Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
benbess

If you were teaching a Star Trek class

45 posts in this topic

I would say it could have a similar value as a literature course, or a writing class.

It could illustrate the layers of meaning within a pop culture icon, and providing insight into the nuts-and-bolts operations (and thought process) that goes into creating a story for a TV series (or a movie). It wouldn't necessarily be a job placement course for TV production, but I think it could be a nice aid towards critical thinking (and applying that thinking to many other art forms of pop culture).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As I student looking at that, I would have thought "cool, easy credits - just sit around watching TV!" :thumbup:

As a teacher, I'd be curious as to what you actually think this (and these episodes in particular) is going to teach them?

Well, as a professor I'm not the toughest, but I'm not the easiest either. Here's a comment from rate my professors:

"He is smart, nice and fun. But it is not easy. I go to class every day, take note, pay attention, study really hard for exams (around 40 images to study for each exam, each exam has 10 short IDs, 4 essays, ...) I expect a higher grade for the effort I put in this class...."

For my film studies classes, there are often short reading quizzes that start out the class. And then we often discuss the readings, which means that if someone didn't read it or concentrate on what was going on it's fairly obvious. I'm still working out the lesson plans, discussions, readings, and mini-lectures for each episode, but for Chain of Command, for instance, we'd discuss and probably have a reading about the issue of "enhanced interrogation" aka torture and issues surrounding that. For Darmok, there's a good reading about it that analyzes how metaphors are used in that episode. In addition, after each class students need to write an analytical review of one of the episodes (c. 500 words), and then discuss it online, using the online teaching platform software called Blackboard. I posted the title of the article that we'd use for the arc of Voyager episodes about Seven. Anyway, that gives you the basic idea. Students also will pick an episode, movie, or theme to write an original research paper and do an in-class presentation. Anyway, the class as a whole will be a fair amount of work—for the students and for me—but I think and hope it will also be fun.

If anyone cares to mention themes they'd want to talk about for each particular episode, or mention readings that they know about that relate to it, I'm all ears! For instance, I'm still looking for a good article that discusses the issue of "slavery" or personhood for The Measure of a Man.

Edited by benbess

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would say it could have a similar value as a literature course, or a writing class.

It could illustrate the layers of meaning within a pop culture icon, and providing insight into the nuts-and-bolts operations (and thought process) that goes into creating a story for a TV series (or a movie). It wouldn't necessarily be a job placement course for TV production, but I think it could be a nice aid towards critical thinking (and applying that thinking to many other art forms of pop culture).

This says it well. Thanks. We will work on critical/analytical thinking as we explore Star Trek. We will also work on the process of writing, by in part using the classic book "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would say it could have a similar value as a literature course, or a writing class.

It could illustrate the layers of meaning within a pop culture icon, and providing insight into the nuts-and-bolts operations (and thought process) that goes into creating a story for a TV series (or a movie). It wouldn't necessarily be a job placement course for TV production, but I think it could be a nice aid towards critical thinking (and applying that thinking to many other art forms of pop culture).

This says it well. Thanks. We will work on critical/analytical thinking as we explore Star Trek. We will also work on the process of writing, by in part using the classic book "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser.

My wife is an art teacher (high school level) and so I have a bit of practice defending the "lesser valued" (grrrr!!) facets of education.... :laugh:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As I student looking at that, I would have thought "cool, easy credits - just sit around watching TV!" :thumbup:

As a teacher, I'd be curious as to what you actually think this (and these episodes in particular) is going to teach them?

Well, as a professor I'm not the toughest, but I'm not the easiest either. Here's a comment from rate my professors:

"He is smart, nice and fun. But it is not easy. I go to class every day, take note, pay attention, study really hard for exams (around 40 images to study for each exam, each exam has 10 short IDs, 4 essays, ...) I expect a higher grade for the effort I put in this class...."

For my film studies classes, there are often short reading quizzes that start out the class. And then we often discuss the readings, which means that if someone didn't read it or concentrate on what was going on it's fairly obvious. I'm still working out the lesson plans, discussions, readings, and mini-lectures for each episode, but for Chain of Command, for instance, we'd discuss and probably have a reading about the issue of "enhanced interrogation" aka torture and issues surrounding that. For Darmok, there's a good reading about it that analyzes how metaphors are used in that episode. In addition, after each class students need to write an analytical review of one of the episodes (c. 500 words), and then discuss it online, using the online teaching platform software called Blackboard. I posted the title of the article that we'd use for the arc of Voyager episodes about Seven. Anyway, that gives you the basic idea. Students also will pick an episode, movie, or theme to write an original research paper and do an in-class presentation. Anyway, the class as a whole will be a fair amount of work—for the students and for me—but I think and hope it will also be fun.

If anyone cares to mention themes they'd want to talk about for each particular episode, or mention readings that they know about that relate to it, I'm all ears! For instance, I'm still looking for a good article that discusses the issue of "slavery" or personhood for The Measure of a Man.

You might take a look at the literature on materiality because that deals with the issue of "subject" versus "object." For example, Data, an artificial life form, is quite literally objectified by Starfleet and Commander Maddox in the quest to create more Soong-type androids. He is regarded as an automaton, an object to be analyzed, and as such he is denied the opportunity to be anything else. Normally, humans exist in a subjective state that is expressed by their multiple roles or personas (e.g., career professional, father, brother, husband, etc). Looking at Data through materiality theory would certainly bring up discussions about real-world situations where this occurs...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My wife is an art teacher (high school level) and so I have a bit of practice defending the "lesser valued" (grrrr!!) facets of education.... :laugh:

Hey, I'm a music teacher! :cool:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My wife is an art teacher (high school level) and so I have a bit of practice defending the "lesser valued" (grrrr!!) facets of education.... :laugh:

Hey, I'm a music teacher! :cool:

Cool!

My in-laws are both retired teachers as well; and three of my friends are also teachers. Wonderful people, teachers are. An undervalued resource. They have the (unenviable) job of shaping our children into something resembling civilized beings and they are paid FAR too little for their troubles...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Man, I would love to take this class.

It would be great to have you in the class!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You might take a look at the literature on materiality because that deals with the issue of "subject" versus "object." For example, Data, an artificial life form, is quite literally objectified by Starfleet and Commander Maddox in the quest to create more Soong-type androids. He is regarded as an automaton, an object to be analyzed, and as such he is denied the opportunity to be anything else. Normally, humans exist in a subjective state that is expressed by their multiple roles or personas (e.g., career professional, father, brother, husband, etc). Looking at Data through materiality theory would certainly bring up discussions about real-world situations where this occurs...

Sounds interesting. By any chance do you have a particular article to recommend?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One thing that I've been mulling over lately is how different the various Star Trek TV shows are from most 21st century TV. Partly it's the passage of time, and partly it's probably 9/11 (which, of course, Enterprise did reference in a sci fi way), but maybe more than that it's that the culture of television has changed.

Let me back up and try to explain what I mean.

As we know, Star Trek has always been unusual because of its optimistic view of the future. Even in the 1960s, a dystopian or even apocalyptic view of the future was more common, from Twilight Zone to Planet of the Apes.

But looking at TV today, and more specifically sci fi tv, I've been struck by how different they are from Star Trek in terms of sensibility, themes, characters, and visual look. Two examples that come to mind are the new Battlestar Galactica and Fringe. BSG is gritty, features lots of self-destructive and problematic main characters, has some plot lines that don't even quite make sense. And overall, even with the ending, BSG has a rather bleak tone. Fringe is often more of a series of little sci fi horror movies, and when I watched it with my teen son it often seemed as gruesome as an R-rated movie from my youth. And in terms of making sense, I'd say not so much.

Anyway, one of the things that might need to be introduced and very briefly explained when introducing a Star Trek course, I think, is this optimistic and problem-solving view of the future, because it'll probably seem pretty alien to some of them.

On a related topic, Star Trek's once-in-a-while almost utopian viewpoint sometimes makes me wonder whether Star Trek could even be reborn on TV these days. I hope so. But the vibe of the show seems rather out-of-synch with much of what's going on in tv-land today....I guess if Star Trek is reborn for TV today it would probably take the more gritty and conflict-oriented foundation provided by DS9, and then take it a step or two beyond that.

If anyone has any thoughts to add to these random musings, I'd appreciate it.

Edited by benbess

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A bit late to this but here's my two cents.

Benbess, I'd recommend reading These Are The Voyages Vol. 1 by Marc Cushman, which tells the story of the making of first season of Star Trek. I found it very interesting because it describes the landscape of both literary and TV SF of the time in detail. That context is valuable as a starting point - about how Roddenberry and his team formed ST as a storytelling tool, what they wanted to use it for and how it ended up evolving. Star Trek as a cultural phenomenon started there, bios of all the movers and shakers are there. In terms of stretching a canvas, you can see that they did a great job, but even then they had no idea of how things would unfold. That's the thing I find most fascinating about Star Trek - the way it became a kind of mirror for society in a way that no TV show had done before (except perhaps for Doctor Who in the UK).

Is it still relevant? I'd live to hear feedback from your class if (when) that question gets asked. I think it is, but in these ever more complex times, it's yet to show us a new shape that will take on modern society, that will hold that mirror up again. Right now Star Trek is feeling a bit inward-looking!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A bit late to this but here's my two cents.

Benbess, I'd recommend reading These Are The Voyages Vol. 1 by Marc Cushman, which tells the story of the making of first season of Star Trek. I found it very interesting because it describes the landscape of both literary and TV SF of the time in detail. That context is valuable as a starting point - about how Roddenberry and his team formed ST as a storytelling tool, what they wanted to use it for and how it ended up evolving. Star Trek as a cultural phenomenon started there, bios of all the movers and shakers are there. In terms of stretching a canvas, you can see that they did a great job, but even then they had no idea of how things would unfold. That's the thing I find most fascinating about Star Trek - the way it became a kind of mirror for society in a way that no TV show had done before (except perhaps for Doctor Who in the UK).

Is it still relevant? I'd live to hear feedback from your class if (when) that question gets asked. I think it is, but in these ever more complex times, it's yet to show us a new shape that will take on modern society, that will hold that mirror up again. Right now Star Trek is feeling a bit inward-looking!

Yeah, that's a great book! I considered assigning it, and maybe I should consider it again, but since it only covers the first year of the first show....

I still need to get the revised edition. How much has changed compared to the first edition?

What do folks here think are the other best Trek books?

Edited by benbess

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The TV Classics book by Ina Rae Hark isn't bad, though it can be a bit opinionated (but I agree with all of it).

Otherwise, most stuff is generally available online these days.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A bit late to this but here's my two cents.

Benbess, I'd recommend reading These Are The Voyages Vol. 1 by Marc Cushman, which tells the story of the making of first season of Star Trek. I found it very interesting because it describes the landscape of both literary and TV SF of the time in detail. That context is valuable as a starting point - about how Roddenberry and his team formed ST as a storytelling tool, what they wanted to use it for and how it ended up evolving. Star Trek as a cultural phenomenon started there, bios of all the movers and shakers are there. In terms of stretching a canvas, you can see that they did a great job, but even then they had no idea of how things would unfold. That's the thing I find most fascinating about Star Trek - the way it became a kind of mirror for society in a way that no TV show had done before (except perhaps for Doctor Who in the UK).

Is it still relevant? I'd live to hear feedback from your class if (when) that question gets asked. I think it is, but in these ever more complex times, it's yet to show us a new shape that will take on modern society, that will hold that mirror up again. Right now Star Trek is feeling a bit inward-looking!

Yeah, that's a great book! I considered assigning it, and maybe I should consider it again, but since it only covers the first year of the first show....

I still need to get the revised edition. How much has changed compared to the first edition?

What do folks here think are the other best Trek books?

Apparently there are a lot of new contributions from Nimoy, who read the first edition and gave further testimony... I can't check 'cause I have the first edition too! Vol. 2 is out at the end of this month.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/04/google_has_a_single_towering_obsession_it_wants_to_build_the_star_trek_computer.html

Where No Search Engine Has Gone Before

=Google+Is+Obsessed+With+Building+the+Star+Trek+Computer&p[summary]=I+first+came+across+Google%E2%80%99s+interest+in+Star+Trek+back+in+the+summer+of+2010.+A+company+spokesman+wanted+to+show+me+the+firm%E2%80%99s+rapidly+improving+visual+search+and+speech-recognition+technology.+At+the+time,+those+features+were+available+only+on+Android+phones,+and,+back+then,+Android+was+getting+shellacked+by...&p[ref]=sl_live&p[images][0]=http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/technology/technology/2013/04/130411_TECH_STARTREKCOMP.jpg/_jcr_content/renditions/cq5dam.web.1280.1280.jpeg&p=http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/04/google_has_a_single_towering_obsession_it_wants_to_build_the_star_trek_computer.html]

Google has a single towering obsession: It wants to build the Star Trek computer.

By

....OK, really? Despite all the interviews in which Star Trek had come up, I’d long assumed that Google’s Star Trek chatter was meant as marketing—that Googlers kept talking about the Star Trek computer because it was an easy reference point, but that the company wasn’t really trying to build a machine as encyclopedic and humanistic as the all-knowing ship’s computer. But Singhal’s talk got me wondering. What if Google’s vision really is to build the Star Trek computer? What if the picture most of us have of search—type in a few keywords, get back links to other sites—is not the way Google thinks about search? What if, when Google’s search engineers go about building the next iteration of the company’s primary product, they really do look to Captain Kirk for inspiration?

So I went to Google to interview some of the people who are working on its search engine. And what I heard floored me. “The Star Trek computer is not just a metaphor that we use to explain to others what we're building,” Singhal told me. “It is the ideal that we're aiming to build—the ideal version done realistically.” He added that the search team does refer to Star Trek internally when they’re discussing how to improve the search engine. “It comes up often,” Singhal said. “For instance, we might say, ‘Captain Kirk never pulled out a keyboard to ask a question.’ So in that way it becomes one of the design principles—we see that because the Star Trek computer actively relies on speech, if we want to do that we need to work to push the barrier of speech recognition and machine understanding.”

What does it mean that Google really is trying to build the Star Trek computer? I take it as a cue to stop thinking about Google as a “search engine.” That term conjures a staid image: a small box on a page in which you type keywords. A search engine has several key problems. First, most of the time it doesn’t give you an answer—it gives you links to an answer. Second, it doesn’t understand natural language; when you search, you’ve got to adopt the search engine’s curious, keyword-laden patois. Third, and perhaps most importantly, a search engine needs for you to ask it questions—it doesn’t pipe in with information when you need it, without your having to ask.

The Star Trek computer worked completely differently. It understood language and was conversational, it gave you answers instead of references to answers, and it anticipated your needs. “It was the perfect search engine,” Singhal said. “You could ask it a question and it would tell you exactly the right answer, one right answer—and sometimes it would tell you things you needed to know in advance, before you could ask it.”

Google’s transformation into the Star Trek computer will take years. But it has already made huge leaps toward building such a machine. For lots of searches today, you’ll notice Google giving you more and more direct answers. Type in “,” for instance, and you’ll see the diminutive star’s digits at the top of the page (5 feet, 7 inches).....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bad Star Trek joke of the day....

Why did the Borg cross the road. It had assimilated the chicken.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bad Star Trek joke of the day....

Why did the Borg cross the road. It had assimilated the chicken.

Please... don't make that joke part of your curriculum. :P:laugh:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Body Ritual among the Nacirema

  1. HORACE MINER

Article first published online: 28 OCT 2009

DOI: 10.1525/aa.1956.58.3.02a00080

This one is old-school (1950s) but it's a classic...

1950s? I'm confused why an article dating a decade before Star Trek works. I feel like a Herbert, but would you explain what it's basically about and why you recommend it? Many thanks.

The article is about looking at a culture from an outsider's perspective. Miner's article describes a mysterious culture known as the "Nacirema" (American) who engage in many strange and foreign rituals that surprise and befuddle outsiders. What may seem perfectly normal to you might seem completely strange to another person from an alien culture. Since Star Trek is about exploring new worlds and cultures, people have to be prepared for those kinds of encounters.

I like the article because it is a relatively straightforward read, and it's short, which is always a plus when you are teaching undergraduates. Plus, it would be relevant if you want to contextualize the material from Star Trek and apply it to the real world.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0