I have been in academia for over 18 years, and before this summer, I had never attended a conference that was strictly about pedagogy or one that lasted for five days. I went to the Digital Pedagogy Lab conference in Fredericksburg, VA in part to move my thinking along on my own digital history project, an exploration of the communities in nineteenth-century New York and Louisiana where Solomon Northup lived, first as a free black man, and then as a slave. If you’ve seen the film, “Twelve Years a Slave,” it is Northup’s true story.
I registered for the course on Digital Storytelling, because I believe that Northup’s is a narrative certainly worth sharing in multiple ways. I wanted to better understand the range of options available to me for telling his story as well as the stories of race and race relations among others who lived in his community.
The Digital Storytelling course pushed me in new directions and forced me to get out of my comfort zone – I’m a little tech phobic. My teacher had many small, creative, and boundary-busting assignments for us to try, related to audio, video, photographic, and design exploration. I couldn’t complete all of them, because I am not on social media, and I don’t intend to ever be. That makes me wonder: What does “the digital” require? What defines “the digital”? I enjoyed many minutes of thought-provoking discussion with my classmates around questions like these. We all realized in ways big and small that “technology” can be simple and may not require any of the tools and gadgets we had at our fingertips in the classroom.
Sometimes tech can be transformative; sometimes it is completely unnecessary.
Apart from making headway on my own individual project (I created my own account on MiddCreate and made my first 3 iMovies – a big deal for me!), I really appreciated the gentle pressure that the conference organizers applied to get us all thinking beyond the ordinary and the familiar. I felt privileged to be surrounded by so many people so focused on pedagogy. K-12 teachers, librarians, and administrators enriched the conversations and were just as involved as the college faculty who attended. And everyone was so open, so interested in sharing; this felt decidedly different than the posturing I often see at the scholarly conferences that are the mainstay of faculty professional development.
More than anything, I enjoyed getting to know better the seven other people from Middlebury who invested in this endeavor. With four of us coming from Vermont, and four traveling far from California, we had a ready company for long meals together. I took away from this experience a lot more than I thought I might, on so many levels.
Thank you, Amy C, Amy S, Bob, Evelyn, Joe, Netta, and Sarah. Let’s do it again sometime!