R685: Week Five Reflection

This week has been a blast in class! Talking about Open Source Software was already exciting enough, and then! Dr. Bonk assigned us each a prominent figure in the open source movement to role play as, and as anything must when including Richard Stallman, open source software using the GNU license, or not using the GNU license, and other people, it quickly devolved into a lot of terribly fun and surprisingly in-character sniping. I broke character exactly once, to post a link to this xkcd strip, which is a favorite of mine, and inspired this incredible photo of Stallman. So it was that this week I got to combine one of my passions – the open source movement – with one of my favorite hobbies – role playing.

Perhaps my favorite “player character” was Laurie, who was assigned the role of Stallman for the week. I was impressed early on by her quick perception of exactly how Stallman communicates in text, but she continued to be a great source of amusement as she teased discussion out of the other folks. If she had half as much fun writing those posts as I’ve had reading them, she’s had a pretty good week. I also rather enjoyed Dr. Bonk stepping in as the “non-player character” who knows everyone (this is a role playing trope. I played THAT VERY CHARACTER last weekend, except instead of being a mild-mannered academic with a legendary collection of awesome hats, she was a Russian assassin. What a varied and interesting life I get to live!)

Connexions. It doesn’t even look like a word anymore. Then again, neither does Sakai. GNU never did to me.

On a slightly off-topic but related note, I was conspicuously absent from the forums for about two days – Saturday and Sunday – which I spent in Indianapolis, dressed up like an elf, hiking across the snow (literally! About two-thirds of my steps I didn’t sink in AT ALL), and hitting people with a foam sword. Oh, and great role playing, too, though our characters are a bit less tech-savvy. Thanks to my armor, I haven’t slouched in two days. I played hard all weekend, and it was one heck of a fun time, but now I’m exhausted. I hope my responses to people’s posts tomorrow won’t be too late for the fun to continue.

As you might be able to tell, role playing is one of my favorite hobbies. I have Live Action Role Play (LARP) games scheduled… well, to be honest, most weekends of the month. I get the chance to play a lot of cool games based on the White Wolf system (Vampire: the Masquerade and Werewolf: the Apocalypse) here in Bloomington, and then I am lucky to have a large group of friends to game with in Indy, where we play a sword-and-sorcery boffer LARP called Trials of Terra Nova. There’s a game we go to in Michigan that’s also a fantasy setting, but as Michigan is cold, that won’t be happening until May. So, good choice, Dr. Bonk.

As a side note: I’ve got to say, having a blog relating to class is really useful to me because it means I can get off on these only tangentially-connected side stories, of which I have a million. Perhaps I should blog about my other classes as well! Though I don’t think many professors would take kindly to me furiously typing a blog post with a tangent instead of paying attention to the lecture. The game I played this weekend actually is quite notable for its extensive use of various emerging technologies for logistics and communications – in addition to a central repository of files (managed by Google docs, unfortunately, not GitHub), there is a forum and a mailing list, which we can use to discuss things and keep in touch – and in touch with our characters – in between games, which happen once a month.

R685: Week Four Reflection

This week in R685 we’re discussing online and blended learning.

“the smallest institutions have the lowest [online] penetration rates across almost all program categories” (Allen & Seaman, 2005).

I wanted to draw attention to this because I’m guessing there are lots of reasons worth talking about. For example: smaller institutions tend to have smaller staff and smaller budgets to work with, as discussed in the report. There’s more than that, though: the college at which I did my undergraduate offers traditional and distance-learning formats (though even the distance classes are really only online-facilitated at this point), and though it has begun developing an online degree program in recent years, faculty with whom I still correspond on a regular basis tell me that those people in charge of the program are having trouble understanding in what ways online courses differ from traditional courses, so that may be another reason as well.

At least at my small, private, not-for-profit school (my graduating class, 2008, comprised of the entire undergraduate student body, on-campus and off, was less than 200 people), much of the technological things we take for granted at IU just weren’t possible. The first semester online registration was even AVAILABLE for was the fall after I graduated – I had to truck pieces of paper around campus, get four or five different signatures, and then drop everything off with the registrar (uphill, both ways in the snow, blah blah).

Allen & Seaman (2010) seems to support my analysis that part of the problem is a lack of institutional commitment to online course offerings. “[S]chools [that institutionally believe that their online offerings are strategic for their institution and they have fully incorporated online into their formal long-term plan] enroll forty-three percent of all higher education students but educate nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of all online students in fall 2009.” Those schools that don’t “culturally” understand the importance of the technology are going to be slower to adopt the technology.

That said, I’m not sure if I’m convinced that online classes are unilaterally better than face-to-face ones. I love having course materials available 24/7 from anywhere I might happen to be, but on the other hand, one problem brought up by Figlio et. Al (2010) is one that I am already having trouble with, just a few weeks into the semester: “as has been documented at one major four-year institution, last-minute cramming in internet-based courses is rampant (Donovan, Figlio and Rush, 2006)”. Though I’m doing it on a micro-scale, getting my last-minute “cramming” done at the end of the week rather than the semester, I’m just not as active as I like to be in this class. For me, having concrete deadlines is very important, or I have a hard time getting things done. I find it a little funny that, as a person planning to work with teachers to incorporate technology into their classes, I’m having trouble taking an online class – even one as well-designed as this one.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2005). Growing by degrees: Online education in the United States, 2005. Needham, MA: Sloan-C. Retrieved on June 24, 2010,, from http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/pdf/growing_by_degrees.pdf

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2010, November). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010, The Sloan Consortium. http://sloanconsortium.org/sites/default/files/class_differences.pdf

Figlio, D.N., Rush, M., & Yin, L. (2010, June). Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning. National Bureau of Economic Research. http://www.nber.org/papers/w16089.pdf?new_window=1

R685: Week Three Reflection

Keeping it short this time, as the readings were a bit sparse this week. E-book and e-reader technology has been something of an area of interest to me for awhile (I think I find myself saying that every week), and I’ve used digital books and papers in every facet of my life: personal, for pleasure reading; professional, for reference (I find it much more convenient to have a searchable database of searchable text than an entire library of manually-indexed paper books); and academic, for classes. I still haven’t made the switch entirely, for a number of reasons.

First, my professors have yet to unilaterally adopt a policy of entirely-online textbooks. I’m very fortunate, however, in that many of my faculty have. This is my fourth semester in graduate school and I have collected a grand total of seven books – or eight, if you count the one that I had previously purchased for an undergraduate class and then kept. Another of those eight textbooks is a book that I purchased a paper copy of for an undergraduate class, then sold back, and then ended up needing again as a graduate student (though there WAS an updated edition). I’ve noticed that even many of my faculty who prefer to grade hard-copies of assignments are switching to electronic materials, freely available via one of IU’s many systems (eReserves, the Oncourse Resources section, etc.). As an IT professional and student at IU I also have access to Books 24×7, a database of technical textbooks, and that has been immensely useful in preventing my cubicle shelves from being clogged down with reference books (I prefer to use that space for tchotchkes instead).

And I’m all for that. I don’t feel sanguine, by contrast, about the idea that I might at some point have to purchase access to an e-textbook. Amazon and other companies have repeatedly proven that they are not of the opinion that you “own” digital copies of their media. One example of this: Amazon recently deleted copies of 1984 and Animal House at the request of the copyright holder. The irony of copies of 1984 disappearing down the “memory hole” is a subject for another post entirely – but it illustrates an important reason, I believe, why academia hasn’t more widely adopted digital textbooks. In addition, the lack of a widely available, standard, open format for ebooks is another huge issue. I once purchased a digital copy of a book for a platform not supporting my iPhone, which is the device on which I do most of my e-book reading. I never ended up reading it in that format – instead, I purchased a redundant, analog copy, which I was able to read unfettered by required software and hardware.

Another thing that I don’t think digital reading will ever be able to reproduce is the sheer sensory experience one has when reading a physical, paper book. There’s a smell, a texture, a sound the pages make when you turn them. My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice – I have a beautiful, leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of it that I take out and read about once a year, and for me the aesthetics of the book add to the experience. It even has one of those little sewn-into-the-binding ribbon bookmarks. While I could, theoretically, get an iPad (or whatever device) case that replicates some of these qualities, it’s just not the same: the weight, the thickness, the sounds are all off.

So for now, I stick to only purchasing (which we will define as “paying a set of US dollars for”) physical copies of the books I want to keep. If I’m not paying for it, as I do with a number of e-books (pro-tip: search for amazon free kindle titles. Discover new authors you might not otherwise), I treat it as a library book – something I have borrowed, but do not own. If I might be upset over losing it, I purchase a physical copy. Amazon hasn’t yet perfected the art of invading people’s homes to steal their books back.

….Okay, now go back and read the first sentence of this post. I think it’s time to admit I have a problem! And that’s my reflection for this week: I start out intending to write these clean, concise blog posts topical to the class sessions, and then I get off on tangents upon tangents.

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.