Creating this course, I defined for myself questions that governed selection and structuring of each week’s content:
- Week 1 The Innovators: Themes and Lessons: What key themes and lessons does Isaacson raise in The Innovators? How do the technological innovations Isaacson discusses shape our world?
- Week 2 The Digital Revolution and the Information Age: What is information theory? How did Shannon’s theory facilitate the digital revolution and the information age?
- Week 3 Social Media Beyond #ThatsGold: Isaacson states that “most successful products facilitate social interaction”—but commerce has coopted the promise of socially-interactive platforms. What, beyond marketing, is the future of social media?
- Week 4 Collaboration and Poetical Science: How does the tension between technology and the humanities shape innovation? Is personal breadth of knowledge critical to meeting today’s challenges?
- Week 5 Human-Computer Symbiosis: What is intelligence? How has the digital revolution facilitated human productivity? What is the cost of digital revolution?
- Week 6 Control versus Freedom: Which better stimulates progress? What are the costs of intellectual property laws? What are the limits to open source innovation
- Week 7 How Did We Get Here? What’s Next? How do you think everything we discussed fits together? What have you learned from the course’s open-ended format?
These express my conception of the course’s intellectual arc. They are not the “right” questions and themes. Isaacson offers takeaways from The Innovators, but the weekly topics do not follow them slavishly. (What fun would that be? Who wants a weekly series of book reports?) I vowed not to impose my version of the themes and narratives.* It was not an easy vow to honor—for reasons I explain in I Can’t Help Myself.** Your weekly activities and discussions were different from those I would have delivered. For me the results—that is, the topics you discussed, the issues you raised, the conclusions you drew, the level of engagement you manifested—were revelatory. The pedagogy was to create open-ended challenges that grew out of common texts, and task you with creating an intellectual arc for yourself, and a narrative arc for your cohort. My aim was that you assemble the pieces to create a coherent whole; that is, a whole coherent to you, based on your unique combination of intelligence, experience, interests, and inclinations. Doing that together with 29 other students provides the foundation for SM450, and for your Honors Program experience.
This approach is, obviously, quite different from that of other Questrom courses. There is no final exam to demonstrate what you’ve learned, no deliverable, no graded final presentations, no outward manifestation of your experience. Which, for some of you, is unsatisfying.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
Yes—but it may take years to hear it. If this course plants a seed about curiosity, asking why, understanding context, and opening the closed door, and that seed does not germinate until long after the course is over, then the pedagogy worked.
*Were I teaching you how to perform heart bypass surgery, I would not give you a patient, a scalpel, and a pat on the back. This is not heart surgery—or statistics or financial accounting or economics or calculus, which trod narrow and certain paths. Intellectual exploration is most beneficial when one must find one’s way.
**If you’ve still not read it to the bottom, do so. Please. You’re killing me.