Face to Face in Time and Place
The world keeps getting smaller, but somehow people keep finding themselves further apart. We live in a hyper-connected world. Tools like email, text messaging, and online chatting allow nearly instantaneous communication between people in all corners of the world. While these technological innovations have had many benefits—they have revolutionized the world economy, democratized access to information, and provided new opportunity for cross-cultural encounters—they are not without costs. While we now can be more and more connected to a far-flung network of friends, we also often find ourselves less and less engaged with the people and places closest to us in the physical sense. The more deeply involved we are with an online network in our personal and professional lives, the easier it becomes to forget the value of face-to-face interactions in the immediately present world and to forget both the unique benefits and problems of our local communities.
These changes are having profound implications for higher education. At the most trivial level, professors have learned that in the classroom they often must compete for attention with messages that students are receiving over cellphones and laptop computers. Beyond such annoyances, these technologies are transforming the entire relationship between professor and student. What exactly is the role of a professor when the Internet offers students immediate access to countless sources of information on any topic, information that can be accessed through gadgets and software that students usually are more adept at using than their teachers? At a more basic level, higher education today is buffeted by technological and commercial forces that pull both faculty’s and students’ attentions further and further afield, such that the entire relationship between a university as an institution located in a particular time and place and the community that surrounds it must be reexamined.
At the twentieth annual National Conference of the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and the Arts, held 15–17 October 2010, representatives of the Lilly Network schools gathered on the campus of Valparaiso University to discuss these issues. In plenary lectures, small-group discussions, and artistic presentations, conference participants considered the role of physical place in higher education and how we as teachers and administrators at church-related schools can and should respond to these developments. The essays in this issue are based on the plenary lectures presented at this conference.
In “Campus Places and Placemaking,” Gretchen Buggeln of Valparaiso University surveys how throughout American history the campuses of colleges and universities have been reconceived in response to changes in the needs and resources of a developing nation. In “Hacker Ethics and Higher Learning,” Gerardo Marti of Davidson College argues that the emergence of new forms of interaction made possible by technology has led to the development of a new set of values that governs the availability of information, and this “hacker ethic,” he argues, undermines the traditional understanding of education that guides many schools. In the third plenary lecture, “Where is the University Now?” Vincent J. Miller of the University of Dayton considers how our fundamental understanding of social space is changing in ways that hold both enormous potential and difficult challenges for higher education and church-related higher education in particular.
The world is getting smaller, and we as teachers cannot help but sense the exciting opportunities that this interconnected, ethereal, cyber world offers both to us and to our students. Yet we as creatures live embodied lives in the here and now, and these lives will always be shaped by the real places and spaces—the classrooms, the campuses, the communities—where we teach and learn together.