Babyboomers Eat Babies, or a Weak Critique of Domain of One’s Own

Larry McCallum, Web Librarian for Thompson River University (TRU), posted his thoughts about my presentation on Domain of One’s Own this past Friday at The Day for Learning conference. And besides the suggestion that I must resonate deeply with the shallow, modern-day campus culture of sexpots, pumping iron studs, German cars, and local radio (what an eclectic collection of traits Canadian University students have!) I’ll forge on in hopes that all the nostalgic babyboomers retire sooner than later 🙂

But what do I know? The world has whirled on its axis. I came of age when young women wore shapeless dresses and no makeup as a matter of pride. Today, campuses are fashion shows and female students would-be sexpots. Boys pump iron. Campus events feature German cars and local radio stations, but nothing deliberately political.

Groom fits this vibe better than I do. He uses a comic-book-superhero avatar, speaks in a steady stream of movie references, peppers his writings with high-wattage expressions (“excited”, “blown away”), and runs a sidebar of “testimonials” adjacent to every blog post. (Ed tech, like many spheres, can be a heady mutual-admiration society, as the conference bore out.)

Attacking me as a meth-head hipster I can understand, but the students?  NOT THE STUDENTS!!!  Funny thing is, I was lucky enough to hear two awesome TRU students, Ryan and Mark, talk at the conference this past Friday. And oddly enough, they looked and acted nothing like the caricatured vision of students that McCallum frames above, which is a shame cause I wanted to see some sexpotted muscles in a BMW listening to Kamloops radio. In fact, Mark and Ryan were passionate, articulate, in decent shape (but not particularly muscular), and intellectually engaged with the idea that a university can deeply challenge and shape one’s evolving notions of self and identity.

I appreciate McCallum’s post because it helps define the contours of the project for me a bit better–particularly what it is not. The one, half-thought out critique McCallum had suggested was how an online identity project like this apes the brand-driven reality of the third-party services I seem to be railing against.

But isn’t shaping an online identity what corporations themselves do obsessively? So, does grooming a personal Web identity turn a person into his own spin doctor, not to mention a mirror-gazer unduly concerned with appearance?

I guess if UMW were centered around navel gazing and spin doctoring I’d respond affirmatively to the rhetorical question above. But it’s not—and I am sure TRU isn’t either. Our courses are a space to empower students, encourage and engage critical thought, and think deeply about the full complement of problems and possibilities our historical moment presents. Why would the intellectual by-products of such a process be understood as morose narcissism? Is he inferring students have no power to think critically about the web landscape they find themselves in and how it relates to all domains of learning across the university? Does he question the ability of professors to engage this conversation alongside them?  If so, why is he working at a university at all?

I guess the only thing that pains me more than not being able to articulate Domain of One’s Own is a patent dismissal of the quality of work that students produce:

I know I run the risk of sounding like a harrumphing, hidebound stick-in-the-mud, pining for a mythical time when kids were, gosh, just kids. [NOOOOO!] But it did used to be the case that students merely stuffed their typewritten assignments in a forgotten desk drawer, if they kept them at all. In a pre-looking-glass world no one cared about your long-ago minutiae — and really, I doubt anyone does today. So why are we fetishising these things, implicitly telling students that their “portfolios” will matter? Because it reflects well on universities as career-engines?

So, to recast this a bit, we should be telling students their work doesn’t matter, their ideas are meaningless minutia, and they’ll be happy we destroyed all their data for them. To misquote Nobody quoting William Blake: “The vision of university that thou doth see is my vision’s greatest enemy.” There could not be a statement more opposed to the vision that has inspired the work of Domain of One’s Own. It celebrates the meaningless dance of  our subsumption into an alienating and disempowering system and nostalgically immortalizes it as the pre-looking-glass “good ole days.” That’s not only bad history, it’s downright dangerous thinking! Are those the same good ole days of racial segregation of First Nation residential schools?  (As an aside, one of the most powerful presentations I’ve ever seen took place earlier in the day when Estella spoke of her experience at a residential school in the 1950s—which makes McCallum’s “mutual admiration society” comment in reference to the conference that much stranger, not to mention his vision of the past as somehow purer that much creepier.)

The comment I left on McCallum’s blog earlier today was far more conciliatory than this post. I was trying to start a conversation, even though his tone suggested he would probably not be interested in one (which makes me wonder why he used trackbacks to this blog to begin with). But the more I thought about it, the more I started to think his post was not only rude (which it definitely was), but also quite hostile to the core of what I believe as an educational technologist. And whether or not he had any intention of publishing my earlier comment (I am including it below), I figured I would post this as a response in my own space that he can’t control. And if it turns out all he really wanted to do was offer a weak intellectual critique of my idea in order to attack the academic caliber of the students and faculty at his institution, then I figured simply pointing all this out on the bava would be enough of a response. Suck it.

Here is my earlier comment, which I now formally retract 🙂


I appreciate this post because it helps define the contours of the project for me a bit better. I really don’t know where this leads, and the question of online identity can quickly become a brand-driven reality. I particularly like this comment:

“But isn’t shaping an online identity what corporations themselves do obsessively? So, does grooming a personal Web identity turn a person into his own spin doctor, not to mention a mirror-gazer unduly concerned with appearance?”

For me the question is how do we engage the idea of online identity as greater than the omnipresent vision of branding? Might there be a more authentic vision (and I understand how problematic a term like authentic might seem from a comic book character edtech person :) ) wherein an academic community can support and encourage students and faculty alike to enter into a discourse around their professional field, hobbies, and/or passions. I am wondering if a space that students are asked to consider and experiment as an intellectual and personal journey of sharing and reflecting through on their learning might lead to some interesting possibilities. We’ve had some greta success with this with UMW Blogs already, and I think what Domain of One’s Own adds to this discussion, if anything, to talk to the ShatteredAccountants points, is the ability for students to have a deeper understanding of how these services and the corporate exchange in data during our moments shales them in ways they can;t control. I appreciate the candid feedback because it helps me further fine tune a vision that is still very much emerging, and the fact that it remains deeply uncertain is why it is attractive to me, which may be a psychological issue :) Thanks for coming and engaging the ideas, but more than that sharing back your response to them.

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10 Responses to Babyboomers Eat Babies, or a Weak Critique of Domain of One’s Own

  1. Ben Harwood says:

    The feedback you got is *fantastic* Revel and be merry for the guidance. Remember that Neo never liked what the Oracle told him, at least not at first. Superman would be a wimpy reflection of himself without Bizarro making him look great in the mirror. Rock on.

  2. Ryan says:

    I’m disappointed, Jim. You missed the best part of his post:

    However, I had to wonder: [was having students publish online] self-discovery or self-indulgence? Critical thinking or crass distraction?

    …says the person who has his own blog and online résumé. It’s pretty hypocritical to “wonder” whether students are self-indulgent when they do the same thing you are doing.

    If you’re going to be a stick-in-the-mud, at least be consistent about it.

  3. Reverend says:

    I get a lot of feedback, good and bad, for my presentations, but I make a point of not trying to insult the people either way. As much as I don’t mind being called out, I hate being insulted by someone whose vision is diametrically opposed to mine, and rather than come at it intellectually (or even humorously) insists on attacking me. I have no problem going at it with people in the blogosphere, I just get depressed that’s there’s no there there besides the meanness. No pleasure but meanness, as the Misfit says.

    I’m just impressed you got both accent marks. I was about to add [sic] to your comment if you missed one 😉

  4. Larry McCallum says:

    Jim, you’ve certainly unloaded a lot of bile — far nastier than anything I had to say, and it gives the lie to your claim that you “make a point of not trying to insult the people either way”. You were “trying to start a conversation?” Seriously? With this? It should have been obvious in my posting that I was examining my own prejudices as well as yours. When I observed things about your online activity, it was to point out that you’re very animated by, and invested in, the the Web’s social channels, which informs your enthusiasm for your domain project. Since our university is considering something vaguely similar, in the form of a campus wiki (and which was clearly part of that conference’s agenda), it was natural I’d want to reflect on what you had to say. And if not everyone left the conference merrily whistling your tune, then at least some of us found it sufficiently thought-provoking to blog about. Perhaps you only have a tolerance for utter credulity and bland indifference. In fact, as you noted, “the question of online identity can quickly become a brand-driven reality” (or was that a completely insincere statement, since you now claim to retract it). Allow me to set a few things straight out of the many misrepresentations you unloaded above:
    “And whether or not he had any intention of publishing my earlier comment” — why the hell wouldn’t I?
    “his vision of the past as somehow purer pre-looking-glass ‘good ole days.'” — your words, not mine. In fact, the shapeless dresses and absence of makeup back then were a little extreme (as are today’s short skirts and pushup bras).
    “quite hostile to the core of what I believe” — your hyperbole, not mine. Again, if someone merely questions some of what you’ve said, that’s not hostility. And I did an ed tech degree, too.
    “rude (which it definitely was)” — Well, I didn’t resort to name-calling, as some folks have.
    “attack the academic caliber of the students and faculty at his institution” — hardly. My observations never touched on academic matters, and, besides, were drawn from several campuses where I’ve worked, including a few U.S. ones.
    I could go on, but won’t. Jim, if you’re going to go off on my blog, then at least have the temerity to do it *on* my blog. Doing so “in my own space that he can’t control” seems sad and paranoid.

  5. dkernohan says:

    I applaud the invocation of William Blake in this post. Now there’s a chap who made art (dammit).

  6. Matt says:

    Uhhhh… Larry… you did a lot of name calling for someone who claimed to not do any name calling 🙂 I did read your article, and it sounds a bit hostile to me. So does Jim’s, but I think he intended that and realizes it. That is just my opinion.

    So… when did people stuff their work in a drawer and forget about it? We still have stuff my grandparents did in school, and my parents. I can’t even count the number of times I went into someone’s house and saw something framed on the wall from decades ago that was created in school. I still remember stories from many generations of all the work they did in school. Stories told in detail. Portfolios have been around for centuries – they were usually just oral until now. And we often wondered if they were totally true. Everyone that I know from the “pre-looking-glass world” can and often do go into great detail about their “long-ago minutiae.” So we transfer that from oral to digital…. and that is bad (“fetishising” is a word that con notates negativity in the context)? Or does it mean that all of the BS that people would spin there can’t fly anymore? Hmmmm……

    I went through several rounds of hiring several different positions, and guess who always got the job? Someone with a great portfolio from college. Filled with “minutiae.” So, yes, they are very important well beyond college. My online portfolios have helped me land every job I got.

  7. Hello, Mr. Groom,

    For what it’s worth, the first thing I think of when I think of the Bava is “sexpots, pumping iron studs, German cars, and local radio”.

    That, of course, and a long track record of putting together initiatives that simultaneously empower learners while encouraging a deconstruction of the systems that hold us back.

    Larry – I hope you take the time to learn more abut the things that you are willing to quickly dismiss as superficial.

  8. Larry McCallum says:

    “Reflective practice: the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning… one of the defining characteristics of professional practice.”
    That was the point of my original column, which examined my own assumptions as well as Jim’s.
    “Name-calling (noun): the use of abusive names to belittle or humiliate another person in a political campaign, an argument, etc.”
    I think “rude, hostile, intellectually weak,” etc. meets the “name-calling” test.
    Regarding “mutual admiration society”, I did point out that most “spheres” engage in it. And I wasn’t the only one to come away from the conference feeling unconvinced, or that I’d witnessed some self-congratulatory bonhomie.
    By Jim’s own admission (above) he’s frustrated at “not being able to articulate Domain of One’s Own”. I respect that comment for its admission that maybe, just maybe, the message at Tobiano was less than perfect.
    Unfortunately, much at the conference and its aftermath suggests that the field of ed tech can at times be a little myopic, a little too convinced of the self-evident importance of the technologies it promotes. Universal campus webspace shouldn’t be a political football if the rationale is well-supported and is articulated in a balanced manner. University audiences expect that articulation and balance. If people come away saying “Kool-aid” (not my word) then it’s possible the message needed more meat, fewer carbohydrates.
    Language (and my column was largely about language) such as “pedagogy of uncertainty” doesn’t explain so much as mystify. “Uncertainty” suggests an absence of pedagogy, accountability, etc.
    A community of practice that can’t handle a bit of reflection and critique is a echo chamber.
    “Two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It’s not logical; it’s psychological.” S. Covey.

  9. Larry McCallum says:

    I see that haters also gotta dance.
    Enjoy your echo chamber.

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