Saturday, May 31, 2014

Course Redesign Update, May 31: Classical-Biblical Selections Done!

Since I wrote up some comments and posted them already today at Google+, I decided to be lazy and just embed the post here! And here's a link to the post, in case the embed does not work for some reason; I haven't experimented with G+ embedding very much, but it seems to work just fine everywhere I have tried it! :-)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 30: Fairy Tales, Jewish and Roman

I worked on two units today, proofreading and adding images. They are both such great units; I really hope I can get the students excited about them too! I'm finding it so hard to stop myself from adding detailed notes to all the stories, but my goal for this summer is really just to get the content online and ready to read... but man, I am going to have so much fun when I get around to adding notes to all the stories. Right now, I am just adding essential notes, like a few notes in the Apuleius unit to help readers see how the Cupid and Psyche story fits into the larger framework of Apuleius's novel.

Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends. I've got a couple of units about extra-Biblical apocrypha (a whole unit on Noah and related legends, and I will also have a unit on Adam and Eve), and this unit takes that one step farther, with stories that are not really even meant to be ancillary to the Bible, just great stories that stand on their own, some of which do indeed feature Bible characters, like the fabulous story about Noah, Og, and the Unicorn which you can see in the illustration below. I know I have quite a few students who are just not going to be interested at all in reading anything Bible-related, which is fine... but perhaps I can entice them to choose this unit as a way to see how the Bible, in addition to being a religious text, has also been a brilliant inspiration for all kinds of storytelling over the centuries.

Cupid and Psyche. This amazing love story / fairy tale is contained inside an ancient Roman novel by the genius writer Apuleius. I am really excited to include this unit in my class, both for the students who are fascinated by fairy tale heroines and for those students who are C.S. Lewis fans (his novel Till We Have Faces is inspired by this ancient story).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 29, Saints and Animals

I had a lot of fun putting together a new unit today (uploaded stories, did navigation, proofread, added images): it's about saints and their animals, based on a lovely book by Abbie Farwell Brown, The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts, published in 1900. The book contains some famous saints, such as Francis of Assisi of course, but there are also some less famous saints from Ireland and Wales (like Saint Ailbe = Saint Elvis!) which will make a fine prelude to the Celtic week coming up later in the semester. Most of the stories in the book were really too long for my purposes, but I was able to find enough stories on the short side, along with a few lovely stories in ballad form, to end up with a complete unit just from this book.

I also found some delightful illustrations; I especially liked learning about Saint Kentigern who is the patron saint of Glasgow. As a young boy, he miraculously brought a robin back to life, and you will see that robin in the Glasgow coat of arms: wonderful!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 28, Alice

Today was a day of Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland AND Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

Both of these books lend themselves to being cut down to around 15,000 words, and the Wonderland unit has been a popular one in Myth-Folklore all along. I had included Looking-Glass in my World Literature class, and it's something I have missed since I had to stop teaching that class (it was a lower-division class, and there was just too much demand for the upper-division classes I teach that I couldn't justify teaching the lower-division class anymore). So, now I will have both Alices back in action!

Which means... The Walrus and the Carpenter. Whoo-hoo!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 27, Odyssey

Today I worked on getting the Odyssey unit ready for use. This meant: some basic proofreading (although the materials from Tony Kline's website are already in good shape), adding the navigation links, and adding the images. I also added a few notes; this is a unit that will benefit from some good notes later on, but I have to get used to the idea that during this first run of adding content, there is not time to add all the notes. Anything related to the Odyssey, though, is very easy to look up at Wikipedia, so I am not too worried, and Odysseus's own account of his adventures works very well as a free-standing set of episodes for the students to read. I had originally picked this part of the Odyssey because of the great parallels to the Voyages of Sindbad from Arabian Nights, so that is a unit I should work on soon while Homer is still fresh in mind.

The Odyssey is one of the units that already existed in my class, but I have made one big change: instead of Samuel Butler's prose translation from 1898, I am using Tony Kline's translation from 2004, generously shared online at his website, Poetry in Translation. Butler's translation was not a real problem for students, but the more contemporary style of Kline will be much appreciated I am sure. Tony Kline's website is an incredible resource for which I am very grateful indeed; I am using his translations for Ovid's Metamorphoses and for the Cupid and Psyche episode from Apuleius. If I decide to do a Dante unit (still not sure about that...), I will use Kline again for that too!

I'm surprised that there are not more illustrated editions of the Odyssey available online, but I have made good use of the Flaxman illustrations, like this fabulous depiction of the sea-monster Scylla; to get a sense of the scale, look at the companions of Odysseus whom she has snatched up, one by one. Wow!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 26, more Aesop and more Jesus stories

What a fun day! I worked on the two units I started yesterday: Aesop's Fables (the Winter book, with audio) and Infancy Gospels. Yesterday, I put up the raw posts and then today I worked on them so that they really are ready for the students to use in Fall. Not finished — but good enough! My basic minimum for a unit ready-to-go is: proofread all the posts, put in the navigation links, put in the audio links (if available), add images to all posts (hopefully), and add notes to pages that absolutely need notes now and cannot wait, and then add a few words to the unit page, a kind of mini-introduction until I get around to writing a full-blown introduction for every unit.

Adding the images to the Infancy Gospel pages was such a pleasure! I couldn't find actual illustrations for all the episodes, but there was still plenty of wonderful artwork to use. Here are some good ones:

This beautiful painting by Perugino of the marriage of Mary and Joseph works nicely for the story about how Joseph was chosen to be Mary's husband (a story not in the Bible, but in the Gospel of James):

This 14th-century nativity scene shows the midwife who will wash the baby Jesus; the midwife does not appear in the Bible, but she is an important part of the extra-Biblical nativity narratives!

Joseph's profession as a carpenter was obviously an inspiration for visual artists, and it also figures prominently in the extra-Biblical legends:

Here are two versions of the "toppled idol" story, one western and one eastern:

Course Redesign Update: May 25, Aesop and Infancy Gospels

After my happy romp through LibriVox yesterday, I decided to revise - and expand! - my content plan in order to incorporate more readings with available audio. I'm not sure I will get all 100 units up and running by August 1, but the spreadsheet assures me that it should be possible! You can see the current Content Plan; each week now has 8 options instead of 6.

Today, I got two new units started:

Aesop's Fables. I found an Aesop collection I really like at LibriVox (unknown author - but illustrations by Milo Winter), so I added another Aesop to the Week 2 selection; I went through this Aesop and removed all of the fables that already appear in the other Aesop unit, and it worked out perfectly in terms of length!

Infancy Gospels. This unit starts off with the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus and his youth as told in the Gospel of Luke, and then I include parts of the Protevangelion of James (beginning when Mary is twelve), plus one of the Infancy Gospels. I really liked being able to include both the Biblical and extra-Biblical materials together, just as I did for the Noah unit, and I'm planning on doing the same thing for the Adam and Eve unit also. I was prompted to choose the Infancy Gospels because of the great art tradition surrounding the "toppled idol" - a story that most people do not know these days, but which was well known in the Middle Ages.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 24... first audio links added!!!

One of the best things that has happened to public domain materials online is the LibriVox project to make audio recordings of those public domain materials available. In a great example of Internet cooperation, LibriVox and Internet Archive are working together to offer literally hundreds of public domain books in a public domain audio format! I am really excited to offer the audio format for my classes, and in every week except for one, students will have audio materials freely available.

I am also really pleased at how easy it is to include an audio link in my readings. Now that browsers can play an mp3 file without any special plug-ins or extra technology (remember how complicated that used to be 10 years ago?), I can just include a link to the LibriVox mp3 file (hosted at Internet Archive) which will then open in a new tab and start playing, which I hope will prompt my students to listen and look at the text at the same time. I personally find that to be a very satisfying way of reading... and it really will get the students to (I hope) slow down as they read and really notice details.

Just to get a sense of how that works, here is a unit where I have added LibriVox audio links to the story files: English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs.

So, for example, here is a story page: Binnorie.

If you listen and read at the same time, you will notice that the audio is done from a different edition of Jacobs's book, so every once in a while there is a change in the wording, thus allowing us to see that Jacobs tinkered a bit with the wording of each story as the book went through its multiple editions!

Anyway, I am really pleased about this and also very curious to see how many of my students like to use the audio for some or even all of the readings in a given week. At 15,000 words each week for the total reading, that is about 100 minutes of audio, as you can see from the stories in this unit. I have no desire of any kind to lecture to my students, but if I could get them to listen to 100 minutes of spoken audio every week, I would be very happy indeed!

Tom Tit Tot: 11 min.
The Rose-Tree: 7 min.
The Old Woman and Her Pig: 5 min.
Binnorie: 6 min.
Mouse and Mouser: 3 min.
Cap O' Rushes: 9 min.
The Story of the Three Little Pigs: 6 min.
The Master and His Pupil: 5 min.
Henny-Penny: 5 min.
Molly Whuppie: 9 min.
Mr Fox: 7 min.
Johnny-Cake: 6 min.
Mr Miacca: 4 min.
The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh: 8 min.
The Ass, The Table and the Stick: 7 min.
Fairy Ointment: 5 min.

To see the whole book, here is an embedded playlist available from Internet Archive. So cool!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 23

Back from out-of-town, and glad to be back in action! I added two more of the Bible units - Gospel of Mark and Noah - which means there is just one more Bible unit to add (the Infancy Gospels).

Noah and the Ark. This is a unit that contains both a Biblical account and also legends about Noah from extra-Biblical sources as collected by Louis Ginzberg in his AMAZING book, Legends of the Jews. I would gladly teach a whole course just on that one book. Luckily, the Noah chapter was just about the right size; I was going to include the Abraham chapter, but it was just too long. With Noah, I was able to include the Biblical account AND the legends together, and still come in at around 15,000 words.

Gospel of Mark. I was so pleased that I could include the whole Gospel of Mark and still come in right at the word limit. Even better: Mark is my favorite of the Gospels! I'll be relying on the wonderful commentary from the folks at the Jesus Seminar to write up the notes for this one. I'm guessing some students will pair up in the first two-week unit, choosing to read Mark along with the Infancy Gospels. I'm really going to enjoy writing up the suggested "pairings" based on what I can guess students might be interested in.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 17

This will be my last post until end of next week; I'm out of town Sunday-Thursday and pretty much offline during that time as well. But I'll jump back into action on Friday, and I am so glad for the giant spreadsheet that rules my life this summer. I know I am right on schedule now as I take a break, and I should be able to pick up right where I left off when I get back.

Today I got two units up and running:

The Life of Buddha. I was really pleased with this Life of Buddha at Sacred Texts; I only included the first part, and even so I am a tiny bit on the long side, so I might remove an episode or trim it down somehow when I do the proofreading stage next time. Anyway, I am so pleased to have this: it goes perfectly with the two Jataka units of course, and it is also additional India material that can provide a reading option for the students in my India class!

Robin Hood Ballads. This is a unit that is a repeat from my existing Myth-Folklore course but much improved because now, unlike 2002, I have access to a COMPLETE Child's Ballads (I like the edition at Sacred Texts best; easy to use and search), so I have a more complete set of ballads, and I've tried to focus on ones that do not have really archaic language. So, no Guy of Gisborne this time, although I might add a prose Robin at some point where I could famous episodes like that which don't appear in the ballads which I have from Child. I really like having THREE heroes of the British Isles now: Beowulf, Arthur, and Robin!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 16, course evals, India and heroes

Four items to report today!

Course Evaluations. Wow, I was so happy with my course evaluations this semester (we just got them in the email today). I worked hard on improving the classes, optimizing communication (better announcements, better reminders) and also on better development of the revision process for the Storybook projects. The comments were super-positive overall, and they also really confirmed the ideas that are driving this course redesign: in particular, more reading choices in Myth-Folklore (some students are understandably frustrated with the non-standard English - they really want/need more standard English prose) and some better ways to manage the workload. I really don't think the course is more work than a college course should be, but that's a battle I have probably lost forever as overwhelmed faculty (for whom research is a priority... I love - LOVE - having a 100% teaching job, but that is a rarity at my school) are tempted to make that devil's bargain of "less work for you, less work for me." Anyway, more choices and more flexible assignments will help make the workload more manageable if not exactly less.

Indian Epics: Big Breakthrough! I also have had a big breakthrough about the Indian Epics class. I won't go into all the details here but basically it is now possible for me to take advantage of the India materials in Myth-Folklore to provide more reading flexibility in Indian Epics, so that there will be three required books now instead of four. That fourth book (Buck's Mahabharata) will now be optional, and students will be able to instead choose to do some India units from Myth-Folklore instead. This will be great for the following types of students:
* students who prefer the Ramayana and really don't want to read a second version of Mahabharata (most students do prefer the Ramayana, although I prefer the Mahabharata, as do some of the students, but always a minority I suspect)
* students who don't like Buck as much as they do Narayan (they will have read Buck's Ramayana by the time they have to choose, so they will know if they like Buck or not - I think Buck is MARVELOUS but, again, not everyone likes the same things!)
* students who don't need four more weeks of reading to finish the class (MANY students do not finish Buck's Mahabharata because they are done with the class two or three weeks early)
* students who want to explore some other Indian storytelling traditions, especially students who are interested in Buddhism (three of the India units at Myth-Folklore will be Buddhist units, and this might give me an excuse to add more)
Here's how I have explained that to students for now:
Indian Epics Books

Okay, now on to more traditional reporting: I added two new units! These are two heroes of the British Isles: Beowulf and King Arthur. Next up will be Robin Hood!

Beowulf. I was inspired to use Riggs's version based on a student's project last semester. He used Riggs and really liked it, and his excitement about that was infectious. I am really glad to have a Beowulf unit in class now, and I think Riggs is a great choice. It fits the standard-English criterion that has turned out to be important for some, even many, of the students. (I was not as sensitive to that when I first designed the class years ago... I love different styles of English, dialect, etc., but for some students it's just impossibly hard going).

King Arthur. So too with King Arthur: my old unit was based on a modernized Malory. Even in a modernized form, the Malory style was offputting for a lot of students. So this time, I am going to try Andrew Lang. I think this will work much better, and I want students to have a really good Arthur experience; it is such a great and important topic. I chose to focus on the Grail Legend rather than the whole Lancelot/Guinevere/Arthur triangle. Most of my students know that story... but the Grail is something they often have heard about but never read about in any detail, and Lang has a good series of Grail adventures, nicely broken into segments but meant to be read together.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 15, navigation solutions

So, I've finally decided what to do about navigation at my new Myth-Folklore reading site. The rigidity of the navigation in my old course website was a huge problem. Over the long-run with my new site, I want to be able to easily add new content units AND I want to build meta-units so that a story might actually be part of more than one unit. Those meta-units won't be coming along until a year from now, but I want to be ready for them.

Most importantly of all, for many of the units, I want to get the students to choose their OWN reading paths, rather than following what is simply the arbitrary order in which the author of a story collection arranged the stories. In a few cases, the stories in a unit need to be read in order (like for Apuleius's Cupid and Psyche), but in many cases, the stories could be best read in an order that the student chooses, following through on themes of interest to them. At the same time, for my students who are in a hurry and looking for direction from me, I need to provide a simple and easy way to move through the stories without confusion.

So, I had been holding off on figuring out my strategy until I could see something that would work for now AND be easy to adapt as the site evolves. Right now, I've got an index page for each unit:
Persian Tales

I'm relying on the convenient time/date display that pulls up the posts in the order shown in the index via a label. For example:
Persian Tales (page 1 of 2)
(some units all fit on one page; some units spill over on to a second page, as this one does)

There's a link on each story page to the index page for the unit, but until now I did not have story-to-story links, except for the units where I had added Explore links. For example, here's a story page with Explore links (they appear near the top of the page, right after my introductory notes, and that's where they best fit since they are authored by me, as are the notes):
Persian Tales: The Apparition of the Prophet Khizr

So, what I have decided to do is this: I will add a simple link that says "Next" at the bottom of each story that leads to the next story. Here is an example in a unit where students really will only be reading the stories in order: Jephthah's Daughter in the Bible Women unit. Screenshot:

Then, for the units that also have Explore links, I am just going to add a reminder with the next link that students CAN if they want create their own path. Here's how that looks: The Sad Tale of the Mouse's Tail. Screenshot:

It's super quick and easy to add these links because I have a spreadsheet that spits out the story titles as links; I just have to paste them into the post. Sure, life would be great with a database program doing all of this for me... and maybe five years from now, when I have perfected this site design, I will come up with a database-driven solution!

Meanwhile, this works for me in terms of solving all my immediate needs as well as accommodating future needs. When I create the meta-units, I will just have to modify the existing post by adding something to it, which will be both easy and fun. I like the way that, for the students, seeing how the stories are included in meta-units will help them think about which meta-units they might enjoy most! Tricksters: yes! Love stories: yes! Cumulative stories: yes! Magic! Wolves! and on and on. :-)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 14, my beloved Arabian Nights

I just did a half-day today since (knock on wood) I am staying very nicely on schedule so far. And I spent that half-day doing something that was a total pleasure for me: adding reading notes to the Arabian Nights unit. It is one of the best and most influential examples of framed/nested stories in world literature, and I would gladly teach a whole course just on the Nights.

It was hard to come up with a way to present the grandeur of this book in just one reading unit, but I am happy with the results: I chose two different nested stories, and one familiar long story - Aladdin and his lamp (hoping against hope that I might dispel some Disney from people's minds, ha ha). The two nested stories - the merchant is the first, and then the fisherman - exemplify some of the great features of nesting. The merchant's story features a chained accumulation where random people wander into the story and tell stories of their own. The fisherman's story is even better because it has story-within-story that goes pretty deep, along with a good example of story-and-counterstory. Man, I love that book! I spent some time of my life really obsessed with frametales and my own World Literature class (which I no longer teach, alas; there was just not the same need for a lower-division Gen. Ed. class) was built around frametales. It is such a pleasure to be able to have a frametale component in my new version of the Myth-Folklore reading site!

as told by the immortal Scheherazade:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 13 - a classical day

Today I created two more of the units that will go in the Week 2-3 section that includes Classical topics. Many students expect this course to be all about ancient Greece, and there are students who are very interested in classical mythology, so I am really excited about the new units I will be able to offer.

Here are the two units I added today:

Apuleius's Cupid and Psyche. The story of Cupid and Psyche is one of the great folktales of all time, and the way it is recorded inside the frame of Apuleius's novel The Golden Ass is really marvelous. I included a bit from the novel both before and after the tale of Cupid and Psyche in order to show students how that works. I'm using Tony Kline's translation here, although there are some fun older translations online too. I really enjoy reading old-fashioned English myself but not so many of my students do, so I am very grateful for Kline's translations which allow me to use primary sources but in a contemporary English idiom.

Homer's Odyssey. This is a unit I already have in the class, again from Tony Kline's translation, and it is one that has been very popular with the students, so I am glad to repeat it again here. I focus on another frametale set-up: these are the stories that Odysseus himself tells, in first-person, when he finds himself shipwrecked on the island of Phaeacia. My students are very interested in first-person narration, so I am really delighted how this offers an example of first-person storytelling in an ancient source. Of course, Apuleius also offers an example of this because the frametale about Lucius the donkey is in first-person!

Still lots of work to do here, of course - proofreading, adding pictures, and perhaps adding notes if the pages really cannot stand on their own (but the two annotated units I have target for Fall are Aesop's Fables and one of the Ovid units, not these two).

So, in terms of the Classical units overall, there are these two, plus there is an Aesop's Fables unit, plus three units drawn from Ovid's Metamorphoses, making a total of six, which is all I have room for in this first content development drive. There are so many other Greek or Roman sources I could included, though, so I will surely add more in the years to come. That is one of the best things about my new system: I can keep adding more and more content easily!

One unit I am not renewing is the Roman unit based on Vergil's Aeneid. Even in a contemporary translation, Vergil's style of storytelling just did not click with my students, and I know they were often frustrated with that unit if they chose it, much more so than with the other Roman option (Ovid) in my current course design. Hence my decision to expand on Ovid (I could do even more Ovid, truth be told... I love Ovid) and to remove Vergil. Of course, I should have trusted myself to do that from the start. I absolutely love Ovid, but there is no love lost between me and Vergil, and at least to some degree my own personal enthusiasm for a text does influence my students' reaction. Vergil is more like a duty for me, but Ovid is a pure pleasure! I am really excited about having more Ovid to offer and letting students choose the Ovid unit based on whatever myths in that unit might grab their attention.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 12, the day of Jatakas

On Mondays, I will do a quick count for some of the items I am tracking in the spreadsheet to make sure I am on target to finish this project by August!

Units blogged: 35 (goal: 72)
Stories posted: 641 (goal: 1500)
Stories proofread: 327 (goal: 1500)
Stories with pictures: 429 (goal: 1500)
Stories with notes: 171 (goal: 600)

The idea is that I will have 72 different units (spread over 12 weeks) for the students to read if they want. All the stories in all those units will be proofread and with an illustration. Some of the stories will have notes, but most will not.

In addition, there will be 24 units (2 such units per week for the 12 weeks) where the stories will all have notes, along with introductory materials, assignment prompts, etc. Then, over the coming year, I will build up the remaining units so that they have notes and additional materials as well.

You can see the different units and the weekly organization here: Content Development Plan.

Meanwhile, today was the day of Buddhist Jatakas! I worked on the two different Jataka units: the one with Jatakas from Babbitt's two books of Jatakas for children, and the other from Shedlock's book of Jatakas that has a more explicitly Buddhist orientation. I had such a good time working on them together. I was so glad that the Shedlock book has the Kisagotami story; it is a beautiful story I am so glad to include in the class: The Wise Physician.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 11 - Persian Fairy Tales, Jatakas, and Salome!

Today was really fun: the Persian fairy tales that I worked on are from the best new book I have found as a result of this project — the Lorimers' beautiful Persian Tales! So, here's a rundown:

Persian Fairy Tales. I added all the notes to the Persian fairy tales and also the "Explore" connections so that students can build their own paths through the stories if they want. This will be esp. useful if students decide they are only going to do half of the reading in a given week. If they are only reading half, then by all means they should explore the themes they are most interested in. There are all different kinds of stories in this particular unit, including two werewolf stories (she-werewolves!) that will get some students' attention I am sure!  One of my favorite stories is still funny one about a fool and his luck: The Man Who Went to Wake His Luck.

Jataka Tales (Shedlock). Like Aesop's fables, I consider the Jataka tales to be so important that there are two Jataka units, one from the books by Babbitt, and this new one from a book by Marie Shedlock that is more explicitly Buddhist in its presentation, identifying the Buddha's incarnation in the stories. For students who are interested in Buddhism or religious tales in general, they will be able to choose to read both of these jataka units if they want during Weeks 4-5, which are the two weeks dedicated to the Middle East and India.

Europa's Fairy Book (Jacobs). This is another unit based on a book by Jacobs (I have already units based on his two volumes of English fairy tales, two volumes of Celtic fairy tales, and one volume of Indian fairy tales), and I thought this would be a good unit to include during the "European" part of the class in Weeks 13-14. The book contains Jacobs's retellings of some very common European stories. There are illustrations by Jacobs's regular illustrator, John Batten, and he does beautiful work, so adding the illustrations will be a pleasure! I might add the images later tonight.

Bible Women. I finished up all the notes to the Bible women unit, so there just remain the Introduction and assignment materials to wrap that one up completely! I was so glad to add the Martha page knowing that the Legend of Saint Martha is available in the Golden Legend week. Like with the Jataka tales being available for two weeks, I really like the idea that students who have an interest in women in Christianity can choose to read the Bible Women AND the Women Saints of the Golden Legend units for the Classical/Biblical unit that comes in Weeks 2-3. Again, I'm not sure how many students will choose to focus like that compared to students who will want to choose two entirely different units for that two week period. This is all going to be a new learning experience for me, and I'm looking forward to helping students see what the different options can be! In terms of a "learn something new every day" moment, I did not realize the name Salome does not appear in the Gospels; instead, it comes from Josephus (and others). I learned that when writing up the note for the page about Herodias!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 10 - Russia and Rabbits

It is so stimulating to be able to go from one set of stories to another like this. Every day has a different feel to it because of the different combination of things I am working on.

Russian Folktales. The Russian fairy tale tradition is justifiably famous, but this collection by Ralston emphasizes actual Russian folktales, including tales of vampires, the undead, ghosts, witches, etc. I also want to add a unit on Russian fairy tales with princes and princesses, etc., but I am really excited to have a unit with vampires and the undead for students who like that kind of thing.

Brer Rabbit.  My main task today has been working on the Brer Rabbit stories. My love for these stories is boundless and, just like Julius Lester in his wonderful modern edition of the stories, I have no problems with deleting the Uncle-Remus-and-little-boy framework in order to focus in on the authentic folktales that Joel Chandler Harris collected. He actually collected HUNDREDS of stories, making it one of the most remarkable achievements of American folklore studies. I was really pleased to find a good scan at Hathi Trust with the old A. B. Frost illustrations, so all the stories have two illustrations, and some even have more than two. Given the difficulties of the dialect, it's good to have the pictures both to slow people down as they read and also to help them in visualizing the events. This illustration is from The Story of the Little Rabbits:

I'm also so excited that this unit will now be part of an African unit that also includes Jamaican stories, along with stories from Nigeria, the Congo, etc. The connections between West African storytelling and American folklore are so important, and I hope that students will take the change to learn about that in class! They will have some hard choices during that two-week period, though. So many good things to read... but if that's a message the students take away from the class, then it's a good message to take away: there are so many great stories out there that we don't even have time to begin to read them all! :-)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Thoughts on Summer and Work

Although it's not about digital tools per se, I wanted to post something here on doing what you love and uncompensated work. Today is Friday, and while Friday does not have the same meaning for me during summer as it does during the year, it is still Friday, the end of my first summer "work week," and I was thinking this morning about just what that means.

This summer is the first summer in a LONG time that I have done a lot of school work. I always do some school work, sure, especially in August before classes start, but my main project every summer for the past eight years has been something of my own, either a book (I've published five different Latin books in those years) or else some web content development project (like the great summer of proverbs last summer).

This summer, though, I am doing a big course redesign (as readers of this blog and my buddies at G+ already know), and that is uncompensated work at my school. I am on a nine-month contract at my school; I am not paid for the summer months, and I am very lucky indeed that my meager salary does not need a summer supplement (I never - never - teach summer school). Unlike tenure-track faculty, who make twice as much as I do and who are also, technically speaking, on nine-month contracts, I feel no financial obligation to my school over the summer. They don't pay me enough during the year to create any sense of obligation; I could watch Star Trek and sunbathe all summer long without a twinge of institutional guilt.

Moreover, the work I do is not compensated in intangible ways by my school. I get no recognition for my work, except from my students (more on that in the next paragraph). In part because I am such a cranky person and in part because what I do is such a total mismatch with the culture of my school, pretty much everybody at my school would prefer that I make as little noise as possible. Now that I live out of state, the noise that I make is only digital noise, and I suspect everyone back in Norman, Oklahoma is very relieved.

But about the students... my students are very much part of my motivation in the work I am doing this summer! I work very hard for my students during the nine months of the year, and I am able to do some course development work during that time, but not much. And this summer, I realized that for my students to have a great experience next year, I would need to work on my courses this summer. As I've explained elsewhere, the end of the mini-Ning meant that, like it or not, I would have to make some big changes to my class, switching from Ning as our group blogging space to an alternative. Once I started to think about that, all kinds of things started to fall into place and I realized that the time had come to redo my very old (circa 2002) course website. Admittedly, I don't have to redo the website; it's not going to literally disappear as the mini-Ning will... but once I realized HOW to redesign the website using blogging tools, I also realized how much better the class will be as a result. I am so excited every day as I work on the new site and realize all the ways in which next year's students (and the year after and the year after) will have a better learning experience as a result of the work I am doing now.

So, like many teachers, I am very motivated by wanting to do right by my students. As others have noted, this can be a trap for many teachers, a trap we fall into and from which we are not able to escape — the trap of working more than forty hours per week as John Spencer recently wrote about in his blog, or the trap of precarious adjunct teaching for the people who cannot find a decent academic position but who cannot bear the thought of leaving the teaching profession. On that topic, see Miya Tokumitsu's Jacobin article, In the Name of Love.

So, I try very hard to be clear about what I owe to my university (not much, given what they pay me), keeping that separate from what I feel I owe to my students (who pay a lot of money to the university, even if little of it reaches me), and also from even loftier ideals that, I will confess, are what really motivate the work I do online, even more than commitment to my students. Over the past week, as I have been using materials from Project Gutenberg, Sacred Texts Archive, Sur La Lune, Internet Archive, Wikipedia, etc. etc. etc., I see constantly that the Internet I care about, the learning space which I value above all other learning spaces (even above my beloved UCBerkeley), is a space created in large part by volunteers. By uncompensated labor. By the generosity of strangers. All the people who proofread at Gutenberg. All the people who edit at Wikipedia. The amazing individuals like the late great John Hare of Sacred Texts website or Heidi Heiner of Sur La Lune. With very few exceptions (Dan Ashliman from University of Pittsburgh, for example), most of the individuals whose work I benefit from online are NOT academics. I find that shameful; public universities, in particular, should be leading the way in sustaining and expanding the open educational Internet. IMHO.

Which brings me back around to not being compensated by my university for the work I do creating online resources. I don't take it personally; my university does precious little to support the open educational Internet, and their failure to compensate me is just one more missing drop in that very empty bucket. It's not about me at all; it's about my university's failure to understand the value of the open Internet as an educational space. Still, I am lucky that I have a job which gives me the opportunity to develop my classes on the open Internet and, if I choose, to have an entire glorious summer in which to do that. I cannot change my university (and I've mostly given up even trying)... but I can change my classes and improve the way I teach. I can also watch Star Trek and sunbathe if I want... my choice! So, this summer I choose web content-ment. Next summer might just be the summer of Star Trek and sunbathing, ha ha.

And in the spirit of summer and work, here is one of my favorite proverbs: Happy Summer, everybody!

Make hay while the sun shines.

Course Redesign Update: May 9 - audio and images

This "diary" strategy is working nicely for me. I can post anytime during a given day, catching up on what I did since the last post. So, here's what I got up to on Thursday evening and Friday!

Audiobooks. So excited about the possibilities offered by the audiobook offerings via LibriVox and its mash-ups. I learned that you can embed the Internet Archive playlist version of LibriVox recordings in a blog post. So easy! So, I made an audiobook label for posts about books I am using that have audio from LibriVox, and since I am using public domain materials for my course, I look forward to having more audiobooks to add to that list. For students who prefer audio to text, this is going to be super! Here, for example, is the LibriVox audiobook via Internet Archive for Ellen Babbitt's Jataka Tales.

Unit: Bible Women. I am working away on adding the images to the Bible Women unit. This is one of those images that will be rich in images, and I am guessing that will be a deciding factor for some students in the reading units they choose. And I think that's great: I find images to be very stimulating when I read a story since sometimes the image reinforces my own imaginings, while other times it might catch me by surprise and make me notice something new. One of the storytelling prompts for this unit will definitely be to retell a story in a way that is informed by an image, drawing on details from the image in the telling of the story! Here, for example, is a gorgeous image for Susannah and the Elders - it's a sculpture (detail below), which is unusual too as most of the images I work with are paintings:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 8 - Library, La Fontaine

I worked mostly on La Fontaine today, along with developing library pages for my sources.

La Fontaine Unit. It took a chunk of time (almost the whole day today), but I am very happy with the La Fontaine unit! I decided to use a children's version of La Fontaine in English verse, and then some fables from an actual translation of La Fontaine into English (La Fontaine's fable output is HUGE, so choosing what fables to include was not easy). Lots of illustrations, too: I used an illustrated edition of Larned; for the Wright translation, I drew on my huge collection of Aesop illustrations at Flickr. I hope the students will enjoy this one! I still need to proofread and add the notes, but the texts come from good online sources so I'm guessing the proofreading will be easy, and writing the notes on Aesop is always fun. I'll work on that tomorrow maybe! Meanwhile, it feels wonderful to be doing more with Aesop. There is the Classical Aesop unit available for Week 2, and now at the end of the semester, there is another chance at Aesop with La Fontaine as a European option in Week 14. I'll also be doing an English Aesop in Prose and Verse as an option for British Isles in Week 12! So, for people who like Aesop (and a lot of the students really like Aesop), they will get an in-depth knowledge that was not possible in the old version of the class. Here is an illustration from the Larned book:

Library pages. Each time I create a new unit, I create a post for the text source for that unit (or posts if the unit draws on multiple sources, as happens occasionally). When I create the post, it's very barebones, just the title, authors, and year of publication, plus a link to my online source. Later, though, I go back through these posts and expand on them, adding links to other online sources along with audiobook versions if available. It is so exciting to see the variety of formats in which the public domain materials are available! My reason for doing this is that I can imagine some students might want to read on their Kindle or using a Kindle app on another device, or they might want to grab a PDF and mark it up with a PDF reader on a tablet (I use GoodReader on my iPad), or they might want to listen to an audio version. Best of all, they might want to explore more of the book, beyond just the stories I selected for the unit. By finding different formats and linking to them, I want to make it easy for students to read and explore using whatever devices they prefer. BYOD! You can see the Library pages I have created so far (Blogger labels make them easy to find), and I was especially excited to discover this Lit2Go project at University of South Florida's College of Education. In a word: WOW. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 7 - Nigeria, West Africa, Women Saints, Aesop

Here are some of the things I am working on today - and so far, everything is going according to schedule! Whoo-hoo!

Nigerian Unit. I published the story pages and proofread the pages, but I have not added images yet. There are some great stories in here, some with very familiar motifs, but also some really unusual stories too. One of the things I will enjoy the most, although I probably won't get to it until August (and maybe not even until next summer) is building the units that draw on stories from different cultures, organized by themes. For example, there are some great aetiological stories in this unit, along with some really good stories about jealousy and family relations.

West Africa Unit. After I finished proofreading the Nigeria unit, I decided to work on the related West Africa unit. What great stories! There are many Anansi stories here, which provides the context for the unit on Jamaica Anansi stories; I had a Jamaica Anansi unit at my old website, but I did not have the West African context to go with it; now I do! I included some photos to go with these stories, too, since many of them had natural candidates based on the animals in the story, like this chameleon: King Chameleon and the Animals.

Women Saints. I also finished adding notes and pictures to the Women Saints unit, so that one is ready for the Introduction and reading/writing assignment materials. One of the stories that I worked on today was Saint Daria - such a great story! She was protected by a lion. :-)

Aesop's Fables Unit: DONE. Finally, I finished up my fourth completed Unit, which means that the Unit has the readings, notes, illustrations, along with an introduction and the supplementary materials for the reading and writing assignments. Four down... twenty to go! :-)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Course Redesign Update: May 6

So, as promised, I am going to try to use this blog as a space for reporting on my course redesign efforts this summer. Since the courses are online, digital tools are obvious a big part of how that redesign is possible!

At the moment, I am focusing on the content redesign in my Myth-Folklore class, which is a pretty massive undertaking, but so much fun. My goal over the next year or so is to create a new kind of website, one driven by Blogger for now, where my students will have a much wider range of reading choices than they do now. In my current static website, I am really stuck with the content I put up ten years ago. It's been a good website, giving the students two reading options each week, but I will now be able to do much better than that, thanks to the explosion of public domain content online in the past ten years as well as the flexible content solution provided by Blogger.

So, my goal is to have 72 reading units ready by August 1. By "ready," I mean ready for students to use, even though those units will not be complete; I hope to have completed 24 of those units by August 1, with another 24 completed by May 2015, and the final set of 24 completed by August 2015. You can see that overall plan here: Course Content Redesign.

To be "ready," a unit needs to be posted for the students to read. This means a book post indicating the source of the reading materials, a unit post that provides a table of contents for the reading materials, and then a series of individual story posts that contain the actual reading. The pages should all have been proofread once and, ideally, there should be an illustration on teach page. Here's an example of a unit that is "ready" for students to read:
Myth-Folklore Book: Myths and Legends of Alaska
Myth-Folklore Unit: Alaskan Legends
The Raven Myth: Raven's Creation
(There are 27 of these story pages in the unit; each unit contains appx. 15,000 words, and anything from 10-30 individual story pages.)

Meanwhile, a completed unit has notes that I have added to each story page, along an Introduction on the unit page, plus two important supplementary pages: my own Reading Diary for the unit (students likewise will be preparing their own reading diaries), and a list of Storytelling Ideas (students can tell whatever kind of story they want; the ideas are just there to help prevent writer's block if students are not skilled yet at finding their own storytelling approach). Here is an example of a completed unit:
Myth-Folklore Unit: Tibetan Folk Tales

So, here is my process for this summer and how I hope to have 72 units ready and 24 units completed by August 1:

1. Public Domain Sources. I've already got the public domain sources identified for all 72 units with the stories tentatively picked out (although in some cases I have to narrow down the selection of stories I have chosen from each source). All the sources are in very good shape already except for 4 which are coming from pretty raw OCR and will require a lot of proofreading from me.

2. Ready Units. I create the basic unit skeleton (book post, unit post, story posts), being careful not to exceed Blogger's 50-posts-per-day limit. I can do one unit a day, more or less. I have already created 28 units this way. It's easy to see how many; the Unit posts are labeled as such in Blogger, which gives me an instant count in the label view, and you can browse through all those posts using this link:
Myth-Folklore Reading Units

3. Add Images. Then I usually do a pass through the unit where I add images; sometimes I proofread at the same time, but sometimes I just add images and then do a separate pass for proofreading later. Especially if the original source was illustrated, I tend to add the images separately from proofreading. Here, for example, is a unit that has illustrations for all the stories but which has not been proofread yet:
Myth-Folklore Unit: Jataka Tales (Babbitt)

4. Proofread. Then I do a pass of proofreading, and sometimes I add notes at that time. Sometimes, though, I just proofread. Here is an example of a unit which has been proofread but which does not have notes yet:
Myth-Folklore Unit: Alaska Legends

5. Add Notes. The next stage is to add notes. The notes are not lengthy — just a few sentences, or perhaps a couple of short paragraphs at most, often with links to other online resources. Here is an example of a unit with notes:
Myth-Folklore Unit: Ovid's Metamorphoses, I
Here is one of the story pages that shows how the notes work:
Ovid's Metamorphoses: Deucalion and Pyrrha

6. Write Introduction. Next, I need to add an Introduction to the unit. Again, the Introduction to a unit is not something long; instead, the idea is to give the most basic background, along with some links for additional reading. The key is to provide the information that is essential for reading and understanding the stories to come. Here is an example of an Introduction:
Myth-Folklore Unit: Aesop's Fables (1)

7. Add Assignment Materials. Finally, to finish the unit, I add the materials related to the actual reading and writing assignment that the students complete for each unit. For the reading, they make their own Reading Diary blog post, using a template that I have created for them to use; I also share my own Reading Diary if they are curious to see my notes. Then, I supply them with a Storytelling Ideas list; they are by no means limited to this list, but it is a way to get them to consider possibilities for every one of the unit's pages and also to prevent any possible writer's block if they don't already have a storytelling idea of their own. Here are what those materials look like:
Myth-Folklore Unit: Tibetan Folk Tales 
Reading Diary Template
my own Reading Diary
Storytelling Ideas

And that's all, folks . . . !

Right now, I have 3 units that are complete, which is to say: proofread, with pictures, with notes, with Introduction, along with the reading and writing assignment materials. I really like the way that the process of completing a unit is something gradual, step by step. That allows me to work on a variety of different units at once, which thus allows me to find connections between one unit and another, connections which I can use to reinforce my students' learning and, hopefully, to heighten their sense of curiosity.

I am optimistic that I can complete 24 units and have 72 units ready by August 1, but it's okay if I do not reach that goal. At a minimum, I need to have just 12 units done and 24 units ready to rest easy, since I can also keep working on the units while the semester is ongoing. So, whatever the summer brings, I am ready... but I am hoping it brings me lots of long sunny days with time for stories, stories, and more stories!

For the rest of today, for example, I plan to proofread and write up notes on stories of the Women Saints from the Golden Legend! Whoo-hoo!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Summer is Here: Getting Caught Up

With the busy end of semester, I had stopped blogging here, but there are some posts at Google+ about my progress with the course redesign! Now that summer has arrived (whoo-hoo!), I will be posting here about my progress.

I am going to enjoy my summer of reading and writing!

Crescit scribendo scribendi studium.
A zeal for writing grows by writing.