by Paul Schacht, Caroline Woidat, Rob Doggett, and Gillian Paku, State University of New York at Geneseo (SUNY)
(Originally Posted April 30th, 2011)
At SUNY Geneseo, Practicing Criticism uses digital technology to help build a sense of community, common purpose, and shared identity among undergraduate English majors enrolled in separate sections of a required, introductory course, English 170: The Practice of Criticism. A long-established course at Geneseo, English 170 introduces students not only to the essential disciplinary skills of interpretation and critical writing, but also to some of the basic theoretical questions that help constitute English as a discipline: What types of works should we read? Why should we read these particular works? And, most important, how should we read them? By prompting students to engage with these fundamental questions, English 170 aims to create self-reflective majors who are skilled at critical analysis and have a deep understanding of the disciplinary issues and debates underpinning the various modes of critical analysis. In other words, students in this course learn both to practice criticism and to examine criticism as a practice.
This essay reports on our effort to launch Practicing Criticism in the fall 2010 semester. It explains our purpose in creating the project, describes the tools we chose and the assignments we designed with them, and explores some of the lessons we learned.