At some point, everyone has taken those same-old, same-old college courses--math, philosophy, writing, maybe a little poli-sci thrown in for good measure. But what about a course on, say, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer?"
Yes, that "Buffy" with Sarah Michelle Gellar, that aired on television from 1997 to 2003--as the subject for a college class.
The course is part of DePaul University's Focal Point Seminar program--a required class for all freshmen that can cover a range of quirky topics in a discussion-based setting, explained Douglas Long, director of DePaul's First Year Program.
"Students are able to choose from about a hundred topics, from Ivan the Terrible to Punk Rock in the UK to September 11," Long said. "Essentially though, they're all versions of the same basic class, teaching learning skills that will be useful they progress through DePaul's curriculum."
Professor David Brenders is teaching one this quarter entitled "Wonders, Cons and Scandals." In it, he said, the class will investigate "fringe or alternative beliefs" and look at how well they "hold up under rational or scientific inquiry."
"Whether it be alien abduction, satanic cults, fortune-telling, ESP, psychic healing, spontaneous human combustion, or the like, your favorite fringe belief will be discussed," he said. "An added benefit of the course will be to show the student how to be a more informed judge of the claims of others."
The Focal Point Seminar began in the late 1990s, Long explained, and originally comprised 10 pilot classes. Now, there are a total of 107 sections offered to students during the winter and spring quarters, Long said, and it has become a requirement for freshmen. As for the wide range of topics, Long said that each professors must demonstrate how they will fulfill the university's learning requirements through that topic.
"The purpose is to teach DePaul students learning skills needed for their undergraduate education," Long said. "The learning outcomes include: That students can study a subject from multiple academic perspectives; that they can learn through active classroom seminar discussion, as opposed to lecture; and that they continue to develop the process of revising writing."
It isn't all television and pop culture though.
Scott Hibbard's course is called Focal Point: 9/11. An associate professor in the political science department, Hibbard said he chose the topic because it was close to his own "personal and professional interests." He worked in Washington D.C. for a number of years, where he spent a lot of time analyzing the Islamic religion and U.S. Foreign policy.
When he got the chance to teach a focal point, a class about the impact of 9/11 seemed like a natural fit.
"In short, I want students to see how traumatic -- and tragic -= 9/11 was for the country, as well as how it fundamentally changed our perceptions of freedom and security," he said. "9/11 was a watershed event for this country, and, after taking the course, I believe that students will better understand that."
To get a topic approved, Long said that the instructor must give a proposal that explains how they will "fulfill the learning outcomes through their topic." And, he said, it benefits both the teacher and pupil that the topic is specifically chosen.
"One great benefit for students is that their instructors are teaching topics of great personal interest and experience," Long said. "For students, it's not only fun to learn the academic skills through a topic of interest but also a good way to 'shop' for a major or minor."
Hibbard called the focal point an "asset" to the university, because it "provides students with a seminar experience early in their academic career."
"You will not find this at the major state schools, which commonly have several hundred people in introductory level courses," he said. "That DePaul offers small classes to first year students - and the individualized attention associated with it - reflects the fact that even though DePaul is a major university, it has the heart and soul of a small liberal arts college."
To see a list of the current focal point classes being offered at DePaul, click here.