I’m teaching a class that’s only ever been taught once before in the whole of human history. The man who taught it before me was a physicist and taught it from a sciency-perspective that I couldn’t hope to replicate. When I was given the opportunity to teach it myself, I decided I had better reinvent the whole thing in my image.
The course is called “Engaging with Information,” which I believe is a deliberately vague title that allows for exactly the type of reinvention that I’d be doing. The multitude of possibilities contained in this course title is invigorating and intimidating. As my students and I discussed on the first day of class, the word “information” can refer to just about anything, as can the word “engage” in a same-but-different way. So, at its core, this is a course about anything. For this class to make any sense at all, I would have to/get to devise some parameters to give my course structure.
That’s when I discovered that it is hard to create course parameters whole cloth. As a history professor, I’m normally given course parameters by the expectations of the institution I’m working at and the norms of my field. Creating my own parameters felt like going rogue, which may sound sexy to a lot of people but for a risk-averse nerd like me sounded intensely stressful.
I don’t know about you but, sometimes when I stress out about stuff, I like to employ a coping method called “panicking and spinning out.” I employed this technique several times throughout the course planning process. I also employed several, perhaps more productive, planning techniques. I did research (duh), got advice, did a lot of thinking, and even did some imaginary instructing while driving to work in the mornings.
When I felt ready to get down to building a syllabus (which at Wayfinding we call a “Roadmap”), I decided to play on my strengths as a historian and organize my class around the passage of time.
The first two weeks of class are focused on the deep past. We start with human evolution, thinking about the physical and cognitive developments that make us capable of generating, disseminating, and taking in information. We carry those concepts into several weeks of considering the present and, in the final weeks of the course, we’ll do some evidence-based forecasting about what the future of information holds. I am super excited to see what sort of crazy, brainy ideas my students have about what technology is coming down the pike to befuddle oldsters like yours truly.
As we discuss the past, present and future of information, we periodically return to guiding, high-level questions like:
- How do people make information?
- How do they consume information?
- How do modes of production and consumption affect access to information? In other words: who is included and who is excluded from the above processes?
and most importantly
- What power structures are at play when we engage with information? In other words: who do we empower and disempower when we engage with information and how?
The overall purpose of this course is to help fulfill Wayfinding’s missions to provide students will good critical thinking skills and with tools that will help them to understand and negotiate the Information Age with intelligence and integrity. Like all good classes, we’re looking to change the world for the better. So far so good, you guys.