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Dr. Virginia Blanton

Dr. Virginia Blanton
Curators' Distinguished Professor

Department: English
EUReka Course: GECRT-AH 101: Making Meaning in a Changing World – Text Technologies
See Dr. Blanton's Syllabus.

Describe the process of developing the EUReka components of the course.
I designed my class as a EUReka course from the outset, so the entire course is coordinated around the various steps involved in producing the creative project (designing and making a book of a favored text) and writing an artist’s statement that indicates the rationale for the various design principles. My plan was to help students understand the various components of bookmaking and the history of book arts. Then, they would be challenged to interpret their chosen text and design a book that represents that text and its interpretation. I anticipated that the students would have no experience in book making so I planned the assignment as a series of scaffolded steps, with lots of individual feedback and mentoring from me, so that they could think about their choices and put them in the context of the larger history of book making. I also made it a requirement that they would have to develop a video of their book and explain their choices as artists by integrating components of their artist’s statements. From the beginning, students were aware that they would be presenting their books at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, so they knew they would have an audience for their work beyond our classroom.

How does teaching a EUReka course compare to teaching similar classes without the designation?
One aspect that became crucial was the individual feedback at each stage of the process. Mentoring them through the process required lots of brainstorming sessions. Offering suggested readings or model books that would engage their thinking meant I had to conduct research in the book arts far beyond my areas of expertise. It was fun to help them imagine possibilities and then challenge them to find inspirational books or art that could serve as background research for their projects. In the end, I wanted them to feel ownership over their choices, even as I hoped they would develop some knowledge about the vast nature of book arts worldwide.

What benefits do you think your students gained from participating in the EUReka course-based undergraduate research experience?
Two key benefits were clear. Students enjoyed having a tactile learning experience, and they loved engaging with others about their projects. The Undergraduate Research Symposium was a great opportunity for them to receive feedback on their books and on their choices as artists. Some really blossomed through that process. Students also told me that this project, while really hard, was also the most engaging they had had that semester. Being able to do something with their hands and be creative meant a great deal to them in a semester of online learning and social distancing. It was also so different from the work produced in other courses (argumentative essays, standardized tests, etc.) that they found it fun.

What advice would you give instructors thinking about developing a EUReka course?
Be flexible and inventive. Students threw all kinds of crazy pitches my way, and I had to adjust the parameters of the assignment because they were so inventive as they engaged in the book arts. Giving them latitude to explore meant students produced work that was deeply personal and culturally valuable.

Any other thoughts to add?
This was such a rewarding experience. I have all kinds of ideas for adjustments to make the course even better next time around, including how to integrate the Undergraduate Research Symposium into the course in a more central way. If faculty are interested in teaching a EUReka course, I highly recommend that they review some of the great work showcased at the most recent Symposium, as it was hugely inspiring to experience.