Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Most Influential College Courses

A friend recently asked me how many college courses I have taken in my life.  The question made me think and dig out all my old transcripts just out of curiosity.  After browsing through decades of learning, I thought I’d write about my five of my favorite college courses, and I would like to ask you do the same.  Post them in your comments, or blog it and send me the link. 

I’m simply curious what people think have been their most influential courses.  There is nothing more important to me than education; learning has the power to change the world.

Intercultural communication

Not only does a good intercultural comm class teach you about world cultures (how do Americans communicate compared to the rest of the world, for example) but a good class will also teach you about co-cultures.  Co-cultures are the sub cultural categories among a bigger common culture.  For example, co-cultures include race, religion, gender, political orientation, educational level, socioeconomic status and more.  This course demonstrated the idea of being able to detach from my co-cultures in order to understand others better. It presents the big question: is there any really one right in the world? Is there one belief or way of doing things that is the only right way (like in religion and politics, but let’s not go there)? It also illustrated differences in communication styles and that no one way of communicating is superior.  For example, we know men and women communicate differently, but if we demand others communicate in the same way we do, then we’re being arrogant and ignorant about our differences.  I fell in love with this course years ago, and am thrilled to say that I now teach it at the college level.


It may be a typical class a former English teacher would support, but I don’t think any human being should go without a full, intense study of as many of the bard’s plays as possible.  More so than any other, Shakespeare fully understood human nature, love, authority, gender roles, and relationships, and he loves to explore the dynamics in each of these categories.  It’s one thing to read them on your own.  It’s better to read them with an experienced professor and a class full of curious minded students.  This class resulted in some of the best discussions on being human that I’ve ever had.

Religion in the Modern World

Regardless of your religious belief or lack thereof, I would argue all people should explore religion from an academic viewpoint.  This course explored the belief systems in contemporary America and many academic theories that analyzed not just the specific belief systems but the overall need for belief.  It also analyzed the contemporary world of science and the role science plays in affecting religious belief.  The academic theories opened my mind to a new world of possibilities and explanations.  Today, too many people only believe in what they have learned at home or in a specific church or domination.  If we could understand why we believe the way we do (and why others believe differently), we’d live in a much more peaceful world.

Critical Thinking and Reasoning

This was an entire course devoted to teaching people methods of thinking!  In my classes, we naturally discuss reliability and validity. How many people have you known to share a meme or a news story on Facebook or Twitter without even checking to see if it were true? I’d argue that an entire semester devoted to critical reasoning would be a good addition to college education.  This course not only taught how to argue, but how to analyze arguments through logical appeals, emotional appeals, fallacies, and much more.  Even better, the skills learned in this specific course were applied to the top selling political texts of the time, newspaper editorials, and more.  It sure opened several eyes to the illogic that supersedes logic in today’s mass media and general thinking. 

Controversial Legal Issues

This course is well-suited for the critical thinker concerned about law and policy in contemporary society.  This was one out of two actual law courses I took from a law professor in my first master’s program, and the course set up a variety of interesting issues to be debated.  The primary challenge was to separate oneself from political and religious points of view and examine each issue through the historical precedent of law.  More so than the specific cases, it was the forced detachment from my own personal beliefs that was the most challenging and rewarding aspect of the class.

Even when I look at these five courses, I get a better understanding of myself.  My top five reflect my interest about culture, my desire to be practical and fair to different cultures, my passion for discussing the multiple aspects of human nature, my need to understand various religions and belief systems, my goal to promote and learn stronger critical thinking skills, and more. If you have a chance and see these courses or similar ones listed at your college, SIGN UP!   

So now it’s your turn, and I hope some of you do participate.  What are your most influential courses?  Why?  Post it in the comments, or blog it and share it with me.

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