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February, 2009:

Keep Up With New Video in UMWBlogs

The last few posts were heavy on reflection, so I wanted to come back to building something.

Our New Media Specialist, Andy Rush, asked Jim this morning something about new videos in UMWBlogs.  That got me thinking that it’d be neat to have a feed of new posts that include videos.

So here ya go.  Simple RSS feed of the 10 most recent posts in UMWBlogs that contain a movie.  I suspect I’ll miss some videos here and there, depending on how well my scrapers are doing, but hopefully this’ll be good enough to keep you entertained!

If you want the whole list, here‘s a plain page listing all the posts with video.


Student Publishing and the Web Context

Last night I was bopping from site to site, and decided to check in on the Two Week Timeline to see what’s up. I saw four interesting-looking titles, and went to give them a peek. On one level, I was delighted, of course, at the expression and reflection at work in them. But then I realized. HEY! WHERE’S THE LINKS?!

That’s not just a matter of wanting to look at what they are referring to (though I do). It’s a matter of the absense of relationship-expressing between their thoughts and what prompts them. In the four posts I looked at, there were exactly zero (0) links. Take a look at some excerpts.

From Black Power to the First Black President

Professor Countryman’s speech began with a mention of Obama’s Spring 2008 speech denouncing black nationalism. Still, Countryman argues that Obama and his success cannot be separated from black politics and process.

Which speech? What was the quotation? What was the speech? What was the mention? I don’t know anything about ‘black nationalism’, could ya help me out?

Middle Earth as a Second World

Both Carroll’s and Barrie’s “Secondary Worlds” are more child-like and removed from the real world than Tolkien’s Middle Earth; a giant man is easier to come across than a talking Cheshire cat or a fairy. Tolkien creates a “Secondary World” that brings to life the dangers of growing up with the awareness there’s no turning back.

Whose? Where’s the texts? I’d like to follow up! Throw a man a bone! Or at least a link!

If I Hear the Word Contradiction One More Time, I’ll Scream

If I hear the word contradiction one more time, I am going to scream. Seriously.

I am going to be upfront with you all: I absolutely hated this reading. It felt disorganized, rushed, and repetitive. There were very few moments of actual clarity, where Lowe actually tells us something worth making note of.

Umm…what reading? Who’s Lowe? Does he or she sell home improvement products?

Screencast: How to Make a Graph

I made my screencast on how to make a graph in excel because it is something that I have always struggled with when using excel. I know I always have to review the steps and usually still end up forgetting one and getting frustrated. I ran into some problems getting my screencast to upload. Everytime I tried to upload it would ask me to login and then just take me right back to the login page. I am in the processing of emailing our professor to try and figure out whats going on. As soon as I can fix the problem I will post the URL.

In reflection over the whole process I actually enjoyed the process of making the screencast. I never even knew that something like this existed where I could make my own tutorial videos. I think they are great things to have as extras for you class. I was nervous about the doing a screencast but everything went very smoothly until I had uploading problems. I agree that you need to practice. I practiced creating my chart a few times before I actually recorded myself to help everything go more smoothly once I recorded. I really like this site and making the screencast. I plan on finding a way to encorporate it into one of my lessons.

OK, I know you can’t get it posted up right now. But presumably you are discovering new tools to use to make the screencast? How about a link to the tools?

Sorry for being so grumpy and persnickety. But I really am intrigued. These are good thoughts. I want to understand them better. Especially so I can respond to them better. But without a way to get at the context, I’m stymied.

First, there are just technological failures. There isn’t a quick and easy way to generate the links to the people, texts, or concepts implicit here. We’re working on that. But it’s worth the time to copy in some links.

I worry about something a bit more fundamental, though. These examples seem to reflect a writing process of just writing for classmates (or, worse, just the teacher). In each case, the references are taken as known. In a document printed out and handed to the instructor, that might be appropriate. In the web context, though, I’d really like to see more of the links. Yeah, it adds a little to the writing time to look up some links (but even now, it doesn’t take that long to at least throw in a wikipedia reference. I’d even be happy with the error-prone plugin that tries to make a good guess about links.) That would at least show an awareness that these blog posts, by virtue of being on the web, do not exist in isolation or in the limited context of just a group of students gathered for one course in one semester.

My greatest fear is that this might reflect the idea that faculty are treating student blogging as just a transfer of traditional ‘response paper’ type assignments from print to the web. If we printed these posts, there would be nothing to suggest an incongruity between web and print.

We — yeah, okay, ME — as an instructional technology guy and blogger, need to do more to bring faculty and students into seeing their content as being born-web, as opposed to born-print, being more aware of the implications, and acting on them in the writing process. If we don’t do that, student web publishing will end up being little more than a quicker, cheaper, and easier Blackboard. Those are good things. But they’re also not the point.


I saw this morning that the screencast mentioned in the fourth example above is up. There’s something instructive about that post, too:

Ok. I got it to work. Wooohooo! I made mine on how to make a line graph using Excel. Enjoy.

Compare this with the post that was the reflection. Here, we see enthusiasm, excitement, and a desire to have others view and enjoy it. In comparison, the first post about it seems awfully lifeless and wooden. How do we bring the enthusiasm and desire to share that comes from a sense of accomplishment into more posts?

“Where’s the Links?”: Pedagogy and the Blue Underline

Yesterday I posted about how some students have retitled their blogs to reflect the course they are in this semester rather than last. That got me thinking about continuity of intellectual life and development from semester to semester — or lack thereof — and the blogging practices that could reflect and/or facilitate it.

Here’s a place where, perhaps, we should think about student blogging and the practices for it as something a little different from general blogging practices. Or maybe not different, but with some particular focus and emphasis. The particular thing I have in mind is linking, something I’ve also written about in “Links–They’re Not Just For Breakfast and Google Anymore!”. (Like how I went meta on that one?)

Experienced bloggers do a lot of linking to other bloggers and sites. But often enough we also link back to ourselves. That’s not a vanity thing, it reflects the fact that our blogs are a part of our own intellectual development. We work through ideas there, and so in the blogs history you can see the development of our thoughts. It’s quite natural, then, for us to link back to older posts. That linking is just the manifestation of our reflection on previous ideas.

That, I think, is the practice and philosophy that should be emphasized as good student blogging practices. This struck me particularly with the example of a blog that contains material from last semester’s Historical Methods class and this semester’s The Politics and Culture of the 1960s. Perhaps it’s only because there are few posts so far, but that is a place where I would hope for many many many back-links. It seems like the intellectual connections between the two classes should be there — that that is part of the organization of the entire curriculum — and so that should be manifested in the actual links. Pedagogically, pushing students to back-link to previous posts is just a way of saying, “Hey…let’s make the connections between different elements of the curriculum. That’s what it’s designed for.”

About year ago, I did a poster session at ELI along with Steve Greenlaw about a similar idea he and Gardner Campbell cooked up to encourage their advisees to talk about the connections they see between their different courses during a semester. Instead of this taking place in a separate web app during one semester, I’m talking about the connections being manifested within a space they are already using, UMWBlogs, and across many semesters.

This is a real place where encouraging a good blogging practice is also encouraging a good pedagogy and a goal of higher education.

Looks like the next Exhibit I build for Semantic UMW should be something like a “Links History” timeline for each blog.

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?