Thursday, November 13, 2008

Medieval Literature: Not Dead Yet (Feeling Much Better... thinks it might go for a walk...)

This year, because I am department Chair, I only officially teach three classes (because I am a doofus, I'm actually teaching four, one as an unpaid overload, and I'm directing an honors thesis, but I digress). And because I'm going to be on research leave all of next year, I had to get in some key classes in now, so I'm teaching Chaucer (in ME), Medieval Literature (in translation), and J.R.R. Tolkien all in one year. Normally I'd be teaching a First Year Seminar or a Senior Seminar or an English 101.

You'd think, with only three classes, I would not have that many students, especially since medievalists are so superfluous and medieval literature isn't popular.

So here are the enrollment totals for my official classes:

Fall 2008: J.R.R. Tolkien: 62
Chaucer: 35

Spring 2009: Medieval Literature: 37.

Keep in mind:
The average course at Wheaton enrolls 19 students. We are, after all, a small, liberal arts college. (Though that number is skewed due to small courses being mandated for first-year and senior seminars and English 101).

But also, because I knew how swamped I was going to be this year,

I deliberately scheduled these courses MWF to keep down enrollments (as you can imagine, T Th courses are more popular. Students don't like classes on Fridays).

I deliberately schedules these courses at the 10:30 and 11:30 time slots so that they would come up against a lot of other courses.

Yet the enrollments are the highest they've ever been. Even setting aside the Tolkien course, the pure medieval courses are averaging nearly twice the college average. And it's not due to my sparkling personality: there are a ton of students in these classes whom I've never taught before and wasn't able to recruit out of English 101 or First Year Seminar.

So whoever says that medieval studies isn't popular has no idea what he or she is talking about.

(I could be a real jerk and point out which other courses in which specific time periods medieval is out-drawing, but I don't need to, because it is out-drawing all of them.)


meredith arwen said...

. . . . your description of your classes is possibly the only thing that makes me wish I lived in the States. *sighs*

Michelle said...

Not only are these interesting course topics (I'd give my eye teeth to audit your Tolkien course!) but let's face it - I'd bet the farm that you've got legions of Mike Drout fangirls all over campus. And I use 'fangirl' as a gender-neutral term here. Everyone knows, or hears, who the most interesting, most fun, most engaging professors are, and they flock to their classes. How do I know this? Because the two undergraduate classes I attend (Old English and Old Norse) are filled with students who have told me exactly that: "I'll take everything (insert professor's name" offers!"

So pat yourself on the back, and rest in the glow. They love you, man!

Tom Elrod said...

Your enrollments definitely speak to your effectiveness as a teacher, so congratulations!

I wonder, and maybe you could blog about this sometime, how exactly you teach a literature class with with 60+ students in it? I suppose you could approach it as a lecture class, but I doubt that's what you do, and I imagine that the Tolkien class is an upper-level lit class anyway. Your Chaucer class, with over 30 students who need to learn to read ME, must be quite a challenge, as well. So how do you do it?

Dr. Virago said...

For some reason my medieval lit and Chaucer classes haven't been as big in the last two years, but usually they get about 30 students in each, and I'm supposedly at the kind of institution where students are interested in "practical" and "useful" fields. And since this isn't a residential campus, it's not because students have recommended *me* to each other. It's all about the medieval lit. W00t!

Narya said...

Would you be willing to send or post your Tolkien syllabus? (I'd ask to sit in on the class, if I weren't 1k miles away.) Not least because I'm reading LOTR, again, at the moment, for probably, oh, the 25th time.