I just glanced Gerald Graff’s IHE column, “It’s Time to End ‘Courseocentrism’,” which urges greater transparency in the designing and teaching of classes and greater cross-curricular coordination, especially in the humanities. Humanities courses, Graff suggests, confound students with jumbled messages (fwiw, this rings of Fulkerson’s concerns with philosophical confusion in composition programs created by all of the mixing, borrowing, and blending). Graff would have us unmix the messages, prefer coherence, and even out the scenes of teaching.
That’s the part that doesn’t seem to me to get enough pixels in this column. Graff embraces “amazing new forms of connectivity” as one kind of solution, but connection doesn’t by natural progression bring about coherence. Also, connection demands a degree of participation: faculty ought to be putting their syllabi online. (I don’t mean for this to be a slight, but I couldn’t find any of Graff’s syllabi on the WWW). Courseocentrism–any kind of -centrism that neglects to take an interest in what is happening elsewhere–is akin to negligent specialization, perhaps a byproduct of it. There are many ways to complicate courseocentric tendencies at a programmatic level, provided teachers are willing (or made) to do so. In fact, as I prepared to teach this semester, I was impressed to find that the Writing Program had collected more than 250 syllabi and made them available online (albeit as static, unsearchable PDFs). I looked at no fewer than ten of them as I prepared my syllabus, just to develop a sense of what others had done. I ended up doing something slightly different (a courseocentric gesture?); I didn’t adapt anyone’s stuff, in other words, but this was possible because the syllabi were published online. Who doesn’t relish being able to glance syllabi for smart, engaging courses taught at all levels, whether at their own institutions or elsewhere?
In a roundabout, courseolliptical way, this brings me to my larger point (and unavoidable concern): When will the MLA develop a robust relational database for the systematic archivization of syllabi? Why not provide a platform for indexing (pre-coordinate and folksonomic), storing, and interrelating course syllabi (and materials, assignments for that matter)? Looking for a course on contemporary rhetoric? The platform would return a few by direct search and also suggest near-misses, following a “feeling lucky” algorithm. I understand that such a database is something that’s been on several people’s wish lists (and it’s also been technically possible) for some time. No telling whether it would narrow curricular gaps or level out the disjointedness in any curriculum, but it would be a start toward a more systematic use of “new forms of connectivity” to address chronic “courseocentrism.”