Blog Post

Voice without a Budget: Digital Technologies in a Community College Classroom

Lightning Talk Presented at 2013 HASTAC Conference

Toronto, Ontario, 26 April 2013

At my community college, full time faculty teach four or five classes per semester to make our base load, are guaranteed only $200 per year in professional development money, have no graduate assistants, and receive no direct funding to support digital technologies. We live in a very different world than do most of my full-time university colleagues who are attending the HASTAC Conference.  Yet, we have not been capsized by the Storm of Progress.

In December 2006, I wrote my first blog entry and shortly thereafter began experimenting with blogs in my on-campus classes.   In 2008, I mentored students on a digital histories project in which they transcribed and annotated a series of letters from the 1930s.  For the first time, I posted student portfolios on-line that same year.  The problem with these early attempts to enter the digital world was that they were so labor intensive.  Generally, for a project to be successful, I had to do the bulk of the work myself because students did not have realistic options for posting the content they had created.

Because of the Storm of Progress has moved so quickly, the labor involved in adapting digital technologies for our classes has diminished.  Today, I only need to control access to technology when I want to control content; something that I did for Today in History:  Memorable Moments Set in a Socio-Historical Context.

Today in History was a blog I launched on August 1, 2012.  Beginning on October 1, it became primarily student written.  Given the nature of Today in History, I wanted to control format and quality in such a way that I chose not to provide students with the ability to post memorable moments themselves.  I served as the gatekeeper for access to this blog.  I emphasize “to this blog” because I know that the storm of progress makes it impossible for me to control how students—or anyone else—distribute what they create; something many administrators and faculty members need to realize.  I know that I have been creating and distributing course content outside of officially sanctioned channels since 2004.

The issue we face because of the storm of progress is not giving students permission to create and to distribute content digitally.  Most of our students are already creating digital content on a daily basis via text messages, tweets, FaceBook, blogs, YouTube videos, and so forth.  The challenge becomes helping students to develop the skills to create content well.

Beginning with the Fall 2013 semester, the Schoolcraft College history department has added “Demonstrate digital literacy; especially as it relates to the study of history” as a competency that all students should have at the successful completion of our courses.  Furthermore, “at least one assessment in each course must allow students to demonstrate skills in digital literacy.”

As the final project in three of my classes this semester, students are working to create model assignments which can serve as inspiration for me and my colleagues; colleagues not just at Schoolcraft College but also around the digital world in which we live.  As one of the requirements for the assignment, students are limited to freely available and easily accessible technologies. They are to design assignments that will give voice to their colleagues without a budget.

I have a colleague who, like me, was one of the pioneers in on-line teaching.  This was during the 1990s when knowing HTML was still a requirement to develop an on-line class.  One of his mantras continues to be: “We need to put technology in the hands of the students.”  By letting students create content, not only do they learn more, but so do we.

When I gave my students the assignment to create history lessons that advance digital literacy, two students informed me that they had already enrolled in a class I am teaching next semester.  I will ask both of them to teach the assignments they are currently creating this semester for the classes in which they are enrolled next semester.

As an on-line pioneer, one of my contributions was developing a strategy to bring guest lecturers into the on-line classroom; a strategy I shared at a statewide technology conference and which, I believe, was a contributing factor in my being offered a full time position at Schoolcraft College.

During a semester when one of my students received a birthday wish via Facebook from the author of his textbook, several of my students are Facebook friends of Cathy N. Davidson and other authors we study, a student received advice on his final project—which he is doing as a comic—from Nick Sousanis, an international student attended his grandmother’s funeral via Skype, and other students screen TED talks during their presentations, it is almost embarrassing to suggest that a strategy of bringing a single guest lecturer into an on-line class was significant enough for me to be seriously considered for a tenure track position by a college who wanted to increase the number of their digitally literate faculty.  But that strategy—and being able to create an effective PowerPoint presentation—made me a digital hot shot in 2000.  Remember, this was three years before HASTAC was founded.

It would be a mistake to re-purpose my argument into “no budget is needed to give faculty and students voice in the digital world.”   Administrators who do not adequately support the digital humanities and assist their faculty and students to have an on-line presence do a disservice to their colleges.    But, those of us without a budget, because of the storm of progress, have learned that we can claim our voice using free and easily accessible technologies.

–Steven L. Berg, PhD


"Voice without a Budget" has been cross posted at Etena Sacca-vajjena.



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