The English Companion Ning’s First Anniversary

On December 5, 2009, the English Companion Ning will turn one year old. Jim Burke, excited about the possibilities of Web. 2.0 technologies after last year’s NCTE Conference and its focus on technology and tools of the future, created the EC Ning, which would later be described as “the world’s largest English department.” If you’re not already a member, I encourage you to visit the Ning and join. It’s easy: just click on the link that says “Sign Up” in the right-hand sidebar, and follow the instructions on the screen. Be sure to look for me there. With grad school, I haven’t been as active as I’d like, but the Ning is a vibrant community, and I have truly enjoyed the conversations and ideas shared.

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Dissecting Trolls

Most readers of this blog probably know that in Internet parlance, a troll is a person, usually partly or completely anonymous, who posts off-topic and usually really vicious or mean comments. Karl Fisch tweeted yesterday about the depressing nature of the comments left on a recent Huffington Post article about his influential “Did You Know?” video. I responded that I created a writing assignment based on some poor argumentation I found in YouTube.

I was looking for videos to share with my Hero with a Thousand Faces course students, and the first video I came across was one in which Tolkien discusses how he began writing The Hobbit. Essentially, a poor argument (on both sides) has developed in the comments on that video that Star Wars is a ripoff of Tolkien’s work. I read through most of them, and while I don’t advocate actually responding to comments of this sort, I did find that the argument on both sides was essentially composed of a series of ad hominem attacks. Neither side offered any support for their argument, and I kept reading to see if someone—anyone—would mention that the similarities that exist can be attributed to the fact that both stories involve heroic journeys and can be analyzed using Joseph Campbell’s theories regarding the monomyth. No one said any such thing. My own students have already studied Star Wars. They are currently reading The Hobbit. I knew that any one of them could explain the similarities between the stories based on solid evidence, which is something the commenters on YouTube either can’t or won’t do.

I created a writing assignment based on this idea, and I have full confidence that my students will be able to argue their points better than Internet trolls, but I cautioned them not to actually try it. Real Internet trolls don’t listen to reason. Or much of anything really.

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Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

Using an idea from Chris Renino in Shakespeare Set Free and Chris Shamburg, my students created a radio play of Macbeth 4.1, in which the witches prepare the “hell broth.” Take a listen:

Download Macbeth 4.1

Nuts and bolts:

  • We used GarageBand on my Mac. One of my students knew how to produce the echo effect. I think Audacity would work, too, but I’m not sure if it has all the effects GarageBand has.
  • We did two run-throughs without recording before we did the recording. We were happy with our first recording, so we used it as our final.
  • The crunching leaves were created by potato chips in a bowl.
  • We used a large vase with water to make the cauldron noises.
  • Students created the howling winds and dogs.

It was totally awesome! The students loved it, I loved it, and we had fun.

Update: 11/12/09 at 7:29 P.M.: I am adding the podcast created by my other British Lit. class. This particular podcast was created by only four students (as opposed to the other, which was created by 17 students). Considering their small numbers, I think it turned out extremely well. We had to use multiple tracks and do more cutting and editing, both of which made this particular recording more of a challenge.

Download Macbeth 4.1

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