"American Literature: The Essentials"
- English 189 (lower-level undergraduate course, no pre-requisites)
- Fall 2003
- Catalog description: A course designed primarily for the serious student not majoring in English who wants familiarity with literature widely recognized as among the most significant in our culture. The focus this semester will be on 19th century fiction and autobiography, so expect a modest selection of works by the likes of Alcott, Chopin, Crane, Davis, Douglass, Howells, Hawthorne, Jacobs, James, Melville, Poe, Stowe, Thoreau, and Twain.
- 29 students began; 23 finished (during the course I dropped 4 for poor participation); 15 men, 8 women; 13 from Arts, 4 from Sciences, 6 from Business, 0 from Engineering; 7 seniors, 3 juniors, 12 sophomores, 1 freshman; 1 English major, 1 English minor, the rest from a variety of disciplines, and most of the sophomores were undeclared.
- 7 works: Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899); Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852); Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895); Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851); Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850); Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861); Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).
- Used the discussion board and the survey tool in the Blackboard course management system, and met in a classroom equipped with an instructor computer work station and projection system.
- 14 weeks, 7 two-week units, 1 unit on each work.
- Class met three times per week (consciously chosen that way to build maximum community).
- Students were aware that developing "practical skills, especially the art of online discussion," was a major part of class goals and that I wanted them to help me think through the nature, function, and value of discussion boards.
- Each two-week unit was divided into one week on the text and one week -- which I called the "meta" week -- reflecting intensely on their work on the discussion board.
- 7 text weeks: some mini-lectures but mainly a teacher-centered discussion format, desks in a circle, sometimes with a rotating 5-6 students in an "inner circle."
- 7 "meta" weeks: substantial meta-analysis of student posts and discussion of student surveys (8 total) in order to raise consciousness about the art of discussion board writing.
- Because of the substantial amount of time reading and reflecting on them, the discussion board posts were, in a real sense, texts in the course.
- Discussion board assignments progressed incrementally over the course of the semester from single posts without replies to five-post interaction sequences, with a survey at each new step to capture student thinking about their work.
- Evaluation of student work was based solely on active class participation (what I call "presence") in both in-class discussion and on the discussion board; there were no quizzes, tests, or essays.
- In order to signal the centrality of discussion in the course, I consciously "decapitated" the usual sequence, doing away with essays, the usual rationale for and end-product of discussion in my past courses, making discussion work 100% of the final grade.
- In regard to evaluation see the following course documents: Attendance, Evaluation, and Qualities of a Good Poster.
- Final grades: 10 A's, 6 B's, 5 C's, 1 D, 1 F (I required 4 to withdraw during the semester for poor participation).