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Thursday, 8 October 2009

147 Questions

You may or may not be familiar with the info that I'm now entering my Second Year of a Bachelor's Degree. You may also muse to yourself "Well it's a bit odd that this chap is the second best academic in England, yet has only just passed the "do" words module". Strange it may be, but as everyone should know, or as award winning, s hospital cleaning World's Best Professors, or any self-respecting, costume making Euroscientist, or, reflectively, any pizza serving Philosopher can tell you, being at University, and being brilliant are two entirely different things. The brilliant bit is the fun part, and the degree bit is, as Grasshopper long ago advised me, a competitive sport.

With this in mind, the major subject of my degree is prosaic and practical, centring on achieving qualifications that will allow me to Teach people to Bang nails into bits of Wood. Notwithstanding, I am allowed one brilliant bit a year, where my principal area of interest, AKA the Brilliant bit, can find full expression. It is under this aegis that I attend the first lecture of "Innovation; A Cultural History", my free elective for this year.

This is the second week of term, and I'm strolling through the beautiful autumnal sunshine towards the ivy-covered History building. The old mood is a mixture of sheer glee at the prospects ahead, and sadness that my good friend JJ isnt here. JJ left towards the end of last year, and some experiences have not been the same since. Throughout the first semester, JJ and I had established a tradition at Staff House, the post-doc and Staff dining hall, of buying eachother lunch and debating the great topics of the day. First among those topics was usually "What are we eating?", because the food provided at Staff House confirms every prejudice about English cuisine that exists. Chilli, curry, ragout, stew and that old English standby "....... Pie" (insert 'fish', 'cottage', 'vegetarian', 'meat' ) all taste, feel and look exactly the same. Today was my first meal back at Staff House without JJ I have no other reference than the chalkboard that I am eating lamb. It tastes a bit like chicken.

Cheeriness, however, is restored by the anticipated content of the lecture I am headed towards - this is not a module to be 'passed', oh no, 'Innovation' is a module to be savoured, to be mulled, debated and to spend far too much time on. Expectations are high.

Arriving at the lecture theatre twenty minutes early, I settle down in a seat at the front, remove my pens and notepaper, turn off my phone and compose myself. I am eager not to miss a second of the forthcoming delights, and also to impress the Professor with my attitude, so when I discover twenty minutes later that it is the Professor himself who has awakened me from my deep slumber, I know for certain that I have at least partially succeeded. In yesteryear, history Professors were very old men, wearing crumpled tweed suits, whiskers sprouting from everywhere, especially the nostrils, and authors of impossibly long books about the British Empire thinly disguised as fantasy novels. These days, with the advent of the Discovery Channel, and the ongoing controversy about which aliens actually built the Pyramids (I think it was the Greys), History Professors are young rock and rollers, devil-may-care abseiling telegenic enthusiasts who look like they're just about to go solo back-packing in Kgyrystan. "Innovations" Professor is no different - humourous and slightly ironic, clean and healthy looking. The last thing he looks like he is about to do is write a book.

As the lecture progresses, I realise that the list of 147 questions I have prepared for this lecture is inappropriate, as this initial session is just an outline of the year long module and an introduction into procedures and so on, so I carefully write down his e-mail address and office hours. Doubtless, he will prefer, as did Kenny last year, to discuss the ideas behind "Civilization: Why?" in some depth, and some of my ideas (particularly those controversial sections about pockets of Neanderthalism still remnant in Leeds) will be too advanced for most of the class.

It is totally without any irony that I can report that the structure of the module, in detail, is even better than I had imagined. Not only are the topics fascinating "Was it inevitable that the atomic bomb would be dropped, once it had been invented?" , but the seminars are to be presented in a way I have not yet encountered, in that each seminar is to take the format of a mini trial. We, the students have been nominated as judge, jury, prosecution and defence for various of the seminars so that each role is performed by each student, and we are going to put "on trial" various concepts within the topic. The topics are "Why were the Greeks and Romans technologically so limited? " and so on.

Back home and happy that my free elective is going to be fantastic, I settle down, with less resentment than normal, to work on one of my mandated modules "Inclusive Learning", and find to my surprise that my perceptions of it have changed. It is no longer dull, worthy and content-free, but a topic which, if approached from the point of view that it is about different ways of teaching, may be very illuminating. "Innovations: A Cultural History" is already bearing fruit.

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