Friday, March 25, 2011

Professor-Student Collaboration: The Case of Jessica DeSpain

My friend and English department colleague Jessica DeSpain has been providing me with ideas about literary scholarship and models for collaboration for some time. She continued demonstrating best practices yesterday at SIUE's College of Arts and Sciences "Thinking about America" colloquium. 

For the discussion "Representations of Americanness in Book Designs for Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World," Jessica was joined by two students, Kelly Walsh and Wendy Simpson. The students - participants in SIUE's URCA program - have been working with Jessica to expand and enhance her Wide, Wide World Hypermedia archive project--which features "illustrations, cover designs, and textual variants of Susan Warner’s novel, The Wide, Wide World."

In addition to the content of the presentation, I took note of the format or approach. Usually, a three-person panel has one person, then another, and then the last person presenting papers. After that, the members of the panel take questions and answers.

For Jessica's presentation however, first she offered a general overview, then Simpson read a short statement, Jessica made additional framing comments, then Walsh read a short statement, and the pattern was repeated again before the presenters took questions.

The presentation of shorter pieces framed by Jessica's overall comments throughout seems like a small change from the typical panel approach, but it stood out to me for a few different reasons. For one, it gave the panel a more distinct, collective voice. The approach also made the presentation more user-friendly; it was easier to follow shifts in topics and perspectives.

The presentation style also gave the panel a more round-table feel as opposed to something more linear. My interest in jazz may have socialized me to be drawn to the alternating, less linear approach that Jessica was taking.  

I somehow missed the introductions at the beginning of the presentation, so throughout the discussion, I assumed that the two students were at the graduate level. I think that spoke volumes to how their collaborations with a professor on a research project contributed to raising their ability to write and talk about their engagements with specialized scholarly materials and activities.

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