Thinking about “Kentucky Higher Ed” (and higher ed in general)

From metawriting.deannamascle.com:

“For much of my time at Morehead State University I have primarily interacted with the members of my home department – English. … This year, especially this spring, has changed all that and I happily discovered that I work with some smart, interesting, and fun people who really care about our students – something I cannot say about some of my English colleagues.”

professors waiting in line eutress public domain WCOuch.

Having just run into a question of professionalism about how much I was willing to share on this blog, that really caught my attention.

Are we smart? I think we must be. How easy is it these days (though it was easier in yesteryear) to not be smart and gain a position in academia? True there is still the network that brings in some dead fish, but mostly even the dead fish are intelligent.

Are we interesting? Perhaps not. I know that my conversation tends to center around my work and no one who is not working in my field cares. And many of those who do work in my field don’t care. I obviously need to get out of my tower/silo and into the community more often.

I am particularly aware of this right now because I have been researching what I will be doing in a non-academic trip to New York. It’s been fun to read about Hitchcock and film noir and Macbeth, all in the same theater production. I am interested in the experience and a bit terrified. I look forward to the voyeuristic permission-granted peeking through the cupboards and hope that it gives me plenty to talk about and not just in terms of “what I did on my summer vacation.”

Are we fun? I can be fun. I played water volleyball and read vampire romances in the same day recently. I also attended a comic(s/book) convention just before that. And a week or so earlier I flew to Michigan to indulge my interests in Anglo-Saxon beverages, Bob Dylan poetics, and television medievalisms.

But are we fun in general? Or have we gotten so lost, not just in our discipline, but in the day-to-day minutiae of our positions that we aren’t fun anymore? That we can’t imagine fun? That we can’t pull out from between the cotton batting in our ears a different approach to … whatever?

“Academics are really, really bad at having conversations. We know academics can talk and talk and talk, but can we listen, can we have a dialogue? … Even roundtables and panels are rarely conversations, and most of our time is spent attending sessions where someone reads to us from pages they wrote in advance and there is frequently little to no time for questions let alone an honest dialogue.”

Here I think the author has run a little off course. I personally prefer to hear conference presentations that have been written up beforehand, since those are the ones most likely to be interesting. If we only show up and speak, we may not have taken enough time to have anything worth listening to.

Yes, I know we often write our papers at the last minute. That includes me, though I don’t recommend it. I was working on my last conference paper at the last minute, even though I have already written two extended/perfected drafts of different approaches to my September conference presentation. I can talk about my work in short snippets, and I actually ended up doing that at the last conference when timing broke the panel’s schedule, but I had prepared to speak (even though somewhat last minute)–so the snippets made sense.

I do agree with the problem/issue/question with/of roundtables. I chaired one that was really just a panel session by another name. I much preferred the five minute version I was on last year–even if we didn’t read each other’s work beforehand.

I think that if I am ever in charge of a roundtable, and I would like to be, that I will request a three minute (perhaps two page) edition from everyone the month beforehand–or as their submission to the roundtable to start with–and then read through them and see if I can find themes and streams and connections and pass different parts of the roundtable readings off to different members so that they can act and react to each other’s works with thoughtful aforethought, rather than “johnny on the spot wisdom,” which I am particularly bad at demonstrating.

“Technology can open so many opportunities for our students to investigate, to create, to challenge their own thinking as well as ours, but not if we react as the Lilliputians did to Gulliver. We can use technology to reinvent ourselves, our classrooms, and our institutions or we can use it to simply delay the inevitable – our choice. Thinking about new ways to use technology is not enough. We need to think of new ways to challenge our students and ourselves.”

I think this is a thoughtful comment on technology.

iStock professor lecture small group white boardWe do tend to use it to preserve the archaeology of the academic past (Prezis and lectures). I think that PowerPoints or KeyNotes can actually be used very persuasively, but they cannot simply be the highlights of our lectures.

I think that the digital presentation assignments I have expanded to all my classes (except my grad class–so far!) are opening opportunities for the students. I think they investigate, they create, and they challenge–not just themselves, but each other and me as well. I’ve seen unique approaches to literature through a musical playlist, even though I have also seen some very poorly thought through and produced pieces as well. My freshman first semester group project visual rhetoric analysis of a commercial may not always give grades according to work done, but the students always find something to talk about that I had not noticed, thought about, or considered. They teach me on a regular basis.

Technology as a way to challenge ourselves can work. (See my discussions of iBook Authors and my summer projects, for more recent examples.) But technology is not just a way to challenge ourselves. It is a way to communicate, to share, to impart, to learn, to configure, to design, to create, to inspire, to confuse, to persevere, to procrastinate, and to have fun… If we use it that way. And getting down in the technological mud puddle and attempting to create messy epicurean delights can be fun, interesting, and smart.

I’m not sure how much it will reconfigure our pedagogy, but it might do that, too. It just might.

teachers as sculptors from presentationzen dot com

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