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From writing restaurant reviews to recording podcasts, innovative learning is on the rise as the Benjamin Franklin Scholars course design grants continue to fund a special set of courses.

The BFS course design grants were launched in May 2011, and the BFS program accepted proposals for new courses through March 16.

This past fall, grants were awarded to four courses for the 2011-12 school year. These courses were Ancient Rome and America, The Doll Seminar, Global Food Security and Food in Islamic Middle East Seminar.

“The Benjamin Franklin Scholars Program has been a center for course innovation where professors have a chance to try new techniques with a small group of students without requisites,” Director of the BFS program Peter Struck said. “The grants are meant to tie into these things that BFS is all about and give money to professors to develop these new courses.”

According to Struck, the grants — which range from $2,000 to $5,000 to start up a new class — look to support courses that are “new, different and experimental and are going to create a richer learning environment for the students with new teaching techniques and a lot of different ideas.”

For example, Ancient Rome and America, which was taught in the fall, simultaneously studied the histories of Ancient Rome and America with several creative assignments, such as writing a satirical commentary on football games like ancient Roman writers did with gladiatorial games.

According to history professor Cam Grey, who taught the course, the grant gave him both financial resources as well as intellectual support and opportunity.

“It gave me the funding to facilitate some of the initiatives that I have, such as buying microphones so that students could make a podcast for one of their assignments,” Grey said.

Near Eastern languages and civilizations professor Heather Sharkey, who is teaching the course about the history of food in the Islamic Middle East this semester, added that the BFS program organizers “provided a supportive atmosphere for the faculty who received the grants.”

“The faculty recipients met together once to discuss our course planning, and we’ll have a follow-up discussion in the next month or so to discuss how our classes went,” she wrote in an email. “I enjoyed the opportunity to meet faculty from various departments to talk about teaching.”

The BFS program is currently reviewing courses to award grants to for the following year. According to Struck, the first year has been relatively successful and the program is excited to move on to its second year by making “incremental advances.”

“We are still at an experimental stage but have attracted ideas for new courses that we would not have had otherwise and have broadened the BFS fold,” Struck said. “It’s too early to declare any grand successes, but we are adding to the general environment that supports innovation and we want to continue to expand this and student learning at the same time.”

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