My Relationship with BOLT

Hello from the corner of Panera,

It is after 5:00 p.m., and I have been in the corner here in Hazleton’s Panera since around 8:30 this morning. I have been just plugging away at work all day. If you are wondering what BOLT is, it is the Bloomsburg University’s name for their Course Management System, which is part of the Desire to Learn platform, which is a Canadian-based software company that is global. The company has received numerous awards, and I have worked with it off and on for almost 20 years. It was used at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and in my second year here at Bloomsburg, they move from Blackboard to it, so I was back to it. I must admit, the widgets and functionality of it has been quite impressive on a number of levels. Certainly, it is a much more robust and capable tool then when I was first using it in the two-thousand-aughts. I am still grateful to a couple of former Stout employers for making me much more capable than I would have been . . . Lexi and Sasha, I am forever indebted to you both. At my current institution, Renee and Jon, during my time here, you are the duo who have made me a much better user of this tool. Thank you.

Undoubtedly, COVID had significant consequences for our online presence, and my use of BOLT during that time transformed how I used this particular CMS to this day. One of the things that I have done to make my shells more effective is a weekly road map that connects things by links (making it easier to navigate) and being more thoughtful about how it all fits together. One of the things that I have noticed, which is not a surprise is how students will interact with what is in the course. Students confess unabashedly they do not read, so putting in more course content to help them is not as effective or useful as it might be, but their engagement does have a marked effect on their grade. During my winter course, the person who accessed and used 100% of the course content had the highest grade in the course. Not surprisingly, those who accessed less than 70% had similar grades, and it was similar the lower one engaged with the course content, the lower the grade. I remember a student back in Wisconsin who came to me because they were failing a class. When I showed them they had not logged in for the last 4 weeks, I asked, if you did not go to work for 4 weeks, what would happen? He noted he would get fired. That was the first time I used the phrase, “It is not by accident that fire and fail begin with the same letter.” What has technology done for all of us? It has made us more transparent and more accountable to each other. When we first left into our isolated world of COVID, I actually liked it. It allowed me to focus, to be more intentional, to think more carefully. And yet, it also forced me to think about how what I wrote was useful, engaging, or helpful. It is often the case that what I believe and what my students believe are not the same. The reasons for that are varied, but I think much of it has to do with their waning desire to read or engage. I do not believe this is all their fault. Additionally, I do not believe it is the result of technology. I believe there is a lot more complexity to this . . . to the point, I am not sure I can articulate it. Suffice it to say reading is not at the top of their priority list, which is fundamentally different now from when I was that age. I had a public library only two blocks down the street, and it was one of my favorite places to walk. The number of certificates I had for reading the requisite number of books every summer was quite impressive, or at least I thought so. I loved to read because it helped me escape some of the difficulties that were my childhood. What I know now is it prepared me for much of what my future life would require. Communication is key to managing any part of our life. Technology has only made that more significant, and more immediate, which means thinking on the fly is more likely than it was when I was a child.

Technology and our dependence on it has changed how we understand ourselves and how we understand our place in the world. Globalism is here to stay, much at the chagrin of some, and with a backlash from others. It is often the case that young people are immersed in their technology, busily trying to define themselves online, influenced by the latest fad, and struggling to spend any time introspectively because their hand-held device beckons them 24/7. And yet, if they are victims of our technologically immersed world, as educators, even in the postsecondary world, we are no different. Perhaps victims is not quite accurate because we have bought it more readily than we would like to admit. From ACUE certifications to Zoom, from acquiescing to the requirements of administrators to the requests of our students to Zoom them versus meeting them face-2-face, we have jumped on a SOS bandwagon with the utmost speed. And, yet, as I noted earlier, there is a part of me that was beyond comfortable with our “pivot,” the term used at my university when we have had to run back to a week of online delivery in a previous semester. The significance, at least for me individually, is to understand why I found it so comfortable. Perhaps it is not that different from when I would disappear into my books as a child or middle-schooler. It was safe. It was me and my words (and now images, design, and thoughts). There is something to be said for focusing on each element of what goes into my courses. There are also drawbacks for the OCD side of me, but more on that to come. The puzzle, the image of the course that is created is like a type of art. There is so many rhetorical aspects to ponder. I wish there were something to speak back to me before it is released to my students. Much has been written, both online and among my colleagues about ChatGPT, and how it will revolutionize what we do. This sort of artificial intelligence that will permeate our world is yet another unleashing of technology. I have read the pros and cons, and, at least presently, I am not worried. It is because I am 67 and in the twilight of a professional career in the academy or is it because I have always been able to walk the line between my technological usage and that SOS that I referred to already?

While I cannot claim to be a science-fiction lover by any stretch of the imagination, I am reminded of a presentation by three of my mentors at a Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (OSCLG) Conference. Looking at the “linear narratives” and the “illegibility of familiar embodiment,” their work examined the consequence or involvement of technology on relationships. There were two specific elements of their presentation that amazed was their ability to deconstruct what we find typical. I have started to watch her, a movie about a 20-something who found himself fascinated by his AI assistant, who he has named Samantha. In fact, in spite of beginning twice, I have still not finished it. I remember thinking it was bizarre, but as we continue to create AI that is capable of changing, learning, evolving, are such things that far-fetched? Strange is certainly true; unconventional? Without a doubt is probably an understatement. And yet, as I see more and more people creating an identity by what they post, are we doing anything all that differently? As my students sometimes ask: Dr. Martin, where do you come up with these ideas? My response is: this is what happens when I wake up at 2:00 a.m. . . . what are the consequences of our obsessions with our machines (as Dr. Michael Wesch, the KSU anthropologist questions)? As I walk across campus today, there is little acknowledgement of the person coming toward me because their heads are buried in their phones. Between air pods, ear buds, or other listening devices, even if you greet someone, they might not hear you. As we seem to extend and broaden our solitude, in spite of our interconnectivity, what are the consequences on our relationships. As someone who has been continuously single for two decades, I find myself wishing for, while simultaneously avoiding, any kind of relationship that knocks me off my solitary perch. Even in spite of imagining the possibility, it seems I have little idea how to venture into such a situation. Indeed, I find myself being more comfortable in front of my screen doing my school work. More than I perhaps realize, I feel a connection through my writing for the class, for my responding through my fingers and the keys than being physically involved with other humans. That is a profound thing to say. While the daily interaction with BOLT, our CMS is expected, the amount of time spent is not mandated. Why and how did my use of this system become both habitual and comforting? Am I more connected to my work because of the technology or because because the technology has its own rhetorical possibilities? To use Dr. Wesch’s query, am I using the machine or is it using me? I cannot honestly answer that question as I write this blog on yet another piece of technology. As I compose yet another blog, I am connecting through what I hold in my hands. I wonder if the time will come when my devices, like Samantha, will find some other way to exist. Will retirement, a change of usage, a modification of daily routine leave me wondering who I am? Will some significant revision in my life create a sense of solitude that pushes me to imagine life differently? Certainly, I am not where Tom is in the clip from her posted here, but where will AI take us? Will we be willing to go or will we have a choice?

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

7 thoughts on “My Relationship with BOLT

  1. Dr. Martin,

    I was excited to see you reference a sci-film in this post. I too watched the movie Her, though I didn’t particularly like it, perhaps because it solidified some of my anxieties around the future of technology. These fears are becoming increasingly grounded in reality, I believe. As you mentioned, I notice while walking about campus the multitude of students who barely recognize the presence of others, as they are immersed in their handheld devices; absolutely enmeshed with their tech. It makes me sad at times, reckoning with the fact that even something as pedestrian as eye contact is stolen by the grip of the screen. But I also must be honest that there are times where my earbuds feel like some sort of holy place, like a refuge in which I have permission to no longer be perceived or involved with anything around me.

    I remember a couple of years ago, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in fact, I went on a cross country trip and lived in a hatchback for just over two months. I ventured through all five national parks in Utah, went on backwoods hikes through Yellowstone, equipped with bear spray and all, made oatmeal at the edge of the Badlands, and worked on illustrations along the shores of the Atlantic while on Martha’s Vineyard. I watched the dragonflies in Austin and camped in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent such little time with my phone, for once. I was focused on the world in front of me and found that people on comparable journeys to my own were more willing to talk and connect and even exchange a simple smile, than what I was ever used to. I wonder why we think our phones and online world will ever match the potency of the Grand Canyon, or seeing the Milky Way from Colorado Grand Junction. I wonder why we have replaced real experience with that provided by our little phones, manufactured with content to addict us and hold us hostage from accomplishing the things our souls truly crave.

    Like you say, perhaps we are all more comfortable in the safety of our solitude, hidden behind glowing screens. But I wonder how we allow this to persist, and how the impacts are so far reaching, that yes even education is on the web. I see online ads for Master’s programs all the time and they are fully remote degrees. It’s strange to me, but then I also see the power in having so many tools at our fingertips.

    I recently listened to Doug Rushkoff talk about the internet and how even just having our email open in a tab other than the one we are presently using is enough to distract the brain and decrease our ability to produce quality work/ thought. He says, “It may be decades until we know what living in a state of constant distraction will do to us.” And I agree. It’s a strange situation we have created as a species. Like you, I too feel a sense of security when I type out my ideas on the computer. Of course, I love sharing my ideas online and I’ve met some of my very best friends through online platforms. I was able to take a class over the Winter from the comfort of my laptop. Safe, isolated, at my own pace and will.

    I don’t know what will happen with these ever-evolving technologies. I presume AI will surpass us as mere humans and we will then reach the technology singularity, but that’s maybe a discussion for another time.

  2. This post was not exactly what I thought it was going to be from the title and intro paragraph. Perhaps because it still early in the semester or only the second blog post that we must reply to, but I was not expecting it to get so personal and self-reflecting. With the introduction of online learning due to the pandemic a few years ago, I definitely sense a change in worth ethic and care for education since the rise of online education. I cannot deny that the change has effected my work ethic coming into college. I feel as if my year and the year ahead of mine had it easy in their first two years of higher education. With most classes having exams online and many classes being completely online, it is easy to cruise your way through classes. It was only really until this current semester that I have started having classes do more exams and projects in person. It is almost ironic, as usually online classes are less work since covid has struck, this class causes the majority of my workload. While I am not a fan of the heavy workload from this class, I do still make sure to get it all done in a timely manner, though begrudgingly. It is hard to say though whether or not I can focus better doing the work remotely or in class. Most people would say that the sensible answer is in class due to the usual learning and work environment and that home would have too many distractions. For me however, I feel more comfortable working from the leisure of my desk either here in my apartment room or at home at my desk. A reason for this is because in class there is a set time limit for work to be done; usually not much time once you are actually able to do work after the lecture part of the class is complete.

    You speak about revising your writing and how since COVID, it has caused you to revise your writing more and really dive deep into its format and usefulness. I would say the pandemic shift has don’t the opposite for me. Perhaps it was just going into college as a science major and not having writing as a requirement, besides this class of course; or maybe it was just because of getting slightly lazy due to the easy nature of online learning. Either way, my revising could use some work as I am sure you already know.

    Technology and its current advancements are both a good and bad thing. While its advancements have made it easier to communicate between cultures and groups and anybody really, it has made it harder to communicate face to face in some environments. Like with how you said, walking around on campus the majority of people are on their phones or have their earbuds in. It makes it difficult if you would want to conversate with these people outside as, like you said, they might not hear you anyway.

    While I do not think AI will ever get to the point that it is in the movie you brought up in your post, it is crazy to see the advancements of it. AI will never get a leg up on humans in society, and the so called singularity will realistically never come to pass. While the future is undetermined, I firmly believe this. In any case, if AI were to start surpassing humanity, it would be shut down and not allowed to surpass humans further.

  3. Dr. Martin,

    It was interesting to learn that our Course Management System has been used for over 20 years and that you had used this tool before coming to Bloomsburg University. I assume this is why you were able to design our course in a manner that is easy to navigate. One thing I admire about the design of this course is the weekly roadmap. I appreciate the time you take to create this roadmap for each week, and it is a tremendous help in keeping things organized. One question I do have is why is it called BOLT? I have a friend that attends the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and they also use this same Course Management System, but it is called something completely different. Does every college that uses this tool change its name? Does the Desire to Learn platform require colleges to create their own name for this course management tool?

    When I first came to Bloomsburg University, I had never used a Course Management System like BOLT. After spending my first week or two using the CMS, it became comfortable quickly. Although the tool is straightforward, and everything is laid out for easy access, it is easy to miss some material occasionally. With five classes minimum, and sixteen weeks of information laid out for every course, missing an important post or assignment is inevitable. My only wish for this tool is the addition of a calendar that includes assignment due dates for every class. While there is a calendar for each course, it can be tedious to review them individually.

    While reading is not at the top of my priority list, I regularly tell myself that I should read more. When I was younger, I enjoyed reading and would spend most of my nights doing so. After elementary school, this voluntary reading seemed to stop abruptly, primarily because all my free time was spent on my iPod or laptop. Most people, including myself, would agree that technology is one of the most significant contributing factors to the lack of reading in today’s world. People are constantly being consumed by their phones, which is no accident. Corporations go out of their way to conduct studies on how to keep us addicted to our phones. By doing this, they can control us.

  4. Good afternoon from Mansfield, Dr. Martin!

    Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic flipped this world on its side. This resulted in more universities to count, needing to rely on an web interface such as BOLT or more generally D2L, tenfold. Personally, this technological tool has helped me a great deal just as it has for you for 20 plus years. As a student at Mansfield University, I have been in contact with double the opportunities for class offerings and alternatives. It is because of BOLT that I am able to take Technical Writing with you this spring and complete my B.A. in English. Without this interface, I could not attain this.

    Accessing your class information and content is so clear cut and I cannot express how much I (or my OCD) appreciates this. You link websites, provide more than enough supporting information and create space for students to connect with you as though this was an in-person class. With the first week being my first week of this entirely online course, it took me time to adjust to amount of time needed to be spent logged in on BOLT. My grade was effected by this. Now, I am hyper aware of the time I put into the content and reading and as a result I received two great grades this week in the class, all falling under the “A” category. So, I hear you when you wrote, those who access 100% of the course content, 100% of the time perform better in the class.

    I appreciate your reflection on the consuming laptop and how we can often times find ourselves hiding behind screen. We truly are becoming comfortable creating a virtual image ourselves on social medias such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and more. This is prioritized before creating our humanly, day to day creation of our character. I feel as a society, we are falling into the trap of creating a Bit Emoji before displaying and developing our humanly character, which is similar to what you depicted, here, in this post.

  5. Dr. Martin,

    This a very thoughtful post about technological changes. I imagine it can be jarring to witness changes so drastic these last few decades. I was born in 2000 and my parents were older. Sometimes I am shocked at the technological innovations of just the last twenty years. I had little connection to technology and it has left me in a sort of in-between space. There is a clear problem with being 22 and not understanding computer terms or basics. Despite this, I too have felt more comfortable in my internet bubble. I also did not mind locking down when the pandemic began.

    Of course, Covid-19 changed everything. The world is altered in ways we won’t be aware of for a number of years. The transition to strictly online learning was a shock to the system, has it made us more dependent on screens? It is true that in public spaces, people are often looking at their phones. I cannot speak for any longer than the last two decades, but was it very different before? Sometimes I think humans would find any way to ignore strangers in a public setting, even before the internet. I know as a child, I refused to look at anyone in fear that they would speak to me. Perhaps, if it’s as easy as saying people are addicted to their phones, I would have thrived as a child in this decade rather than the early 2000s.

    I understand why you’re worried about retirement. This is the only class I have ever taken with you, but it is quite clear you are completely dedicated to educating us. You work hard, moving away from that will be a total shift in your lifestyle. Although, if that’s what you want, you should go for it. Change is scary, whether it be the invention of the internet, a global pandemic, or retiring. We are all moving forward. We cannot go back, we must roll with whatever strange and scary things the geniuses think up next. We must find our place in this rapidly changing world and try and be happy while doing it.

  6. Dr. Martin,

    I’ve found that thanks to technology I have to have two things going on at once. If I’m not overstimulated, I am not stimulated enough. I feel like that is part of the problem when it comes to having course content online. We’re in an age of short, fast-paced content like Tik-Tok and it’s given to us quick and frequently. Our attention spans have decreased significantly, so it’s harder to sit down and just read what we are assigned.

    Yet, while that is a big problem, technology itself isn’t. Thanks to this migration from pen and paper to online spaces, more people have access to education and information. Advancements in AI, like ChatGPT, can lead to large strides in medicine and industry. The medicine aspects are something I am incredibly excited about. This unprecedented access to the world has granted us power and knowledge for the better. I gush about current advancements in tech often, though I’m often met with the snide comment: “what about sky net?”

    Though the internet has spoiled us with near constant dopamine to the point of addiction, there are ways to mitigate the damage and the ultimate good that comes from technological advancements greatly outweighs the harm, in my opinion. I admit, I am not as involved in classes where some or all of the content is online, but thanks to this access to my classes, I feel uniquely empowered to learn what I want when it is best for me to learn it. I can take courses I might not have taken otherwise due to lack of access or time. Many universities offer free courses in obscure, yet useful knowledge and if the internet were not around to provide this access, I would be far, far more behind in learning the things I love.

    Technology, I’m sure the world will learn soon enough, can’t replace us in most things, like teaching. I find that I’m also not worried for a future where we’ve advanced even farther then we have now, and I’m actually quite excited to learn with it as I grow.

  7. Dr. Martin,

    While I was beginning my search for which blog post to reply to, this one with your title immediately struck a chord with me because it is not very often I get to read the professor’s perspective on technology. Being in the unique position of having to keep up to some standard with what your students are seeing along with how to manage all of the newest technology is no small feat. Based on your anecdote about the film “Her”, I fully plan on watching it. I did not watch the clip as I do not believe that trailers or movie clips should be watched prematurely before the movie. It takes away some of the magic in my opinion. I unfortunately am going to have to disagree however in general. I adore science fiction. Not as much in movies as I do in novels, but some of the most beloved series that I read are based around the science fiction world-building genre.

    The second chord that was struck while reading this was bringing up your feelings about Covid and how you were okay with it. I was in a very different mindset when Covid hit. I was in 11th grade in primary school at the time, and I remember getting the announcement that everyone else did. We’d get an extended spring break. I am someone who has always seen school as a place of refuge from my crazy life, but what was one more week? I’ll tell you: months of depression is what one week turned into for me. I was the President of my NHS chapter in my school and I was on the board for a lot of my school’s charity organizations, so spring was a very busy time for me. I loved the work and planning events and getting people together. Then suddenly, it was all shut down. Prom, my NHS special education field day with over 25 other schools being bussed in, the powderpuff football game, it was all gone. I did not handle the transition well. This was the summer I was finally put on both anxiety and depression medication. I noticed how you said that Covid helped you think more critically. Covid had put an end to my high school life as I knew it. However, I will say that the one singular reprieve I found during Covid times was that I was able to read more.

    Moving up the timeline to the more recent present day, I look in hindsight and realize that Covid had actually helped me but as the saying goes “hindsight is 20/20”. Because of how holed up I was in my own lack of fulfillment due to actually having free time now, I never really looked at the unique opportunities COvid had presented me until I got to college. During Covid, I had filled out my application for Bloomsburg and various scholarships, grants, and other financial aid documentation that I would have never had time to complete so thoroughly without. Secondly, I grew in both my understanding and reflection of self. This was the summer where even though it was because I was too depressed to look at it, my self-worth had finally been severed from my phone and all of my apps, and I began looking for actual fulfillment and not simply temporary fixes. My addiction to technology, although now ironic due to the need I have for it in college, was finally fixed. It is a very freeing feeling to be able to love reading again and not feel the compulsion to pick up my phone and look for messages that aren’t there. Which led me to my complicated relationship with technology during college. I agree in saying that BOLT is a well-coded website and it makes my schedule management of all my classes much simpler, but I wish, even though I went through emotional turmoil, that I could have that time back when technology once again became an afterthought to me.

    As for the future, I obviously cannot relate to the aspect of retirement, but I think humanity, in general, can relate to the aspect that you imply of the worries and the unknown possibilities. It can be extrapolated from data about technological surges that we are only going to become more and more advanced in how we end up viewing the world. From a student’s perspective, specifically me who plans on attaining my masters after receiving my BSN, I do not know what my clinical experiences are going to consist of. Geisinger has already introduced TeleHealth where patients do not even need to come into the hospital. There have been countless attempted inventions of an at-home AI helper for older adults. Machines in our never-ending search to keep making them smarter may be able to eventually even do simple procedures faster and more efficiently than we can. I share in many people’s sentiments that we cannot predict the future so it is quite an ominous pill to swallow, but also the buzz of excitement that fills the air when speaking of the ever-illusive future.

    A final personal note is that I think you are utilizing BOLT to its fullest potential because of your strive to be as thorough as possible and give us every chance and more to have all of the sources we need as if we were having an in-person class every day. I think it is important to have the mindset of the achiever in technology because unfortunately, technology makes the average professor more complacent rather than wanting to reach out more into the unknown and expand their student’s knowledge in their class.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: