The sample syllabus
, from our first experience with the course, presents a detailed weekly
schedule of activities and assignments.
It fills out the details of a broad plan which consists of four
, described in the following paragraphs.
These phases are presented so that the reader can apply them
to other interdisciplinary combinations (ours is robotics and theater,
yours might be physics and art) by replacement of content within the
The exposure phase introduces the student via films
and readings, to mind-stretching concepts and cases involving creativity,
technology, mythology and coerced links between concepts which are normally
disjoint, such as robotics and theater, art and science, freedom and
compulsion. The goal is to expand the students‚ thinking as far as possible
„outside the boxš and expose them emotionally to the intense passion
of creativity which inspires great works, which are eventually packaged
into technology and art.
The attached bibliography
gives a detailed list of
the films and readings; here are three good examples:
Film: Tesla - Master of Lightning
Play: Kapek - Rossum‚s Universal Robots
Film: Fast Cheap and out of Control
The Tesla film is a biography of the genius who pioneered
alternating current, a bizarre tale of obsession, intuition, conflict,
and career disaster. It takes
students outside the methodical textbook engineering development of
the subject, and exposes them to the raw passion, brilliant insights
and demonic energy of inventors. The
second is the classic which introduced the word „robotš into European
language, and pursued the unexpected side effects of unlimited free
labor on civilization. It exposes the students to social consequences
of technology, and the intellectual paradoxes of freedom and slavery
outside the cultural and sectarian boundaries which normally define
them. The third is a bewildering
mix of art, technology, and control tied together with subtle threads
of passion, creativity and discipline.
Student absorb the exposure assignments and are then
asked to write up a short assignment which forces them to conjoin two
or more disparate readings and/or films.
These are also presented weekly in class.
This assignment is usually difficult at first because students
must deliberately criss-cross the focused boundaries of subject matter
within which they are normally constrained.
In the classroom, students discuss each other‚s takes on the
assignments, and new viewpoints emerge.
At the end of the exposure phase, the students have
loosened the inhibitions of intra-disciplinary thinking and knowledge-based
courses. They are excited by
the extremes of human accomplishment and concepts, and eager to delve
into their own projects freely aimed at these extremes.
In the exploration phase, students launch into research
of individual interest, with
an eye to a course project. This
research involves not only the traditional methods of library and web
search, but also interviewing experts, visiting labs, facilities or
accessible sites, and recruiting students who are not in the course,
to lend their expertise in either the subject matter or presentation
technologies, for example, animation software or robotic control software.
Classroom activities during this phase include weekly bull sessions
wherein research material is presented and discussed by peers and teachers,
who suggest redirection or give observations.
Towards the end of the exploration phase, students are tentatively
proposing their projects, which are discussed in open class. There is often a measure of anxiety and self-doubt
here, accompanying the first reaches into creative formulation.
The development phase decisively terminates the exploration
phase. Despite the barely visible
external perception of change to a classroom observer, a radical emotional
change takes place internal to the students.
Self-doubt gives way to intense focus.
Students are now driven by coherent concepts of their projects,
and work with passion and devotion towards fulfillment.
The timidity and lack of confidence are gone, and weekly discussions
change from conceptual experimentation to finding solutions for implementation problems. These include limitations of media to express
concepts, seeking alternative technologies to implement difficult mechanisms,
or rephrasing a dramatic episode proposed for final presentation.
Weekly presentations describe progress and solicit
informal review and revision. Much
of the classroom discussion critiques the presentations and reins in
impractical scopes of projects. Students
give progress reports and numerous dry-runs of their final presentation. The final concept may differ sharply from original
concept, but we value the process of development and require that all
notes and concepts be preserved as a record of the process.
The preceding development phase consists of planning,
thinking, and working, more or less without and audience. The presentation phase involves projecting
of ideas and personality to an audience, organizing stage time, and
wrapping the concepts into a choreographed performance with dramatic
closure. Although this is the shortest phase, lasting
a few weeks, it is the most emotionally intense and is easily worth
half the value of the entire course to the student.
Presentation and organization skills are essential in almost
any career, and many students lack personal experience in this area. Stage fright is common in the early weeks of
the presentation phase. Dry
runs are used to break in the emotions, overcome self-doubt, and develop
skills. Gaps in packaging of the content are quickly
exposed and corrected via discussion and critique by the whole class.
One important aspect of the presentation is the packaging
of the whole into a seamless fictive shell which must appear completely
plausible to the audience.
than a „what ifš lecture, the project must be a „what isš presentation.
Examples, which are seen in the project documentation
include sales presentation of fictive product
(Robokopf), the script of a play, a board meeting, a press conference,
an interview or the like. The student uses props, models, sound tracks,
videos and brochures for context, and wears a costume where appropriate.