Hidden Collaboration: The Internet, Syllabi-Making, Assignment-Planning, & YOU!

Standing among bookshelves, a woman holds an open book with bright lights shooting out of it


Lisa Gulesserian

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We’re a few weeks into the fall semester now, and I’ve just finished hammering out my assignments for E 314L: “Banned Books” using lots of in-person feedback from my peers and my teaching mentor, along with tons of help from resources on the internet. While talking about assignments and syllabi over a hot beverage with friends and colleagues is my cup of tea, the online resources I used were absolutely indispensible for coming up with the specifics of my assignments. As I planned my course, I was floored by the sheer number of pedagogical resources posted online—my post today is about this hidden collaboration amongst instructors and professors who use the internet to share and borrow lesson plans, syllabi, and pedagogical advice. In my post, I’m going to talk about my own experience in the “hidden collaboration” realm by sharing a few of my favorite sites— the English Department’s eFiles collection, the DWRL’s Lesson Plans site, and a smattering of personal instructor sites and outside-of-UT webpages.

Since eFiles is the site that we’re directed to from the very beginning of our time at UT, I won’t discuss it in detail. I’ll only say that it’s full of fantastic advice contributed by faculty, teaching assistants, and assistant instructors over the years. I used eFiles to get a feel for how much reading and how many major assignments I could feasibly assign to my students. Try it! I searched for “close reading” and I got 21 pages of results! Filtering, by course or by resource type, is the only way to navigate the site to get pertinent resources. I ended up filtering for only those results that were marked as syllabi to get an idea of how previous instructors structured their courses. After looking at the 28 contributions, I knew I could assign at least five novels to read and two essays to write. I was able to confidently move on to planning my assignments with help from instructors of years past (some whose names I didn’t recognize because they’d left the halls of UT before I was even admitted to the graduate program here!). Without even knowing it, these instructors were integral to my course’s development.

Of course, the instructors who post innovative and exciting lesson plans on the DWRL’s Lesson Plans site have helped me just as much. After a swanky redesign and the addition of archived materials from the old LP site, the new site is more user-friendly and searchable than ever. You can browse plans by type of assignment—whether it’s an in-class activitya semester-long project, or a unit-long writing assignment—and by lesson plan content—ranging from analysis to writing process. I found it most helpful when I searched for general terms under “lesson plan content.” Under “Literature,” for instance, I found plans on blogging close readingshistorical approaches to literary criticism using Internet Archive videos, and collaborative annotated bibliographies. I ended up tweaking a few of these lesson plans to create my own close reading and annotated bibliography blog post assignments (which will soon be posted on the Lesson Plans site!). I know without Pearl’s detailed explanation of the steps necessary for close reading a passage or Emily’s instructions for collaboratively writing an annotated bibliography on PBworks, my assignments this semester would have been haphazard experiments that would have taken at least another semester to hone and perfect. With the help of lesson plans posted by instructors in the DWRL (who don’t know who they will help once the assignment is posted online), I was guided through the process of creating two assignments.

Along with eFiles and the DWRL Lesson Plans site, I made use of many academic sites all over North America. At the beginning of my assignment planning, I Googled for terms like “Annotated Bibliography Assignment” and “Close Reading Paper.” Through my many searches, I found useful instructor sites and departmental resources from universities (and some high schools). The “Writing Resources” page at Harvard’s Writing Center site was one source I used to give my students practical style advice. I navigated to the University of Toronto’s Writing site to get advice for summarizing sources while identifying arguments. And of course, I used the Purdue OWL to provide students with sample MLA citations on their assignment sheets. But, surprisingly, I received a good amount of help by visiting the course sites of many instructors. From an instructor at Seton Hill University, I learned how to articulate what kinds of passages merit close reading. From a professor of Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley, I was introduced to books that were criticized for their historical imaginings (and which I promptly read and decided to assign in my current course). And from UPenn’s TeachWeb (a site that compiles teaching resources for English and Comparative Literature instructors), I learned about integrating peer review into my writing assignments. Without the help of savvy instructors in far-flung areas of North America, I would not have been able to craft my assignments.

Unbeknownst to the instructors that posted their lesson plans and syllabi online at the English Department’s eFiles collection, the DWRL’s Lesson Plans site, and academic sites outside of UT, I have benefitted from the information that they so freely shared. I hope that you—instructors at the University of Texas and beyond—will use and contribute just as much advice as I have!


Creative Commons License
All materials posted to this site are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. We invite you to use and remix these materials, but please give credit where credit is due. In addition, we encourage you to comment on your experiments with and adaptations of these plans so that others may benefit from your experiences.


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