School’s (not) out!

This is a Winter Break post for reflections on the blog and future activities for Man Nor Beast. Regular posting resumes January 4, 2016.

You know what I’m going to do in 2016? Teach some classes.

A course will include six people besides myself. I can only do one course at a time, so when one of the topics fills up, then we’ll start. I’m using the model from University of People: registration fee is $15, but after that, you pay only if you want to take the tests, $100 per test – which in my case will be two per course.

At least as far as the given course content is concerned, I plan to make it credit-worthy at the college level. Here at the start, I have no official recognition of any kind and no way to guarantee that, but I’m building the courses to accord with the state of Illinois standards for distance learning, and also to accord with competency-based grading standards. Prior to getting those recognized, which can only happen after I actually do it, that decision will rest with whatever institution you take it to. A spiffy course packet and credentials and so on will be available for them to examine.

I’m working up a page at the blog to cover available topics, general procedures, the sign-up process, a syllabus for each course, and anything similar, but to do that, I need some feedback.

My current thoughts on opening topics include:

  • THE SELF – taking the experience to be a real thing, but then considering cell life vs. body life, mitochondrial DNA, retroviral DNA, parasite load, cellular and tissue brain activity, and any number of other disturbing phenomena. Plus genetic and developmental variation, data-driven social positioning, and ultrasocial self-perception and others-perception.
  • NO MISSING LINKS – Cover the wall like a psychopath with branching lines and creatures’ names, to learn how evolutionary relationships are proposed and tested; find out why systematists are feared by all other biologists. Hint: it’s not a tree and it’s not a chain.
  • CRITTER LOVE – everyone chooses a favorite beast or plant or squishy, and we do the four questions on them like you would not believe beforehand. Plus a look at how ideas become real-world projects.
  • PHENOTYPE – fearlessly forging into the question everyone keeps bringing up: how much does a gene “make” a thing a creature is or has, and how does that happen anyway? Gay? Brown-eyed? A person not a pine tree? A genetics class about what genes really (do not) do.

Here are my current brainstorming ideas on format. I put up signups for all of them, and when one fills up, that’s what I teach. It’s scheduled for five sessions, one per week. The first and last sessions are group meetings via online hangout or Skype; the other meetings are individually with me. My current thoughts on the curriculum is as follows:

  • One assignment everyone does individually, due the second week (i.e. first individual meeting).
  • One assignment each person customizes at the first individual meeting, due during the third week.
  • One DIY lab activity done during the third and fourth week – you’d be amazed at what you can do without fancy equipment. “Isolate some DNA? I can get you some DNA. 9:00 tonight. 6:00 even.” (warning: not all of them will be this cool)
  • A final assignment due during the fourth week, with full access among the students, to be discussed at the final meeting.

Help me out – all of the above is what I scribbled in my little notebook very much like you see on the crazy person’s bedroom walls in a Hollywood movie. If you’re interested, comment to let me know what looks practical/impractical, desirable/undesirable, and anything else you think I need to consider.


5 thoughts on “School’s (not) out!

  1. Quick take – the subjects and curriculum thoughts are awesome. I’ve been underwhelmed by my (few, admittedly) experiences with distance learning, but what you’ve got here is compelling even in the face of that. My first reaction to the pricing (with test-taking) is that it’s a bit awkward – an absolute bargain if you have a use/value for the college credit, even if it is only potential. But too much to pay just because you want the full learning experience. I mean, obviously some people could afford it, but I’m not sure how many are in your set of likely students.

    Is five weeks a good length, in terms of energy invested overcoming start-up barriers and resulting learning/potential credits? For any of you, the students, and/or the credit-granting “system”? I *think* most classes I’ve seen in certificate programs (e.g., are a bit longer, but as long as you’ve applied your professional judgement to the hours/time span/etc. issues, I’d say that trumps my “a bit short” reaction.

    I’ll think on it some more and try to add more specific comments before the new year.


    • The price and general structure is based on a program currently offered by the University of People. The timing and extent of work is based on another model called competency-based, rather than credit-hour based. I’ll be providing links and references on the “courses page” in the next couple of weeks.


      • I read competency-based, and I have a couple friends in programs at Western Governors University, so I shoulda known … I guess the bio-focus reminded me more of the UCSC certificates. It’d be great to someday see your courses as part of SOMEONES bio(-tech or whatever) program!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A practical question: what are the pre-requisites for these courses? Grade-12 science? Undergrad biology? “I read Scientific American a lot”? How will you handle a range of prior study amongst the participants of one course?


    • Those are two questions, so the second first: varying prior knowledge is the default in any college classroom. I’d cite teaching nonmajors classes so often except that I found the same to be the case in majors classes. My teaching practices are based on this diversity of understanding rather than presuming common ground.

      For the first question, I’ll use the model provided by some current institutions, to require a high school diploma or equivalent. Way less science-y than your question-list.

      Liked by 1 person

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