The Choose Your Own Adventure Project: A Creative Assignment for the Literature (or Humanities) Classroom

Although I didn’t create the assignment below until about six years ago, when reflecting back on my decade-long teaching career, it stands out as the most memorable and satisfying experience. Once written, it was, by far, the one I reused the most in almost every literature course I taught. It is utterly adaptable for undergraduates at any level, nearly always inspires students to become more deeply invested in their learning, and receives the most positive comments in teaching evaluations. In other words, this assignment is my most successful one, and the one that reminds me every single time of why I wanted to teach in the first place. It is also fun to grade (said no professor ever!), and I mean that unironically. There is, hands down, nothing like seeing students grow passionate about their work and enjoy the hands-on learning experience. For me, this assignment is more about the process than the final product, and effort factors into the final grade in a major way. I always explain to students that creative endeavors do not always end up as planned, despite a great deal of hard work. Sometimes mistakes or flaws in art work out to become something even better than planned, and sometimes not. That’s okay here.

I gage their efforts with a proposal and verbal reports along the way. As a result, students can explore, in a trial and error fashion, without the fear that their grade will suffer dramatically if their project doesn’t turn out exactly right. Oftentimes, I worry that students don’t get enough opportunities for that kind of active learning in their traditional essay assignments in which the quality of their arguments matters most, and these projects have helped me to build space for that in a structured manner. And, as a side note, the quality of student work tends to end up being much greater than expected probably because some of the pressure is taken off of them by allowing more freedom and control. And since they choose their own learning adventure, they simply care more about it.

Unfortunately, I may never have the opportunity to reuse this assignment, but I can’t fathom letting it stay buried in my personal wasteland of old computer files. So, in the off chance that somebody will find inspiration for their own teaching practices, I provide it here to be copied, revised, and adapted at will in any way that suits your instructional needs. It can remain completely open-ended, or made as specific and narrow as possible. Every part of it is flexible. I’ve used versions of it at public schools and private schools, for freshman and seniors, for general education and specialized courses. It works in any setting. Please feel free to use any or all of it, keep it the same, or make it your own. If you have a moment, I’d love to hear about your version of the creative assignment and how it goes in the comments section below.

Link to a .pdf of the Choose Your Own Adventure Project.

Karrie Fuller, PhD
University of Notre Dame

Blog Posts in the Graduate Classroom: Part 2, Pragmatic Considerations

Part 1 of this blog entry presented the rationale behind using the Medieval Studies Research Blog (MSRB) as a pedagogical tool. Part 2 dives into the practical side of graduate-level blog post assignments specifically tailored to the MSRB’s interdisciplinary mission.

Precedent has already been set for bringing the MSRB into the graduate classroom. In fact, the MSRB originally emerged out of Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s manuscript studies course, and her students continue to contribute exceptional work. During the fall 2017 semester, for instance, Kerby-Fulton’s class, “Introduction to Medieval English Manuscript Studies,” worked on the following assignment, for which I recently gave a guest lecture on “How to Write a Successful Blog Post:”

Workshop Assignment: The Workshop Assignment will be the creation of a blog post of about 500 words. Dr. Karrie Fuller (Medieval Institute’s Medieval Studies Research Blog webmaster and Lecturer, St. Mary’s College) will explain the format for this, and both she and I will be happy to help as well to advise on content. It should be delivered on the workshop day; note that your oral presentation of your post should not exceed 5 - 10 minutes, not counting questions afterwards). This assignment is an excellent preparation for conference roundtables and panels.

When constructing a blog assignment for this site, the only restrictions are that the subject matter should somehow relate to the medieval period, and contributions should be written in a style appropriate to the academic blog. Otherwise, the possibilities remain wide open. As in the example just provided, many traditional forms of academic writing and oral presentation can be adapted to fit the blog format, whether as one component of a larger project, or on its own. There is also plenty of room for experimentation with multimedia, tone, creative responses to or reflection on course content. Furthermore, because the site’s interdisciplinary coverage reflects the full range of scholarly activity performed at Notre Dame, instructors from all disciplines should feel welcome to participate.

For additional support with these assignments, the Medieval Institute has recently approved a new classroom visit program. These visits are by no means required for instructors assigning blog posts for this site, but are available for anyone wanting a little extra help preparing students for the task. Visits consist of a twenty-minute guest lecture about how to put together a successful blog post and set it up on WordPress. The graduate students in attendance for my first class visit earlier this semester responded positively to the experience, and will know exactly what to expect when it comes time to prepare their work for publication. Anyone interested in scheduling a class visit can contact me directly (email address listed below).

Moreover, helping graduate students at an early stage of their training to see the benefits of contributing posts will, ideally, encourage them to continue submitting their work as they advance beyond coursework. Becoming a regular, or even an occasional contributor will be even more effective than publishing a single entry as it will demonstrate a more sustained involvement with a large-scale digital project. Because curating an online presence is now a necessity for scholars, this form of professionalization can help graduate students manage their online profiles, making them more memorable, as Battershill suggests, “It is a good idea, in other words, for each grad student to take the time to craft an online presence that is what they want it to be—that is, intentional, professional, and memorable. Students should know what comes up when search committees or journal editors Google their names, and ideally they should try to make sure that the search results on the first few pages include some indication of their academic work.”[1] This site’s university affiliation means that it will show up first in Google searches, and its short article format means that it will add new content to the CVs and publication lists already present on their academia.edu and LinkedIn pages. Contributions are also circulated via Twitter and Facebook to expand their online visibility.

Ultimately, using this site as the basis for course assignments benefits everybody involved. Students and instructors gain DH experience, the Medieval Institute continues to build a strong online research profile, and audiences outside the academy gain greater access to knowledge they would otherwise never receive.

For questions, posting schedules, or class visit sign-ups, feel free to contact me at kfuller2@alumni.nd.edu.

Karrie Fuller, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame/St. Mary’s College

Update 5/4/18: Here is sample assignment that could be adapted easily for graduate students.

Select Bibliography of Introductions to DH and DH Pedagogy

Battershill, Claire and Shawna Ross. Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. Digital_Humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Gardner, Eileen and Ronald G. Musto. The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Gold, Matt K., and Lauren Klein, eds. Debates in Digital Humanities 2016. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

Hirsch, Brett D., ed. Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012.

Schreibman, Susan, Ray Siemans, and John Unsworth, eds. A New Companion to Digital Humanities. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture. Chicester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016.

 

[1] Claire Battershill and Shawna Ross, Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017): 158-159.

Blog Posts in the Graduate Classroom: Part 1, The Rationale

A few weeks ago I wrote a post introducing the Medieval Institute’s new Medieval Undergraduate Research website (now the “Undergrad Wednesdays” series on this site) and encouraging instructors to use it for course assignments that will boost their students’ Digital Humanities (DH) experience. Because DH experience has been crucial to the success of recent medievalist PhDs on the job market, this two-part follow-up post will focus on the value of DH work for them so that they can collaborate with faculty mentors to expand their online presence using this site, the Medieval Institute’s Medieval Studies Research Blog (MSRB). Whereas part 1 makes the case that more faculty should take advantage of this site’s pedagogical potential, part 2 offers specific ideas for incorporating this already active scholarly platform into graduate-level pedagogy.

For many reasons, involvement in DH is no longer optional for rising scholars specializing in the Middle Ages. Tenure-track job ads these days regularly mention DH as a desired subspecialty if not a major component of candidates’ professional profiles. As students increasingly pursue other career options, DH skills become even more important. Publishers, libraries, museums, non-profits, and university administrations rely heavily on technology, necessitating, to extend Geoffrey Rockwell and Stéfan Sinclair’s point about DH degree programs, a newer, broader approach to professional acculturation.[1] There is, in fact, a legitimate sense of urgency behind many graduate students’ desires to pursue DH work matched by an equal level of responsibility demanded of humanities programs to support their efforts. While not all graduate students seeking DH experience intend to (or even need to) specialize in the field, they nevertheless could benefit profoundly from at least some exposure to and hands-on experience with projects that merge technology and humanities research.[2] This site offers one step in that direction, providing a digital platform backed by a major research institution that graduate students can integrate into their training from early on in their program, even at the coursework stage.

The pressures coming from the academic and non-academic job markets stem, in large part, from a growing demand for humanistic work to become more public and more accessible. Nicole Eddy, this site’s original administrator and the new Managing Editor of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, points out that “academics are called on more and more to be not just scholars but Public Humanists, making a case for the significance of their work outside the academy and in new and creative ways. It is no longer sufficient to confine scholarly activity to the classroom or the academic journal, but to instead show the ability to engage with a diverse audience in creative ways.”[3] She also notes that because dissertations tend to be written for specialist audiences, contributing to projects such as this site can expand the reach and impact of our work.

In a broader sense, then, the digital humanities matter because they can deliver our work to a public audience in order to serve a wider community beyond the walls of the academy. Indeed, multiple DH practitioners have commented on the field’s ability to return us to the original spirit of humanism: “the digital humanities might yet again be set to embrace the methods and outlooks that the very first Renaissance humanists took up: to use modern communication skills–digital iterations of rhetoric and grammar–supplemented by the creative arts of the imagination and the reflective wisdom of the historical outlook to reach contemporary audiences with interpretations of what it is to be human and what it is to be a responsible citizen.”[4] With its ability to reach readers both within and without the academy, this site treats public writing as a core function of humanities work, making the relevance and value of our research more transparent.

But, what, exactly, is the Medieval Studies Research Blog (MSRB)? As our “About Us” page suggests, it is an active scholarly platform for scholars at any stage of their careers. What this means is that graduate students who write posts for a course assignment contribute to a DH project that will attract immediate readers. Rather than performing a practice, or exploratory exercise, this particular professional development experience leaves students with an online publication they can list on their CV and a greater confidence in their capacity to bring research to life.

Students posting to this site share company with advanced scholars, such as Maidie Hilmo, whose groundbreaking work on the Pearl-Gawain manuscript is documented here. To our benefit, many of our visiting scholars have contributed their voices, including Richard Cole and Katherine Oswald, with even more scheduled for the coming months. Most of our posts relate to the authors’ current or recent research, written to stake a claim on a certain topic, gain a wider audience for recent publications, or develop an idea they could not fit into their last article. Others write on original topics better suited to the blog format than the academic journal, such as Andrea Castonguay’s contribution on interdisciplinarity, or to take advantage of the genre’s multimedia possibilities as in Richard Fahey’s post on South Bend. Still others write with the goal of creating supplementary background readings that undergraduates could read in their courses. Thus far, we have also created two special series– one on “Working in the Archives” and another on the “North Seas”–as well as a growing and evolving translation and recitation project. Graduate students contributing posts (or translations) to the MSRB, therefore, participate in the project as and alongside other scholars.

Depending on how instructors frame their assignments, thoughtful implementation of the MSRB in the classroom could meet multiple learning outcomes at once. The MSRB could be used to naturally integrate digital genres into our graduate students’ training in a way that helps them to craft a public as well as academic voice. By giving them the opportunity to maintain their digital presence and write for new audiences, this project can enhance their work as researchers, as instructors, as collaborators, and as public servants.[5]

For questions, posting schedules, or class visit sign-ups, feel free to contact me at kfuller2@alumni.nd.edu. Also, follow us on Twitter: @MedievalNDblog.

Part 2 of this post can be found here.

Karrie Fuller, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame/St. Mary’s College

[1] Geoffrey Rockwell and Stéfan Sinclair, “Acculturation and the Digital Humanities Community,” Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles, Politics, ed. by Brett Hirsch (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012): 177-211.

[2] Claire Battershill and Shawna Ross, Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017): see esp. 147-48.

[3] Private correspondence. Quoted with permission.

[4] Eileen Gardner and Ronald G. Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015): 13. For a similar statement, see Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, et al., Digital_Humanities (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012): 25-26.

[5] Many thanks to Erica Machulak for her detailed feedback on this post.