8th April, 2020
Bookish Stuff: Teaching Literature Remotely
This is a somewhat unusual article for this blog as it is neither a review nor a bookshop spotlight or some such. It still has a bookish connection though as I teach British Literature at a German university and feel like I want to reflect on the changes Covid-19 has brought to how I'm now doing my job.
Ever since our Government postponed the beginning of the summer semester by two weeks, we've been told that we'd better start revamping all our seminars so that they work as remote-learning courses. Whew! That is quite a task, especially since I had already prepared everything for regular teaching.
I mean, compared to other disciplines, we actually are in quite a priviledged position. I'm aware of that. I don't even want to think about what it must be like for colleagues teaching in subjects like chemistry, where the use of lab space is essential for a decent learning outcome. Us literary scholars are often smiled upon by people who claim that we are only sitting in our little ivory towers where we read all day. Right now, during lockdown, it actually does feel a little like that but normally that is not what we do. Yes, we read a lot but we certainly have not lost touch with reality. Literature can teach us way more things than a lot of people are aware of... but that is another story and should be told at another time (and yes, I stole that line from one of my favourite children's books).
But even if we don't need labs or field work etc., I find it quite challenging to suddenly gear my seminars towards remote teaching and learning.
The main reason is that literature classes thrive from class discussions. When I step into a seminar, I never really know where we will end up by the time class finishes, simply because my students will have had diverse reactions to the texts they read and prepared at home and, while I can have a certain target goal, we can never fully tell where our debate will lead us. And this is exactly what the humanities are about - they teach students to engage critically with any sort of text, to be flexible, to be quick analytical thinkers and to be open-minded. This is something I will unfortunately not be able to fully recreate when I'm teaching them online. My classes are too big to really work well in the form of a virtual classroom. Also, not all students have access to a quick internet connection so live online classes would put certain people at a significant disadvantage. So instead, I'm providing my students with texts, guiding questions, short explanatory videos, etc. and I rely on them to be focused and disciplined in this more independent form of learning while I'm always available via email, landline phone or video calls and the occasional Zoom session if larger questions should pop up. Yes, it will work - I'm quite sure of that - and it is an interesting challenge, but it will simply not be the same as seeing and engaging with them face-to-face. I love to show them what it means to be passionate about literature, about books, about popular culture and I usually do that by geeking out myself and thereby showing them that it's okay to be geeky and ardent about something. I will try to do my best to get that across online but I'm still looking forward to finally seeing their faces again when all of this is over. :-)
How is the current situation influencing your job? Let me know in the comments. :-)
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