A little over a month ago I was privileged to attend and speak at the 2008 SUNY Conference on Instructional Technologies, splendidly hosted this year by SUNY-Genesee Community College. (You’ll need to use IE to get to the program pdfs; at least, I did.) The theme was “Are We There Yet? Teachers and Learners in a Digital World.”
I met some extraordinary people there and once again was encouraged by the way imaginative faculty and staff have persisted in their visionary efforts to make sense and good use of computers in teaching and learning. As I listened to folks’ stories and learned something of the history of the conference and of FACT (Faculty Access to Computer Technology, the primary sponsoring group over the years) I was struck by the commonalities with my own experience, as well as with the stories I’ve heard from similar groups: early adopters, early resistance, the slow growth of a critical mass, the difficulties with communication and cooperation and resource allocation that come with all large organizations, the successes, the professional networks, the immense satisfactions. Most of all, I came away inspired by this community’s enduring playfulness, curiosity, and devotion to innovation and improvement (indeed, augmentation) in teaching and learning.
The day was full of magic. I met the justly famous NY Mary, whose blog PowerPop is a musical education, a constant inspiration, and great great fun. (It’s also one of the most well-written and heartfelt blogs I’ve read. Indeed, its excellence motivated contributor Steve Simels to start writing about music again on a regular basis, which is an endorsement at the Very Highest Level.) Mary and I got to talk about everything from graduate school to Joyce to Flann O’Brien to XTC. Doesn’t get much better than that. I met Harry Pence, a professor on the verge of retirement who is more energetically visionary than most professors half his age. I met Jim Greenberg, who used to be Andy Rush’s boss. (Yes, we traded classic Andy stories.) Craig Lending, current chair of the SUNY FACT Advisory Council, was a marvelous host and a fascinating conversationalist. Nancy Motondo organized a great conference with amazing stamina and patience. Patrick Murphy, director of the SUNY Center for Professional Development, made me feel right at home and gave me a great overview of the conference and its history. I got to reconnect with Alex Reid of Digital Digs (Alex is at SUNY-Cortland–more on Alex and Cortland in a forthcoming post). I met with the FACT Emerging Technologies group and talked about everything from Second Life to haptics. I’m confident I’m forgetting someone–if so, my apologies. I plead packing amnesia.
The whole experience was intense, revelatory, and encouraging. My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer and take in more of the conference.
Here’s the abstract for my keynote presentation:
“How to Get There from Here: Building an Imagination Infrastructure”
We’ve been waiting nearly half a century for computer-based information technologies to revolutionize education. While some in authority (including vendors) may supply glowing reports on the progress we’ve made, visionaries and pioneers like Doug Engelbart and Alan Kay insist we’re not only “not there yet,” but that we haven’t yet fully grasped what “there” might mean. I’ll offer a highly selective tour of the optimism, pessimism, triumph, and disappointment that have characterized the use of computers in education, and offer some thoughts on how we might redirect our footsteps and rediscover a truly radical perspective on information technologies in education, a perspective that might enable more consistent progress toward more idealistic goals.
The audio is at the end of this post. Caveat auditor: something went awry with my Edirol recorder–I think I didn’t plug the external microphone in quite firmly enough–so the audio is mostly listenable but not pristine. (And the questions in the Q&A aren’t always intelligible; I hope they become so in context. Yes, I should have repeated the questions, something I habitually forget to do.) I hope the content, and my attempts at some postproduction cleanup, make the experience worthwhile. I tried hard in this talk to articulate something of my vision for personal learning environments constructed by the students themselves as part of a larger personal cyberinfrastructure project that would be the unifying activity for all four years of college, an activity that would stimulate metacognition, foster innovation, and by the way offer opportunities for learning and using valuable digital skills.I did a workshop later in the day titled “Simile, Metaphor and Symbol in Web 2.0: Playing Education.” No audio from this one–the format didn’t really lend itself to audio capture–but here’s the abstract:
This interactive workshop will give participants the chance to use their imaginations to play with ideas in a learning community, to amalgamate new wholes from that play, and to recognize the poetry hiding in plain sight within Web 2.0. Come with your favorite information and imagination technologies (laptops, pens, pencils, paper, colored markers, you name it)and come ready to be creative, thoughtful, and spontaneous. My goal is to stimulate us to think about how the experience of Web 2.0 creates meaning for the user, and how those thoughts might be of value as we consider our uses of Web 2.0 in teaching and learning.
I had a lot of fun with this workshop, which was an elaboration of part of my presentation at the 2006 regional conference of the New Media Consortium. The workshop participants made the whole thing come alive: they were playful, inventive, and willing to take some risks. Mark Smith, an Information Systems Librarian at Alfred University, introduced me with a great (and cautionary) display of the power of Google. (Suffice it to say that he had the goods on yours truly, making me glad that I at least try to heed Jon Udell’s call to use the Web to present my professional self deliberately and thoughtfully.) Best of all, at the end of the workshop Eric Feinblatt, an art professor from NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology, came up to me with a poem he’d looked up on the Web. The poem is “Ezra Pound’s Proposition,” by Robert Hass, and it was a breathtaking coda to a workshop devoted to exploring connections and the power of the imagination to perceive and create those bonds.
So imagine the moment, dear reader: I was pumped up from sixty minutes of shared inspiration and imagination and creativity, as well as from a day of intense conversations and intense learning on my part, and there I stood in the lobby of the building where the session had just ended, looking at a laptop carried by a colleague I’d met just hours before, experiencing with him a poem he had looked up on the Web via a wireless connection and a portable computer that he cradled in his arms as he shared the screen and its beautiful contents with me, making an indelible mark on my consciousness and spirit.
How could I not love teaching and learning technologies when such fascinating people make, use, study, and discuss them? At their best, the technologies are nothing less than compelling instances of those very people at work and play.