Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
Closing thoughts, of sorts
I'm finding it hard to come up with a way to round things out this semester, to come to any kind of closure with this class. I'm not sure if I managed to convey this, but I'm enormously proud of all of you, of what you accomplished this semester, and of the bravery with which you took it on. I know this was uncharted territory for the majority of you, and I know you must all have had moments (perhaps still today!) of wondering what the heck you'd gotten yourselves into. And I know that there were a lot of times (perhaps still today!) when you'd have liked more input from me, more of a reassuring sense that we had a clear destination, that I knew how to get there, and that you were all well on track.
Perhaps this is a bit of belated self-justification, but I want to say that there was a kind of method to my madness -- that this territory remains relatively uncharted for a reason, and that the only way to get anywhere was to send you out to go map some part of it for yourselves. This was very much an experiment, in which I hoped to give you some texts, some tools, and some fairly subtle (and often invisible) guidance, and let you find your way to something that interested you.
All along, quite honestly, the thing that has been most important to me was that you find something in this material that you care about, and that you let it fire your imagination, leading you to read or write about things, and in ways, you couldn't have expected at the outset. And to that extent, this has been a smashing success; you've all done fantastic work, and I couldn't be more proud of that. The blog is (almost, but I'll get to that in a second) everything I could have wanted it to be, and the wiki absolutely astonishes me in how far it outstrips whatever expectations I might have had for it. And your final projects are just gorgeous overall, evidence of the maps that you made for yourselves over the course of the semester.
What would I do differently, if I had it to do all over again? Only a couple of things, I think. As I mentioned in a comment on another post, I really hated the fact that I had to make the blogging requirement primarily about quantity, because the end-of-semester flood of posts was not entirely what I was after. What I'd hoped for was a more sustained, even engagement over the course of the semester. On the other hand, the various kinds of work you guys did this semester helped you to build enough of a connection that the last week's furious posting was actually kinda fun to watch. So what I'm contemplating for next time out is a totally non-quantified requirement. Something in the syllabus that declares that x percent of your grade will be derived from the QUALITY of your participation on the blog, and that some aspect of quality has to do with quantity, sure, but it also has to do with consistency, engagement, generosity, etc. This will require me to steadfastly refuse to give a number of posts in response to questions about minimum requirements (and I have some concerns about the resentments that such a refusal to name the minimum might breed), but, as pseudoanonymity points out, one way to deal with the uncertainty that this would produce would be to give hypothetical weekly blogging "grades" for the first few weeks of the semester, until everyone gets in the groove.
The other thing I'd do differently is, unfortunately, something I have no control over: I'd have a much calmer administrative semester, such that I could really linger in the material with you instead of running around dealing with once dumb crisis after another. My biggest regret about this semester, in fact, is the way that a series of unavoidable circumstances stole my attention away from you. I really wish I could take a couple of months with you all to keep talking, to work more carefully through some of what we've read, and to scheme together about our future projects.
Then again, there's nothing to say that that can't happen. The blog and wiki will remain open and accessible, and I'd love to keep working with all of you through them.
So, finally: I'm off to go post grades. If you have questions about them, please don't hesitate to contact me. And if you have thoughts -- about anything I've written here, or about anything else pertaining to the class -- please leave comments here. I'm already out of town, unfortunately, and because I didn't get to file grades before I left (waiting on the last blog posts to arrive!), I won't be able to see your course evaluations until January. But any feedback you'd like to give me here would be enormously appreciated.
In the meantime, happy holidays, and many, many thanks.