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Troy Smith Sabbatical Report - 2010 2


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Troy Smith Sabbatical Report - 2010

by Troy Smith

The socio-economic system revealed by God to Moses included a year of rest every seven years. In the modern world, this is knownSabbatical-1 as a sabbatical. Technically, a sabbatical isn't a rest—rather it is a time away from one's normal pressures and responsibilities to gain a fresh perspective. Sabbaticals have long been a part of higher education, and tech firms and businesses are now adopting the practice. Employers find that employees, who have used their time on sabbatical as intended, return from a sabbatical recommitted to their work, and carrying valuable insights that advance knowledge, learning, and the business's objectives.

After ten years in the classroom without a break, I felt my presentation getting stale. I knew my teaching content was dated, and I had published myself out of a research agenda. I was falling behind in many of the fundamentals necessary to be an excellent teacher who possesses the knowledge and skills students should expect from their teacher. For example, I lacked the time and energy to absorb the publications and studies in my field, broaden my knowledge by exploring new theories and literatures, and learn the new technologies that are increasingly part of the modern classroom.

To redress these problems, I developed a sabbatical plan with two parts. The first part was writing an online annotated bibliography on federalism for Oxford University Press. I delved deeply and broadly into my primary field of study—a topic that is very broad and very complex. This required me to read many articles and books, break the field into subfields that would help researchers make sense of the field, and identify the most important publications in each subfield. I gained new insights and developed hypotheses about federalism that I will test in the future. I would not have been able to do this project had I not been on sabbatical due to the consistent and dedicated effort it demanded. The project's chief editor at Oxford University Press commented on the final product, this is a "magisterial entry which covers an immensely complex set of inter-related literatures with ease and lucidity."

I am currently on the second part of my sabbatical. Its objective is to expand my knowledge in areas relevant to my field of study and teaching responsibilities. I have explored complexity theory, economic institutional theory, how individuals overcome collective action problems to achieve cooperation, polycentricity theory, and management theories. I have also read a far amount of political philosophy. And I have been learning a computer programming language.

Sabbatical-2I now have a theory of how self-government, federalism and democracy are interrelated. I think I have a much better sense now of what skills and knowledge our graduates will need in the next decade, and I have, accordingly, reworked many of my class syllabi, my teaching objectives, and the materials I will assign to students. I think I have a good sense of where my field is headed, and I have a collection of hypotheses to test and publications to write. My perspective is fresher, deeper, and broader – and I see ways to relate my learning and my teachings to gospel principles that I did not know before.