in which one circles back around to rogue student-generated WordPress content, but this time, there are a lot of boats. A tale of taxonomies, tensions, and learning from the wrong mistakes

Document

Maritime Archeology Database user guide

Blog post

This is the sole project I undertook in my two years in a faculty-based role. It was an interesting point in my professional narrative - the new job was a poor fit for my skill set and experience, and under duress I reverted to old tricks, kludging together whatever tools were at hand to build an open, collaborative student-generated learning environment.

The brief this time was for students to be able to create a collaborative database of authentic professional fieldwork, capturing data on shipwreck sites across the country. Since the goal was for this to be publicly accessible and to allow students to collaborate across cohorts, and these are things an institutional LMS is terrible at, I once again turned my hand to WordPress. This time, though, I got funding for external hosting so I could customise without enterprise IT processes getting in the way.

The main point of divergence with this project was the consideration of student user interface. While in the initial blog project, student were able to set up and run their own blogs, the feedback indicated that the learning curve was somewhat steep. So this time I designed an ecosystem of various plugins that allowed students to submit their database entries, with fairly complex and specific fields, by filling out a web form instead of learning to use the WordPress platform. This also meant it was relatively easy for students to submit entries from mobile devices while out in the field.

The site ran fairly successfully for a teaching period, with some teething issues but ultimately the pedagogical goal of a collaborative student generated authentic body of work was achieved. However, unsurprisingly given my unwillingness to learn from past mistakes, the project met the same fate as previous ones - funding for hosting was discontinued, the site was shut down and the project faded into institutional history.

One particular issue that this project brought to light was the perceptions of the work of learning designers. I had always experienced tensions and frustrations around this but in this instance the communication from the school around this project positioned the academic as the expert and my work as that of a web developer and technical support, with no acknowledgement of my pedagogical expertise or input. It wasn’t until slightly later that I would come across the term ‘third space’ or be able to identify this as a symptom of sectoral lack of understanding of third space roles instead of a personal affront.

The time in this role also reflected a dark spot in my career around scholarly work and academic engagement (hence the lack of references to literature for this entry). Partially this was functional - the faculty role was a professional contract, not an academic one, so I now had no imperative, or any support, to publish. But without the carrot of career relevance, my cynicism of academic scholarship deepened into antagonism and avoidance, and I published nothing nor felt the need to further my knowledge through engagement with literature. This continued until I successfully gained a position back in the central directorate, when I was able to move beyond the plateau and find my professional footing again.