All posts by JMERLE

Update on Our Dialogue

Our dialogue is continuing, as our explorations coalesce into tangible approaches to creating an initial list of online resources (both student and instructor) for the Great Works courses.   Although we are all navigating this project from somewhat different angles, all of us are very much concerned with how hybridity can increase student involvement with the text.   Our variety of interests have unleashed our discussion into a number of trajectories:  a literary piece as a hypertext that explores character development in innovative ways; using new resources like 3D printing to create more playful, enlivening approaches to the text; expanding the possibilities of research and annotation, both traditional and online; exploring how literary translation can be a viable avenue for deepening comprehension for both instructors and students; experimenting with new ways to connect art and music to the text.

As Miciah explained in his Monday post, we are all examining different ways to think about using online resources to enhance our students’ experience of the hybrid environment, and our disparate methods reflect the complex nature of such an ambitious goal. As a group we seem to agree that keeping the format open is important, as we’re all still laboring to process this very different learning arena that we are stepping into.



Embracing the Chaos

One area of hybridity that I feel at once excited and anxious about is asynchronicity.   My unease probably stems from losing control, although empowering students is what attracts me to the hybrid course.   A specific assignment I’ve done in an f2f course but have not had that much success with, is getting students to examine the relationship between prose and poetry (haibun form) in Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Interior.   In the f2f I begin by asking them to freewrite about what emerges in the prose versus poetry section of a manageable piece of text.  The students respond, but very superficially.   At first I thought this initial exercise might be viable as a general blog, even before we meet to discuss the text.   My thinking was that they would build on each other’s comments and work to create an initial understanding (they read a general introduction before we discuss the text, but I don’t give them a more specific background until I’ve gotten their initial, untainted reactions).  The risk is that students will simply parrot each other.

After giving this more thought, a general response is certainly valid but rather uninspired.  How can I use out of class sources/experiences to enrich this task?  Here are a few (random) ideas that hopefully expand opportunity (getting them excited) and diminish risk (parroting each other) concerning the prose/poetry question in Basho, in an asynchronous environment:

  • Students divide into groups (by sub-topic) and create a list of blog questions about the text. The class could edit this into one list.
  • Students send the text (short section) to someone outside the class by text message/social media, and elicit a response (report in blog format and/or f2f)
  • Go to nonliterary websites and research a contemporary context for the prose and/or poetry section, then present (online?)
  • During class time, give them 20 minutes to go outside the room, read the section of the text aloud (ask permission to read it to a class in session, go to the lobby/hallway where students congregate, go outside on the street, etc.) and elicit responses. They would work in pairs/groups, and one member would film the reading on their phone. They would then return, present their readings, and discuss the experience with the class (this scares me, a good sign).

During the f2f course, they increasingly narrow their focus: categorize information (narrative, historical, etc.) in each section; compare the physical appearance of each section; sentences vs. poetry lines; diction, etc.   These exercises could be blog work, but these tasks might be best in class, then I could organize more creative ways for them to respond online.   For example, if they’re comparing the physical look of the prose and poetry sections, they could research how other kinds of information look on the page and consider how shape informs content.  Ultimately, this is what I’m pondering:  will giving my students more authority/independence lead to more profound involvement, more confusion, or both?

Blog 1: Reclaiming the Classroom for the Student


A guiding belief of both “Reclaiming Innovation” and “Engines of Inquiry“ insists that education is an ongoing process of creative integration.   As Bass states, education “ . . . is often about indirection, ambiguity, complexity, and multiplicity.” I very much agree, and am hopeful that this idea will be, as these two texts propose, more realizable in a hybrid environment, and in particular, in three distinct areas of my Great Works in Literature course: personal authorship; collaboration (not only with one’s classmates and instructor, but with a much wider audience); and a variety of innovative sources.

The idea of ownership is nicely discussed by Groom and Lamb, as they propose creating a “domain of one’s own,” a central archive that will help the student to make connections between various personal, academic and professional environments. Education is, hopefully, an arena where the student is encouraged to strengthen his own unique way of thinking about and,  ultimately,  working in the world. A digital archive is not only potentially a permanent and public record, but a global one. As Bass says, “Nowhere else but in school will students ever produce work for no audience,” or indeed, for such a private audience as the traditional classroom provides. It’s important that students work through the connections between literature, their own lives, and the larger community, and this is especially true now, as courses in literature are being downsized (critics alleging, unfairly, I believe, low relevance to life after graduation).  I see the blog format as a viable tool in this exploration, as it is a format easily learned, encourages open expression, and allows students to move at their own pace.  As well, with each post, students publicly author a piece of text, and this authorship helps students to take ownership for their words and ideas.

Of course, taking authority is not the same as isolating one’s voice. If education is a process, then one’s voice is part of a continuous dialogue that is open to integration, revision, and reflection. Traditionally, literature has been taught in a lecture format filtered through the instructor.   This practice leaves little room for a student’s original interpretation, questioning, and, ultimately, true involvement with the text. True involvement is, in Great Works, an adventure into another world, culture, and time.  Baruch’s student body is itself diverse, and so allows for a richness of involvement with the both the text and others’ responses to that text.

The texts comprise, finally, as Bass reminds us, the architecture of the course, and these texts need to be supported with a variety of sources.   As Great Works is a general education course, scholarly works are useful, but only to a point.   To truly engage my students, I want to  motivate them with diverse verbal and non-verbal texts, including the untraditional, even possibly the unorthodox.  My hope is that the hybrid environment will help me to be as innovative as I am trying to guide my students to be.