My seminar class is now into the second project of the semester. Although the first projects were due at the end of the first quarter, the presentations took several classes, due to the breadth and depth of the work they shared. The presentations varied from slide shows, a TED style talk, an original spoken word, to a workshop. We went well beyond the two classes we had allotted for presentation. While we were wrapping up the first project, we began to contemplate what would be next – with no set curriculum, we had to devote some time and thought to it.
As we approached the new project, there were a series of decisions to make. The first decision was whether to do shared work or individual research again. After some discussion, the students chose to do individual work but under a common theme. Proposed themes were revolution, scandal, and innovation. Scandal is the one that generated the most enthusiasm. We quickly dismissed anything that was really just gossip as not worthy of attention and effort. Students set out to find their scandals, a task that was easier for some than others. We may have to have a fairly broad definition of scandal in order not to be too limiting. So far, the list of topics includes: Monica Lewinsky, Valerie Plame affair, Bill Cosby, Chappaquiddick, Dyncorp, NCAA violations. There are a few who have not settled in yet.
Today we had to decide on a plan for presentations. One student arrived about half an hour early and we started talking about it. Her idea was to have a roundtable type discussion where each person would tell the story behind the scandal and why the scandal matters. She wanted to do “techless” presentations, with maybe a posterboard instead. She brought that plan to the class which approved it, with the modification that the chalkboards and white boards in the room be used as a place to put images that students would connect as they told their story “Olivia Pope style.” Beyond just the stories, students will share their essential questions with the class, which could be about corporate power, presidential power, etc. I also challenged them to add a new type of source to the mix that they used for the first project. Many of them will be looking at media sources, such as historical newspapers. Given the nature of the topics, they will need to scrutinize their sources carefully and be certain they know the difference between allegation and confirmed information.
After that conversation about process, they locked into their research. There is a certain energy in the room when students are engaged in their work – even silently – that is palpable. They have a limited time for this project, as it will be due by Dec. 12, at the latest. After that, we shift into exam week and winter break. They decided that they did not want this to carry over break. We will do something else for the final two weeks of the course in January. Several students are lobbying to have this class extend to become a full-year course. A few said they could not imagine being in a “regular” class again after this. They value the autonomy of their work and the community they have constructed, I think. So do I.