Cool curricula coming to colleges

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2000

Classes aren't always a slog. More than a few colleges and universities are attracting students by offering courses with new trendy slants.

A few examples:

"From Bach to Rock," offered at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Music professor and course creator Robert Garwell covers both popular and classical musical styles, with students creating both audio and visual material with high-tech and traditional equipment. "The course is not about music fundamentals, but how the elements of music work," he said.

"Paranormal Phenomena," offered at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. "This course examines the nature of phenomena that are believed by some to arise as a result of forces beyond the bounds of accepted science," explained Louis Manza, assistant professor of psychology. Critical thinking and skepticism of the paranormal, science and the media, spiritualism, ESP, astrology, psychics, UFOs and alien abductions, science versus religion, near-death experiences, pseudoscience and alternative medicine are all fodder for the course.

"Philosophy of Science Fiction," offered at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. This course is a new take on humanism, with Dr. Anne Smith, assistant professor of philosophy, using the movie, "Blade Runner," to examine the concept of humanism.

"Dinosauria," offered at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. This wide-ranging course covers everything from the history of the dinosaur hunters to dinosaur anatomy. Students learn about dinosaur eating habits, reproduction, evolution, living habitats, biological activities, whether they were warm- or cold-blooded, their relationship to birds, and finally, their extinction 65 million years ago. "The students really enjoy it," said Dr. Delbert Gann, associate professor of geology. "I bring in skulls, teeth, eggs, models and even copralites." Required reading and watching are book and movie versions of Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park." Gann said students write papers comparing them and noting scientific errors.

"Medieval Drama," offered at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. "Once considered merely a poor relation of Shakespearean theater, medieval drama has now emerged as a vibrant field of study in its own right," said Chris Fee, assistant professor of English. After academic study of the field, students stage a medieval play outdoors, in the manner of the time.

"Singing Psych," offered by Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. Billy Joel's "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" is theme song for this introduction to psychology. Professor Fred Ribich also uses songs like "The Logical Song" by Supertramp to teach the identity-versus-confusion stage of Eric Erickson's eight stages of development. Listen for "Islands in the Stream" by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers to illustrate Erickson's intimacy-versus-isolation stage. "This method of teaching psychology reinforces the notion that art imitates life," said Ribich. "If psychology is examining critical aspects of our existence, then it makes sense that art, or music, reflects our critical thoughts and emotions."

"Socratic Accounting," offered at the University of Richmond, Richmond, Va. Students already know that 2 plus 2 equals 4. But why? Joe Hoyle, professor of accounting, poses that question to students. "Accounting is a wonderful subject to help a student to learn to reason," said Hoyle. "The Socratic method forces them to do that reasoning in front of a group of their peers."

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