I figure it's time for a little update on how my course is going.
We're 2 weeks into the "10 years in 10 weeks" part of the course, and while I'm going to wait a bit for the kinks to iron out of the database part of the course before I think about it, the class sessions themselves have been interesting.
To remind: what I'm asking the students to do is to read each week that year's Braddock and Kinneavy Award winners (the best essays annually from CCC and JAC respectively), and then each student has to locate 4 other essays from that year (ideally no overlap among students), annotate them on our course blog and tag them on a course delicious site.
I was a little unsure about how class meetings would go, given that we were approaching class with a minimum of shared material. For the past two weeks, we've gone around the class and reported out, with me reporting on the 2 Award winners. First week, the reporting went pretty quickly, since we'd planned on using the second half of class to do the delicious work as a class. This week, though, we had to rush at the end to fit everyone in, and that was with 2 folks missing from class. This week, people in class (myself included) started talking back to the reports, asking questions, noting patterns, etc., and to my mind, that's a good thing.
I think it would be easy to fall into a groove where we were asking too much of our essays--it seems obviously risky to attribute to 4-6 essays some sort of essential year-ness, but that's not what's happening so far. Instead, I think we're doing a good job so far of treating the things we notice as hypotheses to be tested rather than conclusions to jump to. And what's been interesting about the class sessions themselves is that I think we're all learning a bit about the range of topics that different people are taking up (cross-cultural rhetorics, WAC, WC, queer rhet/comp, technology, race, etc). I'm encouraging people to listen for connections across "areas" as well as patterns within their own foci, and I feel like that that's happening.
For my own purposes, it's been interesting to read the two Award winners across each other, finding themes and tags in common in essays that I wouldn't have paired in a million years otherwise. And I'm looking forward to seeing what happens once everyone begins readings essays that are citing some of the ones that we've already covered.
The "payoff" for the course will be a final exam, one that simulates one of the minor exams that our students do as part of their comprehensives. I've never given a final exam in a graduate course before, but it made a great deal of sense to me in the context of this course design. It'll give the students practice at exams, the opacity of which tends to be intimidating for some of them. But more importantly, it will hopefully have been good practice at assembling a focused list of works, reading that list steadily, and reading it with the kind of openness and alertness that we ask from our students at the exam stage.
If I can say so without jinxing, it seems to be working well. The interesting thing about it, though, is that, in addition to helping them learn to prepare and read through a topic area, this process will expose them to a range of different areas, encourage them to see some of the connections among the various areas in our field, and perhaps even encourage some of the meta questions that I find really fascinating: how do areas develop? why do certain areas develop in certain ways, and others in different ones? etc. There's some interesting politics and sociology of knowledge that I'm hoping we'll get at a little this semester.
So if I sound optimistic about the course, there's good reason. I think the folks in my course have really taken this idea up well so far, and I hope that continues.