We started out by reading the Latour & Woolgar chapter that I mentioned earlier. There are some challenging concepts in that chapter, such as "literary inscription" and "inscription devices," along with the authors' use of the terms "mythology" and "culture." We kind of stumbled around with some of those terms, and I'll probably have to take us more carefully through that chapter in the future (if I still use it). We actually didn't read the entire chapter because I wanted to focus more on the texts and uses of texts in the laboratory rather than getting into the way that papers were published and the kinds of statements used in the publications. (We are getting into that to some extent in the second project.)
After that, I teamed them up with people in different majors--I had an engineer working with a philosopher, another engineer and a finance major, an engineer with a graphic design major, an engineer with an accounting major and a communications major, etc. (we had a lot of engineers in this class!). I think I will keep this aspect of the assignment, though this time it meant that the presentations they did were pretty long--some of them going up to half an hour. The benefits were several:
- students got to know someone from a different major (which will also be useful once they get to the third project, which is an interdisciplinary research assignment);
- they got to see--and look carefully at--spaces that they quite possibly hadn't noticed (or even seen) before; and
- they got a chance to compare the kinds of institutional resources (including the physical plant) another discipline might possess.
Challenges and Thoughts about Revision
One of the challenges for this assignment was helping students find a focus for their presentations. As I mentioned in the earlier post, my colleagues expressed concern that students would end up just showing slides of similar and different things that they saw in their departments. To some extent this did happen, and in the future I will probably need to ask them to be more "ruthless" with their picture-cutting during the revision process. I asked them to take as many pictures as possible at the beginning, but we do need to work more on cutting, arranging, and theoretically grounding discussions of the pictures we take.
I might also have to revise my sample slide presentation because it focused on only one discipline--rhetoric and composition, as reflected in the Writing Program in the English Department. It would be easier for them to imagine the assignment if I were to do an interdisciplinary comparison myself. I'll have to decide which discipline to use, though.
Another point about my sample slide presentation that led in unforeseen directions is that although I wanted students to focus on the physical buildings in which their disciplines/majors/fields were situated, I started off with a couple of slides pointing out how the page on the English Department website introducing the Writing Program describes the WP as "an intellectual home for the discipline of rhetoric and composition"--I included that to point out that the WP is depicted as a discipline (rather than, say, a "subdiscipline" or "area" of English studies) and to have a jumping-off point for talking about the way in which the discipline of rhetoric and composition is present (and not present) in physical spaces of the English Department. What I didn't expect was that students would also start off with discussions of their departments' or majors' websites. Some of these were more relevant and focused than others, but the websites' inclusion led to me start thinking about whether or not I should somehow incorporate the virtual spaces of the disciplines in the assignment. I'm hesitant to do that, if for no other reason than that it will make presentations even longer, but I'm still thinking about this.
All in all, I think this was a good assignment, though it needs some fine tuning. I think I'll try it again the next time I teach the interdisciplinary writing course.