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Thursday, September 2, 2021

September 2, 2021: Fall Semester Previews: American Lit II Online

[I tried to wait to write this Fall semester series until I felt certain about what the Fall would hold—but I don’t know if I ever will, not even as it unfolds. So I decided to share one thing I’m cautiously but definitely excited for with each of my Fall courses, because what can we do but hope—and work—for the best?]

On something I’m excited to try for the first time in my next online class.

I’ve been teaching all-online courses for many years now—long before so many face-to-face classes went online or hybrid during the last three, COVID-affected semesters; those I’m hopeful will return to face-to-face as much as possible, but these intentionally online courses will remain part of my rotation regardless—and over that time have gotten more and more comfortable with many aspects of that particular mode of instruction. From working with all shorter readings (an emphasis that crossed over to many of my COVID-affected courses as well) to finding new ways to frame weekly Blackboard posts and conversations, I’ve come to feel like something of an expert in teaching literature online, or at least to feel as comfortable in this setting as I do in person. But one area has continued to feel frustratingly less than ideal when I teach a survey course like American Lit II online: how I present the historical/cultural/literary contexts that frame each of our units/time periods.

As I taught my latest Am Lit II online class this past summer, I finally reached a breaking point with the Word document versions of those contexts that I was providing students, and that clearly very few of them were reading; that’s entirely understandable, since they really didn’t have to read those docs in order to do the work of the class successfully. The experience was enough to push me to try something in this upcoming Fall semester online course that I’ve long contemplated but never managed to do: recording brief videos of me sharing and discussing these unit/time period contexts. I don’t know whether I’ll manage to jazz up those videos as much as some of the truly impressive ones that colleagues have shared on twitter (seriously, we’ve got some Oscar-worthy filmmakers out there), but I know this: they will feature my voice and my enthusiasm for this material far more fully than any written document ever could.

Obviously voice and enthusiasm alone don’t guarantee student engagement, and I’m also working to find ways to ask the students to include these contexts as part of their weekly work a bit more often and more meaningfully. But I do believe that voice and enthusiasm, coupled with the kinds of multi-media presentations with which 21st century students have become so familiar and comfortable, will go a long way toward making these class contexts and conversations more accessible for students than they’ve ever been in these document versions. And at the very least, planning and recording these video mini-lectures will offer a way for me to make this online class, now in something like my 8th or 9th section, feel fresh and engaging for me, no small effect here in Fall 2021.

Last Fall preview tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Fall courses or work you’re (cautiously) excited for?

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