Am I but an alien in blogger costume?
Just what are my intentions here?
Do you fear my intentions? Or for that matter the intentions of my graduate course classmates, who are on a similar exploratory trajectory?
So, am I here to try and take over the blogosphere, or do I simply want to be part of this thing we call blogging? Really, truly, it is the latter, so please be gentle with me as I learn your ways. Do not have me annihilated, as the aliens disguised as missing astronauts were by fearful earthlings in Philip K. Dick’s (1987, original 1959) short story, Explorers We.
But more on Philip K. Dick later…
I’ve chosen WordPress as my blogging platform for the simple reason that this was the blogging tool I was asked to use when I started my graduate degree, with the intention that it be used as an online portfolio, in order to eventually have something to present to the Jedi High Council eventually proving my worthiness of Jedi status (see Padawan post). It was, however, a prescient choice, because the school where I teach decided to implement blogs for all of our senior students on wordpress.org. We went .org rather than .com because in more or less self-hosting it in Canada, we get around the potential of U.S. government security types getting snippy in case one of our students posts something that could be misconstrued and thus flagged – we’d like the students to be able to discuss politics and global issues relatively openly. Anyway, since I am now using WordPress, I can be of more assistance to teachers and students as they explore blogging.
As educators know, the best writers are those that read a lot. The best bloggers therefore also must be those that read many blogs. I have been reading blogs on and off, here and there, for some time now. This time, however, I read with more intent, knowing that I will be doing some blogging of my own for my current Web 2.0 class. A couple of points Richardson discusses (2010) regarding context through linking and screen reading sparked my brain synapses. Fortunately, he provided links so that I could read the original articles by Rosenberg (2010) and Kelly (2010) in their entirety, allowing me to develop my own thinking around these topics.
I found Rosenberg’s (2010) discussion of the explicit and implicit context through linking quite interesting. The ability for people to quickly develop explicit context by accessing links within an online text is obvious to anyone who reads online a lot. But Rosenberg (2010) describes implicit context, on the other hand, as “something a little more elusive: The links you put into a piece of writing tell a story (or, if you will, a meta-story) about you and what you’ve written.”
Now, as newbie blogger, I need to keep both kinds of contexts in mind. I appreciate the message that I should be including links into my blog in order to furnish it with further context and information for my readers. The fact though that I should also keep in mind the implicit context provided by my blog is a bit unsettling: I will be assessed, and opinions of me will be formed, on the basis of the links I provide. It almost sounds to me like an intellectual popularity contest in which I cannot hope to compete in this manic stage (maintain home/marriage, raise small children, work, grad school, rinse and repeat) of my life. Perhaps when I am retired at 80…
In considering implicit context further, however, I also see its educational applications. Certainly, determining implicit context via links in online text is a key component of ascertaining bias and worthiness when teaching students to assess websites.
The wealth of information that comes via the web is astounding. The quality of what I read via my RSS reader and the links provided by tweets has truly been amazing. Yes, there is certainly plenty of crap out there (and hopefully I won’t spew too much of it on my blog), but given the material provided by an overall seemingly trustworthy personal learning network, I have developed some faith in Internet sources for learning. I have enough life experience behind me though to have some appreciable level of discernment in my web surfing, whereas many of my students have not. Therefore it is key to teaching them this by providing them with plenty of good examples of online material, in part using contextual linking.
So then, back to Phillip K. Dick…
While Kelly’s article on screen reading brought up numerous points, I thought to focus on the sci fi related (is it clear yet, between this and Star Wars, that sci fi is one of my favourite genres?) statement from Kelly (2010) that
In the futuristic movie Minority Report (2002) [the original short story is by Philip K. Dick], the character played by Tom Cruise stands in front of a wraparound screen and hunts through vast archives of information with the gestures of a symphony conductor. Reading becomes almost athletic. Just as it seemed weird five centuries ago to see someone read silently, in the future it will seem weird to read without moving your body.
Well, I’ve made this analogy to Minority Report in the past myself during conversations. We’re already starting to do it with our e.g. Mac track pads what with all the turning and scrolling and flipping (albeit on a 2-D plain). And actually, surprisingly cheap prototypes for the first steps toward this future (some of the technology, hopefully not the frightening future-reading behaviours) are already here. Be sure to also check out the videos.
Anyway, I do wonder though the negative effects of constant screen-reading, such as no downtime, no quiet time to clear the mind. But on a purely educational level, this is certainly a way to get students to develop various kinds of literacy. And blogging does provide an apparently effective venue for developing a variety of literacy skills. How will I blog in the third dimension (or 4-D???), I wonder?
Using blogs to develop new thinking through reflection and commentary-based feedback is not only a great way to develop oneself as an educational professional, but also a way to model the same to students. I do understand those who are reticent. It is hard enough to fear having personal shortcomings exposed to others for criticism. The fact that we might come across as tooting our own horn by so publicly promoting our opinions is also problematic, particularly for those who hail from other cultures, where this would be considered bragging and a very negative trait. For instance, my husband is from Russia and has a very difficult time writing a resume that promotes his skills and abilities. This was simply not done in the Soviet culture in which he grew up and where he started his work career. There are numerous other cultures where such attitudes about self-promotion are commonplace, and therefore something that we as educators should keep in mind when assigning blogs to students from various cultures.
Which makes me want to reverse my original question, which was, “am I but an alien in blogger costume?”. Instead, are the bloggers in fact Explorers We, trying not to freak out the locals while discovering the literacy and communication potentials of the Web 2.0?
Finally, I highly recommend Philip K. Dick’s short story collections. You’ll recognize his materials from the various movies made from his stories such Blade Runner, Paycheck, Total Recall and others.
Dick, P. K. (1987). Explorers we. In The minority report: And other classic stories by Philip K. Dick (pp. 147-156). New York, NY: Citadel Press.
Kelly, K. (2010, August). Reading in a whole new way. Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialsections/40th-anniversary/Reading-in-a-Whole-New-Way.html
Richardson, W. (2010, September). Reading screens, writing screens, teaching screens [Web log post]. Retrieved from Weblogg-ed: http://weblogg-ed.com/2010/reading-screens-writing-screens-teaching-screens/
Rosenberg, S. (2010, September 2). In defense of links, part three: In links we trust [Web log post]. Retrieved from Wordyard.: http://www.wordyard.com/2010/09/02/in-defense-of-links-part-three-in-links-we-trust/
Spielberg, S. (Director). (2002). Minority report [Motion picture]. United States: Twentieth Century Fox.