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"Using science fiction to teach science, fiction, and ... Document Transcript

  • 1. Using science fiction to teach science, fiction, and communications skills Daniel W. Koon, Jonathan Gottschall St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY 13617, USA [email_address]
    • The two courses “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and “To Boldly Go” form a year-long sequence of a science-fiction-based section of St. Lawrence University’s First-Year Program [FYP]. The FYP is a yearlong course required of all entering students, which teaches communications skills in a team-taught, multidisciplinary setting. The course allows the instructor to teach science -- from paleoanthropology to astronomy -- and fiction -- from Robert Heinlein to Philip K. Dick -- in the context of a general education course in formal written composition, oral presentation and academic research.
  • 2. Contents
    • Composition (rhetoric) instruction in North American colleges & universities
    • St. Lawrence Univ.’s First Year Program [the FYP]
    • Using science fiction in the FYP
    • Feedback
  • 3. Acknowledgements
    • M. Bos and B. Ladd
    • (whose idea I stole)
    • B. Ladd, J. Weeks, J. Barthelme, M. Wenner
    • (guest lecturers)
    • J. Simon, Eli S. Koon, T. Gottschall
    • (patient family members)
    • S. Horwitz
    • (“matchmaker”)
  • 4. The First Year in North American Colleges and Universities
    • Freshman Composition [“Freshman Comp”]:
    • 2 semester course
    • Focus: short essays through research paper
    • Required of all incoming students at many/most North American institutions
    • Required for most graduate programs (medical school, etc.)
    • 130 year history
  • 5. St. Lawrence University’s First Year Program [FYP]
    • Instituted 1988
    • Equivalent to 1.5 courses per semester for two semesters
    • Required of all first year students
    • Class size: 15 students / instructor
    • Has a residential component
    • Semester 1:
    • Team taught, thematic, interdisciplinary
    • Semester 2:
    • Single instructor, more focused (often more specialized) theme
  • 6. St. Lawrence University’s First Year Program [FYP]
    • Skills component requirements (minimum):
    • Semester 1:
    • 2 oral presentations
    • 3 short written essays (2-3 pages, ca. 1000 words)
    • Semester 2:
    • 2 oral presentations
    • 1 research paper (10-12 pages, ca. 5000 words) or its equivalent
  • 7. Why would a science instructor want to teach communications skills?
    • True interdisciplinary exchange with a colleague from outside the sciences
    • Pedagogical development opportunity
    • Insight into what skills students bring into upper level courses (lab reports, etc.)
    • Develop non-conventional course outside department
    • Recruit students to science
    • Teach science to non-majors
    • Meet new students one would otherwise never meet
    • Familiarize yourself more closely with student life (residential component)
  • 8. SF in the FYP: Science Fiction in the First Year Program
    • Challenges and questions:
    • [How] can physicist teach writing?
    • Less content than regular course
    • Minimal content makes a true SF survey course unworkable. So how do you structure the course?
    • Broad audience (from diehard “Trekkies” to the unwilling)
    • Can one use the sf to inspire writing?
    • Can one convey a sense of science as a process?
    • Can one convey a sense of the speculative nature of science?
    • Should one include scientific lab projects? How?
  • 9. Do androids dream of electric sheep? (First semester)
    • Instructors’ backgrounds: experimental solid state physics; interdisciplinary background in humanities and evolutionary biology
    • Divided into 5 thematic units, including one for students’ favorites, one to concentrate on final project.
    • Three local expert guest lectures
    • Use of popular films, short stories, two novels ( Brave New World by Huxley and The Inheritors by Golding), technical readings
  • 10. Do androids dream of electric sheep? (First semester)
    •  
    Paper #2: 2-3 pp Individual oral presentations: ‘Science fiction that has become science fact” Film: The Matrix Film: Mars Attacks! Radio broadcast: War of the worlds What’s your favorite? (Students’ choices) Brave New World -- Huxley Mr. Tompkins -- Gamow Film: Gattaca , Lathe of heaven And he built a crooked house – Heinlein Guest: Geometry of the Universe What’s in store? (The Future) Paper #1: 2-3 pp Invaders -- Kessel Lifeline -- Heinlein The time machine – Wells What is SF? MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS TEXT AND GUEST LECTURES TOPIC
  • 11. Do androids dream of electric sheep? (First semester)
    •  
    Syllabus: http://it.stlawu.edu/%7Ekoon/ classes/FYP/androids.html The Inheritors -- Golding I, Robot: Escape! -- Asimov Film: Blade runner Guest: Neanderthals Guest: Artificial intelligence What is human? Group oral presentations: 2-person oral presentation on some science topic Final written project: 10-12 page work of fiction, based on same topic. None What’s your idea? (Students’ original fiction) MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS TEXT AND GUEST LECTURES TOPIC
  • 12. To Boldly Go: The science and fiction of space travel, time travel, and extraterrestrials (Second semester)
    • Course has three thematic units: space travel, time travel, extraterrestrials.
    • Students write a research paper on one technical aspect from one of these three thematic units.
    • Students make three oral presentations: one on the topic of their research paper, one on a piece of fiction, and one debate.
    • Each presentation also includes a short essay.
    • Each presentation comes from a separate thematic unit of course.
    • Students bear the principal responsibility for teaching content
  • 13. To Boldly Go: The science and fiction of space travel, time travel, and extraterrestrials
    • Space travel:
    • Time travel:
    Were the Moonwalks faked? Will humans ever leave the solar system? Baron v. Munchausen Cyrano de Bergerac Film: Contact The wind from the sun – Clarke Generation ships Solar sails Wormholes Tachyons Warp drive DEBATES SELECTED FICTION TECHNICAL CONCEPTS Will humans ever travel backwards in time? Slaughterhouse V -- Vonnegut A sound of thunder -- Bradbury All you zombies -- Heinlein All mimsy were the borogoves -- Padgett Counterclock world -- Dick Fire watch -- Willis Film: Minority Report Predestination Gott time machines Tipler time machines Chronology protection conjecture Time branching and alternate universes Entropy and the direction of time DEBATES SELECTED FICTION TECHNICAL CONCEPTS
  • 14. To Boldly Go: The science and fiction of space travel, time travel, and extraterrestrials
    • Extraterrestrials:
    • Syllabus:
    • http://it.stlawu.edu/%7Ekoon/classes/ FYS/ToBoldlyGo.pdf
    Will humans ever contact intelligent life from outside our own planet? Film: Alien First Contact -- Leinster The Sentinel – Clarke Non-carbon-based life Panspermia The Drake equation Life in this solar system Extrastellar planets Exotic communication Historical/Biblical accounts of extraterrestrials DEBATES SELECTED FICTION TECHNICAL CONCEPTS
  • 15. Student responses:
    • Material seen as engaging (mostly).
    • Residential/social component very successful. “Nerds” found each other.
    • Guest lectures, films popular.
    • 5 of the 13 students enrolled in upcoming second-year physics course were in either the FYP or FYS.
    • Instructor team seen as separate monodisciplinarians (e.g. The scientist couldn’t teach us how to write, or grade our writing )
    • Students report less sense of progress in their writing than those in other FYP sections
  • 16. Looking ahead:
    • Better incorporate writing instruction
    • Publish Web guide to teaching composition for newcomers: http://it.stlawu.edu/%7Ekoon/classes/ classes/FYP/TeachingCommunications. html
    • Continue to rely on students to teach content in Spring, but reduce content, focus more on research skills
    • For more information:
    • E-mail: [email_address]
    • Syllabi:
    • http://it.stlawu.edu/%7Ekoon/classes/FYP/
    • androids.html ,
    • http://it.stlawu.edu/%7Ekoon/classes/FYS/
    • ToBoldlyGo.pdf