Slow Progress: The People Who Correct My Approach

As an intrepid, young DTLT-er, and not to mention a slight overachiever, I tend to take on far too much to chew in terms of projects. The fact is that DTLT is filled with people like Jim Groom, Martha Burtis and of course Andy Rush who are constantly blogging and making an impact on the web. So, I have to admit it is a lot of pressure to be the young upstart without having Serena Epstein like skills and drive. To counter all of the above, I recently began exploring coding with an emphasis on the very basics for HTML and then digging around php. In essence, I attempted to massively accumulate whatever knowledge I could to feel useful. Especially with having a full-fledged computer science major as a roommate, I definitely feel under equipped to do instructional technology. After a very thorough talk with Jim Groom about the nature of WordPress and everything that goes on behind what the visitor to the blog sees, I realized that the sort of project I embarked on is nothing short of a lifetime work that does not get started in finished even within the same month.

From the very beginning I had the wrong premise about what I needed to do. On my first week into this matter, Professor Zach Whalen mentioned that I’m a big fan of learning as you go (with software especially), so I’d probably choose a “real” project, if it were me. (personal comm) Well obviously, I should have listened to that advice and thought about how the available technology of web 2.0 could suit my own learning needs, but instead I became increasingly fixated on just mastering the tech out there.

Now, another word of advice came in the form of an older article by a man I still consider a great mentor, Gardner Campbell. He discusses the nature of the digital medium that is a matter of much discussion in academic circles as the lines, although not clearly drawn, at least tends to divide academics; Gardner Campbell’s main focus is the nature and benefits of web 2.0 for the university and students. At this point I must lift a few quotes from his article linked above. This statement particularly captured and spurred me:

Students with this kind of digital fluency will be well-prepared for creative and responsible leadership in the post-Gutenberg age. Without such fluency, students cannot compete economically or intellectually, and the astonishing promise of the digital medium will never be fully realized.

I read this line a few times over and considered my own status of, well frankly not having digital fluency. In my opinion, using wordpress, being plugged into twitter and other social networks does not make for digital fluency. In reality I think that having some deeper sense of technical skills is what makes for digital fluency. I dashed into a week or two of slow progress studying code and trying to even figure out what I wanted to do with that training. I might have been gaining fluency in something, but as I began to feel my own willingness to look through training manuals diminish, I had a suspicion that I approached this problem from a very wrong angle. I became a fanatic for instantly mastering or reaching the fluency level, and as I heard about DTLT members’ projects or saw the amazing work and thought processes over at Cog Dog’s space I’ll admit I felt inadequate. I worked harder and harder until finally I broke down to have a chat with the Bava. He surprisingly hashed out WordPress’s from a nuts and bolts perspective. Now I am staring at a white board filled with airs and diagrams tracing out how a wordpress blog works once put onto a server and uses LAMP. At the end of his lecture (late chat?) he simply asked “what are you trying to do?” At that point I could only respond that I had no idea. Well, that is hardly a good situation. I started to explain that I wanted to be well-equipped and helpful in the office. However, Martha Burtis made a solid point, you gain the skills as you need them. And in all reality the needs should shape what technology that you use and your grasp on it. There are far too many tools available to use that I am skeptical that any one person could make use of even the larger majority of them. Look at a list on, you’ll find that there is a long list of software that one could learn. How does one sift through all that? Well, my previous approach was to ignore the volume and keep learning everything, but I do not have that sort of time, and that sort of method is highly impractical. As I listened to Martha explain how she acquired her mad skillz, I was reminded of Gardner Campbell’s article again:

Just as the real computing revolution didn’t happen until the computer became truly personal, the real IT revolution in teaching and learning won’t happen until each student builds a personal cyberinfrastructure that is as thoughtfully, rigorously, and expressively composed as an excellent essay or an ingenious experiment. This vision goes beyond the “personal learning environment” in that it asks students to think about the web at the level of the server, with the tools and affordances that such an environment prompts and provides.

Forgive a poor interpretation, but I severed the IT revolution from the teaching and learning. Sectioning off technological advancements from my own personal interests, I created a chore rather than an indepth and possibly meaningful change in the way I develop as a student. I agree that getting a solid handle on the environments we are using is a crucial element, however becoming so obsessed with it forgets that these are tools for communication and development of ideas. Campbell refers to this movement as a moment in time labeled “post-Gutenberg age”, and this is the key question, why was the Gutenberg printing press key, not because of technology for its own sake, but how one could promulgate ideas. So, while now I am taking it easy, I vigorously learn tools that are attached to what ever it is I want to do and what piques my intellectual curiosity.

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