Saturday, August 1, 2015

Chinese Translation of On Course

Around this time last year I received a letter from Harvard University Press letting me know that my book On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching was scheduled to be translated into Chinese.  This was such a wonderful and unexpected piece of news that I hung the letter up on the bulletin board above my desk so I could see it on a regular basis and remind myself of my good fortune.  The translation was promised to arrive in November of 2014.

Starting in around December 2014, I began doing searches for my book at the publisher that had been named in the letter, but their website had only a few small things in English, and so I never found it.  The spring rolled on by, and still I never heard anything about the translation or received any author copies.  I assumed that perhaps something had gone amiss.  This was actually supposed to be my second translated book, although I'm still not sure if the first book was published.  One year I received a royalty check for my share of the Greek translation rights of Life on the Tenure Track: Lessons from the First Year.  But, as in this case, no author copies every materialized, and so I'm still not sure if it was ever published in Greece (any Greek speakers out there, let me know!).

However, we returned from a family vacation earlier this month to find a box from Harvard University Press at the house, containing none other than the Chinese translation of On Course.  Even though I can't read a word of it, I still find it pretty thrilling to hold my first translated book--and even better that it has been translated into a language which LOTS of people speak.  If only every aspiring professor in China bought a copy . . . well, I'd be retired on a Greek island somewhere (and perhaps I would spot some fellow beach-goer reading the Greek translation of Life on the Tenure Track).

All of which is to say--send your aspiring-professor Mandarin-speaking friends to the website of South China Technological University Press, and tell them to pick up a copy.  It turns out that my book was translated and published as one of eight books on teaching and learning in higher education that the press acquired, including Therese Huston's Teaching What You Don't Know and Barbara Gross Davis's Tools for Teaching.  All of the authors also received e-mails from someone at the publisher inquiring about whether we would have an interest in coming to China at some point to give some lectures on teaching.  Nothing has been scheduled yet, but that will be a most welcome event if it materializes.

The interesting twist in this whole saga has been that my last book, Cheating Lessons, includes a chapter on the history of cheating that analyzes the Chinese civil service exams, on which there was rampant cheating.  So when the letter about the translation first arrived, I assumed initially that they were writing about a Chinese translation of Cheating Lessons.  It wasn't until I read the letter a second time that I realized it was about On Course.  But I am still holding out some hope that a Cheating Lessons translation may happen at some point as well.

For now, though, I'm still just celebrating.  I have the translated books on my desk, where I can see them every day.  Sometimes I pick one up and flip through it, admiring the neat rows of characters, and wondering what they say . . .

Monday, June 15, 2015

Call for Papers : Teaching the Literature Surveys

Like many experienced teachers, I have come to believe that the more I attempt to cover in my classes, the less the students learn.  The impulse to cover lots of material in a course inevitably leads to me standing in front of the room and speaking as much as possible (and/or assigning tons of reading), robbing my students of the opportunity to pause and really engage with any one piece of the syllabus.  That impulse can be difficult to resist, but I've gotten better at it over the years.  These days I'm content to cover much less that I used to, but work much harder to ensure that students are actively engaged with the selected course material.

This basic philosophy, which I have observed in almost every experienced and successful teacher I have encountered, works fine in all of my classes except the literature survey, the one course in my department--and in most English departments--that explicitly privileges coverage over depth.  The literature survey requires instructors and students to range over a large field of material, and almost by definition encourages us to take brief and superficial views of the texts we include.  Its intentions are good: it aims to provide a literary and historical framework within which future majors or teachers, or students in general, can contextualize the literature they will read in their more focused upper-level courses.  It also aims to introduce students to the most widely read authors of the past, and that can have multiple benefits: giving them a broad liberal arts education, piquing their interest in writers or issues that might draw them into future reading study, or providing them with the recognition that literary and cultural forms (and our evaluation of those forms) evolve and transform over time. All good.

But we have increasing evidence from the learning sciences that students need repeated, active engagements with course material in order to learn it deeply.  However we attempt to cover all of the material that the survey demands we include, whether that means lectures or readings or some other model, we are working against the model of deep and sustained engagement that students need in order to focus their attention, process the readings deeply, and retain our course material.

From this dilemma emerges a new project, to be published by West Virginia University Press, designed to draw the attention of the discipline to the challenges we face in teaching literature survey courses, gather new ideas and approaches, and stimulate a conversation about lit survey courses and how we can teach them most effectively--and even, perhaps, whether we should teach them all.  This volume will be co-edited by James M. Lang, Gwynn Dujardin, and John Staunton, and will appear in the new Teaching and Learning in Higher Education series from WVUP.

Although we are open to any possible essays on this topic, we are especially interested in essays that explore the following topics: histories and theories of the literature survey courses; traditional and alternative models of design, what makes them work and what doesn't; specific in-class practices, assignments, and other practical approaches to survey pedagogy that authors have experimented with, both successes and failures; institutional challenges and opportunities to revising or re-thinking the surveys; avenues for opening up the survey through the digital humanities or through innovative pedagogies such as Reacting to the Past, service learning, or inquiry-based learning.

If you are interested in submitting an essay for the book, please e-mail a 1-2 page overview of your projected topic and a bio paragraph or CV to Gwynn Dujardin.  Inquiries will be accepted until November 1st; final manuscripts will be due April 1, 2016.  Please join the conversation and spread the word to colleagues who might be interested.