The Pudding published a fun and interesting visual exploration of which titles published in the 1990s have become part of the teaching canon in higher ed. The winner by a very large margin is Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried — a book of linked stories about the Vietnam War published in 1990. Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things are #2 and #3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is #4. Here is how those titles track over the past decade (this is from Open Syllabus Analytics — which you can test drive)
I have no special insight here, but a couple thoughts.
Independent of literary merit, successful new titles need a socially resonant theme. Middle-aged English professors in the 1990s were in their teens and twenties during the Vietnam War — a formative experience that probably contributed to The Things They Carried‘s classroom success. Can we test that with OS data? I think so. By the 2010s, the same faculty were retiring and, to an extent, carrying The Things They Carried with them — out of the classroom, slowly, partially, over the decade. Canonization is durable but not permanent, and the semester calendar forces zero-sum choices in the selection of texts.
Harry Potter is a different story — and not a shocker if one looks at the contexts in which it is assigned. The Harry Potter series is assigned primarily in children’s literature classes — not the American literature classes
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The Arcadia grant will enable Open Syllabus to continue to expand the boundaries of open education by developing new ways to understand and navigate the curriculum in higher education. The grant will support work on course transfer and learning outcomes, as well as a range of new tools designed to make OS data a more powerful resource for students, faculty, and lifelong learners.
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The 4th place rank of The Communist Manifesto among all assigned titles in the OS collection (in the 2.5 dataset) has been written about and referenced frequently. Is this high ranking weird? Suspicious? What’s the story here?
To save ourselves some time responding on Twitter, we’ve decided to create a resource for authors and tweeters interested in engaging with this datapoint. The list of tips below doesn’t exhaust the topic of Marx’s role in the curriculum, but hopefully it will help you avoid some common misinterpretations of OS data related to Marx and the Manifesto. Let’s go!
Why does The Communist Manifesto rank 4th overall? Because it is frequently assigned in multiple fields. It’s 5th in History, 5th in Political Science, 5th in Sociology, 49th in Philosophy, and 153rd in English, 200th in Anthropology. Many titles achieve high rank in one or sometimes two fields. Very few have relevance in three or more. If you study 19th and 20th century history, politics, or social thought, you will at some point be assigned The Communist Manifesto–maybe more than once.
Let’s consider this talking point: “Marx is the most assigned economist in U.S. college classes.” Be careful with this one. Whether Marx is properly classified as an economist or not, he is not widely assigned in Economics, where the Manifesto ranks 192nd. Nor is his major work of economics, Capital, a top title. It ranks 378th overall and 182nd in Economics. For those who worry that Marx has displaced
Most of Open Syllabus’s work is built on citation analysis — on the ability to determine what’s taught and what’s taught together.
But syllabi contain a lot of other information about teaching and learning. For the past two decades, the coin of the realm in many areas of higher ed has been the ‘learning outcome,’ conceived as a way to abstract from course contents to an enumerated set of learning goals. Sometimes these are very concrete and specific to a topic:
Sometimes they describe very broad sets of competencies:
Often, individual learning outcomes are parts of larger frameworks that cover the range of required knowledge for a program or degree. In other cases, faculty rely on learning outcome guidance (such as Bloom’s taxonomy) to develop sui generis outcomes for their classes. With a few exceptions, learning outcome frameworks in the US and Canada are defined locally, at the individual program level. This has the advantage of keeping faculty engaged with the frameworks and of keeping outcomes closely tied to student needs. It has the disadvantage, however, of making them useless for comparative or system-level understanding of the curriculum, and for solving problems that require such perspectives. One example of the latter that we’ve been working on is course transfer, in which the lack of common frameworks for understanding class outcomes makes it difficult to establish equivalence between classes.
There are, according to the Lumina Foundation, over 3000 learning outcome frameworks in use in the US. Despite some notable efforts
The Co-Assignment Galaxy represents titles based on the extent to which they appear together on syllabi. Each title is a dot whose size is determined by the title’s total assignment count in the collection. This simple principle structures a very detailed map of fields, subfields, and their boundaries. It also combines what we could call content-based and institutional ways of thinking about fields. By content based, I mean that the layout is derived solely from similarities in the assigned contents of millions of classes, with no a priori knowledge about how those classes divide into sociology or history or physics (we added the labels later). At the same time, we developed tools that do sort syllabi into the classificatory schemas used by universities, which reflect a more administrative and institutional view of fields. This institutional account shows up in the graph through the use of color. A title receives a color based on its predominant field of assignment. Field boundaries and border zones are represented in the Galaxy by this interaction between spatial layout and color.
We’ve wanted to tease out movie rankings for a while. Movies are maybe the most passionately invested category of Open Syllabus citation data, surrounded by scholarly and popular debates and a teaching field that cuts across many fields. That makes them a rich target for a Lab.
The OS Movie Lab (like the earlier Link Lab for journalism) is a navigable ranking of movies taught in college classes–in this case the 1201 movies assigned at least 20 times in the OS corpus since 2015. It sits outside the core OS toolset because we don’t have a reliable ‘Movie ID’ in our citation catalogs that would make them a searchable subcategory. Instead, these rankings are built from a hand-curated list derived from the larger OS dataset.
The rankings provide a snapshot of the thinking of hundreds of thousands of faculty about what movies to teach, drawn from millions of syllabi. Many of these decisions clearly belong to a Film Studies-centered discussion about how to teach the history of cinema. But the data comes from all fields and includes choices that reflect a wide array of teaching rationales.
Overall, the rankings present a very classical view of film canons and film studies — still oriented around the post-war American auteurs and the various European waves. Some of this reflects the national biases of the OS collection: around 55% of syllabi are from the US, 15% from the UK and another 10% split between Canada and Australia. The