A New Way to Talk About New Books About Academic Innovation

This year is expected to be big for new books on the role of higher education in society. The question is, at a time when COVID is making personal conversations about books and travel more difficult, how will scholars interact with the wider higher education community around their new publications?

Our good friends and longtime collaborators Matthew Roscoff and Kristen Ashleman are leading a new initiative that seeks to address this issue in the forehead. The program, entitled “Academic Innovation for the Public Good,” organizes “10 monthly book talks through Zoom with leading scholars on how higher education can impact the public good”. Kristen and Matthew agreed to answer our questions about this new series.

Q: What are the motivations for creating this series of virtual events to discuss new books on higher education?

A: As co-leaders of the HAIL network, we are motivated to strengthen the links between the academic community we value. During the pandemic, a great spirit of collaboration emerged among institutions that shared approaches and resources to support their communities. We hope to maintain and strengthen this spirit in the long run. And as leaders in innovation, we naturally engage in testing ideas that have the potential to address meaningful, exciting challenges.

Here’s the problem we’re solving: it’s hard for scholarly authors to organize negotiations about books even in ordinary times. Can higher education collaboration infrastructure support an event syndication model that helps scholars engage audiences when their opportunities to travel are limited?

This limitation may limit the impact of new research. But by coming together through Zoom, we can bring our audiences together across different institutions to facilitate conversations on important topics and turn local conversations into nationwide ones.

The higher topic of innovation could not be more timely and important. The pandemic has simultaneously revealed the potential of education in response to the crisis as well as exacerbating inequality.

To plan for a more encouraging and equitable education system, we need to better understand the history of how higher education has responded to changing societal needs. Innovation must be based on these needs. These authors and discussing their work can help illuminate the way forward.

Q: How are the events? Can anyone attend? What are the costs? And do you need to read books to participate?

A: The series is open to the public and live on Zoom. Participation is free, but registration is required. Entries will be available later on YouTube, and those registered will be notified when they are published. We recommend reading the books in advance.

The authors will discuss the content in conversation with attentive interviewers who can help them expand their books. Interviewers will ask questions and then moderate audience questions. The first event on January 26 is attended by Professor of American Studies Davarian Baldwin of Trinity, then Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels in February and Illinois Chief Executive Officer Sekille Nsinga in March. (The full schedule is available here.)

We know how stressful life can be now. If you don’t have time to read books, come to learn more. You won’t find a better review of the book, and you’ll want to read it later, we’re sure. This is an impressive list of authors.

Q: Why do these events focus on the relationship between academic innovation and the public good? Scholars write many important books that have nothing to do with higher education. Why limit your attention to books on the history and future of the university?

A: Academic innovation is our field, and the HAIL network has been the main means of finding partners to syndicate this series. The authors we have invited study topics that are relevant to this area. In the national conversation on innovation in higher education, too much weight is given to entrepreneurs and “thought leaders” outside the sector. We need to balance this perspective and expand research and science, which should provide information on the future of higher education.

The model of syndicating events through Zoom is in itself an academic innovation. If successful, we hope this can be replicated by others who want to create a larger audience for their topics and pool pockets of interest in events that have critical mass. We saw this during a pandemic at the Zoom Graduate Workshops in Economics of Education (GEEZ) and the joint public humanitarian activities of the New York Institute of Humanities and the Stanford Humanities Center. We suspect there are many other examples of this.

Imagine how we could accelerate the pace of scientific advances if we reduced the barrier to collaboration and expanded scientific communication in seminars and negotiations. Open source has changed the way software is produced. Converted open access journals. Perhaps the next frontier in the exchange of ideas is open joint activities.

Q: A concerted effort seems to be being made to involve other colleges and universities in this series besides Trinity and Stanford. What is behind the integration of a number of institutions into these Zoom activities? What do schools need to do to engage and involve their academic communities in these discussions?

A: Stanford and Trinity are co-organizing the series, and we have sponsorships from Bentley, Brown, Duke, Michigan, Minerva, Penn and Princeton – and others are coming. Participation is free. Our syndication partners have agreed to share information about events through their newsletters, websites, event calendars and social networks, and in return they have been named co-sponsors. And we will all benefit from activities with more participation and energy.

We are open to other schools that would like to syndicate events. Just post them in your event calendar, post to social media using #ForThePublicGood, tag @kreshleman or @mzrascoff on Twitter and we will lend to your institution during events.

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