Wednesday, January 15, 2020
January 15, 2020: Spring Semester Previews: The Short Story (Online)
[As of next week my sabbatical is officially done and I’m back to full-time teaching. So this week I’ll share some previews for my Spring 2020 classes, focusing on new readings I’m adding this semester and leading up to some updates on book talks and projects. I’d love to hear what you’re up to as well!]
On a change in readings that highlights the fundamental limitations of an online literature course, and why I’m happy to be making it nonetheless.
This spring I’ll teach my third entirely online section of The Short Story (and the second in its accelerated, half-semester form; I’ve also taught our American Literature II survey online four times now). For the first two sections I used texts from the Best American Short Stories 2013 anthology for our contemporary readings (paired with older short stories available online), but since I last taught this class I discovered and taught in a couple different settings the (Roxane Gay-edited) 2018 edition, which features some of my very favorite short stories. But here’s the thing: those stories have become favorites not only on their own terms, but also because of the joy of discussing them with a group of students and fellow readers. And not just in general terms (although of course I value such conversations generally)—many of these stories are ambiguous, strange, puzzling, demanding of extended attention and conversation if we are to develop our thoughts and ideas about them. But in an online class, we quite simply won’t be able to have those conversations—of course I ask the students to respond to each other’s weekly posts, and I have found that our students are pretty good at doing so substantively; but that’s still an entirely different thing from in-person, multi-vocal conversations about a shared text in front of us.
Those realities of online classes (especially online literature and humanities classes, as I suspect things can work quite differently in online math courses or the like) are what they are, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get to a point where I feel better about them (although as with any topic I cover here I welcome thoughts, responses, suggestions, etc.!). That’s the main reason why I hope never to teach more than one online class a semester, or at the very least that the vast majority of my teaching will remain in person. But if online literature classes are going to exist (they are) and if I’m going to be one of our English Studies faculty who teach them (I am and am happy to be), those classes and experiences will unquestionably go better, feel more positive for me, and be more successful and meaningful for all concerned if I get to share great authors and texts with the students in them. So while I will greatly miss the chance to talk together with those students about “Boys Go to Jupiter” and “Control Negro” and “Come On, Silver” and others, I am nevertheless hugely excited to share those wonderful stories with this community, and to read their responses and readings and analyses.
Next preview tomorrow,
PS. What’s on your Spring 2020 horizon?