First in what I think will be a series of reflective postings on teaching:
It’s all over but the shouting. Or the final exams, anyway. As the semester draws to a close, I’m thinking about teaching and planning for next semester.
In both English 317 and English 350 this semester I had the students play “Ivanhoe: a game of critical interpretation” developed at the University of Virginia’s Speculative Computing Lab. I used Movable Type as the software and created a simplified version of the game (PDF rules) for my students.
The students seemed to like playing the game, and I think it really opened up some issues with the texts that they might not have otherwise considered. Now I’m faced with the challenge of grading their performance in the games, which is tricky. The classic assignment in an English class is the essay, and there are relatively standard requirements for what goes into a good essay even as the specific goals of that essay might change. Students will ideally be familiar with these requirements by the time they reach a junior-level English class, but this isn’t always the case. (There is always a bit of re-explaining that takes place.)
However, I’ve always wanted to provide students with a variety of assignments that provide them with multiple ways of thinking about the subject of a class. Some times I’ve given them a menu of “Self-Directed Learning Tasks.” If you give students an unconventional assignment, one they’ve never encountered before, you will have to be quite explicit about how to complete it, what the goals of that assignment are, and how their performance will be evaluated.
This semester I came up with a series of different assignments (more on them later) that were meant to provide for them the understanding that literature, literary criticism, and scholarship do not happen in a vacuum but are part of an ongoing conversation among writers and readers, some professional and some not. I think I need to work on how I explain this to my classes. And I need to determine for myself and for my students whether Ivanhoe helps provide them with that understanding. I think the answer is yes, but I will work on articulating why.