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If only I had blogged sooner

A funny thing happened yesterday. I was digging around in my desk through some files that I had brought from home (looking for something which I now can’t remember) and came across a series of folders from a class I took in graduate school on Orality, Literacy, and Technology with Clifford Hill.

I had almost forgotten about this class. In particular, I had forgotten about a set of journal entries that I had written for the class. I read over many of them late yesterday.

I was amazed by how much I had forgotten from this class. As I read those journal entries, I might as well have been reading someone else’s writing. And while reading them has sort of allowed me to re-connect with the ideas that I had back then, the experience is in no way the same as when I generated those ideas in the first place. The journal entries don’t really allow me to re-capture the process by which I got to those ideas.

This led me to think of blogging and the value of blogging in education. Often we talk about blogs as online journals, and, I imagine, many professors imagine that the type of assignments they create for blogging will really be just remediations (thanks to Patrick for that) of existing journaling assignments.

But I wonder if I had blogged those journal entries in graduate school, and if those blog entries had been part of a larger blogging-self that I might have been exploring at the time, if I would not find the ideas contained in them more familiar now.

First, blogging these ideas would have turned what was a semi-private activity (between Professor Hill and me) into a public one. Conversations could have emerged from what I was writing with others in the class as well as audiences beyond the campus walls. For that matter, a more true “conversation” could have emerged between my teacher and me. As it was, he commented on my entries, but I never really had an opportunity to repond to those responses. Once, I did respond to him in my next journal entry, but this approach wasn’t really a conversation since my response was no longer “linked” to the original entry. but this approach was an awkward way to conduct a conversation. (Update: Upon re-reading this post, I decided that it was inaccurate to say this approach wasn’t a coversation. It was a conversation–just a difficult one to have given the mechanism.)

It is likely that if I had blogged these journal entries and recognized that my words might meet people outside of my class or even my instituation, that I would have chosen my words more deliberately. I suppose I might have been inhibited by this possiblity, but I also might have been inspired. I’m sure I would have been inspired if my blog had sparked a conversation.

But more interesting to me than the public life that my journals could have had (and the result this could have had on me as a learner) is the way in which blogging might have encouraged me to more thoroughly “fix” the knowledge I was generating. If these entries had been a part of a larger blog that recorded the intellectual development that I was experiencing in graduate school, I might be able now to recall how I had gotten to the words contained within them. By recording the intellectual process that I was going through, I might have made it more real for myself and, thus, more memorable. As it is, I can’t recognize any patterns of application of these ideas in my life today–perhaps because, I “lost” them in some sense.

Equally fascinating to me is how this jives with a realization I’ve been coming to about myself lately. I seem to come to ideas best in conversation. Solitary, confined study and reflection is simply not as productive for me. When I come to ideas in conversation, they feel more thought-out, and more full of meaning. If a blog can be a space for one to own and manage conversations (as opposed to a wiki or a forum), perhaps blogging could have been a valuable tool to me as a learner in school.

The next time a faculty member asks me “why should I blog” or, even better, “what should I have students do with a blog” I’m going to tell this story.

I don’t know what to title this post

You’ve probably noticed that the mainstream media can be a little touchy about the blogosphere and communal creation of knowledge. A few news outlets, however, have tried to embrace the technologies of social computing, some with more success than other. A notable failure was the LA Times attempt at editorial wikis earlier this year. This introduction to the concept is interesting:

[The editorial wiki] sounds nutty. But the best-known example works bewilderingly well. This is the Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia built on the contributions of thousands of readers (plus some minimal supervision from the host site). Readers are also fact checkers.

To be sure, bewilderment seems to accurately describe the tenor of most of what the mainstream media is reporting about the phenomenon of wikis and blogs. It is encouraging, one one level, to see a newspaper like the LA Times trying to embrace this new form of knowledge creation. But, ultimately, wikis may not be a tool that will ever work in the traditional newsroom. Reading this “retraction” of the wiki editorial idea, one wonders if the Times had really done their homework (side question: when referring to a newspaper, do we use the pronoun “they” or “it?” I really don’t know.) If they had familiarized themselves with the kind of wiki culture that makes wikipedia both bewildering and amazingly successful, they would have been prepared for the appearance of “inappropriate material” on their Web site. And they would have allowed the wiki users to negotiate the editing (and, presumably, excising) of this material.

Meanwhile, here in Fredericksburg, the local paper announced the introduction of its first blog today by music editor Emily Gilmore. Intrigued, I took a look. Frankly, it doesn’t look like they’ve gotten the idea, yet. I just don’t think this is a blog. I’m wondering if they haven’t just modified whatever content management system that they use to allow for a chronological listing of short pieces that this particular writer is contributing.

There is no way for users to provide comments or trackbacks (perhaps there is some fear of inappropriate content?). But, the jury may still be out on whether a comment-less blog is still a blog.

More frustrating perhaps than the lack of comments is the lack of an RSS feed for the blog (at least I couldn’t find one). There is RSS for the paper’s “regular” content, but not for the blog.

I’m sure the author of the “blog” is a lovely person and she may have lots of wonderful things to say about the music world in Fredericksburg and beyond. But I don’t think she is blogging. It looks as though the paper plans on adding more “blogs” to the site, but, again, I think they’ve missed the boat.

All of this sort of feels like when you wanted a particular toy for Christmas as a child and your grandmother bought you something that was sort of like the toy, but just wasn’t the same. She is trying hard to be “with it” but she. just. doesn’t. get. it.

Certain mainstream media channels seem to be trying to get on board with the social web. NPR is an example of one outlet that is doing a pretty good job (especially with podcasting), but many of them are either doing too little too late or they are trying to massage the tools to still do what they have always done: present carefully controlled content in a more or less traditional way.

(As I was about to post this, I remember another example of a major news outlet that did some amazing work with blogging earlier this year. Brian Williams and the NBC Nightly News team maintain a blog called the Daily Nightly. During Hurricane Katrina, he and others blogged from New Orleans. The entries from that period are an amazing snapshot of their experiences in that city during a time of great tragedy. The humanity expressed in these pages is truly humbling. The juxtaposition of the smiling News team members’ publicity photos next to the sobering text is truly bizarre — and, in my opinion, of what it is like when blogging “gets real.”)

The Gods Don’t Want Me to Blog

I’ve been blogging a lot less lately — for a variety of reasons. I actually have a few posts in “draft” form in WordPress that I keep meaning to get back to. I always seem to start posts at the end of the day, and then never quite finish them before I’ve got to leave. Perhaps on some subconcious level I do that deliberately. I don’t know.

Today, I went in to flesh out a post I started earlier (last week?) about social mapping tools I’ve been using and WordPress blew a gasket on me. I tried to highlight a word in my post to add a link and my entry dissapeared and reverted back to the draft I saved earlier. Sigh.

I think I’ll call it a day for blogging and try again tomorrow. . .

Perhaps this is a sign I haven’t been blogging enough. . .

oldfeed I’ve spent the last week deep in the bowels of a Drupal installation, trying to make it into an adequate media library solution for a project we’re working on. The installation was leftover from some other experiment I must have done months ago, and this afternoon, I started playing around with the news aggregator feature in Drupal and came across this message. At some point I fed an RSS feed into Drupal (of my blog?), and for some reason it’s been a while since the feed has updated. 35 years and 49 weeks ago, to be precise.

Tool Angst

Whenever I’m faced with a (technological) problem that needs to be solved, I tend to think in terms of tools. This is probably a weakness on my part. Instead of imaginging how the tools I have at my disposal could solve the problem I have, I tend to imagine/pine for the “perfect” tool that would afford me the “perfect” solution. But, whatever. We all have our weaknesses.

Lately, I feel like I’m constantly frustrated by not having that perfect tool available. Several projects have come up lately that demand a tool that I can’t seem to find. I feel like I spend far to much time searching for the right tool among the ones that I have available. Then, when I settle on one, I spend far to much time installing/configuring/tweaking it. Then, once I’ve gotten the tool installed/configured/tweaked I ultimately decide that it didn’t really fit the problem I was trying to solve after all. So, I’m back to the drawing board. Does this sound like a huge time waster? It feels like one.

A Plea for Youth

I’m finally getting some time to blog about a variety of interesting things I’ve seen over the last week or so, and I’ll start with this post about allowing today’s youth the space and freedom to express themeselves over at Danah Boyd’s blog, apophenia.

I think Danah’s done a fantastic job of capturing why it is that we need to allow space online for young people — and why we need to step aside and let them fill those spaces:

Post-Columbine, we decided to regulate the symptoms of alienation rather than solve the problem. Today, we are trying to regulate youth efforts to have agency and public space. Both are products of a culture of fear and completely miss the point. We need to figure out how to support youth culture, exploration and efforts to make sense of the social world. The more we try to bottle it into a cookie-cutter model, the more we will destroy that generation.

Danah’s plea is compelling and hearfelt enough to warrant a full read. I encourage any of you who work with, interact with, or just plain care about youth and youth culture to read it.

And, while you’re there, be sure to read the comments posted. The one about the experiences of a film teacher and students in Colorado is particularly chilling.


The developer preview of Flock is now available. I’m writing this post from within the built-in blogging tool. It’s pretty cool. I’ve used an extension for Firefox before (Blog This) that would allow me to write to my blog easily from the browser, but this feels even more integrated. There is actually a button in the toolbar to launch the blog post window.  Another cool feature: within the posting window is a feature called “TopBar” which allows me to toggle between a blog toolbar and a Flickr toolbar. The Flickr toolbar allows me to drop and drag photos from Flickr right into my blog post. I’m not sure exactly what the blog TopBar is good for, but I’ll figure it out.

The other feature I’m excited about is the The Shelf, sort of a scrapbook where I can collect notes as I’m browing. I can see this coming in really handy when I’m getting ready to compose a new blog post. No more hunting around various Web pages looking for the right link/text, always worrying that I’ll accidentally load something into the browser window where I’m posting. Now I can clip interesting stuff while I’m browsing and then have it all handy when I go to write.

Favorites are integrated with my delicious account so that I can access them through the browser. This feature seems a little sluggish right now, but it is only a developer preview, after all.

Oh, and another cool feature: Flock indexes every page I visit, so that I can go back later and do full-text searches of my History. Since I’m always losing stuff I found online before, I think this could be very useful.

So, go get Flock-ed!


Google Reader: The Latest in RSS Fun

Via plasticbag, I found Google’s new (RSS) Reader tool.

I was able to import my subscriptions from a Bloglines XML export without any trouble. Now I’m trying to get my head around the interface. Since I just suscribed to the feeds, there are no items associated with them at the moment. That makes it hard for me to understand exactly how the service works. According to the Reader: “Items published from now on will begin appearing in [my] reading list.” I can also click a link to view older items from a source. But since there are no current items, I can’t quite tell what reading experience will be like. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a place that aggregates/clearly presents all the new items in my feeds. I definitely want that feature.

Frankly, on first inspection, the interface feels like it is trying to hard. The “lens” feature is a cool looking way to navigate the feeds, but it doesn’t seem as intuitive or simple as most Google interfaces. And I definitely don’t think it is as intuitive (or simple) as the Bloglines interface.

That said, I like how I can add my own tags to any post (for finding later) and how I can also freely tag my feeds. Just like in Gmail, I can also “star” a post. I’m not sure what this does. Does it keep that post around for me (like Bloglines Clippings) even when it has dropped off the XML feed? A system for creating some persistence for certain items is important to me. Before I started using Bloglines (I was using NetNewsWire Lite) I was regularly reading items and then “losing” them.

There is also a link labeled “Read items.” There’s nothing there now, and I’m not sure what it means. It is past-tense, as in “items I’ve read” (maybe this is where old items persist). Or is it a directly: Go Read These Items (because they’re new? because you’ve starred them). I don’t know. I’ll have to keep playing around until I figure it out.

It is also possible to send a post via Gmail or post to Blogger blog directly (no surprise there).

As with most Google Beta releases, documentation/explanation is light (if not non-existent).

In any case, a tool worth watching. . .

Please keep your python to yourself.

Um. Ouch.

And, I don’t get this quote:

“There had been some hope that alligators can control Burmese pythons,” Mazzotti said. “This indicates to me it’s going to be an even draw. Sometimes alligators are going to win and sometimes the python will win.”

Uh, I’m not sure there was a clear “winnner” in this situation.

The Power of Story

I love the radio show This American Life. I’m always happy when I’m out on the weekend and it comes on the radio(Because we live out in the boonies and have terrible radio reception, I only get to listen to NPR in the car. Poor me. ) So I was thrilled to find this short audio message from host Ira Glass at LearningTimes Network today.

It’s a wonderful anecdote of how important it is to create stories for learners. Not only does it make the learning experience more meaningful it makes it more memorable.

Registration is probably required and it took a little while for the Flash audio to load on my computer, but I think it’s worth the wait.

Sidenote: I know that TAL is trying to make money off of selling cd’s of their broadcasts, but a podcast sure would be nice.