Last March in a RioNews post, English Department Faculty Chair Kathleen Dunley, expressed her wish to integrate comics and graphic novels into a new literature course at Rio Salado College. As of this December, that course is fully developed and available for registration.
According to Dunley, an avid comic arts scholar, ENH280: Topics in American Literature is an exciting course to be involved in.
“The course content provides students with a compelling introduction to visual storytelling as well as an unconventional study of very traditional literary concepts,” Dunley said. “We’re also breaking into some exciting new delivery methods with this class, so it has really been a very fun project for me.”
By adding a social layer to the online course, Dunley said she hopes to cultivate a persistent, active community.
“I decided to integrate the Ning platform for two reasons,” Dunley said. “First, I wanted students to be able to embed multimedia tools and be creative in how they participate in class discussions. Second, by using Ning, we can keep the course open. We’re hoping that students will stick around and continue to participate in discussions even after they’ve finished the class. It also allows me to invite guest speakers into the virtual classroom where they can lecture, take questions, and join the class discussion.”
Cartoonist Jessica Abel is one of the first guests on the roster and will take questions through a broadcasted video conference.
“She’ll technically be in the room with students and they will be able to ask questions. Students who aren’t in the classroom will still be able to access the webcast from any location, “Dunley said. “It’s freeing in a sense. There are no walls or geographic limitations.”
Dunley’s connection to the comic arts community allows her to include custom content from comicon presentations and other public appearances.
“One of the assignments is to read a few pieces by Seth (born Gregory Gallant). I interviewed him at the Comic Arts Conference earlier this year,” Dunley said. “One of my friends taped the interview so I’m including that video in the class.”
Dunley’s social network has also helped her gain access to quite a bit of open source and creative commons material for the class.
“I’m a contributing editor at The Comics Grid, a non-profit project for comics scholars and serious enthusiasts of comic art, “Dunley said. “I blogged about this class and have gotten a very positive response.”
According to Comics and Digital Humanities Researcher Ernesto Priego, founding member of the Comics Grid, ENH 280 serves as a model for how education should be.
“Dr. Dunley is increasing the possibility for public engagement by developing an online community of learners who are not restricted by geography,” Priego said. “Integrating accessible web tools for remote collaboration offers much-needed communication channels for both course development and research.”
Priego went on to explain why an online social format is well suited to the niche study of comic arts.
“The genealogy of comic studies is the result of the meeting of two worlds often thought apart, academia and fandom. Fandom has always been quick and efficient at harnessing web tools, but academia has been slower to adopt new technology,” Priego said.
He added, “Comics are deeply grounded in collective experience, exchange, sharing and communal spaces. Taking a comics studies course to the web is innovative, yet logical. It means taking the discussion of comics to one of its most natural current habitats.”