At the end of each term of my online course work (this makes five times), I feel incredible technological burnout. The demands of being “tied to” technology—checking email (cue rant about Microsoft Outlook Exchange), making sure assignments are submitted correctly and on time, the constant obsession of following the discussion boards—weigh heavy. I can’t wait to get a break—to read my favorite blogs, catch up with shows on Hulu, and troll Facebook for the latest goings-on with my friends. The internet, my primary interaction with technology, is just as much a medium for relaxation or hard work as going to physical places.
In this class, I found my understanding of technology reaffirmed and nuanced. The group collaborative project was full of the same group dynamics and pitfalls that an “in-class” group project might entail. People work at different speeds and with different priorities. Leaders emerge; others fade away. The difference is that there are very rarely any meetings which create artificial deadlines before the assignment is submitted. Accountability is established in that you can check the revision history to see who has been working on the document and who has not. There’s no final receiving of the grade or presentation that gives an opportunity to say “Good job team! It was a pleasure working with you.” One must go out of the way to show appreciation.
While much of the content was familiar (I’m pretty sure it’s a SLIS requirement to talk about ARPANET at least once in every class), there were bits and pieces (bits and bytes?) that filled out my knowledge. I have known that I should know how to code a website, but until this class made me put one together I stuck to using the templates Blogger or Google Sites provided. I have been using Google docs for 5 years, but I’ve never embedded my document into a website for display or used it to make a finished document. I have known the basics of shopping for a computer, but mostly relied on a tech-savvy husband who will make sure I don’t sacrifice processing speed for hard drive space. However, most importantly I have learned that while you can basically get around the technology world with a working knowledge, it does not take much more effort to learn those underpinnings that will benefit your understanding.
All the components of the class reinforced my comfort with technology. In college, I was a very timid technology user. I did not want to inadvertently kill my computer because I did not know what I was doing. Since then I’ve discovered the wealth of information available to those who google their technology problems—mostly because I was tired of my husband being the know-it-all because he googled the question faster than I did. Through looking for answers and finding a couple of technology blogs that break down tech-speak into English, I’ve really gained a lot of confidence in exploring my computer and periphery. As I worked through the class, I saw things I had a basic working knowledge of explained in proper terms. While at times, this seemed repetitive and boring, resisting the urge to skim showed me the parts I really did know and filled in the gaps of things most blatantly did not know.
Since my experiences in this class have worked so well with what I already know, I feel more confident to explore new technology. I have not delved into Skype and other video communication much. I have a webcam built into my computer, but I don’t use it. However, my experience with building a website from scratch suggests that if I do a little bit of research and play around with this new (and completely different) technology, it should be easily mastered.
In the same way, there is great value in reexamining technology I already use. The in-depth look at Google Docs really showed me how much I underestimated the program. What other technology do I use every day without mining its potential? I have a blog that I randomly post to, but I do not use its features to the fullest. I could expend a little bit more effort to publish more polished posts. It seems like depending on how to allocate your resources, a little bit of effort can yield some very high-level results. (Now, in other cases, this might not happen; hand-coding my own webpage, while helpful in theory, will not be a good use of my time give the variety of blogging systems out there.)
I feel comfortable with the role technology plays in my life. I am mostly agreeable to the increasing role it may play in the future. However, as I spend so much time with these online classes, I am learning more and more how to control my exposure to technology so that I control it and not the other way around. When I’m 70, I want to be someone who embraces the newest technology instead of yearning for the good old days (unlike Grampa Kitteh). The more I understand technology and its role in my life, the more I believe I can achieve that goal.
Photo credit: zebedee.zebedee