America in Progress

America in Progress
America in Progress

Saturday, January 19, 2019

January 19-20, 2019: Spring Previews: Book Plans


[A new semester is upon us, and with it came a new Spring Preview series. Leading up to this special weekend post on book updates, plans, and hopes!]
I was hoping to have a bit more information about the publication date for my next book, We the People: The 500-Year Battle over Who is an American (Rowman & Littlefield’s American Ways series), by this weekend’s post than I do. I believe it will come out sometime in the spring, but will keep you all posted on specifics as soon as I have them!
In the meantime, I’ll reiterate what I said in that hyperlinked post: of all five of my books to date, this is the one for which I believe it’s most vital that I share it with as many audiences, communities, conversations as possible. I’ll thus be doing everything I can to find opportunities and connections for book talks, and would really appreciate any and all ideas and suggestions (whether specific or general, fully formed or preliminary) that you might have for such possibilities. Feel free to comment here or email me, and thanks so much in advance!
Finally, one last optimistic (perhaps utopian) hope. To say that we’re in a divided moment is to significantly understate the case. Pretty much every public scholarly project seems to be received within that divided frame, seen as part of the 21st century’s culture war debates. And I know that arguing for an inclusive vision of America, in contrast with an exclusionary one, would seem to locate my book firmly within one side of such divisions and debates. But I would say the opposite: the exclusionary histories I highlight affect and implicate us all; we are all living in and with their legacies; and the inclusive alternatives on which my chapters focus offer inspiring American figures, stories, and texts that we all can and should embrace as the best of who and what we’ve been and can be. No, my book won’t speak to overt white supremacist bigots; but I still refuse to believe that’s more than a vocal and still too powerful minority of Americans, and I do believe and hope that this project can speak to the rest of us. One more reason I want to share it as widely as possible!
Next series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. Spring previews or plans of your own to share? I’d love to hear them!

Friday, January 18, 2019

January 18, 2019: Spring Previews: English Studies Capstone


[A new semester is upon us, and with it comes a new Spring Preview series. Leading up to a special weekend post on book updates, plans, and hopes!]
On the possibility of flipping a classroom to address a problem (and a request for input!).
I’ve taught our English Studies Senior Capstone course a number of times, and always enjoy the chance to work with the students in that distinct and particularly individualized setting. Through their work on their senior portfolios I get the chance to read much more of each student’s writing and work than I would in any other classroom contexts, and in so doing get a great introduction to not only each individual, but also and especially the breadth and depth of the work being produced by our talented English Studies Majors. And through their work on the class’s pre-professional materials (things like resumes/CVs, job cover letters/grad school personal statements, and the like) I get a chance to talk with them a lot about their future goals and plans, and hopefully to play a small role in helping them move into those next steps as successfully as possible. It’s just different from any other class I get to teach (other than the parallel Interdisciplinary Studies Capstone, which I’ve only taught once), and I greatly enjoy it every time I do.
The last time I taught it, in Spring 2018, I enjoyed all those aspects just as much, but found that things didn’t work quite as well with the third element: the shared conversations, in which we move through units on each concentration in our English Studies program (Professional Writing, Literature, Secondary Education, and Theater) with focal texts to help drive our conversations. To be honest, I think the students didn’t quite see the value in those readings and conversations, at least not compared to the graduation requirement that is the senior portfolio and the clear practicality and productivity of the pre-professional materials; and I’ll admit that I didn’t identify this problem nearly soon enough to do a good job framing why this third element was also important and central to the Capstone work. They were English Studies Majors and strong students and voices to boot, so we had some good moments and discussions across those texts and units, but nonetheless this element of the class was definitely the least engaged and strong of the three, and honestly the least engaged and strong of any time I’ve taught Capstone.
So as I get ready for my next section of Capstone, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address that particular element and potential problem. Part of it, as usual, is just identifying the issue and being more forthright (with myself, with y’all here, and with the students in the class especially) about both it and the reasons for this element of the class. But I wonder if part of it might not be trying to figure out a way to flip the classroom when it comes to those conversations—to have them driven much more fully by the students and their interests and needs than by anything I might bring to the mix. Truth be told, though, I’m not at all sure about flipping, either in terms of how to do it or in terms of whether it’s a good thing to do. So I’m gonna stop this preview here and say that I’d love to hear any thoughts or takes on flipped classrooms, here in comments or by email or any other way! Thanks in advance!
Special post this weekend,
Ben
PS. Spring previews of your own to share? I’d love to hear them!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

January 17, 2019: Spring Previews: The (Short) Short Story Online


[A new semester is upon us, and with it comes a new Spring Preview series. Leading up to a special weekend post on book updates, plans, and hopes!]
On the newest twist in my evolving work teaching online.
I’ve written a lot over the last couple years about the unique challenges and possibilities of teaching all-online classes, and they all remain true and central to that inescapable but fraught part of 21st century education. In previewing my next (fourth) online class, a second section of The Short Story, I won’t repeat those thoughts here, and will just say that I continue to think about them and as ever will keep you all posted as I do!
However, this fourth online class is different from my prior three in a key way: it will be part of our new Online Accelerated Program, and so will run for only seven weeks between March and May (about half of the overall spring semester). That shift will certainly be easier with the Short Story class than it would be for example with the other course I’ve taught online so far, American Literature II: a survey class like that latter one depends on units and time periods and a chronological structure, whereas the Short Story class (as I teach it at least) is a collection of paired readings that introduce different literary elements, and so it’s been relatively easy to shorten that syllabus and still keep the core structure and goals in place. But nonetheless, cutting a class from 14-15 weeks to 7 is a significant change, and has affected not only the readings, but also the papers and other individual work like weekly Blackboard posts and honestly how I approach every aspect of the course.
Online teaching is a matter of constant adjustments from in-person teaching, both big and small, and that’s what we sign up for when we do it and I’m not complaining. I also understand the appeal of and demand for accelerated online programs, since the whole goal of online education is to facilitate student completion of degrees in ways that work best for their schedules, situations, and lives. But at the same time, I would also argue that online teaching is already a set of compromises, shifts away from what we all recognize as the best practices in teaching (at least in a discipline like English) to accommodate those realities and demands. I’m willing to consider each such compromise on its own terms, and to see what I can do to respond to them in these particular classes (if I were ever asked to teach only online, I would leave the profession); I’ll do the same with this accelerated course and semester. But I wonder if it will be a bridge too far, and promise to report back on how the shortened class goes in my semester reflection series in May (!).
Last preview tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Spring previews of your own to share? I’d love to hear them!