Note to readers

This is a blog that I'm required to keep that's full of unedited, near stream-of-consciousness reactions to similarly required and related readings in a graduate course in N.C. State University's Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program. The way these posts are written help me interrogate and understand what's going on in our readings. I'm identifying what's troublesome so that I can give it more thought, but the posts aren't written in a style that's productive for audiences outside of our class to read. That's by design. I start with contestation, then spend heavens only knows how long researching, recutting, and reevaluating so that I can try and see what potentially productive readings I can extract from these source for use in my own work's contributions back to the field. Comments encouraged, but please, you'll likely need a thick skin if your work is quoted here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And then there was Web 3.0

From EU will lead in 'Web 3.0' technology - Digital Lifestyle - Macworld UK:

European Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Reding won glowing praise for her vision of the Internet 3.0 Monday from Vint Cerf, one of the creators of the Web and now Google's vice president and chief Internet evangelist.
...
'Web 3.0 means seamless 'anytime, anywhere' business, entertainment and social networking over fast reliable and secure networks. It means the end of the divide between mobile and fixed lines. It signals a tenfold quantum leap in the scale of the digital universe by 2015,' she said in a statement."


Quick, time to search and replace all your paper's references to Web 2.0 and update to version 3. And a "tenfold quantum leap"?!! Sheesh, somebody go get Bakula out of retirement. That's 10 to the 10th power, isn't it?

Seriously, Larry, this is what happens when you... Okay, I'll leave out the Lebowski reference this time.

But this is what happens when academics are uncritical in their acceptance of business slang. Suddenly, your work is obsoleted because some bigwig in business decided it was time. Tell me what's the difference between this conception of Web 3.0 and what you thought Web 2.0 could have become. No, really. Now, how much ink will be spilt by everyone trying to make 3.0 their own for no good reason other than a clever marketing push.

Stay away from industry when commenting on industry, folks!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The politics of directing traffic to online journals

In another class that I'm currently taking, the instructor is somewhat loath to have us access the articles that are available online in another format. Printing would not be any trouble once the article had been downloaded, but the emphasis is on ensuring that "the library has accurate data on journal usage in areas important to our programs".

My personal bias was to have [me move copies of] the articles on eReserve so that others wouldn't have to worry about issues with proxy firewalls that I'm experiencing, but the quick answer from the instructor was to forget it. No big deal, but it did get me to thinking...

This motivation/line of logic pretty clearly discourages reading journals in the hardcopy, if that's available. Each old-school visit to the periodicals areas unfairly (?) docks the journals a hit and download from the reading count, a list that's pretty important when DH Hill decides which online journal subscriptions to keep current -- proof here, as part of a serials review for 2006 at NCSU. If an journal accessible online isn't accessed, it's relatively likely to get chopped.

For me, there's something strange-bordering-on-sinister about a system that requires researchers' use of certain, carefully controlled gateways to maintain a journal's worth. One of my favorite uses for free time is to head over to the periodicals section and grab the latest issue or two of journals I think are pretty important, and to force myself to read them. I've long thought that for many of these journals with a very limited on-campus audience, it'd be more useful to have the faculty interested to pay for and keep their own local copy, yet I find myself bristling at the requirement of keeping very careful track of trends of academic research to determine what survives the cut, and to have my printed journal digestion count for naught.

The worst of this experience is seeing a relatively innocuous but real-world example how these systems of online publication are coercing NCSU faculty to manipulate student usage in order to give their favorite sources more hits. When most of the canceled journals had zero hits, I think padding a few with even a dozen can greatly skew the picture towards those journals used in classes, which does very actively encourage this sort of localized academic nepotism. The potential for this sort of nepotism only strengthens my aversion to online journal subscriptions. Sure, they're cheaper, but when you turn the facet off, guess what? Nobody gets to view the journals or, at best, you're forced to pay through the nose for ILL. It's as if the library staff had taken to the stacks and burned each copy of the journals we had paid for -- unless, of course, you're lucky enough to have had someone play and beat the system to keep your journal online.

This forced, total obsolescence and obliteration of a resource based on future economics (that is, a subscription now no longer guarantees that state of journal access in the future) again moves academia and education much closer to the tenants of consumerism than scholasticism.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Close Encounters (who is reading our blogs?)

I figured I oughta keep better tabs of who is reading the blog, if anybody (am I being graded?!), and have already traced two results that make me wonder about the utility of, in practice, essentially forcing someone with my, um, style of inquiry (note: recall that phrase is our secret keyphrase for "contestational style") to post something that's indexed, searchable, and available for anyone with an Internet connection to read off of the web.

Okay, so here are my two more interesting visitors, so far...

Domain Name   (Unknown) 
IP Address   198.146.87.# (Tennessee Board of Regents)
ISP   Tennessee Board of Regents
Location  
Continent  :  North America
Country  :  United States  (Facts)
State  :  Tennessee
City  :  Nashville
Lat/Long  :  36.1458, -86.7844 (Map)
Language   English (U.S.)
en-us
Operating System   Microsoft WinXP
Browser   Internet Explorer 7.0
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; InfoPath.1; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.30; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.648)
Javascript   version 1.3
Monitor  
Resolution  :  800 x 600
Color Depth  :  32 bits


The TN Board of Regents really isn't someone I want reading through these incredibly tentative, but strongly worded critiques I'm writing here. The way these are written help me interrogate and understand what's going on in our readings, identifying what's troublesome so that I can give it more thought, but they aren't written in a style that's productive for audiences outside of our class to read. That's by design. I start here, then spend heaven's only knows how long researching, recutting, and reevaluating so that I can try and see what potentially productive readings I can extract from the readings for use in my own work.

More disconcerting is that the Regents visit came from someone referred to my blog via an email, and the email contained a link directly to my blog on Blair and Hoy. So somebody who already read the blog (no idea who) essentially vetted the information and still wanted to pass it along. Rarely a good thing when I'm in contestation mode.

(Aside: They were also reading at 800x600 resolution, which means they were either using a pretty danged old laptop, or they possibly don't have the best eyesight.)

Another interesting search was from blogsearch.google.com with a search term of "University of Phoenix". Here, I'm not so upset that they've seen what I think of online instruction as it's currently conceived, nor as it was presented in Blair and Hoy. Actually, I hope I get a few more of those. ;^)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Distance learning and critical thinking lit reviews

Buraphadeja & Dawson was essentially just a literature review of different attempts to establish means of measuring how students think critically using online techs. Nothing too exciting there.

Blair & Hoy's article on distance learning and adults was more problematic. The article seemed to have a pretty clear political undercurrent. The English 207 class as described was pretty clearly designed for nonstandard students, even before it went online. The elephant in the room was if these students should run the asylum and been able to demand a class where there might have been more demonstration of ability than learning. I base this critique on a few statements in the article...

  1. "As Kristine Blair and Stan Lewis (2003) have indicated, Prior Learning Assessment acknowledges that “college-level learning may be acquired from experiences outside a formal classroom setting” (p. 1)" (34)

  2. "Another compelling factor for moving to online delivery was the success of one student, Greg, who because of work-related travel was unable to attend regularly but did submit assignments electronically for review by both the instructor (Blair) and his peers and who nonetheless produced a portfolio equal in quality to those of his face-to-face colleagues." (36)

  3. "Some of her adult learners completed the assignments and the course quickly with a minimum of peer and instructor responses while others completed the course and each assignment more slowly, carefully and meticulously revising each assignment and requiring more peer and instructor feedback." (42)


If we want to talk about how adult students have a more difficult time in the university, could there be a more loaded class to pick than one that practically invites those that need some sort of academic remediation/enculturation? To use this class to identify trouble is circular reasoning at its finest, and obstructs possibly useful lessons. Combined with the statements, above, that do not eliminate the possibility that what was occurring was more vetting academic viability of students rather than primarily provide learning experiences, the foundation of the article is suspect.

There's another pretty clear political theme throughout, that of identifying and rewarding labor in these "service"-oriented classes. For the authors, this took the form of "invisible" labor in online classes and the use of graduate student instructors for this class.

Because Blair was a faculty member in A&S and because the course typically enrolls fewer students due to the heavy writing load and necessary personal attention, the College office decided it was too expensive to employ a tenure-line [end page 36] faculty member to teach a course with such a consistently small class size. Consequently, to keep the course on the schedule, we arrived at a compromise—a graduate student would be selected to teach the course and would be supervised jointly by Blair and by Lewis. (36-7)


The number of omissions and forced silences is deafening. Here, we've got the continued issue of the specifics behind why the course is offered combined with an administration that's generally not particularly supportive of putting departmental resources into its "instruction" (by virtue of claiming economics as an unarguable justification for removing tenured and tenure-track instructors), and we top this off with the unquestioned statement that online classes need to hold half as many students as "f2f" ones without [the authors imply] any penalty in tenure or promotional considerations. The tenure concern is hinted at early ("we call for more attention to the impact of adult online education on faculty workload" (34)) and made explicit in the conclusion ("there has been little to no change in the merit, tenure, and promotion guidelines at our own institution for online instruction despite the administrative recognition that fully online and other alternative formats (weekend courses, workshops, etc.) are vital to competing for adult and other nontraditional learners in the online educational market" (45)).

Am I the only one that cringes like hell when they see "online educational market", "competing", and "vital" in that sentence? The university was supposed to stay relatively independent of capitalism. What the hell happened? Go work at the University of Phoenix. /especially harsh vitriol

Some of the reported "adult" problems -- the email prodding for feedback, etc -- are class management issues moreso than adult or technological ones, as email (as one example) certainly can enable structured feedback just as easily its [here] off-site and passive nature disable it. Part of this class management seems to be a failure to build capacity in instructors, who say things like, "These discussion boards did provide students with the opportunity to put their virtual chairs in a virtual circle in an online classroom and discuss their writing," (38) and presuppositional phrases afterwards like "But, just as it is important to remember that face-to-face community doesn’t occur by sheer virtue of asking students to put their chairs in a circle, as Hoy’s experience with Susan suggests, an online community doesn’t happen by sheer virtue of creating discussion forums and requiring weekly postings" (40). There is no "just as". Only "different from and similar to". Simile, not metaphor.

Finally, when the authors say that "external influences on the adult learner can cause delays in completing assignments; these delays can quickly deplete the adult learner’s motivation to not finish the assignment, and sometimes not finish the course as well," they certainly haven't disproven what we all know to be true: undergraduates run into life too. In their case, we simply don't always value the interruptions with the same seriousness that we do when they are work or family related.

Ultimately what's useful in the article are more the lessons for would-be online instructors than the topic of its title. There is important, behind-the-scenes feedback that should be considered. One cannot craft a website, replicate it between instructors, grade a few portfolio assignments, and forget about it. Not that, in my experience, there's any less "invisible" workload for "f2f" teaching, between office hours, email, and even, occasionally, student chat, but one should remember that online teaching does not give anyone, even in this English 207 design, excuse to coast with their instruction.

And to close, I'd like to ask what the "other hybrid formats" are that are mentioned in this quote...
Because of the changing demographic from traditional to adult students, we shall also argue that this change also fosters a change in the relationship between teachers and students, particularly given studies, such as Barbara Pevoto’s (2003), which suggests that students enrolled in web-based courses may not succeed as well as in other hybrid formats.


Guess I should march my rear over to DH Hill and find out.

Oh yeah... Ongyod (arrested dev?)...

I hadn't thought about providing feedback via video. That's an interesting idea that I should give more thought.

I wonder how fair it'd be to assign public speaking speeches as homework to be emailed or brought to class? Finally, a rough-draft speech? I'm not sure those without webcams would be comfortable giving speeches in front of Macs in the library, but it's an interesting possibility.

Worrying about 3 megs seems so not 2007. ;^)
----------------
Now playing: The Black Crowes - Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution
via FoxyTunes

For Blog scholars: Technorati's State of the Blogosphere 2008

Technorati: State of the Blogosphere 2008:

Welcome to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2008 report...


If you study blogs, this is more than worth a look.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Peace in 30 years. Thanks, technology! (Yeah, riiiight -- Noah)

From a link in Selber to the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab:

We also believe that persuasive technology can bring about world peace in 30 years.


You know, I've spent some time where doing this in 30 years might be pushing it.

Selber's neophytic digital rhetorical literacy

My method of inquiry is contestation (um, duh), and Selber's chapter on "Rhetorical Literacy" creates cause for a wealth of inquiry. I'm surprised at the extreme lack of specificity in the arguments, where quotes ill-prepared to be pressed into Selber's purposes ("This [the interface] is the mysterious, nonmaterial point where electronic signals become information" (qtd 140)) or Selber simply pronounces without bothering to add so much as anecdotal evidence.

Here's one such anecdote-less claim:

Anyone who has been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information on the Internet knows that the metatext -- a heavily linked text that connects other texts and their contents in imaginative and meaningful ways -- has become an invaluable online genre... (136)


Perhaps he meant platform instead of genre? Regardless, if html has rocked the composition world as he argues, I'd like to see at least one example of how and why. Selber's trope is for the reader to, ironically, coauthor this traditional text in much more active ways than the stereotyped digital media he crafts here.

And it's on this subject that Selber doesn't seem to understand he's not talking about postmodernism, but coauthorship. Here's Selber's quote.

Lee Brasseur has characterized electronic spaces as postmodern because in those spaces writers, readers, and software designers all collaborate on some level in the formation and interpretation of online texts. (139)


The same issue of coauthorship returns on 149.
This is where the symbolist perspective enters in, a perspective that "centers on the notion that all persuasion is really to a significant extent self-persuasion, involving the active participation of an audience" (509)


Coauthorship is best and most easily explained in my opinion in Nick Montfort's excellent Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, which, granted, was published in 2003, but builds quite a bit off of the theme's in Aarseth's Cybertext. Coauthorship is pretty easy to understand with Montfort's examples from Interactive Fiction. Let's look at a snippet from Zork, borrowed from this website, as I'm too lazy to pull the game up myself right now.

>d
The trap door crashes shut, and you hear someone barring it.

Cellar
You are in a dark and damp cellar with a narrow passageway leading north, and a crawlway to the south. On the west is the bottom of a steep metal ramp which is unclimbable.
Your sword is glowing with a faint blue glow.

>n

The Troll Room
This is a small room with passages to the east and south and a forbidding hole leading west. Bloodstains and deep scratches (perhaps made by an axe) mar the walls.
A nasty-looking troll, brandishing a bloody axe, blocks all passages out of the room.

Your sword has begun to glow very brightly.
The troll swings his azxe, but it misses.

>swing sword
Whoosh!
The troll swings, you parry, but the force of his blow knocks your sword away.

>get sword
Taken.

The troll hits you with a glancing blow, and you are momentarily stunned.

>kill troll with sword
The troll is staggered, and drops to his knees.
The troll slowly regains his feet.

>

Few are going to mistake the writing contributed by the player as Jamesian, or even Tolkien-esque, but IF does make the concept of coauthorship easy to follow. The computer produces text: "The troll swings, you parry, but the force of his blow knocks your sword away." The player/coauthor provides their own contribution: "kill troll with sword" The computer interprets the contribution and continues, as proxy for the game's author(s), the shared composition.

(And, it should be noted, the user's contributions do occasionally become much more colorful. "Kill the **** dragon with the ***** sword, ***** it. And do it now. And don't make me **** figure out how I'm supposed to lure it to some ******** ice wall before I can go further in the game." Of course, the player's coauthor usually replies with something particularly lucid like, "I don't understand that sentence.")

This is what an html RAD does too. It's a madlib for programming html. (Which reminds me of another pet peeve: Why don't we teach more about the history of the book? Why don't we talk about about coauthorship in the codex? Not only is Heather Jackson's Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books a great introduction to the antecedents of dynamic, community composition online, but everything from page size, font selection, and paper making mediate traditional composition in ways I'm not familiar enough with to mention here.)

I can't help but believe that Selber's skimping on specifics because he's not yet comfortable enough with the material he discusses to offer great ones. Take this section, where he does try to offer one example of how digital rhetoric can be approached:

For example, on the Web, students need a certain level of domain knowledge from computer science in order to produce texts that are optimized for performance. Such technical awareness includes a basic comprehension of the client/server architecture that underlies the Internet, because the configurations of end-user computers (clients) help determine the speed with which texts are delivered over the Internet (via servers).


How does this snippet of wrongness suggest Selber's lack of digital initiation? Let's count a few of the ways...

  • Beyond students putting full-resolution photos on the web and then simply changing their size for display in an image tag (eg, <img src="myHUGEFNIMAGE.jpg" height="100" width="120">), speed is really no longer a practical issue. Today's front page of The New York Times is over 129 kilobytes of code alone, with another 461 KB of supporting code, give or take. That's over a third of a floppy. Oh noes!

  • Servers do not typically cause the bottlenecks on the Internet. When you use a modem, usually it is the weak link in bandwidth; trust me, the server and the net are almost always ready to provide their information faster than 56k. This is an infrastructure issue, not a server issue, even if speed was an issue.

  • Client/server is the way http tends to work. It's not the way the Internet works, even in 2004. Napster's tiff with Metallica was in 2000! Napster used peer to peer networking, which is a much different information transfer paradigm, where, to oversimplify, each node is both client and server, and the, let's say, sexual dimorphism between nodes is not nearly so cleanly cut.


  • ad infinitum. I'm boring you. Let's move on.

    The treatment is at best an antiquated approach to html for 2004 (though perhaps useful in the days of modems and Al Gore's picture first hitting the net), and its composition strikes me about as smooth and knowledgeable as a pair of curious teenagers in the back seat of a sedan. Still, to use speed of html as your archetypal example of digital rhetoric appeals to and impresses only those whose understanding of the net is as old as the conception he describes. Better he read Espen Aarseth's Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, published in 1997, and use the much more nuanced considerations it contains. (You should read it to.)

    The emphasis in the chapter is on theoretical argument that misses the artifacts of praxis. Take this quote...

    The Open Source Initiative (<http://opensource.org>) attests to the seriousness with which interface designers have engaged in the communal development of software. (164-5)


    Yet it is precisely within this sort of software that I'd argue we most clearly see unmediated hegemony. Nowhere is -- even today -- the "cryptic command language syntax" (141) that Selber implicitly encourages removing more prevalent than in the interfaces produced by FOSS. [TODO: Add some examples] Why are these activist programmers not producing more liberating artifacts? (The answer is pretty obvious; interfaces that don't look like "cryptic command language" are interfaces that don't reveal what lies under the code in the PC's operating systems and hardware. Removing the culture bias built intothe personal computer is tough, unintuitive work. Honestly, you need a team of UI designers to run through FOSS, and they haven't popped up just yet. Why that is would be a useful research question.)

    Worse for me, however, is his uncritical support for html RADs. Here's the quote.
    Anyone who has hand-coded Web pages and then switched over to a visual HTML editor appreciates the point Myers makes about the level of control that powerful development tools can provide. (141-2)


    Selber is not, unfortunately, saying how this control is exerted over the editor's user. FrontPage was overly popular with academics for whatever reasons, and the politics of that application are pretty obvious (see this old blog post). Even solid, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) alternatives, like the composer in Seamonkey or the now defunct NVu project, are nice, but they very much restrict their users to remediating old genres as they currently function. I love 'em for taking notes in class. Not so great for creating web applications. For that, I (and many others) use a text editor (I use VIm -- and JEdit, and TextWrangler, and ...).

    To truly create a web application, which is, give or take, what Selber means to recommend at the top of 143, one must learn how to write by hand. Otherwise, you're, for the purposes of exposing the interior of the interface, retaining and enforcing the "mysterious"-ness of the boundary and losing the well-delineated learning opportunity Selber is trying to foreground, sometimes in spite of himself. As I've blogged earlier, even routine blogging can quickly become a pretty technical experience requiring at least a touch of knowledge of coding html directly

    I'd also take issue with the idea that "system software" "is rather stable and hence not easily open to reinterpretation" (142). He's obviously mad. ;^) An extremely accessible introduction to how operating systems work, influence even the graphic interface, and suggest how these could be changed for the users' benefit can be found in Alan Cooper's About Face.

    There are simply too many times, like in Table 4.1, where you could do a search and replace on "interface design" and put in "any dammed thing you'd prefer to be talking about, like the game of jacks." Or take the lesson he gives students about OrganDonor.gov -- "On the whole, I agree with my students that an attention to ideology could help improve the effectiveness of the Website" (152). We've moved from talking about how software is different, and how we should leave behind "romantic" notions of text (13), but then when the proverbial rubber hits ye older proverbialer road, what happens? Hypertext as static text, an approach (again, see Jackson's Marginalia) that's not wholly warranted even when we're talking about codexes. The "Nascent approaches like [those that Selber recommends] are philosophically and methodologically different from traditional approaches in HCI..." (155), but I'm not so sure they don't look a heck of a lot like some long in the tooth (though still situationally useful, I'll grant) rhetorical exercises. My issue isn't in the usefulness of what he does write (okay, well, it is on some level), but the way that the suggestions and considerations are too generic to make specifically digital claims. And, again, really no good practical examples of the application of his suggestions. Bitbucket.

    At best, what Selber does is paint a picture of our (well, at least us with an ingle bias (ENGL)) audience. Here's a person who is interested in learning how technology will impact traditional academia, interested enough to open html in a text editor and to create a lasting artifact of the musings these experiments have created in him. He's likely right that it is "unrealistic to think that students" -- here students in composition classes or old-style English students -- "will be able to create [special-purpose programs [like] word-processing, spreadsheet, database, and e-mail programs [1]] in writing and communication courses", but some of us can (though it needs some bug fixing). Nor is there [theoretically] anything stopping these courses from coauthoring applications with intro comp sci courses, is there?

    Students should and can become creators of "software". Selber needs our help to figure out how this works in praxis.


    [1] Note how influenced Selber is by Microsoft here. His list of "special-purpose programs" lists what's included in Microsoft Office -- Word, Excel, Access, and Outlook. Nice. There's a hell of a lot of room left for inquiry here.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Using proper licenses, revisited with an example

    I mentioned that it was important to use the proper licenses in your classroom, and critiqued Logie for not doing the same. I'd mentioned that the Creative Commons licenses were one popular alternative. I'm honestly not sure if the way that these licenses are usually used protect the author and the "copyrighted public domain" as much as they should -- and here's one site that's both using a Creative Commons license and embodying my fear of not going very far to protect the contents of authors' submissions as they distribute scientific, peer-reviewed articles, called PLoS one. (PLoS apparently means the Public Library of Science.)

    The PLoS is specifically using the Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL). As I understand it, the included right "to remix" means that someone could take what you've done, change it in some trivial way (let's say change the author names to their own, perhaps?), and then submit to a new journal as long as they attribute the original author in some (minor?) fashion! Now we all know that one usually has to promise that submissions have not been submitted, much less published, somewhere else, but the overly flexible "protection" from the CCAL makes it a poor choice for academic texts. It all but entitles future users to plagiarize with the most minor of attribution.

    Let me be slightly political for a second... I've argued for a measure of protection just short of the GNU General Public License (GPL) for several years, and this reasoning extends to written works. Something like the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works or Attribution-No Derivative Works licenses from the Creative Commons project seem more appropriate to me because these two stop the trivial-change co-opting I mentioned before. They both allow anyone "to Share — to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work," and the second even allows someone to do so and make money off of that work, say by publishing and then selling a collection of articles that includes your own. (Note that they don't have to tell you you've been published, however!)

    Also keep in mind that licensing a work under most open or free (or potentially closed) licenses does not restrict you from licensing the same work in another way in the future. There's nothing stopping you from using Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works and then licensing your work to a for-profit collection in the future if all the authors of your work agree. You'd still have the No Commercial protection from your Creative Commons license, and the only folk that could make whatever limited cashola from your writings still exists would be the people you expressly okayed.

    I do worry every bit as much about licenses that demand exclusive rights to your work as I do free licenses that allow your work to be too easily exploited, and I've noticed a few too many of those exclusive rights clauses in, say, the two bit collections I've given up stuff to. Now I have to ask them to use more of my work than fair use would allow. ST*U!

    In any event, that's one real world example of a Creative Commons license for written texts living in the wild. To find out more, you might bug Christian [Casper], who has presented on the commenting function of PLoS One a bit; I'm reading what he's presented now.

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    Wikipedia: NO ORIGINAL RESEARCH

    From our talks about collective intelligence, I thought it might be interesting to point out that Wikipedia doesn't allow for anything "original"; it must all be documented. Note the sentence I highlight, below, as well.

    From here:
    Wikipedia does not publish original research or original thought. This includes unpublished facts, arguments, speculation, and ideas; and any unpublished analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position. This means that Wikipedia is not the place to publish your own opinions, experiences, or arguments. Citing sources and avoiding original research are inextricably linked: to demonstrate that you are not presenting original research, you must cite reliable sources that provide information directly related to the topic of the article, and that directly support the information as it is presented.

    No original research is one of three core content policies. The others are neutral point of view and verifiability. Jointly, these policies determine the type and quality of material that is acceptable in articles. Because they complement each other, they should not be interpreted in isolation from one another, and editors should familiarize themselves with all three.


    It's possible to moderate Wikipedia because Wikipedia forces its authors to write like machines. We can thank the assembly line for this shift, and this Borg-like form of collective intelligence is just following suit. This machine-like action is why Big Macs can taste the same across continents, and why Joel Spolsky says this about Starbucks:

    All of this fancy optimization stuff is called operations research. It's what Michael Gerber talks about in his best-selling book The E-Myth Revisited. If you're planning to expand your business to a certain scale, you must first establish procedures and build systems to get predictable outcomes so that your employees can produce decent results even when they're not having a great day. It's a real academic field of study, and it's really hard and really important. You need to hire pretty smart people to do studies and experiments and collect the statistics and then figure out what it all means.

    Starbucks is great at operations research. It wouldn't have become the company it is today if it hadn't created detailed manuals telling people how best to assemble the various chemicals that make up a modern adult milk shake. All of those independent coffee shops that have a nostalgic fixation on grinding the coffee beans right before using them, claiming this 'tastes better' -- these poor shops go out of business left and right, because they don't have the right system. They make only a handful of drinks in the time it takes Starbucks to serve a hundred."


    Wikipedia has convinced the world to work at McDon... wait, Starbucks. Yeah, that sounds better. He's a lively chief mate, that; good man, and a pious; but all alive now, I must turn to.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    Collective Intelligence, meet iTunes 8.0

    From ye olde Horizon Report for aught eight.

    Collective intelligence is a term for the knowledge embedded within societies or large groups of individuals. It can be explicit, in the form of knowledge gathered and recorded by many people (for example, the Wikipedia—www.wikipedia.org—is the result of collective intelligence); but perhaps more interesting, and more powerful, is the tacit intelligence that results from the data generated by the activities of many people over time. Discovering and harnessing the intelligence in such data—revealed through analyses of patterns, correlations, and flows—is enabling ever more accurate predictions about people’s preferences and behaviors, and helping researchers and everyday users understand and map relationships, and gauge the relative significance of ideas and events.
    (emph mine)

    Wikipedia doesn't ad it up. The Genius feature in iTunes 8.0 does capitalize on your freely donated resources, using what you listen to suggest songs someone else, whose musical library is like yours, should buy. World of Warcraft counts on user content to keep itself cashing in too.

    So let's call this what it is, since in more and more cases it's less Wikipedia and more iTunes: Collective Intelligence is the ability to police everyday activities and turn their now digitized and easily measured results into marketable information for capitalistic corporations without significant long-term expenditures.

    QED. Though I reserve the right to edit the defn. ;^)

    Using the proper licenses in your classroom

    So let's take the obvious extension of last night's late night ramblings on Logie and readdress Logie's suggestions that we should be, "Securing written permission can be accomplished quickly with a blanket form distributed on the first day of class." Here's a slightly more informed suggestion...

    Find an approved Open Source Initiative (OSI) [style] License to use in your class, and seize the learning opportunity to inform your students of the politics behind the decision to strongly encourage its use. A number of similar licenses for written works (versus software-based works like the ones the OSI licenses target) have been released by Creative Commons.

    Without going into what the licenses say (the link above and here does a good job at that), it is useful to show students how US copyright law creates an interesting secondary audience for each of their compositions. Explain how reusing their works helps future students, students in the class, and, admittedly, yourself professionally. Explain what benefits there might be from having their content used in class (makes for an interesting line in the resume, perhaps?).

    But most of all encourage students to critical interface with copyright and the issues your raise however they see fit within the constraints of teaching your course (ie, they will have to turn in works for you to grade, even if it's their right to keep them private!). And own the bias that you introduce; by discussing copyright, you're encouraging its use even while attempting to subvert it. Why do you encourage using copyright in a copyleft fashion? Is it expediency? Historical cultural sedimentation [which is essentially the same thing]?

    But sure as heck don't reinforce culture's already painful push to have folks sign their rights away without reading what they're signing.

    Tuesday, September 9, 2008

    Mickey Mouse and his pal Bono

    Okay, well, I suppose I ought blog something technically before the day we meet, in case someone needs to comment...

    John Logie's "Champing at the Bits: Computers, Copyright, and the Composition Classroom" is a useful introduction to the interactions of digital artifacts with copyright in the US. Its narrative is of a United States that first privileged the long term interests of the collective (aka, "public") over the individual when protecting original works, but that the US slowly moved from that collective-privileging to a system that now favors a different sort of collective, the collective author.

    In brief, copyright protection in the US moved from...
    179028 years
    183142 years
    190956 years
    197675 years, but intro of fair use exception
    179028 years
    1998 (anticipated in article)95 years


    Here's a pretty good image of the increases. Note that as things are moving, nothing after 1923 will ever hit the public domain if it's had copyright slapped on it.


    Logie spends quite a bit of time exploring the way fair use works, showing the history behind the prohibition of copying more than 10% of a work for scholarly purposes, and how even fair use is dwindling in scope. There's also a decent amount of space devoted to the US signing the "Berne Convention" in 1989, which aligned the US even more closely with European copyright law, laws that traditionally favored "moral" or "natural rights" (ie, the individual's good). There's a New World Order critique feel to some of Logie's arguments, and they don't seem to be unwarranted.

    Two points interesting enough to point out even in my fatigued state...
    1.) Logie says that with copyright in at least one case [of Salinger's heirs stopping a biography based on Salinger's own letters (note that the Times piece contradicts Logie a bit, I think)] protecting the "content" of writings, even when the author no longer owns the artifacts, that "no student-authored text should ever be used for illustration or critique without the express permission of the student author, and this permission should probably be in writing, to protect the teacher" (140).

    To get around this issue, Logie suggests that, "Securing written permission can be accomplished quickly with a blanket form distributed on the first day of class." This sort of grenading an anthill bothers me, and we should feel it important to let students know the importance of thinking critically about signing such overly-broad gifts of their works unknown even to them at the time of their conveyance. Logie's suggestion is horribly selfish, and contradicts completely with the tone of the balance of the piece.

    2.) This overly strict protection of copyrighted artifacts has, I believe, given rise to the open source/free software and related movements, which essentially appropriate copyright in an attempt to actively mandate a new sort of public domain. Though the public domain is still netting a loss with the overly long copyright terms in the US now (really, should Combat on the Atari 2600 still be copyrighted? Steamboat Willie?), novel licensing schemes like the GPL are starting to reveal in very very specific sections of larger industries (like computer operating system kernels) the powers of making "progress" public.

    wow. much too tired to continue. apologies.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2008

    Thoreau and the pencil making process

    (note to self: post *after* reading entire articles)

    Thoreau didn't make his own pencil in some primitive fashion. He worked at his father's factory.

    http://www.cyberbee.com/henryhikes/thoreau.html

    Check out the movies and picture.

    In any event, what HDT is talking about isn't to shun technology, but to live deliberately. Let me recommend Material Faith to get a better idea of Thoreau's take on "science".

    More from Walden, contextualizing Baron's quote:
    They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages; he is not an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey. I doubt if Flying Childers [think Secretariat -R] ever carried a peck of corn to mill.


    Deliberate, not ludological. Here's the next paragraph.

    One says to me, "I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country." But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day's wages. I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road. Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance altogether.

    quick quotes from Kim

    1343
    Current e-education systems were built in a centralized environment (Dalsgaard, 2006; Rick & Lamberty, 2005; Weingardt, 2004) in which students need to visit a major hub site (e.g., Blackboard) to participate in communication. Therefore, students have no clue whether discussion is initiated and in progress on the hub site unless they receive a notice or regularly visit the site.


    The claim of a client-server bias against students participating was an interesting thread through the article. The implicit argument seems to be that giving students the feeling of ownership in their blog(s) invites more contributions and builds community, recommending a distributed p2p style sharing instead. Certainly a sort of very basic digital structuralism.

    Yet the p2p style also works at cross purposes in the sense that it makes the blogs' use more time intensive for the instructor.

    So take for instance...

    1346
    It was discovered that 94% of the students often checked an online communication site to see whether their own posts were replied to by other peer students.


    The follow up on comments is where there's no real, built-in support inside of blogs to ensure that comments develop into sustained conversations, letting other students know when a post has received them (that is, if Student A comments on Student B's blog, Student B might be alerted, but Student C most likely isn't). This is where the instructor comes in, who needs to find comments and raise those conversations in class.

    Doing so would be one heck of a time intensive task for instructors. it could be automated, but that would require a great deal of coordination and upfront prep time from instructor. if different blog engines are used, that only complicates the matter of coordinating comments, yet the ability to use many engines likely contributes a bit towards that ownership for students from the first quote and, in many cases, plays on familiarity, an important issue when one deals with "non-technical Internet users".

    1347
    A blog is regarded as easy-to-use in terms of publishing on the Web (Divitini et al., 2005; Lin & Yuan, 2006). In the early blogging days, the late 1990s, bloggers were required to manually code their blogs by hand (Du & Wagner, 2006). However, current blog technology supports users to easily publish contents with various blogging tools (Herring, Scheidt, Wright, & Bonus, 2005). Bloggers no longer suffer from writing HTML code. As a result, the blogging phenomenon might be positively influenced by the easy-to-use that is facilitated with blogging support tools, such as user-friendly editors, permalink, trackback, blogroll, and alert system of other bloggers’ comments


    I'd still argue that to be a particularly adept blogger requires understanding and using these skills. Let's not say that bloggers "suffer" from html; it is another resource for online composition. If the html code of blogging has gone RAD (rapid application development), like Visual Basic did with coding for Windows, then there are strengths and weaknesses there... yet even the image code for embedding images in blogger...

    (long URLs made a little bit smaller so they don't wrap)
    <a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_CsjDFY2tR5I/SL3vqtnU7CI/AAAAAAAAAb4/g_tgy8UoLA8/s1600-h/gears.jpg"> <img style="display:block; margin:0px auto 10px; text-align:center;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_CsjDFY2tR5I/SL3vqtnU7CI/AAAAAAAAAb4/g_tgy8UoLA8/s320/gears.jpg" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5241609058407214114" /></a>

    or slapping in a YouTube video...

    <object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie"
    value="http://www.youtube.com/v/GV_uryFRPjY&hl=en&fs=1"></param> <param
    name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param> <embed
    src="http://www.youtube.com/v/GV_uryFRPjY&hl=en&fs=1" t
    ype="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="425"
    height="344"></embed> </object>


    ... remains pretty technical. The useage might be ctrl-a, ctrl-c, alt-tab, ctrl-v, but the code is naked.

    It's also useful to more closely interrogate this quote:
    In addition, a key feature of blogs is an open system. According to Hendrick and Kleiner (Hendrick & Kleiner, 2001, p. 24), the open system is defined as ‘‘a work system has permeable boundaries exposed to the environment in which they exist”.


    again, what we're doing is playing on familiarity and habits to appropriate this "lesuire" activity and habitualized activity to increase engagment with academic materials.

    There is a real imprecision with the use of the word "open" here. These are not so much open sites as sites/resources that allow interaction and have established standards for doing so... eg, YouTube contains by default ways of embedding videos in standard html code/web pages, as shown in the [really tiny font of the] example, above. This does not mean the content can be freely used or is open for editing, etc.

    And for the final drive-by quote consideration...
    1345
    In addition, blogs facilitate a series of extended discussions beyond class meetings (Betts & Glogoff, 2004)


    Is blogging to create these extended discussions a fair added responsibility for the students? Rather, how much should this be counted in the class requirements and how should other, conventional responsibilities be adjusted to "make up" for the resources spent here? Is a blog a week a short paper, or just note-taking? Different students will approach their blog with different conceptions of what the genre's compositional requirements are.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2008

    Us, the "unwitting purveyors of technology and technological literacy"?

    Though Selfe's chapter tends to be a useful critique in theory, it suffers from the same shortcomings of the system it is attempting to critique, namely in that it's no more specific in how to approach that useful subset of the topic of digital literacy it warns that we're all too likely to miss.

    Technologies can be useful, and digital composition technologies do produce some advantages over the very useful composition technologies that preceded them. What needs to be done is to identify these advantages and to remove them from the cycle of consumerism Selfe implicates in government-sponsored initiatives to increase technological literacies. Ohmann has already explained the key to understanding "literacy" -- we are to substitute "measurable" or "quantifiable oppression" each time it appears in our readings. To expect the federal government to do more than use the discourse of literacy to hide its more popular discourse of pork should surprise no one.

    It pained me the first time I heard the director of a mid-level government office say that its employees could rest assured they had done good work because a third of the office's budget had made its way to the private sector. This was not a qualified measurement, but the primary and, to start this speech I recall, only measurement of success. Politics as currently conceived requires such ugly practical measuring sticks.

    The key, then, is to take the short-term given of the government's aid and to, as so many school districts do to some degree, leverage those discourses to benefit those that need the assistance.

    Selfe's writing occasionally approaches a particularly ungainly tenor, where instead of identifying the advantages technology adds to her field of expertise, she simply repeats the mantra that its would-be users must be taught to think critically about it. What does this critical thinking look like? She also comes dangerously close to crossing the line between looking for examples of where technology and society intersect unfavorably and devolving into a speech about the inequities of race that can be reproduced generically in articles of most any topic regarding resources. At worst, Selfe implicitly links race with the inability to reach desirable, skilled employment -- what is the cause and effect in a statement like, "In other words, the poorer you are and the less educated you are in this country -- both of which conditions are correlated with race -- the less likely you are to have access to computers and to high-paying, high-tech jobs in the American workplace" (101)? This is not a reason to devalue technological, digital literacy, but another reason to define its practical advantages and ensure not that we (and who is this "we," again?) "provide free access to computers for citizens at the poverty level and citizens of color", but instead that our educational institutions intelligently foreground those advantages alongside the oppressive flipside of consumerism to every student, irrespective of race or class.

    (And where is the government's "narrowly defined" version of literacy? The issue is, again, that it's too broad!

    By "technologically literate," this document [from Richard Riley's office of the Secretary of Education] refers to the use of computers not only for the purposes of calculating, programming, and designing, but also for the purposes of reading, writing, and communicating...


    Is that all? ;^D)

    The real key to introducing students to the advantages of digitally aided composition is to remove the dependence of platform on consumption and obsolescence. The digital educational platform must be standardized and resist obsolescence. Ironically, the most technical fields are the ones that require the least consumable resources; programming a computer can be done with older computers and a free operating system. There is little to nothing stopping anyone from learning to program C or Java on five-year old, even ten year-old hardware. Nearly the same can be said for composition. AbiWord runs on a number of older systems, and contains all the benefits of what's now traditional digital composition -- grammar and spell check tools, an easily accessed thesaurus, and trouble-free error correction. What's really changed with word processors over the last twenty years beyond the hardware required the run them, attempts at subscription models, and the intersection of new file formats with copyright?

    The question is how to define such a stable, obsolescence-resistant platform. The One Laptop Per Child project might provide one, albeit arbitrary, possible model platform.

    Regardless, the keys for digital composition should be to identify those advantages and to teach them to students outside of the influence and control of a commercialized, consumerized state of being, and then to repeat the process with other professionalizations. If schools can be a place where students learn to take computerized resources for granted, there is no reason to imprint the need for unnecessary hardware and software "refreshes". Teach digital goods as durable goods. It's surprisingly how widely that conception proves tenable and useful.

    The question is how to find digital expertise interested in the issues of composition that can create such a stable platform.

    Okay, well, it's too late and I need some sleep. Back for more, hopefully more cognizant tripe tomorrow.