Offbeat classes lighten course loads

               August 1, 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:

               * DePaul University has a variety of courses in its ``Discover Chicago'' program,
               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 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 vs. 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 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-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.''