Michigan State University masthead graphic Michigan State University masthead graphic


Stephen Grandchamp

ENG126: Introduction to Literary Genres
Honorable Mention - Online
“Small reading communities exchange ideas”
- Stephen Grandchamp -

This is an award-worthy course due to innovations in literary pedagogy as well as its experimental use of digital technology in service of literary analysis. Literature courses are notoriously difficult to teach successful in a fully online setting, and instructors are frequently hesitant to create course offerings in this venue. Online ENG126 confronted many of the most common anxieties of these teachers directly by creating small reading communities, allowing for digital projects not typical of English courses that nevertheless remain loyal to literary studies’ goals, and giving each student abundant and frequent individual feedback on their work. Online ENG126 was not a translation of a traditional English course; rather, it was a reconceptualization of how we can teach literature in more engaging ways in the digital age.

The instructor wanted to make sure that students would feel a strong sense of community despite not seeing each other in a face to face classroom. His solution was to create small reading communities of three to seven students who worked together throughout the semester, developing their skills as readers, writers, and ultimately interpreters of literature and culture. Ideas could be exchanged in an increasingly safe space for intellectual inquiry. Additionally, these groups interacted in a variety of modes: traditional literary analysis essays, message board discussions, and weekly video and textual chats.

The facilitation of interaction of these small groups followed the same pattern each week. On Monday, students would post traditional analytical essays on the assigned texts to their groups’ message board. By requiring students to frequently compose argumentative essays on the assigned texts that were mindful of culture and history, the course facilitated the development of reading and writing skills traditionally honed in the English classroom.

These small reading communities would respond to each other’s initial arguments by Wednesday each week. This often led to robust and provocative investigation of the course’s literary texts. This structured exchange allowed for a similar learning experience to that typically found in a traditional English classroom, in which the instructor would lead student analysis and discussion of a text. In this online setting, however, student responses were even more original and thoughtful due to the nature of generating responses carefully over a period of days.

By Friday, reading communities were required to read all responses to each initial argument within the group and be prepared to discuss key themes and problems that were uncovered. In regularly scheduled Friday chat sessions facilitated through Adobe Connect, students would respond to other members of their reading community in real time. In this venue, students shared their thoughts through text, while the instructor was on a live video feed to offer pertinent information and guide the discussion.

Adobe Connect’s chat function allowed students to respond to each other in real time, thereby exploring the texts in a generative and open way. Another useful function that allowed for the spontaneous generation of discussion was the snap polling feature.

ENG126 also went beyond the traditional assignments found in English literature courses by adopting a digitally-aware and forward-looking approach to English education. Students were given the opportunity to create digital projects that used these traditional literary skills in a more dynamic fashion.

In their Dramatic Adaptation Project, students were required to take a scene from one of the course’s assigned plays and adapt it in a digital setting. Acting as their own digital directors, the students were guided to create adaptations across a variety of digital media: video clips, audio clips, mixed media visual art, digital comics, remixed film clips, VoiceThread conversations, songs, animations, and Xtranormal clips. By allowing students to direct their own projects in their own chosen media, they were encouraged to engage with the classic drama of Shakespeare and Sophocles on a level not typical of English courses.


Scott Schopieray, Director of Academic Technology, consultation in conceptualization and development of course

Judith Stoddart, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean, consultation in developing models of student interaction in online setting