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  • markulendo 12:00 am on December 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Connected Courses Hangout After-Party 

    Hello faithful reader, it is I your erstwhile author. I had the pleasure today, as I emerged from the thrashing depths of thesis-submission, of watching the Google Hangout with Kim, Jim, Jaime, Jeremy and Danielle – I took my notes on a first name basis so forgive the informality – and it was fascinating so I wanted to get my thoughts out there before they seeped out through the porous material of my memory. This will be a haphazardly formatted post, bulletting out some of the main points from each of the speakers and writing my way through them. At the end we will have a lightning round with material from the Q&A section, where people had some very interesting “soundbite” quotes which I would love to take partially out of context and expound on a bit, so look forward to that right after the last commercial break.

    We’re going in roughly chronological order here, so let’s talk about Jim. The matter that Jim raised of most interest to me was his belief that having students create and maintain their own domains will work as a way to help them learn the sort of basic internet life skills that we’ve talked about in past units. My last post was about the need to develop cultural mores and skillsets around data management in order to survive and thrive in a connected world. It’s getting less and less possible to operate a human lifeform without interfacing with that thin all-connecting membrane we call the internet. As we phase out the purely analog existence, relegating it to the purview of the professional ascetic, we must take up the responsibility of educating people on the safe and humane use of their new powers. Getting back to what Jim had to say, it put a smile on my face because the last time I got into this issue it was a lot of “we should be doing stuff” and not a lot of “here’s what we should actually do” — and the idea of having students maintain their own web presence as a part of their formal education is an excellent example of how we can actually put an ideal into practice. It’s also a great example of teaching by letting people actually do stuff, which is always nice too.

    Moving on to Jaime’s section, we get a nice segue because she mentioned pushing-back against the push-back regarding taking up technological platforms by using the argument that students will be competing with future generations who have these skills or, perhaps more importantly, having to help their own children or nieces/nephews to navigate these same perilous realms in the future. I think we’re still deep in the transitional stage and it will take another generation or two before the idea of connected lives is truly the default perspective. I get the feeling 22nd century art is going to be all about disconnected experiences but that’s just a hunch and I won’t have to face the music unless we get these stem cells going asap. Putting the asides aside however, we who live in the transition period are the most exposed to the hazards of the new environment, and as the pioneers of the connected age we must look after each other and hopefully instill that same ethos in future generations. We get to decide how this new world works, but we will have to live with those decisions for a long time.

    The other thing Jaime mentioned that I rushed to scribble down in my notebook was that her students seemed to share more on their blogs than in person because they’re less embarrassed or shy, and also more importantly because they need the time to process their thoughts. If our job as teachers is to ask hard questions, it’s a bit of setting someone up for failure to expect them to be answered on the spot with an audience. Otherwise the question wouldn’t be hard. So we can see a nice marriage between the hard questions of learning and the ability of online platforms to mitigate topographical and temporal gating features. This was a recurring theme among the people that I interviewed for my thesis as well, that they were able to get more personal and get more out of experiences when they had a bit of time and emotional space to compose responses.

    On the other hand, like Kim said later on, “not everyone wants to be as connected as we do” (quotes may be paraphrased, but you can just assume I get it exactly right all the time). Like we said before, this sort of thing isn’t fully normalized yet, and I thought it was really interesting to look at the idea of being “connected” on a more local or intimate level, rather than jumping straight to full-blown connectivity. It is the temptation, particularly among people who like to comment on things without doing them, to make the jump immediately from “none of the thing” to “all of the thing all the time,” while forgetting that there are various shades and levels of connectivity that might be appropriate for different populations and purposes. So it was nice to see a concrete example of a “connected classroom” that doesn’t have to be the sort of gigantic super-connected ubermooc that seems to freak people out. In other words, this sort of thing will be great for reassuring people that teaching in a connected classroom doesn’t have to mean that you are being assimilated into the Borg.

    When Danielle described the support hub for “Study Abroad Veterans” it got me thinking again about the facility for open/online platforms in totally sidestepping the bounds of time and space. I think that this sort of idea could also be used to help students who are currently studying abroad to maintain their connections with the operations of their home-campus, so that hopefully when they return there will be less of a disconnect to repair. Now I realize that part of the appeal and purpose of studying abroad is to be immersed in a different culture, but I think a happy compromise could be reached where the experiences that are connected to the main campus serve to augment and enhance the student’s international enculturation. I’ll leave the details of that to future researchers though, just be sure to put me in the credits.

    Jeremy also made an important point that we are not trying to discard our heritage with this move into connected spaces. Instead, we are building new additions onto that foundation – a prospect made possible only by the glory and integrity of the foundation, if I am allowed a moment’s pandering – that simply serve to push the academic movement a bit further forward. Each new generation is indebted to the last for this sort of foundation, and that kicks us back around to the earlier thought that it is crucial to consider what sort of ethos we are building into connected culture. Because we know that future generations will build on the foundation that we are building now, the basic ideas of what it means to live on the web and be a connected citizen, we have a great responsibility to ensure that those ideas provide a strong, and stable, foundation for the future.

    Lighting Round!!

    Kim: “I google that, then I get forums and so on” – I’ve got a thesis to sell you! There was a funny “inception” moment when I was formatting my thesis about people learning to do things online by looking up youtube videos and Q&A forums to figure out Word. Life imitates art and all that. It really is an amazing thing, we routinely get advice by time travel crowd-sourcing, pulling in some other poor wanderer’s question from 2011 and using it to solve our own problems. What lucky folks we are.

    Jim: “I am not the center” – The bit about having 2,200 posts from 27 students was fascinating. I am glad you don’t try to read them all. I think this feeds back into the ideas previously about teaching students to develop their own ways of being, in this case they will need to do some of their own curating and evaluation because the scope of their worked has clearly outstripped the traditional “everything filters through the teacher” framework, and gladly so.

    Jaime: “It’s an opportunity to build their digital identity” – I guess we’ve found the theme of the day here, self directed work, agency, personal development, life skills, and so on. In this case we can see the “digital identity” in two different ways, first as the actual content on the website. This is their visible identity, the representation that others use to interpret and value the individual. On the other side of the coin, students are also developing an idea of themselves as e-capable people who are comfortable working with these formats. In a way, having students develop their own domains is also providing them access to the material resources required for them to construct an aspect of their identity that has the values and skills we’ve been talking about throughout this post.

    Thanks a lot for a fascinating afternoon everyone, and thanks for reading.

    • astengorama 2:54 am on December 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Reblogged this on astengorama.


    • Maha Bali 8:40 am on December 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I don’t know who you are or where you’re from but I loooooove your writing style 🙂 glad you’re submitting that thesis, looking forward to more of your blogging! I hate watching videos so i am really grateful for blogposts such as this one (thanks Jim Groom for linking to it)


  • markulendo 6:50 am on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Connected Enculturation 

    Hello fair and faithful readers, today I’d like to talk about culture, freedom, and human decency. Oh, and of course the internet.

    I’m going to start by pointing you here, where Laura Hilliger talks a bit about web literacy. The key phrase that sent me off on the tangent I’m about to unfold for you was: “Web literacy is not about technical skill . . . it’s about citizenship, it’s about participating, it’s about embracing and spreading the ethos of open culture.” Now in my thesis work at the moment I am buried in thoughts about identity and community, so I was primed to think about the necessity of a connected culture. The way I see it… Culture is the answer to some of the questions brought up over the last few weeks about the balance between complete freedom and personal accountability.

    The web is a funny thing because its greatest strength, freedom, anonymity, inter-connectivity, is also the source of its most serious problems. I look at cases like Megan Meier (and to be honest, when I googled “online bullying suicide” the list of results was a bit horrifying in its scope) and I see one of the unfortunate results of the very things about the internet that we celebrate. The freedom to interact with others that the internet affords does not carry within it a regulatory component, which means that the nature of those interactions will run from the very positive to the extremely negative. Additionally, the ability to communicate anonymously, or even just safely outside of punching range behind a screen, carries with it a greater temptation (or if you’re an optimist who believes in the essential goodness of people, an easing of the inherent reservations towards causing harm due to that same distance) to be a jerk to people. In short, if you know you can get away with it, why not mess with people?

    The kneejerk reaction to that sort of scenario – particularly among Snailmailers* – is to eliminate the cause of the problem. Cracking down on the complete freedom, anonymity and inter-connection of the internet would make it more difficult and less attractive to be a troll, after all. Unfortunately it would also hamstring the web itself, creating some perverse monstrosity in its stead. So we return to the double-bind, the things that make it good also make it evil, this is starting to sound like a parable for the human race…

    But lo! Do not despair! There is a solution, of sorts, and like any good compromise it is ultimately dissatisfying on some levels. The solution is the enculturation of the online population. It is through teaching, and embodying, certain ways-of-being online that we can defang the trolls of the world. First, we must create a cultural force that directs people towards behaving decently to each other online even when they don’t have to. Exterior force, such as the legal system or swift kicks to the shin provide, is a popular way to encourage people to act decently, but this would corrupt the very nature of the open web. Instead we must create social mores, expectations of behavior, and structures of self-perception that internally motivate people to act decently. Rather than not trolling somebody because she could get arrested for it, the Online Citizen needs to be at a point where she doesn’t troll them because she sees herself as a person who does not troll. We must tie the cultural identity of the online citizenry to a set of moral values that are appropriate to, and recognize the temptations of, the new freedoms and affordances of a connected community.

    That said, I am truly a cynic at heart, and I am under no illusion that this inner morality will be a complete solution. However noble the cultural framework of a society, some psychos will always slip through the net. This necessitates the second major aspect of this connected enculturation, self protection. Part of learning to be an online citizen must be the process of developing an understanding of how to control access to your private information, relationships, and life. We are still in the first few generations of truly connected humans, and these brave pioneers have had to learn the hard way what it means to be safe and secure in this environment. Hopefully the painful lessons learned in the last few decades will be passed down to future generations, to whom securing data will be simply be a part of life. The practice of protecting one’s information, gating it at different levels depending on the sensitivity of its nature, needs to be bound up in the cultural identity of the online citizen. The same sort of values, mores and expectations that dictate how you act toward others, must also dictate how you manage your own information.

    It boils down to a balance between self-protection and respectful behavior towards others. The common element in both of these ideas is that you cannot rely on others to accomplish them. No one can force you to protect yourself, nor can they force you to be the sort of person against whom others do not need protection. Both of these things need to come from within, and we can encourage, or discourage, the growth of these inner virtues through the nature of the culture that we as online citizens embody on a daily basis. It is not something that can be easily measured, we cannot set precise quarterly targets for cultural construction, but what we can do is constantly embody the ideals that we need to pass on to the next generation. To paraphrase the Mahatma, we need to be the culture that we want to see in future generations.

    *What should we call the landlubbers of the internet age? Or are we too mature to coin a pejorative term? Probably the latter if I’m going to follow my own advice…

  • markulendo 6:18 am on September 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Why (oh why) teach? 

    The question of the hour, dear reader, is why teach? And as someone in the middle of grading a stack of papers while trying to finish their thesis, my first reaction is to say “good [expletive redacted] question!” But after a moment of cooler contemplation, I feel like I can offer up an answer of sufficient insight and, hopefully, readability.

    I teach for selfish reasons.

    I teach because of the overwhelming feeling of fulfillment that comes over me when I see a student do something they had not previously been able to do. This moment is what makes it all worth while, the moment when you can see irrefutable proof that you are actually doing something, and helping someone to do things of their own. It would be easy to frame this as an altruistic motivation, but I think that would be taking something away from the true feeling of the matter. While there is certainly an altruistic element to it, I like to think I would help others even if it didn’t make me feel good, one should not ignore the sheer magnitude of gratification that comes along with helping someone to reach an “Aha!” moment. Rather than frame the teacher as a saint, tempting as that may be, I instead posit the idea of benevolent self interest. If you can make a career out of helping people and feeling good about yourself, that can’t be too bad…

    I teach because of my love for learning. I’m the kind of fellow who, when at a loose end, will go on a wikipedia binge and read everything I can find on the history of Norway as an independent country. Spoiler alert, they had to fight Denmark, like, a million times. I once spent the hours between midnight and two AM learning everything I could about the Blakiston’s Fish Owl (who walks from place to place so much that he trudges out a trail in the snow from his nest to the river where he hunts by jumping on fish) and, by way of geological association, the Russo-Japanese war of 1904. The point of all this is that one major fringe benefit of teaching freshman composition, is getting to study vicariously through my students, and learn about 30 weird new things with every new stack of papers.

    I teach because it forces me to improve constantly. There is a point in the pursuit of any skill where you feel like you have achieved some fraction of mastery, like you really know what you’re doing. And then you try to teach someone. Suddenly they are asking you all the “why” questions for things that you do naturally, and you are forced to go back and think, why do I do it that way? Is there really a benefit or necessity in that? This can be a frightening moment, but it is also the moment where your mastery truly deepens, as you begin -out of necessity- to develop the rationale and theory behind your actions. You might know intrinsically to make a certain action in a certain situation, but teaching will force you to develop the understand of why that situation requires that specific action, and what it is about those elements that allows them to work together in such a profitable way. The old adage goes, “if you can’t do, teach” but I would reject that in favor of “If you’re not teaching, you’re not doing.” True mastery is not just the ability to perform, it is the ability to bring others up to your level, to have a deep and constantly evolving understanding of performance that you can pass on to future generations.

    Finally, I teach because I’m not spiritual. You’d never get me to call myself an exi-staaaahn-tialist, but I feel the gnawing pressure of the void as much as the next 20th century French novelist. Teaching is a way of finding meaning and purpose in a world that can just as easily be empty and meaningless. I may not have a spiritual overlord to give my life purpose, but I can find some meaning in doing whatever small things I can to make the world a better place for those that will walk its surface when I am gone. I am not saying that being taught by me makes someone’s life better (although of course it must), but I do hope that I can have some small impact in developing a students sensitivity and awareness, perhaps effecting a sort of grass roots movement of change by doing so. That last sentence is incredibly pompous, but I do believe that the only way to change the world is to change the way people think about the world. You can occupy wall street until the cows come home, but until people decide of their own volition that some things are more important than net profits, there will be no change. Hopefully through providing a space and an opportunity to think, to develop awareness and sensitivity to the world, I can also provide a space to encourage a change in individual thought that might, eventually help move our society towards a change in values. And hey, it beats going to church.

    • Helen 9:00 pm on September 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply


      You nailed it.


      Sorry I’m not saying more right now, but i’m too in love with this post to speak.


    • Simon 9:19 pm on September 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I do believe that the only way to change the world is to change the way people think about the world. You can occupy wall street until the cows come home, but until people decide of their own volition that some things are more important than net profits, there will be no change. Hopefully through providing a space and an opportunity to think, to develop awareness and sensitivity to the world, I can also provide a space to encourage a change in individual thought that might, eventually help move our society towards a change in values. And hey, it beats going to church.

      What more could I add?


    • Greg Mcverry 8:53 pm on October 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I have to agree. You got to the why that many of us carry on hearts each day. I will be stealing your definition of true mastery for quite some time.


  • markulendo 12:15 am on September 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Plans for the semester… 

    Hi all. Boy, if I’m going to get this “academic web presence” spoken of last week, I am going to have to change my name, trying to register domains related to “Mark Smith” just doesn’t work out well. I do have two middle names that I could deploy, but that seems pretentious so I should probably just change my name to Excelliadon Superiorisoph… This may have the added benefit of affording me entry into the insular communities of Mirkwood as well… For now, I have dug deep into my array of nicknames and at last alighted upon a suitable pseudonym.

    With introductions out of the way it is time to start thinking about “plans” for the semester. My plan for coming up with a plan is to muse through it in this post, and hopefully by the end of it some thoughts will have crystallized into actionable items.

    One thing is for certain, I want to make sure that the work and production involved in this class serves and/or is used in my Thesis which, ojalá, will be done this semester… Fortunately it seems like a lot of the angles taken in this course dovetail quite nicely with my thesis project, so this may in fact be possible.

    The subtitle for this particular special topic, Digital Cultures is quite fortuitous for me because my thesis research is geared entirely towards examining the intersection of digital and, (boy do we still call it analog?) cultural spaces. Specifically the way in which participation on webforum communities can influence or interact with a persons identity, lifestyle, capabilities, etc, outside of that space. So I’d like to use this class in part to examine the rate at which identity construction in one space bleeds through to the other… How much of our online persona do we carry into offline interactions? How much of our offline persona, co-constructed through a million painful childhood embarrassments, do we jettison the moment we go online? Is there profitability to be found in adjusting those measurements throughout our lives? Is it possible to use online spaces as a sort of “dry-dock” to intentionally reconstruct sections of your overall identity, before pushing the retrofitted product back into the sea of everyday life? If the “dry-dock” scenario is a possibility, what advantages does it offer over trying to do the same sort of reconstruction tasks while “at sea” so to speak? Is their a benefit to be gained in utilizing a separate (but connected), specialized community for this sort of work?

    Here are some of my initial ideas for things to do that will be useful and learny, presented in bullet point form:

    -One way I am interested in leveraging this course towards my thesis is in using the connections (our learning is so connected here!) built in the course to reach out to more interview subjects… This seems like an excellent opportunity to interview a diverse group of people about how their experience in an online community supporters their identities as learners, their learning process, and their sense of community membership. It could be particularly interesting to see if people notice significant contrasts between what we could call insular learning (traditional classes) and this crazy mooc-connected thing we are trying here. Will there be unforeseen drawbacks to this approach? Hidden benefits? Candy? So that is one thing: moar data!

    -Poking through the digital resources section of the course site, I am definitely drawn towards the Rheingold article, this seems like it could fit in nicely and perhaps be a jumping off point towards other readings. Of course I won’t know that for sure until I read it, but for a first self-assigned reading you can’t beat 6 pages with pictures. From reading the big colorful excerpts, it seems like this could be useful in drawing the contrast between online and offline communities/socialization/persony-stuff.

    -I’m also overdue on reading “Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds” by Holland and a bunch of other people, so this would be a good place perhaps to read about that and consolidate my thoughts/reactions in blog form. Perhaps using the blogs to connect the book’s material to this digital/online angle that my project and our course are taking.

    So that is a start at least… More to come soon!

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