Baktun, Begin Again

Here we are nearly at the end of the conventional solar year, just a little bit into the Christian liturgical year, and merely a day before the end of a Mayan Baktun or, more prosaically, before the return of the sun for another 365 days. Something in there for everyone to celebrate or fear, I’d say. Since I’ve tried to turn my mental barge around and do some (more) blogging, I thought it would be inappropriate if I were to close the year with nothing since November. By the same token, this is my last day at work before starting roughly two weeks of vacation. (Where the disputable terms are “two weeks”, as I’ll be at THATCamp MLA on January 2, and “vacation”, as part of the time will be spent with my nuclear family traveling to see my father for nearly a week. I love both more than I can express, but cultural differences sometimes rear their heads.) The vast expanses of free time I see ahead of me are certainly mirages, so this is likely to be also the last chance I have to write something before 2013 hits me like a wet mackerel.

It’s been a wonderful transition from the Center for Language Study to the Instructional Technology Group over the course of the past twelvemonth (almost exactly), with many items worth noting. Time being short, though, I’ll look at just a couple, and those superficially.

One of the greatest joys and greatest difficulties has been restraint. Being charged with instructional technology exploration, support, and collaboration for the entirety of Yale College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has meant that I never lack for interesting work. Indeed, there is far too much interesting work to go around. It’s a funny thing sitting down with great intellectuals and great teachers with whom I have great workplace status differential and being able to commiserate over the sheer tonnage of wonderful work being done and the opportunities with that work, as well as the sheer tonnage of things that need changing and the opportunities in that way. Recently I’ve been feeling that too many of my sorties have been fascinating explorations unlikely — if I’m brutally honest with myself — to lead anywhere, and that needs to change in 2013. Saying no has never been my strong suit, and neither has ignoring interesting threads, so this will be a challenge.

One strange part of the transition has been migrating from an independent bureaucratic entity where I did IT of a particular flavor to being part of the IT Borg itself. Being outside gave me, obviously, both a critical perspective on the work ITS did and, perhaps less obviously, a position in which I could without fear of reprisal loudly and frequently criticize the way it did it. Part of what the past year has been about on this front is figuring out how much these things have changed. Certainly my critical perspective has diminished. I don’t work with ITS as a “client”, I cannot rely on the conversations I have with people who are in that situation, and I cannot rely on my jaundiced eye. Fortunately, I managed while outside the beast to form good relationships with people who have at worst a healthy skepticism about ITS; continuing those relationships has been invaluable in keeping me from becoming a company man. Equally fortunately, there have been many changes to the Borg that have made it a little less Borg-like. There continues to linger the scent of patronage and stasis, but that’s to be expected when there isn’t complete turnover of a roughly 400-person organization. There continues to linger shades of obstructionism and throttling workload via antediluvian budgeting practices, which is more troubling. The longer people can’t get things done fast enough after a change of leadership, the more likely they are to turn away from doing things within the institution. As and if that happens, ITS turns into just the shadow roadies, trying to make sure the rock show takes place without anyone noticing us. Go ahead, push the metaphor a bit; I think it’s got some elasticity.

Despite the dark rumblings in that last paragraph, though, I continue to be thrilled to work at ITG and cautiously optimistic about the direction of ITS. If “[X] is people”, as a frequent snowclone in my 2012 tweetstream has had it, then I can have hope for the future of my group and for scholarly/educational/instructional/academic technology at Yale, since the people putting their back into moving that stuff forward are dependable, intelligent, and yearning to breathe free. I’ve got a great boss and great coworkers, so it’s with a smile on my face that I will greet the newly rising sun tomorrow. Farewell for a couple of weeks or so.