Encouraging student-led inquiry

Jordan Humphreys

On Monday, I’ll be sitting in a classroom looking over course expectations and a slew of carefully constructed readings as I review my last syllabus as an undergraduate. The only difference? This one was created by me.

Innovative Video Game Design will be the second course I’ve created as part of the program Democratic Education at Texas. DemTex is a program supported by the School of Undergraduate Studies and the Senate of College Councils that helps to cultivate academic curiosity in unique ways. The program allows students from any academic background to create and lead discussion-based classes to explore questions of society, pop culture, science or any field of their interests.

DemTex students have designed classes looking at postmodern urban design, the underlying philosophy in popular television dramas and the role of college athletics in communities. This semester, the program is offering Social Dynamics in Seinfeld, a course which tries to understand why the show’s characters interact the way they do according to social science principles, ranging from Jerry’s neuroticism to Elaine’s superficiality and from George’s selfishness to Kramer’s “Kramerness.”

My class on innovative video game design aims to use inspiring research projects from UT professors and the fundamentals of game design to find ways to use video games to solve societal problems, such as public health issues, building relationships in online environments and helping autistic children better express themselves.

Tritely, teachers say that they learn something from their students in every class, and DemTex built a program around this idea. In the same vein as student-created course programs at institutions in the University of California System, Tufts University, Oberlin College and others across the country, DemTex brings students from diverse academic backgrounds together to explore issues they’re passionate about.

In the first class I created, Communication in Multiplayer Video Games, I gained perspective about the reasons people play video games and the draw toward interaction in virtual environments. I enjoyed the class so much that I created a spin-off to dig deeper into the topics that the other students and I were most enthusiastic about.

These classes are research endeavors in ways that undergraduate students will otherwise not experience, and student facilitators are often able to receive undergraduate research credit in their majors or in UGS for their efforts. These are thoughtful, unique classes that many students have found complement their majors and interests. The classes also uphold standards of academic merit and discussion rivaling classes across the course schedule. The DemTex program embodies academic inquiry in allowing students to learn valuable classroom management and communication skills as they navigate topics across fields of study.

Students interested in creating a DemTex class should visit http://demtex.org to download the application for the fall 2012 semester, which is due Jan. 31.

Humphreys is a government, communication studies and journalism senior, and is the director of DemTex.