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Beyond co-creation: Courses designed by students

More creative, niche and co-created courses cropping up, from Game of Thrones to Cristiano Ronaldo, and Rubix's Cubes to Kanye West.
This article is more than 5 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

Previous posts in this vein have provided regular updates on courses which might be described as possibly slightly bonkers or, more generously, a bit niche.

For example these distinctive degrees in puppetry and bagpiping, and, more exotically, in Beyonce and Ghostbusting. Travelling through time we have also seen this exciting academic offer, a course on Dr Who. There’s an exciting but very serious Game of Thrones course at the University of British Columbia, which “seeks to examine the role of the medieval in the popular consciousness of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.” Equally seriously, Brown is offering a course on Star Wars and Beyond: Physics in Film which puts the science in science fiction movies to the test. At the University of Southampton there is a course on the Real Downton Abbey which gives students the opportunity to learn about life above and below stairs.

Genuinely student-led courses

The above courses have been developed thanks to some really creative academic course designers. But I was really impressed to learn of this long-established programme of student-led courses at UC Berkeley:

At the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), students have the option to create and lead courses on topics of their own choosing.

The university currently has more than 200 student-led courses, spanning 60 departments. Though they aren’t officially graded, they do count for one or two credits.

The courses at UC Berkeley fall under the school’s Democratic Education at Cal (DeCal) program, which started about 50 years ago as a result of the school’s free speech movement.

Topics are wide-ranging and have included:

Relationships as seen through the lens of “Modern Family”;
Political strategy in “Game of Thrones”;
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter;
Secrets of the Rubik’s Cube;
The art of lion dancing;
Mass incarceration;
Human trafficking;
Korean recitation;
Human genetics;
Christian thought;
Cognitive Karate;
Sufi meditation;
3-D bioprinting;
Stem cells;
Baking; and

Nearly 4,000 students enrol in the courses each semester.
Some outstanding ideas are there and they really are taking the conception of co-creation to a whole new level.

Studying musical and sporting genius

Meanwhile in other news there is an interesting new development at Washington University where students can enter the  world of Kanye West with a course on the “Politics of Kanye West: Black Genius and Sonic Aesthetics.”

Georgia State University offered a course on West in 2015, and one at the University of Missouri in 2014 focused on West and Jay-Z. Dr. Jeffrey McCune, an associate professor in the African and African-American Studies and the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies departments, helms this course on the rapper, producer and fashion designer.

McCune promises the course isn’t an excuse to fawn over West’s music, nor will it be a weekly exercise in West bashing. Highlights from the artist’s life last year include a lauded album, “The Life of Pablo,” and a public breakdown followed by a stint in rehab. McCune sees the course as a “good way to get students to connect issues of politics, race, gender, sexuality and culture.”

West of course is no stranger to higher education as he disclosed when accepting an Honorary Degree recently: “I am a pop artist so my medium is public opinion and the world is my campus”.

But perhaps the most interesting new course is the new UBC offering on footballing superstar Cristiano Ronaldo:

A Canadian university will give students the chance to study “arguably the best footballer in the world” – by offering a course on athlete Cristiano Ronaldo.

The University of British Columbia Okanagan is enrolling fourth-year sociology students on a course examining the three-time ballon d’Or winner impact on social and cultural trends.“I’m interested in how Ronaldo has been used to construct several discourses about who he is, what makes him distinct as a footballer, what is his relationship to Portugal, Madeira (his hometown) and his Portuguese identity,” associate professor of sociology Luis LM Aguiar claims.

I’m sure we all look forward to that one kicking off.

All of these courses then look very marketable. Are there others out there I’ve missed?

2 responses to “Beyond co-creation: Courses designed by students

  1. Thanks for pointing these out Paul. Do you know if there is any correlation with these courses and their NSSE results or any other engagement metric?
    When Beyonce released her ‘Lemonade’ album there was an booklet shared on social media encouraging people to read about the women that Beyonce was celebrating through her music. – apparently UTSA are offering a course on that too.

    1. Thank you for the comment and the link. I’m not sure that there is evidence to support the value of these courses to students or to indicate satisfaction or otherwise with the offer. But they certainly raise interest!

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