Troubleshooting the Sports Machine (Global Sports Cultures, 1st Lecture)
Yesterday I gave my first lecture in Global Sports Cultures (Comparative Literature 100). After teaching the course for the first time last year, I retooled the syllabus both to make the material more concrete by prioritizing certain figures and moments as primary focal points for each week’s studies and also to facilitate my making my lectures more accessible, and more interactive. I also put lots of time into creating an interactive online course concept map as a resource for students looking to find more about particular facts, ideas, or personalities or to explore comparative connections from week to week. It’s still in progress, but I’m including it here below because I think it could a very valuable tool, and I certainly have been learning a lot putting it together. The image below gives you an idea of what that looks like (each of those “Thought” boxes is clickable and contains more specific thoughts), but feel free click here if you want to explore the course concepts for yourself.
The fact is, I vastly prefer small groups and open-ended discussion. But, as I told the students yesterday, we are at the University of Michigan and our administration wants us to have a certain ratio of student credit hours per faculty position: so here we are, 172 of them and me. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying to find ways to flip this beast.
My goal for the first week’s lecture was pretty simple: to get them to use their own experiences and feelings about sport together with the readings they’d already done in order to get to three ideas: 1) that sports may be understood as a machine for delivering certain positive effects; 2) that it may not be running as well as it could; 3) that this class was about developing certain diagnostic skills and tools to begin to troubleshoot and fix the sports machine. To aid me in this process, I prepared a power point presentation (I know, I usually hate them to, especially giving them) with some video clips and images that I thought would provide more concrete and so impactful ways for them to think about the positive and the negative effects of the sports machine.
I’m always nervous on the first day, but was even more so yesterday because: 1) 172 adolescent students in a big auditoriums; 2) technology; 3) trying to persuade sports fans that thinking critically about sports won’t ruin their love of sports. But I donned my professorial uniform of khaki chinos and a navy blazer, laced up my pink Chuck Taylors and bravely stepped into the arena.
The sound didn’t work on the powerpoint videos, which in one case was truly disappointing to me, but I think I rebounded from that pretty well. By 9 pm on the day of lecture, students are required to post to a course website one quote from their lecture notes and then to explain why they selected it. These went up pretty quickly yesterday afternoon and I was very heartened to see that many, if not most, of the students had chosen the sports is a machine metaphor and explained the choice by confessing they’d never really thought about it that way (or even really thought negatively about sports—one of them reported that this was the first time taking a sports-related course at Michigan that he’d heard a professor refer to a negative side to sports) and expressing their excitement to roll up their sleeves, pick up their tools, and get under the hood.
You can see for yourself what you think here. A couple of technical notes, I’m sorry that, as I said, the sound on some of the videos didn’t work. I’ll figure that out before next week. And I’m sorry also that the only images are of the power point slide (if anyone care about that). I’m going to try to change that setting as well so we get both the slides and the classroom. Lastly, I’m sharing this in part because I welcome feedback, whether from students or other individuals who might, if they were at Michigan, take a course like this or from other teachers. If you have suggestions that aren’t too terrifying and don’t make me feel defensive, I will most definitely consider them. So, please click the link below, and enjoy!