Montana State University

Lansverk receives national award for innovative course design

January 13, 2014

MSU English professor Marvin Lansverk has won a national award from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies for his course that teaches students about the rise of the novel in the 18th century through community storytelling and service learning. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham   High-Res Available

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Marvin Lansverk, professor of English at Montana State University, has received the Innovative Course Design annual award from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies for his MSU course that incorporates storytelling and service learning in a class that teaches students about the rise of the novel in the 18th century.

Lansverk's "Storytelling the Eighteenth Century: Novelists, Narratives, and the Rise of the Novel” was selected as one of the top innovative courses in the country for 2012-13.  The prize carries a $500 award. Lansverk also was selected to serve on the national organization's Innovative Course Design Committee, responsible for selecting the 2013-14 winner. 

Judges for the contest said that Lansverk’s literature course's story-focused assignments both "reinterprets the rise of the novel and reimagines the way students interact with literature," turning passive reading into active storytelling.

The course focuses on five novels written across the 18th century, including "Robinson Crusoe," "Fantomina," "Joseph Andrews," "Tristram Shandy" and "Evelina." Students in the course wrote analytically about the novels, as is usual in many courses of its type.But beyond that, class time was also devoted to telling stories: the stories in the novels, the stories of how these novels came to be written, and ultimately, the story of the rise of the novel itself.  Some of the storytelling spilled beyond the classroom. The society noted that one innovation in the course is that students are required to conduct community public storytelling of the course material in an elementary school, a library or a local boys or girls club using drama, puppets and traditional storytelling techniques. Lansverk said that as a result of the service learning component, there is improved student engagement, critical thinking and understanding of the material.

Lansverk, who has served as a statewide Service Learning Fellow for the Montana Campus Compact, said he got the idea by transferring techniques that he had developed for his mythologies course into his course on the 18th century novel.  “I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before; it seems like such a natural fit now,” he said.      

Lansverk, who has taught at MSU since 1988, is a specialist in 18th century British literature, the history of the novel, and the works of William Blake. He is also a former chair of the MSU Faculty Senate.  He first piloted the course fall semester, 2012 and will be teaching it again fall semester, 2014.

Lansverk made a presentation about his award-winning course design at the organization's national meeting last April and will be chairing the panel this March in Williamsburg, Va., when this year’s winner is unveiled.


Marvin Lansverk (406) 994-5198,