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Mid-Semester Evaluation

Anne Dalke's picture

By midnight, Sun. Mar. 13--please post here, as a new comment, your reflections on what's working, and what needs working on, for you as an individual and what's working, and what needs working on, for us as a group (on-line, in class). What are you learning individually? What are we learning collectively? Where are the edges of y/our learning now? What dimensions of the story of evolution and the evolution of stories have we not yet explored...are you still interested in exploring?


ems8140's picture

A completely different class... in a positive way.


Originally I registered for this class because I’m pre-med and needed an English class. I was relieved to see an English class cross-listed in Biology because I’m not a very English-oriented person. I appreciate the subjectivity of the class because many of my past classes have been very objective. I feel that through all the discussions I’m using my new ways of thinking than I would in other classes, which I find interesting. I feel that the format of the class works very well. I enjoy the larger lectures for all the viewpoints present, but the smaller discussions are better for a more personal dialogue.

This class is like no other class I’ve taken, in all the best ways. I enjoy the free-flowing discussions and the fact that Professors Grobstein & Dalke, while trying to main somewhat on topic, don’t dismiss a point that isn’t directly related to the subject. Through these tangents we are able to explore what we are discussing even more as a group. However, I feel that there have been a few times that the discussions became too philosophical and we were attempting to answer unanswerable questions, which grew somewhat frustrating. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the grading process because I like knowing my grade throughout the course. However, I think this grading format may be beneficial to me, and my classmates, by allowing us to focus more on the learning than the accompanying grade.

            One aspect of the story of evolution I am interested in exploring is the impact it has had on people, such as personal development and how evolution can have an influence an individual or a group of people. Whether or not drastic change to a person or group is adaptive would be interesting to discuss.


skindeep's picture

midsemester evaluation

so, this is my fourth semester using serendip, and while i have to admit that i havent been as loyal to posting regularly these past weeks as i have been before, i still think that its a great space to get your thoughts, ideas and emotions out - regardless of whether we are together in a classroom. and i guess that works for me because classes like these are classes that keep you thinking after the typical class hours.

what is really working for me is the fact that i look forward to and love coming to class - i thought that the class size would be an obstruction, but it seems to be doing well - we have so many people with so many different ideas and perspectives. i think this is added to by the fact that the class has a mix of science and humanities oriented people - its made the discussions about evolution more interesting than i anticipated, and has allowed me to look at darwin and what he did in an entirely different manner.

what im excited about is to see how we bring together universal, biological and literary evolution - i see the parallels between them but i also see the boundaries that prevent them from being recognized, and i would love to see what we are faced with and what dimensions we begin to explore when we begin the journey of breaking those down.

the part of the class that i am not enjoying as much as i enjoy the rest is the readings, i agree with rachelr when she says that the readings just dont seem to be captivating me, and i usually depend on the class discussions to bring life to them, when i would much rather come to class excited about something i read. another thing (this is not a problem, just something lead by my curiosity), i cannot help but be curious as to what's happening in anne's thursday small group discussion. while i love ours with professor grobstein, it occurs to me on tuesdays that both the groups talk about different things, and while this is just me being greedy, i would love to know and engage in whats happening in the other room. the forum definitely helps with this though, it allows me to read and keep updated with whats going on a few doors down.

all in all, im curious about where this class will take me, and us, and where we will find ourselves a few months from now. im not looking to be convinced of one argument over another, instead, i want to see how my mind processes everything that we cram into it and what it makes of it at the end.

hannahgisele's picture

I'm digging this

When I registered for this class, I anticipated a heavily structured course as I noted the large number of students. Instead, I was met with two creative, engaging professors whose intention was to involve each member of this seminar personally, and to gain a greater understanding through our interpretations of their thoughts. This back-and-forth movement of knowledge has spurred incredible philosophical debates and conversations, and I often forget the size of the class altogether.


Initially, I was also skeptical of the grading process because I really like immediate results and having a sense of where I stand academically, but the lack of numbers, signs, and indicators has empowered me to write more freely and creatively, and to take more risks in my claims and thoughts. In setting the grading system up in such a way, we’ve been given the opportunity to delve into processes and concepts that would normally be considered ‘too much of a reach,’ but the lack of stark essay prompts has also inspired me creatively. I didn’t think I would be able to conjure up a functional essay without explicit direction, without the looming presence of a grade in return, and knowing that it was available for the entire world to read on the internet.


The only thing I feel that could improve about the class is the way we communicate with one another using serendip. I think the website has the capacity and potential to be more of an online classroom than a communal blog. If we were assigned to respond to one another on serendip, the conversations and considerations that we have after class could have a bigger presence in the class and in our understanding of one another’s beliefs.


Overall, I'm learning more than I'd ever anticipated, and am watching as the information I've come to understand in this class applies to everything else in my life.


Cremisi's picture

Seems to be working quite well...

 More than anything, i'm always excited for this class. Upon walking into the class the first day and hearing about the objectives of the course, the very first thing that I thought was, "how do they plan to pull this off?" and then other thoughts like, "even if they do, will it seem contrived? Will the course focus on fitting into the category of 'evolution' so much that they lose sight of what they really want to say?" However, i've found this not to be the case. I've actually found that the definitions of evolution have been stretched quite far in my mind to new and interesting planes. Overall with this class, im pleasantly surprised. :)

I'm not much a fan of the "Generosity" writing style, but it is quite nice to see something fresh and new. It may not be extremely scientific, but it is positively dripping with adjectives and complex sentence structures which offers a colorful new dynamic to this ever-changing course. 

As for "what's not working" there's nothing big, really. One thing I wish we had went into deeper was the concept of free will, randomness and choice. I think these terms are very nuanced, and they should be discussed at length to help understand the difference between randomness and lack of a choice. They are very interesting concepts, but I couldnt help but feel that I had garbled marbles in my mouth when using those words. I felt like I was probably too liberal in their definition. I know it gets more into philosophy and physics and is a whole other can of worms however. Oh well. I'll learn about it later.


I'm loving the references to old tales and painting and allegories. It's quite wonderful and refreshing after a long spell of science.

cr88's picture

A Midsemester Night's Evaluation

  What I feel I've enjoyed most in this class is that we focus on considering an issue from different viewpoints and perspectives, and while we do debate the validity of certain points vs. others, I like that the class itself isn't about collectively deciding on a "right" answer. I've had a lot of classes in my college career where I feel like interpretation is too often a "top-down" process in which students are essentially expected to regurgitate a professor's viewpoints (not naming names, though) and I really appreciate the more wholistic, organic approach we take in this class. I definitely also enjoy the format of our papers in this class now. It was hard for me to adjust at first to the more interactive format of a "webpaper" versus a term paper, but when I began to think of images, links, and videos in my paper as citations that could enhance the clarity of my arguments, I found it a lot easier to find ways to incorporate them into my work.

One thing I feel can be a little difficult about this course is the larger class discussions. We often talk about topics that are not directly related to the material we prepare for class and while I do feel this is beneficial to my overall learning in this class, I also sometimes feel a bit lost during our more "tangential" discussions. As a comparative literature major, I'm really looking forward to the second half of this class. I've really enjoyed what I've read of "Generosity" so far, and I really liked "The Plague" last semester when I read it for another class. I'm excited to see how our class discussions change as a response to these new stimuli.


cwalker's picture

Half-way Point, Already?


Thus far I have really enjoyed this course, I really enjoy how it unites social sciences/humanities, philosophy and science. I feel like the class is a self exploration of our beliefs and our knowledge, pushing our understanding and believes outside of our comfort zones, to make us re-evaluate what we value and believe in, while at the same time analyzing textual references, but rather than the textual references be the end point it is trampoline that helps us explore new galaxies.  I have really enjoyed how the class doesn’t only focus on the analysis of evolution as a science but also of subjects outside of the realm of science. Honestly, I am not a huge fan of the online discussion; it is simply not my learning style. In general I am not big on online discussions in academic settings, I feel like a lot is left unsaid, I feel like we can and are more prone to dig a deeper hole in classroom discussions in comparison to online conversations. But I am fully aware that this activity might be a better learning style for someone else, so I am glad that the option exists. Collectively, we are learning that there is a lot more outside of evolution as a science than we might have originally thought. We are learning to push outside of our comfort zone and be okay with questioning, I like the idea that we are not exactly learning one exact material, but rather taking and modifying as we individually see fit. We are learning and accepting to blur (or not) the line between the social sciences/humanities and the sciences. Currently the edges of my learning have been stretched out to an unconceivable shape, they have stretched outside of the comfort zone, becoming more accepting and understanding of new ideas, and accepting that I can pick and choose and even make my own from the ideas presented to me. I would really like to see our feelings as a class about the present forms of evolution, and the human involvement in the process. What about this genetic modification? Are we moving in the right direction as a society? Should we be intervening, especially at the level that we have? Or are we just opening the doors for the extinction of our species? To some extent I am still willing to explore, it is a bit like opening the forbidden door, but at the same time I really like the idea of things left unknown, after all ignorance is bliss. But in reality I rather leave things unknown because it leaves the mystery in life, much like children’s naiveté, it makes life interesting, and somewhat light-hearted, and life is too short to make things more complicated than they already are, let’s enjoy the current mystery, why unwrap the present when it packing is just so beautiful.



the.believer's picture

So far...

Honestly, I didn't know what to expect for the first week of class for a science-english crosslisted course. I figured the course would center on different perspectives of evolution but I did not expect the philosophical edge. I've been thinking more about the value of the different stories and the course helped me realize that the goal of these stories is to guide us in forming our own story.

I enjoy the format of the class: a large lecture on Tuesday about students' reaction to the class and a small discussion on Thursday. It works out well because I feel more connected with the thoughts of my classmates and enjoy working through their puzzles/questions collectively. I enjoy choosing my own topic to write for the webpapers because then I can explore what I am truly interested in, rather than simply confining my opinions to a directed prompt. I admit that writing a webpaper for a general audience rather than my professor is a new to me but not much different. I just simply imagine that my writing is reaching across the world to those interested in my topic. 

As a biology major taking this course for english credit, I'm more excited in this second half of the course. I expect to learn more about the development/change of literature across time. Perhaps that philosophical edge will remain throughout the course? 

kgrass's picture

self evolution

 The web papers give us the ability to explore what we are truly interested in, which I greatly enjoy and appreciate. There is more of a freedom in this class than there is in any other class I have taken. This can be a little tough at times because there are so many different ideas that can be explored, and the topic of evolution itself has only lead to more questions than answers.   Once I feel that I have an understanding of how the world may work, a wrench is thrown into my thinking that makes me completely change the way I view the world. Going into this class, I thought of science as truth. Then I didn’t believe in truth at all, let alone free will. Now I’m content with the idea that it doesn’t matter whether there is truth or free will, it only matters how I decide to use this information as a tool to live a life that makes me content. I may not be able to change my environment, but I can change the way I view it. I’m excited to see how the second semester may change my philosophy, or if my world view at the moment will withstand the stones thrown at it. 

            I also like that the class is structured as a lecture on Tuesdays and a smaller group discussion on Thursdays. It’s helpful because we get to lead the discussion, and we can go on tangents to explore what really interests us about the topic of evolution. 





dfishervan's picture

Thus far into the semester,

Thus far into the semester, the class has been interesting and has challenged me to reevaluate my understanding of evolution and its utility. In some ways, I feel that the class is exactly as I expected it would be. That being said, while I had expectations about how I was going to learn in this course, I didn’t come in with expectations of what I was going to learn. While I used to question our capacity to “know,” somewhere in the course of my college career, I stopped doubting our ability to know. However, this class has reminded me of the need to be a little bit more hesitant when claiming to know things. I guess that means that the edges of my learning can’t really be defined as I’ve become more open to the endless possibilities that may or may not exist. Before this class, I tended to compartmentalize evolution into this one subset of biology. That’s not to say that I wasn’t aware of evolution’s influence on other subjects but, I never viewed it as the foundation for anything, let alone everything. Of course, after reading Dennett, that tendency has changed. At the end of the semester, I am eager to have a class dedicated to what we as former students of this course, are supposed to do with our new knowledge. We are learning some pretty radical things about various aspects of life and I feel like we have an obligation to share it and let it evolve as it passes from person to person.


Concerning the way the class works, I appreciate the slight contrast in format between Tuesday and Thursday classes. Tuesday’s whole class discussion is refreshing in that we get to come together and communicate in person with everyone participating in this semester long mental journey. Additionally, on Tuesdays we have a tour guide who is not dominating the conversation but, is providing some structure around the ideas we offer up which we can build upon if we so desire in the smaller Thursday discussions. Thursday discussions allow us to generate a dialogue with our classmates about specific issues that bother us from Tuesday’s material or the reading. There are a few minor suggestions I would have for the remaining portion of the class. Even though we go over the blog posts on Tuesdays, I still feel like I missed something vital by not being part of the other discussion group’s conversation. I know the online postings provide a great opportunity for conversation between the two discussion sections but I was wondering if on Tuesday’s section we could always have a brief summary about what each section talked about the week prior. I also think it would be beneficial if on the Thursday a week before the next webpaper is due, we could get a chance to share our potential topics with the rest of the group. 

themword's picture

Thoughts on Class

I was kind of intimidated at first being (I believe the only) political science major in the class. But I really enjoy the class. I was surprised I actually enjoyed reading Darwin, and I have found Dennett to be interesting as well.

I like the small group discussions better because I find it easier to talk. I would also find it useful to be given some things to think about, or discussion questions before Thursday's discussions. The lectures seem to go on and on, especially when a question is asked and either it takes a long time for someone to answer, or there are a lot of answers but none of them are "the" answer. I look forward to the second half of the semester when we focus more on literature.

I'm generally not a big fan of blogs or online postings for classes. I think I'm just used to more formal writing. I do find it useful in that if I'm having trouble understanding something or can't think of something to discuss, looking at what other people have written gives me something to think about.

Lynn's picture


More than anything else about this class, I like that the topics we discuss are readily applicable to other classes that I take, or things that I observe in my daily life; I enjoy this class because it asks broad questions whose answers can address problems I find in many other areas of my life. (For instance, questioning our potential for agency.) I have found that the smaller discussions work well for me. I sometimes feel intimidated or as though I don't have anything to add, but seeing the same group of faces every Thursday is reassuring, and I like how student-controlled our discussions are. I feel that, because the students control the direction of the conversation, we are discussing topics that truly interest us, and the class as a whole becomes easier to relate to.

I will admit that the lectures on Tuesday can become a little difficult for me to follow; the long silences that drag on as people (me) try to process what has just been said can be distracting, and talking on Tuesdays is *really* difficult because I, personally, need more time to absorb the lecture. I'm also not always certain how one topic relates to each other, and need time to think and figure out those connections. 

I am looking forward to the discussions about the evolution of literature. This aspect of the class is the main reason I enrolled, and, much as I have enjoyed what we have covered so far, I am anxious to begin.

hlehman's picture


I have really enjoyed this class for the past quarter and the unique elements of the structure.  I look forward to our lectures and small group discussions each week and think that posting online is a very beneficial way to participate and reflect.  We have been talking about so many “big ideas” it often takes me a while to really soak it all in, so I think that Serendip has had a very positive influence on my understanding.  By giving me the space to express myself, clarify any comments I make in class, and reflect on what others say and questions we bring up, the online tool has helped me to learn a lot about things I could easily miss and concepts I would otherwise fail to recognize.  My understanding of evolution has changed immensely from a basic definition central to life, to a much more complex and significant concept, and I’m seeing it more as I look around every day. 

So far, I think that our readings have been very interesting and although I enjoy our conversations, I think it would be more beneficial if we had a few prompts/ pre reading questions to use as a guideline to help focus our thoughts.  It could also give us something new to write about in our blog posts and help provoke more discussions on the readings when in class. 

I am looking forward to the next half of the class.  I think that one of the reasons I like the course so much is because I can see connections to it every day whether in discussions in my other classes or articles in the New York Times, etc.  I hope that in the next half our discussions continue to provoke me to think in a new way and spark a new interest and motivation for my studies.  I am curious to see how the class dynamic shifts with the shift in story telling and I’m excited to watch our discussions evolve.


rachelr's picture

I guess since I keep coming back...

 I am still enjoying using Serendip to both post ideas and questions stirred up from class discussions and readings and especially in posting our papers. I love having the opportunity to use more that words to convey the mood and message of my paper, and Serendip is the perfect canvas for this. From what I read of other's evaluations, Serendip and the smaller discussions seem to be working well for the class as a whole. Personally I feel that our Tuesday discussions need work. Maybe its just because I'm used to being in a smaller class with Anne, but I feel like there is too much lecturing and just waiting for people to speak up. I want to be able to hear from people in the other group. Maybe its because it is a larger group or because sometimes our conversations are abstract, but its okay to say something that not everyone might agree with. As we have learned, there is no one story that is the pinnacle of truth. 

In this class I feel that I personally am having trouble connecting to the readings. I liked reading Darwin and Dennett and looking at their stories and theories, but I didn't feel an urge to keep reading because I was engrossed. And again I am having the same problem with Powers. Perhaps I am coming into the reading with expectations, I don't know what it is. Something to work on personally… I always get more out of the discussions about the ideas than the actual readings of them, but I feel that if I could get even more out of the discussions if I could become more engrossed in the actual reading process. I also wish that we had more of a conversation going on in our Serendip posts. Sure you don't have to respond to someone else's posts all the time, but I like then it becomes more than a one comment thread and evolves into an actual dialogue. More interesting ideas come up that way. 

I'm definitely still learning, looking at evolution more as an evolution itself rather than a strict algorithm or scientific recipe that a group of scientists jotted down decades ago. I still want to explore the idea of new or original thought and something mentioned in Generosity- the actually limited number of scripted story plots that authors follow. Is that accurate? Like the Library of Babel, how much is already out there and how much has yet to be determined?

mgz24's picture


Overall I think that this class is working very well.  I was a little skeptical the first day of class when I walked into a class of 40.  I was confused as to how conversations would happen with so many people.  I think that the small discussion groups solve that problem.  It gives a chance to hear more perspectives, because not only is it impossible for everyone to talk in the larger group, but there are also people who are just more comfortable talking in a small class setting.  That being said, the one problem I'm finding with the smaller groups is that I want to know what's going on in the other section.  While you can pick up on the major themes that are being discussed from Serendip, and for Anne's summaries during class, I feel like I'm still missing out because I'm not hearing the details of the discussion.  I'm not sure exactly how important this is in the whole scheme of the class, but I still feel like I'm missing out on a small piece.  

I've had to write blogs for other classes, and in the past it's always been something I didn't like to do, because I felt that there was going to be a right or wrong answer, and I didn't really want to put my thoughts out there.  Serendip has really changed that for me, because this method seems more relaxed to me.  It's more of a conversation, that I can go back and clarify an idea or ask a question.  For me the one drawback is not having enough time to go through all of the posts.  I tell myself every week that I'm going to go and read what other people have posted, but thus far I've mainly gotten to know what's been posted through Anne's trolling.

For me, so far the biggest thing I've learned is this new perspective on evolution, and on science in general.  Before this class I had a very concrete, scientific view of evolution.  Evolution meant biological evolution, and when people referred to other things evolving I decided that they were just using the word incorrectly, and they really just meant change, but that evolution wasn't just any change.  So far I've come away with the fact that there doesn't have to be just one definition.  While I still define biological evolution in the same way, I've come to understand that there are other types of evolution, that really do follow the "pattern" of evolution.  I'm excited now to move on to the second half of the class to really see how evolution can be though of in even more ways.  

mindyhuskins's picture

I Miss This Class

Being away from this class for three weeks because of a fractured arm and spring break has given me a lot of time to reflect on things. I have come to the conclusion that I simply miss being a part of this class and I feel like I have missed so much in the way of discussion, which is my favorite part. This is my favorite class this semester; I wasn't expecting that.

So far I am very pleased with how I have been doing. I read Darwin! That, to me, is a huge success and an indicator of how great this class is. It often takes a lot to get me to read something that I have decided I cannot or will not. So kudos to you Anne and Paul, I don't know how it worked, but you guys got me to do something I did not want to do. 

I feel like the class is moving forward nicely and working well. My only valid complaint is that there are so many people and we cannot all talk at once. But I do not think that has been a true hindrance, if anything it simply makes the class more diverse. Since I have missed the last four classes my insight may not be as relevant as that of others. However, from my point of view, things are working really well for me and for the group collectively.

Vivien Chen's picture

Bring on the "Evolution of Stories"


I look forward to our small discussion groups on Thursdays. I feel on those days, we really take our readings apart and are able to collect all of our thoughts together. By doing this, the whole class is engaged and more enthusiastic to participate. Posting comments and papers online is something that is also working well for me. I try and take advantage of this by looking through other students' comments and by reading other students' papers. Usually in English classes papers are more confidential and the only way to read another student's paper is by asking her, so our method is quite different but has more advantages to us. 

On the other hand, as an individual, I still am working on my participation. I do feel I engage well in our smaller groups, but I know I can participate more in our larger group discussion. 

Even though we still have to go through "The Evolution of Stories" section of this course, I feel as though I have learned so much already about Darwin, about Dennett, about the evolution of ... evolution. I always knew who Darwin was, but after reading his book, I felt I really did not know him as I thought I did. The book gave me a more personal view of him and I was able to actually see how he thinks and reasons. This course has taught me to question what I read, to extract words, phrases that seem to shout out at me, and to read things with different perspectives. 

I am very, very interested in learning about the "Evolution of Stories." For one, I look forward to the evolution of teaching styles from Prof. Grobstein to now Prof. Dalke. But, the topic in general is of great interest to me, because the story of its evolution is such a profound one. Questions like: "what makes a classic a classic? Do social trends determine the genres of novels, or is it the other way around?" spark my curiosity. 

tangerines's picture

Looking back and looking forward

Over the previous quarter, I've appreciated our readings and discussions immensely. I think something that really worked for me as a whole was reading Darwin himself before reading Dennett's work. This allowed me to formulate my own opinions and reactions to Darwin before interacting with Dennett's ideas. Like ewashburn and ckosarek, I think an aspect of the course that benefited our group as a whole was hearing from others what ideas we were considering for the first web paper.


However, because there is not as much interaction online as in our small groups, I would have liked to discuss our web papers again after they were written, to see where they took us and how they changed while we worked on them. Writing web papers continues to be a challenge for me. I'm still a little unsure of how to write with a more personal voice and to subjectively rather than objectively discuss topics. I think I succeeded a little better with my second paper, but it's a learning process. I think in future it might help me to use my web papers as a way of connecting my weekly posts.


ib4walrus's picture

Halfway done already?

 When I first came into the class the structure of the class was... new to say the least.  I was much more familiar with being in a class that was either going to be a lecture based or smaller discussion seminars.  I wasn't so sure how I would feel about taking a class where the two methods would be employed.  Fortunately enough I grew to really like how the class is set up.  The larger, lecture-styled discussions on Tuesdays served as a refresher on the reading that I completed on the weekend, thus allowing me to really focus on parts of the reading that I find either most interesting/intriguing/confusing during the more intimate seminars.  Currently I really enjoy the set up of the course and find it helpful to me in trying to understand the material beyond simply reading it.

The idea of writing on the internet was definitely new to me.  I wasn't so much afraid of the possibility that anyone with access to the internet could read my work but was a bit overwhelmed at how much potential was offered by writing online.  I was no longer bounded by the academic norms in terms of formal papers.  Videos, programs, games (possibly), photos/diagrams and any other resource on the internet is now at my disposable and I am definitely looking forward to utilizing what I have in front of me.

I hope to explore deeper into world of bioethics with this class.  All of these scientific researches and discoveries for me do not really mean much if we do not apply it into our social world whether it be a better understanding of ourselves or otherwise.  However, it seems from the literary work we will be reading that my desires will be satiated, and so I am looking forward to the next half of the semester and what it entails.

ashley's picture

Mid-Semester Eval

What I appreciate most about this course is the active use of Serendip in combination with the class, sometimes seeming as the bond holding the course together. The weekly posts allow for all to contribute to current discussions, even if not directly in the classroom setting. It's also nice to have this aspect because the class is on the larger side, and it provides a space to express comments and ideas that may not directly tie into where the class discussion was going and may not have seemed to fit otherwise but are still valuable comments. I also really appreciate the way in which Serendip comments are tied back into previous discussions. In other courses when posts, labs, etc are left just as assignments and not addressed further, the work and insight feels to have gone to waste since nothing is being done with it. But in this class there is a sense of everyone's input being valued since it is structured into the next lesson/discussion.

I think perhaps if more individuals were to respond to each other online it would make for more rich conversation since it wouldn't be a single idea put out there, but rather a developing conversation that were to elaborate. I think it would be interesting to have small groups online in which you could jump into conversation with as opposed to all being lone bloggers. For me personally, I appreciate the online version of communication better since I have greater difficulty making my way into class discussions, it also releases that added pressure of having to speak in class. 

Throughout the class I've been learning about evolution in various forms that I'd never considered. It's interesting adding the different twists in which it can be viewed with the different ways in which terms can be defined. One of the underlying messages I've taken away with me is that there are a vast amount of unanswerable questions, or at least that there are many possibilities as answers to each question. Discussions made things, such as ideas, have much more depth in the sense that everything already exists but at the same time we can "create" them. Usually when I left class I had tangled feelings of confusion with a small grasp on understanding that pulled itself upward to further understanding. It's one of those things where you have to put some of the things you've "learned" previously on pause in order to let your mind wrap around all that's being laid out before you. The majority of the time I felt it easier to have a handle on the matter at hand were I to place a metaphor alongside it which I was more comfortable with and understood more fully.

I'm interested in seeing how this second part of the course will develop. I'm not sure if to expect a sharp shift from worldly evolution to the evolution of literature. I am interested in seeing how the two evolutions are tied together.

bhealy's picture

The Semester So Far...

This class is truly unique- from its online component to its tag team teaching to its multidisciplinary approach, I'm not sure what I was expecting in January when this class started. I now see how Darwin and evolution have become to mean very different things to me, and how my breadth of knowledge on Darwin's evolution is able to connect to so many different facets of my studies and my everyday life. We ask very very big questions- so big that I often leave class not quite sure of what just happened, but I think that during the remainder of the week the questions marinate a bit, just in time for me to have a slightly better idea of what happened to post online. 

I really like how we have one full class lecture and one smaller discussion- without the discussion I think that a lot of the big questions would really seem to impossible to grapple with. The concept of a webpaper is completely new to me, but it pushes me to think beyond a perfectly formatted, stale essay with a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

As far as the reading goes, I think that I have learned to truly question what certain authors are claiming, whether it is coming from Darwin or Dennett. I think that I often get into the rhythm or the assumption that the books on a syllabus are assigned with the belief that what the author is saying is "right" where I really should be questioning their viewpoints and their arguments much more. Reading and discussing Dennett especially showed me that you can get a lot from a book or from an author without accepting every claim. 

On the personal front, I feel that I can improve by speaking up in class and reading the postings here on Serendip more closely. Now that I have a better feel for the class and all of its complexities I know more what to expect and what is expected of me. 

I'm looking forward to seeing how the more literature-centric classes connect to what we have already learned, and to discussing fiction in a similar way that we discussed nonfiction. 

elly's picture


 I feel that I have already begun to investigate so many aspects of evolution and Darwin, and biology as a whole, through this new realm of "truth" and the questioning of our reality. I think that it is so important to question things, and I have not done nearly enough of that with regard to the sciences at Bryn Mawr. I am not a "science person" which is a term that I now realize is a bit silly, but I have really enjoyed that way that we have been grappling with Darwin and the theories of evolution.

It can become a bit frustrating when everything seems to be thrown away though, or torn apart. Sometimes I find myself leaving the class utterly confused, but after reflection and exploration of the blogs, I can usually come around to a better understanding of the class discussion. I think thisis why I have been commenting more often than posting my own blog posts. In this way, I definitely appreciate the online aspect of this course, and the conversations that take place there. It was difficult at first to become comfortable with posting my thoughts and writing online, but I have come around to the idea.

I am excited to begin exploring the literature side of this evolutionary conversation, and am very curious and excited to see the way that the two halves of the class really come together and relate, as I have been in Paul's break out group as well.

Lethologica's picture



To begin with, I love the layout of the class. I think that it's brilliant that we have both a day of lecturing and a day of discussion within a week, as well as the added dimension of the web dialogue. This particular arrangement, I believe, allows for a deeper, more thorough understanding of the material being discussed any given week, and also allows people to explore relevant ideas that they were unable to express during class, or ideas that had been sparked afterwards, while pondering the outcome of those classes.  Serendip, in itself, is also very useful. I think that publishing the papers online is an interesting, and useful choice. Not only might it push the students (it certainly pushes me) to write and think in innovative ways, but it also leaves all of these fascinating, often well developed, thoughts and theories open to discussion. I also like the mandatory weekly postings; I find them thought provoking, and they also seem to encourage a wider range and depth of thought that might otherwise be found. I think that I would like to see more comments and replies to other's posts, though.

 I have found the scientific aspect of the class so far very interesting. I am not very much the scientific thinker, tending to lean more towards the more humanistic and literary perspectives. I find that I am learning a lot about the problems and inconsistencies inherent in different theories of evolution, just as I'm learning about the theories themselves from our readings. I can't wait, however, to begin considering the more literary side of the course. I am very interested to see where, exactly, studying the evolution of stories will take us. 




ewashburn's picture

The Semester In Review

I really appreciate the two-tiered structure of the class. The large number of students in this course makes it difficult for me to feel comfortable participating in discussions when we're tall together, so it's great to have the smaller writing groups to bounce ideas around. I also really like when we, in our writing groups, discuss and build off of one another's paper ideas; I thought that was really helpful when writing our first paper. However, I agree with ckosarek that our webpapers sometimes seem to be entirely separated from our class discussions. One of our most fruitful classes came from discussing those papers, and I'm wondering whether we could do something like that again.

I also agree with ckosarek that our online forum leaves a little to be desired. While I love the idea of posting online, it feels like the posts are more of an assignment, and there's not much of a discussion going on. Of course, I haven't really been helping to facilitate discussion, so I guess I shouldn't really be talking.

On a personal level, I too wish we had learned a little more about social Darwinism, or at least about the different ways Darwin's theory had been manipulated before we read Dennett. I'm also still a little uncomfortable with writing webpapers, if only because I'm experimenting with a different writing style to correspond with the new medium. Hopefully my experiments pay off, and don't come off as too flippant or strident. 

I am so glad to be starting the literary aspect of this course. Reading "Origin of Species" and "Dennett's Dangerous Idea" was fun and pushed my boundaries and all, but anyone who's read my paper knows that I found Darwin a slog. I'm excited to be looking towards fiction, and to explore the concepts of evolution as they apply to literature and the development of literary archetypes.

phyllobates's picture

Reediting ( for Part II)

 Initially I was intimidated by the structure of this class. I was unsure of how the larger/smaller discussion groups would work and I felt uncomfortable with the idea of permanently posting my ideas for all to read and comment on. However, these two initial fears have ultimately made the class work for me. I am really enjoying the dynamic between our Tuesday and Thursday classes. I think it is working well to split into the smaller groups and have more intimate discussions. Kind of echoing what KT said, I think class discussions would benefit from everyone or at least more people sharing their thoughts. At certain points I also feel like we are debating between ideas rather than acknowledging each other’s ideas and then building off them together. In terms of Serindip I am a little bit torn about its effectiveness. Initially I was excited to see what others were thinking outside of class and I was curious to see how my thoughts would be responded to. However, again echoing many of the previous posters, I don’t think that as and individual or as a class we are maximizing the potential of Serendip seeing how we rarely comment or respond to one another. Like many of the posters before me one of my goals for the second half of this semester is to enhance online communication by commenting/responding to other’s ideas.

            I have learned a lot about how to read a book closely and not only understand, but contemplate and question the significance of certain ideas or assumptions made in the work. As a class I think we are also learning how to do this in a conversational form. While I think we have all learned the importance of questioning certain assumptions at times I think it is important to stick to a story or assumption in order to move on to a higher level of thought. Sometimes I think I/ we get so caught up on disproving a simple fact that we lose sight of it’s greater importance or how to think about more relevant concepts. One of the boundaries I have found regarding my learning style involves choosing a paper topic. On the one hand it is nice to be able to choose a topic I find interesting, and it motivates me to work harder and enjoy my paper more. On the other side I have a hard time finding a topic I find appropriate and relevant. It is important to me to write about an interesting and novel idea, and thus I struggle trying to find a suitable topic.

I am looking forward to tying the concepts that Dennet described into the evolution of literature and to the notions that exist in literature that reference evolution. While analyzing these interactions will be very interesting, I know I will miss a lot of the nuances and I am looking forward to the class discussion filled with each individual’s notes and observations. 

vlopez's picture

our story, so far

So far I believe the way this course is set up has helped me learn much much more than I probably would have if this course were to be taught differently.  There is a certain lightness to this course, which I don't mean to imply that it is any easier because there is still work to be done, that gives room to explore different perspectives.  This is because both professors, Anne and Paul, search for different ideas and views on the same topic.  This encourages students to think outside the box and freely express themselves without fear of having the wrong opinion. 

On Tuesdays I really enjoy the furthering that is done on the readings because it helps explain different concepts or ideas that we cannot fully grasp.  On Thursdays we have our group discussions, which are very open and allow students and professor to express their concerns or ideas openly in a more intimate environment. 

I'm looking forward to the next half of the semester, for it should be very interesting to explore the concept of stories evolving.  This is a new concept for me as I have only really thought about evolution in biological terms. 

KT's picture


I love the way that Serendip evolves education into a new form. We do a lot of growing by comparing the different thoughts that we have in reaction to the same readings/discussion. I agree with Cassie and OrganizedKhaos, however, that we’re not taking full advantage of this medium because we don’t respond to each other online very often. Prof. Dalke puts it together as a discussion in class, but I think that I/we would benefit from doing this on our own by posting reactions to each other.  I’m making that one of my new resolutions!

The class discussions are quite fruitful, I love that we’re asked to think about a question and debate it with each other before our Professors add their comments. The struggle to make sense of a concept and find my own story prior to hearing from someone who has devoted more time and developed more insight into these topics gives me an opportunity to compare and contrast, see if I’m missing anything, see where I may disagree and see where I could improve my thought process. I’ve also learned the importance of examples. Resolution #2: I need to work on that step of the process. Sometimes I think something without fully knowing why. Being able to produce an example would help to solidify the idea both in my head and explain where I’m coming from to my classmates.

One other comment about the class discussions, I’d love to see more people get involved. I’m not sure how to affect that, but maybe if we view our comments as “play” and just throw our thoughts out there for discussion and encourage each other’s ideas, maybe people would feel more comfortable in getting involved?

I really enjoy what I’ve learned and will continue to strive to learn about writing. (The ability to choose my own topic for the papers is very helpful in this regard because it increases my motivation to fully explore the topic.) It’s fun to absorb myself in my thesis/question and try to make sense of it as I go through the research and writing process. I was grateful to be able to discuss some points that arose while writing my first paper with Prof. Grobstein; and do a postmortem (not literally, webpapers never die) writing discussion with Prof. Dalke. The ideas that they introduced propelled me to some places that I couldn’t have reached on my own (I’ve added a new wing to my personal library of babel).

Finally, I watched Inherit the Wind last night and found it to be a much richer experience because of this course. Since taking this class, I feel that the creationists depicted in the movie aren’t “wrong” because of what they believe, they are closed-minded because they don’t think about why they believe something. This class asks us to explore why we believe what we do and allows us to add more depth to our life experiences through reflection, useful consideration, allowing for other points of view (stories) and embracing change. I think this movie should be added to the curriculum to see how we think about it before and after we take the class.   I feel like my altered reaction is a dramatic example of the metamorphosis that I (we’ve) gone through. 

*Photo Credit:

OrganizedKhaos's picture


Serendip really makes this class work for me. I enjoy how the structure currently is and the valuable information you get from peers inside and outside of class. As for the class as a whole, I cannot pinpoint one specific area where improvement is needed. The books will hopefully getting more interesting to me and less tedious to read.

I've learned much more about Darwin and evolution in the past few weeks than I thought I would ever. Taking a semester course on evolution clearly wasn't enough, since evolution is so broad a topic. I also really enjoy how we look at the language of some of the texts we read and pick apart the meanings and audiences targeted (such as in Darwin and Dennett). I got a better sense of their intent and purpose in publishing such texts. This also opened my eyes up to a sort of inside view of science that I wouldn't regularly get to visit in some Bio courses.

Individually, I feel that I should make more time to read over what my classmates are posting and make comments. I seem to be missing some really good insights into certain topics. In addition, learning how to published a more online friendly paper is in the works and I have definitely progressed from the last with the tips offered in class.

I hope that I can continue to contribute online and interact with my classmates and that the texts grab my attention a little more than before. Moving into the more literary side of things seems scary but I'll go with an open mind. 

Poppyflower's picture

The Evolution of This Class

So far, most aspects of this class seem to be working well for me. In both the Tuesday and Thursday classes, we have talked about Darwin and evolution in ways that I have never even considered. As a result, many of the things discussed have been real eye openers. For example, the fact that "survival of the fittest" does not necessarily mean the best, as in, just because we humans have dubbed ourselves as the best of all the species, does not mean that the other surviving members of other species are any less. In addition, I actually find myself liking the Thursday class more than the Tuesday not only because it is a smaller group, but also because the classes are more focused on a certain topic that help me to understand the entirety of the class better. Sometimes it can be hard to speak up in the Tuesday class just because of the size and how fast the conversation moves. This is not to say that I cannot speak up, but as a person who gives great consideration to something before she states it, this can be a bit of a challenge.

However, there are moments when I feel like the conversation is going in circles and, at times, can greatly mirror the conversation from the previous week. While this might just be because we were so heavily focused on Darwin and the biological side of evolution, I must admit that I am happy to be moving forward onto the evolution of literature. 

In addition, although serendip was, at first, very daunting to me, I have really come to enjoy it. I like the fact that I can read things classmates have said, and that I can add my own opinion to their posts while remaining anonymous. Online papers have also given me the opportunity to travel in new directions with my writing, as I am now able to post links so everyone can can have the proper background knowledge instead of me just assuming that all have already witnessed what I am talking about. 


ckosarek's picture

Keep on keepin' on

I'm a big fan of Serendip and publishing papers online. I've been allowed to further expand the kinds of experimental writing I started last semester in the Nonfiction Prose course, and feel that, for the first time as an English major, I have a grasp on what an "essay" actually is (a trying, a testing, an experiment, according to the OED). But while I like posting my papers online, I do feel that the papers stand alone in the class - we don't integrate them into class discussion much, either online or in person, and I'm wondering if our learning as a class would be furthered by considering some of our classmates' questions brought up in their papers. 

Further, while I love posting in the online forum, sometimes I feel that the forum is less of a discussion than it is an assignment. Few people respond to what others have written (guilty as charged by my own standards), and I think we could have a more active dialogue in class if we wrote less out of necessity and more toward collaborative response. 

On an individual level, I've introduced an element of a sort of scientific skepticism into both how I write and how I think. As an English major, I'm taught that nothing is as it seems, and that the truth doesn't exist, but these claims were always made within the confines of literature. Now that I see them extended into the realm of science, I'm left wondering, then, how we sort the useful nothingness-it-doesn't-matter from the not useful. Where can we take something as fact enough and integrate it into our understanding of the world? (This is all quite a headache...) 

I'm interested in seeing where we as a class evolve. Not only do I see the material in class as a constantly shifting (set of?) story(ies?), but I see the class itself as a story. Where we began, who the characters are, and where I think we will end up changes with every class. I think it's interesting to think of ourselves and our lives as both a piece of evolution and an evolution in themselves - maybe thinking that may gives us a better idea of the intricate web of evolutions that is the evolution of our universe. 

Anyway, I'm glad that we get to keep on keepin' on, and I'm especially interested in contrasting my newfound scientific skepticism with my well-worn English skepticism in the second half of this course and seeing where the two cross over. 

katlittrell's picture


The format of this class, as one large class on Tuesday and a smaller one on Thursday, works really well for me. I enjoy the smaller classes more, typically, but I feel that the Tuesday classes give us a foundation to build on in the smaller group discussions.

While I am unused to working collaboratively vua the internet, I think that the web aspect of the course does open up a new forum for learning from and interacting with classmates. The webpaper concept still confuses me a little as I haven't really been treating it as a separate form of paper from a print essay. I'm not entirely sure that with the topics I am choosing that it helps to have it in a webpaper format, but I do like that in a webpaper I think that I am allowed to be more casual in my phrasing. As far as negatives go with the web, I think that navigating the web and serendip in particular is difficult in terms of being able to wade through the massive streams of information available.

Learning about evolution just makes me realise how much I don't know, won't know and can't know. At times the concepts we learn about start to become overwhelming, but for the most part they are fascinating enough for me to stick with. This is a course which emphasises the individual's perspective, and I'm interested in how this carries over into the literary section of the course.

alexandrakg's picture


 As a class, I think what is really working for us is a collective enthusiasm and willingness to explore new ideas.  Discussions are respectful, but open, which unfortunately is not always the case in every class.  I feel like there is fairly equal participation, and my classmates, and even professors, are very motivated to discover more.  I actually really like that it seems like Professor Grobstein and Professor Dalke seem to be really exploring these concepts with us and learning a little themselves.  It make the learning atmosphere more interactive and encourages us as students to push ourselves a little further.

I agree with Anna, I would have liked to learn a little more about Social Darwinism.  I feel like we mentioned it a lot in class without fully discussing what it was and what it entailed.  Along with Darwinism, I would have liked to go more in depth in more recent developments in the theory of evolution.  We acknowledged that Darwin made false assumptions and parts of his 'story' did not really make sense.  It would have been interesting to see what has been added to the theory since then and how the 'Story of Evolution' has evolved itself.  After all, if anything, the theory of evolution shouldn't be static, it should evolving!

I am looking forward to next quarter's discussion of evolution in literature.  This is something that I have sort of discussed before, but not in depth, looking at the progression of stories and literature on a larger scale.  I am not sure how exactly the theory can be applied to literature as well, but I have some ideas, and I'm hoping to see how they play out.

AnnaP's picture

Reflections and Hopes

Concretely, I feel like I have learned much more about what Darwin actually meant by evolution, and I have a better idea of how his ideas have been appropriated (for better or worse) by others. I would have liked to learn more about how Social Darwinism actually came about and whether or not Darwin might have agreed with this. For me, the small group discussions are more useful than the large group discussions; the class is so big that I sometimes feel lost during Tuesday’s class, like we are covering a lot of different topics very quickly. I do however appreciate Professor Grobstein’s interventions in explaining aspects of evolution that we may or may not be entirely understanding.

While at first I didn’t really understand the idea of a webpaper (I have never written one before), I now see how it opens up more possibilities and allows the reader to interact more with the paper, which is something I find really compelling. I still need to work on making my papers contextualized for a wider audience and making sure that people outside of our class could understand them too.

I am really looking forward to moving more directly into the literary aspect of this course, and into thinking about literature evolutionarily. I’m hoping that we’ll explore why certain texts seem to stick around while other fade away and the importance of specific genres and mediums as the might have changed over time.

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