The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the disaster emerging in South East Asia's most populous city: "Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater." Scientists and engineers are concerned with both rising sea levels and the rate at which the city is sinking--in some places almost fourteen feet in only a couple of years! Experts point out that while the causes of these problems are many, all are the result of human factors.
This story reminded me of the importance of science and engineering education and why our Clemson Stem Pop-ups are so important in that they bring STEM to the average student. This past semester, our students had the opportunity to engage with experts on nuclear waste disposal, potable water infrastructure, and climate change. While the latter two topics directly connect with the Times article, all three directly impact our college, town, and state. We can scale things up to the global, or we can scale them back down to the local--what matters is that we talk about these issues now and start thinking about solutions that can benefit everyone.
I begin my Better Clemson APP unit by asking my students to locate a problem on our campus that needs our attention. We often refer to significant problems, especially personal ones, as crises, but this definition isn’t very useful for rhetors. It is helpful to remember that the term “crisis” comes from the Greek krisis, a judgement. That is, when we locate a problem for our audience, we must call on them to do more than contemplate the gravity of a situation. It is our job as rhetors to approach a problem is such a way that it persuades our audience to inquire, judge, and attend.
Good communicators are not only adroit at locating a crisis, they are also able to communicate this crisis at the right time and place. The Greeks had two concepts for time. The first you know well, that of chronos, which corresponds with our linear time. But the other concept of time, that of kairos, refers to a break in time. Kairos is an opening, finite though it may be, that must be seized before it is lost. Here we might think about the time and place for a discussion, or the relevancy or effectiveness of information in particular times and places. An effective communicator has a strong intuition for not only what to say, but also when to say it. Exigency is another important concept that involves both time and message. The exigency considers the expediency of the message and a timely response to crisis. An effective rhetor, therefore, must communicate a message to an audience in timely manner before the audience’s patience wains or the situation changes. Ultimately, a good rhetor also wants his audience to act—we’ll get to this when we discuss agency.
Using Canvas Discussion (Canvas is Clemson’s digital classroom interface), I ask my students to write about the problem that they have found using stasis theory (see Oct 8 post below) and to generate a conjecture, definition, quality, and policy.
When students arrive to class for our next meeting, I ask them to read through the proposals on Canvas and respond to three posts from other students with which they find most interesting. From the activity on the Canvas Discussions page, I can start to judge which proposals are trending. With this data, I can begin forming groups based on the proposals students want to pursue. These cadres are ultimately self-selected though limited to four individuals.
I use cooperative learning strategies in this unit. Creative moves happen through working and thinking in communion with other thinkers working towards shared goals. To ignore this communion runs counter to the nature of doing both scientific and community work.
Stephen Quigley is a PhD student in Clemson