Week 9 Reflections

Course frustrations culminated in an abrupt assignment adjustment this past week. The decision to eliminate the fourth and final observation from ENG 252 came from suffering through the third round of submissions, both oral and written, which were enough evidence that the once interesting idea had gone stale. In future incarnations, there will be two total observations required, one oral and one written, in which students analyze and compare representations of writers and writing, composers and composing. Asking for four such observations from students this semester was just too much for all parties involved.

In contrast, the last student-led reading group session went well. Despite the "boring" and "painful" focus on forms of professional writing, the ensuing whole-class discussion was enlightening and productive. Student discussion leaders offered some very good observations on the importance of putting together cover letters, personal statements and resumes. What I appreciated most was the introduction of a writing activity asking students to compose resumes for cartoon characters. I found this to be an appealing assignment for many reasons. Students in my Winter 2010 technical writing course shouldn't be surprised to encounter some variation of this.

Discussion in ENG 298 was better this week, even though it remained apparent that whole-class discussion has lost significant momentum. The same six or seven students contributed to the conversation; the other two-thirds sat in relative silence with some variance in terms of attention and engagement. As mentioned in my previous reflective post, I am quite glad to be moving forward with the final game studies project because it changes the entire point of holding class. Course goals will soon be even more common and students will need to rely as much on each other as they might me for critical feedback on their work.

I had some expectation that my lunch meeting with three ENG 298 students might turn to their thoughts on the final game studies project, but we ended up just talking about videogames. I was surprised and energized by their questions about the relationship between learning and videogames, about my own starry-eyed aspirations for changing the very structure of college-level courses to better fit what's most successful in RPGs like Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and FPSs like Left 4 Dead. Perhaps that will be a course I guide sometime in the future.

For now, though, I'm skeptical and worried about ENG 513. It appears on the edge of full dissolution. I realize this is my fault; I've mentioned reasons in previous posts. The first few facilitations were of such high quality; perhaps it was naive of me to assume such a level could be maintained. It's almost as if the course began as a modest snowball that took on greater mass each week until it became what it is now. As facilitations became less cohesive endeavors, marked by unexpected comments and uncomfortable silences, an avalanche took shape, and now I wonder if I should try in vain to slow the descent or just ride it out to the end and then climb up and out. This is not to say that some aspects of the past few facilitations haven't been helpful, but these parts seem fewer and farther between.

Then again, these observations might be little more than evidence of how I'm being too hard on myself, the course, the students. The melodramatic nature of my words here are designed to draw attention, of course, but there is a strong element of truth as well. As always, I welcome comments that further this conversation.