Online Inspiration

I teach 200-level college transferable literature courses online at a small community college in North Carolina. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same things myself when I developed my first course–World Literature II–years ago. Things like

  • I will never be able to engage them like I can in a seated class.
  • This course will never be equal to a seated one.
  •  The grading load will be totally unmanageable.
  • I need the interaction with students that only a seated class can give.
  • I will never be able to have the kind of variety of assignments and activities that I have in my seated classes

All of these things were true in those first years and perhaps at least one or two of them is still true in my mind, but the time is rapidly approaching, with new advancements and technology as well as continued training when even the final issues will be resolved and students will be able to choose whatever form is best for them and know that they will get equal quality of instruction.

My opinion about teaching online classes has begun to change primarily because of training offered by our college’s distance learning personnel and help from colleagues as well as computer savvy young people, including my 21-year-old computer-raised daughter. I, who thought I had died and gone to heaven when I received my first Smith-Corona electric typewriter with its changeable cartridges,

never imagined back then the Star Trek technology that would become a reality in my lifetime, but as the programs and software have become increasingly user friendly, I have been able, if not to master them, at least to find ways to incorporate technology into my online classes. Some of this technology has helped to engage my students and aided me in what was at first an untenable amount of grading, while maintaining rigor and upholding the standards expected of college transfer students.

At my college’s professional development day last Thursday I shared some of the ways I am using technology to help the students in my online literature classes become more active readers as well as learn to research more deeply. I will be presenting this same presentation in March when I attend the League of Innovation in Community College’s conference in Chicago.

I used Prezi (one of the free presentation software applications I talked about in the PD session) to create a slide show that in itselfis a representation of how my knowledge of technology is improving. Furthermore, I have to tell you a secret…I had fun.

Here’s the link to the Prezi presentation (It may take a minute or two to load):

Dig Deep: Encouraging Active Reading and Deep Research in Online Classes

Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Herman Melville, Lincoln’s Inn and Serendipity

Lincoln’s Inn–London (photo courtesy of Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn)

One of the things I love doing as a teacher is creating opportunities to become a student again. It renews the love of learning that is at the heart of my profession but sometimes gets lost under the mind-numbing bureaucratic tasks and pointless political pandering that has become so much a part of what it means to be an educator.

It’s at times like these that I most need to remember how exciting it is to learn something new, to read and study a work I’ve never encountered before, to visit places I’ve never been. My trip to London in the fall of last year provided me with many such opportunities.

Like the day I discovered Lincoln’s Inn.

I say discovered because I hadn’t gone looking for Lincoln’s Inn. I didn’t know it was there. I didn’t know anything about it. I certainly didn’t know that a month later I would be writing a lesson on Herman Melville for my new online American Literature I class and encounter Lincoln’s Inn once again.

It happened this way:

I woke up the first day that I was alone in London, finally free to do some serious walking and exploring. I planned out a trip that I had been longing to take ever since I developed a sample travel project for my British Literature II class several years ago. I decided to walk from my hotel in Russell Square to the Sir John Soane Museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Sir John Soane was a famous and wealthy Regency Era architect who designed the Bank of England and other famous landmarks, including his own house that he willed to his country.

Not knowing how long it would take me to walk there, I sat out rather early, clutching my google map instructions tightly in my hands. I made quick work getting there, too quick in fact. The museum was not yet open. With more than 20 minutes to wait, I decided to cross e street to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and walk around. Although it is a beautiful little park with its trees at their peak of Autumn foliage, I still had about 15 minutes to spare after walking the perimeter.

I decided to explore just a little further, and noting the street names began to head towards the most interesting brick building. As I approached, I realized that there were other similar buildings. Then, I passed through what looked to be a very old tower gate, and I realized I was in some sort of compound–beautifully landscaped and tended–the large main building almost like a church with beautiful stone accents and stained glass windows. I saw that there was a library  in the building and got a hint to its use when I saw a man traditionally dressed in barrister’s robes walking up the sidewalk towards the building.

I returned to the Morton Hotel after many more wonderful adventures, including the Sir John Soane Museum that I finally got to see (it was magnificant), an outdoor art display by Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts (incredible), lunch at a classic London Pub (tasty onion and mushroom pie) and a trip to the British Museum (I love that place). Even though I visited the British Museum on my first trip to London, I went to rooms I didn’t get to see that first time–my favorite being the Ancient European room and the clock room.

After a bite to eat from the little Tesco down the street and a hot shower, I settled in to find out what exactly that incredible building was. I quickly discovered that what I had been looking at and admiring was none other than Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court, which are the professional organizations for all barristers in England and Wales. I researched and read until late in the night, fascinated and excited to learn something new that would help me read, study and teach more effectively as well as humbled, feeling that I, as a teacher of British literature, should have known more about these things already.

When I returned home, I immediately found ways to incorporate what I had learned in my British Literature I class. That goes without saying, but I had no idea how my experience of discovering Lincoln’s Inn would enhance my teaching in American Literature until I read Melville’s “A Paradise of Bachelors.” The setting is one of the Inns of Court where the main character in this highly autobiographical story goes walking through the streets of London just as I did and is impressed with the beauty and grandeur of the grounds around the Temple Bar, just as I was.

IT lies not far from Temple-Bar.

Going to it, by the usual way, is like stealing from a heated plain into some cool, deep glen, shady among harboring hills.

Sick with the din and soiled with the mud of Fleet Street — where the Benedick tradesmen are hurrying by, with ledger-lines ruled along their brows, thinking upon rise of bread and fall of babies — you adroitly turn a mystic corner — not a street — glide down a dim, monastic way flanked by dark, sedate, and solemn piles, and still wending on, give the whole care-worn world the slip, and, disentangled, stand beneath the quiet cloisters of the Paradise of Bachelors. Sweet are the oases in Sahara; charming the isle-groves of August prairies; delectable pure faith amidst a thousand perfidies: but sweeter, still more charming, most delectable, the dreamy Paradise of Bachelors, found in the stony heart of stunning London.

Melville’s description spoke to my experience so completely. His observations so piquant that I immediately found renewed admiration for this, one of the greatest of American writers.

“Found in the stony heart of stunning London.”

England Trip–Day Three

It’s really late, so I’ll give a short update and write more in the morning. My friend and I were so tired that we slept in late. I went over to the Tesco’s, a little grocery store, to get us some breakfast–super yummy croissants, yogurt and grapes–a god breakfast and cheap. First, though, I enjoyed walking around Russell Square and taking pictures.

After breakfast and a nap, Melissa still wasn’t feeling too well, so I went for another walk and discovered another park and a modern mall. I love walking around the city and exploring. Also on my walk, I saw the neighboorhood where Charles. Dickens lived for awhile and saw a statue of the great British woman writer, Virginia Woolfe.

Later we took the Tube to Leicster Square and had a fabulous meal at Bella Italia. Then we saw The Suffaragette at the Odeon, a cinema known for its premiere. There had been a premiere of the new James Bond film earlier that night.

We ejoyed the film, and because it was filmed mainly in London, it was extra special. Well, tomorrow is the big Hamlet day, and It’s a long play, so I better hit the hay.

London Trip — Day One–Departure

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Dear Students,

My blog these next few days is primarily for you. Whether you are one of my British literature students or not, I want you to know that I’m thinking of you. I also am only just an e-mail or a Moodle message away. I will try to answer your questions in a timely manner. I’m hoping that you will find my posts interesting even if you are in my ACA115 online class or you are in one of my seated classes, even though the material doesn’t seem directly related to your class.

For those in my literature classes, I hope this information will be useful as you put together your capstone project–the literary travel project. You will see that it takes a lot to put together a trip, especially one that is dedicated to finding and enjoying particular things related to your particular author or work–of course, Shakespeare is pretty easy, I’ll admit.

So here’s a little run-down of my day:

I woke early because I couldn’t sleep. I was wondering if the luggage I bought would really fit in the overhead compartments or if I would have to check it in–I stewed and stewed over this. When my husband woke up, I told him about my worries, and he simply took out a tape measure to reassure me that it did meet the requirements for a carry on. I’m still going to ask at the check-in counter, though–just to be sure. I already have my boarding pass as I took care of that online from home yesterday.

I double checked some things and then headed to work. On the way there I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition as I usually do, and heard two stories back to back that mentioned London. It always seems that when you start thinking about or studying a certain thing, you are more attuned to hearing about it.

Before my class, I answered student e-mail and graded some of your papers and will grade more at home and on the flight as most airlines allow personal electronic devices to be used gate to gate now (the regulation changed in 2014 for most international flights, but I will ask just in case).

In my class we talked about fallacies in logic as my students prepare to research and write their argumentative research papers. Even in that class my mind turned to England as I used two great scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to illustrate my point–the “She’s a Witch” scene and the “Annoying Peasant” scene. Funny stuff and it always makes the point. We discussed all the egregious false logic in the clips, including non sequitur, hasty generalization, stereotyping, post hoc ergo proctor hoc, ad hominem and others. I always enjoy the “ferreting out fallacies” part of English 111.

After class I ran over to the Patton Auditorium to catch the last few minutes of a terrific talk by Lisa K. Bryant, artistic director at the Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theater of North Carolina, along with some of the staff at the Playhouse, for the Arida Arts Symposium. It was so wonderful to see a bond beginning to develop between the Playhouse and the College. It has always been there, but I’m glad to see it strengthening. Quite a few drama students were in attendance and had an opportunity to hear what it’s like to make a living in the theater as she has. It was gratifying, also, for the director of our drama department to hear confirmed by professionals in the theater the things that she has been saying to her students all along.

Whew, I’m tired already, and I haven’t even gotten to the airport yet, so I’ll say TTFN (tata for now) and put the final touches on my baggage.

Cherrio,

Katie

BON VOYAGE!

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Professional development–It means different things to different people, I suppose, but in my mind, I will soon be experiencing the most wonderful professional development a teacher of British literature could ask for. I’m going to England! One of the highlights of the trip will be seeing Benedict Cumberbatch performing the leading role in Hamlet at the Barbican in London.

The timing is perfect because while I am there, seeing Hamlet live, my students will be reading Hamlet and watching a movie version of it. I wish I could take them with me, but I plan to do a video pre and post show in front of the Barbican and take as many pictures and videos as I can to use in my British literature classes.

I also plan to use my experiences to continue to refine the major capstone project in my online literature classes–the literary travel project that I have discussed in previous blogs. I have created sample literary travel projects, and now I can test out my own literary travel plans to further refine those samples, as well as the project directions, and help my students get the most out of their major research project.

Keeping up with all of my classes, seated and online, will be a challenge, but I thought one way to stay in touch with them, and with anyone who is interested in the value of international travel as professional development for faculty. will be interested in my blog posts over the week–STARTING ON FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23!