Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Joan Slonczewski's Biology in Science Fiction Course

The Columbus Dispatch published a nice article about Kenyon College biology professor and science fiction writer Joan Slonczewski's Biology in Science Fiction course:
"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."
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!

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:
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See the course syllabus for the full list.

(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.)
Related posts about Joan Slonczewski:


  1. Hi! I stumbled onto your Blog via the Reef Tank... and I'm delighted! As a Marine Biologist and big sci-fi fan I really enjoyed your post on Sci-Fi Fish pets and I'm sure I'll find quite a few other posts around here to entertain me!


  2. Welcome CrazyCris! I hope you stick around.


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