Turning skeptics into lovers and other thoughts

One opportunity of hybridizing a course like Great Works of Literature is that participation might become more evenly split between oral participation in classroom discussion and written participation on a course blog. This would allow students who don’t excel at speaking up to have another venue for real, active participation that “counts” and is on their own terms. And since you can ask more of students in their blog posts in a hybrid class than we can now when the class is fully f2f (because blogging time in a f2f class is extra, or homework, whereas in a hybrid class it could be the class time itself) that extra amount of writing might really deepen a student’s writing skills. So, you get (at least) two benefits in one: quieter students get the opportunity to participate actively in the discussion and everyone’s writing skills improve because more of the class takes place through writing. And as we’ve discussed already on the blog and as Bass and Groom and Lamb also discussed, this writing is ideally public in some capacity, and so the stakes are higher, and the participation feels more purposeful.

Most of my fears about hybridizing courses are also things I feel confident I can find ways of working around. For example: Too many response papers on a blog = too much grading! Possible solutions: peer reviewing, staggering responses, some students respond, some students comment on responses…

One thing I worry about and that I don’t see a solution for is the loss of the kind of excitement and engagement that can only be experienced in a f2f course (which isn’t to say that different kinds of excitement and engagement can’t happen outside of f2f interactions, but there is a difference). My favorite classes in college were the ones in which I made friends, or the ones with an awesome professor. These were responses to the people and the setting, not necessarily to the material. My fear, especially with Great Works, which is a required class and not one most Baruch students enter enthusiastically, is that they won’t fall in love with the course in the way they seem to do now, because they won’t have as much access to others and to the professor in a live, personal setting. My experience is that at the end of the semester, students tell me that they weren’t expecting to like the class but that it was their favorite one so far in college, or some variation on that statement. I don’t think this is necessarily my doing (though it is extremely gratifying!) and I don’t think they are responding to a newfound love of literature (though some certainly are) — I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of the class itself as it now exists. It’s a smaller class-size, they are asked their opinion regularly, they are asked to challenge  their beliefs and to find ways to challenge those of others, their participation in class discussion matters so much to their grade that they are forced to do it (something I think most students want to do, even if they’re afraid of doing it), they develop friendships in regular group work, they see me being chatty and friendly and modeling a love of literature — in other words, we build a comfortable space in which the students  get a chance to do something I think they all crave:  to think, and to see thinking happen. I’m worried about the loss of this experiential, personal classroom experience, and I’m worried that the course won’t be as surprising and liberating for many students as it is now.  Of course hybrid courses could be largely in person, and maybe a Great Works class would need to be. But what if it was only 30% in person? What would happen to that dynamic that turns skeptics into lovers of literature and writing?

4 thoughts on “Turning skeptics into lovers and other thoughts”

  1. Ah, the loss of personal interaction (and the ubiquitous use of the term “f2f” is perhaps a faint caveat of how even our time together might be less engaging)!
    Yes, in the Great Works courses we are blessed with relatively small class sizes. In my own, we spend most of our time in discussion, either in the larger group circle (and 27 students do, in fact, fit in a single circle) or smaller team work, so that we get to know each other quite well, as we journey into our incredible texts that amuse, shock, and sadden; we indeed laugh together, exclaim our outrage, become reflective. It is because of this format that I think many of our students fall in love with this course (and I agree, it is infinitely gratifying to hear them say so). It’s one large reason why I love the course, too, and I can’t imagine either 2800 or 2850 ever being fully online. I think on that day, I would mourn, but I do think that hybridity has a great deal to offer, perhaps ironically, to actually help us to become an even more closely engaged group, at least that is my hope.

    As I reflect more deeply on how to use the online environment to enrich students’ experiences of the text, I feel that they will be bringing more researched, thoughtful pieces into the classroom (since, as you say, we can ask them to do much more investigating of secondary sources) and this I believe could very well give them the kind of authority to allow them to become even more involved in our classroom meetings. This should be especially true for the more timid students. As well, at Baruch we are gifted with a rich diversity of students, bringing a wealth of culture into the classroom. How wonderful, then, to ask a group of Buddhist students to prepare a short presentation about Buddhist ideas, before we discuss Monkey. Currently, I offer extra credit to students for things like this, but within the hybrid environment, this kind of documented research could be more a part of the curriculum. Again, that is my hope.
    If these courses do become hybrid, it will be fascinating to discuss our glorious successes and our glorious failures.

  2. Hi Meechal : as Jeanne suggests, it seems really important , given your concerns , to really consider how the hybrid time and online work can be designed to enhance the in-class time. I wonder if this might be the focal point of the group deliverable for this seminar?

  3. Meechal
    I thoroughly understand the need for building community with a class to form a bond that allows for students and teacher to feel comfortable and excited about expressing varied views. But isn’t literature about writing? And isn’t writing best done in a quiet private place? And then wanting to share a particular draft, but in a not quite in the open that feels so exposed that is f2f. The possibilities for discussion can burst open. I had the pleasure of seeing Eudora Welty speak along time ago and she spoke to us about how once she busted into a mailbox to retrieve a manuscript because she wasn’t ready to let others hear her voice to discuss it. I heard Sandra Cisneros tell us how she wouldn’t speak again in her M.A. seminar because she was made to feel less than the white upper class participants. the while she continued her work on House on Mango Street. Hundreds of us English teachers stood up, finally realizing our own voices in sobbing camaraderie. Some of some will never say, but are so thankful for inching away from “Soledad” at our own pace. I think on-line is a great place to start.

  4. Meechal, I think your post hits the nail on the head of way the Great Works program is not only so essential to the academic lives of our students, but why it is a dark-horse favorite among students who seek to interact with the world numerically. I think the class exposes the students, as you said to an experience of learning—and also of socializing—that they may not encounter much of in their academic lives. What will hybridization bring to this course: will it limit this aspect that we all find so potent? One thing I have tasked myself with this experience is to stop thinking that technology is that which will limit the connection, and rather think of it as a possibly enhancement of it. As we work on our cohort project, I will be thinking about this a lot because I feel like strong hybrid assignments—just like those really great days of class discussion—can really encourage critical, creative, and connecting learning experiences.

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