“Reading Fiction (Survey Literature Course),” University of Washington Seattle, Deborah Kimmey

Assignment: “History” as a Keyword
Class: Reading Fiction (Survey Literature Course)
Institution: University of Washington Seattle
Instructor: Deborah Kimmey

Project Description:
This literature for non-majors course was organized around a keyword not included in Keywords for American Cultural Studies: history. The course challenged students to problematize “history” by understanding how the multiple meanings of history have impacted historiography, politics, and agency. The architecture of the wiki assignment asked students to collaboratively develop deep content by scaffolding a main page for “history” as a keyword with supporting pages or articles that elaborated on “history” in each of the main course texts. Students worked in groups of 5-7, which they signed up for in week two. Groups were clustered according to the course novels. Because the classroom itself wasn’t wired, students often worked in their groups for other class activities, with the intention of building enough familiarity so they could work independently on the writing itself—outside of the classroom and in their own time.

The assignment stressed that students were developing “content,” not merely writing essays. As such, a sizeable amount of their work went to researching other sites, creating links, designing sidebars, and thinking about how to make their writing compelling to online readers. This approach to student writing had two immediate benefits: (1) it incorporated skills that are frequently unacknowledged, unpracticed, and untested in other classroom contexts, i.e., locating relevant public websites and articles that may be questioned in traditional academic contexts; and (2) it facilitated the writing process, as students found themselves designing a page or template and then filling the page with a genre of writing that they know intimately as readers.

Instructor Comments:
What worked: The collaborative dimension of this assignment was facilitated by clearly defined roles that students owned progressively throughout the quarter (i.e., project manager, editor, content specialist). In a later version of this assignment, it helped students acclimate to the wiki when the first practice exercise involved creating a profile page or bio that students could later link to in order to credit their work.

What needs work: More structured deadlines, rather than allowing the flexibility of the medium to translate into moving target dates. This would also solve the problem of some groups for novels slotted early in the quarter having had more time to complete their article, while other groups were put under undue pressure to complete articles for texts assigned at the end of the quarter.

ENGL 242: “History” as a Keyword Instructor Deborah Kimmey, University of Washington Seattle

Writing Collaboratively
As part of the writing requirement for English 242C, students will work in small groups (5-6 students) to develop a wiki article for one course text. This type of collaborative writing will give us an occasion to practice the type of open engagement that Raymond Williams made central to his keywords methodology. It is also a chance to practice skills at working together that are increasingly important on the job market. In other words, it’s one way to make this class address the real-life skills that you’ll need after (or even during) college. Knowing how to manage a blog and a wiki are marketable skills—and certainly something to add to your resume as you move toward your career.

The collaborative essay is 10% of your final grade, plus part of your participation grade.

Some questions to address in your article:

  1. What histories are important to the novel? How would you situate the novel within that frame?
  2. Which meanings of “history” are highlighted within the novel? Through what characters, storylines, or narrative devices? What claim does the novel make about the particular history that it’s concerned with? Does it make a claim about “history” as a keyword, problematic, or concept?
  3. How does the novel engage the keyword assigned for your novel: Slavery, Border, South, or Modern?
  4. How does a secondary source add to your discussion: Morrison, Anzaldúa, Du Bois, and Baldwin?
  5. What contemporary issues can be examined by your reading of the novel? How might you leverage these connections to conclude with a comment on this particular past’s relevance to our present?

As you approach your article …
• Recall that contributing to your group article is not always about adding text; it’s also about deleting, tweaking, streamlining, editing, proofing, linking, or adding different types of content.
• With everything that you do to your article, use the discussion tab to communicate to your group (and the class) why you made the contributions that you did.
• Use the blog as an additional resource for gathering ideas! According to your classmates, what seem to be important issues for thinking about this novel?
• Remember—have fun with technology!

At minimum, your group must:
• Offer a concise, compelling gloss on the novel(s)
• Analyze and critically engage the text(s). Move beyond plot summary.
• Detail key passages and elaborate on their significance for the class
• Make effective use of any secondary sources by introducing them with a short summary statement before you cite them or connect them to your discussion
• Use subheads to organize the page
• Include links to authoritative sources on your text/author
• Write a one-paragraph, 5-6 sentence “blurb” for the main course page

You should also think outside of the box!
See your page as having different kinds of content. Upload images, create links, and format different types of text (i.e., block quotes, bulleted lists)
• Link to other online resources. In searching Google, you’ll have more success if you delimit your results to academic websites. Use the following command in the search bar: “keyword” site:.edu
• Add images as thumbnails. Use creativecommons.org to do searches for copyright-free images.
• Create sidebars with “snap-shot” content that supplements the page. In the wiki, you can make a sidebar by writing one to three paragraphs in the thumbnail “caption.”

Division of Labor:
Everyone needs to write to fill out your page, but it may help to have particular functions for which you are individually accountable. You may want to divide up roles within your group. Here are some suggested “job titles.”

  1. Project Manager: Propose and manage an outline, plus keep everyone to deadlines that will help you complete your article in a timely fashion.
  2. Content Specialists (2 people): Write a gloss or introduction to the novel, plus list out several key passages that can give shape to the body of your article.
  3. Critical Analysts (2 people): Incorporate secondary sources into the article by writing a one- or two-sentence summary of the source and then bringing in quotes that help develop your article.
  4. Editor: Edit contributions throughout: move sentences around to establish logical order, write topic sentences, insert or call out questions for the group to address in order to make the article cohere more fully.
  5. Resource Librarian: Locate additional online references and add them to the article, either as a “For Further Reading” or as links within the article itself.