Syllabus of the Month (February)

This month we highlight RISD Professor Clement Valla’s course, Uncreative Design, and ponder its relationship to the OSP.


“In 1969 the conceptual artist Douglas Heubler wrote, ‘The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.’” So opens Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing, published in 2011. Following Goldsmith’s lead, this class will explore various strategies in art, writing and political activism that will lead us to an uncreative design. We will make use of copying, repetition, appropriation, detournement and bricolage in a series of studio experiments. Though the class will be focused on ways of (not)making, class participation and discussions of assigned readings will also play a major role in guiding studio work, and in evaluating student projects. There are no prerequisites, though students should be willing to take major risks and have a very open approach to different modes of working.

Creativity, intuition, improvisation, composed, hand-made, unique, original, subjective, genius, authored. These are all to be avoided in this class. Rather what we create will be uncreative, systematic, scripted, chance based, calculated, mass produced, digital, appropriated, objective and copied. The role of contemporary producers is no longer be to create new things, but to channel, frame, re-assemble and contextualize existing things – from creative production towards an ‘uncreative’ production. Uncreative Design explores how new meaning is produced by collecting, archiving, captioning, erasing, parsing. There are many examples of this work and theory in other disciplines, including writing, art, new media, music, film and video.

February 4th, 2017 by

Syllabus of the Month (September)

September’s ‘Syllabus of the Month’ is a 1994 University of Chicago class, “Current Issues in Racism and the Law,” by a junior faculty member you may have heard of.  (Full syllabus on clickthrough).screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-10-27-07-am

September 12th, 2016 by

OSP is hiring a Javascript Developer

August 2016 job listing: The Open Syllabus Project is hiring an experienced Javascript developer to help us build a rich, interactive web application that visualizes data extracted from 1M+ college course syllabi.

We’re an academic data-mining project at Columbia and Stanford that’s building the first empirical snapshot of what’s being taught in college classrooms. How does this vary across schools, departments, disciplines, and regions? How have things changed over time? How can this information be applied to curriculum development, education policy, and lifelong learning? The beta version of the platform launched in January, and has been covered in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Der Spiegel, Business Insider, Lifehacker, FiveThirtyEight, EdSurge, and elsewhere.

We’re looking for a Javascript engineer with experience building large applications on top of complex data sets. Some of the things we’re going to be working on in the coming months:

  • Build a clean, extensible, and testable application architecture in React and Redux.
  • Expand the main text ranking interface with more filters and facets, drawing on the rich metadata under the hood.
  • Build home pages for institutions, authors, and fields that give a bird’s-eye view of the kinds of books and articles that are being assigned under each of these headings, and how they compare to each other.
  • Conceptualize and build a series of more advanced data visualization “labs” that dig into specific aspects of the data – the gender ratios of authors assigned in different institutions and fields, geographic patterns in text assignments, interactive views of the disciplinary network structure, etc.

If these kinds of projects sound interesting, we’d love to hear from you! We’d like to work with someone who has experience with traditional data visualization work, but also enjoys thinking about the architectural side of things – the art of building Javascript projects that are clean, reliable, and easy to change. And, beyond the technology – we’d love to find an intellectual collaborator who’s interested in the project and can help us push it in new directions.

  • Salary: Competitive
  • Commitment: Contract – 15-20 hours a week for 3-4 months
  • Location: Remote (team based in SF and NY)

If interested, please send an email and CV to

August 16th, 2016 by

Why Sociology May Always be the Field of 20 Years Ago

Kristin Thomson has posted an excellent piece on Medium that unpacks some of the major demographic features of the top 500 sociology texts in the syllabus corpus–particularly in regard to gender, age, and publication dates.  To hit a couple of the highlights:

Among the works on the list published since 1970, only 24% are by women authors:Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 12.07.20 PM

Continue reading “Why Sociology May Always be the Field of 20 Years Ago”

May 18th, 2016 by

The OSP at Two Months

The Open Syllabus Explorer is two months old and just crossed 250,000 visits.  One of the exciting aspects of the launch for us has been the process of discovering the audience for the project.  We anticipated strong interest from US academics in the teaching rankings within fields and the ‘teaching scores’ for their own work.  The traffic data appear to bear out that assumption.  We anticipated interest from the library, publishing, open data, and educational technology worlds, and from students.

We didn’t expect the extent to which the OSP would be treated as an authoritative ranking of Great Books, with a broad audience interested in non or extra-academic learning.  The most powerful hook for media stories (and resulting bumps in traffic) wasn’t the things that interested us most—the significance of introducing a new publishing metric and the potential for exploring the history of fields—but the use of the top-ranked books as a proxy for being educated or ‘well-read’, and the enduring connection of these ideas to forms of status anxiety.  The Washington Post boiled this down to its simplest form: What Ivy League students are reading that you aren’t. Continue reading “The OSP at Two Months”

March 25th, 2016 by