This blog post was written by Jeff Allred, Professor of English at Hunter College.
This week, ACERT invited two CUNY colleagues to campus, Maura Smale (Head Librarian, City Tech) and Mariana Regalado (Library, Brooklyn College). They presented their work on what they call, borrowing from social anthropologist Tim Ingold, the “taskscapes” of students from several CUNY campuses (including Hunter’s). Taskscapes are the distinctive array of tasks that unfold in space and time as students move through their educations and lives more broadly. You can access the slides from Tuesday’s presentation here.
In movingly granular detail, their project, the Undergraduate Scholarly Habits Ethnography Project, reveals crucial details of how/when/where students do their work and reveal the everyday grind of seeking out time, silence, space, books, computers, plugs, food, and all the rest. If Virginia Woolf argued that a woman needed “money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” this research provides a window into the barriers our students face in gaining access to such basic aspects of reading, writing, learning, and researching. Most strikingly, the project incorporates students’ subjective impressions of their taskscapes in the form of cartoon-like maps of commutes and research workflows, cellphone snaps of work spaces and print stations, interview transcripts describing everyday struggles and pleasures.
Obviously this project concerns matters far beyond the realm of the practical, but as a faculty member, it helps me to think about the “last mile” problems students might face in my assignments: internet access, access to laptops, cost and availability of printing, time budgets for getting reading done on tight schedules, the sheer weight of those books on long commutes. In this way, Professors Smale and Regalado open up what is often a “black box” for us and make us better able to sympathize with and serve our students.
An ACERT Event Capsule of Maura and Mariana’s presentation can be found here.