So, the thing I want to talk about right now is Alex’s “Digitizing Chaucerian Debate.” I’ve had the pleasure in the past to see this type of creative, role-playing blog posting in action, and to lead a corner of it myself. In my first semester of this MA program, I TA’d for Alex’s Arthurian Literature class. It was a large group; we were divided into four different subgroups – one under each TA and each named for a different heraldic animal from Arthurian legend (mine were the Eagles). Each group had the same characters from the entirety of Arthurian legend to choose from, ranging from Arthur and Merlin to Hank and Sandy from Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Although I did not see my students quite “grapple... in textual combat” or “hatch… subplots within and between texts as the course proceeded” (Mueller 197), I did see a level of enchantment, rigor, and play with the texts throughout the semester that I do not believe would have existed had there not been some sort of creative/analytical blend.
Throughout my semester, I had students who braved writing in archaic dialects and verse (always hilarious), students who developed a strong relationship with their avatar over the course of the semester (the student who picked Sir Kay is especially memorable, for by the end he was irreconcilably cantankerous in his blog comments), and even students who used the creative platform to investigate pressing social issues (one exceptional student placed her character, Ygrene, in the story The Saga of the Mantle as a way of investigating the feminist implications of the piece). Overall, it was obviously apparent that these students were, through roleplaying and having a decided lens to read and play through, engaging with the texts and the concepts within them in a way I have not seen in any other classroom I’ve been in. Even the “problem students” felt it their duty to post on their given day – it was the only assignment of the whole semester that generated no late submissions.
But this leaves me wondering how something like this, a blog posting system based around character-driven avatars, could be adapted to a classroom that does not have a dynamic set of interrelated characters. Are there some (Literature? Humanities? School?) classroom situations that are wholly unsuitable to this type of collaborative discussion? This is something I’ve thought about much since that class, and the resurgence in Alex’s article for this week made me think this Blog post format was the best place to figure it out. So how about it? Do you guys think that this type of engagement can be augmented to any type of classroom (even if any=any Humanities class)? How about just any English classroom? Literature class?
My gut instinct, as well as Alex’s warning description of the first time he tried this blog format in his Brit Lit survey course (196), makes me think that in order for this to work, there needs to be some sort of creative aspect, some point of view that the student can reliably latch onto and springboard off of. I don’t think it need be so restrictive as all the characters in the same ‘canon’ such as it was for my Arthurian Lit. class. Alex’s “Quitting Your Classmates,” with its bevy of characters from the history of English literature, has Satan discoursing with our dear Miller (197-198), as well as many other examples of things only the nerdiest of Lit majors would write. And I think this might be able to be expanded where the syllabus includes primarily (or even exclusively) nonfiction – instead of characters from stories, students could be ideologies from the essays.
The irreducible limit I reach is with point of view. I’m not sure this type of environment would be useful (unless drastically altered so as to be nearly unrecognizable) in a classroom environment that did not have varying positions for the students to use as basis with which to investigate their own opinion. I would, however, love for anyone to come up with a scenario where this would work outside of these parameters. Got anything?
Thanks, and see you all Tuesday,
P.S. Here’s a link to my group, the Eagles’, blog page. Take a look if you’re interested: