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 The Books, the Content of the Conferences
 
In both years we read the same texts during the first semester, with a few changes:

 Year One

Year Two
Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman same
Book of Genesis same
Selected readings from the Qur'an (Koran) same
Gospel According to Matthew same
Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals: Books I, II, and excerpts of Book III same
Levi's Survival in Auschwitz Spielberg's Schindler's List 
Shakespeare's King Lear Mahfouz 
Shostak's Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman same
Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents same
Mahfouz's Fountain and Tomb Soseki's Kokoro 
Morrison's Song of Solomon  same

Core replaced, not without heated controversy, our Western Civilization requirement. The Core syllabus balances Western and non-Western, canonical and noncanonical texts, with each faculty member holding strong opinions about which favorites should be on the syllabus.

A few large themes unite this reading list. We began with "Cosmic and Moral Order," then "Social and Familial Order." Both semesters, I wanted students to consider how all of these forms of order could be called into question, even overturned. Nietzsche, King Lear, and the Holocaust works provided evidence for this disruption and made a natural transition to works focusing on concerns of family and society.

The synchronous conferences did not begin right away; we waited a week while students grew accustomed to the technologies of a paperless Web-syllabus and an asynchronous newsgroup. Each year the software presented a small number of teething problems such as misplaced disks and forgotten manuals. Despite these initial hurdles, students began discussions with the second book read. My hope, as Chris and I measured the participation, was to see more conversation occurring between peers as they grappled with the issues in the texts. I was worried that, as in too many traditional discussions of texts, the students would bombard me with questions about meaning, typically what I thought a passage or idea meant.

Looking at the data, we can see that a few texts generated much more discussion than did others, but the chart does not tell the entire story. Transcripts from the end of the semester, such as a transcript about Song of Solomon, reveal longer, more engaged posts than did the rapid-fire discussions from earlier in the semester.

Comparing Two Different Classes

How We Used Transcripts