In a commencement speech delivered at Belhaven University, Makoto Fujimura, the noted painter, discussed and developed an idea that he called “the aroma of the new.” The speech calls us to think of “the world that ought to be,” and to weave that vision into the messy world that is. Of course, as a commencement address, Fujimura’s rhetoric is quite grand, with an inspiring vision for the great things that the new graduates can (and probably will) accomplish. But the reality is that many things that can bring an aroma of the new are quite small, maybe even seemingly insignificant.
Thus it is with the project on which I’m embarking this fall. As a graduate student in English, I have had the opportunity to teach several undergraduate courses over the past seven years. Most of them have been the kind of thing you’d expect: British literature surveys, technical writing, poetry classes, and others. But now I’m doing something new, and for me, completely different. I’m going to teach a class on video games.
Video games are showing up in all kinds of unexpected places these days. Of course there are university programs where students are learning how to create video games, but I wanted to bring video games into the classroom for a freshman composition course. Several months ago I was sitting in a meeting with the director of our University Writing Programs in which he tasked us (teachers for the fall slate of freshman comp classes) to come up with a topic or theme that would unify the content of the class throughout the semester. During that meeting several standard topics like sustainability were brought up, but I wanted to try something different.
Not long after that meeting I began this blog and ventured into writing about video games, something for which I’d had an affinity for many years, and not long after that it occurred to me that video games could be the topic for my course. There was only one problem: I had no experience with academic writing about video games. Fortunately, a former graduate student at the University of Florida who has written for ProfHacker helped me by suggesting that I check out Ian Bogost’s work, and from there I was able to find more material to help me frame out the approach for the course.
My hope is that students will be able to identify with and expand their thinking through this framework. For most people, freshman composition was not a particularly rewarding experience–complaints include boring readings, boring assignments, and boring discussions. In no way do I think that education needs to exist at the beck and call of a nineteen-year-old’s notion of entertaining content, but by weaving lessons about developing arguments, using evidence effectively, and writing persuasive prose into the topic of video games, perhaps my students will find that the learning objectives are more palatable. If so, then I want the class to have the same academic rigour as a “standard” composition class, but with the benefit of appealing to students’ interests.
I also might like the idea of having a good reason to bring a PS3 to class and hook it up to a big projector.