Monday, July 15, 2013

Eloquence (be)heard

I'm not an expert in technology.  I'm not.  Just ask anyone who is an expert, whether in hardware or software (including how to use either or both to accomplish specific tasks) and you'll hear a chorus of agreement. Not. An. Expert.

Now that we've established my credentials, read on.

After talking with a peer about a specific technology we both use and for which we are planning a short presentation for faculty, I was baffled when I received an email that said: "I want to thank you for our conversation Tuesday; I think I learned more during that time than in many many (name of technology) seminars all rolled into one!!!"

I have no idea what I did.  So I asked my peer what was different about the "babbling" (my word, because that's pretty well how it felt) and received this reply:
My first impression is that the technical stuff wasn't the focus, rather, the focus was on interesting stuff we can do and (how) this technology can assist us.  It was--we can use this technology to make our teaching better. Also, it was a willingness to go outside the confines of (the technology) to achieve the goals we want to achieve in our teaching.
Then there was that confident, knowledgeable tone you have when we speak about this stuff. The sort of "of course you can do this" attitude didn't hurt either.
And here are vestiges of my first corporate job, where I found unexpected allies in the technology group of the insurance company where I worked.  Allies who offered solutions to problems I had and critiques (often accurate) of the other business problems they could have solved, had anyone bothered to ask. What intrigued me was how helpful I found the tech folks to be, how willing they were to share what they knew, and disenfranchised they seemed to feel. Even in our language, there was Technology and there was The Business, as though they were distinct factions, rather than intertwined and interdependent elements of mutual success.

Fast forward almost 30 years and the dialog is similar between Technology and The Faculty.  The vast majority of what I shared with my peer last week was shared with me by technology experts on campus. If I'm confident in the use of any technology, I owe much of my comfort to the people who've answered my questions, fixed the things I have (frequently) broken, laughed when I challenged them to explain it in terms that even I can understand, and generally provided solutions to my problems.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


I've been reading John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage and I can't help but notice the stark contrast between the United States Senators profiled for acts of political courage and the high-profile political shenanigans in any newspaper this week or month. 

What impresses me most about the courage of conviction  (or Kennedy's "grace under pressure," borrowed from Ernest Hemingway) is the willingness to stand.  To be clear and articulate about a well-reasoned position taken up only after much thought, analysis, and consideration of the common good. To know full well the political and personal costs. To be willing to pay the price.

Only history determines with accuracy whether a courageous stand was valid on the merits.  I can be courageous and right; I can be courageous and wrong.  In the midst of sincere and passionate advocates on both sides of any issue, time and distance are required to assess with any accuracy the decisions made and the positions taken. Sadly, the vituperative attacks on character and reputation are but one price to be paid, well in advance of any vindicating historical record.

What I am seeing today is comfortable courage, a courage of convenience. A courage that allows personal safety, careful scripting of commentary, and skillful manipulation of the press. It makes me wonder about the progress we've made.