Two weeks ago, I participated in the Textual Editing and Modernism in Canada Summer Institute. For a week, we read and learned about textual studies in both an analogue and digital environment (and moving back and forth between the two), as well as having hands-on opportunities to think about editing beyond “the books” through various forms of art. Some students were taking the Institute for graduate credit, so you can imagine how much reading and work we were expected to do (I did my first graduate seminar presentation in over ten years!).
I’ve written before about how much I enjoy (and crave) these kinds of intense intellectual experiences. Just before heading to TEMiC, I also participated in DH Poco Summer School, which was rewarded and intellectually stimulating, but not in the same way. Despite how digitally connected I am and how much I love my virtual community, nothing, to me, compares to the experience of being able to interact and learn with and from people, face to face.
At the same time as TEMiC was taking place, the One Week, One Tool project was going on at George Mason. You can see the results of their work here, as well as read about one participant’s experience during that week. Unsurprisingly, the participants all noted how intense and rewarded the experience was for them. The group was very diverse and came together to create a tool. It didn’t have to work (although you would imagine that simply applying to be a participant indicated a willingness to contribute and work well with others) but it did because the participants had a singular goal that they all worked to achieve.
TEMiC was much the same; we had students and faculty from a variety of places, experience, and expertise coming together with the singular goal of learning as much as we could during the week. I loved that it was such a positive environment, full of positive energy and openness to listening and learning. I’ve been away from my first love (Canadian literature) for a long time, and it was really great to reconnect with the discipline and those who also geek out about it as much as I do (if not more).
I come away from the experience with a couple more general questions and conclusions: How can I re-create this kind of experience and energy in the classroom? I teach Freshman Writing, so the students aren’t there so much because they want to be, but because they have to be. I think I’ve done something towards achieving this goal by instituting peer-driven learning in my second-level class, but I still struggle in the first course in the series, the true Freshman Writing class. This semester, I’ve chosen to make the “theme” of my class “Games” but am struggling to balance what we have to do versus what they’d like to do around that theme. It’s a struggle.
But the second observation is that experiences like these are why you will never dissuade really bright and curious (and motivated) students from going to graduate school. They also crave these kinds of experiences, and they usually don’t get them from their undergraduate degrees. It’s also why the tenure-track position remains (rightfully or wrongfully) the ultimate goal; the belief is still that this is what professors get to do, which is engage deeply and meaningfully with their subject, and hopefully share that experience with colleagues and students (preferably graduate students). I am well aware of all the ways that the image of the professor clashes with the reality, but it happens way more for my husband than it does for me within the confines of our respective positions at the same teaching-intensive, regional, undergraduate institution.
Which means that adjuncts get even less of these opportunities. I also don’t want to discount the importance of these opportunities in terms of networking; each conference, institute, etc, is an opportunity not only to learn, but to be seen and heard, to be able to perform at your best in what you love, with people who love it, too. Adjuncts don’t usually get to teach in their area of expertise; they teach what needs to be taught. Adjuncts can’t afford to go to conferences, and most (but certainly not all) opportunities like this exclude adjuncts from applying, while cost will probably keep them from attending.
But it’s also sad that we think that the only way or place to have these kinds of intense intellectual community experiences is in higher education. Or maybe we think it because it’s largely true. We certainly need to give more serious attention to the experiences and benefits of Alt-Ac careers. But we also need to rethink the place for these kinds of experiences, that they can and should exist elsewhere, outside of academia, too.