Another Year With Don Quij(x)ote

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I am embarassed that it’s been 5 months since I last blogged. Last spring semester was a whirlwind of teaching, committee meetings, chair duties, and conferences. Spring turned to summer with more of the same. We also experienced a terrible tragedy on our campus right at the end of the spring semester that was a horrifying ending to end what was a pretty contentious year among our student body, and faculty. Unfortunately all of that got in the way of my appreciation, at least my public appreciation on this blog, of the fact that, despite whatever else was going on around me, last academic year was for me a highlight of my teaching career, as it began and ended  with Don Quijote.

I’ve alreay discussed in an earlier blog post about my first-year seminar (FSEM) Digital Don Quixote, its successes and short-comings, and my plans for the spring 2015 senior seminar in Spanish. I’d like to debrief a bit about the senior level seminar, before I look ahead to a new year with the FSEM.

Our advanced seminar course Spanish 451 Cervantes had not been taught in years when I decided to give it a try, despite the fact I´m no Cervantista. But I was a student, and I know how hard it was for me to read the novel the first time, so I tried to look for activities, both in and out of the class that would help students not only comprehend the novel better in Spanish, but also help them start to experience its richness, and the vast bibliography about it. To encourage their reading, students logged in and commented on chapters as they finished them through blogposts, and a progress meter that I kept. We kept collective class notes on our wiki, Don Wikijote. This is also where project groups, which studied a series of characters in the novel, displayed their work.

Some of the sections on the course webpage contain our class-time activities. A really successful one involved two visual maps we created of the movements of the characters in the first and second volumes. It helped all of us visualize who was where, when, and with whom, but also helped us see some major structural and character differences in the two parts of the novel. We used a free tool call Cacoo for this activity, which was really fun for the students,  but I think we could have used Google docs just as successfully. Other class activities that involved collecting images and music associated with the novel and posting it on our website, or creating a word cloud with Voyant, were good, but maybe not as impactful as the wiki or the map.

But by far the best thing was a great group of bright students who were game to try out all my crazy digital tools, and who approached this novel with great enthusiasm. It was such a fun semester that I spent with them, full of lively conversation and great insight that a webpage can even begin to represent!

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