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Getting Ready Part 2

Monday, January 10th, 2011

In Part 1 I detailed all of the hectic events that will surely accompany my senior theses, but I have left out another crucial change for this semester. I have left DTLT to take on more responsibilities tutoring students studying Chinese. Last semester I spent about six hours a week working with them, but now thanks to Professor Koos I have ten hours I can devote to 102 and 202 students. In order to be of even more help I want to…need to improve my own language skills. A teacher who isn’t learning is a weaker teacher. Regardless of whatever level you teach, you have to work with new material and advance your understanding of what you already know. Not only does such a method keep you apprised of what new developments are happening, but it also shows your students you are willing to put in the effort.

For this sort of model I am considering everything that would make me a better student of Chinese language. I have to admit that I take my inspiration from Jim Groom’s Digital Storytelling class. Jim did every single assignment with his students. Whatever struggles they went through, Jim did the same. It created an atmosphere of collaboration where students knew that the instructor was also grappling with the material. Although I didn’t take the class myself, I could see that students really enjoyed having that type of support. The success of this model for learning and teaching hinges on the notion that a teacher doesn’t ask the student to do something he wouldn’t do himself. Not a huge revelation, but I want to run a Chinese study group like Jim leads his digital storytelling. End of story.

How does one study Chinese Mandarin? No one method could safely stand as the correct way, but having realized that studying language in its respective country is far easier than in the United States, I now know that I need more creative methods to make progress happen. While inside of the US, it seems as if the best one can do is tread water, maintaining her skills but perhaps losing a little each day. I earnestly want more than that. The opportunities I have to go over to China are growing smaller and smaller. Whether there is lack of free time or a need to make cash, the long stretches of Chinese studies could become a thing of the past if grad school doesn’t work out.

What tools, methods and ideas have I come up with? Frankly not a whole lot, but allow me to stumble through my thought process on the matter. The big considerations are

  1. goals
  2. tools
  3. time

But after having spent today introducing students to any number of tools, I felt I had this whole language thing worked out. At the end of the day teacher (老师)mentioned a couple of items for me to work on more specifically. I just added those to the ever growing list of goals. At this moment my main goals include developing and maintaining vocabulary, increased proficiency talking with Chinese people on a wide range of topics, and now developing a better eye for writing characters (汉字 hanzi). I have to laugh because 老师noticed how poor my characters were. I also need to get a better sense of Chinese culture through reading more stories and using the language. Since the beginning of my studies, I have merely passed myself off as a funny American who just so happens to know quite a bit about Chinese history. In all actuality my knowledge of Chinese culture is pretty bare.

Tools often help to further shape one’s goals. What you have or do not have can limit your progress. It’s hard to study without materials. So I have any number of websites and radio programs at my disposal. Over the past two years I amassed a healthy collection of books but no easy reading stories. The majority of my collection is textbooks. While textbooks are helpful, they can be a little cumbersome or, if nothing else, less than fun. For all my advocating for having fun while studying Chinese, I take a very serious, drill like, attitude to the process. I need to use games, books, media and other tools to enjoy the process. Why am I not talking to Chinese people on MSN, Skype or QQ on a daily basis? Why should studying Chinese always be a matter of “hitting the books” that a university vets? Frankly, I still have a lot to work out, but the progress is most certainly there. I do at least need to get a hold of another collection of books as well as some special materials for practicing writing. 老师recommended I pick up a few books by 金庸(Jin Yong). Who is 金庸?You’ve got me there, but this individual has apparently written a mass of novels that are great for advanced learners to pick up vocabulary and knowledge on culture. As to my penmanship, I don’t know why I didn’t consider picking up some writing materials while I was abroad!

The final factor I have to worry about is time. I am not a 100% how to best schedule time to work on all of this language stuff. I used to be much more industrious, but some days I seem to lack energy for actively studying the language. I float along the doldrums. Even writing blog posts or just getting lists together for what needs to be accomplished in a day takes more time than it should. I am certain that most of the problem settles on a mental block. In order to succeed at something, you must see yourself successfully completing the task. So as I am putting together my Chinese study schedule I need to be willing to put in the time. Nothing comes without effort, no matter what I might think. I hope to plug in a lot of hours working on Chinese. With any luck studying alongside the other students will be a big motivator. The more I study, the better I can help them. Even if my future with Mandarin is wholly uncertain, the others could do very well with the language. So how many hours? I would like to do three hours a day. Maybe if I plan it out well, even when I am busy I can work on it.

Suggestions for language study under a busy schedule?

The moral of the story with studying Chinese is that you can think big, but what can you honestly do? I always talk about making great progress despite the fact that nothing ever comes out of such talk. Whether it is semester hustle and bustle or just my own laziness, I get stuck in my tracks. Just a confession, you know?

Now that we have gotten talking about Chinese out of the way, I hope to touch on some of the problems and hey maybe even effective strategies for dealing with them. For those playing at home, feel free to step in with advice and opinions; I always could use it!

Gearing Up #1

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Over the next few posts I will lay out winter break, the upcoming semester and how everything can just go utterly wrong. These posts will be messy and perhaps….utterly disturbing! Nah, mostly just rants about how difficult things could be mixed with anecdotes about how I can make it all the worse. Sit tight and enjoy the ride.

Now that we are at New Semester Eve, it is worth taking note of this winter break, call it inventory if you will. What was done? Not done? How could it have been done better feels like an irrelevant question, there are no more winter breaks after this, maybe? Either way, taking account of one’s work is crucial to understand how to progress towards your next goal. I started the semester with a sweet trip to Scranton Pennsylvania to see some family. Before fall semester I never had any interest in what used to be a small mining town, but after a classmate in Dr. Moon’s immigration class presented the story of Polish mine workers from that area, I grew more fascinated with my family’s ties to the place and trade. I came back with a UMW zippo lighter and a piece of coal. The coal, ironically, was a gift from Mr. Ferri who owns a coal mine themed pizza shop in Moscow PA. I learned a great bit about how coal miners lived and unfortunately were almost always exploited. I will have to do another post on just the pizza joint, utterly wonderful! The reconnect I had with my family was also immensely awesome, but that’s too gushy for this space, so we’ll skip that. I did come away with something that I can share. Hearing stories about my father’s college experience and pursuit of knowledge, lit a new fire in me. Whatever that means, right?

Around Christmas time, my girlfriend headed down to Fredericksburg and has now taken residence in my apartment building, one floor up. My roommate–tech guru Matt Keaton– and I found some free furniture to help get the apartment looking sweet. Luckily for my girlfriend, I have stumbled onto any number of objects which now furnishes her flat. Am I just trying to gain some good boyfriend points? Well of course, you can never be sure when you will need them. Christmas itself was pretty quiet. We had a small family celebration, but at least I was able to gift everyone some chocolates I found at Gertrude Hawk located in Scranton PA. I also got crafty and made a present for the girlfriend. To be honest, it’s one of those crafts your five year old gives you…then you put in on the fridge maybe; nothing to scream about but still cute.

The girlfriend and I scored big for the holidays at least. We landed a trip to Florida with my mom. She has been living in a newly developing area between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. I lived there for a little while last winter before taking off to China. Most of the time when I go, I meet the locals, who are primarily “immigrants” from New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It’s a great area to relax and explore historic sites. I visited a light house on Ponce de Leon islet. The museum exhibit surprised me. With a wealth of detail about working conditions in the mid 19th to early 20th century. You could see where lighthouse workers slept, some of the living conditions for the family and of course climb the light house itself. Little did I know that this is actually, “the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the nation.”(see their website!) I tend to be a museum junky, but it is a little hard on the non-museum obsessed family. Despite how museum-ed out they may have been, I convinced everyone to check out Castillo de San Marcos, an amazing stone fortress in St. Augustine. While I want to say I liked the light house better, the sheer grandeur of the castle structure is just too wonderful to not become enamored.

Now that the semester has drawn nigh, I am back at my home base in Fredericksburg just at the foot of the university. The semester has its own challenges that will become evident soon enough! Actually it came to me this morning. Like the high school science project you put off until the day before the fair, the moment you wake up a certain fear, no doom dances before your eyes! Perhaps not nearly so grim, but this is my blog, so there.

I have grown accustom to busy, yet manageable semesters. Even when I don’t think I will make it, everything works itself out through some late nights, prodigious amounts of coffee, determination and a little stress. This semester provides some new challenges. I call it the double senior thesis. I have been reviewing my schedules for both the history and the anthropology theses, but both of my projects still feel horrifically abstract. Granted, I did in fact do some book work and bibliography compiling over break, everything I completed feels inconsequentially when backed against looming deadlines. A capstone project needs to be beyond good. It is one of those things that you just don’t blow.

My history thesis is perhaps the harder of the two. With the history department’s call for excellence in writing and depth of research, my project will require a host of hours in order to complete it with any sort of quality. The history department has put up the thesis syllabus (we students and faculty call the course History 485) for all those playing at home. The proposal for the project is due just before the end of January, the literature review is in February, and the completed (but not final) draft of the research paper is due March 28th. I knew that the proposal date would be set early in the semester, so I started a little bit of the legwork ahead of time. The only problem I have now is setting a solid schedule for when to read what…not to mention how to note everything properly. I spent a lot of time trying different systems with nothing being a happy medium of efficient yet comprehensive. Well, just keep trying right? I plan on having a full schedule (i.e. not only when papers are due but when I am reading and doing the writing) by either Wednesday (unlikely) or Friday afternoon (more probable). Not only will such a schedule keep me moving forward, but it gives me a sense of accomplishment. To me a project becomes manageable when it is on paper. I want to share what my project is, but let’s save it for when the full blown schedule is written, right?

Of course the fun does not stop there! I have my anthropology thesis to contend with as well. While I had last semester and this break to accomplish something, my progress has been remarkably slow. I encountered any number of setbacks with my research on the Nation Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington D.C. I have the project thesis or range of questions narrowed down in order to be feasible, but in all honesty I have my work cut out for me. The structure of the thesis is a little less rigid, which can be rather deceiving. Dr. Gable requires a half an hour meeting by the end of the third week to discuss our progress and bibliographies. Figuring out how to discuss and research Native American Cosmology has been a bear to wrestle with, but after another trip to the NMAI and a talk with a cultural interpreter working there, I have made substantial progress. I want to have a full, detailed schedule written by the end of this week, after I have gotten my schedule for history completed. My other main struggle with this project has been transportation costs, in terms of time and money. A trip to DC from Fredericksburg takes no less than two hours when driving to Franconia-Springfield and catching the Metro. I have yet to have a class schedule that allows for trips using the VRE, which would be far more advantageous. I find my topic to be quite interesting, but I just don’t have the level of familiarity with it that I do with my history project. Over the past few months I have had nothing but obstacles to even thinking about my anthropology thesis, but like the other one, I need to have a stellar paper before I even feel willing to call this thesis “completed.”

On top of these two big guys, I also have a few classes that will always require a little more attention. At first I rued the fact I had to take other classes, but it may give me an artificial break from bashing my head against the thesis projects. This semester I have a gen ed class to complete as well as an anthropology elective with Professor James. I really want to join band at UMW, but I missed an audition at the end of the semester…so it’s a little up in the air. I have never been in a school band, but it could be fun. These classes could definitely offer a productive destruction distraction from senior theses. It’s always a matter of doing things on time…and not letting schedules clash but so badly.

Rough Draft: Gellner and National Navels

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Gellner, Ernest. “Nationalism and Modernity.” In Nations and Nationalism: A Reader, edited by Philip Spence and Howard Wollman, 40-47. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Ernest Gellner has written an interesting and concise essay on the arguments within nationalist thought as well as the connections between nationalism and modern society. He divides his work into two sections, “Do Nations Have Navels?” and “Industrial and Industrialising World.”
Gellner comically poses the question of nationalism’s origin in terms of whether nations have navels. Although his question seems absurd in its phrasing, he strikes at the heart of a major issue for those studying nationalism, the historical period in which it emerged. He notes that a central question is the nature of the past. When he discusses the differences between creationism and evolution, he believes that nations, like the creation story, has a past built into its origins (41). Regardless of how young the nation truly is, its citizens try to point to antiquity for self validation, yet in Gellner’s view they simply create or imagine this past. He attempts to demonstrate both sides of the argument concerning nationalism, yet I believe his attempt is largely ineffective as he simultaneously creates and tears down the argument of primordialists, those who oppose the modernist viewpoint. He does nevertheless clearly outline the issues that are central to nationalism, continuity and culture. Cultures “persist and change” (42), and their persistence could indicate that some nations have always existed, which essentially is a conflation of ethnic groups and nations. Gellner believes that anthropology’s vogue concepts of culture distracts from the real question of organizational issues that shape nationalism. He states the problem as “the exclusive culturalism or hermeneuticism or interpretivism…makes it hard or impossible even to ask the most important question” (43). To Gellner, that question is the organizational make up of nations and factors creating it, not the supposed cultural origins. He essentially divides the issue between a cultural argument and an organizational one. From the modernist standpoint, nationalism is a matter of political groupings and institutions. At the end of his section on arguments within nationalism, Gellner makes general observations of factors in the emergence of nations and the types of “navels” nations may or may not have.
Gellner’s essay contains a second section entitled “The Industrial and Industrialising World.” He details the mechanics of a modern society and its necessary components. As he has already linked nationalism to institutions and political systems, he continues his argument by showing how institutions work within a modern society. He does not state the direct connection of modern society and nationalism, but the link between these two concepts is implicit when he writes, “One of the industrial world’s two main principles of political legitimacy-of the assessment of the acceptability of regimes-is indeed economics growth. (The other principle is nationalism, which is our theme.)” (44). Gellner’s equating of modern society and industrialism with nationalism has produced two questions in nationalist debates: does the emergence of nationalism require industrialization and is nationalist theory only written from a Western perspective? Partha Chatterjee works heavily with these two issues in his work, Nationalism and the Colonial World: a Derivative Discourse?.
While Gellner states that his view “does not prevent [his work], one hopes, from presenting the issues in a clear and unprejudicial manner” (40), he seemingly works to convince the reader that the primordialist argument cannot withstand the rational approach of modernists. Still, the reader will find that Ernest Gellner summarizes the main points of contention between modernists and primordialists and modern society’s makeup with great clarity.

Chutney? No! Chatterjee : D

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Partha Chatterjee complicates the notion of nationalism in the post-colonial world through his analysis of previous scholars writing as well as setting forth his own theories about India’s nationalist movement. His greatest contribution is a more complex lens with which to evaluate post-colonial nations. He demonstrates the contradictions encapsulated within the post-colonial world’s acceptance of a Euro-centric nationalism. Chatterjee’s book, although written in chapters, is essential a collection of short essays. In his first two chapters, he concentrates on the previous concepts of nationalism and his own contributions to said conversation. He uses the rest of the book to expand on his theories through a close analysis of post-colonial India.

In his first chapter, Chatterjee presents a history of Nationalist theory and its arguments. He focuses on two camps debating nationalism in the 1970s and the 1980s, liberal-rationalists and Marxists. He includes extensive block quotes and distills their main line of reasoning in order to compare the different arguments. The crux of this essay is that nationalism is incorrectly rooted to the West and modernity. Chatterjee describes another main flaw of liberal-rationalist and Marxist thought as theorists, such as Benedict Anderson, representing nationalism to be sociologically deterministic. As side note, having a background in nationalists theories will greatly aid the reader by contextualizing Chatterjee’s arguments.

Chatterjee continues his work by laying out his own concepts of nationalism. In the beginning of his second essay, he demonstrates post-colonial groups as dealing with a broad idea of nationalism in a series of moments. He considers post-colonial nationalism as having two components, the broad definition couched in European ideas, and the modifications people make to fit their specific situation (e.g. Indians attempting to differentiate their nationalism from colonialism.) Coupled to this negotiation, Chatterjee believes that there are three moments which must occur in order for nations to exist. First, people in a colony wish to throw off the colonizers and so adopt their idea of nationalism. They follow this with a series of debates about what nationalism ought look like, in India’s case the main question is whether they have to be a modern, urban nation. Finally, a certain group of intellectuals push aside the previous debates in order to create a monolithic nation that omits any of those conflicts.

Partha Chatterjee argues excellently for a more complicated understanding of the “modular” effect of nationalism as seen in many of his contemporaries work. Unlike other scholars, he does not see nationalism as an inevitability but rather a concept people debate and actively modify. His concepts constitute a realistic alternative to the Euro-centric nationalism. However, his work is not without problems. Despite the title including “post-colonial,” Chatterjee only draws from his understanding of India to act as the baseboard for his theories. Further application of his concepts would greatly enhance the ideas he has set forth. For instance would Chatterjee’s three moments be seen in Chinese nationalism? Another issue is the ambiguous use of language. When speaking about theoretical concepts, he tends to use terms such as “problematic” and “thematic” which he explains in a fairly abstruse manner.

Updated Draft: Anderson

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 3d ed. New York: Verso, 2006.

Benedict Anderson argues that language is the crux for fostering the idea of nationalism. Through an analysis of the rise of nations and “print-capitalism”, he defines nationalism as an imagined community, a large group which shares a common language and connections that is shared through printed material. He covers the entire history of nationalism, which he conceives as a modern phenomena of the past two hundred years. His theory of nationalism is both ground breaking and persuasive in its wide scope of analysis yet has two weaknesses: divergence towards nationalism’s effects and the use of foreign language sources without translation.

Although divided into chapters, his work has three distinct sections. The first section (chapters 1-3) deals with nationalism’s birth, first through the fall of universal religions claiming imperial status (e.g. the Holy Roman Empire) and then deterioration of dynastic reign; he details the rise of newspapers and print-capitalism as a major stimulus for nationalism. In the second section (4-7), he traces four waves of nationalism from the early beginnings in the Americas and newspapers to the rethinking of languages and identity in Europe, the reformulating of empire to include nationalism, and finally the previously colonized areas modifying nationalism for themselves. In this section, he demonstrates how nationalism is inherently flexible, deriving its flexibility from print-language. The third section focuses on the effects of nationalism. He answers questions of intense loyalty to one’s own imagined community, nationalism’s place in the past few hundred years of history, and issues of collective memory and forgetfulness in a nation. This final section seems oddly divorced from his focus on print language as a nation builder. Although the effects of nationalism is an important aspect, his expounding of such did not add anything of significance to his argument.

Early Draft Review : Imagined Communities

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Benedict Anderson uses language as the crux for fostering the idea of nationalism. Through an analysis of nationalism and “print-capitalism” Anderson questions Marxism’s inability to define nationalism. In Anderson’s work, he defines nationalism as an imagined community, a large community which shares a common language commonly shared through printed material. While his theory of nationalism is ground breaking, Imagined Communities has two weakness in terms of structuring his argument and the use of foreign language sources in his text.

While only divided into chapters, his work can actually be grouped together to make three sections. The first section consists of chapters one through three and deal with the nature of nationalism’s birth, first through the fall of universal religions claiming imperial status (e.g. the Holy Roman Empire) and then deterioration of the dynastic reign; he details the rise of newspapers and print-capitalism as a major stimulus for nationalism. In the second section, he describes four waves of nationalism from the early beginnings in the Americas and newspapers to the rethinking of languages and identity in Europe, the reformulating of empire to include nationalism, and finally the previously colonized areas modifying the West’s ideas of nationalism for themselves. In this section, he demonstrates how nationalism is an inherently flexible, deriving its flexibility from language. The third section focuses on the effects of nationalism. He answers questions of intense loyalty to one’s own imagined community, nationalism’s place in the past few hundred years of history, and issues of collective memory and forgetfulness in a nation.

Anderson argues very persuasively, backing his argument with a wide range of examples from nearly every corner of the globe. He covers the entire history of nationalism, which he conceives as modern and discusses in terms of the last two hundred or so years. Although his examples have excellent breadth, his discussion of each locality lacks depth. Anderson also weaves other aspects of nationalism’s development into his theory. For instance he includes matters such as economics and racism involved in selecting a language of the state.

Anderson’s two problems include a heavy use of foreign documents that lack translation in the form of footnotes or an appendix and a only tangential related final section. His final section on nationalism seems oddly divorced from his focus on print language as a nation builder. Although the effects of nationalism is an important aspect, his addition of such did not add anything of significance to his argument.

American Film: Myth and Reality

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

In a world filled with movie stars and red carpets, the dirty, seedy money of Hollywood flows unchecked. After years of big name assassins murdering the work of scholars throughout the country or producers blackmailing historians into bitter silence, a group of young students have risen up from the other side of the mainland US. This is a group hell-bent on giving directors the finger, this is a group willing to dissecting the mutated demons of “Historically accurate films”, This is the University of Mary Washington’s US History in Film Course, a mindbending thriller that will send chills down your spine.

Critics claim, “This film is more frightening than a bad lit review!”

“It sings of some lost concept of ‘Digital Humanities’.”

“It bashes Disney so bad, that I can never look at Pocahontas or even the Little Mermaid the same.”

Test Post Provided by Joe Calpin, UMW blogs, and of course Viewers like you!

Spaghetti Project-Urban Art

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

I love to walk through downtown Fredericksburg and do a bit of window shopping. I never considered that just window shopping does not help a business to stay afloat. While showing a newly arrived freshmen the downtown area, I walked by a store that I had walked by many times before, Spaghetti Project. I noticed that in the window of the store was a sign indicating they were moving out of their currently location. After a talk with the owner, I found out that on September 11th they will be moving down to a new location in Richmond just outside of VCU. I couldn’t just let the matter sit at a nice goodbye and asked to walk inside and take some pictures. The store provides anything and everything awesome from clothing to interesting figurines. With the whole Mary Washington community returning today (Sunday) for the beginning of a new semester, I would love to see students (including myself!) go down to Spaghetti Project and say hello. Maybe there is something neat with your name on it, waiting for you to claim it, a piece of urban art that not just calls but sends you texts too. While all of us are well aware of the “broke college student” circumstance, helping a unique shop open up is awesome. The Following are some photos I took of merchandise that struck me as over the top awesome.

spaghetti project

Aren't they cute?!

I personally dig the amazing brainexplosion of interesting figurines here are some of my favorites that I found.

Being a China fan boy this and the below photo of the Monkey King are by far my favorite items lurking in Spaghetti Project. When I stumbled upon them I had to stop and gawk for the appropriate amount of time. The owner tried to bring in fresh items to the Fredericksburg area based on his own love of collecting odd, unique items that he would inevitably have to travel to New York City to get his hands on. When setting up shop, he started sharing that passion for the cool thing; the cool thing being of course that mysterious object that although has no seeming utility absolutely attracts your eye. “Now that I set up shop” he explained, “I could finally get stuff down my way without having to drive all the way up to New York all the time.” He’s bringing the good stuff down this way.

So as a finally hurrah for Spaghetti Project, I decided that a little post to attract your attention to the store was in order. Down on Caroline Street, past the Tea and Spice shop towards the Central Library, it’s a store you might pass by after seeing long rows of antique shops where you can buy back your grandma’s record player. But what we really have here is a shop, like the handful of shops like it in Fredericksburg, trying to call out to the “young blood” to check out cool stuff, see something a little different. Since, the store is moving out of Fredericksburg on September 11th, why don’t you go ahead and check it out!

Spaghetti Project can be found online on facebook as the Spaghetti Project as well as their current space on blogspot .

Small thought: written on the iPod touch

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Alright, since I really have not blogged, a far project update is in order. Actually I am in palm coast florida with my girlfriend and best friend; with the next semester starting in about two weeks, I really wanted to get some vacation time. Lucky for me my mom recently moved down to the palm coast area to get away from the rest of us crazy kids, you can tell how well that worked! Anyway, I have gotten little reading done, but I have been waking up nice and early to workout on the neighboring Flagler beach. Standing out by the water and practing my basic stance drill (基本功), I could just concentrate on something small, breathing and thinking about the position of my spine, my feet. It was and is beautiful. What I found was that I can just step back from being an academic wanna be or a bava impersonator. Rather, I allowed myself to just be a quiet bakhtinjali. I often wonder how I should proceed with my day, does one really have the power to balance being an eager and ravenous scholar and the quiet meditator? Perhaps without both you miss the point .


Slow Progress: The People Who Correct My Approach

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

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.