BIS 300C syllabus

Introduction to Interdisciplinary Inquiry

Autumn 2012  

Monday and Wednesday 11 - 1, LBA-003

Colin Danby, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell
Office: UW1-245     (425) 352-5285
Office Hours: MW 4-5 and by appointment

consultant: Danielle Rowland

This course is an introduction to the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program.  One goal of higher education is to help you become a more critical consumer of knowledge, and a producer of knowledge yourself.  This means learning to think carefully about claims, and keeping track of questions.  We will stress close, attentive, and critical reading.  In your writing you will be asked to discuss, interpret and critique readings. 

In the past, you may have been asked to write summaries of readings.  You may also have learned to write "personal" essays that express an opinion.  Summaries and personal essays are fine things, but they are not what we do in this class. 

Pure fact

  • summaries
  • reports
  • regurgitation and rehash
  • "information" in the sense of a lot of disconnected facts

Interpretation, analysis

  • logic: relationships between ideas
  • evidence: relationships between ideas and facts
  • interpretation that provides insight -- not just "what I think" but why I think
  • careful questions

Pure opinion

  • personal essays
  • viewpoints, perspectives that are not further developed
  • "what I get out of it"
  • relativism - "we all have our own perspective"

This class is all about the middle category. Interpretations and analyses are not simple, easily-ascertainable facts, and intelligent people of good will can have different interpretations. But on the other hand, they are not just about making stuff up. We will be interested in how you assess interpretations. 

Universities combine teaching and research; they create knowledge as well as communicating it.  As you move into the upper levels of an undergraduate education, you come closer to what are sometimes called the "frontiers of knowledge."  This is the difficult project of trying to figure out what the world is like and how it works.  This class will give you a better sense of what scholars do, and better abilities to interpret and think critically about what scholars write and say.  Just because something is printed in a book or journal doesn't mean it's true or right or even carefully thought out, and one of the benefits of a good university education is that you will develop better defenses against bad arguments, spurious evidence, and inappropriate claims of expertise.  

This is one reason that we will stress questions as much as answers.  If there is one thing that I would like you to get out of this class, it is the ability to identify the question or questions that people are responding to.  This class is, in a lot of ways, at right-angles to a traditional course. It is not "about" anything in the sense that it covers no set subject area. (If it makes you more comfortable to name a theme for this class, the theme is truth.)  We are interested in uncovering rather than covering, circling back for another look rather than moving on, rereading, rewriting, rethinking. It will frustrate you at times, because it's different from what you're used to. The commitment I can make to you is that (a) if you keep up with the work, engage with the material in class, and talk to me whenever you have questions you'll do well and (b) this class will help you do better in future IAS courses.

This is a portfolio-based course, designed to give you a good start in keeping a portfolio of your work as you move through the IAS program.  We will spend considerable time on the collection, reflection, and assessment of your portfolio. 

Learning objectives: By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Identify the research question in an academic article, and trace its connections to other scholarly work. (Interdisciplinary Research)
  • Critique the use of argument and evidence in academic writing. (Critical Thinking)
  • Get more out of work in small groups. (Collaboration and Shared Leadership)
  • Be able to compose written responses to college-level assignments that directly answer the question asked, and use evidence well. (Writing and Presentation)
  • Write reflectively on a portfolio of your own work.


  • Come to class on time and return from breaks on time. Absences and late arrivals disrupt your progress and the work of the class.
  • Bring a printout of that day’s reading with you to class and be prepared to discuss it.
  • Do readings and assignments on time.  Successful in-class work is built on careful out-of-class work.
  • Participate actively and thoughtfully in class.
  • Ask me questions when anything is not clear.  Assignments are not meant to be puzzles.
  • Keep written work in a portfolio.
  • Meet with me at least once, some time after the first essay is returned.


  • Participation: 15%
  • Response papers: 15%
  • Three Essays: 55%
  • Portfolios: 15%

Participation includes small-group work in class as well as larger discussion; it also includes our library session work and in-class writings that we will do from time to time.  I am interested in quality of participation at least as much as quantity, and I am always impressed when people respond thoughtfully to each other.  Response papers will be assessed on the seriousness of the effort grapple with the assignment, and a good effort should get full credit.  With the three essays, I will grade more stringently on organization, clarity, insight, and quality of writing.  The first two essays can be resubmitted, for a better grade, within one week of when they are returned to you.  Portfolio assessments will evaluate of the level of care and sophistication with which assignments are being done, and the care with which your own assessment is written.  


Late work: The first two essay assignments will be subject to my normal late-paper policy, which is that late submissions will be penalized 15% (of the total possible grade) up to the first week they are late; 30% thereafter. They will not be accepted after the last day of class meetings (Dec. 7, 2012). Due to the volume of short assignments that this course produces, no other late work will be graded, but I will review late-completed assignments as part of your portfolio. There are no exceptions to the late-work policy -- there is no way that I can fairly assess all the personal emergencies, job pressures, and other factors that impinge on different people's lives, and adjust their assignments accordingly. Please don't show me doctors' notes, court orders, or anything like that. There is however one appeal: if you feel that for any reason, part of your grade does not reflect your learning in the course, write me a short e-mail explaining why, and I will take that into account when assessing the final grade.

We will use this electronic drop-box to submit assignments. They will be due at 10:30 AM on the relevant day. Papers will be returned using the drop-box comment feature, and using the tracked changes and comment features in Microsoft Word.  Please make sure that your word processing software is set to see comments and tracked changes.

There is no reason to tell me if you are going to miss class. However if a serious illness or personal emergency is going to affect course work over a week or more, please tell me so we can plan how to get you back on track as quickly as possible. For a few other points see Occasionally-Asked Questions, How I Assess Writing, and Notes on Formats for written work.

Our scheduled classes are times for work. Focusing on the task at hand is vital for your own learning; it also makes you a better participant in small-group discussions and other activities that help others learn. It is therefore expected that you will use class time for class work, and most importantly that you will not do anything to distract other students from class work. It's my responsibility to ensure that the classroom is a place in which every student can work successfully, and I will be forceful about squelching distractions.  I will ask you to avoid private conversations and noisy food, and  to turn off and putting away cell phones and any other portable electronic devices. In the interest of avoiding distraction this will be a laptop-free classroom, and when we work with computers at the library, you are asked to confine your activity to the work at hand. If you have to arrive late to class, please tiptoe in the back door as quietly as possible. It is my responsibility and prerogative to determine what is appropriate classroom behavior.

Accommodation for disabled students is a campus priority. If you believe that you have a disability and would like academic accommodations, please contact Disability Support Services at 425.352.5307, 425.352.5303 TDD, 425.352.5455 FAX, or at

You are reading a web document.  It can usually be located by putting "danby" into the faculty directory accessible via the main uwb page, or by putting "colin danby" into a search engine like google.   Changes in readings or assignments will be made on the web version, as well as being announced in class.  If you miss classes, you need to check for any modifications to assignments.

I encourage you to see the regular class time as only part of the service provided to you in this course. Please feel no hesitation contacting me outside of class, using the scheduled office hours, and setting up meetings at other times.  If you are caring for a child, feel free to bring the child along to office hours.   (Do note, however, that five minutes before class is usually not the best time to see me, or any professor, because I'm in the middle of setup and gathering what I need.)
Aside from visiting during the scheduled office hours or chatting after class, the best way to get in touch is e-mail. I don't use voice mail. The university provides you an e-mail account, and you’re responsible for your own forwarding arrangements if you use multiple accounts. E-mail that I receive from non-university addresses is harder for me to identify amid the daily flood; please be sure that any e-mail account used to contact me shows your full name in the “from” field. I’ll usually get back within 24 hours during the M-F week. If I can, I’ll be faster, and I often check in during weekends, but don’t depend on that. Every now and then, the flow of e-mail gets too great and I fall behind for several days. Given federal laws around educational records disclosure (google FERPA), it’s best not to use e-mail to discuss grades or anything sensitive.  But please, e-mail me at any time about any question or concern, large or small.  For example, you can always send me a draft of an assignment before it is due, for comment.  As long as there's time, I will get back to you.  Even if you are just having trouble downloading a reading, e-mail me and I'll send it to you.  If I'm rushed I may send a brief reply, but a brief reply does not mean I don't want to hear from you -- it just means that I thought it was better to be short and prompt than long-winded and late.

In IAS and at UW Bothell, students are expected to respect individual differences including age, cultural background, disability, ethnicity, family status, gender presentation, immigration status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and veteran status.  You should also expect to encounter a range of views in course readings and classrom discussions, some of which may be at odds with your own.  Students seeking support around these issues can find more information and resources at

Academic Integrity: This course includes writing.  When you put your name at the top of a paper and hand it in, in a university course, we assume that anything written below that name is your own work unless you indicate otherwise.   See for crucial information regarding academic integrity.  The library also has an extremely useful website with resources at You are responsible for knowing what constitutes a violation of the University of Washington Student Code, and you will be held responsible for any such violations whether they were intentional or not.  All cases of plagiarism in this course will be referred to the office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.  Proper crediting boils down to two things: 

First, in anything that you hand in, your own writing must be clearly, unambiguously, distinguished from other people’s writing.  The normal way to do this is with quotation marks around words that you got from somewhere else.  

Second, quoted material, or anything else that you got from another source (a fact, an idea, something paraphrased) must have a reference clearly and directly attached to it that tells your reader precisely where it came from.  It is never enough simply to list the source at the end of the paper.

See these additional notes on plagiarism. On the positive side, we will spend time in this course practicing different ways to bring other people’s voices into your writing, in ways that are not only clear but creative and interesting.

Please check if the campus may be closed due to weather. Information on suspension of operations will be made public and available through the media. Students can learn of campus operations status from the website or by calling the Campus Information Hotline 425.352.3333. You may also sign up with an alert system that will contact you via email or text message if classes are canceled. For more information on the alert process, please see Class activities will be rescheduled as needed.

Writing: A Few Notes

Always assume an audience (me, and perhaps and other course participants) who has read the text or texts that you are writing about, and who has them at hand. This means that you do not have to rehash the text.  I will never give you an assignment that can be completed by writing a summary of one or more readings.  If you find yourself getting drawn into extended rehash, step back and remind yourself of what you have been asked to do.
You do not need to write a general introduction to "interest the reader." Your audience is me, and I am already interested!  I promise you I will read every word you write.  Instead, try an initial paragraph that signals what your essay does and what makes it distinctive. You will probably want to write, or at least rewrite, that opening paragraph after the rest of the essay is done.  Many students have learned to generalize away from the subject of their writing in the introduction and conclusion.  I will ask you to resist any inclinations you have along those lines.

While you do not want to recreate or simply summarize the text you are writing about, you do want to use evidence from the text when you make assertions about it. This requires practice, but in general get in the habit of using page references and short quotes from the text to support your points. You can even put in longer quotes if you are really going to analyze, say, a paragraph of the text. But be careful about just filling space with long extracts from someone else's text.

Endings are hard. My advice is simply to summarize what you've accomplished in the essay and get out. But if you want to put in a further reflection, or an additional question, this is a good place to do it. Do not feel that your ending needs to resolve the world's problems, or tie everything up with a bow. You don't need to generalize at the ending, or provide an uplifting sentiment.

Expect to have to rewrite a few times before essays come into focus. These are not assignments that you can knock off in a half hour. Writing is rewriting.  One of the reasons to do more than one draft is to move yourself away from rehash of the texts, and toward your own voice and thought.


  • Electronic reserve The readings are here, free of charge.  But you are responsible for printing out class readings, and bringing those printouts with you to class.  Two more notes on e-reserve: (a) the course e-reserve list includes some texts that we will not read, so don’t go printing them all out, (b) I try to give you direct links below to the readings, but for those links to work an initial “cookie” has to be set on your computer.  The technical details are too boring to describe, but you may sometimes have to go directly to the UW Library Website and follow links to the course’s e-reserves from there.
You will come across words you don’t know in our readings, and you will need to look them up.  That means having a real dictionary close at hand -- a serious reference book intended for academic use.  In book form, the best is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.  (The name "Webster" by itself is meaningless because it's not copyrighted and anyone can use it.)  Other good dictionaries are the American Heritage Dictionary and Oxford American Dictionary.  If you have a computer or similar device close at hand, you can access Merriam-Webster online.  You can also log in through the UWB library and get to the Oxford Dictionaries.

Topics, Readings, and Assignments

 date  in-class work and readings 
(readings should be done before class)

(Assignments are due by 10:30 AM on the date indicated and should be submitted via the electronic dropbox for this course.)

Mon September 24th
course introduction
portfolio session
Wed September 26th
 Paulo Freire, The “Banking” Concept of Education
(also on e-reserve, but the version linked here may be easier to work with.)

If just clicking on this one doesn't work well, click the "down" arrow at the very bottom right of this page, and that will download the reading as a pdf onto your desktop.
Response Paper on Freire: Would Freire be interested in a compromise between banking and problem-posing?  Why or why not?  Write about 200 words, making specific reference to Freire's text.

Submit via the drop-box
Mon  October 1st
  Response Paper on Freire: You are on the search committee for the new IAS director, and Paulo Freire has applied for the position, sending this essay to support his application.  Based on the essay, assess his suitability for the job.  Aim for about 500 words.  Assume a reader who ha already read the essay, so please don't spend a lot of time rehashing it.
Wed  October 3rd
 Plato intro
Mon  October 8th
 Plato, Republic, Book 3 (e-reserve) Response Paper: Pick any point in the Plato reading, and drop Paulo Freire into the discussion.  In other words, he walks in and joins the conversation.  Write 700 words of additional dialogue

If you paraphrase or quote Freire or anyone else, be sure to credit and cite the language you are using or paraphrasing.  But you’ll be more successful if you don’t try and build this out of quotes.  Try instead to get into Freire’s head, imagine how he would respond to the discussion, how Socrates and his companions would respond, and take it from there.
Wed  October 10th
Mon  October 15th
Allan Bloom, selections from The Closing of the American Mind  (e-reserve)
Response Paper: Choose one (not both) 
(1)You are Allan Bloom.  Write a response to Paulo Freire’s “The Banking Concept of Education.”  Write about 700 words, all of it in Bloom’s voice
(2) Expand your assignment of last week by adding Bloom to the discussion with Freire, Socrates, and so forth.
Wed  October 17th
Tanya Augsburg, Portfolios for Interdiscplinary Studies Students  (e-reserve)  
Mon  October 22nd
 First Library Session: Finding context
meet in LB1-222
 First Essay  (see dropbox)
Wed   October  24th

Mon   October  29th  Gillespie, Rosamond, Thomas, "Grouped Out"   (e-reserve)  Response Paper
Wed   October  31st  no class today: time to work on revisions
 First portfolio writeup
 Mon November 5th  Matthew Gutmann, "Imaginary Fathers, Genuine Fathers"   (e-reserve)  Response Paper
 Wed November 7th    
Monday November 12th is the Veterans Day Holiday
Wed November 14th  Second Library Session: Scholarly notes  Second Essay
Mon November 19th
 Evelyn F. Keller, “Transposition”
“A Different Language”   (e-reserve)
 Response Paper:
Wed November 21st  corn lab
Mon November 26th
 Donna Haraway, "Teddy Bear Patriarchy"  Response Paper
Wed November 28th
 Third Library Session: Archival Research  
Mon December 3rd
 Julio  Cortázar, "Axolotl"   (e-reserve)
 Response paper Please see the question in the drop-box.
Second essay revisions due
Wed December 5th
 This class will be an informal, drop-by workshop rather than a formal class session.  I will be there, and available to consult with anyone about their final assignments.
Happy holidays!
Wed December 12th (no class)
 Final essay   In drop-box
 Final Portfolio

Colin Danby,
Sep 21, 2012, 8:25 PM