
Since then, he’s had the opportunity to do both – travel and teach NEC students abroad.
“In the undergraduate program I do a lot of international trips and I love seeing the look in students’ eyes when they have that moment, that ‘a-ha!’ moment that people talk about,” he said.
Partridge and his students have spent a week learning about the culture in Cuba, 10 days on a safari in Tanzania and taught English to children in orphanages in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
“The orphanages were certainly the most rewarding. It was very tiring work for the students, but the engagement on the part of the students was incredible.”
Today, Partridge brings those “a-ha” moments to life by challenging students to think outside the box and further their thought processes through his writing and composition courses.
“I teach mainly creative writing, so most of the online students that come in, the first thing they say is, ‘I don’t know how to write creatively and this scares me beyond words.’ And so what I do during the first unit is try to allow students to find their creative voice.”
Partridge says everyone has a different form of creativity and his goal is to encourage students to explore their creative voices without reservation, something he has learned from teaching online.
“I got into online teaching not really knowing much about it. My whole dissertation actually was about the ways our language is changing. And when I started my dissertation, it was to prove that the incoming college student was ruining the written language.”
However, as Partridge continued working with online students, he found that wasn’t true.
“What I realized is people just need to be taught the difference between academic writing and stream of consciousness social writing. The writing people are doing on Facebook and social media is one form of writing. The problem is they’re not being taught the difference between the two.”
Partridge is now broadening students’ understanding of writing and helping “change the lens in which they view writing.”
To help motivate those who may feel intimidated, Partridge uses what they’re familiar with – social media. One assignment calls for students to research an article posted by one of their friends on Facebook, then figure out if it’s true or false.
“Through that process, they’re learning how to use the online databases, they’re learning to test their own assumptions, they’re learning not to just – you know, you see something on a blurb on the news and you go to the cafeteria and you start telling people, without ever deciding whether or not that’s factual information.”
Partridge says students will be challenged.
“Life challenges us, school challenges us and there are going to be courses that we struggle with. Life gets in the way at times, and it’s taking a deep breath, remembering that education is a journey and there’s really no greater feeling in the world than when you walk across the stage, shake the president’s hand, and get that diploma.”
The son of an engineer and a scientist, Partridge was told not to pursue a writing career because his family said it wouldn’t pay enough.
He chased his dreams anyway.
“I wake up every morning loving coming to my job so, I mean if I can continue doing that, something’s going well,” he said.
By teaching online, Partridge is connecting and developing personal relationships with students all across the country. From working mothers returning to college to high school graduates trying to figure out their calling, being part of someone’s educational journey is gratifying for Partridge.
“I think New England College really provides the opportunity to get to know the professors face to face, whether that’s through video chat, whether that’s through a variety of options. But also the conversations we have, they’re personal, they’re educational, and they’re impactful.”
In his courses, students will grow and apply what they’ve learned in their everyday lives.
“Taking every reading and taking every assignment as a very important assignment provides you with an opportunity to really get the most out of your education,” he said. “A degree is a degree, but if you really put the time and effort into the degree that you earn, then when you go into the professional world, it’s going to have a lasting effect on what you’re able to do.”