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Dr. David Scobey

Director of Bringing Theory to Practice
David Scobey

In this moment of crisis and transformation, teaching and learning have to attend to that holistic and embodied affective need of the person learning with all of her faculties. And at the same time, because [a focus on holistic learning] is often taken as a psychological individualism and turning inward, [we need to stress] that it’s actually the same process as endowing students with a sense of agency and a calling to make a change in the world and to see themselves as changemakers.

Dr. David Scobey

Key Interview Takeaways

Instructional designers, such as LDT grads, are integral to the future of higher education. In particular, there is a potential for deep collaborative and organic relationships with faculty and staff educators—advisors, program managers, civic engagement workers—to model what is possible for academic innovation. Administrative leaders would do well to provide the space and resources for such collaboration. ​

We are in an incredibly existential nexus of crises, and there are many emerging trends and conversations on how academic institutions may thrive and survive in the long term; both in terms of resources and in taking new institutional forms. Although there is a lot of differentiation across the landscape in terms of responses, this is a transformative time and we need to push the needle on in terms of what we think and what we do in response. ​

This moment has revealed systemic failures as well as institutional assets and strengths. The dual crises of the pandemic and the ‘reckoning’ with systemic racism are providing institutions an opportunity to dig deeper in examining how their inherent design affects the most vulnerable student populations. It has amplified the disparities and inequities that exist in higher education among students and across institutions, in terms of inclusion, access and equity, as well as implications of the digital divide. Attending to the holistic and embodied affective needs of learners, that is, creating opportunities for learners to bring their whole selves to the learning engagement, should be at the core of institutional attention in times of crisis. ​


David Scobey is the Director of Bringing Theory to Practice. For twenty years, he has worked to advance the democratic purposes of higher education. In his writing, teaching, and programmatic initiatives, he has sought to build bridges between academic and public work, especially through the integration of community engagement into liberal education and the full inclusion of nontraditional students into higher education.  He is active in national efforts on behalf of these goals, serving on advisory boards for Project Pericles and Imagining America: Artists and Scholars In Public Life. He writes extensively on current issues and the recent history of American higher education.  Much of his recent research centers on nontraditional undergraduates—the large majority of U.S. college students—and their importance to the future of higher education. Scobey’s historical scholarship focuses on culture, politics, urbanism, and space in 19th-century America. He is the author of Empire City: The Making and Meaning of the New York City Landscape (Temple University Press, 2002), as well as other studies of U.S. cultural and urban history. David has a Ph.D. from the Program in American Studies at Yale University, a Diploma in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford, and a B.A. in English Literature (summa cum laude) from Yale University.