Blog Post

Learning from Danica Savonick

I believe I taught my first class as a graduate student before Danica Savonick was even born. Yet, Savonick—and other emerging scholars—have much to teach those of us whom have been in the classroom for many years.

Savonick is a graduate student at the City University of New York and is actively involved in the Futures Initiative and HASTAC among other professional activities. Like many emerging scholars, Savonick has taken advantage of various digital technologies to share her research and teaching methodologies with others.

Last Spring semester, Savonick posted the syllabus for her “Introduction to Narrative: Narrative, Fantasy, and History” course outside of a password protected course management system so that anyone could see it. In her syllabus, Savonick explains to her students that “In this class, we will explore the ways in which our lives are structured by narrative and suffused with fantasy, paying careful attention to how understandings of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and nationality all emerge through contested and conflicting narratives.” These are important issues, but they are not issues around which I would choose to organize my composition classes. Yet, Savonick has had a positive influence on how I teach composition.

For example, Savonick organizes her class around a series of questions that I now use—giving her proper credit—when I teach narrative. And while most of Savonick’s required readings are not relevant to my class which has educational issues as its theme, I now screen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story;” a TED talk introduced to me by Savonick.

Savonick’s willingness to share her syllabi and other teaching materials is not unique when it comes to many emerging scholars whom have embraced the benefits of digital technologies. Roger Whitson, an Assistant Professor at Washington State University with whom I became Facebook friends about three years ago routinely posts links to his syllabi. At one point, I would have argued that I only look at his syllabi for academic reasons because I am interested in—but do not teach—the topics he covers with his students. Yet this is no longer true.

After reading New Media: 1740-1915 (2003), one of the books Whitson taught a couple of years ago, I developed a presentation for my film class that focuses on The Lonedale Operator (1911) and a unit on telegraphy for my nineteenth century American history class. In both of these presentations, I cover specific course related content I learned through Whitson while better teaching research strategies and critical thinking skills that are very important for my students to develop.

Many emerging scholars are now blogging their research. Since I first met Nick Sousanis at the 2011 HASTAC conference, I have been following the progress of his research, dissertation, publication of Unflattening (2015), and current research while reading his blog Spin, Weave, and Cut. I have begun to follow other scholars such as Kalle Westerling whom I met at the 2015 HASTAC Conference simply because I am interested in their topics; not because I expect to teach their content. Even though I don’t intend to teach the work of most of the emerging scholars I follow, I have already incorporated a visualization that Westerling published yesterday into some of the teaching materials I am preparing for the upcoming semester.

Although their content provides quality examples we can incorporate into our own classes, the willingness of emerging scholars to share their work—including work in progress—is one of the more important things that more senior faculty can learn from them. Professors of my generation were not taught to share. We did not have the technologies to easily share. As a graduate student, I did not have the option of uploading my syllabus to a free website and then posting a link to it on my Facebook page; the process Savonick used to share her syllabus.

Several years ago, I and several other colleagues attended a conference at which another colleague was presenting. At the end of the presentation, one of my colleagues commented, “It’s too bad we have to come to a statewide conference to learn what other people are doing on our campus.” It was too bad. But, at the time, there were no easy venues for sharing. But that is no longer the case today. Today, it is easy for faculty member to set up a blog in WordPress and even easier to join and share materials though HASTAC.

It is time for those of us who are no longer emerging scholars to join our emerging colleagues who freely share their work with us. We have much to learn from the Savonicks who are joining our ranks. And they have much they can learn from us—if we are willing to share our expertise with them and each other.

--Steven L. Berg, PhD

This entry has been cross posted at Etena Sacca-vajjena.

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