The Arizona Desert Lamp

On the English Module

Posted in Campus, Technology by Evan Lisull on 9 February 2009

An engagement left me unable to post this weekend, but I do want to comment on the English module that is slated for implementation. First of all, there is one automatic positive: having an online requirement in the General Education is a good thing, if only because it will to dispel many of the boogeymen of online education, fostered by ignorance and technophobia-lite.

The problem here is with what’s actually being offered:

A one-credit writing skills course and a one-credit research course will soon be required for students to take in conjunction with English 101 and 102, Anne-Marie Hall, director of the writing program, said.

I think one of my favorite Tom Wolfe quotes is quite relevant here:

The American novel is dying, not of obsolesce, but of anorexia. It needs…food. It needs novelists with huge appetites and mighty, unslaked thirsts for…America…as she is right now. It needs novelists with the energy and the verve to approach America the way her moviemakers do, which is to say, with a ravenous curiosity and an urge to go out among her 270 million souls and talk to them and look them in the eye. If the ranks of such novelists swell, the world– even that effete corner which calls itself the literary world– will be amazed by how quickly the American novel comes to life. Food! Food! Feed me! is the cry of the twenty-first century in literature and all the so-called serious arts in America. The second half of the twentieth century was the period when, in a pathetic revolution, European formalism took over America’s arts, or at least the non-electronic arts. The revolution of the twenty-first century, if the arts are to survive, will have a name to which no ism can be easily attached. It will be called “content.” It will be called life, reality, the pulse of the human beast [emphasis added – EML].

Actually, that bold segment serves well as a battle cry for Module Ed. Unless the UA bureaucracy becomes surprisingly creatively minded, a class on “research” will be about as exciting as drying paint. The key is in application, in tweaking (or completely rehauling) students’ writing while they learn about something else.

Another problem arises in the group of students that this requirement is being enacted for — ENG 101-102 students, the students who need the most one-on-one contact with professors to get their writing skills up to university standards. Instead, I’d rather see these units enacted for ENG 103-104 students, who are better able to operate independently and who need less remedial work on their writing. For ENG 109H, you could be even more decentralized — make workshop the core of the semester, meet once a week to simply go over things, see faces behind names, etc., while doing the heavy-lifting of writing and re-writing online. This, while counting for the full 3-unit GenEd requirement, would require very little time from the professor or graduate student, who could then spend more time teaching kids at the lower levels, alleviating pressures on English class size; important, because English is one of the classes, if not the class, where class size really does matter.


3 Responses

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  1. Jimi Alexander said, on 11 February 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I totally agree with you on this front, although I can see the logic in this decision. I am a 104H student piloting the program, and I will agree that taking classroom time away from students in 101 and 102 courses and replacing them with this online stuff is a mistake. I can definitely see kids begrudgingly handling this alright, but the problem is that online courses are not right for some, and this thing is doing very little for me besides squeezing what little free time I have. Anything that the module does could be done in a personalized manner by an English instructor.

    On top of that, there’s no real pragmatic advantage to taking 103-4H to balance the disincentive of having an online module. Saddling 103-4H kids with this will just make students qualified for the Honors course “play down” to go to 102, and then you’re right back where you started with lower-level English class sizes pressured upward.

  2. Evan Lisull said, on 11 February 2009 at 9:23 pm

    “Saddling 103-4H kids with this will just make students qualified for the Honors course “play down” to go to 102.”

    Yikes — it’s so bad that kids will be willing to dump six hours of Honors credit for it? I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised, but it’s disappointing nevertheless.

    Incidentally, are you beholden to some non-disclosure agreement as a participant in the pilot program? If not, and if you wouldn’t mind, I’d really appreciate whatever information about the program (class documents, etc.) you could share. I can be reached at emlisull “at” gmail “dot” com.

  3. Jimi Alexander said, on 12 February 2009 at 1:43 am

    I was not given an NDA of any sort, nor was there any such agreement in the Terms of Service (you have to make an account on the site). Right now my class can’t even access it due to technical difficulties (what a surprise), but as soon as we’re back in I’ll give you some information. It’s not /that/ bad (it’s self-paced and is admittedly somewhat helpful) but some students just don’t like online modules, and that was the point I was trying to get at. I forgot the Honors credits angle, admittedly.

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