Personal Cyberinfrastructure – Reflection

A Personal Cyberinfrastructure by Walter Gardner Campbell — EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 44, no. 5 (September/October 2009): 58–59

Gardner Campbell discusses the misstep of using LMS (Learning Management systems) in higher education and how the internet and digital technology could be better utilized by integrating personal cyberinfrastructure as a core requirement – basically having students take responsibility for their own digital presence throughout their time at university.

In building that personal cyberinfrastructure, students not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments ranging from multimodal writing to information science, knowledge management, bibliographic instruction, and social networking. (para. 8)

I dig this idea. Because it not only gives students practice at real world skills, but has the potential to become a portfolio – a practical demonstration of their skills.

Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own “engagement streams” throughout the learning environment. (para. 8)

I was struck by how similar this echoed Bush’s interpretation of “trails” i.e. research connections with his memex machine – a hypothetical hypertext system. Modeling thinking processes – such as analyzing text or using reading strategies to make connections or meaning is part of being a teacher. Getting students to think about thinking – why are certain ideas key, how do they interrelate with prior knowledge – is good practice, both academically and non.

Without such fluency, students cannot compete economically or intellectually, and the astonishing promise of the digital medium will never be fully realized. (para. 10)

Being able to function in the digital realm, being in control of your digital presence, is a hot topic. Employers regularly google interviewees to get a first look at prospective employees. People talk about branding themselves, they rate skills with digital technologies the way people used to rank their typing speed. Being a luddite, or invisible online could be very hindering in the job market.

In his video “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure revisited” (Sep 27, 2012) – which he did as part of the Domain of One’s Own Project – Gardner Campbell elaborates on the idea of the network as an artifact.

(Starting at 4:15 mark) One could think of a personal cyberinfrastructure one builds out in a domain of one’s one own as a kind of composition – a score which when looked at by other folks who have written their own scores into being, their own Cyberinfrastructures into being, would reveal a kind of artistry. A kind of music.

I thought that was really an interesting way to look at information management versus the sort of standard “branding” or persona analogy. And I get what he is saying, cookie-cutter sites can sometimes lack a bit of soul. Whereas, when you build from the floor out everything is there for a reason. Every choice says something about what you are trying to accomplish. That, of course is assuming you have the skills to accomplish what you want, if you don’t then you may settle for stop-gaps.

Gardner Campbell goes on though, to say, at the 10 min mark:

It is important to be able to run a server at some level because, like a domain it is a direct pipeline to the internet.

I don’t really agree with this idea that we should all become sysadmin of servers. I think knowing about servers, and how the internet works is good. But I don’t think I need to run one of my own. It’s a bit like saying you can’t really write a book unless you can run a printing press.

I am unconvinced, as of yet, that running a server would bestow an epiphany level of understanding about the internet. Running your own domain, I think is a much more reasonable goal.

In the conference video “No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences” (May 3, 2010) Gardner Campbell introduces his 3 Recursive Practices (14:14 mark), which he believes are what “we do in education anyway, but can be amplified by information and communication technologies”: Narration, Curation, and Sharing.

In other words, thinking about thinking/learning, arranging our work for ourselves and others, and sharing that work. I think that these are good practices, in part because I think getting to the other side of an undergrad program a student should have more to show than a certificate and a senior thesis on a thumb drive, buried in a desk drawer at their mom’s house.

Going back to his Personal Cyberinfrastructure idea; at the 24:45 mark Gardner Campbell states, in response to a question about students as sysadmin:

Yes, actually, that is what I want them to be. System Administrators. … If System is understood not just as a particular instillation but as a metaphor for their digital lives. [Students are] going to have to be System Administrators for their digital lives.

Which I think is a good explanation for what he wants to accomplish with the Personal Cyberinfrastructure. Control, responsibility, for their narrating, curating, and sharing in the hands of the students themselves.

At the 27:38 mark, Gardner Campbell, comes back around to this:

The thing about the Personal Cyberinfrastructure is that once the students have begun to build it, it can then be the object of narration, curation, and sharing itself at a meta level.

The whole presentation was interesting. And I feel like I have a better grasp at where Gardner Campbell is coming from with his idea. I think some of what he is talking about is being implemented (modified as it maybe) in the ONID classes. Students are curating their coursework into a portfolio, we’re interacting not just in each other’s blogs but on twitter.

I am behind the idea of having students in control of their digital presence, of their own domain. But, he didn’t change my mind about the server sysadmin being a little off base.

One Comment on “Personal Cyberinfrastructure – Reflection

  1. Two quick thoughts that I will bring up in the discussion today if you aren’t there:

    1. The connection between portfolios and “trails” ala the Memex — important! And this applies in so many different ways from the “attention” stream to the social bookmarks and other means of sharing, to social media presence and hashtagging, and then finally the consolidation (or not) of those streams/trails…

    2. The “being your own sysadmin” thing. This question is one reason I was asking D’Arcy Norman, on Twitter, about where the line is drawn when it comes to reclaiming one’s own control and avoiding “digital sharecropping.” Some of it lies in the definitions of “one’s own server” and “sysadmin.” With Reclaim or other hosts where you have the cPanel or similar: are you then your own sysadmin? Does that count as your own server? And I appreciate the printing press metaphor, but on the other hand (or in the middle) is the power that comes from having more control over the means of production even if one isn’t a printing press mechanic…they can still be skilled operators? This presentation is a few years old, too, so it will be interesting to see what Gardner has to say about this idea now!

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