Au Début

Au Début

To start, I’d like to thank Barbara for the invitation to join the Language Lab Unleashed family. The opportunity comes at a particularly good time for me, since I am starting to feel like I’m getting a good hold on my professional direction.

Historical print of a server and a client.

Image from Biblioteca de la Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias del Trabajo Universidad de Sevilla

In fact, what I thought I’d write about for my first post is a reflection on migrating from a support-focused mindset toward becoming a partner in language education. (For some more erudite words than mine on that topic, see Bethany Nowviskie’s Eternal Sunshine of the Digital Humanities and David Wedaman’s Look Like Your People.)

Until recently, my jobs have all been supporting roles, or at least that’s how I saw them. As a legal assistant, editorial assistant, programmer, database administrator, sysadmin, even as a technical manager, I always worked reactively. We could spin that better and say I was service-oriented, but a spade’s a spade. Since being moved to my current position as an academic technologist, I’ve been part of conversations nominally about others but that collectively lifted the scales from my eyes about a career in language education.

The primary notable group of these conversations are the ones we have in planning meetings at my center about language instructors. As part of our programming, we try to provide opportunities for their professional development and to make them aware of other opportunities. Very cleverly, I noticed that these conversations applied to my career as well, only there was no group at a table anywhere thinking of ways to help me.

The second notable group of these conversations were during the IALLT 2010 Summer Leadership Meeting. In a very contemporary form of participation, I was able to watch and listen on UStream while putting in my options via UStream chat. Interestingly enough, my realization above was narrated there in other forms by several people in multiple settings. Here, though, I heard the additional resonance that language instructors themselves at other institutions lacked professional development support.

Trapeze partners, from Flickr user hbp_pix

CreativeCommons image from Flickr user hbp_pix

For those of us on staff and those instructors not benefiting from institutional support, the response to “What do you do?” too often becomes a listing of supported players — people, tech, courses, institutional entities — rather than an affirmation of the meaningfulness and significance of teaching language, culture, and identity. (For an #alt-ac perspective on this, I recommend Miriam Posner’s recent post.) We too often focus, in other words, on who we help rather than our own intellectual pursuits. In doing so, we both reflect and further the instrumentalist view of language education.

As a way forward, I’ll be identifying open-minded language instructors for tactical collaboration, somewhat as discussed recently by Mark Sample. I’m happy to have some fruit borne of this plan already, a presentation proposal collaboration in progress with an instructor. (Turns out this instructor welcomed my overtures, having hesitated to suggest the same.) More importantly, the proposal is based on our work introducing blogging into her language’s curriculum on a trial basis, that is, on a project of multiple benefits to the instructor, to me, to the students, to my center.

I've been called many things in my life. My current occupational title is Senior Instructional Technologist at an Ivy League university. My interests are broad and varied, but at the end of the day I tend toward the practical: What can we get done (and done well) with what we have? I also own a copy of The Wiz soundtrack on vinyl.

3 Comments

  1. Laura · February 2, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for this post, which put into words some things I’ve been thinking about lately. I just started a K-12 job where I am 50% a teacher and 50% academic technology support, though that piece is nowhere in my title. Tactical collaboration has been my approach to this piece of my job as opposed to “service”. I learned from my previous job doing the same thing in a college environment that being service oriented does not pay off. For me. For the teachers. For anyone. Because what happens is your job shrinks to that–to fixing computers, to loading documents onto Blackboard, to explaining over the phone how to use (at a basic level) software x. And then no one asks you the big questions. How can I engage the students? Why should I teach this topic this way? How can I teach better?

  2. triplingual · February 3, 2011 Reply

    All these blog posts really resonated with me, though I’m also in the midst of reading Claire Kramsch’s remarkable The Multilingual Subject, and she cites Michel de Certeau on considering tactics “an art of the weak“. While I’d disagree with de Certeau and instead consider them the province of the margin or marginalized (guerilla warfare is one significant example where tactics play a larger role than strategy), to come into our own truly, we need strategy as well. When you/we ask the big questions, we are on our way to building one.

    Another thing I’ve been thinking that didn’t make its way into this post is that being a partner is service in its own way, but serving multiple constituencies, including ourselves. (Where the notion of serving ourselves should be taken to mean insisting that our ideas/research/praxis have value and taking steps to further them, not being blinkered and selfish.)

  3. triplingual · February 11, 2011 Reply

    Update: My collaborative presentation proposal was accepted and I have embarked on one other collaboration that should lead to future professional development opportunities.

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