This summer, my time was split between a part-time job, care of my preschooler, preparing for online teaching, and updating the syllabi for two large lecture classes I teach in the Fall, Childbirth and Culture and Introduction to Anthropology. This last project required working my way through a series of texts, new and old but new-to-me. I planned to accomplish this work together with former students, and the CRLT and Department of Anthropology generously supported the project by providing books to students who joined me in this endeavor. When I designed the project, I had not imagined a summer with such demands on my time. Still, the updates were needed, and I felt committed to offering students a summer opportunity in a year when internships and jobs were scarce. I ran two reading groups, one with twelve former Childbirth and Culture students, and one with six Introduction to Anthropology students. Ultimately, the project benefited me as much as the students, offering a sense of purpose during a summer when burnout threatened.
Coronavirus required abandoning my initial vision of cozy monthly book clubs meeting in my living room and switching to Zoom instead. Each month, students prepared discussion questions and highlighted important passages, and we used these to ground our 2-hour conversations. At the end of each meeting, students made their cases for why one part or another of the book should be required reading for the class, or why the text was a bad fit. And, like any good book club, we reserved the early minutes of our conversation to chatter about our daily lives, share snippets of personal news, and speculate about what the Fall semester might bring at UM.
Students reported being grateful to continue conversations begun in class in a more informal setting with a smaller group of peers who shared a deep interest in the subject. I hope they also learned more about what goes into the design of a course. I appreciated the built-in accountability, the opportunity to test readings with undergraduates before assigning them to a large lecture, the chance to practice remote teaching, and the monthly reminder that the long hours of summer meetings, webinars, and trainings required to prepare for online classes were teaching me new skills to do what I love best: engage with students about Anthropology. And, I think we were all glad for any occasion to see faces beyond the few in our homes, even if they were flat squares on our computer screens! My Fall 2020 courses are better because of the input of the students, and I am grateful to them as well as the CRLT and the Department of Anthropology for their support.