FROM THE PRESIDENT
The SDIS website will soon start to change in ways intended to serve us better. Today, the website is a handy place to learn about the next general meeting, to see some basic information about SDIS, and to find the Scholar’s Notebook. These basic functions are useful but newer website technology enables much more.
Our website has just been upgraded. New and more powerful back-of–the-screen software has been installed. What changes would you see were you to visit the website today? Almost none. The new software stands ready to be used in many different ways. We can choose how best to proceed.
The new software will permit gradual and incremental change at a pace in keeping with our understanding and comfort. It offers possibilities of turning our website into a group of individually configured modules, each of which meets the needs of some portion of or our entire membership. Each module, if desired, can be made interactive, open to input by some or all members.
A prominent need is to reconfigure the website in ways which will improve outreach to prospective new members. Consider for a moment your reaction if you did not know SDIS and you somehow stumbled onto the SDIS website as you browsed the web. You would see the SDIS face page. Consider whether anything on this page grabs your attention and gives you the immediate sense that you "understand" the essence of SDIS.
Web browsing is a fast process. Immediate impressions count when a mouse click is all it takes for a website to disappear. That you might be just the sort of person for whom SDIS has much to offer is of no consequence if you click away from the site not realizing what you have missed. Were this to occur, it would be a communications failure.
A well conceived SDIS face page should immediately and clearly invite your further attention. At a glance, does the current SDIS face page do this? I think not. We need to correct this deficiency in a way which, ideally, is so meaningful, understandable, and attractive that many of the people who would benefit from SDIS will actually stop their web browsing long enough for a second glance. Then, if this is favorable, the rest of the website must satisfactorily provide further interesting information.
This goal can initially be examined within a general rubric which views the website as an increasingly powerful outreach communication tool. The relevant question becomes, “Outreach specifically to whom?” — A good question, or so it would seem. There is, however, another rubric which starts with the premise that e-communications have transformative power; from this perspective, so-called “search engine optimization” of our website to the linkages seen by powerful internet search engines changes the entire nature of the problem. Might it make other ways of identifying target internet audiences less important or, I wonder, even irrelevant? We have much to learn.
Our traditional mode of outreach has been and will continue to be through personal contact by each of us with friends and associates. The website opens additional possibilities. Absent factual information, my guess is that the leading edge of the baby boom generation, now already retired, is the demographic which will find SDIS most appealing. Do send me an email if you have factual information which confirms or denies this assumption.
All of this leads back to a subject which has been the center of a lot of introspection within SDIS during recent years. Restated briefly, learning with and from each other, respectful discourse, support for individual independent scholarship, and a sense of community evoke the way we deal with each other within SDIS. We are, of course, not alone in this. We, in effect, have adapted to our context the idea of a special kind of learning community long known elsewhere in different contexts.
An example of well established practice is seen in the following excerpt from the website of St. John’s College (Santa Fe, NM and Annapolis, MD):
…. education to and for freedom, freedom from the tyranny that thoughtless acceptance or rejection of received opinions exercises over us …. learn to listen carefully and respectfully to others so that as much as possible the difficult, profound questions under discussion come to sight in their fullest richness …. The role of the faculty (called ‘tutors’) …. is to lead, moderate, and facilitate the discussion, not to convey their own expertise. Students and tutors together engage in an attempt to make sense of the material they are studying.
This style has deep historical roots. To cite one additional example, the following is excerpted from the website of Oxford University in England:
The Oxford College system makes graduate study at Oxford a truly unique experience: in a small, intimate and multi-disciplinary setting, your college will provide you with the chance to establish a new circle of friends quickly …. and to participate in a lively intellectual community of which the Fellows form an important part.
Our practice at SDIS is a variation on these old themes. Paraphrasing the Oxford statement, SDIS too is an intellectual learning community and, for many members, a circle of friends. Our face page needs to capture the spirit, not the details, of all this in immediately understandable words and images.
Looking at the likely website changes of the months and year ahead, we obviously do need to proceed with careful attention to effective implementation. In practice this will surely mean thoughtful incremental change and major focus on providing instructional information.
The goal will be to proceed in ways congenial to us as we gradually build an enhanced website which facilitates outreach, adds e-communication variations to themes which already interest us, and encourages exploration of new ideas. Several small task forces are already at work with the goal of defining specifics. Stay tuned for more information.
STUDY GROUP UPDATES
For several years, members of the SDIS Colloquy Cafe have gathered once a month to discuss a topic chosen by the attendees. While we do don't always agree with each other, we are always polite and open to diverse opinions. Topics covered in 2012 include "courage," "aging," "prostitution," "entitlement," "compassion," "public image vs. self-image," and "audicity." The topic for September 2012 is "power."
Our discussion of "public vs. self-image" noted how people have images of themselves that seem to be built in or hard-wired which may or may not coalesce with the image(s) they present to the public. Additionally, the public view of any one person can vary drastically from observer to observer, e.g., voters' images of presidential candidates. We decided that at least four images of each us us can exist at the same time.
Our recent discussion of "audacity" focused on the possible positive and negative ways the word can be used. Following our discussion, Judy Ramirez suggested alternative titles to Obama's The Audacity of Hope, coming up with, among others, the "assertiveness" and "resoluteness," of hope, which set off an exchange of emails adding "enormity," and "fluidity of hope" and other suggestions such as a reversal of the title, "hope of audacity." The Colloquy Cafe routinely meets from 1:30 to 3:30 on the third Wednesday of each month. The group is limited to 12 members, but anyone interested in joining the group should contact M. E. Stratthaus at firstname.lastname@example.org
OTHER NEWS THIS MONTH:
Discussions are underway about starting an SDIS open table, open discussion, roundtable occasional luncheon at a local restaurant. The model is the University of Chicago's roundtable mentioned in the President's column of the May, 2011 Scholar's Notebook. See Scholars Notebook Archive.
We learned that Bill's Caltech education in Physics was followed by a career in the then-new field of atomic energy. He had a scientific training but he was interested in much more than science. He was a gentleman and we knew him as a friend.
We knew, and his family confirmed for us, just how important SDIS was in Bill's life. He was a regular participant in study groups and had served in SDIS management positions. He had an inquiring mind, entirely in tune with the SDIS sense of wanting to "understand."
The words of the Benediction were written by Bill himself, in part: "May your interest in the manifold works of God open to wonderful worlds. May you hear the nuances of the earth – the footstep of the ant, the anthem of the aurora borealis."