Oberlin Blogs

Creating Classes

March 24, 2023

Claire O’Brocta ’23

Throughout my ten semesters at Oberlin, I’ve found a lot of hidden gems in the course catalog that turned out to be some of my favorite classes in college. I also frequently found other classes I wish I could have taken, but couldn’t due to issues like schedule constraints, the class being offered in an inconvenient semester for me, or the class being full before I could get a spot (what can I say, registration can be intense your first couple years). Luckily I go to Oberlin, so if I can’t get the classes I want the traditional way, I know there are often some creative workarounds I can try. One of my favorite methods is creating classes myself!

The first time I created a class was because of my interest in the relationship between astrology and history. I found some catalog gems that approached the subject somewhat, including a classics class about ancient magic, and a history class about science in the middle ages. I took both of these courses and absolutely loved them, but I decided I wanted to take this specific academic interest further and create an Exco about it! That way, I could both teach other students about a subject I enjoyed, and learn more about it myself in the process (I wrote more about the Exco I created in this blog). I actually took that history class the semester after teaching my Exco, and was able to use some of my knowledge and sources from the Exco in the final project, which was very exciting.

I also created a class this semester, but in a completely different way. The best part? This one counts for my major! When applying for the environmental studies major, we have to create a list of classes we intend to take to satisfy the requirements of the major, as well as when we plan to take them. We’re not obligated to stick to this plan, but it provides a decent guide and structure since the classes for the major cross into so many departments, and can (mostly) be completed in whatever order you want (learn more about that here!). I still had my final ENVS social science elective left to take this semester, but none of the courses I listed in my plan were being offered, and none of the offerings that did exist were particularly relevant to my interests within the major. Normally I’d put the elective off until another semester, but since I’m graduating, I wasn’t able to do that. I went to my advisor asking if there were other options, and thanks to her, I ultimately decided to pursue a private reading.

Private readings are one-on-one courses collaboratively designed by an upper-level student and a faculty member, with the goal of covering material not offered in existing courses. The private reading I’m taking now is about climate change communication! I started by creating a syllabus with my professor, which involved deciding on goals for the course, finding examples of what I’d be reading, and coming up with ideas for what I’d be writing. Throughout the semester, I’ve continued meeting with my professor each week, but aside from that, I do all the classwork from the comfort of my home. Being the only student in the class (and co-creator of the course itself) offers a lot of flexibility, as my professor and I can adapt the material to my interests and needs as they evolve during the semester. I also love that this class allows me to home in on topics that are relevant to work I’m interested in doing after I graduate. I’ve had private lessons for years in the Conservatory, and I’m grateful to now get a similar kind of individualized study for my major in the College.

One final fun fact about private readings is that another class I’m taking this semester started out as one! The professor is an Oberlin alum who first studied the subject matter as a private reading when she went here, and now it’s a full-blown 200-level class with 35 students. This goes to show the power of private readings, and how far creating classes as an Oberlin student can take you.

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April 25, 2024

Phoebe McChesney

In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I would share poems I wrote for an assignment in one of my courses, Green Japan, which explores the relationship between Japan and its environment.
Phoebe McChesney.