I have taught sections of UMM‘s First Year Seminar (FYS) course pretty much solid since it was created back in 1999. My topic has been American Roots Music, a subject I love dearly and have greatly enjoyed exploring with my students. I’ve met a host of really wonderful folks through that course, including some of my best student connections outside of Computer Science. That topic has drawn in a broad range of students, many of whom have gone on to play major roles at the radio station and in the open mic night series, and it’s been a great excuse to buy, listen to, and talk about some really wonderful music.
Thus it is with very mixed feelings that I am considering changing my FYS topic for next year when I return from sabbatical. I’ve taught this for a long time and feel like I’m running out of steam on it. I also continue to struggle with lifting the subject from being about “entertainment” to being about human life and culture; I’ve found it difficult to convey my belief in the vitality of the subject. Another issue I’ve struggled with has been critical thinking. FYS replaced a course called Inquiry that had critical thinking as one of its core elements; I always thought that was very valuable, but never really felt like I included that in a consistent way in my roots music course.
In particular I’m thinking of something like “Climate change: Global crisis, or a tempest in a teapot?”. I think this is one of the (if not the) major questions of our age, and that it can be damnedly difficult to make sense of all the contradictory things said on the subject. My vision is for the class to be an exercise in critical thinking, using climate change as the underlying source of questions and material.
In a one semester, two credit course it’s clear that there’s only so much that we’re going to be able to address, so they’re not going to become experts on the subject (just as I would never claim to be one). Hopefully, however, they’d have a better understanding both of this subject, and of how to approach complex subjects like this in the future.
Thanks in advance.