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Monday, Sep 15, 2014
Education

USF curriculum stays ahead of the game

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Among other soothsayers, the venerable PriceWaterhouseCoopers said the video game industry would soon become the fastest-growing component of the media sector worldwide.

It made that call in 2005.

The freshmen pouring into the nation’s universities this month were children then. They’ve lived the gaming explosion — today, 59 percent of Americans play, the average household has two gamers in it, and the average player is 31, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

In a rapidly changing world, major universities are adjusting to such societal shifts by constantly working to revise and update the classes they offer.

The University of South Florida is no exception. With the start of classes on Monday, USF students were able to enroll in ENC 3435, Rhetoric and Gaming, a three-credit course with the lofty goals of answering how traditional humanities and critical methods inform the way we think about and appreciate games, and how games can “help us invent new critical/political/pedagogical methods,” according to the syllabus.

Regularly revising university course catalogs is critical, said Bob Sullins, dean of undergraduate studies at USF.

“It’s just keeping up with changes; that’s the way it generally works,” Sullins said. “Maybe in the classics and things like that, there’s not much change there. But these faculty members are doing the best they can to get their students prepared for what they’re going to face when they leave here.”

Fifty-five new courses have been added to USF’s fall catalog. They include everything from helping engineers reopen the creativity within themselves to making sure musicians are studying and performing at the appropriate level.

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Marc Santos, an assistant professor of English, conceived the Rhetoric and Gaming course. “My argument for the course was that, given video game sales now out-gross movies, we should be paying more attention to them — both as art objects and as vehicles for promoting personal growth and social action,” he said.

Santos acknowledged that people might be “skeptical” about a university course on video games.

“So I made sure the course wasn’t about games as much as about how games affect us and how we can use them to accomplish things in the world,” he said.

Santos is not alone. According to the ESA, the computer and video game industry’s trade group, 385 U.S. higher-education institutions now offer individual courses or full programs in game design.

Florida Polytechnic University, which also opens Monday in Lakeland, has a cyber gaming concentration in its computer science and information technology degree program.

In another sector of the tech world, Paul Schnitzler, an instructor in USF’s Department of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering, recently began teaching EIN 4934, Creativity in Technology. It’s an offshoot of a Creativity in Business course developed at Stanford University.

“Here’s the way we thought about it when we offered it in the engineering college: We do a pretty good job at teaching engineers in whatever field they are,” Schnitzler said. “The way we teach them, students learn to do the specific things they were taught.”

What about when the solution to a problem hasn’t been taught, or can’t be found in a book?

“Coming up with that solution, whether it’s a new product or a new way to manufacture something, that takes creativity,” Schnitzler said. “And that’s when they really earn their salary.”

Schnitzler’s students meditate, draw, dance, and, as the syllabus states, engage in “significant introspection and attention to your innate personal creativity.” It’s open to nonengineers as well, and is feeding USF’s reputation for creativity and entrepreneurship.

Sometimes, creating a new course is simply a matter of a technicality. Matthew McCutchen, associate director of bands and director of athletic bands at USF, created MUN 3133, Symphonic Band, this fall to split that group from the department’s existing wind ensemble.

Wind and percussion players will now progress from symphonic band, chiefly music education majors, to the wind ensemble, a more advanced group for musicians who may perform professionally.

“In this particular case, it wasn’t like we were creating a new course, it just had to get its own formal place in the catalog,” McCutchen said.

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New courses are typically approved at the university level. Sullins, the undergraduate studies dean, said a professor typically will have an idea, see a hole in his department’s offerings or know of a class being taught elsewhere he or she would like to bring to USF.

The idea then goes to the department faculty, which discusses the issue and can give the collective thumbs-up. From there, the proposal goes to the university’s Undergraduate Council, a group responsible for recommending to the president, provost, dean of undergraduate studies and reporting to the Faculty Senate on issues of undergraduate courses, curricula, programs and degrees. There is a separate council for graduate study.

“It’s a pretty thorough vetting process from the faculty, to the department, to the college to the university,” Sullins said.

The university then submits the new course to the state university system, which ensures it gets a course number consistent with the statewide curriculum.

The process is different when a major issue rears its head.

When Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature called for a Florida Center for Cybersecurity, USF administrators and the school’s board of trustees pitched the state university system Board of Governors to house it at USF. They succeeded and eventually hope to provide more than 1,000 certifications, 900 bachelor’s degrees, 215 master’s degrees and 50 doctoral degrees a year.

That is a rare expansion of the university catalog, Sullins said.

“The bulk of the changes are just kind of updates to the curriculum,” he said.

“I would guess that an awful lot of our departments are constantly looking for ways to keep up. They’re always looking around and seeing what’s new.”

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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