Etched on some are notes about Sylvia Plath and Henry David Thoreau. On others: the plot structure of “Game of Thrones,” an 1865 map of Manhattan, a Monopoly board and an analysis of football players as folklore.
These are the boards of the MU English Department: a potpourri of blackboards, whiteboards and slides showcasing lessons from seminars on science fiction to global African literature.
The department is featuring a series of board photos on its Twitter account under the hashtag #OnBoard in hopes of fostering a sense of community among English majors.
This is the first in an occasional series of photos of blackboards, whiteboards, and maybe even sometimes slides from classes taught in the Department of English. We’re calling the series #Onboard. This one is from an honors seminar taught by @cohenss. pic.twitter.com/bgIoTRyyXH— Mizzou English (@MizzouEnglish) September 5, 2018
“For nerds like us who like the idea of a fun, energized classroom, it gives the sense of what the class that created that board was like,” said Sam Cohen, an associate professor and the department’s director of undergraduate studies.
Cohen, who came up with the idea and primarily runs the @MizzouEnglish Twitter account, is encouraging instructors to snap pictures of their boards after class. He said he receives around a couple submissions per week.
“You can teach with somebody for 14 years and never have any kind of sense of what they do in their classrooms, and these blackboards give you a little window into that,” Cohen said.
The series is one way the department hopes to recruit and retain English students, many of whom are drawn to the major after starting out undecided or studying a different subject. And it’s catching on outside MU: At least two other universities’ English departments have tweeted photos of their own boards, citing MU’s posts as inspiration.
Although the series started with students in mind, it’s making a difference for professors, too. Cohen said the posts have encouraged him to write on his own board more, and the photos are one way for instructors to see what other classes are up to.
“One really fun thing that a few people have sent in now, which I have never seen done, is they will use the projector, throw up a slide of a text just straight onto a board and then, with chalk, mark it up,” Cohen said. “They’ll put a poem up on the board, do a close reading of all the different elements of it with the chalk, so it’s kind of got this two-layer thing. I’ve gotten a couple of those that are really fun. I plan to steal it for my own classroom.”
At first, Cohen kept count of the whiteboard-to-blackboard ratio in the submissions. The whiteboards started out strong, but soon, blackboards began to pull ahead.
“And that may just be a comment on how up-to-date and modernized our Mizzou classrooms are, I don’t know,” he said.
But in his classroom, Cohen has a clear preference.
“That’s my Luddite secret mission,” Cohen joked. “Bring back the blackboard.”
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