Rethinking 358

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Truth be told, I’m very bad at doing the same thing twice. I feel that anything and everything can be improved and made better. So when I met a colleague to discuss English 358, I brought with me criticism and some thoughts on new assignments to teach. One assignment we discussed in great detail was the Forum Analysis assignment.

I should give you some background. I had never had a forum analysis assignment, much less knew what it was, until I started my PhD program. My MA in literature program never spoke much of academic journals. I think it was a great program and I enjoyed my time there, but I really wish we had talked more about academic journals and writing for that type of audience in the Bibliography and Research class I had taken in my MA program. So when I was introduced to the idea of reading and essentially analyzing academic journals in a field I was interested in, I thought that was pretty cool and a useful idea for not only graduate students (though especially graduate students) but upper level undergraduate students as well. And I confess I played with the idea of teaching this when I first started planning for 358. Ultimately, I chose the book review assignment instead because at the time it made sense according to the class set up.

But after teaching the Book review assignment, and seeing the meh reactions to it and then even worse reading some meh book reviews, I decided it probably needed to be a. improved or b. scraped. This summer I actually did make some improvements to the book review in hopes that would improve it, and perhaps it will. But after talking with the colleague I met with, and thinking more about what students expect (or want) from 358 and the goals and objectives of the course, I think the Forum Analysis is the right way to go.

For example, the Forum Analysis will ask students to “enter the conversation” of their field, which I think is a highly important idea for the humanities crowd and the social scientists as well. The assignment will also require them to read recent scholarship in their field and discover ideas they may not be aware of or may not be well versed in. The assignment may also lead them to think of a strong topic for their final paper in the course, a topic they could potentially turn into a senior thesis, or something similar. They would also be aware of major journals in their field. They would possibly discover theories or theorists they admire or were unaware of before. Perhaps that last one is asking for a bit, but I still think anything is possible. I’m an optimist at heart, still. 😉

I also changed the novel they are reading, which is something I will do each semester. I also added a textbook for the course and will also change that to the newer edition for a future semester. I am pretty excited about all of this. I think the class I have drafted out thus far looks great and am anxious to start teaching it. Summer has been long, but nice.

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