Blogging isn’t dead, but…

… it is certainly connected to and yet different from networks like Facebook and Twitter.  Case in point:

I’m writing this post because I saw Rebecca Howard’s Twitter post about Jeff Rice’s blog, which then pointed me to this ReadWriteWeb post, “Is Blogging Dead?” And this is a question, btw, that the RWW folks answer (basically) “no,” and comments ensue.  And, because I think this is interesting and it will tie in with a class I’m teaching right now, hosted here using the blogging software wordpress. And I will probably alert people that I have made this post by posting a link on Twitter with a #fb tag, which then will in turn also post it to my Facebook account.

So what I mean is this:  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and all kinds of other Web 2.o/social networking/whatever you want to call it software is obviously connected, related, and increasingly redundant.  I’m preparing for a course called “Technology for Teaching and Learning,” which is mostly a hands-on workshop where we’ll learn about all kinds of different tools (Google stuff, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, podcasting, videocasting, wikis, etc., etc.) and talk about how this stuff can (and sometimes can’t) be part of good teaching practices.  As I am going through these various tools, it strikes me how they all do very similar things in interestingly subtle ways.  You update your status on Facebook, you update it on Twitter; why both?  And yet, that’s exactly what lots of people are doing now, including me.

But they are also different, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes not.  And this is one of the main reasons why I don’t think blogging is going to be dead anytime soon, much in the same way that I don’t think video or audio is going to replace the written word anytime soon (notice I didn’t say print on paper– that might be a different story).  Alex Reid kposted something about this (well, the way I’m thinking of it right now at least), about digital video and scholarship, where he wondered what the role of video is as a means of delivering scholarship in comp/rhet.  Why are there so many books and journal articles out there about web 2.0 stuff, not to mention video and film?  Well, besides the academic capital issue, I think it’s because it turns out that these rather traditional forms actually are the best ones to sometimes articulate and reflect on ideas both big and small.  Not in an either/or sense, but in a “use the right tool for the job” sense.

I guess where I see this in my own blogging/facebooking/twittering is this:  Facebook and Twitter is for posting links and for posting about “being” on a day to day basis; my blog is a place to write out something more– not necessarily “thoughtful” per se, but more reflective.  In that sense, I think that one shift that is going on in blogging in relation to these other medias (and perhaps why some think that blogging is “dead”) is that the diary aspect of blogging– I’m about to go mow the lawn (a true statement, btw!)– is much more effectively presented via Facebook/Twitter.  So maybe the diary blog is a dying off, but that’s okay, I think.

Once again, I welcome the death of handwriting

Via the NCTE Inbox, I came across this Time magazine article, “Mourning the Death of Handwriting.” It’s pretty much the same discussion about handwriting that I’ve posted about in the past:  isn’t it a shame that handwriting is dying, though there is no compelling reason as to why this really that bad of a thing.

But there are two twists.  First, the article’s author, Claire Suddath, actually quotes pretty much the only “real” expert on handwriting I know, Tamara Thornton, who wrote a fantastic book called Handwriting in America:  A Cultural History. Thornton’s theory about the “death” of handwriting is more tied to the role of standardized testing than increased computer use.  “If something isn’t on a test,” she said, “it’s viewed as a luxury.”  She has a point.

Second, the article once again highlights the difficulty in trying to figure out just when exactly handwriting “died.” My parents were both born in the 1940s, and my mother writes with a sort of combination of cursive and print, while my father’s handwriting is print, and one that looks like it was heavily influenced by something like an engineering or drafting class he took.  My wife and I were both born in the 1960s; Annette’s handwriting is neat and cursive, and my handwriting is awful.  We and pretty much everyone else in our generation were formally taught handwriting, but it seems like I and everyone else I know prints.  The article’s author, Suddath, interviews her third grade teacher (Suddath said she was in the third grade in 1990) who taught her handwriting and who implies that Suddath’s was pretty much the last generation for whom cursive was a “rite of passage.”  My son, born in the late 1990s, has awful handwriting, but he was most definitely taught cursive and I do recall the third and fourth graders seeing writing in cursive as a “grown-up” thing to do.

Anyway, my point is it seems like handwriting has been waning and lost on the next generation for a long time now.  But once again, as someone who has never had the coordination (left-handedness, mostly), skill, or patience to write– even print!– neatly, I welcome the ever-returning end of handwriting.

MLA says no more underlining (13 years later, victory is sweet)

I learned via Dennis Jerz’s blog today and found more details at the Purdue OWL that the Modern Language Association is officially saying that underlining is out and italics is in.  I suppose the bigger news is MLA saying that URLs are no longer required (and I agree with Dennis that sometimes requiring URLs makes a lot of sense), but I have to say my geeky little English professor heart skipped a beat at the victory about italics.  My victory, that is.

Back in 1996, after I had finished and defended my dissertation, Annette and I were spending the spring/summer that year preparing for the move to Oregon for my first tenure-track job and I was running through the last details of submitting my dissertation to the graduate college for their official stamp of approval before it went off to the binary, DAI, and points beyond.  This is a process which exists at all graduate schools (at least it did– maybe these offices have been phased out with more and more electronic publication of these projects?), and it is mostly to make sure that dissertations and theses adheared to standard formatting in terms of a style manual and also in terms of dimensions of the document so it could be properly bound.

As I understood it, the office that did the reviewing at BGSU was staffed with graduate students on various assistantships, which meant that the level of scrutiny these documents received kind of varied. I was lucky enough to get a, um, “eager beaver,” as my reviewer.  I submitted my completed diss, and I got back what I believe was a print letter/memo (I don’t think it was an email, though I think I emailed my response) that indicated some real proof-reading errors I needed to fix, and two other global “errors” the reviewer insisted I correct.  First, this person said that I couldn’t use any contractions so I had to change all of them throughout the manuscript.  Second, I was told that I had to change all uses of italics to underlined text.

First off, I responded, there’s no rule in MLA style about the use of contractions, and I used them correctly.  Second, MLA’s rules for underlining versus italics was inconclusive, and I personally preferred the use of italics.  So, in effect, my response to the manuscript reviewer was “Thanks for your thoughts, but I’m not making those changes.  Let’s move on.”  The response I received was something along the lines of “While I will conceede that your use of contractions does not violate MLA style, I must insist that the use of italics is incorrect.  Please make the appropriate changes.”

My response to this was (and I believe this is the technical phrase) I blew a nut.  I was not about to have my completed dissertation derailed by some underline-happy MA student.  To make a long-story short, I had to cite chapter and verse in MLA style to this person’s supervisor, who did admit that this person trying to hold up the process after my successful defense was perhaps overstepping their bounds just a tad.  So the italics stood, and have always made a point of instructing my students that either underlining or italics is okay.

I’m looking forward to now telling my students to ditch the underlining.

“In the Future, the Cost of Education Will Be Zero”*

* Plus or minus a bunch of money for various fees and such….

Via Twitter, I stumbled upon this video from back in February about the University of the People, which is an open source university that is free– except for the fee to register and the fee to take classes.  Oh, and there are (apparently) no professors, unless you want to call them up and ask them for advice.  And just now, I stumbled across this article on Mashup, “In the Future, the Cost of Education will be Zero.” It’s a really interesting collection of resources, and I’ll probably be sharing it very soon with my Technology for Teaching and Learning class in Traverse City.  It could easily be useful for 516.

I have to say I’m a little skeptical.  Perhaps I am having the same reaction to this stuff that Metallica has to music piracy, that this “free” university stuff is going to come back to bite people like me, who do not do this teaching stuff for just the love of learning.  But the thing is there is a big difference between “information” being free and even course materials being free and an “education” being free.  Not to mention a “degree” from an accredited university.  Sure, you could study and learn at MIT’s Opencourseware site, but try to apply for an engineering job or something and tell your future employer that you don’t have a degree from MIT, just their web site.

So no, zero is perhaps a little misleading and unrealistic.  I do think though that these projects have a lot to teach universities and college in the US.  It seems to me that some of these open content and open courseware tools could be applied to lots of programs at EMU to reduce institutional overhead and cost to students.  I don’t think that means that a degree from a “real” university is ever going to be free in this country, but it could get a lot cheaper.

What makes you think I’m not teaching naked?

A colleague of mine at EMU from another department sent me a link to this article in the CHE, “‘Teach Naked:’ Effort Strips Computers From Classrooms.” My first response was to send them to Alex Reid’s blog entry on this; as Alex points out, it isn’t a question about PowerPoint or any other technology per se.  Rather, it’s about the problem of using technology to continue to the same old teaching methods, and it’s about using the technology in new and logical ways– e.g., podcasts and the like instead of lecture hall classes.

But I’ll point out two other things.

First, I suspect this colleague sent me this article because we’re both on this committee about remodeling/redesigning Pray-Harrold Hall, and I think there is a general fear (or maybe it’s just me) that the powers that be are going to throw good money toward a technology that will become quite useless in just a few years.  When they built Halle Library (which is generally a very nice facility), they spent a ton of money stringing Ethernet cable all over the place.  Just a few years later, they turned that all off because now the building is wireless.  So, what I’m afraid of is we’re going to spend all this money in Pray-Harrold with whatever– computers in every classroom with lots of controlers and gizmos to more or less project PowerPoint slides– when that is both bad teaching (see above) and likely to be obsolete sooner than later.  To quote from the article:

(José A. Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University advocating the “naked” teaching)  says most of those classrooms had two computers (a Mac and a PC), a DVD player, a VCR, and a tape deck, along with “one of those complicated control panels where you need a Ph.D. to figure it out.”

Last summer Mr. Bowen had most of that gear removed—though he left in projectors so that professors could plug in their laptops and do PowerPoint presentations, if they must. He also took out the old desks and replaced them with tables and chairs that professors could move around to allow students to work in groups more easily.

One reason for the changes was financial. The classroom computers were old and needed an upgrade when Mr. Bowen arrived, so ditching them instead saved money. Plus, the move cut support costs—the school was able to eliminate one staff position for a technician who responded to calls from professors about the classroom systems.

To encourage the kind of technology use Mr. Bowen did want, the school gave every professor a laptop and set up support so they could create their own podcasts and videos.

Some professors have complained about lugging their laptops to class, but others have jumped in with both feet.

This makes complete sense to me, and if you follow the trend in computer sales (desktops way down, laptops/netbooks way up), it just seems logical that more and more faculty will start doing this.  Heck, most faculty bring laptops to classes as it is.

Second, the article oddly makes no reference to the truly naked (well, casually clothed and/or pajamas) form of teaching:  online classes.  I found that odd.  Maybe they just don’t do this sort of thing at SMU, or maybe what Bowen means by naked teaching is more about the face-to-face experience, I don’t know.  But I can say without a doubt that teaching online has done more to change my approaches, in both good and bad ways.

Just for the heck of it, I’ll give my two cents about Henry Louis Gates being arrested

Let me offer three important caveats:

  • I do not know Henry Louis “Skip” Gates nor am I that familiar with his work (though, obviously, I’ve heard of him as he is arguably one of the two or three most famous and influential African American scholars in the U.S. today);
  • I wasn’t there when Gates got arrested; and/or
  • My own bias is generally with Gates and Obama– that is, I do tend to think that if Gates were a white guy this wouldn’t have happened, I think that Gates was arrested mostly because he pissed the cop off, and, like our president, it would appear that the Cambridge Police handled this “stupidly.”

Having said all that, I think the one thing that I’ve seen missing from the popular press reports trying to analyze this story is about Gates’ pedigree as a very prestigious academic.  Gates might be the nicest guy on the face of the earth, but I’ve got to say that most very prestigious academics have a bit of a, um, “diva” complex.  So for me, it is very easy to believe that under the circumstances, Gates may have given the arresting officer a bit of ‘tude.  I can imgine something like this:

Officer: Sir, we have a complaint about a break-in at this address—

Gates: Do YOU know WHO I AM?!?  I’m the freakin’ Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard!!

Officer:  The who?

Gates: I’m the freakin’ Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research!!

Officer: The what?

Gates:  You really don’t know who I am or why I’m important?!

Officer:  No, no sir, I don’t.

Gates:  You Neanderthal.  Racist pig.  What is WRONG with you?!

Officer:  Okay, okay, my friend, you have the right to remain silent….

(and scene)

I guess my point is that if you are an academic and you think you are “a big deal,” probably best to check that at the door when confronting law enforcement.  My free advice.

Dimdim: Web conferencing

This is one of those things I need to think about playing with for my online teaching: seems to be pretty interesting software for collaborative video conferencing online, and there’s even an education/virtual classroom option. Now, it might not be all that smart/great; for example, I am concerned that the educational option promotes the fact that classroom size has now been increased from 40 to 50 (um, hurray?).  But to help with my own online teaching and/or to help my students collaborate on projects, it seems to me this might be a pretty handy tool for 328, 516, 444, or just about anything else I teach online.

“Lost in the Clouds”

I don’t know if I’ll be including a unit on “cloud computing” per se in anything I teach in the near future, but I think Jonathan Zittrain’s “Lost in the Cloud” raises some really interesting and difficult questions about the down-side of everything being up online and off the desktop.  A useful  quote:

A hacker recently guessed the password to the personal e-mail account of a Twitter employee, and was thus able to extract the employee’s Google password. That in turn compromised a trove of Twitter’s corporate documents stored too conveniently in the cloud. Before, the bad guys usually needed to get their hands on people’s computers to see their secrets; in today’s cloud all you need is a password.

This might come up in 516 or 444, maybe even in the upcoming tech for teaching.