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February 10th, 2009:

Course Blogs and Students Palimpsesting Themselves

Much like a good 5-year overdue cleanup of the attic will uncover some gems among the detritus, I discovered something really interesting while cleaning up some of the data used behind Semantic UMW.

Due to some earlier code that didn’t clean up title information very well (funny characters, random spaces, etc.), many posts and blogs ended up with two titles, an old messy one and a new cleaned up one. Today I started working with some new tools to help me clean out the messy ones. First step was to dig out all the blogs and posts that have two different titles in the database.

A quick query pulled up this little surprise for two names for the same blog:

Introduction to Historical Methods AMST202 : The Politics and Culture of the 1960s

Hmm. A quick look at the archives, and what I know about the likely suspects in the History Department who would involve blogging in their courses, made it pretty clear that this is a case in which a student kept the same blog, but retitled it from the fall to spring semesters to reflect the new course.

The first thing I wondered was whether the theme used had changed, too. Unfortunately, the blog wasn’t listed in the Wayback Machine , so I couldn’t tell. But there are still some really interesting things to think about as a students’ blogging record grows to encompass their entire university history.

First, this will drive librarians, who are concerned with the provenance of a work, absolutely batty. Same with cultural historians and anyone else who is interested in knowing the context within which a work was produced. That is, most of the world of humanities. Those archived posts from last semester, which were written within the context of “Introduction to Historical Methods”, are now being presented as having been written within the context of “AMST202: The Politics and Culture of the 1960s”. It’s a funny kind of palimpsesting at work: the context within which a student’s work was created has been rewritten, with no good way to recapture it.

it seems like this also loses a powerful tool of self-reflection for the student, too. Imagine looking back as a graduating senior to posts that were written during your first semester. How many opportunities for long-term reflection might be lost with the loss of that context. Might a student even remember the course they were blogging in from four years ago? It also obscures a nice chance at contrasting between semesters and courses when the record gets blurred by simply by changing the title. For example, I’m really intrigued by this pair:

Gene’s Labor Rights Blog Gene’s Little Piece of Computer Heaven

In some of the cases I encountered, I suspect that there might also be a really interesting progression in the student’s thought at work. Does renaming the blog suggest that they have recontextualized their educational experience for themselves? The above instance is a simple example — the recontextualization is just the move from one course to another. But what if the retitling is actually a reflection of coming to a richer appreciation or understanding? Could that be at work in this pair?

More than just sleeping Dreams are the source of Imagination.

Or this one?

I Just Can’t Call it US History in Film I feel like a one-legged man at a fancy dance.

I don’t think that we should be asking students or faculty to do the annotations to keep a record of how the context of their posts do or do not shift. But I also think that it is important to try to capture this information somehow in an easy way to reveal it again. I’m going to guess that each individual post written under the titles “Gene’s Labor Rights Blog” and “Gene’s Little Piece of Computer Heaven” will make it clear that the context is very different. If someone stumbles upon an old post with the new blog title, I expect confusion. Some way to expose the fact that, once upon a time, the blog had a different title and context will be essential, both to help the reader out, and to guide the student toward thinking of their blogging and educational experiences as part of a continuous progress, not distinct jumps from class to class (even if the surface appearance of the blog makes it look that way).

One tool for addressing this issue of a student’s entire blogging history that encompasses the individual classes might be the idea of every student having their own domain, with subdomains, categories, or sub-blogs for each new course context. (See Jim Groom’s post on the idea).I can easily foresee long term management issues there, too, but it might be a way to start thinking about things.

These sorts of issues are why this project is here–both to discover them and to try to capture the material along with the bigger contexts in which the material is produced. Right now, I’m not able to add the needed metadata, but it is a goal of the longer-term project I write about in “Thoughts Toward a Giant EduGraph” (warning, this link goes to my much more technical blog, heavy geekery lies in wait for anyone who follows it!). Eventually, I’d like to see this kind of data being collected with little or no work needed by the blogger. It should all be readily exposed or derived from other known pieces of information, possibly just through the use of tags or machine tags, possibly with a quick and easy interface or plugin to update the blog’s context each semester. That’s still a bit far off, but it’s coming!

In the meanwhile, here’s a few more of my favorite retitlings:

molly moo’s blog yellow bubbles

Or best of all……

Musings Musings in my Pain, Pleasure, and Everything in Between Forgotten Fairytale What now?