Emory Report

 September 8, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 3


Teaching, along with the intellectual community that nurtures it, is changing; we at Emory must squarely face this change

Methods of teaching are changing rapidly, as are the contours of the intellectual community that is the university. We need consider only briefly descriptions of the ways teaching and learning occur to recognize the possibilities and challenges presented by these changes. For instance:

A student finishes writing her "devil's advocate" response to a classmate's comments on the reading assigned for their Evolutionary Biology seminar the next afternoon. As she sends her response to the LearnLink conference her teacher has established for the course, she notes that it is 2:00 a.m. and that most of her classmates will probably join the on-line conversation in the morning.

Two young colleagues from different departments meet over dinner with a visiting professor from another university. They discuss the new anthology of essays and project designs they have agreed to develop for the increasingly popular interdisciplinary field of Human and Natural Ecology.

With students communicating with one another on the electronic bulletin board LearnLink and with faculty writing-nearly as fast as they teach-manuals for use in interdisciplinary classes, there can be little doubt that the nature of teaching is changing. The changes are many; they are subtle as well as profound and must be addressed across disciplines. We call attention to three areas of change in particular: the student population, the structure of knowledge, and the nature of faculty work.

Until the 1950s, Emory's student population was all male; until the 1960s, it was all white. Today the university has a diverse student body. In fall 1996, 55 percent of Emory students were women; 22 percent were members of ethnic and racial minorities. Religious diversity in our undergraduate program is much greater than it was even ten years ago. Beyond the mere fact of such diversity, moreover, its impact upon the intellectual community continues to be a topic of debate in many disciplines.

The structure of knowledge is changing; today many faculty find their disciplines and professions being rapidly and radically transformed. As Choices & Responsibility notes, academic disciplines are being redefined in their own right, and the rise of interdisciplinary programs in research and in teaching creates critical questions about the allocation of resources. The ability to communicate knowledge in a digital environment now allows us to conduct courses simultaneously at Emory and Oxford Colleges and to engage in scholarly exchange beyond classrooms, office hours, and discussion groups. On any given day, we can consult with colleagues around the world and extend the limits of our research well beyond our local libraries. Yet some faculty express the concern that students are more comfortable with images, media, and technology than they are with traditional texts. The import of the digital and disciplinary revolutions thus remains unclear.

The nature of faculty work is changing, as many authors recently have pointed out, the work that faculty do and are paid for has changed throughout history. While teaching and research remain constant activities, the structures, forms, and styles of these activities have been transformed, and the more nebulous activity of "service" sometimes seems to hold an uncertain but demanding place within faculty responsibilities. In Making a Place for the New American Scholar, Eugene Rice argues that the many institutional and intellectual changes of the last twenty years require the formation of "fresh conceptions of faculty work, ones that reunite institutional and personal endeavor and bring wholeness to scholarly lives." Rice's corresponding vision of "the new American scholar" is one that brings to the foreground "the scholarly work of faculty, whether they are engaged in the advancing of knowledge in a field, integrating knowledge through the structuring of a curriculum, transforming knowledge through the challenging intellectual work involved in teaching and facilitating learning, or applying knowledge to a compelling problem in the community."

One element of this fresh conception of the American scholar is a more nuanced, situationally responsive understanding of a faculty career. In Rice's vision, which we affirm, the career of a scholar is seen as "complete" and "connected." The complete scholar is one whose broad understanding of scholarship encourages him or her to concentrate on different facets of scholarship as personal and institutional situations warrant over the course of a career. The "connected scholar would be cognizant not only of the rights of a professor but of the responsibilities as well." Rather than focusing on the autonomous element of scholarly work, the connected scholar focuses on, and is rewarded for, the ways in which her work is connected to her community, institution, family, and colleagues.

This vision holds the potential for (although not the inevitability of) a more collaborative faculty: senior faculty encouraged to mentor junior faculty; junior faculty given the individualized support they need to develop as scholar-teachers; tenured faculty given special responsibility for maintenance of the intellectual culture and community; and an abatement of hierarchical differences between full- and part-time, tenure-track and nontenure-track, teaching and nonteaching faculty. In the new university, faculty would be encouraged to move among roles, trading autonomy and rank for greater flexibility and connectedness within the intellectual community as a whole.

Teaching is changing, yet it is difficult to anticipate fully, let alone adequately prepare for, inevitable changes. Innovations in the digital environment may well result in radical changes in the production of knowledge, the processing of information, and the nature of pedagogy. Nonetheless, responsible choices will have to be made about how Emory makes use of technological innovations. The digital environment is not the only area in which changes will occur. Teaching will continue to change with the increased diversity of the student and faculty populations and the evolving demands of the various professions. Institutional life in the university may look increasingly like an intellectual city rather than an intellectual village. We must endeavor to avoid an academic version of suburban sprawl, in which a lack of planning and foresight leads to compartmentalization and redundancy. Emory's greatest opportunity lies in its ability to preserve and transform its structures and culture. Responsible choices must be made, and the future must be shaped by clearly defined aspirations.

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