An ‘after ELI2010’ reflection…

Okay, hear that?  That’s me dusting off the cobwebs in here. What with immersion in teaching AND TAKING a course last fall, my own blog became an orphan – well almost.  (and my oh my, does reading student work and providing the feedback in the fashion I prefer take a whole lot of my time!)

But, here I am fresh back from #ELI2010 with renewed commitment to writing and posting with greater regularity …and I’ll begin that with a bit of a debrief of the meeting in Austin. 

 As expected, sessions were excellent and I learned many new things to bring back and share.  (In fact, I’ll be providing a de-brief for my campus in our departmental newsletter complete with links to the archives…very soon!).  🙂 

 In here I’ll take the more reflective tack about being with and in this professional community.  This was my second ELI annual meeting.  I was first fortunate to attend 2 years ago as a total newcomer, fresh from my brand new appointment as director of instructional technology on my campus. My quite visionary vice chancellor knew what connecting me with this group would do to help me appreciate HER aims for my newly formed department (that’s another post for another time). And this year was very similar in that I experienced in this meeting of like-minded instructional technologists a colleagueship like no other I have ever encountered.  It was wonderful to renew old acquaintance and meet new folks. And a highlight for me was meeting f2f some folks I have been following ‘virtually’ on Twitter (like @brlamb and @sleslie, to name a couple) and elsewhere for a while.  MUCH fun!!  I am an unashamed fan-girl!

 But…all that said, this year, I experienced something else much unexpected. This was NOT in keeping with the spirit of sharing and collaboration typical and in fact the hallmark of this conference and this professional community.  What I experienced…up close and personal…was snark.  Yep…there it is (or was). Not pretty & most unsettling to me. The Urban Dictionary provides a variety of definitions of snark.  I am rather partial to #4 as it applies to the particular situation in question.  There is even a book on the subject by David Denby. Who knew…that there is enough snark around to make such writings possible?

 Well, snark in this particular professional community is in fact quite unexpected and biting.  There were a couple of borderline instances during the week where I had to back up and say…’Did that person intend for that to come across in that way’?  Did they realize how that comment would be received?” And a couple of instances I could excuse.  But…the particular instance in question here occurred in a conversation predicated on the assumption that all participants and thus all opinions were welcome; in fact were being solicited and would be considered equally.  I am not going to describe the incident in more detail or identify the perpetrator.  Just suffice it to say that the one-line-zinger-dismissive was delivered by someone who surely had more to contribute to the conversation than the snarky comment thrown into the circle.  The comment added absolutely nothing to the dialogue and as far as I could tell accomplished nothing except perhaps attempting to establish the deliverer as a superior intellect…or something. And no, I did not misinterpret him. Frankly, I am still not quite sure WHAT the motivation was….as this person was and still is a stranger to me and the comment wholly unwarranted.  I was left speechless in the remainder of the conversation, trying to mull over what exactly that person intended the effect of the comment to be.  But, you can bet I know who this person is now, and he will have work to do to gain my trust and respect. 

Yes I should have called him on it immediately.  I was just so taken aback by the incivility I could not think….So, why mention this at all?  About now you are thinking… ‘Oh come on now. I am sure he was just kidding. Why don’t you just grow up?’ In the overall scheme of things, this is really not such a big deal deserving of a blog post and so much rumination, now is it?  

Well, it is precisely because we increasingly accept such behavior as par for the course – acceptable – that I write.  We see this sort of stuff (and much more disturbing and vicious) online all the time in troubling comment streams where folks deliver up their meanness with impunity hidden behind avatar alter-egos. So, why not have such bleed over into our ‘real’ world and conversations? Even in just minor little ways? That just means we’re just hangin’ with the cool kids, right?  And sure, people joke with each other using feigned snark when they already HAVE relationships and know each other well enough to deliver snark in jest. I can assure you that in this particular instance, the commenter was NOT kidding with me.  And I told you already, we had never met before.

 Really, I am just consciousness-raising here folks and asking you to check yourself when you are participating in conversations both online and in person. If you want to be a part of a community you need to behave in a collegial fashion…even when you disagree with someone.  Instances of incivility abound and such behavior is certainly not new. 

 Okay, so aside from the rant, all of the above drills down to this:  after this experience, I am reminded of the work of P. M. Forni.  I read his book, Choosing Civility a while ago and here is Dr. Forni’s Civility website at John’s Hopkins.  There is a recent podcast with Dr. Forni available from his site here.  I would also invite consideration of David Bohm’s  On Dialogue – a work I have not visited in quite some time.  I pulled my weathered copy off the shelf today and am determined to re-read it.  Scott London’s post on ‘The Power of Dialogue’ is also useful to help frame and inform about collegial exchanges. I’d like to think that this is the type of discourse we are after.

 Whew, I am tired now after all that venting and I have books literally strewn all over my desk. And, at this point I am probably getting off onto another post and in fact am re-visiting Bohm’s ideas of ‘collective participation’ (On Dialogue, p. 26) as I join in the NMC New Media Faculty Development Seminar. So…there will probably be another post – sooner this time.  Enough for now.