Building off Farah’s most recent post, which collected the projects presented at the CUNY DHI Lightning Talks this past Tuesday: I loved hearing about these ongoing and potential projects across CUNY and I’m so grateful to have all of those links in one place for reference. I also wanted to speak to the structure of the lightning talks and, from the role of observer/student/audience member, consider the condensed presentation format in more detail. The defining characteristic of a lightning talk is its brevity — a few minutes at most — and I wanted to share a blog post to this end from Danica Savonick, Assistant Professor of English, SUNY Cortland, and former Futures Initiative Fellow and HASTAC Scholar, “Timekeeping as feminist pedagogy.” (Available here.)
Replicating the bolded text in her original post, Savonick defines timekeeping as “deliberately structuring how much of a given amount of time is allotted to different tasks, communicating this information to participants, helping participants prepare to work within these time constraints, helping them stay on time in the moment, and encouraging an awareness of time constraints in others.” In this particular post, Savonick’s examples focus on the undergraduate classroom and how to teach time awareness, not just by assigning one presentation and using an aggressive noise to cut a student off in the middle of a thought on the day of said presentation, but by building practice into the course. She notes that, “[w]ithout a doubt, the number one “mistake” students make in these facilitations is trying to cover too much material in too little time. By the end of the semester and with lots of practice, students learn to scale back their plans and cut back from three activities to two, or from two discussion questions to one.” The quotation marks around “mistake” emphasize what a genuine challenge this process of time management can be, no matter the length or function of the presentation at hand and no matter the education level of the speaker. (Consider an ambitious lecture session, even in upper-level classes with an experienced instructor, that tries to “get the class back on track” after falling behind on material; even if the instructor is glancing at the clock every few minutes, it can be difficult to adjust material on the spot.) Even if the speaker is making a good-faith effort to make the time constraint and/or be considerate of the other potential uses of “their” time, they often encounter the issue that they have simply too much information and too little time, this time, and have to make a decision about how to act in the moment.
The lightning talks were a fascinating exercise in practicing this entire process of timekeeping and I am so glad I went to witness them. They not only gave a sense of the ongoing projects across CUNY but provided a relatively unforgiving framework for this timekeeping process to occur, particularly in contrast to more traditional formats at this level: possibly a lecture, where the speaker can look at the clock periodically for the hour or so, or a speech, with a few layers of etiquette that would help protect the speaker if they go over their allotted time.
The lightning talk restrictions also got me thinking about the consequences of timekeeping across settings, from the lightning talks themselves to any conversation oriented around academics. Even students and/or scholars who would follow instructions for a written paper to the letter — and even those who have the foresight to do a practice run or five of a presentation — might find themselves speaking past a time cutoff for one reason or another, or waiting to speak rather than listening fully. The consequence of this failure on the speaker’s part is that someone else does not get to speak to the best of their ability in their time. Echoing elements of our conversations throughout the semester, Savonick reminds us that “[f]eminist pedagogy teaches that silence is not an absence, but the effect of power. It encourages us to listen to those voices that have historically been silenced and to change the structural conditions so that their voices are heard.” To this end, I am also curious about another aspect of this process: not just the consequences of failing to keep one’s time, but what happens physically and emotionally to us and to our audience when we do not do so, from rushing through material to apologizing out of turn, and what this might mean for engaging with a learning community.