Friday, May 26, 2006

Coursework Retrospective, or What Just Happened?

I've been thinking about coursework for some time this afternoon. I finished coursework two weeks ago, and I've been roughing out some of the materials in preparation for exams. My program requires a brief reflective essay as a step toward proposing qualifying exams. Basically, the process of writing the essay is meant to crystallize, for us and our committees, favorite theorists/ies, intellectual sparks/combustibles, trends and patterns, habits of mind, formative identities as scholars and teachers, and the like.

I could work from unaided memory on such a piece, reaching back, as well as I can, to account for the overarching effects and the various minutiae shaping the past two years. I can remember most of it, most of what I've read, written and discussed, that is. But I'm equally interested in reflecting on the coursework phase using the data available to me. And so I've started to pull together some of it here, on down in this entry. Two aggregative lists: first, all of the assigned reading from twelve courses, and second, a compilation of the works cited in the seminar papers I wrote during these two years.

The lists are not inclusive of everything I've read since August of '04. I should be clear that works cited in conference papers, for example, won't appear here. I've done nothing to indicate reading undertaken on the edges of formal coursework, either, so you won't find Sirc's English Composition as a Happening or Barthes' Camera Lucida on either list (their absences, though, do make me wonder why they didn't have places in seminar papers). You also won't find any of the materials I've taught: McLuhan's Medium is the Massage, chapters from Mike Davis or David Sibley, or The Cluetrain Manifesto. The lists are merely samples, illustrative collections maybe.

Posting such collection to the web runs the risk of misrepresenting my program's curriculum. That said, the list of readings from coursework is, well, reflective only of the courses I took. While not necessarily indicative of my program's curricular consensus or grounding, all of the readings were assigned. Eleven of the twelve courses I took fell within the department. Yet, because of the range of course options, the coursework readings wouldn't be an identical match with one kept by any other student (it's my idiosyncratic thumbprint, in other words, as singular as a retinal scan). And for subsequent cohorts of students, the selections will morph, shifting shape at the hand of the respective faculty member. By no means should either list be understood as determinative on a programmatic level. Still, the lists tell me something about what I've been doing over and above my memory and present vantage point. What else might aggregative lists tell? How else might such collections be useful?

Beyond the introspective, reflective uses for such lists, I wonder, too, how they compare to other programs of study in rhetcomp or other disciplines. More reading or less? More rigor or less? Greater or lesser theoretical, historical, methodological, pedagogical or political orientations represented in the lists? Adequately coherent or alarmingly diffuse (i.e. you read what?!)? And how might lists like these corroborate with the felt senses or intuitive knowledge of faculty members, faculty teaching in comparable graduate programs, prospective students or others in my cohort?

Let me say just a bit more about the lists themselves. I've marked items making multiple appearances. Appearing more than once in coursework: Roland Barthes, Ann Berthoff, Kenneth Burke, Judith Butler, Amy Devitt, Janet Emig, Keith Gilyard, Andrea Lunsford, Carolyn Miller, Alondra Nelson, Louise Wetherbee Phelps, Jim Porter, Paul Prior, Barbara Rogoff, Louise Rosenblatt, Geneva Smitherman, and Mark Taylor. Oddly enough, none of the repeat figures from the assigned reading match with the repeat figures in my seminar projects: A. Suresh Canagarajah, Johanna Drucker, Anne Ruggles Gere, Franco Moretti, Donald Norman, Raymond Williams, and Kathleen Blake Yancey. Multiple appearances in the seminar projects might refer to the same work; this just means that I used something--Williams' Keywords, for instance--in more than one project. In fairness, the reading lists from early coursework aren't as detailed as the citation list. I've glossed at least a handful of articles and shorter pieces from that first semester and, perhaps, even missed a couple of pieces since (optional readings, items in collections/anthologies, etc.).

I hope it's clear that I'm not posting these to satiate a deep-down narcissistic desire or to put my program out there in any way. If scrutiny or critique is due, you're welcome to share it. For now, I'm simply interested in raising the question: What might such lists tell us that we don't already know? What kind of evidence is this? I compiled the lists in Excel, and I have columns with other criteria like course number and semester (1-4) for easy sorting. But what other metrics w/c/sh-ould apply? What might it suggest, for example, to triangulate these lists with the lists shaping up for exam areas? With the works cited in the diss? Or to sort by date, length or other typologies (genre, disciplinary orientation, web-based-ness, article-or-monograph, and so on)? What will be the value in glancing through these collections in five years? Or ten?

Or in circulating--among faculty and students--a similar sort of record for all students in a particular graduate program? Too much transparency? Needless transparency?

The lists: one for coursework; one for seminar paper citations.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at May 26, 2006 5:00 PM to Qualifying Exams

Wow. What's fascinating to me is how little we overlap. Meaning very little. I wouldn’t have thought that, given the fact that we’ve both done coursework for a Ph.D. in Rhetoric over the same two years.

I’ve been meaning to write about the exam process on my blog, because I’m curious about how it compares with other programs. So, um, if you want to write about that at least one person would be interested.

Posted by: Krista at May 26, 2006 6:58 PM

Assembling and then reading a list with so much material is so hard.
Each of our two lists at Temple have to have approx 60 items (i.e. books, articles, anthologies) each. Of course, we're expected to know/have read all of it, but it's not even close to realistic to think about (let alone write about) all of that stuff in a 6 hour exam. (I think i only wrote about a total of 8-10 theorists in the first exam i passed.)

Stay in communication with your committee as you're reading and formulating ideas/themes that seem central to you so they can have a sense of what you're making of the reading.

I have some practice exams over at my place. I even have one with a committee members feedback. The early ones are pretty aweful, but as i continued to write they got significantly better.

Posted by: chris at May 31, 2006 1:48 PM

I'll try to get something up about exams in the next few days. Our process is somewhat distinctive in that we have a great deal of agency over the reading lists. The entire process is designed to springboard us, with faculty guidance, into approximate specializations (oxymoron, that). It feels a lot less like a rite of passage set up for us to demonstrate rigor than a block of supported time set aside for intensive and self-directed reading and writing.

I shouldn't have any trouble keeping in touch with my committee members, Chris, and it's common practice here, as far as I know, to prep with as many practice exams as we want. And I'm planning chunks of reading time using reverse exponents, so the major-minor-minor prep time (starting next week) goes 6 wks (major), 4 wks (minor), 3 wks (minor); then 2:2:2, then 1:1:1. That's the plan, anyway. And if it doesn't go as smoothly as planned, I can always push them to January or February.

Posted by: Derek at June 1, 2006 8:58 AM