The quandary of the baby and the bathwater: Incorporating new technology and ideas into the traditional literature classroom

To start this proposal off with a grotesquely bland statement, it often seems easier to incorporate new technologies into some classrooms than into others.  In the English department, for example, composition classes (the bulk of which are first-year writing courses required for all incoming students) have been the swiftest to integrate everything from social media, blogs, and message boards to technological collaboration aids and even new digital humanities resources (including open access textbook alternatives, freeware citation managers, and other online tools).  Both the pedagogical turn toward more collaborative classrooms and the real world applicability of the skills learned in these courses has made these resources a natural fit in these situations.

The situation in the literature classroom can be a bit more difficult.  Structural concerns (large lecture classes with 150 students) or content concerns (a syllabus crammed with works from a distant time and place) often require a healthy dose of lecture and discussion or even just lecture to help students grasp historical, cultural, linguistic, and literary elements and conventions.  In classes of this type, students often need to be guided together through understanding the context of the work and the work itself in a way that does not lend itself (at least much of the time) to these collaborative classrooms, either of the individualized (every student working on his or her own interest) or collaborative (students working in groups to puzzle things out) variety.

This may seem exclusively a pedagogical question rather than a technological one, but there are certainly technological implications; to put it succinctly, the same thing that works for the composition classes does not always work as well in the nearby literature ones.  Lit teachers might wish to shift to open access textbooks, but editorial questions and concerns about textual variance (particularly with contested texts like Shakespeare) might keep them anchored to traditional editions.  Informal writing such as blog posts, message boards, and so forth must often be passed through plagiarism software due to the higher prevalence of misconduct in these classes at a sacrifice of either the original intended informality or a lot of professorial time.  Some resources, most notably digitized archives (like Early English Books Online) and other online information repositories (The OED for example) easily fit within such classrooms, but how else can we embrace new tools in these courses?  How can we best retain what works well in the literature classroom while still taking advantage of advances in technology?

Categories: Session: Talk |

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