This summer, just before I headed out on my vacation, I finally hit bottom. My digital life was out of control, and I was powerless over my my RSS’s, my API’s, Yammers, Twitters and the rest of my life stream. The initial high that came from registering for yet another microblogging site, bookmark sharing tool, project management application, or music community was replaced with the sense that none of this was really contributing much to the kind of thinking and writing I really wanted to be doing. It was distracting, and the bit of an ego boost that comes when someone comments on my uncanny ability to be aware of the newest Web 2.0 application wears off pretty quickly. (I suspect that many of the folks making those comments really thought that it’s pretty pathetic that someone at my age was still trying to figure out whether Pandora or Last.FM was the best way to explore new music.)
The first (and easiest) step in digital rehab was to disable my FaceBook account. My small community was a attractive distraction late in the afternoon when I didn’t feel like working, but it was hard for me to move beyond fascination. Outside of a small circle of professional colleagues that I know pretty well, I never did get comfortable with merging the personal and social so tightly. The group of folks who were interested in my son’s wedding pictures and the progress on my kitchen renovation weren’t very interested in the travails of finding the right support model for online research.
Unlike some other social networking sites, Facebook is pretty easy to escape from right now, with clear instructions on how to disable the account. I officially killed the account on Sunday, and even that little step has given me a new sense of freedom. I’m also finding a bit of an anti-Facebook community–including even tech professor and guru Mark Hofer has joined the community of former Facebookers.
It will be interesting to see how bad the withdrawal becomes and how I’m able to keep connections with some key folks for whom FB really has become a key communications tool.
Last week I spent two full days in sessions of the University Teaching Project in preparation for a new partnership at William and Mary focused on using the best combination of traditional and emerging technologies available to broaden and deepen the conversation about excellent teaching. IT’s academic information services staff will be working closely with the Roy Charles Center–the nerve center for WM’s interdisciplinary programs, competitive scholarships, University Teaching Project and the Sharpe Community service program. As a result, the Charles Center is the home of some of the most interesting programs focused on expanding the range of teaching and learning at the College, and dozens of faculty members are working on projects to make learning even more interactive, integrative and imaginative.
We’ve worked closely with the folks at the Charles Center on a number of initiatives, including one focused on understanding the process of undergraduate research, and we’ve laid the groundwork even more expansive projects in the future. The grand plan for the next two years calls for our group to focus the time and resources that we’d been investing in the former Technology Integration Program on expanding the reach of the University Teaching Project. Our efforts in creating TIP had some very real successes, but we never achieved the kind of seamless integration that we had hoped for.
In practical terms, we’re going to help develop a fully interactive web site that fosters communications and consolidates resources about teaching in a common location. We know that teaching is highly valued at WM, but a visitor from Mars would have to look pretty hard for evidence of our commitment. Efforts at teaching improvement have generally been highly personal and private–shared only with a few close colleagues and department members. Our goal is to keep the support for grassroots efforts at teaching improvement, closely tied to the individual classroom, while publicizing some of successes so that others can build on them. In the early stages of the project, we’ll focus on listening, gathering information and trying to understand what the teaching community of practice is really like.
We’re optimistic about the potential value of this partnership because of the strong alignment between our way of working in the academic computing group and that of Joel Schwartz, Dean of Interdisciplinary Studies:
I am a catalyst,” he said. “What a good teacher does is kind of catalyze thinking and productivity in students. Teaching is not something in which you have a student sit at your feet while you dispense wisdom down to them and they soak it into their heads. You try to help them become original, creative people.” (link)
University Teaching Project