Dürer's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"

The End of the World As We Know It; Or, My Post-Apocalyptic Lit/Comp II Class

Yesterday, a small team of faculty in our department spent four very productive hours, fueled by coffee and mini-Creme Brulee confections from Doughnut Plant, workshopping our hybrid syllabi and assignments for the spring. We applied for and received a generous grant from LaGuardia’s Center for Teaching & Learning to work on our hybrid program this year, and a group of us are working more closely on hybrid course design and further program development.

This is my first time teaching ENG 102: Writing Through Literature – our second-level composition class – as a hybrid. I taught the course around post-apocalyptic lit last year, but I’m overhauling it now both in terms of content (while keeping the post-apocalyptic theme) and design for hybrid delivery. ENG 102 is a bit of an odd beast: it is only three credits, but with four required essays (including an in-class final), and touching on at least three genres (including drama and poetry). So there’s a lot of coverage in terms of genre and texts, but it also serves as the second level composition class: meaning that we are still explicitly building writing, text analysis, and research skills as well. I use explicitly because these elements (at least in my mind) need to still be very clearly framed and articulated in this course.

Throughout our discussions yesterday, I kept coming back to some basic reflective elements that I wanted to keep in mind as I tweak my syllabus and tidy things up for the March semester start. These reflective aspects seem particularly important in a hybrid situation, where students might need additional support in a digital environment – but also seem to be essential for any course design: how am I scaffolding the skills and assignments, week-to-week and throughout the class? Why am I creating this particular assignment at all (both in terms of course objectives, and in terms of what I want the students to gain from it)? How are analytical and writing skills supported and enhanced throughout the class? How does the digital platform, tool, or activity aligned with an assignment uniquely address the aims of the project, and the course overall? I always find it worthwhile to re-visit colleague Laura Tanenbaum’s “8 Approaches to the Papers/Grading Dilemma” whenever I’m thinking about course design as well.

To this end, these are the three major writing assignments (excluding the final exam, which must remain *top secret* because it is a bit unconventional and requires the element of surprise – email me for details if interested) I am now wrangling for the class – they are hyperlinked in the following narratives and are available via the syllabus below:

  • Creative Re-telling Assignment : Students will work with narrative perspective and think about other elements of fiction (influenced in large part by Amy Cummins’ “Tell Me a Story” article in Currents in Teaching and Learning) for this creative writing assignment, re-writing a short story we read in class together (either Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” or another short story TBD. Suggestions welcome!). This introduces hard-core textual analysis (I also generated this Reading Short Stories guide to help them out) and encourages students to think about the basic apparatus of short-telling in a creative fashion. They will write an introductory statement explaining their choices. As for the hybrid element, students will be conducting peer reviews via GoogleDocs online and having debriefing meetings in class.
  • Soundtrack for a Small Planet : Using Elinor Fuchs’ “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play” as their guide, students will conduct a deeper analysis of the first two plays in Mac Rogers’ Honeycomb Trilogy  – Advance Man and Blast Radius. For those who haven’t read Fuchs’ article, it includes a series of questions that encourages students to move beyond basic plot/character analysis and think about the “world” of the play more deeply. It was written originally for a dramaturgy class, but I’ve found it wildly helpful for any kind of play analysis. Students will select intro and outro music for a particular scene, create an audio recording, and justify their choices (both of the scene itself and the music) in an analytical paper. The recordings and justifications – like the Creative Re-telling Assignment – will be shared between the two sections of 102 I’m running during the spring term.
  • Research Assignment: Here was one I grappled with in particular, because I struggle sometimes with teaching poetry. For this assignment, students will first use choose a poem referenced in M.R. Carey’s zombie post-apocalyptic novel, The Girl With All the Gifts. Working in small research teams, students will create bibliographies and then use Annotation Studio to collaboratively annotate poems together. Finally, they will write individual research papers linking/exploring the poem in the context of the novel overall. The idea is that they are conducting close readings, research, connecting themes, and generally developing their literary analysis skills.

Here’s our course schedule & bibliography. The syllabus – created using Piktochart – is below. Recommendations and tweaks are welcome: we still have a couple weeks before the term starts. Thanks in advance for any feedback, and thanks especially to the hybrid mini-grant team for their thoughts and advice yesterday.

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