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In the very beginning you were asked to respond thoughtfully to several questions. What should you learn from a course in literature? Students and professors may and likely do have differing opinions on the content and form of a course on literature.  What are your expectations for this course? What are you hoping to learn? How and what does one learn from reading?

Re-examine your own and the responses of others, then comment on what YOU individually learned, how and what you wish You could learned more, Your evaluation of Your own efforts in the course on reading assignments, blog entries and projects.

If You had to teach the course next year, how would You proceed?

18 Responses to “Was this course more about learning than teaching? I didn’t expect that I would have to do all the work myself!”

  1. Russell Jacobs says:

    I found that the format of this class was incredibly appropriate for the material. In many ways, the literature we’ve read speaks for itself. The authors (and their characters) are constantly trying to sort out enormous, complex questions about what it means to be human (and a husband, a wife, a murderer, “dead,” a Russian, a nihilist, a “respectable official,” a father). Structurally and thematically, intertextual reverberations are everywhere. Moving from “The Shot” (and I guess, “Poor Liza”) to “Anna Karenina” provided us with a wealth of knowledge and literary substance that says more than we could ever say and is more massive than any class could ever cover in its totality. We did the only reasonable thing, in the face of such overwhelming substance: chatted about it.

    Professor Beyer’s own relationship with our discussion was subtle and enriching. He was an expert, clearly, in the works discussed, and made himself available as a sort of personal annotation to our reading and discussion. He provided footnotes and facilitated a conversation (it was really a single continuous conversation, right?) that was, primarily, our own. Often, we’d get to a point at which it became appropriate for him to tell us about Dostoyevsky’s near-execution, or the death of Tolstoy’s brother, or Gogol’s conservatism and famously hilarious lectures. His role was, truly, that of the translator for a group of American students dealing with Russian texts. Without Beyer, we would have understood the books without some of the essential tidbits about how Russians think about the world (particularly enlightening for me was his assertion at the beginning of the semester that Russians experience reality as “happening to them”).

    That said, we were largely self-taught. I missed a few blog posts, but never missed an opportunity to read all of your posts. Often, the most essential elements of the texts we were working with revealed themselves to me in comments made on the blog. When Vanda pointed out Raskolnikov’s distance from his family prior to the opening of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov’s alienation made much more sense in the context of Dostoy’s novel. Sarah’s description of Karenin and his relationship with his son augmented my understanding of not just his character, but the weird, half-distant quality of human relationships that Tolstoy is getting at throughout the novel. As a literary studies major, I feel like we’ve done a remarkable thing in our online and in-class discourse. As often happens with great works, everything in life seems to refer to them afterwards. It will be hard not to see everything that happens in the world from Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy’s competing perspectives after this class. Thanks for a great semester, everyone!

  2. Anna Mackey says:

    Woops, I was just looking these over before class and my sentence should read: “Although the workload made it difficult, I actually did manage to do every reading and all but 2 blog posts.”

  3. Margaret Fulford says:

    This class was fantastic. I mean both the course and the class: the students and professor together. We had some fun and insightful discussions. It felt more like a book club than a lecture, and everyone’s differing perspectives on the stories we read were so interesting. I learned through this course something that I once knew as a child but had forgotten; if you read something you enjoy, it’s not work at all. I was daunted, I’ll admit, when I first looked through the syllabus. It was a lot of reading. However, looking back on it, nothing we read could possibly have been left out. As much as I love Chekhov, we could not possibly have ended the semester without looking at Lermontov, or Gogol’s stories.

    Most of the learning happened at home, with me curled up in bed reading yet another huge Russian book, but there was definitely a teaching component as well. I always love the little linguistic insights that Professor Beyer had to offer, and his expansive knowledge of Russian authors’ biographies and motives gave our readings an additional dimension. Plenty of adults I know have read Crime and Punishment, but I doubt that many of them have any real understanding of it beyond simple plot action. I feel like this class gave us the tools and skills to read between the lines of Russian literature (especially on the 19th century, but also from other times.)

    As I said before, most of the “work” for this class did not feel like work to me. I enjoyed the blog post format and much prefer it to things like essays or frequent testing, mostly because I can read everyone else’s ideas and interpretations. It’s like a big informal brainstorming fest for really awesome books. I wouldn’t change a thing about the course or the format.

  4. Katherine Burdine says:

    This course was definitely much more about learning than about teaching. We had quite a large amount of reading, and the blog posts forced us to A) actually do the reading when we were supposed to and B) think about it and distill the ideas into a concise paragraph on a regular basis. Furthermore, even when we were in class, Professor Beyer doesn’t at all have a lecturing or pedantic style; rather he asks us questions and tries to tease out students’ own ideas from their blog posts and comments in class. He was always ready to correct obvious errors in thinking, or to supply historical context and background for the reading, but overall his style definitely tended toward collaborative discovery rather than the one-sided handing down of knowledge.

    Often, or nearly always, especially in a literature class, final work involves writing a paper that parrots back a polished version of the ideas gone over in class. Occasionally a student will put his or her own spin on it, or explore an idea that was left out of discussion, but even so the professor’s thinking will influence the shape of the student’s writing. This class, because the format of the final project was so free, forced students to start from square one, with their own, independent ideas, and develop them in any way they saw fit. It allowed us to not just study text, but also the sounds, images, ideas, and other pieces of writing associated with a given text. Students had the opportunity to understand the complexity of a work of literature, and to see some of the background involved in its production. No work comes out of isolation, and our final projects allowed us to understand not just the literature itself, but all the other stuff that came before and after.

    Like Romany, I have found that the fairly extensive background I have acquired in Russian history over my four years as a Russian major has been invaluable for understanding deeply the work that we’ve been reading. The reading has acquired new resonance for me set against a backdrop of historical events and ideas. Knowing about the other authors and critics who were working at the same time as Tolstoy, for example, has helped me put his work into context. It seems to me that throughout the semester, a bit more emphasis on the historical context might really help bring the reading to life for students.

  5. Laura Howard says:

    If I had to teach this course next year, I would proceed very similarly. I believe that having the students submit responses to the work EACH CLASS is a highly effective method of teaching, and I am oftentimes upset when I am enrolled in a class for which I never feel myself highly involved in the material. That is not the case for this class – rather, I reached my goal of becoming fully immersed in Russian culture. In my first blog response, I wrote that I would look at literature with the Triangle method — using my knowledge, the author’s knowledge, and the context in which the work was written to attempt to understand the work. I completely forgot that I said this, and I’m not sure that “Triangle” is the right way to describe this. There is probably a better way. Nonetheless, in this class, we, as students, were fully permitted to discuss the works in this form (the 3-part form, with context, personal experience, and author experience) and I believe that lead us all to appreciate the works more fully.

    My only change would be to ask the students to turn in a hard copy of each response. Personally, I work better when I don’t just write something in a box on a blog. Environmentally, writing on the blog is better, but there is a certain formal aspect to turning in a paragraph on paper that I find rewarding. In addition, some students have mentioned that they would have appreciated having more time to absorb the readings , rather than doing a rushed job. I am in agreement; however, I decided after my first experience with a rushed reading that I simply would have to make the time to read — skimming the reading just wasn’t rewarding, and it wasn’t fun. It takes a lot of discipline to read 50-70 pages of Russian literature in one night, but the end result is completely worth the task.

  6. Vanda Gaidamovic says:

    Bela Bartok, a Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist, was probably the first classical composer, who integrated certain nuances of the spoken language into his music. His phrases and musical sentences seemed to disobey conventional harmonic and melodic rules. Instead, they were curved and fashioned after the human speech. I was intrigued to learn about this almost as strongly as I was to learn to search for connections between the language and the literary imagery it produces. The Russian Canon, often constructed on the principle of a mutual dependence between the language and ideas it conveys, provided me with the great challenges and wonderful realizations. The messages, allusions, history itself coded in words, allowed me a broader insight into the novels, and let their meanings transgress the obvious. In this course I got a broad cultural insight into the language that I speak, but do not always fully comprehend. But most importantly, I learned to look for connections between reality, fantasy, and philosophy, through the masterful manipulation of words.
    I have only one, perhaps quite arbitrary recommendation, if the course is offered next year. While a lot of the messages and effects in the works studied have universal, timeless implications, I find it necessary to try to analyze the texts through the lens of contemporary and modern-day Russian spirituality, mentality and sensitivity. For that, I think, a stronger background is needed. Before even starting the reading of works themselves, books by Hingley (The Russian Mind) or Billington (Face of Russia), can be looked at. I chose these particular authors for their simple, yet highly informative take on various subtleties of Russian behaviour, communication, tradition, history, and for the authors’ discussions of what constitutes Russian soul. I truly think that the prior familiarity with the Russian culture would be a helping factor in understanding true value of the great works of Russian literature.

  7. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    Without question, I feel like I have a much better understanding of the themes present throughout a major era of Russian literature and how certain works and authors connect with each other (ex: Liza references). Also, through my project on Chekhov, I was able to see how the Russian authors of this time period not only affected each other but affected authors throughout the world and to this day (ex: every major author has read Tolstoy… they have to). This was also the first literature course I have ever taken that integrated media and I learned a lot through that exercise. When I look back to the second paragraph of my first post, it seems that I essentially achieved all and more of what I hoped to gain from the course. Side note: I also learned that it is in fact possible to read lengthy novels in a short period of time. But it is possible to lose friends in the process. ☺

    I think it is impossible to answer what I hoped to learn more of. I never had a course that focused on more than one Russian novel and now I feel like I have the background to be able to enjoy and appreciate Russian literature on my own and for the rest of my life (at a level that is more than simply read the plot and move on). I do not feel that the specifics on any of the authors or works is as important as the general feel for Russian literature that I am leaving with.

    I am proud of/happy with my efforts. I took this course at the same time as another literature course (Intro to World Literature) and the reading load turned out to be around 1-2 books per week between the two. In this class, my goal was to read every work and submit every blog post on time and with at least a few insightful observations. I achieved both goals (reading everything and posting on every blog) and considering the quantity of reading that was required, I think it is something to be happy about. As for the insightful comments, I guess that is not for me to judge. Also, I was very happy with how well my group worked together and how reliable every member was when it came to completing our relative tasks. The final product exceeded what I imagined when we first began. There was not a single member that I felt gave any less effort than the rest of the group.

    There is not much I would change about the course next year. It was honestly quite refreshing to have Professor Beyer’s opening comments to the day, followed by an open conversation that we could essentially choose to take in any direction. The projects are a must, I think the combination of media and literature is unique and ultimately essential to the character of this course. As for the readings, the blog assignments required that we complete the readings in their entirety and I was very pleased every class that everyone seemed to have read the works and developed great observations about them. I think the course could be enhanced with a week on Chekhov (I know that I am biased). As for the blogs, I am not sure if free passes are necessary (as I felt that it was certainly doable to complete the reading – although it was sometimes difficult to remember details), but I think that the blogs which asked more than one question were the best, because posting late on a blog with only one question feels like you are essentially repeating what has already been said, but in different words.

  8. Melody Wang says:

    I think this class is one of the best classes I have ever taken in my four years of Middlebury College career. This class is structured in the most sensible, practical, engaging, comprehensive fashion. Unlike any other literature classes in Middlebury (as a lit. studies major, I have taken A LOT!), the fact that we do not have to write three or four papers is undoubtedly one of the best aspects of the class because it provides me with a substantial amount of time to profitably engage with the actual reading assignments. This is the first time that I can actually read and keep up with every reading assignment. And the biweekly blog assignment serves as a pleasant medium for me to succinctly express my personal appreciations/understandings/doubts/frustrations/intrigues towards all the readings. I am very grateful that I don’t have to come up with an overarching and solemn editorial-like thesis/conclusion/pattern in the writing assignments. In short, the blog post assignment provides a steady and regular application to my reading experience, which definitely has served me better in every way than would a mad dash at the last minute through dense and dreadful paper assignments. The blog also functions as a cyber class that enables us to bounce around our opinions on aspects of the work that we simply don’t have the time to cover in class. In general this class is predicated upon an invitation to appreciate and discover what I simply enjoy or moved by all these writers’ writing. This class really focuses on literature and literary effects on the readers. Essentially speaking, this class has definitely fulfilled my original expectations: I prefer not to expend too much time outside of the works themselves in attempt to correspond the works to a particular period of historical, social, politic, cultural, theoretical backgrounds/concepts….I find reading to be a highly personal and subjective experience, and I learn from reading through my identifications with the characters’ tensions, emotions, and struggles.
    I have also enjoyed the massive final project, instead of devoting all my time on coming up and polishing thesis statements for papers, this final project has provided me with the opportunity and flexibility to expand my understanding for the subject from many different and unprecedented approaches/angles.

    If I were to teach the course next year, I would make sure that everything stays the same.

  9. Bryanna Kleber says:

    The biggest thing that I learned from this class is basically how much we loose from the translation from Russian to English. So many names are important and significant in their Russian form, but become meaningless in English. For me, this is a very bittersweet (more bitter than sweet) realization. I feel like until I become fluent in Russian, I cannot read a Russian novel properly, with a full understanding.

    The blog posts were a bit tedious. Nothing overwhelming and considering we didn’t have papers, it’s a good way to evaluate our performance. That being said, I strongly believe that this course should remain paper free. Mostly because at the beginning of the semester you explained how dense the reading was going to be, but you just couldn’t have a Russian Lit course without everything that was assigned. That makes sense and the blogs were a way to ensure reading while not adding more heavy stuff.

    I think that the projects did more than any of us realized they could do. I disagree with Flora about our project however. For me, the lack of information that was available made every bit we did find very crucial and important. Also, I was forced to put myself into the life of a Russian woman author, and nothing can be more educational than that.

  10. Kelsey says:

    What did I learn? A lot, from the literature, from historical context from class, and about my own society through other people’s opinions of the literature. There were a lot of opinions that I was surprised at, and that was a good thing. I think reading and thinking about literature is not a solitary act, but should be something that sparks discussion. I liked knowing that a work could support different opinions or views for different people.
    “Would you date Pechorin?” “Do you think Bazarov is an ass?” “What about Dunya do you admire?” All of these questions put the characters and ideas of these centuries-old Russian stories into today’s context, and that part of the class was especially interesting. The context and the insight into the specifically Russian ideas and psyche that make up the authors’ heritage and worldview was something that was really valuable. The literature itself made me want to spend the summer reading- I loved realizing how great literature illustrates and explains the huge philosophical concepts of the era- like how the nascent ideas of psychology were exploded in Crime and Punishment, and how many philosophers and political ideas were tossed around in Anna Karenina.
    It was an immense amount of reading (though I would vote for adding Chekov!), and sometimes the blog posts weren’t nearly enough to sift through and grasp as much as I wanted to from the reading. If I were to teach this course I would actually put more writing back in; not the traditional academic papers so much but more opinion essays, or something else that lets the writer be part of a dynamic larger discussion about the literature in a more thought-out way than in 200 words.

  11. Romany Redman says:

    So, I had an interesting experience as the ghost class member. Aside from occasional run-ins around campus when Golden Age Lit sprang up into the conversation, I only interacted with the class via-blog posts.
    I feel like I definitely missed out on some amazing collective thought and class epiphanies, not to mention lectures by Professor Beyer. Luckily, I had enough of a foot-hold into the cultural and historical contexts that my reading of these works of literature was considerable enriched compared to, oh, the first time I read Dostoevsky in high school, for example.
    It was pretty empowering to read some of these works in Russian for the first time. Reading for this class was so wonderful I almost felt guilty taking so much pleasure in doing “HW”. I feel that many folks are intimidated by 19th Cent Russian Literature and feel that it is inaccessible, either because of lack of contextual understanding or some mythical denseness. Throughout the course of this class, I found myself calling up friends and old neighbors and encouraging them to go to the library and pick up Lermontov, Gogol, Tolstoy, anybody and read it. While contextual understanding multiplies the impact of these works 1295 times, even without an intimate knowledge of Russia in the 1800s, the universal themes have impact enough to stand on their own.

    Other comments: I spent 35 hours listening to C&P as an audiobook. Not the most time efficient, but it definitely forced me to slow down and hear each and every word. This was also emotionally taxing. Raskolnikov can really get in your head.
    Film adaptations were also a really great way to explore these works and compare to the written originals. Film productions also contribute to contextual understanding… for example, Hero of Our Time: Bela gave some great visual references. The same goes for all the other Mosfilm productions, etc. While reading the works should be precedent, incorporating other mediums as a second perspective would be an interesting choice.

    I loved everyone’s projects. Amazing work!
    Ultimate result of this course: My summer reading list is chock-full of more Golden Age Lit. I have to read them all!!!!

  12. Emily de Koning says:

    I have always found it fascinating to see connections within a novel weather it is a recurring theme or simply a recurring motif, but I found it even more impressive to make connections in a broader context between works of the same period. I mentioned in my first post that I wanted to learn about the influences that shaped 19th century Russian writing and I have. I enjoyed reading through Pushkin’s “Amateur Peasant” and finding reference to Karamzin’s “Poor Liza”. As in all forms of art it was also fascinating to learn about Russian society as it was reflected in the various authors works. When reading “A hero of our time” we learned about the context in which young men found themselves in the 19th century and how stunted they felt in a society that inhibited their growth. However, what I found the most fascinating about these works was the variety of reactions they invoked in different readers. This was most obvious in our class discussion when we were, for example, asked weather we liked a certain character and how we came to form that opinion of them.

    I am by nature a slow reader; I want to fully absorb and understand what the text is saying, and sometimes (manly due to overlapping deadlines with other courses) I had to skim through some of the works (which undoubtedly diminished my appreciation of them) or simply not read them altogether. I agree, however, with Rouan, that the blog assignments pushed me to stay on top of my readings, which, as everyone knows is not easy at Middlebury.

    On another note, I loved the projects. I thought that everyone did a great job with the various assignments that they were given and developed interesting creative approaches to the class material. Thanks to these project assignments I have discovered and come to love Chekhov’s writing. I also learned a great deal about creating websites, which I know is a vey useful skill to have.

    As a result of this project, however, I hope that when this course in taught again, that some of Chekhov’s shorts stories be incorporated into the syllabus (instead of “Fathers and Sons”?). Chekhov’s short stories are a landmark of Russian literature and I feel should be read in this course.

  13. Rouan Yao says:

    Wow. I didn’t believe that, at the beginning of this semester, it was possible for me to have read so much literature in one semester. To be quite honest, I still find it a surprise that we have already finished reading it all. I think that in the reading of these books alone, there was a lot to be learned, both about Russian society and about the great literary traditions of that time.

    The blog posts were really effective in keeping the reading on schedule. As Anna said, the blogs pushed for an active and analytical thinking approach to everything we read, and as a result, I felt that I got more out of the novels/short stories than if the assignment was just to read the novels. In addition to this, the blog posts of other students were extremely helpful at times when others has a fuller understanding of the text than I did, and many times, hidden themes and significances were brought to my attention in other blog posts. Often times, I would see these and re-read a section of the assigned reading and come off with a much more thorough understanding of the work. Of course, the opposite applies as well. When I wrote my blog posts, I worked hard to provide a different point of view to the work and offer up my own reading, in an attempt to provide the same kind of insight to my fellow students. Although I am not sure if this worked, I know that this desire to contribute forced me to read into the text more carefully than usual.

    Don’t get me wrong – the little segments of lectures were also EXTREMELY helpful, and really solidified the completion of my learning goals for this course, which included tying the literature to the history and culture of the Russian people today. The significance of name meanings, especially, is one of the most interesting things I’ve learned over the course of this class, and was a subject that I delved even more deeply on while working on our group projects. (This means you are NOT allowed to move to Florida and let your students run wild next year, Thomas Thomasovich!)

  14. Alexandra Siega says:

    This class is the first literature class that I have taken at Middlebury with more than four students. Therefore, what I take most away from this course is the ability to discuss literature with others. I think that the informal discussion allowed for an inviting, relaxed atmosphere that provided a breeding ground for fresh ideas. I personally feel intimidated by the formal literature class, where one must reference classical works or literary theories to be considered to be making a worthwhile point. I think the discussion in this class did a great job in pushing me to both value my emotional reactions to the text and look at the text with a critical eye. However, I think that sometimes class discussion leaned too much towards the former; I felt that occasionally our class went on tangents that, although fascinating, took up time that would have been better spent discussing the text. We were, in essence, a book club; a group of people interested in literature that vented to each other on whatever floats into the collective mind.

    What did I learn from the course? In terms of understanding the interconnectedness of the texts that we read, I learned everything that I needed to know in the first week of class in our discussion about Karamzin’s Poor Liza: that there are archetypes in Russian literature from which all subsequent authors derive inspiration and tailor to the story. How many innocent, pitiable “Lizas” do we see throughout the stories and novels that we read? How many times are the societal barriers exploited for the sake of drama? What I really enjoyed was that each work told the same story of an ailing Russia in a completely different style and way.

    I mentioned in my original post that I wanted to understand the Russian moral code as it is presented in the literature of the Golden Age. The last two novels that we read certainly illuminate the distorted morality of the characters: in particular Raskolnikov, Sonya, Anna, and Levin. However, I still wonder if I can derive an accepted moral code from these extraordinary stories. I suppose an answer to my question will only come with time spent in Russia.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the marriage of technology and literature in the final project. The ability to focus deeply on one work or subject gave was incredibly rewarding, and I found myself actually enjoying the work. For once, a final project for class (essay format or otherwise) didn’t seem like a burden. However, I do feel that the project and the class were not connected enough. Because I hadn’t read what the other students read for their projects, I couldn’t fully appreciate the work on an academic or literary level. Therefore, if I were to teach the course, I would have my students either do a creative project on one of the works we read or on one of the authors we read.

    I enjoyed doing the blog posts because, like Anna said, it forced me to read actively. I managed to read all of the assigned pages and understand them, but I feel like without a blog system in place I would have missed a lot of the key connections and elements of the text due to rushing. I also enjoyed reading the other posts because I often gained an entirely new perspective as a result. However, like Juan I feel that sometimes either the question was too broad or the posts too numerous; sometimes they were a burden. I wholeheartedly agree with the system of a limited number of free passes.

    All in all, I really did enjoy this course! I’m glad to have read some of the great works of Russian literature in such a supportive environment, and it was great timing; now I can pull out all of these great literary allusions while in Russia!

  15. Anna Mackey says:

    Leaving the bookstore at the beginning of the semester with 20 pounds of Russian literature in tow, I definitely knew I was in for a challenge. I signed up for this course because the reading list included texts I had always wanted to read, and I thought that reading them for a class would provide me with a much greater level of understanding than if I had just read them on my own. Now that the semester is over, I can say that this was definitely a correct assumption. I feel I now have a strong foundation in Russian literature that I can build off with independent reading. The strength of this foundation comes mostly from the knowledge I gained about what was happening beyond the text, especially regarding the Russian mindset and way of life. I never would have known about the differences between Moscow and St. Petersburg, the personality of Pushkin, or Russians’ inferiority complex about missing out on the Renaissance. I wouldn’t have known about the conflict between Dostoevsky and Chernyshevsky, about how masterfully Tolstoy deconstructs aspects of life so often glossed over, or – my personal favorite – the idea that Russians always view the world as happening to them. Overall, I have not only read some of the greatest and most influential works to date, but have gained cultural literacy as well.

    Although the workload made it difficult, I actually did manage to do every reading and blog post. The blog post topics forced me to read actively, but I agree with others that it could get monotonous and it would have been nice to have a couple free passes. The projects were definitely time consuming, but also enlightening, on both literary and technical levels. It was interesting dive deeply into a book with a couple peers, and see what you came up with. For next year, I would agree with Flora and say that it would be interesting to introduce some Chekov.

  16. Flora Weeks says:

    In taking this class, I learned much more about life in Russia than anything related to literature. That is not to say that I didn’t learn about literature. It’s just that I hadn’t even realized how little I knew about Russia in the 19th century; the differences between Moscow and St. Petersburg, the daily life in the urban and rural areas, and Russia’s relationship with France and other European intellectuals. Spending all semester reading books set in Russia in the 19th century opened my eyes to a culture and a lifestyle I had never spent much time thinking about. And, as we discussed in class many of these ideas and customs have carried on in Russia and continue to affect Russia. In addition to general knowledge on Russian life I learned much more about Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekov, authors I had always heard about, but never read. I now feel comfortable carrying on a conversation with nearly anybody about these authors and their differing perspectives. However, I can clearly still learn more, and this class has opened my eyes to many other books I will want to read in the future, including many works by Dostoyevsky and Chekov.

    My efforts on the reading assignments and blog posts in this class were fairly strong and consistent. I always did the reading and spent time posting on the blog before every class. However, with little prior knowledge of Russia and of literature, it always felt like my blog posts were less insightful than many others. As for the projects, our group tried hard to understand and present information on Russian women authors, but there is just so little information out there. I don’t think our project was as impressive as much of the others, but I truly believe that we tried. I understand why it seemed right to acknowledge at some point in this course that there were women in Russia during the 19th century, but given how few female authors there were in Russia at the time, and how little attention they received then or since, I don’t believe it is worth assigning a group to do an extensive research project on these women.

    In general, I think the structure of the class was good, and think there would be no problem in replicating it in the future. I very much appreciated not having to write any long papers for this class, and it was refreshing to have that change. However, the blog posts got pretty old by the end, and I think changing that up a few times in the semester would be appreciated. Perhaps, only posting once some weeks, even if they were then slightly longer posts. Also, I think it would be great to read some Chekov, and probably more important to read Chekov than to read some of the earlier authors (maybe consider dropping Lermontov, or Gogol’s short stories). Also, I really like the idea of each project group getting an entire class period to present, and in general finding more ways for the projects to be interactive and the other class members to have more involvement with each project, maybe the group presenting could assign a short reading for the rest of the class to do for that day, so that they came into the presentation with some knowledge and could have more of a discussion on the topic of the day.

  17. Juan Machado says:

    I learned quite a bit in this class. The amount of reading was enormous, but I enjoyed the texts and found our discussions productive. The blog assignments were a great opportunity to reflect on the reading and they incentivized me to do the reading on time. When I was not able to complete the reading (and realistically, that happened to everyone), posting on the blog became an exercise on making up something about the reading. Given that, I would allow students a certain number of ‘free passes’ per semester on the blog.

    How else would I change the course? Well, when researching blogs for the Oblomov project, I ran into a literary blog named Classics Circuits. Every so often, this blog compiles a list of books centered on a theme (they call these lists “tours”) and invites literary bloggers to pick a work and write a personal response about it. Previous themes include American writers of the “Lost Generation,” The Golden Age of Detective Literature and Imperial Russian Literature. I think that these tours are a neat idea and I think it might be worthwhile to incorporate a similar element to the course. At some point in the semester, students could choose an author they are particularly interested in and read one of their works, selected from a list. Someone interested in Chekhov, for example, could read one of his plays, and someone interested in Tolstoy could read The Death of Ivan Illych. Students would then post a reaction (maybe 600-800 words) on the blog. I think this “independent reading” assignment would give students an opportunity to delve deeper into an author of their interest.

    Here’s the link to the blog posts generated by the Imperial Russian Literature Tour: http://classics.rebeccareid.com/2010/07/white-nights-on-the-neva-imperial-russian-literature-tour-in-retrospect/

  18. Ben Kingstone says:

    This course seemed to me equally about learning and teaching. The format of the largely discussion-based class gave us each the occasion to learn from each other and, in the course of speaking and listening, teach us about ourselves.

    This course provided me the opportunity to achieve my original learning goals for the semester. I have gained a deeper understanding of the intertextaulity between works of 19th Century Russian literature. Also, my appreciation for the intensity and complexity of these works and their creators has also increased. So now I have both the background and the appetite to read more.

    Some unexpected knowledge about how to efficiently and effectively conduct research, use google docs, upload materials to a tumblr, add links to wikipedia, and engage with multi-media resources in a group has given me some practical skills for real-world problem solving using technology.

    If I were to teach this course next year, I would approach the reading and work with the same open attitude with an equal focus on peer-engagement. I liked that the course began with a more lecture-style program to give non-Russian speakers more background and we finished with more informal discussions. We learn the most from eachother, and this class reminded me of that. Given the reading demands of the course, I think my interaction with the texts and engagement with the material was appropriate and I don’t know if there is anything I would change. Perhaps a film screening or two would have provided another lens to examine these texts. I would recommend The Last Station.

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