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Topic Piñata [Op-Ed]

“Overchoice” is the term used to describe being overwhelmed by having too many options.

The phenomenon is nothing new to anyone in the 21st century. Unlocking a phone reveals hundreds of apps to choose from that then open into one hundred more task specific choices. Advertisements vie for attention and email inboxes are never empty; it’s easy to get lost in the sea of choice.

To focus on one area of overchoice, upper level academia often leaves the choice of topics to students. For some recent high school graduates, who are used to every assignment being structured like a jenga tower, this can be a difficult adjustment to make.

The process of deciding what topic to pursue can be just as arduous as the creative process itself.

The burden of finding the perfect subject is a struggle of the past for the moment. The current global pandemic has introduced a renewed openness in academia that has made topic selection less stressful. This has the potential to result in a new wave of interesting and eclectic work from students.

To use a personal example, I took a journalism class during the fall 2020 quarter as a part of my communications coursework at Seattle University. All of the assignments left the topics up to the students and only had guidelines for the format and structure of the work. I decided, for the first time in my academic career, to let myself focus purely on the quality of the content I produced rather than the interest or appropriateness of the subject chosen.

What resulted was not only an especially enjoyable course, but also a body of work that that does not suffer in quality due to production time being taken by topic selection.

This video on the Astros standing in the MLB (linked below and here) is likely the best piece of content I produced for the class. The topic was chosen simply by reading the assignment description while watching a playoff game the team was competing in. And while it’s not perfect, the expanded amount of time spent on pre-production and editing resulted in a product that I found to be particularly rewarding.

As to not drone on about this point, the other pieces of work from the class that I believe to be good quality are linked here.

I’m frustrated at myself for not embracing the wide breadth of choice allowed in higher education sooner. One look at my website will reveal a body of work that is not as correlated as most resumes are – so why it took this long to pursue either random or of-interest topics in my coursework is something I’m not sure of.

What I can say is this: new college students should be encouraged to pursue the topics they want to (within assignment guidelines). It results in not only a more fulfilling process, but also a better relay of the concepts being taught.

Overchoice is a real phenomenon – but it’s best treated as if it doesn’t exist.

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