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Bring Us Your Fear!

Some people who work with me are probably sick of me talking about how much I love delicious, but I don’t care. I really love delicious. If I was on some weird desert island where I was forced to only choose one Web 2.0 tool (maybe the desert island is run by some tribe of people with strange network policies?), I would choose delicious.

I know what you’re thinking:

Woman! Are you crazy?! Wouldn’t you choose WordPress, the single best blogging platform in the world? After all, isn’t the blog at the heart of Web 2.0 goodness?!?

Nope. I’d choose delicious, because — guess what!? — if I was really desperate, I could use delicious like a blog! Ingenious! Granted, the character limit would mean my posts would have to be uncharacteristically brief, but that’s okay. It would help focus me, right?

Okay, I’m digressing from my point a little. But the digression is really just an attempt to make it really clear how much I love delicious. It’s also an attempt to make the point that in it’s deceptive simplicity, delicious is actually an incredibly complex, adaptable, powerful tool. We should all seek to better understand that power — and use it for good.

(BTW, did I mention. . .I love delicious?)

Recently, Alan blogged about how hard it can be to get a group of people to tag Web Sites of Interest around a particular topic. I have no doubt that fostering this kind of activity is really hard, and as much as I love delicious, I feel his pain. And, so it is with some trepidation that I’m about to announce a project to get a group of people to tag Web Sites of Interest around a particular topic. (But I’m coming back to Alan’s dilemma, so stick with me.)

The topic is “Fear,” and the project it’s for is the upcoming session at ELI 2008 that Laura Blankenship, Barbara Ganley, Barbara Sawhill, Leslie Madsen-Brooks, and I will be presenting. The title is “Who’s Afraid of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and the Big Bad CMS? A Digi-Drama About Fear 2.0 “. Here’s the abstract:

Web 2.0 tools have the power to transform education. Such a transformation requires that faculty, students, and institutions take risks. With those risks comes fear, which is often unarticulated. How do you tackle this fear and make real change? Join us to face this fear together in a multimedia, interactive miniplay.

We know exactly what we want to do for this presentation, of course. I mean, we’re completely ready. Honestly. But, since we have all this networked Web 2.0 goodness available to us, we thought it might be nice to give those people who are part of our various Web 2.0 networks a chance to contribute their own views, impressions, and even interpretations of the fear that this technology is creating at their institutions. We’re all about the giving, really.

Of course, the tool we’ve chosen to aggregate whatever is contributed is delicious. The tag we’ve chosen is eli08fear. And, while we could just monitor the tag page in delicious and even point to it during the presentation, I thought it would be interesting to see if we could foster some other kind of context for the bookmarks that might emerge.

So, to that end, I’ve set up a blog at fear.umwdtlt.org and used a nifty little script called WordPrecious
to pull the tagged bookmarks into the blog. What’s cool about this script is that it doesn’t just create a daily aggregate post of the latest bookmarks — it creates an individual post for each bookmark. Posts that can then be commented upon within the blog environment. Isn’t that cool?

It actually may present a partial answer to Alan’s question that I mentioned above. I would suggest that part of the answer to getting a community of users to participate in a group bookmarking project might be to create some kind of community conversation/context around that activity. Delicious is a great tool for capturing, tagging, and annotating. But it’s not designed to foster the subsequent conversation that could be generated by the bookmarking activities.

WordPrecious is just a small step in this direction. There are a lot of ways in which I think it could be further improved. For example, it would be cool if the name/id of the bookmarker could be included in the post that’s produced. It would also be cool if the tags associated with the bookmark could be turned into blog categories/tags — and then used to slice and dice the blog posts in interesting ways.

Right now, anyone with an account on the blog can go in and edit the blog posts that are produced, so today I manually edited one of the posts that was pointing to a YouTube video so that the video played through the Anarchy player in the post. It’s not a huge deal to check the blog and do this periodically, but it would be cool if links to YouTube or Google Video could automatically be made to play in the blog post. That’s probalby tricker. But, hey, I’m not in the mood to reflect on what’s tricky! I just want to think about what would be neat.

chocolate cashewSo, PLEASE contribute to our project by using the tag eli08fear (and the more annotation you can provide in delicious the better), and then PLEASE subscribe to the blog feed, and then PLEASE consider commenting on anything that appears in the feed that you think is interesting. I will personally give a chocolate-covered cashew to anyone who participates whom I run into at ELI. Is that enough incentive?

Update: For those interested, the feed for comments is available at http://fear.umwdtlt.org/?feed=comments-rss2.

Photo: by artnoose at Flickr

Fostering Blogging

We’re a little more than half way through a semester’s work with this year’s TLT Fellows. For those of you who don’t know, the Fellows program brings together five faculty members at UMW to talk about and work on projects that use technology to transform teaching and learning. Since early September, this year’s cohort have been meeting on a weekly basis, and we’ve been having conversations about a variety of topics and technologies.

High on the list of goals for this program is to foster a conversation about the potential of technology to transform the work we do and to narrate the process of working through these issues. To that end, the first thing we do with the Fellows is get them set up with their own blogs, and for the last several weeks we’ve been encouraging them to think of that space as a place to reflect upon and record their progress.

As is often the case with blogging, some of the participants are a bit reluctant to dive into the deep end. I understand that, and I see part of our role as modeling what this activity can mean. So, I was a bit chagrined this afternoon when I realized that I should really be using my own blog as a space to work through these ideas for myself. Perhaps, in doing so, I can encourage the Fellows to consider the potential benefits of this activity for themselves.

First, I have to say that I wish we could rename “blogs.” Let’s face it: it’s just a silly sounding word.  More often than not, when people tell me that blogging isn’t for them, I wonder if part of the turn-off doesn’t have to do with what that word feels like. That said, I encourage people to get past a word that may just sound dissonant and try to focus on what a blog really is (or could be):

  • A Web site — that you can easily publish to and that has features that allow other people to easily read what you publish.
  • A space for you to reflect, share, connect, vent (within reason, of course 😉 ), explore, test, and narrate.
  • A home for your online presence

Second, YOU DO NOT NEED TO TALK ABOUT YOUR CAT!!! 🙂 Okay, that’s sort of a joke, but it still may resonate with some. The point is, a blog doesn’t have to be a place for cat diaries or political rants. The best way for me to think about my blog is as a place where I can jot down thoughts that I regularly have that I don’t want to lose. Sometimes those thoughts are connected to something else I’ve read. Other times, they’re just lose threads that I’m trying to weave together, and my blog just offers me the space to try.

Third, you get to decide how often you blog. Think you don’t have time? Well, that depends entirely on you. Sure, there are people out there who post three or four times a day, but that doesn’t mean there is an expectation that you will. You only have to blog when you think it makes sense to. If you’re like me, you’ll go through periods of time when you’ll have so many ideas in your head you’ll feel like you always have something to write about; then you’ll go through a dry spell when you simply have nothing to share. I’ve noticed this pattern in myself, and I suspect it matches a natural ebb and flow to the way my brain works. Another model is Barbara Ganley’s “slow blogging” method. The point is, there is no right way to blog, there is just the challenge of figuring out the way that works for you.

Fourth, if you think you’re not a blogger, I challenge you to stop for a moment and ask yourself what that means. See, I have this theory that, as a tool, blogging offers us the opportunity to explore the very values that are at the heart of higher education: intellectual curiosity, intellectual identity, conversation, community, a faith in process not just product, and rigorous debate (I’m sure that list could be much longer — feel free to add on in the comments below). If these are values that you care about and that you care about for your students, then I would suggest that a blog could be the place to explore them.

Fifth, even if you’re not writing in your blog all the time, it still doesn’t mean you aren’t blogging. Blogging is about being in a conversation, and that conversation isn’t just about your voice. Part of what will make blogging meaningful to you is if you seek out others who are talking about things that interest you. So start off by listening. Find people whom you like to listen to. Leave them a comment or two. Start there and see what happens.

To that end (and since we’ve asked the Fellows to come to this week’s meeting armed with links to 2-3 blogs in their disciplines), I want to end by talking about how you find those other voices. I remember when I first started blogging not being sure where to find other blogs. There weren’t a whole lot of blog search engines at the time, and I didn’t really know any bloggers personally. Now, I have the opposite problem. There are more blogs out there that I find interesting than I could possibly keep up with. I have to regularly cull my reading list, and I have to accept that even with that culled list, I’m bound to miss a few items.

The way you find blogs is by reading blogs. As you enter into the conversation, you will hear more voices, and you’ll become better at determining which voices you want to keep listening to.

But, recognizing that everyone needs to start somewhere, here are some resources:

  • Google Blog Search: A tool for searching blogs, brought to you by the folks who know how to search. Keep in mind that, as with most blog search engines, you’re going to get results that reflects posts about the topic you’re searching for, not necessarily blogs about that topic. In other words, if you’re searching about “basket-weaving” you might get a post from my blog about that topic, even though my blog isn’t all about basket-weaving.
  • Technorati: This site indexes all things blog and then allows you to search the results. Results are broken down into categories (posts, blogs, videos, and photos), so you may have better luck finding a blog about a particular topic this way.
  • delicious Given the challenge of finding something on the Web, I usually find that delicious has answers. Try this: search on a topical tag and the word “blog” in delicious and see what you find. For example: http://delicious/tag/blog+economics. The advantage to this technique is that delicious users tend to be pretty blog-savvy, so they’ll likely have done a good job finding and tagging useful blogs (in other words, there’s some human intelligence behind this approach as opposed to Google and Technorati’s automated indexing).
  • The Academic Blog Portal: I just found this resource. It looks to be a pretty robust wiki-fied index of blogs organized around academic disciplines. (If you find a blog that’s not on the list, add it to the wiki. Or, better yet, add your own!)

Okay. I think that’s it. For any Fellows reading this, come armed on Wednesday to talk briefly about what you found. Bonus points to those who blog about it!! If anyone else has any other thoughts or resources to share, please add the below.

Synthesis

Up way too early this morning, I was on the InformationSuperNetHighWeb™ and came across this description of the Music Plus One (MPO) project out of the School of Informatics at Indiana U. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Music Minus One (I wasn’t), it’s a program that allows a musician to play along with a computerized musical accompaniment:

MMO makes a recording of a piece of music for soloist and accompaniment, such as a sonata or concerto, where only the accompaniment is actually recorded. The music is prefaced by several warning clicks (something like Lawrence Welk’s “and a one and a two and a …”), and the soloist tries to play along with the recording. A heartfelt yet futile battle of wills follows which eventually results in the live player’s unconditional surrender to the robotic insistence of the recording. Thus, contrary to both musical etiquette and common sense, the soloist must follow the accompaniment.

By comparison, the goal of MPO is to put the human in control, instead providing a computerized accompaniment that follows the musician’s cue:

 . . .the program must respond in real time to the soloist’s tempo changes and expressive gestures; the program must learn from past performances so that it assimilates the soloist’s interpretation in future renditions; and it must bring a sense of musicality to the performance in addition to what is learned from the soloist. In this way MPO *adds* to the soloist’s experience by providing a responsive and nuanced accompaniment rather than *subtracting* from it by imposing a rigid framework that stifles musical expression. 

I’ve added emphasis there to the bit that I find most wonderful. I imagine the goals of MPO as potentially a much larger metaphor for how we should be interacting with digital technology.

Unfortunately, all too often technology seems to be engineered to take us by the ear and pull us along some predetermined path. I can’t tell you how often I feel like I’m being bullied by technology. I know that’s a pretty irrational sentiment, but it’s the best way to describe how I feel when I try to figure out how to get Novell GroupWise (our institutional email system) to work for me. And, I’m a more advanced user! It’s no wonder so many people (faculty? students?) approach technology with a whole lot of skepticism.

(And, by the way, for the record, for what it’s worth, it can be pretty exhausting having to bridge the huge abyss that that skepticism generates!)

So, it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest that instead the technology should be following us, responding to our tempo and rhythm — providing opportunities and approaches for doing what we want to do better and thinking more deeply about what we want to think about.

And that’s what I set out to write about in this post. But, as I started writing, I changed my mind. See, I suspect an experienced musician would read this and say that when musicians play together they are actually seeking some kind of shared experience of leading and following, that they are constantly judging, gauging, and adjusting based on their shared readings of each other’s tempo and rhythm, that they are, in fact, reaching some kind of state of synthesis. Is that true? And, if so, what would it feel like to be in that state with technology?

Remapping

It’s a little thing, but I just gotta love it when users, unsatisfied with “official” information provided by an institution, take matters into their own hands. Check out JustRoutes. The site grew out of the creators’ “frustration at [the] frankly, rather anarchic public transport system [in Dublin]. Seeing that information about bus rail and luas within Dublin was poorly collated and presented it was clear that a new approach was needed, thus justroutes.com was born.” Their approach seems to involve traveling every public transportation route in the Dublin area with a GPS unit in hand, tracking the route, and then mashing the data with a Google map. (The feature that allows you to pinpoint your start and endpoint is very cool, btw. Why isn’t that a feature on “vanilla” Google Maps?)

Last week, I presented with Rob Ponjsajapan of Georgetown University and DTLT’s own Andy Rush about social media (and the philosophies and concepts behind it) to a group from the College Communicators Association of Virginia and D.C. One of the messages was that institutions need to abandon the notion that they can (and should) “control” all the information about their business. These days it’s just too easy for users to take matters into their own hands. And, quite frankly, users are usually a whole lot better at defining what they need in terms of information, and, with the way technology eases the mashing, presentation, and sharing of content, they are poised to contribute something meaningful.

The real lesson, in my mind, for institutions is to pay attention to what all those users are doing. There’s also an important lesson here for students. How many of our students realize that they have this kind of power?

And, once again, I found this cool site via Emily Chang’s ehub.

You’re Amazing! Yes, YOU!

These days, it seems like most of my reflective thinking happens in the car. I’ve got about a 25 minute commute from home to the office, and it’s become the default time for me to stew in my thoughts.

Stewing can be good, but, truth be told, I’m someone who’s better at thinking through ideas in conversation with other people. In a way, this blog has served that purpose for the last few years. Even when no one comments on a post, simply the act of writing my thoughts publicly often forces me to think through them in ways that I can’t when they’re just rolling around within the borders of my own brain. Stupid brain borders!

So, here’s what I was thinking about on today’s drive: I have the privilege of being at a point in my professional life where I feel like I’m surrounded by (both in-person and on-line) some pretty visionary people. The scopes and foci of those visions vary widely, but, all-in-all, I just feel lucky to be in that mix.

I’m pretty good (I think) at sharing in conversations about those visions — pushing ideas (both forward and back), challenging and supporting assumptions, sharing the, for lack of a better word, “joy.” But, I’m also the kind of person who tends to see things from about four or five different vantage points. Sometimes I think this is one of my greatest gifts; a lot of the time I’m sure it’s my biggest weakness.I fear that it makes me seem inconsistent, variable, unsure of myself and (more alarming for me) unsure of the people around me. This latter point isn’t the case at all.

What I realized this morning as I was mulling this topic over was that my guiding lights tends to be people not ideas. I think I’m good at talking about and through ideas, and there are definitely times when I feel passionate about the ideas I share with people. But, in general, I feel a whole lot more passionate (and consistently so) about the people I’m in conversation with. I’m pretty sure there are an infinite number of visionary ideas out there; I’m also pretty sure that there are finite number of visionaries.

So, this post serves a couple of purposes. First, I’m wondering if this makes any sense. Does it? Second, I want everyone out there that I have had the privilege of working with over the last several years to know: You’re amazing! Third, I want those same people to know that if I do ever seem inconsistent in my approach to ideas, this is why. Ultimately, I believe in who you are and what you are capable, and, for me, that’s the most important thing. Did I mention you’re amazing?! 😉

Okay. I’ll shut up now.

Putting on a Show

Earlier this summer I had a chance to visit some former colleagues (and new additions) at the University of Montana. For two years, I was director of Web development at that school while my husband was getting his masters degree in geology. It was a great two years — among other things, it was my first introduction to the administrative side to what we do, and I guess my current role is testimony to the fact that there was something about that administration that I liked.

As part of my visit, I gave a presentation on future directions for teaching and learning technologies. This was fun, in part, because my old role at Montana didn’t much involve the teaching and learning culture. I’ve come a long way since then (in some ways back to my roots), and it was exciting to be able to share some of what I’ve learned and thought about with former colleagues and new friends.

I spoke, not surprisingly, a bit about the work we’ve been doing with faculty and students and blogging over the last few years at UMW, and I pointed to a few examples of some pretty cool synthesis that had been generated on student blogs. When I was done, one person in the audience pointed out that really, this kind of synthesis could happen in a non-networked, off-line, “unblog” environment as well. What was the point, really, of the blog?

It’s not a stupid question, and I’m sure many of us have answered it in one form or another over the years. There are lots of responses, including the notion that when a student is tapped into a networked publication culture, a culture that fosters sharing and deep connections, he or she may start to think differently about the actual ideas being explored in that space.

Yesterday, I confronted this question again, and I had, for me, a kind of revelation.

For two weeks now, umwblogs.org has been going full-steam ahead. The activity being generated in that space is really pretty breath-taking in its depth, breadth, and frequency. I subscribe to the feed of all the posts coming out of the system, and it is a true “river of content” — one that it is easy to get swept away in.

I’ve remarked to a few people that witnessing the products of umwblogs is like standing at the doorways to a couple dozen classrooms around UMW. For the first time, an outsider could witness the mind of the university unfurling.

As I was making my way through the feed yesterday, I came across this post.

This post represents something very special for me. To me, it is a wonderful moment (now captured online) of a student making a cool connection between two seemingly disparate courses. These are the kinds of connections that I think we should all be working to not only foster but expose.

Now, arguably, blogging isn’t what made this particular connection happen. Arguably, this student might have made this connection in a non-blogging world, say, 10 years ago — and maybe even journaled about it in a lovely marbled notebook.

But, I think there’s something else going on. Here’s the connection that occurred to me this morning.

Have you ever seen a child on a stage? Have you ever seen a child make a stage out of something else, simply because being on stage was so enticing? I have this nephew who is a complete ham. When he was younger, at my in-laws house he regularly would pretend that the hearth to the fireplace was his stage. He was always lively and energetic, but when he got on this “stage” he began to perform. And I think funny things happen when we’re performing. In a performance, we can try on different costumes, we can explore different stories, and we do all of this with an awareness that an audience is watching. In fact, it’s that audience that makes the performance, well, a performance. Put another way, a performance isn’t a recitation. It’s a show.

A few weeks ago, DTLT hosted a 45-minute presentation extravaganza for the incoming freshman about social networking. I blogged about our preparations earlier. One of the themes we explored as part of that presentation was the idea of social networking site as stages, and how, upon arriving at UMW, the stage for these students just got bigger.

In part, this framework allowed us to have a real, non-fear-mongering conversation about the consequences of engaging in these spaces. But, now, I realize there was another layer to this metaphor. (Maybe everyone else got it. I might be slow.)

I hadn’t thought through, at least not completely, how a blog might feel like a fireplace hearth. For me, my blog feels like a stage in that way. I dress it up in sets and costumes. I add widget props to the sidebar. And (every so often) I perform something in it. Whether I get comments or not, I recognize that what I’m doing is not writing in a marbled notebook; I am performing on a stage.

So, can students reflect and synthesize and make connections off-line? Of course they can. They’ve been doing it for centuries. But, given a stage, they may suddenly commit themselves to putting on a show.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/EsrpCDz5s3g" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

(This is the final version of the video that started off our show, made 1000 times better by Joe and Shannon’s addition of music.)

In this world

There’s a post inside of me that I’ve tried to write probably a dozen times in the last few years, and I think I’m finally going to take a real stab at it. I won’t get it right the first time, but that’s okay. I’ll keep trying.

It has to do with why the work that I currently do resonates so deeply with me, and, in a way, it’s probably an extension a complement (or a bookend?) to my post last week in response to Gardner’s recent ER article.

Here goes nothing.

This story starts with a dream. Well, actually, it’s more like a nightmare. It’s a recurring nightmare that I used to have when I was a child, and, even now, it’s not a pleasant thing to remember.

I had the dream regularly for a while when I was probably seven or eight years old. I remember having it in the house I lived in from the time I was about four until I was ten, and I don’t remember having it after then. The point is: it was a pretty formative time in my life.

In the dream, however, I was distinctly older. I remember that I was college-aged, probably late teens, early twenties, which at the time seemed REALLY OLD. and VERY MATURE.

The plot (do dreams have “plots?”) of the dream is dim; mostly what I remember is a feeling of being completely lost in the world. I remember that the older me in the dream was searching for my family (usually my mom, sometimes my dad and brother). Everytime I would think I was getting closer, something would happen and they would disappear again. I remember that I was traveling in the dream, literally chasing my family around the world.

The point of the dream was that I was lost from the people who loved me, and, now, from a different vantage point, I can see that the real point of the dream was that I couldn’t maintain the connections with the people I loved. I was terrified of those connections being broken.

That theme — fear of losing connections with people — has followed me even as the dream has faded into a very dim memory. To this day, I have a hard time with partings — particularly parting from people I love when I am (or they are) about to go on a long journey.

Six years ago, my husband (who was then my boyfriend) decided to move across the country for graduate school. I remember an irrational week or so in which I managed to convince myself that I needed to buy him a beeper. It’s CRAZY to think about it now, but at the time, I was utterly convinced that if I didn’t do this, our connection would simply melt away. If I had a beeper, I was sure I could keep the connection alive — like a constant ping from my heart to his.

As I write this, I remember that another facet of my childhood dream was that when I lost connections with people it was like they jumped to some other, parallel plane of existence. I knew they were still alive. I knew they were still searching for me, as I was for them, but I also knew that across these two planes we simply couldn’t see each other anymore. When Erik left for Montana, that’s how I felt. I was afraid he was going to jump planes, too.

In a way this paranoia about human connection has frequently thwarted my efforts to be close to people. I don’t feel particularly comfortable with people, much of the time. And I chalk that up, to a certain extent, with an anxiety I have about losing people.

So, what the heck does this have to do with anything?

Well, I’ve thought a lot about this dream during the last two or three years. I think about it at the oddest times, usually when I’ve experienced a really profound connection online

It hit me plain as day, today, when I came across this YouTube video:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/uISuvTiTYJA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I was having a bit of a rough day (for no particularly important reason) and this video (forwarded by an old friend — one of my only remaining childhood friends) just grabbed me. In a moment, I was reminded of why working with technology in this particular space at this particular time means so much to me. I felt completely connected to something, by a video produced by a perfect stranger, about a topic that is always on my mind, always troubling and challenging me. I tweeted about it, and in a moment had a response from a Twitter friend whom I really only know from online communications. And in five minutes, I went from feeling disconnected, out-of-sorts, unsure of my place, to feeling completely immersed in something that was simultaneously bigger than me and also able to focus me on what is most essential to who I am.

I wish I could explain exactly what this means — perhaps that’s for another post.

Who knew Seattle was so expensive?

I just finished making my travel arrangements for EDUCAUSE in October. (I think I managed to snag a dirt-cheap flight and I know I got an amazingly inexpensive hotel room.)

Yesterday, while looking for a hotel room, I was using the conference travel tools. There were only two official conference hotels with rooms left, and imagine my surprise when I was presented with this rate for one of them:

ishot-2.jpg

Seems a bit steep, no?

On Romance and Foundational Stories

If you haven’t read it already, run (don’t walk) to read Gardner‘s latest article in Educause Review, My Computer Romance.

I just re-read it again (I had the privilege of reading it in draft form this summer), and was, once again, moved by it.

One of my first reactions to this article was the power it held as a “foundational story” of Gardner’s own involvement with computers and technology. In a very Udell-esque fashion, it exposes a piece of Gardner’s mind and heart with regards to the work he does this space. One thing that strikes me as I read it is how infrequently we expose ourselves, our hearts and our minds, in this way.

Within the circles we work in, we each have, I’m sure, our own powerful stories of how we came to be in this place. Hidden in those stories are not just insights into why we do this work and how it matters, but also the small sparks that have lit fires in all of us. Those sparks aren’t about merely the “how” and the “why” — they are about the passion for, the calling to, and, as Gardner says the romance of the work we do. Talking about the work in those terms, in foundational, transformational stories, may help us to transcend the daily grind of the how and the why and allow us to focus on the patterns of passion that we all share.

Meanwhile, over the last few weeks, over at umwblogs.org, I’ve watched literally hundreds of blogs emerge from the ether of UMW’s teaching and learning network. The exposure that is occurring in that space is also electrifying. A common theme seems to be the first course blog post in which students are asked to answer the question, “Why did you take this course?” These posts, themselves, may be the beginnings of foundational stories, as well. Many of the responses are from first-year students, answering the question of why they took a particular freshman seminar this fall. I wonder if in those answers they are crafting the first paragraph of a new story of their own, and I’m struck by what it means that they have now publicly answered and shared that response. What will it feel like for the senior history major to come back in four years and read her first post about why she took Jeff’s freshman seminar on the experience of American veterans returning home.

I’m fascinated both by the effect that the sharing of these stories can have on us, individually, as well as how in the communal sharing we can expose tacit patterns, commonalities and differences that would otherwise go unnoticed and unexposed.

To that end, I’d like to share a piece of my own story, here. It’s by no means as clear, coherent, or well-crafted as Gardner’s, but in the telling, I think I’ll be share a piece of my own pattern that, perhaps, others will recognize.

For me, not surprisingly, part of my own foundational story is wrapped up in Mary Washington, and my own life here as an undergraduate. I left this institution just as the internet was taking hold on campus. My senior year, when I finally got my act together and joined the debate team, I had my first exposure to the internet as tool for research. I spent hours upon hours holed up in a windowless office in Chandler, searching for information about an obscure non-governmental agency in the middle east called EcoPeace. I remember feeling like I was plumbing the depths of a brain. The internet felt small and parochial enough at that time that you actually could feel sometimes like you might reach the end.

The plumbing was incredibly satisfying. But what fascinated me more, what I really wanted to learn to do, was create these pages on the Web. In retrospect, I can see how that desire was continuing a lifelong pattern in my own life — a deep-seated need to craft and create what I can only term as “experiences.” This need is what prompted me to get on stage as a child and teenager; it’s also why by first grade I was writing my first “novel” (long since abandoned, thank god); it’s why planning my wedding was so wholly satisfying. In each scenario, I recognized my ability to create something — a space, a place, a text, a performance — that had the power to affect others, to connect others to someone or something else.

But, just as these opportunities arose, I graduated and, perhaps ironically, took my first job at the Folger Shakespeare Library, an institution steeped in traditions of print and book culture. Yet, at the Folger (a truly amazing place to work), I found my way back to these technologies, quickly focusing on how it might be possible to use them to re-present and re-contextualize the rich scholarly materials that were being generated out of the Library’s workshops, conferences, and seminars.

From there, I went to graduate school and found my way back (twice!) to Mary Washington. Each step along the way, I thought I understood what I was trying to accomplish, and, yet, all along the way, the path kept opening wider and wider, exposing to me a larger landscape than I imagined. It’s humbling to realize how much I did not know along the way, and it is a reminder of how much I’m quite sure that I still don’t fully understand.

There is one other anecdote that predates my experience as a debater at MWC. The summer before my senior year, I took a seminar on medieval literature with Terry Kennedy. For one session of that seminar, a visitor from the eText center at UVA (whose name I have embarrassingly forgotten) visited with us to show off some of the digital texts that were coming out of that project — including the ability to do some pretty amazing textual analysis once the texts themselves had been inputed into this new kind of structured language, although I had no idea what that meant at the time. (Interestingly Gardner had actually helped to arrange this visit, although I didn’t know it — or him — at the time.)

I remember sitting in the computer science lab in the basement of Trinkle that day in July waiting for images of illuminated manuscripts to appear on the screens. At one point, I turned around and realized that one of my classmates had “surfed” away from the “page” we were looking at and had found a “web site” with the lyrics of Grateful Dead songs. I remember thinking, “Well, now that’s just WRONG!”

Ah. . .how far I’ve come!