Class planning, part 2

Posted: January 30, 2009 in Brainstorm, Course Design, List, Pedagogy

Okay. Let’s talk course goals.

The way I figure it, the first step to designing a course is to figure out what the course is about. What it’s teaching. Once I know what I want to impart, what I want to talk about, I can start working up a reading list and group of assignments to ensure that the message gets across.

For the sake of ease, I’m going to try to come up with three main goals for each of my potential classes. Once again, those potential classes are:

  1. Rhetoric of Evil
  2. Rhetoric of Science Fiction
  3. Rules and Loopholes
  4. Future technology in the classroom

Starting from the top then:Rhetoric of Evil: This is a class meant to discuss both views of evil and its uses in rhetoric. So I guess the first goal would be define evil. What makes someone or something evil? This is partially a question of ethics, which should be fun because it will allow debate as we look at the different ethical theories.

The next question to ask, I think, would be: is evil important? That is, does evil accomplish anything? So goal number two would be to find ways in which evil can sometimes be useful. Basically, looking for a definition of ‘necessary evil.’

Finally, we want to look at where evil is used, as we have defined it, both to accomplish things and to prevent accomplishment.

So, three goals: Define evil, Find the importance of evil, and How evil is used.

Rhetoric of Science fiction: My main goal in this class is to examine the implicit arguments being made in science fiction. The way I see it, much of sci-fi is an argument about how technology can change the world. How one shift can change everything. While there needs to be a definition of science fiction as well, I don’t think that’s a particularly relevant course goal; more a single lecture. But we might want to examine sub-categories of sci-fi: near future, distant future, and time travel. There are a lot more than those three, but I think those three will be a useful place to start.

Three sub categories mean three basic goals. With the overarching goal of looking at the arguments made by sci-fi, we can ask each one about those arguments. What is the significance of the single new technology being used in the near future genre? What is the most important and significant change in the distant future, and what is it trying to say? How does the author handle problems of time-travel, and what is the argument for travelling through time at all? (after all, if you say they can’t go to the future, then send them to the past and bring them back, you’ve violated your own rule. Unless you can explain how going from the past to the present isn’t travelling to the future–relative to the past).

So, three goals: Examine the rhetoric of having one major/minor technology change the world, Examine the rhetoric of using a far flung future to tell a story relevant to the world today, and Examine the rhetoric used to explain or circumvent the physics of time travel.

Rules and Loopholes: I came up with this idea thinking about role playing games. One of the major things that’ll happen in any large scale game is an argument about rules. Are there rules that are unfair or unbalanced? If so, how do we balance them? Are we using the rules in a situation they weren’t meant for? If so, how to we adjust them? This rule is unclear; how to we interpret it?

Before you can start answering these questions, you need to have some knowledge of how to do it. When designing ‘house rules’ you need both an understanding of your philosophy of rules changes and an understanding of how to ‘test’ the rules without actually using them. So we need a crash course in methodology (not method) and in thought experiments. Shouldn’t take that long, but the first goal should be developing a rules philosophy (like “Keep things as close to the book as possible” or “Make sure everyone has fun” or “make combat fast and deadly”) and experimenting with thought experiments.

Once we have those two skills under our belt, we can look at the rules themselves. So first we try to use our thought experiments to clarify rules. The places that don’t make total sense, or that don’t explain everything. We need to look for, find, and seal loopholes.

Then we apply the philosophy of rules to developing a set of ‘house rules.’ Here we adjust, remove, and add rules as we see fit to try to develop a coherent system that will fit our philosophy without forcing us to completely rewrite the whole system.

This idea, if it actually could be a class, seems to be writing itself. I could break the class into groups, each with an agreed upon philosophy. The text books could be actual roleplaying games, a book on game theory, and one on thought experiments, and the project could be to write up actual ‘house rules.’ Still, it makes me suspicious: is this something that is a legitimate academic exercise? Are there valuable skills that can be learned from doing this? I don’t know. My gut says yes, but I wonder.

Anyway, three goals: Learn to develop guiding principles, Learn to find and close loopholes, and Learn to adjust and replace rules as needed.

Using Future Technology in the classroom: What’s weird is that this is both the one closest to my research and the one I’m having the most trouble with. Maybe just following the way I imagine my research will go will help.

That means the first step is to look into the past and see how new technologies have been brought into the classroom. We can look at overhead projectors, computers, blogs, or even go far back into the printing press. Once we look at these, we try to figure out what strategies were used to bring them successfully into the classroom.

Step two would be to follow rational predictions and figure out what technology was coming. This would be an examination of current theory, and of the bleeding edge of technology. There may be a bit of guesswork as we tried to figure out what other effects these new technologies would have, but the important thing is to come up with a few potential test cases.

Step three would be to figure out how to use those new technologies in the classroom. This would be done using the strategies from the older stuff, adapting, and applying it to the new. Hopefully, some general strategies would develop that could be used for any technology, but more likely, we’d at least have ways to use technology that may actually exist.

So three goals: Discover Strategies used in the past, figure out soon-to-come technologies, and Develop strategies for those new technologies.

I don’t know if any of this will work, or if any of these are good ideas. That’s a discussion for another time.

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