With fascinating 3-minute lectures, faculty have made i³ one of OWU’s most popular annual events.
What can anyone possibly learn in three minutes? If the instructor is an Ohio Wesleyan professor, you might learn how to feed the planet, ace a job interview, understand the personality of a volcano, or whether it’s ever morally justifiable to cheat in sports. (Hint: The answer is not “only when you’re playing Denison.”)
Since creating the i³ (pronounced “i-cubed”) program four years ago, Ohio Wesleyan faculty have gained a reputation for teaching big ideas in small chunks. The i³ name stands for 3-minute lectures delivered with ideas, insight, and imagination.
Here’s how it works. In the spring, students vote for the nine faculty members they want to hear deliver a 3-minute lecture on the topic of the professor’s choice. The faculty develop their topics, trim the information down to the bare essentials, and, during the first few weeks of fall semester, practice incessantly.
Then in mid-September, the campus gathers at noon, and in a program emceed by students, the faculty deliver their 3-minute (ish) gems.
The i³ event has become one of the most popular happenings on campus, attracting standing-room- only crowds of 400-500 students, faculty, and staff.
Anna Davies ’19 attended the inaugural i³ event as a first-year student and has returned each year. “I-cubed is my favorite Ohio Wesleyan event,” she says. “For a learner like me, a liberal arts school was the prime place to connect my interests and explore new subjects. I-cubed provided all of this in one afternoon.”
“This is such a quintessential OWU event,” says Assistant Professor of Modern Foreign Languages Mary Anne Lewis Cusato. “I-cubed represents all disciplines, and the philosophy behind it is that we all have much to learn from one another, that we can all understand one another, and that education is relevant and entertaining.”
President Rock Jones has been a vocal supporter, and always stakes out his seat amid the campus community. “This event has rapidly become a true signature for OWU,” he says. “I know of no other time when we see students, faculty, administrators, and hourly staff gather to share a common intellectual experience. The breadth and depth of the presentations represent our commitment to liberal education at its best.
“For me it’s especially nice to sit, if only briefly, where our students sit regularly.”
The topics and teaching tactics at an i³ event run the gamut. Some faculty address global topics and current events (like climate change or Confederate statues), others explore deeply personal issues (surviving cancer or connecting your life and your art), while others delve into some of our most complex concepts (the nature of consciousness or time).
All agree that teaching a lesson that will stick in the minds of such a wide audience in only three minutes is a mighty assignment.
Associate Professor of Philosophy Erin Flynn says, “It’s no surprise that the biggest challenge was crafting a three-minute presentation of the idea. In class, we’re used to being able to elaborate, very often in collaboration with students. It was a good exercise in concision, which is a virtue always worth developing.”
“The talk has to be laser-focused,” adds Professor of Economics Bob Gitter.
One common denominator of the lectures is that the faculty are presenting topics they care about passionately.
Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Sean McCulloch says the event is a great way for students to find new classes. “I tell students, ‘If you can ever take a class in the favorite topic of a professor, you’re in for a good time.’ I-cubed is a cool way for students to quickly see a lot of ‘favorite topics’ of lots of different faculty, often in fields very different than what the students are taking courses in.”
Some faculty say the i³ experience has affected their day-to-day teaching.
This includes Assistant Professor of Zoology Dustin Reichard, who had the audience enraptured with his talk “On the Origin and Evolution of Genitalia.”
“Now I find myself thinking more about the basics of complicated topics,” Reichard says. “If I had to present this topic in under five minutes, what would I emphasize and how would I make it memorable and engaging for the students? I guess partitioning my lectures into smaller chunks is something that I consider even more frequently now than I did before i³.”
Chief Communications Officer Will Kopp developed i³ to shine a spotlight on the great teaching at Ohio Wesleyan and to create a bank of short videos that prospective students and their parents could use to see the quality of teaching they will get when they come to OWU.
“All liberal arts colleges talk about their great teaching,” Kopp says. “But at OWU, we’re going to show you. We’re going to prove it. Whether it’s Shala Hankison talking about the mating strategies of fish or Ed Kahn telling us how theater can change the world, these faculty are so engaging that you immediately want to sign up for their classes.”
Kopp says the large and sometimes boisterous i³ crowd also shows prospective students the passion for academic exploration at OWU.
That’s what happened with OWU junior Akul Rishi. He’s from Delhi, India, so the internet was his principal college search tool. When he was looking at OWU’s website and astrophysics major, he came across Perkins-Howard Professor of Physics and Astronomy Bob Harmon’s i³ lecture, “Has Anyone Ever Told You That You Are Star Material?”
“When I saw Dr. Harmon’s i³ lecture, I thought, if this is the kind of thinking that this school offers, that’s exactly what I want,” Rishi says.
As an OWU student, Rishi continues to attend the i³ lectures, and in the summer of 2019, he served as a research assistant with Harmon through the Summer Science Research Program.
Joining the hundreds of students at the event each year is an expanding “club” of faculty who’ve delivered i³ lectures.
“I think that faculty who have done the i³ talks really understand how hard it is to do,” says Associate Professor of Zoology Shala Hankison, “so there is a bond there in being part of the group that has gone through the experience.”
The presence of so many faculty colleagues – along with multiple video cameras – also heightens the pressure on presenters.
Harmon, who delivered one of the first i³ lectures, says, “Honestly, I’ve never been more nervous before giving a presentation than I was at i³. I’m not sure exactly why, since I have given presentations to fellow astronomers at professional conferences. I think the fact that my OWU colleagues are people I know and see on a regular basis must have something to do with it.”
Ohio Wesleyan’s Office of University Communications works with videographer Mark Schmitter ’12 to create high-quality videos of each mini-lecture, using up to five different cameras.
“With the staging and video production, we want to showcase our faculty like the rock stars that they are,” says Kopp.
The videos are featured on OWU’s YouTube channel and website. In total, they’ve been viewed more than 35,000 times.
The most viewed has been Associate Professor of French Mary Anne Lewis Cusato’s presentation “Chuck Norris in Algeria,” in which a joke about the tough-guy actor expands into a discussion about globalization and the spread of culture. By mid-July 2019, that video had been viewed more than 17,000 times, with more than 550 “likes.”
The unique i³ program has been so successful that OWU Trustee Colleen Nissl ’72 provided the leadership and resources for the University to copyright the i³ logo.