Built In Crap Detector

Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down.

Ernest Hemingway, in a 1954 interview with Robert Manning, appearing in the Atlantic Magazine, August 1965

Howard Rheingold had mentioned this quote a couple of times, and it really stuck with me. So much so, I had to look it up and I’ll be using it in my teaching next fall. I teach a course called “Searching The Internet Effectively” and wanted to overhaul the content as it was mainly designed five years ago, with content refreshes every semester to reflect the fluid nature of the beast. I hadn’t really approached the social side of the web – mainly because I was busy keeping up with changes. There were and are elements missing from the course.

I had realized last year that I hated the method of delivery, which consisted of me lecturing and the class doing squat until I was done talking. Part of the problem is that they’re in rows in classrooms. I can’t make things much better; the politics of furniture, or rather the politics of furniture in a computer lab restrict me.

The content, while adequate for the majority of students, is not as engaging as I’d like. I never seemed to get to the stuff where I really enjoyed, which was talking about discerning bullshit from good stuff on the web. So I’ve spent the last four months off and on collecting data and sites that will help inform learners. I think making content a “treasure hunt” of sorts can help with student engagement, and I’ll still “lecture” but more as a method to ensure that learners who have no prior experience with web searching (which strikes me as odd) still participate and can contribute.

I’m planning on replacing the crappy assignments with wiki-work. If people outside the class contribute great, if not, I think it’ll still be worthwhile. I’ll still have a final exam as that’s a mandatory item. I’ll have one assignment which is a culmination of all the skills I hope students acquire. Remember this is only a six-week course, so it’s not as lengthy as a “normal” course.

Which brings me to the point. Students are going to have a hard time with this – if this isn’t done well. Debunking authority, whether it be subject authority or any other kind of authority, unsettles people and screws with people’s expectations. But building this sort of crap detector in someone’s life is a critical skill to have. It’s amazing how many people are very trusting with content they get on the web and a bit frightening when you extrapolate it to how it can affect people in real life. Certainly the ability of unscrupulous hucksters to bilk someone of money is out there, hopefully skepticism prevails for people in my class.

I really appreciated this post, which begins to illuminate the new construction of authority in a distributed environment. Objectivity, trust, authority… all related and tied up. Hopefully none of this sets off any crap detectors.

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