The rush of freedom

I want to begin describing what I’m trying to do with the advanced seminar I’m teaching right now, a class focused on the intensive study of Ulysses.

I’ll start with a simple contrast.

Here is the current version of a response assignment I have used for years, at all levels of the undergraduate curriculum. As you can see, the assignment is longer than the responses themselves; the assignment is long, detailed, procedural.

Here, by contrast, is the version of that assignment I have given to the Ulysses seminar: short, suggestive, non-directive. I wouldn’t attempt this one without a great deal of confidence in the ability and ambition of the students.

You can see the results to date on the class blog: Prairie Bloom.

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Teaching with blogs, episode 1

I gave my first blog assignment this week.

I’ve done email and discussion board assignments for many years, but this was a gen-you-ine blog assignment for my Tutorial.

I had wondered how well students would pick up the blog interface. (It’s a private group blog on WordPress.com.) Although few, if any, of them had blogged before, they all registered and posted with no trouble. The only minor problem involved tags: I asked all the students to attach the same tags to their posts, and only about half of them did. Of the others, one made up his own tags, and the others added nonw.

No problem. I fixed the issue for the first set of posts and planned to note it in class this morning. I present to you a study in contrast:

Plan! Have computer and projector ready to go, show students how to enter tags on WordPress, ask them to add the required tags to each of their posts.

Execution! Ignore the computer, paraphrase the introductory chapter of David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous (with substantial detail about the Staples prototype store), argue for tagging as a wonderfully flexible reinvention of hierarchical categories. As students pack up at the end of class, remember the computer and say, “So here’s where you enter the tags, OK?”

And that was fine. I think I liked the execution better than the plan, in fact, but I did realize after class that, for better or worse, I am becoming a different kind of teacher.