April 14, 2019

#TotalCoLearner: a great semester of Hanuman learning

I wrote my first data-mongering round-up yesterday and did a lot of reading on predictive analytics in education... and ugh, it's all worse than I expected. But learning is good, and the better informed I become, the more I useful I can be in voicing opposition to this dehumanized education.

Meanwhile, before the weekend runs away, I wanted to write up something about the #TotalCoLearner experiment this semester in Indian Epics, because it has gone GREAT. I've got a series of #TotalCoLearner posts over at my Canvas blog, plus tweets, but this is my first post here about #TotalCoLearner, and it's perfect timing since I just wrote my last story of the semester yesterday, and I'll be wrapping up the class soon, finishing up early as some of my students do too.

So, what is #TotalColearner? The idea is that I do the whole course just like a regular student! That means you can see my course blog, just as the students each have their own blog, and I also have a course project website, just as the students do. One of the best things about all of this is that students comment on my blog and on my website at random just like they comment on the work of other students at random. And yes, they are surprised to find out that I am a student in the class, and it's kind of a weird surprise, but a good one; you can see their comments on my Introduction post this semester here. You can also see their comments on my project at the Comment Wall.

I keep track of my progress as the students do, although I use a spreadsheet instead of the Canvas Gradebook... and, honestly, I feel badly about how clunky and primitive the Canvas Gradebook is; the spreadsheet I use is way more easy to configure based on the different ways I want to check my progress (by date, by type of assignment, by my plan for finding up, etc.). For example, you can see here that as one of the few assignments I have left to do, there's one I should do today, which is writing up a famous last words post. I'll do that after I finish this post.

The nature of the course design means I really can do everything exactly as the students do; I don't have to "pretend" anything... I can just be myself. Admittedly, I'm not a typical student, but the whole point of my course design is that there is no "typical" student. Instead, every student shows up here with their own background and interests, their own skills and gaps, their own goals and priorities. Based on all that, each person is choosing what they want to read and write and other work that they do for the class, week by week, sharing their work via their blog and their website. It's because I can choose that I am able to adapt the class to suit my learning needs and goals, and the students are also doing the same thing for their own needs and goals.

The only difference between my work for the class and what the students are doing is that I can't do the weekly "project feedback" assignments because I do feedback already on all the projects every week as part of my job as a teacher. So, no worries: I just replace that assignment with other optional assignments, mixing-and-matching from the available assignments just like the students also do based on what assignments they choose to do (or not). This semester I did extra credit reading posts because I was reading a ton of stuff.

And as a result, oh my gosh, I LEARNED SO MUCH. And that's because I set myself a really cool and new challenge: I immersed myself in the version of the Ramayana from Thailand known as the Ramakien, and I also gave myself a crash course in the arts of Thailand that are inspired by Rama's story (Khon theater masks, temple sculptures, so much beautiful stuff). I've always known about the Ramakien's existence before, and I knew about Suvannamaccha, Hanuman's mermaid lover... but that's all. I had never read the whole thing. So, this semester, I read the whole thing! (In a terrible translation, but alas, there is no good English translation of the Ramakien.)

So, just like the students, I posted my reading notes week by week on the Ramakien (and I also re-read Chitra Divakaruni's Mahabharata novel, Palace of Illusions, plus I read Samhita Arni's new novel based on the Silappadikaram, a south Indian epic; more about that here). For Tech Tip extra credit, I built some randomizing image widgets with Hanuman art from India and from South Asia, and I even learned how to embed image randomizers into a Google Sites page! On the writing side, I also pushed myself in new ways so that the project I ended up writing was actually not an anthology (my usual writing approach), but a true extended narrative that ended up wrapping around at the end back to where I started, with a Ramakien-inspired story about Hanuman's mother to which I added my own big reveal at the end; that's the story I wrote yesterday: Hanuman and Pirakuan. Figuring out how that story would work may be the biggest writing thrill I've ever had... I'm so proud of figuring out how to bring Hanuman's mother back around into the story there at the end. (And, yes, that means my project ending up being centered on women's stories, which is a theme that comes up again and again in student projects in the class too, finding ways to decenter the men's stories so that we can bring more women's voices into the epic world.) I also wrote some stories here at the blog separate from the project that I was really proud of, especially my story about Mandodari, plus one about Arjuna and Hanuman.

So, for finishing up the class, I need to add that final Hanuman-and-Pirakuan story to my Storybook website, as well as adding another image gallery page to the site, along with some wrap-up posts at the blog, which I'll probably do next weekend. And while I will be sad to end this particular learning adventure (there is so much more I still want to learn about the south Asian Ramayana!), I am also so excited about what I will do for the Myth-Folklore class next semester. I've got a huge (HUGE) Brer Rabbit project that I began over winter break, and that is what I am going to use to ignite my participation in the Myth-Folklore class in the Fall.

And yay Brer Rabbit too! :-)

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