Learning environments and learning experiences

If teachers were to live in constant full cognizance of the full weight of responsibility that they have, the result might well be blind panic, or paralysis.  I’m not referring to the quantity of work that many teachers experience, but rather to the fact that teachers take on the awesome responsibility of being the guides to particular fields of knowledge, and to the broader experience of learning as a whole.  As a result of one’s teaching, a student might be inspired to devote a lifetime to a subject, or equally might swear off it forever.  Few people emerge from their educations completely unscathed.  In my experience, teaching is second only to parenting as an activity which almost every day leaves you feeling that you failed in some small or large way, that you didn’t manage to provide what was needed in that particular situation, and that with more time, and patience, you could have done better.

Since this blog began earlier in the year I’ve been a pretty enthusiastic proselytiser of various pieces of education theory/scholarship.  And a lot of that theory itself radiates enthusiasm, if not zeal.  The parts of it that I have encountered are often very ‘up’.  In particular, books about teaching in higher education which are at once research-based and designed to offer guidance to teachers will be quick to point out where we have been going wrong up to now, but will also offer clear advice about how we can make things better, perhaps by moving towards a student-centred mode of teaching, and/or ensuring constructive alignment between learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment tasks, and/or ensuring that we create feedback-rich learning environments.  I have no doubt that thinking through all of these ideas and applying them to my own teaching has been hugely beneficial.  But I also have no doubt that in teaching there are no magic bullets.  Nothing I have learned or tried has stopped me feeling ‘down’ rather than ‘up’ about teaching a fair proportion of the time, and as I look back on my year of teaching there’s one thing in particular that I keep returning to.

I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at getting students to participate in classroom activities, and at designing those activities themselves (the two things are of course related).  Reading Diana Laurillard’s Teaching as a Design Science was something of a ‘lightbulb’ moment for me in this respect; that book gave me a name for and a way of thinking about things I had been trying to achieve for a few years.  If something is well-designed, be it a public space or a domestic appliance, then one’s engagement with it will be smooth, natural, intuitive.  Few of us need to be told how to find a cash machine or a place to sit in an urban area, nor how to operate a microwave (some people reading may also detect the influence of Heidegger via Paddy Scannell here – another set of ideas I’ve been absorbing for the past two years).  In my classrooms, I consciously design things in order to encourage students to act in particular ways, to engage in particular activities.  Sometimes it will be a spatial matter: I will make students sit in a horseshoe around a screen so that the audio-visual sequence we are analysing is there before us, everyone can see and respond to everyone else, and so on.  Sometimes I will issue a set of instructions that create a series of steps for the students.  Sometimes, taking control of the learning environment will also involve, quite simply, holding one’s nerve in the face of initial reluctance to talk.  Teaching/learning is too inherently ‘sticky’ and ‘subversive’ to be as smooth as the other kinds of design alluded to above, but there are similar motivations at work.

‘So what?’ might be the response so far.  All teaching activities are planned and therefore by logical extension ‘designed’.  What gives me pause for thought is the element of coercion that goes along with certain kinds of learning environment design.  A big part of the job of all but the most fortunate teachers is getting students to speak more than they are naturally inclined to.  We smile while we do it (well, most of us, most of the time), of course, but we are applying pressure.  A lot of this can be justified in the name of getting the best out of students (notice the language of extraction), and again, it could not really be any other way.

And yet.  There are times, over the past eighteen months or so especially, when I have felt that my role as teacher was shading into something more like that of a ‘gamemaker’.  I think that, along with carefully-structured activities which assign students roles which are difficult to escape, things like provocation, persistent questioning, playing the fool, and even plain old goading all have their place in teaching and learning.  But so too do things like prolonged solitary reflection, letting a question or a piece of reading stew in the back of one’s mind for weeks (months, years), and the right to say ‘I do not feel ready to talk about this yet’.  If learning environments should be designed to cultivate in students the kinds of habits of mind they will require for ‘deep’, ‘life-long’ learning, then those environments should not just be about cut and thrust, wall-to-wall talking, and rapid cycles of feedback.  One of my teachers once told me, as I was about to embark upon my own teaching, ‘Don’t be afraid of silence.’  More and more, I see the value of such advice (especially when I consider that the filling of silence can often be as much about the alleviation of anxiety as it is about the contribution of something worthwhile).

It is good to feel permanently dissatisfied.  It is a sign that one is still learning, and still alive.  When my teaching resumes in the New Year, one thing I will try to do is let my teaching pendulum swing back (or is it rather a deepening spiral? – that’s the metaphor that most closely fits my pattern of thinking on the topic) a little towards a set-up that allows students more space and time to reflect, and to involve themselves in ways that may be less audible and visible to others, but may also be ultimately more beneficial to them, which is, after all, what it’s all about.

Cultivating a community of reflective teaching practice

What if we assumed that learning is as much a part of our human nature as eating or sleeping, that it is both life-sustaining and inevitable, and that – given a chance – we are quite good at it?  And what if, in addition, we assumed that learning is, in essence, a fundamentally social phenomenon, reflecting our own deeply social nature as human beings capable of knowing?  What kind of understanding would such a perspective yield on how learning takes place and on what is required to support it? Etienne Wenger. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Most academics are extremely adept at talking about their research in a number of ways.  Several of the longstanding practices of the academy are designed to facilitate such exchange – most obviously, conferences and symposia.  We think nothing of travelling for two hours (or sometimes even two days!) each way, to give a twenty minute ‘paper’.  And this is, broadly speaking, as it should be.  The instantaneous and vigorous exchange of ideas and knowledge is one crucial way in which those things move forwards.  It is also one of the key ways in which academics recognise and honour the fact that they are part of a social ‘community of practice’, to use Wenger’s simple and powerful term.

What about our teaching practice?  Do we go to the same lengths, take the same care, in talking to our peers about that other activity that is supposed to command at least some (!) of our professional energy?  As well as travelling across countries, or continents, to discuss our research, do we travel across the corridor to discuss our teaching?  Not as much as or in the ways that we ideally ought to, I would suggest, and I invite every academic reader to ask whether the same is also true for her or him.

For the first time this year, HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) are collecting data from HE institutions concerning the formal teaching qualifications of staff involved in that activity.  How these data will be used and how they will feed into league table positions, prospective student decision-making, and so on, remains to be seen.  However, along with the Higher Education Academy and its Professional Standards Framework and National Teaching Fellowships (with related awards), it is another move designed to incentivise the formal professionalisation of teaching in the sector.

To be sure, professionalisation can be a mixed blessing, and one frequently hears horror stories from one’s colleagues across the UK about the type of provision that institutions develop in order to tick the relevant boxes.  Some of the blame too must reside with the academics who, when they reluctantly return to the classroom, adopt the behaviours that they rightly condemn in their own students, and adopt a surface or achieving approach to the material (even when that material is trying to help them to recognise deep learning, what facilitates it, and why it is better and ultimately easier than surface learning!).

It would be a real shame if ‘getting one’s teaching qualification’ simply became the latest in an already too-long row of bureaucratic hoops, because if it did, then individuals and institutions alike would be losing out on the real and deeply transformative benefits that can arise from undertaking to learn about teaching.  My own experience of studying towards a PGCHE has prompted me to embark upon what I expect will be a lifelong process of engaging with educational literature and my fellow teachers, not with the aim of becoming a scholar of education, but with the aim of becoming a better and a reflective practitioner.  (The literature on ‘reflective practice’ is vast and multi-disciplinary, and I am only beginning to dip my toe in it.  Schön (1991) is an important early reference point.  More recent publications that I have on my shelf are Ghaye (2011) and Tarrant (2013).)

Bringing together the ideas of communities of practice and reflective practice, it seems to me that a reflective community of teaching practice would be a good thing to cultivate and sustain at the programme or subject area level in higher education.  There are of course benefits in meeting and exchanging ideas with teachers who work in other disciplines.  However, when a group of people share responsibility for the overall learning experience of a group of students, there are obvious benefits to them engaging in ongoing reflection on their collective teaching practice.  Indeed, it would seem strange if this did not occur.

One place in the literature on higher education where this type of activity is examined and models are offered is in the literature relating to peer observation and alternatives to it.  David Gosling’s (2000: 5) seminal work in this area identifies various different potential models.  To briefly summarise just two: An ‘evaluation model’ seeks, as its name suggests, to confirm proficiency or ‘identify under-performance’.  The benefits mainly accrue to the institution, and the scope of the observation is narrow (‘teaching performance, usually within a single session).  By contrast, a ‘peer review model’ encourages ‘engagement in discussion about teaching’.  It focuses not only on teaching performance but other aspects of the learning environment, and the observer and the observed stand to benefit from the process.

In the Film Studies subject area at the University of Hull, we are about to embark on an exciting process of peer development.  In the run-up to a process of curriculum redesign, which will be occurring across the university, we are going to engage in a series of activities designed to develop our ‘reflective community of practice’.  We will be drawing initially upon a ‘Journal Club’ model that I used on the second module of my PGCHE (‘Evaluating and Improving Practice’).  The members of the club read two or three pieces of academic literature on a given topic.  Then an online discussion wiki is open for a pre-agreed period (on the PGCHE we found that a fortnight worked quite well).  The ground rules for participation are that each member must make at least three decent contributions to the forum, at least one of which must me the creation of a new discussion thread, and at least one of which must be a response to a thread started by someone else.  This way, a combination of initiating and engaging in discussion is ensured for all members.  Such a set-up allows one time to reflect and formulate, and also allows participants to contribute at times suitable to themselves (summer is of course the key time in the academic calendar where sustained research and writing is possible).  The idea is that by the end of the summer, we will be primed to turn our informed, collective attention to the delicate matter of curriculum design.

The initial plan is to hold three discussions over the summer.

1 The broad and fundamental issue of teaching philosophies

This forum will not quite fit the template format in the respect that there will be no academic literature to read.  Instead, each member will be invited to complete an online Teaching Perspectives Inventory and report their results to the group, reflecting upon whether the survey is in line with what they thought they thought about teaching, or whether it held any surprises.  Each member will also be asked to respond to the question ‘What are the key things that a student ought to have learned upon leaving our programme?’

2 Designing teaching at the modular level

Readings relating to Biggs’s notion of ‘constructive alignment’ and the notion of ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ (Brown, Collins and Duguid 1989) should prompt interesting discussions about the principles that ought to underpin module design.

3 Assessment and feedback

Finally (for the summer session), we will turn our attention to these crucial areas.  Readings will be decided at a later date, perhaps taking into account discussions that have occurred during earlier forums.

I will report back on how our experiment (which I am resisting giving an official title to!) progresses, and I hope that my colleagues will too.


Brown, John Seely, Alan Collins and Paul Duguid (1989), ‘Situation Cognition and the Culture of Learning’, Educational Researcher 18: 1, pp. 32-42.

Ghaye, Tony (2011), Teaching and Learning Through Reflective Practice: A Practical Guide for Positive Action, 2nd edition, London: Routledge.

Schön, Donald A (1991), Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions, Oxford: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Tarrant, Peter (2013), Reflective Practice and Professional Development, London: Sage.

Wenger, Etienne (1989), Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Module feedback

This is the first entry of my relaunched and relocated ‘Between Sympathy and Detachment’ blog (the old one is here).  I intend the content to be wide-ranging, but one central concern will be higher education, and within that, teaching and everything that goes with it.  In last week’s THE, it was reported that a survey of over 20,000 academics found that research activity was believed to be the most important factor in career advancement.  This is just one of the most recent examples of teaching suffering second-class status in the realms of higher education (interesting given the name of the ‘sector’).  However, that’s the subject for a different blog post.  My more modest ambition here is to write a little bit about some activities I did with one of my classes recently to receive fuller and ‘thicker’, and more immediate and dialogic, module feedback than is permitted by the compulsory generic ticksheets.  I am currently undertaking a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, a process that has helped me to become a more reflective – and, I hope, an at least somewhat better – teacher.  The process described below emerged, in a roundabout way, from my experiences on the PGCHE.

Attempting to do scholarly work is in my experience a deeper schooling in humility than can be found anywhere else except in trying to teach well and trying to be a good spouse and parent. Wayne C Booth. The Vocation of a Teacher: Rhetorical Occasions 1967-1988. University of Chicago Press, 1988, p. 73.

Most academics – and junior academics especially – possess a keen awareness of the number of ways in and fronts on which they are ‘accountable’.  To undergraduates, however, module tutors can often appear as one of the many powerful figures to be encountered during the course of university life.  At least once on each module, however (usually towards the end), the tables are turned.  Module evaluation questionnaires are circulated.  They are filled in anonymously and returned to the departmental secretary for processing.  The module tutor later receives a digest of the feedback, including any written comments.  This feedback must be responded to if problems are apparent, and the aggregated ‘scores’ are published in the next year’s module outline.

There are problems with MEQs.  Quality and effectiveness cannot be reduced to popularity, for example (although it would be surprising if there were no overlap).  However, I think that they are, on balance, a good thing, and they are in any case here to stay.  It is humbling to receive feedback (both good and bad) about how the module that one has designed and delivered has been experienced by those who have studied it.  The main problem with MEQs, though, to my mind, is their predominantly quantitative nature.  A low score will not necessarily reveal what went wrong, or a high score what was good.  Students can, of course, write free-form comments, and I encourage them to do so, but the invitation is not universally taken up.

In light of this, and because, out of my usual mixture of passion and anxiety, I always want my modules to be as good as they possibly can be, I decided to devote the seminars on one of my modules this week to the process of module evaluation.  The module in question is ‘Analysing Television Drama: Narrative and Style’, which takes as its case study the television work of Joss Whedon (appropriately, the preceding lecture was about the themes of power and authority in the Whedonverse).  I was delighted by how fully my students participated in the process – a process which, as I pointed out, will benefit future students more than themselves.  Here’s what I did.

1 I circulated pieces of paper (A4 chopped in half – to save paper and to give an indication of how much I wanted them to write!) and asked everyone to summarise the key things they had learned on the module.
I thought this would be a good way to begin the process of looking back on the module.  I also thought it would be interesting to see which things had come through loudest and clearest on the module.  The results were very heartening.  I think the most frequent comment had to do with close analysis of style, which is good because that’s what I understand to be at the heart of the module too.  Within a pleasing consensus about the heart of the module, it was also good to see that different students had, of course, picked up particularly on different things.  Quite a few students, for example, expressed a liking for a session where I outline how suspense works in narrative fiction.  I always worry that this material is a little dry, but the feedback has also helped me to see that often students like to be given a workable tool that allows them to do things.  I resist the idea that stylistic analysis can be reduced to a checklist, but some of its components are amenable to rigorous analytical subdivision, and this can provide its own pleasures.

2 I projected the page of the module outline detailing learning outcomes and assessment tasks on the screen and went through them.
This was not done in the spirit of ‘coaching’, but rather to try to explain what I thought the logic of the module was.  This is also something I did right at the beginning of the module, so it wasn’t a ‘hey presto’ gesture, but something more like bookending.  The thing I emphasised at the beginning of the module and in this seminar was the principal of constructive alignment – probably the idea I’ve encountered on the PGCHE that has been most transformative of my teaching.

Constructive alignment is a model expounded at length in Biggs and Tang’s book Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does.  It boils down to this very simple but very powerful idea.  A module’s learning outcomes should be ‘aligned with’ its assessment methods and its learning activities.  Just to disspell a potential objection, this does not equate to drilling students, or teaching them ‘to the test’.  It means that, having decided what it is that you want students to learn on a module (outcomes), you try to come up with the best possible ways of assessing that learning and the best possible learning activities for bringing that learning about.

On this particular module, the learning outcomes are as follows:

On successful completion of this module you will be able to:
1. produce concise written summaries (similar to a ‘treatment’) of the narratives of individual episodes;
2. describe and explain at the micro level how a television programme’s formal features (dialogue, performance, staging, framing, lighting and so on) control the flow of narrative information and generate other forms of meaning and significance;
3. describe and evaluate the formal patterning of an individual episode, paying particular attention to its handling of space, time and narrative;
4. evaluate the way in which a television programme, either within an individual episode or across a range of episodes, represents an instance of a particular genre and/or is designed to convey particular themes and concerns.

There is one assessment for each learning outcome.  To test the first outcome the students had to write a synopsis immediately after watching a Whedonverse episode (this assessment activity turned out to be more popular, or perhaps I should say less unpopular, than I had predicted).  The remaining three are assessed by essays of gradually increasing length.  This also has the virtue of allowing students to receive feedback across the course of the module, rather than ‘flying blind’ into one or two heavily-weighted components.

With respect to learning activities, in the lectures I would lay some basic groundwork, and then seminars would tend to be devoted to sequence analysis based around short clips from the episodes we’d watched.  This activity was most strongly aligned to learning outcome 2, although I hope it can be seen that it also lends itself to alignment with 3 and 4 (with respect to 1: I gave the students a dry run on the synopsis episode to try to iron out any misunderstandings, then that was done and dusted, to use an appropriate metaphor, quite early in the module).  One of my anxieties was that seminar after seminar based around sequence analysis would feel a bit samey and not align ideally with thematic analysis.  My students, thankfully, did not see this as a major concern, but more on this below.

(My commitment to sequence analysis stems largely from my undergraduate training in the Department of Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick.  Since crossing over to the teaching ‘side’ of the seminar room, I’ve been very influenced by Klevan’s comments in his wonderful chapter ‘Notes on teaching film style’, contained in the equally wonderful Style and Meaning anthology, edited by John Gibbs and Douglas Pye.  I make this reading available to my students.  I particularly like Klevan’s words about why it’s valuable to have the sequence present, on the screen, in the classroom: ‘Looming and pressing in this way, the spirit of the film [or in my case the television programme] is more likely to pervade our dialogue about it, and we are more likely to find words appropriate to an assessment of it.  While in its presence we feel obliged to do it justice; if the film is absent, we will too easily betray it.’)

The reason that I like Biggs and Tang’s model is because, as the subtitle of their book suggests, they emphasise what the student does.  I used to worry about the quality of ‘performance’ I was giving in the lecture and seminar room, but now (although I still think I talk too much) I realise it’s not about what I know (although it’s important, of course, that I know stuff), but rather about cultivating the right habits and skills in as many students as possible.

Learning outcomes are king in the audit world of higher education.  I think they are less so for the student, and I am happy about that.  Nevertheless, I do think ‘showing one’s working’ to students generally yields positive results.  I remember being surprised when my wife, a primary school teacher, told me that she used the word ‘plenary’ with her pupils.  Even at that early stage, learners can be encouraged to reflect on the process of learning.  I myself remember being flush with enthusiasm for Bloom’s taxonomy after learning about it in a PGCHE class, and then using it myself in a workshop the very next day as a way of explaining grading and progression.

With the module’s learning outcomes and assessments re-emphasised as a framework for discussion, I proceeded to the next task.

3 I circulated a handout with a weekly breakdown of the module’s sessions and asked students to annotate with an upward arrow the sessions they had found particularly enjoyable or effective, and with a downward arrow the less enjoyable or effective session, giving reasons for their choices if possible.  I also asked them to indicate whether they would like to see more or less Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse.
I cribbed this particular type of survey from one of my undergraduate module tutors.  In part, it told me which Whedonverse episodes were most well-received (‘Once More With Feeling’ was one of them – no surprise there!), but what I was really on the lookout for was whether there were any patterns relating to learning activities, because I taught the different sessions in somewhat different ways.  In short, I was on the lookout for whether students responded well, or badly, to those sessions where I’d tried to include a big chunk of information, or to those where I’d let things stay looser and more speculative (usually to foster authentic seminar discussion, rather than ‘nailing things to the ground’ as one of my friends once said in a phrase that has always stuck with me).  It would appear that variety is in fact the winning principal, as there was no correlation between popularity or unpopularity and any one type of delivery.  Connoisseurs of the Whedonverse may be interested to hear that Dollhouse was the programme that most people wanted to see more of, probably because I only showed one episode and did so late in the module.  (That said, I only showed one episode of Angel, and there was precious little appetite for more of that.)  Most people thought there were appropriate amounts of Buffy and Firefly, the programmes most thoroughly represented on the module as it stands.  So I’ll be working in more Dollhouse next year.  (To the few calls for less Buffy I reacted with mock-admonition.  Or at least, I pretended it was mock.)

4 A whole-group activity (without me).  I gave the group a sheet of A3 paper divided into three columns.  The left hand column said ‘I’d like to see less of this/I wouldn’t want this’.  The middle one: ‘I think there was the right amount of this.’  The right hand one: ‘I’d like to see (more of) this.’  I gave them cut out strips of paper describing various aspects of the learning environment (actual and potential) and asked them to stick them in the appropriate place on the sheet.  (They were also given blank strips of paper in case they wanted to add their own, which they did.)  Then I left the room for ten minutes.
When I told my wife about this she said ‘That’s such a primary school activity!’, and perhaps she’s right, but to my mind that’s a good thing, and one of the things that the students said they’d like to see more of makes me think they would think so too.

I did all of these activities twice, once through in each of my two seminars for this module, and for this task, the answers that each group came up with were close to identical.  Here are things both groups said they would like to see less of or wouldn’t want to see:

  • Individual supervisions in the place of seminars. (This arose from my thought that the timetable might benefit from being varied, but I didn’t get the enthusiasm for this suggestion that I expected.)
  • Pre-prepared presentations (individual or group, assessed or unassessed). (This didn’t surprise me.  In my experience students dislike presentations.  I am in fact introducing assessed presentations in my ‘Television, Radio and the Everyday’ module next year because I think they are valuable.  I’ve been reading some research on using wikis to encourage collaborative learning that I may try to put into practice.  This will probably be the subject of a future blog post.)
  • A larger single seminar group. (I’m glad that the small group sessions are appreciated.)

These are the things both groups said were present to an appropriate degree:

  • Sequence analysis in seminars.
  • Set reading.
  • The module tutor talking. (I always feel like I talk too much.)
  • Activities requiring us to write things. (A word of explanation: in seminars I’ve found a good way of getting students involved and getting them to commit to a position without having to go around the room and get everyone to speak is to kick off a seminar by handing out strips of paper and starting a sentence and getting everyone to finish it [eg. ‘Evaluating television is difficult because…].  I then sometimes project the writings on the screen and scrutinise them further.)
  • Assessment planning as a seminar activity. (That is, discussing potential approaches to essays.)

Both groups said they would like to see more:

  • Group discussion.
  • Students talking.
  • Students asking questions of the tutor and one another.
  • Activities designed to enact understanding (mime, gesture, etc).

On the first three: I try very hard to facilitate these things in my seminars.  When I asked the students how these things might be achieved, I think there was general acknowledgement that these things require the input of all group members.  Nevertheless, it is still my job to try to facilitate these things as much as possible.  One student came up with the excellent suggestion of setting time aside at the end of lectures for group discussion, which would start students’ thinking processes before the seminars, as well as saving a bit of time at the start of the seminar, as the discussion would have already begun.  I may well try to enact this suggestion next year.

On the last: in some seminars I introduced activities beyond talking/reading/watching as ways of getting students to think about themes and/or style.  Quite a lot of the time I encourage students to think about the meanings of actors gestures or vocal inflections by trying to replicate them, thus ‘internalising’ or ‘performing’ meaning (both the metaphors, though opposite, are correct).  When we studied the marvellous Buffy episode ‘Hush’, in which all the residents of Sunnydale lose their voices, I wrote a series of statements, instructions, and so on, on pieces of paper, and asked students to mime them to the rest of the class to see if the meanings could be conveyed.  This was partly inspired by Patrick Shade’s wonderful article on the episode, and was designed to encourage reflection on the extraordinary possibilities, as well as the limits, of language as a medium of communication.  (This idea clearly feeds into my project of encouraging students to be as sensitive as possible with their use of language on the page in their acts of critical writing.)  Once the initial feelings of shyness or silliness die down, these activities can foster deep and engaged learning, and are, I think, an entirely appropriate part of the university learning experience.

— — —

Following this group activity, I teased out some further feedback in a whole group chat, mainly focusing on the assessments (were they appropriate in number, nature and spacing?) and the timetable (would a different set-up work?).  General contentment was expressed in both these areas.  I’m glad with respect to assessment, as I too think it works well as it stands.  I think I still might try to tinker with the structure of sessions a bit though.  Creativity and the demands of central timetabling, though, are hard to marry (and this is not in any way a swipe: central timetabling is surely simultaneously one of the most thankless and heroic tasks of university administration; the complexity and number of variables are mind-boggling).

After that, all that remained was for the students to fill out the actual questionnaires!  I’ll expect the results in a few weeks.  In the meantime though, I have plenty of fascinating information to process and feed into my planning for next year.

Indeed, the process has already started.  Next year will be my fourth time teaching this module.  At last count twelve students had signed up for it (the fewest so far: last year I taught forty-six students on the module).  I hope their experience is a good one.  To conclude, here are the sessions I’m planning to offer:


1 Exposition and pilots / ‘Echo’ (unaired Dollhouse pilot), ‘Ghost’ (Dollhouse 1:1)
2 Genre / ‘Bushwhacked’ (Firefly 1:3), ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’ (Buffy 1:1)
3 Staging and Style / ‘Once More With Feeling’ (Buffy 6:7)
4 Point of view / ‘Enemies’ (Buffy 3:17), ‘Pangs’ (Buffy 4:8)
5 Closure / [Episode redacted as the screening will form part of the synopsis assessment]
6 Suspense and temporal ordering / ‘Ariel’ (Firefly 9), ‘Out of Gas’ (Firefly 8)
7 Authorship, influence, intertextuality / ‘Band Candy’ (Buffy 3:6), ‘Briar Rose’ (Dollhouse 1:11)
8 Multimedia storytelling / Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, excerpts from Buffy season 8 and its ‘motion comic’, a comparison of the beginnings of ‘Lies My Parents Told Me’ (Buffy 7:17) and its novelisation by Nancy Holder, and perhaps of ‘Serenity’ (unaired Firefly pilot), Serenity (the movie resurrection) and their novelisation by Keith R. A. DeCandido.
9 Community and Communication / ‘Earshot’ (Buffy 3:18), ‘Hush’ (Buffy 4:10)
10 On being human / ‘A New Man’ (Buffy 4:12), ‘The Body’ (Buffy 5:16)
11 Power and authority / ‘The I in Team’ (Buffy 4:13), Firefly episode to be decided (suggestions welcome)
12 Performance and identity / ‘Who Are You’ (Buffy 4:16), Dollhouse episode to be decided (suggestions welcome)