David, our high school student HASTAC intern, had his first summer job with us this year, and he aced it. I could not be more impressed with his quick thinking and ability to think creatively about a solution to something we wanted to implement at HASTAC. Here's how it unfolded.
David started working with HASTAC at the beginning of the summer, and even before we met to discuss the project we were going to do, I broke a cardinal rule. Something no doubt loathed by interns everywhere: I assigned a vague project with little guidance that lacked a clear finish point.
Our goal for the summer was to create a database of conferences, calls for proposals, fellowships, and scholarships that functioned as a loose guide to the international and national network of disciplines that think alike (or think across?) in the way that HASTAC does. I wanted to identify the type of HASTAC connector conferences and other opportunities that link people who bend interdisciplinary rules. To do this, we needed to build a database that identified the institutions, organizations, opportunities and associations that have formed in response to the issues and opportunities of our digital society.
Creating the database, not so vague. But walking into a project and figuring out how to identify organizations that are HASTAC-like, very vague. Figuring out an elegant, inexpensive and clever way to design a tool, totally unexpected. But that is what David did, with little guidance.
It started this way: I told David that I had two sources to start mining, by no means an exhaustive list but a good starting point. One was the Association of Internet Researchers' list serv, which is filled with great conferences and calls for proposals, provided by a naturally interdisciplinary and international membership. The other was WikiCFP, which I discovered inadvertently while tweeting a CFP that WikiCFP's bot picked up, directing me back to their website.
David and I looked at WikiCFP for a while, tested how it worked, noted the various features that made it more than a static database of information. It seemed like something we could replicate, an offshoot that could be specifically HASTAC, a tool that would share information while showing what our networks were doing. With Rubys help (our Director of New Media Strategies), we figured out how to start building the database so that it could be useful to us down the line, regardless of what tool we eventually used.
This next point is to demonstrate why David is so smart, but it might also say something about what a digital native really is (I know, I know, I too groan at the term). In one of Cathy Davidsons classes, her students were annoyed to discover that the digital skills they worked so hard to acquire were thought to be innate by virtue of the generation they were born to; ie. if you were born in the 90s, you were a digital native, ipso facto.
With David, we never discussed digital skills, although clearly he was adept on a computer. But what I noticed is how quickly he saw efficient and clever ways to do something that I fully intended to make difficult and laborious. I may be revealing more about my own plodding thinking than perhaps I should, but that aside, I do think that being born into a mobile, connected, digital society (assuming that access is easily available) may influence a more nimble way of thinking about problems and solutions. Perhaps a better definition for a digital native may be someone who sees how completely mashable and malleable content is, how to use it in new and inventive ways.
By my way of thinking, I figured we should build the database in a Google spreadsheet, contact the people at WikiCFP, and with their blessing, duplicate their tool (which is licensed under Creative Commons), and feed our content into it. HASTAC, after a lot of effort, would have a fabulous international, interdisciplinary, collaborative networking and information tool gratefully borrowed but mostly built from scratch. Involving a lot of effort, resources, and time, all of which are in eternal short supply.
Davids way of thinking was much more inspired, especially given how few resources were available, something he seemed to understand better than I did. He figured out that we could create a HASTAC account in WikiCFP, enter additional conferences and CFPs that were HASTAC-related, tag anything with the word hastac to aggregate them, and link to the public URL. Voila, done. He actually suggested this the first day we discussed the project and looked at WikiCFP, and he patiently repeated the solution to me many weeks later, showing me how easy it was to do and what it would look like. I know! Why didnt I think of that! Because I wanted to suffer. (Also, I wanted HASTAC to have ownership over the end-product, which might not be that important in this case.)
As Director of Social Networking, I work with the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition winners, the innovative projects designed to develop the exact kind of thinker and learner that David is -- a student I would want in my class, an employee I would want on my team, a collaborator I would want working with my organization, and a colleague I would turn to for help solving a problem.
Thanks David, for your patience, your hard work, and your excellent thinking! We will miss you, but know that you will flourish out there, no matter what you do.