How I Always Manage to Overload Myself

You know what I love? Designing new classes. I love sitting at my computer with about ten browser tabs running, each with some bibliographic source or somebody else’s online syllabus, just imagining possibilities: what if I paired the Bush and Nelson with the Borges? Should Kittler come before or after McLuhan? Oh, yes, and then if I teach Landow, I’ve got to teach Aarseth, because oh, the controversy!*

It’s thrilling, imagining new combinations of material and the conversations that might arise from them. And so I do this nearly every year, and when I’m not designing new classes, I’m redesigning old ones. It keeps things fresh, new, alive.

But here are the problems with this relentless need to innovate: first off, I inevitably get so amazed by the possibilities presented by any given class that I totally overload it with material. A reasonable syllabus, with a reasonable quantity of reading, always strikes me as inadequate, missing several key texts that absolutely must be included.

Second, I never fail to include a few things that I ought to have read by now but haven’t. The up side of this is that teaching new texts is one of the few ways that I actually get to read them, but the down sides are plentiful: sometimes it turns out that the new texts don’t work as well in the course as I’d hoped; often it turns out that I’ve got less time to do a really attentive reading and preparation of the text than I really need.

Teaching new classes, semester in and semester out, is exhausting, and yet I can’t quite stop myself. Every year I say, no more new classes. I’ve got tenure now; next year I recycle old material, and innovation be damned! But every year I wind up tinkering, or building all new syllabi. It’s a compulsion. And I know I’m going to kick myself in the fall for what I’m doing this week, but this week I’m having enormous amounts of fun, just imagining the possibilities.


*Quite obviously, one of the new classes I’m designing for the fall is on new media theory, and I’m completely fired up about it. I’m adapting some portions of this course from the Literary Machine class of a couple of years ago, but a little over half of the class is new. I’m also teaching — for the first time, believe it or not — our intro to the English major course, and as an overload (yeah, yeah, yeah), I’m teaching the first half of the Intro to Cultural Studies course up at the graduate school. This last is heavily adapted from my undergrad Marxism and Cultural Studies course, though, so I’m really hoping that prep can be minimal, and that such minimal prep won’t be a liability.

2 thoughts on “How I Always Manage to Overload Myself

  1. Cool. Do you have a tentative reading list for your course on New Media Theory? If so, would you mind sharing it?

    I always find that my first time through a course I assign too much. Then inevitably I overcompensate and assign too little. Third times a charm, but by then I’m more or less bored by it, so the fourth time, I overhaul it, going back to stage 1!


  2. Yes, I’ll absolutely share the list, in a day or two, once I’m a bit more certain that what I’ve laid out is going to stick.

    I wish I were able to learn from my over-assigning mistakes. I have a sort of selective amnesia, which causes me to forget what went wrong in my classes almost as soon as they’re over. I ought to keep better notes as the semester is in progress, as all the pedgaogical experts suggest, but honestly, who’s got time for that?

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