2017 Open Books – Open Minds Student Conference

A record number of RIC students – 50 in all – will present their research at the 6th annual Open Books – Open Minds (OBOM) Student Conference on Wednesday, April 19, based on this year’s common book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.”

“The purpose of a college-wide common book is to introduce first-year students to the world of academic discourse,” said OBOM co-chair and RIC Professor of English Zubeda Jalalzai. “Through yearlong events – film series, speakers and round tables – and by teaching the book in classes, we are connecting the worlds inside and outside the classroom. Students discover that reading, research and writing can be fun, especially when they are able to present their work at the end of the year during the OBOM Student Conference.”

Student-led panel discussions will run throughout the day in the Fortes Room and Reinhardt Room of Adams Library. Events begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. A keynote by Brown University Virtual Artist-in-Residence Adam Blumenthal will take place at 12:30 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom.  

This conference is really a chance for the entire campus community to see the culmination of OBOM activities as well as the extensive student research across a wide range of disciplines based on one common book.

In Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows,” he explains how the Internet controls the way we think, read and remember. The Internet reduces our ability to read anything in-depth and therefore our ability to archive knowledge in our memories long term. In effect, the Internet is turning us into shallow thinkers.

So provocative was Carr’s book that campus-wide discussion spilled onto the OBOM Facebook page. Some students agreed with Carr:

“The Shallows’ main purpose is to make us aware of the Faustian sacrifice we make as users of the Internet. For worldly pleasures and (seemingly) unlimited knowledge we lose a piece of our minds like Faust lost his soul.” – RIC student Zara Hanif

“We know we’re addicted to the Internet and we know we don’t like it, but how many years is it going to take before people find it serious enough of an addiction to seek help? Could it ever become that serious? Maybe future cities will hold Internet Addiction Anonymous.” – RIC student Elena Gaughan 

Other students challenged Carr’s notion of shallow thinkers. In their research paper, Sara Porcaro and Chelsea Riordan re-examined how we define intelligence.

Ultimately Carr’s book had done what OBOM intended – create a sense of community through college-wide book discussions and encouraged students to think creatively and critically about their worlds.

Vanessa Villon, RIC psychology major and senior mentor, stated, “Open Books – Open Minds allowed me to emerge as a public speaker; a concrete, abstract thinker; and to become an active student at Rhode Island College. The experience of assistant teaching, contributing in a committee and dialoguing in a panel has been a blessing.”

The entire campus community is encouraged to come out and support the research work of RIC students, many of whom will have their first experience presenting to an informed, supportive audience outside the classroom. (Click here for full list of OBOM student presentations and times.)

Running concurrently with the OBOM Student Conference is the Spring Expo Poster Session at Adams Library. Research posters of students from all five schools at Rhode Island College will be on display, including posters from the Open Books – Open Minds Student Conference.