Not every class is going to excite students and get them engaged, but some absolutely will, and these classes may not be as traditional as you would think. I searched high and low and spoke with professors and students on the Texas Tech University campus to discover the most unique and interesting classes offered to undergraduate students. Below is a list of ten creative, innovative Texas Tech courses that will never make students want to skip a class.
Zombie Culture in History, Film, Literature, Art and Imagination (HONS 1304/Fall)
One would not necessarily think a course about zombies would have a lot of educational value, but assistant professor and librarian Rob Weiner is proving that false.
Weiner said his class, zombie culture in history, film, literature, art and imagination, which he developed himself, delves deep into all aspects of the zombie, including questions about what exactly zombies are, why they are popular, their role in world culture and the history of zombies in every facet of popular culture.
“It encompasses looking at how the zombie has affected the world,” he said.
Weiner said the class is only available to students in the Honors College, for whom it counts as a fine arts credit, and the course is only available during fall semesters.
He said his students study various forms of film and literature from Edgar Allen Poe to “The Walking Dead,” as well as participate in discussions aimed to develop better critical thinking.
“It’s very thought provoking. I had one student tell me they learned more in my class than some of their other classes and about how to apply that critical thinking in the real world,” Weiner said. “And, that’s my goal anyways, regardless, just because something is about popular culture does not mean it’s dumbed down.”
The Science of Wine (PSS 1304/Fall)
The science of wine course can fulfill a core science credit, and according to the syllabus, it introduces students to the history of grape growing and winemaking. The course applies biology, chemistry and technology to modern wine production.
The plant and soil science class is taught by professor Edward Hellman, Ph.D., and is only available during fall semesters.
According to the syllabus, students are graded on four exams throughout the semester. They are tested over the biology and chemistry underlying grape development, the process of fermentation into wine, the properties of wine, and the application of technology to modern methods of grape and wine production.
Mary Lancarte, a sophomore from Fort Worth, Texas, took the class in the fall and said it can be a tough class, but learning exactly how wine is made was interesting.
Personally, I know I would like to learn how my beverage is made…
Bad Girls in Early America (HIST 4328)
Emily Skidmore, assistant professor of U.S. history, gender and sexuality, was in her first year of teaching when she had a conversation with a student who said she enjoyed learning about women in traditionally subservient roles, but the student wanted to learn more about the women who did not accept those roles, the ones who broke out of social expectations.
Skidmore said this conversation sparked an idea.
“That conservation really stuck with me,” she said. “I was like ‘that is a really good idea for a class’ because as much as I think it’s important to learn about why it is that women have traditionally not held leadership positions or whatever, it’s always important for us to think about people who have defied expectations and stepped out of what traditionally had been expected of them.”
She said the Bad Girls in Early America class was introduced last spring semester. The upper-level history course will most likely be offered every spring semester, but students must be of junior standing and a history major or minor to enroll.
“The class is designed to not only look at women who have exceeded expectations, but it also talks about what characteristics can lead to women being considered ‘bad,'” Skimore said. “And, often it’s women who don’t abide by sexual expectations or they’re not as feminine as they’re supposed to be. So, not only who has been consider bad, but why is it that certain women have been labeled this distinction of ‘being bad?’”
She said her students work on a lengthy paper due at the end of the semester about their favorite bad girl.
Skidmore said some of the women discussed in class are Anne Hutchinson, an orthodox puritan rebel who was banished from her community, Deborah Samson, a woman who dressed as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War (much like Mulan), and Harriet Tubman.
“Really, the conversations we have in class is one of my favorite parts because everyone is coming at the conversation from a different perspective and learning about something new,” she said. “So, it’s like a way to think about historical events that we’ve learned a lot about before, but we’re learning about it from a different perspective. Like we’ve all learned about the Revolutionary War, but we’ve never heard about Debroah Samson.”
Analyzing Televison (EMC 3345)
In my dream world, I could watch TV and get class credit for it. Fortunately, there is an electronic media course that does just that.
According to the syllabus by professor Jimmie Reeves, Ph.D, the analyzing television course is designed to cultivate critical thinking skills by introducing students to key concepts in story analysis and narrative theory with an emphasis on the depictions of race, class and gender.
Analyzing television can count as an elective for students in the College of Media & Communication, and students are graded on one exam along with two different vlogs, or video blogs. One is to be a short analysis examining the meaning of the student’s favorite television character, the syllabus said.
“The second vlog was either a rant or a rave about a show,” said The Hub@TTU News Director Sarah Self-Walbrick, a former student of the class. “Mine was about how much I hate Zooey Deschanel and ‘New Girl.'”
Among the regular lectures throughout the semester, students also view and study episodes of “The Sopranos” in class.
Marilda Oviedo, Ph.D., will now teach the class since Reeves retired from Texas Tech in December.
Superhero in Film, Television and Popular Culture (HONS 1304/Spring)
Along with Rob Weiner’s zombie class, the assistant professor and librarian said he also developed a course based on superheroes.
Weiner said the class is very similar to the one about zombies in culture, but with superhero course, there is a lot more focus on film and graphic novels.
“The idea is to teach critical thinking. Students learn about some of the artists who have worked in the industry over the last 75 to 80 years. It’s also film based, as well as they read some key texts, both academic and some graphic novels,” he said. “They understand some superhero theories, like what is the superhero’s purpose? Is there a specific genre that sets the superhero apart from other heroic narratives?”
Weiner said the class is important because the superhero is basically our modern mythology. He touches on the similarities between the stories of Moses and Superman and the concept of the immigrant, Captain America and the ideals of what the U.S. is supposed to represent, and the edginess of Batman and the idea of justice.
He said students read many graphic novels, but he insists comic book reading actually engages the readers, making them use both sides of their brain.
“It’s all about engaging students, giving them an opportunity to allow them a voice and give them something to critically think and contemplate about,” Weiner said. “And, again, that doesn’t mean you dumb down the content. Both classes, they have to write and read a lot, and reading sequential art is not always easy for everyone. It takes time.”
The Vampire in East European and Western Culture (SLAV 2301)
There are classes about zombies and superheroes, so why not vampires?
According to the class syllabus, the vampire in East European and Western culture course fulfills students’ multicultural and humanities core requirement.
The course addresses how vampires have been used in a variety of cultures as a metaphor for things people fear and desire, the metaphor’s inception in early Eastern Europe and the culture, beliefs and attitudes of its peoples, and vampire popularity in the West. According to the syllabus, students also examine how the vampire changed from being a monster to be feared to also being an object of desire. (This is for you, “Twilight” fans.)
Throughout the semester, students and their professor, Erin Collopy, Ph.D., discuss the roles gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class and power relations play in vampire folklore, literature and film, the syllabus said.
Special Topics in Electronics: Adventure Media (EMC 4301)
Jerod Foster, Ph.D., assistant professor of practice in electronic media, said he originally came up with an idea for a class that would take place five weekends out of a semester during which he and his students would take extended field trips around Texas and the Southwest to photograph outdoor adventures and sports.
This concept eventually grew into a new adventure media class. It ended up as a semester-long class, but he still incorporates field trips.
“One of the unique facets of the course are a couple of field trips during the semester. We just actually finished our first one — we went to Caprock Canyons State Park on Saturday morning,” Foster said. “So, we basically took off a day of class during the week, went up there, spent three hours from 9 a.m. to noon working on visually scouting out good visuals and then also photographing high action.”
He said the course is kind of niche specific and focuses on creating media about outdoor adventures, outdoor active lifestyles, and non-mainstream sports. It is mainly targeted toward students who want to pursue a career in that industry, but it is also good for students who love the outdoors as a hobby.
Foster said the course studies photography as well as commercial and promotional video and documentary-style video, and the course provides a way for electronic media students to become well rounded.
“It’s hands-on, very production oriented, and it’s also highly discussion based,” he said. “We don’t have concrete lectures every time.”
Foster said he and the students take two field trips throughout the semester, one to Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway and one to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. He said they also take shorter trips, like to a local trail system where students photograph environmental portraits of trail runners, and he will screen an adventure documentary in class and hold a Skype session with the director and talent of the film.
“The field trips are good. We just had our first one, and it went off without a bang,” he said. “The students got a lot out of it, and they produced some good material, and they got to get out of the classroom. That alone is worth the experience.”
Latin American Cuisine and Culture (RHIM 2340)
Would you like to cook food for your class every week? Anyone?
A restaurant, hotel and institutional management course called Latin American cuisine and culture allows students to do this while learning about traditional Latin American food as well as how to communicate with Spanish-speaking individuals.
“We would learn a set of vocabulary words in Spanish and then tie it into what dish we were preparing for the day,” said Megan Hannan, a former student of the class. “It was a great way to quickly pick up on the basics of the language as it’s common in the hospitality industry to have many Spanish-speaking only employees.”
The senior restaurant, hotel and institutional management major said her professor, Alfonso Sanchez, Ph.D., was a great professor to have for the class.
“He was passionate about his class and enriching students knowledge of the Latin American culture,” she said, “which created a great learning environment for the students.”
Hannan said her favorite part of the class was learning how to make salsa con tomatillo the correct way.
“A major part of our grade was giving a kitchen demonstration by preparing a dish for the class while giving the presentation in Spanish,” she said. “The best part of the assignment was that this meant each week we got to try a new dish that was common to eat in the Latin-American culture.”
Hannan said she would recommend the class to other students, especially those in the restaurant, hotel and institutional management program.
“It’s a great way to push you outside of your comfort zone and pick up a skill set that is a necessity in the hospitality industry to be successful,” she said.
History of Rock and Roll (MUHL 2310)
If you need to fulfill a core history credit and you love music, this could be the class for you.
According to the syllabus, the history of rock and roll course introduces students to the styles and history of the first three decades of rock ‘n’ roll, from its roots in the traditional music of African Americans and rural whites through the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s and to the advent of the punk rock movement.
Students’ grades are assessed by exams and quizzes throughout the semester, according to the syllabus.
iGeneration: Living and Learning on the Internet (ESPY 2301)
“The class is basically a study of how the Internet has influenced the way we live,” an assistant professor of education said. “My students and I, we try to look at the pros and cons of the world that is consumed by technology, and especially, we focus on the Internet.”
Fanni Coward, Ph.D., said her iGeneration class is especially relevant for the millennial generation, as well as younger ones.
She said one of the topics covered is Internet addiction. While young adults and college students are criticized for using too much technology, Coward said none of her students display any signs of an actual addiction, even though they all have some sort of smartphone.
Coward said one of the class assignments requires students to avoid a certain social media platform, like Facebook or Instagram, in order to examine how the Internet influences them.
“Some of them are really cute. They said ‘you know, I know I’m going to have problem doing this, so I actually deleted the app’ because they say they know they would cheat if they didn’t delete the app,” she said. “I think what I notice is that it is such a part of their social life, and then they feel left out when they are not on the Internet, but some of them say they realize how much time they spent on using it.”