Finals are right around the corner at West Chester University, and I imagine that many students share my academic fatigue at this point. As an English major, I routinely find myself drowned in a sea of literary and rhetorical analysis that I must traverse in order to get my degree. But one of the reasons that I love this school is because they offer very interesting and engaging reprieves from the classes that I’m required to take.
WCU usually offers experimental classes each semester, which focus around a certain topic that’s either unique or attention-grabbing. Many students at WCU may be familiar with Chemistry of Beer, one such example of these types of classes. I’ve tried to take these classes whenever the opportunity arose and, having done so, I feel that there are certainly pros and cons.
The first experimental class that I remember taking was Food, Fire, and Physics, a general education science class centered on making food. I took it with two of my roommates, and we were very excited to see what the class had to offer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite what we expected. It was a very large class of over 100 people, so it was difficult to get any firsthand experience from the science without doing the experiments on our own. We felt detached and marginalized from a class that we expected to be hands-on and accessible. The size of the class ended up detracting from the overall experience.
The next year, I took a class on the history of baseball in America. Some may scoff at the notion of a class like this, but it became the impetus for some of the most engaging and fluid conversations about sports and society that I’ve personally ever had. We weren’t overloaded with papers or weekly readings, just one chapter per week which acted as a jumping off point for discussion that usually lasted the entire class. I found the course to be a fulfilling and worthwhile experience, driven by a multiplicity of voices and opinions.
I can’t say the same thing this semester, however. For English majors at WCU, our highest level courses are seminars, which extensively focus on a single topic through reading and writing. As a result, specialty courses are more common among seminars, but no less unique. This semester, I’m taking my final seminar on the rhetorical and cultural dimensions of the Grateful Dead. Although I knew next to nothing about the band, I was initially very excited for this course. Seminars are discussion driven, and the opportunity to discuss music and its impact at a personal and societal level is too good to pass up.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much discussion to speak of in that class, at least by the students. It’s mostly documentaries in class with reading and writing outside of class. The course is filled with interesting information but the lack of direction is frustrating.
No one should be deterred from taking new and interesting courses, but they can be hit or miss. Ultimately, my advice to anyone interested in taking experimental courses at WCU would be this: do your research. Taking these kinds of courses doesn’t have to be a leap of faith. Class size and coursework can be deciding factors in a course without precedent, and it behooves students to know these things in order to ground their expectations.
Chris Landry is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at CL784324@wcupa.edu.
His Twitter is @Landry_dubc.