Diary of a Summer Graduate Assistant

clarissa-photoHi, my name is Clarissa Stewart and I’m a graduate assistant at the Digital Learning Commons! This summer I had the privilege of working here full-time, assigned primarily to the MiddCreate project under Amy Collier, the Associate Provost for Digital Learning from Middlebury College, and Evelyn Helminen, Assistant Director for Digital Initiatives at MIIS. MiddCreate will officially launch for Middlebury community in September 2016, after a one year pilot phase.

Have you noticed something different about the DLC site? It still looks the same, but check out the URL. One of the major projects I completed this summer was migrating our website from the sites.miis platform over to a MiddCreate domain. This shift will allow us to greatly expand its functionality and integrate powerful apps like a Vtiger CRM to track the people we serve and find ways to better support them.

MiddCreate domains open up almost limitless possibilities, but while assessing our pilot I discovered that for new technologies like this to have a positive impact in the classroom, pedagogy must change first.  A lot of the work I did this summer involved creating support resources and processes that will help people think through how to design projects in MiddCreate. This included expanding our support documentation, configuring course sites for faculty, blogging about web security and adding external apps.

Thinking About Digital Pedagogy and Literacy

Pedagogy can become ineffective when it’s overly restricted by the tools it uses. MiddCreate challenges students to take responsibility for choosing the tools they want to use in their learning, and instructors to adopt more collaborative teaching practices.

In his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold says that the web’s architecture of participation lends itself to developing key digital literacies like critical awareness, collaboration, and network awareness. Having access to and control over their web tools helps all the members of our community appreciate how digital identity is formed, pushing them to understand not only the technologies themselves, but how they impact their lives.

This is a primary goal of Domain of One’s Own according to Martha Burtis, Director of the Digital Knowledge Center at the University of Mary Washington where the movement first began. I hope my efforts furthered that goal for those who had appointments and workshops with me or will use the resources I created. I think my own digital literacy definitely improved, particularly because learning by doing and teaching others seems to stick with me the best.

Embracing Failure and Experimentation

As an International Education Management student, my degree program focuses on developing intercultural competence: the ability to be comfortable in diverse, highly contingent environments and communities. Shouldn’t we encourage analogous experiences in the digital realm? Some people may be hesitant to embrace MiddCreate because of its unpredictability and lack of structure or dedicated support services. But I think one of its greatest strengths is that it rewards creative experimentation and promotes agency and activism.

At Middlebury language learners often hear that failure is how we learn, that we need to break down hierarchies and rhetorics of linguistic “ownership” to make progress. Working with MiddCreate has taught me to take the same approach to learning the web. If you build a site and something breaks, just think of it as a learning opportunity instead of a failure. Now you have a real reason to figure out how it works in order to fix it. I did a lot of this kind of problem solving while experimenting with MiddCreate applications. I got to dust off my long-neglected web design skills and put them to good use, practicing everything from PHP, CSS and HTML, to Javascript.

Looking to the Future

I think my experience this summer will be invaluable to my career in the international education field because I’m now more aware of how digital tools can be used to promote and support programs and higher education institutions. I’d like to imagine that Domain of One’s Own initiatives like MiddCreate could be used to not only connect students, faculty, and staff on our academic campuses, but engage and create new communities across the country and the globe.

I’ve learned so much about technology, digital pedagogy, and how university administration functions over the past three months. I’m very grateful to Amy Collier and all the DLC staff for the trust they placed in me to take on all these projects, as well as their encouragement and advice.

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