Newsletter - Spring 2012
Greetings from the CATL office! I am enjoying my first year as Director of CATL and appreciate the support and encouragement I have received across campus. This year's Faculty Development Conference was a bit of a departure: instead of focusing on specific teaching techniques, the conference focused on faculty development more broadly. How do we balance a heavy teaching load and service demands with our research agendas (and, dare I say it, our lives)? If you want to answers to this question, read Vince Lowery's notes from the conference below and/or check out the link to Kerry Ann's advice at Faculty Diversity
This year CATL has begun several exciting new initiatives. This April CATL and the LTC will pilot our first Online Teaching Fellows Program! Congratulations to our first Fellows: Cristina Ortiz, Eric Morgan, Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, Lisa Poupart, and Leanne Zhu. Online Teaching Fellows take part in a 4-week hybrid workshop and receive peer reviews of their online course syllabi. We plan to offer this program again next academic year; interested faculty can contact me directly or look for the call for applications that should come out this summer. In addition, the CATL office is looking for excellent teachers to apply to be a CATL Faculty Consultant. Consultants will work with me as "teaching coaches" for new faculty and will give workshops on teaching techniques to the whole campus. Applications are due April 1st! Contact me if you have any questions.
Our UWGB Teaching Scholars Program continues its strong tradition this year, with eight scholars working on exciting teaching projects. However, this will be my last year as co-director of the program. As many of you
know, I have been asked to co-direct the UW System Teaching Fellows/Scholars Program. Next year, David Voelker will co-direct the UWGB Teaching Scholars Program with Angela Bauer. Professor Voelker has already distinguished himself as a leading scholar in the teaching of history and he will be a brilliant co-director of our program! Just a reminder: my office is always open for informal, unscheduled talks about teaching. Many of you have stopped by to talk over vexing teaching issues, or to share teaching triumphs. I hope to see even more of you in the months to come!
There are plenty of books available offering strategies for maximizing productivity, but none quite fits the demands of the life and work of the academic. Kerry Ann Rockquemore's keynote address offered a simple yet gratifying formula for increasing faculty members' output. Acknowledging that there are accountability mechanisms for teaching and service obligations, Rockquemore proposed that faculty should develop their own methods of compelling themselves to be more productive scholars.
Describing her own experiences implementing an accountability system as well as her study of other faculty members' efforts, she laid out a reasonable model for writing that also accounted for other professional obligations without sacrificing personal happiness. Enlisting mentors and colleagues to serve as part of a support network for writing may appear to be a very simple response to the challenge of motivating ourselves to write amid all other demands, but it is rarely implemented, and even recent efforts on this campus to organize junior faculty was ultimately hindered by so many other demands we face.
One of the great challenges for academics is to balance competing and often very different obligations. However, Rocquemore's strategy of building a motivating support network and mapping semesters to account for personal and professional needs while delivering for that network offers one way to succeed in this balancing act. While her strategy may lend itself more to faculty with a preference for hyper-scheduling and time management, with days scheduled down to the minute, her emphasis on the importance of reserving more time for our research and our personal lives was an important message - that we are in fact over-scheduled and becoming more so with each passing semester, and that we cannot passively accept this at the expense of vital elements of our lives and work. As she illustrated through her own personal experience and her model, we each possess the means to take back control.
Nicholas Carr's The Shallows succeeds in making us reflect on our reading habits in an age when distractions abound and we are bombarded with information. However, as a treatise on how theInternet affects our thinking, reading habits, and behavior, TheShallows falls short of being cohesive, and in what appears to be self-aware at times, but is otherwise unintentional, Carr's writing tends be distracted and, well, shallow (perhaps he did it as a "see,I told you so" maneuver).
Carr falls into the pitfall of citing sources that support his claims while ignoring research that refutes them. There is a wealth of research with many different conclusions about how people read content online (faster, slower, more,less, better, worse, etc.). Due to the newness and variety of such studies (and the fact that it is a rapidly moving target),one can easily cherry-pick, as Carr has done, whatever studies happen support his or her particular claim.
I would have liked to see more recent neurological research in Carr's book. Many of the studies mentioned are quite old. I would have liked a deeper exploration about what it means that our cultural habits and attitudes are changing. I would have liked Carr to discuss things like the phenomenon on Twitter where people use the hashtag #LR to indicate that they are linking to a "long read" or something that is substantial in length (several pages to an entire book). I would have liked Carr to acknowledge the digital divide and that he spoke from and about a perspective that represented a very specific (and, in global terms, fairly small)population of people who have access to the Internet and technology. I would have liked Carr to suggest some solutions or strategies for how to navigate the new information ecosystem as others such as Jonah Lehrer, Jaron Lanier, and Lawrence Lessighave done. By frequently invoking the likes of Nietzsche and even Plato, Carr loses his credibility both in terms of cohesiveness and currency.
In terms of what Carr is suggesting about our lack of focus and"deep thinking," I have my own opinions:
- People can read deeply and shallowly at different times-it is not a wholesale behavior shift
- There can be advantages to our skimming tangential online reading habits (e.g., diversity of content, serendipitous learning)
- Exploration and exposure to diverse content increases highorder thinking (e.g., reconciling conflicting views)
- Yes, multitasking decreases the quality of performance (e.g.,don't text and drive-you'll have more misspellings)
- Yes, distractions are ubiquitous (mental focus requires effort it always has)
- We need to be active engagers more than passive consumers-today's technology provides limitless opportunities for both
The Shallows is part wake-up call, part surrender to inevitable changes, and despite its shortcomings, generally thought-provoking. While I wish it had a more cogent argument and better supporting evidence, The Shallows made me think about information, attention, and how our brains interact with our environment. And I know that the things that were not included I can find online in an instant.