What is a Praxis Lab?
Praxis Labs are a unique year-long educational experience for Honors students who want to address a significant and pressing societal problem and develop a project-based solution to the problem. Topics vary each year, but generally fall under three areas of focus: Health & Society, Energy & Environment and Social Justice. The class is limited to 12 students who must apply for a specific Lab. Each Lab is run by two distinguished professors from different disciplines and often involve community partners. Students selected by the professors for a Lab receive nine credits and a $1,000 stipend upon completion of the Lab. Traditionally, the first semester is devoted to having a deep dive into the relevant societal issue, including extensive reading; hearing from experts in relevant fields; conducting any appropriate research; and sometimes involving off-campus information gathering trips. After problems have been identified and possible solutions to the problems have been explored, the second semester is devoted to the design and implementation of a class project that addresses the identified problem. This part of the Lab is primarily student-driven, under the guidance of the professors. Each Lab has a budget of $5,000 which may be spent on the class project. A final written report of the class and project is also prepared.
The four Praxis Lab topics for 2019-20 are
Truth, Deception & Information Disorder;
Behaving Like Animals; and
Past Praxis Labs have addressed a wide variety of topics inc luding, to name just a few, the following:
Transparency & Privacy
The Religious Divide
Globalization and Inequality
How We Die
When Machines Decide: Algorithmic Decision-making
Alzheimer’s and Aging
Both students and faculty alike report that their Praxis Lab was a transformative experience and one of the richest and personally rewarding courses in their college and professional lives. To learn more about Praxis Labs and read the Lab final reports go to https://honors.utah.edu/praxis-labs/archive/
About our Praxis Lab Course:
Are we witnessing a war on truth? Are we being so inundated with fake news, so victimized by coordinated disinformation campaigns and so manipulated by propaganda disguised as agnostic information that the line between what is true and what is false is increasingly difficult to ascertain? Is truth losing its currency in today’s super saturated information age? In a social media dominated world, anyone can be a publisher, a journalist or a self-described expert and espouse their own version of the truth. Are neutral arbiters and gate-keepers of the truth a thing of the past?
And, what is “Truth”? Is truth an absolute and universally accepted concept? Or, is truth… like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? In our increasingly complex world, are answers to the question “Is it true” no longer a simple, binary proposition? Or, are answers to questions necessarily dependent on context, come in various shades of gray and may change with the passage of time? Does establishing legal truth in a court of law necessarily comport with factual truth in the court of public opinion?
And, what about the role of technology? Technology has become an effective tool to amplify certain voices who seek to obfuscate the truth. For example, in Libya, Facebook has been used as a weapon between warring groups. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has used the platform to spread false information about critics of his drug war. Closer to home, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones uses Facebook and Twitter to spread misinformation and his own version of the truth. Can Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms find a constitutionally acceptable way of preventing these and other purveyors of lies, half-lies and propaganda from abusing their platforms?
These and other questions that go to the fundamental concept of truth will be explored in this Praxis Lab. We will examine the historical underpinnings of truth, define the essence of the concept, identify the corrosive influences and tools being employed in the war on truth… white lies, hyperbole, political rhetoric, fear mongering and disguised communications…and consider the potential implications of this war for our democracy.