Literary Nebraska course

With all the challenges the past year has brought, students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have needed to be adaptable by adjusting to a new way of learning. Professors at UNL’s Department of English, however, have taken these obstacles and used them to inspire innovation. 

Marco Abel, Willa Cather professor of English, and Roland Végső, associate professor of English, have used this inspiration to create Literary Nebraska, an online asynchronous course that will zero in on Nebraska’s literary history. 

“When everything turned upside down last spring, we started to think about innovative ways to do something new with the curriculum,” Végső said. “The idea for this course has been on our minds for a while, and there was a small grant available for inventing innovative courses so we thought we would take the opportunity.”

The 15-week-long course will focus on authors associated with Nebraska, from its beginning in the 19th century to the present day. It will touch on some of Nebraska’s most famous authors, such as Willa Cather, along with diverse voices like Malcolm X. The course will be broken up into four units covering autobiographies, fiction, poetry and popular culture. 

Abel and Végső said Literary Nebraska stands out from other courses offered at the university because of its collaborative nature; the course is being taught by 16 different faculty members of the English department. 

“Every single lecture is taught by a different professor, and in one case, two professors,” Végső said. “We tried to invite people who are experts on that specific author or field in which the author wrote. We wanted to experiment with a new way of teaching, and so far it’s been a very positive experience.”

In addition to this being an innovative way of teaching, it presents a benefit to students entering the English department by exposing them to a large population of the faculty in one course. 

“It’s simultaneously an introduction to the literary history of Nebraska but also to the English department itself,” Végső said. “It allows students to see who the professors are, their teaching styles and their ideas. We’re hoping it will encourage students to take courses with specific instructors that they like.”

The class is labeled under the course code ENGL 211: Literature of Place, with Lydia Presley as the instructor. It is open to all university students and will fulfill an ACE 5 credit. Presley will run the course in terms of assignments, tests and quizzes. The class is currently full, but according to Abel and Végső, if there is a high demand for enrollment, the class cap can easily be increased. 

In the future, the duo is hopeful they will be able to grow the course in terms of access to high school students and lifelong learners through the university’s OLLI program. Abel and Végső are also interested in future development of the course by expanding its content. 

“The current iteration almost exclusively focuses on traditional literary genres,” Abel said. “We would also like to consider adding other media like script writing, film and Native American literature, which wouldn’t be unusual for a literary history course.”

The course’s inventive design combined with its array of award-winning professors make this an educational experience that both Abel and Végső believe students won’t want to miss. 

“It’s pretty rare for students to be exposed to such a variety of excellence at the same time,” Abel said. “I imagine it will be an enjoyable experience for students to listen for 30 to 40 minutes to people who really spend a lot of time crafting technologically effective lectures that are engaging, easy to comprehend and introduce interesting ideas that will spark discussion.”