Mischief Management: Teaching Harry Potter in a Pandemic World

Hello, everyone! I’m Sarah, a senior Literature and Classics major. I am the Vice President of the Fantasy Studies Fellowship here at Pitt, and I also served on the conference committee for the Undergraduate Literature Conference this year, even though we unfortunately had to cancel due to the pandemic shutdown. This summer, I conducted independent research as a UHC Brackenridge recipient on Death and Immortality in J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle-earth. With all that said—I am absolutely passionate about literature, and fantasy literature in particular, which makes my Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship a perfect fit for me! This semester, I will be assisting Dr. Lori Campbell in adapting and overhauling her incredibly popular course “Harry Potter: Blood, Power, Culture” to suit an online format in the face of our new COVID-19 normal.

Me in 2019 at “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in NYC.

In the Spring 2020 semester, I was the UTA for Dr. C’s UHC course “J.R.R. Tolkien and the Counter-Culture.” It was a brand-new course, so I was able to observe and assist Dr. C through the mechanics of implementing a new syllabus, as well as able to gain experience adjusting on my feet with the transition to remote learning due to COVID. This summer, I have helped to repeat this process for Harry Potter. In light of my experience as a UTA during the tumultuous Spring semester, I find myself uniquely equipped for our course’s unprecedented transformation.

Although we can all agree that in many ways, adapting our lives for COVID has been a headache, I also believe that the changes we are making are overall positive for the future of work and education. In a world that becomes more dependent on cutting-edge technology with every passing year, we are presented with a unique opportunity to develop skills that may have been neglected in a purely in-person environment—skills such as digital collaboration and utilization of online resources. I will be overseeing the midterm assignment for Harry Potter, which is a research-heavy group project that involves creating a collaborative website. For the final project, students will have the option to present their research in similarly “online” formats if desired, such as a podcast or video essay. Additionally, the new all-online format has made it possible for us to schedule regular small-group meet-ups for students. When I took Harry Potter in Fall 2019, I noticed that, while the discussions were always excellent, with a fifty-person class, it was naturally difficult to ensure that everyone was able to contribute. These smaller group environments will create opportunities for more intimate discourse, while also contributing to the social, “shared fandom” atmosphere that makes Harry Potter such a passionate and rewarding class.

I am also grateful to have the opportunity through this Fellowship for such hands-on teaching and course development experience, which will prepare me for my future goals of graduate school and professional academia. My specific path is still a little unclear at the moment, as I am equally passionate about both of my majors, Literature and Classics. Ideally, I would love to find a way to combine both of these fields to focus my research, perhaps on something like ancient fantasy and sci-fi. I would also love to one day publish my own fantasy books, and am actively working toward this goal.

Lastly, a few facts about me are that I am originally from Louisiana, I have a cat named Baby, and I love to spend time hiking and outdoors!

My cat, Baby.

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