15 Strangest College Courses
The gang at Online Colleges Blog have compiled a list of “The 15 Strangest College Courses In America.” They concede that these courses “sound like lots of fun” but wonder “with tuition costs skyrocketing is it really worth it to spend thousands of dollars on fun diversions?” Among the offerings:
Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows (University of California, Berkeley)
Not quite what one would expect, the professor of this course emphasizes repeatedly in the course listing that this class is “NOT a course about law or “legal reasoning.” It is instead an exploration of logical fallacies that are often presented by defendants and plaintiffs on court television shows like Judge Judy and The People’s Court. Seems right up the alley of most college students, as they are squarely in the demographic of afternoon television programming (which also targets the elderly and unemployed).
Learning From YouTube (Pitzer College)
This college course literally involves watching YouTube videos to study the impact on culture that the video sharing site has had. Students also upload their own videos to the class YouTube channel. The teacher started the course after being “underwhelmed by the quality of the video content on the site”.
Philosophy and Star Trek (Georgetown University)
Philosophy classes often use pop culture to start discussion, there are even plenty of books out there with similar themes as this college class (here’s Seinfeld and Philosophy for instance), but still, when it comes down to it, this course and the philosophical under trappings are just being used as an excuse to talk a little Star Trek. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The Science of Superheroes (University of California at Irvine)
Students at UC Irvine can learn about physics by using familiar superhero icons such as Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. The professor teaches the physics of flying and fluid dynamics using Superman as his example, and the students also learn about super strong spider silk as used by Spider-Man. The professor explains it saying “It gives me a chance to talk about real science but in a context that is very familiar to the students”.
And so on. Tyler Cowen takes the counterintuive position of being “impressed at how sensible the offerings were. ‘Learning from YouTube’ strikes me as more valuable than 80 percent of what is currently on tap. I also think it is often useful to teach science through the medium of a TV show or to teach philosophy through The Simpsons. It fosters personal involvement and if you don’t, most of the students aren’t learning anything anyway.”
I tend to agree.
Reading the comments on Cowen’s post, it turns out that a goodly number of the 15 listings aren’t even “college courses” in any meaningful sense in that they don’t earn credits toward a degree. Still, there’s no reason they couldn’t.
Figuring out how to utilize subjects already interesting to students and turn them into teachable moments is a classic teaching technique. I often used discussions about current events, clips from Monty Python films or George Carlin routines for that purpose. Why not build whole classes around the idea?