Presentation Abstract


What do you get when you cross a philosopher, a psychologist, and a computer scientist? If the serendipity is right, you can end up with collaborative project involving nearly every department on campus. At AUC, a series of chance meetings and hallway conversations--beginning with a composition instructor trying to borrow course materials from a philosopher--evolved into a rewarding interdisciplinary symposium" entitled "Mental Models/Virtual Worlds". Encompassing topics ranging from "Cyberspace as Gothic Space" (Literature) to "Samsara and Virtual Entertainment" (Management) to "Ethical Issues in Software Engineering" (Computer Science), it was lauded by the Provost as an example of the "...dialog across the disciplines [that] is at the heart of liberal education".

In an academic system that increasingly demands specialization, probably nothing has done more than technology (and particularly the Internet) to encourage cross-disciplinary communication. On many campuses, seemingly insurmountable barriers of pedagogy and seniority are broken down by the more potent shared experiences of TCP/IP configurations, Netscape crashes, and fake virus alerts. And, hey, isn't it satisfying to know that on days when you can't get a dialup line, the Provost and the VP for Computing are having the same problem? Technology is a great leveler, and it's hard to imagine any other topic on which engineers, linguists, dramatic artists, and administrators can converse so easily and animately in the Faculty Lounge, on committees, or over local listserves.

The increased visibility of lists such as FACSUP-L (Support of Faculty Using Computing Technology in Higher Education) and of conferences such as ASCUE (Association of Small Computer Users in Education) are symptomatic of cross-disciplinary sharing in academic technology, and an expansion of that community to include not only a surprising variety of faculty, but also a profusion of campus computing specialists. We used to believe that the sole purpose in life of technology experts was to frighten and mystify us, but we now find ourselves cooperating with them toward the higher goal of "making things work".

Still, true academic collaboration involves more than swapping software ideas, UNIX commands, and e-mail addresses. It's one thing to foward a call for papers for a conference, and another to suggest a joint presentation *at* the conference. Not surprisingly, most efforts are still focused within allied disciplines--at least to the extent to which we still consider, say, English Literature and Rhetoric/Composition to be "allied disciplines". In the best of scenarios, though, interdisciplinary cooperation can evolve beyond utilitarian levels into a true meeting of minds and sharing of knowledge that enriches not only the individuals involved, but the entire campus culture and perhaps even the disciplines.

Using examples such as those mentioned above, this presentation would explore some of the visible and not-so-visible ways in which electronic communication--and particularly the Internet--can work to foster collaboration among widely diverse elements of the academic community, to an extent that no amount of outside pressure could achieve.

Author: Kate Coffield


Target Audience: Not Applicable

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