Special topic courses offer unique learning opportunities

By Yijing Shen, Contributing Writer
West Liberty University offers 22 special topic courses in total for over 10 majors during its 2018 Spring semester. 
Special topic courses refer to any course with course number 278, 378 and 478. Course number stands for its curriculum level; the higher the number, the harder the class is.

The WLU English department modified its general studies requirements and came up with the idea of offering special topic courses, while also considering the different academic level of major and non-major students. 
“What we did before was that a lot of students were taking the English 204, 205, 214 and 215, which were the survey of English and America. These were made as a basic course for majors, but when all the students took them, one class might have seven or eight majors and 13 other students. The teacher couldn’t teach the course really at the level that majors needed to get themselves ready for more advanced courses, so we came up with the idea of why not offering several 278 courses every semester and encourage students to take them,” said Dr. Peter Staffel, Professor of English and Director of the Honors Program, “It’s been all kinds of different courses taught like that, they have been great fun and students quite like them.”
Special topic 278 was designed for non-majors while special topic 478 is a more advanced course for major students. However, every student can take any level special topic courses regardless of major.
Staffel said, “You could offer both the same courses as 278 and 478. If you are an English major who wants an advanced elective, you can take the 200 level course for me, but I would make you do more work.” 
Special topic courses 378, also called honors seminar, is only open to WLU honors college students. Honor students are required to have two honors seminars in total to fulfill their academic credits, and the seminars can be counted as advanced electives. 
Staffel is offering special topic 278 Greek Mythology. He hopes students enjoys the diversity of mythology.
“When [the honors college] was a program, you could only apply once when you would come here and you had to of been here at least one semester and get recommendations from all campus faculty members. We had regular meetings, trips (honors enrichments), students had to go to an extra number of hours, and they also had to take honors seminars, which are HON-378. Students got academic credit, but not towards their major; it would just be extra hours to graduate as part of honors program,” said Staffel.
“I would like kids to enjoy the mythology, to see lots of connections with Asian cultures and our contemporary cultures. There was a middle eastern world where Christianity, Islam came out of the overseas, lots of the stories get told as the Greek flood in its creation myth. They all have the stories that carry on with deep history, and much of the mythology has the interpretation of ‘why do they tell the story? Is this standing for something else?’” said Staffel.
Dr. Robert Gall, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, is offering special topic Film & Religion 278 and Film & Religion 478. He hopes students could get entertainment from religion, and could become more aware of religion as a culture. 
“I hope my students can learn how to film critically, and to recognize them as a more entertainment. In some cases, the director has the message interpretation with things often with some religious overtones. The other thing I hope they can become aware of is how religion is part of our culture, and either a part of our entertainment, even when the films are necessarily specifically about religious topic, they very often have nothing to do with religion. But the themes, the storyline, echo, and elements are all religious background,” said Gall.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Dowdle