Science Fiction, LMC3214: All Good Things: Last Day of Class, Haptic Perception, and Lego

The excellent group of students (and me in the back right) in my Science Fiction class. Photo by Carol Senf.

The excellent group of students (and me in the back right) in my Science Fiction class holding up their SF-inspired Lego creations. Photo by Carol Senf.

Today, unfortunately, was the last day of my Science Fiction class at Georgia Tech.

At the beginning of class, my students completed their third exam. Unlike the previous exams, it only covered the material discussed in class this week: cyberpunk and Taiwanese SF. And unlike the previous 1 hour long exams, it was 30 minutes long.

After the exam, we began what I called an SF debriefing with Lego. I framed this end of semester activity by having them think about WOVEN (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal) modes of communication. Then, I discussed the importance of one aspect of nonverbal communication: haptics. In the haptic mode, we touch, we build, and we visualize objects. It is an insanely important and often overlooked way in which our brains think, learn, and communicate with others. I told them that this activity was meant to allow them to think about and express some image or object from SF–either discussed in the class or not–that they liked or thought significant. To facilitate their work with haptics, I brought two bins full of Legos–some acquired from the local Lego Store and some from my secret stash. I told them to use up to 40 bricks/elements to build their model. After completing it, they would have a chance to hold it up and tell the class about it, and if they choose to do so, they could take it home as a gift and a memento of the class.

I gave the students about 30 minutes to build, and I encouraged them to get out of their chairs, stand around the bins to dig for bricks, and talk with one another as they worked–talk about what they were building, trade bricks, help one another, etc. It didn’t take much encouragement on my part to get them going–they took off like a fleet of rockets!

When each student had a chance to tell us about their creation, I would offer other connections and background information on their creation to further integrate it into the broader history of SF.

After class, Professor Carol Senf, who was observing my class, was kind enough to take a group photo of the class (see above).

I left my students with the encourage to continue their exploration of SF. I told them that I believe SF to be the most important contemporary literature. It examines the human condition, critiques our social relationships, imagines the effects of science and technology, and energizes our sense of awe and wonder. It can inspire us and it can teach us. Of course, it also can be smashing entertainment.

When class was over, the conversation continued with those students who had other questions about SF (Was PKD really a drug fiend? Who are important/good contemporary SF writers? etc.) and kind words to say about the class.

All that is left for my students is to complete their final papers testing a work of SF against definitions of the genre by others and themselves. I have to grade their third exams and their papers before I can submit grades next week. I am looking forward to reading their papers, but I am sad that this amazing class with these talented students is virtually at an end.


I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

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Posted in Georgia Tech, Pedagogy, Science Fiction
6 comments on “Science Fiction, LMC3214: All Good Things: Last Day of Class, Haptic Perception, and Lego
  1. Hmmm….thanks. Never heard of haptics before. But then, I never took a science fiction class!

  2. Mollie Barnes says:

    Congratulations on what sounds like an amazing semester, Jason! Glad to see a photo of the last day!

  3. Thanks, Mollie! It was an amazing semester. It’s too bad that it’s already over, though.

  4. Thanks, Rati! Haptic perception is something that we do all the time without realizing that we do it. I believe that we can tap into that ability to improve our thinking and the expression of complex ideas through haptic perception and manipulation. Haptics aside, I hope that you get a chance to take a science fiction class one day. If not, follow along with the posts that I have made these past few weeks about my class. Best, Jason

  5. […] If you’re in the area tomorrow, you can catch my talk on teaching science fiction at Georgia Tech at the Atlanta Science Fiction Society meeting at the Sandy Springs Fulton County Library (395 Mount Vernon Hwy NE, Sandy Springs, GA). The meeting begins at 2:30PM, and my talk should begin around 3:30PM. I will bring copies of this handout to the meeting. My talk with focus on the history of teaching SF at Tech, my historical approach to teaching SF, and my emphasis on using SF as a way to develop student literacies in writing, new media, and haptics. […]

  6. […] bricks to class for my students to explore and enjoy thinking about science fiction with haptics. As I had done last year, I invited my students to think of something from their experience of science fiction that […]

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Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

Reach him by email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu.


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