DML Reflections: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Looking Ahead

I know I’m already three posts into discussion of DML and, for those of you looking for other things on this blog (like, erm, Codeacademy, which I will duly resume at the end of this month), this may not be that exciting. But! The DML experience was really compelling for me and it ties directly into so many of the issues I’ve been grappling with this quarter, not only in my Literacy and Technology class, but in assessing what niche I want to carve for myself in the world of academia.

I maintain my concern that DML did not promote enough writing-centric concerns (for my tastes) nor did it address concerns of teacher education and reaching out to the “non-gamer,” “non-tech” teacher, but with all of that aside, I think DML was an incredible place for fostering dialogue about:

a. rethinking educational paradigms

b. addressing the politics of technology (and its impact on the U.S. schooling system)

c. raising questions about the intersections between industry, non-profits, and education

There’s a lot I could say about all three of these points, but I’m going to take the self-centered way out and focus my reflection on all three of these points in terms of my own anxieties about the future of education: where is change going to take place and how might I best position myself to be a part of this change?

Allow me to clarify: there was an explicit current beneath the whole conference that initiatives to capitalize upon the affordances of digital technology for education will not happen in the classroom. They will happen in the non-profit sector. They will happen in educational start-ups. They will happen in industry.

None of this surprises me. Institutions (and especially the institution of public education) is slow to change. ┬áThis is no fault of educators or even of administrators: this is the fault of bureaucracy, the hundreds of people who have to agree to make a decision in order to enact change. Inevitably, there is a group of people who is scared by change, threatened that it undermines their livelihoods and experiences. This is understandable, of course, but fear never propels change. Every change involves a risk and a loss, and when we don’t know precisely what those losses are going to be, of course we’re terrified. As a habitually change-adverse person myself, I can understand this desire to seek the stability and security implicit in what’s known.

But I recognize that as a professional, I can’t avoid change. I’ve entered humanities research at a pivotal moment, a time in which we’re questioning and assessing how students’ ways of thinking about writing are changing with the adoption of digital technology. We won’t have the answers to this right away, and yet we need to begin anticipating how to maximize our teaching and administrative practices to adapt. There’s no point in resisting: the computer is not going away and online usage is only becoming more ubiquitous.

What this brings me to is the importance of developing multiple literacies: as a (developing) scholar, I feel it is my responsibility now more than ever to become functionally, critically, and rhetorically literate. Attending DML has convinced me that I need to be aware of the digital tools available and know how to use them, I need to be aware of the politics of computing practices, noting the “digital divide” and recognizing that the Internet is not always a space for equality, and I need to remain mindful of how my online practices (both in design and in writing) shape meaning.

In short, I need to be modeling the best kinds of digital practices in the hopes of contributing to a more educational, open-minded digital space.

I feel like this is getting into real “Chicken Soup for the Digital Soul” territory (hey, maybe that’s how I’ll make my millions!), but in all seriousness, it’s becoming increasingly clear that those with a handle on digital tools are those that are wielding the power. Huge foundations are looking for new and innovative projects to fund that will do more with the tools we have online. The question I, again, have as an academic is, “How can I look to bridging the divide between industry and academia and how might I see which tools outside of academia could foster the kind of open-mindedness and growth that is not always a part of academia?”

I’m not a self-loathing academic; I’m continually honored to be a part of a strong, welcoming department and to have access to unparalleled research resources. Further, the undergraduates I teach impress me; they are enthusiastic, motivated, and eager to understand new things. I’m happy to be here. But I also recognize that I have to be careful in my professional development; I have to keep grounded goals in mind for what I actually want to do with my degree. I may not be looking at at a traditional, tenure-track route, but as educator James Gee expressed in one of Saturday’s panels, “Academia as we know it is dead.” According to the United States Department of Education, only 30% of faculty in American universities are tenure track. This is a sharp decline from ~47% tenure track faculty in 1989 and is, indeed, a bleak figure for any of us looking for job security in the academy.

I’m inspired by the ideals of connectivity and open sharing at the heart of communities like that at DML. I hope I can keep this momentum going as I continue to assess my goals and how I want to make an impact.

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