Sunday, April 25, 2010

Platforms vs. Web 2.0?

I've been thinking a lot about 're-use' in my course materials. Just spent some time migrating wiki content between different domains. Also cutting and pasting between old and new courses in Blackboard. (Deleting old items in BB seems like it is one at time--tedious and a complete waste of my time.... Why can't I select more than one item at a time? Why isn't this better--and simpler?)

What are the best practices for re-use and continuity in Web 2.0 tools for education? The web today is endlessly in the present--who reads a tweet from last week? It's old news.
In contrast, if we are going to be moving content, er, our courses to the web, we'll want to think about how to keep it alive (and make it easy to re-use and re-purpose) for entire semesters, even across courses and academic years. Blogs and wikis are going to make it difficult to do this. For all its many limitations, Blackboard does at least let you archive and move course content around.

It's clear that we're going to be spending more and more of our teaching lives online--whether in traditional courses that get blogs, wikis, etc.; hybrid courses or even pure web courses (though this seems unlikely in my department). The tools need to be better, and we need to think about Web 2.0 in a different way than most users. While these tools celebrate that they are of the moment, I want to think about about building engaging content that lasts at least a semester or two....

Should we do it ourselves (as in this Web 2.0 seminar), or should we aspire to a standard 'platform'--ugh, an ugly and even sinister word? The same issues crop up with courseware in general for online or distance learning, too. Is it DIY or an institution's standard, usually monolithic, platform? And Web 2.0 tools may be so long-lived after all. The history of the Internet is littered with the countless lost web domains and ventures that ran out of venture capital. I'm already seeing, however, that it's a lot of work to keep track of accounts and doing administration (and even passwords) in these separate tools. A platform appeals to me. I just can't imagine what it would be like to be a student with three different courses that use entirely different web tools. Imagine this across a typical career of a student at LaGuardia, passwords and accounts and identities multiplied by how many classes over several years. So I can see the benefit of ePortfolio or Blackboard here.... Any thoughts?

As a point of contrast, I was browsing through a course on Quantum Physics on MIT's OpenCourseWare. (No, I can't understand the math, but I love this stuff in a kind of Michael Frayn Copenhagen way). I just presented a conference paper on some related math and physics in Pynchon's 2006 novel Against the Day. (I'm planning to revise the essay and submit it somewhere this summer. We are covering some Einstein--via a wonderful book Einstein's Dreams for my LIB 200 course. There is an excellent PBS website on one of the Nova documentaries there....)

For MIT's courses like this one, there is such an elegant approach--videotaped lectures of and these beautiful, austere lecture notes in PDFs, in black and white only, no less.... This all gives the illusion this is a body of understanding that will last. In my endlessly transformative pedagogy, I'm so swamped lately re-adjusting and simplifying and making things better--choosing the right YouTube clips and excerpts of graphic novels and enticing web links, etc., all designed to get my students to read and think critically, just a little, at a little greater length than their next tweet or text. I crave simplicity--and solidity--that Web 2.0 seems to have taken away.... Any thoughts?


  1. Just a quick note--recording lectures seems to me to be yet another example of "trying to make it fit". I love that MIT does that. I am of the last lecture and take notes generation, of course. However, this seems to me to be one more example of the attempt to keep "the classroom" as the point of knowledge distribution. The sage on the world-stage, if you will, but still centered on the professor. e-Gocentric, if you will.

  2. Hey Rich--

    I think re-use depends heavily on 1. the tool and 2. what you are teaching/want to teach.

    Jason, for example, has a different blog per type of course (ENG 102, 099, etc) and once the semester ends, he posts a BREAK entry to indicate the end of one class and the beginning of the new one. He does not delete anything from the old course or copy anything over. His blogs, in effect, have become a record of all he has done over several semesters for each particular course--and what I really like is that students can see what he was doing in previous semesters. Sometimes they even request for Jason to do an assignment that he had done with a previous class!

    In a wiki, as in your case, one could easily add a new page per new section every semester and just keep the core content the same in one eternally immovable page. Ning's design may make re-use more complicated, but I am going to try the "Feature" feature next Fall with my Shakespeare class to separate former discussions from the new and see whether it drives the new students nuts. Facebook I don't know well enough so others would have to tell you.

    In terms of the re-use of content, I could see someone who teaches math having some trouble with the public aspect of Web 2.0, since in math all answers to certain types of assignments only have one possible answer (2+2=4). But for the rest of us (this is where I am happy I teach English), there are a trillion ways to tweak our content so that students do not simply cut and paste answers from previous semesters.

    The multiple platforms/passwords is an important topic, but one that could be solved with a little organization. After all, we do not choose our student's usernames/passwords (as CUNY does for Blackboard), so the chances that they will remember what they are is pretty high, particularly if they use them across platforms, as I do. And I could argue that the different platforms are not that different, but then maybe that's the topic for another discussion...

    Most importantly, how do we connect across courses if we use Blackboard or some such closed system? Maybe if the new E-portfolio system is not just a repository but also a workspace we could find ways to make similar connections to those we have been making across courses this semester (and which is the focus of this pilot). So, at least for now, I don't have much choice but to continue in the messy, precarious, and ever-changing world of Web 2.0.