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Notes Towards Day 1 (Tuesday, 9/3): examining our new site, locating our sites of departure, creating an architecture of serendipity....

Anne Dalke's picture


I. 11:25: examining/revising our space

enter room w/ chairs in rows, podium up front--
a big moment, your first college class:
look around this space: what do you see?
take out paper and pen (or your computer--
some writing implement; borrow if you don't have one)
and describe this scene:
if you were writing a short story, about your first college class:
how would you describe this room? what's noticeable?
what traces of history do you see here?
what do you notice about the architecture?
make some notes of what you see as you "read" the room

talk in big group about the power of architecture over the human mind:
what does this space invite us to do?

how does it invite us to be...?

shift from a grid to a circle...

how does/might this change what's happening?
what does it say about what might happen here?
it asks us all to participate in the space,
w/ less freedom to abstain from doing so-->
there's no hiding! (more oppressive? more shared responsibility?)

this conversation is about recognizing the meaning
inherent in spatial arrangements (and their revisability) 

the sense of layers in this 19th c. bldg, created in 1884
for a very different kind of teaching/learning experience
than the one we're going to engage in….
look @ history embedded in this room: imagine women here long ago…
what do you think their experiences might have been? 
more or less risky/corralled/reinforced..?

what sort of learning "arrangements" do you prefer?
should we change it back for the next group…?
(having violated the norm--or created a new one?)

II. 11:50: turning from where we are to where we came from
(cf. Customs Week exercise: "I am from...")
tracing our sites of origin, from here to...where?
go ‘round,
putting yourself on a map of the world w/ a star, and
tell us your name, where you are from, what the nearest large city is,
what languages are spoken there/do you speak?

from NOAA's National Geophysical Data Center:

consider the map, for a moment, as a representation of the world:
how else might it appear? (without countries? upside down?)

(without countries, from the perspective of the artic?)

consider the map we make, w/ our locations of origin:
everybody from different places/as we can/can’t see…
and: lots of places on the map are not represented in this classroom
(why is that? what is the history of how we came here from where we came from?)


  • are selective
  • each one a reduction and a distortion of what it represents,
  • having a purpose, and with
  • its quality related to that purpose.

III. 12:15 (combine classes): vision, logistics, questions....
Mark: re city trips (traveling, notetaking, costs, scheduling)

12:30: Anne re: Serendip (reading, writing)

Our overfull "syllaship" is on-line @ 
you should bookmark this, and check it in preparation for every class;
it will change as the semester goes on, so be sure to "re-fresh" each time you go back.
I'm going to review a lot of material now that you'll be using for the course;
all of it is available/verifiable from this homepage.

For instance: you’ll have reading-or-viewing to do for each class:
you are now receiving two books (Zadie Smith's novel NW, and the manual about Writing With Sources) 
as gifts from the ESem program, and can purchase a third, The Pocket Style Manual, @ the Bookshop:
everything else will be available via active on-line links from the syllabus.

Besides taking trips into the city, and meeting in Taylor twice a week w/ the whole class,
you will be having a writing conference w/ your prof every other week
(we'll sign up for these on Thursday, once your schedules are pretty well set;
come w/ an awareness of times you will be available...).
We will also be meeting virtually twice each week in an inbetween space:
our on-line/class forum @ /exchange/courses/playcity/2013/

We will do all this on a website called Serendip: a "digital eco-system,"an open site.
IT IS ON THE INTERNET:  not a closed space, so readable-by-the-world,
and discussable in class (starting point for most class meetings....).
This is all about learning to be a public intellectual, thinking out loud in public...

By tomorrow evening, and then each Wednesday evening thereafter,
you will post a short (paragraph-long) comment in that space,
reflecting on our discussion from the week before, or anticipating what's upcoming 
(more deliberate than speaking in class, less formal than written work: 
excellent place for showcasing revisionary thinking).

This informal writing is background/preparation/warm-up/frequent source 
for your more “formal” writing assignments, which will also
take the form of 3-pp. "web events," due every Sunday night.

To access the readings and post your twice-weekly reflections, you have
been given a Serendip account; I'll pass around your usernames and passwords now.
You should use these, TONIGHT, to customize your account: log on using these,
then pick a password you can remember, select an avatar or image to represent yourself,
and decide what you want your username to be: how do you want your intellectual
self to be represented on-line?  (some thoughts along these lines here...)

What is (probably) also distinct about this course is the form of evaluation:
we will not grade any of your individual papers. @ the end of the semester,
you will complete a portfolio of all your work, and evaluate yourself.
We'll put up a checklist of our expectations on-line, but they are
not the least mysterious: come to each class and conference,
prepared to contribute to our discussion; take our scheduled trips into Philadelphia;
post on-line twice/week (a paragraph on Wed night, 3-pp. paper on Sunday),
be responsive to our conversation/instruction...

Questions about any of these details of "course-keeping"?

reminder that links to all these pages--on-line course forum, 
syllabus, instructions for posting, a growing file of our "talking notes" 
for class--are available as links from our course home page @

Immediate assignments:
By 5 p.m. tonight, customize your Serendip account: username, password, avatar.
By 5 p.m. tomorrow night, log on to our on-line course conversation, and introduce yourself
to the group, by explaing the image you've chosen:
what does it say about who/how you are in the world?
about what sort of intellectual you want to be?

BE SURE TO TAG YOUR AUDIENCE AS "Play in the City 2013" @

We'll start Thursday's class by using our postings to introduce ourselves to one another (again);
by classtime on Thursday, also read/view four short essays/interviews, all available on-line
(via links from the course homepage):
Lewis Mumford, “What Is a City?” Architectural Record (1937),
George Simmel, "The Metropolis and Mental Life" (1950), and a
summary of the ideas of (1995) and interview with (2010) Sharon Zukin.  

Spend some time making sure you understand what they are saying
(do they agree w/ one another?) What do you not understand?
How do these essays (which are mostly elderly) speak to your experience?
Does your own experience affirm-or-question what they say?

It would be a good idea to print off these essays, underlining the
passages that speak to you, or that you want to question--
anything w/ some sort of energy/"heat" (can also do this w/ on-line marking tools,
but then bring your computer to class: always come w/ an accessible text).