Updating the English Major to the digital age could be advantageous to professors, students, and the broader academic community in several ways and could keep the major relevant in a world that increasingly questions its importance. One such way to update the major to the digital world would be reshaping the course outcomes to always include a project that somehow extends beyond the classroom into the broader world and enter the real-world conversations happening on that topic, rather than just live and die in the classroom. We've studied ways to do this in our digital culture class this semester, both discussing ways to socially optimize our research to both prove its relevance and find communities interested in it and ways to reach beyond the classroom with our research. Ideally, students would have the flexibility to follow their own research topics and trends from class to class, building over the course of their college career a portfolio of work as well as an individual voice, style, and research expertise.
Such an approach would actually be closer to the original spirit of university study, to come and follow a specific passion and study it out over a long period of time, building skills and talent through mentoring and professorial guidance to prepare to go out into the world and show a new and unique idea. Ironically, updating to the digital age would in this way also be a return to the roots of higher education. Such a system would allow students to leave their university not only with a degree, but with a reputation and a direction for further study and work that would lead more naturally into graduate study and/or the workplace.
Increasingly, the digital world requires students to have not only degrees, but portfolios to enter the work field. Graduate schools also always require a writing sample and a clear sense of research direction from a student to be considered for admission. The current model doesn’t allow much time or room for students to build such a unique voice and direction in their research. By updating the English major for the digital world, we can allow students to not only build such a voice and direction, but also build connections, communities, and networks by way of publication and sharing of their ongoing research such that by the time students graduate, they already have in place everything they need not only to apply to graduate school or the workplace, but to continue to succeed there as they have a wide network and body of work to pull from and build on.
Currently, such a model isn’t followed because the focus of undergraduate study is to expose students to a broad range of literary genres, periods, and works. This ideal is not wrong, and could still be preserved in the proposed update to the English major. For instance, I have gone through my college education according to the traditional English major, taking classes from a broad range of time periods and genres to fulfill the major requirements for graduation. However, over the past school year, I have also pursued research relating videogames to literature, and have been able to apply every one of my classes to such a study. In Early American Literature, for example, I studied how Edgar Huntly set up many expectations for the American novel that have persisted into American videogame story tropes, specifically the Assassin’s Creed series. In Advanced Studies in Genre, my section was focused on the rise of the British detective novel, and I was able to explore not only film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, but videogame adaptations as well, and deal with the issues of a videogame trying to make the player feel like a detective as intelligent as Sherlock Holmes. In a Shakespeare class, I was able to explore how Shakespeare legitimized English language drama as a high form of art and relate that to possible ways videogames could become a culturally legitimate art form in our own time.
As I began to follow this single strain of research in all of my classes, I opened opportunities that I hadn’t even considered before for myself. I ended up presenting alongside a Ph.D. candidate and an established professor at the annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, and scarcely two months later had three offers for publication on three separate articles I had written in the vein of videogames as literature. I started my own blog to get more of my thoughts out there, and within a month of starting it had over a thousand page views and several comments that led me to people interested in similar topics that I could connect with. Also within a year, I had connected with some big names in the field by keeping to socially optimized research methods and had personal feedback from major writers and creators that have lent intelligence and credibility to my research. My prospects for graduate school and a career have increased considerably as a result.
This kind of path through the English Major should not only be more accepted, but encouraged as it is the best way to ensure that students land on their feet after graduation and have a clear direction with their education. Without such an update, the English major faces increasing obscurity and ridicule from the world at large. The world has moved into a new age; the English major must go there with it.