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Top 5: Building Better Humanities Courses

Duke professor Michael P. Ryan discusses ways students and others can contribute to the creation of humanities courses

Part of the Humanities Writ Large Series
The Humanities on Demand course invites students to submit materials through its website.
The Humanities on Demand course invites students to submit materials through its website.

A new humanities class at Duke offers students a rare chance to help shape its curriculum -- a shift away from the traditional model in which students are simply passive consumers of course materials.

The course, "Humanities on Demand: Narratives Gone Viral," invites undergraduates to suggest materials to study. All kinds of narratives are welcome: books, plays, films, fairytales, blogs, YouTube videos or anything else they can think of. It is a part of a dynamic network of initiatives made possible by Humanities Writ Large, a $6 million initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

Here, course co-director Michael P. Ryan offers his Top 5 ways to re-imagine course design in the humanities.  

1. Develop a website where undergrads can suggest course content

Done! Humanities on Demand will be taught in Spring of 2013. Students can upload ideas and course instructors will determine which suggestions should be incorporated into the syllabus.

2. Get the public involved

Duke could create a flagship humanities course that invites the general public to suggest course materials. If properly executed, such a course could re-emphasize the significance of the humanities to the public. 

3. A transnational ideas exchange

Launch a literature and culture course that asks Duke students in China to suggest materials for a course here in Durham. We could also invert the process so Duke students in Durham could suggest ideas for the Chinese course.

4. Go global

A survey course that invites members of the public from France, Germany, Italy and other countries  to submit material could dramatically raise the profile of our foreign language departments. Further, it would help these departments build a new network of people interested in their respective fields.  

5. Recognize and Reward Involvement

Award a Duke Humanities "Badge" to those whose suggestions make the cut. The "badge" is a new concept in the digital humanities that recognizes and certifies certain skills and achievements. A Duke Humanities Badge would signify successful participation in the creation of the curriculum.