Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Concentration in the Humanities

Our NEH application was awarded. It's titled "Concentration in the Humanities." I've posted on some of the concerns that the project intends to address in Combating Digital Maximalism But here is the grant proposal's abstract:

Concentration in the Humanities is a three-part project that helps Humanities students deal with digital distractions. The grant will: 1) fund the development of an interdisciplinary course that explores our increasing connections with others and how these in turn affect the experience of solitude; 2) fund the development of software enhancements to an existing assessment engine which students in the course will use, and 3) fund the creation of a “distraction lab” that will enable students to explore how concentration encourages better reading and writing. Students in the course will write their assignments in the “distraction lab” where instructors can calibrate the amount of connectivity students can have with the outside world. The Concentration in the Humanities Project will serve as a pilot. Weber State’s Composition Program (which one of the grant participants directs) will integrate the pilot’s best practices into its curriculum. Concentration in the Humanities will also catalyze campus conversations about the problem of distraction in the digital age and the importance of learning how to focus when attempting to read or write.

Statement of Innovation

The project will transform Weber State’s testing centers and enhance testing software to give instructors more granular control over the amount of connectivity students have when completing assignments. The course will put a problem often treated as uniquely modern in historical context. While the specter of the "data deluge" is real, few scholars have investigated its historic antecedents. By using the past to inform the present we will examine whether modern challenges to concentration are unique. By using cutting edge software, we hope to find new solutions to enduring dilemmas.

Statement of Humanities Significance

The capacity to concentrate is fundamental to reading and writing, yet distractions often impede concentration. Distraction is often framed as a quintessentially modern problem, the result of an increasingly busy, connected world. Yet distraction is not particular to the digital age; worries about it have been recorded since the inception of the written word. Looking at past approaches to the problem of concentration and applying modern methods, we will help students learn to be focused writers in a world where distractions are rife.