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?

One thought on “Embracing the Chaos”

  1. On confusion: I had just finished reading this right before I read your post: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/your-cybertutor-wants-to-confuse-you-for-your-own-good/53307?cid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en. It’s an article about how some recent studies indicate that confusion helps learning, in some situations.
    I hear you about the control/loss of issue–it is a bit scary. But you have a good handle on what you want students to learn. Your excitement will carry through. How do you envision the online presence of your “cell phone video” assignment, and would students eventually answer the blog posts designed by the group?

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