The Value of Well Designed Edu-Spaces

I began working on reviewing and revamping a history module for the Searching The Internet course today, as well as providing some basic training on Audacity for a faculty member. It was humbling, because often I forget how much I know and how much I can help.

While I was gathering sites, notes and other ephemera for the history piece I asked myself why I was including this piece? Who cares about the history of the internet? Is it important? Maybe. I think it’s important, but that’s a real dictatorial thing to do. How is it important? Well, history dictates the future in ways we can’t always predict (although my RRSP (401k for you Americans) wishes that someone was more on the ball seeing the economic conditions before the Great Depression and this recession). Someone out there is going to want to know this stuff. It informs us better. Doesn’t it?

Also while I’m gathering content, I’m also mulling over a couple of other things. Design of LMS learning spaces – I’m not going to have the same look to my courses. I’m putting my hypotheses into action. My thinking is that we have so many well designed websites, we need better designed education spaces. Not to show off, or embarrass others, but to make a statement. We need better designed, better looking spaces. I’ve seen how cleverly designed websites can distort truths (or my truths). Education should be fighting back with our view. We need better looking materials. We have the means now – it’s easier and quicker to put together something that looks good. Why isn’t this policy at institutions?

Isn’t better design, and better eye-candy, a way to combat the Huxley-ian Brave New World/Postman Amusing Ourselves To Death scenario? Attract people to education, and in the process get them to ask tough questions? Isn’t that the case with Michael Wesch and his students work on “The Machine is Us/ing Us” (embedded below).  It’s nearing 10 million views in a year. That’s nothing to sneeze at. If it were a lesser product would it have less impact?

I suspect the answer is that no one really thinks about this. Or maybe they don’t think much of it. Much like the connections between ARPANET, the history of the Internet and it’s sharing of information that has influenced our daily lives. Is that enough of a hook?

Video Watching Online On The Rise

According to this newly released study by the Pew Institute, the percentage of adults watching videos online has doubled since 2006. They draw a correlation to the amount of users with broadband connections which has hit 63% of Americans. The report also compares activities of what people do online, in one of the more complex ideas brought about by the study. 62% watch videos, 46% use social networking sites and 11% use Twitter/share updates.

I find those ideas interesting because I’m stumped as to how I would answer because most of the videos I see come from social networking sites or Twitter… my experience online is not so binary. How does multitasking fit in?

Also, I was hoping that the study would’ve looked at what kinds of videos (well, not in depth, I suppose those sorts of videos could be classified as “entertainment” I suppose) were viewed: humourous, educational, entertainment, etc

Of course, the study was slanted towards the looking at internet vs. TV, which isn’t a shock. Similar to looking at TV vs. Radio in the mid to late 50’s.

Crap Detector Part 2

Continuing on with the theme yesterday I wanted to add that Howard Rheingold has succinctly written a piece on crap detection, which pretty closely mimics what I’ve said in the last year of my Searching the Internet course. I’ll embed last years’ video lectures from that week’s work.

We work on the same principles, in fact when I teach this face-to-face, I try to accentuate that you have to think like a detective or private investigator; build a case for or against this website’s information. That was interesting because I’ve had cops in my class who said that investigative technique is a lot like taking a bunch of disparate pieces and putting them together is a lot of what detective work consists of. I’m glad we’re on the same path.

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.

Another Reason To Use Twitter

So, it appears I’m a convert. Yep, a Twitterer. Perhaps just a twit. Anyways, people always ask me, “Why do people use it? Isn’t it just a waste of time?” Well, not always a waste of time. I posted on my Twitter account about the slow length of time that it had been taking for my Technorati claim to go through and really, I didn’t think anything of it. Sure, network traffic may be busy, claims may be going through the roof… holidays for workers… all sorts of options. Lo and behold, Technorati folks were listening. And I didn’t use a hashtag or any special thing. Twitter search must be OK.

Same sort of thing with MediaWiki, when I posted about my problems with an old install (which I also posted about here) they were quick to connect. Clearly, Web 2.0+ companies are paying attention. Facebook responded to the concerns over privacy which spread quickly through blogs and twitter. It will be interesting to see if older models of business are paying attention as well. I suspect the ones that are will be better able to survive the seismic shifts we’re still going to see before things settle down again (if they ever settle down again).

Migration Complete

Well, a few short hours of trials and tribulations, and we have the blog in a place where I can actually see what’s going on with linkages and maybe actually take some time to do some blogging.

Yeah, I’m liking WordPress 2.8.2 so far, of course, I’m really only talking minutes here… still it’s pretty slick compared to 2.0 (which is the last install that I had to do).

It was funny, but I mentioned to a friend in passing that I felt like my life was incomplete without my domain. A real piece of me was missing (which is not true at all, I was less encumbered without a domain). But I did and do miss it. And, as luck would have it, the domain bastards that buy up recently expired domains finally gave up on my old domain. Ka-ching, only a mere $30 for hosting and voila, robotvsrobot is mine again. Good to be home.

So, bye-bye edublogs, hello (again).


OK, so the problem I’ve been having is apparently because of a MediaWiki setting. Freakin’ great. Admin level settings force the page to not be embedded. I have to wait a couple weeks to see if the admin wants to change that setting, or if I have to use some other product.


Hmm, I suppose I’ll look back at this moment in a few months with a hearty guffaw, and muse “Oh Jon, there’s such a simple solution.” These are truly “first world problems” if I’ve ever heard them. Oh yeah, Barry Dahl’s video is incredibly useful, except it doesn’t actually show how he embeds the wiki in D2L – it basically shows you how to embed stuff in a wiki which is embedded in D2L. Close to what I need. Yes, I’ve e-mailed to see if Barry can help sort out my muddled mind, but venting never hurts.

EDIT: After a brief phone call, he’s still baffled, I’m ready to tear my moustache out.

I’ve been trying to embed a MediaWiki in my proposed D2L version of my Searching The Internet Effectively course. I’d like to constrict the opening of this page to remain in the frameset that D2L exists in so students can pop back and forth between the content that’s in the course, and the wiki to add their own content. Every method of embedding I’ve tried opens the wiki in a new page. I’m beginning to wonder if the damn thing is set to automatically open in a new page…. or maybe Firefox is overriding some weird thing. First of all framesets?? Give me a break. If framesets get deprecated anytime soon (as they should) D2L is in for a major redesign. Talk about a total head-scratcher.

Also, I hate IE. I thought when I got out of web design as a career that I could learn to like, accept, ok not hate IE. Wrong. IE is crap. IE 8 is OK passable, except that when you use  the TinyMCE editor in D2L in an IE browser (IE 8 included), it strips out co-ordinates of an image map. And other attributes of the object tag. WTF??