How can the digital be more than just jargon? 

For a school that is so focused on learning different languages and connecting with diverse cultures and people, I sometimes think Middlebury is excessively good at fostering an environment where we talk past each other. This is what I thought when I saw the prompts for the call for blog posts on “the digital at Middlebury.” I work in Academic Technology and study instructional design and pedagogical uses of technology and I honestly can’t answer the question “What does the digital mean to you?” because I have no idea what “the digital” is supposed to mean.

I’d venture to guess that I am not alone, and that many have read the email about the digital summit and dismissed it because it did not feel like it applied to them. That’s my worry. I know tech jargon is a deterrent for engagement because I’ve seen more than my share of glazed over stares when I’ve approached a conversation from the wrong angle. But I also know, through talking to many of you either face to face or over email, that what I think we should be talking about is problem-solving and finding solutions to obstacles that limit our work, the reach of our ideas, and the recognition of fact. When I use a digital tool it is usually to solve a problem, whether it is bridging a distance, visualizing a problem, or accessing and evaluating information.

So from my perspective, it’s really quite simple.

What does the digital mean to you?

A suite of options, methods and tools for problem solving.

Why should the digital be a part of the strategic conversation?

Because we (Middlebury and big “We” – all humans) have a lot of challenges and obstacles that demand unique and flexible solutions.

In what ways might the digital serve as a transformative force at Middlebury?

By using this toolset I’ve seen people transform from problem identifiers to solution creators. Working “outside of the box” and developing a troubleshooting mindset is an essential skill for everyone. We have a lot of huge problems to face on a micro-level in our own communities (hello- Vermont economy) to a global scale (who thinks clean water is important?). We aren’t going to be able to solve these problems without the ability to connect over distance, visualize our problems and proposed solutions, and access and evaluate information. These skills do not just appear – they must be acquired through practice.

Everyone needs a troubleshooting mindset. We need to develop the confidence and the tools to face a problem eye-to-eye and know it is not bigger than us, that it is surmountable, and that even if we don’t know where to start – we can figure it out together. If we use “the digital” to do that great, but focusing on the digital feels a bit like focusing on the paintbrush used in the Sistine Chapel.

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