Overview of Course Structure and Goals

The sample syllabus , from our first experience with the course, presents a detailed weekly schedule of activities and assignments.  It fills out the details of a broad plan which consists of four phases: exposure, exploration, development and presentation, described in the following paragraphs.  These phases are presented so that the reader can apply them to other interdisciplinary combinations (ours is robotics and theater, yours might be physics and art) by replacement of content within the same framework.
 
 
The exposure phase introduces the student via films and readings, to mind-stretching concepts and cases involving creativity, technology, mythology and coerced links between concepts which are normally disjoint, such as robotics and theater, art and science, freedom and compulsion. The goal is to expand the students‚ thinking as far as possible „outside the boxĒ and expose them emotionally to the intense passion of creativity which inspires great works, which are eventually packaged into technology and art.  The attached bibliography gives a detailed list of the films and readings; here are three good examples:
 
Film: Tesla - Master of Lightning
Play: Kapek - Rossum‚s Universal Robots
Film: Fast Cheap and out of Control
 
The Tesla film is a biography of the genius who pioneered alternating current, a bizarre tale of obsession, intuition, conflict, and career disaster.  It takes students outside the methodical textbook engineering development of the subject, and exposes them to the raw passion, brilliant insights and demonic energy of inventors.  The second is the classic which introduced the word „robotĒ into European language, and pursued the unexpected side effects of unlimited free labor on civilization.  It exposes the students to social consequences of technology, and the intellectual paradoxes of freedom and slavery outside the cultural and sectarian boundaries which normally define them.  The third is a bewildering mix of art, technology, and control tied together with subtle threads of passion, creativity and discipline.
 
Student absorb the exposure assignments and are then asked to write up a short assignment which forces them to conjoin two or more disparate readings and/or films.  These are also presented weekly in class.  This assignment is usually difficult at first because students must deliberately criss-cross the focused boundaries of subject matter within which they are normally constrained.  In the classroom, students discuss each other‚s takes on the assignments, and new viewpoints emerge.
 
At the end of the exposure phase, the students have loosened the inhibitions of intra-disciplinary thinking and knowledge-based courses.  They are excited by the extremes of human accomplishment and concepts, and eager to delve into their own projects freely aimed at these extremes.
 
 
In the exploration phase, students launch into research of  individual interest, with an eye to a course project.  This research involves not only the traditional methods of library and web search, but also interviewing experts, visiting labs, facilities or accessible sites, and recruiting students who are not in the course, to lend their expertise in either the subject matter or presentation technologies, for example, animation software or robotic control software.  Classroom activities during this phase include weekly bull sessions wherein research material is presented and discussed by peers and teachers, who suggest redirection or give observations.  Towards the end of the exploration phase, students are tentatively proposing their projects, which are discussed in open class.  There is often a measure of anxiety and self-doubt here, accompanying the first reaches into creative formulation.
 
 
The development phase decisively terminates the exploration phase.  Despite the barely visible external perception of change to a classroom observer, a radical emotional change takes place internal to the students.  Self-doubt gives way to intense focus.   Students are now driven by coherent concepts of their projects, and work with passion and devotion towards fulfillment.  The timidity and lack of confidence are gone, and weekly discussions change from conceptual experimentation to finding solutions for  implementation problems.  These include limitations of media to express concepts, seeking alternative technologies to implement difficult mechanisms, or rephrasing a dramatic episode proposed for final presentation.
 
Weekly presentations describe progress and solicit informal review and revision.  Much of the classroom discussion critiques the presentations and reins in impractical scopes of projects.  Students give progress reports and numerous dry-runs of their final presentation.  The final concept may differ sharply from original concept, but we value the process of development and require that all notes and concepts be preserved as a record of the process.
 
 
The preceding development phase consists of planning, thinking, and working, more or less without and audience.  The presentation phase involves projecting of ideas and personality to an audience, organizing stage time, and wrapping the concepts into a choreographed performance with dramatic closure.  Although this is the shortest phase, lasting a few weeks, it is the most emotionally intense and is easily worth half the value of the entire course to the student.  Presentation and organization skills are essential in almost any career, and many students lack personal experience in this area.  Stage fright is common in the early weeks of the presentation phase.  Dry runs are used to break in the emotions, overcome self-doubt, and develop skills.   Gaps in packaging of the content are quickly exposed and corrected via discussion and critique by the whole class. 
 
One important aspect of the presentation is the packaging of the whole into a seamless fictive shell which must appear completely plausible to the audience.  Rather than a „what ifĒ lecture, the project must be a „what isĒ presentation. Examples, which are seen in the project documentation include sales presentation of fictive product (Robokopf), the script of a play, a board meeting, a press conference, an interview or the like. The student uses props, models, sound tracks, videos and brochures for context, and wears a costume where appropriate.