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Spring Semester College Course Preview

By Reed Thornburg     11/8/12 6:00pm


While student-taught courses now seem like an integral part of Rice's identity, they are a relatively recent addition to the university. The program began at Wiess College in the spring of 2007 with three initial offerings: Mathematics of Aesthetics, The History of Jazz, and Zombies in Fiction and Film. The courses were only open to Wiess students, but the forerunners of this movement were optimistic that the idea would spread. It has.

Next spring, Rice's various residential colleges will offer 60 courses ranging from Lucid Dreaming Techniques to Economics in the News. These classes are the result of motivated students who both possess interests that exceed the standard registrar offerings and have a desire to share their knowledge with the Rice community. While student-sponsored visitors teach a few college courses, the majority are still taught by Rice undergraduate students.

The most recent development in Rice's tradition of student-taught courses is next semester's course COLL 300: Pedagogy for Student Instructors. This course will be a requirement for all students planning on teaching a course in the fall of 2013. Here is a brief spotlight on some of the classes that students will have access to next semester.

COLL 102: American Sign Language and Deaf Culture

Like all language courses taught at Rice, this Martel College course aims to provide students with not only an understanding of syntax and grammar in American Sign Language, but also a chance for students to appreciate deaf culture and history. Taught by Martel College senior Anna Meriano, this course promises a lively, if silent, immersion into unvoiced communication.

COLL 103: We Didn't Start the Fire: U.S. History 1949-1989

Do not ask Martel seniors Britney Ghee and Michelle Synhorst to talk about something from The Stranger. They strictly discuss '80s Joel. This college course will analyze American history, politics and popular culture from 1949 to 1989 using the 118 topics mentioned in the five-minute "We Didn't Start the Fire" song as the syllabus.

"We are basically going to go through everything in the song with interactive lectures, including showing movie clips and listening to music," Synhorst said. "It'll be epic."

Maybe you have no interest in American history but you secretly have a desire to be that one person who knows every lyric to this standard come Sid '80s next year. Regardless, be prepared to create another few verses to the song to cover the last 24 years since the song's release for the course final.

COLL 111: Wearing Identity

"Wearing Identity" will draw links between sub- and counterculture movements and the fashions that distinguish them in popular perception. It will provide necessary foundational knowledge on the topics of fashion and design and will trace the impact of various themes such as globalization and gender.

"[The] course is designed to give a little more insight into the alternative fashions that people see but don't really understand," Wiess College senior and instructor Bayli Berry said.

Berry hopes to use this course to dispel myths surrounding alternative fashions and to provide a deeper understanding of the relationship between a group's fashion and its identity.

COLL 119: Visual Beauty in Mathematics

One of the first student-taught courses at Rice, Mathematics of Aesthetics, sought to dissolve visual beauty into an underlying rigorous mathematical structure. Although different, the class carries on this same tradition of inspiring awe in the field of mathematics. The course will analyze how mathematical concepts have an inherent visual beauty and how these aesthetics can aid in a stronger understanding and appreciation of mathematics.

"All too often, students grow up learning mathematics as a complicated set of prescribed rules to be applied indiscriminately: Such uninspired pedagogy serves only to obfuscate the spirit of discovery and awe from which great mathematics transpires," the course syllabus states.

Will Rice College senior and course instructor Hrothgar saidthat the course has no formal prerequisites but that a strong background in algebra and calculus is highly recommended.

COLL 121: Musical Migrations

This survey of various music traditions will explore the interrelated nature of genres across the world. The class will use a historical perspective to explain the development and evolution of certain genres and also how various genres continually influence each other in the modern world. The course also aims to draw links between ostensibly disparate music styles. The course will not be music-theory-based and requires no previous understanding. Under the instruction of Jones College sophomore Max Katner, "Musical Migrations" will search the Putumayo planet and connect the world's great sounds.

COLL 133: Modular Origami

Generally, modular origami is an art form that uses related multiple pieces of single-paper origami - the modules - in order to create more complicated and multifaceted origami pieces. Brown College senior Frasier Liljestrand will guide students in the process of creating their own works of modular origami and will also use the course to explain principles of design and geometry. Additionally, the course will facilitate a deeper understanding of the art by exploring its history.

COLL 186: Introduction to Brewing

"Stand, cheer, drink more beer!" Brown senior Archibald Hampton's college course will provide students with the necessary knowledge and hands-on experience to enter the world of home brewing. In addition to actually producing the fermented beverage, students will learn about the basic chemical processes, the history and culture of beer, and the various types of beers that exist. The course is limited to students who will be at least 21 years of age by the first day of class.

COLL 190: How to be Happy

Duncan College sophomore Zelia Rosenzweig will be introducing Rice students to the field of positive psychology in the spring. The course will be dedicated to discussing and studying the scientific and practical elements of happiness. Rosenszweig also hopes to incorporate various activities such as meditation into the class to help students analyze the role that individuals play in shaping personal happiness.

"My idea for this course started with hearing that Rice students are ranked as the happiest college students in the nation," Rosenzweig said. "What's amazing is that the whole field of positive psychology is dedicated to studying how to make life more fulfilling."

COLL 209: Introduction to Energy

While most of the featured college courses represent a niche interest in a particular subject, this course stands out in a different way - namely, in that it is a mystery something similar does not already exist within Rice's formal curriculum. "Introduction to Energy" will be a three-credit-hour course taught by David Bates, an oil lawyer from the Houston community. Through interdisciplinary means, the course will require students to think critically about energy and its role in modern society with a particular emphasis on Houston. The course aims to educate its students on the issues and ultimately facilitate productive conversation on the topic of energy. The course will count for a letter grade, and the result will be factored into  students' overall GPA.

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