First Year Seminar Courses

The course titles and descriptions below are being offered in the Fall of 2022. Once you find a topic of interest, find the AUIDS 101 section listed in Bear Tracks.

The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters

Each of us is on a journey. Whether we have travelled to Augustana from afar or are a resident of Camrose, each one of us—at one time or another—decided to pursue a university education. Journeys, however, need not involve outward movement; many of the greatest works of literature focus instead on a spiritual or intellectual quest that takes place within the protagonist. Our examination of this theme will be broad as we explore different concepts of the journey within the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Our discussions will focus on such topics as quest narratives in ancient and modern texts, the anthropology of travel and tourism, and the migration of human and nonhuman animals across continents. Whereas the thematic focus of the course is the quest, we will consider this topic across a range of disciplines—from literature and religion to anthropology and environmental biology. Our investigations into the phenomenon of the journey will range from reading Harry Potter to visiting the Royal Alberta Museum.

 

Democracy: Power to the People?

Democracy, derived from the Greek demokratia, is a form of political governance that literally means “rule by the people.” It’s a simple and widely endorsed idea that is, at the same time, incredibly complex and contested. Plato believed giving political power “to the people” was a terrible mistake, the founders of most contemporary democracies worked to ensure only a select group of “people” were granted power, and today, it is common to hear claims that the current system fails to truly “listen to the people.” Engaging with a diverse array of materials including works of literature; ancient, popular and scholarly texts from various fields; and depictions of democracy in media and film, this course will explore these issues while considering some seemingly straightforward questions: What is democracy? Just who are “the people”? And, above all, what makes a state truly democratic?

 

First Beer Seminar

“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

Homer Simpson

Beer and other forms of alcohol have been around almost as long as human civilization. As a result, alcohol is a key component in many kinds of human interaction in a number of societies. Yet, alcohol is also a source of many problems for both individuals and society as a whole. This course examines elements of alcohol use and abuse through the specific example of beer. We will look at the science of fermentation and how the body metabolizes alcohol, as well as investigate the physical, mental, and social consequences of alcohol abuse and addiction. We will also look at the relative rights and responsibilities of the consumers and producers of beer in the context of the need for society to ensure the safest environment possible for its citizens. On an individual level we will reflect on what, how, and why we drink, if we choose to drink, and how these decisions shape our experiences and worldviews.

 

I, Witness: Memory and the Self

Memory shapes everything we know, feel and think, and allows us to find new understanding. Memoir, the act of recording one’s own experience, is as old as cave-painting handprints and as new as TikTok and Instagram. Writing in the first person—a prose selfie—may bring illuminating perspective, or can be self-indulgent and sentimental. But pivotal events in human history come down to us in their most vivid versions as eye-witness accounts from people who were there. Writing and reading in the first person (fact/fiction, text/spoken word) ranging from residential school survivors to recent immigrants, from childhood to old age, we will trace our own selves and examine how we look at others. Renowned Canadian writers working in memoir visit the class, and students research a public figure whose life tallies or contrasts their own ideas of human worth, to reflect and resonate with their own memoir project. Memory contests from Virgil to the police codes and a final TikTok tournament enliven our examination of how the eye looks at the world, and how the world looks back at us.

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

Are the “university years” the best years of your life? If the pursuit of happiness is so important to us, why do we subject ourselves to the stress and challenges of a university education? Are there ways to identify daily stressors and navigate a stress-free path? We Humans spend much of our lives, deliberately and unconsciously, searching for ways that make us happy. In this course, we explore key concepts and determinants of happiness relevant to academic success, as well as stress buffers and management techniques. We will draw on scholarly texts in positive psychology, neurochemistry, physiology and then consider the pursuit of happiness from the perspective of the Canadian legal framework. Students will research and present their findings on various determinants of happiness and its relationship to academic success, participate in small group discussions, and prepare a variety of written works on stress management and pursuit of happiness.

 

Rise of the Robots

“Oh, my goodness! Shut me down! Machines making machines. How perverse!”

C3PO

Self-driving cars. Drones delivering packages to your doorstep. R2D2. Star Trek’s Data. Robots are everywhere, but did you know that the word “robot” was only added to the English language about a century ago? A robot is defined as “a machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions automatically” (Oxford English Dictionary), but what happens when the line between human and machine starts to blur? In this course, we will explore issues of gender, morality, law, and socialization related to automation, humanoids, androids, and more. We will use LegoTM robots or chatbots, movies, stories, research papers and news articles to better appreciate what robots are, what they do, and how they impact our world. Students will work in groups to “make” an artificial robot do a task, with the goal of understanding robotic operation. Our goal is to better understand not only what makes a robot, but what makes us human.

 

Meaning in Migration

“In the final analysis, we are all migrants, armed with a temporary residence permit for this Earth, each and every one of us incurably transient.”

Gazmend Kapllani

Arctic terns, caribou, monarch butterflies, pilgrims, snowbirds, and refugees: what do they all have in common? Migration, of course! Migration is the movement of people or animals from one area to another. While some migrations are voluntary, some are forced; some occur regularly and some are sporadic (or even singular). Migration requires significant investments in time, money, and/or energy to accomplish a goal: usually a better life. However, sometimes it’s not the destination that’s most meaningful: it’s the journey. This course examines both the natural and human examples of migrations, with a focus on their patterns, causes, timing, and impacts. We will use social, economic, environmental, political, and literary perspectives to explore the nature and meaning of migration. Our investigations will involve personal accounts of migration, as well as banding at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory.

 

Who's Watching You? Surveillance in Everyday Life

We live in a world where we are increasingly visible to others, from social media platforms to state surveillance systems, but how much control do we have over who’s watching us, and does this matter? In this First Year Seminar, we will consider surveillance and privacy during a time in which we are increasingly connected through digital media technologies and information tracking systems. We will explore different aspects of surveillance through a close engagement with a selection of key texts, theories, and cases. Topics we will address include government surveillance of citizens, peer-to-peer surveillance, consumer surveillance, workplace surveillance, and more. Students will develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills as they engage with diverse representations of modern surveillance from scholarly texts, novels, films, policy statements, and popular media.

 

Protest! Why Bother?

What do Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunberg, Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, Jonathan van Ness, Malala Yousafzai, Sophie Scholl, Harvey Milk, 2017 NFL players, AVAAZ, and the German pop band The Donots have in common? They are protesters who are trying to change their world. Why did they bother? This course will examine protests in diverse realms, such as education, music, science, architecture, literature and politics. We will look at what the activists are protesting, how they protest, and why, while also examining the role of activism in society and the crucial elements of successful protest movements. We will analyze diverse methods of protest, including the role of the media, and evaluate their effectiveness. The course will feature visits with local activists in Edmonton and Camrose. These topics will force us to confront issues of race, gender, LGBTQ2S+, religion, politics, etc., while challenging us to examine our own standpoints in respectful conversation with others.

 

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

The topic of sex and sexuality is one of the most thought-provoking, emotionally evocative, and paradoxical topics in all of our lives. It’s something that affects everyone but is seldom talked about in public. Moreover, in 21st century pop culture, sex seems to be everywhere and is instantly available at the swipe of our fingertips. So, why do so many sexual myths, misconceptions, and misunderstanding persist? The answer to this question lies in understanding that human sexuality is a complex, multi-faceted topic that is influenced by multiple factors including (but not limited to) our biology, neurochemistry, psychology, socialization, and cultural values. In this course, we will begin by openly talking about human sexuality and identifying gaps in our common understandings of sex. We will then work towards compiling a public document that attempts to dispel common sexual myths and promote positive, healthy sexuality on our campus. Assignments will focus on researching myths/misunderstanding of sexuality and the myth-making process as well as engaging directly with some of the hotly debated topics pertaining to sex.

 

Bud: Cannabis, Normalization, and Stigma

Weed, pot, Mary Jane, grass, ganja, or bud, call it what you will, cannabis remains the most widely used substance worldwide, and has been a part of the human experience for centuries. This course begins with studying the cannabis plant itself and understanding its pharmacological properties, followed by a historical and cultural analysis of cannabis. Our focus will then change to understanding how cannabis use became illegal, how ineffective the war on drugs has been in reducing drug use, and how drug prohibition is shaped by class, race, and gender. We will also focus on the normalization of cannabis and its consequences for various segments of society. Additionally, the course will study cannabis in a legalized and regulated environment with an emphasis on analyzing cannabis myths and explaining the consequences they have for stereotypes, stigma, and regulation. Besides introducing you to important university skills, the course will introduce you to key concepts that you will encounter throughout your university degree, such as culture, stereotypes, stigma, intersectionality, and ethnocentrism, and more.

 

Unmasking the Superhero

Superheroes are a cultural phenomenon and big business. While many of us can easily list a range of superheroes and their powers, have you ever wondered what their powers represent? Is there a deeper meaning to superheroes? In this course, you’ll learn what superheroes can teach us about humanity and complex issues such as trauma, loss, and resilience. This course begins by discussing what is a hero, and then tracing the historical roots of superheroes starting from Gilgamesh in 2100 BC to those depicted in modern comic books, graphic novels, and motion pictures. We also explore “superheroes” in the natural world such as bats, spiders, and honeybees, and discuss how their traits have been integrated into the personas of many superheroes. Next, we examine the origin stories of three superheroes to understand their motivations, values, and conflicts, as well as the broader political, social and cultural context that shape who they are. Students will have an opportunity to research a particular superhero, participate in class discussions, read comics and articles, and watch and breakdown movies.

 

Gods, Monsters, and Myths

The Ancient Greeks developed a system of belief based on mythological gods and ethereal monsters, and these otherworldly beings have become ingrained in our understanding of history and culture. However, we don’t believe in superhero gods or evil monsters anymore…or do we? It is commonly thought that gods and monsters are the stuff of myths, but why is it that myths continue to inform our understanding of history? Further, why did our ancestors create and tell myths? And is it really true that we no longer have mythologies today? In this course, we will look at myths, with their heroic gods and terrible monsters, to see what purpose they serve in our own lives. We will also discover how gods, monsters, and myths are still used in contemporary society as we explore media such as novels, films, TV shows, podcasts, and art. By the end of the course, you will have created your own “myth” from which to interpret your own truths.

 

Dinosaurs, from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops

What’s your favourite dinosaur? Odds are, you have an answer to this question, and even if you don’t know the name of the specific species that you “dig,” a clear image at least comes to mind. Since the “Dinosaur renaissance” in the 1970s, where researchers embarked on a fury of paleontological study focused on dinosaur histories, Western culture has been enraptured by the “terrible lizards” who walked the earth some 66 million years ago. From Godzilla to the Jurassic Park franchise to Disney’s multiple representations of the prehistoric reptiles, dinosaurs seem to have something for everyone. In this course, we will investigate the place of dinosaurs in a number of human frameworks, and will consider their roles in cultural, historical, and scientific capacities. We will travel together to the Royal Tyrell Museum in the Badlands of Alberta to explore paleontological methodologies and histories, and we will also travel to a Creationist museum as we examine the cultural complexities of dinosaurs.