At Creighton, the semester started Wednesday, which means the first week has come and gone. This term, I’m teaching first-year composition and directing two independent studies. The Advanced Composition: Image, Sound, Text course was canceled due to low enrollment and in its place I’ve been assigned an alternative service project in which I will compose the first draft of a handbook for English majors.

I’m looking forward to that project for two reasons. First, there’s the obvious fact that in creating the handbook, I’ll be getting a crash course in the various aspects of my new academic home, including meeting and talking with each member of the department one-on-one. And then there’s the fact that it’s a new kind of project for me. I helped write sections of the Writing Program Resource Manual at Saint Louis University and co-authored a computer-assisted instruction guide for the same. And I’ve written various small technical documents from assignment guidelines to how-to guides for using a MOO and specific computing tasks. All of those projects, have had little input from others and while I was writing for a specific audience, either I was the “boss” or I had one specific person overseeing what I wrote. This project will incorporate existing material and pull in information and ideas from close to twenty people. While the chair is my immediate editor/boss, the department as a whole have a stake and say in what I write, to say nothing of the primary audience for whom this manual is being created. I’ve taught introductory techincal and professional writing classes before and I hope to do so again, so I’m looking forward to taking on this new writing situation. I like to practice what I teach.

The first-year composition course is a modified version of what I taught last semester, which is a course centered around Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Masssage. For the first time in my life, I’m not making any significant changes to a course. However, I have rearranged the major project sequence, rewrote some of the assignments and structured more assignment sequencing, added Donald Murray’s The Craft of Revision, and style and immitation exercises drawn from Crowley and Hawhee’s Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students (a textbook I really hope to organize a course around someday). The major projects involve “Your Life in Media,” a project which asks students to define themselves through five mediums important to them—we use McLuhan’s definition of media as an extention of some human faculty and last semester students included cellphones, the spoken word, color, dance, passports, and friends); a playlist assignment in which students create a playlist to represent an idea, event, mood, or theme; an annotation project in which students research and annotate sections of McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage for future students; and a rhetorical analysis of a section from McLuhan’s book. There’s also a midterm and final portfolio that include an essay reflecting upon their writing and engagement with the course, using their own work as evidence to support their claims. A couple of the FYC classes are far from full, but for whatever reason the powers that be made the decision not to cut any of them, and I’ve got one of those. Right now, the class is less than half full. I had a FYC class like this once before and it was awesome. Because the grading load was so much less than I’m used to, I was able to spend much more time tailoring the course to meet the individual needs of each student in a way that I’ve just not able to do with a full class.

Back in November, I was asked to direct an independent study in Medieval and Early Renaissance literature by a student who needs this class to graduate the spring with an emphasis in British literature rather than a generic “English” degree. After talking with my chair, I agreed and we’re off. We’re reading the following texts:

  • Alexander, Michael. A History of Old English Literature.
  • The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology. Trans. Kevin Crossley-Holland.
  • Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Trans. R. M. Liuzza.
  • Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. Richard Green.
  • Burrow, J.A. Medieval Writers and Their Work: Middle English Literature and Its Background, 1100-1500. 2nd ed.
  • Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse. Ed. Bella Millett and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne.
  • The Lais of Marie de France. Ed. Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante.
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. Trans. J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. and Trans. By A. Kent Hieatt and Constance Hieatt.

We’re also reading a few Old English poems not in the Crossley-Holland anthology, including “Juliana,” “Elene,” “Christ II,” “Genesis A” or “Genesis B” and/or “Exodus,” and “Christ and Satan,” and we’re going to look at Tolkien’s “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son.” (The student has done an extensive project on Milton’s Satan, so I thought looking at the Old English Satan and Tolkien’s discussion of ofermod might be fun because, you know, Milton’s friend owned the Junius MS and there’s speculation it might have served as inspiration for Paradise Lost.) We’ll also be reading some poetry by Skelton, Elizabeth I, and maybe some other stuff. Said student has a decent grounding in Renaissance lit, so we’re focusing on the Medieval.

Finally, the other independent study is with a student who was enrolled in the canceled Advanced Composition: Image, Sound, Text. Said student was in the Composition in the Digital Age course last semester, so I agreed to direct this one as well. I’m scheduled to teach the Advanced Comp class in the fall, so this will let me better thrash out some ideas and assignments before it’s a full course.