Unique courses focus on hot topics & fields, current issues & the future

Each new academic year brings a number of courses on campus that have unusual names—”Voting is Sexy” and “Emoji Worlds”—or one-of-a-kind approaches to current topics, like homelessness in school. Here’s a sample of some of this year’s unique learning opportunities.


Department of  AfroAmerican and African Studies

Filming the Future of Detroit

This course provides an opportunity to engage with Detroit from the perspectives of music history, social history, architectural history, cultural anthropology, literature, and film. Students will approach Detroit from the perspectives of race, gender, sexuality, democracy, urbanization, suburbanization, industrialization, de-industrialization, emergency management, and the future, with the help of an award winning filmmaker from Berlin. The experience will include working with young people who live in and are growing up in Detroit.

History & Evolution of Hip Hop Culture

This course examines the emergence, growth, and changing character of Hip Hop culture since its emergence in the early 1970’s. Students explore the historical context for Hip Hop’s birth and evolution and assess its continuing impact on American society. Through this examination of Hip Hop’s evolution—aesthetically, artistically, commercially—students will learn to critically engage narrate about how Hip Hop grew from a small subculture created by Black and Puerto Rican youth in economically and socially marginalized sections of New York City to its current place of cultural prominence, commercial and artistic influence, and broad acceptance in American culture.

History of Art

Emoji Worlds

Since former economics major Shigetaka Kurita created emoji in 1998 for the Japanese mobile phone company NTT Docomo, emoji have permeated everyday life at a rate best described as ferocious. Rather than explore the growth of emoji as a standalone phenomena, this course takes emoji as a call to consider the contiguity of emotion, communication and visuality using a variety of skills, particularly close visual analysis. The course will consider emoji through multiple lenses, including but not limited to, contemporary art, law, geography, gender, affect, and race.

Art Of Yoga

As the ancient Indian discipline of yoga becomes increasingly popular worldwide it is important to query its early development, transformation over the centuries, and the possibilities that it holds forth to its practitioners. Graphing milestones in the history of yoga, this course is also an introduction to the visual, literary, and religious cultures of South Asia. On occasion, we will attempt to perform basic yoga postures in the classroom.

Made In Detroit: A History Of Art And Culture In The Motor City

This seminar examines how Detroit has been presented in modern art, and the role that art and architecture have played in the city from the 1880’s to the present. It will consider works produced in Detroit that defined technology and urban culture for the world and those that have local histories; from the sleek factories that heralded modern architecture in America to the artificial past that Henry Ford assembled at Greenfield Village, from the heroic worker figures of Diego Rivera’s murals to the controversies surrounding the Joe Louis monument and the Heidelberg Project; from “ruin porn” and gentrification to prospects for the future.

Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Piyali — quen tica? Learn NAHUATL, language of the Aztec peoples

LACS Nahuatl courses are taught via teleconferencing by instructors from IDIEZ, the Zacatecas Institute for Teaching and Research in Ethnology (Mexico). Nahuatl is part of the Uto-Aztecan language family and variants of it are spoken by around two million speakers throughout Mesoamerica. Nahuatl was the language of the Aztec Empire, an alliance of three cities that dominated Central Mexico in the 15th and 16th centuries. During the Spanish Conquest, Nahuatl became a literary language used in chronicles, codices, and administrative documents.

Communication Studies

Believe Me: Campaign Messaging from Truman to Trump

This course will examine the various ways political candidates and their teams use words and images to shape campaign messages and how carefully crafted messages often go awry by looking at real-time examples from the ongoing 2018 midterm elections and the early stages of the 2020 presidential race. It will draw from past campaigns using clips from candidate speeches, debates, news clips, campaign ads, political memorabilia and social media, and look at the role the news media play in distributing, interpreting and analyzing messages in a national campaign.

Journalism Under Siege

The journalism profession has faced numerous existential challenges long before President Trump popularized the term “fake news” and identified which news organizations he viewed as the “enemy of the American people.” This course will examine the major challenges journalism faces both in the United States and around the world, from despotic regimes overseas that limit press freedoms to evolving technologies and consumer habits that call for the revamping of old business models. Students will identify and analyze challenges within journalism itself, such as charges of bias and elitism that may damage its credibility with the public.


Fake News: A History

Over the last year, “fake news” has been one of President Trump’s most oft-repeated phrases, undermining confidence in the press. In 2016, it was a term used by the media to describe deliberate misinformation spread on social media during the presidential campaign, often comprised of conspiracy theories. In this discussion-based seminar, we will analyze the historical precedents of “fake news” and examine how historians treat deception, misinformation and forgery in attempting to explain what happened in the past. Finally, we will ask whether “fake news” is a useful analytical category: what does it mean, how can we study it, and how can we handle it in our current society?

Cold Cases: Police Violence, Crime, and Racial Justice in Michigan

This research seminar is a new History Lab course that will investigate unsolved or unprosecuted cases of racial violence and police misconduct in the city of Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s. Students will work in teams, conduct archival and database research, interview historical participants and collaborate in creating an online museum-style digital exhibit that combines historical narratives with reproductions of key documents, photographs and audiovisual recordings. The class website will be the pilot project of a new Policing and Social Justice Lab designed to create an online database of thousands of police killings in Detroit and to ‘solve’ particular cases through detective fieldwork and presentation of evidentiary findings to a public audience.


Ford School

The National Security Decision-Making Process

Although much in the news lately, The National Security Council (NSC) arguably is the least understood and most complex organization involved in the national security arena. Yet, it remains the pinnacle of national security decision-making more than 70 years after the National Security Act of 1947. This class will examine NSC organizational  frameworks, bureaucratic processes and policy priorities adopted by a number of administrations, and will include simulations of national security policy decisions. The instructor is Javed Ali, the Towsley Policymaker in Residence at the Ford School, who until March was senior director for counterterrorism at NSC.


School of Education

Videogames and Learning

Why are video games fun? The answer isn’t as obvious as you might think. Good games draw users in, teach them how to succeed, and keep them engaged with a “just right” level of challenge. Most importantly, players “learn” while playing a well-designed game. Why isn’t school like that?

Homelessness in Schools

The course addresses the issue of economic and racial inequality and the ways that poverty and homelessness disproportionately affect people of color. The course will focus on the issue of homelessness and its connection to schooling.

History of College Athletics

Why is our nation the only one in the world to take school sports so seriously, and what are the implications of this practice? The course examines Thomas Jefferson’s Northwest Ordinance, moves to Britain’s “Oxbridge” model of “sound mind, sound body,” and continues to a present day look at the uniquely American business of school sports and the educational contributions to high schools and colleges.

Web-based mentorship: Arab-Israeli Conflict Simulation

This course engages middle school and high school students across North America in exploring the Arab-Israeli Conflict through portraying current political leaders. The web-based simulation is an attempt to give students a tangible window into the complexities of geopolitics and the diplomatic process. In this class, teacher education students will learn about the modern history and politics of the region, and work with colleagues to support young students in thoughtfully assuming characters, and in writing purposefully and persuasively.

Education Peace and Conflict

This course centers on the ways in which educational systems contribute to conflict and division, as well as to post-conflict reconstruction and stability. It will cover theories of conflict, peacebuilding, and justice frameworks. Through global case studies, it will examine the relationships among education, identity, poverty and violence.

Equity in Everyday Life

This course focuses on communicating with diverse individuals and audiences, listening across difference, supporting learning in diverse domains, assessing learning and impact, giving feedback, designing and leading meetings and convenings, using artifacts and texts, and attuning the work to participants’ experiences and identities.


School of Information

Engaging with Communities

Whether engaging in fieldwork, updating one’s organizational approach, or partnering beyond an organization, knowing community members’ wants, needs, and aspirations can help initiatives “land” with greater impact and value. This course provides multidisciplinary approaches to identifying needs and engaging in collaborative partner activities.

Intro to AR/VR

This course will introduce students to Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) interfaces. This course covers basic concepts; students will create two mini-projects, one focused on AR and one on VR, using prototyping tools. The course requires neither special background nor programming experience.

Crisis Informatics

Saving lives in crises means being prepared, coordinated and fast. Information and technology are increasingly the tools people in need are turning to. Participants in this class will learn to examine crisis situations, in continuum from personal to international crises, and evaluate and plan relevant information technology responses. The class will review personal crises such as a major accident; and recent international crisis-disaster response, such as the Syrian Refugee migration, Hurricane Sandy, and Nepal earthquake. Students will have an opportunity to have hands-on experience with the technology tools used in disaster response, and work in teams with senior executives from international NGO’s and corporations.


School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Creative Coding for Music

An introduction to principles and practices of computer programming for musical applications. Students learn visual, procedural, and object-oriented programming in general-purpose and music-specific languages. Projects address important musical programming concepts including algorithmic composition, real-time interaction, and audio buffer processing. Emphasis is on creative and artistic uses of code.


Stamps School

Voting is sexy

Students in this team-based class will create a high-energy campaign of pop-up events, posters, video, social media and more in order to educate, entertain, motivate, inspire and enliven their peers to vote on Nov. 6.

SciFi Prototype: Designing for the future

For decades, science fiction authors have explored both our wildest dreams and greatest fears for where technology might lead us. Yet, science fiction is fueled by the concerns of today just as much as it is about fantastic imaginings of the future. This course ties science fiction with speculative/critical design as a means to encourage the ethical and thoughtful design of new technologies. With a focus on the creation of functional prototypes, the course combines analysis of classic and modern science fiction texts and films with physical fabrication or code-based interpretations of the technologies they depict. Topics include virtual/augmented reality; networks; artificial intelligence; nanotechnology; humanism and transhumanism; cyborgs and robotics; environmental issues; biology; utopias and dystopias; surveillance; music and art; interfaces; wearables; and/or religion, culture, and society.

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