It has been an interesting 18 months. I applied for the ASU Master’s in English Studies program late 2019 and was elated when I was accepted. As 2020 began, I was anxiously awaiting my first class of the program and my first class in general since 2008. It had been more than 11 years since I graduated from Utah Valley University; I knew the next 18 months would be hard, but little did I know why they would be so hard.
2020 turned the world upside down in more ways than one. Here in Utah we also experienced the largest earthquake in more than three decades just as the pandemic was shutting the world down.
However, difficult as it was to endure the pandemic, it did have one positive side effect. I couldn’t really go anywhere. And without things to do, without distractions or other commitments pulling me away from my studies, I could turn my attention to schoolwork and focus on learning, not worrying.
Here is a quick look at the assignments from the program and the lessons learned along the way. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it does provide a good insight into how I grew in each class and during unique global circumstances.
ENG 501: Approaches to Research
My first class of the English Studies program was an introduction to modern research methods and techniques. I felt like a kindergartner stepping into a classroom for the first time. It had been 11 years since I was in college; this was a foray into something new and frightening.
The class focused on how to research more than writing an actual research paper. One of the most important things I learned was the existence of Mendeley. Keeping track of sources and research information had always been a hassle for me. But with Mendeley I was able to import all documents, organize them, mark and highlight them, and find their works-cited information in one convenient place.
ENG 534: Shakespeare
My second class in the English Studies program was a look at Shakespeare’s life and work. I have never been a fan of his work, so I had some apprehension as class began.
What do I remember from the class? Covid. The pandemic was just beginning to affect the world as class began, and so much of my time was spent figuring out how to navigate a great unknown as much as it was about studying The Bard. To make matters worse, Utah experienced a record-breaking earthquake during this class. All in all, it was the most trying time of the entire program. Thankfully, the staff and faculty at ASU were always available to keep me on track.
ENG 507: Methods/Issues in Teaching
For much of my adult life I have had the opportunity to visit schools as a guest lecturer, present at showcases and book signings, and stream on Twitch. I have always loved teaching and talking about reading and writing. ENG 507 focused entirely on methods and issues found in teaching children to learn reading and writing-specifically how to love it.
During the class we had to select a book about teaching writing and create an infographic for it. I used Canva to create my infographic and fell in love with both the tool and the idea of the infographic. Having created something similar for my bookmarks for my Disparia series, I understood the value and importance of a succinct and engaging way of presenting information
ENG 560: English Drama 1660-1789
Similar to the Shakespeare class, ENG 560 was another look at plays. This time, the class focused on various playwrights during the 17th and 18th century. And like the Shakespeare class, I had a difficult time focusing on the content.
This was my first summer class of the program. Covid restrictions were also in full effect with no vaccine on the horizon. Trying to stay focused on content that was not my favorite thing in the world while the weather was nice but the world was falling apart felt like an entire year’s worth of struggles in one class. Thankfully, some of the plays stood out more than Shakespeare’s works and I was able to turn several different plays into succinct ideas for papers.
ENG 556: Theories of Literacy
Possibly my single favorite topic of the program, ENG 556 was a look at various theories of what literacy is, how it is spread, why it is valuable (or not), and what the implications of being literate in something might mean. I learned that the definition of literacy isn’t as straightforward as knowing how to read and write. Instead, literacy was multimodal and included everything from technological literacy (understanding how to operate Windows, for example) to literacy with workplace specific dialects.
I wrote my favorite paper of my English Studies during this program, The Biology of Literacy. The paper looks at the development of literacy and compares it to Darwinism and the evolution of biological organisms. The way dialects can be born, evolve, grow, and die in the same way that a species might, shows how language is as much an organism as a dog or cat.
ENG 536: 19th Century American Novel
The sheer volume of reading material in this class dwarfed all other classes (almost combined). We covered at least one full novel each week and had to write papers and analyses of almost every one. Some weeks included more than one novel and required tying them together through an essay and discussion.
The class exposed me to a few works that I had never read prior to the program. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Last of the Mohicans were two standouts. I particularly enjoyed the madness of Flaubert, as I have always been partial to the surreal, magically real, or absurd.
French 550 was the comprehensive overview of reading French. The English Studies program requires students to take a foreign language before graduation. I was interested in learning Old/Middle English, but that was not taught online. Instead, I opted to enroll in a French class.
I had taken almost six years of French during my junior and senior high school years. Though I hadn’t been exposed to any French since, it seemed logical that the linguistic knowledge was tucked away in some brain fold or another. Maybe a few study sessions would turn the light on in the right memory vault?
Well, it came back to me pretty quickly, but that only helped for so long. The pace of the class was relentless. It was an introductory course designed for individuals with no prior experience in the language. But by week three or four we were already translating entire pages of Phantom of the Opera and other works of literature. Thankfully, I had great group members to help me reach my full potential. We were assigned weekly translations to work on individually and then together through Google Docs. This live collaboration taught me more about working together and French than anything I had ever experienced, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.
Linguistics 510 was a quick but thorough look at language, from the very simplest phonemes and morphemes to fricatives and glides, the class was a crash course in everything a writer could hope for.
This course also had the most diversity in terms of assignments. We had quizzes (both online and write at home), tests, papers, discussions, and diagram translations (figuring out sounds for a mouth shape, for example). It was difficult but rewarding.
ENG 553: Technologies of Writing
My final class prior to the Capstone class focused on the technologies of writing. Since I began writing my first novel around 2005 and I continued through my undergraduate studies, I fell in love with creative writing and writing theories. I wanted to use technologies of the day to write a book that connected to readers in a way that other authors had yet to explore. I began my writing career by looking at how technology could change how authors and readers interact, so it’s only fitting that my last (non-capstone) class brings me back to my roots and looks at how today’s technology has changed writing over the past decade.
The primary focus of the class was to assess a non-profit organization’s social media and content creation habits. During my assessment it became obvious that there are enough tools available to achieve any goal you want. From sources like Canva to create infographics to YouTube videos linked in Twitter, there are countless new ways to use technology for my goals in 2021 and beyond.
Which brings me to my final course, the Capstone. It has been a fun experience looking back at the work from all my previous courses and figuring out how those courses will impact my career. It has only been 18 months, but looking back over the course work reminded me of some lessons and experiences I had forgotten. The struggle with my first summer class, for example, was more difficult than anticipated. My passion for the teaching material in English 507 was not to be understated. And that feeling of finishing my Summer B class and realizing I still had a year to go, and having managed my first batch of classes through Covid…this capstone felt like I was separated from it by an eternity. It was between my summer and fall classes that I really learned how to get the long plans out of my head and focus on one class at a time. Find a rhythm. Set a schedule. Work on each assignment as though it’s the only one I will ever do. It worked. Here I am in 2021, ready to graduate and move on to writing and teaching. It was all worth it. You can take a look at the digital portfolio video here, or view it in the media feed on the right. Thank you again to all the faculty, staff, and peers that have helped me through this program!
Summary and Analysis
The final written paper of my English Studies journey. I’m not sure what more can be said at this point, other than it has been quite the ride.