True Crime: America’s Most Wanted

This semester I have the good fortune of co-teaching a Freshman Seminar on True Crime with Paul Bond, who has been a long time ds106 lifer and blew my mind last Fall as an open, online particpant professor in the Hardboiled course. Paul is an amazing cat: he works as a librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, he has been experimenting with open, online courses for years now, and is amn avid student of all things b-culture (we’ve spent most of the Spring and Summer working through Mario bava’s films). Paul embodies the very best of openly sharing, encouraging, and collaborating with students online, and the work he did with the #emoboilers last Fall was truly amazing. He was a formidable presence both in the class (we brought him in remotely) and on the blogs—his constant feedback and encouragement was a source of inspiration for every student. It’s a real pleasure and honor to be actually stepping-up this relationship and working alongside him to make theTrue Crime seminar rule, and I have no doubt it will as aresult of Paul’s involvement.

But ruling is just another word for taking the time to figure out the course and engineer some real experimentation as part and parcel of the experience. Paul and I have been working on this course on-and-off for a few months, and I’m really happy with what we’ve finally come up with as a syllabus . We’re covering a broad swath of U.S. crime narratives from the Puritans up and until the L.A. gang culture of the 1990s. What’s more, we’re including films, graphic novels, TV, and music—which should add some interesting cultural elements of crime to the experience.

We’ve also thought long and hard about how we can  make the students central to the running of the course. In that regard, over the course of the sixteen week semester we’re having teams of two students lead weekly discussions for at least eight weeks of the semester. In other words, for eight weeks the sixteen students in this course will be doing the research, reading, and leading discussion for all of us–with our modeling and guidance, of course.

On top of that, we wanted to help them make their the rpesentation of their well researched ideas both compelling and thoughtful. To that end we have set aside three weeks in the semester, two during the semester as well as exam week, in which four teams of students (eight in all) will work together to produce a half-hour TV episode in which they creatively and compelling share the research and thinking they have done for their week in the spirit of an America’s Most Wanted TV show. As the syllabus suggests, weeks 6, 11, and 16 will be dedicated to producing a TV episode that very well may, or may not, include Kim Droom and Paul “On the Lamb” Bond. I like how the design of the syllabus really allows us to both model what we want, let them do it, and then tie it up into a TV epside every five weeks.

I’ve been dreaming for a long while now of trying to run a course wherein we all worked together to take the readings and research we do and produce it as several “TV” episodes over the course of the semester. I’ve no illusions that it will be perfect, and I know there’ll be some serious bumps in the road. But I’m of the mindset that you have to try and do great things and push yourself hard as an isnturctor if you want the same of your students. And while we might fail as a group, I have no doubt we we’ll learn a few things along the way and have a blast trying to do the impossible 😉 And plus, Paul “On the Lamb” Bond is crazy enought to be my partner in crime on this one “striaght down the line,” and with his research skills and my good looks, we just might pull this heist off. #truecrime4life

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