I have been preoccupied with setting up my course, revising my assignments, and learning how to operate the new content management system (Sakai). I will post my final portfolio from the University-wide summer-long workshop that I participated in at the Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology. The process was really informative for me, and it genuinely helped me see the course I am designing in a broader scope given that I received feedback from several professors in entirely different disciplines. On the one hand, I think this is at the heart of what English 145–Writing in the Academic Disciplines–should be working toward because one has a larger audience to “assess” your course plan. On the other hand, since the English Dept. here at ISU is switching to the Genre Studies model, it makes it difficult to translate what that entails to people working in different disciplines with a more “traditional” understand of what a writing course, or English course, is supposed to do. For example, one comment I received about my course plan indicated that some of my assignments didn’t seem very, well, “Englishy.” At first, I was concerned, and then I realized. YES! In some ways, that is exactly what I am doing–disrupting the commonplace notion of what “English” courses are capable of becoming for students. As I am developing it, I see it as a space and place for research that is helpful to the student not simply in the present moment, but later, when they need to rely on what they have learned to “build” an ethical, effective mode of being in the world. Indeed, this does entail–for all but the select few–finding and maintaining a job. However, it is more than that, and students–for the most part–understand this to be accurate.
My English 145 course consists of mostly sophomores and juniors. It is a stark contrast with English 101, and, for me, is a joy to teach. I can deploy some of the more nuanced assignments that require a different level of abstraction and the students are very receptive to alternatives. They still want guidelines, but they are able to adapt to non-prescriptive teaching methodologies.
Our first week together went better than I expected. I am so glad I took the time over the summer to set up and front load content into the new CMS, too. There have been some “growing pains” associated with the new Sakai system, but for the most part it has been extremely useful to me. Going to all the training sessions has proven to be a very good decision on my part. It gave me confidence to help my students as well as my peers–other grad. students.
The students indicated that they are (in general) afraid of (or don’t like) writing because when they can’t get their ideas to come out elegantly they feel inadequate. Don’t we all. I had them read David Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University,” which seemed to have started us off on a path of discovery that I hope will be fruitful for all of us.