Toward an Augmented Criticism

All literary criticism is exemplary, but some literary criticism is more exemplary than others.

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Augmented Criticism and Rhetorical Figures


This paper is the latest in a series about the Rhetorical Schematics Project, housed in the Augmented Criticism Lab: a digital collaboration between the Universities of Waterloo and Calgary, where Adam James Bradley and I are based.

I presented it first at the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies (CSRS) conference at Congress 2015, and a revised version a few weeks later at the 2015 Shakespearean Theatre Conference in Stratford, Ontario. 


2015-05-30 CSRS slideshow.002

My subject is “Augmented Criticism and Rhetorical Figures.” If that sounds highly technical, let me assure you that Adam and I are literary critics first and digital humanists second. That is, we use computers only to augment traditional research inquities, that are rooted in philology.

Here, for instance, our inquiry is into rhetorical figures, or the patterns of repetition and variation that make poetic language memorable, compelling, and beautiful.

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‘Earn your Shakespeare badge’ video

The Design for Learning 2015 conference has posted the video of our workshop, along with others.

Here’s the complete series of posts on this project.

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English 205: The Twitter Assignment

Using twitter in English 205 will help me listen to your reactions to the course material, to make my teaching more responsive to your questions. My goal is to encourage you each to ask questions about Shakespeare, questions that will identify “trending topics” (as twitter calls them) in the class at large. I want to help each of you move toward higher-level questions by the end of the course: questions that show not merely how much you know, but how well you think. With time, are you moving from understanding to analyzing, and from analyzing to evaluating? Do you read between the lines, make connections between passages, convey more than one layer of information?

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Listening with Twitter

On Day 1 of a course, after I’ve given students essential information like my office hours and how to pronounce my name, I ask about their prior knowledge of the subject. In my introduction to Shakespeare, for instance, I ask which of his plays they read in high school, which they’ve seen in performance, and if they have a favourite (and why).  And I ask what students hope to get out of the course, beyond fulfilling a requirement.

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Groupthink, multitasking, & other issues

Having decided to teach Shakespeare with Twitter this fall, I’ve been thinking about a few issues. If others occur to you, gentle reader, I’d be grateful for your solutions in the comments below.

Groupthink. Jonah Lehrer recently wrote about groupthink overshadowing–skewing–the wisdom of crowds. In sum, when you consult a group of people as individual thinkers, their aggregate response is remarkably close to the truth. But when they can see each other’s responses, there’s a reversion to the mean: “um, what she said.” Particularly when the question is vexing, or seems to have a right-or-wrong answer.

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Teaching Shakespeare with Twitter

So it’s official, now: I’m teaching with Twitter in my English 205 (Shakespeare) course this fall.

How? By requiring all students to submit questions that the reading material provokes in them, after they’re finished reading a text. I’m explicitly not encouraging multi-tasking, or tweeting while reading; on the contrary, I underscore the benefits of solitude, of focus, of (as Milton put it) “the quiet and still air of delightful studies.”

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Managing student questions

I’m going to try two online systems for managing student questions, on anything related to the course.

The first is Google Moderator, which I’d not heard of before I read a New York Times story today. In theory, this tool “lets a class type questions and vote for the ones they would most like answered.” I’m interested to see how it works in practice. Here’s the link.

The second is Quora, a sort of social network for questions and answers. Here’s the link to the Fall 2011 English 205 topic I started. Note that it uses the same code (F2011 ENGL205) as this blog, which I borrowed from Blackboard.

Hamlet in the Humanities Lab

This post has been converted to a permanent page, so that I can nest contents related to the course there.