A Personal Cyberinfrastructure, and Revisited

“Yes, yes, YES!” was all I could think when reading Gardner Campbell’s “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” and listening to his revisit on the topic (A Personal Cyberinfrastructure Revisited). I could hardly have agreed more with his suggestions for how higher education ought to be addressing our digital world. The “digital facelift” that Campbell speaks of is pure truth – higher education STILL has yet to be taking advantage of all that our digital world has allowed for and provide us students with an education that is actually valuable in every possible scenario. This is no major, no minor, no class, no program of study, no nothing, that couldn’t make use of the curricula Campbell suggests that starts with students’ own web servers. It never really seemed weird to me having a service like Blackboard until I got to realize how inefficient it is and how inefficiently it was being used (if at all).

“Higher education, which should be in the business of thinking the unthinkable, stood in line and bought its own version of the digital facelift.”

PREACH, Gardner Campbell. Learning management systems weren’t a bad idea. I think they were a poor choice for higher education. Obviously, some kind of digital program was really needed to move away from physical gradebooks and such, but I think LMS’ like Blackboard are much better suited towards K-12. At least I would’ve liked to have that during my K-12 time. (Admittedly, I had been quite jealous about four years ago when I discovered my cousin in middle school was using Edmodo, whereas I was finishing my master’s degree and stuck with Blackboard.) But for higher education? Why should students be reduced to dealing with such a “template-driven, plug-and-play, turnkey web application” when we could be learning how to create and explore with those technologies on our own? I went through library and INFORMATION SCIENCE grad school, for god’s sake, and the extent of taking an active role as a “system administrator for my own digital life” was creating an HTML website. Not even my own domain – but AN HTML WEBSITE! (To give you an example, since mine DNE, here’s one of my classmate’s…) This wasn’t THAT long ago!! It looked like something straight out of the 1990s and I took it down immediately after the class that required it was over. It shouldn’t be like that.

“As far as faculty were concerned, the only letters they needed to know were L-M-S.”

Aside from my frustration as a student not being taught valuable (or practical) skills, I can’t read this without getting enraged at faculty, particularly those who felt that the letters L-M-S were still too many letters to learn. I can’t tell you how frustrating it’s been throughout the years (I’m working on 7 years as a student in higher education, yiiiikes!) dealing with professors who either refuse to use any LMS (period.), or professors who refuse to actually take two seconds to do any one of the numerous trainings available to them to learn how to actually use it effectively (if not, simply CORRECTLY). You think there would be some kind of university-wide requirement for educators to get familiar with whatever crappy LMS their university wastes money on, but god only knows how come that’s not the case.soapbox

Campbell’s revist just reinforced the thoughts I agree with. Running a server doesn’t sound easy, it is really technical, but does that mean students shouldn’t be pushed to learn it? It is a conduit to the Internet – there is no simple app to do it for us, so it seems practical for us to take the time to learn.

The network as artifact – this statement really resonated with me because of my background in art history. Campbell says that networks reveal meaning-making and

“to look at [a network one creates] and say I made that a certain way that and that actually reflects something about my own attitude towards my own understanding of what this network means.” 

It’s a fantastic metaphor that made me recall research I did comparing the use of a formula for perspective in two different works of art: a 15th century illustration from Italian architect and writer, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola’s treatise Le Due Regole della Prospettiva Practica (Two Rules of Practical Perspective) and an Andreas Gursky photograph, Nha Trang, from the 21st century.

Nha Trang - Andreas Gursky
Nha Trang – Andreas Gursky
Vignola's illustration from his treatise Le Due Regole della Prospettiva Practica
Vignola’s illustration from his treatise Le Due Regole della Prospettiva Practica

Both use Alberti’s formula, but the ways in which they do so reveal so much about their culture, not just the art. In Vignola’s illustration, perspective is focused on man, which in turn reveals the Renaissance interest in humanism. Perspective in Gursky’s word reflects a disordered world. What kind of meaning-making will our networks reveal? I completely agree with Campbell that those kinds of networks would reveal so much more than technological affordances.

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