Compared to my professional activity of the past years, there turns out to be plenty of valuable experience that I can rely on – certainly more than I thought at first. Team management, project management, administration, international relationships, networking on different scales, opening eyes and ears to new cooperations and concretizing them: this is all still at the core of my job. But I was really expecting this part not to be so different from what I had known and done before. I am much more surprised to see how much of my teaching relies on my work of the past three-four years.
I am in fact surprised because I had the feeling to do very little teaching over these years. The only year when I really gave a lot of classes was 2014, and that feels like quite a while ago. But I have been giving plenty of workshops and reflecting on the teaching experience, all in all since 2011, and this all happened to be directly implementable in my new context, namely the department of German Studies at Le Mans Université.
This term, I am giving three classes. One is for students in their second or third year, but they in fact come from very different horizons. I decided to organize the class around the (wide) topic of “Digital Cultures in Europe”. After a first session where we worked on social media and each participant presented one social media, we decided to create a twitter account for the curriculum some of them come from. The account @Etudes_Euro was born. It has been mostly me tweeting so far, but I systematically live-tweet the students’ presentations in the class. As we worked on legal issues connected to cultural heritage last week, we took an hour to do GIFs ourselves, and at that point, everybody started tweeting with our common account. Working with different digital formats (the next topic will be the use of multimedia) allows to approach the key issues from different points of view, and to actually give the student a broad digital culture. I still find it difficult to integrate more complex reflexions on digital identity and how deep our critical thinking of the digital should go with students that are still young in their academic path.
Connecting digital practice and critical thinking is more at the core of my second class, “Pedagogical and cultural uses of the digital”. This is a class for M.A. students in French Literature, English Studies, Spanish Studies and German Studies. This is a classroom of 40 people whom I left free to either work on a project by themselves or in a group (of up to 4 people) and who had three options: writing a scholarly blog post on their master thesis, writing or translating a wikipedia article, developing a twitter project. Since I only have 10 hours of teaching for the whole class (e.g., for me to presenting the 3 types of projects and for them to conceiving and realize the projects and then analyze the experience), these are sessions where I run from one group to another thinking I should have more time with each of them. I hope to be able to work in smaller groups from next year on.
It is really amazing, though, what has come out of what is so far 6 hours of classroom work. A group worked on the biography of a Spanish woman writer, and I encouraged them to work on a woman author and look for French bibliography on her. Since they literally didn’t find anything at the University Library and online, I sent their request for help to my twitter network. The result of the request was very interesting. While some reacted outraged that they were asked to do somebody else’s bibliographic work, they also got in touch with a group helping people setting Wikipedia pages for women. A group of students from abroad decided to invent a twitter persona who would be retrospectively narrating his student year abroad (that’s the twitter account @Ykouakou52). Another group of foreign students (@techbigbang) is working on making technological changes better known, including experiences from their home countries. Another group (@UnBrefResume) sums up movies and books with the idea to use it as a pedagogical incentive (I hope that the pedagogical concept will gain some depth in the coming weeks – it surely has the potential to). Another group started a historical fiction based on the Gunpowder Plot (@the14thplotter), after realizing that there already was a historical twitter project on that topic. They then developed their concept to go beyond the pure historical recording and added a fiction layer to it. And the last twitter group is getting ready to live-tweet a big international conference that will be held at our University on November 9th and 10th (@UsagePCN). They will get a thorough preparation to live-tweeting from me next week.
I am only naming one wikipedia project and the twitter projects. This makes only about half of the projects in this class. I have reserved the final session for everyone to reflect on their experience (this analysis part will count for half of the final mark). Grading this type of work remains challenging, especially considering that I don’t really have enough to time to get to know all 40 of them during the 6 sessions before the final feedback session. But still, this is an extremely uplifting experience. I get out of the classroom exhausted and enthusiastic, which I think is exactly how things should be.
My third class, for M.A. students in German Studies, is more traditional. I have chosen a topic I know well, German Romanticism, and I alternate literature analysis and context/history of the time. We’ve had a great session dealing with letters, reconstructing the whole process from the ink production to the letter folding, the sealing, the sending, the delivering, etc. The next session, we started reading Peter Schlemihl in the Reclam edition which contains a whole series of more or less fictional letters dealing with the publication history of the text, and compared their rhetorics with that of another fictional letters incorporated to Chapter 4 of the novel. While teaching Romanticism, I always come back to the reality of the writing process, to the daughters, the wives, the friends, all the helping hands adding layers of meaning and opening to new interpretations. We listened to Schumann’s version of Frauenliebe und -leben and they heard the musical interpretation added to the poems. We commented on letters written by men and those written by women and I elaborated on the difference in the narratives. Somehow, this seems to be what I have most at heart while teaching more canonical German Studies content.
All in all, I really enjoy getting back to teaching. It keeps me thinking of even better ways to interweave Humanities content and digital methods – the road to go!