My Writing Class and Clarke’s 2001, A Break Through

I believe today was a very good day in my introductory writing class. Today’s class concludes week seven, and until today, I didn’t feel like I was connecting with my students as well as in my past classes at this point in the semester. It was with that in mind that I devised a different third essay topic that still conjured my overarching exploration theme while keeping it grounded in their personal experiences and individual choices regarding their future careers.

After my students completed their beginning of class writing (15 minutes) and reading quiz over part 4 of Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (5 minutes), I began to go over the quiz and open the floor to questions about the novel. This is where things got exciting. My students began asking me insightful questions. They were seeking clarifications on plot holes in the text (e.g., TMA-1 coverup on the Moon, particularly after the Discovery is on its way), as well as seeking better understanding about HAL and his neurosis.

Then, I introduced their third major essay topic:

For your third major essay in our class, I would like you to write at least 1000 words about your future career choice and how you would feel about working with and competing with intelligent machines like HAL from Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is an exploration not only of the kinds of work you may do in your future career, but it is also a personal reflection on how you would potentially interact with machines in your work place.

In your essay, I would like you to write about your future job and the intelligent machines you may encounter there. Your manager may be a computer, or the surgeon may be a robot. Creative ideas for the type of work you do may be devised or distributed by a computer. There are many other possibilities, which I would like you to think about and include in your essay. Basically, think about existing jobs performed by human beings, and consider what it would be like to work with a machine instead of a human being.

Your essay should include at a minimum these things:
– introduce your topic and your personal feelings toward working with intelligent machines
– briefly explain how 2001: A Space Odyssey and HAL provide a model for your discussion
– provide some examples of where you may work with intelligent machines in your workplace and how you might deal with that–positively or negatively
– conclusion in which you discuss the ways in which intelligent machines should or should not find their way into your workplace

This is my first time offering this essay topic on 2001, and I let my students know this. I asked them to help me clarify the assignment as I went over it. They responded with more questions and possible examples that we then worked through. Also, several students approached me after class with further ideas about how to proceed with their writing, and I was happily surprised with the connections that they had already made in the final 30 minutes of class while they brainstormed their examples.

My students know about my blog, so if they find their way here, I do want them to know that I applaud their attention and questions in today’s class. I’ve tried different approaches in our class, and today, I believe that we made a very positive breakthrough that I want to carry forward in our further work together in our introductory writing class. Furthermore, it acknowledge that it wasn’t just the text or my essay assignment that made things connect today; it was my students who made things happen today and I was only too happy to go along for the ride.