Reflections on Gardner Campbell’s Ideas

DS106, Food for Thought, LwICT, Read/Write Web, Reflection 1 Comment »

The purpose of this post is two-fold. Although I am reflecting on both an article and a video by Gardner Campbell as part of my DS106 online course, I also want to introduce regular readers to the concept of a “Personal Cyberinfrastructure” that is definitely going to empower University students and, in time, perhaps even our own high school students.

In this first formal writing assignment of the DS106 course, students are asked to reflect on Gardner Campbell’s “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” article and his YouTube video entitled “No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences”.

I will reflect on Gardner Campbell’s ideas by reacting to the following three questions:

1.     Why do people not want a bag of gold?
For all readers to gain a better understanding of Gardner Campbell’s “bag of gold” question, you must, at least, view the first 3:30 minutes of his above YouTube video. Furthermore, all readers will be particularly impressed with the talents of Tim Owens, who took this portion of Gardner’s audio track and, using the kinetic typography animation technique, created a very powerful Vimeo video called “Bag of Gold”.

Based on my past experience as an Education Technology Consultant in the K-12 environment, I believe that educators may reject a “bag of gold”, particularly a bag of new, “technology-related gold” for the following reasons:

  • Educators today are overwhelmed with all the additional tasks they are requested to do over and above their normal teaching duties. Hence any additional tasks, which may be perceived as requiring more effort and time commitment, are simply refused or ignored.
  • There is not enough time to teach the prescribed curriculum, let alone learn how to integrate technology.
  • The benefits are not perceived to be worth the time investment.
  • With new technology, many teachers are no longer the “experts”. This imbalance can cause some educators to feel threatened when teaching students who are now more experienced in their own technology-rich environment.
  • Some senior teachers may have lost their motivation to learn new things outside their own particular subject area(s) and may be quite content to maintain the status quo.
  • Too often new “bags of technology gold” may exhibit “hiccups” (e.g. loss on Internet connection) where one has to, not only plan a technology-related activity but also, prepare a non-technology alternative to reinforce curricular concepts.
  • One “bag of gold” is not enough; some teachers require a “bag of gold (e.g. computer) for each student, before they are willing to consider integrating technology into classroom practice.
  • It is easier to reject and pass the “bag of gold” on to a colleague, who can become the school “expert” rather than becoming a “risk-taker” and learn to use technology with one’s students.

2.     What is a digital facelift?
I interpret a digital facelift as adopting a new approach that has the potential to be innovative while one fails to take advantage of these new opportunities because such individuals are so entrenched in their old ways.

For example, many readers have witnessed the short “broken iPad” video that clearly demonstrates how a young child can become somewhat confused when the new skills, which they have acquired, no longer apply to the “old technology”. However, I am very concerned with a limited number of teachers who continue to apply old skills to new technology.

To help the reader better understand this situation, I will illustrate a rather rare scene that I have witnessed. Several years ago, some schools in my division were purchasing interactive whiteboards. These interactive devices displayed, through a projector, the software application that was on the teacher’s computer. The potential for engagement was the interactivity that occurred when a student used the whiteboard “pen” or his/her finger to activate or drag elements on the screen.

Unfortunately, I did witness one situation where the potential student engagement was forfeited because the teacher only seemed to recognize the similarity in the word “board” between “chalk board” and “white board”. This individual simply used the whiteboard as a projection screen and if a classroom whiteboard activity was merited, no students were allowed near the board as this new technology was reserved exclusively for the teacher who continued to teach “from the front of the class”. I can only hope that with time and experience, this teacher relinquished control and allowed the class to become engaged in their own learning through “hands-on” interaction with this powerful technology.

Gardner Campbell shared three important recursive steps that educators and students can take to avoid having a digital facelift. These practices are steps that we as teachers normally carry out but they can be amplified using technology or our by infusion through our provincial Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) continuum. These steps include:

  • Narrating – Having both teachers and students “think out loud” as they tell the story of a particular subject area. For some this process might be similar to blogging.
  • Curating – How do you arrange your “progress portfolio” so that you can find resources and references quickly? True, students may choose to keep all their assignments in a traditional notebook. However, more and more students and teachers will begin using software applications to scan text and store data online for organizing and later retrieval.
  • Sharing – For me this practice is the most important. Constructive feedback from peers, together with a wider global audience, can motivate students in ways not possible in the traditional one dimensional student-teacher interaction. When students and teachers share their portfolios and resources online, everyone benefits through “leveraged learning”. Gardner quotes a colleague who states that “meaning happens when two people connect”.


In fact, teachers are slowly beginning to take advantage of the connections and learning that is afforded through the online communications of a Personal Learning Network.

 3.     What are the potential benefits/drawbacks of Personal Cyberinfrastructures?
I believe in Gardner Campbell’s proposal that first year university students should purchase their own domain name and start creating their life’s portfolio online. This is not just an idea but it is one that is put into practice by students at Mary Washington University who are enrolled in the first year Digital Storytelling DS106 course. True, for some it can be a challenge to think of an available domain name that is both professional and reflective of their passions. For example, I would have preferred if my domain was “” but because this domain was already owned, I had to insert hyphens in my version of this name.

The benefit of creating and reflecting through blogs in one’s own domain is that it creates a digital footprint which can be a powerful learning tool. One only has to look back at the various bench marks entries to witness the learning and connections that have been made as a student progresses through university.

Writing and reflecting are a powerful way of synthesizing lessons and lecture information. Furthermore, online research together with RSS feed information can be blended into one’s online notes to add quality and perspective. University students who do this faithfully and share such resources through a PLN or study groups can create a formidable resource for completing assignments and studying for exams.

However, I do have concerns for individual students who are less mature in their outlook or perhaps do not value their privacy as much as I think they should. Imagine the less mature students who, in their rush to pick a domain, choose one similar to the “Top 10 Worst Domain Names”. Furthermore, some less mature students might choose a domain name that seems “cute”, when viewed through the eyes of a first year student at a frat party but may lack the same appeal when viewed, several years later, by the HR department of potential employers.

In addition, I do think that there are students today who share “too much information” through social networking such as Facebook. Some do not hesitate to tell their “friends” (and potential thieves) that they “will be away from my home for all of July while I travel through Europe”.

There is no doubt in my mind that students need to be cautioned about selecting appropriate domain names and writing blog comments in a professional manner without surrendering their privacy. Gardner’s recommendation is that students might learn about aspects of blogging, wikis, web 2.0 applications, and privacy from faculty and advisers during the first year in university. An important celebratory event would be the purchase of an appropriate domain name and the application of such wise council as students begin creating online blogs and portfolios.

To those readers who think that Gardner Campbell’s recommendations are strictly theoretical, I suggest that they investigate the DS106 environment and view blogs of those who are enrolled for university credit. One will be amazed at the learning and support afforded these students as they become engaged and reflect on their learning journey.

For readers who might think that this post is focusing strictly on university students, I encourage you to examine Gardner Campbell’s ideas and think how these ideas might apply to senior years’ students in our K-12 environment. Perhaps there are high school students that you know who want to use web 2.0 tools and blogging to document their learning journey. Imagine the positive impact that you can have now and in their future if you provide help in selecting personal domain names and concerns regarding personal online privacy.

In conclusion, I think that we, as educators, need to make our own learning more transparent to our students. Furthermore, we should welcome the opportunity to learn from, and with, our students. I believe that Gardner Campbell articulated our next important steps when he stated at the end of his “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” paper that:

“… we must start with individual learners. Those of us who work with students must guide them to build their own personal infrastructures, to embark on their own web odysseys. And yes, we must be ready to receive their guidance as well.”


[The Teachable Moment: I wanted to reward my regular readers who made it this far in my lengthy post. Jim Groom (aka Reverend), who is one of the amazing DS106 facilitators, recently shared this time-sharing tip. As an educator, who has access to YouTube videos, have you ever wanted to be able to quickly show your students the educational “nugget” without having to watch the entire video? If so, Jim recommended the Deep Links “YouTube Help” document. Essentially, one can append a time position “qualifier” to the end of any YouTube video URL or address. For example, if you wanted your students to focus on the message starting at the eight minute and 23 second position, one would simply add to the end of the YouTube video URL: #t=8m23s  To demonstrate this facility, I will list below two focal points in Gardner Campbell’s YouTube video. I trust you will find this time-saving strategy to be of benefit.

Gardner Campbell’s “No Digital Facelifts: …” YouTube “deep links” video entry points:

  • Bag of Gold:
    Start position at: 2 minutes and 3 seconds
  • Three steps to help avoid the “digital facelift”:
    Start position at: 14 minutes and ten seconds

To verify that these “deep links” work as indicated, readers must copy the address between the square brackets and paste this string (without brackets) into one’s browser address field. This process will start the YouTube video at the selected entry point rather than at the original starting position.]

Take care & keep smiling :-)

–   Flickr – Creative Commons image “Get Connected!
by Paco Paco –

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