Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching
Edited by Dona J. Hickey and Donna Reiss
Foreword by Kenneth Bruffee
"Innovation, Instruction and Literary Studies"
Background and Overview
In response to challenges and changes in higher education, how should professors of literature confront the questions of literacy—cultural, print, computer, and, as Sandra Gilbert said in her 1996 MLA presidential address, "plain old literal literacy" (371)? And how do they apply their thinking about new literacies to their literature classes? The authors of the chapters in Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching offer instructional approaches that emphasize these multiple literacies as well as active and collaborative learning techniques. Their students write as well as read and listen: they write informally as well as formally; they construct their own literary texts; they collaborate in a variety of ways; and they use electronic communication.
Like many other teachers of literature, we had looked for some answers to Gilberts questions about literacy and teaching literature in the PMLA special issue on the teaching of literature (January 1997) but found instead, as Kenneth Bruffees subsequent response pointed out (May 1997), that contributors evaded the central question, "What should a literary academic do in the classroom?" (440). Similarly, George Levine described that issue as "symptomatic of the professions failure to engage the most serious issues of teaching literature" (437). Subsequent to the special issue on the teaching of literature and the critical letters that followed, the MLA Newsletter (Summer 1998) included a special supplement on Innovations in Undergraduate Teaching. This newsletter included short articles about the training of graduate students to be teachers as well as scholars, shared responsibility for learning activities, incorporation of computer-conferencing, and analysis of multiple syllabi. The necessary brevity of these articles meant the omission of details and examples to illustrate student interaction with the literature; however, their very publication demonstrated some responsiveness by the MLA to pedagogy.
The contributors to Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching have addressed a number of these instructional issues, often confronting the impediments described by Biddy Martins introductory essay for the PMLA special issue on the teaching of literature (January 1997): "As teachers of literature, we need to identify and remove the educational barriers to complex, creative thought that are built into institutional structures, departmental requirements, and pedagogical approaches" (11). Martin further emphasized the forces against innovation in literature instruction, including "disincentives [for faculty] to collaborate and coteach" and "little institutional support for forms of teaching that do not fit into the regular thinking patterns" (13-14).
Despite that lack of support, despite the disincentives, despite the widespread institutional emphasis on research and departmental organization, teachers are developing and practicing teaching strategies that are not traditional, as the chapters in Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching illustrate. Teachers and their students are collaborating across disciplines and across colleges, in some cases across countries and grade levels, demystifying literary studies for students brought up on visual media and inculcating in students not destined to be academicians themselves a love of the English language and the literary arts. These teachers are leading their campuses in the use of visual communication, computer-mediated communication, and multimedia to support instruction. They are inviting students to understand the literary arts as practitioners, not just in "creative writing" classes but also in introductory literature classes, upper-level literature classes, and literary theory seminars. Students write hypertexts or construct multimedia; they write poems and plays; they compose lyrics to songs; they write letters to critics, poets, and each other.
The contributors to Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching describe a range of ways that teachers of literature and literary theory offer repeated occasions for students to learn literature as they
Two themes that emerge in this collection are multiple literacies and innovation, especially innovation using technology. Encompassing most of the chapters is a clear focus on active and collaborative learning, incorporating learning-centered and social constructionist perspectives in which a variety of ways of communicating are valued and in which students are respected as developing authorities.
In his Foreword to Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching, Kenneth Bruffee reminds us that collaborative learning "shifts the locus of classroom authority, transforming the way students and teacher construct both authority and knowledge." He concludes with three observations:
The chapters of Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching illustrate these premises.
(Re)Vision and (Re)Acculturation
The teachers represented in Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching have heard the call from students, employers, and academic administrators for more relevant learning experiences in an ever-changing world: for students with the skills to build community within diversity, the skills, that is, of cooperation and collaboration as well as engagement with complex issues and the aesthetics of literature. The goal of such teaching, as Bruffee emphasizes, is "reacculturation." It is a shift from understanding teaching as "making students see what the teacher sees" to inviting them to engage texts together, as a community, and to learn how, with their teacher, knowledge and authority are culturally and socially constructed. And this goal of reacculturation is a linchpin of Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching.
In Critical Theory and the Teaching of Literature: Politics, Curriculum, Pedagogy, editors James T. Slevin and Art Young classify among the "central questions of our discipline at this time" four issues, of which two are also central to Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching: "the end of the professor as the agent of learning" and "the end of the classroom as a place where education is delivered" (ix). The authors of Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching respond to these issues as beginnings rather than endings, as places where professors are partners in learning, and where education is not just delivered but discovered, constructed, and disseminated.
Preview of Chapters
Recognizing that many of these chapters would fit just as comfortably in another category as they do in the category into which we have placed them--multiple literacies and active and collaborative learning provide a strong philosophical foundation for most of the pedagogies offered here--we have organized the volume in four sections to reflect four types of innovative approaches: Literary License: Alternative Readings and Writings, Visual Literacy and Visualizing Literature, Learning Literature through Partnerships, and Cyberlit: Hypertext, Hypermedia, and Multimedia. In addition to the full-length chapters, we include several mini-chapters, short pieces with practical ideas for alternatives to traditional teaching approaches.
Part One: Literary License: Alternative Readings and Writings
We begin with Literary License: Alternative Readings and Writings. The authors of these chapters have developed or adapted approaches that enhance creativity, community, communication, interpretation, and pleasure in reading and writing about literature. In a recent collection, Rethinking American Literature, James S. Laughlin describes a collaborative project in which students develop an anthology of American rock music designed for "crossing the bridge between the work theyd done and the work the editors of our literary anthology appeared to have done" (241). The chapters in Literary License feature similarly instructive and compelling pedagogical approaches in which students write imaginative works as a way to understand imaginative works.
Part Two: Visual Literacy and Visualizing Literature
The chapters in Visual Literacy and Visualizing Literature remind us that we, like our students, are residents of an increasingly visual culture. Computers and the World Wide Web have contributed to this influence, but relationships between the visual and verbal are not new to literature. Illuminated manuscripts and Blakes drawings come immediately to mind. An early direct connection between imaginative literature and the visual arts comes from Plutarch and Horace, according to Amy Golahny, who quotes Plutarchs reference to Simonides, pictura poesis ("as in painting, so in poetry") and paraphrases Horaces words, "[P]ainting is mute poetry and poetry a speaking picture" (11). Contemporary teachers are approaching the visual-verbal relationship in student-generated illustrations.
Part Three: Learning Literature through Partnerships
Learning Literature through Partnerships has only two chapters, but not because only two collaborative activities are included in this collection; collaborations are included in many of the other articles. These two chapters are unique, however, because of their cross-disciplinary partnerships.
Part Four: Cyberlit: Hypertext, Hypermedia, and Multimedia
Our final section, Cyberlit: Hypertext, Hypermedia, and Multimedia was in some ways our starting point. Dona Hickey and Donna Reiss met in 1996 at the first Epiphany Project workshop, scheduled opposite each other to conduct hands-on sessions on writing about poetry with computer conferencing. Afterwards, we met in the hall, exchanged handouts, and found that we had considerable common ground in our approaches to teaching literature despite the differences in our institutions and student populations, Dona at a small private selective university and Donna at a large multicampus open-admissions community college. It turned out we both had a background in writing across the curriculum and an ongoing interest in student-centered learning, learning communities, and professional development, emphasizing computer-mediated communication in writing, literature, and across the curriculum. We have since collaborated as the cyberdon(n)as, workshop leaders at Epiphany institutes and elsewhere, always interested in the ways computer conferencing can help our students build learning communities, communicate about literature informally and formally, and appreciate literature.
When we were invited to collaborate on a book about new approaches to teaching literature, we knew we did not want to limit ourselves to new technologies, tempting as that approach might be and important as we consider computer-assisted instruction. We had met and read about teachers trying other instructional strategies, some of them new and others revisions of valuable old approaches, and wanted to feature that range. But we did want to represent the wonderful work being done with student-constructed projects and Internet enhancements. We are not ready to dismiss more static texts even in what Jay Bolter calls "the late age of print" (xiii); however, we see that the writing students do on line, including creation of their own hypertexts, helps them understand the new fictions that are just beginning to appear on our syllabi, such as Carolyn Guyers Quibbling, or Sister Stories with Rosemary Joyce and Michael Joyce (Guyer is among the first wave of writers to publish hypertext fiction), Michael Joyces Afternoon, and Stuart Moulthrops Victory Garden.
With Nancy Kaplan, Moulthrop encourages student hypertexts as a "form of writing [that] helps engage students in an encounter with literature, raising the possibility of a new community of critical and creative discourse. This community, whose conventions are not yet formed, can only be defined by a confluence of literature, composition, and technology" (8). Such student-developed critical and literary hypertexts and hypermedia can display what Randy Bass in Engines of Inquiry identifies as six attributes of effective instruction that technology can enhance: distributive learning, authentic tasks and complex inquiry, dialogic learning, constructive learning, public accountability, and reflective and critical thinking. The chapters in Cyberlit: Hypertext, Hypermedia, and Multimedia offer a range of examples that fulfill most or all of those criteria. James J. Sosnoski reminds us that human involvement is whats important in the use of computers for literary study and emphasizes the teachers role and the teachers design (274). Readers will recognize the significance of the instructional design of the activities in guiding the students whose projects are praised by their teachers in in Cyberlit: Hypertext, Hypermedia, and Multimedia.
Forward from the Foreword
The instructional strategies in Learning Literature in an Era of Change: Innovations in Teaching attempt to incorporate shifts in authority, socially constructed knowledge, and, if not a more intellectually and aesthetically satisfying literary criticism, then certainly a more intellectually and aesthetically satisfying understanding and appreciation of literature among our college and university students and faculty.
The authors in this collection call to mind Sandra Gilberts "fortunate figures"those "whose teaching, speaking, reading, and writing are mutually supportive, interlocking activities" (375). In their revisioning of instructional approaches, these scholar-teachers strive to createfor themselves and with their studentsthe ideal dynamic of knowledge-making in the academy: a cooperative and collaborative exchange of ideas within a community of learners who, in response to each other, become increasingly knowledgeable and increasingly aware of other paths to knowledge.
Bass, Randy. Engines of Inquiry. Teaching, Technology, and Learner-Centered Approaches to Culture and History. Feb. 1998. http://www.georgetown.edu/crossroads/guide/engines.html (13 Dec. 1998)
Bolter, Jay. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbum, 1991.
Bruffee, Kenneth A. Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P, 1999.
---. Letter. PMLA 112 (1997): 439-40.
Gilbert, Sandra. "Shadows of Futurity: The Literary Imagination, the MLA, and the Twenty-First Century." PMLA 112 (1997): 370-79.
Graff, Gerald. "Afterword." When Writing Teachers Teach Literature: Bringing Writing to Reading. Ed. Art Young and Toby Fulwiler. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995.
Guyer, Carolyn. Quibbling. Hypertext fiction. Boston: Eastgate, 1992.
---. Sister Stories. Hypertext fiction with Rosemary Joyce and Michael Joyce. Boston: Eastgate, 1997.
Joyce, Michael. Afternoon: A Story. Hypertext fiction. Watertown, MA: Eastgate, 1987.
Laughlin, James S. "Beyond the Culture Wars: Students Teaching Themselves the Conflicts." Rethinking American Literature. Ed. Lil Brannon and Brenda M. Greene. Urbana IL: NCTE, 1997. 231-248.
Levine, George. Letter. PMLA 112 (1997): 436-37.
Moulthrop, Stuart. Victory Garden. Hypertext fiction. Watertown, MA: Eastgate, 1991.
---, and Nancy Kaplan. "Something To Imagine: Literature, Composition, and Interactive Fiction." Computers and Composition 9.1 (1991): 7-23.
Slevin, James T., and Art Young, eds. Critical Theory and the Teaching of Literature: Politics, Curriculum, Pedagogy. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1996.
Sosnoski, James J. "Students as Theorists: Collaborative Hyperbooks." Practicing Theory in Undergraduate College Literature Classes. Ed. James M. Calahan and David B. Dowling. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1991.