A new course this Spring will use student input to drive the curriculum.
Humanities on Demand: Narratives go Viral is a new class that aims to use student input to form the syllabus. The first of its kind, the pilot course is set to open for the Spring 2013 term. Michael Ryan, visiting assistant professor of German studies and the program in literature, and Jakob Norberg, assistant professor of German studies, are co-directors of the program. The program is sponsored by Humanities Writ Large, a five-year initiative aimed at transforming the role of the humanities in the undergraduate experience.
“The goal of Humanities on Demand is to reconfigure traditional curriculum design as an open network of critical inquiry that includes students,” Ryan said.
Unlike most classes where the material is determined entirely by the instructor, the program aims to give students a voice by allowing them to choose what is included in the syllabus. Students submit narratives onto the course website, which, if chosen, then drive class discussion. The professor will then introduce a mode of analysis for the content, such as a theory of media or historical analysis, with which to explore the content.
The website posts must fit with the theme of “going viral” and can come in both multimedia and traditional forms, such as YouTube videos, blogs, books and songs, among others. Students use their narratives to define in their own words what going viral means in order to explore different topics, such as why certain forms of media are distributed more in some cultures over others.
One post asks, “How did Harry Potter become such a global sensation? What about it made it so appealing to readers of all ages?” Another poster asked, “How does negative feedback for Rebecca Black’s Friday video illustrate cyber bullying? What does it say about teenagers today? Is it easier to share our true feelings about a person or song behind a computer screen?”
Over 200 narrative submissions have been posted so far.
Benedikt Bscher, a sophomore on the Humanities on Demand Advisory committee, commended the positive reception students have had to the class structure.
“People are actually enthusiastic about it…. It has been spreading throughout the Duke Community,” Bscher said.
Sophomore Caroline Herrmann was one of the first students to post a narrative on the course website. She focused on memes and the emergence of meme culture.
Herrmann said she was motivated to submit the narrative because she views Humanities on Demand as an innovative way to meet students’ needs.
She noted that the structure and material of traditional Duke courses have sometimes left her disappointed, and that the student input promoted by Humanities on Demand can help keep students engaged in a class.
The course Narratives go Viral is currently available on ACES for the Spring semester, cross-listed in the cultural anthropology, German, literature and religion departments. The submissions received so far indicate that the pilot class will respond to student’s interests by using targeted theoretical models, Ryan said.
“I hope [students] will emerge from the class with a new appreciation for the dynamic nature of humanistic inquiry,” Ryan said.