Thursday, January 21, 2010

About AMST 498C

I just sent this to all the students signed up for my spring course, AMST 498C (Thoreau's America: Simplicity and Anti-consumption). Stay tuned for more.

Class Organization:
This is not a lecture class, nor a traditional discussion class. You should not expect to sit passively while someone else dispenses information or leads discussion. Despite the size of this class, my vision is to create – with your help – a learning community that extends beyond 4-6:30 PM Wednesdays in Room H of the Hornbake Nonprint Media Center. To this end, I am attempting – again, with your assistance – the following:

- Limiting our use of ELMS (Blackboard) to those elements of the class that must be secure (grading, for example).
- Using a public social media site – Thoreau’s America, created in Ning – for our discussions and other exchanges of resources and information, so that we can interact with international community of interested participants.
- A class format on Wednesdays that will be a working session devoted to presenting, discussing and selecting the content to be shared on the Ning site.

Student Roles:

In order for this class to be successful, every one of you will need to take on multiple active roles, and be willing to change roles depending on the project involved. Possible roles include:
- Researcher (locating texts, videos, interviewees and other primary sources)
- Writer (annotating, critiquing, reflecting on the sources provided by the researchers, producing original content)
- SMS managers (building, managing and promoting Thoreau’s America on Ning.
- Media producers (recording, editing and publishing audio and video content)
- Critic (assessing content produced by writers and media producers)

Instructor Role:

In setting up the Ning site, selecting required texts and creating this syllabus, my role has been that of researcher, writer and SMS manager. Once the class starts, I will take on the role of executive director, helping to identify projects, assemble teams for each work session and mentoring team members. The university assigns me the role of final grader, but your grades will be based on your own honest assessment, peer evaluations and my evaluation of your work.

The Risk

This could be a train wreck. A critical mass of you could choose to sit back and watch, or not honor your team commitments. I could fail to communicate with you or fail in my role as mentor and supervisor. If that happens, we can meet once a week, I can lecture a bit and then lead a discussion of the readings. All I would have to do then would be to write and grade a couple of exams, and assign and grade a final.

But let’s take the risk and do something different. If you’d rather not, this is the time to find a different class.

If you are still with me, please read Chapter 1 of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau between now and our first class. It available free on through Google Books, or you can find a copy at any library. Published in 1854, this will be a helpful starting point because from Thoreau's time we can look backward to the Puritans, Quakers and the republicans of the revolution and the early federal period, and ahead to the progressives, the forced frugality of the Great Depression and World War II and the Voluntary Simplicity movement of our own times. We will be discussing not only this chapter, but how to organize the rest of the semester.

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With my sincerest wish for an invigorating and educational experience,

Jo Paoletti

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