“Core Literature” is the working title for an online course I’m working on, the first attempts of which I’ve actually made public for free on YouTube. But the creation of the course has been fraught with delays; specifically, I don’t exactly know where the course is going; or rather, I am not entirely sure how to get out the information I hope to.
Let’s start with at the beginning, with the first lecture: Ben Jonson. Overall, the information is pretty good. I source my knowledge from qualified places: my personal experience learning from a professor at university, the Oxford Dictionary of Biography, and my course textbooks. I present my material in what I believe is a clear way, and I even read through the pieces I’m talking about; a feature that someone taking an in-person course often does not have access to. You have to read ahead of class on your own time. So what’s wrong?
Well, more or less, it’s alright. But there are some issues. First of all, I don’t bring in any key topics for the course. I think this issue is perhaps the biggest one. I want my course to give viewers an actual skill, the ability to analyse a text, rather than me just reading through the works and teaching their meaning. I hope that after course completion, a student might be able to, at some level, apply what they learned to texts or even films and other media. In the Jonson lecture, there is no analysis.
So how can I solve these two core issues; the problem of where the course is going, and what it hopes to teach?
To solve the “Where it’s going” issue, I think the major focus for me should be, to start, making an outline for the course, and separating material into sections or “modules.” I think doing this will not only be useful, but also interesting and fun. In this way, I can plan for my core objectives, to teach literature (at least from my level as an individual with a four-year degree), and to teach the skills one might need to analyze literature.
To address the “Skills” issue, I think the best approach would be to very early on introduce a fairly neutral and universal critical framework (in this case, Fryeian Structuralism, which is more easy to understand than it sounds). I am thinking, create an introductory lecture, briefly speak about an example topic or piece (such as a work from Shakespeare), and analyse it briefly. Then in the second lecture (or perhaps the third), introduce the major aspects of the analytic theory. Say, perhaps, the four major genres that Northrop Frye holds are universal. With this framework in place right at the start, I can not only now show students how to apply it to the texts we speak about (since it’s fairly universal), but also build on Frye’s deep theory where necessary.
With all that in mind, I think for me the starting point will be to sit down and write out a course outline…and perhaps open up Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. Or, at least, check my old university notes for the core ideas from Frye’s approach. Thanks for reading, and I hope that I can put out an update and perhaps even a success story in the coming months.