For the course “In A World” (IDS 294) students work cooperatively to create a unique fictitious world. As part of SCSU’s LEP general education program, the “In A World” course encourages students to pull from multiple disciplines in order to create a cohesive fictional space. It is the brainchild of Dr. David Petroski, a professor of communication.
Dr. Petroski was inspired to create the course by his research in how games structure communication spaces. “It’s a way to help students pull together their experiences in liberal arts education and give them a context to bring together all the knowledge from their courses and how those courses help inform the way they think and develop ideas,” he said. During its inaugural run last semester, Dr. Petroski taught one section while his fellow professor of communication Mr. Derek Taylor taught another section.
The “In A World” course allows students to develop creative problem solving skills which will help them flourish in the workplace, no matter what field they choose. “It’s a lab to practice their negotiation skills and their ability to think of alternative ways to approach problems,” said Dr. Petroski. Different classroom groups are responsible for plotting different time periods in the fictitious world, a dynamic which sometimes leads to friction students must adapt to deal with. “We are saying that collaboration [can] mean being accepting of other ideas and having them shape your outcomes and expectations,” said Petroski.
Creative problem solving is a valuable skill, yet there are very few places for students to hone their abilities. “In A World” engages students in creative problem solving daily. “It goes into creative thinking as a way to solve problems, such as the development of unique solutions to problems that someone hasn’t thought of before or that push the boundaries of expectations. That’s perhaps where they get the most benefit,” said Dr. Petroski.
In Dr. Petroski’s class last spring students created a world fraught with plague and where a secret society dictated the future of the human race. Students were required to back up their narrative turns and environmental changes with a reason. “We had students create a world where the ocean was purple, and what we challenged them to do was ask ‘what do you we know about our environment that would lead to a large body of water having that color? What would be the science behind that?’” Students also create an artifact to show a part of their world’s “culture.” One group made a book of nursery rhymes that reflected what children would fear in the fictitious world.
The course also introduces students to “transmedia storytelling” where narratives are open ended, can be adapted to different mediums, and be added onto by different authors. A good example is “Game of Thrones,” which started as a series of books and has now turned into a phenomenally popular television show. Transmedia endeavors work by telling narratives in the context of a rich, structurally sound fictional environment. If recent trends are any indication, this type of storytelling is likely to continue to increase in popularity and make a greater mark on American culture. “We give [students] opportunities to understand the intersection of fiction and reality and how telling a good story is usually because it is touching upon thematic or basic understandings of what human behavior is like,” said Dr. Petroski.