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Week One (Tues, 1/18): Nuts and Bolts


My task: to see if I can turn this assortment of
nuts and bolts into a game that might interest you...

...or a form of art that might engage you
one thing for sure: it will be a collective activity....

Sign in, please, while I introduce the
folks driving the golf cart:
both here for decades

a decade ago, we began teaching an CSem together (erstwhile ESem)
that we called "Questions, Intuitions, Revisions: Storytelling as Inquiry"; we looked @ the way people tell--and then revise their tellings--of what the world is like: we read
fairy tales and science stories and brain stories and
cultural stories and the story of bryn mawr....
then we revised the last one!

this course has morphed, over the years, to our current ESem,
Making Sense of Ourselves in an Evolving Universe, in which we
continue to read creation stories, and science stories, and cultural
stories, and individual stories, and brain stories w/ first-semester frosh...

But 7 years ago, we also decided to up the ante, build on that course to
think more systematically about ways in which biological and
literary methods of study might inform one another,
and created the first version of The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories, which--as far as we know (a "fact" of which we are just a little bit proud!)--is the only course in the country cross-listed for credit in both Biology and English

5th time we've offered the course, so we've got the pattern down:
meet together in this large group every Tuesday;
until spring break, Paul will be talking w/ us on Tuesdays--
as he will in a moment--about the story of evolution;
after spring break, I'll be leading our Tuesday discussions
about the evolution of stories (first 1/2: bio-centric; second 1/2 lit-centric, but throughout, you'll see, there's an insistent loop between the two...)

this Thursday, I'll talk w/ you about the evolution of literature;
by next Tuesday, when enrollment has settled (31-> 40),
we will divide the class randomly into two smaller groups:
1/2 of you will be assigned to Paul, 1/2 to me

on all Thursdays thereafter, we will meet in those small groups--
Paul's here, mine in English House Conference Room I,
to discuss these same questions seminar-style

I will be the writing teacher for those of
you who will be talking w/ me on Thursdays;
Paul will be the writing teacher for those of you meeting w/ him....

we expect you to come to class all the time (will take attendance) and
to participate in our discussion in two ways--in person and on-line
as you decide whether you want to enroll in the course or not,
it's important that you think about this aspect our pedagogy,
which focuses on the implications and
obligations of engaging in a public arena:
we are asking you to be responsible not only
for your own education but for that of others--
not only your classmates, but other people in the world:
it's (@ least!) a two-way street
, which we call "co-constructive dialogue" (=who you are/what you bring/think is central to where the course goes/how it gets there)

course syllabus is up on the world-wide web @

@ the top of the page you'll see a link to our on-line conversation
(as well as instructions for how to get going on this);
each week we'll ask a probing question or two
for you to think outloud about;
we also invite you to say whatever else is relevant  that comes to your mind, in response to us, to one another, to the reading, to class conversation, to things happening in the NYTimes or the world....

do this by Sunday evening each week

we will also ask you to write four more formal papers,
and to post them on-line;
in Feb, 3-4 pp. paper on some aspect of biological evolution;
in Mar, 3-4 pp. paper on some aspect of evolution
beyond the context of biology;
in Apr, 3-4 pp. paper on some aspect of literary evolution
in May, 10-12 pp. paper in which you make use of the biological, philosophical and literary stories of the course to create a new, interesting, useful story of your own--one that might have a creative dimension

as part of the course finale, we will also ask you to prepare--along w/ several classmates--a presentation reflecting on some dimension of your experiences in the course

two things to highlight about how we go about the
writing-that-is-thinking in this course:

first, we are asking you to make all of your writing public, to think of your audience as the world (or @ least that part of it that has access to the web): to write in a way that is accessible and interesting to people outside this course, and to think of your papers as windows through which they might look @ the world differently--through your eyes; we will also respond to your essays on-line

course forum and your blogs (where you will post your papers)
are moderated by Ann Dixon (co-founded Serendip w/ Paul);
BMC alum/former English major; if you stay through Thursday,
she will send you a note that you have been registered as a user on exchange; you'll have more anonymity on the web by choosing a username which is not your own

--but the important point here is that you are not writing privately to Paul and me, for our validation or approval, but thinking out loud for your own benefit and for whatever use it might be to the thinking of others

second related important unusual dimension of the course is how we handle the matter of assessment: we will be responding to BUT NOT GRADING all of the individual work you do during the semester;

@ semester's end, we will ask you to prepare a portfolio of all your work--all your postings, all your papers and our responses to them, an account of your final performance--and then to write a self-evaluation, describing how you have contributed, on-line and in-person, to this activity of our learning together about biology and literature

we will then of course give you a numerical grade, but
we don't overvalue that number,
and suggest that you don't either--
it will not/cannot adequately reflect the various, distinctive efforts
you will be making in this class...

what else?
we have ordered four books in the Bookshop:

Charles Darwin's 1859 opus, On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection (rpt. and ed. Joseph Carroll, 2003)

Daniel Dennett's 1995 book of philosophical speculation:
Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
Richard Powers' 2009 novel, Generosity: An Enhancement

Albert Camus' 1947 novel, The Plague

we will also be watching two films
(which we'll put on reserve @ Canaday):

La Nouba des femmes du Mont-Chenoua, dir. Assia Djebar, 1977 (115 min)

THX-1138, dir. George Lucas, 1971 (88 minutes)

there may be some other short readings, available
on-line, as the occasion/interests arise;
no readings for Thursday's class,
go to our
on-line course conversation,
log in, and introduce yourself there w/
several questions that you are bringing
into this conversation....


So, Paul, get us going, introduce us to the idea
of evolution as a way of being ... ?