There has been a lot of discussion of late about how to make science interesting and engaging to non-scientists. This seems like a great approach - not only do students learn about biology without being put off by a dry textbook, but the course also probably introduces science fiction to students who wouldn't read it otherwise. It's a win-win!
"It's well-known as being amazing," said Kenyon student Ferrell Garramone, an 18-year-old studio-art major from Nashville, Tenn.
"I took (advanced-placement) biology in high school, and it was just a drone. This is much better than reading a textbook."
The offering has plenty of required reading: six novels, including two by Slonczewski. And it includes pop quizzes, class presentations and homework assignments known as "mutant challenges."
Kenyon students -- most with backgrounds in literature, philosophy and the arts -- relate to the approach.
"I think it epitomizes liberal-arts education," said Rachel Rubenstein, a 21-year-old American studies major from San Francisco. "It's interesting, and it's exciting."
Slonczewski has put the class syllabus, quizes, related links, and study guide online. The class has started a related wiki, and many of the students' projects are online.
This year the course focuses on "Mutants". Some of the science fiction references that were used:
- Mutants in X-Men
- Star Trek:TOS episodes "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "The Devil in the Dark"
- Star Trek:TNG episode "The Measure of a Man"
- X-Files episodes "The Host", "The Erlenmeyer Flask", "The Post-Modern Prometheus"
- The Time Machine by HG Wells (full free text with audio, buy at Amazon.com)
- Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut (Wikipedia, Amazon.com)
- Dune by Frank Herbert (Wikipedia, Amazon.com)
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (Wikipedia, Amazon.com)
- Slonczewski's own Door into Ocean (Wikipedia, Amazon.com) and Brain Plague (Amazon.com)
- Barlow's Guide to Extraterrestrials (Amazon.com)
(I find it oddly comforting that her students are required to have a calculator that doesn't look much different than the one I used in my own college days, way back in the 80s. I suppose the difference is that my good old Casio was the fanciest bit of technology I carried around with me, while students today probably all have cell phones with more computing power.)
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