Interdisciplinarity & Collaboration

Becky Noel

Spring 2022

Can it be possible that my first post-CPLC outcome is that I crave an app?

I participated in all three years of the CPLC, attending (I am pretty sure) all required sessions since August 2019 and plenty of non-required workshops as well. Last year, I took part in the Design Forward Pilot group that started in the summer. I eagerly attended Jan Jam this year, ably led for our AU by Kristin Stelmok and Abby Goode, and contributed to the slide deck.

As I prepared to write this reflection, I clicked slowly, twice, through the 53-slide presentation we built collectively about cluster pedagogy in our AUs and among staff.

In its wonky way, it’s a thrilling document. AU after AU, faculty cluster pedagogy activities are bursting like popcorn all over PSU and beyond. It’s like a virtual bulletin board.

I agree with the Nursing faculty: we need a “virtual share place” to find out what everyone is doing in time to make even more connections. This slide deck amounts to such a space, but it’s a snapshot. Not for the first time, I wish there were a centrally located faculty/staff lounge, dedicated times when people could cross paths, and a good old-fashioned bulletin board. In terms of digital communications, we do have achievement documents like those in the Provost’s Report and spotlight articles, but those news items mostly consist of work already completed.

I’d say we could use classified ads for new collaborations, like Craigslist or some internal social media. But Human Services faculty said it well: “I don’t know what I don’t know.” My best recent collaborations have come almost without looking for them: a project with Nicole Jaskiewicz last year and an extension of it with Suzanne Gaulocher this year. Nicole and I had assigned the same book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, her for Biochemistry I and me for Health and Illness in American History. Steve Rheaume of the bookstore noticed the matching order and Alice Pearman elevated it by reserving the book at Lamson for both classes. This year, since Nicole had left, I happened to be in a meeting with Suzanne Gaulocher and mentioned that I wanted a new collaboration. Perfect timing, because Suzanne hadn’t finalized her syllabus for her senior seminar in Public Health, and even better luck, our classes met at the same time. We’ve had great help from Martha Burtis, Ted Wisniewski, and Erika Rydberg-Hall, as well as a few CoLab Student Affiliates. We’ve continued the Pressbook I started with Nicole last year, a Reader’s Guide to Immortal Life, and some of our students also collaborated on historical maps using ArcGIS, which Suzanne’s students already knew how to use.

I’ve really enjoyed those two collaborations have been wonderful. My upper-level history course has no prerequisites; students in my course have been sophomores through seniors from more than a dozen majors. Students in Nicole’s course were mostly sophomores and came from a few science-oriented majors, and in Suzanne’s they were seniors in Public Health. The range of skills, backgrounds, and interests among students has been fruitful, and the students I’ve heard from so far have also found the public-facing nature of the project really exciting. But I more or less stumbled on these collaboration opportunities—that’s not a collaboration system.

The app I’m craving wouldn’t necessarily forge new partnerships either. Instead, it would illustrate the partnerships that are already happening and show how well networked we already are. That in turn could suggest other ways to make the network denser. Social scientists in several disciplines use social network analysis to visualize connections among people, ideas, resources, institutions, and more. Here’s an example:

social network analysis diagram
Social network analysis example. From “Demystifying Social Network Analysis in Development: Five Key Design Considerations”

I thought it would be revealing to use an app to plug in at least some of our collaborations as shown on the slide deck. I went looking for an app I could play around with. Not many minutes later, I realized I didn’t understand 90% of the words used in descriptions of these apps. I’ve used one candidate, R, a little, but it would take a while for me even to figure out whether it’s the right platform for this particular data. Game over.

I’m confessing this roadblock, though—how meta is this—to see if anyone in the PSU network might be able to create such a visualized analysis of our cluster pedagogy practices. (And if this has already happened and I missed it, that at least shows that we still need fuller communication spaces.)

It was discouraging in the slide deck to see how many colleagues mentioned being too understaffed, overworked, and under-resourced to maximize their possible engagements with cluster pedagogy. The years of the CPLC have coincided with some truly dark times for PSU and higher ed, not to mention the whole world. It’s not clear when we might have more resources to follow through on what we can envision.

But the CPLC itself has been a beacon. I’ve really enjoyed the activities and meetings, and I’m grateful to know more about national developments in higher education pedagogy. I also feel as though the deeply humane values of the CPLC have saturated my teaching and my conversations with colleagues. As a program coordinator, I’ve been involved in hiring and supervising four new faculty members, and the CPLC work has provided steady guidance. I now sometimes hear comments from people that make me think, “You haven’t participated in the CPLC, I take it?” For all of our recent challenges, I feel very lucky to work with these committed colleagues and to have taken part in the CPLC.


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