A GENERAL POINT:
Online learning loses some possibilities available to in-person classes, but it also presents opportunities. A guiding principle for me is that it makes no sense to simply try to duplicate in-person classes online. You’re likely to end up with the worst of both. I’ve tried to design course material, new assignments, and class meetings with the idea of enabling specifically online exchanges and creativity. Your work will be somewhat more self-paced and independent in this version of the course than it would be if we met in a classroom. At the same time, I hope we’ll have some rewarding small group discussions via the website and Zoom and look forward to the experiment.
For each class, I’ll post a series of slides and link them to the course schedule. I don’t think of the slides precisely as lectures. You’ll control the flow and speed as you go through them on. They’ll provide an outline, a context and framework, for thinking about the reading for the day more than an exhaustive account of the texts. I think brevity is important online. Expect about 10-15 slides. They might include text, images, video clips, etc. Since I haven’t completed all of these yet, I don’t know exactly what will be in them.
Students should post twice weekly to their small group pages, once on Tuesdays and once on Thursdays. On both days, the posts should be up by 1pm Eastern time. Links to these discussion pages are on the course schedule page for each day of reading. You’ll have only about 5 people in your group. I hope that encourages people to read all the posts made within the group and address one another. The idea is to have a continuous location where a reasonably-sized group of people have a semester-long exchange about the texts and the class. There will be two kinds of posts, and these are the most significant written work for the class:
Tuesday Posts. These are meant for discussion and response to the reading on the course schedule for that day. You won’t need to spend more than about 30 minutes writing the Tuesday posts after you’ve done the reading. Here are some guidelines:
- Limit yourself to one or two well-constructed paragraphs. By keeping the writing short, I’m hoping it will be well organized and direct.
- The writing need not be as formal as an essay, but it should be clear and careful, so that others know how to respond. Get to your point (and raise questions) directly.
- Refer to a specific moment in the text for the day to help others understand your thinking and to focus your own.
- Read earlier posts from those in your group and make an effort to comment on and engage them. This should be a dialogue, not a running series of completely scattered observations.
- At first, I’ll offer prompts to start discussion, but eventually I’d like to turn that over to students. As the semester goes on, I may also ask individual students on a rotating basis, to offer closing thoughts on each thread.
- If you come online to make a post, and I haven’t offered a prompt yet, feel free to launch comments for the day.
- I’ll be a participant, not just a bystander, and will try to post in at least some of the groups each week, especially if someone else starts the thread.
- If you’re interested in posting a second time in any or all discussions, I encourage that, but it’s not an obligation. Sometimes there’s something to add after you have read the thoughts of others.
Thursday Posts/Projects: The Thursday posts/projects will sometimes be different. They might ask you to make a recording, to annotate or comment on an image, to write a paragraph or page of fiction. On occasion, you’ll need to work with or in response to another student in your group. Basically, I’m trying to give you something interesting to do for 60-90 minutes that will make you think about the reading and the broader themes of the course. There might be weeks when these are more conventional responses like those on Tuesdays, but in general, they’ll frequently reach for something a little more offbeat.
Grading of Posts/Projects: If you do all of these responses carefully, you’ll get full credit for them. I want this work to be thought-provoking, an opportunity to engage material, not a site of pressure and anxiety or subject to a rigid scale of evaluation. I’ll expect care and consideration–full sentences, well-crafted paragraphs, a sense of purpose in your thinking. If I think your posts are sloppy or lazy, I’ll definitely let you know privately. I won’t, however, typically remind or chase after people simply to do the work, since the expectations and deadlines are clearly stated. Not doing the work, of course, means you’ll get no credit for it. In short, you’ll get absolutely full credit for every well-presented post. Just be attentive to the work you do. I want each of you and the course to succeed.
(40% of final grade)
FINAL PROJECT: See the Final Project tab on the website. (30% of final grade)
We’ll have weekly Zoom meetings on Thursdays that last about 30 minutes. In general, I think it’s better to have Zoom meetings that are a bit too short than too long. I want this to be an opportunity, not the equivalent of dreaded, drawn-out bureaucratic meeting.
- I’ll meet with posting groups 1 and 2 from 11:10-11:40 and groups 3 and 4 from 11:50-12:20.
- I won’t lecture here. I see this as an opportunity for small groups to discuss the course material, the projects they’re working on, etc. We can keep ourselves focused and be very constructive in a 30 minute window. I’ve done it with other classes.
- Cameras should be on if at all possible, so that we have some sense of your presence and community. Try to get there on time, though I know the internet can be unpredictable. We can definitely make these conversations worthwhile, even vigorous, amusing, and concentrated, if we keep our attention on it. These are great books, stories, and movies that are worth talking about. (30% of final grade)
On Tuesdays, I’ll be available to talk with individuals or small groups but there will be no required meeting. These are entirely elective meetings originated by individuals or small groups of students. I won’t send invitations to the class, but will happily set up appointments for a discussion during these office hours in any given week. My expectation is that students would come to any meeting of this kind with something in particular they wanted to talk about.
ADA Office: Students with documented disabilities who may benefit from accommodations should let me know. The College’s Student Accessibility Office offers helpful services.
Failure to complete any required assignments for the class will lead to failure in the class. You should also be fully aware of Middlebury’s honor code and abide by it on all work for this class.