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ENGL 306 History of the English Language (HEL)

How Allison Burkette used her WOW! Grant

Dr. Allison Burkette

Dr. Allison Burkette

Course Changes


In terms of course content, I added materials that reflect the reality of English as ever-changing and ever-various. To the more ‘traditional’ HEL textbook, I added supplementary readings (one book, written for a general audience, and several academic articles) that speak to this reality directly. I also added video content to make the course more friendly (a ‘welcome’ video from me) and varied (“History of English in 10 Minutes”, a TED talk, a conversation with a Shakespearean actor, etc.).


Instead of tests, I use a series of small assignments (akin to homework assignments), larger projects, and group projects. The small assignments are geared at reinforcing basic linguistic concepts while the larger projects ask students to apply those concepts to a bigger question. The larger projects also call on students to use the online Oxford English Dictionary, which offers an interactive platform for learning about the etymology of words.  The group projects are intended to let the students get to know each other better and work together to produce a ‘blog’ entry about a topic related to course material.



The changes in content have, I think, been successful. Students like the videos and have said they help reinforce course information. I still think that students struggle with basic concepts as presented in the ‘traditional’ textbook; I have witnessed some grave misunderstandings about pretty fundamental concepts (e.g. weak verbs vs. strong verbs), which have shown up in students’ applications of those concepts in the larger projects.

I did try to make the course friendlier by adding a welcome video, a welcome page, “Start Here” directions with links to the syllabus, to IT, technical assessments, etc., which I do think was helpful. The content of the course was re-arranged (per the suggestions of course design reviewers) to make it easier to navigate.


When I taught the course over the summer of 2016, I used the Blackboard ‘discussion’ and ‘blog’ tools and saw mixed results. Many students could not figure out how to add to a discussion thread or make a blog post (they would attached a document instead). So, for the summer of 2017, I tried focusing on the ‘discussion’ tool for the group projects, again to mixed results – the group members couldn’t ‘find’ each other (despite explicit instructions on how to do it) so part of a group would post and then a straggler would post an addition. I’m not sure how to get a class better coordinated with each other via the online medium.


I wanted to turn this in to a hybrid class and so met with Patti O’Sullivan and Jasmine Karlowski (former Instructional Designers), separately and together on a number of occasions, to talk about options for a course platform. I looked into Google classroom, but it didn’t have the structure that you need to present course material ‘all at once’ (vs. scrolling through a feed to find info from the week before). I now use Google classroom, though, for all of my traditional courses during the regular semester as a way to post readings, assignments, links to relevant news articles, etc. I wasn’t able to make this a hybrid class precisely because it is a summer course; too many students are traveling or are located at a great distance from campus. While the plan for the course did not go exactly the way I wanted, I do feel that the changes that I made have created a course that is friendlier and easier to use and has the kind of content that I envisioned.