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.

A Non-Reflective Post For Once…

Interesting couple of days, had a Distance Ed class pop up from nowhere and all of a sudden I’m back in instructor mode. So I took the powerpoints that I present in the face to face version of this course, and do a couple takes of the voice over, in an incredibly noisy office and voila, a weekend later I have five little videos uploaded to the internet that talk about the internet.

The process was quite convoluted. I’m sure I could’ve tried to figure a more streamlined approach. This post is going to be purely nostalgic after I’ve done this a couple times, so if you are interested in how NOT to do this, this post is for you.

On Friday, I updated the powerpoint, having to use Power Point 2007, instead of the old 2003 that was available in my office. So having to figure out where all the things that I used to do automatically was a bit of a learning curve, but nothing too bad. Then do some sort of narration. First I tried using a Firefox plugin called CaptureFox but that didn’t do the job I needed. I wanted something else that was a little more slick. So searching for free/shareware I came across Cam Studio 2.5. Now I realize, I could’ve just walked over to the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Research and used Camtasia, but there’s not a great narration facility there. The Camtasia computer is in fact in a hallway, that’s secluded enough, but I know people over there and it probably would’ve been distracting for me to perform (teaching is a performance isn’t it?). Anyways, Cam Studio did the job. I set it to convert to SWF, and discovered that, to my knowledge which is about 2 hours of use, there’s no way to convert the screen size. And that converting to SWF would take me about 12 hours. I didn’t want to come back to work just to upload my video, so I bailed and came home to use some Adobe product. Surely CS3 will be able to handle this sort of easy task?

Maybe I’m a moron, but it turns out that Premiere Pro CS3 doesn’t convert AVIs to Flash (I did discover that After Effects can, but won’t resize the dimensions of the screen without fuss). Or do anything easily. So again, back to the world of shareware, I found Xilisoft FLV Converter. Took the AVI I had (1.5 gig), resized, converted to FLV and chopped it to the length I needed (10 min segments).

Total time? Started sometime after 2 PM Friday, posted sometime on Sunday (in between Thanksgiving turkey and apple strudel).

Oh yeah, there’s one student enrolled in the distance ed class. Hope they appreciate the effort. (You can too here under “members own videos”).

So the moral of this story is – sometimes technology isn’t the friend of the techie.