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Romantic Computing
Professor Gardner Campbell presented his vision of “Romantic Computing” to a bi-coastal audience in Monterey and Middlebury on May 6.

“Romantic computing” is not about dating sites like Tinder, Gardner Campbell assured a bi-coastal Middlebury audience gathered to hear him speak about innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Rather, it’s about fulfilling the still untapped potential of computers as virtual platforms where communities of learners can explore ideas and co-create new knowledge together, making the educational process more relational and less transactional.

The bass-playing associate professor of English and special assistant to the provost at Virginia Commonwealth University traveled to Monterey to speak at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies on May 6, with both interactive video conferencing and livestreaming access for colleagues in Vermont.

A prime example of the type of learning approach Campbell has in mind when he speaks of “romantic computing” is the “motherblog,” a term he credits to Middlebury professor Barbara Ganley. Campbell offered the example of a motherblog he used for a course exploring the works of John Milton, which aggregated content from multiple individual student blogs. Students in the course were asked to post twice a week, reflecting on what they were learning, with their posts aggregated into a shared platform where students could read each other’s posts and react through comments and replies. Campbell’s goal was to foster an online learning community whose mutual objective he described as “trails of wonder, rigorously explored.”

Campbell noted that the global, real-time interactions made possible by platforms like Twitter offer every person with internet access the opportunity to be part of something approaching a “worldwide mind.” And yet all of this has occurred over the course of only 20 years, leaving tremendous unexplored potential for using technology platforms to support innovative new approaches to teaching and learning. Quoting a popular maxim, Campbell concludes that now more than ever, what education needs is “Less testing and more questing.”

Following his talk, Campbell engaged in a lively question and answer session with faculty and staff in both Monterey and Middlebury, before moving on to additional conversations at a lunch workshop hosted by the Institute’s Digital Learning Commons.

“Professor Campbell’s vision for the kinds of strategies we can use to extend and enhance the learning experience for our students is, to use one of his terms, a marvel,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson. “His enthusiasm was contagious and I’m confident faculty here will be looking for opportunities to use some of the ideas and approaches he described.”

Campbell’s talk was the second in a series presented as part of the Envisioning Middlebury initiative, an effort to engage all of Middlebury’s locations, campuses, and constituencies in a year-long conversation about the institution’s future. The ideas collected and discussed through this series of public talks, surveys, and facilitated conversations will form the foundation for the strategic planning process that will follow in 2017.

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Jason Warburg

Eva Gudbergsdottir