As you can see from a quick glance at the blog authors, I experimented last spring with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. Unfortunately, some students didn't get their work in back in May, so I've been sitting on the last two post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Science Fiction course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, was simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These were not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them and what they learned by teaching it. So here's the next-to-last such set of them.
Two teams gave presentations on Connie Willis's Doomsday Book.
Clark leads off the first team's response:
Generally, public speaking is something I’m not too crazy about, but the environment in out classroom this year actually made it fairly easy to field our questions, and let our opinions be heard. I was also luckily paired up with a partner that I got along with, and was well versed in the topic of time travel, as he’s actually a philosophy major. Throughout our meetings, my time spent with the novel, and the presentation given on the last day of class, my knowledge on the topic of time travel has basically skyrocketed.
Being able to present on a novel that dealt with this specific subject was also something that I feel helped our discussion go pretty smoothly. Really, any way you look at it, most people have some interest regarding the subject, and are probably willing to give their take on the idea as a whole. Also, who hasn’t thought about where they would most like to travel to if they were given a time machine of their own?
I learned a lot from teaching the class on the first book of Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book. I’m a philosophy major and have never done much critical reading of fiction before. Critically reading fiction is very different than critically reading the philosophy papers that I am used to. In a work of fiction, there are literary elements that you just don’t see in the world of academic papers. I had a hard time finding the major themes within the book but a very easy time trying to find questions to ask the class. In the papers I am used to reading, the writing is normally straightforward and they make sure you don’t get left thinking “how did that thing work?” or “I missed some hidden message” like I was getting from most of the books in this course. I do read a lot of fiction, mostly high fantasy, but I had never read them critically before. I feel that this teaching assignment made me grow as a fiction reader in that I now understand better how to find the questions that may make the plot more interesting, the characters more human, and the book more fulfilling.
I really enjoyed this assignment as a whole. I plan on eventually becoming a philosophy professor and this assignment really let me get into a professor’s shoes for a day. It really let me see what I was in for. This assignment also let me work on my group project skills. I would have preferred to work alone because I usually do, but being forced to work with someone that I wasn’t really familiar with really allowed me to grow as a student in academia. I think that being able to work with any one at any time is a very important skill to have and doing assignments like these are really helpful in building your ability to do so.
When I first began researching for teaching the class on Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, the first realization I had was how different preparation for teaching was from researching for a paper. When you are obtaining information for teaching, you have to convert it from pure research into something that will hold class attention. In addition to being able to hold class interest, it was more important to memorize the facts you learned while researching. Nothing irritates me more than a professor who does nothing but read from notes or a text all class period long, so I tried to remember that while I was working on my lesson plan. I wrote brief reminder notes to spark memories of things I learned instead of writing them all out, so I wasn’t even tempted to just read from notes.
Another thing I felt was important to teaching was involving the students in discussion as opposed to just giving a lecture. I found this much easier said than done. Maybe it was that end of semester trance we fall into, but it seemed really hard to get any sort of reaction out of students in the class. There were a few students who did respond, but it seems like it is always those few students and I who have anything to say. Needless to say I was very grateful to them for not leaving me hanging out there like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
In researching this novel, I gained a lot of knowledge about time travel. I learned that not only is it a question of Physics, but also a prominent discussion in Philosophy and Literature as well. To me this reinforces how Science Fiction can become Science not-so-Fiction given time. The amount of research out there on time travel was staggering. I also got frustrated trying to understand the physics aspect of it when my concentrated areas of study are English and Philosophy. It was hard to wade through all of it without ending up focusing just on time travel and ignoring the novel, when after all, the novel was what I was supposed to be teaching. So, I decided to just briefly touch on the scientific aspects and provided just enough information to compel students to learn more without teaching an entire class on the Grandfather Paradox, Einstein’s Time knots and the Butterfly effect.
Finding a way to relate this book to the theme of the unit was the one easy part. “Histories of the Future” was obviously reflected in this novel since the plots were both in history and the future. The hard part was relating it to something that was happening when the book was written. With the Cold War over, and Bird Flu, SARS and Anthrax yet to come, authorial intent was somewhat hard to identify. This is often the fault with authorial intent, so I didn’t dwell too much on it and decided to take my focuses elsewhere.
I learned a few things in class from the students. Although the discussion wasn’t exactly on topic, we began discussing comic books during a lull in class conversation. I had no idea that comic books were actually Science Fiction. However they never interested me much and I have very little time for them, so I never really gave comic books much thought. To me superheroes were for kids and guys, not for 32-year-old English majors. I felt grossly uninformed and a bit silly with my lack of comic book knowledge, but I guess that’s what I deserved for stereotyping.
In the end, I feel that teaching a class was a very important experience for me. I have always had a deep respect for teachers, but never realized just how difficult it can be. The hardest part isn’t necessarily coming up with the lesson plan, but involving and interesting students. I learned a lot from the experience, and I am now especially glad to have changed my career goal to Library Science because while I respect and admire professors, I don’t envy them.