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Christopher Douce

Arts and humanities day school 2023

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Friday, 27 Oct 2023, 20:54

On 14 October 23, I went to part of an OU Arts and humanities day school, organised by the Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FASS) which took place at the London School of Economics.

There are a couple of reasons to write this short piece. The first is to remember what happened during the event and to be able to share some of the points from the session with fellow students. The other purpose is to share with other faculties and schools what the FASS faculty has managed to do.

Although the session was run for the whole of the day, I only attended the afternoon session, which was all about literature. The morning session was all about study skills. For students who need advice of study skills, I do recommend the OU skills for study website.

Part 1: Things to know about literature

There were two parts to the English Literature strand. The first session was all about discussing what literature was all about, what is it for, and how is it studied. It was facilitated by staff tutors and cluster managers, Tim Hammond and Liz Ford.

During this session, we were asked some questions, and were encouraged to speak with fellow students to attempt to answer the question, or arrive at some definitions.

What follows is a summary of those questions, and some of the key bullet, or takeaway points that emerged from both the group and plenary discussions.

What is literature?

It is about storytelling; there are characters, plots and narrative.

It is about words, texts and the structure of language, but it can also be about oral communication, such as drama and plays.

It is also about responding to and interpreting texts. Also, a point of view is important.

Literature can be used to create new worlds.

It can also be used to develop and maintain culture.

Also, the notion of THE CANON was mentioned. There will be more of this a bit later.

What is literature for?

To entertain, to educate, and to suggest or facilitate change, to consider different worlds, and to make a record of something.

There are also some negative reasons: it can be used for propaganda.

Literature can be used to share experiences, and to expand horizons.

One point was emphasised: entertainment. Although it sounds frivolous, entertainment is important!

Why do we study literature?

To understand different ways of communication, to understand what is considered to be important (which links back to The Canon).

Through studying literature, we become more critically aware, become better writers, and can more readily contribute to academic debates.

It allows us to gain a deeper understanding of texts, and how they are constructed.

Understand different points of view.

How do we study literature at the OU?

The OU approach is to have interpretive journeys through texts. I made a note of something called reception theory, which will be explored in level 3 modules in more detail.

During the modules, there will be texts that you have never heard of, and texts that have been translated.

Students will understand how books (text) may come into being, in the sense that books exist within a context and within an economy. Texts now exist within a digital world.

Within the modules, there is a lot of optionality and choices when it comes to the assessment, leading to more flexibility in level 3.

What can you do with literature?

One of the points made in just was: you could (potentially) become a bestselling novelist! (This was made in jest, since it is very difficult to become a best selling novelist).

Due to time was short, a key point was made: do speak with the careers office; they have a wealth of advice to offer.

Part 2: Evaluating negative responses to reading in life and in fiction

The second bit of the day, presented by Shafquat Toweed, who is the chair of A334 (and has written some of the materials for A233, which I’m currently studying) had the feel of being a research talk.

Shaf’s research is all about reading in literature (which does gets mention in A233). In an EU project he mentions, members of the public are invited to send in post cards that relate to their experiences of reading.

I found Shaf’s presentation fascinating since I have never been to a research talk about literature before. I have heard that ‘presenting a paper’ in the discipline of literature is a little different to ‘presenting a paper’ in the sciences.

I learnt that there is something called the UK Reading Experience database. Shaf also mentioned an EU project, called Read-it: Reading Europe Advanced Data Investigation Tool.

Towards the end of his presentation, he took us through the plot of a story, where reading of fiction led one of the main characters to an untimely demise. One must emphasise that this was fiction, about fiction, and this isn’t anything we should be unduly worried about.

Reflections

I went to this event since I needed to give myself a motivation boost.

I have a lot on at the moment and I worry about my studying of A233 will become subsumed under everything else I need to do. I’m studying literature for a number of reasons: it may add something to the other work I’m doing, it is something that I’ve always wanted to do.

During the first session, I won an OU pencil! 

Admittedly, I won it for being “arrogant”, and was encouraged to “join the scientists” for claiming that I was able to define, without any difficulty, what literature was all about.

Upon reflection, the answers that everyone shared in the plenary discussions were a whole lot more nuanced than the answers that I gave. Whilst I do predominantly align myself with the scientists, I am aware that I need to be more comfortable with nuance and opinion.

There was a real buzz about this face-to-face event. It was also something that got booked up really quickly, which suggests that there was a lot of demand for events like these. It was also notable that these events only take place in two locations: London and Glasgow. I really liked that I was able to chat with fellow students; we spoke about levels and texts, and shared some practical study skills.

It was also notable that students who were not able to attend this event have been asking what happened during the day school. In some senses, this blog aims to act as a bit of bridge. Sharing online what happened during face-to-face sessions underlines my belief that face-to-face, when done well, has the potential to help all students, irrespective of whether or not they are able to attend.

Well done FASS for running such a useful event. One day, I hope that I will be able to run an induction session for all our new computing students. Face-to-face is important. We need it to come back.

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