Boring Biographical Essay

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Personal History

My personal business card says I’m a Digital Medievalist. It’s the best way to describe my education, my work experience, and my interests.

Until quite late in my education, I was a typical Medievalist, albeit one with a good grounding and teaching experience in English literature through the Romantic era. I planned to have a fairly standard academic career teaching English literature and composition classes at a small liberal arts college or at a university with a strong humanities program. Halfway through my Ph.D. I began to transform into a Digital Medievalist.

Although I completed my Ph.D. in 2008, I am still very much interested in early literature and conventional humanist scholarship. I have used technology in my teaching and scholarship, and supported others using digital technology in their teaching and scholarship, but I have earned most of my living in the digital realm since 1989, often working for commercial software publishers. This blog reflects my digital, technical and humanistic interests.

IT: Technology, Language, and Society Blog History

IT: began in January of 2002 out of my interest in Instructional Technology. I’d been the Instructional Technology Coordinator at UCLA’s Humanities Division for several years, working with LMSs (WebCT primarily). Realizing that WebCT and Blackboard were both hideously awful, I wanted to try using open source CMS and blogging systems instead because they tend to have decent UIs, engaged communities for support, and they actually worked.

Since then, I’ve finished my Ph.D., I’ve used Web-CT and Blackboard and Blogger and LiveJournal and WordPress and Moodle for teaching. I’ve worked in a software production environment creating and managing the work flow and QA for content-driven media-rich brain games for seniors. I’ve tech edited a stack of consumer Mac books, written several, and since 2006 have been a volunteer moderator, Sys admin, Webmaster and community manager for a very large and active writers’ forum (Absolute Write; if you write you should go there and look around). I’ve also been a paid blogger and writer for a lot of different publishers and companies.

The scope for this blog has changed changed a bit since 2002. So has the title. IT: has become IT: Technology, Language and Society. The original About statement for IT: framed my interest in technology in the context of humanistic scholarship and pedagogy:

As much as I am personally fond of digital technology, quite often I see digital technology in instruction being used simply because it’s there, rather than because using technology assists understanding, or because using digital technology enhances student learning. I also see a lot of silliness in terms of technology, instruction and scholarship, where a particular technology is forced upon students and faculty because some manager or administrative person thinks technology is cool, or that using technology will draw fame and fortune to his career, rather than because the technology is effective or appropriate. Frequently faculty who would like to use technology are bewildered by the jargon and by the unfortunate arrogance of the technical experts they must work with, who, for all their technical expertise are, not surprisingly, sometimes woefully ignorant about pedagogy, and have no interest or understanding of the Humanities.

Back in 1997, when the world was new and I was young, UCLA brought forth the Instructional Enhancement Initiative. Among other things, the initiative funds and mandates a class web site for every undergraduate class in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The I.E.I. was largely established by fiat. My departmental chair asked for members of the English department to weigh in on the I.E.I for an article he was writing for the MLA. Here’s part of what I wrote Professor Wortham in 1998 about that initiative, and digital instructional technology in the ADE Bulletin:

The problem with the way digital technology is being implemented is that the university has put the cart before the course. In the “real world” of commercial software and technology implementation, you start with the data, the “content,” and then you look for the most suitable technology to use with it. You do not start with the technology and then tell the content expert (jargon for scholars and teachers) to find some use for it. That strategy is completely ineffective and any commercial enterprise that proceeded in that fashion would quickly be in Chapter 11. . . . Someone needs to evangelize, so that the concerns and needs of faculty and students are met. The content must be emphasized, and there need to be reasons for using digital technology. It isn’t enough to put something on the Web or on a CD-ROM just because you can. The point is to enhance scholarship and pedagogy, not to take scholars and teachers away from what they do best so that they can learn to use constantly changing technology.

Faculty are more than even now, expected to incorporate digital technology in their pedagogy and research. My concern is that sometimes digital technology is not the best technology; sometimes analog is the better option, or a hybrid use case of both analog and digital might have merit.