Archive for the ‘Personal Cyberinfrastructure’ Category

Campbell Reflection

Monday, August 30th, 2010

I’ve taken 102 credits during my time as a student at UMW, and the class that I remember most is the one that promoted the type of digital learning environment Gardner Campbell presents in his article “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” and presentation “No More Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences.” While I can only name a single course (excluding Digital Storytelling) that encouraged students to become managers of their own space and data, I also consider it one of the favorite and most memorable classes of my undergraduate career.

As Campbell notes, higher education’s version of the “digital facelift” appeared legitimate. The environments he references-online class registration, grade displays and forums-are certainly convenient in education, but Campbell got me thinking, “What do these digital environments really do for me long-term besides save me from a trip to Lee Hall to register for a class or save some paper by posting an assignment only the professor will probably read to a Blackboard forum?” I benefit from these online services in the short-term, but when they’re compared to the personal Cyberinfrastructure Campbell presents, their advantages fade, and I realize the real digital environment all of higher education needs to embrace is one that gives students the freedom to “discover and craft their own desires and dreams” (Campbell).

I like the direction Campbell points academia toward as he discusses the personal Cyberinfrastructure and explains, “[Students] would become, in myriad small but important ways, system administrators for their own digital lives. In short, students would build a personal cyberinfrastructure, one they would continue to modify and extend throughout their college career—and beyond.” The work we do as students (and beyond) would retain its value and always be available, a feature Blackboard forums and class web pages fail to provide. There would be more opportunities to connect, customize and produce, even after a course ended or a student graduated.

As I viewed Campbell’s presentation and read his article, I continually thought back to the single class at UMW that seemed to understand the validity of the digital education environment Campbell urges higher education to welcome. Professor Zach Whalen gave students the opportunity to begin building their digital lives in his Spring 2010 Writing Through Media Course. We purchased our own domains, and over the course of a semester, began crafting our digital identities. In those fourteen weeks, I was able to explore several creative possibilities in the way I presented my digital content, which included the subject of my blog and myself. In class projects posted to our websites and through my blog, I had many opportunities to explore topics through audio, video, text and/or images. There were few limits to the way I could appeal to and/or interact with my audience and classmates.

As a student, I loved my experience in Whalen’s class because it allowed me to feel creative about a topic of my choice and think outside of the typical “what the professor wants” attitude. In this case, the professor did as Campbell suggests and was able to “…lead by example—to demonstrate and discuss, as fellow learners, how they have created and connected their own personal cyberinfrastructures” (Campbell) by giving us a tour of his own digital identity, introducing us to HTML and CSS, assigning us digital projects we could design around our blog’s focus and showing us the digital tools available to expand our digital lives. And now, like Campbell foresaw, I am continuing to modify my digital life through my college career, and am confident I will continue to foster it well beyond my graduation date. I see where the personal cyberinfrastrucutre has value because of the educational experience I had in Whalen’s class, and I want to continue learning and exploring how to become an “effective architect, narrator, curator and inhabitant of my own digital life” (Campbell).

At the same time, I can’t imagine some of my past and current professors (and perhaps even some of my classmates) endorsing the idea of a digital identity, and I wonder if higher education is currently “stalled” in some ways regarding the idea of personal cyberinfrastructure because not everyone is past the “digital facelift” stage. Rather, they are content with connecting through Blackboard or Eaglenet and may not know how to lead by example when it comes to a digital identity. Campbell concludes his essay with, “Those of us who work with students must guide them to build their own personal cyberinfrastructures, to embark on their own web odysseys. And yes, we must be ready to receive their guidance as well.” This sounds great in theory, but in some cases I wonder how certain professors and students in higher education will even meet at and then eventually emerge successfully from this point.