Title

Visualizing Difference, Seeing Differently: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Teaching Canonical Literature

Streaming Media

Submission Type

20-minute Presentation

Abstract

In humanities departments at many elite universities, exposure to an established canon of core texts remains a mainstay for undergraduate learning; yet, with student bodies becoming more diverse, historically feminist questions about the salience and representativeness of canonical curricula have become ever more relevant. In this presentation, I look at innovative technologies available to politically conscious teachers for leveraging the canon in order to reveal glaring elisions around race, sexuality, gender, class and more in their classrooms. I make a case for teaching textual close reading, a fundamental skill for literary study and critical thinking more broadly, through digital visual analysis, especially in generalist classrooms. In particular, I showcase a blended learning tool pioneered at Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning called Mediathread. This collaborative digital annotation tool links students’ analysis of posted images to course content in numerous ways. By way of a brief overview, “selection” assignments promote specificity in students’ argumentation, requiring them to draw polygons around the details they are analyzing. More advanced “composition” assignments enable longer essays bridging visual and textual close reading; similarly, new “sequence” assignments allow students to submit a chain of multimedia and relevant annotations.

In my experience, unifying visual and textual approaches to teaching the canon concretizes students’ understandings of close reading on a conceptual level, in addition to revealing nuanced social differences hidden within difficult canonical texts. Students may not understand a medieval text’s reductive interpretation of feminine reproduction until they see an anatomical diagram from the time period, for example. Moreover, Mediathread has allowed my students to manifest the racism, misogyny, homophobia and classism embedded in both history and our course materials for themselves. In another example, enjoining students to take a second look at the problematic book cover on their edition of Dante’s Inferno has recurrently provoked fruitful discussions about the legacies of multiply overlapping oppressions in our cultural imaginaries today. In essence, I advocate a multidisciplinary approach to literary study through blended learning practices. I argue that visualizing difference can help us—and help us help our students— to see seemingly entrenched, preeminent canonical texts differently, as occasions for critique rather than exclusionary affirmations of Western cultural excellence.

Session

Presentation

Location

Thomas 104

Start Date

5-18-2017 10:40 AM

End Date

5-18-2017 12:00 PM

Comments

Here is a link to Mediathread (http://mediathread.info/). Also a very brief biographical note: I received my B.A. in English and Growth & Structure of Cities from Bryn Mawr in 2010. I was so pleased when my supervisor at Columbia's Center for Teaching and Learning forwarded this opportunity to me; thank you for putting together this conference.

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May 18th, 10:40 AM May 18th, 12:00 PM

Visualizing Difference, Seeing Differently: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Teaching Canonical Literature

Thomas 104

In humanities departments at many elite universities, exposure to an established canon of core texts remains a mainstay for undergraduate learning; yet, with student bodies becoming more diverse, historically feminist questions about the salience and representativeness of canonical curricula have become ever more relevant. In this presentation, I look at innovative technologies available to politically conscious teachers for leveraging the canon in order to reveal glaring elisions around race, sexuality, gender, class and more in their classrooms. I make a case for teaching textual close reading, a fundamental skill for literary study and critical thinking more broadly, through digital visual analysis, especially in generalist classrooms. In particular, I showcase a blended learning tool pioneered at Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning called Mediathread. This collaborative digital annotation tool links students’ analysis of posted images to course content in numerous ways. By way of a brief overview, “selection” assignments promote specificity in students’ argumentation, requiring them to draw polygons around the details they are analyzing. More advanced “composition” assignments enable longer essays bridging visual and textual close reading; similarly, new “sequence” assignments allow students to submit a chain of multimedia and relevant annotations.

In my experience, unifying visual and textual approaches to teaching the canon concretizes students’ understandings of close reading on a conceptual level, in addition to revealing nuanced social differences hidden within difficult canonical texts. Students may not understand a medieval text’s reductive interpretation of feminine reproduction until they see an anatomical diagram from the time period, for example. Moreover, Mediathread has allowed my students to manifest the racism, misogyny, homophobia and classism embedded in both history and our course materials for themselves. In another example, enjoining students to take a second look at the problematic book cover on their edition of Dante’s Inferno has recurrently provoked fruitful discussions about the legacies of multiply overlapping oppressions in our cultural imaginaries today. In essence, I advocate a multidisciplinary approach to literary study through blended learning practices. I argue that visualizing difference can help us—and help us help our students— to see seemingly entrenched, preeminent canonical texts differently, as occasions for critique rather than exclusionary affirmations of Western cultural excellence.