Why I “Teach”

It’s challenging to address #whyIteach as an instructional technologist (and apostate librarian). I feel like I have to justify “what I teach” and “how I teach” before I even can approach the question of why.

Mostly, in my roles, I teach faculty members. (Sometimes they ask me to teach their students, but that’s been uncommon for a long while.)  This provides a remarkable clarity of context. My learners have brought their own goals to our interaction, more explicitly than the average student in school has. They are looking to make their teaching “better” – where better is a nebulous concept including both “more like my peers” and “in my own style”, where I might be involved in interpreting the main goals of the class or in streamlining a process so the faculty member can catch a few more minutes of sleep after grading.

Inverse Hierarchy of Instructional Technology Needs

Image by Krista Moroder, originally found through http://www.teachthought.com/technology/think-pedagogy-first-technology-second/

I’ve taught a lot of workshops, but most of my instruction is one-on-one. Working directly with the faculty member helps me explore her goals, which helps me find the right solution and teach more clearly the parts of it which she needs to understand. We can change quickly if his needs don’t match my plans, and it’s a little safer for us both to be vulnerable in the limits of our knowledge away from our colleagues’ observations.

This, in the end, is what I love about my job. I get to help other people pursue their passions. I get to help them reach their goals, whether lofty or light. And I know that in so doing, I’ve contributed indirectly to the core mission of the college.

How I got here

My work/education self-portrait, told in book titles.

I took this picture as part of TDC 986. It’s not precisely #whyIteach but it is a quick professional biography. It was web coding in the early ’90s which drew me into library science, and library science which led to instructional technology, and instructional technology which led to instructional design, all the while in a context of the liberal arts.

If you’re still thinking about ways to make your “why”, a book spine essay might be an interesting way to go.

The greatest of these

The greatest intellectual challenge I’ve been facing in the last year is how to do my job with more love. This is most explicitly the influence of Louis Schmier, but I think there’s a lot in the Open Courses/co-learning community which addresses genuine connection and shared growth without using the word “love”.

Instructional technology doesn’t actually require a lot of love. You can do good service without it. I’m beginning to doubt, though, that you can do great service without it.

Once you get past the “which button do I click” level of training, the questions have very high stakes. What do you want?  What would be good for you? What could elevate or change your thinking? What do you want for your students? What do they want for themselves? What do we value, and why? In change, what do we fear, and why?

How can we enter this project as individuals and leave it as some kind of community?

You can answer these questions effectively, and efficiently, without love. It can just be business. I’m just not convinced it’s the best I can do.

I can’t drive 55

Signpost: Intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts streets
View from my office

In the US, this is a “day of action” to lobby the FCC in favor of net neutrality. The new badge appearing on my site will link you to the EFF for tips on how to contact your congresspeople and what to say.

I’ve already logged my comments with the FCC; I’ll paste them here if you want to use any of the language:

As a college librarian and instructional technologist, I’ve seen first hand the power of a fast, diverse Internet for teaching and learning. Putting competing information sources in Internet “slow lanes” will damage our ability to conduct meaningful classes in the ways our faculty members know to be best. Our response would be limited to sacrificing the quality of our education, or increasing costs by paying ISPs more for the same services. Neither is acceptable to 21st-century America.

Granting ISPs this power will also prove expensive in rural areas like mine, where we have even fewer options for Internet service. Local subscribers will see their costs for online content and resources go up; community connection hubs like libraries and schools will see their quality of service go down. Subscribers will be coerced to shop and learn where the ISPs’ partners want them to. It will ultimately prove disastrous to rural economic development.

For these reasons, the FCC needs to strengthen its commitment to America’s intellectual, economic, and democratic development by ensuring network neutrality.

Getting Moved In

I just sent a message to my colleagues in my local Connected Courses cohort, and I thought I might copy a chunk of it publicly. I thought it might help people if I laid out some thoughts about getting a blog set up. Not that there’s a lot here that isn’t already in the pre-course Blog Talk and Getting Started documentation, but I wanted to put my spin on it for folks who know me. I’ve heard from a couple of people who are doing face-to-face cohorts, so I’d love to know how much this look like what you’re doing.

Some media was added in the transition from email to blog…

 Wait, did you say Blog?

Yes, one of the ways to participate in the course is to set up your own blog and link it into the Connected Courses blog flow. (At this point, most of the blog flow is people saying hello, but there are posts with more meat to them as well.) I think it’s worthwhile for all of us to do this. If we’re imagining courses where we ask students to work in public and co-learn with strangers, it would be good to have some of that experience ourselves.
That said, there have also been good conversations about learning through lurking, so if you’re not ready, there are valid ways for you to just participate in our local conversations.
The first thing you need, to get set up with a blog, is a snappy name. This is your presence online, so of course you can go with some version of “My Name Is…”, but a trip through the blog flow will also show names which are aspirational, disciplinary, humorous, all of the above.
The second thing is some idea of what you’re going to say as an introductory post. Again, lots of examples in the blog flow. My intro is here: http://tweedyimpertinence.josephmurphy.name/uncategorized/i-can-stop-any-time-i-want-to/
There are a couple of options for blog hosting, and they can seem daunting, so let me make some suggestions. Also know that, whichever you choose, I’m happy to help you get it set up.
1) Blogger. Because Kenyon is a Google Apps school, you can log in to https://www.blogger.com/ with the same username and password you use for email. I ran a Blogger blog about 7 years ago, and it’s very easy to use. (My skills are rusty, but I have looked at Blogger occasionally since then.)
If the choice seems daunting, my suggestion is to go with Blogger just so you don’t have to remember another password.
(You can also stop here.)
2) Other free solutions. You can use Connected Courses as the excuse to try out something you’ve heard of but never used. Also remember that there’s no penalty for choosing wrong; if you go down this route and get annoyed, you can abandon it and pick a new tool.
You can get a free WordPress blog at http://wordpress.com ; it’s a popular platform and it happens to be the one I’m using. It is, to my eyes, more powerful and therefore more complicated than Blogger. Some people are using Tumblr athttp://tumblr.com. To my mind, Tumblr rewards shorter writing more than longer writing, and “liking” and “sharing” posts more than commenting on them. It’s not what I’d pick for a course, but I think we’ll see successful examples during the year. If you’ve heard of something else like Weebly, that’s also an option.
3) Hosted solutions. If you already own (i.e. pay for) your own web space, you could set up a blog on that space. This is what I’ve done; through Reclaim Hosting I own josephmurphy.name and I’m running a blog just for Connected Courses at http://tweedyimpertinence.josephmurphy.name/ .
In part, this is a decision about owning my own tools. I have more power over my publishing platform because I pay for it and I run it. It’s also because I’m a geek and I wanted to see if I can do it. It’s also about owning my own space, and not simply trading my writing for free hosting. So a little personal, a little professional, a little geeky. (OK, a lot geeky.)
Holler out if you want to talk about the decision. And once you’ve made it, share your address with everyone else. I’d like to try to set up a hub for our blogs, so we can find each others amidst the larger conversation.
Hope you’re settling into the semester!


A Commenting Discipline

Screenshot from Pay It Forward
The movie was a little saccharine for my taste, but your mileage may vary.

Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m a serial MOOC dropout. If we count the MOOC’s ancestors in “free online workshops”, I’ve probably registered for 8 or more of the things, and never completed a one. This is on me, of course – I decided that the work involved in the course wasn’t creating my desired payoff, and I quit.

Nine Times.

But, like Ferris Bueller’s attendance record, it’s also a function of the system. Courses with hyper-strict schedules punish those who get behind. MOOC message boards don’t provide a lot of incentive for participation, especially for those of us who remember mailing lists and Usenet groups where repeating a question was the mark of a newbie from the Eternal September.

I’ve had some interesting discussions, by the way, about the differences between message boards and blogs. Message boards reinforce participation in a group enterprise; blogs reinforce the individual’s ownership of their thoughts. Pedagogically, you might want either one, but I will argue that message boards don’t scale well for active participants. Maybe they work better for lurkers, but the slide from lurker to non-participant is far too easy for me.

Compare and contrast with Connected Courses’ focus on personally owned blogs. I published on Thursday and woke up to comments on Friday. People had actually taken the time out of their lives to come over to my space, read my thoughts, and say something constructive about them. The reward was immediate and significant. I felt – I feel – like part of something bigger than myself, something bigger than a Venture Capitalist’s first taste for free.

This kind of community takes nurturing. It won’t just happen on its own. I am going to commit myself here to a commenting discipline which I think will help. For every comment I get here, I’m going to dip into the blog flow and comment on another recent post. I’m going to try to pay forward the joy of having a stranger give your ideas serious consideration.

I don’t claim that this makes me a big hero; paying attention to one another’s blogs is, after all, part of the point of a connected course. I’m mostly saying that I know myself this well. If I put the focus on my learning, my network, then I’ll engage, somewhat selfishly, with a small number of participants. At least this discipline will cause me to step into the blog flow with the goal of touching base with new folks. I think it will also change my reading, as I start with a goal of encouraging others as much as developing my own thought.

So… here’s where you get some stranger some encouragement, by telling me what you think:


I can stop any time I want to

I’m launching this blog to use for the Connected Courses project, and more broadly as a place to post my thoughts on higher ed and educational technology. I’m Joe Murphy, the Director of the Center for Innovative Pedagogy at Kenyon College. I’m quite pleased that I’ve got a small group of faculty at Kenyon who will also be participating in Connected Courses as a local cohort.

I signed up with Reclaim Hosting to start thinking about issues of owning my own digital space, but this blog is the first time I really gave it much thought. Should I blog here? Dust off my old Blogger address? Add a new tag to my ds106 blog? Shoot, owning your own digital space is complicated, even as CPanel makes it easy to just spin up a space and try something out.

I decided that, for me, the answer is to launch a new dedicated space. The main attraction is that this gives me multiple spaces where I could tweak WordPress settings in a real-content context, should I ever actually get around to it. I’m also intrigued with the idea that I might use something like Known to create one big “Joe on the Web” homepage, so I could share pieces of my life as appropriate and still reflect on the whole.