* Every student
should already know something about the theme on the first day.
They will all have a sense of what questions/problems/controversies
the theme, and provisional answers and opinions about them. (Remember
that not all of your students have grown up in the U.S.)
* The theme is a topic about which you are still learning.
Teaching your dissertation, or some other topic about which you are
is likely to frustrate both you and your students.
* The theme can be developed through a variety of readings.
Students should learn to gather ideas and evidence from different
writing (not all websites, for example, or not all articles from
scholarly journals). Similarly, students should learn to
write a range of academic pieces (not just literary criticism,
and not just policy papers). Be especially careful with film/TV/literary
so that students learn to read more than just short stories and learn
to write more than just movie reviews.
* The theme raises complex problems. That is, the
problems involved must present questions that students can't answer
with a simple yes
or no, or by making a choice between two mutually exclusive options.
* Students can branch out and develop their own interests within
the theme. Spend a few minutes imagining a variety of student talents
and obsessions: science, sports, the arts, math/economics. Try to
choose a theme that will allow for choices on papers that let students
pursue these interests (in a class on rock and roll, for example,
students could write about the impact of MP3s on the CD market;
* The theme asks students to explore some aspect of the world
outside themselves and their lives at the University.
Courses that "go
meta"—that ask students, for example, to reflect
upon what it means to be a student or an 18 year old or to rehearse
the history of composition theory—risk becoming too angsty
or just too hard to gather or judge evidence about.