Tweets and Twerps for Learning: “Twitter Humour for Education.” By Kenna L. Olsen and Samantha Purchase


Tweets and Twerps for Learning

Kenna L. Olsen

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues well into the Fall 2020 semester, many of us are experiencing our lives — our work, our play, our socialising, our reading, our watching — virtually. Several of us are teaching and learning virtually, and the internet and our inboxes abound with tips for teaching, debates on “synchronous” versus “asynchronous,” and tips for managing virtual breakout rooms. Educators share thoughts with one another on how to maximise student engagement while trying to not feel as though they are talking heads on a Google Meet, while students try to connect with their colleagues through a monitor.

The concept of connection is an important one for teaching and learning. Students must feel connected to the material, and while individual connection is a necessary goal, a connection via community is crucial. When students can discuss, for instance, the nuance between the tenets of guilt or shame in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with one another, their professor, and other scholars, they gain various perspectives that encourage their own critical queries and arguments.

But how does one find, and sincerely engage with various views and voices, when our modes of connection are now necessarily mediated via individual experiences and machines? Before the pandemic, I experimented with using Twitter in and out of my classes, both to support teaching and learning of course material, but also to encourage conversation. I am aware that students engage and learn medieval texts on my course syllabi via (mostly) my own perspectives, and I wanted to encourage my students to engage with my colleagues, beyond reading polished, researched, work available in peer reviewed journals and books. I started asking students to find academic conversations on medieval topics and texts on Twitter. I found ways of incorporating Twitter to support learning medieval texts. And students became (for the most part!) excited. Excited learning is, I’m convinced, successful learning.

Below, you’ll find Samantha Purchase’s (former honours student, and current Research Assistant extraordinaire) thoughts on the benefits of using Twitter for learning. Samantha has incorporated Twitter into much of her university learning, and she offers some provoking thoughts on how such modes of “modern” culture can enhance our experience of textualies and critical engagement.

Twitter Humour for Education

by Samantha Purchase

Twitter has become a staple of my academic process. Whenever I am interested in something, whether it be medieval or contemporary American Literature, I am almost guaranteed to find someone else engaging with a given text on Twitter, usually with humour. For my own English Honours thesis, I used this tweet as an essential provocation for my project, using it to situate my thoughts and theories on Game of Thrones and memorialization:

Although facetious, this Tweet posits an interesting connection between the products we consume as entertainment and how historical periods are remembered in the collective conscious. Its humour provides an accessible way into having an in-depth conversation about the nuances of texts, without the typical paywalls or inaccessibility that is associated with academia. Some of the greatest academic minds are usually accessible via Twitter, allowing conversations about texts, articles, news and crucially, current events to be discussed more freely and with far more humour then one finds in traditional scholarship. It can also offer an introductory glimpse into the many fun things about medieval studies, such as the very strange and usually incredibly humorous art: 

Since I follow a plethora of medieval scholars, there is usually an abundance of Tweets about medieval texts utilizing whatever meme format is popular at the time. For instance, last fall there was a popular trend in listing memes, where someone writes a comparison between two things who seem dissimilar for comedic value. Medieval Twitter went wild for this format, of which this is my personal favourite:

What memes like this do is to encourage discussion about texts—some of which are considered archaic, inaccessible, like medieval texts—in a comprehensive and obtainable way in which students, scholars and non-academics alike can enjoy. Someone who is not familiar with Grendel or Beowulf could be interested in finding out more about it after viewing a Tweet like this. For myself, the Tweet’s conclusion about Santa Claus and Grendel provoked a beguiling connection to environment in the text that I had never considered before. 

​Twitter meme accounts also encourage creativity; one can follow Margery Kempe (@RealMargery), and Chaucer (@LeVostreGC) who both type in Middle English, often times commenting on current events or reciting song lyrics.  I am always happy to see either one of those two on my timeline, as it keeps my Middle English translation skills sharp and is terrifically funny: 

Twitter has the potential to become the great equalizer for academia, allowing individuals to become immersed in texts and culture beyond papers and journals. Dr. Kenna Olsen’s Twitter projects for her classes gesture to this point; to date she has had students tweet both King Horn and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Students had fun using Twitter and internet language to illustrate their points, while also learning to contextualize texts in a concise and nuanced manner. When I tweeted King Horn in 2018, I learned a great deal about writing concisely, a skill set that is fundamental in university writing and beyond. Projects like these encourage students to approach texts in new and immersive ways, emboldening creativity and generating conversation, while also developing skills that are indispensableto student’s futures, no matter what field they choose. 

As we sit on the other side of the socially distant reality, Twitter has grown in its urgency. Amongst all the “doom-scrolling” I do on a daily basis, I am also happy to see humour being used as a way into learning. While medieval studies continues to work through both the realities of living through a pandemic as well as shedding the racist and outdated terminology that date the field, Twitter continues to be the cutting edge source for comedic—and crucially, informative—commentary.

Since everyone is at home, Twitter has become the place to go if one is seeking deeper and meaningful information on current events; current events that also directly impact the future and sustainability medieval studies. The ongoing struggle against the co-option of medieval runes and symbols by white supremacists has reached a new fervour in light of the protests surrounding George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths (among countless others) worldwide. Counter-protestors have been spotted wearing medieval inspired armour, with flags emblazoned with symbols found on medieval manuscripts. Medievalists have been actively refuting many white supremacist’s misappropriation of these symbols in real time, using Twitter as a tool for political activism and critical engagement. 

As the social internet continues to impact daily lives, so too will it impact education. Twitter is a tool that can be used to engage with texts in new and exciting ways, while also sharpening communicative and writing skills. It can also act as a tool against misappropriation that threatens to darken the field. Through humour, students can find medieval texts more accessible, exciting and ultimately, sustainable. Meme culture becomes a conduit for students and academics alike to share their thoughts in a creatively challenging and concise way, while also giving the benefit of a good laugh.

Teaching and Learning via Research Dissemination: “Bridging Disciplines: ‘Medieval and Early Modern Miscere’ from an Undergraduate Student’s Perspective.” By Kenna L. Olsen and Tia Christoffersen


Medieval and Early Modern Miscere:

Teaching and Learning via Research Dissemination

Kenna L. Olsen

A day before the first Medieval and Early Modern Miscere: disrupting disciplines; problematising periodisation of this semester, it feels poignant and necessary to share a student’s thoughts on the different ways we learn at Mount Royal University, in our community, and beyond. Below, you’ll find Tia’s thoughts on the speaker series, the Medieval and Early Modern Miscere, that I’ve been privileged to organize over the last four years. This year, my formidable co-organiser is Dr. David Clemis (@DavidClemis), Early Modern historian extraordinaire (shout out to Dr. Emily Hutchison, @emilyjhutchsion, who has helped in the past!).

The Miscere is a speaker series that began with the goal of supporting inclusivity of knowledge between students and scholars of the early periods in the Arts and Humanities. It supports dissemination of new knowledge and research, and promotes opportunities for creative and critical connections for students and scholars alike. We invite local, national, and international scholars to teach in our classes, and to present their current research and scholarship via public talks.**

Tia’s blog underscores the importance of knowledge sharing, and the importance of creating teaching and learning opportunities beyond our regularly scheduled classroom, by reflecting on two talks from the Fall semester: one that featured Dr. Karim Dharamsi who spoke on Khaldun’s The Muqaddimah, and another that featured Dr. Kenneth F. Duggan, who spoke on 13th century crime in England.

Tia argues that the Miscere offers an important learning opportunity for students. As a professor, I echo Tia’s articulations of the importance of interdisciplinarity in my own work. Research, scholarship, and their dissemination is vital for university learning and teaching. Doing so cultivates creative and critical discourse, and provides important access to knowledge in multiple forms.

**Thank you to the Faculty of Arts Endeavour fund, which generously supports the Medieval and Early Modern Miscere.

Bridging Disciplines: ‘Medieval and Early Modern Miscere’ from an Undergraduate Student’s Perspective

by Tia Christoffersen

Having just completed my Bachelor of Arts degree, the thoughtful reflection on my experience as an undergraduate student has inevitably begun. I have been ruminating on the knowledge I acquired over the years and with that, everything that ostensibly shapes one’s academic experience, such as the structure of my degree, course requirements, and opportunities on campus. Because, like most students, my areas of interest came into clearer focus as I progressed in my degree, I have been paying particular attention to my last couple of years as an English major. I knew in my second year that I was interested in medieval literature so, going forward, I enrolled in as many courses relating to the subject as possible. When I reached my third and fourth years, I was both more eager and more equipped to engage with higher levels of academic material and as a result, entered into these courses with a critical and ambitious mindset. I was determined to absorb a copious amount of new material for my own aims and that I might be able to intersect with what I was learning elsewhere.

Some people may argue that medieval literature, and the study of the medieval period as a whole, is a static field that is not fruitful for interconnection with other disciplines. This notion is simply not true. What I learned in the many medieval literature courses I took was applicable to other English classes as well as to countless other branches of knowledge I encountered in my schooling, such as in general education courses and electives. For instance, how women’s roles in literary culture shifted throughout the medieval period in England supported my understanding of women’s literary production in the early modern period; analyzing themes of environmental sustainability in texts such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight allowed me to deploy my ecocritical understandings in a film theory course; and my knowledge of medieval materiality, including the construction of medieval manuscripts, was incredibly useful in an early art history course. By weaving together different courses’ aims in this way, I was able to deepen my comprehension of a variety of materials and effectively broaden my knowledge.

Interdisciplinarity is usually, in my experience, something reserved for discussion among faculty members and featured at academic conferences, but I want to approach it from the perspective of an undergraduate student. Of course, the topic of interdisciplinarity applies to undergraduate students for a number of reasons; in addition to bolstering students’ learning as I’ve just described, it can apply to research projects and future programs of study. After all, isn’t interdisciplinary learning one reason why universities implement general education requirements?

Due to the organization of undergraduate degrees and the less-than-joyful reality of scheduling, it can often be difficult for students to choose classes that inspire them and allow them to engage in branches of study that intersect with their primary academic interests. This constraint is why I avidly support accessible opportunities for students to explore the expertise available in other areas of study, which is offered through the Medieval and Early Modern Miscere speaker series, organized this year by Dr. David Clemis and Dr. Kenna Olsen. Through the series, scholars are invited to deliver public lectures at Mount Royal University. Medieval and Early Modern Miscere offers a myriad of advantages, including an intellectually stimulating environment for faculty, students, and university alumni to gather and learn, but most pertinent is the engagement with other disciplines that can be attained through the series.

The first lecture in this year’s series, delivered by Dr. Karim Dharamsi, was called “The End of Philosophy: Ibn-Khaldun’s Fourteenth Century Prolegomena to a Science of History and Social Cohesion.” Dharamsi prefaced his lecture by asking who was familiar with or had heard of Khaldun; several professors raised their hands while most students, including myself, did not. He went on to contextualize Khaldun’s many scholarly contributions, stating that Khaldun, who rejected that he was a philosopher, was the first in Arabic tradition to ask questions of historiography, among other original inquiries.

Dharamsi elucidated aspects of Khaldun’s The Muqaddimah, particularly the concept of ‘asabiyya and its significance to the text and Khaldun’s positions. Through a presentational organization that corresponded directly to the natural progression of social cohesion as argued by Khaldun, Dharamsi effectively conveyed Khaldun’s theoretical arguments. Dharamsi explicated ‘asabiyya as referring to the solidarity of a group that shares a common opinion and, according to Khaldun, has a finite life span of three to five generations. Khaldun posits that urbanization inevitably results in the collapse and decay of civilizations, evident both in actual and mythological ruins. In discussing this notion, Dharamsi referred to Khaldun’s concept as “a cycle of decline.”

In part, Dharamsi articulated the relevance of Khaldun to present day understandings of philosophy, metaphysics, and theories of social cohesion. He suggested that present-day white nationalism is a form of ‘asabiyya, as these groups are brought together by a common “goal,” articulating that ‘asabiyya demarcates a social solidarity, not necessarily a moral one.

After this lecture, I was struck by the thematic connections I noticed to my studies of medieval literature. The cyclical decay of civilizations that Khaldun explores is fascinatingly applicable to discussions we had in Dr. Olsen’s “Pluriverse: Medieval Immersive Spaces — Textual Minds, Lexis of Landscapes” course ; the Early English poem The Ruin engages with similar ideas of inevitable societal decay, and this conceptual overlap deepened my understanding of both Dharamsi’s lecture and the text I had previously studied.

Medieval and Early Modern Miscere’s second lecture this year was delivered by Dr. Kenneth F. Duggan, titled “Peasants and Policing in the Middle Ages: How Villages Dealt with Crime in Thirteenth-Century England.” Duggan began his lecture with an anecdote about a thief who was ordered to be hanged and, on the way to the gallows, escaped officials because he was led through a churchyard where he was able to claim sanctuary and then go free. This story served as a captivating point of entry and effectively situated the rest of the lecture.

Duggan traced and problematized systems of law and order in thirteenth century England, drawing on a variety of records and statistics to demonstrate the development of and reactions to these systems within communities. He negotiated the use of the frankpledge system and suggested another system of apprehending criminals was utilized, as well as investigated the positions of marginalized people in these systems, which was particularly interesting.

In his consideration of the frankpledge system, Duggan articulated its cruciality to thirteenth century law and order; he then delineated its foundation on tithing groups, amercements, and reliance on community self-policing. In the frankpledge systems, tithing groups usually consisted of ten men who were obligated to maintain order by apprehending criminals within their tithing group or be financially penalized. However, Duggan noted that this system did not function flawlessly for peacekeeping. Tithing groups were willing to let criminals flee, sometimes on account of personal loyalty and significantly, the participants in this system were minority in number, as many people were excluded, such as lepers, women, knights, disabled people, and clerics.

Duggan then discussed a shift in policing towards the hue and cry system, in which a royal agent must be notified of all unnatural deaths and all suspected criminals must be pursued and apprehended by the community. This system was developed once justices realized that coroners’ records naturally provided a system of checks and balances and it asserted that all people must respond when a hue and cry was raised. Although people still manipulated this system of justice, Duggan argued, it led to an increase in amercements due to its inclusion of more people, especially women.

Having taken very few history courses in my degree, this lecture presented an opportunity to engage with a history of law and order in medieval England that I would not have otherwise received. By attending the Medieval and Early Modern Miscere speaker series, I was able to learn from the knowledge held by scholars in disciplines different than my own and contemplate their lectures alongside the knowledge I have acquired in my studies. Medieval and Early Modern Miscere is an excellent example of how interdisciplinarity can be offered to undergraduate students in an accessible format.



Pluriverse: Teaching Medieval Literature in an Immersion Studio — two students’ perspectives: guest posts by Samantha Purchase and Tia Christoffersen

Harley 4940


Teaching Medieval Literature in an Immersion Studio

Kenna L. Olsen

As the Fall semester wanes, it’s time to consider how and what I’ve been learning about teaching. This term, I was fortunate to be able to truly experiment with my pedagogy, via MRU’s Immersion Studio. I was granted the opportunity to teach my fourth year seminar, “Select Topics in Medieval Literature,” in the Riddell Library and Learning Centre’s Immersion Studio — a 360 degree “grey box” that allows for digital immersion. The course I developed, “Pluriverse: Medieval Immersive Spaces — Textual Minds, Lexis of Landscapes,” reads a variety of Old and Middle English literatures against digital surrogates of geographical and temporal environments. The seminar proposes a ”pluriverse” that intends to promote medieval literary understanding and inspire understanding of historical difference.

I have much to say about this course – I’ve learned a lot about myself as a teacher, and about the challenges of temporal and geographical distance that exists for students and scholars of medieval studies. But more significantly, students have offered some important reflections and reactions to their learning in the Immersion Studio, and so it’s pressing to share these first. Here, individual (yes, double!) guest posts by Tia Christoffersen and Samantha Purchase (I’m fortunate enough to count Tia and Samantha as my RAs and Honours students) articulate how digital immersion has impacted and shaped their learning. Samantha’s blog post intriguingly articulates how the Immersion Studio alleviates some accessibility issues inherent for some learners, and she argues that studying medieval literatures in the Immersion Studio might support sustainability of the discipline. Tia’s blog post  is a thoughtful explication of reading Early English poetry while experiencing digital immersion.

Here are Tia’s and Samantha’s contributions. I’m very happy indeed to include them amongst the Emerging Medievalisms blog:

A Student’s Reflection on Immersion Studio Learning

by Samantha Purchase

When Mount Royal University opened the doors to their new and improved library, the Riddell Library and Learning Centre, in 2017, I was in my third year of university and had gotten quite used to ‘the way things are.’ ‘The ways things are’ is one argument I have become accustomed to hearing throughout my academic career; it is often the justification for following the status quo, having students do the same kind of assignments and keeping the same learning objectives year after year. As someone who has struggled with ADD for most of my life, I was used to reigning in my abstract thinking and remoulding it to fit contemporary methods of education. I was used to making my learning adapt to the teacher, institution and discipline I was studying. This was my educational experience for most of my life.

Although I have taken seven courses with Dr. Kenna Olsen, and I knew her to be an exciting and engaging scholar whose enthusiasm was infectious enough to change lives (I mean, I call myself a medievalist thanks to her), I had to admit my skepticism when she first told me of the Immersion Studio. A black box room, capable of projecting anything on its walls, for a fully immersive experience. It sounds cool, I’ll give it that. I could see its relevance for a plethora of other programs: nursing, aviation, geology, archelogy, etc. It seemed like a stretch for English studies though. Part of what I like about reading is the time spent in my own mind; imaging, inventing and discovering the text through my point of view. I didn’t really see how someone else’s images projected on the walls of a room could improve my own experience with a text.

Needless to say, I was deeply wrong.

Not only has the Immersion Studio changed my relationship to literature, it has changed my relationship to learning. Technology is often considered a bit of a hindrance on education, but when confronted with the real value technology like this can have in sustaining the relevancy of the humanities, it is my hope that more teachers will utilize Immersion spaces in their syllabus.

My first experience in the room was a demonstration done with the librarian technician, Matt Laidlow, who showed us what it could do. I was so impressed with the capability, the choices that we had with medium—the lights, pictures, sounds and videos could all do whatever you wanted them to. We could have on image stretched across all four walls, effectively utilizing a 360 effect; we can mirror images on alternating walls; we can play videos on all four walls, etc. When Dr. Olsen asked me to participate in a research project exploring the Immersion Studio for the performance of texts, I agreed immediately.

I spent a few months with a small team finding images that depicted or evoked certain themes and moods from the texts Dr. Olsen chose. If I wanted to query loneliness, like the speaker in The Wanderer feels, I could put some images of desolate landscapes, juxtaposed with images of a crowded bus. These are two very different images, but capable of provoking strong emotion. I could find images of real-world inspirations for texts we read, like images of the Wirral found in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Hadrian’s Wall for The Ruin. I could pair these images with evocative soundscapes: birds chirping, wilderness sounds, people talking in whispers, screams—it was all there. The only limit is my own imagination.

When I finally was able to see a classroom interact with texts in the Immersion Studio I realized how far reaching the implication of a space like the Immersion Studio can be on scholarship and the very sustainability of English and the humanities. When reading a text, there is a level of distance; a teacher can gesture to certain issues in the text, and a class can discuss their own perceptions and interpretations. In a room like the Immersion Studio however, one can prompt discussion through the environment itself. With medieval literature, many students (like myself) have never had a chance to visit the locations where these stories take place, and this can be a disadvantage for textual comprehension and analysis when picturing a text. When reading The Ruin for instance, I have always felt a strong pull to the narrator’s description of a wall “smashed by fate” and although Dr. Olsen always mentions that the narrator could be speaking about a place like Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, I had never been there so I could never visualize it clearly. Seeing a picture on my computer provides some context, sure. But having the image projected life-sized and 360-degree capability truly engrosses me in a way I’ve never experienced. As someone who is as prone to distraction as myself, I have never lost focus in the Immersion Studio. My level of concentration is sustained precisely because I am absorbed in the material with more than one sense.

This fall, I am enrolled in a class with Dr. Olsen that takes place entirely in the Immersion Studio. I have been lucky enough to work with Tia Christoffersen on finding the images and soundscapes to support analysis of several medieval texts in this class. So far we have played with historical depictions of Judith in art, poignant ocean scenes for The Seafarer, and used battle stills from Game of Thrones to evoke The Battle of Maldon. The feedback from the class has been positive, and witnessing the provocation of my peers when confronted with these varying wraps has been one of the highlights of my scholarly career. It has been instrumental in helping me solidify my own research for my honours thesis, which is a critique of medievalisms present in Game of Thrones. After exploring wraps with my class, and presenting my general outline of my project, the feedback and conversation the Studio generated helped me discover new interests that will propel my project to bigger and brighter places.

It is my hope that as the humanities continues to grow that we find new and innovative ways to explore literature. Spaces like the Immersion Studio are beneficial to students and faculty in their endless capabilities and functionality. The future of English is sustainable if we engage with the emerging technologies available in our universities and allow for new interpretations of critical analysis—while also supporting those of us who need the extra resources and supports.

Reading in Immersion:

A Reflection on Immersive Experiences and Early English Poetry

by Tia Christoffersen

Does your immediate environment affect the way you read any given text? Does it make a difference if you read William Wordsworth while reclining on a riverbank versus inside your living room in the middle of a Calgarian winter? Do your surroundings affect what you’re reading if the material doesn’t have such a direct environmental association? These are questions I hadn’t given much thought prior to my experience of reading medieval literature with immersive technology. I am currently in the final semester of my undergraduate English degree, so I have done my fair share of reading. Whether it was Flannery O’Connor or a journal article on Beowulf, I probably read material in the quietest, calmest space I could find. Oftentimes this space was my bedroom with the light of a single lamp, but it also ended up being various bustling pockets across campus between classes. Most students would likely agree that you need to concentrate when reading medieval literature. So, choosing where to read usually just means finding a place that won’t distract you from trying to remember what ‘eek’ means. A silent space might be the best environment for focusing, but not the most stimulating. What if you could transport yourself to any place you could imagine, both visually and aurally, when reading? Would you feel more connected to the text?

Along with Samantha Purchase, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Olsen to prepare files for her English 4410 Pluriverse: Medieval Immersive Spaces – Textual Minds, Lexis of Landscapes course in the Riddell Library and Learning Centre’s Immersion Studio. The studio utilizes innovative technology to offer an immersive, 360° experience. For this course, we were tasked with choosing sound files and images to be turned into immersive “wraps” by the RLLC’s media designer. The class I wish to address in this post focused on the Early English poems The Ruin and The Seafarer and was thematically concerned with medieval and post-medieval worlds, as well as world-building.

Wraps for The Ruin were fairly straightforward; we used a series of images of ruins. We began with pictures of Hadrian’s Wall accompanied by sounds of howling winds, then transitioned to a photo of the Roman Baths with 21stcentury tourists milling about, phones in hand, paired with sounds of waterfalls. Finally, we ended with images of less recognizable but more damaged looking ruins with sounds of battle: shouting men and clashing swords. The goal was to visually and sonically depict themes that emerged chronologically in The Ruin: quiet rumination, a yearning for and imagining of pleasure, and the lamentation of war and destruction. As well, both Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman Baths have been suggested to be the actual subjects of the poem, so they were intriguing visuals from an “authenticity” perspective.

We were all struck by the evocative power of this series of wraps and how the speaker’s emotions seemed more palpable in the immersive environment. Nostalgia emerged as a key theme among the students, particularly emphasized by the images of Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman Baths. This notion of sentimental reflection was sharply juxtaposed by the sounds of battle and their distinctly mournful connotations. However, both of these emotional motifs can be categorized within a contemplation of the past being performed by the speaker of The Ruin. In class, we were performing this same contemplation of the past, and so were the tourists in the image of the Baths. Being immersed in these various environments solidified how our engagement with this poem perpetuates a temporal plurality. Reading early medieval literature is just one of many ways we engage with the past and breach the borders of periodization.

The Seafarer wraps consisted of images of the sea, of course, but we were able to be creative with their colouring, lighting, and tones. We began with a bright, sunny picture of the coast against a clear blue sky, then moved to a grey, cloudy image of a flock of birds flying above violent waves crashing against a rocky seaside. Next came a sunless, foggy beach packed with a crowd of silhouetted figures and an oddly placed surfboard in the foreground, followed by a dark image in the middle of the ocean, lit only by the full moon. The presence of life in these wraps was another point of intrigue, as living creatures only appeared in ominous ways.

These immersive atmospheres successfully evoked the themes of isolation that are so ubiquitous in The Seafarer. Students reacted most strongly to the eerie beach and the lonely ocean, with the class divided in opinion about which environment felt more isolating. Some said that the beach felt more sinister, as it looked like they were surrounded by people yet felt entirely alone. Others stated that the ocean wrap made them feel as though they were really in the frigid water, without another soul in sight. These emotional responses were discernible to me through somatic responses—facial expressions and gestures—to the wraps in conjunction with Dr. Olsen’s reading of the poem. When someone felt a particular wrap didn’t coordinate with a section of the poem that was being read to them, their mannerisms reflected discomfort and tension. Other times, when someone felt the wrap resonated with the poem, they reflected thoughtfulness and understanding.

After class, I was fascinated by the collective and individual responses to being immersed in various environments while hearing Early English poetry. I turned to the course’s Twitter hashtag to ask: “When we read the Early English poems The Ruin and The Seafarer in the Immersion Studio, did the wraps make you feel more connected to the speakers and themes than when reading the poems without the immersive experience?” The response was a resounding “heck yes!” which led me to wonder, why? Why did sensory provocation lead to a deeper textual understanding?

At first, I thought that students were responding to a distinction between what appeared as “medieval” environments versus “modern” ones. Perhaps the wrap with the phone-wielding tourists was especially evocative because it appeared to juxtapose time periods. Maybe some people resonated more with the moonlit ocean wrap because it was completely removed from time and lacked any clues to contemporary life, as opposed to the ominous 21st century beach. However, upon further reflection, it became clear that the responses were not just about what made sense visually for the time period we were studying. Reactions stemmed from being immersed in environments that were thematically in sync with the group’s thoughts and feelings about the texts. This immersive approach to engaging with Early English poetry further cemented in me the idea that human experience transcends spaciotemporal boundaries.

Emerging Medievalisms: Twitter as Medieval Media. Twitter in the Classroom: a student’s perspective – a guest post by Tia Christoffersen

4B947976-8C96-4057-9E04-9805CAB44A26LONDON, BRITISH LIBRARY YATES THOMPSON 10 f. 33v

Emerging Medievalisms: Twitter as Medieval Media 

Kenna L. Olsen

It is that time of year – we’ve started a new semester at my institution. Faculty have met their classes, students have organized their schedules, and all have stood in a plethora of queues required for coffee and books. It’s a thoughtful time of year, as several faculty wish each other and students “Happy New Year,” all the while imagining how this time, absolutely this term, their course syllabi will be smooth, streamlined, and delightfully encouraging of learning.

As I’ve written about before, this website, Emerging Medievalisms: Method, Media, Manuscript, enables me to play with the concept of emergence in the classroom and for medieval studies. What this means, is that I’ve spent much of the last couple of years thinking about pedagogy and different teaching methodologies. The first blog post focussed on sound, within Medieval English texts, such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, within the classroom, in forms of dialogue and silence, and without the classroom, especially in the form of podcasts. This blog post focuses on social media for undergraduate learning — specifically Twitter, and Medieval English literary studies. 

I recently began thinking about the sustainability of medieval studies, and wondering about how various forms of media might encourage sustainability for the discipline, but also in the classroom more generally. During this time, I introduced Twitter to my senior-level seminar students. My thinking was that students, if introduced to “Academic Twitter,” specifically #medievaltwitter, students might be encouraged by the often dynamic conversations amongst and between various medievalists across the world. I’m sensitive to the fact that I am the only medievalist in my department, and only one of a small handful at my institution. By introducing students to #medievaltwitter, I felt I might expose them to medievalists of different training, background, interests, research methodologies, and more. I also felt that Twitter in the classroom might be a way to bolster accessibility for my classroom — what if some students, who might usually feel reticent to discuss their thoughts in the classroom, felt comfortable engaging via the medium of Twitter?

This experiment was an enormous success. We decided on a class hashtag (#ecomru), and some students would post during class, and others outside of class. Often the posts were specific to course material and discussions, and other times they were relaxed, comical, or even confusing. But what became clear was that the class community grew beyond the specific walls and times of the class itself. Students also tagged internationally recognized scholars, and received feedback on their term projects, building those conversations into their own learning. I swore I’d never go back.

Since then, I’ve continued to invite students to use Twitter in my classes, and I’ve even insisted that they use it for specific projects. I’ve had courses with fun hashtags: #meadhall_MRU, and #medievalschoolbus. This term’s classes have chosen #meadlounge_MRU and #mrusondryfolk. In #meadhall_MRU, students, all of us inspired by Elaine Treharne’s Beowulf in 100 Tweets, were invited to Tweet the entirety of King Horn. What several students produced — in general, they were asked to reduce 25 lines of poetry to a 240 character Tweet — was sophisticated explication and thoughtful analysis that my more “traditional” close reading assignments didn’t always generate.

I haven’t yet had a student ask me to stop with the Twitter — I’ve only heard positive, encouraging feedback. Because we are at the beginning of term, and many of us are thinking about teaching and learning, our pedagogies and methodologies, I asked a student, Tia Christoffersen, incredible BA Honours English student (and an ace person, generally!), to reflect on Twitter in the medieval classroom and to offer her perspective on its use in the undergraduate classroom.

Here is Tia’s contribution. I’m absolutely delighted to include it amongst the Emerging Medievalisms blog:

Twitter in the Classroom: A Student’s Perspective

by Tia Christoffersen

The benefits and detriments of social media are hotly debated. As our society continues to shift into a more digital landscape, a sort of stigma has surrounded the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These platforms are often blamed for the “detachment” of younger generations. Most of us acknowledge that social media doesn’t just exist to circulate videos of dogs, pictures of food, and memes (although I am a steadfast supporter of all those things) because it also maintains connections with people who live in other countries, keeps people up to date with current events, and promotes businesses. However, one little-mentioned use of social media is for education, which I wasn’t aware of until I was a student of Dr. Kenna Olsen. In my experience at Mount Royal University, most professors are quick to admonish cell phone use in the classroom, meaning social media as part of the course would be out of the question. As a book-obsessed English major, I’ll admit I was skeptical of how using Twitter could enhance my understanding of medieval literature, but I was quickly converted.

In three of the classes I took with Dr. Olsen, she instructed us to use Twitter as an additional source of engagement with the course readings and themes. Both during and outside of class time, my classmates and I shared our ideas about lectures, group presentations, and scholarly articles. The platform also afforded us the opportunity to add levity to the course with clever uses of gifs and the creation of memes with medieval imagery. All of these unique forms of interaction increased the levels of student engagement. Our conversations were filtered through a hashtag made up by the class (my favourite was #medievalschoolbus) to help keep track of one another’s tweets.

This type of discussion encouraged me to express my thoughts and respond to my classmates’ ideas to a further extent than solely classroom-based discussions. I have been in classes where professors try to foster this type of continued discussion through the use of online message boards, but I found Twitter to be much more dynamic. Not only is the platform inherently social, but it also allowed us to incorporate videos, images, and links to articles. We were also introduced to the possibility of engaging with academics via Twitter; some of my classmates even reached out to a scholar whose work we studied and received a response. Using Twitter in this way was exciting and connective, deepened my relationships with my classmates, and enhanced our in-class discussions.

In Early Medieval Literature, Dr. Olsen assigned the same sort of Twitter-based exercise, but we were given another assignment in addition. As a class, we were going to translate King Horn, an early Middle English romance, to modern English entirely through tweets. I was both excited and daunted by the task at hand; using social media for such an ambitious project felt so new to me and logistically, it seemed impossible to capture a 1546-line Middle English text on Twitter.

With only two 240-character tweets to capture the essence of fifty lines, this assignment proved to be a real craft. After studying my assigned lines and determining whether my tweet would be written in poetry or prose (I think I landed somewhere in the proem vicinity), I had to closely re-read the passage to decide which features were most pertinent to include in my translation and what I thought most deserved emphasis. Writing the tweet and staying within the character limit was a unique challenge; while I managed to whittle down the descriptions and dialogue, I had to use emojis as stand-ins for some words that couldn’t fit. For instance, I used a crown emoji to mean ‘king.’ I also used a gif to provide visual emphasis for an aspect of my tweet I thought seemed too subtle. While the flourishes of social media, like emojis and gifs, aren’t necessary for translating a text, they helped to capture the nuances in King Horn in an entertaining way. Who wouldn’t want to make a connection between Dwight from The Office and the central character of a thirteenth century romance?

By the end of the semester, #kinghornmru had nearly 60 tweets, which we then read chronologically (and you can too!). Collectively re-telling King Horn via Twitter was one of the most invigorating projects I have ever completed in my time as an undergraduate student. I was encouraged to interact with a text in a manner that I have never before encountered. I relished the opportunity to take a creative approach to an English literature course, and to see how my classmates and Dr. Olsen each used different techniques for their tweets. This assignment was engaging, challenging, and fun, and I hope more professors across a variety of disciplines embrace the instructional possibilities of social media in their classes.

Emerging Medievalisms, Sound Pedagogies. An Undergrad’s Take on Teachable Podcasts – a guest post by Chelsea Fritz

for blog 1 MS Ashmole 753 fol. 32r

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 753, f. 32r

Emerging Medievalisms, Sound Pedagogies

Kenna L. Olsen

I launched this website, Emerging Medievalisms: Method, Media, Manuscript, nearly a year ago last Spring. At the time, I had been granted a “Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant” (TLEG) from my institution, Mount Royal University (MRU), and this website’s genesis (along with many of the resources you’ll find on it) is a result of the energy and time I was able to discover as a result of the TLEG.[1]

As medievalists know very well, Spring “priketh” the mind to many places and projects, and the advent of Spring has certainly fulfilled this promise for me. As the Winter semester wanes, I’m reflecting on all sorts of teaching moments from the past year. I’m a lucky teacher – I’m inspired and encouraged by my students regularly, and my work on emergence in the classroom (“Emergence as Method and Theme for SoTL Research, see “Research,” with Dr. Ada Jaarsma, Philsophy, MRU) has, in part, allowed me to work with the concept of emergence in the classroom and for medieval studies. What this focus on emergence has meant, is that I’ve spent much of the last few years really and sincerely thinking about pedagogy and different teaching methodologies. And more, over the last year especially, I’ve been busy trying new ideas, projects, and approaches in my classes, which tend to focus on medieval studies, especially medieval English literature and History of the English language (see “Teaching“).

This Emerging Medievalisms blog, then, is – for the next little while – going to play host for some reflection and some emergence of teaching and learning practice. This post’s focus: sound. What does medieval English literature sound like? For some audio-visual clips of me reading Old and Middle English, you can visit the “multimedia resources” section of my website, but the question I’m really curious about here is how the medieval literary mind wrote and conceived of sound. I’ve become a bit charged by this question, actually. Chaucer’s “House of Fame,” a poem I’ve recently become reinvigorated by, seems to respond to this interest in a variety of ways. And, as my students will know, I’m impressed by how the Gawain-poet writes violent sound throughout his works, perhaps most obviously in the hunt scenes of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but also beautifully and in latent fashion through the tête à tête moments between Gawain and Mrs. Bertilak.

But if we turn our focus to a different question of sound, one that “questions method and engages media” (see the Emerging Medievalims landing page), what does successful teaching sound like? Good teaching? Perhaps uninspired teaching has a particular aural quality? My friend and colleague (and SoTL co-investigator) Dr. Ada Jaarsma thinks about this question in her The Learning Gene project. And I’ve wondered, too. I’ve recently had some students create podcasts as part of their coursework, and I’ve been bolstered by the constructive creativity many students have engaged in the process of podcasting.

I asked a student, Chelsea Fritz, BA Honours English student extraordinaire and my critically talented Research Assistant (alas, now former) to engage with questions Ada and I were (still are!) employing. We wonder(ed) how we can turn teaching into a sustained and interesting object of inquiry. How might podcasts engage with “teaching” in ways that foreground the specificity, relationships, embodiment, and emergence, that are part of teaching and practice? I asked Chelsea to find some podcasts that are about the undergraduate classroom, but in unexpected or surprising ways.

Here’s Chelsea Fritz’s response. I’m very pleased to include it as the first post of the Emerging Medievalisms blog:

An Undergrad’s Take on Teachable Podcasts

by Chelsea Fritz

I was given a snippet of advice from my older brother prior to entering post-secondary, “do the readings, and you’ll be fine.” This same advice, I have passed on to freshmen in my faculty, but now, as I traverse through the black and white print of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Conan Doyle, I find myself wondering whether simply reading the assigned pages allows for full engagement with the work. I know firsthand that making it through the allotted readings per semester is a challenge, and as the undergrad years progress, the busier the students are. Excuses start piling up, procrastination kicks in, and the fifty pages of daily reading are sent to the back burner. In many of my classes, the choices of listening to a novel’s audio book or watching its film adaptation are available (if you’re ever reading Wordsworth and find it dry, search for MC Nutz on YouTube, and enjoy) but for programs outside of English, those options are not widely available. When it comes to the Humanities, in general, students find themselves reading essays more than anything else. The old school notion of read, memorize, regurgitate might have value, but in our technologically dependent society, perhaps its value is depreciating.

The SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) project I was invited to work on focuses on emergence in the post-secondary classroom; this loosely refers to new, emerging formats of teaching and learning. My supervisor, Dr. Kenna L. Olsen, has a particular interest in audio learning, especially in regard to her specialty, the medieval. With the notion of audio learning at the forefront, the SoTL project assigned me a task: cast a wide net and find podcasts I deem worthy to teach in a classroom setting. Simple enough? Maybe not. I’ve had the idea that I am a visual learner crammed down my throat since childhood, and my experience with podcasts was very limited, so at first, paying attention to a voice coming out of my phone – no face, no video stream – was a challenge. The adjustment time was, however, very short, and the challenge of listening turned into enjoyment. Hearing the intonation of a voice or the laughter of a podcast host kept me present. In time, I was able to multitask while listening to my favourite podcasts; I could do the dishes, fold laundry, play it in my car while driving – all while absorbing the information presented to me.

The process of picking and choosing which podcasts to listen to wasn’t easy, for there are a few doozies out there and some that entertain but don’t exactly teach. And, as per advice given to me by Dr. Olsen, I found that many of the podcasts advertising themselves as “educational” were often bland and did the opposite of educate. My podcast net was cast wide, but as an Indigenous feminist millennial and self-proclaimed geek in her final year of undergrad, my preferences veered towards those whose episodes cover my interests. I made a habit of listening to each podcast’s inaugural episode, followed by some of the newer ones, and popping in a few from the middle, all in an effort to see the journey each podcast makes and how their methods of teaching potentially change.

After two months of steady podcast listening, I can attest to the convenience, enjoyment, and plethora of knowledge available right from my iPhone. As an English major, I feel compelled to add that my support for audio essays shouldn’t be mistaken as a hatred for the printed word; quite the contrary. I always have a paperback in my purse and a novel downloaded on my tablet. But overall, the value of listening to a well produced podcast with a focused message is equally as worthy as a printed essay, and I wager many of my undergrad colleagues will prefer the audio over print.

Below, I have curated a list of my five favourite podcasts. With these are episodes of each that I find especially teachable.

  1. Cited

Cited is produced at UBC and hosted by Sam Fenn and Gordon Katic. Each episode discusses one recently published academic article that aligns with the episode’s theme. There are fantastic interviews with members of Canadian and American academia, and they always include a well cited bibliography for each podcast. Really, any of Cited’s episodes could be deemed teachable. It’s very well produced and covers a wide range of topics from the Sixties Scoop to Climate Change.

Especially Teachable Episodes:

Ep. 3 “Who Killed Canadian History”

Taking inspiration from the Heritage Minutes/Drake mash-up (if you haven’t seen this, it’s 1:20 of your life you won’t regret), this episode begins by discussing Heritage Minutes, a collection of commercials from the early 2000’s that show Canadian history. For me, this part of the episode is more nostalgic than anything else. Further on, the episode contemplates the teaching of Canadian history in both post-secondary and to our youth in schools. It questions what we teach, why we teach those particular topics and not others, and the perspectives being taught.

Ep. 61 “The Ongoing Cultural Genocide of Indigenous Canadians”

This episode focuses on child welfare, especially highlighting the Sixties Scoop. The podcast asks the question of why social workers believe removing children from their homes is in the child’s best interests. From 6:30 to about 31:30 of the episode, the hosts interview Chief Wayne Christian, a Sixties Scoop survivor, and he tells his story, from struggling in foster care to his triumphs as an Indigenous leader in his community.

  1. Stuff Mom Never Told You

SMNTY is hilarious, contemporary, fearless, informative, and oh yeah… it’s hosted by all women. The podcast has been running since 2009 and is produced by The Stuff Media Network. The current hosts, Bridget Todd and Anney Reese, are fierce feminists, and the podcast is even more appealing because of them. The topics of episodes range greatly – which makes sense since the show is almost ten years old – and you can find anything from discussions on Me Too, Donald Trump, Cosplay, or HIV.

Especially teachable episodes:

“Policing Women’s Speech” from July 7, 2017

How women speak and act is not only up for criticism in the workplace, but also in the classroom. The hosts discuss their experience of being told to speak differently as undergrads, simply because there is a negative connotation associated with sounding “girly.” I can wholeheartedly relate to this episode, and I find its commentary on gender biased treatment in the classroom to be especially relevant.

“The Secret History of International Women’s Day” from March 8, 2017

I am guilty of posting #internationalwomensday pics on Instagram this year, but until I heard this podcast episode, I had literally no idea what inspired the day. I assumed the suffragette movement – I was wrong. No spoilers, for I honestly recommend you all go and take a listen to this episode. In my opinion, hearing the story of some strong women kicking ass and taking names more than a century ago pulls at my old heartstrings.

  1. Imaginary Worlds

Excuse me while I geek out in this segment, but Imaginary Worlds is a superb podcast that covers fantasy and sci-fi movies and films, and most episodes are less than twenty minutes. On the surface, it might not seem like the most educational of podcasts, but with episodes regarding gender roles in superhero films or othering in the fantasy genre, I deem Imaginary Worlds worthy to be heard in academia. Fresh out of a fantasy literature course, I know that some of these episodes could have come in handy for better understanding and fuller engagement with the topics and texts we read. Host Eric Molinsky is informative and has a voice that sounds like butter.

Especially Teachable Episodes:

Episode 23: “Heroines”

Molinsky interviews female film critics regarding the trope of “strong female characters” in action/sci-fi films. They argue the flat female characters we see on the big screen are anything but strong. With The Avenger’s Black Widow and Mad Max’s Furiosa in the forefront, the episode discusses audience expectations on female action leads that echo western society’s views on “strong females.” Women are expected to be strong, but still physically attractive; independent, but not aloof; and sexual promiscuity is still an awkward topic for women to discuss.

Episodes 52, 53, & 53: The Harry Potter trilogy of episodes

All three of these episodes, whether taken alone or in the set, are worth listening to. My favourite aspect is the discussion of the phenomenon of the Harry Potter franchise and mention of a study that correlates reading the books as a youngster with higher tolerance for diversity.

  1. Lexicon Valley

There’s no way I could make it through this list without adding a podcast that is all about words. Lexicon Valley is the perfect fit for English majors, lovers of the intricacies of language, or people like me who read the dictionary in their pastime. The podcast is hosted by John H. McWhorter, a Linguistics professor at Columbia University. I have no idea what McWhorter looks like, but as I listen to his episodes, I can picture him standing in front of a classroom in an argyle sweater vest as he teaches the ins and outs of the English language.

Especially Teachable Episodes:

Episode 128 “Words, for Her”

McWhorter gives a history lesson on words such as woman, girl, aunt, and daughter. The soundtrack to this episode is phenomenal, and that kept me present while listening.

Episode 115 “New Life for Dying Languages”

This episode focuses on how quickly languages can die, especially if they are not taught to children; skipping one generation can be fatal for the spoken word. McWhorter focuses on Indigenous languages, their complexities and diversity, and interviews the CEO of The Language Conservancy, an organization that aims to keep these endangered languages in usage.

  1. Sickboy

Canadian made, utterly hilarious, and dispels the stigma around physical and mental illness. What more could I ask for from a podcast? Hosted by Jeremie Saunders, a lifelong sufferer of Cystic Fibrosis, and his two friends, Brian and Taylor, each episode interviews a person living with a disease. They discuss everything from cancer to endometriosis, and with humour as their number one tool, each episode’s difficult matter is easier to digest. ***Warning, the language in this podcast is rated R. I find it funny and relatable; others may not.

Especially teachable episodes:

Episode 1: “Cystic Fibrosis”

Sickboy’s inaugural episode has stuck with me since the beginning of my podcast research. Jeremie, Taylor, and Brian are all candid and bloody funny in their awkward attempt to send out the message that living with a disease does not make someone less of a person. Jeremie wants it known that his disease is invisible, but it’s always there, constantly affecting his quality of life. From the outside, no one could guess that he’s living with a disease that could have killed him many times in his life.

Episode 136: “The Sad Doctor – Depression”

The guys interview a working psychiatrist who, herself, has been diagnosed with depression. The doctor openly discusses the double standard in her profession, since the public has a misconception that doctors never get sick. Her situation is compared to teachers and how students tend to forget that their teachers are human beings as well, all of us equally susceptible to the negative side effects of life.


[1] The credit for the beautiful design of this site goes to Khethwen Woo, Graphic Designer, Web Developer, and all around amazing digital design person, of the Academic Development Centre at Mount Royal University. I’m also extremely grateful for the help and guidance of other ADC superheroes: Pattie Mascaro, Dr. Erika Smith, and Bree Smith. Jeremy Blunt and Logan Pollon, my 2 Research Assistants on the TLEG, were crucial in moving the project forward.