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?
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.
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.
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.”