Higher Education

playbor, digital pedagogy, and academic work

Cathy Davidson has a great post on the hidden (and not-so hidden) costs of digital media. It has me thinking in a couple directions, as interesting writing tends to do.

1. I'm thinking about our composition program and my goal of infusing digital composition into the curriculum. It's a goal that will require professional development for our instructors, 95% of whom are PhD students. Our instructors' status as students is significant because I view my relation to them not simply as a manager overseeing the delivery of our composition courses but also as a teacher preparing them for a career in English Studies. In this light, as important as I believe it is to incorporate digital media into composition, I believe it is equally important for our graduate students to be able to demonstrate a facility for teaching with technology. Undoubtedly the learning curve can be steep and sometimes it just feels like it just gets steeper with the continual churn. It's necessary to be strategic about where one invests one's time. Even if I stay within the realm of professional development, there are other things we could be doing than developing this particular kind of pedagogy. 

2. LIke Cathy I think about my own time, such as the time devoted to this blog. Is it leisure? Is it work? Is it this more nebulous playbor? I don't believe these issues are new for academia, even if we have new ways of seeing them now. 30 years ago a Victorianist sits down in her home to read Dickens again. Is that work or play? She goes to a conference excited to hear a presentation from an old colleague: work or play? She picks up the latest journal to read an article on a subject she's researching: work or play? Maybe that last one is obviously work? Maybe not. She goes to the movies to see the latest adaption of some 19th-century novel. She watches some crime drama show on TV and thinks about its relation to Sherlock Holmes and how she might incorporate it into a class she's teaching. Etc. etc. We know these boundaries have always been blurred for academics. We don't punch a clock. We love our work (most of the time). We pursued a difficult and uncertain path through academia not so that we could do nothing, but so we could pursue the work that exited us with an unending focus that only our long-suffering spouses can attest to.

For me, digital media is like that. The lines are blurry. I bought an iPad the other day. While I clearly bought it as a consumer item, a toy of sorts, I already use it for work purposes, and clearly it intersects with my research interests. It's not unlike the Victorianist rereading Dickens or going to a movie adaption.

3. Now this may seem as counter-intuitive as it gets, but despite the continual attacks on higher education and academics, I continue to see our model of labor as increasingly common in the world. We are prototypical creative professionals whose lives and work are deeply blended, who continue to do our work far beyond the boundaries of any definition of the job. If you think that isn't so, ask an academic what she's doing during the summer when she is not contractually working. If you had a job that was 10 months a year, would you still be doing the job the other two months?

I get it that there's this groundswell of folks who don't value the work done by academics. But that's a different issue from saying that academics as a group don't work. With the networking of scholarly activity today and our extensive access to information and research, the opportunities for academic work are really endless. The question, in my mind, is where to put our focus. It's the question I started with here in the more narrow context of professional development.