Syllabus: Comm 106

Comm 106, Science and equality
Writing—and living—together

by Lan Nguyen ’08

Instructor: David Droge, associate professor, communication studies

Course description: This course goes beyond the typical first-year writing and rhetoric seminar. One of 10 residential seminars jump-started by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, students taking the class all live on the same floor of one of the campus residences. The class incorporates “argumentative analysis” to critically examine issues in science, such as how data presentation or statistical reasoning are used to support or challenge claims. The class also explores the implications of contemporary public policy issues such as affirmative action, the use of standardized tests in schools, and educational policies. Students prepare and debate presentations on contemporary and historic policy issues, and research writing assignments on key issues and figures. During a daylong retreat in the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching, students polish up drafts of an op-ed-type essay modeled on Newsweek’s “My Turn” page. A university grant for residential seminars allows the students to publish their writing.

On the reading list:
Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, M. Neil Brown, Stuart Keeley

Mismeasure of Man, Stephen J. Gould

More Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers From the Media, Joel Best

The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand

What it Means to Be 98 Percent Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes, Jonathan Marks

What students say:
Kate Trinh ’10 chose to take the class in fall 2006 because she was interested in issues of equality, which are addressed in the course. Trinh cites the residential aspect of the program as one of the highlights, both easing her transition from high school to college and helping to create relationships with people in the class that are more substantial than friendships she has made in other classes.

“I had a group that I was well connected with by second semester. That would have been harder in a normal seminar,” Trinh says. “If a paper was assigned, everyone in the dorm would be writing on the same topic, so we could always bounce ideas off each other.”

What the professor says:
The program has gotten good feedback throughout the years (it has been offered in various forms since 2001), since students are able to build both personal and academic rapport with their classmates through living together.

“People who take residential seminars have something in common to talk about when they get together outside of class,” Droge says. “And the faculty really value these seminars. Class attendance is high, level of energy is high, and students confide in each other.”