What will the first day of classes hold?

Tomorrow I will meet for the first time with two of my three classes, EN203: World Literature 1450-1800, and EN240: Introduction to Visual and Cultural Study. I’ve had the real pleasure of teaching EN203 a few times before, so I’m looking forward to adding some new texts and removing a couple I’ve grown–how shall I say–bored with. I will stay on track this year and actually get to Olaudah Equiano–and, I’m going to revisit Kant’s “What Is Enlightenment?”, which I haven’t been able to teach since the first iteration of the course. We’re still going to work through Sor Juana’s “Reply to Sor Filotea,” though I’ve noticed that the Norton includes virtually the entire text, while the Longman has excerpted a nice piece. We’re also doing some South Asian poets near the beginning of the term, as a good counterpoint to Western European lyric poetry–so exciting! For the first time, I’m asking students to read some material around biblical translations during the Reformation, too.

EN240 is virtually a new course for me, though I’ve taught it once before; this time around, I’ve selected different texts–Ryan’s Cultural Studies: A Practical Introduction and the graphic-novel-ish Introducing Cultural Studies–supported by timely excerpts from theoretical sources. My pledge to self this term in EN240, you ask? Have fun, and don’t overburden the students with Althusser or Meagan Morris’ very rich essay on shopping centers. And have fun. The schedule is very, very different this time around, not least because it’s a course that meets for three hours once a week–I’m honestly a little worried about the utility of that schedule for a 200-level course, so we’ll see what happens. But, I’m assigning fewer highly-specific projects, in order to give students more flexibility to address topics interesting to them, and reining in the final project to ensure I don’t have too many different kinds of projects–students will be able to choose from three options: 1.) creating a critical commentary on a five-minute clip from Source Code, uploaded to YouTube, 2.) create a critical commentary on a contemporary television advertisement, ditto, and 3.) create a five-minute mini-documentary on a topic covered in class, illustrated and narrated a La Jetee, ditto. Finally, students will be producing a term portfolio using Google sites including a selection of revised responses, their two major projects, and some self-assessment. We’re also going to take a trip to the Museum of American History to explore “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” a joint exhibition by the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (UMBC) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’m interested in having students consider the exhibit as an exercise in what “visual culture” is, as well as some of the public history and policy issues associated with museum exhibitions. It’s shaping up to be an energizing term, though this past week has been exhausting.

On a related note, I’d planned on creating Facebook groups for each of my courses, which students could use to communicate with their peers, ask questions, and post interesting web finds, but something seems to have changed there–if anyone’s reading, do you know what happened to the old FB groups? I’m going back to my original plan, which was to set up twitter hashtags for each of the courses, which students can use in the same way. This will be a novelty for me, so I’m planning on using it as a test-case, explaining it to students in that way; purely voluntary, but users can see an extra bump in participation grades.

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