Making use of the treasure of online resources

Jan Garrison

Hard work can be fun


November 5, 2020

Humanities instructor Raegan Russell believes that “hard intellectual work and fun are not opposites.” She strives to make her classes fun, give everyone the opportunity to appreciate and support one another’s quirks, and, still, work hard when it is time to work.

Reading challenging texts, understanding the ideas of other cultures, and turning a critical eye “on our own ways of thinking” helps her students to find the “inherent, delightful, hilarious humanity of each writer or artist.” This allows Russell’s students to “engage with the material in some way that feels thought-provoking and personally meaningful.”

Teaching since 2003, Russell has lived and worked in a boarding school dorm, led a GSA, coached a Quidditch team, traveled to Japan, taught cardio drumming, and led meditation. She came to Culver in 2015 “because I was impressed by its emphasis on student leadership and character development.”

“I was delighted by the ways the students talked about their desire to support one another as friends, scholars, and citizens,” she explained, “and I’m even more delighted to find that students put that desire into action on a daily basis.

When it came time to pivot to online learning, Russell thought “All those years of playing World of Warcraft finally paid off.” The technology wasn’t a challenge, so she was better able to support her students from a place of “calm confidence.”

Setting up units that challenged students each week was a fun task, Russell said, as she watch them gain confidence in their ability to navigate difficult texts and ideas on their own. That allowed them to identify challenges to their own learning and ask for help. The “sheer variety” of online material available allowed Russell to develop rich multimedia units that gave students the ability to take “deeper dives” on topics of their own choosing.

That allowed their Zoom class sessions to delve into key concepts, analyze film together, and share pieces of work with others for critique. It also provided some “hilarious running commentary” in chat, she added.

Russell was honored by Culver Girls Academy students when she was selected as one of four guest speakers during the 2019 Culver Women’s Celebration (above photo). The theme of the celebration was “Own It,” and Russell told the girls to “own” their personal narratives.

She received her Bachelor of Arts in Medieval Studies and English Literature from the University of Chicago, and her Master of Arts and a Ph.D. from Cornell in Medieval Studies.

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