Adventures in Online Teaching (and Condensed Teaching and Teaching Something You Haven’t Taught in a Really Long Time)

Earlier this year, I was offered the opportunity to teach a class this summer. As a grad student, I was super excited about the possibility of not having to live the #gradstudentsummerstruggle again. As someone who loves teaching, I also was excited about the prospect of teaching a summer course, which is something I hadn’t done before. So, of course, I accepted.

Because many of the typical summer offerings are Composition classes, I’d expected to be slotted into one of those courses. However, I was assigned to teach Introduction to Fiction. Now if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I primarily research television, film and pop culture. But you might not know that my BA is in English Education, my MA is in English & American Literature, I previously taught at the secondary level, and I’m actually getting my PhD in an English Department (we’re a big all-encompassing English Department, but an English Department nonetheless). So I have a fair amount of familiarity with both the study and teaching of literature. However, until this summer, it’d been several years since I’d done either.

Intro to Fiction at my university is a pretty flexible course. The basic expectations of the course are that we provide opportunities for students to analyze and interpret literature and they make connections between literature and culture. Beyond that, a person could focus on whatever texts they want, whatever assignments they want, etc. I both love and hate having a lot of space to build classes because I’m the type of person who has approximately 1 million ideas that I ultimately have to whittle down. That being said, the class did come with some constraints. First, it was only six weeks, which is a pretty brutal contrast to the typical semester I’m familiar with. Second, the section I was assigned to was online. In fact, all but one of the sections of this class that my department offered this summer were online. There are a number of reasons why this occurred, but on a purely fundamental level, students were much more inclined to sign up for the online sections than they were for the in-person section.

But I’d never taught online before, and I’d heard more than a few online class horror stories (from both teachers and students). So I really wanted to make the class…not terrible. One of the first things I had to figure out was what students were going to read. Because, by the time I got the assignment, the spring semester was almost over. If I was going to expect students to get novels, I would have to sort that out pretty quickly. I knew that a lot of people had used short stories in the class, but I’ve always been the type to prefer novels to short stories (except fan fiction, but that’s its own category for me). After discussing possibilities with people who had taught the class as well as people in my department who’d taught other literature-based summer classes, I decided to go with two novels (sidebar: I initially thought I’d do three novels, and I had to pull myself back from the brink of ridiculous). The two books I chose were Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation:

 

I read both books earlier this year, and I found them very engaging reads and thought-provoking in various ways. They’re both YA, which is generally my preferred category of reading (my Master’s thesis is actually about YA), and I knew I wouldn’t likely be duplicating what students would be reading in other classes (I have read Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales so many times for classes, y’all). Also, both books feature young Black female protagonists, and if given the opportunity, I definitely wanted to share those voices. I knew there was a possibility that some people might not see them as “significant” texts. But I was confident that they had a lot to offer the class, so I let it roll.

Because I’m a nerd, I read a bunch of books and articles about online teaching in preparation for the class. This spurred me to make at least a few key decisions: (1) Have basically everything ready and uploaded on day 1, (2) Don’t give students access to everything at once, and (3) Be present, but not too present (this last one usually meant restraining myself from responding to every single discussion board post haha).

Speaking of discussion boards, within a classroom context, a lot of people hate them. I get it. As I was putting the class together, I thought about experimenting with audio and/or video submission options in lieu of discussion board posts. But I didn’t want to take on too much in the first run. So I stuck with the discussion board posts, but again, I tried to make it not terrible. Students had ten posts throughout the summer session. The prompts were identical for each post except there’d be one different question for each that was tied to that module’s lecture (the lectures themselves covered an assortment of critical lenses and elements of fiction). Beyond that, the tasks that students had to complete in every post were to (1) share their response to that module’s reading, (2) make a text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connection, and (3) compose a discussion question. And then they each had to respond to at least one discussion question per module (but the posts and the responses were due on separate days, so we could avoid the mad dash midnight posting flurries).

Honestly, the discussion board posts went really well. Students dug into the material and reflected on the messages being conveyed in fantastic ways. One other thing I did was put the students in 10-person discussion groups rather than having one giant discussion board for all forty students. I think this made the students much more inclined to really share and engage with each others’ submissions. In particular, the responses to the text-to-self/text/world portion were often illuminating. As indicated above, I didn’t really lecture on context, but the students often brought it in here, including but not limited to making connections between the texts and internment camps, the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

One thing that I realized here is that students know a lot. I mean, I’ve always known that. But I was able to see it here more concretely because I was getting individual responses from each student about their thoughts and feelings and understandings while reading these texts. I definitely know more about each student’s thoughts than I probably would know in a face-to-face class, and that’s a difference that was both welcome and not something I anticipated.

(Lest anybody think they were simply parroting each other, I’ll also note that the discussion board was set up so that they could not see each others’ posts until they posted)

The other assignments for the class, bearing in mind the condensed nature, were 5 quizzes and a final project. I’m often somewhat ambivalent about the value of quizzes, but I wanted to offer something that wasn’t discussion board posts that would allow me to check in on student comprehension. They did fulfill that role, but I’m not sure that I would do them again if I could think of a more impactful way to accomplish the same goals.

The final project is probably one of my favorite things I’ve done in a class thus far. Students had three options: (1) a traditional analytical essay applying one of the critical lenses to one of the novels, (2) a creative writing remix in which students had to rewrite part of one of the novels from another character’s POV, or (3) an analytical mixtape in which students had to identify a theme in the novel and develop a playlist based on that theme (this last idea is one I got from Maia Butler). The latter two options also required explanatory components in which students shared their thought processes and made connections between the texts and their creations. To my surprise, about half of the students chose option #2. The remaining students were split almost exactly between options #1 and #3. Honestly, I expected more students to go with #1 because it was the most familiar option (as a student, I would have gone with #3 myself). I really enjoyed having this variety of assignments because I feel like the students really were able to pick something they were interested in, and it showed in the final products.

(I’m going to talk more about this final project in an upcoming post Pedagogy and American Literary Studies)

Ultimately, there was a lot that I enjoyed about this class. My students brought a willingness to really think about literature that was very much appreciated. I loved getting to read all of their thoughts, and this has spurred me more to think about more ways to encourage such sharing in face-to-face scenarios. I loved teaching those particular books, and thinking about different ways to read the books.

There were some things that I didn’t like as much. Like the thing about having everything ready at the beginning of the class is that it makes logical sense, but it doesn’t mesh well with my typical responsive teaching style in which I often tweak things as we go.  That being said, one way that I did sort of work around this was to send weekly emails in which I summarized some of the points students were making in their posts, made relevant connections, and provided useful resources outside of our course material. I also know that I thrive on my interactions with students in face-to-face classrooms. My personality comes through pretty strongly in my teaching, and it was harder to do that online. Though I did try to convey it in both lectures and the discussion board responses that I did make.

In the end, based on the final projects as well as responses on the class’ evaluations, students seemed to mostly enjoy and take a lot away from the class. There were some changes that were suggested such as making everything available to students at the start rather than having things unlocking throughout the semester (I probably wouldn’t do that because I know it would be disastrous for a lot of people), making fewer/longer modules (I probably would do that though), and adding more quizzes/fewer posts (eh, we’ll see). A fair amount said that they were now thinking about the texts they consumed differently, and they appreciated having choice for the final project, especially more creative options. For a while, when I was preparing the course, I stressed myself out a little bit trying to think about the plausibility of doing a semester’s worth of work in six weeks. Ultimately, I don’t think that’s a useful way to think about a condensed class. But I do think we achieved the learning objectives designated for the class. And as I currently work on building the face-to-face class I’m teaching this fall, I’m taking lessons I learned in teaching this summer back with me to the front of the class.

 

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Dispatches from the Dissertation (and the Impending Job Market), Part 8

Yesterday, I sent a revised version of my first chapter to my committee for the first time. I made revisions based on feedback I received from my advisor on the first draft, reverse outlining I did at a retreat earlier this year, and a meeting with my advisor a few weeks ago, in which we discussed devoting more attention making sure each chapter’s argument is evident as well as establishing throughlines throughout the four chapters, now that they’ve all been drafted.

I definitely feel more comfortable working from the drafts than I did creating the drafts (surprise!). There was a lot of cutting, a lot of adding, a lot of rewording, a lot of rethinking, etc. And I’m sure there’ll be more in the future once I get feedback from my committee. But it feels like I’m in a good place. Summers can be difficult because the openness of the schedule can make it harder to focus when needed. I try to balance that out my creating a set schedule habit for my work days that I (mostly) stick to. I also started out the summer by setting goals/deadlines for myself to work toward. For example, one of the goals for this month is to revise chapter two and send that to my committee. Part of the bigger picture for me has been trying to have as much done as I possibly can before the fall semester kicks off because life and teaching and writing and the job market is…a hefty load. It’s not that I don’t think I can manage it, but if I can alleviate some of the pressure ahead of time, I definitely want to do so.

Speaking of the job market, I’ve been collaboratively working on the development of job market materials with some colleagues this summer, and I’ve found that to be incredibly useful. This is an idea that I got from Maia L. Butler and Krista Benson, and the idea is pretty straightforward. On a weekly basis, we share job market document drafts and provide feedback to one another. We’ve been at it for about a month now, and we’re almost done with what we’d planned to work on. I now have drafts of the majority of the job market documents I’ll likely need, and instead of creating from scratch, I can focus on revising and retooling as needed this fall. It might seem like we started early, but having already seen some fellowship and job posting with August and September deadlines, I’m actually really happy that we did start early.

I suppose the theme of this post is planning/thinking ahead. I’ve always done a fair amount of that, but going into my final year of grad school (🙏🏾), it’s been on my mind even more than usual. I don’t know what all is going to happen in this next school year, but I’m ready for it.

Title screen from BSG that says "And they have a plan"

My first chapter is about BSG, so this seemed apropos.

(Some of y’all are thinking “WHAT? IT’S JULY! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” I’m like that sometimes too, but also, I was the kid that was definitely ready to go back to school by a smooth August 1st at the latest. This is all very on brand for me.)

Dispatches From the Dissertation, Part 7 (plus some other stuff)

Today in posts I meant to be able to make approximately 3-4 weeks ago…

Jessie Spano's caffeine pill induced time related panic

I just sent my advisor my fourth chapter draft (it’s actually going to be the third chapter in the diss, but I wrote them slightly out of order). I think that this is maybe the lengthiest one of all four, which is funny because I was (mildly) trying to write less.

Alas.

Now that I have the four chapters drafted, I’m going to be focusing on revision (I’ve already done some revision on two of them, but I need to do more focused overhauls/additions based on some changes I made to my structure after those drafts). I’m still putting off the Introduction and Conclusion for now because I want to make sure the chapters make sense (and make sense together) before I jump into those parts. The goal is to graduate next spring, and so far, so good.

In the last post, I mentioned that I’m teaching a summer class this year. It’s an online class, and we’re still a couple of weeks away from the start date, but I’ve been trying to have everything pretty much ready for it beforehand. Ideally, I’d actually like to make the course site available by the end of next week, so students have some time to get acclimated, peruse the available materials, etc. I think I can probably meet that goal. The main thing I’m working on right now is captioning the videos I’ve recorded, which is both an important and mildly humorous experience. Some of the interpretations of my speech that I end up having to correct are wild. I’m happy to it though, and I’m glad it’s pretty easy to manage with what Youtube has available.

The class itself is an Introduction to Fiction class, and I’m looking forward to it, in part, because I’m not typically scheduled to teach literature classes (my MA is in English & American Literature, but I pivoted to Media Studies for the PhD). Since I prefer to teach things I like whenever possible, the class is going to utilize two YA fantasy novels: Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. I read and enjoyed both of these books these year, and I think (or hope?) they’ll both do a good job of capturing my students’ attention as well as providing plenty of material that my students can work with to grow as critical readers, thinkers, and writers.

In addition to diss revisions and summer teaching, I’m also working on drafting job market documents this summer. It’s a little bit wild to be at this point actually. I’ve been in grad school since…2012, and while I did graduate from one program and start another, going on the job market will really be the first big professional life change I’ve had in a while. Y’all may recall that I was a secondary teacher in the past, and in both 2010 and 2011, I think I applied to 40+ teaching jobs each year. Those applications also tend to be lengthy, so I have at least some familiarity with the complexity of such a process. I also know that the academic job market is basically in shambles right now, so I’m very much trying to avoid putting my eggs in one basket. That being said, I’m completely clear about what kinds of work I want to do. Now I just need to convince someone to hire me to do it 😛

New Endings and New Beginnings

For the most part, my Spring 2018 semester has ended. My students have a final paper due in a few days, but beyond that, it’s pretty much a wrap. We ended by reflecting on some of the material we’d covered throughout the semester, and we discussed how some of their feelings about writing had changed. I asked them some of the same questions that I’d asked them in the first week (What’s do you know about writing? How does writing feel?), and one thing that seemed pretty clear to me was that some of them saw a space for themselves in academic writing…perhaps for the first time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had my students complete weekly Minute Papers throughout this semester. I found this activity to be quite useful in terms of making sure that we were all on the same page and helping me to determine where the class needed to go next. For our last class, I had them do an extended Minute Paper in which I asked them four questions:

  • Which reading/viewing, discussion, or activity impacted you the most? Why?
  • What are you most proud of having done/accomplished/achieved this semester?
  • What’s the most important thing you learned this semester?
  • How will you make use of what you learned beyond this semester?

I wanted them to respond to these questions, which I pulled from various evaluation tools I’ve seen, because they really get at some of the feedback I need in order to retool the class in the future, to effectively teach other classes, and to continue developing my own understandings about pedagogy. Though I will be receiving feedback from the departmental and university evaluations students completed (and I definitely appreciate that feedback), I often find that the ways in which those questions are worded don’t really allow for much reflection or specificity.

I won’t list out everything my students responded with here, but I do want to pull out some shared strands:

  • Peer Review!: This class really liked Peer Review. Color me shocked. It’s funny because I’ve tried so many different things over the years with respect to making Peer Review productive, and in some ways, what we did this semester was the most simple route I’ve taken. Who knew? (I think maybe this is also worked well in tandem with the general spirit of the class, which prioritized discussion and reflection).

 

  • Conferences: When I previously taught this class, we only had one writing conference in the schedule. This time, I conferenced with each student twice, and on top of that, one of their very first assignments was to come to office hours at least once within the first month of class. This worked really well in terms of allowing me to get to know them as individuals and discussing some of their individual anxieties about writing. On this final Minute Paper, one of the students wrote, “In a college this populated, it’s difficult to get one on one time with a teacher. These were super helpful because not only did you get feedback, you also got to have an in person conversation, which made the editing process easier.”

 

  • A Single Story: About a third or halfway through the semester, after we’d completed several readings and discussions about food, identity, and culture, I got a question on a Minute Paper that was something like “Do you think we can eliminate bias?” I had a lot of thoughts about that question, and I structured much of our next class session around trying to answer it. One of the things we did on that day was watch and discuss Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” At the time, some of the students seemed impacted by the talk, but I’m not always sure how much this stuff sticks. However, multiple students mentioned this as the thing that impacted them the most this semester.

 

  • New Perspectives: It’s impossible to touch on every single element of food and culture in a given semester, but I really did try to introduce them to things that I thought they might not see elsewhere. One example of this is David Perry’s “Restaurants Haven’t Lived Up to the Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” This also came multiple times as something that made an impact, and one student said, “The activity where we discussed disabled people being left out of the food culture impacted me the most. I had never really paid attention to places without access but it really does make a difference.”

 

  • The Writing Process: In some shape, form, or fashion, many students noted coming to appreciate the writing process (which I very intentionally slowed down this semester). Some wrote about seeing their skills develop through drafting and revision, some talked about procrastinating less because of the multiple steps in the process, some talked about realizing for the first time that a draft doesn’t have to be good and feeling less stressed because of that realization, and some described feeling very good about the work they turned in at the end of the process.

 

  • New Experiences: This class is primarily an analytical essay writing class, but I also had students write in some other forms, such as the memoir and the listicle, to give them different challenges and experiences. In this final Minute Paper, some students noted really appreciating that exposure. In response to the question about what they’re most proud of, one said, “Writing papers such as the food memoir and listicle that I have never done before. In high school, kids don’t get introduced to different types of writing, so I was proud of figuring out how to write these types of papers well.”

 

  • Core Principles: During the first week of class, we also watched Clint Smith III’s “The Danger of Silence.” I’d included his four Core Principles (“Read critically. Write consciously. Speak clearly. Tell your truth.”) on the syllabus, and I wanted them to understand where they came from. I tried to structure the class so that students had several opportunities grow in those areas, and we explicitly revisited the principles in the middle of the semester and at the end of the semester. Many of the comments on the final Minute Papers seemed to touch on these ideas (“I want to speak clearly and organize my thoughts as such”; “I am most proud of the progress I have made as a reader. Reading has never been my strong suit but the practice that I have had this semester made me a better reader”).

 

  • A Likable Theme/Focus: I figured a class about food might go over reasonably well, but I was kind of Trojan Horse-ing a bunch of other stuff in there, and also one of the things that I’ve seen sometimes, particularly as someone who primarily teaches Media Studies and Popular Culture, is that students can be reluctant to look beyond the surface level of pop culture artifacts. But here, a lot of them pointed to finding our investigation of things like commercials and music videos to both be fun and effective. They liked taking content that they were sometimes familiar with and breaking it down, and they liked hearing what their classmates thought about that content. And I know some of y’all really hate the word “relatable,” but…uh…they found all of this to be relatable 🙂

 

  • There are more things besides this, but wow, this post is already getting super long, so I’ll just have my last point here be my favorite comment out of all of them: “Writing doesn’t have to be grueling and adhere to strict rules. It can be so much more. I will remember this and take it with me.”

So as I said earlier in this tome, this semester is basically over, BUT that doesn’t mean I’m done with the academic life until August (hahahaha). First up, I’ll be working for the Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC) again in May. This time around, I’m in charge of all things social media, and I’m really looking forward to that. In June, I start teaching a 6-week online Introduction to Fiction class (this is a whole barrel of firsts, and you can expect to see a post or two or ten on this in the coming weeks). While I’m doing these things, I’ll also be working on my dissertation as per usual (look for a post on that next week), waiting for feedback on a publication submission, and drafting job market materials. ‘Tis the academic life, eh? In all honesty, though busy, I think this actually shaping up to be a summer that’s both productive *and* fun for me, which is pretty much all I want them to be (I mean, I’m also getting paid the whole time, which…WHEW).

Going Analog

So, I like technology in the classroom. Every time the…uh…debates about it come up, I’m definitively on the “for” side for numerous reasons. That doesn’t mean that I don’t see the flaws with using some tech and/or the complications that can arise from having tech in the classroom. I just think the good outweighs the bad.

That being said, I also like to have my students do a lot of things on paper (if possible and accessible) for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s just faster. Sometimes I might want them to sketch something in a way that might be more complicated to do on a device. Sometimes I might want them to easily swap an activity with one another. Etc.

Another important reason that comes to mind is that sometimes it can be valuable to have them work out and/or practice something that they’re going to be doing digitally in an analog format first. Because sometimes the very digital-ness of an assignment can become a bit of a distraction to the thinking process. This is something that I’ve been thinking about since last year’s Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC). If you’re not familiar with DMAC, it is essentially what the title describes. During the institute, several educators, from across the country, come to OSU to discuss digital media, composition, pedagogy, and issues of access. Additionally, during the institute, participants create their own compositions in a variety of formats. I attended the institute in 2015, and I’ve been lucky enough to be employed by the institute both last year and this year, which has been a fantastic experience.

During last year’s DMAC, one of the things participants composed, as well as discussed using in the classroom, was an infographic. Things we did in that process included talking about infographics, looking at examples, and examining sites that can be used to make them (shout out to Canva and Piktochart). But perhaps one of the key components of the process (at least to me) was having folks make infographics on paper first. Participant Tiffany Mitchell talks about the value of that step here.

As I was retooling my First Year Writing syllabus this semester, I knew that I wanted to make some changes to how my students would first start to think about their research. I wanted them to think more about how to assess the quality of a source (rather than how to find a specific type of source), and I wanted them to think more about the secondary sources in relation to one another. This developed into a 3-step resource chunk in the middle of the semester, which entails: an evaluation of sources they’ve found in their preliminary research, a brief presentation on one of the sources, and a listicle about their research.

I got the idea for that last piece here. I really liked the idea of the listicle because it would get at the synthesis I wanted, and it would also challenge to think about rhetoric a bit differently than what we’ve done in the class thus far. Plus, I’ve been encouraging them to develop their voices this semester, and I try to provide some creative options that allow them to do that more easily. I also knew that it was probably a format that most of them had not written in (explicitly) even though they’ve probably encountered them on the internet (in fact, as we talked about them in class, it became clear to me that some of them had never encountered the word “listicle” even if they had read listicles before).

Earlier this week, I posted a handful of listicles on our class home page and gave them time in class to explore them (some were just text, some were text and pictures, and some were text plus various other forms of media). We then discussed how the listicles function, how the text interacts with the images/gifs/etc, and ways in which they could create listicles. I’ve done a similar process in the past when I’ve had students making podcasts and transmedia extensions. I think it’s really valuable for them to be able to see and analyze several examples of unfamiliar forms before they start creating their own.

Building off of that, today I had the students work in small groups to make analog listicles. I brought in a bunch of materials (poster boards, construction paper, magazines, glue sticks, scissors, and glue sticks) to facilitate the process. The readings that they had for class today were about the intersection of food and technology, so I told them that their listicles needed to, in some way, reflect the impact that technology has had on food. At the end of class, they had to display their listicles in the classroom, and I talked a bit about why I had them do this so that they could make the connection to their upcoming assignment.

It was fun to watch them work on this and listen to how they figured out what to write. At first, some of the students were really baffled by how to start, and I did give some nudges here and there. But for the most part, they figured it out on their own. And they got pretty creative with the available resources. I really liked doing this because it gives them practice, I could see how they were thinking in real time, I could see where I need to do some further explanation next week ahead of the due date for their actual listicle assignment (for example, I think a little bit more clarity about the difference between a listicle and an outline might be useful), and it was honestly just a nice way to break up the standard flow of class. I suppose some folks might think this assignment is a bit too K-12 for college students, but uh, (1) I was a secondary teacher before I started grad school, and I’d say that quite a lot of things that work well with 12 year olds also work well with 20 year olds, and (2) I mean, you’re never too old to color.

So.

Fridays are when they do their minute papers for the week, and here are some of the responses I got at the end of today’s class:

  • Several variations of “I now know/understand what a listicle is”
  • “The most important thing this week was the examples of the listicles. I have never heard of this before, but now I feel more prepared to create one on my own”
  • “The most important thing I learned this week is that listicles are very fun to read and make. Great way to express oneself”

And some questions that I plan to follow up on next week:

  • “Do we cite pictures in the listicle?”
  • “Can we look at more listicle examples next week?”
  • “Are we allowed to hand write our listicle?” (honestly, did not see this one coming, but I’m intrigued)

And finally, some pictures:

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Adventures in Assessment

Throughout the years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve taken various approaches to assessing student work. I’ve used really rigid numeric rubrics, single point rubrics, and no rubrics at all, depending on the class/assignment/my general pedagogical perspective at the time. On a somewhat related note, one thing I’ve been trying to do more of this semester is provide my students with more opportunities to steer the class in several areas, including assessment.

Here’s the truth: I hate grades. I love giving feedback, but I hate assigning letter/number grades. I have a much longer spiel about this than I want to go into in this particular post, but I think grades really do a great job of ripping the joy and appreciation out of learning. And I say this as a (mostly) reformed overachiever. I’ve worked really hard to structure my class this semester in such a way that grades are deemphasized. Instead, we’re focusing on process and feedback.

(FWIW several of my students have commented that this approach has made the class a more enjoyable experience than they’d anticipated having in First Year Writing, and I consider that to be a win)

But since I’m not able to go gradeless (yet), I still have to figure out how assess student work and assign grades. For the first writing assignment of the semester, a creative writing piece, I asked a simple assessment question that I picked up from John Warner: Is it interesting to read?

I think this was a great entry point for the semester, and it really took some of the pressure off while also avoiding that pesky hyperfocus on “correctness.”

Their first analytical essay is due this week, and when we first went over the prompt weeks ago, I told them we’d talk about assessment criteria later. What I was trying to avoid here was them writing their way into a “meets expectations.” I wanted them to build off the notion that the thing should be interesting to read, to grapple with analysis, and to buy into the process of drafting, feedback, and revision, without focusing entirely on the finish line.

This is a hard thing to make happen because the education system is not really set up for this, and even if I’m going mildly rogue, that doesn’t mean the other classes my students are taking are. I think this requires some trust, which we’ve been building since the semester started. If my students didn’t have some faith that I wouldn’t leave them hanging, I don’t think any of this would work.

At any rate, I always intended to provide them with assessment criteria when we got closer to the due date but then I wondered why **I** needed to be the one providing it at all. I didn’t get here on my own. I was inspired by this post and this post, amongst many others. See we’ve spent several weeks talking about analysis, analyzing media in class, writing together, discussing, looking at samples, etc. I think they actually know quite a lot about analysis, and rather than me saying, “This is what your essay should be,” I knew they could come up with their own criteria that would more than fit the bill.

So this is what we did (pulling primarily from that second post): I, first, asked them to tell me what the class is asking them to learn. Then, I asked them what they needed to do in the class to meet those goals. I took notes on a projected Google doc at both of these steps. Once we’d discussed both, I asked them what their essays needed to do and/or look like in order to meet the goals. Here’s what they said the essay should do:

  • Should have analysis that goes beyond surface level/explicit meaning
  • Essay should have some sense of structure
  • Should demonstrate awareness of how primary source can influence consumers
  • Should be aware of context in such a way that analysis makes sense
  • Should have a short summary/description of artifact
  • Good, clear transitions
  • Should demonstrate audience awareness
  • Should indicate having gone through various revisions

I told them that they’d identified the criteria that I’d be using to assess their essays. And I had them each vote for the top three points that they think are most important for this analytical essay. The order above reflects those preferences. Indeed, the top three points got many more votes the other points.

Here’s the thing: I think the criteria I would have given would have been somewhat similar to what they came up with here. But I think it’s important that this didn’t come from me. This is what they think strong analysis should look like based on the work we’ve done together throughout the first half of the semester, and this is what they’re choosing to hold themselves accountable for.

My favorite part? They didn’t say a thing about grammar or spelling or punctuation, which is where students often get hung up in the quest for “correct.” I love that they’re paying more attention to the ideas and how those ideas get conveyed.

This particular choice doesn’t solve all of my grading woes (though it’s also not the only thing I’m trying this semester 😉 ), but I like it thus far. I wouldn’t necessarily do it for every assignment, but I definitely see it having space in my ongoing pedagogical toolkit.

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 6

So the last time I updated y’all on my dissertation progress, I’d met with my advisor a couple of times to talk about my first (extremely long) draft of my first chapter, and I’d started watching Beverly Hills, 90210 because that was originally supposed to be part of my second chapter. This was at the beginning of November.

A few weeks after that post though, I started to see my dissertation a bit differently than I’d originally planned. This makes sense because when you make a dissertation prospectus, you literally have no idea what you’re doing (at least, I didn’t lol), then you start writing the thing, and then it starts to become a different thing entirely.

So my original plan had been three chapters, each of which focused on analysis of a few different shows that shared some sort of structural similarity. That first chapter draft had, for example, focused on three shows that would be classified as remakes (in the most basic sense). But I realized a couple of things through this initial process of drafting. First, I was trying to write about too many shows (#TVScholarStruggles), and while I think my advisor would be totally fine with me writing a 300-page diss, I am not haha. Also though, I started to realize that the structural similarities of the shows wasn’t really an organizing principle that I was interested in.

And so, I needed to rethink my organizational structure. In thinking about what I’d written so far, and based on some of the feedback I’d received from folks who’d seen bits of that, I realized that I’d sort of written myself into focus that I never would have really thought of when I was writing the prospectus. Such is the way, I suppose. Once I figured that out, I realized that the chapters really only needed to focus on single shows because each of those shows (and their associated genres, productions, and networks) approaches the particular problem I’m exploring differently.

So then, I basically tossed the old structure and started to craft a new one. My advisor and I talked about which shows would actually make the cut and which ones I would let go.

(This is when I tell y’all that, sadly, 90210 did not make the cut. Steve Sanders is still the worst though because I didn’t make it to the Ray Pruitt years in this rewatch)

As I waited for some feedback from my advisor, I went on a dissertation writing retreat offered by my university. If you have the chance to do something like that, I highly recommend it. Having dedicated time to focus on your writing without having to worry about anything else can make one quite productive. During the weekend that I was retreating, I went through all of the pages I’d written, made some revisions, wrote out the outline for my new structure, and determined what research I needed to do next. ‘Twas greatly beneficial for me.

My advisor and I met again yesterday to hash out the details of this new structure, and he and I both feel pretty good about where I’m at right now (both with the diss and for going on the job market this fall 😬). There are still some strands that will need to be pulled together more tightly as I progress, but the direction I’m moving toward is much more clear now.

So next steps? I’m (a) revising the chunks I’ve already written, (b) working on various other projects because academia, and (c) in the midst of completing research for the next chapter, which naturally means I’m watching another show.

Which one?

Well…

Season 4 Boy Meets World cast photo

#youths