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Kate L. Imwalle

Kate Imwalle is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Miami University of Oxford where she focuses her study on Women’s Literature after 1800. She graduated with highest honors from Wright State University in 2016 with an MA in English Literature and Women’s Studies. Her thesis explores Elizabeth Bowen’s portrayal of the effects on the psyche during trauma. Specifically, trauma during wartime. She currently teaches at Miami University and the Lake Campus of Wright State University. She is also a professional English tutor for the Student Success Center of Wright State University’s Lake Campus, and a co-editor with Dr. David Wilson (Wright State University) for Anti-Oedipus Press.

Not all Digital Pedagogy has to be Digital!

As an ENG 1100 instructor, I feel compelled to share my findings in a new assignment that I tested out on my students this semester. The experience is what follows:

Instead of forcing students to make your everyday, typical PowerPoint presentation for their class project, consider something that is more enjoyable, and engaging.

For an Academic Writing and Reading college classroom, students were given a class “theme” on the first day of class. For this class in particular, the theme was “Animal Aspects.” For their research paper, students chose their own issue within the animal world to research. Some students chose animal testing, poaching, endangered species, and dog fighting. After their research paper was complete, students were asked to participate in a class “Animal Expo Conference” as a substitute for PowerPoint presentation over their findings. For the Expo, students compiled the findings from their research paper into a professional looking pamphlet or brochure for the class. In addition, students made “expo items” similar to those you find at a real expo fair. Some students made topic related food, while others had business cards, wrist bands, and customized pencils to hand out to everyone.

On the day of the “Animal Expo Conference” each student set up their area and prepared a short synopsis of their research and their argument  as to why, for example, “dog fighting must stop.”

Students showed a much higher level of engagement for the project and admitted that they actually had fun.

So, next time you consider assigning your average, run-of-the-mill assignments, consider the alternatives!

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Reassessing the Argumental Middle Ground

Recent discussion on the role of the academic is under dispute. Should they be more public? Should they be posting their latest work on Twitter and Facebook? Should academic work be more accessible? These questions do not come with an easy answer. However, there is a common trend that links a healthy number of the debates together: they remain in the middle ground.

James Mulholland addresses the topic of public engagement for academic intellectuals, demanding that “It is time for us to reassess what we mean by public scholarship.” In his argument, he explains that “popularizing research” is not the only way to make it more accessible, or more well-known. To support his claim, Mullholland gives a 2003 court case where decades of Queer Theory scholarship finally became useful to the public. Because we do not want thirty or more years to go by before our own academic works gets noticed, he states that “Humanists like myself are regularly forced to consider what the public wants … This is an important strategy that every academic should pursue” However, in the following paragraph of his article, Mullholland declares “But we must be allowed to resist this impulse, too.” Although a case can be made for both sides of the argument, Mullholland refuses to pick a side, and rather places himself in the middle, inevitably contradicting himself. If it is in fact time to “reassess” as he asserts, we need to be clear on exactly what modifications need to be made. In regards to only pursuing projects that the public wants, I feel as if there are a far too vast amount of topics that will forever remain hidden if we limit ourselves to the public scope. Just because something may not be popular, does not mean that it is not important.

Hua Hsu also discusses the work of academics and the question of whether or not their work should be more public and/or accessible. The first half of her article appears as if Hsu is an advocate of allowing intellectual work to become more open to the public through the internet and social media. However, nearing the end of the piece, the author writes, “All that said, there is something valuable about the academy’s fustiness … because it encourages the preservation of what makes scholarship a faintly utopian enterprise” (465). Thus, again we see another example of an argument that refuses to pick a side and remains in the middle instead. What can this trend mean? Perhaps, there are in fact, an equal amount of pros and cons to each side of the argument, thus, enabling the critic to remain too perplexed or frazzled to make an ultimate, concrete decision. Or rather, if a definite decision cannot be made, then maybe the need for a reassessment on public scholarship as Mllholland prescribes is not as vital as we may think it is.

Works Cited:

Hsu, Hua. “In the Context of Infinite Contexts.” PMLA 130.2 (2015): 461-466. Print.

Mullholland, James. “Academics: forget about the public engagement, stay in your ivory towers.” The Guardian. 10 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

The Difference Between Life and Extinction of Academic Writing

As some critics have pointed out, the academic pool is shrinking. Joshua Rothman argues that “Academic writing is the way it is because it’s a part of a system,” a system in which scholars and professors live in, but did not necessarily make themselves. He claims that this system peaked in the seventies, and has since changed, “making academic work more marginal.” Thus, the audience for academic work is shrinking as well.

Nicholas Kristof argues a similar point, but instead blames the academics themselves for such marginalization, instead of the “system.” While on the the farthest end of the spectrum, Ian Bogost claims that there is marginalization because people do not want centrality, to the extent that “We masticate on culture for the pleasure of praising our own steaming shit.” Thus, there is a wide debate in circulation on the actual cause behind academic marginalization. In this light, one might ask , shouldn’t our efforts be on fixing this marginalization, rather than trying to point blame?

A handful of critics attempt to find possible solutions to the situation. For example, Rothman concludes that only if we make academic writing more expansive can we then fix the problem. Kristof goes along the same lines and urges that professors become more accessible by using blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Finally, Bogost only offers a handful of metaphors in which multiple interpretations can exist.Therefore, as it turns out, if we want to expand the academic members pool as well as it’s audience, we must expand as Rothman notes; however, one of the most efficient ways in expanding is through the digital world, as Kristof suggests. Professors, academics and scholars need to live in the present and take advantage of the tools they are given in the twenty-first century. This does not mean that we need to completely disregard the traditional methods; however, having both traditional and modern forms can be the difference between life and extinction. If we don’t, it could be the end of academic writing as we know it.

Works Cited:

Bogost, Ian. “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt”

Kristof, Nicholas. “Professors, We Need You!”

Rothman, Joshua. “Why is Academic Writing so Academic?”

 

Drama Online is an exciting online tool that “allows you to create ‘Part Books’ and compare words and speeches between acts with your chosen combination of characters.” From there, the software compiles the information into accessible graphs and charts for further analysis.

Check out this one on Frankenstein.

In an effort to keep internet users focused,   offers help on how to keep oneself from becoming distracted. 

For example, SelfControl is an app that blocks sites for a certain amount of time that you set for yourself while working on a project.

Caballo notes that “According to research, it can be more difficult to be productive in a quiet space.” Thus, she offers music sites that provide a wide array of music from Today’s Hits, all the way to peaceful melodies without lyrics.

The Counterproductive Internet

Let’s face it, as helpful as the internet can be, it can also be incredibly distracting. Pop-up ads, Facebook alerts, that “ding” noise your email makes when you’ve received a new message; they all take away our focus from the task we have at hand. To even further complicate the matter, colleges continue to offer more and more online classes. Traditional, in-person classes are assigning projects that require students to use the internet. Thus, one can only assume that as the amount of time we require students to use the internet increases, the amount of times the student loses focus or is distracted also increases. This is a problem on multiple levels.

Not only do internet-based assignments take longer for a student to accomplish, but students are also retaining less and less information. As Nicholas Carr notes, when it comes to the internet, “Because it disrupts concentration, such activity weakens comprehension.” He later calls the internet “an interruption system.” Due to the fact that we become distracted while online, we have grown more accustomed to skimming rather than actually reading, another problem we have yet solve.

Tony Schwartz admits in a New York Times article, “Addicted to Distraction,” that it was easier for him to cut out entire food groups from his diet than to limit himself from getting online only three times a day, where he explains checking his email was “impossible to resist.” Thus, humans have become hopelessly addicted to using the internet, craving to get that extra tidbit of information rather than participating in their own reality.

Jesse Stommel finds problems in the internet-based disciplines; specifically, the Digital Humanities. Instead of “distraction,” Stommel focuses on a different problem, where the writer admits “I have never found the Digital Humanities as a discipline particularly welcoming.” Stommel urges that the Digital Humanities put more of their efforts into collaboration and community rather than “bring[ing] out the daggers” and competing with one another. Stommel thus contends that “The public digital humanities must be rooted in a genuine desire to make the work legible to a broader audience inclusive of students, teaching-focused colleagues, community college colleagues, and the public.”

As it turns out, the Digital Humanities is still in the process of working out some of the kinks it holds as a discipline, as well as a method. Not only must they resolve their “competitiveness,” but the method of simply using the internet also comes with problems of its own such as distraction and loss of retention. After these findings, one must ask, is the internet as useful for students, teachers, and DHers as we previously thought? Are there even possible solutions to these problems posed? Carr tells us that “We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting.” It seems as if we are in a state of counterproductive-ness that we have yet to become aware of as a species.

Works Cited:

Carr, Nicholas. “Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.” WIRED Magazine. 24 May 2010. Web. 21 Mar. 2016 

Schwartz, Tony. “Addicted to Distraction.” The New York Times. 28 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

Stommel, Jesse. “The Public Digital Humanities.” Disrupting the Digital Humanities. Punctum Books, 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

Robert Scholes devotes an entire book-length study on the importance of literary theory in the classroom. He argues that, when it comes to understanding and using theory, “It is the great aim or end of liberal education and therefore not something we can assume to be already developed in students just beginning their college education. But we must start working on the development of critical skill in our introductory courses” (62). Due to the fact that “theory instruction since the mid-1960’s has mostly been experienced in graduate, not undergraduate, classes” Scholes argument from 1985 has yet to influence reality (Chambers 69). Thus, we must incorporate theory into undergraduate classes, rather than wait until the graduate level to teach it.

 

Works Cited:

Chambers, Ellie, and Marshall Gregory. “Teaching Literary Theory and Teaching Writing.” Teaching & Learning English Literature. London: SAGE Publ., 2006. 63-90.

Scholes, Robert. Textual Power: Literary Theory and the Teaching of English. New Haven: Yale UP, 1985.

Why Theory should be a part of Undergraduate Study

From Teaching & Learning English Literature, Ellie Chambers and Marshall Gregory discuss the topic of teaching theory in literature courses. The question of debate in regards to theory is not whether or not it should be taught in the classroom, but rather, “how much/what” theory to teach, as well as “when, and how, should it be taught?” The authors note that theory has mostly been reserved for graduate study, and left out of undergraduate work since the mid-1960’s due to the ‘core’ requirements that do not entail the need for theory in undergraduate education (69). As a result, the “purpose” of literary theory during this time is in debate, where most view it as too arduous to present in an undergraduate classroom. However, they admit that “what undergraduates need to understand is that all literary interpretations and judgements derive from certain presuppositions” (68; emphasis in original). Thus, an argument can be made that in order for students to obtain such an understanding of literature and the proceeding interpretations of it that Chambers and Gregory impose, theory must be woven in to the curriculum.

Just because there is not a blatant example to show an undergraduate student how one can use new knowledge, it does not mean it is not beneficial or cannot help make future decisions. How do we know if a student finds a specific subject interesting unless they are introduced to an array of possibilities that subject has to offer? For example, a student who excels in math during high school becomes eligible to take more challenging math courses that are not necessarily a requirement of their high school education, such as advanced algebra and trigonometry. Without specific career choices set, a trigonometry teacher cannot explain to his or her students as to why knowing how to identify the asymptote of a line, or figuring the triangulation of an object is relevant to learn. However, because the students have trigonometry as a part of their skill set, they become more knowledgeable in making those future career choices that are inevitable for all of them. As a result, the familiarity of asymptotes, or trigonometry in general,  may result in a student finding interest in the subject and as a result, choose a major or career choice that is math or trig based such as engineering or architecture. The same applies to Literature. How can an undergraduate student know if his or her personal interests lie in literature if they are not working with theory – one of the main aspects of literature as a discipline?

Chambers and Gregory acknowledge the possibility of including theory as a part of undergraduate work, noting that, because most beginning students have not read or dealt with theoretical works before, “we should surely just accept that they will find it difficult” (73). However, just because something is difficult, does not mean that it should be excluded, especially in a university environment where students should be challenged in order to learn and grow. As a possible solution to the challenging aspects of theory, the authors suggest that theory be placed in its own genre and that teachers specifically show their students strategies on how to read theory proficiently. In addition, teachers are also encouraged to reduce student confusion by either narrowing down the theoretical approaches they teach, or narrow down the text in which they are all applied (76-77). Not only will undergraduate students be more prepared for theoretical graduate work, if they should choose to embark in higher education, but they will also be more aware of what is to come in graduate school. Theory may in fact be the additional tidbit of information that allows undergraduate students to choose literature as their future career choice. Moreover, if a student realizes in undergraduate study that they do not personally find theory compelling, then they are able to skip over the stressful and overwhelming step of realizing it later in graduate work.

Works Cited:

Chambers, Ellie, and Marshall Gregory. “Teaching Literary Theory and Teaching Writing.” Teaching & Learning English Literature. London: SAGE Publ., 2006. 63-90.

Reading Literature, Enhancing Vocabulary

In attempts to encourage students to widen their vocabulary, teachers should include such engagement in their literature classroom, not just English composition.

Along with allowing students to engage with a text on a literary level, why not ask them to engage in a more linguistic level as well?

  • As students begin to read an assigned text for a literature class, ask them to highlight, circle, underline, or keep a running list in a notebook of the words that they are unfamiliar with.
    • Is the word used more than once in the novel? Have students compare the ways in which the word is used and in what context in relation to the plot/events/descriptions/characters/etc.
  • Encourage them to use context clues from the text itself to help them form a definition of the word.
  • Next, ask that they look the word up in the dictionary to compare their own definition with the formal definition.
    • How did the author use the word in their work?

Not only will the activity enhance their vocabulary, but it will also allow the students to engage with the text on a more critical and engaging level.

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