Blog Post

My Introduction

Hi everyone (*I think I posted this in the wrong spot last night).

My name is Caleb Wellum and I am a PhD candidate in history at the University of Toronto. I work on and teach 20th century US history with an emphasis on cultural history/theory, as well as STS (emphasis on epistemology, biopolitics, and visuality) and North American environmental history. My dissertation traces a genealogy of neoliberalism through discourses of ecology and economy around the energy crises of the 1970s. I give particular attention to the politics of anticipation and the "anticipating subject" in those discourses. Although my work does not explicitly address the concepts and methodologies that drive HASTAC, there are several intersections. For one, I am very interested in how we talk about the future and a lot of discussion on HASTAC seems to be about understanding and influencing the future of the academy, of knowledge, of creativity, of education, etc. In addition to that, the archives for my dissertation (which come from the 1970s) are perfect of examples of semi-digitized information overload. I would love to have a discussion about research methodologies with others who work in archives that quite simply have too many boxes of material for one or twenty human beings to master, and which are in the process of digitization, but wil not have arrived for some time. How do we make our way through the noise?

I do not have any significant formal training in programming or other aspects of new media (other than being a consumer!), so I will be learning a lot from those of you who spend time thinking about these things. I come to these issues from the humanities and I am very interested in implications of "the digital" for the structure and function of education and on how we know and learn. This is the perfect place to be to think through these kinds of questions as a community and I am really excited to see what we will come up with.

My experience designing my own seminar course for the first time this summer, which I am teaching now, made me realize that we in the academy do not utilize digital tools nearly as effectively as we should. As more and more undergraduates enter the university having grown up with internet access and smart phones, they expect us to teach and communicate in ways that they understand, which I think we are failing to do (in part because we get very little pedagogical training). One student recently told me that she prefers taking classes taught by PhD students doing sessional work rather than tenured faculty because the younger sessionals are much more web/blackboard savvy! In any event, I do not think that we are engaging students very well, which feels compounded by the reductive and careerist way that students have been encouraged to think about higher education. Something needs to change, but we in the academy generally do not seem to grasp the extent of the big changes that are coming to education via MOOCs and the like. So I am hoping to learn as I go and contribute to these discussions as a I can, which I hope will be generative for all of us as educators and thinkers.

I should also say that, although I want to use digital tools and creative approaches to teaching more effectively, I am a skeptic by nature. And I am often skeptical of a lot of the language of inevitability that surrounds technology in education and in the economy more generally. I am also skeptical that these changes will be beneficial. I am particularly wary of enthusiastic talk about transitioning out of the industrial concept of education into more peer learning, group work, etc. I see the potential and necessity of some of these changes, but as an instructor and teaching assistant (and participant in web culture) I see the darker side for social interaction in the classroom, as well as for attention and memory. Is it wise to embrace the digital, the networked, the horizontal, and the interactive completely? Or do we even have a choice? I hope that my skepticism will be both challenging and challenged.


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