by Nancy La, Staff Writer
Name: Kandice Sharren
Occupation: lecturer/lead editor and project manager of Women’s Print History Project
Department Affiliation: Department of English
Hometown: St. Albert, Alberta
Fun fact: Her current mission in life is to hold a freestanding handstand
Despite 2020 being an absolute roller coaster of a year, I have to admit that, academically, I’ve had quite a good time with online learning. This is due in part to meeting one of the most personable and understanding lecturers, Dr. Kandice Sharren, whose interactive teaching methods included lots of open discussions and audio podcasts. With those tools, she created a learning environment inclusive of different types of learners. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Sharren over Zoom for a chat about her work as an educator, researcher, podcaster, and her perspective on 18ᵗʰ century English literature.
From Student to Lecturer
Dr. Sharren initially came to SFU as a PhD student, following her undergrad at the University of Victoria. Making the shift from student to lecturer might have been difficult but, due to the relationships Dr. Sharren had with her peers, it ended up being seamless.
“It was a very smooth process. I felt that I have a lot of support moving into teaching my own courses as well because I had pre-existing relationships with other people in the institution.”
Though the transition was mostly smooth, there were small adjustments that needed to be made. “I started having my own teaching assistants, which meant then I was in a position of authority over graduate students who had just been my peers, so that was an interesting dynamic to learn how to navigate,” she laughed.
Learning to handle her new position of authority was not the only thing Dr. Sharren needed to navigate. The interview quickly evolved into a discussion of what it was like to teach online during a global pandemic. For her, the amount of work involved in teaching was much more than the screen time with her students.
“There’s just a lot of scaffolding that needs to go up around online learning and a lot of hidden administrative work. I felt like for every hour that I would expect to prep for class, there’s at least another hour of something else that I have to do related to the class.”
Women’s Print History Project and Podcasting
Outside of her role as a lecturer, Dr. Sharren is the project manager and one of the podcasters for the Women’s Print History Project (WPHP) here at SFU. The WPHP is a bibliographic database containing information on 18ᵗʰ century books, though not scans of texts themselves. Through research on the project, the team at WPHP accumulated knowledge and information on various women authors and their works.
“When you’re working on the records in the WPHP, you spend a lot of time actually looking at the books. You kind of amalgamate this weird body of knowledge that is [ . . . ] not even reflected in the database itself,” she admitted with a smile.
The team realized the database might be inaccessible to lay users and thus, the podcast was born.
According to Dr. Sharren, the podcast serves as a helping guide to the massive amount of data on the website. In their latest podcast episode “Oh! those fashionable Burney novels!,” Dr. Sharren dives into the history of Frances Burney, who is known for her books Evelina and Cecilia. The podcast serves as an accessible way for people to discover more about the women featured on the Women’s Pring History Project website.
“When you come at the database from outside the project, it is overwhelming and really hard to navigate. So we have been talking for a while trying to find ways to provide people with in-roads on how to use the data, how to search the data, and to understand the data.”
But making a podcast was not as easy as it sounded. Dr. Sharren had never edited audio before and the learning curve was steep. “It’s weird getting used to hearing your own voice,” she reflected. “I feel like the past year, being in a pandemic, I have become so accustomed to hearing myself talk and watching myself on video.”
On Education and 18ᵗʰ Century Literature
Our talk quickly led to a discussion of how she got into studying Romantic and 18ᵗʰ century literature.
“Hilariously, I’m much more of a Romanticist than an 18ᵗʰ century-ist [ . . . ] but I actually don’t think I ever took a Romantic literature class until my PhD.”
Dr. Sharren depicted the 18ᵗʰ and 19ᵗʰ centuries as periods of time where there were a lot of problems, anxieties, and “violence enacted by European countries on the rest of the world.”
She talked about how that realization affected the cultural products of the time, such as newspaper articles and art. “There was so much ambivalence going on about [ . . . ] what Britain’s place in the world [was] at that moment.”
Interestingly enough, my first experience having Dr. Sharren as a lecturer was in a 21ˢᵗ century literature class. I was curious as to how she approached material that was drastically different to what she usually worked on.
“It was really interesting because I got to teach a lot of books I love reading that I normally would not get to teach,” she said, giving the example of Ali Smith, an author she has been trying to teach for years.
Due to the gravity of the content explored in the class (colonialism, terrorism, and Indigenous discrimination), I had a lot of anxiety and discomfort in enrolling in the course. It turned out my anxiety was unfounded since Dr. Sharren’s approach in handling these topics was professional and full of sensitivity and awareness.
“It feels really different when you’re talking about people who lived 200–300 years ago versus people who are still alive now. It feels so much more immediate. I have a pretty decent grounding in how to talk about empire and race [ . . . ] in the historical context,” she said. “But when it moves into the present day [ . . . ] you suddenly become hyper-aware of all the ways that you can accidentally do harm in the context of teaching.”