Oberlin Blogs

Double-Degree Exco Experiences

November 22, 2021

Claire O’Brocta ’22

When I arrived at Oberlin three years ago as a double-degree student, I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to fit an Exco into the strenuous schedule requirements of my two degrees. Now, a quarter of the way into my fourth year out of five, I’ve taken three Excos, taught two, and plan to both take and teach them again in the future.

I stumbled into taking my first Exco in the fall of my first year at Oberlin, completely by accident. I didn’t get instructor consent for a required class I was initially planning to take, and although I had chosen a different requirement as backup, I was waitlisted in that one. I needed to take more credits, and didn’t know what to do. That is, until I got an email that was sent to everyone on the TIMARA mailing list, advertising an Exco that might be of interest to us. The class was called Music Signal Processing, and it covered the basic engineering, physics, and math concepts that explain why digital audio works. Applications were due the night the email was sent, and I filled mine out immediately.

I took Music Signal Processing once a week, three years ago, so my memories of it have faded quite a bit. Nonetheless, I remember being fascinated by the technology that’s necessary to allow us to listen to music the way we do. This class allowed me to look at music in a whole new way, in a casual, low-pressure environment. It also tied in well with almost every other class I was taking, which included the computer science intro class; a first-year seminar that connected math to music, art, and dance; music theory and aural skills; and the introductory course for TIMARA majors, which also got into the nitty-gritty of digital music, but in a completely different context. That semester as a whole gave me a solid foundation for all of my future studies at Oberlin, and I feel that the Exco I took really helped bind that foundation together.

I went into my second year here continuing to think I would never have space for another Exco. At this point I thought, at least I got to take one, right? I did hope, though, that I would somehow be able to take a second Exco in a future semester. That hope turned into reality when I met with a double-degree advisor during my sophomore fall. She told me that in order to graduate in five years, I would need to take an average of 9 credits in the College during each of my seven remaining semesters of school. Academic classes are mostly 4 credits, and Excos can be taken for 1 or 2, meaning supplementing my 2 usual College classes with an Exco each semester could help me hit my credit goal with ease. Up to 8 co-curricular credits (which Excos are included in) can contribute to required College classes for double degrees, and since I had already taken one, it was perfect.

In the spring of my second year, I opted for a 2-credit academic class instead of an Exco (which worked out well considering that’s the semester we got sent home), but by the time I was a junior, I was ready to take an Exco again. The Exco I ended up going with that fall was a Zoom class called MineCo, and yes, it was about Minecraft.

My junior fall was a great time to take a class about Minecraft, because it just so happens that my final projects for my TIMARA classes in not one, but both semesters of my sophomore year, were Minecraft themed. Despite making so much art about Minecraft, I had never gotten very far in the game itself, usually opting for server-based minigames and structure building rather than deep diving into the classic survival mode. MineCo challenged me to take that dive, and learn a lot more about the game and its cultural relevance in the process. Aside from that, Minecraft has been the game of choice for my youngest sibling since they were 6 years old, and they’re amazing at it. I hoped taking this Exco would bring me closer to their level, and though it definitely has, the gap between us is still pretty big. I did ask them for MineCo homework help quite a few times though, and the two of us hopping on Zoom calls together to do that was a fun way to hang out as siblings from afar. Taking a class on a video game was a great way to liven up my schedule, and it was cool knowing that I was enrolled in something that would never be possible if Excos didn’t exist.

I took my third Exco, DrugsCo, in the spring of my junior year. This was a 2-credit Exco, and like MineCo, it was taught remotely. My decision to take an Exco that semester was partly because it was my first semester of college in which I didn’t have a single class with one of my close TIMARA friends. The two of us decided that we absolutely had to take the same Exco, so that we’d at least have something together. We both went through the Exco catalog independently, and made a list of what we were interested in. Out of the potential Excos we both chose, we decided to take DrugsCo, a course that provided detailed information about different drugs, how they affect people, their cultural role, and harm reduction techniques. Although the class was over Zoom, my friend and I would often attend the class together from their apartment. We had taken a couple of psychology classes together in the past, so it was interesting for both of us to learn how different drugs, whether they were legal, prescribed, or illicit, affect the brain. DrugsCo was certainly more traditionally academic in nature, and therefore a big leap from MineCo the previous semester. However, it still retained the casual environment of an Exco, which is something I enjoy and appreciate.

Ever since I learned about Excos during my first tour of Oberlin, I’ve wondered what it would be like to teach one, but had absolutely no idea what subject I would teach. Did I have any niche hobbies that Oberlin students would be interested in learning more about? I don’t think I did back when I toured campus in 2017, but flash forward three years to 2020, and I was pretty sold on the idea of teaching something related to astrology. 

Due to being a Conservatory student, I wasn’t enrolled in classes during Oberlin’s unusual Summer 2021 semester. I figured that semester would be the perfect opportunity to finally become an Exco instructor, even though my lack of enrollment meant I couldn’t receive course credit for it. I didn’t know at first that I’d end up teaching not just one Exco, but two! I taught one myself, and was co-teacher in training for the other, with each of the two courses focusing on a different area of astrology. I wrote more about my teaching experiences in my blog overviewing Summer 2021, so check that one out if you want to know more. I will add, though, that I plan on co-teaching AstroCo again this coming spring, this time as an official instructor. One of the reasons I taught this summer in the first place was that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle the time commitment of creating and teaching a whole class on top of my intense double-degree schedule in a typical semester. Fortunately, the Exco I’ll be instructing in the spring has already been created, I already know what to expect from teaching it, and I won’t be doing it alone. Between those three things, I have confidence that I’ll be able to handle it.

It’s currently the fall of my fourth year, and I’ve decided to take a break from Excos this semester. I’ve taken 10 credits in the College twice since I met with that double-degree advisor two years ago, so I can afford to take 8 this time around, leaving a little space for an extra Conservatory course. However, with three semesters still to go, I have plenty of time to take another Exco or two before I graduate, in addition to teaching at least one more time. My first-year self wouldn’t be able to believe it!

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