28 Days of Story Ideas, #1: Beyonce, Jay-Z & ‘Celebrity Courses’

Celebrities are invading academia. Pop sensation Beyonce is the focus of the latest higher ed course célèbre. A class called Politicizing Beyonce is being taught this semester within the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. According to news reports, the course aims to utilize “Beyonce’s career as a way to explore American race, gender and sexual politics.” Also this spring, at Georgetown University, the A-lister’s husband has top billing in a course called The Sociology of Hip-Hop: The Theodicy of Jay-Z.


These are just the flashiest new entrants in a long-running university tradition worthy of a closer look: the special topics course. Examine the classes at your school currently or recently taught under the special topics designation. How and why do they originate? And what are students’ impressions of them?

Any especially odd or grabbed-from-the-headline classes (for example, at the moment maybe one on the history of the Olympics or human rights in Russia)? Some college classes that have made news in past semesters at various schools: How to Win a Beauty Pageant: Race, Gender, Culture and U.S. National Identity; Maple Syrup: The Real Thing; Cyberporn and Society; and one on Elvish (the language featured in “Lord of the Rings”).

More  generally, given that they’re not regular offerings in the catalog, what does it actually take to get these “celebrity courses” on the books? And beyond full classes, what are some standout or notably offbeat individual lecture topics, teaching styles or course assignments?

For some multimedia engagement, launch a video series featuring students as teachers. They should lead short one-off “courses” on camera that provide lessons on something they are expert in — from card tricks and fantasy football to checkbook balancing and Harry Potter 101. For inspiration, browse the courses offered within UC Berkeley’s famed DeCal Program, a range of for-credit student-run courses other students can enroll within.

5For more ideas, check out 1 Million Story Ideas for Student Journalists, a quick-hit, unending, hopefully indispensable, fun, fun, fun digital story ideas fountain.

Also order a copy of my book Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age. Dubbed “the next new mandatory text for college journalists,” it features advice from hundreds of contributors, lots of digital storytelling tips, tons of story ideas and more than 300 games aimed at sparking you to come up with endless ideas of your own.

3In addition, be sure to register and attend CMA’s Spring National College Media Convention in mid-March in Manhattan to interact with and learn from “some of the nation’s foremost (and most fun) college-media experts and from national pros who will inspire, enliven, impress and affect you, the work you do and the jobs you’ll soon have.”

I’ll be leading a few sessions during the convention, including a special pre-convention workshop and an evening Journalism Hackathon. Check out some of the session specs below.






1 Million Story Ideas for Student Journalists [Updated Regularly]

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