Discipline and Publish: Faculty Work, Technology, and Accountability
Randy Bass (Georgetown University)
Plenary address delivered at the AAHE Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards
San Diego CA (January 22, 1999)
It occurred to me more than once in working on this presentation that my primary qualification for addressing you today is that I'm still employed. Last year, without a traditional record of scholarship, and in fact without a single traditional refereed article, I received tenure at an institution that requires such things, on a case built mostly on work with new media technologies. The journey to tenure for me was a pretty uncomfortable one. But I have not made it my topic today so I can vent about it, but because I believe that the ways in which it was uncomfortable are emblematic for some issues at the heart of the future of higher education, both because of the difficulties posed by working with new technologies and the problem of taking teaching seriously as an intellectual activity.
I have a new life motto that I've appropriated from the comedian Steven Wright that goes: "There is a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot." I am hoping to stay on the fishing side of that line by hewing close to my own experience. And in doing so, I want to use my experience to raise three questions:
Before taking up these questions I want to make something clear at the outset--and I want to make this explicit because it is a very weird and complicated thing to be standing up here and talking openly (but I hope not indiscretely) about one's own tenure process. I have no hostility or anger at my institution, Georgetown University. I am proud of its willingness to value my work, and moved by the convictions of my mentors and departmental colleagues who supported a case that was not easy to support. I am however filled with anger at an academic system that has left me scarred by a process that made it so difficult for me to take seriously --in nontraditional ways--the values and activities I thought it embodied.
- What is the impact of new media technologies on the nature of faculty work?
- What are some of the problems in valuing new kinds of work in the faculty reward process?
- And in what ways are new kinds of faculty work tied to values about teaching and learning in the academy?
As with any important journey there were several decisive moments along the way to tenure. I want to start by sharing three benchmark moments:
The first moment came in 1993--about three years into my tenure track appointment. It was at this point that I realized that I was hopelessly involved in a number of technology projects focused in my fields of literature, culture, and history. I was at a juncture where I had to decide what portion of my time I was going to give to this new work with instructional technology and what portion to my traditional scholarship. (Realizing of course that portions have a way of adding up to more than 100%). It was the best advice and urging of my mentors that my nontraditional work with new media would be valued as long as I could prove myself capable of doing traditional work--and should in essence do both. That would have been the wise route had it been possible to do excellent and extensive work in both areas. But I decided that wasn't possible, and that doing a little of both kinds of very different work would ultimately prove to be a trap. So, I decided then that I would stop pretending that I was going to write a traditional scholarly monograph on 19th-century American literature and at the same time continue to work on the technology projects; obviously I chose the latter.
The second key moment came in February 1996, when I received my teaching evaluations for the previous semester, the Fall of 1995. That semester had been the most technology-intensive teaching I had ever done, including my first ever (and Georgetown's first ever) freshman writing course taught in a networked computer classroom. That semester, many things went right, but many more things went wrong. One of the things that went wrong was that my teaching evaluations plummeted, something I now know is not all that uncommon for people making first immersive experiments with new technologies. Now very close to tenure--with my case wholly mortgaged to new technologies--this left me particularly vulnerable. I have come to refer to that semester simply as "the Fall" and tend to divide my whole career into two parts in relation to it--Before the Fall and After it. This is in many ways the central crisis point of my career. It was a moment when I felt as though I had lost all grounding as a teacher. I was completely surprised by the extent to which the integration of technology into my teaching changed the nature of my work and the nature of my interaction with students. I was also surprised at the extent to which it led me to ask completely new questions about why I taught the way I taught what I taught. This crisis moment then was followed by many months in which I tried to reconstruct myself as a teacher, needing to set my evaluations right, while at the same time rationalizing and integrating the use of technologies in my courses.
The third benchmark moment came in the fall of 1997, while preparing my materials for tenure, including my personal statement and a course portfolio documenting a year-long examination of one of these reconstructed courses. It was at this moment that I was just starting to sort out the questions that had been instigated by my teaching crisis, and came to realize how little I knew about how students learn in my field. This moment--which I will come back to later--was the turning point from thinking of "problems" in my teaching as a kind of failure, to seeing them as sites for ongoing intellectual investigation. Here there was a convergence between the ways that new technologies forced a rethinking of some basic parts of my disciplinary methods and my need for a framework to make ongoing sense of that rethinking--what I now can think of as a scholarship of teaching.
At the same time that this journey was taking place, I was spending a lot of time working with faculty across the country on ways to use-and think about-the integration of technology into teaching. Over the last five years, both on my own and in collaboration with other projects like the "New Media Classroom Project" and the TLT Group with AAHE, I have worked with probably a couple thousand faculty from a few hundred colleges and universities. And in this work I have developed some sense of the impact of technology on faculty work-and the willingness and unwillingness of faculty to welcome new technologies into their teaching lives. From this exposure, two things have become abundantly clear to me: first, I am both stunned and often moved by the disconnect between the desire of faculty to do new things, engage in new kinds of work, and test pedagogical innovations, on the one hand, and on the other, the constraints on those desires--both by the institutional environment and their own self-policing; second, I now believe very deeply that however long it takes us to get wired--i.e., to have internet in classrooms, adequate computers on faculty desks, etc--however long that takes, it will come way before we understand the impact of that technologization. To put it more simply, I now believe that we are going to be wired way before we are going to be smart. (Unfortunately it will be the great challenge of the first decade of the 21st century not to confuse being wired with being smart. Consider for example, the slightly odious phrase "smart classroom." What do people mean when they use the phrase "smart classroom"? They mean merely a classroom that has been fully wired. And I fear the challenge of not making that conflation will be even greater, because it will be a little like the "Emperor's New Network"--who will want to admit, after a katrillion dollars of investment, that getting wired wasn't the hard part?)
The hard part will be figuring out what the paradigmatic possibilities are for the impact of new technologies on education. That's not to say that there aren't tons of great teachers out there, many of them doing interesting and gutsy things with new technologies and other innovative pedagogies; the problem is that we won't really understand the impact of technology on education until we know more about learning at the collegiate level. What I see in my own work, and what I see all the time across the country, is the inability of faculty to know how to restructure and reinvent in light of new technologies, not only because we know so little about the underlying processes of teaching and learning, but because the environments in which we are trained, and for the most part in which we do our work, condescend to the idea of paying attention to these processes as legitimate objects of investigation. This is an intrinsic quality of the academy, and it becomes internalized by us, its practitioners, despite our best intentions otherwise.
II. PUBLIC SPECTACLES
At this point, I should probably explain my title "Discipline and Publish." Most people in literary and cultural studies would recognize "Discipline and Publish" as a joke, a joke which I'm quite confident will no longer be funny once I've explained it.
The title alludes to a landmark work by the cultural historian Michel Foucault, called Discipline and Punish. Foucault's book is an institutional history on the birth of the modern prison. In the book, Foucault traces a transition from the early 18th century, where public spectacles of physical torture are still an intrinsic part of the penal system in Europe, to the creation of the modern prison, where the State discovers a variety of new ways to control the bodies and behavior of transgressors.
The most memorable image from Discipline and Punish is a late 18th century model prison called the panopticon. Designed by the British utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, the panopticon entailed a structural design in which the cells of the prisoners were built in a circumference or perimeter, with a watchtower in the center. The prisoner's cells are open and exposed to the tower. The critical element of enforcement in the panopticon's design is the constant threat of being watched. In fact, according to Foucault, it is the unrelenting act of surveillance that disciplines the behavior of the prisoner.
So, what does innovative prison design have to with the faculty reward and tenure system? Possibly from my talk so far the connection is self-evident, but let me spell it out.
First, to be perfectly literal about it, I want to analogize the tower at the center of the panopticon to the tenure process itself. That is, in the grand architecture of the academy, beginning in graduate school, and continuing at least through the day that one receives tenure, there is an imposing, mostly silent, force whose effect is to discipline the behavior of faculty.
Second, the panopticon has both a literal and symbolic force for Foucault. The ability to discipline and control behavior simply through a design that poses the threat of being watched is just one expression of the ways that institutions maintain their influence through indirect, diffuse, and often invisible means. As Foucault puts it:Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. (201)In likening the academy (and the tenure and reward process) to Bentham's Panopticon I am not trying to be melodramatic by comparing faculty to inmates, nor by comparing the disciplining of their behavior through the vigilance of the reward system to incarceration. (Though I will admit there might be something mildly therapeutic about that-it is not my primary purpose). I am however trying to stress the degree to which systems of faculty reward (especially but not limited to tenure) shape and control the professional activity of faculty, beginning with the socialization of behavior that begins in graduate school.
And furthermore, by this analogy I want to stress the connections among three ideas:
If I may quote Foucault one more time. Here he is speaking on Bentham's design as a "mechanism" which could be applied to all kinds of contexts in which compliance was desired. Foucault says,
- the condition where one's behavior, or work, is visible,
- the exercise of institutional discipline over that work in part because of its visibility, and
- the degree to which faculty internalize and carry the burden of that discipline themselves.A real subjection is born mechanically from a fictitious relation. So it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behaviour, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application, the patient to observation of the regulations.... He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection. (202-03)The idea that faculty are "subjected to a field of visibility" is in some ways highly ironic, in that "visibility" in one's scholarship, one's professional repute, or the capacity of a faculty member to raise the visibility of his or her institution, is all something to be desired. In scholarship, the "field of visibility" is the engine behind faculty productivity in scholarship and research, i.e. the idea of "being watched" motivates and structures faculty work, but also limits and disciplines the kind of work they do. But with teaching, this has worked a completely different way. With teaching, visibility has generally been closely tied to accountability, and often in negative ways. Traditionally, one's teaching is institutionally visible under only one of two conditions: it is visible to your students, and then public through their course evaluations, and then the scrutiny of those evaluations in the reward process; it is visible when it is being "watched" and evaluated by colleagues for review, often in an invasive and uncomfortable process.
In a sense, teaching takes a double hit: first it holds a distant second place in graduate training; and then in employment, even in largely teaching institutions and where good teaching is highly valued, the close tie between visibility and accountability narrows and inhibits faculty innovation and the way it is regarded as an intellectual enterprise.
It occurred to me several years ago that most institutions of higher education are unfriendly environments to pedagogical innovation. They are unfriendly--perhaps even hostile--to innovation in teaching and learning, in inverse proportion to the extent that they are nurturing of innovation in intellectual thought, research, and scholarship. This has always reminded me of when someone asked Mark Twain if he had a choice, would he rather go to Heaven or to Hell? Twain said: "That would be a difficult decision, as you would have to seriously consider Heaven for the climate and Hell for the company." The climate is definitely balmier doing what you have always done, teaching as you were taught and as others are teaching; and although there is definitely something stimulating, even sensual, about keeping company with innovation, the atmosphere is usually more hellish.
It is then with this conjunction in teaching between visibility and accountability--often in a punitive sense--that I want to make the pivot from Foucault's panopticon to the realm of new technologies. Last year there was an essay circulating on the Internet by the historian David Noble called "Digital Diploma Mills," which was something of a jeremiad against the technologizing of the higher education curriculum, which he primarily understood as the process of "putting courses online." Ranging from healthy skepticism to paranoia, Noble's essay raises the specter of the Internet as an administrative panopticon:Once faculty and courses go online, administrators gain much greater direct control over faculty performance and course content than ever before and the potential for administrative scrutiny, supervision, regimentation, discipline and even censorship increase dramatically.... The technology also allows for much more careful administrative monitoring of faculty availability, activities, and responsiveness. (6)This is visibility as accountability with a vengeance: For Noble, making teaching visible through the Internet leads inevitably to commodification, surveillance, and control.
But, even if we grant some possibility to Noble's fears, I think we have to ask, What is there to be gained from making teaching visible in new ways? Do new technologies offer merely an invasive public window into a private pedagogical sphere or something else?
How one answers these questions depends a lot on what one means by teaching. Is teaching the content of the course or the process and interaction of its unfolding? Is it the materials of instruction or the aggregation of instructional moments? Is it a product or a process?
(Or to use a phrase near and dear to this conference's and AAHE's heart, is teaching community property or intellectual property?) The idea of "making teaching community property" originates from Lee Shulman, now the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. That idea hinges on another distinction which he made in a plenary session here a couple of years ago. As he puts it, "Too often teaching is identified only as the active interactions between teacher and students in a classroom setting (or even a tutorial session). I would argue that teaching, like other forms of scholarship, is an extended process that unfolds over time."
Regardless of how one sees teaching, something happens to it, and the faculty work associated with it, when it makes extensive use of new technologies. In thinking about this, I have found it useful to consider the distinction between two kinds of work in which faculty engage, the local and the cosmopolitan, two terms I first heard Gene Rice apply to higher education institutions. Faculty spend most of their time engaged in local work--teaching, advising, committee service. Yet, in many institutions, a significant part of the reward process (and in some cases a disproportionate weight in the reward process) is based on cosmopolitan work: scholarship, research, publication, nationally visible work. Such work is cosmopolitan because it is visible, public, portable, and appropriable by other people in the field.
But when teaching goes online and is made publicly accessible through new media, the line between local and cosmopolitan work becomes blurred.
New media technologies make teaching public and cosmopolitan in a number of ways. One way is by using new media as a vehicle for distributing course materials:
-One example is a vehicle like the World lecture Hall, which many of you will be familiar with. The World Lecture Hall is an extensive index to courses on the Web, where faculty can "self-publish" and disseminate their own online course materials. (Of course, in a piece of excellent advice, my mentors advised me "never use the term 'self-publish' in the tenure process."). The courses pointed on the Web through resources like the World Lecture Hall, vary from simple collections of teaching materials, syllabi, quizzes, and so forth, to more extensive "whole courses online"such as this well known example of a microbiology course that goes by the name "the microbial underground." The microbial underground, like a rapidly growing number of other such sites on the Web, offers a complete package of content and course materials, complete with tutorials and study guides. There are of course many other courses I could point to where not only the materials are available for public consumption but the actual unfolding process of the course, complete with views into the online interactive communication spaces. In these cases, teaching, both as content and as process, become publicly accessible.
-Still another example, one that even further expresses the cosmopolitan nature of curriculum published on the Internet is the Virtual Geography Department. An NSF funded project out of University of Texas, Austin, the Virtual Geography Department is not only a place where geography teachers and students can access resources related to the Geography curriculum, but it is a place where geography faculty from any kind of institution can contribute curriculum modules. When a teacher contributes a module, it is sent to an editorial group according to what kind of geography it is. That groups vets it initially and then on approval puts the module in a testing area, inviting geography teachers around the world to test and use it. When the module has received feedback and been revised, it is then put in the curriculum library and made a permanent part of the online materials.
I think it is easy to see how this is an excellent example of new media facilitating one dimension of making teaching community property by providing a place where faculty-produced curriculum can be peer reviewed, critiqued and disseminated. On the other hand, one can also imagine potential conflicts with seeing teaching as intellectual property, especially as more and more materials are developed under a particular funding aegis or are marketed as proprietary course materials in a distance learning curriculum.
New media technologies make teaching visible, public, and cosmopolitan in other ways as well. For example, by enabling breaches in the rigid boundary between scholarship and teaching, and the creation of hybrid projects that integrate teaching into all different kinds of faculty work.
One example of this is a project created by Brian Coppola, a Pew Scholar with the Carnegie Project, and who himself received tenure in a department of chemistry at a Research I institution, without a traditional research record, and on the basis of a scholarship of teaching. The project on Chemical Sciences at the Interface of Education combines the idea of a discipline-based scholarship of teaching --at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, with the flexibility of electronic networked spaces as a way to make visible the intellectual activity within teaching, including the connections between faculty practice and developmental student learning.
Another example of this was my own American Studies Crossroads Project. I created and have directed the Crossroads Project since 1994. At the center of the project is a comprehensive set of online resources for the study of the United States, including professional resources for the international American Studies community, the organization of indexes to scholarly resources, the creation of curriculum and faculty development materials, and the coordination of an ongoing research project in which 30 faculty developed case studies documenting their experimentation with new technologies in the teaching of culture and history. The Crossroads project, in many ways, crossed all three traditional categories of publication, teaching, and service, I invoked all three Boyer categories other than the traditional scholarship of discovery in putting it forward for tenure. I will ever be grateful to my mentors at Georgetown for their willingness to argue, in their words, that the Crossroads project was "the equivalent of, but not like, a book."
That strategy was meant as a way to negotiate what I think of as the "double bind" of faculty work with new technologies that has to argue both equivalence and difference. That is, the double bind of arguing on the one hand that new kinds of work are just like other more traditional kinds of work, they just happen to be in a different medium; and on the other hand the idea--and often the fact--that new kinds of work, because they are in a different medium, are different kinds of work. Unfortunately, as a publication, the Crossroads Project, (like many others I could show you in digital form) commits all kinds of sins: it is -- to use the "s" word, "self-published"; it is highly collaborative; it is never "finished" but ongoing; and it is very difficult to locate in its boundaries and extent. Of course, in the tenure process, I suspect that the fact that the site receives about 100,000 user contacts a month only further damaged its credibility as viable work.
My broad point is that new media technologies, in posing possibilities for new kinds of faculty work, in leading them to make new choices and to rethink assumptions, and in making teaching public and cosmopolitan in new ways, has the potential of having the opposite effect that David Noble predicts.
In this sense, there is a real affinity and indeed connection between the public and hybrid nature of new media, and the principles of the movement for a scholarship of teaching. The idea of a scholarship of teaching is to argue that there is not merely a scholarly component in teaching, but that there is a kind of scholarship in which teachers can engage with their own teaching. Again, as Lee Shulman puts it, "For an activity to be designated as scholarship, it should manifest at least three key characteristics: it should be public, susceptible to critical review and evaluation, and accessible for exchange and use by other members of one's scholarly community." As we have seen new technologies can encourage and display faculty work in directions congruent with all three of these characteristics.
The scholarship of teaching--in all its forms--reverses the force of the academic panopticon by turning the "field of visibility" that has traditionally been the agent of faculty self-subjection, into an intentional activity, by which faculty make dimensions of their teaching public, by asking their own questions about practice and treating teaching as intellectual work.
The idea of a scholarship of teaching grows both historically and logically out of peer review of teaching, and teaching portfolio practices with which so many of you in the room are involved. For me, as someone who came through the process the hard way, on a campus with little peer review of teaching, and nothing like teaching portfolios, the idea of a scholarship of teaching was a revelation that immediately helped me make sense of the ironies that came out of doing different kinds of work.
Nothing more symbolizes those ironies for me than a conversation I had with one well-meaning and concerned senior colleague after I had received my low evaluations back in my crisis semester of 1995. He said, "If your evaluations had gone down because you were finishing a book that was being published by Oxford, then everyone might understand that. But the fact that your evaluations dropped because you were trying to do something pedagogically innovative, well that is going to be a very tough sell."
And in fact he was right.
III. A PROBLEM OF MY OWN
What saved me both personally and professionally was the process of reflection and redesign I went through as I resolved to make every course component intentional. That is, I tried to articulate for myself the reasoning behind every aspect of my courses, especially the connections between technology and discipline-based pedagogy. In doing so, I found myself asking questions about student learning I had never asked before. For a decade I had had good success as a teacher--positive feedback, strong evaluations, evidence (anecdotal and otherwise) that students were learning something in my courses. Yet, I now realized I knew very little about why certain students did better than others. Or, more generally, I knew very little about how students came to know the material I was teaching. Ever since graduate school I had taught mostly the way I had been taught, and tended to replicate the pedagogies that worked best--quite frankly--on me (or slight variations of me). Now that I was trying to change my teaching radically, those naturalized teaching methods and the assumptions behind them were exposed to be without any clear scaffolding or support by the evidence of learning, however sound or useful some of the approaches were.
In asking myself questions about my teaching and learning goals, in the context of student work and learning, one of the issues I first had to confront the issue of coverage . In an introductory literature course I traditionally would teach a book a week totaling about 10 or 12 books. I asked myself, how many books are students really reading? If I am teaching, 10 books, then I guessed that the best students were reading 8.5 books; the average student was reading about 6; and everyone was spending a whole lot of time making it look like they were reading the material they weren't. So, I decided to cut the number of books down to five, and to work with these fewer texts more in new and different ways and more deeply. This was extremely difficult for me, as like most of the teachers I ever encounter, I suffered from a common malady--what Stan Brimberg at the Bank Street School calls "Anupholsteraphobia": "the fear of not covering the material."
Anupholsterophobia cannot be cured, but it can be controlled.
And in part I found that the means to its control was through a deeper reflection on what I knew and didn't know about how students developed what Howard Gardner calls a "deep understanding" of my subject. Looking at my discipline through my own eyes only, I assumed that "understanding" was equivalent and coextensive with mastery. I assumed that students in a course achieved understanding by replicating a partial and incomplete version of mastery (a mimicry of mastery) in the space of a semester. Upper division majors were just farther along in this journey of mastery, with the depth of their mimicry ever more convincing.
Either way, I imagined that every student, freshman or senior, major or not, was engaged in some version of the mastery of knowledge model that in its completeness was designed primarily to produce English teachers. It was only by "virtue" of my crisis that led to a reconstruction that I found myself looking critically at this model for the first time. For example, I realized I didn't know really if the better students in a course who demonstrated a real understanding of the material by the end of the semester were actually acquiring that understanding in my course, or were merely the percentage of students who entered the course with a high level of background and aptitude. Similarly, I realized I didn't really know if the students who I watched "improve" from their early work to later work were really understanding the material and the paradigm from which I was operating, or merely learning to perform their knowledge in ways that had adapted to my expectations. (Or, for that matter, I wasn't sure if there was any meaningful difference between understanding and performing understanding).
As the "crisis" part of this story resolved, and my evaluations returned to tolerable levels, I turned to the task of documenting what I had learned, trying to write it up in a "course portfolio." When I focused on what was happening in my courses, I was struck by the thinness of resources on which I could draw for help in understanding how to analyze the nature of understanding in my discipline. I realize now that the gaping quality of my questions was rooted in both the nature of teaching itself and the culture of the academy. Grant Wiggins puts it well in an essay, entitled "Embracing Accountability":
Teaching, by nature, is an egocentric profession in the sense Piaget used the term: we find it difficult to see when our teaching isn't clear or adequate. We don't easily imagine how what is so obvious and important to us cannot be equally so to novices. Combined with our strong desire to cause learning and to find any evidence of success, we are prone to unending self-deception. How easily we hear what we want and need to hear in a student answer or question; how quickly we assume that if a few intelligent comments are made, all students get the point. This is the tragic flaw inherent in trying hard, and for the right reasons, to get people to understand and value what we understand and value. It then often doesn't occur to us that students are trying equally hard to appear knowledgeable (5).
My journey that had begun with a crisis had progressed to a problem. The ending had become a new beginning where I now had a broad set of questions I wanted to investigate over the next several years, in the context of my teaching.
For me, these questions come back to the issues of teaching for understanding and the match between vision, practice, and outcomes. Let me briefly describe one dimension here. This is what I came to call in my own practice the "inverted pyramid." In reconstructing my courses, asking myself how students come to understand what they do led me to a set of subsidiary questions. I asked myself what specifically were the four or five learning goals that I had for students in a particular course? Then I asked myself:
- What did I really believe (and what did I know) about what percentage of students were achieving all of the goals, some of the goals, one or two of them?
- If I had to pick one of these learning goals or outcomes as the one thing that students might retain from this course after leaving it, what would it be?
- Thinking about that one goal, then, could I honestly say that I spent the most amount of time in the course teaching to the goal I valued most?
I think of this as the "inverted pyramid" because in the schematization of my own teaching I perceived that I had my process upside down. That is, I decided (without going into any of the specifics here) that I spent the least amount of time teaching to the kind of understanding I valued most. I was teaching a whole range of subsidiary goals on the assumption that they would "add up" to the kind of paradigmatic understanding that I brought to the subject (the goal of mastery that builds on a wide base and narrows to the destination of paradigmatic understanding). If this was the best way to teach prospective majors, or the students in a class most likely to take more courses in the subject, I had no evidence of that; nor especially did I have any evidence that it was the best way to teach all students, especially the novice learners being introduced to the subject, and those who might possibly never take another American literature course again.
Now that I'm in a position to set my own agenda, I am particularly interested in this problem as a focus for my scholarship of teaching, as I try to learn more, semester by semester, not only about my students' entering knowledge, but how their self-awareness of learning might help them develop a deeper understanding of certain disciplinary principles more quickly and meaningfully. Without going on about this any more, suffice it say that I feel as though it is only now that I have the perspective, the freedom and intellectual focus to make this ongoing investigation of my teaching a comfortable and integral part of my professional life.
I emphasize this latter point in part because I want to reinforce what I said at the beginning. For me, this story is not a "feel good" story, because at no time in this process did I feel good. What was so uncomfortable was the way in which the faculty reward system, and my academic training in general, had left me so little room to move, and made the exercise of turning toward the problems of teaching, knowledge, and new technologies, feel so incredibly stressful and punitive. And it is not just a discomfort I feel for myself, but a discomfort and frustration I feel for the faculty I work with across the country who have the motivation but not the institutional space to try new things; I'm frustrated for the faculty whose institutions are going through infrastructural changes that will ultimately alter the paradigms of teaching and learning but who have little tools or common discourse to shape these changes, nor any other way to imagine them except within the framework of taking the burden on themselves--not only the burden of getting it done, but a self-subjecting burden that it has to be gotten right.
I am often reminded when I'm at one institution or another of one of my favorite passages from Jane Tompkins' book A Life in School. It is the section late in the book where she is lamenting how her students at Duke University can only imagine for themselves a very narrow range of possibilities and pathways through life. She says,This last point, the students' sense of not being agents on their own behalf, troubles me the most. I think it's the result of an educational process that infantilizes students, takes away their initiative, and teaches them to be sophisticated rule followers. Of course, as professors, we don't see the ways in which what we do as teachers narrows and limits our students: for we ourselves have been narrowed and limited by the same process. (209)I now believe that the most significant missing piece in the faculty development and reward process is similar to what has too long been neglected in the analysis of teaching: i.e., a serious attention to learning. Not just student learning, and the ways that teaching produces learning, but faculty learning. Taking both student learning and faculty learning seriously is the only way to escape from the "egocentrism" that Wiggins talks about. That is, if it takes a deliberate act to see the classroom from the learner's perspective, then it is going to take some comparable set of acts--individually motivated and communally validated--to begin recognizing faculty achievement from the perspective of faculty learning.
I want to conclude by sharing an email I received last fall from a student who had taken my American Literary Traditions Course the previous spring--one of these reconstructed courses that came out of my teaching crisis. The final projects in this class had been comprised of Web based hypertext projects on, among other things, connections between books like Toni Morrison's Beloved and a wide variety of writings and electronic resources on the holocaust. John's project in particular focused on the experience of children of Holocaust survivors, and he dealt in part with a piece called "Abe's Story"--the story of the holocaust experience of a man named Abram Korn. John was particularly interested in Abe's son, Joseph Korn, who had left his job as a successful businessman for five years in order to recover his father's story. Here is what he wrote:One of the most frequent themes in the lives of the children of survivors is the desire to keep the memory alive. The life of Joseph Korn is one such example. Joseph now lives in Augusta, Ga where he recently edited and published Abe's Story, a collection of his Father's memoirs. Joseph had been a successful businessman in the autoparts market. Yet, there was this sense of having neglected something vitally important. When it became possible to do so, Joseph sold his company to focus all of his attention on the compilation of his Father's memoirs. This brought a sense of history and completeness that was necessary for Joseph to feel that he had done his part to keep the story alive.Here is the email John sent to me:
I thought you might be interested in this E-mail I received today. Apparently, people are accessing the web projects we did as part of American Literary Traditions last spring. I was excited to think that someone outside of Georgetown had looked at my project. I just thought you would enjoy knowing that people were looking at our projects. I hope you are having a great fall.
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Date: Sun, 19 Oct 1997 18:05:53 -0400 (EDT)
I recently received an email from someone who told me about your page
that has info on my work with Abe's Story. I just visited the page and
I am honored that you have chosen to post this. I think you summarized
my story pretty good. Keep up your important work of keeping the stories alive.
I'd love to hear from you.
Ok. This is a feel good story. (Or perhaps I should say a "feel well" story.) It is also what I would call a "microsoft moment." Here is a powerful example of new media as the engine of a public pedagogy--a pedagogy in which the project itself transgressed the boundaries of the classroom; it made a powerful connection between student work and a real world authentic consequence; and it represents the lasting impression of a course-based activity enduring beyond the episodic curtain drop at the end of the semester.
And yet at the same time I've always felt very ambivalent about this note. Because of its very innocence and authenticity, I always felt that at the heart of it was the potential for a "self-deception" that lies in front of us on the cusp of the 21st century: the note reminds me of examples I see all the time in educational technology hype that mistake or generalize an exceptional tiny moment of triumph as evidence for wide ranging systemic change; it reminds me of all the ways that certain romanticizations of teaching have long served as decoys for institutional environments that don't tolerate faculty experimentation or struggle.
Believe me: I love this letter and I savor it .
But insofar as this letter might stand in for all that I've been saying about how we'll do what we do into the next century, I just want to be sure that in its exquisite visibility, what gets seen does not erase what gets hidden.
Please do not reproduce without permission from the author.
Please forward all comments and critique to Randy Bass (Georgetown University).
A portion of this talk also appears in Inventio, an online journal for the scholarship of teaching, at George Mason University.