Friday, December 5, 2014

Students as Co-Creators of the Next UnTextbook!

So, things are really rolling along already with the Indian Epics UnTextbook... what a great 48 hours this has been! I wanted to post an update here because the latest development is something inspired by Connected Courses AND powered by blog technology, so I thought that would make a good #ccourses post.

Here's the latest: as I started to set up the Indian Epics Online Book Library in my Indian Epics Resources blog (more about that blog), I realized that I could involve the students as my co-creators right from the very start! When I did the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook, I did not have enough lead time to do that (I got the idea in April and created the UnTextbook over the summer). This time, I have all of spring semester to select the materials for the UnTextbook, which means the students can be part of that process — and since I use Indian materials in my Myth-Folklore class, that means I can involve the students in both classes, which will in turn create more bridges between the two classes also. The students already interact with each other through their blogs and projects, so this will be yet another way to build more back-and-forth between the two classes!

Here's the basic idea: in a happy frenzy of biblio-sleuthing, I have already found over 100 full-text books that could contribute to the Indian Epics UnTextbook, in addition to the dozen Indian books I already use in the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook. You can see that list of books here: Indian Online Books. These are all full-text, public domain books available from online providers like Hathi Trust, Internet Archive, and Project Gutenberg; there are even 22 books that are available as free audiobooks from LibriVox, and 23 books that are available as free Kindle ebooks. I'm using Diigo to track things right now, as you can see.

Some of the books are extremely long and difficult for a non-specialist to work with, so I will be the one responsible for sorting through those materials and extracting the materials that can be useful in the UnTextbook. The literal translations of the Puranas, for example, are something that would be kind of mind-boggling for the students... but I can seek out the good materials there and write the notes that will make those stories work.

There are plenty of books on the list, though, which are written for a general audience, and those are the ones I need the students' help with: it will be very useful to hear from them which of these books most grab their attention! So, as I wrote up the individual blog posts for each book, I will include an overview and some specific feedback questions for the students, making it possible for them to spend some manageable amount of time (maybe 15 minutes or so), doing a check on the book to see what they think; it will be a perfect extra-credit type of assignment to use in both my classes for those students who enjoy the reading part of the class and want to learn more. Here's an example of a book blog post that would pertain to students both in Myth-Folklore and in Indian Epics:  Indian Idylls of the Mahabharata by Edwin Arnold.

As you can see there, I am asking them to respond by commenting at the blog with their thoughts about the book, giving them some specific items in the book to focus on. By having this happen in the open at a blog, students will get to see each other's comments, which will increase the value of the reviews. In addition, because these are blog comments, I can subscribe to the blog feed for the comments and use Inoreader to syndicate those comments all together so that students can see what other students are commenting on overall and perhaps make their reading choices based on what they see in the comments stream.

Being able to involve the students in the project like this from the very start will make for a much better UnTextbook. I am very good at finding the online books that could be included, but of course the students are the ones who are experts at deciding which books would be the most successful. Since I am already familiar with Indian literature, that means I am very much swayed by my own personal obsessions (and yes, I have some serious obsessions when it comes to Indian literature, ha ha). As a result, I am in some ways not the right person at all to be choosing what goes in the UnTextbook: the students should be the ones doing that! I can share my enthusiasms with them... but that doesn't mean they will enthuse in the same way.

So, extra credit is an important part of how my classes work (that's the most important safety net for helping students keep up with the course given their hectic schedules), and what an awesome form of extra credit this will be! It will both deepen and broaden their reading experience in the class, it will help them to connect with one another at a new blog space, AND it will give them a forward-looking sense of helping to make this a better class for future students!


So, I am very happy with how the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook happened last summer... but having the students' help with this project right from the very start, the Indian Epics UnTextbook is going to be even better!

If you are interested in following this project, I'll be posting about my progress over at the Anatomy of an Online Course blog, with the label Indian Epics UnTextbook.  And hey, you can even subscribe to just that RSS feed, thanks to the magic of labels and RSS: Indian Epics UnTextbook RSS.

So many things to love here: I love Indian literature! I love the public domain! I love RSS! And I love getting to share all of this with the students so that we can keep on learning more together!


Drona trains the young warriors, from the

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