R685: Week Two Tids (no vids!)

The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains – Carr

Money Quote: “The evidence suggested, then, that the distinctive neural pathways of experienced Web users had developed because of their Internet use.”

Reaction: This article makes two points. The first is that frequent internet users have a different neural pathway than inexperienced ones. The study cited suggests that only a few hours of searching was enough to rewire the users’ brains. I guess that’s one way to “alter one’s consciousness.

The second point is that hypertext and mixed-media are making it more difficult for us to move information into long term memory by causing us to switch cognitive tasks at such a high rate. I say: there’s an xkcd for that. I still don’t think the internet is making us dumber, though, as this article seems to suggest.

What I Read – Shirky

Money quote: “In general, there’s no real breaking news that matters to me. I don’t have any alerts or notifications on any piece of software I use. My phone is on silent ring, nothing alerts me when I get a Tweet and my e-mail doesn’t tell me when messages arrive.”

I’m finding that increasingly, when I sit down at the computer, notifications are bothering me more and more. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve switched to a Mac or because I use the Mac specifically for work- and class-related tasks, but I’ve found myself turning off increasing numbers of notifications on this machine. I leave them all enabled on my home computer, a Windows machine, because in general when I am using that computer I am either doing non-urgent work, or “play” type activities like games and instant messaging. I still keep e-mail, IM, and Twitter open, but I find myself referring to them less now, and only at natural stopping points in my daily tasks. I also seem to be getting things done faster than I normally would. I think that’s probably important.

R685 Week 1 Tids & Vids

Over the course of the semester, in addition to participating in class forum discussions, attending synch sessions, and blogging weekly reflections, we’ve been asked to read a number of shorter articles, or “Tidbits,” and watch a few videos. This is my first set of Tids & Vids – I’ll be keeping track here with a sentence or two for each, so that when it comes time to summarize my readings, I can just refer back to these posts rather than trying to remember.

Tids for Week One (just a little late, since I only just decided to keep track here):

Long Live the Web, Berners-Lee

An eloquent article in defense of net neutrality and freedom of information. Very timely. Money quote: “Connections among data exist only within a site. So the more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social-networking site becomes a central platform—a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it.”

Given that much of my academic career has centered around new media journalism, this is an issue near and dear to my heart. I agree with Wikileaks in principle, if not always in practice, because I think that once a government stops being afraid of its citizens, it stops being for its citizens. Though I sometimes wish I felt otherwise, I believe that people have a right to know and a duty to report. I’m also a pretty big proponent of net neutrality, though I fear that Comcast winning the right to charge Netflix extra for bandwidth may have been the first outright shot in the war on the open internet.

Reaching the Last Technology Holdouts at the Front of the Classroom – Young

Money quote: “Every semester a lot of professors’ lectures are essentially reruns because many instructors are too busy to upgrade their classroom methods.”
Bonus second money quote: “The least-wired faculty members make the best advocates for high-tech teaching.”

Assessment: I really liked this article, because it confirmed and solidified a couple of nebulous theories I’d been working on. The first was that it’s a definite issue for technology advocates to convince some teachers to adapt to new techniques. Having had the opportunity to discuss teaching with many of my undergraduate faculty, I heard a number of complaints about other faculty who insisted that what was good enough for THEIR teachers was good enough for their students. Sixty years down the line. The second was that you if you can convince someone who previously disagreed with you that thoughtfully-applied technology that supports and extends the curriculum is the way to go, you’ve just made your own biggest proponent.

And one last bonus money quote: “Technology becomes the handmaiden of the change.” The technology should be there to support the curriculum. The technology should not be there INSTEAD OF the curriculum.

Vid for week one:

“Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business!” – Anderson

Wow. I read this in the issue of Wired it first ran in, my senior year of college, and I remember thinking that it was one of the most amazing, exciting things to think about. I was, at the time, getting ready to begin my job search, which I conducted a great deal of through freely-available job sites such as Monster. I was looking for an apartment, which I did mostly through various free listings online. I was a burgeoning open-source advocate; I was the first person at my college to recommend people make the switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox.

I sat here for awhile wondering if recent moves by the major ISPs in the country have affected Anderson’s theory any in the last three years. Even with Comcast charging Netflix extra for bandwidth usage and AT&T asking customers to pay an extra fee to have no extra data, just to use it a different way (iPhone users wishing to use their phone as a tethering device must agree to a bandwidth cap if they did not previously have one, then pay an additional fee for no additional bandwidth per month to do so), free is still a huge sales point. So, while I don’t see bandwidth getting too cheap to meter any time soon, I do see free playing a much bigger role in the world. That’s why I remain an open source advocate and enthusiast.

R685: Week Two Reflection

This week’s readings, or at least the three I chose, were very much about fluencies and skills employees entering the workforce need to have, and all about how the current generation is, in many cases, failing to be even adequate at those things straight out of high school – and in some cases, straight out of a four-year degree program. This includes things like “reading and writing in English” – these studies dealt specifically with the United States workforce – and paints something of a grim picture of today’s youth. It doesn’t seem surprising to me, then, that anytime the topic of teaching digital fluency comes up, teachers protest, “But students need real world skills too!”

First of all, there’s that “digital world / real world” thing again. I still hate that thing. Operating a word processing program is every bit as “real” a skill as reading, math, or critical thinking. In fact, I speak from personal experience that increasing my level of digital fluency has made me better at reading comprehension (by way of giving me a lot of interesting text and not very much time to get through it), math (which is super important in a lot of the games I play in a number of different ways – budgeting, timing, spacial relations, etc.), and critical thinking (learning to write in a programming language helped me to think much more logically about problems I need to solve).

Second of all, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say, “We need to teach our kids less geography and more Facebook,” or, “Euclidean geometry? Nah, let’s teach them wiki markdown instead.” Technology is an opportunity and a potentially very powerful tool, not a threat. I have difficulty understanding why anyone would think of it that way, though. While I may not be a die-hard transhumanist, chasing after the Singularity, I am a typical millennial (just barely, and I make up for it by being a tech geek like you would not believe) in that I put a lot of trust in technology and I get a lot of value out of it. I don’t, however, think of technology as the be-all, end-all panacea. Curriculum has to be in place first; then, you find ways for the technology to support the curriculum. Then, as a bonus on top of a better-delivered learning experience with the core curriculum, students gain a new bit of digital literacy. This seems like a cut-and-dry win to me.

This week I’d like to reflect on how I use Twitter as an effective tool. I post a lot of content – though I’ve only had my account since 2009, rather late for jumping on the bandwagon, I’ve racked up 5,730 tweets posted. I follow as well as post; I’ve managed to connect with a wide variety of people varying from professional comic book bloggers to a bunch of fascinating academic folks in the city of Bloomington to some of my favorite authors (and of course, a smattering of people I’ve actually met in person before having followed them). Using Twitter I’ve managed to connect with a lot of incredibly smart, interesting folks studying things very similar to my interests, or things I just think are neat. Also using Twitter, I’ve found a lot of incredible opportunities for cool projects to participate in, and a venue for discussing just about any of my interests (it’s as simple as including an appropriate #hashtag). In fact, a couple of nights ago I had a short conversation, via Twitter, with one of my favorite authors about LARP costuming. How cool is that? I’m a sucker for personal, genuine communication, and you’d better believe I am incredibly good at spotting the difference between genuine and fake. Oh, and you wouldn’t believe how many great deals local businesses like the Scholar’s Inn Bakehouse (warning: sound!) or Pizza X (warning: even more obnoxious sound!) are posting on Twitter. Plus, being able to get information about those businesses via their Twitter accounts means I never have to accidentally forget to mute my computer before I visit their site and then have a ringing in my ears for several minutes.

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!