Blog Post

Reflection on the Storm of Progress

The following is the conference narrative I submitted to the Vice-President of Instruction because Schoolcraft College funded my attending the 2013 HASTAC Conference:  “The Storm of Progress.”

Less than an hour before I left for the HASTAC Conference, our Curriculum Committee approved revised course syllabi for the Schoolcraft College History Department.  Because HASTAC “is an alliance of individuals and institutions inspired by the possibilities that new technologies offer us for shaping how we learn, teach, communicate, create, and organize our local and global communities,” the fact that the history department added a course competency in digital literacy was particularly celebrated and discussed at the conference.  In fact, one of the co-founders of HASTAC referred to my mention of our new digital literacy competency as a “major announcement.”

However, focus on our department’s important step into digital literacy cannot be allowed to overshadow a far more important point made by Schoolcraft College’s Vice-President of Instruction Richard Weinkauf:  “Ultimately the [history] department has produced a set of unified syllabi that show systems thinking, concern and regard for students, and a quality process for revision.”

In his lightning talk on “Reading, Writing, and Digital Humanities Involving Korean ESL Students,” Ryan Hunt shared his self-described failed attempts to engage his Korean students in digital humanities.  For example, the game he tried to incorporate into his classes could not be played on his student’s phones; something that made the assignment much less appealing to them.  Although Hunt was able to share successes as well as failures, his cautionary tales reminds us that incorporating digital technologies is not the goal; concern and regard for students is our ultimate priority.

Lynn Gelfand’s interdisciplinary “Museum Quest:  Using Joseph Campbell’s Model of the Hero’s Journey to Teach Myth Through Game,” exemplifies Weinkauf’s focus because she embraces systems thinking, concern for students, and a process for revision.  Structuring her on-line game around Campbell provides a way to help students relate the human experience of the ancient world to contemporary times while also covering the important aspects of incorporating historical artifacts into her lesson; competencies identified in our new syllabi.

Gelfand also demonstrated courage by presenting work in progress at an international conference.  Too often, even at the college or department level, I have found that faculty members are reluctant to share what we are doing in the classroom.

During “Going Beyond ‘Training:’ Encouraging Innovation among 21st Century Faculty,” Tim Galow identified a possible reason why faculty members are reluctant to invite others into our classrooms and to share our materials with colleagues:  risk aversion.   Those of us who are not digital natives were typically trained to do our teaching and research in isolation.  However, as Galow and Gelfand know, our work and the work of our colleagues become better through collaboration.

Terri Johnson, Galow’s colleague from the Carroll University, responded to a question about improving on-line discussions by asking, “What are you hoping to accomplish?”  On-line discussions without a purpose are purposeless and, therefore, cannot be improved.  Revising to revise is not a quality process.

In his note to me, Vice-President Weinkauf acknowledged that he knew that “there was much discussion about clarity and simplification, and challenges with regard to the wording” as we revised our syllabi.  The value of discussion was a topic addressed after two lightning talks: Rachel Deblinger’s “Making Memories/Motifs:  An Interactive Exhibit of Early Holocaust Survivor Narratives” and Hannah Turner’s “What Kind of Thing is a Museum Catalogue?”  After Deblinger queried attendees on the ethics of using other people’s narratives, I cited the digital history I am developing as the Liberacki-Wilcox-Berg family genealogist by arguing that we owe more to people who are living than those who are dead; a dichotomy which Turner rightly challenges in her work.

We have all encountered tedious individuals who use verbal gymnastics to avoid decision making, but—even when challenging—the collegial discussion that took place at HASTAC and in our department, are imperative for a quality process for revision.

Preparing ourselves for quality revision sometimes means that we need to expose ourselves to new information, different approaches, or material that is above our capacity.  Even though, I deliberately attended Michael Widner’s “Towards a Future of Humanities Research:  Bibliopedia, Linked Data, and the Problems of Silos” knowing that I would not be able to comprehend the details of his research, my understanding of the digital humanities is improved.

Sometimes challenging material is aspirational. When Luciano Frizzera allowed me to play with his and Samia Pedraca’s electronic poster “Edmonton’s Dynamic Shapes,” I knew it was the type of research that neither my students nor I can conduct.  The same could be said for Vicki Mayer’s “MediaNOLA:  A Circuit for Historical Production and Preservation”  in which she introduced MediaNOLA. But both of these projects encourage me to look for similar research that I can incorporate into my classes.

Dan Browne’s challenging short film, memento mori, is both aspirational and inspirational.  Because I integrate a quality process for revision as part of course planning, I have been struggling to find a better way to assist students better understand an approach I have taken in early modern world history.  To my surprise, a very 21st century film will provide the mechanism to make the improvements I desire.

However, we do not need to adopt experimental films into our courses to be on the cutting edge of technological advancement.  For example, Timeline JS allows a professor to incorporate timelines into their courses that will advance our course competencies while allowing students to demonstrate digital literacy skills.  Unfortunately, my conference notes are not clear as to which presentation I heard about Timeline JS.

As HASTAC recognizes, we are experiencing a Storm of Progress.  But, as I argued in my presentation, “Voice without a Budget: Digital Technologies in a Community College Classroom,” the storm of progress need not sink us.  In fact, the storm of progress facilitates our implementing a set of unified syllabi that show systems thinking, concern and regard for students, and a quality process for revision.

–Steven L. Berg, PhD


"Reflection on the Storm of Progress" was cross posted at Etene Sacca-vajjena.


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