Thanks for stopping by our Cryptids: Fact & Fiction class website! This class is an experiment in student-led learning, following the teaching philosophy of the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University (“Hutchins”) www.sonoma.edu/hutchins. One of the best features of teaching in Hutchins is that professors get to create classes around their interests and obsessions. This class stems from the instructor’s life-long interest in cryptids and cryptozoology. Heidi has always been fascinated by Nessie, Bigfoot, wolfmen, mothman and other creatures which have been sighted by people but are still not accepted as species by mainstream science. As a physical geographer, she is especially interested in where these species have been sighted and how they might have come into existence.
When constructing the class, Heidi pictured the class as a dance between skepticism (show me the body) and wonder (I hope it exists!), as she has always been torn between a desire to believe in creatures which could be imaginary, and a desire for scientific proof. The class is also an exercise in critical thinking – assessing the validity of evidence and determining, based on that evaluation, the probability of “truth.”
What We Did
Believability Indices. Students spent some time at the beginning of the semester creating two different indices to assess the believability of cryptid accounts and information. One index is applied to eyewitness accounts – the other to scientific evidence. We asked Chad Arment, Daniel Loxton, and Linda Godfrey to give us some ideas about what to include in the indices as well as feedback regarding our indices – which they did! You can find these indices elsewhere on this site.
Exploring the “Data“. Each week students were assigned readings from the texts or other sources (Chad Arment suggested some additional scientific articles), as well as a few episodes from popular television shows – primarily Monsters and Mysteries in America, Paranormal Witness, and The Unexplained Files. Students then applied the Believability Indices (BIs) to the eyewitness reports and scientific evidence mentioned in both the readings and the television shows. They brought their completed BIs and other research to class each week.
Seminar Discussions. The foundation of Hutchins pedagogy is the undergraduate seminar. Each week students presented their ideas to each other, discussed the results of believability indices, shared their experiences with the readings and viewings, and critically discussed the evidence for various cryptids. We were even lucky enough to Skype with Linda Godfrey the day we discussed wolf-like creatures (one of the best days of the course!)
Research and Reports. Each student is required to research an area of interest and create posts for the website. These are research reports, much like final papers, but written for a wider internet audience. Each student is given responsibility for at least one area of content for the website, or for using their skills to help create the website itself.
Creativity and Imagination. Students are also required to create an imaginary cryptid. To fulfill the assignment, they must create a visual representation of the cryptid, a biological history, a geographical location, and other details that would need to be explained if the cryptid were to actually exist. This allows students to use art, scientific research, and their imagination to craft their own cryptid.
Seawolf “Sightings”. Midway through the course students decided that they wanted to use the last few unstructured weeks to create their own mock Monsters and Mysteries-type video to explain the origins and sightings of the school’s mascot – The Seawolf. Treating the seawolf as a cryptid, they have used this project to poke fun at some of the holes in psuedoscientific accounts of cryptids, and to imagine what the biological and cultural origins of a seawolf might be. We hope you will enjoy the result.
The site is currently in progress, but should be mostly complete by mid-May 2015. Our hope is that future classes will build on the foundation of this original experiment. We also encourage your comments and suggestions.
We wish to acknowledge the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies and Sonoma State University for making an experiment like this possible. We also want to thank Linda S. Godfrey, Daniel Loxton, and Chad Arment for their willingness to converse with and encourage our research.
We hope you enjoy our site!
Heidi LaMoreaux, and the students of LIBS 320B