I was lucky enough to participate in the Education 2035 workshop at MSU on October 31, 2018. Understanding the impact of technology on the educational experience is not a new question, but with the emergence of A.I., the possibility that computers can do some of the work of teaching is becoming more and more important. Indeed, I’ve done work with grading tools around writing. These tools, used in the right way, can be helpful with the basic work of grading sentence structure. They can tell you have written a run-on sentence. They cannot tell you if what you wrote makes sense. Does it reflect critical inquiry, knowledge integration, or analysis? These question require a person with knowledge to wrestle with what you wrote. The key to technology is that it remain grounded in the limitations of machine logic. While it may seem strange, bringing professors from the College of Arts and Letters allows the scientists to think about how we think about technology. Our talks where in a lightning round format. I spoke about Afrofuturism and how that framework allows to imagine the future differently. Art and design linked to Afrofuturism is deeply shaped by a need to provide tools for black liberation and uplift. What can it mean? Well, one slide simply reminded the audience “There are black people in the future.” A simple statement, but the implication for the present are meaningful. Black people will survive and they will continue to strive toward a better tomorrow. There struggle will challenge the mainstream to do better and that challenge can benefit society as a whole.
Anchor is one of those digital tools that came out in the last few years and I was not sure it would survive. Originally Anchor functioned sort of like a personal radio station. Not surprisingly, they have revamped the app to take advantage of the podcasting culture developing in the United States. While I think radio and podcasting have some things in common, the reality is that podcasts use a long-form logic and radio is more immediate. So, if you want to tell a story, you can do it on the radio. If you want to tell that same story in a long-form, you switch to podcasts. You see this logic at play on National Public Radio every day. It seems that almost every show has a companion podcast and it is obvious they record the material in one session, but edit it down to shot snippets for broadcast and use the remaining audio for podcast episodes. The benefit is that people come to the material when they are ready and because they are interested. Anchor's decision to re-design the app to be more podcast specific makes a lot of sense.
I keep my eye on the app landscape, in part because those tools are available for students to use in the free (ish) price point. A big percentage of the population carries a powerful computer in their pocket. The smartphone is the most common digital tool. We don't often think of it as a tool, but it is a tool and like all tools, it can be put to use for a project. The most common use is talking to the world, but with the application ecosystem, most professional people use the phone as a personal interface with their digital self. From a teaching standpoint, allowing students to use their phone for a digital project is not really a difficult argument. Most of them have smartphones by the time they arrive at college. They are familiar with the phone and therefore anxiety about technology is cut down by working with that tool. MARA (Mobile Academic Research Application) basically grew from the idea that the functionality of the phone could be leveraged to give students a device they could use in the field to more effectively collect, categorize, and store information while doing a research project. MARA is in a transition (ask me about my Death Star Problem), but I keep my eye on the app world. These are tools that have been tested and approved for use. They tend to have good interfaces and they work. The problem is that any data on a commercial tool is basically unsafe. By unsafe, I don't mean that your identity is exposed. While privacy is a real issue and I always talk with students about their digital self and managing it, the reality is that if I work with a tool like Anchor, I must assume at some point it is going to disappear. Ask people about GitHub and see what they say. The purchase by Microsoft has many people worried about the site's often used function as a repository for digital projects. With Microsoft now in charge, many users will get off GitHub, but many more might join the platform.
For me, Anchor is worth testing as I pursue the idea of documenting an ongoing project between myself and Scot French. We have been working on a new narrative of Winter Park History. Telling the story of that project is not about the academic narrative, it is about a public humanities practice that highlight process.