“How do you represent the passage of time? What is evidence? Is what we think is ‘real,’ really real?”
These are just some of the challenging questions posed in a new series of classes that provides a distinct academic experience to undergraduates.
The University of Chicago has long prided itself on intellectually rigorous and thematically eclectic courses. The new Experimental Capstone program, which Prof. Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer spearheads as director of the Stevanovich Institute for the Formation of Knowledge (SIFK), builds upon this long-standing commitment to academic exploration and interdisciplinarity, but brings its own ambitious aims.
Although wide-ranging in their scope and subject, all courses in what’s known as the XCAP program incorporate scholarship from different disciplines; cater to students from all major tracks or professional aspirations; and privilege unconventional, hands-on experiments over traditional essays and tests. The classes typically meet once a week, are three hours long, and are capped at 15 students to encourage collaboration and debate.
Because courses are exclusively offered to fourth-year students, Bartsch-Zimmer conceptualizes the curriculum as “a humanistic response to pre-professional training,” providing students the tools to use their theoretical knowledge in pursuit of real-world impact.
“It’s not about the grade; it’s about the experience. It’s about discussion among the students. It’s about the acquisition of something they didn’t have before,” said Bartsch-Zimmer, the Helen A. Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Classics and the Program in Gender Studies.
Bartsch-Zimmer and SIFK had interviewed fourth-year students on what would enhance their studies at UChicago, and surprisingly, everyone was in agreement: they wanted a course incorporating practice alongside traditional theory. That feedback provided the impetus for XCAP.
“The experiential model allowed us to engage with the material in a hands-on way that could not have been achieved through traditional lecture and discussion,” said fourth-year Diana Hockett, who took the first ever XCAP course last fall.