Blended Coursework in the Humanities: The Pedagogical Mash-up

Taffy entered the Waynflete community as a parent in 1992.  Both of her children are now alums.  Six years after she arrived and after a stint as a Waynflete Trustee, she began teaching part time in the English Department and has taught in most semesters ever since.  In recent years, she has worked in the college counseling office.  Next spring, Taffy will team teach a new English elective for juniors and seniors with Phuc Tran. Phuc joined the Waynflete faculty in 2003 to advise in the Upper School and teach Latin to Middle and Upper School students. From time to time, he also teaches Greek, and in recent years, he, too, has worked in college counseling. This collaboration with Taffy will be Phuc’s first foray into the English department, but it will not be the first time they have teamed up.  A year ago, they were guests on an MPBN show, Maine Calling, that focused on the relevance of grammar in the age of tweeting and texting.  In the fascinating on air conversation that endued, the seeds of their course – The Language of Social Class – were sown.  Click here to listen.   

One thoroughly fabulous aspect of teaching at Waynflete is working with colleagues who are smart, funny, excited about teaching, and enthusiastic learners themselves. We sit in on each other’s classes, attend conferences together, brainstorm pedagogy in Collaborative Inquiry Teams, and share and explore existing and potential content within and between departments.
But the most fun of all is to have the opportunity to fully collaborate in creating and teaching a specific course – to team teach. Scheduling challenges have made team teaching rare at Waynflete, but Word and Image and Revolution and Romanticism are sparkling examples of the exceptional intellectual richness that is possible. Team teaching allows students to see teachers model collaboration, active learning, respectful and fruitful discussion and disagreement, and different perspectives and learning styles.
So imagine our excitement when Phuc Tran – that remarkable student of seven languages who reads grammar books and dictionaries for fun – and I received approval not only to team teach next semester but to pilot a new course which will explore literary examples of the ways forms of language can unite or divide us (more about that in a minute) AND will offer students what is called a “blended learning” experience. “Blended learning” is the name for coursework that is taught partly in person, partly online. Online learning has opened wide doors of access to global content resources and to styles of delivering content tailored to individual learning profiles. It is an inevitable part of all of our futures – in fact, if you’ve ever responded to a child’s question at the dinner table by turning your smartphone back on to research an answer and then encouraged discussion of what you’ve found, you’re already in the swing of it. “Blended learning” seeks to take the best of what is possible in online learning and couple it with face to face (referred to as f2f – if you’d like to be among the cognoscenti), relational learning – what Waynflete has done so well for so long.  We all know there is a wide variety of quality on the Internet – from preposterous inaccuracies to brilliant lectures and spectacular photos from the Hubble telescope. There is an equal range of quality in online coursework, and Phuc and I will have the opportunity in this class to work with students in developing tools to help them choose and make most fruitful their life-long online learning opportunities.
The course itself is titled The Language of Social Class. It will consider the ways specific and variable choices of syntax, vocabulary, and grammar – what contemporary analysis often refers to as “code-switching” – can impact social interactions and even one’s sense of oneself. Our literature will include Pygmalion,Invisible Man, Raisin in the Sun, The Brief and Wondrous LIfe of Oscar Wao, The Burgess Boys, and excerpts from Dickens, Twain, Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation, critical analysis, and contemporary culture. In addition, Phuc will open the semester with a brief history of the English language and examination of the cornerstones of linguistics (grammar, syntax, articulatory phonetics, etc.).

We and our students will update you on the course once we’re underway. In the meantime, take a look yourself at what’s already out there. Here, for example, is an article Admissions Director Lynne Breen sent us last week on yet a new version of what’s new: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/01/education/us-plans-global-network-of-free-online-courses.html