Blog Post

Sabbatical Musings

I am hoping this group can help me tease out some ideas for sabbatical next year. I am a music and new media professor at Alma College with a long history of interdisciplinary and collaborative teaching in music, music technology, communication and new media. For most of that history, I have really enjoyed the challenges of hands-on project work with colleagues and students exploring the tools and techniques for producing digital media (music production, video documentary, web design, music for film and animation, etc.). I won't go on describing my technical prowess but simply say that I have cracked open my share of manuals, tutorials, and researched best practices ad nauseum for the better part of 20 years. I admit to a certain level of "techno-lust". When my colleagues or students encounter me in a state of giddy enthusiasm, it is usually after I have mastered a novel Photoshop filter effect or debugged an interactive Flash project (fill-in-the-blank with any digital media software application and technique). Just as any self-respecting music performance major might strive to become, I thought I would be fulfilled by becoming a virtuoso on the new media stage. You have no doubt encountered the type--artistic and yet a geek at heart.

The only problem with acquiring all this mastery with tools is that I don't feel like I'm all that smarter for having done so. I don't mean smarter in the sense of being able to think logically or being able to trouble shoot problems. I've become pretty good at solving technical issues and offering creative solutions. What I mean is that while i've been so entrenched in teaching and learning "applications" I have missed out on some of the bigger issues and ideas that challenge the future of teaching and learning in a digital age. I am suddenly overcome with thoughts about what constitutes a college "course", the impact of social networks and knowledge communities, virtual spaces, cooperation theories... My music colleagues think I've lost my marbles. I'm mumbling to myself and quoting Henry Jenkins and Howard Rheingold. How did this happen?

Somehow, I have to get through this "what is my purpose in life" moment. I can't shake this nagging sense that I have to chart new territory. I have to find a way to bring new media, social networks, and some innovative collaborative structure together and create the conditions for a different kind of learning experience. I have this hazy dream of courses or learning units "emerging" from problems and questions raised mostly outside the academy. Rapid response teams of cooperative professionals, scholars, theorists, artists, students, and teachers mobilize and an architecture of participation is created. Then of course my traditional thinking gets in the way with not too trivial questions about hierarchy, ownership, and all the economic considerations.

Reading much of the content within HASTAC already eases my anxiety to a great extent. I look forward to learning more and entering a sabbatical year in 2008-09 with a renewed sense of purpose.






Dear RGR, How exciting to have a year to play with all these ideas! Are you thinking of spending it in Michigan or will you be relocating for the year? I ask because I've heard NEH is about to roll out a program of residences in digital media, but I think the timing won't quite work for next year. Not sure. I'm told the rfp will come from NEH this month or next.


In Michigan, you might want to visit Julie Klein at Wayne State, a HASTAC'er and also one of the great authorities on interdisciplinarity. She has done lots of experimental teaching and would be a good contact. At Michigan, there's Paul Conway and lots of other folks to talk to. I'll be back teaching next year and look forward to doing some strong online components, including having students do original research and contribute to a public forum such as Wikipedia with what they find. For music, the possibilities are endless. A frequent HASTAC contributor (who you can find in the blog log and respond to) is theraminist and computer software expert (he's literally written the book on a lot of this stuff) is Steve Burnet. He has ideas at a million miles per second--you might want to contact him and see if there are interesting connections. And also check out HASTAC on Ning where there are lots of people concentrating on pedagogy.


The fires that devastated so much of southern California have stalled some of our plans for HASTAC II but, if we still put it on in May, maybe you can join us and meet others there who are playing in the same fields you are. Good luck and keep us informed about what you are up to. All the best, Cathy


Cathy, I very much appreciate the leads. I will certainly follow up.

I plan to locate in Chicago and hope to work with faculty at Columbia College, DePaul University, and Northwestern if I can find folks with interest. I am from the Chicago area and did my masters work at DePaul. Also, there are so many wonderful resources for input from the arts organizations, museums, foundations, etc.

I would be very interested to learn more about digital media residences. I will certainly keep my eyes open for opportunities at the NEH and MacArthur sites.