Lately, we have been thinking about how instructors at the university communicate to students what professionals in their disciplines do. That is, how does what we do in the classroom reflect what happens outside, in our professional lives. I remember when I was an undergraduate English Major, I thought that being a professor meant knowing a lot of biographical information about a few authors. And I thought it meant being a text-detective, combing through novels to find meaning hidden between the words, like Easter eggs in the grass. Looking back, it seems laughable. I didn’t pay much attention to the whole idea of scholarly debate, or historical reference, or evaluating theoretical perspectives. So where did I get these ideas about what English Professors do, and the work of academics? I think my ideas came from lecture, where the secret meaning of texts were revealed to us by the expert professors, and the papers where we mimicked the text-detective work our professors seemed to be doing. But what if we asked students to do what we actually do; engage directly with the kinds of scholarly debate we wrestle in our lives as academics.
What if students planned and participated in mock conferences? What if they prepared lectures? What if they designed the syllabus, or choose readings? What if students were working with us at the ground level, making meaning out of the texts rather than receiving it though the lecture notes? Would students leave the class with a better understanding of what the discipline is all about? Karen Cardozo did just that with her Literature class and assigned them to design a syllabus for an introductory survey course. In creating a syllabus, students were forced to come up with a rationale for their choices. Why are the books they choose the best introduction to the study of literature? By working to answer this question they are developing ideas about what literature is and what concepts are most important in the discipline. See her interesting, and scholarly, report here.