Digital Skills for Designing Your Own Major

Here is a syllabus I am trying out for the first time. The course is an introductory course for students who plan to self-design their own interdisciplinary majors:

Whittier Scholars Program 101

This course is the foundation course for the Whittier Scholars Program. It is designed to enable students to explore issues such as: human beings in a social context; the relationship between the individual and the community; the role of education and the life of the mind; and the ways in which values and affect play a role in asking and understanding enduring questions and analyzing issues. Themes are addressed in terms of different historical periods, disciplines, cultures and identities. Director’s permission required. 3 credits.

Course Goals

  • Initiate you into Whittier Scholar’s academic community (participate)
    In class we will practice what it takes to be a successful Whittier Scholar, including participating in discussions, note taking, attention management, envisioning your own curriculum, using campus and digital resources, etc. You will also be required to attend a few campus activities, digital meetups, and Whittier Scholars events during the semester.
  • Explore methods for taking charge of your own education (question)
    The Whittier Scholars Program gives students (with the help of a group of faculty advisors) the responsibility for designing your own curriculum. Why design your own? So that you can explore questions that YOU care about. This class offers tools and practice in researching possibilities, seeking mentors, and seizing opportunities to ask burning questions. These skills prepare you for success not only in the WSP but also in a rapidy-changing world, a world in which you may often need to “learn, unlearn, and relearn” as your interests and contexts change.
  • Practice communitication, including writing, as a process (communicate)
    Communicating artfully is a process that involves listening to others, evaluating evidence, analyzing your own questions, advancing ideas, offering and accepting criticism, adapting your speech and prose to suit a specific audience, and practicing precision and persuasiveness. Note: error-free writing is the assumed starting point of this class. We will not study grammar, but will address “mechanical” issues as needed.
  • Participate in social media to advance your learning and life goals (collaborate)
    This class will explore new avenues for overcoming distinctions between learning and doing, education and work, and public and private identities via social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, etc.). We will practice participating in social media collaborations and spend time shaping our individual digital identities to reflect our ethics and goals.

What do you want to learn?

Discovering that is the central purpose of this course. Along the way, we will play with various tools and develop skills that will hopefully help you place your own questions at the center of your Whittier College education. In class and via social media, we will pursue the learning that you wish to explore this semester—and, potentially, in your Whittier Scholars major and project. In order to provide a framework for your explorations, we will read some texts chosen for their interdisciplinarity and elegance. You should read (or watch) them carefully, attentively, and take notes as you do so, focusing on how they might relate to your central questions.

The seminar format gives you the privilege and responsibility of regularly participating in discussions. In this class, we are not only each other’s discussion partners, we are also each other’s reading audience. Collaborative learning, including reviewing each other’s writing, will be a regular part of the course. In addition, since most of your writing for this class will be posted publically on the Web, the whole world is your potential reading audience. As your questions take shape, we will develop learning networks to help you pursue your questions both within Whittier and in the world—and Web—beyond.

As the semester progresses, you will take increasing control over the course. In the final unit, “Community,” you will lead class for about 40 minutes in order to bring the classroom community into your “big question”—the topic you’ve been pursuing over the semester. Your leadership will begin with you giving a short TED-style talk about your big question. What you do next is up to you: maybe it will involve a discussion, or a game, or a

Learning Objectives of the Course

  1. To enable students to generate and address “fundamental questions” about the individual, community, society, and the relationship(s) between and among them;
  1. To expose students to a range of disciplines and perspectives that will enable them to begin to formulate answers for themselves;
  1. To increase students’ ability to respond critically to ideas presented in a variety of media, i.e., text, film, oral presentation, etc.
  1. To increase students’ understanding of the social environment in which they live and their place within it; and
  1. To help students begin to think about their education and their own goals as a first step toward designing their own education for the WSP.

Required Texts

Most texts for this class will be articles and talks available online and/or in PDFs that you can download onto your device or print out. Whether you choose to read them on screen or on paper, you will need to read them carefully and attentively, to make notes in them, and to bring them to class according to the reading schedule below. The only book you need buy is the following: Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist.

Online Materials –your grades are available to you on Moodle throughout the semester

Participate in the course Moodle website regularly. Go to and login using your my.whittier login and password. You should be automatically enrolled in the class. I will post syllabus updates, PDFs, useful links, and assignments, and you will post some assignments. Visit the course Moodle website at least twice a week, before each class session. All grades will be posted to the Moodle Gradebook during the semester so that you can keep track of your progress in the course (though there will often be some delay between marking and posting—please be patient!). There are also many writing resources available through links on the Moodle page. Explore them! You’ll be amazed.

Writing for the Public

You will write and revise blog posts regularly throughout the semester. You will write most mornings in class. You will regularly tweet your ideas and links to your blogs. Also, you will regularly read and comment on classmates’ writing.

Most of the writing you do for this class will not only be shared with your classmates and myself, but also with anyone who finds you on We will therefore discuss early in the term your options for your online presence: you may choose to publish your work under your own name or to use a psdeunym. We will read about what trade-offs are involved in this decision so that you can make an informed decision, and you will sign a contract with the class identifying your individual choice.

You will also be reading—and publically commenting—on each others’ writing. These comments, as with all work you do for this class, should be constructive and helpful. The more specific your comments, the more helpful they will be for the writer. Generalized compliments should be avoided. Take your review responsibilities seriously, and make significant suggestions to others!

For additional help with writing throughout the semester, I encourage you to come see me in office hours and also to visit the writing center in the Center for Advisement and Academic Success (CAAS).

Initial Course Schedule

Since this is a seminar, reading and other assignments should be completed BEFORE CLASS on the date indicated so that you can participate fully in the discussion. The only exception to this are assignments listed as “in class” on the syllabus. Always bring relevant books to class. Our schedule will usually change during the semester: the most up-to-date schedule will always be available on the course Moodle website.


  Read and àWrite before class In class
Unit One: Individual: How do you want to learn?
Week One  
R 9/4 In class:

Wallace, David Foster: “This is Water” Commencement Speech on Youtube.

Abridged (illus)


Attention Experiment

After class: Update your Moodle profile.


Week Two àKeep Attention Log this week to discover your attentional practices
T 9/9 Cronon, “Only Connect…”

Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox”

[Optional: Nussbaum, “Liberal Education and Global Community” AACU Winter 2004]

àSummarize Cronon reading (1-2 pgs)


Discuss readings and two types of summaries: 140 character summaries and purposeful summaries for writing.
R 9/11 Topic: What is your digital identity and footprint? What do you want it to be? Sign individual publishing contract for class work.


Read: Terms of Service for and Twitter.

Hogan, Bernie. “Pseudonyms and the Rise of the Real-Name Web.”


In Class Workshop Day: Medium, Storify, and Twitter


F 9/13 àTweet Link to Profile Last day to add classes
Week Three
T 9/16 Davidson, “The Classroom or the Worldwide Web?” from The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (8-25)

àTweet at least 2 interesting claims from reading.

Discuss tweets and claims, make collaborative summary.
R 9/18 à Blog 1: What you learned from keeping an attention log. àTweet link & summary. Workshop w/ John Jackson: Multimedia annotation strategies and Zotero
Week Four
T 9/23 Davidson, “Pillars of Institutional Pedagogy: Ten Principles for the Future of Learning” from The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (26-35) (pdf)

àBlog 2: Five Personal Learning Principles (5- 7 mins read). àTweet link & summary

Discuss personal learning principles in relation to Davidson’s institutional principles.
R 9/25 Sall, Mike. “The Optimal Post is 7 Minutes”

àWhat is an “attention minute”?

Sall, Mike. “Double the pain, double the gain.”

à Blogs 1 & 2 revised and submitted for publication by classtime

àTweet summaries and links for them.

  9/27 last day to Drop
Unit Two: Identity: What do you want to learn?
Week Five
T 9/30 Topic: Begin Big Question project: What is your question and why use TED, Youtube, etc?


àBlog 3: What is your big question? What do you want to know? (minimum 7 mins read)

àTweet summary/link.

Develop rubric for evaluating blogs and working collaboratively.
R 10/2 Rheingold, “Attention and Other 21st Century Social Media Literacies” (pdf)

à Blog 3 revised submitted for publication by classtime.

àTweet summary and link

Discussion of mutli-modal composition: what are modes, and why not write essays like everyone else?
Week Six  
T 10/7 Peer Revision Workshop

à WSP Application Essay

Class decides: bring paper copies? Or laptops?

Set Unit Three schedule for class leadership.


R 10/9 “Behold the Mustache”: Howard Rheingold’s visit

àTweet three questions for Howard before class.

Attend talk at 5pm

Live Tweet his talk? Class should discuss and decide.

F 10/10 WSP Applications Due  
Week Seven
T 10/14 The Alchemist

àTweet 2 interesting quotations from The Alchemist before class, including page numbers.

àBlog 4: Embed a TED or Ignite talk that relates to your big question (blog 3). Describe why you find the talk inspiring. How does it relate to your big question? How does the speaker capture your attention? What would you do differently? (5-7 mins read)

àTweet summary and link

Explain why each quotation interests you to a partner and together develop a question for the class.
R 10/16 The Alchemist

à Blog 5: Title blog with a question you want to explore. Begin with an interesting quotation from The Alchemist and explain why you find it compelling and how it responds to your question. (5-7 mins read)

àTweet summary and link

Think/Pair/Share: discuss tweets and reading in relation to your own plans.
Week Eight
T 10/21 àBlog 6: Your Lesson Plan. Begin with links to resources we—your students—must read, and a blog or twitter assignment we must do in advance. (minimum 7 mins read)

àTweet summary and links.

Workshop Blog 6
R 10/23 The Alchemist

à5 tweets about The Alchemist. They may respond to class questions from previous session or they may assert a new idea about the novel or ask a question for the class.

Storify tweets into topic categories. Discuss key topics.
Unit Three: Community: What will you teach us?

Topics and assignments to be input by student teachers at least one week before session!

Week Nine
T 10/28 àBlog 6 revised and submitted for publication by classtime.

àTweet link and summary.

R 10/30 àBlog 7: Your Learning Network: Who are you connecting with to pursue your big question? How are you connecting? Where are you sharing information? What have you learned? (minimum 5 mins read)
Week Ten (Weeks 10 & 11 are Advising)
T 11/4  
R 11/6  
Week Eleven
T 11/11
R 11/13 Prepare for Twitter Game
Nov 14-17: Play TvsZ
Week Twelve
T 11/18 àBlog 8: What did you learn from playing TvsZ? (minimum 5 mins read)
R 11/20
Week Thirteen
T 11/25
R 11/27 Thanksgiving Break
Week Fourteen  
T 12/2 Final Blog: What is your next step? How will you use your connections, skills, and questions to get you there? How has this class contributed to your ability to pursue your own learning? (7 – 9 mins read minimum, carefully revised and submitted for publication)

àTweet summary and link

R 12/4 Last Day of Class

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