First off, I want to welcome everyone back to DIY Ivory Tower. You might have noticed that the blog went on a brief hiatus during the late fall. My dissertation and the job market kept me quite busy during the past few months. Now that I’ve got another chapter drafted and a large pile of letters off to search committees, I have time once again to devote to DiYiT. Now on to the post…
Returning home from the annual American Historical Association conference a few weeks ago, I found that one of my most important post-conference chores was the addition of dozens of scholars, editors, archivists, and librarians to my Twitter feed. During the conference I used Twitter extensively and for a variety of different purposes. And I wasn’t alone. All tolled, Twitter users sent over 4,200 messages about the AHA meeting to the public micro-blogging service during the conference. And since then another 500 or so tweets have rolled in as conversations begun during the conference have continued on Twitter. Given the value of all that tweeting, I thought it might be a good idea to put together a post describing the basic uses of Twitter by academics.
If you are completely unfamiliar with Twitter, I suggest that you check out this PDF describing the basics of Twitter put together by the Public Policy Group of the London School of Economics and Political Science. If you are familiar enough with the service to understand terminology like “tweeting” and “following,” then we can get right down to business.
When I initially thought about this next section, I knew I wanted to write about the personal aspects of feelings about technology. As it turned out, as with a lot of writing, once I started to type the words, those same words I was certain I controlled took over and shaped the essay, taking my thoughts and making more sense of them than I ever could. The result is an exploration of the external influences that fuel our individual fear of technology. Those external influences also fuel broader, mainstream perceptions and expectations about technology. All those influences shape, often furtively, how we feel about and deal with technology in our professional personas.
On two recent channel surfing occasions, I noticed something very odd. Well, odd to me. The first time I was watching the commercials to see what was coming next. One of the ads was about a local news show, how it is so cutting edge yet highly focused on the local issues important TO YOU. Among the many jittery shots (does anyone just hold a video camera still anymore?), there was a fleeting, if fidgety glimpse of the station’s two late night anchors, seriously discussing some highly relevant topic, while one of them was holding and pointing to one of the new tablets (now, y’all know I ain’t talking about aspirin). Now, I, the viewer, could not see if the contraption was on, but that was not the point. That anchor was cutting edge, holding a powerful talisman, a cornucopian information source. I was immediately convinced that what the commercial was saying was indeed true. The other time I stopped to rest my eyes on two hosts of one of the many entertainment news shows. Both were sitting with, need I say it, a new tablet in front them, one for each. The tablets were closed, that is, the covers were hiding the displays. Still, there was immediately no doubt in my mind that, because they had such powerful technology at their disposal, those two individuals were capable of nothing but the truth, which I was suddenly convinced they revealed objectively and in detailed depth.
A big part of my job is to teach teachers how to teach with tech. (Yes, I intended to write it this way. This is actually how I think of my job; it is my “elevator speech” description of what I do.) One of the questions I am often asked is “Should I use this tool?” This usually results in discussions of the concrete steps involved, often becoming a dialogue about pedagogical applications for any given tool. However, I find that “Should I?” question is fraught with barely stealthed anxiety, so as part of my response I try to get my clients to answer my unasked, broad question, “How do you feel about using this technology?”
I rarely broach the question as boldly as I have here, but I try to take the conversation to a “feeling” place. After all, teaching, good, solid, inspirational teaching (teach=inspire, no?), is propelled by feeling: a love for the subject, the satisfaction that results from exchanging knowledge, and the exhilaration of knowing that, no matter how prepared a teacher may be, whether in a one-on-one tutoring session or a lecture before 500+ students, there is always a chance the unforeseen will grace teachers and their students with a creative, fertile teaching moment that enriches everyone involved.
All teachers, because they take on the authoritative role of oracle, are vulnerable, because their knowledge, and therefore their legitimacy, can always be instantly challenged, undermined, usurped.