Link to: Inside Higher Ed :: We Need Humanities Labs

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been a member of a fairly large faculty committee from Arts and Sciences charged with developing a strategy for allocating space that will be made available when the School’s of Education and Business get their own buildings. The committee members are thoughtful, committed and dedicated to trying to use this opportunity to strengthen departments and programs that need more space to grow and develop.

Within such a gifted group of scholars and teachers, I’m finding myself constantly cast as the skeptic challenging whether our current teaching methods will continue to be effective a decade from now–particulalry in light of the changes already underway in computers hardware and software, the immersion in technology by high school students and in the expectations they’ll bring to the college between now and 2016. I’m not convinced by the argument, for example, that jamming the wireless on student laptops so that they have to focus their attention on the lecture is good pedagogy. I think we’d be much better served by trying to come up with ways to more fully engage students as participants in the lecture experience–an idea that didn’t meet with enthusiastic support from my colleagues on the committee.

I’ve also tried to raise questions about the future of humanities research, particularly at the undergraduate level. It seems to me that in order to “compete” with the sciences for space and funding, the humanities will have to find additional models of research that embrace the more social, collaborative practices that contribute to student learning. (In this case, both faculty and graduate student members from the humanities are the skeptics as to the degree to which scholarship in the humanities will–or should–become more communal.) This article by “dissertation coach” Gina Hiatt suggests that graduate departments might benefit from re-framing their roles:

If humanities departments were to proceed as outlined by Kunstler, they would go beyond counting their peer-reviewed publications, and move into creating lasting legacies and nurturing breakthrough thinking. Kunstler identifies the attributes of organizations likely to spawn such changes, including the following: “workers immerse themselves in others’ ideas and work, absorbing creative influences,” and “mentor relationships abound.”

I haven’t read Kunstler’s book, but from the references in this article, it seems to be very much in line with the learning ecology approach that John Seeley Brown has been developing. It will be interesting to see to what extent humanities departments do adopt some more collaborative approaches to research.