01-1030.htmlTEXTGoMk8mBIN Renowned French authors write real-life dialogue with URI students
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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Renowned French authors write real-life dialogue with URI students

KINGSTON, R.I. -- Oct. 30, 2001 -- Imagine reading an acclaimed piece of literature and then sitting down and sharing your thoughts directly with the author who lives thousands of miles away. Or interacting with an award-winning author to design the author’s official webpage. Sound like a literary dream come true? For students in University of Rhode Island French courses, it’s just another day in the classroom.

Last spring, URI Assistant Professor Alain-Philippe Durand of Peace Dale, taught a special topics French course, "Non-places in Contemporary French Literature," that focused on new transitional places in society, particularly technology and electronic, that are invading the French novel, such as airports, super highways, gas stations, and refugee camps. To teach this theme, Durand’s students dove right into the world of technology and writing, participating in an electronic forum where students and French authors wrote back and forth in French on an internet "bulletin board." The forum was structured so that each author only participated for two weeks during which the class was discussing his or her work of literature. Such renowned writers as Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Frédéric Beigbeder, François Bon, Annie Ernaux, Anne Garréta, and François Maspero, were among those who participated. The bulletin board can still be viewed at http://network54.com/Hide/Forum/98816.

"A lot of the students only think of literature as a dead person’s work found in the library. Instead they learned that literature pieces are not dead topics. Some of my students really got into it, and would even challenge the author. I remember one time one of my students was disagreeing with a French writer over a point in the novel, and they were going back and forth. It was quite interesting," said Durand, laughing. According to Matt Kane, of Cumberland, a double major in computer engineering and French, the class was able to gain insight about the authors and the works that they otherwise wouldn’t have by simply reading the novel.

"François Bon’s novel Autoroute appeared to be non-fiction. I believe we were the only people to whom he has confided that the entire story is fictional," said Kane.

Participation in the forum, which equaled 20 percent of the class grade, also helped students improve their written and oral skills. Although the forum was extremely helpful to the students, they weren’t the only ones to benefit.

"The writers really liked this, to have direct interaction with readers. If you think about it, the only other interaction they really have is with critics or through letters, which are slow and not interactive," said Professor Durand.

Because of the program’s success, the French national newspaper Liberation wrote a story on the forum, a feat equal to being written up in The N.Y. Times. The story, written in French, remains on the newspaper’s web site at www.liberation.com/livres/2001mai/0705forum.html. Since the story was published, professors and novelists from France and the U.S. have been in contact with Durand.

This semester, Durand decided to tackle another electronic project with his special topics class "Identities and Destinies in 20th Century French Literature." When researching materials for his class, Durand noticed that one out of the eight of the novelists his class was studying didn’t have their own official webpage. He sent novelist Marie Darrieussecq an e-mail asking permission for his students to design one for her. Darrieussecq not only approved but was delighted.

"We are very excited," said Durand. "Hopefully, this will generate some interest around the world, because the author is already very popular and her website will be of interest to many. I know the class will come up with something creative."

Students have already set about gathering information about Darrieussecq’s education, life history, published works, pictures, common themes in her novels, and more.

Although it may be surprising, Durand did not grow up with technology. Until 1988, when he left France to pursue educational opportunities in the U.S., Durand hand wrote all his papers. He received a crash course on technological resources as a graduate student at the University of Carolina, and the rest is history. Now, as an assistant professor of French (one of the fastest growing majors at URI) according to Durand, he has woven technology into all aspects of his classroom. In addition to classroom projects dealing with the internet, he also has an interactive web site of his own at www.uri.edu/artsci/ml/durand, which contains class syllabi, projects, links, etc. online.

Becky Miller, a student in Durand’s class this semester likes technology. "I think it can be used as a very effective tool for research, communication for courses, and learning, especially for future generations who grow up with the internet. Hopefully designing the web page will help me understand even more about the internet," explained Miller, a French major from Salem, Conn.

Durand stresses that although technology is beneficial to students, it should never replace human contact. "I use technology as an additional tool of the class. Inside the classroom we should give preference to the human being. The technology just helps to increase our discussion and the exchange of ideas," he said.

For Information: Alain-Philippe Durand, 401-874-4708, Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116, Jennifer Smith, 401-874-2116

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