You have no idea how much honor there was in being a part of Faculty Academy
Sitting in the Richmond airport, sipping the free wifi on my way home to Phoenix, I am still swimming in the euphoric high of having the honor to have been a part of the University of Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy- 2 days of tech-teach-learn-love fest.
On the ride to the airport, I joked with Jim Groom that it was almost a religious experience (keep in mind I hang out at a UU congregation). This is even twice as funny as people refer to him her as “Reverend Jim” for his passionate “preaching” of the power of WordPress (T-shirts are available).
So mentally, in my tired brain is a long list of things worth blogging about, like the crafted “slow blogging” approach I learned here from Barbara Ganley. I really ought to do that, but… Maybe I will as I try to blog offline, just typing out my thoughts in thw plane, hoping I remember a few URLs, the names of people I met, the richness of the 2 days, and perhaps even where I left my house key.
And I was serious when I told the UMW folks last night that I might be incessantly blogging the next few days about Mary Washington as much as the recent twitter blogging binge I have been on. They have an incredible– no that is an understatement – an unbelievable– no, because I believe in it — how about just plain amazing thing here, an electric buzz vibe of creative, postively edgy, energy that is doing far and away a range of some of the best uses of web 2.0 technology for teaching and learning.
Like I mentioned repeatedly, I’d watched remotely from across the distance, sipping the RSS and grabbing the podcasts in previous years as colleagues I like and respected were invited to Faculty Academy– in 2005, it was the Two Bri/yans, Brian Lamb and Bryan Alexander. What a tag team! And last year, it was NMC colleague Rachel Smith and long time colleague Cyprien Lomas on the program– but wait, there’s more– with freaking Jon Udell! Is it that deep impressive oratory voice of Gardner that entices people like Udell to make a trip to Fredericksburg?
So it was a dream come try when the Voice invited me this year. Truly, truly, truly, an honor.
So here it is, a start at the 10000 Great Things About My Two Days at Faculty Academy. I think there are at least that many, if only I can remember them. In no particular order, except as I think of them:
- It starts, ends, and could be just about the people here. I’ve been elsewhere and encountered nice people, and they are nice here, but these are fabulously talented people in all cuts, from passionate teachers to creative technical folks to driven leaders to amazing support folks.
- Well, it could be several points on people here. After 2 days of great sessions and activity, rather than dispersing as we typically did at Maricopa when I coordinated our somewhat similar Ocotillo Retreats– they close with a wine & cheese party and a dinner. But nore than that- it was the seemingly spontaneous moment when there was the first “last words” when person after person stood up to share their reflections of Faculty Academy. Oh my gosh, these are people that not only work well together, they talk, act, and are in fact– family. The cooperate, tease, and support each other like a family. How often does that happen in the artificial social bodies we join called “organizations”? Whatever they have in the water supply here, it is some kind of magic elixer.
- Fredericksburg- thought I had been here before, but may have gotten it mixed up with Harrisonburg (I think every town in Virginia is a “burg” just left Richmondburg). I hardly got a sense of the place with the schedule, and lodgiing in a nice, but pretty much Anytown Hilton. The events were held in new buildings of a new campus away from the primary one, but Jim did give me a quick drive through of the main UMW campus on my arrival, which is the classic east coast college bucolic versions I remember – lush green grass, towering trees, and a swarm of red brick, high ceilinged, white pillared classic buildings. It felt like a lush, idyllic park.. of learning.
- Great surprise to run into Rick Reo form George Mason here, thanks for driving down. Faculty Academy puts on this great event– and they share it for free with other educators from neighboring colleges, universties. This is but one small way they carry out and live to open spirit of sharing what they do.
- I heard countless mention in the 2 days here of “small pieces loosely joined” — in the program, in the sessions, in the converastions. And this was not the techies spouting off, I heard it from faculty putting this approach to use. It was a dream, a clever title, a pie in the sky hope back in 2004– but it is happening for real here.
- In Chip German, they not only have a CIO that “gets it” in terms of technology and learning, but someone who genuinely feels the “it” and creates an environment that sustains innovation. And I’ve yet to meet a CIO who spends the full 2 days at this type of event — not tuned into his Blackberry or other pressing business, but listening intently to the speakers, and more often than not, doing his own photography.
- Oh my gosh, they set up a twittercamp on a plasma screen Even customized it.
- And double oh my gosh, I was on the bill with Barbara Ganley, a true heroine of blogging, teaching with blogging, and someone passionate about its still perhaps untapped potential. Someone who writes long, crafted blog posts woven together with beautful photos. I’m taking to heart her worries about people “waning” or being “tired” of blogging, and the notion in her keynote of “slow blogging” of composing those moving, long posts that have an arc of a story. And even more humbling, she spoke like it was a big deal to be here with me– as I said last night, I just play with technologies, talk about them, toy with them– while she is actually doing something meaningful and purposeful with them for her students. If I had a wish to be instantly reincarnated, it would be as a writing student at Middlebury College. Close me eyes and click my heels…
- It was funny that as I met faculty here, not knowing I was an outsider, their first question was “what department are you in?” They do not seem like they are extremely insular and silo-ed, and I saw plenty of examples of cross-cutting department activity, but it tied in with some of the notions in Karen Stephenson’s keynote on visualizing networks of communication and trust in organzations. I’m thinking more about what are the implications of maintaining institutional silos. I’m not advocating burning the silos, as there are positives in huddled groupings by the subjects people are passionaate about, but we need perhaps many more windows, doors, chutes and ladders between the silos.
- The support team of the DTLT group here is one of talent, coordination, camaraderie at a level I’ve seen very few places, where usually instructional technologists toil in more isolation. Its a Fab Five here with Andy, Jerry, Patrick, Jim, and Martha. How can 5 people have such complementary skills and abilities? In basketball, they would be a UCLA like dynasty, in rock and roll, they would be the uber mega band. In Instructional Techniology, they are the dream team.
- The folks here are blogging. A lot. Not just the techies or the bleeding edge faculty. And its not just people expounding on their own stuff- its the use of blogs, wikis, drupal in courses that seemed to be oozing out of the buildings and classrooms. It’s what many of us hoped for when blogs first came out, that faculty would approach them as a vehicle for engagement, expression, and bringing learning and topics to a whole new level. I lost count of how many blog-powered course projects were going on, and being done but faculty who generaly started with a disclaimer of “I was not much of a techie but with the help of…” I think one faculty who was new to using the new tools did three presentations, of which she was referred to as “coming out” (of the technofearing closet).
- Jim Groom is just a nice quiet quy who loves drupal.
- Not. Jim Groom is an amazing, lovable, fireball of creative energy. I lost track again of how many faculty talked about how Jim magically matched some ideas they had to a deployment of it in WordPress (yes, for Jim, everything is seen through WordPress colored glasses, and he has no need to apologize). And he is rarely just in the zone or mindset f technology- he speaks from his trove of experience in literature, history, film, music…
- They fully deployed the small pieces approach in the materials and web site for the program- The Faculty Academy site is a blog, wiki, aggregating, flickr showing, tagged to the hilt, mash-it-up web of information that expands the reach and connections of the event. They seem to use it as an experimental ground too for new ideas, like the Fishtank and the string of tools that pulls in posts from external blogs that identify posts with a special tag or category.
- And certainly in the proof that this list is not in order, there is a powerful, magical, a come and jump on the Magic bus presence here know as Gardner Campbell. It was in jest when Brian Lamb and dubbed him “Dr Glu” but his vision and energy here are in fact a glue, not the kind that keeps you stuck, but th fun gooey stuff that helps you keep it all together. Okay, that metaphor missed the mark. Gardner’s words, ideas, and vision here are a driving force. And as a long time fan of his blog, Gardner Writes, I am much much more excited to get a chance to listen when Gardner Speaks. What he has to say lifts you off your seat. I may spend a year saying, “Thank you, Gardner”.
- Thank you Gardner.
- There is a concept here called (well it might not be the official name) the Sandbox. It is the approach they use for experimenting, trying new uses of technology by setting up blogs, wikis, drupals, on an externally hosted location, with the ISP Bluehost. They just refer to their work “being bluehosted”. I’ve seen more, many more, cases where faculty have no option to use new technologies on their internal system due to fear of security, hacking, or just lack of interest in setting these web sites up. I have seen more often than not, the answer is just a flat “No, we cannot install a wiki. End of discussion.” By externally hosting them here, they can ypass the infrastructure support issues, and quickly deploy, try new technologies. Yes, I know it is not feasible when there are needs to transmit student information– but we are in a huge heap of trouble in higher education when we do not provide a place, a space, and the tools for doing R&D. Every industry invests in this to some to a large degree, and education, for the most part, thinks that innovation cna happen purely from the purity of academic pursuit. IN technology, there needs to be places to try and fail, try and succeed. And this is place that took thatr leap, and is now seeing the payoff, the so called ROI.
- One more time- thank you, Gardner.
- And another oft to be repeated thank you is to Martha, who tirelessly made everything work as the conference organizer, program designer, and agenda master/mistress (wow, that non sounds wrong). She was key in making this a raging success.
- I know it is a good sign when people take time to craft clever titles like “M*A*S*H*U*P*S”.
- Jim- again, thanks for being my “Groome” transportation service, driving all the way to Richmond, and at an ungodly hour today. And thanks even more for inviting me home to have dinner with your family. It’s all about connections, eh?
- Did I mention enough times how cool Barbara Ganley is? I need to plot a way to work on a project with her.
- The group here seemed interested, accepted, got something out of my “Being There…” presentation, which to me, seemed to be mostly a stack of fun pictures, goofy video, and me just saying this is how I look at technology as a pie eyed optimist.
- And how can I not appreciate the infections energy of faculty like Steve Greenlaw? He not only “groks” it- he gets other faculty “grokking” it, be example and the fire in his eyes. I expect to see him flying around Second Life now, causing postive havoc.
- And I heard that people took to my notion that you cannot dismiss or evaluate a technology based on quick impressions, inane content (why did I use as an example of twittering of “I just washed my cat”?)– I scopped up a pile of new flickr contacts like Shannon, Joe, etc.
- Oh, did I remember to thank Gardner?
- And add to the dream team, the DTLT’s student aid Joe, who gleefully sported a “Geek” t-shirt and came forth with his probing questions on Second Life. If your IT support area is not tapping into the potential of students as staff, you are missing out. The greatest untapped technical and creative expertise on college campuses are the students who ironically pay for the privilige of being there. Fold their talent in, reap the benefits.
- This was like the second time meeting Andy Rush, and yet for all the technical tips we’ve swapped, I feel like we go way back. He teaches me, I teach him, yet we’ve spoken face to face but once before this week.
- Does faculty blogging spurt to life with tenure? We had joking suggestions that hinted there might be something behind the joke. What might it mean if it is only “safe” to openly express ideas when a job is not jeopardized?
- They are WordPress and Mediawiki addicts here, but its not a complete monopoly approach– there are compelling projects going on in drupal and other web-based apps, but wow, do they push out some elegantly designed and constructed WP sites. “Code is pretty” appeared among the other quotes on one of the poetry course sites, and it is the spirit here, along side “templates are pretty”.
- They have an interesting challenge here with a new campus, separate in location, structure, and academic focus than the main. I have little doubt they will figure it out, but it will be interesting to see it unfold.
- And what a cool surprise it was to meet Laura Blankenship, legendary Geeky Mom! Wow, we gotta find a way to bring Bryna Mawr into NMC. Let’s plot.
- Radical Librarians! In the closing session on folksonomy, Charlotte makes a bold challenge to now run away from the tag clouds and roots for the taggers!
- At the same time, it is not always techno-utopia. Faculty struggle at times with getting students to post, comment, some places the wiki thrives and in others it whithers– but they are not relying here on any formal recipe.
- I feel reborn zest for blogging. Despite tagging, twittering, Second Lifing– my blog has always been my anchor, my hub, my home. It is my tracks in the sand, my echo chamber. In earlier years, I recall numerous times where what I was doing or thinking seemed on its own to compel me to blog- like an idea was rattling around in my head that would not settle until it was written. With some people talking of blog fatigue or a preference to microblog in twitspace, I’m hoping a corp of rebels will stay true to the power of the blog.
- Jerry Slezak just so quietly and effectively helps pull many pieces magic together making it look easy. I have to like someone who uses a photo of Camden Yards as the background of his twitter page.
- Amazing support on on sound and video form David- the big screen, speakers, streaming media were just flawless. And this is his side responsibilites as a server administrator. Does talent here grow like the flowers?
- Twitter or jaiku? A riddle, a quandry? I’m sitting on the fence. More Social Network Fatigue, but I cannot say what I did in the presentation yesterday and not try being there.
- Gotta like the program material and graphic theme be “UMQ Groks”.
- Patrick- another renaissance ITSer here, ranging from Anglosaxon literature to RDF, a drupal-torian in a den of WordPress bear cave. And you had to just be there to appreciate his use of the audience singing the Oscar Meyer song to demonstrate the semantic web.
- Richmond airport is rather cool- small without the 60 gate runs through Dallas or the bus and train travel between terminals of say Atlanta, and even better, they have free wireless! It’s time to bash the airports who give only the option of Terrible T-Mobile. But wait, there’s more! In the seating area, they have ample electrical outlets, multiple 4 port ones but a few feet apart.
- Sorry Jim, that Barbara and I could not support for your daily doughnut habit. And in my presentation, I missed a great opportunity when I showed my McDonalds “billions” served image to mention that Barbara Ganley may have the unique distinction of being a holdout of never having eaten a McAnything. I just love radical stands.
I am about out of steam, and still just scraping the surface of my impressions from the time here. This experience will resonate wiht me for a long long time, and as I hoped slashe expected, I am taking home much more in learning than I may have left here.
Oh, I almost forgot.
Thanks Gardner! “Every day I get in queue… (Too Much UMW bus!)” The Magic Bus is a caravan indeed.
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