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Varieties of Undergraduate Writing: A Cautionary Tale – by Neil Baldwin

The twenty-four students in my theatre class were poised to hand in their second required paper of the semester, a three-page, double-spaced critique of a play recently performed on campus. 

I asked if anyone in the room would like to volunteer to read their essay aloud to the group.  No hands went up; there was palpable silence.

So I voiced a question that I said I had been curious about for quite some time, wondering what their methodologies were for starting to write a paper…how did they go about it…what kind of regimen or routine, if any, did they maintain? What happened first, then second, etc, etc, etc? 

Everybody wanted to talk about that! Here is a selection of responses:

–          I go to my older sister’s house. She’s a professor at a community college, and she keeps an eye on me, and turns off the TV if she catches me sneaking a look.

–          I start by letting all of my thoughts flow out onto the computer. I write and write and write until I have nothing left in my head, then I go back and cut and cut and cut.

–          I work hard at one paragraph until I am positive it is perfect, and only then do I move on to the next. It could take me hours to get past that first paragraph.

–          I write the subject of the paper in big letters at the top of the page so I never forget what I am supposed to be writing about or go off topic, because that’s a bad thing to do.

–          I watch TV and listen to music and enjoy myself for a while, like giving myself a “reward” before I begin, do something nice, and get the enjoyment out of the way and then I can start writing.

–          It is so hard for me to concentrate because I have so much flying around in my head all the time, so I need to sit down and write the entire thing all at once, because if I “sleep on it” or do a rough draft and come back the next day, my ideas are gone – disappeared.

–          If the paper is due on a Monday, I start with a free-writing draft on the preceding Wednesday and then purposefully procrastinate until Sunday night, so I feel the intense pressure to get it done.

–          If the paper is due in class at 10:00 on Monday morning, I wait until 7:00 am on Monday morning to write it.

–          I go to the Library with a bunch of my friends from the class, at midnight, and we sit around the table, and talk about the assignment, until one person says something that inspires me, and then I move to another table, and write the whole thing straight through. I do not revise, because I am lazy.

–          I am “old school.” I write everything out by hand on lined paper, and then when I am ready to write the real thing, I copy it from my handwritten notes onto the computer; but most of the final version is totally different than the handwritten one.

–          I am a Facebook addict, so I have to disconnect from the Web before I can even think of starting my paper, and while I am writing, I need to force myself to focus on the subject. I make my roommate keep watch over me so I do not “cheat” and sneak back online.

I asked the class if anybody thought writing was supposed to be “easy.” No hands were raised.

I asked them if they prefer to write a paper for which (1) the subject is explicitly assigned and spelled-out; or (2) one that allows them to express their personal opinions.  The response was unanimously in favor of option (2).

I asked them what kind of writing experiences they had had in high school. There was a widespread groan. Without using high school as a convenient scapegoat, I asked why they reacted that way.

Students replied that in high school, they were often told they were “wrong,” that the teacher “wanted” a paper submitted in “a certain way,” and that was “the only way,” otherwise they “got an F.”  

Several students insisted they graduated from high school convinced they “were not very good writers” or “had never been very good at writing.” [Note: I told them I never wanted to hear those words coming out of anybody’s mouth ever again.] 

We then talked about College Writing, a course required for all entering students. They seemed begrudgingly accepting of this course because, although the instructors “made” them use “MLA Style” and adhere to structural “rules,” the teachers also helped them conscientiously through successive drafts of papers, showing the students what mistakes were being made, and gave them “feedback.”  [They really like feedback.] 

However, many chimed in that the subject-matter of the papers in College Writing was often driven by the teachers’ personal interests and/or agendas, such as “politics” or “problems in society,” as opposed to “relatable” [their word] subjects of more interest to them. 

I emphasized to the class that each and every person who had spoken up in the previous forty-five minutes with regard to their way of writing a paper had offered a unique method — did they realize that no two methods in the entire class were the same? 

Then the period was over and they packed their bags and left. 

At the risk of stating the obvious — although I have reported these selected, subjective, unscientific anecdotes from only one classroom on one day in the sprawling, mammoth life of Montclair State University — I believe this brief, metaphorical report broaches a big cognitive challenge.

After decades in the classroom, it is becoming very difficult for me to continue to accept the traditional definition of teaching as conveying a unified “subject” to a generic “class.” We are dealing with multiple, radically-divergent personalities; young people whose born-digital brains fire synapses in different ways than ours.  As college teachers, we cannot be certain that what we say to our students is being processed in a manner true to the “information” or “course material” we believe we are “transmitting.” 

Rather, it feels these days as if learning how to learn is more important than learning what to learn.

Science in Theatre/Theatre on Science – By Harry Lustig

 [In delighted anticipation of the revival-opening on Broadway next month of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia; and in recognition of the new CRC Guest Essay on Science and the Arts by Ashwin Vaidya, this Director’s Blog space is given over to a fascinating list compiled by Harry Lustig, professor of physics emeritus and provost emeritus, CUNY, and treasurer emeritus of the American Physical Society;  and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, university lecturer in modern drama, St. Catherine’s College, Oxford; and author of Science on stage: from Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen (Princeton UP, 2006).  The list was originally posted on the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of Americas LMDA ListServ by Cynthia SoRelle on September 3, 2010. — N.B.]  

Pre-nineteenth century
Aristophanes. Clouds. 423 BC. Aristophanes ridicules the work of the “rank pedants, those paleface, barefoot vagabonds in the academy, occupied with research in a variety of subjects, science among them.
Jonson, Ben. The Alchemist. (1610). Lampoons the practitioners of science (then mostly pseudoscience) as jargon-babbling rogues, and their willing dupes.
Marlowe, Christopher. Dr. Faustus. (1604). Features a scientist who strikes a bargain with the Devil and meets a horrible demise as a result of his lust for knowledge.
von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. Faust (1808 [part 1]. 1831[part 2] ). A scientist and scholar has grown weary of his learning and aided by a powerful accomplice, regains his youth and pursues pleasure, with mixed consequences.
Shadwell, Thomas. The Virtuoso. (1676). The first drama in which a major character is clearly recognizable as a scientist. It is a devastating portrait and the demonstrations and explanations of the practice of science are caricatures.

Late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth Century
Andreyev, Leonid. To the Stars. (1907). An astronomer, who lives apart from society, is blind to the changing world around him, even as family members try to make him aware of what is happening.
Brecht, Bertolt. Life of Galilei. (1939; 1947). The first play to portray an actual scientist in a historical situation, Galileo is a hero in the first version, but, after Hiroshima, becomes retroactively an anti-hero in the second.
Capek, Karel. R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) (1921) The devastating effect of robots on society.
Davis, Hallie Flanagan. E=mc2. (1948). Part allegory and part documentary, the play features a character called Atom and a Professor who explains the physics the audience needs to know.
Dürrenmatt, Friedrich. The Physicists.(1962). Warns of the apocalyptic results of modern physics put into the wrong hands, using the Möbius strip as a central image.
Golding, William. The Brass Butterfly, (1958).. Set in third century Rome, a scientist invents an explosive missile, a steamship, the pressure cooker and other dangerous technology far ahead of his time; but the wise emperor rejects these innovations and suggests that the scientist devote himself to gardening.
Gorki, Maxim. Children of the sun. (1905) Translation by Stephen Mulrine,1999.) About a chemist who is an idealist who wants to be left alone, is uninterested in the realities around him. and unsympathetic to the claim that since should serve society.
Ibsen, Henrik. An Enemy of the People. (1882) A doctor discovers dangerous bacteria in town spa waters, but instead of appreciation he meets the townspeople’s wrath as politics trumps science.
Kingsley, Sidney. Men in White. (1933) Prototypical Emergency Room drama that depicts a hospital and doctors treating patients.
Lawrence, Jerome and Robert E. Lee. Inherit the Wind. (1955) About the Scopes trial pitting Darwin’s theory of evolution against the Bible.
MacColl, Ewan. Uranium 235. (1952) A dynamic atomic-energy play
MacLeish, Archibald. Heracles (1965). The protagonist, a scientist at the zenith of his career, has just been awarded a Nobel Prize. The adulation pleases him but he is also aware of the futility and costs of contemporary scientific discovery
Morgan, Charles. The Burning Glass (1953) One of many post-atomic plays, in which the scientists is an individual who poses a grave threat to humanity, Here, a weather control machine would allow the sun’s radiation to be concentrated on any specific spot on earth.
Shaw, George Bernard. The Doctor’s Dilemma. (1906). Makes fun of a passel of medical charlatans, but also introduces concepts of biochemistry.
Zuckmayer, Carl. Das kalte Licht.. (1955) is loosely based on the story of the physicist Klaus Fuchs. The play does describe the development of the atomic bomb, but the author is more concerned with the political and nationalist pressure on the characters than with the science.

Contemporary Plays (1982 ff.)

(1) Dramas and Comedies
Auburn, David. Proof. (2000) A young, insecure, and somewhat enigmatic female mathematics student, and not her demented mathematical genius of a father, turns out to have solved a fiendishly difficult theorem.
Barrow, John. Infinities.. (2002). Five dramatic scenes about the concept of infinity, including the dispute between Cantor and Kronecker about its nature, a famous problem of Hilbert, and the vicissitudes of living forever.
Berger, Glen. Great Men of Science, nos. 21 and 22 (1998). Set in Paris 1793-4, during the Reign of Terror, it examines the ideals of the Enlightenment scientist when faced with political and social upheaval.
Brenton, Howard. The Genius (1982). A 1980 American Renaissance man, bright and brash, like Brecht’s Galileo, cannot deal with the moral dilemmas his work force him to confront.
Brook, Peter, and Estienne, Marie-Hélène The Man Who/L’homme qui. (2002) A “theatrical research” based on the Oliver Sacks story “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”
Burns, Elizabeth. Autodestruct: The Ultimate Cure for Cancer. (2001) A scientist clones his way to immortality, but at what price?
Clyman, Bob. The Secret Order. (1999-2000). About the pressures threatening to destroy a young scientist.
Churchill, Caryl. A Number. (2002) A father confronts three of his adult sons, two of whom are clones of the first. Churchill uses the scientific possibility of cloning to address the basic human question of where personality comes from, nature or nurture?
Congdon, Constance. No Mercy. (1994) About the first atomic bomb test and the men involved in the nuclear program.
Djerassi, Carl, and Hoffman Roald.. Oxygen. (2000) With scenes alternating between contemporary Sweden and 18th century France and England, the play asks, who should be awarded the first, fictional, “Retro-Nobel” prize for a scientific discovery before the 20th century?
Djerassi, Carl. An Immaculate Misconception. (2001) A play by the inventor of the birth control pill, about sex in the age of fertility treatments.
Edson, Margaret. Wit. (1999) Set in a hospital ward, the play depicts an uncompromising professor of metaphysical poetry who endures grueling treatments for ovarian cancer buttressed by her love of Donne’s Holy Sonnets and late-budding friendships she never had.
Fenwick, Jean-Noel (English adaptation by Ron Clark). Les Palmes de M. Schutz /Pierre and Marie. (2002).. In a small laboratory in Paris in the 1800’s, Pierre and Marie Curie discover uranium, radium, and love.
Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. (1998; 2000). Reenacts three plausible versions of the 1941 visit of Werner Heisenberg to his mentor and friend Niels Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark.
Friedman, Robert Marc. Remembering Miss Meitner ((2002). The co-discoverer and explicator of nuclear fission confronts Otto Hahn, who could have helped her to receive a share of his Nobel prize, and Manne Siegbahn, who, while providing a refuge for her in his Swedish laboratory, did not provide her with any wherewithal for continuing her research.
Friel, Brian. Molly Sweeney. (1994) Based on neurologist Oliver Sacks’s short story about a blind woman given an operation and the surprising and painful consequences of gaining sight.
Frontczak, Susan Marie. Manya. (2002) One-woman show about Marie Curie.
Godfrey, Paul. The Blue Ball. (1995) About the space program.
Giron, Arthur. Moving Bodies (1999-2000). Dramatizes the biography and contributions of the great, idiosyncratic physicist Richard Feynman, including his role in the building of the atomic bomb and the explanation of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Gunderson, Lauren. Background (2002). The physicists Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman deduced the existence of Cosmic Background Radiation in 1948, but few observers looked for it and it was only found accidentally in 1965. Alpher’s life and lack of recognition and the history of cosmology are recounted going backwards in time, illuminating both.
Hampton, Christopher. The Talking Cure. (2002) About the relationship between Freud and Jung.
Hoar, Stuart. Rutherford. (2000) New play about Ernest Rutherford, the great physicist rom New Zealand . The play focuses on the enigma that was Rutherford, follows his obsession with science and probes his personal relationships with his wife Mary, daughter Eileen, and friend and colleague, the Russian, Kapitza.
Horovitz, Israel. (2003). Set in the world of research chemistry, this drama engages questions of love, integrity, promises and compromise.
Hunter, Maureen. Transit of Venus. (1992) In France at a time when society was rapidly expanding its knowledge of the earth and the cosmos, an ambitious astronomer and the women who love him exemplify the conflicting needs of men and women.
Johnson, Terry. Insignificance .(1982). Imagining a meeting between Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe DiMaggio in a hotel room.
Jones, Charlotte. Humble Boy. (2002) A neurotic fictional astrophysicist in a dysfunctional family tries to create a “theory of everything” out of string theory and general relativity.
Kipphardt, Heinar. In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer . (1964; trans. Ruth Speirs)… The play is largely based on the verbatim text of the 1954 hearings regarding Oppenheimer although in the closing speech is not what Oppenheimer said, but what the author wishes he had said.
Kopit, Arthur. Y2K. (1999). Deals with the threats to our privacy when computer hackers invade our lives via the Internet.
Landau, Tina. Space (2000) A New Age play about a professor of neuropsychiatry and part-time therapist and his three patients who claim to have been abducted by space aliens.
Mamet, David. The Water Engine. (1977). An inventor manages to remove the H from H2O and invents an engine that uses plain distilled water as fuel.
McGrath, Tom. Safe Delivery. (1999). Set at the cutting edge of medicine, the play makes the point that science and scientists are not as pure as we have been led to believe
Mac Low, Clarinda, Hannaham, James, and Barfield, Tanya. The Division of Memory. ( 2001) At the end of his life, an African-American research biologist reflects on his place in the twentieth century.
Martin, Steve. Picasso at the Lapin Agile. (1996) A farcical comedy that imagines a meeting between Picasso and Einstein in a café in Paris.
Mullin, Paul. Louis Slotin Sonata. (2001). A flamboyant and emotional treatment of a real accident caused by a real scientist at Los Alamos and an indictment of the scientists who built the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan.
Nachtmann, Rita. Thread of Life (2003) The role of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the structure of DNA.
Parnell, Peter. QED. (2001) concerns Richard Feynman, the celebrated (and sometimes self-celebrating) Nobel prize-winning physicist ; what we get in this almost one-man show – Feynman is impersonated by Alan Alda – is part biography and part physics lesson.
Poliakoff, Stephen. Blinded by the Sun. (1996) How the media affect modern scientific research.
Reingold, Jaquelyn, String Fever (2003). Applying th elusive rules of string theory to the conundrums of one woman’s love life.
Sherman, Jonathan Marc. Evolution. (2002) .A morality play about an academic studying Charles Darwin who is offered a job in the entertainment industry.
Simms, Willard. Einstein, A Stage Portrait. (1982?) A one-man show about Albert Einstein.
Smith, Anna Deavere. Untitled. (2000) One-woman show about doctors, patients and their narratives.
Speier, Susanna. Calabi Yau. (2002) A “string-theory comedy” in which New York subway workers try to build a particle accelerator in abandoned subway tunnels.
Stevenson, Shelagh. An Experiment with an Air Pump. (1999) About medical experimentation’s ethical dimensions.
Stoppard, Tom. Arcadia. (1993) Chaos theory, landscape gardening and literary history in a country house in England, alternating contemporary with 18th-century scenes.
Stoppard, Tom. Hapgood. (1988) Spy games interwoven with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and other aspects of Quantum Mechanics.
Stoppard, Tom. Galileo. (1970) Unpublished play that challenges Brecht’s Galileo and was originally intended for performance in the London Planetarium; manuscript is in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
Théâtre de Complicité. Mnemonic. (2000) About memory, connection, and evolution, with the Iceman as its starting point.
Wells, Matthew. Schrödinger’s Girlfriend. (2002) The eponymous author of the “Schrödinger’s Cat” paradox applies the lessons of quantum mechanics to a torrid love affair.
Wertenbaker, Timberlake. After Darwin. (1998) Two present day actors put on a play about Darwin and the captain of the Beagle and the action alternates between the present and the past, exploring the parallel between biological and social Darwinism.
Whittell, Crispin. Darwin in Malibu. (2003) Charles Darwin has wound up in a beach house overlooking the Pacific with a girl young enough to be his daughter. Believing that the heated debate about the Origin Of Species is far behind him, Darwin now finds guidance from tabloid horoscopes and trashy beach reading. But when his old friend Thomas Huxley washes up on the beach with the bishop of Oxford he finds himself entangled in a life and death comedy about God, science, love, loss and the sex life of barnacles.
Wilson, Lanford. The Mound Builders. (1986) Explores the world of archeology and how it relates to contemporary life.
Wilson, Lanford. Rain Dance. (2003) Los Alamos, New Mexico, 1945, on the eve of the birth of the atomic bomb. In the tranquil beauty of the desert, four individuals involved in the historic project count down to its inevitable conclusion. As the culmination of their work approaches, each wrestles with the weight of responsibility for an event that will change the world forever.

(2) Musicals and Operas
Biospheria. (2001). An opera by Steven Ausbury and Anthony Burr, based on aspects of the unsuccessful “environmentalist experiment at Biosphere 2, a 200 million dollar greenhouse erected north of Tucson in the early 1990’s.
Defenders of the Code. (1987) A musical by Theodora Skipitares. Covers everything from creation myths to theories of eugenics, and incorporates snippets of Plato’s Republic, Darwin’s Origin of Species, and Watson’s Double Helix into a collage.
Einstein on the Beach. (1976). Opera by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass.
Einstein’s Dreams (2002-2003) Music by Joshua Rosenblum, book by Joanne Sydney Lessner .Loosely based on the novel Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. A tone poem of ruminations on time and mortality in early 20th century Switzerland.
Imperfect Chemistry. (2000) A musical comedy by Albert M. Tapper and James Racheff. Two geneticists at a philanthropic laboratory are seduced into finding a cure for baldness.
Fermat’s Last Tango. (2000) Pythagoras, Newton, Euclid, and Gauss are characters in a mathematical musical by Joanne Sydney Lessner and Joshua Rosenblum
Galileo Galilei, (2003) A chamber opera by Philip Glass and Arnold Weinstein, with different concerns from Brecht’s play/
Quark Victory. (2000) A musical by Robert and Willie Reale in which a young girl journeys through a sub-atomic world occupied by dancing electrons and singing neutrinos.
Star Messengers. (2001) A quasi-opera by Paul Zimet and Ellen Meadow which shows Galileo, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler interacting with three harlequins from one of Galileo’s books.
The Ballad of Phineas P. Gage. (2002) In 1848 an iron rod passed through the head of Phineas P. Gage, and he survived. But how did he live? The work explores through puppetry, music and poetry this groundbreaking neurological case.
The Electric Sunshine Man. (1978) A musical about Thomas Edison. Music by John F. Wilson, words by Grace Hawthorne. Mainly for children.
The Oracle of Delphi. (2000) Script by Anne Gaud McKee, music by Christian Denisart, choreography by Markus Schmid. A pantomime about P.A.M. Dirac’s theoretical discovery of the positron and antimatter.
Three Tales. (2002) Steve Reich’s and Beryl Korotís’ multimedia collaboration, consisting of three sequences for live instrumentalists, singers, and video projection. A parable of man’s Faustian bargain with technology.

If there are omissions [and there probably are…] please let us know.

A special interdisciplinary “P.S.” from N.B. to my colleagues in Theatre, and anyone else.  I recently happened upon a four-decades-old essay by Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text “[‘De l’oeuvre au texte’] in his 1978 collection, Image-Music-Text; and on the first page of the essay, I read this [italics in original]:   “…[T]he interdisciplinarity which is today held up as the prime example in research cannot be accomplished by the simple confrontation of specialist branches of knowledge. Interdisciplinarity is not the calm of an easy security; it begins effectively (as opposed to the mere expression of a pious wish) when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down — perhaps even violently, via the jolts of fashion — in the interests of a new object and a new language neither of which has a place in the field of the sciences that were to be brought peacefully together, this unease in classification being precisely the point from which it is possible to diagnose a certain mutation.”

And now — upon reflection — I wonder if the theatre might be, after all, one of the most powerful arenas for interdisciplinarity.

Big Issues Transcend Disciplines in the Arts & Humanities – by Neil Baldwin

The Creative Research Center attends the Regional Committee Planning Meeting for the November 3-5, 2011 Association of American Colleges & Universities Network for Academic Renewal Conference on The Arts and Humanities Within Liberal Education at the Westin Providence Hotel, convened December 3, 2010. 

“A community of self-governing citizens, a demos, understands, creates, and reinvigorates itself through culture. It is only when we have a cultural democracy, where everyone has the same capacity and opportunity to take part in cultural life, that we will have a chance of attaining a true political democracy.” — John Holden, Visiting Professor at CUNY; former Head of Culture for Demos. [Cited by AAC&U in handout to Planning Meeting participants.]

“This is the first time AAC&U has ever addressed this convergence of arts and humanities in one meeting — and we are very excited,” Susan Albertine, Vice-President, Engagement, Inclusion and Success of AAC&U, announced as soon as we had randomly taken our seats at a group of round tables in the Providence Ballroom; and it quickly became evident to me that this was not going to be another one of your typical academic gatherings.

We were here, about fifty of us from a wide array of public and private colleges and universities, to disregard our disciplinary constraints, and brainstorm about current issues of importance in undergraduate education in the arts and humanities. We were here to find commonalities, not carve out or reinforce distinctions. We were here, as Dr. Albertine charged us most emphatically, to “find big themes and talking points” and “to cross boundaries.”

The first order of business was to take a full hour, talk among ourselves, and come up with a strong roster of potential matters that the full-fledged conference could address in a year’s time. My table was a lively, representative sample of the group as a whole: Maureen Goldman, Bentley University;  Susan E. Pease, Central Connecticut State University; Davis Baird, Clark University; Wayne Steely, Saint Joseph College; Jude Nixon, Salem State University; Elizabeth Hollander, Tufts University; Lisa Cabulong Buenaventura, UMass/Boston; and A. Vereene Parnell, Wheaton College

The conversation sped from zero to sixty in five minutes. I pride myself on writing fast (if illegibly) but had trouble keeping notes quickly enough. The mandate was emancipating — to fly just above the treeline, and stick to ideas and challenges. Only by happenstance did I find out that one of us was a scholar of religion; another was a Victorianist; another was a musicologist.

We talked about how to measure (or even find words to describe) the intrinsic value of studying the arts and humanities in a climate of undergraduate job-insecurity; the deep influence of the Web on the learning-consciousness of our students; the making of art in social media; the continuing upheaval in General Education edging out “softer” subjects; the relevance of the campus Library in the (supposed) post-book world; the threats of specialization to scholarship of integration; the essential meaning beneath the rhetoric of creating global citizens; the merits of creative thinking in the most practical of occupations; the underused power of outreach through the arts going beyond the walls of the university; the intellectual highs and political lows that come with crossing boundaries…and on and on…

At some heated moment during that hour of conversation, I scribbled this note to myself: “Forget the jargon and focus upon the importance of the creative mind in real life (i.e., outside, in the world at large) and let’s get in tune with the unique consciousness of our students!”

I am not going to itemize the exhaustive list of further ideas that came out of our meeting as we went back into general session and shared lists — because within the next couple of months, AAC&U will be issuing a full-fledged Announcement and Call for Proposals for the November 2011 conference. Allied co-sponsoring organizations include The International Council of Fine Arts Deans, and Imagining America, with others to be enlisted.

I was inspired by my day in historic Providence. There was a palpable desire generated among higher-education professionals to leap over the (albeit cliched) walls of the Academy and embrace societal realities.

The University is divided into subjects and disciplines; but, as we have been deliberating with intensity during the past several months here at the Creative Research Center, pragmatic life feels different.  This essential tension has been with us for a long time. We have an opportunity to talk freely and openly about it; by the time November 2011 comes around, the AAC&U Conference promises to be an exciting and — given the electrifying and electirifed pace of our culture — even more timely one.

N. B. [12/4/10, in the sublimely Quiet Car, Amtrak Acela # 2251, en route from Providence RI to Newark NJ]

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Please visit these selected & new Creative Research Center Links for December:

  • AAAARG [“a platform for the distribution of critical discourse outside of an institutional framework”]
  • Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT
  • Common Knowledge [“devoted to civilian scholarship…to open lines of communication between the academy and the community of thoughtful people outside its walls”]
  • Estuaire [“Le paysage, l’art et le fleuve; the landscape, art and the river”]
  • Fillip [“a publication of art, culture and ideas released three times a year by the Projectile Publishing Society, Vancouver, BC”]
  • If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution [“dedicated to exploring the evolution and typology of performance and performativity in contemporary art”]
  • [Prof. Clare O’Farrell lucidly defines Foucault’s key concepts]
  • New Works Initiative. Montclair State University College of the Arts Department of Theatre and Dance.
  • Random Dance
  • Variable Media Network. [“For artists working in ephemeral formats who want posterity to experience their work more directly than through second-hand documentation or anecdote”]
  • Online Learning – The Virtual Process As Real As Today’s Headlines – by Neil Baldwin

    The Creative Research Center Attends the 16th Annual Sloan Consortium International Conference on Online Learning – November 3-5, 2010 – The Caribe Royale Hotel – Orlando, Florida

    “Quite honestly, the higher education industry in the United States has not been tremendously successful in the face-to-face mode if you look at national graduation rates,” [said Joe Glover, provost of the University of Florida.] “At the very least we should be experimenting with other modes of delivery of education.”   From “Still in Dorm, Because Class Is on the Web,” by Trip Gabriel, The New York Times, Front Page, November 5, 2010. 

    “Apologists for the lack of retention and intuition by students argue that what really matters is that they are being taught ‘how to think.’ The reality is that because students have ever larger gaps in their knowledge as they progress, they learn to get by through pattern matching and memorizing. They learn to fake understanding, not think.”  From “YouTube U. Beats YouSnooze U,” by Salman Khan, The Chronicle of Higher Education Online Learning Special Issue, Chronicle Review, B36, November 5, 2010. 

    *          *          *          *          *

    It started as soon as I got into the back of the cab at Orlando Airport. My driver, a well-spoken young man named Pierre, glanced in the mirror and asked me where I was heading. When I told him, he launched into an extended dramatic monologue on the American higher education system. Growing up in Haiti, Pierre had excelled in Physics and Algebra, and still had ambitions of becoming an electrician. As soon as he had saved up enough money, he was going back to school.

    In Pierre’s view, “the online aspect of education should be theoretical; and then, when it comes to hands-on, you can be real.”

    After settling at the hotel, I walked over to the vast Exhibit Hall.  The vibe was intense, all about selling ways to reach educational constituencies and “decision-makers,” striving to interest the “consumer” in platforms, delivery systems, learning management programs. Annenberg, Colloquy, Waypoint, FigLeaf, Link-Systems International, Toolwire, TaskStream, Bisk, MediaSite…I fell into a lively conversation with Mitchell Syrkin, Regional Sales Manager for Follett Virtual Bookstores. I agreed that students hate lugging around $100 textbooks.   I just published an ebook myself, which makes me an early adapter. I told Mitchell how I’ve begun to build “Webliographies” into my syllabi instead of “Bibliographies,” and how the students seem to like that route.

    [Note to Self: I am overwhelmed, leafing through the 120-pp. convention program, by the plethora of concurrent sessions. There’s a sense of frenzy — so much to do, so little time…but that depends upon what you want time for.  To develop the right pedagogical approach and become more usefully informed about online learning was my mission; not to find ways to monetize education.  Yet, how effectively could those intents be separated?

    A quasi-traditional pedagogue in a Web world, I recognize the benefits of education on the Web; but am still finding my way, in terms of how to apply a growing fluency in and understanding of the medium to learning and teaching. Many of my dedicated colleagues feel the same. I keep returning to the basic fact that I like being with my students. When I am not in class, I think about them, and as distinct individuals.  This semester I have more than 50 students in three very different undergrad and graduate classes, and can conjure up each person’s face, voice, style, etc.  

    How could I teach someone without knowing the person?

    The only way I can get my mind around doing this is if the course were a “nontraditional,” abstracted, distanced experience with students — i.e., they existed appropriately in my virtual world because they were in positions/places where they could not physically get to the university, and I was offering  a professional or creative subject that lent itself to the medium. Perhaps nonprofit management…or an expository writing course  – focusing upon their work and my commentary, back and forth in drafts and critiques.

    Whereas, if the intention were to make a shift involving the everyday students to whom I am accustomed, right now, I would say absolutely not. This a key factor: The constituency needs to be determined. And bear in mind the cautionary proviso that we at MSU – and, I am sure, elsewhere — don’t want these two teaching modes to enfringe upon or take away from each other.  We do not want to present an alternative that is seen as “better” or “preferential.” Rather, online and face-to-face are different channels that might be right for some people and not others.]

    Here is a selection of the sessions from the Conference that I attended to give the flavor of their diversity and interest.

    Our excellent keynote speaker, Barbara Means, Co-director, Center for Technology in Learning, SRI International, presented Research on the Effectiveness of Online Learning: Insights, Controversies, and Gaps, a lucid, results-oriented discussion of current findings on online vs. “conventional conditions.”  Online learning inherently recommends itself to quantification of data. Dr. Means’ astute and relevant bullet-points were well-received, and heartening to me: That the presentation-status of any course is conditioned by the subject-matter; and that we must remember to factor in “moderator variables.” She insisted early on – and I noticed many people in the Ballroom around me nodded their heads in affirmation — “just putting something online is not going to make it more effective.” Online is not an educational panacea. Rather, in redesigning the so-called learning experience, we as educators need to think about the relevance of the subject matter, and not let the medium take precedence.

    I was impressed by the reasoned, cautionary tone of Dr. Means’ remarks as she underscored the importance of context for learning systems, and debunked hasty cost-effectiveness, gratuitous bells and whistles and “extraneous media.” She implied that recent research was pointing to “blended learning” as the best approach, virtual and actual presences alternating. She stressed repeatedly how open the field is, and welcomed hearing about additional research, reaching out to the entire audience to send her their empirical findings.

    [At my laptop during a coffee break, I later took her advice and visited the superb Carnegie-Mellon Open Learning Inititative, with its innovative built-in, periodic assessment by students of how they are doing and whether or not they understand what they are  purportedly learning.]

    I took away that we are still dealing with epistemology no matter what course platform we use; and in all cases, Dr. Means said, repeated cycles of “design, develop, refine, and implement” are obligatory to achieve the best course offering results.

    W. Warren Binford and Cheryl Cramer from Willamette University College of Law gave a wry, first-hand account of how their traditional residential college gradually moved to an online learning presence over a five-year period in their engaging talk, Tiptoeing Online in a Face-to-Face World. It was a small room, maybe a dozen people in the audience, but lots of enthusiasm, because as we went around and commented, it became evident we were all in the same boat.

    Profs. Binford and Cramer talked with bemused expressions about faculty resistance: “Why can’t I just continue to do what I have been already doing for the past fifteen years?” And yes, even student resistance: “OK, I can do a blog!… but Professor, how do you grade a blog?”

    The first step to online curricular success, they said, is faculty training; and the 2nd step is money – this is a labor-intensive and time-consuming journey.

    The Community of Inquiry Framework: Ten Years Later was the subject of a presentation by a diverse, expert panel.  I had not known of this important social constructivist model predicated upon the conviction that the best classroom learning happens when people work in collaboration rather than omnidirectionally or top-down. The Venn diagram of the three key intersecting dynamic factors social presence/real; cognitive presence/meaning; and teaching presence – synthesized into a rich environment of affect, and thus spoke powerfully to me.

    “Good e-learning must rest upon a solid foundation of design,” said Lynette Nagel from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. And Norm Vaughan of Mount Royal College in Calgary stressed how much time needs to be spent in needs-analysis before an effective online program can be implemented, along with research into experiential learning as well – “what it actually is going to feel like to be in the onlilne class population. “

    “Align your course development with the mission of the university!” declared Beth Rubin of Rutgers University, an advocate of the Desire2Learn LMS.  There is huge variance in availability and implementation of tools, and this must be borne in mind when so many incoming freshmen are unprepared for college, she said.

    Bruce Chaloux, Chair of the Sloan Consortium Board of Directors, was the eminence grise at the Policy Issues Forum: Will Coming Changes Impact You?  There was a nagging subtext in this panel: How the current dire economic situation in America was influencing the direction of education policy on a macro level, an impression reconfirmed in The New York Times piece I quote at the beginning of this blog. Draconian budget cuts are forcing/hurrying universities to look into new ways of “delivering content.”

    The biggest challenge now, Dr. Chaloux said, reiterating what I had just heard from Dr. Rubin, is that preparation for college is lacking. We must do a better job attacking the disastrous completion rate: 27% of public institution students finish college in four years; the number is 48% in private institutions.

    And a signal pointing to the pertinence of online learning among another specific population: There are more than 40 million working adults who did not finish college and are still “out there” –with a million more coming on every year.  As great as our higher-ed system is, we need to do better and accept the need for change and the need to accommodate to this growing swath of our society.

    We need to recognize, said Sue Day-Perroots, Dean of Extended Learning at West Virginia University, and another member of the panel, that “the 21st century learner needs new skills…we live in a new era that requires a new kind of college education…We live in an information society, not an industrial society.” Online learning is one of the routes to explore seriously with our older, “nontraditional” cadre.

    We also need to focus on the cumulative harm of the “poor transitions” in the K-16 trajectory – there are many along the way. We are good at adding but not so good at dropping programs. And what does it say about a culture that now has more than 100 colleges and universities in the “$50K Club” – tuition and room and board hovering at or over $50,000 a year. We need to pay more attention to helping first-generation, low income, and underserved students. Again, online learning has possibilities here.

    At 2010: A Learning Systems Odyssey, we heard how three huge state University systems – Michigan, Minnesota and Florida – took different paths toward adapting new Learning Management Systems for their students. From Web CT to Sakai to Moodle, the process was evolutionary, complex and contingent upon the individual campus culture; there is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to LMS.

    The major point made by all three speakers was that “faculty recommendation and buy-in” had to be the “number one” criterion. Pedagogical needs must drive the technology which, in turn, must be stringently evaluated according to its ability to further the mission of the university and align with future institutional plans. The final proof-test, said Fedro S. Zazueta of the University of Florida, must be that the LMS, whatever brand, be utilized “to change the culture and conduct of the university for the better, otherwise it is not worth the time and considerable expense.”

    And in terms of the future –the panel spoke of efforts going beyond LMS and CMS. Ann Hill-Duin at Minnesota referred to the hard work of their LMS Futures Commiittee [which resonates very nicely with our newly-established MSU Provost’s Online Program Development Team]. Minnesota’s faculty are exploring Web 2.0, collaborative efforts, and setting up “fringe cases” in a salutary way. The wave of their future is starting now. Dr. Hill-Duin referred with pride to open content, an open journals system, and an undergraduate writing class actually creating and publishing its own journal on the Web [an idea I will enthusiastically “appropriate” for my spring 2011 semester honors seminar in the creative process.]

    “In the next five years,” declared Steve Fireng, CEO of Embanet-Compass Knowledge Group, in a press release distributed at the Sloan Conference Exhibit Hall, “we expect nearly 4 million new online learners will come into this market.” There is a lot of entrepreneurial rhetoric accompanying all the edgy technology out there. As teachers, we need to think hard about how it applies to us — and how we are going to adapt to it intelligently.

    Settling into my seat on the plane to Newark, I closed my eyes, as the balmy weather and palm tree-dotted land dropped away…and reflected upon this whirlwind sojourn. It is not as simple, I thought, as conceding that the old models are broken.  Providing harrowing dropout and noncompletion evidence does not mean that we have to discard customary methodology and overhaul all the ways we  reach and teach our students.

    It should be more about reaching those we have not yet reached when the traditional (“residential”) model does not pertain. Even in a so-called “commuter” school like Montclair State, many of our commuters come from less than ten miles away.

    I am only one professor whose mind has been opened considerably by attending my first Sloan Conference.  Now I have to consider more deeply how my University can serve those whom it has not yet served.

    Online learning is a powerful contributory remedy to stubborn pedagogical problems that remain present and imminent.

    [Grateful acknowledgement to the Montclair State University Office of the Provost and the Office of the Dean of the College of the Arts for registration support and travel funding.]

    Where is ‘interdisciplinarity’? – by Neil Baldwin

    Kudos to Editor-in-Chief Robert Frodeman; Associate Editors Julie Thompson Klein and Carl Mitcham; Managing Editor J. Britt Holbrook; the distinguished Editorial Board of Jose Antonio Lopez Cerezo, Wolfgang Krohn, William Newell, Nancy Tuana, and Peter Weingart; and the entire editorial and production team at Oxford University Press for the new, hefty (580 pp), substantial and insightful Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity just published last month.

    I will return to this signal accomplishment in a moment.

    But first, by way of roundabout response to the title-question posed above, two citations from the September 3 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education special section, What’s the Big Idea? in which, for the tenth anniversary of The Chronicle Review, scholars and illustrators were asked, “What will be the defining idea of the next decade, and why?”

    Elaine Howard Ecklund says it will be Abandoning Disciplines: “[It] will be tough,” she concedes. “Our entire tenure and promotion system is controlled by disciplinary review boards…Universities have traditionally prized disciplinary purity and specificity, but that approach is ill-equipped to nurture the kind of expansive, creative, multipronged thinking that is needed to meet our most pressing problems.”

    Mary Beard says the next big idea will have to be The Dark Ages — or, Rather, How to Prevent Them: “Whose culture [is it]? What culture? And how will (or should) cultural priorities evolve to reflect changes in the world political order?”

    The jacket photo of The Oxford Handbook is a huge, luminous floating computerized portrait of our earth, the globe, at the time of Pangaea. Its cautionary symbolism forced me to step back and take the large — and long — view, a healthy perspective for any self-respecting, introspectively-honest professor.  Many pixels have been expended on the paradoxical mixture of emotions that swirl through the mind of an intellectual designated, for orderly reasons, to a certain department in a certain building on a certain campus — the most poignant of which is the feeling one gets from time to time that knowledge is ideally the property of no-one and the province of  everyone.

    Nature is interdisciplinary and thus it follows that the mind predicated upon the phenomenal world will not always follow a proscribed path.

    One of the redeeming attributes of the new Oxford Handbook is that it recognizes this fact of life. Julie Thompson Klein and Richard Parncutt question the received notion of privileged works as the sole signposts in art history; Carole Palmer reminds us that information originates by being scattered; Paul Thagard points to the inherently collaborative nature of cognitive science; Veronica Boix-Mansilla asserts that interdisciplinary learning is the most pragmatic of all epistomologies; J. Britt Holbrook questions the integrity of the definition of “peer” as a way to dissect peer-review; Clark A. Miller endorses the velocity of proliferation of centers and institutes as a salutary fragmentation of disciplines; Bill Newell stresses the importance of continuing to infuse undergraduate general education curricula with interdisciplinary courses that respect the unique brains of  “net-gen” freshmen; Stephanie Pfirman and Paula J.S. Martin show how collegiality and interdisciplinarity go hand in hand.

    These are just some selections from a seminal and inspirational volume that should be required reading for all of us — in higher education and beyond — who see college and university cultures as permeable membranes, letting in diverse molecules of knowledge from the wider, ever-changing world…and thereby releasing multi-perspectived young citizens outward to that world.

    — N.B. 


    and furthermore, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea…He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me.” [cited by Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library,  in his October 1, 2010 welcoming address at a conference at Harvard to discuss the possibility of creating a National Digital Library.]

    Mike Peters photographs – The Dream – Living images of our post-9/11 World

    Bartender, Connolly's Bar, Kearny, NJ

    [CRC Director’s Note:  Continuing our vital theme of the uses of the imagination, we are pleased to present the visionary, timely — and unsparing — images of our energetic colleague, photographer Mike Peters. Follow this link to see the photographs and then read Mike’s eloquent explication below.  Let us know what you think. — N.B.]

    I began this project as a search in which I didn’t know what I was looking for.  All I knew for sure was that I was deeply unsettled by many of the events that seemed to come right after the turn of this new millennium.  The terror of September 11th had left its indelible mark on our national psyche and there seemed to be some confusion as to how to move forward.  I felt greatly unsettled and was interested in photographing what it looked and felt like to be in this place, at this time.

    As a response to the preoccupation by the media with those at the extremes of the social order, I was most interested in photographing those people who were in stuck in the middle.  The people with the most to lose and least to fall back on, those who make and do, the “grunts” whose behind the scenes efforts are integral to this daily theater we call life.

    I decided to keep my photographic wandering within a part of the world that I knew intimately, places that were all within a few miles of The World Trade Center site.  I grew up in Kearny, NJ, a place where people settle for a little while, on their way somewhere else.  Coney Island is the playground of the working class, whose only constant seems to be change.  Ridgefield Park seems to be a place where change is slower; and, because of a deep sense of connection and pride, people stay.

    Throughout my journey, I found faces, which led me to questions.  I wondered what each face had seen throughout its life, and how it had been transformed by the experiences and emotions of the person behind it.  The faces I saw made me imagine the stories that each could tell, stories far more fascinating, complex and challenging than can be found in any work of fiction, or supermarket tabloid.

    Despite the difficulties of the past ten years, or maybe because of them, it seemed that there was ample evidence that people were still expressing “The American Dream” through the things they did in public.  Working; playing; raising a family; being with friends; showing allegiances; living the ordinary life of an average American.  For the people I’ve photographed, life has not gotten any easier in the past ten years, and I suspect that the next ten will bring little relief.   I get a sense that there is still hope for the future, but it is tempered with the fear that our best days may be behind us.  Moving forward, the true test will be to see if the winner of this national struggle will be the brightness of hope or the darkness of fear.

    As a creative exercise, I wanted to do more than just show what was in front of me, and realized that I could not separate what I saw from how I felt and who I am or where I come from. In each person I photograph, I recognize something of myself, an aspect of that person to which I can relate and understand.  My goal with these images is to be honest about what I see and how I feel about what it is to be an American in the twenty-first century.

    Mike Peters

    A Happy Return to Poetry, Accompanied by a Surprise Professorship at a Virtual University – by Neil Baldwin

    I have truly lost count of the number of times during past decades – and indeed past lives – that I have been to Miami on my various book tours as well as for meetings of the Association of American Publishers and the American Booksellers Association.

    Little did I know that as a result of my being asked to serve as Literary Advisor to the five-star Betsy Hotel in South Beach (surely this is a “first” for any hotel anywhere in the world…the idea of a literary advisor…) I would reestablish my friendship with the ever-avuncular and energetic Mitch Kaplan, mastermind of the fabulous and fabled Books & Books, become immersed in the vibrant Miami arts and culture scene, and, most recently, co-host – with philanthropist-entrepreneur Tai Beauchamp – a gala and chic Poetry Dinner in the subterranean B-Bar of the Betsy, where we met and mingled with Scott Cunningham, President of the conceptual University of Wynwood, and visiting poets Ed Skoog and Gregory Pardlo.

    In preparation for this heady and intoxicating literary extravaganza at the end of June, I stepped into the quiet room adjoining my third-floor study where I keep all of my poetry books and lit crit, and pulled down a well-leafed volume of Ezra Pound’s Selected Prose, 1909-1965. I had the intuition that the Master would have words of wisdom to help frame my thinking for the Miami poetry experience. And he did not let me down.

    The more I read through E.P., the more I came to believe that he had mystically anticipated not only the cultural evolution and dare I say it revolution currently gripping our land…but also…he had forewarned me of the Creative Research Center ‘way back in the early 1970s when I started reading him.

    Listen to this:  “Letters are a nation’s foreign office,” the young Pound declared in his essay Patria Mia, written when he was all of twenty-eight years old.  “By the arts, and by them almost alone, do nations gain for each other any understanding and intimate respect.” 

    And, a few essays later, this prophetic nugget from For a New Paideuma (1938):  “This word – Paideuma – has been given the sense of the active element of the era, the complex of ideas which is in a given time germinal, reaching into the next epoch, but conditioning actively all the thought and action of its own time.”         

    And this passionate 1912 clarion-call for the unity of arts and sciences, as so brilliantly exemplified in the two new CRC blogs featured elsewhere on this site:  “As the abstract mathematician is to science, so the poet is to the world’s consciousness…What the analytical geometer does for space and form, the poet does for states of consciousness.”

    Is there really nothing new under the sun; or is it rather that, as the epochs parade by, we who consider ourselves “original” are in fact repurposing (now there’s a postmodern gerund) and remixing old ideas into new forms? Pound reminded me that my language may be the same as his, but my mind-structure is very different. Therein lies the novelty.

    The University of Wynwood claims to have no faculty; which is why I was so deeply honored when the founder, Scott Cunningham, announced at the beginning of the Skoog and Pardlo reading that I had just been appointed Professor-at-Large. In my first official act in this capacity, I urge all CRC visitors to visit at the U of W, and check out the astonishing project they are planning for National Poetry Month, April 2011, “O Miami,” funded generously by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, during which the goal is that “every single person in Miami-Dade county will encounter a poem during that month. Mixing traditional readings with innovative poetry-in-public-places projects,” the Festival RFP announces, “our events will attempt to deliver poetry to the widest possible (and often most unsuspecting) audience.”

    The Newfound Excitement of “Finding Our Public” – by Neil Baldwin

    Jumping feet-first into the vast, swirling Web-ocean a mere month ago, almost immediately the Creative Research Center started to hear from all kinds of energetic and imaginative people.  I’m going to pry open our international “Virtual Mailbag” in a moment and link you to some unexpected and new colleagues — but first, I want to share a particularly relevant quote from a  book I’ve just finished reading called Pop or Populus: Art between High and Low (Sternburg Press, NYC) by Bettina Funcke, independent curator and editor, formerly of the Dia Art Foundation.  “However large or small,” Ms. Funcke writes, ” a public basically needs to be invented, since we can never assume it already exists.” [CRC editorial comment: Boy, is that ever true!].  She goes on to qualify: “Potentially an audience already exists, but one needs to capture its attention.” [CRC editorial comment #2: ditto to the foregoing.] “So one addresses somebody or takes part in an existing debate, reaching out to be heard or seen; or uses mass media to reach out to the broader anonymous and heterogeneous public beyond one’s grasp.”

    Bettina’s observation got me thinking about how replete the blogosphere is with one-directional, outward-facing speakers compelled to express their points of view and/or vent about an endless variety of subjects. A secondary characteristic of the sphere, it seems to me, is the desire to in some way “monetize” the act, so as to make one’s efforts into a commercially-viable metier.  As will be obvious to our visitors, The Creative Research Center is not characterized by these ambitions.  Self-promoters, by nature, do not have time to reciprocate. They are not so much interested in communication as they are in declamation. Our platform here at the CRC is open-ended and mediacentric, not a soapbox. Of course we want the hits — but we have to see and feel  more gratification than mere contact; we need content that leads to further content – leading, in turn to substantive, passionate interaction.

    Hard to believe it was twenty-five years ago this fall when I was working as a diligent proposal-writer in the Development Office of The New York Public Library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue;  I remember standing at the arched, high threshold of Room 315, the Public Catalog Room, as the seventy-five year old  archival card-catalogue was about to be dismantled and the old worn wooden drawers emptied.  In their stead would be situated ranks of IBM computer stations, home for the high-tech, online CATNYP catalogue system.   Our President, Dr. Vartan Gregorian, delivered inspirational remarks to the assembled multitudes, even as he cautioned, as we opened the door to a vast, uncharted realm,  “Information is not knowledge.”

    All this by ruminative way of preface to opening our “Virtual Mailbag” and digging in to a selection of the informed and knowledgeable generosity we’ve received this month. One of our first – and most distinguished – responders was Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts at Coventry University, co-editor of Culture Machine and co-founder of Open Humanities Press. “Many congratulations on the launch of your virtual centre,” Gary wrote. “It’s certainly very exciting — and I’ve already been making use of your Web Bibliography.”

    “Congratulations on this new initiative of yours at Montclair State,” wrote Laura Brown, an old friend not seen in many years,  now the Executive VP for Strategy and Research at Ithaka, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the academic community take full advantage of rapidly advancing information and networking technologies.  “You are working in a space that is dead center to the kinds of issues Ithaka works with every day.”   Warren Sack, director of the Social Computing Lab at UCSC, from whom I gratefully appropriated the prophetic concept of Very Large Scale Conversations, was next to check in with an update on his new work in Conversation Mapping .    I was also heartened to hear from the iconoclastic Australian artist Simon Penny, who has taught in the USA for more than two decades and until recently was founding director of the Arts Computation Engineering Program at U.C.Irvine.  Now he’s about to join the Segal Institute for Human Centered Design in Northwestern University: “Interdisciplinarity lives on,”  Simon declared, “and clearly at Montclair State!”

    Ramsay Burt – author of the definitive study of  The Male Dancer as well as a recent, provocative piece on “The Specter of Interdisciplinarity” – reached us from the Dance Department at DeMontfort University in Leicester in response to the CRC’s prominent mission to help revivify dance documentation. “I certainly do look outside dance studies because we are a very small field,” Ramsey writes, “and we need to look at what other people are doing. Most people are stuck in their disciplinary boundaries…[I am trying to] get people outside dance studies interested in the ideas about the body and its creative potential for radical change.”

    And we  extend special thanks to three leaders in the field. Julie Thompson Klein, known to all as the pre-eminent scholar and editor whose personal bibliography is far too long for the confines of this blog – sent “congratulations” within a week of the  CRC launch.  We will look forward with great anticipation to her massive Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity coming in August. We were also pleased to hear from Jonathan Reams at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, editor of the Integral Review, a fascinating transdisciplinary and transcultural journal, who called the CRC  “indeed full of possibilities.”  And last, but most certainly not least, we thank Prof. William Newell of Miami University of Ohio, Executive Director of the Association for Integrative Studies, and his assistant, Phyllis Cox, for listing the Creative Research Center so prominently on their Interdisciplinary Connections Resources Page.

    We are very proud to be in this distinguished company.

    Keep those (virtual) cards and letters (and links) coming!

    Yours, NB


    Flash Update  6/13/10.  The Summer 2010 issue of ARTFORUM arrived in my mailbox  yesterday and it is so compelling I haven’t been able to put it down. It is a special double-issue — Tim Griffin’s last one as editor after seven years at the helm — called The Museum Revisited. This astonishing and provocative section can be found on pp.274-335 with commentary, images and essays by Kathy Halbreich, Jeffrey Deitch, Tino Sehgal, Manuel Borja-Villel, Rem Koolhaas, Ann Goldstein, Oscar Ho Hing-kay, Helen Molesworth, Pawel Althamer, Joanna Mytkowska, Roman Ondak, Ann Philbin, Tania Bruguera, Daniel Birnbaum and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Olafur Eliasson, Andras Szanto, Ann Temkin, Jeffrey Kastner, Lars Nittve, Adriano Pedrosa, Ines Katzenstein, R.H.Quaytman, Julian Rose, Chantal Mouffe, and Pi Li — and a valedictory Postscript by Tim Griffin.  

    This deluge of critical thought has  resonance for me because the section so thoroughly interrogates the viability of the museum as an institution in today’s decentered and fragmented culture in much the same fashion that the Creative Research Center is trying to forge its own path as a new virtual gathering place.

    Kathy Halbreich was for many years the Director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, a place I visited regularly and came to love for its seemingly-effortless blend of user-friendliness and curatorial openness. In the pages of ARTFORUM, Ms. Halbreich is still looking for better ways to connect with her public now that she has become associate director of MOMA.  Meanwhile, Jeffrey Deitch has made the transition from gallerist to director of L.A. MOCA where he, too, speaks of wanting to engage a broader constituency. Manuel Borja-Villel, who runs the Reina Sofia in Madrid, wonders whether museums have lost a degree of “mediatory power” in the multiple networks of creative industries. Ann Goldstein moved from L.A. MOCA to the Stedelijk in Amsterdam where she presides over a museum under perpetual construction, suffering from the extended absence of its home base and resulting public backlash. Helen Molesworth at ICA in Boston speculates about the sheer volume of artistic production in today’s world and how museums are supposed to accommodate and cope with it;  Ann Temkin at the Met confesses to her mortification at the amount of art work in storage that never sees the light of day.   Ann Philbin at the Hammer Museum has noticed that visitors now crave more participatory experience when they walk through the doors, not only reverent looking at a distance. And so it goes.

    Many of you reading this post may have grown up, like me, in the old world of material culture where you visited a museum of a weekend afternoon to meander through the galleries and observe beautifully-lit artifacts under the “do not touch” eye of vigilant guards. The ambience was appropriate to the ritual; there was no other Reality in those archaic times. The thing itself was “it.”

    Needless to say, the arts currently inhabit an utterly revised and dispersed range of perceptions and experiences. So many of our waking hours are spent in virtual places where nothing is out of range.  So when we make the shift from digital to analog, there is a perceptual phase of adjustment, unconscious but obligatory. People enter the foyer of a museum with their sensoria predisposed to expect more. Museums — as institutions that need to survive and still honor their (antiquated? nineteenth-century?) missions as cultural repositories — are looking inward to determine how best to respond.

    This introspective mood is one of the enduring forces behind the star-studded ARTFORUM gathering. The Cuban artist Tania Bruguera weighs in idealistically — if a touch hyperbolically: “I would like to see a museum in the not-so-new XXI century,” she declares in an outspoken sidebar, “that abandons the idea of looking for the idea of activation; one that is not a building or even a fixed space but a series of events and a program; one where the institution gives up authority; one that is dedicated to research into the practical usefulness of art; one where art entails actual social transformation, instead of providing merely highly speculative strategies for bringing about such transformations. One where things are not excised from their contexts — where objects are contextualized instead of historicized. One that is not a structure, but a moment; that is not a place to visit but a presence…

    …A museum that is more a part of the Internet, open-source, and Wikipedia culture.”

    Opening…Hard to Believe…but True – by Neil Baldwin

    We were putting the “finishing touches” on the Creative Research Center site the other day (and I place those two words in quotes, because on the Web, as my colleague, Cindy Meneghin likes to say, nothing is ever truly finished and everything can always be changed), when a fellow-professor asked me if there would ever be any “real” events sponsored by the CRC (and I put that word in quotes…well…for obvious reasons).

    To which I replied, of course there will be – starting with our Post-9/11 World Symposium here on campus in the Fall of 2011.

    As a matter of fact, the origins of the Creative Research Center were most definitely real.

    When the Deans in the College of the Arts — Geoffrey Newman, Ronald Sharps and Linda Davidson – first came to me and asked if I would like to take on the CRC, I leapt at the chance. Especially when they told me it was meant to be something different for Montclair State University, and that I would have to “think outside the box.” I gently reminded Geoff, Ron and Linda that in order to do so, you still need a box beyond which to think.

    Once we recovered from the giddy vertigo generated by that exchange, we realized we all desired a new initiative originating in our College, by and for the Montclair State community and beyond, that would reflect the momentous sea-change taking place in American higher education and the culture at large.

    That change is evident in many ways…

    …by a multiplicity – more like a deluge — of media choices in our daily lives; a plethora of sensory distractions (or entertainments, depending upon your point of view); inconsistent and deficient resources, both natural and commercial — such as environmental purity, jobs and money, to name a few essentials; and rapidly-expanding, redefined marketplaces of ideas and commodities.

    The Creative Research Center has been launched as a virtual place to respond to these changes.

    You are inside it by virtue of reading this blog.

    It has taken more than a year of endless labor, reading, cogitation and conversations, as reflected on the Who We Are and Living Document pages; of countless appointments and visits and 5:00 a.m. emails and phone calls and tweaks and Web-rhetoric debates and editorial give-and-take and emotional investment by dozens of caring and committed people, in order to “birth” the Creative Research Center.

    Looking back, I see how the CRC sensibility has evolved from those embryonic brainstorming sessions.

    We are now in an entrepreneurial and curatorial mode. This has special meaning for me, as vividly described recently by noted critic Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art. He says that a true curator is “somebody who pumps a lot of energy into a situation…who expresses interest in other people and brings good things out of them…[with] the ability to generate excitement, to focus attention and stir things up in a positive way.”

    “We need animators,” Storr insists – and if I could wish more than anything for the future of the new CRC, it would be this quintessential quality.

    As exemplified in all three of the words in our title, the Creative Research Center wants to feature and spotlight the works of others, including our most precious resource, our students; and encourage collaborations across disciplines and schools of thought.

    We respect the persistent distinctions between fields – after all, this is a University – while, at the same time, will freely explore the humanistic qualities that unite all of us.

    And remember: The extent to which the CRC lives up to its imaginative and intellectual ideals depends upon you, our visitors.