This happened at the happy hour Tuesday after being at the Maricopa Teaching With Technology Conference.

Across a noisy table, Bill Farrar posed an inquisitive question my way. When I worked at Maricopa, Bill was a psychology teacher at Mesa Community College, now he is at Estrella Mountain and the interim Director of their Center for Teaching and Learning.

You can tell by the intentful way he furrows his brow when he asks that Bill does not ask trivial questions.

And with a fog of a few beers and fatigue, I may not exactly remember the gist of Bill’s question. He was noting that on this blog, it seemed to him that my writing had gone away from being focused on the newest technologies, and he was curious how I saw and might explain that.

I am writing this now not to try to answer, but just to savor the question a bit longer. A part is that new technologies for the sake of new technologies do not interest me. I talked a bit about the weariness of promises and let down of tools, and the pitfalls of putting your ideas in some 3rd party’s bin. I blabbed a bit about Jon Udell’s framing of doing innovation with trailing edge technologies.

And here I sit with an interesting question I have not completely captured and a rambling unformed answer not answered.

Spin the wheel?

Never underestimate the power of a piercing question! Thanks Bill. I am pondering pondering.

And coming up with my own questions. My years at the Maricopa Center for Learning Instructions (1992-2006) coincided with the birth and evolution of the web from a weird geeky thing hand of HTML coded to (fill in the blank for a metaphor here). I was fortunate to ride on that train early, and the MCLI site was a wild hodgepodge of experiments to use and think of the web as its medium. I was voracious in trying to document and provide resources for all we did, and build web systems to better hand information flow.

All of my web work of this era has been offlined (some probably due to security mine holes of perl scripts writing openly to text files). But yes, gut everything else. I’ve done a bit to archive my own work.

I have to say that the current MCLI site looks a tad… corporate, uniform like the rest of the other administrative sites. Maybe I’m just cranky.

I noticed because I was looking for information on Bill, and exploited the latest technology. Bill came up on his staff page at Estrella Mountain Community College, then entries on ratemyprofessor.com and ratemyteacher.com (he looks damn good in those reviews).

This might be an example of a well manicured presence on the internet. It’s professional, and even the open rated stuff, works in his favor. But to me… it seems groomed. I don’t get a presence of Bill as I do when seated across from him at a happy hour or engaged in a discussion on campus. His digital presence, as scraped by google, is like one of those landscaped Sonoran median strips in Phoenix. The gravel is raked.

Fourth in the search was his entry on the MCLI site when he was a Maricopa Institute for Learning Fellow in 2003-2004

farrar-mcli

The entries for all the fellows are kind of like flipping business cards from people in the same organization. They look the same, just the text changes.

You see, I knew Bill when he was one of those Fellows. This was the site I made for him, a 2004 snapshot thankfully preserved in the Internet Archive

bill-farrar-2006

Yeah, its dated web design. And the information is actually the same in the new site. It just feels so much more… impersonal now.

When I was there in the late 1990s and in the 2000s, with the help of a clever then student programmer (Colen now runs the sites, this new design is not his fault, the whole IT climate at Maricopa seems control, control, control). We built these systems for online submission and review of faculty professional growth and the learning grants our office distributed. We busted up the Learning Objects concept as a virtual warehouse of shared ideas.

We were making systems built of the fabric of the web.

The current replacement of our online submissions is now where applicants compose Word docs and email them to the office.

Now I am surely missing a lot of back story, and I might be missing key reasons for changes in the systems.

But this corporatizing of the web presence and ethos I groomed for 14 years leaves my cold, or bored. It’s not a web we lost, it’s a web we shelved. Gave up on.

Ah, Bill, I’ve not even gotten around to forming a question. Maybe its not a question, but an observation. This kind of environment in education in the mid 2010s is perhaps what makes me less interesting in seeking the heat of new technologies. Why pursue innovation if we are going to implement them with the gusto of the mid 1980s and the personality of a brochure?

That kind of web raises a limp, “meh” from me.

This is the web I care about.

#mtech15 Selfie: Seth Goodman
flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

That was Tuesday when I got to see Seth Goodman at the Maricopa Conference I attended. I did not know Seth when I worked there (I think he came later), but we did foster a grand connection via ds106. He’s always been effusive, generous with sharing ideas, and even once surprised me at another event 3 years ago by giving me biscotti.

At Tuesday’s post conference happy hour (same one where Bill posed the question that launched this post), Seth did the apologetic thing of “we are not doing much innovative anymore, we are behind the curve” at Maricopa. This was after he told me a long list of activities he did for his first class as an English teacher. This was after a day of listening to teachers using games, 3D printing, active learning, and almost every other name you find in the education dictionary for innovation. Teachers, especially ones, at Maricopa, are innovating on a continual basis, in classes and online. As good teachers do. As great teachers do.

I told him to stop the “behind the curve” talk.

Well, about individual teachers. At a system level? Well I think you can read between my lines. There was a grand collaborative culture when I was at Maricopa, I caught the tale end of a golden era that stretched back to the 1970s. It seems in 2015 to have gone back into the roots of the system. That’s perhaps not a bad thing.

If you ever read this Bill, this not a question on you to answer (if I even had one). But it was fun to think about it.


flickr photo by Kris Krug http://flickr.com/photos/kk/4983299 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license (I have adored and used this photo by Kris Krug many times- it is from 2004, and is still available on flickr)

The post "A Farrar Question" was originally slapped on the butt by a cigar smoking doctor yelling "It's a post!" at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2015/05/a-farrar-question/) on May 21, 2015.

1 Comment

  • Sandy Brown Jensen

    This blog post belongs to the time-honored “ubi sunt” genre of writing (“where are the snows of yesteryear?” I got that question right on my Graduate Entrance Exam).
    “The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
    And God fulfils himself in many ways,
    Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
    All your bootstrapping innovation was that one good custom–God forbid it should be allowed to influence that culture through time!

    It is one of the terrors of being human that ultimately our passing leaves only the smallest ripple that fades on the not so distant shores of time…
    BUT! Ultimately, the same can be said for corporate rot; thus the whirligig of Time brings in his Revenges…

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