Blog Post

Surprise Endings: Davidson and Ariely Are Up to Pedagogical Mischief!

Dan Ariely, the eminent and fabulous behavioral economist (Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality) and I are going to team-teach a class next year, in the Spring semester at Duke, called "Surprise Endings:  Social Science and Literature."   Or the subtitle might be "Experimental Method and Storytelling."   Or it might be "Quantitative and Qualitative Research."  Or it might be "What We Learn from Experiments, What We Explain through Narrative."   Something like that.  You get the drift.  Big think.  Meta.   How we do what we do.  


We don't have a syllabus yet but we're thinking about topics such as "gender," for example, since a number of the behavior economics experiments don't find that women and men respond very differently.  "Well," I respond, "then what story do we have to tell about our society, because you look around the campus and, from observation, you see all kinds of gender disparities, differences, inequalities, hierarchies, from fields [where are the gals in computer science in the US but not elsewhere in the world?] to leadership."   We'll look at some news stories about gender and sexuality.  Maybe read some feminist and gender theory as well as behavioral economic experiments, and, of course, some literature.  And so on. And maybe some observational experiments outside the academy--everything from the neonatal care unit at any local hospital (where the infants are immediately color-coded by gender birth), to a trip through Target, to (thanks to a blog post by Simone Brown with a comment by Micha Cardenas and one of Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games) a deconstructive ethnography of passing through the Xray machines at an airport (adding in race, gender, sexuality, trans-sexuality:  What story does that "pat down" tell?   After gathering all these observations and narratives, then we will go back to the original experiments and think again about what it means if people give the same responses in experimental situations? What is the relationship between experiment and lived experience and the stories we tell about ourselves in the world?   Can you imagine anything more exciting?


Actually, there is something, and here I need to hear from you folks out there---at Duke and elsewhere.  Please use the "comments" section.   We will come up with a syllabus, read independently, and then come in and discuss our reading, without a rehearsal, and then opening to the class.   Two hours.  Intense.  Real dialogue.   Then, students will work in project teams and make online, open, multimedia and text-based content--lessons and lesson plans--around the conversation, being as creative and rigorous as they can, bibliography of course, discussion questions and discussion boards, and also animation, graphic novels, sound, visuals, video, movies, all that to make this material come alive for other students, for our own class, for the general public.   Translate to different cultures---what happens to "gender" if we are talking about the above issue (experiment, observation, narrative) in India or Italy or Indonesia, not the US?  


AND we would love some graduate students who are interested in new forms of teaching to play along with us.   The ideal---from everything I know about how we learn best---is for graduate students to take this undergraduate class AND be part of the project-based teams, as leaders and colearners, working out the technology, working out new systems of evaluation (badging, peer review, peer recommendation, community rules, all that), and communicating to the world as they learn. We'll develop new experiments, new kinds of narrative, new projects, new tools--all of the above.  I've only written one administrator who read me lots and lots of rules and worried about "exploitation."  Oh, please!   We want our graduate students to be the very best students on the market because they are pioneers, with have found independent and collaborative ways of learning.


In other words, if you are interested, and are at Duke, let us know.  We'll work with administrators to find a way to do this.  If you are not at Duke, leave a comment or contact me, via HASTAC, and we'll see if we can create an online learning community.


The main thing:  this really is "learning the future together" and, if the institution won't bend, we will----but we will make it work and it will be pretty exciting.





I love it! Interdisciplinarity at its finest, and in the most experimental form. A mashup of two (or more) very different disciplines via the brains of two highly divergent thinkers. Yes to virtual community. Keep me in the loop. /me watches with interest to see what develops. 


ah... absolutely lovely. can't wait to see what you unfold. great combo you two.


am sure you are privy to all this... but just in case not, we used the design of Michael Wesch's editable wiki when we piloted a self-directed course:


Thank you for this good reminder.  I'd forgotten about this.  A great tool for self-directed courses.



You are my hero, Dr. Davidson, as I have just finished Now You See It. I'm thrilled to see actual research supporting the need for major US institutional reform to fit the needs of the information society. I have an MA in Sociology, am working on another in Communication Studies now, and teach an Intro course in Sociology--all at Marshall University. I love the idea of team and peer teaching, which are undervalued in my current institution. I have a strong multicultural and gender studies background. Let me know if you choose to build an online learning community along with your course. I would love to be involved.


We haven't figured out the "how" yet but we would love to stay in touch as part of a possible future online learning community.   I'm so glad you like Now You See It.  And I hope others will also come on board and we can make some kind of informal online network together.   I believe that is how change happens!   Many thanks for writing--All the best, Cathy



My students have done breaching experiments in Second Life - furry Avatars in spaces where no one else is, and other forms of disruption - this might be one way that the informal on-line community can join in.


I would love to be part of an online community related to this initiatives, Cathy.  I teach a course at Muhlenberg College, Documentary Research, that draws inspiration from Robert Coles' Doing Documentary Work.  The text is really an exploration of the narrative side of social inquiry, and a kind of documentation of efforts by Coles' (an MD by training) to make storytelling central to the work of social observation and writing.  How about inviting grad students from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke to participate?  Lora


As a local elementary educator very interested in both 21st century pedagogy and learning, I would love to be involved in the on-line components of this class.