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.

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!