The classroom was eccentric, to say the least of it. It was a wide space but the room was so obtuse that you really couldn’t say much of it. The best Reno could do in describing it was inverted cone; a series of circular spirals, each adorned with enough room for about a dozen students, ringed around the center of the room, gradually descending to the “pit”, a small platform and teacher dais centered at the very bottom of the spiral. It was a surreal set-up, to say the least.
Reno found a seat somewhere in the middle-levels. For whatever reason, this area was relatively barren of other students. He liked the personal space. Setting down his sparse personal belongings— he didn’t bother to bring many since this was the first day of class— he found that Tangagile’s promise of technology-focused learning was true; the personal space in front of him contained a terminal, virtual keyboard, and several Omni-jacks for a variety of computers, tablets, and VR-headsets. Frankly speaking, Reno thought, it was impressive as he was sure there was an assortment of hidden features he would only discover later in the term.
Reno thought what luck he had to have this space to himself; if the rest of the term went anything like the first day, he would have this whole level to himself and be able to focus on his labors. Unfortunately, Reno wouldn’t have his personal space. Just a couple of minutes before class was scheduled to begin, a group of Bro-boys crowded in around him. Later in the class, several more lads would join him at the behest of the professor who, to Reno’s chagrin, said that group work would dominate the course.
Speaking of the professor, it wasn’t until ten minutes after class was supposed to begin that the professor arrived. By that time many of the students had been mumbling whether the room had changed or if something had happened to the professor. One student in evidently a truly mean-spirited rumble had said that he hoped the professor had a life-threatening emergency and would have to cancel class. Seniors, Reno thought darkly.
The esteemed professor did arrive, however. He arrived at the senior’s complaint of being well-rested.
“Sorry about losing track of the time” the professor casually remarked. “I was putting the finishing touches on a paper I was writing and just let the ebb and flow of creative juices take-over.” A student giggled.
Taking the few steps to the podium in the center of the pit, the professor set down his gaudy leather briefcase and jacket and inserted something into the podium. After he inserted it, the whole of the podium leapt to life, brimming with holographic displays and neon colors; it wasn’t just the podium, however, which leapt to life as every desk in the inverted cone hummed to vibrancy as well, the desks lighting up one after the other like a weird display of festival lights.
Before him, Reno saw the terminal activate along with its virtual keyboard. Hitherto hidden features of the desk activated with secret compartments rising from within the desk itself; outlets, VR-headsets, and stylus holders. Whoa, Reno reflected.
“Welcome to ENG-497: Malory and Postmodernism,” said the professor. “My name is Dr. Algrotto. But, you may call me Axel; I don’t have any attachment to overly fancy honorifics. In fact, they rather annoy me.” He then brought up a virtual chalkboard— or that is what Reno called it, anyways— and wrote his name along with some other basic information about the class. “So, what you need to know about this seminar is that it is held only once every three years and that if you do not pass it, then you will be at this university for a long time more, another three years until it is offered again. Because of this, you will do well to pass the course; I would not consider myself a typically harsh instructor when it comes to grading, but because of the nature of this class, it really is a pass or fail experience— you either earn an ‘A’ and pass with flying colors, or deserve an ‘F’ and rejoice in your lack of discernible academic achievements.” Axel then wrote on the board “Group 1” and underlined it and repeated this twelve times.
Axel dramatically surveyed the class, perhaps looking with disgust at all the bright, young faces who still had a future ahead of them. Reno felt intimidated. All of a sudden, he felt that he didn’t belong in this class and that the hoops he had to jump through to enroll were about to stand him up and reveal him for the fraud that he actually was. Axel looked his way and smiled, or in Reno’s general direction, at any rate, and though it eased his conscious a little bit to know that maybe his first professor wasn’t a vampiric bloodsucker, it didn’t lessen his feelings of ineptitude, try as he might to shake the feelings off and remind himself that he belonged here and that his present emotional state was simply the nature of freshman jitters. Reno focused. He wasn’t about to let impostor syndrome steal his chance to impress.
“Like many of the classes you’ve already had, this seminar will focus heavily on using mass-media and virtual reality to explore new ways for literature to live. Most of you know this already so I will not nudge it to you as though you were lowly first-years.” Reno blushed, not knowing why. “Still, I wish to stress that this course will focus almost wholly on the virtual world of Vingaard and will encompass the course material in complex ways you haven’t yet been exposed to in your classes thus far.” Axel then spent the next twenty or so minutes going over the nature of the class.
After stopping a while to take a breath from his overly lengthy grading scheme, he spoke again. Reno was a little overwhelmed. The class truly did sound like nothing he had experienced before, let alone something he thought he would experience in an academic setting. Readings and assignments done not only in a group but through virtual questing tied into the class readings?! This was unheard of to Reno who in his whole life had been accustomed to blase conceptions of education which relied on “banking” theories and vertical hierarchies.
“Students, Le Morte Darthur is one of the greatest works in the English canon. It set the gold standard for what we know today about the Arthurian legend by synthesizing all the elements which came before and presenting it to an audience in a concrete, easily digestible series of entries. Excalibur, the round table, King Arthur’s triumph over the saxons… Malory gave the world all of this and more for the first time in a single tale. Apply yourself in this class and you will learn things about this mythology— a mythology second only to religious theology— that you never thought you would learn.”
After that mildly grandiose tangent, Axel told the class to divide into groups. In the end, there was a total of twelve groups, one group each to match those written on the board. As everyone divided into their group, the names of each student appeared under the group they sorted themselves into. Reno was in Group #1. His teammates the boys who rudely took up the free seats in his spiral level. They seemed like a nice bunch but also like they weren’t his sort of person; they didn’t seem intellectual. And yet, Reno thought, they were here, in an advanced English class, one of the hardest offered by the university, so whatever his personal thoughts or their grades, they surely would be arms and shoulders above most other students. Reno would have to remember to not judge a book by its cover, an increasingly useful skill in a year where book covers are as transient as a climate refugee.
Resuming his talking diary, Axel remarked on some of the readings. With a press of the button, several files appeared on Reno’s display. They looked to be three essays and an introduction from a book on chivalry. The files appeared to be rather old and Reno wondered why the professor would choose such dated texts.
“These essays,” Axel remarked,”will serve as basic introductions to elements Malory introduces in the first book of his Morte Darthur. The Medieval conception of chivalry informs all of Malory’s writing and so it is vital you have at least a working understanding of what it was and was not. Without this basis, you will misinterpret the actions of the characters and fail to see the significance of certain actions. Read these papers thoroughly because the assignment will not be forgiving.”
And with that, class ended. Axel said that he recommends meeting with our groups sometime soon to go over the readings and prepare for the homework before the next class. As Reno was totally new to how all of this worked, he remained quiet and let the upperclassman direct the group. Swallowing a lump in his throat like some cartoon character, Reno quickly packed up his belongings and headed out the door back to his dorm.