Last spring, I was teaching a course in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Most of the courses in this program are co-taught by faculty from different disciplines. I had the good fortune of teaching with Ed Paulino, a professor in the History Department. My discipline is Theatre, not only as a scholar but also as a practitioner.
Ed and I dedicated an incredible amount of time brainstorming and developing the course, which we called Acting Physical! Cultural Identity and Empowerment through Performance, which we simply referred to as our class. We came up with a list of readings – primary documents, plays (in Spanish and English), journal articles – just a plethora of wonderful texts that we believed the students couldn’t resist. To our dismay, many students could resist. However, to our surprise, we were not hearing the standard excuses. In fact, we were not really hearing excuses at all. The students who were not reading blatantly proclaimed: I just didn’t read it.
At this very same time in history – last spring – the Kindle eReaders were everywhere in the news and everywhere on the subway. Ah, I started thinking, perhaps students might read if their texts were all electronic and on a device such as an eReader. I began talking to my colleagues about this idea. The first conversation was at a bus stop on 59th/10th Avenue. The next was in Provost Jane Bower’s office, and then I approached Kate Szur, the Director of our First Year Experience. Everyone was intrigued, interested, and onboard. The problem, of course, was funding. And then Kate saw this special invitation grant for developing innovative ways for students to rent college reading materials.
A group of us met to discuss the positive impact that such a program could have on student success. Kate had just gotten a Kindle or her trip to Turkey and loved it. She let us all look at it… and even hold it…