As a sociologist with a specialization in the sociology of technology, I probably should have had a much greater handle on the myriad tools and techniques that power my object of study before I entered into the Digital Fellows program. This is not to say that I was without a certain amount of knowledge, but it was basic and less about the technology itself and more about teaching people rudimentary skills for accomplishing a task, not interacting with the technology itself at any meaningful level. As the year progresses, what I’m hoping for and feel like I’m in some ways starting to do is develop a greater understanding of the back end of the tools that make what I study and how and what I teach possible.
To be fair, I often refer to myself as a sociologist of sport, a self-description that elicits a lot of laughs and “I didn’t know that was a thing.” But what I study specifically is the activities that sports fans engage in on the Internet: blogging, playing fantasy sports, writing blog comments, uploading youtube videos, etc. What I’ve been working on for all these activities is developing a kind of catalogue of all the labor (both paid and unpaid) that goes into making this plethora of fan products and interactions. And for understanding that labor, this fellowship has been immensely helpful. Our early workshops on WordPress child-theming which forced us to learn some rudimentary CSS and PHP really brought home to me the hours of work that is behind even the simplest website. It was tough stuff to learn for someone with no previous experience in website design at all (outside of setting up some WordPress blogs for faculty at a previous job and using a Blogs@Baruch site for teaching), but, hey, at least I got paid. The same cannot be said for all my research subjects.
Aside from my research, my other primary duties as an academic are of the pedagogical variety. My experience with using technology, particularly blogs and specifically WordPress, for teaching and learning purposes was relatively significant, but, again, fairly rudimentary. I could explain to you what a category menu was, show you how to embed video, and maybe even pull an RSS feed from a New York Times section that was relevant to your class. Now from our workshops, building sites for our Digital Scholars Lab and this very site you’re reading this post on, and my work with faculty as the faculty liaison in the New Media Lab I’ve been able to start building a variety of skills that have already informed my ability to both use and explain the organization and display of information on WordPress which is essential to any kind of pedagogical endeavor.
When I first started teaching I realized that there was nothing that could make you understand a subject more than teaching it. And I’m hoping that if anything, what the Digital Fellows program can provide for me and others is that kind of knowledge.