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.