Friday, July 29, 2016

Slow Week 5: Research and Understanding

This week's reading hits me where I work, because I work at a very corporate university where other values -- slow values, academic values -- are eclipsed.  So the best thing I can do for myself is put in a very visible place as a constant reminder the following:  "Slowing down is a matter of ethical import" (58).

I need to put this to make an everyday mantra because I know I've said, in an admiring way, "s/he's a machine."  (Probably not often, but enough times for me to know I don't want to say that anymore, that none of us should be machines, and if someone feels so driven that they have to produce in a machine-like manner, we should probably find out what's wrong.  None of us should aspire to be as productive as a machine. To me, this really shows us an everyday example of what societal values actually are.)

And to support us, this chapter offers us the following:

Slow opens up ways of thinking about research that challenge the corporate ethos. Using the language of Slow connects us to a larger political and social movement.. . .Knowing that there is a global movement for slowing down can fuel us, and this is important because challenging the dominant model of research is quite difficult; going against the grain usually is not easy.  Slowing down is about asserting the importance of contemplation, connectedness, fruition, and complexity. . .(57)

There is more to this chapter -- a discussion of the ethics of time for self and other, the concern that the instrumentalist approach deflects critical inquiry into its own process as well as feminism, a focus on language, and specifics suggestions for us to try.  I have to admit I had a long day and not enough time to read and think about this chapter, so I'm going to leave it here and come back later.

What do you think of this chapter and its points?  What kind of language do you use to describe someone's accomplishments?  Are there ways you could advocate for a Slow-er take on research? 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Slow Week 4: Pedagogy and Pleasure

This chapter champions pleasure as important to teaching and learning.

It seems obvious that when one teaches well, one enjoys it, but perhaps the reverse is actually more accurate:  that when one enjoys teaching, one does it well . . . it may be the case that pleasure -- experienced by the instructor and the students -- is the most important predictor of "learning outcomes." (34)

Pleasure here is discussed as a positive and embodied emotion that affects our thinking in important ways, arguing against online coursework on the ground that it is not as effective as face-to-face interaction where emotions are infectiousThe authors here quote Picard et al: 

"a slight positive mood does not just make you feel a little better but also induces a different kind of thinking, characterised by a tendency toward greater creativity and flexibility in problem solving, as well as more efficiency and thoroughness in decision making." (37)

Who doesn't want to gain greater creativity and flexibility in problem solving?  Who doesn't want students engaging in more creative and flexible thinking in the classroom?  The answer is to "work at having positive emotions" in order to counteract the brain's instinctive negativity bias with several suggestions, the most succinct of which is probably we need to "stop abusing ourselves with overwork" (40).  The other suggestions were varied:  remember to make a transition to class; "hold the space" in silence before beginning class; remember to breathe; don't be afraid to laugh and make students laugh; listen and pay attention to students; giving students specific boundaries in the syllabus or course guidelines about social media (one lesson I took from the "intercepting" section); "'reduc[e] one's attention to time may therefore be an important, yet previously overlooked, means of promoting flow'" (as quoted from Conti, 50), (the other lesson I took from the "intercepting" section; prepare classes in brief enjoyable sessions; think about preparing one's class as a story as well as use stories to make the lessons more engaging; prepare assignments that are "useful and enjoyable for the students themselves" (50).

What is the most difficult part of teaching for you?  How could you make teaching, preparing for teaching, and/or grading more pleasurable?  Are there boundaries you could set that would help make teaching more pleasurable?  What concrete steps could we take to "stop abusing ourselves with overwork"?  What gets in the way of really listening and attending to students?  Is there a way to introduce "timeless time" into the classroom without getting hopelessly behind?  What does thinking about your course as a story do for you?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Slow Week 3: Time Management and Timelessness

I love the movement of this chapter.  It starts with the startling assertions that more faculty report the feeling that they can't get everything done no matter how hard they work than CEOs.  More faculty feel physically or emotionally exhausted at the end of the day than CEOs.

A key quote to me (among many -- I have 4-1/2 pages of notes, mostly quotes I wanted to spend more time with):

The fact that we need to give ourselves permission to eat, bathe, and pay bills reflects our loss of balance in the current university climate. The time crunch is not just a personal issue. It is detrimental to intellectual work, interfering with our ability to think critically and creatively. (17)

Berg and Seeber do a great job of going through some representative academic self-help literature and calling out some of the key assumptions behind their time management advice.  (One that I had read was Donald Hall's Academic Self, but though I had admired the way he called for academics to have credos or purpose statements, his time management never worked for me.)  Berg and Seeber ask "Is academic time really as 'subdividable, regular, and predictable' as Hall posits?" (24) (to which I want to scream no way.  Not only is academic time not regular and predictable, but I am not regular or predictable!  And these relentless time management systems seem to assume people are not moody or emotional or that their days are more regular than mine at least are.  If the point of the time management systems is to get intellectual work done, my moods and emotions are going to be relevant.  But I can't turn on a dime because it's 11:30 and a month ago I thought it would be a good idea if I'd work on my scholarship now.  Go!  But that's not Berg and Seeber's point here.)

It turns out that "[r]esearch show that periods of escape from time are actually essential to deep thought, creativity, and problem solving" (26).  We need timeless time or timelessness; this "flow" or "engrossment" not only makes us more effective at our intellectual work, it makes us happier.  "The major obstacle to creative and original thinking . . . is the stress of having too much to do" (28).  (Oh how well I know this.)

The following quote I'm pretty sure I need to see in front of my face on a regular basis:

We need, then, to protect a time and a place for timeless time, and to remind ourselves continually that this is not self-indulgent but rather crucial to intellectual work.  If we don't find timeless time, there is evidence that not only our work but our brains will suffer. (28)

I may put that one on my office door.  The rest of the chapter offers some concrete suggestions about how we can champion timeless time:

1. Get offline.
2. Do less.
3. Create/schedule (?) regular sessions of timeless time. (Berg and Seeber have five components here that are worth exploring.  Anyone?)
4. Give self regular timeouts.  (Kindness to self with radiate out to others.)
5. Change the way we talk about time all the time.

So what were your reactions to this chapters and its assertions about time management versus timelessness or timeless time?  Am I the only one who sees a relationship between timelessness and mindfulness and maybe even the current craze for meditation?  If you are, as I am, hooked already by Berg and Seeber's arguments, then how do people at your institution talk about or regard time and how could you resist that by proposing a counter-example?  How could you be a slow-er professor? What would each of Berg and Seeber's suggestions look like for you?  Is it worth it to try one suggestion out this week even?

What do you think, y'all?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Slow Week 2: the Introduction

The introduction to The Slow Professor argues that stress in academia exceeds stress in the general population (finally, some empirical studies to show what we live every day!) and that this stress has a lot to do with busyness, time pressure, and lack of work-life balance promoted by the corporatization of the university.  With corporatization and increasing managerialism (of particular relevance to me right now because academics at my institution are being restructured) comes the language of efficiency and crisis. 

While much of this may be familiar territory to those who've been paying attention to the many critical studies of the university (or just living in academia), what surprises me (but shouldn't) are assertions like these:  "individual professors' well-being has far-reaching effects.. . .It goes without saying that stress is bad for the individual and has direct consequences for society.  The harmful effects of stress our our well-being, health, and communities are widely documented and now generally acknowledged.  What is less evident is that addressing individual professors' stress has political and educational ramifications" (4) and "faculty stress directly affects student learning" (6).  Instead of asking "what is wrong with us?" that we seem to be struggling as academics within our institutional contexts, the authors ask, "what is wrong with the academic system?" that it creates conditions that we know are actually detrimental to our being effective as academics.  That these issues of stress and time crunch can be directly connected to some of our most significant work -- teaching -- is really important.  I know that I've felt very compromised as a teacher lately because last quarter as we were reading about how we need more time to deeply think about our actions and responsibilities, I was also completely behind in their grading and everything else, unable to role-model what I was talking about.  If I can't actually do what my class argues for in the context of my visible work life, how can I expect my students to take seriously what I'm advocating?  (What's more, at my institution, which is deeply entangled with the corporate model, I may be able to more effectively argue for better conditions by talking about the way it makes me an ineffective teacher and role model than by arguing for traditional academic values.  This is just an oddity of my institution, though.  It may be that others can do more with that argument.)

I love that Berg and Seeber assert that in response to "crisis!" and calls for efficiency, "Slow Professors act with purpose, taking the time for deliberation, reflection, and dialogue, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience, able, as Collini puts it, to hold our nerve" (11).  In the face of all the calls to rush to a decision (and I know I'm NOT the person I'm capable of being when I'm rushed, as suggested in the Rettig quote in the Preface), asking for time to consider something has seemed weak or ineffectual or just plain not possible.  My chair and I spoke about exactly this once, where zie affirmed that it was okay to say that I needed more time to make a decision.  But it still seemed weak in the face of my highly-corporatized institution and institutional culture (where even some of my best colleagues would rather just throw something together, put in place, and then improve it later, which drives me nuts because a bad decision can definitely be worse -- and more damaging -- than none at all); Berg and Seeber help me see this differently -- that asserting that I need more time to consider a decision can be seen as resistance.  What's more, I can also think of it as role-modeling to others that we should be taking more time to think deeply about our decisions.

While Berg and Seeber are both humanities scholars, they also assert that "[The humanities] are paradigmatic of the non-instrumental intellectual enquiry which we need to protect across disciplines. It is precisely this critical thinking that is at the heart of the university as a public good" (13).  This reminds me of the movie, Contact, and the pulling of funding for all pure research in favor of applied research.  So I can see the connection to the STEM disciplines here.  Though my strange context has made me wonder about the notion of a critical citizenry as a public good.  Obviously, while some critical thinking can be deployed to solve corporate problems, it doesn't necessarily seem helpful to corporate interests to have an informed and critical citizenry.  So the corporate university does not support the notion of critical citizenry as a public good.  (In fact, what I'm learning about neoliberalism is that it does not support notions of the public or common good.)  So I'm wondering whether the notion of a critical citizenry as a public good now sounds like a liberal (as in liberal versus conservative) notion.  I know that it's very difficult to argue, in my context, for these broad values; both students and faculty in other disciplines at my institution believe implicitly in the instrumentality of the education we provide and academic knowledge more broadly.  (Another, perhaps too harsh, way to say this is that my institution doesn't really believe in academic values.)

What are your thoughts about the introduction?  What does the culture of busyness, overwork, and efficiency look like at your institution?  (Perhaps sharing these will help us all to recognize the signs -- and opportunities for resistance -- at our own institutions.)  And I've been thinking a lot about this one:  how can we decolonize our own heads of this thinking (that what's wrong is us rather than this efficiency and overwork culture) so that we can change our own habits, self-talk, and interactions with others so we can be people and academics we're capable of being?

Please don't feel constrained by my questions or opinions!  Take the comments in any direction you like.  I look forward to it!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Discussing the Slow Professor: Week 1: Introductions and Preface

Welcome!  I am delighted to host a discussion of Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber's The Slow Professor:  Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy.  Please join us for a thoughtful discussion about its principles and how we can apply them to our own academic and other work lives.  In keeping with the book title and focus (and to keep me from swallowing the book whole), we're deliberately reading slowly in order to savor each morsel and really digest its lessons, so we'll read one chapter per week and discuss it (which should allow even those who are on challenging reading schedules to weigh in). 

Here's the breakdown by week:

Week 1 7/1-7/7:  Introduce ourselves and read/comment on the Preface.

Week 2 7/8-7/14:  Discuss Introduction (pp.1-15)

Week 3 7/15-7/21:  Discuss Ch. 1:  Time Management and Timelessness (pp.16-32)

Week 4 7/22-7/28:  Discuss Ch. 2:  Pedagogy and Pleasure (pp. 33-51)

Week 5 7/29-8/4:  Discuss Ch. 3:  Research and Understanding (pp.52-70)

Week 6 8/5-8/11:  Discuss Ch. 4:  Collegiality and Community (pp. 71-84)

Week 7 8/12-8/18:  Discuss Conclusion:  Collaboration and Thinking Together (pp. 85-89)

At the beginning of each of our weeks, I will put together a (hopefully) thoughtful prompt about what we read and then we'll use the comments to discuss the text (whether your comment follows my prompt or not). 

I would ask that everyone play nicely and engage in collegial, productive discussion.  Most of us probably have strong feelings about academic life as well as the culture of crisis and efficiency that is encroaching on, or come to dominate, our work lives (for good or ill); we just need to remember to keep from turning our strong emotions on each other.  If you hate the book or someone one's comments, please just critique thoughtfully.

For this first week, please introduce yourself, your institutional background (if you wish), and what you're hoping to get from this discussion.  Once you've read the Preface, please feel free to comment on that as well.  (Also, if you're like many people with busy summer plans that have you busier some weeks than others, please feel free to join the discussion even if you can't be here each week.  I realize that in starting today many US citizens are just about to start long weekends, which may or may not be perfect for getting some reading done.  No worries:  join us when you can!)