My first full-time teaching experience was as a lecturer at the University of Virginia, during the 1988-89 academic year. I taught three different courses each semester, on modernism, postmodernism, art and mass culture, American fiction of the '70s and '80s, Modern Thought, and Modern American literature. Some of these were small honors seminars, some were classes of thirty or so, some were large lecture courses. I found the experience exhilarating and exhausting, writing out every word of each lecture for as many as eight class meetings during a week. I'm afraid my delivery of these lectures was probably less than compelling, but I enjoyed the discussion periods and I learned a great deal--not least, the importance of experience and preparation in achieving spontaneity and flexibility in the classroom.
After this year, I was hired to a tenure-track job at North Carolina State University where, as far as I could tell, the teaching of modern literature extended only into the 1920s, and the program as a whole was frozen, ideologically, in the 1950s. NCSU had no Ph.D. program, but it did have an M.A., and during my four years there, I had one opportunity to teach a graduate course, in contemporary literature and theory. The rest of my teaching was divided among composition classes, introductory literature surveys for non-majors ("Great American Authors"), and a few upper-level lecture classes for majors. There was a great deal of institutionalized resistance to the introduction of new courses, but I managed to add courses in beat literature, cultural theory, postmodernism, and contemporary literature to the department's listings. I also took a very active part in revising the structure and requirements for the English major, during a two-year stint on the Curriculum Committee. But the most interesting teaching experience I had at NCSU came in a composition class, a class for first-year students in a five-year double major in engineering and humanities.
I had taught some composition classes in the department's computer classroom (sixteen stand-alone PCs with word-processing software), and though the experience left me fairly cold, it apparently qualified me to teach engineers. During the Christmas break of the 1992-93 academic year, I learned (through a networked discussion group to which I belonged) of the existence of text-based, real-time virtual reality programs called MOOs. I visited one, and I immediately saw teaching applications for these programs. Over the next two weeks, I spent about a hundred hours learning MOO programming, and I set up a copy of the program at NCSU, as the "Virtual Campus." I used it, in the spring of 1993, to teach my two composition classes, with remarkable results. A copy of the syllabus, which explains the narrative and functioning of those classes, is available here, and the text of an MLA paper discussing the experiment is available here. If you are curious as to the actual character of a class conducted on the MOO, you can read this literal transcript of a one-hour session in which the class met, on the MOO, with the director of the UNC Law Library, a recognized expert on electronic copyright issues, to discuss their papers on that subject. And if you'd like to see an example of the final results of their efforts, you can read this class paper on privacy rights and the network. It is some of the best work I've ever had from freshman.
One of the keys to the success of that experiment, I've since learned, is the inherently collaborative nature of the network, combined with a class structure that made students, working in groups, responsible to one another as much as, or more than, to me. In my most recent class, ENSP 482: Theory and Practice of Hypertext, I put that lesson to work in a literary context, requiring students to work in groups over the course of the semester on collaborative hypertext projects. The results were stunning, as you will see if you browse through their projects. For this class, I also used the MOO as a means of inviting off-campus speakers to meet with my students: Mark Taylor, Greg Ulmer, Jane Yellowlees Douglas, Stuart Moulthrop, and Michael Joyce all met with these undergraduates, and the class had regular opportunities to meet on the MOO with students in other hypertext classes around the country, as well.
I have made good use of the network in more conventionally literary classes, such as ENCR 481: Contemporary Literature and Theory, and class papers have been posted for this course as well. My favorite of these is Derick Rhodes' Deconstructive Surgery: Self, Sampling and the Question of Authors. In the spring of 1995, I also participated in a team-taught University Seminar--USEM 171: The Information Superhighway: An interdisciplinary introduction to the internet, its evolution and future promise. In the fall of 1996, I taught a graduate course, called "Discourse Networks,", which used the World-Wide Web, MOOs, and electronic mail to create an extensive collaborative project called Tourist Strip. My current teaching is:
I should add that in almost every case, the research projects of fellows at the Institute have immediately sprouted teaching applications. A full list of IATH-related courses is available here.
If I were to extract a single conclusion from my teaching experience over the last several years, it would be that the network--not the monadic computer, but the web of communication to which it can connect--is a revolutionary force in the classroom. It facilitates collaboration while encouraging independence and responsibility, it turns students into apprentices and, at the graduate level, it makes available a truly collegial role in joint research endeavors.