I find myself coming back to this question a lot as the semester has come to a speedy close. Having a bit of time to reflect on some of the work we accomplished at UMW this semester, I keep on wondering why I feel my job has changed. In fact, on the surface it hasn’t changed a bit. I work with faculty to think through the possibilities of various technologies in their courses, while also researching and experimenting with various open source tools that may have a bearing on the academic work of UMW, in short an Instructional Technology Specialist. As an added bonus, I have been able to present some of these experiments at conferences, while at the same time blogging just about everything I can get my hands on.
So what’s so different? Well, I don’t know precisely, but I found that this semester I was focused much more on stewarding a community of sorts than thinking about all the technology tools available. I have been less and less interested in discussions of how Facebook, Twitter, Drupal, WordPress, etc., may change education (though I still follow and engage them regularly), and much more interested in watching a community emerge from a simple blogging pilot. Much of my fascination with this position in the first place was premised on exploring ways to communicate about things that interest me. And, as it happens, blogs, wikis, video, audio, images, and other modes of discourse in this virtual space fascinate me to no end. Blogging was my entrÃ©e into this world, and the community of people who I follow regularly convinced me of the unbelievable intellectual power of such a distributed learning network.
Ironically, however, the community I physically work within initially seemed a bit more abstracted. While I knew exactly what innumerable virtual colleagues like Brian Lamb or D’Arcy Norman were thinking about or imagining at any given time, I couldn’t begin to fathom what a majority of the faculty and students I encountered regularly were doing in class.
That reality shifted dramatically for me this semester because of UMW Blogs, but not as an example of a particular technology tool but rather as an experiment in community building. Now this may sound ridiculous coming from me, WordPress fanboy extraordinaire, but at the end of the day WPMu was one way to skin this cat. And while I have acclaimed its strengths vociferously, I am certain that the true power was in engaging the community, which DTLT as a division can take partial credit for while the other part is reserved for switched-on UMW faculty at large.
As part of this team, my self-appointed mission was to see this publishing platform through to its illogical extreme. I spent most of this semester reading the UMW Blogs sitewide posts, comments, and pages RSS feeds in my Google Reader, commenting on seemingly innumerable posts, and featuring blog posts I thought were fun or interesting (loosely borrowing from Stephen Downes, who uses his OLDaily to frame his thoughts and reflections on happenings within the EdTech community on a regular basis, creating an extremely effective and powerful hub of information). I while this approach to the community on UMW Blogs was not overly systematic, I had a quite controlled community with which to share my ideas and opinions. And because I am not necessarily interested in the role of judge, I used my constant scanning of the community as a way to continuously remind people on UMW Blogs that I was reading and thinking with them, and there is no question I got back far more than I gave. So, what’s my role? Is such a job sustainable? I worked with more faculty than ever this semester and far more students than I could heretofore have imagined. I didn’t come offering expertise in any one area, but commented on their work with encouragement, excitement, and enthusiasm, all of which was genuine. I was taking everything I had gained from the EdTech blogosphere and channeled as much as I could of it into UMW Blogs.
More than that, it has been some of the most enjoyable labor I have ever exerted earning a living up and until now. Tracing thoughts from one blog to another that range from uneven to incoherent to intensely thoughtful to wildly creative to downright brilliant. I read about as much as I ever have before (albeit differently), watch more online videos, and spend more time writing than I have for any other job. As a college grad this was kind of my dream position, right? “Read a lot of interesting stuff, watch videos, look at images, make connections and discuss all of these things nicely with others.” Who would pay you to do that? Well, perhaps next to nobody, but for those working in a university setting generally, and in instructional technology more specifically, the possibilities have never been more apparent to persuade, create, promote, foster and steward such dynamic academic community-based publishing platforms. So, in the end I wonder if it was ever really a blogging pilot or just an ongoing exploration of the possibilities of imagining the changing nature of community-based learning networks in the 21st century. So sometime soon, if all goes well, I may have to change my job title but, then again, why? — for, to bastardize Kierkegaard, to label what I do is to negate it.