Archives: September 2003
Tue Sep 30, 2003
I tried Internet Relay Chat today, in preparation for listening in on this week's BloggerCon occasionally. The software was very easy to use, and before I could say chat room I was in the conference feed. Nobody was there, so I tried the Beginner room and ran into three of the classic traits of the web: seemingly aimless talk, pointless bad behavior, and friendly and generous exchange between strangers. The software, mIRC, seems first rate. I also heard about half the people who joined the room in 10 or 15 minutes ask about pirating software, movies, or music. You'd hesitate to send students to these places unescorted, but maybe a site that has a more serious purpose will be different. I'll report back after the conference.
Mon Sep 29, 2003
I've forgotton who passed along the link to the current events page at Wikipedia, but it is a very interesting resource, something akin to an RSS feed from a daily paper, and certainly something one might ask students to read. But it also makes me think about creating something like it -- why not ask the students in a class to create a current events page, updated daily or weekly or monthly as the field requires, for the course topic and the conversations that are going on in the field? At the end of one semester the task might be picked up by students who enroll for the next semester's course.
A course with a more historical emphasis might ask students to create a current events page for a particular year or decade, linking it to other articles of their own composing or to existing Wikipedia pages or existing web pages elsewhere. There's no reason why the format of a daily update need be limited to the day, or week, or month, or year we are actually living in. Just get students to do research and publish, no matter what.
Sun Sep 28, 2003
It appears to me that the last thing I need before the XML page for this site will work properly is the 88x31 pixel image. Not that I expect a rush of new readers once that exists, but it gives a bit of a charge to the act of writing dailies, since people are more likely to become regular readers via Bloglines or other aggregator. It's a hint of the feeling one gets speaking to a large audience, or can get -- I notice that even though some thousands of radios are turned on Friday mornings when our essay series airs at the local public radio station I still don't feel a vivid sense of audience there. That's partially a result of taping ahead, no doubt. Still, you don't want to say something dumb, you want to make it worthwhile. It's good to raise the stakes, to get serious.
Wikipedia on weblogs and wikis
Wiki as dissertation
Ward Cunningham reports that he has for a long time believed that Wikis are better suited to "dissertation" rather than to "dialogue" -- I pretty much agree. Weblogs work well with dialogue, quick-moving responses to ideas and events by many writers. You can probably do much of the same thing with a Wiki if you ignore part of its virtue. I see that virtue as the chance to make something that endures as a resource instead of sliding down the page into the slumber of the archive.
That's why I'm asking students to accumulate ideas, links, and resources on a weblog this term and then to draft and revise a useful web site on a wiki. Process and product both honored, both served, by what I take to be the most appropriate software.
Dave Winer tells a highlight from his experience of people at their best sharing what they could on the web. This is one of the cardinal virtues of the blogosphere, no doubt, and if it withers all the cardinal vices will swamp the rest, I imagine.
Sat Sep 20, 2003
I'll be taking a week off from blogging starting Sunday.
From the W3C site:
Tim Berners-Lee Royal Society Webcast
19 September 2003: Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director, presents The Future of the World Wide Web at the Royal Society in London, UK on Monday, 22 September. The keynote will be Webcast live at 18:00 UTC (7pm British Summer Time). Please visit the Royal Society site for system requirements and to test your connection. Mr. Berners-Lee is a Fellow of the Royal Society (2001). #
I don't believe I've run into an RSS feed from a Wiki site before, but they have one at EdTechWiki, but I can't find it on Bloglines, my new hobby.
Not this but that
Weblogs, says Andrew Grumet, are "closer to jazz improvisation than Beethoven's fifth". It's a good thought, though it presents problems for teachers who need to decide what sort of structure to give an assignment. Do you:
Put the cornet or the login for Radio on the table the first day and they will learn? (That is more or less Harold Hill's think system, I believe.
Put some music books and some links to a few key posts about blogging on the table and they will learn?
Put some time into learning music theory and coming to an understanding of what blogging is good for, then considering a structure of assignments and experiences that will support the values that reside in the cornet and the sheet music or in the weblog and the blogosphere?
Fri Sep 19, 2003
One a day
Sometimes a post at someone's site just makes me happy. Today Will R. at Weblogg-ed said he was going to make a new weblog a day for one campus or school group and hope the whole thing gained momentum until everybody wanted one. That's the spirit.
Thu Sep 18, 2003
Say the magic word and win $50
I'm thinking of offering a prize to any of the bloggers attending BloggerCon -- say the magic word and win $50, as on Groucho's old quiz show. I have picked out the word.
Wed Sep 17, 2003
Blog the vote
The plastic, elastic web in action -- teachers from several different states and school districts have created Blog the Vote 2004, a weblog collaboration whose motto is:
Aggregating the voices of youth for national and local elections.
Seeking "empowerment - of teachers, schools, parents and students," the creators invite students "to produce their own content on issues central to the elections and to influence the discussion of those issues." They will create original content through a variety of research tools, including interviews with campaign participants, as well as aggregating material from political web sites through syndication.
There are no walls in the modern classroom!
Tue Sep 16, 2003
RSS the whole place
It's exciting to see Will R. at Weblogg-ed setting up and promoting an RSS aggregator for a complex school, with around thirty feeds. It's very suggestive of what a university would need to do in order to have a blog identity. I hope he'll write more about it in the weeks ahead.
Life's too short
Rageboy took a few minutes of his life to design a cute set of trick links and empty pages that might tempt a reader in so he can call that reader a moron at the end. Sorry, I'm too busy to paste the link in here for anyone to go see it. Life's too short.
Mon Sep 15, 2003
Getting serious about RSS
Now that I've been using a Bloglines for a few days I can see that it becomes possible to be much more systematic about reviewing weblogs and following stories and ideas around the blogosphere. It seems to me that students and teacher might very well read the same 15 or 30 feeds each day and write their own weblog about the field they are studying, based on what they find there, what they read and discuss in class, and what they find through more old-fashioned academic research methods. Teams of students could take turns being on duty, updating a class site with comments about new developments for the day. Any field that has some action on the web would probably work, but even other fields that develop more slowly through traditional kinds of publication can support conversation and analysis that itself moves more quickly. Let's try out some of these things in the next few semesters here.
Sun Sep 14, 2003
World enough and time
Sebastien Paquet and Sebastian Fiedler comment on the problem of reaping the benefits of "personal webpublishing" within the contraints of a semester, when, they note, weblogs run for years and the writers don't enjoy some of the community benefits for many months. In addition, it takes months to engage with the full range of sites and resources that are out there for a given topic.
I agree with their concern. The community aspect must probably in many cases be provided by the students themselves, serving as audience for each other, rather than hope that most or even some of the writers will develop a substantial community outside of class in four months. My current hunch about resources, though, is that the weblog need not be comprehensive -- students can have a series of encounters with web resources without exhausting them, and still benefit from practicing searching, recording, evaluating, and annotating. Then they can step back and take an overview of the materials they've gathered and write a guide to research, on a wiki, as a more permanent contribution to a topic. That's my theory, at least, for two of this semester's classes.
Sat Sep 13, 2003
Page design over time
Randy Brown (CarvingCode) thinks ahead as he displays more than one blog on a page in order to share resources in a course and to keep those resource links alive when the students take the next course in the sequence -- smart move. He says:
Notice that I am incorporating feeds from three separate weblogs on a single page. One feed is from a blog specifically for the one course, while the other two are shared weblogs. I use the "Announcements" weblogs to push messages across all of the course I teach online. The "Web resources" weblog is pushed to four online courses that share a degree program.
Students who take the first course in the sequence online will typically take the others. So they see a consistent look and feel, but more importantly can continue to make use of resources made available to them early on in their program. #
By sharing an aggregator site with students, a teacher can create a custom news feed aimed at the topic of a course that becomes part of the course content. Bloglines, for example, allows users to open a subscription list to others as one of the options on the profile page.
Fri Sep 12, 2003
Introducing weblogs to faculty
Randy Brown (CarvingCode, via Kairosnews) is sharing a presentation that introduces weblogs to interested faculty members. Along the way he points to a similar offering from Alan Levine (Blogshop). Their clarity and generosity are lovely to see.
Thu Sep 11, 2003
Building wiki pages by outlining
I was able to spend about twenty minutes today on the committee wiki pages. I fleshed out the imaginary outline for the manual page, added a main page that will serve as a table of contents for all the pages we write, and added a quick page that could serve as a set of guidelines for membership in the graduate faculty -- since one goal of this program is to encourage all Liberal Arts and Science faculty to apply for this. When I orient the committee members to the software on Tuesday, they'll see how much twenty or thirty minutes of brainstorming can capture the shape of the web site that we wish to create. And as they use the software they'll see, I hope, how easily we can alter that plan to suit our evolving understanding of the work. So far so good.
I wonder, though, whether there are kinds of web page not so well adapted to the shape one achieves through an outline, and whether wikis are a little clunky for that kind of site? Just a thought. It would seem that a wiki begins with a single strand, perhaps with many elements, and perhaps those elements have elements too, but still, a single strand. Maybe the writer herself has to hold the three dimensional possibilities in her mind and weave strands around strands. It may be the person who takes the wiki to another level of complex structure that the wiki isn't especially aiming for in its wiki nature.
Leader in category work
Check out the three dozen or so categories that Jenny at The Shifted Librarian provides in her sidebar. Of course librarians have an advantage over ordinary mortals like me -- they live in a cataloged world, or so it seems to an outsider, and so probably they pick up good organizing habits. Nevertheless, she provides a good model of how carefully one can use weblog categories to organize a site for readers. I bet she could also review her work by category and think about things she'd like to carry further, too -- categories as a tool for writerly reflection.
Wed Sep 10, 2003
There is a very detailed introduction to syndication at Mnot.net, and Editor & Publisher's Steve Outing has a recent article describing an RSS future for internet publishers via syndication rather than email, now that spam seems to be coming more troublesome. (8/27/3) See also Outing's column urging bloggers to report hard news. (9/10/03) Some of this via Dave Winer.
Everyone seems to agree that syndication is still young enough that we'll all be adapting to new versions, new hopes, new problems, for a few more years. The one thing I want to work out, and I'm not sure when I'll have time to look into it, is a campus-centered syndication system that will allow students and professor to know whenever there are new posts among class members or that will allow professors to know whenever a department or committee has posted new work, that sort of thing. Then, eventually, a campus blog aggregating all other campus blogs in some shapely fashion.
Tue Sep 09, 2003
I didn't notice that this weblog's half-year anniversary passed the other day. I should report that it feels right to be writing every day -- I look forward to writing, doing at least a bit of research, collecting something that may be of use and annotating it, seeing what some familiar voices are saying each day, thinking more about this field in small doses and tracking my thinking, making a public record. I would be surprised if I quit in the next half year, though I could imagine changing topic eventually, or perhaps taking on a second topic, either here on on another site.
Today I created a wiki site for a faculty committee. We will use it to compose and revise a project (thesis) manual for the Master of Liberal Studies program. I will report back from time to time on what I learn about wiki collaboration among professional peers during this process.
I created a central page, explained a few wiki features, and sketched a sample content outline that can give a sense of one way we might approach the task via this software. Then I make one new page linking from one line of the outline, as an example of how that could work. I added a "back to main page" link on the new page, and I set read and write permissions to limit access, for now, to committee members. I retained the administrative access for myself.
I offered committee members a brief orientation session at our next meeting. I plan to introduce the few bits of code you'd want to know to get started on this project (bold, italic, indenting a paragraph, bullet lists, new page links) and show people how to more between the pages and the editing screen. That's almost all there is to it, since it is a wiki.
I think people will find the particular software, PmWiki, visually attractive, along with easy and practical. I expect this to go smoothly, but I'll report back if there are ripples, too. The main question, though, is whether the committee members find ways to take advantage of the collaborative opportunity, or whether they mainly use the software as a quick posting site for work that is essentially done elsewhere.
Mon Sep 08, 2003
To an audience of Athenians, I mean. That's one kind of rhetorical situation, and here is a related one: students at various colleges protesting when they have to read something that they disagree with. Erin O'Connor's essay, "Misreading What Reading Is For," in the 9/5/03 Chronicle of Higher Education, nails the issue in her last paragraph, as far as I'm concerned:
Both liberals and conservatives should remember that there is no book worth reading that is not somehow partial to something, and that there is no education worth having that does not involve exposure to partialities other than one's own. (B20)
Teachers have to create contexts for reading that make it more than indoctrination. In my training this often meant asking students to write about two or three texts, how they relate, how they shed light on each other, how one might be used to resist or complicate another. Not think this way! but, instead, what happens if you think this way, or that way?
Sun Sep 07, 2003
In the 9/5/03 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (A37-38), Brock Read profiles Vernon Burton and his work on RiverWeb, a web-based research collection that "uses primary sources to place the geology and topography of the Mississippi River and its chief flood plain in the context of the region's cultural history" (A37). Making much use of scanners, Burton's team makes available a diverse collection of primary documents about the American Bottom region, near Cahokia. He also teaches a course in new kinds of historical research and assigns students to make web sites about primary documents. The article includes other examples from a range of American universities.
At an institution such as ours, professors would probably be much more likely to launch projects like these if there were clear models available, and perhaps a support group for talking over ideas and problems. We'd need a handful of projects successfully carried out, software tools in place, a set of assignment guidelines appropriate to a variety of disciplines, suggested timelines for assignments, clues about how to publicize a site, a rubric for evaluating, and so forth.
An interview with Burton. Notice also how the RiverWeb site will hold a collection of bookmarks for a reader as she makes her way through the site -- a sort of custom index to the site, though I believe it vanishes when you close the browser at the end of the visit. I suppose you could cut and paste the collection into your word processor and then paste it back on your next visit. It's a suggestive feature, even so.
The turning of the leaves
An article in the Sunday New York Times (Travel, 9/7/03, page 5) about web sites that encourage tourism by posting progress reports on autumn's turning of the leaves. Author Bob Tedeschi provides a link to a University of Illinois Extension site, The Miracle of Fall, that provides, among other things, regional updates on the color change. The site includes a page on the chemistry of turning leaves, a guide to selecting foliage trees for fall color, foliage cams, and other resources.
According to Tedeschi, other good sites include [url=Weather.Com[/url], though it may take a bit of searching to find their page; other sites are much more direct as they provide this resource. Tedeschi's article has several others, including one, Foliage Network, which gathers information from a network of about 500 spotters. I like this collaborative project especially.
These sites embody some of the basic virtues of the web: generosity, creating and sharing new knowledge, making old knowledge more widely available for a general audience, attractive and appropriate graphics, imaginative use of collaboration. I see no reason why a clever teacher and a lively group of students can't make something of use to others that has most or all of these virtues, while they learn about the subject of their particular course.
It's a shame that most student writing vanishes almost as soon as it is written. While you do have to practice writing in order to improve, it is still tempting to feel alienated from the practice when one's audience is so small and so peculiar as a classroom audience can be.
Following up on Friday's post about Halley Suitt's Harvard Business Review article on blogging in the workplace, see Rachel Osterman's article in the 9/5/03 E-Commerce Times. She points out the speed with which colleagues can communicate on an internal blog, some of the security risks, and the sales appeal of a good writer who breaks out of P.R. style to achieve an interesting voice.
Sat Sep 06, 2003
The Persian Blogger Chronicles has moved and is being redesigned. I like Alireza Doostdar's visual image for the four kinds of content the blog will contain. I should certainly ask students to make an image like this as part of their research process. More...
Via Lance Knobel, links to a few group blogs. Crooked Timber has eleven writers. From the opening post the group announces itself this way:
Crooked Timber is a cabal of philosophers, politicians manque, would-be journalists, sociologues, financial gurus, dilletantes and flaneurs who have assembled to bring you the benefit of their practical and theoretical wisdom on matters historical, literary, political, philosophical, economic, sociological, cultural, sporting, artistic, cinematic, musical, operatic, comedic, tragic, poetic, televisual &c &c, all from perspectives somewhere between Guy Debord, Henry George and Dr Stephen Maturin. We hope you’ll enjoy the show. #
Please notice also their long list of scholar-bloggers. More...
Fri Sep 05, 2003
Ray Ozzie's reply to "A Blogger in Their Midst," Halley Suitt's case study in the September Harvard Business Review, includes two interesting links. First is his company's policy about employee blogs, and second is a page announcing, even celebrating blogs related to the company. It's a level-headed move, I think -- to embrace the possibilities of the software while judging its dangers carefully. I like the call for respectful writing, for one thing, and the clear sense that some things belong to others, not to the blogger. The policy also addresses industry-specific problems, such as compliance with securities law. It seems to me that this site hints at the complications of blogging a university, too.
Thu Sep 04, 2003
For classes, I have to say that I miss only one thing (right now) from the big course software package they created for us back at the U. That's the archived chat room, and they only added the archive after I pressed for it, arguing that it was absurd for a writing teacher to have students writing with a tool that erases their writing every 90 seconds -- automatically! And students should not be subject to the unruly or worse behavior that sometimes goes on in chat rooms and on bulletin boards on the web, so I argued that the archive created a chance for accountability for students' words -- faculty, too, for that matter. More...
OJR gets a half dozen leaders in the story of online access to news to review the last decade's changes. John Battelle calls old-fashioned static personal web pages "brochureware," a neat term contrasting nicely with the dynamic blogosphere, even with all its warts.
Wed Sep 03, 2003
My first impressions of the Edwards for President Blog: it has a chance to be a real blog if it follows through on its design, which suggests some real openness without throwing away the campaign for no good reason; it invites energetic participation not just in traditional campaign activities but in writing the site; and its graphics are full of white people.
Here, in the form of a course proposal, is a tigher version of yesterday's post:
Less than a decade ago most web sites were static -- after visiting them once, you probably would find nothing there upon returning a month later. Writers hesitated to add new content because each change required new HTML codes and file transfers in order to be available to others in a web browser. This labor-intensive posting process has largely been discarded, however, with the advent of template and data-base driven web sites. Periodicals like the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor offer new content on attractive pages, updated several times a day, thanks to the standard formats contained in page templates and the pre-sorted documents loaded into data bases. For both writers and readers, the web now offers a huge number of dynamic sites, each one growing and changing in response to changing times. As a result, the nature of writing for the web has changed. More...
Tue Sep 02, 2003
Talking people into it
If you want to talk colleagues into trying all this new software, you might start by talking about the old-fashioned web pages some of us learned how to make several years ago. I created my home page in the spring of 1996, using the HTML codes I learned by reading the source of other web pages for a couple of weeks. Pretty soon my web page looked like the vast majority of pages up on the web at the time. A year or so later that was no longer true -- the new page design software broke things open, the graphics exploded, and my page became old-fashioned because of its appearance and the simplicity of its code. More...
Mon Sep 01, 2003
Blogging the university
Dave Winer's approach to starting weblogs at universities is based on his understanding that universities need to get the work of their professors out into the world, to justify the money being spent on research and to spread the fame of the institution. He says that a university weblog can publish the work of professors, attract the information-hungry general public and high profile bloggers as readers, and capitalize on local and regional issues to make the site distinctive and attractive. Once a weblog shows the way for the institution, he suggests, then professors will start blogging themselves. (Also this earlier post.)
For an exhibit that shows how long people have thought of publishing as a gloriously flexible and creative act, see the British Museum's Turning the Pages exhibit -- digital versions of many pages of some of the world's greatest books. If you load Shockwave, you can turn the pages of da Vinci's notebook, reverse his mirror writing, or magnify the page. Another example: the illustrator of the Sherborne Missal included, among other things, beautiful realistic images of common birds among the pages of the Mass. The visual extravagance and generosity of these books is astounding, as is the good fortune of their survival over centuries and under the threat of war, persecution, and censorship.
How can we make things today with even a portion of their beauty, boldness, and spirit of generosity? The web's democratic possibilities are another virtue, but as we chat away our hours we should not give up too quickly on the models of the past, where people made things as great as those books and, though fragile, as lasting.
Working the RSS
J. D. Lasica has a thorough discussion of syndication, with lots of links to reader programs and other resources. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer offers several feeds and some resources, like this introduction from Ben Hammersley at The Guardian. And Lockergnome has a big RSS resource site.