Miss the Asynchronous Adventure Class Session, Write a Blog Post

by  Benjamin D. Harrison


As I missed our technology-filled day over at STSS, Ilene and I came up with this alternative to my participation in that class session – write about my experience of participating in class via different forms of technology for the two class periods I missed.  I will write a section on this, but I’d also like to chime in on the use of social media as an avenue to wider and deeper collaboration because this concept was so foreign to me before our class’ work on the topic.  If you will indulge me, I’d like to share a little on how my perspective has changed.  But first, my par-tech-ipation in class…

Back Story

I’ll make the back story short.  During Class 2 I was visiting with my in-laws in Isle of Palms, South Carolina.  To participate in class that day, I used Skype to have a one-on-one discussion with classmate Anna Bohlinger (who at the time was at a conference – a much better excuse to miss class) about our single-slide depiction of learning.  That discussion was followed by using Skype to meet and discuss teaching topics with my teaching team.

For the most part, the one-on-one discussion with Anna went very well.  As you all know, Anna is a very engaging, insightful individual.  All of this came across in our conversation.  The only issue I remember was with the ambient noise on Anna’s end.  She was forced to sit in her hotel’s lobby because it was the only place she could find Wi-Fi.  At certain points we did have to repeat ourselves, but it was not a big deal.  I got a great second perspective and lot of valuable feedback on my assignment.  All in all, Skype worked very well for our one-on-one interaction.

The second part of my Class 2 participation was a little more challenging.  Meeting my teaching team for the first time and trying to interact with the group via Skype exposed several shortcomings of the technology.  In my mind, the biggest problem was the unidirectional nature of the camera.  If the person speaking was not right in front of it, non-verbal gestures and facial expressions were lost and I was left to rely on “what” they said without the “how” they said it.  Also, any references to “this” or “that” were lost because I couldn’t see what they were referring to.  I would pipe in with clarification questions when I needed to, but I felt like that hurt the flow of the conversation.  As a group we were able to accomplish our assigned task, but I felt like a burden on my group rather than a contributor.

Reflecting on Skype-based Interactions

Leading up to Class 9, we were all tasked with setting up a time to meet with our teaching teams over one of four internet-based services.  My group was assigned Skype.  Aside from nailing down a time to hold the conversation, we as a group also had trouble with speakers and/or microphones during this particular Skype session.  After troubleshooting for a while, we decided to have our conversation using the instant messaging system within Skype.  As typing takes longer than talking, this slowed the conversation down significantly.  At times, consecutive messages had little to do with each other because of the non-linear form the conversation took on.  At other times it was hard to tell who/what a teammate was responding to.  This interaction was the most challenging of my three 8101 Skype experiences.

Reflecting on these three types of Skype-based interactions I notice that the amount I got out of each correlates with the amount of interaction the technology allowed.  By no means is that a profound statement, but I hadn’t put that together until now.  With Anna, I had visual and audio feedback to work with.  With my teaching team-round 1, I had far less visual, but still audio.  With my teaching team-round 2, I had only typed messages.  Writing this up has helped me recognize the limitations of each form of interaction and these limitations could be things to think about when considering making use of this technology in your own classrooms.

Blogging, Me?

The last form of technology-based interaction that I experienced in 8101 was that of this blog.  I don’t write blogs, read blogs, or post comments on any website I visit so this was a new experience for me.  To start, I read over, looked over, and listened to the posted materials.  The bits I found particularly interesting were those having to do with creating your digital footprint.  In reading through the comments I was able to gain several perspectives and opinions on all of the posted materials.

I found myself wishing I had gotten to the blog sooner because a lot of what I wanted to say had been said (I didn’t feel like “That’s what I was thinking” or “I agree” were worthwhile posts).  When it was all said and done, I posted a whopping two comments.  With the first, I tried to offer a personal view of a problem that Jocelyn was wrestling with.  Like her, I too, was struggling with how to responsibly create a digital footprint.  I hope I was able to offer a bit of support, as her post (and others) helped me realize that I’m not the only one hesitant to put myself online.  The second topic I posted about was Michael’s snippet on the use of audio technology to add flexibility to a class.  I was able to pick up several ideas on how to use Skype-like and audio-capture technologies to aid in making myself and/or course content more accessible.

Prior to this class, I thought blogs were at best an arena for hobbyists to share tricks of specific trades and at worst outlets for self-aggrandizing individuals who thought their every word was so profound they needed to share it with the world.  I’m currently re-evaluating that view.  The experience with this blog has helped me realize that I do enjoy the less-stringent, free-form aspect of non-scientific writing.  Additionally, I now see how the blog can be an interactive domain in which ideas and perspectives can be shared, logged, and referred back to.  I am still a bit wary of the medium, but I am seriously considering starting a blog as a first step towards creating my digital footprint.

So that is how I have viewed my experiences with technology in the realm of 8101.  Though I don’t think anything could substitute for experiencing the STSS classroom (I was really looking forward to it!), this form of reflection has helped me think about how more widely-available technologies can play a role in the learning experience.  Given that the STSS-like classrooms are currently few and far between, perhaps these internet-based technologies can be used to provide a similar degree of enrichment to traditional classroom learning.

(Re)Considering Social Media

With that I’d like to switch gears a little and give my take on the use of social media to develop one’s digital identity.  I will be putting myself on the job market within the next couple of years, so this next bit is written from that perspective.

Like some of my fellow 8101-ers, I have been hesitant to engage in social media.  That might be a bit of an understatement.  Up to this point, my approach to social media has been this: avoid it, avoid it like those spiders that my wife needs to kill for me (for the record, no animal needs more than four limbs – that is my opinion as a PhD-holding biologist).  I believe this approach stems from the fear of some future employer plugging my name into Google and stumbling across images of me that he or she finds offensive.  It is not that I spend a lot of time posing in offensive pictures, but in this day and age I cannot assume that everybody out there is as comfortable as I am with a picture of me dressed in drag (for the record, the theme of the party was “Turning 30 is a Drag” and it was a blast).

What I take away from Ilene’s module on social media is that there is a flip side to the social media coin.  Exposing more of yourself through social media will help future employers, future colleagues, and future students get to know you as a professional much more quickly and wholly.  With a little planning, you can effectively supplement your CV and publication record without revealing those pictures of you dressed up as a spandex-clad, belly-shirt sporting American Gladiator (for the record, it was a 1980’s-theme party and…you know what, I don’t have to explain myself to you).  I have spent some time looking over the resources Ilene posted in her last blog update and would highly recommend perusing Salma Patel’s step-by-step guide to developing your online presence.  I found it very helpful as one looking to start this process.

My view of social media is changing.  Through careful development, I hope to soon have a digital voice that employers, colleagues, or students will be able to call on when they want to gain a better understanding of my professional pursuits and philosophies.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just noticed that Love Actually is on and I cannot miss seeing it for the 14th time (for the record, it has a star-studded cast, great storylines…you know what, nevermind).


One comment

  1. Hi Benjamin,

    this is a magnificent post.
    It is highly reflective of the (internal) struggles we all go through when we first start using technology. When it comes to use it for teaching and learning no one’s a natural, but things get better with practice! Everything does anyway 😉

    First of all, I think it is important to admit – as you did – that technology is not (should not!) be used as a replacement, but rather an alternative means through which we can reach and connect to people whom otherwise would not be able to be part of a given experience.

    I feel that technology is about providing us with different possibilities and creating opportunities for us to be included in a wide range of “learning realities”. And yet it is up to us to accept to be part of the contexts that can be created online. I admire your honest account because I know it’s not easy for us to challenge our perceptions, shake our concerns and change our practices. Moreover, understanding the power of the current online technologies requires trying them for ourselves. In other words, it requires not only time but determination and courage to do so.

    Technology has its flaws as do all communication mechanisms. Sometimes we even have a hard time communicating face to face. Making our thinking available to others is not always easy and when the body language or facial queues are missing it becomes even harder, but it gets easier as we engage with these tools. We develop different strategies – the language we use, the symbols we add to our speech 🙂 (smileys, etc) – to add a human touch/feeling to electronic communication. [ I must say your blogpost does show your sense of humour which is great – t adds that personal touch to the message which journal articles, for instance, tend to “censor”].

    The more we engage with the people on the other side of the screen, the more we get to know them, and the easier it gets to understand them through the queues they sent us. It stops being technology to be the way we connect and communicate in a global world. Hence, the need to try the technology for ourselves. Only then can we make sense of it. And so I am glad you did give it a go, because we all benefit from your contributions, even if we – as it is my case – are a continent apart. Which other way could I have had access to your experience, to your learning, to the shared thoughts? 🙂

    A digital footprint is becoming more and more important. Many people say that not having one is better than having a bad one. However, the more technology gets embedded in our working and social lives the higher are the expectations that we “exist” online. And I guess the best way to go about this, is actually looking at our own practices and expectations. Did we google that scholar who presented at that last conference to know more about their work? Did we find anything useful? if yes, we are happy to see what else s/he has been involved in. If not, we get a little bit disappointed and we often move on to follow someone else’s work because it is more easily available to us. Having written this… it sounds almost like bad practice… I come to realise that we live in a fast paced world where we want to be able to access information and we want to be able to access it now!! Today it is not only the quality of our work that matters, it is also how well disseminated it is between our close and wide communities and networks. (they work as filters and judges of quality). However, it is not only about making our work accessible, is also about making ourselves available to others through the conversations we start and/or participate in as part of our socio-professional footprint. Social media is about dialogue, establishing connections which wouldn’t be possible any other way. Using a pragmatic business approach, “it’s about giving and taking”. It’s about putting ourselves out there as knowledge workers and public intellectuals using the technologies of our times to achieve our main purpose: pass on our knowledge, and create new understandings. Scholars of the past used letters and telegrams, appeared on TV shows, wrote books and articles, etc as a form of engagement with the scholarly and lay communities. Some of these practices still exist today but as society changes their habits re: the way they access and produce information so do we! We must remember our audiences :-).

    I love Salma’s guide. I think it’s a great start. I also think blogging is one of the most suitable tools for researchers/scholars because you can transform it into your hub and dynamic CV where you can record your “journey” at the same time others benefit from the information you post and the conversations you start. For scholars, a blog is the new, enhanced business card. I look forward to reading your blog 😉

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