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!

End-of-the-semester wrap-up!

I blog… well, infrequently is putting it mildly. I’m busy, and I realize that’s not an excuse, but it’s true. I’ve barely had time to sleep the last month or so!

So here’s a little bit of wrap-up on what I did this semester:

  • Completed, successfully, courses in Organizational Informatics, Human-Computer Interaction, and Computer-Mediated Communication. I’ve got grades back for two, but while I haven’t received the third I am absolutely beyond a doubt confident that I did just as well in it as I did in the other two.
  • Accepted a new position as a web developer for the office of UITS Research Technologies and ended two and a half years at the UITS Support Center. Not only am I doing something I love, but I have an amazing group of co-workers. That change of position made a huge impact on my quality of life this semester. Not only am I learning new things again (as I hadn’t been at the Support Center for over a year), but I’m in a position that I have great faith could one day turn into a full-time position. And honestly? I think I’d be perfectly happy to spend the next 40 years of my life working for this department, even if such a thing IS unusual in the IT field.
  • In Human-Computer Interaction, I learned a lot about usability testing. For one project, we prototyped a pair of really neat clocks for geeks and people who hit the snooze button too many times. For the final project, we “designed” and tested a mobile application that takes a location-aware social networking approach to Personal Health Record management. I plan on blogging about both of these over the break.
  • In Computer-Mediated Communication, I learned a lot about the world I spend much of my time on (namely, the Internet). I also identified a topic I wanted to know more about, online safe spaces, and then discovered that there was almost nothing written on the topic. Even for offline applications, I found a grand total of ONE paper that actually defined what a safe space was. This is something I have a great deal of personal interest in and I think it might be fruitful and important enough to consider as an eventual dissertation topic.
  • Organizational Informatics was without a doubt the most frustrating class I have taken as a graduate student, and it’s one of my top three most frustrating post-secondary classes (actually, it’s probably top three of ALL TIME). That said, I learned a lot, and I grew a lot, and I can’t say that I considered the class to be a negative experience. I definitely improved more as a writer than I have in years and years.
  • I went to Canada. It was cold, but Toronto was amazing to experience. I should post some of those pictures, too, now that I think of it.
  • I participated in an online gift exchange with over 17,000 other users! The Reddit community never ceases to amaze me.
  • I have learned and continue to learn at least one new thing every day at my new position. I simply cannot rant and rave enough about how much I love my working environment right now. Did I mention they gave me my own cubicle? This is the first time I’ve ever had a space that was mine, rather than shared, at any job I’ve ever worked.
  • I attended an Indie Game Developer night at SproutBox, a really cool local company with an innovative approach to venture capital, and I attended regrettably few Geek Dinners
  • I made great strides toward completing my work as a Master’s student and transitioning to a PhD program. I discussed it with my advisor, Howard Rosenbaum, and he gave me a great deal of insight. As a result, during the upcoming semester I will not only be completing my core coursework next semester, but taking a pair of education classes – one with Noriko Hara in SLIS and another with Joshua Danish in Learning Sciences. I plan on taking a class in an upcoming semester with someone in the Instructional Systems Technology department; once I’ve achieved that and the Learning Sciences class, I will re-examine my plans for a PhD and begin looking at programs.
    1. That’s most of the big stuff. I’m sure there’s more, but I’m a tad burned out at the moment and also excited because I have, for the first time in about a month, discretionary time this evening! I will be attending a benefit for the Progressive Librarians Guild at the Bluebird nightclub here in Bloomington, where the Bloomington Burlesque Brigade will be performing.

      My life is amazing!

What I did with my summer, or: man, I love being a geek.

This year’s Gen Con was one of the most reaffirming experiences of my life as a geek.  There’s kind of a lot of backstory involved but I think it’s worth sharing (especially after finally getting the chance to see Wil Wheaton’s keynote!)

It was a big milestone for me for a couple of reasons: one, Gen Con was my first convention ever. I went shortly after moving in with my current roommates for my first time ever last year in 2009.  It was overwhelming and incredible and amazing to know that I was among my people in such a high concentration.  Two: a very good friend of mine from a long time ago was there; more on that in a minute.  Three: Are you kidding? For a geek who cut her teeth on gaming of various sorts, Gen Con is like Mecca!

More on number two: this friend was the person who, more than anyone else on the planet, can be pinpointed for catapulting me into a life of geekhood.  We’ve referred to him as my Yoda for years because one night, he role played online with a girl who was in it for the story, and then he taught me my first-ever pen and paper RPG.  For reference, it was Vampire: the Masquerade.  From that moment, I was hooked on gaming – and on being a geek – in a way I’d never been excited about anything.  Since then, D20 Call of Cthulhu has helped me get to know some of my favorite undergraduate faculty; Dungeons and Dragons helped me make friends with some of the coolest people I’ve ever met, and with whom I now live; Mind’s Eye Theatre helped me make friends with another ridiculous number of people I all consider to be great friends – and the effects of my relationship with gaming have cascaded much further than just these apparent friendships.

Needless to say, my “Yoda” can (and often does) take credit for a large part of that. I was excited to finally get the chance to hang out with this guy, and we had a great time actually getting to know each other – at times it was scary how much we had in common.  That’s another thing that happens a lot at Gen Con – people get your jokes, and they don’t roll their eyes when you make them.

So here’s what I did at my Gen Con:

  • Gifted a professor from the college at which I did my undergrad with a book of Tolkien sheet music I knew she’d appreciate more than I ever could;
  • Met a new old friend and celebrated that very thing upon which our friendship was founded for FOUR DAYS STRAIGHT;
  • Took a belly dance class, where I learned an entirely new set of fundamentals from the ones I’d drilled into my head over the spring semester last year;
  • Played an incredible game of Vampire: the Masquerade, which featured the absolute best luck with the dice I ever had (a beautiful set of smoky gray Crystal Caste D10s with tiny blue glitter swirled through them);
  • Got a million and one compliments on the incredible Tiefling costume I put together for Saturday! Including ones from Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton;
  • Got to chitchat with Jeff Lewis, Sandeep Parikh, Robin Thorsen, and Felicia Day; upon meeting Wil Wheaton, lost all cognitive abilities, got a +1 and an autograph on my dice bag (after I’d already had such incredible luck with my dice that weekend!), and then stammered out, “I’m a huge fan!” and ran away embarrassed;
  • Attended the Saturday night White Wolf party, where I danced my heart out ’til the wee hours of the morning in between bouts of talking about White Wolf’s games, a love that I seemed to share with everyone in the room;
  • Saw two of my very favorite people from Indianapolis – whom I get to see normally no more than once a month – EVERY DAY, and got to share in the joy of our mutual love of gaming;
  • Spent the ensuing two weeks mooning over the experience, and then realized it’s only been two weeks.

me and Wil Wheaton

I used Mecca earlier in my description of what it’s like to go to Gen Con, and for me, it’s incredibly apt: Gen Con this year was almost like a spiritual experience.  Even though I got a total of twelve hours of sleep between Thursday and Sunday – and Saturday morning, after the all-night V:tM session that kept us up past dawn, only two hours – I was in a constant state of bliss. There’s something very zen about watching a half-dozen men trekking down the street in broad daylight wearing replicas of Jayne Cobb’s famous hat from Firefly. A man walks down the street wearing a hat like that, people know he’s not afraid of anything.  A group of men walks down the street wearing hats like that, in August, in Indianapolis, you know you’re at Gen Con.

And that’s why I can say with absolute certainty that in the year 2040, the people who were in Indy that weekend for the Con are going to be talking about it in much the same way hippies talk about Woodstock now.  If you don’t get it, don’t worry – you just had to be there.

All kinds of stuff going on this summer!

As we hit mid-summer, I’m excited to announce a couple of new professional developments.

One, I’m getting my start in educational technology. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work with Sarah Robbins, also known as Intellagirl, on a really neat project that I think is going to be an incredible learning opportunity for me. I only wish I could talk about it – I sat through training basically completely riveted by how interesting the subject matter was! I’ve never been excited about a job the way I’m excited about this.

What does that mean for my position at UITS? Simply put, I’ll be scaling back my hours and switching to a more documentation-based focus. Instead of taking phone calls, e-mails, and support chats, I’ll be working with supervisory staff and on occasion the Knowledge Management team to update and create documentation for the IU Knowledge Base, which is an incredible resource if you have technical questions.

Additionally, on deck for this summer, I have a few websites I’ll be working on. One of them will be a professional development style site, portfolio, and CV for my good friend Jeana Jorgensen (she’s a PhD student in Folklore at IU, and she’s one of the smartest people I know). Once that’s all put together to a point where Jeana can manage it herself (I’m all about implementing technology that empowers the user regardless of tech skills!) I’m going to be working with my former teacher Troy Brownfield to bring back his site, Shotgun Reviews.

Once all of that is completed, it will be time to update my own web site again. With all these exciting projects, I’m thinking more and more that I ought to have a portfolio available online to showcase the types of projects I’m working on as I am able to do so.

And finally, at the end of the summer, I’ll be starting classes again. My fall schedule is full – thankfully my work schedule is looking like it’s actually going to allow me to do classes full time again – and I’ll be taking classes focused on organizational informatics, human-computer interaction, and computer-mediated communication (that’s nine credits, for those of you counting).

It’s awesome being a geek!

WordPress

WordPress is awesome. It allows me to have a much more interesting web site with much less work; the dynamically-generated navigation is worth its weight in gold (assuming such a thing had a weight and that said weight was a lot). I can build a page and place it within the existing hierarchy with little or no trouble.

However, being as I’m not exactly a PHP genius (I rank somewhere around ‘rank novice,’ I’m pretty sure), it can be frustrating sometimes. I just broke comments.php so many times that I wasn’t sure I could ever fix it. But fix it I did – the comment form now displays on only those posts/pages wherein comments are actually allowed. This took far more time than it was probably worth wasting, but given that I actually managed to solve my problem, I’m glad I took the time to do it. Back to actual content, I guess!