Two (or Three) Great Tastes: My Converging InstTech, Dig Hum, K-12 Networks

A funny thing has happened to my social network (or personal learning network, if you prefer) over the last few years. It’s grown. A lot. About two years ago, I started to follow and pay closer attention to the digital humanities field. I think it was a combination of things that brought be there: work with Gardner Campbell on a grant proposal, Jeff McClurken‘s digital history class and his hints at this broader landscape, the work of my colleagues in DTLT with folks at CHNM, Scholars Lab as well as their participation in THATCamp. I came at the whole thing kind of sideways, really.

Then during this past year, my own interests have caused me to expand my followings to quite a few K-12 people. That culminated, in particular, at EduCon where I added quite a few new people to both my blog reader and Twitter (more to Twitter actually — Twitter handles are more easily shared in some ways than blog addresses).

The cross-fertilization is interesting and enlightening. There is certainly a lot of overlap, and it’s always cool when the perspective of a group in one area casts a new and unconsidered light on another. I notice certain practices and trends among the different groups that are interesting, as well. The Instructional Technologists tend to (sometimes) be focused more on practical technology; the Digital Humanisits tend to (sometimes) talk a bit more about theory; the K-12 Colleauges tend to (sometimes) talk mostly about classroom practice. But those are all (sometimes) generalizations and I follow lots of InstTechs who are great at theory; DHers who can run circles around me in terms of technology; and K-12ites who have their heads in big picture stuff as well as vital day-to-day practice.

I, myself, identify as an Instructional Technologist, but it’s a self-identification I have always approached with trepidation — even before this expansion of my network (and world). Truthfully, I hate the word “instructional.” It smacks of a mundane, task-driven, industrial model of learning that I don’t find compelling or interesting. I don’t want to instruct, frankly, or help others instruct. I have less trouble with the word technology but I hate the “ist-ing” of it — as though there is someone who can “do” technology.

That said, I don’t have the credentials or chops to call myself a Digital Humanist. My educational background is heavy in the humanities, but I don’t have the terminal degree that seems to mark most of my colleagues in this field. And, truthfully, there’s a reason I don’t have it. I spent a large part of my early 20’s flirting with the notion of a PhD in English literature, and made a conscious decision to go get a Masters, instead, in education (instructional technology, again). At the time, Digital Humanities wasn’t really an option I could consider professionally. There was amazing work being done with digital technology in humanities programs, but it seemed to be on the fringes and I don’t think I had enough perspective on my life, my profession, my future, my goals to conceptually push myself into that area. (What 22-year-old does have that kind perspective?)

(I’ve never really considered a path in the K-12 world. I’m not sure why. I guess higher ed had me at hello. Seriously, my last K-12 experience (high school) was less than stellar (although my primary public education was fantastic), while my entire college career was a trip. I’m also a product of my own context — I’m the daughter of a mom who is a college professor and a dad who might as well be one. )

The expansion of my network has been amazing. Truly. But, I have to confess, it’s also been a bit daunting and, often, a bit paralyzing. I find it harder and harder to follow the myriad threads of thoughts and conversations. I often feel my own version of Imposter Syndrome as I struggle to understand the theoretical underpinnings of the conversations. I rarely have enough time for the self-education that I seemed better at staying on top of a few years ago (when my network was much smaller). I worry about speaking out because the landscape, debates, conversations feels more liquid than I’m comfortable with. As my network has grown, my voice has also seemed much smaller, and, so, I have become content (or complacent) with sitting back, listening, observing, often wishing that I could contribute more frequently and with more value.

There’s also the fact that my preferred way of thinking through ideas has always been in conversation — sustained conversation. Most of my conversation with my network happens on Twitter and it’s great at somethings. But distributed 140 character microblogs aren’t really the stuff, necessarily, of deep, sustained conversation. I’m realizing, increasingly, that blogging is a struggle for me because the  conversational dynamic isn’t really in my natural comfort zone either. I spew a lot of stuff out here (and that’s great for thinking through ideas in my head) but it’s hard to sustain any ongoing conversation beyond that. Truthfully, I think I’m at my best in terms of thinking through ideas when I’m talking to my colleagues in the offices at UMW or over dinner with friends at a conference.

I believe strongly in the idea that rather than running from the onslaught of ideas and information coming at us in this new digital age we need to be more mindful of curating and sharing what matters to us. But, honestly, I’m not sure I’m doing a great job of that now. And no amount of GTD is going to help.

But I try to be gentle with myself, too. There is no perfect answer or response to any of these dilemmas. I will never feel wholly engaged, wholly enlightened. I will always feel a little bit of an imposter. I  will always struggle with naming what I am. That’s partly how I’m programmed and it’s partly how humans are programmed. As I grow older (and maybe a bit wiser) I hope to become more comfortable with that uncertitude. And I hope to iterate to something better.