Tag Archives: hypertext

From Code.org: What Most Schools Don’t Teach

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Learnist: Pinterest for education?

I’ve been thinking for a long time about ways to use Pinterest in the classroom, and I have friends who have actually mustered the energy to take on that challenge. Lo and behold, something even more targeted for such purposes!

Screenshot of Learnist home page

Screenshot of Learnist home page

Learnist appears a lot like Pinterest, but is specifically targeted at, well, learning. Even though I detest programs that force me to use my Facebook profile to sign up, I was intrigued enough to take the plunge.  And now I have to learn a new vocabulary. “Pins” are now “learnings.”

Screenshot of what a "learning" is

I’m not sure I like the progress narrative that’s happening here:

Screenshot of explanation of progressing through learnist

But I am really interested in the idea of a sort of intellectual Pinterest, and I’m excited to see if this thing catches on. Happy Pin … er … Learning!

(Literature) Pedagogy

The literature students at my school don’t have too many options in their coursework to focus specifically on literature pedagogy. As a result, a couple of smart students have created a summer mini-conference on this topic. This is its third year, but the first I attended, and I was happy to discover that much of what I learned was very relevant for rhetoric/composition pedagogy as well. I’m including some of the most important notes I took here. If any readers are interested in something below, let me know and I can hook you up with whoever presented on that topic.

Teaching Difficult Topics led by Chris Desantis, Julie Jung, Oren Whitesell

  • When discussing oppressive institutions–we’ll use race as an example–start by talking about the historical context. Don’t open discussion until after students have this common ground established. (In this phase, be careful to create a common vocabulary and to consider how themes circulate in language.)
  • Next, introduce social construction. (Note: It’s OK to “shut a student down” if she or he refuses to buy into the basic premises of the class. You can think of this less as silencing a student and more as eliminating an obstacle to other students’ learning. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often.)
  • Open discussion: Possible topics in this example include the collective silence on whiteness, connections between texts and student lives, and implications of physical spaces that produce whiteness and blackness, etc.
Ogbu’s definition of education: systematic eradication of viable alternatives (I’m not sure what I think of this. It sounds a lot like bell hooks’ definition of oppression)
Helpful readings:
Summative comments:
Teach not what to think, but how logic works
Always consider power relations in and out of the classroom

Teaching Digital Texts led by Cheryl Ball 

Remember: A 10-page paper is not nearly equivalent to a 10-minute video. A proficient producer of video typically takes 200 minutes for every minute produced. Consider a 2-3 minute video equivalent to a 10-page paper.

Resources:

Sample digital project outline for a themed class – Using wiki technology to interlink all student work
  • Establish common key terms
  • Have an individual draft due by midterm
  • Have students read others’ drafts during second part of semester
  • Links/revisions/additional pages due by finals
Linguistics led by Aaron Smith
  • Consider that linguists study speech communities; historical linguists must use written texts (literature)
  • Take care not to apply sociolinguistic understandings from modern times to historical contexts
  • Consider how linguistic usage is used to construct literary characters. This may include elements like the a- prefix (I’m a-goin’) or h-dropping (‘umble beginnings).
  • Remember that ideology is shown in language
  • When teaching, narrow the focus. First, select a form to focus on, then prove to students that they know a grammar (disrupt their belief that we’re in some sort of historical grammatical decline), then choose texts with appropriate linguistic variation.
Making Sense of Evaluations led by Claire Lamonica
  • The most important different in evaluations is understanding the purpose of formative vs. summative evaluation. Summative evaluation happens at the end of the term; formative evaluation can be used to improve teaching.
  • 360-degree evaluation: Collect evaluations from self, supervisors, peers, students
  • For student evaluations, collect early so that you can learn during the class. Consider doing a 1-minute paper at the end of each class. This is where students quickly write the most important thing they learned and the muddiest point from the day’s work. Also consider incorporating weekly reports and/or a midterm chat to get mid-semester evaluations.
  • Frequent evaluation teaches students to think and write evaluatively; it’s not just for the teacher.
  • Take into account, when reading summative evaluations, the things that students are and are not really qualified to comment on
  • When working through evaluations, first categorize responses into positive, negative, suggestions, and other. Then synthesize results, count and a rank them, reflect, and prioritize. Remember to work on only one or two things at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Teaching with Film led by Sally Parry and Bob McLaughlin

Challenge: Getting students to engage films as texts instead of passive consumers
Advantage: FIlms are able to fill in more historical context
  • Remember to teach film conventions, often comparing them to parallel conventions in printed texts
  • Incorporate historical context. For example, study the Hayes Code and teach students to know what signals meant what sort of action (to get around the censors)
  • Defamiliarize students with film media by starting with (or only showing) black-and-white films
  • Teach and complicate themes. (For example, in film noir, the bad guy is often a veteran. Why? What does this mean?)
Some films to consider, taken from a WWII culture class
  • Snafu
  • Iceland
  • Miracle on Morgan’s Creek
  • Casa Blanca
  • The Best Years of Our Lives

SEND

I just finished reading Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. I have to say I’m impressed; I bought the book thinking it might have material I could teach as part of my Technical Writing course, and I did not expect to sit down and read it in one sitting. I also didn’t expect to laugh while doing so. Who knew a book about writing emails could be funny and engaging? Well, it can be.

Send is actually an acronym, and this is one part of the book I’m not a fan of. It struck me as a little forced. Simple, effective, necessary, and done simply don’t summarize this book very well. But if that’s my only complaint, I’m still a happy customer.

The best part of the book is the approach it takes to rhetorical situation as a complex construction. For example, it deals with tone from an audience-centered perspective: “If you don’t consciously insert tone into an email, a kind of universal default tone won’t automatically be conveyed. Instead, the message written without regard to tone becomes a blank screen onto which the reader projects his own fears, prejudices, and anxieties” (10). Shipley and Schwalbe describe email as “democratic” in a great equalizer sort of way, meaning context is often whitewashed in the inbox (if not in the email itself). Context can also be deceptive at the level of grammar and syntax. For example, the authors assert that short, simple sentences intensify meaning and complex, rhythmic sentences soften meaning (129). They’re citing John F. Kennedy’s writings to prove this, but it does seem to apply to email.

One of the most interesting theoretical contentions in this book is that email “removes the temporal and physical barriers that keep” wild emotions in check in other situations (177). Of course, anyone who has emailed for more than a month already knows this. But it’s interesting to see that vague sense of danger put into words. And if that articulation isn’t enough, the authors give a long list of examples of when the send button proved quite dangerous, from the scandal involving Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to myriad stories of high-powered business people being fired/indicted/shamed based on email evidence (think Harry Stonecipher, Mark Foley, Charles Rosenthal)(200).

And here’s one final gem, perhaps my favorite, since it goes along with visible rhetoric: “In a recent survey, many employers said they would not interview a candidate if they didn’t like the font on his application or cover letter” (96). Next time someone giggles about my teaching about font and typeface in Technical Writing, I’ll have a ready comeback!

Remix: Part 2

OK, I’m hooked. I left off my last Remix post by asking what Lessig was advocating and what it looks like, and hoping that I’d find out in Parts 2 and 3. Lessig delivered in Part 2.

This is the part of the book that the title comes from: “Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.” Lessig is suggesting a hybrid between sharing and commercial (or thee and me) economies, and he provides numerous online models for what this looks like. My only real complaint at this point is that I, the reader, still have to do the hard work of mapping those examples onto non-online interaction. If the U.S. were to model copyright/trademark law after YouTube practices, what does that really mean? (Is it even really possible?)

On the bright side, we (the U.S.) already have one of the components that Lessig describes as integral to a sharing (and thus also a hybrid) economy: diversity. “Diversity in experience and worldviews, so s to help a project fill in the blind spots inherent in any particular view” (165). True, some will argue that most U.S. citizens have a very Westernized worldview. I would argue, though, that the necessary diversity does exist here … if only the powers that be are clever enough to seek the expertise of those with perspectives different from their own. (The anecdote that immediately springs to mind is Abraham Lincoln’s filling his Cabinet with his political “enemies” so as to have a broader diversity in his think tank.) What I’m not sure of, though, is if any government endeavor will ever be able to command the sort of volunteer power necessary to do something like this. Lessig hints in this part that he may feel the same way, but he seems more perturbed by the particular practices of our government rather than the inherent trappings of any government. I’m hoping there is more wisdom on this subject to come in Part 3.

I also really enjoyed Lessig’s inclusion of Sherry Turkle (starting on page 217). Theoretically, he could have done a lot more with her work on online identities, but I think the point about shifting identities demonstrating the value of generosity is well made. In the end, the thing that destroys the goodwill of hypertextual communities is greed. And, interestingly, the greed/generosity balance is both political and religious hotspot for many people even outside online culture. (I’m thinking income tax debates for politics, and for Christianity, at least, the passage about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to Heaven. I can’t speak for any other religions, but I do get a sense of the same ideal from those that I have any experience at all with.)

Perhaps my favorite bit of this part of the book is on page 130, where Lessig says, “For reasons at the core of this book, inspiring more creativity is more important than whether you or I like the creativity we’ve inspired.” This passage really resonated for me. Part of that is probably because of my pedagogical stance regarding creativity. For every project I assign in my English 101 and 249 classes, I explain the learning goals and tell students that I am open to creative reinterpretations of the project as long as they still meet those goals or similar goals that I approve. Although I haven’t always liked my students’ creative reinterpretations (a wiki on alcohol-related expertise, even by non-minor students, could seem suspect), they have always responded excitedly to this possibility. There is no doubt in my mind that the students who take this option spend more time thinking in more ways about the rhetorical situation they are placing their work into.  I also have reason to believe that there investment in the project makes them more likely to continue writing for the public in the future. (My evidence for this includes both email updates from and Facebook groups formed by former students.)

But, really, I think my attraction to that observation on page 130 goes even deeper than pedagogical ideals. There is something very instinctual that tells me that creativity is important to humanity, even when it’s creativity I don’t like. I suppose I’m interpreting creativity to mean most of the things mentioned in the First Amendment, which has been so basic to my upbringing that acting on it does feel instinctual (though I recognize it’s learned). But I also think there’s the possibility that it goes even deeper. Things like art therapy make me believe that there’s something a little more basic in human nature that really needs to embrace Lessig’s RW culture.

For now, I’m excited to read Chapter 10 in Part 3, which Lessig said in Part 2 will deal with the Creative Commons license.  Since Lessig is a cofounder of that project, it will be really intriguing to learn about his vision for it. I particularly like his summary of it on page 226: “Take and share my work freely. Let it become part of the sharing economy. But if you want to carry this work over to the commercial economy, you must ask me first. Depending upon the offer, I may or may not say yes.”

Remix: Part 1

Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy strikes me as a work of common sense and unique humor. Lessig’s voice, unlike that of many other lawyers I’ve read, is not only accessible but also enjoyable. He’s persuasive and, at times, self-deprecating, which makes identifying with his points of view easy. His real-life examples are informative and always applicable to the point he’s making. In short, I really like Remix. Lessig is an example of an enlightened individual who possesses the language and the tact to make a case for legalizing and encouraging hypertextuality. I particularly like that he lives by the rules he discusses. I enjoyed his anecdote about his fear in reading the comments on his blog, and I greatly admire his willingness to keep that space one that is free and open. As a former reporter, I understand exactly how hard it can be to let yourself be flamed online by faceless entities because you have conviction about the greater good.

I’m excited that Lessig uses technology terms to frame his overarching analogy. I certainly find that RW and RO references help me separate the two competing cultures he’s discussing. I do wonder if there are instances where Lessig recognizes the situation as being more complicated than this simple pairing; I trust these will come out in the parts of the book I haven’t read yet. Assuming this, I hope Lessig will complicate these terms in the ways they deserve. I’m thinking of the dangers in conceptualizing art as RO. Even though the enlightened people like Lessig might conceive of something as RO, that doesn’t mean it isn’t RW in a more Sousian context. Just because we have technology doesn’t mean we’re obligated to use it or to view the world from a technologized perspective. On the other hand, in an increasingly RW world, that critique goes both ways.

All things said, this terminology also makes me wonder about the audience of this book. Although Lessig provides an explanation of the technologized roots of the RO/RW dichotomy, I suspect a footnote isn’t enough to get someone onboard who didn’t already know these terms. In other words, I think Lessig is probably preaching to the choir. Anyone who knows the difference between RO and RW is probably fairly likely to recognize the value of both and the empowerment of RW. For that matter, despite the fact that I agree with most of what Lessig has to say, this particular analogy is pretty slanted. After all, the only time anyone ever consciously recognizes that a file is RO is when they’re trying to change it and can’t. Many people, though, will see this analogy as neutral. My own bias is that I’ve been trained to look for the ways that technology is anything but neutral.

I love that Lessig begins his book by framing it in terms of his state of mind before and after having children. Not only is this a point that will create driving force for his audience, but it calls into focus the often-overlooked reality that our children will actually think differently because of their exposure to technology. This, like all else, is a dynamic that was/is resisted at first. I remember bringing my Pokemon to school. At that time, 10 years ago, there were about three other kids who understood the empowering possibilities of this game. The others made fun of us, even though it was clear they were interested. But they were too caught up in the “American” perspective of, as Lessig says, “Here’s something, buy it” rather than “Here’s something, do something with it” (79). In this case, I was an early adopter. Remix is coming, and basic change in how future generations think is coming with it. To use George Lakoff’s scholarship about conceptual metaphors as a frame, the neural pathways and structure of a modern child’s brain are very different from the structures of the brain of a child 20 years ago.

While I’m completely on board with most of Lessig’s arguments and while I heartily appreciate his treatment of hypertextual elements of media, saying “I agree” throughout this piece is about as useful as the second presidential Gore/Bush debate. So, I feel obligated to turn to one part of this text that I took exception to, and that is Lessig’s own biased perspective. This bias does inherent damage to some of his points. The following is what I consider the most egregious (but not the only) example: Lessig argues that a remix of George Bush’s words in a 2004 debate “lets us understand Bush’s message better” (73). He’s discussing a remix that includes a lot of clips of Bush saying “it’s hard work,” and he says the mix works because “it is well known that at least before 9/11, Bush was an extremely remote president, on vacation 42 percent of his first eight months in office” (73). Well, I didn’t know that, but I still laughed. And when Lessig goes on to say the same concept wouldn’t have worked with Bill Clinton, I laughed out loud. Regardless of any strange percentage-based research or the “truth,” Clinton’s cultural legacy is one of a guy who got action from an intern while he was supposed to be working. And Lessig doesn’t think an ironic “I work hard” critique will work with Clinton? He actually says, “Whatever you want to say about them (Clinton and Bill Gates), no one thinks they don’t work hard” (73). Talk about a violent RO statement. I’d laugh at a clip like this whether it featured Bush or Clinton, but apparently I’d be missing the point. And here I thought Lessig’s argument was that RW culture reinforced diversity, democracy, and differing perspectives. Lessig’s taking up such a heavy political stance really put me off and made me wonder if I should be questioning more.

By the way, the “42 percent” citation is from a Washington Post opinion piece by Charles Krauthammer that is taken rather wildly out of context. The “42 percent” was basically a spur-of-the-moment, computer-enabled guess that Krauthammer is citing and criticizing. By citing this piece in the way he does, Lessig is doing some serious violence to the credibility of citation/remix, in my opinion.

Lessig does quite a bit of this generalizing. (Most often, it’s aimed at lawyers.) Because of Lessig’s conversational and humorous tone, I’d be somewhat inclined to forgive this … but then he takes this Andrew Keen fellow to task for being “sloppy” in exactly the same way (91). Oops.

But even if this compulsion to generalize and to take liberties with citations does damage to some of Lessig’s arguments about the value of RW culture, I don’t believe we should let the foibles of a human being detract from the message he’s trying to send. Lessig brings up a number of interesting and thought-provoking points, not the least of which is the troubled relationship between law and culture. What defines professional, anymore? What defines speech? And who gets to make these decisions? And what are the biases of those people?

But one more gentle critique: Will our kids be as interested in remixing if we don’t criminalize it? Is rebellion part of the attraction? (Well, yes, it certainly is. But how big a part?)

I’m also interested in the larger issues that haven’t been discussed in Part 1. Namely, what does this new (lack of) law look like? Lessig does a brilliant job explaining why copyright is litigated in the way that it is. His discussion of the making of copies is enlightening, and it has interesting intersections of work I’ve read regarding the rights of patients to “copies” of their bodies. While the law is a highly complex thing, and while remix is clearly integral to any culture (after all, how arrogant is it to think you’ve ever done something really new?), I’m still left wondering what, specifically, Lessig is advocating? In other words, I’m—for the most part—on board with his ideas. Now what can I do to make his vision of an empowered RW culture possible?

I hope to find that in Parts 2 and 3 …

Who am we?

Sherry Turkle’s article “Who Am We?,” published in Wired Magazine, begins complicating identity immediately. Turkle begins by discussing the many Sherry Turkles who exist in separate but interconnected spheres. She then alludes, in third person, to having authored Life on the Screen. (Much of this article’s material is also covered in Life on the Screen.) And at the beginning of her third paragraph, she pushes that separation a little further with the sentence: “This story is borne of Turkle’s past decade of research.” We don’t know which Turkle she’s talking about here, but whichever one it is, it’s not the one who’s speaking to us now.

Soon enough, she gets to her metaphor of windows, which “allow us to cycle through cyberspace and real life, over and over. Windows allow us to be in several contexts at the same time …” And that all leaves me feeling a little schizophrenic. But I’ve got to admit, those windows are important in structuring life, even as they separate lives. It was certainly a little strange when, as an undergraduate, I first realized my professors could access Facebook. And that strangeness arose from having two “windows” of my life suddenly merge. I think of it like talking politics. I talk politics differently at school, at home, with my husband, with my dad. Why? Because talking politics, for me, is a way to identify with someone. And that means that I always seek the areas of politics where I hold similar beliefs to the person I’m talking to, and that’s what frames our discussion. If I had to talk fiscal policy with someone from school, well, that’s a window I don’t access very often. In fact, it’s a sort of hybrid between other windows I do access, and it makes me uncomfortable.

Thinking in windows is a new thing, at least relatively speaking, because you and I are picturing windows on a computer screen rather than windows in a wall. This shift is part of the generational change Turkle talks about in which some people think of a computer as a giant calculator and others things of it as something a lot messier, softer, more amorphous than that. “Today’s computational models of the mind often embrace a postmodern aesthetic of complexity and decentering” (2). People younger than I am conceive of computers differently than I do. And people of my parents’ generation think of computers differently then either of those younger generations. It seems, based on Turkle’s discussion of Tim, the SimCity fan, that younger generations are OK with not understanding the whole picture. It’s acceptable to them that computerish workings are beyond their control. “Children are comfortable with the idea that inanimate objects can both think and have a personality. But they no longer worry if the machine is alive,” which is interesting because it’s a worry that older generations have invested considerable angst and energy on (3). (Think 1984, Terminator, Minority Report.) But, Turkle says, children are developing a different conception of aliveness: “they are increasingly likely to attribute qualities to [computers] that undermine the machine/person distinction” such as intention, ideas, even consciousness (3). (I’m still struggling with the idea of mobility as a characteristic of aliveness. Turkle quotes children as saying things with more mobility are more alive, and mobility includes an animal in a Sim universe being able to move into other programs or onto other computers, virus-like. Moreover, children assume a desire for mobility in these e-creatures.) The new distinction has to do with sensuality and embodiment—which, ironically, is something people often use computers to mediate.

Which brings me to the question I’ve been circling since I read this article: What is embodiment? What is the difference between thought and action? (This is a particularly interesting quandary in terms of religion, where many Protestant believers ascribe to the notion that one is saved by faith—something at least akin to thought—rather than works—action.) And which of those categories does writing fit beneath? Turkle tells us that MUDs (multi-user dungeons, a category that includes all simulated worlds) are “organized around the metaphor of physical space” (5). Why this metaphor? Probably because we haven’t yet evolved to conceive of something as not requiring space. An object has to have mass in order to be real, doesn’t it? But if that’s the case, how to we acknowledge those things that separate us from computers, like love, hate, and feeling in general? Perhaps it’s the contents of a being’s non-spatial components that define aliveness? Humans have emotion where computers have X. X being all the stuff that floats around in virtual “space.”

Turkle also talks about passing in MUDs, which is even more interesting when one considers the case of Doug, who effectively passes for a computer-played character in one of his MUDs (6). If computers can pass as humans, is the opposite possible? And if so, is defining aliveness a moot point?

Toward the end of the article, Turkle talks about the line between virtual and real. It seems that combining the two usually leads to disappointing results. So I wonder … is this only the case for people who play MUDs? Or is there some part of that disappointment that comes through when one tries to mediate a cohesive online identity as well? “Once we take virtuality seriously as a we of life, we need a new language for talking about the simplest things” (11). Embodiment, feeling, relationships, and self all become far more complex.

So I’ll end with a quote from Donna Haraway that Turkle uses in this article:

“Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes … about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true.”