As indicated in a previous post, my students have distinct forums for each of the online sessions we have throughout the course. But there is also a general forum, which is nothing to do with assessment, where basically the class can talk about what they like, if they so wish. For the first time this year it was possible to ‘manipulate’ this general forum so it could be renamed, and I got the class to vote for the name they wanted for it (see The Pre-Raphaelites Online post on 12 October 2009). So we have a virtual Victorian inn called the ‘What the Dickens?!’
Some years my online class don’t really take much notice of this space but this year there’s a healthy level of interest and usage of it continuing throughout the term. One student, having watched the BBC’s carry-on-up-the-Pre-Raphaelites romp that was Desperate Romantics has singlehandedly started the international Aidan Turner fanclub (he played Rossetti). After we’d been discussing the Victorians and the body in one class another student posted up a link about corset piercing (it’s as painful as it sounds!).
There’s also a significant Victorian kitsch thing going on as well, and I must admit I have encouraged this. It all began with my showing an Elizabeth Barratt Browning plimsoll in the class on Aurora Leigh. A student posted up a Queen Victoria teapot. Is there a recession on? Are we seriously meant to believe that people buy this stuff? Soon we had the Tennyson plimsoll (this particular company seems able to put a picture of practically anything on anything), and — my particular favourite — North and South merchandise. I still don’t quite know how I am managing to refrain from buying an “I found my thrill at Marlborough Mills” T-shirt. It’s also got to the point in the term where my little ‘icon’ that appears in the corner of every post I make in a forum has changed from being Queen Victoria to a William Morris Daisy watering can. I actually own this. It was given to me as a civil partnership gift last year by my mother, who died earlier this year. It’s thus become a very treasured item in our household. Ah capitalism! The delights you have given us!
Occasionally it gets a bit more serious: I’d given the class a copy of John Millais’s Retribution in a handout one week but we hadn’t got around to discussing it in the classroom, so we took the discussion of what was going on in the image into What the Dickens?! But I am genuinely not too fussed what the class talk about in this general forum, and I’m pleased when they do choose — as they pretty much are doing this year — to follow up themes and topics from the course, whether in a more light-hearted vein or not. It adds to the sense of class community created online, that’s for sure.