Laying Down a Magic Carpet with Course Descriptions

Exploring the history of dreams we have not yet used to build a better future...but could.It’s that time of year again – time for university students to register for fall classes.  I remember college registration fondly. I’m old enough that it was a pre-digital newspaper experience; a pre-med student,  I would quickly pick out a microbiology course or two and then spend hours pouring over the history courses, trying to decide which of seven or eight seminars I could squeeze in as an elective. Those smeared course descriptions were like magic, with the potential to lead me to colonial India and colonial Sub-Saharan Africa and colonial Brazil (it was The College of William and Mary – everything was “colonial”).

So, imagine my dismay when I see Jon Becker’s recent post on how university students encounter courses nowadays- truncated names, empty descriptions, not even a hint of magic.  The post seemed to strike home for a number of people, including Gardner Campbell who wrote his own post soon after. Well, Jon and Gardner know these things better than me, so I’m not going to add there.

Instead, I imagined how I would want to encounter a course in our digital age: How would I transform the status quo with new media? With the resources I have (and imaging that I were faculty), how would I lay down the magical carpet for students?

So with Gardner Campbell’s permission, I began to play around with a Twitter campaign for the fall 2016 iteration of #Thoughtvectors, an openly networked connected course offered through Virginia Commonwealth University’s University College.  Thoughtvectors (a.k.a UNIV 200: Inquiry and the Craft of Argument) is VCU’s original connected course pilot. It is specially because students engage in multimodal writing on their own blog sites, which are networked at a section level and whole course level (comprised of 6-8 sections).  Registration is “open,” meaning that anyone on the Internet can link their blogs to the course level website, and in past iterations they have. The writing assignments are intense, the environment public and chaotic, the potential for serendipitous learning is monumental.

Admittedly, it’s an experimental (and experiential) type of learning. It’s not for everyone. So I met with the very wise VCU forensic science student advising guru, Lyndsay Durham, seeking advise about what we, as faculty or faculty-adjacents, need to tell students so that they can make good choices about course fit.  Lyndsay advised me to create something that told students how Thoughtvectors differed from other sections of UNIV 200.  She also suggested that if I had access to testimonials from students who had been in the course – people who could give first person details about what the course entailed – I should use those. Here’s what I came up with:






Of course, the problem with this approach is that students don’t follow me on Twitter (although I did manage to stir up the potential “open participant” crowd). Despite private pleas to the faculty involved in the course, my use of the #VCU hashtag, and some more official requests to other academic units at VCU that have Twitter accounts, I couldn’t get any traction around my campaign.  In other words, you could call this an epic fail in terms of getting the word out to students. However, I think it stands as a model for what could be.  It is my belief (still) that if faculty and their academic units believed in and cared to lay down a magic carpet, we could create thick course descriptions with video, text, and photographs on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.  It’s not enough to do it for one course – we need all the courses.  We need enough so that students can dive in (fall in, go swimming in…pick your metaphor).  Then we can have the magic.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Laura Gogia says:

    Don’t mind me…just checking to see if I can leave a comment with my new theme


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