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In two weeks, I’ll pack up my partner, kids, and many electronic devices to spend 5 months in Kyoto Japan as a Fulbright lecturer at Doshisha University. This has been a long time coming, and I’m still not entirely sure it will all happen (it definitely should, and hopefully will, but it’s 2021, after 2020, so my fingers will stay crossed until we land in Tokyo!). We’ve begun our required daily temperature checks and recording, scheduled the specific COVID test required, and obtained enough Switch and iPad games to (hopefully) get us through the two week hotel quarantine. I’ve also been finalizing my syllabi.
Scared to try new things, going for it anyway
Getting ready for my courses has already been eye opening. As a tenured, and now full professor, I have a degree of security and freedom in my job that is unimaginable for most in academia at the moment (given that as much as 75% of college faculty are off the tenure track, and that the conditions for contingent labor are abysmal). I have spent the last several years, both before and during COVID, experimenting with open educational practices in my classroom, making major changes- moving from a traditional textbook to an OER, to an OER that I have edited and customized, to working with students to (slowly!) write a chapter. I’ve moved from strict attendance and exam policies to self-grading and choose-your-own-adventure. I’ve been so happy with all of these changes, and part of the reason for that is that I haven’t had to fear them. Sure, I’ve been worried that things won’t work as planned (and some have been spectacular failures/in need of major revisions), but because of my full-time and then tenure protections, I haven’t had to fear for my job. Now, as I prepare to be a lecturer at a new university, in a different country, in a system that may be very different from the one I know, I’m feeling all sorts of self-doubt: “Can I do this? Should I do this? Is this appropriate? What if the students hate it? What if it doesn’t work? What will my colleagues think?” And while I’m forging ahead anyway with choose your own adventure and flexible due dates (Brandle’s gonna Brandle, after all), I want to remember this feeling. As part of my open education work, I’ve gotten to give a few pedagogy sessions, and while I always include the usual disclaimers of “find what works for you” and “contingent faculty will have different pressures and time available,” actually feeling (a tiny bit, though not actually) contingent for the first time in many years is a visceral reminder I want to hold on to- most faculty workers do not have the kind of job security that I do, and any training or planning that is not based on this fundamental fact is not worth anyone’s time.
Nervous about language, happy about digital affordances of OER for translation
Teaching in a classroom where a multitude of languages is spoken is very normal to me – #CUNYProud – and the ethnic, racial, national, and linguistic diversity on my campus is actually one of my favorite parts of teaching at my home campus. I teach mostly American government, but I’m an International Relations and Comparative Politics person at my core, so when everyone brings their different perspective and knowledge of other government systems into the class, we get to make Intro to American very comparative, which is more interesting for all of us. Students have also shown me ways that they make their course materials easier to access- closed captions that come in different languages for videos, web translators for digital materials, etc, and this is yet one more reason to love OER- since the materials I use are born digital and free to access, I don’t have to worry whether they’ll be DRM-ed in a different country- I’m free to share and redistribute them anywhere! And my students have easier access to use the materials in a way that works best for them. At Doshisha, I will be teaching in English, but the primary language of instruction for most students is Japanese (though Japanese is not necessarily the first language of all Doshisha students). So in choosing readings, I’m looking especially for materials (such as UN treaties and government constitutions) that have Japanese translations already prepared, and including those along with the English versions.
Stoked to plan new classes
For the last 8 years, I’ve been privileged to teach at a community college, which means all first and second year courses. And I LOVE it- I know my content very well by this point, and I have the time to experiment with improving my pedagogy, because I’m not dealing with new preps all of the time. But it is really nice to do other things sometimes and in addition to teaching my constant companion, Introduction to American Government and my once-a-semester treat, Introduction to International Relations, I’ll be teaching two new (to me) upper level courses that I proposed- a human rights seminar using an explicit comparison between Japanese and American interpretations/policies of international human rights frameworks, and Geeking Out- Special Topics in Political Science through sci-fi/fantasy films- The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I didn’t find any syllabi on exactly these courses (though definite shout out to Bethany Barratt’s The Politics of Harry Potter and Ruane and James’ International Relations of Middle Earth, and to the CUNY library system, who had e-copies of both books, since I’ve already turned off our mail delivery) so I’ll share my syllabi once I’ve finalized the readings.
LOVING the CUNY Academic Commons
The nice people at CUNY Academic Commons are very open to CUNY faculty, staff, and students using the Commons in lots of ways, so I’m creating my course websites on it. This means I can have an open site up and running before the start of class. And I don’t have to get signed in to whatever LMS Doshisha uses just to have a home for my class; in my adjuncting days, that could sometimes take weeks, and who wants to wait that long to have a home for your class?
I’m hoping to blog through the experience, so I can reflect on what is likely to be one heck of an adventure: temporarily moving my family to a new continent, to a country I have never been to, to teach somewhere completely new and different, still in a pandemic. So watch this space if that’s the sort of thing you’re into.