Key(note) Points

In two weeks, I’m going to be presenting at the University of Cincinnati’s 3T: Teaching, Techniques, and Technology conference. I’m very honored to have been asked to present as a keynote, along with my friend Mikhail Gershovich. Good news: I get to present first, so I don’t have to be in the position of following Mikhail’s tough act. :-) Also, it means I’ll be able to fully relax and enjoy the rest of the conference after presenting in the morning. I’m looking forward to seeing what faculty at Cincinnati are working on; the event seems similar in ethos to UMW’s Faculty Academy, and it’s always cool to see all of this through another lens.

The title of my talk is, Technologies of Possibility: Digital Identity, Citizenship, and Personal Domains in the Classroom. 

And, here’s the brief version of my abstract:

At the University of Mary Washington, for the last eight years, we have been exploring the Web in particular as a technology, not of efficiency, but of possibility. Faculty and students have become used to inhabiting the Web as part of the course of academic discovery. In particular, we have built a powerful approach to providing students with spaces of their own on the Web, releasing them from the limitations of course management systems and proprietary software solutions. Our latest project involves providing all incoming students with domains and Web spaces of their own, in which they can enact and explore their academic persona.

I’ll discuss the steps that we took to arrive at this point, and the experiments that are growing out of our investigations into digital identity, citizenship, and personal domains.

So.

Here I am just over two weeks out from the presentation, and I’ve got a lot of things rattling around as I put together what I want to say. I’m at that stage of preparation where I tend to get side-tracked easily. I know my general thesis; I can think of examples I want to talk about; I have a general sense of the overall story I want to tell; but I’m struggling with focus and specifics.

I may tend to over-think my presentations. I always feel like I should back-up, back-up, back-up, and provide as much birds-eye view as I can. I feel this pressure to contextualize, and then contextualize a bit more.

Sometimes, it feels like the first line of every presentation I give should be, “I was born in February 1974 on a small island in the Pacific.” In my desire to frame a whole story that makes sense around my idea, I imagine a narrative that’s far more complex, and epic (not that my life has been that epic — being born on an island in the Pacific was sort of the high point) then it really needs to be.

So, in a series of points, here’s what I want to say in my presentation:

  1. I hate it when our conversation about technology in education focuses exclusively (or almost exclusively) on pragmatic analysis. 
  2. I do understand that we all would like to work better and faster, but I think it’s unfair to technology to presume that it’s sole function is to let us work faster and better.
  3. I’m fascinated by deeper understandings and interpretations of “technology.” (Hey, if anyone has some great readings/resources that I can add to my own list on this topic, send them my way)
  4. I for one, am far more interested in the “technology of the internet and/or Web” than any particular device, apparatus, protocol, or program.
  5. I would like our discussions to focus more on these “technologies of space and possibility” — in which the human network that the technology occupies (or vice versa) is as important as any particular device, apparatus, protocol, or program.
  6. I’d like to be the kind of instructional technologist who helps faculty and students think about how technologies of possibility are changing their lives and their understanding of their roles in the world.
  7. I don’t want to be the kind of instructional technologist who teaches faculty how to use clickers. I’m not saying that to be a anti-clicker snob. I just don’t think that’s particularly interesting or transformative.
  8. I do understand that there is some fuzzy space between points 6 & 7 that need to be further elucidated. Thinking Big Thoughts can quickly turn into Obnoxious, Overwrought Naval-Gazing That Doesn’t Actually Add up to Anything. Sometimes we have to start with clickers and grow into possibilities. That’s fine with me.
  9. Here at UMW, more than an approach to technology that involves some recipe of devices, apparati, protocols, or programs, I think we approach our work as a philosophy. Here are some aspects of that philosophy:
    • Default to Open. An idea that I think we were practicing for a while before James Boyle taught us this wonderful phrase.
    • Focus on Values. Embodied, in particular, in our approach to Online Learning.
    • Practice & Experiment & Play. This is the guiding principle behind what we affectionately call “The Bluehost Experiment,” a project conceived of by Gardner Campbell that really started everything.
    • Invest In People, Not (just) Technologies. We all agree in DTLT that this is a core component of our success. It’s not that we never need money to buy devices, apparati, protocols, or programs, but before we ever need those things, we need people to learn why we need them.
    • Education is Messy. Yeah, I still REALLY believe this one. And I’m damn sick of conversations about learning analytics getting in the way of acknowledging it. When I teach ds106, I get to eat my own dog food on this one, so I’m not being merely provocative.
    • The Web is Us. That one sounds a bit outlandish, but really this is such a core part of what I try to talk to faculty about. The Web (and what we can do in/on it) is not some “other” thing. It is not a space to be merely observed and contemplated. It’s also not a space to merely used. We must learn to live on it and in it because it is more than a device, apparatus, protocol, or program. It is part of the cultural air that we breathe. It is changing everything. It is changing everyone one of our disciplines. It is changing our institutions. It is changing our students. It is changing our classrooms. And it is changing us. We can not afford to take a guarded, academic stance on it. This is why Domain of One’s Own is so important to us at UMW.

I think that’s it. Does this look anything like a useful outline? To me it sort of does, but I’m still a bit unsteady about the focus. My audience for this talk is most faculty, I think. I presume there will be some staff/administrators, but I’m still trying to figure out how to take topics that I usually talk about to other instructional technology people and frame it so that faculty feel like I’m really speaking to where they are at.

Advice, of course, is always welcome. This presentation is billed as a “keynote” so that’s a bit daunting for me. In the past, whenever I’ve spoken at a conference there’s been somewhere else for people to go if they didn’t want to hear me. :-) So, it’s important to me that this be accessible and meaningful to as many people as possible.