The Story of the “Chaucer Pilgrimage Site”

It all started with this:
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I and a couple of students were presenting at the New England Association of the Teachers of English Fall 2014 Conference. As I checked in, the woman at the table told me about the mini-grants. Apparently, to apply all you had to do was write out a proposal on the back of the form and turn it in by the end of the conference. Never one to turn down an opportunity, I mulled ideas as I listened to the keynote speaker. As I considered my courses, I naturally focused on my upcoming Chaucer class in Spring 2015. I had not taught a course just on Chaucer yet, and I was still considering ways to make his texts and Middle English accessible to my students.
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My thoughts wandered, considered a variety of options and dismissed them. Then, I came up with the “Pilgrimage Site.” I would create a physical location in our English Studies Department that students would have to visit. Pilgrimage can be complex for students to apply to their modern experiences, especially the difficulty with traveling in the Middle Ages.
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What would they do when they got to the Site? Pilgrimage badges! I decided that I would have students “journey” to the Site, pick up a badge specific to our readings of the week, and then leave their own offerings at the Site to represent their understanding of some aspect of the texts.  Students would take photos, provide analysis of their badges and objects, and discuss other students’ objects in a public Facebook group.
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I wrote it up, turned it in, and received quite a surprise when I got the email that I had been awarded the mini-grant – its first ever university awardee.
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Now came the planning. I have never had more fun planning a course than I did in selecting badges that matched our readings. Students would be visiting the Site every other week, which ended up being seven weeks. I wanted students to have choices, so I provided at least two badges per week.
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Before the semester started, I created our Site with the generous support of the department giving me a corner of one of our study rooms. I also decided that the Site would not be complete without Chaucer himself.
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It soon became the “thing” to do to take a selfie with Chaucer. Several of my colleagues in the department (and around the university) took their photo with our author. I received the generous permission from some to post them on the project’s Facebook page, which generated more interest among my own students who were delighted at this development. And, of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity myself.
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Having set up the Facebook page (click here to see!), with the beginning of the semester, we began our pilgrimage project.
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The Badges
Week 1 – The Book of the Duchess – Black Knights and Tiny Books
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Week 2 – Troilus and Criseyde – Wheel of Fortune Magnets and an Arrow
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Week 3 – General Prologue – Pilgrim Pins and Becket Prayer Cards
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Week 4 – The Friar’s and Summoner’s Tales – Bags of Flour and Frying Pans
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Week 5 – The Pardoner’s Tale – Treasure Chests and Bells
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Week 6 – The Clerk’s Tale – Brooms and Wedding Rings
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Week 7 – The Franklin’s Tale – Star Chart

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Student Objects
As the semester progressed, our Site became more and more populated with objects students left to represent their readings.
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So What Did I Learn?
For me, this”Pilgrimage Site” became a deliberate study of pedagogical physical and digital spaces. In thinking about ways to negotiate the technology-filled learning environments, we may already have discovered one method that we are not utilizing to its fullest extent – the concept of hybridity. Integrating both physical and digital spaces in more dynamic ways than simply using face-to-face class time as the “physical” aspect allows each to enhance the other. The “paper” and “digital” worlds and teaching practices do not need to be in conflict with each other or be mutually exclusive; they can work together in highly productive ways. The students participated and were immersed in the cultural practice of medieval pilgrimage as well as had a different, creative, active experience with the works of Chaucer. It encouraged interaction with the texts outside of class through cooperative physical and digital interaction. I highly recommend this type of activity!
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What About You?
  • Do you have a similar idea? Post it in the comments!
  • How would you analyze each of the badges above? What badges would you have chosen? Comment!

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Filed under Chaucer, Teaching, Technology, Uncategorized

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