Last Tuesday I started teaching a summer school class I’ve never taught before: a 300-level class focusing on Buddhist-inspired literature. Although the content of the course isn’t new to me, the format is: the course is a “blended” class that combines once-a-week class sessions with online activities, and I designed the syllabus and assignment sequences last Monday, less than a day before the class started. Less than a week into the class, I already feel like I’m learning as much from teaching it as my students are learning (I hope) from taking it. You can talk about living in the moment, or you can teach a class where you’re more or less making things up as you go along, trusting the course content to pull together in ways you hadn’t entirely envisioned.
This past week, I’ve also been re-designing from the ground up an online Literary Theory class that I’ve taught for years and am now currently teaching. I’m switching textbooks, revising assignments, and completely re-doing the weekly Lecture Notes in order to create a standardized course that other instructors will use. It’s a huge project because, once again, I’m familiar with the content but am re-envisioning how to deliver that content. The assignment sequences, discussion prompts, and Lecture Notes that worked for the “old” class I’m currently teaching just won’t do for the new, standardized version…and I find my head spinning with ideas while I juggle the “old” and “new” versions of the same material.
Working with a proverbial “blank page” can be terrifying, invigorating, or both: a truly “blended” experience. On the one hand, you don’t know where the next assignment, lecture, or discussion prompt will come from; on the other hand, you’re amazed to see how the simple process of re-thinking something invariably leads to something new. It’s easy to fall into a boring routine of teaching the same old classes the same old way, expecting your students to learn something new from material you’ve milked dry. Occasionally it’s important to become a student yourself, either by trying something completely new or by “just” re-visiting and re-thinking the tried-and-true things that never fail to surprise.