R685: Week one reflection

For those of you who have already been reading my blog, I’m going to be blogging here for one of my classes this semester, R685. It’s an online class in the IST program at Indiana University, titled “The World is Open with Web 2.0” and taught by Dr. Curt Bonk.

There are a couple of things I’d like to focus on here in my blog this semester: the first is reflections on the readings from each week, as I’ve realized that I was much wordier in my forum posts for the class than other students seem to be; the second is different Web 2.0 technologies and the way I use them, and the way I have observed teachers using them in classes.

This week I already said quite a bit about the readings, but I’d like to call attention to, and expand upon, two points I made in my class forums. The first is the implicit assumption that one’s online life is different from one’s “real,” or as I like to call it, “analog,” life. I believe that dichotomy is not only a false one, but a harmful one. As I discussed in our class forums:

This is something that I personally find incredibly unhelpful and potentially harmful; it’s a notion that seems to me to be culturally embedded. Personally, even despite the fact that I argue against this dichotomy whenever possible, I still occasionally catch myself speaking in terms of online versus “real life.” As Oblinger (2008) points out, neo-millenials have spent their entire lives growing up with the internet. There has not been a single semester since the advent of Facebook wherein I did not hear cautionary tales about unwise photo postings having negative impact on a person’s professional life; it is my belief that the notion that “online” is not “real” contributes to the phenomenon.

There’s more I’d like to say about this. As a millennial myself, and someone who has been absolutely fascinated by all the things technology can do from a very young age, I spend a lot of time online. For most of my friends, it is the preferred method of conversation, both because we can have multiple simultaneous conversations and thus stay hyperconnected, and because we all prefer to have a log available of our conversations for future clarification. In discussing this topic with my friends, we all reached a consensus that having synchronous and asynchronous textual communication available to us made us better communicators, rather than being detrimental to us. Naturally, digital literacy is important; we all know when it’s time to turn off the laptops and cell phones and just enjoy being in the same room as one another, but at the same time, it’s not unheard of for any of us to pull out a phone at a shared meal for one reason or another.

Personally, I make myself VERY accessible online. I’ve had the same screenname, or a variant thereof, on every site and messaging service I’ve used since 2002: demented_pants (or demented.pants, or dementedpants, as in this domain name). This means that you can look for one of those three text strings on any of the major social networking sites and probably find a hit. I have never seen anyone with a username similar enough to be confused with mine. I consider it my personal “brand” and I develop my online persona in much the same way I develop my analog persona. That is, I try to come across as competent, professional, but above all accessible. I keep in mind at all times that my online life is beyond a doubt tied to my real identity, and it makes me much more thoughtful about the kinds of things I share. For me, online life IS real life, and that’s not a bad thing. By contrast, someone without the same kind of digital literacy as me might look at the “online” versus “real life” dichotomy that is, by this point, culturally embedded, and assume a level of safety that does not exist – leading to embarrassing photos of people in potentially compromising situations. This is one way in which I think our cultural perceptions of online life actually harm people, particularly the neo-millennial generation.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently suggested that today’s generation of youth will have to change their names to escape their digital past. This speaks volumes to me about the number of missed opportunities to teach our learners about digital literacy – perhaps because we haven’t quite figured out yet how to get the message across. I don’t have solutions, just questions.

The second point that came up both in the readings and in the class discussion, which is also a big pet peeve of mine, is the offhand rejection of Wikipedia as a scholarly source. I cannot count the number of papers I’ve written – mostly as an undergraduate, but very few of which scored any lower than an A- – wherein the first place I went to look for reference ideas was not a library catalog, or Google Scholar, but instead to the Wikipedia article on the topic. I never cite Wikipedia as a source, because most faculty refuse to accept it, but strangely I have never once had a comment that suggested a professor even noticed I was pulling references from Wikipedia. This suggests to me, along with statistics I heard in my Computer-Mediated Communication class last semester (factual errors on Wikipedia are corrected in an average of nine minutes), that Wikipedia absolutely CAN be an acceptable scholarly source, as long as the reader knows how to distinguish carefully-researched and -cited material from something without a single citation which could be factually inaccurate. This is another way in which I believe we are not just underserving, but harming our students by ignoring potential lessons about digital literacy that could prove to be very valuable.

So there it is: my big pet peeve from this week’s readings, and then an admission that may scandalize some of my readers and surprise others not at all. I’d love to hear some thoughts and comments!

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