(First: read Jeffrey's post about Elemental Ecocriticism in Tuscaloosa!)
Should instructors ever assign their own publications as required reading?
I posed this question on twitter and on Facebook (just for kicks) and found intriguing conversations unfolding in both venues: see the brief twitter convo HERE and the epic public Facebook comment thread HERE. One of things I very much enjoy about social media is how different spheres of my life unexpectedly jostle and collide in one (virtual) space, and I find it so fascinating to witness conversations involving my academic/professional contacts as well as non-academics (in this case, people reflecting upon their own undergraduate experiences).
As the comments thread began to grow on my Facebook page, I was surprised -- but perhaps shouldn't have been! -- to discover there wasn't a clear answer/consensus to this question. People offered a range of different reactions to the experience of an instructor assigning their own works in class; these reactions seemed to vary depending on how the readings (and ensuing discussions) were framed, and there was some speculation about whether the level of the class itself (graduate or undergraduate) influenced how people responded to instructor-authored readings. Most of the people chiming in were literature folks, but I get an initial sense that conventions might differ by academic discipline. In any case, I'd say that a instructor's decision to assign her/his own work can be influenced by host of other factors -- including general campus culture, as well as the general personality/disposition of the instructor.
Sample responses to the idea of assigning own's own work as reading:
PRO: can provide insight into scholarly writing process and revision, can give students a sense of what we do when not teaching, can lay foundation quickly for new work the class is doing together and models writing as a springboard to other discussions (in a grad seminar), shows we believe in our work and its scholarly merits and we can welcome constructive criticism; seems to be standard practice in some disciplines (e.g. history).
CON: "It's weird" (says KARL), students can feel uncomfortable criticizing the work in front of the instructor, conversation can be stilted, some students might see it as scholarly self-promotion or even a cynical ploy to sell more copies of one's work.
My current stance is this. If there happens to be a case where I feel something I've written could be of potential interest or usefulness to students in a class, I'd make those readings optional; I personally wouldn't feel comfortable requiring those readings. If I ever were to produce something I thought was "so important" or foundational/necessary for the subject matter that it merited status as assigned reading, I definitely wouldn't force students to pay for access to those materials. (SIDE NOTE: I will grant that the question of assigning anthologies or essay collections is a slightly different matter...)
So what say you, ITM readers? Have you assigned your own work, or discussed your instructor's own work, in a class? If so, how did it go?