This week’s “make” (well last week’s) for Connected Courses asks us to consider our answer to the following question:
So what is the real “why” of your course? Why should students take it? How will they be changed by it? What is your discipline’s real “why”? Why does it matter that students take __________ courses or become _________ists? How can digital and networked technologies effectively support the real why of your course?
I’ve come across so many great ‘Why I Teach’ posts throughout the week but two that have stuck with me are Jeff McClurken’s post (‘I believe in students being “uncomfortable, but not paralyzed” in their learning’), and Gardner Campbell’s reflective piece on “joint attention” (‘It meant, I think, that I was able to focus and make visible the purposeful attention any of us might bring to the learning moment, and with that focus and visibility strengthen and amplify its power and efficacy for all of us’). Both are well worth a read if you get a spare moment.
For me (and I’m sure for many others) this week’s task seems such a daunting question, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to unpack such a complex question in just one week and a blog post. This said, I think this question is really important and will remain central to me thinking as I work through this course and try to better understand my own teaching motivations and goals. But, never one to give up without a fight, here are some of my initial meandering thoughts on this topic:
As a Brit researching (and hopefully down the line teaching) Canadian literature I feel like I’m always being asked “why?” and “how?” questions. Why are you studying Canadian literature? How did you end up studying that? For some reason, Canadian literature doesn’t seem to hold the same natural draw for people over here in the UK that studying British or even American literature does. Perhaps, this lack of engagement with Canadian literature over here in the UK was part of the pull of me back when I first took a course in Canadian lit for my MSc. All I know is that once I started reading these texts (this first course covered all the “big hitters”: Laurence, Atwood, Munro, Ondaatje, MacLeod) I was hooked and increasingly intrigued, especially with Canadian texts that existed in the seemingly “empty space” between Can Lit about colonisation and the cultural nationalism and multiculturalism movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. “Surely people were still writing in this time period, right?” I pondered.
I have since discovered there are a decent number of research groups and associations dedicated to promoting interest in Canada and Canadian literature in the UK (even if these associations have taken a strong beating from the dissolution of the “Understanding Canada” program in recent years). Nevertheless, I still feel that a lot of my previous students had very little understanding of Canadian literature, many of them not even aware that authors they might already have read, such as Atwood or Munro, were Canadian.
This said, I haven’t really addressed why students should take a course I might offer on Canadian literature (or at least with Canadian content). Why does it matter for them to learn about Canadian literature? How will they be changed by it? Not everyone is as naturally curious to learn about new cultures and literatures as I am and that’s something that I have to acknowledge and accept.
However, I think it is with this question of palpable change that the value of a connected course comes to the forefront. By offering a course that not only introduces to them to a new literary context but also allows them to begin thinking critically about their own digital presence and the tools and skills that they can use to further develop their careers outside the classroom, the potential “value” of the course doubles. Conversely, for students more interested in the digital, skills-based side of the course, it offers a chance to pique their interest in Canadian literature with hopes of bolstering more interest in or even encouraging more UK-based scholarship on such texts, by packaging it in a less-obvious literary survey/”Intro to…” wrapper.
I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of my “why” here but I wanted to at least starting thinking these questions through. I’m hoping that this second week of the course might enable me to clarify and really hone in on the real “why” of my potential course. I might even try and draft out some potential “learning objectives” for the course later this week to help me really start thinking about what students would get out of the course and what makes it distinctive.
Before I go though, I want to quickly draw attention to this video I found floating around the #ccourses twitter stream. It’s an interview between Howard Rheingold and Gardner Campbell and I found some of the language and terms Campbell uses when describing his own open courses particularly useful for developing my future thinking around these kinds of courses. For Campbell, “open” means “available to be connected to,” so the idea of connections is pushed to the forefront of the course’s structure and purpose.
I also found the discussion around “personal cyber infrastructure” useful, as it focused on how students learn how to be in charge of their own web presence in these courses so that they will hopefully learn how to effective stewards in their own increasingly data-driven lives. This very much ties into my earlier blog discussions about a growing sense of empowerment open to both teachers and learners through learning to control one’s digital identity. Campbell later referred to the role of such courses as helping to create a “cognitive mirror” of each learner in terms of their own way of organising the world, and how such mirrors help us make sense of who we are as people and learners, which then enables us to be responsive to others and their powers of attention.
I realise these are quire big ideas to close a blog post with but they’ve nevertheless really gotten me thinking and engaging with the “value” of these types of courses in ways I’ve not really considered beforehand, and I thus wanted to share them to help me further discuss and interrogate these ideas in the future.