I’m sad to say the True Crime Freshman Seminar Paul Bond and I taught this semester has come to an end. We watched the final vidoes last night, and they’re working on posting their final reflections to the course blog so this semester can quickly become a memory. But before it vanishes entirely, I want to get a few final thoughts down about the experience as well as share out the final three videos the students did for the course.
Below are somesome thoughts about the process.
Sharing the teaching responsibilities for this course with Paul Bond was awesome. I think Paul and I have developed a good groove between this course and Hard Boiled. The bestthing about co-teaching the course was that it forced me to do a few things I might not otherwise. First, we spent more time than I might alone shaping and re-shaping the syllabus by throwing ideas off one another. Second, we spent more time conceptualizing the structure of the class. We made the experience a true seminar that put the students in charge of the readings and discussion each week, which forced them to actively particpate, discus, and create. This was crucial for me because given an option, and if I was solo, I would have talked and talked and talked. Finally, Pual taught me how to teach this stuff by doing it, his weekly blog posts on the readings were awesome, and as trucrimer Shelby pointed out in her final reflection “Enjoy Paul….he has the best Posts of the class.” I couldn’t agree with that more.
The video production element of this class was intense, and this was a trial run to see the idea of a seminar or content class like this can simultaneously become a video production shop—turns out it can. But it’s a hell of a lot of work, just ask any of the students The student groups produced eleven videos over the course of the semester, and they consistently got better as they went on. I really enjoy trial by fire when it comes to teaching, and the video production process really got them working together as a course community quickly. Rapid prototyping of video premises, scripts, costumes, settings, etc. was the magic of this class. We didn’t give them much time, we pushed them to be creative, and eventually it started to pay off. Not all the videos were great, mind you, but with little or no direction they eventually starting making some really compelling and creative commentaries on the works we read. I also wanted an alternative to the research paper/essay—I figure they’ll see enough of that over their four years—I wanted them to have fun creating and they did. You’ll see some evidence of this below.
Group Presentations and Wiki
The last thing I’ll say is that I couldn’t have been happier with the structure of the group presentations and wiki. Students compalined it was a lot of work and we read too much and made too many videos—but isn’t that the point? They should feel the pain, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no folling around! There were five groups, and each group was tasked with uiding a discussion for two separate weeks and framing the context for dicussion on the course wiki. I was amazed how well they did with this for the most part. We spent the semester pushing the groups to move from simply summarizing the works we discussed to actually enagaging the historical context, themes, how they relate to other works we’ve read, and some broader signifiance cultually. It wasn’t always easy or successful, but by having them run the discussion we had a much cleaer understanding of where they stood in relationship to the texts. What’s more, it was a major boon for discussion, interaction, and a general sense fo community for the class. This course had, by far, the strongest sense of community and shared experience of any course I ever taught—and for me that is the real point of a Freshman Seminar. Mission accomplsihed, Bond!
In short, the truecrimers ruled!
Now, the final thing I want to share are the final videos the students created for the course. Is I mentioned earlier there were 11 videos in all created, and you can see them all here (along with a few clips from movies we watched). The following videos were by three separate groups of students. They were charged with trying to integrate various characters, readings, and situatiosn from the entire semester into a 5-7 minute video—while at the same time examining some of the themes in the class.
The first video is dating gameshow called “Baggage” in which various criminals we read about this semester share their baggage with the lucky contestant. It is a testament to how funny and entertaining these students could make the situations, characters, and themes.
Dinner with the Killers
This video was fascinating to me because it actually had the scholar Steven Pinker, whose Ted Talk we watched at the beggining of the semester, having dinner with various criminals we read abut over the semester. Turns out Charles Manson and Nat Turner get into a brawl over Manson’s theory of Helter Skelter.
The final video was a bit disjuncted and their could have been a bit clearer narration around the bits, but the ideas was excellent. Created a wax museum of murder scenes that a curator takes you through and explains the details and their signifiance. I would love to rework this for another version of this course—the ideas is so cool—execution a bit rough give the time limitations. That said, there are some awesome moments.
Talkign with Paul alst night after the class, the thing that struck me with this setup is that I would now feel comfortable re-imagining this as an online, open course now with the video production, wiki work, and distributed possibilities for building these beyond the class—it could bea blast. I hope we get to teach this again soon so we can start experimenting with the next stage of this class. Until then.