Saturday, November 01, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings – Thomas and the privileges of the on-line world

I am feeling reflective this morning. Its partly triggered by the nature of the topic, Saturday Morning Musings, more by events during the week combined with the end of another month.

Somebody once asked me are your on-line friends real friends? By that they meant, I think, that I was spending too much time enmeshed in on-line interaction. Was this real interaction? It was meant as a criticism, I should be doing real things, but I also found it very difficult to explain. How do you explain village life to them when they don’t know the village even exists?

During the week Thomas Elley was awarded the Student Edge Teacher of the Year 2014. Further comments follow the video.

Thomas’s first post on Deus Lo Vult was on 2 May 2006. His last post was on 26 December 2012. By then his blogging had become irregular because of other pressures. He started another blog intended to be more reflective, but by now his teaching was absorbing him.

Thomas became an integral member of our little blogging village. During his blogging time and later via Facebook, we followed Thomas. Neil Whitfield's Thomas – 2014 teacher of the year records our pleasure at the award. In a response, Thomas wrote:

Thanks, kvd, for the comment. There were smiles all-round, as you could see!

And Neil, thanks for the comments here, on Facebook, and the trip down memory lane! I know it’s been a long time since I was a regular blogger, but my downfall in blogging coincided directly with my immersion into teaching. I distinctly remember my first practicum being at the same time as Obama’s election, and the dissatisfaction that came with not being able to come to the natural resolution after following the campaign for a year!

In churning up these throwbacks, it’s somewhat amusing to me how pivotal and important blogging was to me ‘back in the day’. Indeed, my (all of us?) world and life is quite different from those days. I’ve watched on as you and Jim (being the two main bloggers I interacted with) have continued on, albeit traveling newer, somewhat different paths to when we all used to be in regular communication.

It does seem as though we have met! Mind you, I was very envious of the recent photo Jim had on his blog of you getting tea with him and his ‘group’ – it had always been a want to at least (in passing) meet you both at some point!

And, in a reference to another remark above: I tend not to think of our earlier interactions, nor our firsts. One of us was young, stupid, and attempting to be funny (or perhaps relevant?)!

Instead, I like to remember that time (and frequently!) where we were all part of an e-community, doing our own, separate things, but strung together out of random interests and musings. I have always flirted with trying to come back in some way – firstly when I was doing honours and trying to merge blogging with my research, then later keeping one of the cliche (and, in my opinion, over-hyped) teacher-blogs-cum-reflections. I have tried my hand at reflecting on my reading – though, as anyone who follows on my blog knows, the time I even get for reading is quite limited!

Alas, I fear that my glory days of blogging have fallen away, not to be resurrected lest I get to your stage in life – retired!

Just one bit on the comment you have left here: I am so fortunate to be in a profession like this, and I am sure I feel the same level of pride, responsibility, and joy that you had over your career. It’s been said a few times in the last few days that my school is lucky to have me. I disagree: I am lucky to be at that school. It is a place where – hopefully – we see the future of Australian society, with acceptance, tolerance, and an eye for commonality (instead of differences) is what unites the vast majority of the students. Academics aside, I get to see a microcosm of the Australian society that, hopefully, will be reflective of the macro when this generation comes to lord over us!

Again, thanks for your comments Neil. They (still) mean a lot.

At the risk of being a bit ponderous, Thomas’s words are worth reflecting on.

Katy Barnett, Legal Eagle, was another early member of the village. She began with The Legal Soapbox. On 8 May 2008, she stopped posting there to join the inimitable scepticlawyer, Helen Dale, to create a new blog,  Skepticlawyer, now with an s in the title.

As with Thomas, life pressures took Katy in new directions that lead to cessation of her blogging. However, through blogs and then later Facebook, we followed Katy through her personal and professional journey from work in a legal firm with its pressures and uncertainties to the jump to academe and the problems of contract work and then permanency. We experienced the joy of the kids and family life and the health issues. Today, Katy is an Associate Professor with publications to her credit.

Helen Dale’s journey began in dramatic fashion. Then first through Cattalaxy Files and later skepticslawyers she established herself in the blogosphere. Now she is a senior adviser to  David Leyonhjelm, a Liberal Democrat member of the Australian Senate. I am not in a position to comment on the role of blogging in the changes in Helen’s life, although my personal view is that it has been very important. I can say, however, that in following Helen’s life through blogs and and later Facebook I have gained both personal and professional understanding of her changing role and life.

Going back to an earlier point in this post, I don’t understand why people should deny the validity of the on-line experience. After all, the exchange of letters among people is central to our understanding of cultural and social history. Many of those people had never met or met just on irregular occasions.

The on-line world is no different, just perhaps more immediate and (maybe) intense. I actually feel privileged to belong to my own village and the broader community beyond. Yes, I am a fairly intellectual person, but it’s the personal as well as the professional that is important.

Anyway, I am out of time this morning. I remain just glad, so glad, of the privilege that I have been given in getting to know people like Thomas.  


I see that AC has written a companion post to this one, Musings on belonging, written from her personal perspective.


My Observations said...

You are making an important point, Jim. Value of any communicating directly in person or via media like internet, letters or phone depends on quality of the communication. All forms can be very valuable and exchange real. Media will not decide how real and valuable it may be. Many would like to live in an internet based village like yours. Your village offers a sense of belonging so important to people.

Legal Eagle said...

What a beautiful post. Even though I don't blog any more (apart from as an editor of my work blog) I still visit blogs such as yours. I love my online friends as much as my offline friends, and it doesn't matter at all that we haven't met in person - in some ways, I think you can get a view of a person's soul through reading their blogs. You probably know more about my life than some of my offline friends, to be honest! I am very fond of you and all the other people in this online village.

Well done Thomas, it's lovely to get vindication of one's teaching prowess. Like Thomas, one of the reasons I stopped blogging is because I immersed myself in publications and teaching. Writing the textbook was the straw that broke the camel's back! I still occasionally think it would be nice to write a post or two, but only about once every six months - I only have so much writing energy which I have been channelling into my professional writing more and more. But I have been getting back into art and creative writing recently which has been a real pleasure.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi AC and LE.I'm glad that you both liked the post.

LE and I first began blogging when it was still a relatively new form. That made it easier to build the village because we spent a fair bit of time following each other's writing. Then came new internet forms as well as other pressures leading to a decline in the relative importance of blogging as a form of expression and communication. The village became somewhat smaller, a sort of internet drift to the city!

I enjoy following people and recording some of our shared history and subsequent progress.

Thomas said...

As is above, it was wonderful to read this post, Jim. I'm always astounded by the numbers that get thrown around when you or Neil have an introspective/retrospective looks - mainly the dates! Has it really been that long? It still seems like yesterday that all this has been happening.

I know that, for me, online IS the real. More real than the real, if that even is possible. The few friends I kept in contact with from school has really only been facilitated with through online communication. Some of my best friends now are online. I met my wife online and we only knew each other for a good while through emails. Anyone who ever discounts the online as not being 'real'... well, I fear they have missed the point of the online completely.

Trips down memory lane like this are healthy for the soul, I feel, and I have been enjoying them over the past week immensely!

Jim Belshaw said...

I am glad Thomas. Its nice when something happens and you find out just how much others are pleased and wish to bask in your glory!

My experience of the on-line world is just like yours. Personally, I have gained so much.