I always feel bad about blogging, especially when life happens and I am stuck taking an extended hiatus! The good news is that after a few last minute nail biters, my experimental course is up and ready and has students!
Our English Humanities offerings tend to be pretty small classes, and ENH280 (my comics course) is no exception. We do have rolling admissions and it seems that as the word gets out, I have a couple more people join. A few have already signed up for my spring 2 course which starts in March. I'm ok with small... I made the administrative decision to limit the scope of the open community for this reason, at least until I have a better handle on managing a course that will be active on two fronts (a locked LMS and an open Ning).
Of course, now that development is done, I have a chance to think back on the process. The discussions are one area of reflection. In open entry courses, as I've written before, discussions can be hard to manage. The Ning site will hold discussions "in the cloud" and open across sections. Even the spring 2 students will see what the spring 1 students had to say. Of course, no matter where the student is coming from, they will bear the burden of actually reading the material. I have tried to scaffold, starting in Bloom's basement and then working up to more critical thinking areas. For example, in lesson 3, students initially discuss their reader response to a series of superhero readings:
Superhero comics tend to be a “love it or leave it” type of literature. Those fans who follow a given series or character tend to be incredibly loyal, while the more casual reader might value a text for its historical merit or stylistic merit and leave it at that. Where did you fall before reading the materials in this lesson? If your perceptions of the genre changed, how did they change? If they stayed the same, consider another angle for your response—the floor is yours! Remember it is ok to not like a text, but you should always support your assertions with evidence.
Later in that same lesson, and after completing additional activities including a guest lecture and some guided reading activities, students come back and answer this:
In lesson three, we studied the superhero comic as both a literary and cultural artifact. The Superhero Comic changed with the times, depicting social issues and political conflicts, while also reflecting the modes of production (the "sweatshop model" of comics production that Lopes described). For this discussion, I would like to see you knitting the ideas from the Lopes reading together with your experiences reading the Superman story from Action Comics #1 and the "lesser-known" superhero text you selected. Do you see Lopes' ideas in the works you read? Do you see points of comparison or contrast that depart from the scope Lopes discussed in his reading?
Of course, the student who read the Lopes chapter but didn't get it will need to feel comfortable asking questions. I'm trying to create a sense of comfort by posting first so the students will have a model to work from and won;t feel the burden of being "first" in the discussion room (and indeed, the first week's start had a lone wolf student who would otherwise be "first" if I wasn't present).
Also an unknown element... students can share the discussions via Facebook and Twitter. I'll be curious who, if anyone, uses these features. I'll also be curious if any of the observers and comics community who were invited will feel compelled to engage the discussions. I'll be curious to see what arises in the weeks to come and will do a better job of keeping a log about my experiences.