Boldly Going Off Topic

My “Enterprise class” and the value of classroom spontaneity.

Shhhhh. Don’t tell anyone.

Yesterday in my Civil War class I talked about Star Trek for a whole hour.

In truth, half the class was gone for a sports trip or something, and I just had a general thought that if I talked about Forts Henry and Donelson I’d have to repeat myself in the next class.

I’ve got a huge pic of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Enterprise-D on my computer desktop, which everyone can see when I turn on the huge monitors in the front of the classroom.

One of the guys in front asked, “How many Enterprises are there?” And we were off.

I was just going to tell them about the differences between the D-version ship and the Enterprise from the original series. But I’ve known some of these students since they were freshmen, and they’re used to me peppering classes with info on Batman, Star Wars, and pop culture in general.

They were expecting a little pop culture discourse, and I just went with it.

We talked about the various Enterprises, from World War II to the 24th Century. There’s a lot of history in there, including the history of television.

We talked about theoretical warp drive and effective screenplay writing. (This worked well; most of the people in class that day were TV/Film majors!)

We went on and on. Turns out there’s a Shakespeare class on campus devoting a day to Star Trek; a communication class is doing the same. We were in good company.

I’ve been teaching college for 23 years. When I started I would not have gone off topic. I figured someone would frown at me, or give a bad eval.

I still have a tendency to do what I think is “right.” But who’s to say what’s right? Who’s to tell you what you’re “supposed” to do?

I also didn’t have the confidence to do it. It would have fed my academic imposter syndrome. (More on that another day.)

My “Enterprise class” came off well. I could never have planned it, and I can’t replicate it.

Every once in a while, I hear students commenting about “what a great class” we just had. You know, in a way I could tell they really meant it.

It’s only happened after an off-topic class.

The Enterprise class was one of them.

We’ve got to do better than this, folks.

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