Archive for July, 2009

It’s A Matter Of Approach

This morning Laura tweeted about an article by Danah Boyd. I was struck by this paragraph:

“I have become a “bad student.” I can no longer wander an art museum without asking a bazillion questions that the docent doesn’t know or won’t answer or desperately wanting access to information that goes beyond what’s on the brochure (like did you know that Rafael died from having too much sex!?!?!). I can’t pay attention in a lecture without looking up relevant content. And, in my world, every meeting and talk is enhanced through a backchannel of communication. This isn’t simply a generational issue. In some ways, it’s a matter of approach [emphasis mine].”

Besides surprising me with the little fact about Rafael (what a way to go, huh?) it reminds me of how I am a “bad student” too. The key thing to point out is that it has nothing, let me repeat that, nothing to do with being part of the “Net-Generation” (oh how I loathe that label). I had to teach myself to have the discipline to not goof off on my laptop and I had to learn to utilize the internet and its resources to better my education. I wasn’t born with this desire and I certainly didn’t learn it growing up. I learned it when I came to college and became involved with a community of people who loved learning and cared about the role of technology in learning. Being part of a caravan of life-long learners taught me a new approach to my education and it encouraged me to look beyond the basic things I used my computer for.

All of this reminded me of a post Martha recently wrote where she talked about the purple boxes that she had seen on the side of the highway. For her it was not enough to just take note of them, she needed to know what the heck they were. Martha said:

“And I had to know because I pretty much knew I had a way to find out the answer. I guess my point is that in this information-rich world, not knowing is simply not an option for me anymore. If I didn’t have access to the tools to find my answers, I think it would drive me crazy.”

This is the way I have certainly become and have been since high school. I’ve learned better ways to search on Google and if Google fails to help me I can figure out where to go next. While this may be true of me many of my friends don’t automatically think this way. I don’t know how many times I have to say to them, “Why don’t you look it up on Google?” and it is like the thought never occurred to them. These are students my age who aren’t taking this approach to the web, probably because they’ve never been pushed to think about it in that way before.

So can we drop the label “Net-Gen”? Or at least change the definition of it? If you call someone my age a Net-Gen kid you would be right in saying we grew up with the internet and probably spend a lot of time on it. I think it is wrong to say that just because someone grew up using it doesn’t mean they are tech savvy or think of new ways to use it. While the internet is radically different from a lot of technology in the past it is still a technology. Just because you might have grown up with a record player doesn’t mean you know how to work a turntable and DJ. Sure you know how to use a record player but, it doesn’t go much pass the basic. Just because someone grew up with the internet doesn’t mean they know how to make a mash-up or understand RSS; they can probably browse and create a word document though. That might be a poor analogy, I don’t know. I really wish we could forget the labels or actually think about what we mean when we say those things.

My learning has been augmented through the use of the web because people older than me pushed me to think outside my “browse the web & create word document-box”. Like Danah Boyd said, “It’s a matter of approach”. And personally, I have had to learn a new approach and make a concious decision to take responsibility for my education. I did not magically become this way just because I grew up with the internet.

Family History, Public History and Digital History. Oh my!

So earlier today I tweeted that I had talked to Jeff McClurken about an idea I have for an individual study. My family is fairly interested in our family history and various members have taken the time work on genealogies, recovers photos, and record other things. For some time now I wanted to create some sort of online depository to collect memories, photos, videos or whatever to create a kind of family history. A few weeks ago I started wondering if I could possibly work this into some sort of individual study. Although I knew it didn’t seem like the typical 400-level class idea I had already had a taste of one class that was quite unusual in our department, so I thought I’d give it a chance. As a side note, have I mentioned how lucky I am to be a major in a department that has someone like Jeff as the Chair? Well, I am because he entertains my craziness and has already pointed me in the direction I need to go. Being an amateur historian I still need that guidance and I am very thankful to have it.

First things first I need to figure out the methodology I will use to tackle this project. Obviously I couldn’t do this just about my family history, there needs to be some academic rigor involved with this too. One of my first tasks will be to research literature to assist me in my project. I will have to find text on family history, public history, and digital history so I can create a bibliography for this project. I will probably be enlisting the help of UMW’s very knowledgeable reference librarian Jack Bales, who has already helped me so much in my history research. I want to find some way to weave together what was going on in my ancestors lives and what was going on in the world too. There are so many questions I want to explore I don’t even know where to begin. A big component of this project will be the structure of the actual site and more than likely I will be using Omeka (oh, how I’ve missed thee!) and with a little help from Patrick Murray-John I’m sure we will kick code butt. There will surely be many more posts on this in the future.

One of the purposes for this project is not only to create a cool site for my family but, that I will create documentation so that others can create these sort of family collections and have my site as a sort of model for those interested in doing something similar. The internet has made doing family history research so much easier and because of that people have been increasingly interested in family genealogy and tracing roots. I would hope that whatever my project turns into that it will in some way enable others to do what I did so that they too can create a place to record family history. One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced during my time at college is knowing that some of the work I have done has been beneficial to others in some way.

This is still more to say about it and I’m only at the tip of the iceberg here. But I am excited to see where this takes me and if you, my dear readers, have any suggestions about anything I’d love to hear them.


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