Enough with the Hype

W. Gardner Campbell’s piece, “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure,” makes the sort of exaggerated claims that now appears to me as commonplace among the digital humanities enthusiasts. The tropes acquire the cadence of mantras: revolution, a brave new world, progress. There is a sense of both exasperation (with all of us not yet on board the train) and mad enthusiasm for an inevitable future in which technology becomes both the medium and the message of higher education—both the tool and the substance. You can count me as unimpressed, and more than a tad skeptical.

Campbell envisions a college experience in which each student—not just those with an interest in or a knack for computing—is required by their university to manage a server on which they will fashion, upgrade, and “create” throughout their college experience. The value of such a requirement is presumed rather than explained. It is unclear to me how this requirement would improve oral and written communication skills, math competency, or, more practically, how it would lead to improved outcomes in content proficiency.

Campbell also uses vocabulary associated with improvement and self-development, but fails to substantiate or in any way explain how his promises will be delivered. We are told that students will create, but we are not told what they will create nor, more important, how their creative-work will differ, improve, or build upon traditional forms of creative work done in classrooms and workshops.

Finally, the piece ends with claiming—again, an unsubstantiated claim—that a personal cyber-infrastructure will enable students to compete economically and intellectually. How will a future lawyer or doctor, or a future artist or poet, or a future civil engineer or nurse, or a future stockbroker or psychiatrist—benefit economically from such an endeavor?

In contrast to the Campbell piece, I found the d106 site to be fun, provocative, and potentially quite useful. I appreciate that the assignments include audio, visual, and elements of writing. I chose an activity that asks students to choose a historical figure and map their movement across time using google maps. Students studying slave trade, maritime history, the histories of empire, Atlantic and Diasporic history, and other types of history could use this exercise to map out the lives of historical figures or to map out the process of historic events, such as wars, immigration, the transnational flow of ideas, etc. Excellent idea!

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