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 Stories for April 29, 1998:

Regular Features:

Scholarly Communication Symposium

by Kathleen Scalise, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 29, 1998

An April 23 symposium to celebrate the inauguration of Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl drew a crowd to the Maud Fife Room in Wheeler Hall, where a panel of faculty members discussed “The Future of Scholarly Communication: Audiences and Constituencies.”

Sponsored by the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the symposium took an interdisciplinary look at how academics communicate with various audiences. Panelists discussed everything from book publishing to Internet chat rooms to traditional lecturing in the classroom, but much of the focus was on the digital revolution.

“I think the first thing we learned is we’re in a very changing situation and the future hasn’t sorted itself out yet,” commented panel moderator Randolph Starn, after the symposium participants presented their varied and sometimes conflicting opinions.

Starn, professor of history and Italian studies and director of the Townsend Center, moderated the panel discussion with Christina Gillis, Townsend Center associate director. Panelists were Professors Manuel Castells of city and regional planning; Catherine Gallagher, English; Carla Hesse, history; Robion Kirby, mathematics; and Michael Watts, geography.

Their ideas ranged broadly and the two-hour forum allowed only a glimpse at some of the bigger issues.

“I would say really the future is now and electronic communication has already transformed the way we learn and we teach and we do research,” said Castells. “The key issue now is to select and process the mass of information we have available.”

However, despite the alluring call of technology, “there is such a thing as getting it too quickly,” said Hesse, who pointed out that the lightning speed of new forms of communication can interfere with “the preservation of spaces of long, slow, deliberative thought” necessary to crystallize valuable new ideas.

She pointed out that electronic chat rooms, for instance, make for a style of “real-time” writing that has become “less reflective” than a book or journal paper that can be mulled over for months or years before production. “We risk the loss of deep reflection,” she said.

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