I have been working on an idea with Gardner and Jeff regarding the First Year Seminars we will each be teaching next fall. The topics of the seminars range from â€˜Banned and Dangerous Artâ€ to â€œWhen Americans Came Marching Home: The Veteran in U.S. History.â€ The premise of the idea is simple: even though we are all teaching seminars on different topics, the overarching goal of the seminars is the same: to introduce students to the life of the mind; as such itâ€™s not unlikely that, at least at the beginning of the term, we will be discussing similar themes. Why not pool our efforts to develop some notes/text resources for those themes in common, especially since not all of us are experts on them? We could then share them with any FSEM faculty who would like to use them.
Iâ€™ve started drafts on three of these themes: â€What Do We Know?â€ on the nature of and advance of knowledge, â€œWhat is Scholarly Writing (and how it may differ from what freshman learned in high school)? and â€œWhy Citing Sources is Not Just a Way to Avoid Getting in Trouble for Plagiarism.â€
After discussing the project with Gardner and Jeff and obtaining agreement that this was worth trying, I found myself strangely reluctant to share my drafts with them, afraid theyâ€™d think the work was lame or reductive or something. Then I realized that if I couldn’t share with my friends, how could I expect other faculty to do the same?
Last Friday, I discussed this reluctance with Martha who helped me see a way through. The discussion went something like this:
Martha: It’s funny how our own anxieties can take hold even in the spaces and activities we seek to promote. There’s a lesson there.
Steve: A big lesson, but how do we teach our broader colleagues. I’d venture to say that virtually every faculty member feels this way about their work, or at least their lecture notes.
Martha: I’m sure you’re right. And yet, we want students to take these risks.
Steve: Yes. Do as I say, not as I do. Not because I can’t do, but because I’m too important to do it, and after all, I’ve done it before, so I don’t need to do it now.
Martha: Ultimately, this seems to me to be about fear and trust.
Steve: Yes. And I took a lot of courses on those in grad school. NOT!
Martha: Trust, risk, fear.
Martha: A required class for all freshmen?
Steve: Or, a required class for all faculty?
Steve: Yet, I suspect that many faculty would argue that this isn’t part of their job, that their job is to teach (independent) courses and to be left alone to do their research. If they had to take a class (on trust, risk and fear), that would imply or create some intellectual community.
Martha: Funny. I guess research doesn’t need a community?
Steve: Yes, but usually that community is off-campus.
Martha Burtis says: Why?
Steve: Because at least in most schools, departments aren’t big enough to have more than one person in your area of expertise. That’s how I met my friend Steve DeLoach down at Elon with whom I wrote three papers on electronic discussion.
Martha: That presumes that the only colleagues worth collaborating with are in your own area of expertise. How do we promote ideas of interdisciplinarity to students with THAT mentality?
Steve: Well, it’s the reality at least in the social sciences, and I suspect in other disciplines, that we’ve become so specialized that people in other departments either aren’t interested or are perceived as not having the expertise to give intelligent comments.
Martha: Communities need to be able to embrace connections forged through deep specialization as well as diverse expertise.
Steve: Well, yes. But that’s not where most of us are right now.
Martha: How do we get there?
Martha: One answer: Expose the connection-making.
Steve: One colleague at a time… is my answer. Gardner thinks it will take enlightened leadership to make this happen broadly. Probably the answer is all of these things.
Steve: I think it’s regretful that I don’t know what my colleagues in economics are doing in their courses or in their research until we share vitas and faculty activity reports to complete peer reviews at the end of the year. I have more active collaborators outside of my dept than within.
Martha: That’s just crazy. Not surprising, but crazy.
Steve: I also think it’s unproductive for students that I don’t know what my colleagues are doing in their courses. Could we be duplicating effort where it’s not necessary? Shouldn’t my subsequent course build on what was done in the prerequisite? But how can I do that if I don’t know (beyond very broadly) what students do there?
Martha: Exactly! It’s the thing that always strikes me about Faculty Academy — it’s this rare opportunity at UMW to expose the work that faculty are doing across (and within!) departments.
[End of discussion]
Iâ€™ve think I’ve found a solution to my reluctance. Since I’m reluctant to share my thinking with my colleagues, instead I’ll share it with the world–or at least the blogosphere. Once I’ve gone public, I’ll also share it more directly with my UMW colleagues. Iâ€™ve posted the first document, â€œHow Do We Know?â€ on a wiki here. If youâ€™d like to revise it or comment on it, let me know and Iâ€™ll send you the login information.