Archive for February, 2010

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Protected: Class Notes — 2/24 — Benkler

February 24th, 2010

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The Changing Landscape of Scholarly Communication

February 20th, 2010

Photo by Kurt Wagner

Photo by Kurt Wagner

I’ve mentioned a few times that twitter has become an extremely useful tool for attendees of academic conferences. The service helps connect people, publicize ideas that emerge in panels, and extend conference conversations beyond the time and space limitations of the event itself.

Digital Humanities scholar Amanda French discussed the increasing speed of academic discourse in her post Make “10″ louder, or, the amplification of scholarly communication, which she published on the heels of the 2009 MLA. I think you’ll find both the statistics she compiled and her analysis of them provocative.

One of the reasons I bring conference-twittering up is that there are a few major Digital Humanities Conferences going on this weekend that may be of interest to members of this class. Some of them are already linked in the sidebar events listing. I’ll link below to both the conference website and to the twitter hashtag. If the subject of the conference interests you, you might take a look through the conference tweetstream to get a sense of what people were discussing at various panels:

The Past’s Digital Presence: Database, Archive, and Knowledge Work in the Humanities (Yale)
website | twitterstream

Digital Media and Learning Conference: Diversifying Participation (UCSD)
website | twitterstream

Also of interest might be the archived audio and video from a recent presentation at NYU by Columbia prof. Eben Moglen. Moglen spoke on the topic of “Freedom In The Cloud”; we might want to talk about this when we do our session on storage and cloud computing.

All of these links point to the changing landscape of scholarly communication. And on that note, the twitter archive of Mark’s DH 2010 — the first fake Digital Humanities Conference — might be of interest, as well.

Following Up and Looking Forward

February 20th, 2010

Thanks, everyone, for a great discussion last Wednesday. Here are links to a few sites I mentioned in the course of our conversation:

Two ideas from Jim Groom, Instructional Technologist at University of Mary Washington and blogger at Bavatuesdays:

  • A Domain of One’s Own, in which he discusses the idea of giving students control over their own domain/server spaces.
  • The Digital Five Ring binder, in which discusses the idea of giving every student a blog and syndicating content from student blogs to aggregated course sites.

Also, I wanted to mention two other resources that can be used to create digital spaces for your classes:

  • Ning: Ning allows users to created social networks around topics of their choosing. Like WordPress.com, it is a hosted solution. It has two problematic aspects: it is not open source, and non-premium accounts have text ads in the sidebar. But it does offer a very easy-to-use social environment that my students, at least, have responded to very positively.
  • Elgg is an open-source social networking platform. If you have your own server, you can use the open-source Elgg platform to create a social site for your courses.

Finally, here’s a reminder of the chapters we’re reading from Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks:

Chapter 1 Introduction pp. 1-28
Part One Intro. The Networked Information Economy pp. 29-34
Part Two Intro. The Political Economy of Property and Commons pp. 129-132
Chapter 6. Political Freedom Part 1: The Trouble with Mass Media pp. 176-211
Chapter 7. Political Freedom Part 2: Emergence of the Networked Public Sphere pp. 212-272
Chapter 8. Cultural Freedom: A Culture Both Plastic and Critical pp. 273-300
Chapter 10. Social Ties: Networking Together pp. 356-377

Benkler’s text is available online in many formats, including PDF, Google Books, HTML, and others.

Learning Spaces (Feb 17)

February 15th, 2010

When reading about CMS, and from what I’ve heard from people who use blackboard, I get the impression that they don’t really work. Pulling from my discipline of television, CMS kind of reminds me of the problem of putting educational content into entertainment, it doesn’t always fit seemlessly, and when the education is shoved in to the story to meet a standard you end up with something that is neither educational or entertaining. CMS seems like it often has a similar problem where no one really likes it or knows how to use it, and it becomes a redundant tool, with the exception of a few items. My first introduction to blackboard was a few years ago when I took a class where all grades were posted on it. I spent a few weeks trying to figure out where this “blackboard” was before a classmate finally explained. The teacher never gave an introduction, assuming that all students were aware of the class system. In order for CMS to really work both teacher and students need to be able to work together to use a tool that seemlessly integrates to the course.

The article on RSS feeds goes along with the CMS information, in that if the tools aren’t used, they are useful. Courses like ours, to help teachers integrate these types of tools are necessary. Even in our course there is a learning curve to using the technology. It is so easy to revert to “traditional” learning methods.

Crowd-sourced grading is an interesting concept. In some ways I think it mirrors how I felt grades were moving toward the end of high school. A’s were becoming common and expected, and moving to the standard. If you did all the work well, then you got an A. Teachers were still grading everything, however, many of our daily assignments were checked off for completion or trade and grade.

Wineburg — Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (chapters 1 and 2)

February 10th, 2010

The first chapter of the Wineburg selection was interesting for me in the way that it traced out expert behavior in essentially moral terms — that to be an expert in a field means having a basically humble stance toward the subject matter. To know how to do history becomes important, then, since dealing with the knowledge that we are inextricably bound by our own historical position and that we necessarily have to attempt to unstick ourselves from that position, regardless of the impossibility of actually transcending our material circumstances, requires a “humility before the narrowness of our contemporary experience and an openness before the expanse of the history of the species.” This is fascinating to me; it is the study of history as philosophy, but philosophy in the very old, very humanistic “how shall we live?” sense. The teaching of history (and the humanities in general), becomes a means to make people who are better at life; it’s ethics as craft.

The second chapter then reads to me like practices that encourage that humility, in the form of teaching that’s meant to draw out complexity rather than answer questions. As with most of the material on teaching that we’ve read in core 1 and so far in this class, the question I’m left with is whether there’s any space right now in the public schools we have now for generating complexity, or if the grim presence of standardized tests focusing on more easily assessable metrics has squeezed out the opportunity for humanistic, ethics-as-craft teaching altogether.

Some thoughts on How People Learn 6-8

February 10th, 2010

So, several aspects of “How People Learn” were very refreshing to read, among them:

  • The focus on the importance of content in teaching, and moreover multiple types of content — both the content of the subject and pedagogical content knowledge.
  • The focus on a sort of productive ignorance, which is short-circuited for all sorts of learners, even teachers-as-learners, by environments which persuade learners to focus on not making errors.
  • But most especially, the way the text manages to simultaneously respect the differences between the strategies required to teach different content, while also consistently clustering or chunking these different strategies around deep underlying patterns. It seems to me that regardless of the domain being taught (history, math, physics, and even teaching itself), they present successful strategies as being based around not so much memorizing the content data of the field, but instead learning the characteristic ways of arranging data among practitioners of those fields, and the strengths of those methods of arrangement, and connecting those chunking methods to pre-existing strategies used by the learner and to the learner’s environment.

Now, this popped out for me for an array of reasons. One is the sheer joy of uncovering self-reference; I kept thinking “aha! they’re using their own strategies!” when they’d demonstrate the deep-level way that superficially different learning strategies deployed by experts in different fields ultimately resembled each other on a more significant level. Second, though, is that it got me thinking not just about the links between how experts in different fields approach their material, or just about how to teach that, but also about how it seems like teaching and design seem to share a lot of common features.
The word “metacognitive” shows up a lot in writing from rhetoric and composition, but to me, it seems like the useful term might be “metadata.” As our readings from the first week noted, the problem with managing information systems right now isn’t gathering information (in every significant field, there’s already too much of it for any human to handle), but instead presenting that data in ways that help users find the data that’s useful for them and that encourage them to link it in fruitful ways. Key to this is the concept of metadata — of marking documents with data that describes the nature of that document. Library catalog stuff — the title, the creator, the date of publication, and so forth — is generally included in metadata, but things like the tags that users can apply to posts on the Commons are metadata. Building a useful information system for use by academics seems weirdly similar to designing an effective curriculum. The goal in both places isn’t to provide all the information that needs to be covered, since there’s always going to be too much information to cover, but is instead to present information with the right metadata — metadata that indicates some of the useful rather than superficial connections that can be made discrete bits of information — and then encourage the learners or researchers to play with those connections.
Okay, looking back on that paragraph I’m realizing it’s more mechanistic than it should be — I guess the core “gee whiz!” realization is just that teaching and learning, in the model they present, seems to be about building useful connections between bits of information, and also that there’s a lot of work going on in fairly dry-seeming corners of information technology to implement that sort of connection-building in code.

How People Learn Chapters 1-3

February 8th, 2010

For the first three chapters these are a few points that stood out for me.

Children and adults are alike in the classroom in that everyone brings their own set of preexisting understandings.  Page 16 gives an example where a college student reverted to untrained conceptions despite having learned the relevant physics.  In a college classroom, with often large class sizes, how do you go about finding the preexisting conceptions that students have and addressing these?

Looking at teaching / learning methods at tools, there are many to choose from.  Even more now with technology based tools.  So how do you know what to use when?  I wonder if the possibly overwhelming number of choices and the lack of teacher support is one reason that teachers continue to teach the way they always have, rather than adapt with new methods.

On experts and novices, I know a little about a lot of things.  I find the tidbits interesting, but wouldn’t necessarily want to dive deeper into the topic.  Choice of topic and how an expert learns and studies new information is different.  How do teachers teach all of the information that needs to be covered in a class and allow for the cross from novice to expert in understanding?

Transfer of knowledge from one area to another is a topic I am interested in.  What are some techniques you have used to help students use preexisting or already learned knowledge to transfer to new material?

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