"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Digital Spaces: Preparing for Spring 2012

I'm putting a "mostly done" label on my two classes for spring, which is a great feeling. Some tweaking, I'm sure, will be required, as well as printing and proofing, before I deliver the babies off to the office to be copied. It's about the only thing I'll be printing for my classes, so I don't feel too guilty about it.

But as it's my goal to try something new every semester--at least while I'm at UNL--this coming semester is going to be an exercise not only in new themes and texts, but I'm experimenting with digital spaces as an extension of my classroom. Seeing these in play as I'm writing these syllabi is pretty exciting. It's also challenging me to do research on digital space as a place, to aid in my place-conscious pedagogy. I won't say I'm technologically challenged, but sometimes I find technology quite challenging.

So: today I set up the wiki that Dr. Dawn Duncan of Concordia College-Moorhead, MN and I will be using to teach our respective classes Joseph O'Connor's novel Star of the Sea. She's teaching "From Empire to Independence" (contemporary British literature) and she's using O'Connor--and I'm teaching the book in my Intro to Fiction (252) at UNL. Dawn's a dear friend of mine, dating back to my undergrad days at Concordia. There's no one I'd rather collaborate with than her. So, the goal is to approach this one novel from a scholarly, critical, readerly perspective and the perspective of a creative writer. The wiki is barely functional right now, since I don't know much about wikis, but we have until the 2nd half of the semester to figure it out. We're going to group our students across classes, have them post and discuss, and enrich each others' readings of the novel. Dawn and I also sent an email to Joseph O'Connor himself, wondering if he might be interested in being a part of this collaboration. As it's a large part of my own teaching philosophy and pedagogy to have my students talk and interact directly with the writers they are reading, I hope-hope-hope O'Connor's intrigued enough by what we're doing to want to be involved. Fingers crossed!

In my 150 class, which is a W.H. Thompson Scholars section (a UNL learning community comprised of first-generation/low-income students who have won the Thompson scholarship), we'll be talking about natural disasters in a variety of ways. The new, digital space thing here is that their second writing project, an oral history project that researches a disaster where they come from, is going to be a largely online project. They will create a blog designed to aid in their community's knowledge and understanding of this event. As I was working through the assignment, it made no sense to have my students do interviews and other oral-history-type-research and translate that oral quality into the written form. They will do written work, of course, but I think something too important would have been lost in the translation. Because they're creating a blog, they can post audio files, video files, and more. And the form that the project takes will be much more accessible to their communities. Should be exciting!

I'm pretty excited about both of these classes and I'm ready for them to begin! Well, ready for them to begin on the first day of the semester. Happy New Year!

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