Friday, May 15, 2009

Connecting at Faculty Academy

I'm hanging out in my hotel room, having some coffee, CNN in the background, reflecting a bit on my experience of Faculty Academy this year. There were so many good presentations. It's great to see how many faculty at UMW are really thinking about their teaching. Yes, they're using blogs, wikis, and multimedia, but the focus is always on helping their students learn. As I listened to them talk about what their students were doing, I kept thinking about how lucky those students were. They were getting a kind of education that will really benefit them in the long run.

James Boyle was the keynote speaker, and he talked about the need for openness in the academy. His basic message was that we should be "open by default". It was interesting, especially, to hear him talk about sharing teaching materials. He doesn't understand why faculty keep those materials to themselves. And of course, there was the sticky issue of academic publishing, which is a closed system. He argued that academic presses should release their back catalog under a Creative Commons license and that they might actually make money from such a move. That would be a really exciting move. Over the course of my time here, I've agreed to collaborate on at least 3 books (yes, there was alcohol involved). I go back and forth between wanting to try to publish something in the commercial or academic market or releasing it under a more open platform. My principles say make it open, but I wonder about the money. So if I ever get around to writing those books, maybe I'll find out what happens.

Cole Camplese from Penn State gave a great talk about what students are doing these days and how we should tap into their creativity and engage them where they are. He also talked about the challenges the open web has for administrators.

Here is my talk. I talked about using blogs and wikis as a kind of doppleganger for peer review. I see lots of similarities between the way social media works and the way peer review works (in its ideal state). Like Cole, I see the potential of using social media to engage students. I had a couple of minor technical difficulties along the way--that's what I get for using new technology. But I like taking risks!

More important than the talks themselves are the conversations that occur around them. It was wonderful to get to talk to so many of my friends. Martha Burtis and Steve Greenlaw kept referring to me as a guest, but honestly, after 3 years of coming to Faculty Academy, I feel more like a part of the community. I am connected to everyone through their blogs, through Twitter and Facebook. I added around 10 more people to Twitter. It's great to have added new voices to my network. I loved having the chance to talk to Patrick, Jerry, Jim, Leslie, Jeff, Andy, Serena, Shannon, Joe, and the many faculty I met over the last couple of days. We talked shop, sure, but we also shared stories about raising kids, being spouses, navigating our communities, and generally living life. Through those stories, we strengthened our connections to each other and we'll continue to do so in the online world. That's what most people don't get about social media. It's not about the tools themselves, but the people who use them. It seems to me that the people at Faculty Academy have gotten that message and now they're thinking about how improve those connections and learn from them. It's truly wonderful to be a part of that.

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