The Summer term has begun and my Intercession course (HIST 417) on France during the Second World War along with it. The weeks of preparation were intense, with Spring teaching and grading still going on, a kid at home full time, all the anxiety/bonkers of life in pandemic.
Amidst the frenzy, some ideas came to me, and one of them was radio 417. Each week of the 6-week intensive course, my students will listen to one or two pre-recorded broadcasts around 15-20 minutes long. And I’ve enlisted the brilliant help of colleagues and friends from all over, geographically and in terms of the disciplines they hang out in. Each episode features a conversation giving listeners some things to think about before hearing a French song/piece from the years 1939-1945. When the broadcasts are done, I will have spoken with scholars of radio, music/sound, literature, wine, the Holocaust, race, empire, the wartime and postwar era.
I had an amazing chat this past week with Sarah Osment, a scholar of American literature and poetry who is also the co-editor (with Bob Ryan) of hyped on melancholy, “a quarterly magazine that features smart words about sad sounds and the reasons we cleave to them”. Sarah and I talked about sadness, Édith Piaf, and the song “L’Accordéoniste,” written by Michel Emer in 1940.
Listento our conversation now:
And don’t forget to watch Piaf’s performance of the song in 1954!
Several weeks later, I completely overhauled HIST 417 for remote teaching and had my first live session online with my students this afternoon! I vastly underestimated the work that this would involve. Yes, my readings were mostly in electronic form already and/or accessible electronically. I imagined a number of assignments would be easily transferable to a remote format and for some things, this was true. But the sheer amount of information and planning that needed to be done ahead of time…I had no idea. The weeks since my last post here have been almost entirely consumed by this organization, planning, and rethinking of class content.
A few things that took more time than I imagined they would:
Only one of the films I had planned to show again in the class was available to my students for free. So I had to choose new films and adjust the other materials in the course to better complement these new selections.
Outlining the syllabus, policies, specific resources, and issues related to Covid-19 and learning in this new environment took an enormous amount of time.
Formatting the materials, schedule, course outline, etc. to work better for an all-remote course was much more of a project than I anticipated. It’s not enough to just write everything down. Things need to be laid out in a way that is readable, divided up in chunks and presented in ways that students will actually engage with and be able to absorb without being confronted and exhausted by walls of text.
While some of the content apart from the films was reusable, I needed to think of ways to bring my personality and approach as an instructor to this course and to the experience of taking a course with me at a distance. I hope I have accomplished this through two new assignments: 1) RADIO 417, a series of broadcasts each featuring a French song from the WWII era. Each broadcast has me speaking with a guest about the history of the era, the song itself, related issues and themes. Then students have the chance to hear the song in its entirety. I’ve recorded 4/11 broadcasts so far and I’m very excited about them and 2) A Poster Exhibition project that will make use of images from the digital collection at SFU Library.
Figuring out how to work participation and communication among my students and between them and me was a real challenge. How to get them talking to one another? How to nurture a sense of community, even fun in a course that is happening remotely, that is intensive in terms of the time we have and the writing component, and that deals with so much difficult material? I’ve found some ways that I hope will work but a lot remains to be seen.
Today was a good day. My students showed up and I felt like we had a good connection even under these conditions. I have a lot of hope for the term ahead today.
SFU has decided to run all summer courses remotely so I’m having to rethink HIST 417 W: Problems in Modern French History-The “Dark Years,” 1940-44. Much of the course content and structure will still work in theory, but I want to change things up, make time for students to read, think, write, discuss with more flexibility throughout the week. And adjust assignments to make them more engaging and user-friendly, to make better use of online tech and platforms.
Am also making a list called “Do Try This at Home” of assignment ideas specifically designed with these quarantimes in mind…
One idea I’ve had so far is to ask my students to write and record a voice-over narration for one of the MANY silent newsreel clips available online. Here are a couple of examples:
We are in pandemic. All of us. The whole world. And SFU’s instruction has moved online. For the rest of the term and the foreseeable future. It’s been over a week since the University made the decision to end face-to-face classes. I gave my HIST 319 students a week to get their bearings. And I needed time to figure out how to end the semester too. I’ll be doing narrated PowerPoint lectures, a weekly live discussion, and they will submit their remaining assignments via Canvas as we’d planned before. I am learning some new skills and feeling very strange about teaching, about the present–let alone the future–of work…and so many other things.