Trying Something New

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.

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  1. Wow! This makes me want to become a college freshman all over again! I’d love to hear about how you develop the class and decide what teach.

  2. Yeah, I hope to write something about how the class is going once the semester gets under way. My one fear/focus is making sure to structure the class in such a way that those who don’t have an immediate interest in video games feel included (probably will try to do this by also talking about facebook and mobile games).

  3. I’ve noticed more colleges are starting to realize how big video games are becoming in society, so you’d certainly be in good company. Even my local town’s university (which I’ll actually be attending soon) has a variety of programs focused on video games and their affects in society.

    Always thought it would be neat to teach some kind of “history of gaming” class myself, if not even just for fun… good luck!

    • Glad to know that you’ll be able to get in on the growing field with the classes at your university. More and more people are starting to take gaming seriously as a part of our culture–something worthy of aesthetic as well as scientific study.

  4. Jonah, This is an incredible opportunity. The online world make it really hard for us to discover what makes people less interested in games than other media. But discovering what makes people tick in a classroom setting? As an instructor, it might just be a great place to ask questions initially. Discovery is a great path for how to motivate students into future developments within the game industry itself.

    God knows his kids need to be involved in the shaping of game culture.


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