The Digital Liberal Arts and Sciences: A Town Hall

Fall 2011. My first semester of full-time teaching. I was the only music theorist at Charleston Southern University. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was the only music theorist in the “Lowcountry” of South Carolina. I had taught my own classes as a grad student, but never this many classes, nor this big, nor with this textbook. When issues came up, and come up they did, where did I go?

I had great colleagues and a great department chair, but when discipline-specific issues arose, I had to get input from colleagues outside CSU. Since the discipline’s mailing list was in decline, I took to social media. On Twitter, I found a congenial group of music theorists willing to help each other out, share ideas, even brainstorm new ones together, and this group helped me a lot in my first teaching gig.

But that’s not all I found. When discussing pedagogy in the open with other music theorists, I found like-minded colleagues from a variety of disciplines, at a wide range of institutions. There are, of course, overlaps in the way our disciplines are taught. Music theory can look a lot like math at times ― creative writing, physics, or psychology at others. There was a more important commonality across our different disciplines, though: we had the central element of our classes in common ― our students.

Looking back on my first year of teaching, I can say that the people who influenced me most were all people with whom I interacted online regularly. But they weren’t all music theorists. The most influential people on my teaching that year were a music theorist in Florida, a mathematician in Michigan, a philosopher in Pennsylvania, a physicist in Minnesota, and several high-school science teachers. The internet enabled these cross-disciplinary connections, and my teaching was significantly better because of it.

This connection was serendipitous. But can we pursue it with intentionality?

In the inaugural Town Hall for UMW DTLT’s Digital Liberal Arts series, we explore harnessing the digital to promote intersections between the liberal arts and sciences. We are seeking to bring voices from across campus in concert to begin our discussions around the often thorny and complicated issues of disciplinarity, pedagogy, the liberal arts ethos, and technological change. All too frequently, these discussions focus on the traditional humanities disciplines, excluding important perspective from the social sciences, as well as the pure and applied sciences. We hope that the conversation will be diverse and wide-reaching in its disciplinary approach.

The panelists for the town hall are:

  • Mindy Erchull, Psychological Sciences
  • Janine Davis, Education
  • Elizabeth Johnson-Young, Communication
  • Andi Livi-Smith, Historic Preservation
  • Alan Griffith, Biology
  • Kelli Slunt, Chemistry

But we want your voice, as well, to be a part of this conversation. So looking ahead, here are some questions to ponder:

  • What are the liberal arts? Are they a set of disciplines? A stand-in for Gen-Ed courses? A frame of mind for work in any discipline?
  • How does the digital, particularly the internet, impact the work that we do as scholars, teachers, and students?
  • What pedagogical differences are there between the arts, the sciences, and the humanities?
  • What commonalities are there?

Join us Wednesday, September 14 at 4:00pm at the Hurley Convergence Center Digital Auditorium. The panel will be followed by a reception. If you can’t make it in person we’ll post a link to the live stream on the schedule for the series, and you can join the backchannel on Twitter with hashtag #DoOO.

This post was written collaboratively with Lee Skallerup Bessette. Photo by Wayne S. Grazio (CC BY-NC-ND).