As many of you know, I have long been experimenting with how to use twitter effectively in academic contexts. Many are skeptical of twitter's ability to add substantive value to academic conversations because of its character constraints and its culture of snark and attempted witticisms.
So, over the past few months I have sought to cultivate a different culture of academic community through interactive lectures in which I've live tweeted my own presentations at the University of San Francisco, the Catholic University of America and Newman University. Those experiments taught me how important it is to model the sort of twitter behavior that is capable of enriching academic conversations rather than impoverishing them.
Last week when Wesleyan University President Michael Roth visited Penn State, I took notes on the talk via Twitter and curated them on Storify. It was a good way to remind myself of some salient points of the lecture and to share the important ideas Roth presented about the value of the liberal arts with a wider audience.
This week, however, I thought I would try to take collaborative public notes during the annual meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society at Notre Dame University. Happily, my colleague @AdrielTrott was willing to join me in the endeavor and we were able to live tweet a number of the papers at the conference.
Here is the Storify I created for it:
As you can see, we do seem to have been able to add value to some conversations. During the Alasdair MacIntyre talk, for example, MacIntyre recommended a book the title of which many missed. However, because I heard the reference and knew the book, I was quickly able to tweet out a link. For me, the power of collaborative public note taking lies in the possibility that something important to you might evoke as response from someone that leads ultimately to a new insightful conversation. I can see the threads of a few conversations here that might be pursued further in the future.
Generally speaking, when Philosophy tries to go public, it takes one of two approaches. Either it seeks to articulate philosophical ideas in popular terms and through popular media - an approach adopted by the Stone in the New York Times, or it seeks to orient itself toward the "practical" by engaging in a variety of "applied" studies: business ethics, environmental philosophy, etc.
While these two strategies have value and merit, the practice of public philosophy the Public Philosophy Journal (PPJ) seeks to embody involves more than addressing the public or pursuing the practical implications of philosophical theories.
Rather, the sort of public philosophy the PPJ will seek to practice is a collaborative activity in which philosophers engage dialogically with activists, professionals, scientists, policy-makers, and affected parties whose work and lives are bound up with issues of public concern. Public philosophy is thus not limited to questions concerning the practical applicability of theoretical problems, rather it is informed by the recognition that all theoretical problems are ultimately rooted in questions of wide public interest.
Philosophy has, from its earliest beginnings, always been publicly engaged. Drawing on this long tradition, the PPJ will facilitate the ability for philosophers to play a role as actual agents of change, and not only as commentators or critics.
This conception of public philosophy certainly includes many practitioners in diverse areas of applied philosophy. But there are also many practitioners in these areas who do not see themselves as engaging directly with issues of public concern or who are not interested in trying to make their work matter to wider audiences. So public philosophy, as practiced by the PPJ, includes the interests and work of a large and diverse group of philosophers, some of whom may be associated with various practical areas of philosophy.
Conceived of in this way, the vision of public philosophy the PPJ will champion is not so much a subfield of the discipline as it is a way of putting the discipline into practice.
The PPJ is informed by a commitment to the idea that philosophically trained thinkers have an important role to play in addressing issues that concern all members of the general public. We believe our discourse is most responsive to the needs of that public when it is inclusive of a variety of disciplinary perspectives and when it is not subordinated to ends that are shared by only a particular segment of the population.
Accordingly, there is an important connection between the way we conceive of the practice of public philosophy and our choice of technological means for curating, reviving, cultivating, and publishing content for the PPJ. This is part of what sets the PPJ apart from other academic journals more generally, and it is what makes it unique in the discipline of philosophy.
[Practicing the art of collaborative writing, this post is the result of the combined efforts of Mark Fisher (@mdfphilpsu), Kyle Whyte (@Whyte_KP) and Christopher Long (@cplong).]
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Because the Public Philosophy Journal depends for its success on a community of collaborators, we embed the form below for those interested in helping curate content for the journal.
Traditionally, when one delivers a paper in the discipline of philosophy, one simply reads, that is, one "lectures" (from the Latin legere, to read). But it would be ironic to read a paper on the collaborative nature of reading without inviting those listening to become actively engaged in the reading.
So, I intend to invite those attending the lecture and anyone following along on twitter, to join in an ongoing discussion of the lecture during the lecture itself.
The idea is not only to talk about collaborative reading, but to perform it as well.
Given that the skepticism is not unfounded, let me articulate how I intend to use twitter and, through it, other digital technologies to address each concern in turn.
From Truncated to Extended
Anyone who actually uses twitter knows that its 140-character constraint forces each tweet to extend somehow beyond itself. This occurs most effectively by means of shortened links to more substantive resources.
In order to point my listeners to those resources, I have set up the Keynote presentation I will use during the reading of my paper to tweet for me. For those of you interested in how, precisely, one might do that, take a look at this video:
So, during the lecture, I will have populated certain Keynote slides with tweets that will extend the discussion in at least three ways:
1) I will post phrases and formulations I think are important for the listeners in the room and beyond to reflect upon and remember. This will allow them to favorite the tweets to return to them later or to retweet them in order extend the discussion to their followers.
2) I will link to references to important secondary sources to which I appeal during the lecture so listeners can follow up on specific passages I discuss in more detail.
Anyone who actually uses twitter recognizes that its power comes not from what one pushes out, but from what one receives. This is felt most palpably when one invites those with whom one tweets to share the wisdom they bring to the issue under discussion.
To facilitate this sort of sharing, I will explicitly invite those present at the lecture to actively tweet during the lecture itself. The hope is that the questions and suggestions posted will cultivate a vibrant back-channel discussion that will add insight and value to the reading itself. At the end of the lecture, questions and ideas raised on the back-channel can be brought into the discussion and other voices from outside the room can be integrated into the discussion we have there. As an author, I hope to encourage robust and lively engagement with the ideas I present in the lecture so that I too might learn something in the process that I can, in turn, integrate into my ongoing scholarship
From Fragmented to Integrated
Anyone who actually uses twitter knows that the deployment of hashtags is the best way to mitigate against the fragmentary nature of a conversation on twitter.
In order to curate the tweets related to the lecture, I will append the hashtag #bacpa (one of the sponsors of the talk is the Bay Area Continental Philosophy Association) to my tweets and invite others to use that hashtag as well. To further integrate the tweets related to the lecture, I will curate them using Storify. This will allow me to add other digital artifacts related to the lecture and to weave a story around the tweets I receive from those participating. This will afford me the opportunity, after the lecture, to consider in a more reflective way the things others have added to the lecture.
The Storify story will be embedded into the blog post on my Digital Vita I will have written outlining the basic argument of the lecture, a post that will, I hope, be a platform for further discussion.
To that end, I would like to invite anyone who has been interested enough in this endeavor to read to this point to join the lecture on twitter (following me @cplong or the #bacpa hashtag) or to come in person on Thursday, October 25th, 2012 at 4:30 PDT in MC 252 on the campus of the University of San Francisco.
STONE HARBOR, NJ - Just midway through my week vacation, I am beginning to learning the art of relaxation.
As a faculty member, when the semester of teaching is over, a span of summer begins in which time takes on a different dimension as research responsibilities press themselves upon you. The result is an expanse of unstructured time that needs to be given structure by disciplined research. Because we give ourselves that structure, faculty often develop a sense of never really "being off of work" even when we are on vacation.
That has changed somewhat for me since becoming an Associate Dean. When the semester ends, the structure of my work week remains largely unchanged - I continue to come to the office each day to meet and work with staff, faculty and students. The result is that when I take vacation, it really feels like time off. Of course, all the research pressures of a regular faculty member remain, which casts a shadow over every vacation.
This year, however, I have had some success in learning how to relax in this context. A few of my strategies are probably a bit counter-intuitive.
Keep in touch. Many people set up an automatic email message that says something like "I will be away from my email until x, if you have an emergency, please contact ..." I never do that, even on vacation. I know enough about myself to know that allowing email to pile up while I am away increases my anxiety. I am less relaxed in such situations. Rather, I check mail periodically, deleting things I don't need, delegating things to staff at work, responding briefly if possible or adding more involved tasks to OmniFocus, my To-Do list, for when I return. The result is a bit of time over vacation, but I save two or three days of being behind when I return. I am more relaxed when I take the time to do this.
Be unscheduled. The biggest challenge for me is to settle into being unscheduled. My days are hyper-scheduled, down to half-hour time periods. Even my unscheduled time has a research or administrative work schedule imposed on it by me to ensure I am maximally productive. On vacation, I find myself often trying to schedule the day: let's go to the beach in the morning, then do X for lunch, then let's go to the pool ... I simply need to let go of that compulsion to schedule, at least for a vacation like a week at the beach.
Attend to the Moment. During my work-a-day week, I have sought to cultivate the ability to attend to the moment and the task at hand. My Photo of the Day project has helped me practice attentive seeing. This week at the beach, I have relied on that practice as I listen to my daughters' stories, notice the play of light on the ocean, and enjoy the smell of the beach. I have written before about the beach as a liminal space and the details of life at the beach. One of the important reasons I try to practice the habit of being present to the moment is that the disposition is then there when you need it most: when vacation time slips slowly away and life appears to pass too quickly.
One of the reasons why these strategies work for me, I realize, is that I don't feel the need to separate radically from my working life when I am on vacation. I am lucky to have a career I love, one that feels more like a calling than a burden. This too, was a matter of intentionally attending to the course of my life, which I take to be one of the primary purposes of living a philosophical life.
The practice of doing research under extreme time constraints as I taught a 400-level course on Critical Theory and served as Associate Dean brought a number of important affordances and limitations of digital research into sharper relief for me.
First, sharing reference collections on both Mendeley and Zotero has become integral to my work. My research assistant, Sabrina Aggelton, is able to locate, identify and organize articles and books related to my work into our shared collection where the texts themselves are immediately accessible to me. This allows me to make the most effective use of the often very limited research time I have. When I do have time blocked off, I can focus immediately on the texts most relevant to my project. Because Mendeley organizes pdf files so well into files on Dropbox for me, I have used the shared collections on Mendeley rather than Zotero for this purpose.
Second, integration of pdf files with the iPad is much improved over the past few months. Although Mendeley itself has an iPad/iPhone app, the application remains rather limited with respect to annotation, file transfer and even reading files on the iPad. I prefer to use Mendeley to organize my pdf files onto Dropbox, and then GoodReader with Dropbox integration to annotate and Evernote to take notes on the text. I often find myself reading via GoodReader on the iPad and taking notes on my laptop via Evernote. I have even been known to use Evernote on the iPhone when reading articles on the iPad, if I am on the go. This is not an integrated solution, but I find that having all my notes accessible and searchable in Evernote works fairly well.
Third, Mendeley is unable yet to compete with Zotero in terms of its integration with Word processors for citation styles. Mendeley does not yet support footnote citations in the Chicago Manual Style (my preferred method), so I return to Zotero when writing. This means that I need to continue to make sure that references added to Mendeley are entered in Zotero. Mendeley is able to read Zotero databases and display and organize pdf files from Zotero, but Zotero does not yet play with Mendeley in the opposite direction. Happily, it is extremely easy to add references to Zotero from the web, but still, this is an extra step when entering references.
I would like to consolidate all my references into a single program if possible. A few months ago, I thought that program would be Mendeley, but the announcement of Zotero Everywhere makes me think that Zotero might yet win that battle. Mendeley is ahead of Zotero in iPhone/iPad development and pdf file organization, Zotero ahead in terms of citation integration with Word processing. The future of Zotero depends upon its development of a stand alone desktop app and integration into web browsers beyond Firefox. It will also need to develop a software solution for mobile devices. I am not sure, however, that it sees itself as a pdf organizing program, so in this regard Mendeley may have the advantage.
As I reflect upon the state of my digital research ecosystem, I am encouraged by the increasing ease by which scholarship can be accessed and organized online. Not only do I have access to a huge number of digital resources through Penn State's excellent library, I also use Google Books and Amazon.com to access and gather references from hundreds of thousands of books. Happily, as I move further into my own administrative work, the resources that facilitate the academic research that remains of central importance to me continue to improve. They have, however, yet to mature to their full potential.
Today I received a box, and in that box were six objects with a certain degree of heft, a solidity I did not quite expect. The objects in question were copies of my new book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth.
It is difficult to articulate how strange it is to hold in one's hands the concrete manifestation of years of intellectual labor. It feels so ... mundane, so ... prosaic. It is a book, like the thousands of other books one finds all around one. And when you show it to someone, they celebrate with you a bit, saying how proud you must be, how great it is that this thing here is accomplished.
And of course, this is a book about Aristotle, indeed, about the nature of truth in Aristotle, not exactly the sort of book most people find easily accessible. So the discussion focuses, as it must, on the thing itself - this book here, which is so obviously something real ... not like those hours of work and thought in dialogue with commentators both long dead and still living.
But this thing here, this object, has in it those hours of intimate struggle, those moments of self-doubt and exhilarating insight. I can open a page and recall almost palpably where I was sitting when I wrote that, or what was happening in my life when, in the course of its development, that specific part of the book found the words to give it shape.
Strange now, though, that this intimate and very personal struggle is now a concrete something for others to share, if they so choose. And while I hope they do engage it in a substantive way, still, it is likely that the thing itself, this book here, is just a mile marker on a longer road that seeks to put words in the service of relational justice.
It is widely recognized among educators that student engagement is a key to academic success. Disengaged students erode the social dynamics in the classroom, have a negative impact on their peers and drop out at a high rates. Thus, it is no surprise that the desire to move students from a disengaged attitude to one of engagement has become a major goal of our pedagogical practices.
Of course, student engagement has many meanings. Engagement might be measured by certain behaviors, as when students write effectively and with nuance; it might be felt in certain emotions, as when students express excitement about the ideas they encounter; or it might be understood by way of certain cognitive activities, as when students demonstrate an ability to analyze and synthesize in sophisticated ways. (For a discussion of the different senses of engagement, see Harris 2008, 58-9).
Yet, despite its many dimensions, engagement itself seems too impoverished a pedagogical ideal. We ought to aspire to something more for our students and ourselves.
Let us move from the ideal of engagement toward that of genuine cooperation.
Strange as it sounds, focus on engagement remains too student centered. Its primary emphasis is on changing the habits, behaviors and attitudes of students, and often fails to consider those habits, behaviors and attitudes of faculty that close off the possibility of cooperative education.
Cooperative education takes seriously the social and reciprocal nature of teaching and learning. It recognizes that students, both individually and in the aggregate, have something to teach even as they have much to learn. It empowers teachers to relinquish authoritarian control, and encourages them to weave their expertise into the community of learning that emerges dynamically in the courses they teach.
Cooperative education understands that the teacher-student relationship is reciprocal, even if it is also asymmetrical. It is reciprocal insofar as students teach and teachers learn, but asymmetrical insofar as the teacher retains a certain privilege as one who has learned and thus has earned a certain expertise.
Cooperative education does not seek to elide this asymmetry, but rather, to invite teachers to carefully consider how their authority operates in the delicate ecologies of learning in which they participate. How we as teachers respond to this invitation is critical; for our authority is operative in everything we do. It can be used to close off discussion and shut down debate, or it can open students and, on our better days, ourselves, to new connections, richer and deeper insights and surprising discoveries.
Cooperative education, then, must cultivate certain excellences in those faculty and students committed to it. It will need to teach and learn openness, comfort with ambiguity, generosity and equity. It will need to affirm the value of difference, embrace diversity and seek common ground. It will need to be animated by mutual respect for the experience of students and for the wisdom of teachers. It will need to empower students to take ownership of their education and faculty to move from imposition to collaboration.
Cultivating these excellences is no easy task, but they can be learned, if they are practiced.
The American philosopher (who was also, I dare say, a Dean at Columbia University), Frederick Woodbridge, has articulated the sense of cooperation that informs this vision of education:
"There is cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge, an interchange of discoveries, opinions, and results, a communication which would put agreement in the place of disagreement. We are not left each to his own devices, but employ the aid of others" (Woodbridge 1940, 209).
For Woodbridge, this sort of cooperation is rooted ultimately in the human ability to work together with Nature in such a way that we are able to respond in meaningful ways to the world we encounter. The pedagogical significance of this robust naturalism is that we humans are deeply cooperative beings who naturally learn by working with one another in order to come to a deeper understanding of the world in which we live, together.
The references below are embedded from my Mendeley collection on cooperative education. It will be updated to reflect new resources as I discover them. This post was written as part of the Hacking Pedagogy project.
Cole Camplese and I were invited to be part of this year's Learning Design Summer Camp at Penn State. The presentation topic that was proposed to us was strong in and of itself, but when we got together to really flesh it out we thought we would try something that modeled the ideas we really wanted to cultivate in the PSU learning design community.
Both of us were very fond of the work done in the Hacking the Academy project at George Mason and wanted to explore how our own community could be part of a much larger initiative. When we really worked to explore our thinking, the Hacking Pedagogy concept was born. Although there is risk in depending on the community to collaborate with us in this endeavor, we felt the only way to truly model what a cooperative learning event could look like was to take that risk.
To move from a teaching practice centered on the pure dissemination of content from teacher to student to one rooted in truly cooperative practice should be the new ideal for us as a teaching and learning community. Our goal is to provide a kind of field guide that is cooperatively developed and edited over time so that we as a community of educators can draw upon the wisdom of this group. Over the next two weeks, culminating with a cooperative session at the Learning Design Summer Camp, we will ask you (the Internet) to share with us evidence that education can be transformed, that it can be designed to empower a shared sense of ownership among participants, that it can be improved when learning spaces are made into genuine learning communities.
We know this evidence exists across both the Penn State and social web. We know this because we read, listen, watch, and engage with it each and every day as we do our work. What we feel it lacks is a center of gravity that serves to coalesce it into a working resource that can be continually mined, edited, added to, and utilized to guide new forms of teaching, learning, and design practice. The recognition that we as a community have more to offer than each of us can contribute individually will guide our cooperative session at Summer Camp.
The content of this series will be created collaboratively in an attempt to perform the dynamic, open and responsive pedagogical practices for which it advocates. Such an approach recognizes the intimate, reciprocal relationship between theory and practice, process and product, student and teacher. The very processes by which the texts, podcasts, videos, and images brought together here are gathered, culled, edited, revised, discussed and disseminated afford us an educational opportunity. Our product itself will be a compelling expression of the power of cooperative pedagogy.
How to Collaborate
It is really easy to be a part of this ... we are simply asking you to lend us your content by tagging it with the tag psuhack across the social web or with the #psuhack on twitter. We will spend time looking through the submissions and see if we can identify a handful of overarching themes around which we can organize our content. At Summer Camp we will present the themes and introduce you to the loosely curated artifacts so that we can hopefully come to a shared vision of how to organize our publication. It is our hope that during Summer Camp you not only think critically about how this can impact your work, but consider adding new submissions live during the session.
Again, our goal is to both model the emergence of a cooperative learning environment and to create a living "field guide" that can serve as an ongoing form of inspiration as we go forward with our work. Even now, you can start to see the Hacking Pedagogy contributions flowing in by visiting the PSU Voices page. We talked a bit about it on ETS Talk 61 as well. Here is the feed from the most recent things being posted as "psuhack" on the Blogs at Penn State platform:
It seems that my quest to close the digital research circle has been joined by a few fellow researchers.
The idea is compelling and would not only save both time and paper, but would offer new opportunities for collaborative research.
In my post, Closing the Digital Research Circle, I outlined the basic structure by which we could download PDF files into a reference management system that would handle bibliographic data and manage the PDF files themselves. These libraries of files and data would be sharable with others, or made private. Notes could be take digitally, the files could be annotated and remained synced in the cloud so they are accessible across multiple devices. Finally, the bibliographical information would interface seamlessly with word processing programs so that the transition from gathering to integrating to processing research and, ultimately, to creating new work could be done dynamically and digitally.
Mendeley is being designed and developed by the people who made Last.fm, and the idea is to do for research what Last.fm did for music. What they have done for me, though, is offer an easy way to organize all my pdf files with their bibliographical information. They have also given me an easy way to create a digital vita with links to pdf files of my work accessible to those who visit my Mendeley Profile.
Mendeley has both a web interface and a client. Applications for the iPad, iPhone and Droid are being developed, at least according to William Gunn, who has been very helpful in introducing Mendeley to me. Having played a bit with Papers, Mendeley has much of the same file managing functionality and the same iTunes-like ease of use, but adds the dimension of bibliographic information and the ability to share libraries on the web.
The benefit of Mendeley over Zotero is that Mendeley also gives you the ability to annotate PDF files right in the program itself. The social side of it is also more dynamic than Zotero. The strength of Zotero over Mendeley is its ability to simply bring bibliographical information from the web via the Firefox web plug-in into your library. Zotero does this beautifully. Happily, Mendeley integrates well with Zotero and you can have your Zotero library sync with Mendeley.
So, we are now getting closer to the ultimate vision (although I am still thinking about how best to integrate ebooks into the process, but one thing at a time). Here is what I do now:
Download bibliographic information and pdf files into my Zotero library using the Zotero Firefox plug-in.
Sync with Mendeley to bring the Zotero information and the files into Mendeley.
Have Mendeley organize my pdf files to a folder on Dropbox.
Using the iPad Dropbox application, connect to the folder into which Mendeley has organized my files.
Pull up the paper, read it in Dropbox without annotation, OR
Using the Open In button at the top right, open the file in iAnnotate for the iPad and do annotations right there.
Sadly, to return the document to Dropbox, you will need to email it back to yourself and overwrite the file in Dropbox - this is the weak link at the moment.
So, we are getting closer here. I am very hopeful that a Mendeley iPad application will have adequate annotating capabilities and file managing abilities, but until then, this just might work for me.
Last month in a post about closing the digital research circle, I wrote about using the iPad to read, take notes on pdf files and integrate those files into a bibliography program. We are still some distance from the vision of the closed research circle, however, there are some positive new developments.
First, I upgraded my Zotero account by buying 1GB of storage. This allowed me to transfer all my citations along with their pdf files to the Zotero servers. This was a decisive step because now, when I access my Zotero libraries through the web, I can read the pdf files directly from the Zotero servers.
This is important because now through Safari on the iPad, I can access those files directly and read them right there on the iPad or iPhone, for that matter.
My research assistant, Josh Testa, and I have begun using a closed but shared group library to collect articles. He is gathering them together in the shared group, leaving me notes as to what he thinks is relevant in the article to the book project on which I am working, and I can view both the pdf files and his notes online.
I am still missing an integrated way to annotate the pdf files, but we are moving in the right direction here. The iAnnotate program on the iPad is improving, but the manner in which files are transfered remains unwieldy. What I really need is a way to pull the pdf files from the Zotero server onto the iPad, annotate them, and have them sync back up with the Zotero database. If the Zotero database functioned more like Dropbox does on the iPad, and if Dropbox had the functionality of iAnnotate built into it, then we would be very close.
As it stands, I am nevertheless excited to see how the group library Josh and I are working on will grow and, in particular, how this sort of collaboration will shape my work in unanticipated ways.
I have been looking for a way to close the circle of my digital academic research. The idea is to do rigorous philosophical research without paper, taking full advantage of cloud computing, the syncing of notes, articles, bibliographic information, and the ultimate production of academic work in a completely digital environment.
I took a decisive step in this direction when I adopted Zotero as my main bibliographic tool. Still, Zotero is bibliography software, and it does not facilitate the reading, note taking and organization of articles and books digitally on mobile devices.
Now, however, with the iPad, I am tantalizingly close to a process that closes the research circle. The problem is that there is no Zotero or Endnote for the iPad...yet. Even so, such bibliographic programs would need to add the functionality of PDF file and ebook reading and organization.
If they did, the research circle I envision might look like this:
Online library research would be directly downloaded as PDF files or ebooks into my bibliography database. It would sync with an app on the iPad and iPhone where I would easily read the text, annotate it, take notes, etc., all of which would stay with the digital article/book and it's bibliographic information. When I begin to synthesize my research, I would be able to search all my notes, which should be organizable via tagging. As I write, I should be able to pull the bibliographic information into my word processor, refer easily to my notes, pull up articles and books, and continue the circle of research and writing.
The TLT Symposium was a dynamic, vibrant and innovative event that used technology and face to face communication to engage participants - faculty, administrators and students - by challenging us to think critically and imaginatively about teaching and learning in a digital age. NCAT has been a rather traditional conference in which faculty and administrators rehearsed some of the ways course and program redesign have been able to "increase efficiencies" and "improve learning outcomes."
The contrast between the two gatherings was striking from the moment I began listening to Kay McClenney, Director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, give the opening keynote address at NCAT. Although she had a number of important reminders, most notably that engagement matters and that we "need to do education differently with technology," one point she emphasized struck me as unfortunate: "Students don't do optional."
This was infelicitous not only because it has become an oft repeated mantra at the conference, but also because it amplifies and reinforces what seems to be a common underlying assumption that students must be coerced to perform academically. This became palpably clear when McClenney reported the results of a survey of community college student attitudes in which 90% of students themselves say they have the motivation to succeed and 84% say they are academically prepared. The audience of administrators and faculty responded to these data with derisive laughter.
It is no excuse here, as I heard in one session, that we are inheriting twelve years of bad educational habituation. This was said in a session in which faculty were at a loss as to what else they might do to engage students in psychology beyond an allegedly innovative redesign in which frequent quizzing with random questions "at least gave the students the structure necessary to retain the information" they needed to proceed. Upon hearing this response, I was completely deflated.
Contrast this with the elevated sense of optimism I felt hearing the ways some my colleagues at Penn State and others, like our keynote speaker, Michael Wesch of Kansas State, are using technology to empower students to take ownership of their own education. The power of the models these colleagues are developing lie in the way they use technology to relinquish some traditional sense of faculty control in order to regain authority, as Wesch so nicely put it, through student discussion. To do this well requires recognizing that students have something to say and that they want to make their educational experience relevant.
Let me mention a two challenges in particular and suggest how three recent trends could in fact help cultivate abilities that help us meet these challenges.
First, they rightly recognize that "the role of the Academy - and the way we prepare students for their future lives - is changing" (4). Under this general heading, they emphasize that it is incumbent upon educators to "adapt teaching and learning practices to meet the needs of today's learners" (4).
The second challenge involves the manner in which digital media literacy (I would substitute "fluency" here) is becoming a "key skill" in every discipline and profession. Because of this, they go on to say that educators who do not help students develop digital media literacy skills are putting their students at a disadvantage. More specifically, they insist that "digital literacy must necessarily be less about the tools and more about ways of thinking and seeing, and of crafting narrative" (5).
The talk of "skill" here strikes me as too limited, for we are really speaking about a whole set of abilities, indeed, of actively cultivated habits of thinking, learning, acting and teaching. If we understanding the challenges as involving abilities in this more active sense, then the key trends in technology the NMC identifies can be seen as holding some of the keys to the very challenges we face.
Here is what I have in mind.
Take three of the main trends:
"people expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to;"
"the technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and ... decentralized;" and
"the work of students is increasingly seen as collaborative by nature" (4).
Current trends are leading us toward and habituating us to a digital world in which learning and teaching are ubiquitous, decentralized and collaborative.
It seems to me that if we can cultivate the habits of teaching and learning in such an environment, we will be well on our way to "adapting our teaching and learning practices to meet the needs of today's learners." I would insist, here, however, that faculty too should be included under the heading "today's learners."
If teacher and student alike can enter into digital community with one another in collaborative and dynamic ways, we can cultivate together the abilities to think and see things differently, to tell new narratives and to respond to one another in more relevant and productive ways.
It may just be that the key trends in social media technology are cultivating in us, when they are used in imaginative, innovative and nuanced ways, the very habits we will need to meet the challenges we currently face.
It is impossible to put the rich complexity of a unique human life into words, but sometimes, the articulation of a single idea can capture something of a life that might otherwise escape notice.
I did not know John Smith personally, nor do I have a deep familiarity with the breadth of his scholarship, but a single essay of his has had an important impact on me: "Being, Immediacy, and Articulation," The Review of Metaphysics 24, no. 4 (1971): 593-613.
Professor Smith died earlier this month; but it is only now, as I submit the final manuscript of my book on Aristotle and pause to reflect on the many sources from which that project grew and ultimately blossomed, that an insistent sense of responsibility compels me to articulate something of the influence Smith's essay has had on my thinking in that book.
In his essay, given originally as the Presidential Address to the 22nd annual meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America on March 19, 1971, Smith argues for this basic idea:
"articulation is not alien to Being, but, on the contrary, belongs to it essentially such that there is no a priori ground for the belief that articulation and distortion go hand in hand" (Smith, 594).
The recognition that articulation belongs to being, that what is lends itself to articulation, is central to my book, which attempts to argue for an understanding of truth as the ability to respond to and with the ways things express themselves. On the basis of this, I try to suggest that truth must be understood in terms of justice, namely, as the capacity to do justice to things by attempting to articulate them according to the way they express themselves.
Smith develops the idea that articulation is not alien to Being by distinguishing between: 1) insistence, which names the "primordial thereness" of things (597); 2) persistence: the character of lastingness - the fact that, as he so poignantly puts it, "every discriminable object has a career" (598) and 3) expression, which "involves relations among many individuals forming ... community" (598).
On the basis of these distinctions, Smith goes on to specify the meaning of articulation that allows us to understand the idea that "Being is not alien to articulation" in a way that does not reduce it to a naive optimism. Smith suggests that there are two dimensions to articulation:
"Articulation means the making of something distinct so that it stands out as an identifiable unit with its parts arranged in significant patterns."
"On the other hand, articulation means that the manner of making something distinct requires its being set in precise relations to other things" (602).
To put this in terms I develop in the book, there is always an insistent unicity expressed in articulation that requires us to recognize that although articulation belongs to being, something elusive is always also announced in articulation itself. Further, however, by emphasizing that articulation is relational at its root, Smith invites us to think the possibilities articulation opens for community without denying the insistent elusiveness endemic to our encounters with things.
In a certain sense, this is the invitation I take up in the book on truth in Aristotle, but more importantly here, it is what has animated this attempt to articulate something of the life of John Smith, even if it is a but a very small contribution to a much larger endeavor in which he and we participate.
After talking to trusted people, thinking things over and otherwise working through the transition I am making to Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the College of the Liberal Arts, I have decided to embrace the model that Dean Chris Brady uses over at the Schreyer Honors College at PSU and tweet in two voices.
Both twitter accounts will be written by me, but the LAUSDeanLong will be used to speak directly to undergraduate students, highlight the things we are doing in the Office of the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies in Liberal Arts, and reach out to alumni. LAUS is Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies. The cplong account will continue to be the more personal voice I have cultivated over the past few years of twittering. I hope many people will follow both voices.
Now, there is another transition I am making on this Long Road. It is time to allow my daughters to determine their own web identities, so I have asked them what they would like to be called as I talk about them online. We have determined that my five year old will be referred to here as ArtGirl because, as she says, "I am into art." My four year old will be "DancinGirl" as she loves to dance.
These changes reflect the changing dynamics of my web presence as I move into a new professional role. Although I will continue to blog about my life as a father here, I have started a new password protected Posterous account to chronicle some of our everyday activities. For those who are interested, please email me for the password.
One of the more important of the many unexpected benefits of
producing the Digital Dialogue is the feedback I have received from
friends who listen. In a strange way, the podcast offers me some
distance on myself such that I am able to hear certain suggestions and
comments about how I "appear" in public in a less defensive way. This
strikes me as an important insight directly related to the question of
the excellences of public dialogue. Appearing in public, appearing to
someone allows you to be reflected back to yourself in ways that are
revealing. If this reflection can be faced, it opens up the
possibility of self-transformation through/with others.
Let me be
more concrete: in the course of a discussion about the sound quality of
the podcasts, I have solicited feedback from those I trust. My wife,
Val, of course, is my most trusted advocate, adviser and critic, so it
was important to hear her suggest the difference between my philosophy
persona and my more informal and relaxed persona. We had discussed this
issue before, particularly as she began, early in our relationship, to
come to hear me give papers or lectures. It is not that I am a
different person, but that I have a way of talking when I am in my
teaching or professional mode.
When your podcast starts, I've seen you take on a very scholarly persona that is very intense and quieter (Dr. Christopher Long) than the person you are when we were brainstorming about your video and playing around (Chris).
It turns out, however, that this issue is becoming more complex for me as I turn my attention to my new role as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Liberal Arts. Not only do I need to think about how Chris relates to Dr. Christopher Long, but now too, we have this new fellow, Associate Dean Long. Of course, these three are also related to the person I am as a father and husband.
We have an ongoing discussion of these various identity questions on my little blog about blogging, Mapping the Long Road, and more questions are being raised in my mind than answers...
One of the great privileges of my summer faculty fellowship has been the opportunity to work with creative and thoughtful educators and designers who were able to help me think more holistically about my identity on the web.
I have been blogging here on the Long Road since June 10, 2007, attempting to give voice to certain dimensions of my personal, political, academic and teaching life. Over time, however, it has become clear that my attempt to "blog the philosophical life" involves multiple dimensions that are somewhat separate even if fundamentally integrated.
Perhaps this is simply the digital articulation of the deeper, existential question of personal identity.
In any case, the redesign of the website that we have rolled out in the course of the last few weeks grows out of an ongoing dialogue with all the great educational designers and IT managers at Education Technology Services, but in particular with two who deserve special mention and thanks here: Brad Kozlek and George Webster.
George has patiently and expertly worked with me to design the font, colors, look and feel of the site. He was always willing to change things I found problematic and willing too, to change them back when I realized that the way we had it first was best.
The design itself is based on this image of an antique map of the arctic I found online as I was searching for an inspiration for the colors and feel of the site. The map captured the spirit of the central metaphor around which the long road is organized: the attempt to chart in words the course of a life.
The long road is now composed of three blogs feeding a main home page, which serves as a pathway into the larger site. George worked with me to design the icons that go with each dimension of the site.
the long road is the site on which you will find my attempt to put things personal, political, remarkable and mundane into words.
digital vita is the site that gives voice to my academic life, including information and resources related to the various presentations I make.
One of the main purposes of redesigning the site was to host the Digital Dialogue, the podcast I developed during my faculty fellowship. The Digital Dialogue is designed to generate discussion around questions concerning but not limited to the nature of digital dialogue, its political possibilities, the excellences associated with it and the impact it might have on our pedagogical practices.
Alan himself wonders about what people walk away with after the presentation other than a long list of tools. He emphasizes that it is not about the tools and in the course of the presentation, it became increasingly clear that if you don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed by the shear number of possibilities out there, something important shows itself as the same story is told and retold: you begin to see that the medium in which a story is told determines the content of the story; the story itself changes by virtue of the form through which it is expressed.
This is a significant and important insight. It not only forces us to attend to the myriad Web 2.0 modes of digital expression that are open to us, but also, and more significantly, to ask how these modes impact the content we create, engage, critique and experience.
I could imagine an assignment for a class that points students to the 50+ Ways wiki and asks them to choose a mode of digital expression that most effectively and powerfully presents their content and then requires them to reflect upon the choices they made. This would encourage a critical engagement of the question concerning how form impacts content and content, form. One would need to emphasize that to divorce the question of form from content is impossible; that the more attentive one is to the intimate, complex and reciprocal relationship between form and content, the more effective, powerful and meaningful one's expression becomes.
After the presentation, we had a panel discussion (see picture above) that touched only the surface of the issues raised.
I have just finished listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on the Lincoln Presidency, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Although the book takes a largely uncritical view of Lincoln's political wisdom, it was compellingly told and insightful. What struck me most was the political power of magnanimity. Goodwin does not make this point explicitly, but it seems to me that the central friendship of the book, that between Lincoln and his political rival turned close friend, William Henry Seward, was rooted in the core virtue of magnanimity which both men embodied.
The magnanimity of Lincoln was revealed repeatedly throughout the story as Lincoln confounded rivals who under-estimated his ability to navigate the world of human politics. It was what allowed him to tolerate General McClellan's repeated challenges to his judgment and authority during the early stages of the war. It was what enabled him to draw on Salmon P. Chase's extraordinary ability to raise money for the war effort as Treasury Secretary even as Chase opposed him for the Republican nomination in the 1864 election. In these and many other cases, Lincoln acted always in a thoughtful, even manner, never allowing his anger to cloud his judgment or his understanding of the forces that animated his opponents.
William Henry Seward's magnanimity was of a slightly different sort: he seems to have been free of pretty resentfulness and vindictiveness. After losing the 1860 Republican nomination for President, which everyone expected him to win, Seward was able to find it within himself, despite this disappointment, to campaign vigorously on Lincoln's behalf in 1860. Many credit speeches he gave on Lincoln's behalf for the ultimate Republican victory that year. He then accepted Lincoln's nomination of him as Secretary of State (does this story sound familiar?) and became one of Lincoln's closest friends and most important political advisors.
Perhaps the strong friendship between these two men was rooted in the shard virtue of magnanimity. What strikes me as worth holding always in mind is that magnanimity requires a great deal of ethical imagination: the ability to imagine one's way in the position of another in order to gain insight into what animates that person. From this perspective, those initial impulses toward anger dissolve and new possibilities open for more productive modes of response. I will recall Seward and Lincoln as I make my way through the politics of the academy and everyday life, remembering not to respond in anger, but with empathy and magnanimity, for it is at once ethically generous and politically, far more effective.
I am beginning to notice something about my course blog for PHIL298H: Patriarchal Force and Political Power. As we discuss the material we have been reading for class and engage with one another online through the blog we are creating a communal document, a digital artifact of our work together this semester. I am struck by this more this semester because of the structure I am using in which we all co-edit one blog rather than each editing a blog of our own.
As students post and comment, as they add links through delicious to articles and online resources, we are developing a community of communication that is at once dynamic and lasting. I find myself responding to the ideas of the students more as I attempt to weave the themes found in the text into our discussion. I realize, however, that the blog format allows them to become partners in thinking and it forces me to respond in multidirectional ways that I find exhilarating and daunting at the same time.
The weekly round-up podcasts adds a completely different dimension to the class that forces us all to think of this as a common endeavor more than as a unidirectional process in which knowledge is transfered from teacher to student. I am not sure where we will find ourselves at the end of the semester, but I am beginning to feel like the journey, although to a large degree directed by me, will take us all into unexpected territory.
It is good to know that wherever it takes us, we will have an eloquent record that maps our progress.
I woke, this much anticipated morning, to the news of the death of a colleague. Professor Paul Lyons taught history, social work and holocaust studies for 29 years at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where I began my academic career. He was a man dedicated to social justice and committed to teaching young people to think critically about the world and to orient their lives toward the question of justice.
Paul's response to the attacks on September 11, 2001 was powerful: he collaborated with his fellow Stockton professor David Emmons to teach a course on the event. The power of this response lies in the thoughtful and expansive influence it has on future generations. In the wake of oversimplified, dogmatic rhetoric, Paul responded with a depth of historical understanding and a passion to engage students directly about an event that changed the course of our lives.
So, this morning, as we our attention to the future with the inauguration of the first black president, I also pause to remember all those teachers, like Paul Lyons, committed to orienting young people toward justice and opening the possibility of this moment.
I am currently slugging through what I hope are the last few chapters of a book on Aristotle and it is not easy going. Although writing has always been something I love--crafting sentences, considering the nuances of words, playing with metaphors and images--it is also one of the most difficult things my job and career demand of me.
This week, though, as summer comes to an end and the pressure to make significant progress has increasingly taken a toll on my psychological well-being, I was released from my self-imposed obsession with the minutia of Aristotle scholarship by two moments, one involving Hannah, the other, Chloe.
Yesterday, I was particularly frustrated as I emerged from my basement office after a day of writing and torment. The effects of it must have written on my face, because when Hannah saw me, she said, "Daddy, why are you mad?" When I told her I wasn't mad, just thinking about my writing, she said, "Daddy, I missed you when you were at work. I love you; you're my best Daddy. Do you want to sit with me and play?" It was a great gift, a reminder that forced things into perspective.
Heraclitus put it best: "A lifetime is a child playing … the kingdom belongs to a child" (fr. 52).
The other moment was also very touching. I often bring Hannah and Chloe to the Penn State library when I need to pick up something. They love to run through the stacks of books and play on the ancient elevator with the gate in front of the door. We were in a corner of the basement where the books on Ancient Greek philosophy are and I noticed my book, The Ethics of Ontology, sitting on the shelf. (Shockingly, it was not checked out!)
I picked up the book and asked Chloe if she could read the name on it. She was able to identify some letters and ultimately came to the surprising conclusion that the name on it was that of her very own Dad. "Oh Daddy," she exclaimed, falling into me with a huge hug, "you wrote that book all by yourself?!? I am so proud of you! That's great! And how did it get in the library?" When I explained that they bought it from the publisher, she said, "They bought it! I can't believe it. Your book is in the library."
Her pride and excitement were so affirming and genuine that I immediately felt the years of work that went into the writing of that book--and this one--come suddenly into poignant focus: this moment made it all worthwhile.
A Liberal Arts Education is committed to cultivating habits of thinking and acting capable of responding to the world in ways that open new possibilities for human community. It is oriented in part by what may be called the reading life and the writing life.
The reading life is animated by an attempt to enter into dialogue with the ideas, thoughts and actions of the past and present.
The writing life is animated by an attempt to contribute to the dialogue by synthesizing, criticizing and publicizing ideas, thoughts and actions capable of transforming the future.
Technology can play a powerful role in a Liberal Arts education by cultivating the skills associated with the reading and writing life. Here are some examples of how I have sought to mobilize technology to support the Liberal Arts education.
Podcasting the Reading Life
Locate an academic secondary source that presents an interpretation of the assigned section of Plato's Gorgias. Produce a podcast that summarizes the interpretation.
Stephanie Marek's podcast on the Gorgias with Casey Cox.
Find a picture on the web or take a picture that grows out of your experience reading the Oedipous trilogy.
Post the picture to your blog and write a post that explains how the picture relates to your experience with these texts. Present then a "reading" of the picture.
This year witnessed the death of Richard Rorty, an important American philosopher and good friend to my own teacher, Richard Bernstein. I embed here a YouTube clip posted by my colleague at Penn State, Phillip McReynolds, who is working on a documentary entitled American Philosopher.
The book to which many of those who appear in this clip refer is:
Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.