Teaching and Time

It’s Mardi Gras. It is one of the few days of the year when the average person becomes aware of the liturgical calendar and the transition from pre-Lent to Lent. Because the liturgical calendar does not align with our solar calendar the date of Easter and Lent shifts each year through out the spring. Even if one is not particularly observant, this intersection of religious and secular time is a nice reminder that there are a number of different rhythms in the world and these rhythms happen simultaneously.

This has been helpful this week because we encountered a little challenge in my one-credit class designed around engaging and documenting a building on campus that will soon be demolished. Unbeknownst to me, the building, Montgomery Hall, is scheduled to begin asbestos mitigation next Monday morning. This will involve removing carpets, flooring, and, in some cases walls. In many cases this will make the original fabric of the building more visible and this is a good thing.

The downside is that we have to be out of the build for all of March. I had ideally hoped that we could be in the building for most of March and April. Not it appears that we will have to be out of the building for at least half that time. The students, of course, we understanding and can shift their attention to work in the University Archives in Special Collections where they have formulated some intriguing research questions and projects. At the same time, it taught them a useful lesson that when you’re dealing with the real world there are always going to be challenges and unexpected events that disrupt the steadier rhythms of the academic calendar.

Over the last few years, as editor of North Dakota Quarterly and publisher at The Digital Press, I’ve wanted to include students more fully in the publishing process. The biggest challenge is, however, that the publishing process does not sync neatly with the academic calendar. NDQ, for example goes the publisher on October 1 and March 1 and a good bit of the work happens in a great flurry of effort at the start of each semester. This means that there would be very little time to ease students into a project and a good bit of dead time at the end of the semester when the issue is sent off to press. This, of course, is not insurmountable, but it does demonstrate the occasional incompatibility between the rhythm of the semester and the rhythm of, say, publishing.

The challenge gets more complex when dealing with The Digital Press because in this case you not only are dealing with the rhythm of the semester, but also the work habits of copy editors, typesetters, and individual authors. Ideally, students feel a sense of ownership over a project because they can see it through from manuscript to completion, but since this rarely follows the course of a semester, it is difficult in practice to achieve this. Moreover, the rhythm of semester life often makes it hard for students to even think about projects that run across semester breaks. This is reasonable, of course, from the perspective of students who often have tightly scheduled time commitments around other course work, jobs, and personal lives. 

It does make it hard, though, to give students a taste of the real world without the kind of contingency and commitments that life in the real world often involves.  

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