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.

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