Sunday, April 26, 2015

Assignment- Past, Present, and Future

Apropos of nothing, I thought I'd share an assignment I came up with for my honors college course. It's called "Adaptation in a Changing World" and uses an integrated approach to learning that also encourages reflective and creative thinking and combines it with developing research skills. So I thought I'd share it too. I think my students will like it. What are your thoughts?

Past, Present, and Future
DHC 270 Integrated Learning 
Research Assignment 
Adaptation in a Changing World

This research paper takes an integrated approach to predicting the future of a given field of study or work. 

Take for instance the field of aerospace engineering (also see “rocket science”).  

Introduction: You might look up some background and context for the field, and think of definitions related to this field.  You do not need to justify your interest in this field; your choice to research it is justification enough. In aerospace engineering, you’d look up terms like astrodynamics, electrotechnology, materials science, aircraft structural and design, avionics, software, and fluid mechanics. Maybe you’d like to see what sorts of jobs are available in this field. Narrow this a bit- instead of aircraft and spacecraft, think just of one field- spacecraft (because why not?)

Next, think of the history of your field. You should be creative here. For example, in aerospace engineering, there is a raft of history, cultural significance, and research; so much so that you’d have to pi ck and choose. I personally would begin with thoughts of Galileo, and Copernicus, then move to mythology and stargazing (astronomy? astrology?!) and flow into speculative fiction, such as the works of Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison. While I’m at it, I’d swing by the original Star Trek television show by Gene Roddenberry. 

This is not fancy, however, as art and speculation often prompt real world development. Think of the communicators from Star Trek, as seen below left. 

Visual elements are encouraged. 

Dr. Martin Cooper, who invented the first handheld mobile phone, credits the Star Trek communicators for his inspiration. Flip phone, anyone? Imagination and creativity are what spark innovation. Negative outcomes are still valuable outcomes. Do keep that in mind. 

There should be a point in your paper in which you describe the general trajectory of your chosen field. For instance, in aerospace engineering, they have gone from myth to speculation to steps towards space flight to actual space flight, landing on the moon and landing a rover on Mars. 

Then the paper gets fun. You’ll need to do some speculation of your own. You may consult the stars (not really), but perhaps your paper would be better served with primary and secondary research. Your speculation may take the form of where this particular branch is heading- in our example, I would consider space tourism, a colony on the moon, the likelihood of a manned space flight to Mars, and exploration outside of our solar system. This won’t happen in our lifetimes, but perhaps we can imagine what will take place eventually.  Incidentally, I recommend a book called “The Martian”, by Andy Weir. It’s speculative, as scientifically accurate as possible, and comments on the human condition, even when someone is stranded on Mars alone and far from home. 

In the conclusion, you might imagine your place in this field. My place in this field is to encourage others to follow their dreams and shoot for the stars. If my life were arranged differently, I might have been an astronaut. 

There is no minimum page count, though you may not exceed 15 pages not including the works cited.  Use MLA format and make sure you conform to the conventions of research and writing. 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds fantastic! I think you could even incorporate a version of this assignment into your curriculum for your freshmen class.