It’s the Middleburys

Yesterday I gave a talk at Middlebury College on the creative process and domains, which is now published in essay form over on Medium. This talk was first given in a much abridged form at the OU Digital Humanities Day a few weeks back and was further expanded on to tell a more full story about my experiences this summer thinking about a new class I’m teaching this Fall called Ad Copy and Layout. I spent a lot of time over the last few months thinking about how creativity manifests itself–specifically when creating art–and it inevitably meant I took more trips to the library in our College of Fine Arts than I had ever done before to read about how kids learn art/how to teach art. I found my way to both some essays from Carl Rogers called On Becoming a Person and John Dewey’s Art and Experience. Both mentioned that the igniter of the creative process is allowing one’s self to be open to new ideas and possibilites. It’s a slightly different type of openess than I’m used to talking about in open technology but not totally different. So I wanted to talk about the rigidness/flexibilities of technology and the often unintentional ways we kill the creative process by giving too many parameters to our teaching (which are often perpetuated by the technology).

This talk corresponded with the official launch of MiddCreate, Middlebury’s domain of one’s own project. As I’ve written before, I’ve been fortunate enough to quietly guide this project to the extent that I can offer advice to their team. I’ve been super thankful to work alongside Amy Collier, who has my deepest admiration. When Ben Scraggs was on campus at OU last week, he mentioned how much more you take away from seeing someone in their working enviornment as opposed to conference meetups and I can completely agree after this experience. Amy has a leadership style that is both warm, welcoming, thoughtful and commanding. People gravitate to her as a trusted person of authority and it speaks volumes to her ability to lead. Put it in ink: she’s the real. deal.

Amy also puts together one mean agenda and I wouldn’t have it any other way :-). The day kicked off with a short presentation to a class taught by Joe Antonioli, who I came to learn has a family apple orchard that had 2,000 people visit it this weekend alone. Joe is officially the first faculty member I’ve met to also have an orchard (congrats Joe!). His class is doing a deep dive into MiddCreate to give analysis on how it can potentially be used and, given the diversity in disciplines amongst the students, I’m excited to see how they invision the project.

I also got to meet with the Office of Digital Learning team (Sonja Burrows and Sean Michael Morris). I’ve followed Sean’s work closely on #digped (originally because of Hybrid Pedagogy/MOOC MOOC) from even before I was working in digital learning so it was great to finally chat with him. Arguably the best part of the conversation was talking about how to integrate remote workers into the physical environment. Amy has already written a very thoughtful post about this, but I love the way Amy and Sean are critically thinking about giving embodiment to those who work at the various campuses or remotely. Personally, I’ve seen this play out several times at OU where one person will “call in” to a meeting and unfairly be addressed until the conversation has all but virtually ceased to exist. As a distance graduate student at Pepperdine, I actually had to a really rich experience in synchronous video discussions and I believe it had a lot to do with every student having their own square (as Sonja put it yesterday) rather than me being the only virtual student amongst a physical meeting.

I had a second virtual meeting with Evelyn Helminen at the corresponding Middlebury Institute of International Students in Monterey. Evelyn and I have chatted several times and I always appreciate how thoughtful and pointed her questions are. One part of the conversation focused on building an “off-boarding” strategy for student domains. I mentioned how I wanted to further explore archival tools for sites as well, and (jumping a bit ahead) I was further inspired by to look closer at this after hearing from Rebekah Irwin and Patrick Wallace about the digital preservation projects taking place by Middleburry Special Collections. They encourage students to not only submit student work spaces but personal blogs, Tumblrs, and social media accounts for institutional archiving.

The way Middlebury is thinking about exposing their digital collections is very rich. They have a sizeable presence on archive.org and have some interesting Omeka projects as well. One of my favorite lines was Rebekah on the goal of Digital Collections:

I also met with the Middlebury Social Entrepreneurship Fellows who will be using MiddCreate to syndicate reflections on their fellowship experience in a project that feels to be similar in spirit to the OU Global Engagement Fellows. The enthusiasm from this group is off the charts. No better way to end a day than seeing students genuinely excited about inhabiting the open web.

I feel like I have to reiterate how enjoyable this visit was and how thankful I am for this opportunity. Vermont is a very beautiful, the town itself has a great spirit, and the people are welcoming. And it isn’t every day you get to watch the presidential debates in the home state of Bernie Sanders and find yourself questioning how wrong everything has gone. The bern hath been felt and may the world spare Vermont from its wrath.

Featured image: flickr photo shared by Jasperdo under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license