An example from the advanced seminar Language and/in Society at the Free University Berlin (summer semester 2019). Comments, corrections, and additions welcome!
The text below has been written for the participants of one of my seminars. I publish it, as I hope I can receive feedback. Maybe this idea of a collaborative syllabus may inspire other academic colleagues. For more information on the teaching project behind this text, see this article (in German) on why I designed an open, collaborative syllabus in one of my classes (the students got to pick their own texts).
Instead of providing the participants with scholarly papers in advance, the idea behind this class is that participants are invited to fully contribute to the syllabus. The expected outcome is that participants will get a sense of how to search for relevant literature and will get to ‘defend’ their choice in front of the other participants.
You are entirely free to choose the text and I encourage you to choose a text that really matters to you. Below I provide you with an extensive bibliography of sociolinguistic references as possible guidance. Yet you do not have to select a text from the suggested readings. Participating in the syllabus is one of the requirements for active participation in the class.
1- Enrol for one of the sessions by writing your full name in the column ‘participants’. For the first three sessions (10.04.2019, 17.04.2019, 24.04.2019) and the last one with a text (03.07.2019), I suggest the readings and provide the empirical material for the class. For all the other sessions, you have to work in small groups. You should sign up according to the topic of your interest.
2- Choose a text that you want to discuss for the topic on a given session. I am happy to provide you with any guidance you may need to select a text accordingly. The main criteria are:
- The text must be in English;
- The text needs to be a (peer-reviewed) published paper (no blog post or newspaper articles);
- The text needs to address one of the themes or the intersection between the three main themes: race, class, gender;
- The text must address these topics from a sociolinguistic perspective (and not from any other perspective such as political sciences or cultural studies);
- The text needs to be relevant for the given topic of the given session;
- It is important to reflect on the sociolinguistic variables associated with the author (see below).
3- Pick a text within your groups until May, 6 (12 pm) and send it to me per email. I will gather all the texts and upload them on Blackboard for our collective discussion on May, 8. We will devote a session to the notion of relevance (what makes a text relevant for discussion? Relevant to the field?) and ask ourselves what criteria should come into play when designing a syllabus.
4- All participants have access to the texts for the other sessions and read it before class. It is not mandatory, but it nice if the group in charge of the reading for a given session suggests some questions to orientate the reading. I will put them on Blackboard as well.
5- During the session devoted to your text, introduce the text in a SHORT presentation (about 5-7 minutes).
- You will first explain WHY you chose this text specifically, why you found it interesting. You can compare with other texts on the same or a related topic, other texts from the same author, other papers in the same book, etc. You can also explain why you opted for a ‘classic’ or a more recent text, why you chose a focus on theory or a case study/empirical analysis. The idea is really to present your text and to reflect on your process while going through the literature.
- Next, you will provide us with some key information about the author(s) and articulate them with the sociolinguistic variables we are dealing with in this class. The idea is to make us all aware of genders, races, ethnicities, etc. when dealing with (academic) literature. Consider the following aspects:
- (declared/self-identified) race and gender of the author(s);
- the central thesis of the text;
- concepts that may be interesting to focus on for the glossary;
- ideas for discussion, including open questions.
NB: Class will almost always be ‘educated’ or ‘academic background’ given the necessity to select a peer-reviewed paper. We can discuss this aspect together in class.
In a nutshell, in order for this activity to count for active participation, you need to pick and present / ‘defend’ a text once during the semester and to be ready to discuss the text during the allotted slot on that day.
You also need to engage with the literature of the other participants by reading the other texts prior to each session and commenting on the other texts.