English 295 is a much-dreaded course for many English majors. Writing Literary Criticism. Yuck. The BYU website describes it as a course to teach "how to address an academic audience, support arguments, and engage effectively in critical conversations about literature." Alright, that's not a bad start, but our class took these basic learning outcomes a step further. We wanted to consume literature in ways that are new to this digital age. We wanted to connect with--not just address--our academic audience. We wanted to create something worthwhile with all that we had learned, discussed, and analyzed. And we did.
Our blog posts bear witness to our unordinary methods of consuming our literature of choice. Some listened to audiobooks; others read eBooks; still others watched movies or read comic books or fan fiction. I went a more "traditional" route and read my digital culture book, Remix, online. We went on to consume what others had said about our books (consuming their interpretations of their own consumption), reading sometimes less-than-scholarly interactions with the text. Significantly, though, we also immersed ourselves in literary scholarship by learning more about the traditional research process through BYU's library. This was an important part of our consumption, and one not to be overlooked. It also directly fulfilled the course's goal of engaging in critical conversations about literature, because sometimes it's a lot easier to find those critical conversations in bona fide scholarship than it is in the overwhelmingly plentiful opinions online.
It was time to connect, to truly engage in these conversations. First, I read my novel of choice, Where the Red Fern Grows, on my own, but I was sure to ask everyone I talked with if they had read the book and what they had thought about it. Thus, I eased myself into the waters of critical conversation. My first major connection outside of the class and outside of my friends, though, was with Israel Sanchez, a professional illustrator who had created some artistic depictions of Where the Red Fern Grows. Because my thesis centered around the pedagogy of language arts classrooms, I then reached out to language arts teachers and the educational community through forums and Goodreads discussion threads (and once or twice through an old-fashioned e-mail). My classmates acted similarly, collaborating with individuals who would have special interest or insight in their literary analyses. We connected with one another in a different manner, by posting links to one another's blogs and helping each other in the research process.
The success of our connections is evident, as previously mentioned, in our blog posts. But there is something bigger that sings glory to our ability to create, to create something that matters after all our consumption and connection: our class eBook. Yes, our blog posts were creations of sorts, but we wrote an eBook in a matter of weeks! I suppose you can hardly call an eBook physical, but we created something that is as tangible as the virtual world gets--a book! It has chapters and illustrations and a table of contents; we are the authors of something real. This is engaging effectively. This is addressing an academic audience. Through meeting the goals of our specific class--Writing about Literature in the Digital Age--we met the course goals more fully than administration could have ever conceived.