NewsletterEdelnant InterviewChatham-Carpenter Interview

On the Carver Institutes
Carver Fellow Jay Edelnant, Professor of Theatre

, by way of introduction, Dr. Jay Edelnant is Professor of Performance Studies. He teaches courses in theatre research, directing, and dramatic theory, directs and writes plays, and has served as Department Head, Director of Theatre, and Director of Graduate Studies.

Jeff:In what Carver Institutes did you participate?

Jay: Summer ’05 Critical Reading & Writing; Summer ’04 Interdisciplinary teaching

Jeff:What motivated you to take part in the institute(s)?

Jay: Getting the arts in front of the people teaching Capstone (the first summer) and maybe getting them to use drama to teach content); [and] I was hungry for a chance to meet faculty interested in teaching outside of my college and department.

Jeff:In your experience at UNI, what other experiences or professional development opportunities have been similar to the Carver Institute(s)?

Jay: I participated in a few projects for the Center for Excellence in Teaching (the “Qualities of an Educated Person Work Group” or “Techniques for Teaching the Large Lecture” or sessions on Intellectual Property and Copyright, Faculty Assessment, for example). Occasionally a technology workshop will connect faculty across campus by virtue of a shared interest in software or applications (“Computer Camp” for example)

Jeff: What distinguished the Carver Institute from other Professional Development experiences in which you’ve participated?

Jay: The funding; the technology grant; the level of specificity and practical nature of the structured work: news you can use.

Jeff:What are some highlights, or “take-home themes” that emerged from your Institute experience?

Jay: 1) How limiting the approach to the capstone class was—the curriculum seemed to delimit the ability of the people teaching it to expand or experiment (maybe it was a function of the people in the workshop); 2) How constrained many participants seemed to be by their perception of mandatory content (“If I do this technique [discussion, jigsaw groups, freewriting] I’ll have to eliminate content units that have to be taught.”); 3) The amazing amount of time necessary to really deal with writing in a content class and the apparent failure (or abdication) of the current writing program to bring students up to speed. 4) The changing nature of the students we teach.

Jeff:How has participation in the Carver Institute(s) manifested in your teaching and other professional pursuits?

Jay: I’m one of the first MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and On-line Teaching) reviewers in theatre. I’ve adopted (stolen) a few techniques and resources from both workshops: I’m using double interlocking jigsaw groups with faculty from other departments acting as mentors in history classes; Using the 3x5 card attendance technique; Using more free writing and writing prompts to activate discussion; There is an interdisciplinary course just waiting to be taught title, “Quantum Comedy” with a colleague in physics; Adopting Lipson’s Doing Honest Work and Salvatori’s Elements of Difficulty in several classes; Using in two classes (we’ll see how that goes.)

Jeff:Characterize the sort of faculty member most likely to benefit from participating in the Carver Institutes. And the least?

Jay: I was very impressed with the younger (read not tenured) faculty in the social sciences and the breadth of their experiences outside of their disciplines, their willingness to try new things and their preparation as teachers: they were doing innovative and risky things in their classes to get the results they wanted while remaining active, rigorous, and student centered. They seemed willing to take the time to teach in order to achieve the goals they set.

I was less impressed with faculty who seemed reluctant to tinker with what they did [or] complained more about the changing student profile rather than figure out how to teach to it.

Jeff:Finally, how has the climate of higher academe changed (students, scholarly expectations, societal expectations, etc.) over the course of your career, and how instrumental are projects such as the Carver Institutes to keeping up with change?

Jay: I think I’m doing a 75% different job now than I was doing in the ‘70s. Although theatre has always been an active learning-discipline, about 12 years ago we took a radical step as a department to adopt active learning, student centered curricular goals and models and revamped what had been a highly successful program in terms of reputation and theatrical production. What we morphed into was a department that focused on collaborative learning, team teaching, integrating out-of-class experiential work with class work and was interested in students identifying the creative in themselves, collaborating with others, and devising work of their own. In the past, our students went on to graduate study or taught high school. Now they tend to go out and work in theatre or start their own theatre companies. Not a better or worse set of outcomes but decidedly different.

I am finding students less willing to make artistic and creative commitment to the discipline, more interested in content learning, much more interested in vocational training, and much less tolerant of risk or failure in class or on the stage. They tend to be aware and knowledgeable but reluctant to participate or share their knowledge and views with the class. They have also developed an obstacle about “talking to adults” either in class or in advisement settings— many simply haven’t become comfortable communicating (yet) with people who aren’t their own age or can’t be killed on a PS2. There seems to be a real loss of information and cultural competence among my students, especially about basic history, literature, and cultural context as well as less responsibility to be aware of such things as political ideas, philosophy, or critical theory. There is a great increase in knowledge of the popular culture and comfort with media and technology that may offset the lack of book smarts, I’m not sure yet.

I think the Carver institutes are only effecting change among the people who have enough awareness and interest to work on their teaching. In terms of rate-of-change, I thought the first institute (interdisciplinary teaching) seemed interesting to faculty who were still doing information transfer 99% of the time. The second institute (critical reading and writing) had helpful material that was new to me—or I had heard about but didn’t know enough to go get myself.

The big question I still have about the Institutes is whether we really know that technology is improving instruction. How can we study WebCT or to see if the convenience (if it is convenient, ) is worth the alienation and distance. My students profess to love the convenience of e-mail contact, but my office hour is now spent answering it, not talking to them.

Dr. Jay Edelnant, interviewed by Jeff Weld