Faculty Academy Thoughts! (FAT!)

I can’t just keep myself out of the conversation happening about Faculty Academy 2009 here at Mary Washington! Held at the Graduate campus in Stafford, the talks so far have been both highly enlightening and also filled with unanswered questions. While I wanted this post to focus on discussing each talk I went to in exacting detail, I am simply wiped from the day and just want to ramble about the event itself. [Who knows maybe we will touch on each thing anyway!] I honestly had no clue how much was going on with this conference, even though I saw the program well in advanced. For instance, did you know our tech crew has a steaming video running of all the talks in University Hall, the main room of the building? This stream is located on the main website page @ http://facultyacademy.org/blog09/. I invited a good friend of mine to watch some the keynote talk without the use of power point! I know it is absolutely insane to talk in front of tons of people without the use of technology. James Boyle highlighted our tendencies to stray away from viewing openness as a very plausible potential for our projects, yet despite this eagerness to break our Cultural Agoraphobia, Boyle managed to provide a cautionary note that sometimes closed off items are okay and in fact necessary. During my session with Dr. Harris, Fersebner and Lexy Degraffenreid, I noticed that like many things, new innovations are taken almost too far. Right, that is a pretty vague statement on my part, but consider that one may be so overwhelmed by the new potential of the tools that his project fits the tools rather than the tools fitting the project. These new tools that we as academics have readily available should be serving our projects. All that being said, it can all be simply reiterated as such: the project should, and indeed must influence the tools. If you have imagination, wonderful! Use it to your fullness, but be warned new innovation can cause you to start artificial projects. Oh I can do such and such, well forget whatever I was doing before, let’s try everything else.

A gentleman in my panel Wednesday morning talked about how far we can push our projects and expand them to greater and more ambitious undertakings, while another man cautioned the crowd that a project can collapse under its own weight. What we really have here is a conversation (definitely the buzz word for this conference) concerning the very nature of projects in this new medium. Professor Harris with his Russian and soviet history site had a very specific audience in mind, Mary Washington students looking for sources just down campus walk at the Simpson Library. What our projects, in my mind and I say this over and over again, is a definitive vision and thoughtful rationale behind each of our projects. Dan Cohen’s digital campus talks about the basic training where we have to ask ourselves why we want to use digital media at all, what if your project would do better in some other form? The trend with any new innovation is to beat it into the ground until it is old hat. Proceeding thoughtful is really the solution to that trend. Another problem arises, we don’t have a solid understanding of what all of this technology and conversations have for the normal ways we handle courses and classwork. At Faculty Academy 09, I think, whether consciously or unconsciously, we are challenging a model set up by our medieval and closed approaches to learning and teaching. The University at its heart is sadly a business and needs to generate a profit somehow. Jim Groom (author of Bavatuesdays) and I have talked multiple times on the number of institutions that would go down if open source ruled the playing field, certainly academic journals would be an endangered species.

Allow the Project to Set the Need!

To move gently to the second panel I attended in the afternoon, since I noticed few people took advantage of the foreign language talk, I want to discuss the role of technology in facilitating learning language. The program, upon sitting and chewing on the material, held great insight into the multiple techniques available to a language class to fully develop. There were a wide range of opinions (e.g. whether or not blackboard is ok). What you learn is that no one method is a 100%. A number of factors play into what a course needs, sometimes just how the students themselves interact with the technology we (by we I mean you the teacher!) implement makes all the difference. While each speaker offered a lot of fodder, I wanted to touch on Jeremy Larochelle’s tremendous success with his use of blogs. Language requires a great deal of interaction. If you attempt to develop language solo and never interact, at least with modern language, you miss the full benefits of real experience. He mentioned that a student received a very critical post from an individual in Latin America attacking his grammar. Now, that seems problematic, but imagine if one were able to get native speakers reading the blogs and bringing their expertise as natives to the learning experience. Sadly (or perhaps wonderfully) we are in the experimenting stage, attempting to understand what works and what does not. Students really have an opportunity to open up and use the tools they gain through social network sites etc. for a more academic purpose. Maybe we need to make learning more fun and interactive? As a student diving into this world, I have found Faculty Academy to be the best experience I could possibly have in my training.

With Coffee in hand let us, as boldly as our brew, move forward!

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One Response to “Faculty Academy Thoughts! (FAT!)”

  1. Reverend says:

    Look at you Joe! RUling the internets from your UMW Blogs perch. Nice write up on FA, and I am really sorry I missed your session. I think the stuff Steve Harris and Sue Fernsebner are doing is awesome. And History is the rising star on UMW Blogs, the China of Web 2.0 on campus 😉

    As for open source closing institutions, I’m not sure I think that institutions would necessary be in danger if they don’t use open source software or sharing stuff more openly—I just increasingly believe they may become less and less relevant to the process of learning. What is key here is the universities, colleges, and K-12 have the opportunity to re-imagine the classrooms and publishing for the future of interaction and imagining networks of sharing. And if they don’t, they may be at risk of further alienating themselves from the power of sharing resources and self-publishing on the open web. I am not necessarily a gloom and doom guy about institutions, and I think they are unbelievably rich with talent, community, and shared space—all of which make them uniquely positioned to imagine this space along the axis of a community of distributed, yet connected, learning. And we here at UMW are trying to make that case as clearly as possible, as you have seen at FA 🙂