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The Word and the World

The Word and the World Project of the Stanford University's Learning Lab developed a large lecture, Introduction to Humanities (IHUM) course adopting pedagogical strategies and technologies designed to enhance learning. The course was given in 1997 and 1998. The goal of the curriculum innovations was to transform a large lecture course into a learning community. Professors: Larry Friedlander (English), Haun Saussy (East Asian Studies), and Tim Lenior (History); teaching fellows: Carlos Seligo and Margo Denman and lab staff: Charles Kerns and George Toye worked together to develop a holistic curriculum mediated through a website center for the course.

This course was developed in response to the shortcomings of earlier large lecture courses. This type of course typically rated poorly in student evaluations and often led students to behaviors that inhibited learning: students skipped lectures and did not read assignments or prepare for meetings; students crammed for exams and waited until the last minute to write papers with a focus on grades and not learning. They were passive participants in a system that did not foster active engagement. Often there was a lack of continuity between lecture and section. Students had widely varying levels of knowledge about the texts. Faculty had very little information about the students’ knowledge as the course proceeded and the students had little feedback on their performance.

The curriculum was based on the reading of five texts, Genesis, Blade Runner, Hamlet, Descartes' Meditations, from the viewpoint of the scholar of history, literature, or philosophy. The course emphasized methods of reading and critical and interpretive approaches, rather than content.

This first year course met weekly in two one-hour lectures for all 100 students and two one-hour discussion section meetings of 15 students each. Students and instructors engaged in web activities including structured reading assignments and asynchronous discussion forums. The web site provided rich resources to supplement the texts. Students worked cross-section group projects and on panel discussions. There was no final exam for the course; a fair was held in which students exhibited their project web sites.

  • Central Course Web Site
  • Rich Web Resources
  • Structured Readings
  • The Forum
  • Student Project Web Sites
  • Evaluation


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