Offbeat classes lighten course loads
August 1, 2000
STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Classes aren't always a slog. More than a few colleges and universities
attracting students by offering courses with new trendy slants.
A few examples:
* DePaul University has a variety of courses in its ``Discover Chicago''
including ``Empowering Chicago's Women,'' ``The People Who Write Chicago:
Ordinary People Making Sense of Their Lives Through Writing,'' and ``Sacred
SPaces, Powerful Places in Chicago.''
* Northern Illinois University and the Shedd Aquarium are offering an online
biology class showcasing the aquarium's new exhibit, ``Amazon Rising: Seasons of
the River.'' Taught by paleontologist Michael Parrish, the fall course will examine
the tropical fishes, reptiles and amphibians of Africa and South America. The
ecosystem tour led by Parrish and Shedd curators will be the aquarium's first online
class. Offered for credit both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and also as
a non-credit course, the class will begin Sept. 4 and run through Dec. 11.
* ``From Bach to Rock,'' offered at Texas Christian University in Fort
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,
``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 vs. religion, near-death experiences, pseudoscience
and alternative medicine are all fodder for the course.
* ``Philosophy of Science Fiction,'' offered at Susquehanna University
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 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
* ``Medieval Drama,'' offered at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa.
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
``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-vs.-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.''