How lucky am I that I ended up saving a general elective until my last year of classes? I’m taking The American Movie, and as you might guess, we watch American movies (or excerpts), discuss them, and write about them. I took this class chiefly because of the teacher, Sanford Phippen.
I had Sandy last year for American Short Story. I think he’s good at linking the literature with the history and culture of our country. In that class we read and discussed over fifty stories from our text, plus stories from one of his own books, The Police Know Everything (if you want to know about the real Maine, start there).
One thing Sandy does that’s a little different is that he reads our essays aloud. He uses them to extend the discussion about, say, The Grapes of Wrath or Primary Colors, with our work as the jumping-off point. I have a theory, though. I think Sandy, as a writer himself, simply enjoys making his students’ work public. If “publish” means “to make public,” (and it does) then he is publishing our writing each and every week. It’s frightening and exhilarating to hear your words coming out of someone else’s mouth. Very empowering.
The classes I’ve had with Sandy are delivered via video-conference. He beams live from his classroom in Ellsworth, while small outlying classrooms around the state receive the class and participate at sites closer to home. Our group of six is at URock, and there are students in Houlton, Machias, and Bath-Brunswick, as well.
Here’s how it works. We sit at a table facing the two screens. The left hand screen comes from the point of delivery, usually UMA, but in this case, Ellsworth. We see our instructor and classmates sitting around their own table. On the other screen we see…ourselves. Yes, it can be a little off-putting to watch yourself taking a class, but you get used to it pretty quickly.
See that little wired pod in the middle of the table? When we push the button, our class is “live” and immediately beamed to the other sites. That means we hold the floor. When someone at another site hits their pod, they go live. The Ellsworth class vanishes from the screen and the remote site has its turn. It’s about 92% techy and 8% glitchy, but it’s soooo much more interactive than ITV. And we get to hear from people all over the state. We can poetically imagine that we are all sitting at one big, long table, just talking about movies. Works for me.
Oh, one more thing about Sandy. He was just honored this week at University of Maine. He was featured there, presenting the Third Annual Maine Heritage Lecture. So it’s official. Sanford Phippen is a scholar and a gentleman. And the guy’s a hoot. If you ever get the chance to take a class with him, grab it.