Some Considerations (and an Interest Gauge) for an Online Mormon Lit Course

8.18.14 | | 19 comments

Earlier this year, Kent posted about the potentially increasing demand for MoLit classes. I mentioned in response to Kent’s post that I thought “an open access, online Mormon lit is very doable and would be welcomed by many people” and that I would post some ideas for building such a course. Soon thereafter, I created a Google Doc and started an outline of questions to consider.

While I was prepping my fall semester courses (three first-year writing and one intro to lit: all online), looking around for ways to best take my courses into the wild (as it were), to build them outside of institutional walls, beyond the limits of learning management systems, that document came to mind. So I called it out of my Google Drive, updated it with some additional questions (including several I asked in response to Kent’s September 2012 post, “An Online Mormon Literature Course?“), and decided to (finally) public share it with AMV’s community. I’m doing so for two reasons: 1) to get some feedback on how potential course-users would like to see the course structured and delivered and 2) as an interest gauge to see how many people would participate in the course. I’d like to have your feedback and the interest gauged in the next fortnight or so. The next step would be—dare I say it?—to begin building the course.

You can offer feedback on the considerations I’ve outlined in the following ways:

  1. I’ve set the document’s settings to allow anyone to comment on and to edit the text. So you can open the document in Google Drive (see the link below), highlight text in the doc, hit comment, and, well, comment away. Or you can click directly in the doc and add anything to list that you think needs adding (as long it’s relevant to the discussion, of course).
  2. You can respond in the comments section below.
  3. You can email me directly at tyler [at] motleyvision [dot] org.

If you’re interested/willing to contribute to the course in any way, shoot me an email (see item 3 above) and let me know what you’d like to offer.

To express your interest in taking Mormon lit online, make it known in the comments. (This is just a straw poll, mind you.)

Feel free to spread the word among your social networks using #MoLitCourse.

With all that in mind, here’s the document. Respond away.

(Follow this link to open the document in Google Drive to comment and/or edit.)

19 comments: “Some Considerations (and an Interest Gauge) for an Online Mormon Lit Course

  1. Th.

    .

    I would love to participate, though I’m currently trying to wrap up 16 more credits for professional reasons, so would likely be slacky. I’m still all for it though and urge onward.

  2. Proud Daughter of Eve

    I’d be interested too! My questions are 1) What will the cost be? and 2) How will the texts be chosen/handled? I live far away from the Mormon Corridor and it’d be pretty hard (and/or expensive) to get my hands on, say, “The Backslider.”

  3. Scott Hales

    I’m interested in helping out (and benefiting from) this project as well. My experiences with creating online courses is limited, but I’m up for learning the ropes. I’ll review the document again and leave some comments for you this week.

  4. Tyler

    Proud Daughter:

    Per 1): This question has come up in the conversation happening over the doc I linked to. Ideally, I’d like the course to cost as little as possible (free, in fact, if we can swing it).

    Per 2): We haven’t settled on course texts yet (this is one of the items to be discussed), but ideally we would choose materials that are readily accessible. Again: my vision is to make the course as non-restrictive as possible. If we do settle on texts that need to be tracked down, I’d like to release the reading list long enough before the course opens to allow participants time to track them down.

  5. Tyler

    I look forward to your comments and contributions, Scott.

    What experience do you have with online courses, as either student or teacher?

  6. Jessie

    Inter-library loan is another good way to get your hands on items that your local system doesn’t carry. Most public library systems will do ILL for you.

    I’ve been doing an online graduate degree for a few semesters now–online courses have pros and cons. One of the trickiest things I’ve noticed so far has been fostering a feeling of community and cohesion as a class–and fostering a sense of connection with the instructor. Also, having good discussion questions that will actually produce a variety of answers and opinions rather than just a big list of everyone saying the same thing or repeating information from the book.

  7. Moriah Jovan

    One of the trickiest things I’ve noticed so far has been fostering a feeling of community and cohesion as a class–and fostering a sense of connection with the instructor.

    A chatroom is good for this. My writing group (when I bother to show up) has a real sense of community and we each have a good feel for everyone else’s work.

    I run my own chatroom and I would be glad to offer it for use.

  8. Gideon Burton

    I’m sympathetic both to Mormon Lit and to online instruction. However, I think there are some real obstacles to this sort of thing. First, I do not think there is much consensus regarding Mormon literature from the angle of publishing, academia, the church, or the public at large. It is likely that if you create a course in Mormon lit for an online audience, then it will not satisfy those studying Mormonism academically because it will either omit or include too much LDS history, LDS theology, or LDS popular literature. If the target audience is people in general, then when you advertise a “Mormon literature” course they may in fact be looking for 1) info from their pastor on fighting one of America’s great cults; 2) general discussion about Mormonism from a societal, political, or general journalistic angle; 3) info about LDS theology and beliefs (“I need to do a report on Mormonism for my religion class. Where is there some literature about Mormonism available?”). Way down the list you will find those seeking literary expression about Mormonism, and this will be usually a small subset of educated Mormons (worthy, though few…). Of course, the online world is a place to accommodate niche interests, and a more literary exploration of “Mormon literature” is as viable as any other speciality topic. But what I’m saying is that those other audiences are more likely to be led to the course than the few out there looking to literary representations of Mormonism. The real question, I think, is the prospective audience for whom you are interested in providing this course. Is it only for other readers of Motley Vision or members of Association for Mormon Literature? If you seriously wish to provide a resource for programs in Mormon studies, then it would be well to contact leaders of such programs and drill down to questions of curriculum. I don’t think that “if we build a course in Mormon lit, scholars and students will come to it” is going to happen. Why do we get a few sections of LDS Lit filled each year at BYU? Only because Eng 268 (for non-English majors) gives general education credit and Eng 368 (for English majors) gives elective credit for that major. Students end up more interested in the topic than they thought they would be, but we are not filling a prior felt need. It’s an artificial market that an open course online won’t have. One angle worth considering is working closely with existing publishers of LDS works. Perhaps students would get discounts if they took a course that was even loosely affiliated with Signature, Zarahemla, or Deseret Book. Any such publishers would want to have a course weighted toward their products, of course. I do think that trying to do something on an open model is a very good idea — especially with respect to drawing upon texts that are open educational resources (OER) or public domain items freely available online. The downside to this is a lack of consistency in teaching materials. It’s one thing to find a variety of LDS poetry online. But there is something very nice about being able to assign a good anthology like Fire in the Pasture to accommodate that. My belief is that those with a stake in Mormon literature typically have a very partial stake in it — they are interested in it, but only because they are already into YA lit, or science fiction, or LDS history, or women’s studies, or regional filmmaking, or what have you. There are not many generalists out there other than academics (in short supply) that are looking broadly at LDS literary history. Are you after the educated or would-be educated Mormon crowd online? The BYU alumni and the Women’s Conference crowd? I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, but frankly I don’t think there is a market for what you are proposing. Is it still worth doing? Perhaps. I actually do believe you would end up getting a lot of accidental enrollments. But there will never be a MoLit MOOC because demand doesn’t exist. Do you want to sponsor a coterie, niche speciality for online instruction? Just be aware of what it isn’t able to do. It would be a labor of love, like Motley Vision, and would only gently expand what this good blog already does. But hey! I could be wrong. Maybe this could be a way of breaking open the topic and giving new life to Mormon letters. I’d love that to be the case.

  9. Th.

    .

    Except for my fondness for paragraphs and relentless optimism, I share many of the same concerns as Gideon. But I think it’s worth a try all the same—given my time teaching lit at the local Institute, I think there is interest if people realize there’s something to be interested in. Many don’t.

  10. Tyler

    Thanks for stopping by and weighing in, Gideon. I appreciate you pushing us to examine our assumptions.

    If I understand your concerns correctly, these are your basic questions:

    1. Whose definition of Mormon literature will the course perpetuate? Whose interests will it serve? Publishers? Academics? Institutional Mormonism? Readers of popular Mormon texts? Readers of literary Mormon texts?

    2. Will the course be academically rigorous?

    3. How will we vet course participants, course readings, and instructional materials to ensure a high quality learning experience?

    4. How will the course address the concerns of, be received by, and contribute to the larger field of Mormon Studies?

    5. Who is the course’s target audience?

    6. How will the course serve that audience’s interests beyond the way those interests are already being served by blogs focused on Mormon literature (like AMV and Dawning of a Brighter Day)?

    7. Who will serve as course instructors and what experience do they have with online education?

    8. Will the effort expended to develop and deliver such a course be a worthwhile investment for those with a vested interest in Mormon Literature, including instructors and participants? Will it be worthwhile for the niche Mormon Literature market? Will it be worth the inherent risks?

    Have I missed or misread anything?

  11. Tyler

    I share many of the same concerns as Gideon.

    Elaborate?

    I think there is interest if people realize there’s something to be interested in. Many don’t.

    I’ve had several conversations to this effect with my father-in-law. Before I became involved with the Mormon Letters community and started sharing things with my family, he had never even considered the idea of Mormon literature. Every now and then we chat about the state of the field and he encourages me to do more to cultivate it and to spark others’ interest and involvement. His encouragement is one thing that has spurred me to move forward with a few different projects, this course included.

    Which returns me to your comment, Th.: how do we find the people who would be interested in learning more about MoLit if only they knew it was something they could be interested in?

  12. Hunter

    This sounds very interesting. I’m interested in taking a course, whether lecture-based or seminar-based. Thanks.

  13. Joe Plicka

    Hi Tyler,

    I have much more to gain from an endeavor like this (as a student) , than I have to contribute. I think it’s a great idea. That said, I am more of a big picture/dreamer dude than a brass tacks guy, and Gideon really broke it down nitty-gritty style. True, one of my first thoughts after reading this was, “What is the working definition of Mormon lit here, and will it match the definition of the audience most likely to enroll in a course like this?”

    My fantasy course would include the likes of Brady Udall and Darrell Spencer, writers who are now outside the church and LDS culture personally, but who at times tangle with Mormon characters and settings. However, I imagine many potential participants (LDS ones) would expect a narrower, more conventional definition (literature by practicing Mormons and largely for practicing Mormons?). I may be totally wrong. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because I don’t see any reason why you can’t work with multiple definitions within the framework of a single course. Of course, then the problem becomes scope. Is it focused on a very particular era or genre or author of Mormon lit, or is it seeking to represent a kind of survey of the landscape as a whole? Survey courses are notoriously difficult to package because no one will ever agree on what represents modern British literature, post-war American literature, or heaven forbid “world literature,” or even our own Mormon literature. But people still teach and take survey courses, because hey, you have to start somewhere and what else can you do.

    So, I’m rambling. I do that. I think your last set of questions in response to Gideon are perfect. But, after running through those questions, getting all the good advice and input you can, I don’t think there will ever be a way to really answer them all “correctly,” if you will. Ultimately, whose definition of Mormon lit will guide the course? Yours. I don’t see how it can be any other way when all is said and done. Will people want to enroll? I have no idea. But I will. And I think it will be the quality of the course experience, rather than the particular blend of content, that will determine your success. It may be success for a very small group of participants, especially at first. But maybe it’s still worth it?

    The obstacles to this are real, but surmountable I think. I wonder if there are courses in Jewish lit, Catholic lit, etc., that could serve as models or examples as to how to go about contextualizing this? One of the advantages of a course like this might be that it is a pretty narrow slice of the world, and as such you have access to authors in a way that you might not otherwise . . .

    I guess I’ll leave it at that for now. I salute you Tyler for putting the work into this so far.

    Good luck,

    Joe

  14. Mark Penny

    It could be an online, asynchronous, never-take-down, never-close-up Molit Con.

    You could have posts, forums, galleries–all kinds of stuff.

    I’d like to see activities focused on improving Molit.

  15. Michael Andrew Ellis

    I’m interested in the class, but I do have more of a desire to study “literary” Mormon Lit, whether it comes from “active” members or not, than I do the genre works. But maybe a few of those would be good for balance, too. Anyway, I do support the idea.

  16. Jonathan Langford

    I would want to participate, but don’t know how consistent I would be able to be, due to time commitments.

    Here are some general thoughts:
    – I think a lot of the questions of definition and of attracting the wrong people can be adequately addressed by providing a clear course description that is the first thing people see when they click a link.
    – It’s unclear to me if you’re talking about a course with institutional affiliation: i.e., one that gives recognized credit. If you are, that will introduce its own constraints. Based on the description, I *think* that’s not what you’re talking about, and that’s fine with me. In fact, I’m more interested in such a course as a forum for focused discussed, guided by well-considered questions about texts everyone has read.
    – Which probably suggests my next point: the importance of discussion. The ideal, I think, would be asynchronous, but with everyone making a commitment to read, write a response, then come back at least once and read and respond to other people’s comments within a given timeframe. (I’ve managed online focus groups using this format, so I know it can work if people are sufficiently committed to doing so.)
    – The ideal size for such a group would be no more than 20, in my view. If there’s more interest than this, then run the course multiple times.
    – While there’s no reason not to “cast our bread upon the waters,” as it were, I think that rather than considering the appeal as being people we might pick up who we don’t know, the best way to consider it would be to see how it flies among our existing group (e.g., those part of this blog, AML blog, etc.). However, institutional affiliation might change this.
    – I like the idea of organizing the course around (a) the question of what it means for something to be “Mormon literature,” and (b) a goal of exposing people to a variety of high-quality Mormon literature that explores this in different ways and fro different directions. I’d like to see works from different periods and genres, but with a focus on quality and variety–not a historical approach as such. For example, I think there should be at least a couple of sf&f short stories–but ones that actually do something to explore Mormon identity and/or themes, and therefore provide grist for discussing those kinds of questions. My personal candidates would probably be “West,” by Orson Scott Card (or any of the Folk of the Fringe stories) and “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone. And some historical, and some poetry, something representing the Lost Generation writers, maybe some Doug Thayer, a play or three…
    – In addition to works that everyone reads and comments on, I suggest that students also choose 2-3 works from a list (including at least one full-length book) and create some kind of in-depth review, which other students would read and respond to.
    – Finally, I suggest that a modular approach might be an option, with a single coordinating instructor but with people possessing specific qualifications to run individual units. I see no reason for these individuals not to also be students in the course–making it more a seminar. For example, I’d be willing to run the sf&f module, while still taking part in other parts of the course under direction of those running the other modules (assuming, of course, that it fit other constraints such as schedule…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>