Still Under Construction…but Starting to Take Shape

So we’re up and running with How the Web Works, my summer course hosted on WordPress. It’s definitely experimental, underdeveloped, emergent, and…messy! With one student (Chris) enrolled, it’s also sort of a paradox, as we try to co-construct a course that has principles of collaboration, peer-instruction, and connected learning baked in. But hey, we all play with the cards we are dealt, right?

So far, to be honest, my focus hasn’t really been on the WordPress platform as such, but on getting a clearer sense of the conceptual map of the course (on the macro level) and on designing relevant activities and assignments for each week (on the micro level). I guess you could say that I’m still operating from the “content is king” approach to learning and teaching that I was a part of for so long…which includes having a pretty well-defined map of the sequence of topics and themes that are going to unfold. But I’m still relatively new to this content area (after an earlier career teaching religious studies), and, truth be told, while I am embracing a connectivist point of view with considerable enthusiasm, there’s still a part of me that thinks that the content of the pipes is still pretty important.

I think that, at least for this iteration of the course, I’m happy with what we’ve sketched out as the major theme of each week (it’s a seven-week course, so each of these weeks is like two weeks in a traditional semester). Designing assignments has given me more anxiety, but that’s coming along too, with help from colleagues. Chris Lott is teaching a similar kind of course this summer, and I have benefitted greatly from his comments and from checking out his course site for ideas and inspiration. And my Austin College colleague Brett Boessen (who’s lurking in TWP15) has given me some good advice…he’s teaching “Elements of Media Making” right now, and the lucky guy has four students in his course (including the one who is in mine). Like I said before, summer school at Austin College is really small ball.

So what have we done so far? Well, in week one Chris got some tools in place to be a connected learner…account at Reclaim, WordPress installed, blog up and running (check it out and leave comments!), and Twitter account reactivated…follow him @DaWhopperFreak. The basics for building a PLN are there. We also got religion from Gardner Campbell on the personal cyberinfrastructure; I think Chris took to his baptism with fervor. And I had him check out some guides on digital identity and reputation to start keying in on some of those issues. I also worked through @CogDog’s tutorials to set up blog syndication with FeedWordPress. Geez, I love that guy! Of course, there’s not a lot to syndicate right now in this course, but looking ahead this is going to be so awesome.

This week we took a dive into the “history of the digital revolution.” We’re reading some stuff from Isaacson’s The Innovators, with particular attention on the unfolding of the Bush/Licklider/Engelbart vision of augmented intelligence (hello, Though Vectors in Concept Space!) Today we watched some highlights from “The Mother of All Demos,” Doug Engelbart’s 1968 presentation heralding the dawn of interactive computing. Chris was rapt!

One of the main assignments for the week is for Chris and I to collaborate on an interactive timeline of this history using Timeline JS. There’s a plug-in for that, of course. Chris is a political science major, history minor, with a particular interest in military history. And we all know how much the development of computers and digital networks was embedded within military purposes. So for starters, he’s digging into material relating to Enigma and Alan Turing. There’s not a whole lot on the timeline just yet, but you can check it out on his WordPress site here. I’m going to focus on adding elements from more recent history (the last 25 years or so). If you have a course that deals with narrative or historical material, Timeline JS might be a good choice to incorporate as a learning activity. I’ll also have Chris do a reflective blog post about his timeline.

Next week we explore the conversation and debates about digital literacy, web literacy (and any other kind of literacy you can think of, for that matter). We’ll read some stuff by Doug Belshaw (h/t to Chris Lott for that idea) and from Howard Rheingold, among others. I’m leaning toward building the activity/assignment for the week around some Wikipedia edits, but that’s still coming into focus (like I said, we really are making this up as we go). One thing I’m trying to do in the course is to weave into each week the chance to use different kinds of digital knowledge making tools (like Timeline JS). For example, I’d like to work in assignments using things like social bookmarking (Diigo) web annotation (, and mind-mapping (suggestions?).

It’s a start, at least.

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9 thoughts on “Still Under Construction…but Starting to Take Shape”

  1. FYI: You might have seen this, but I rolled up having students get some wiki experience and engage with Doug’s book into one activity by having them do “Rich Reflections” on his book’s wiki:

    I’m working on some kind of future conversation with Doug, myself and some students too.

    I’ve been trying myself (still trying to get the hang/sense of it, particularly when using it as a way of sharing and inviting discussion) and will likely—along with feed reading and bookmarking—make it part of a suite of “your choice” assignments.

    For mind mapping, I use NovaMind on the desktop and, in the past, have had good luck with MindMeister and — but it’s been a while for those and I don’t know what they offer at the free levels of service. Like free screencasting, it feels like free web-based mind/concept mapping is a dying resource!

    • Yes, I did see the setup you have at Doug’s wiki, so that’s a possibility, though on Wikipedia there would be more of an opportunity to actually edit some articles and more broadly get familiar with some of the technical and philosophical issues at play there…for example, debates about “notability,” the reliability of sources, etc. I was just helping a colleague here this week to design a set of Wikipedia assignments for a course this fall, and so I sort of got the bug to do that in my course as well.

      I’m a big fan of annotation as a scholarly practice (did a blog post about it a while back… I’ve got about half a dozen faculty here using Classroom Salon for video annotation, and they’ve been pleased with the results. I’m excited about for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that Jon Udell is now on board with them. His “thinking like the web” post really resonated with me. I think they’ve still got a ways to go, but it looks promising.

      Thanks for the mind-mapping tips…I’m wondering too if Prezi might be a good candidate here. I’ve been wanting to break into the Prezi world, and this might be my entree.

      Looks like things are going well in ED 654…

  2. I like Prezi, but when mind-mapping I find speed—in terms of ability to create entries and make connections—key and Prezi is a bit slow and awkward for me. It can’t keep up with my thinking. Or I can’t make it do so :)

    Because I’m not particularly interested, in this course, in having students edit or contribute to Wikipedia itself (or at least not yet! I do get where you are coming from in doing so), Doug’s wiki was a good middle-ground (doubly so because it also uses MediaWiki so if/when they do think about editing on Wikipedia the process will at least be similar). I assume you are familiar with the classic Murder, Madness and Mayhem Wikipedia project by Jon Beasley-Murray ( I still think it’s the best Wikipedia engagement by a class I’ve ever seen…however it is a long-form project, so not necessarily directly applicable. But you might find some interesting aspects in terms of engaging with the WP community, etc.

    I think web annotation is important (including Genius), but I’m having trouble with the disconnected nature of — the way the annotations aren’t in the context of the web site if I “share” an annotation with someone. I think I must be doing something wrong…I want to share a link that takes someone to a site to see the annotations in context.

    ED 654 is going well so far. Feels like a house of cards—but doing something new always does :)

    • I’ve seen references to the Murder, Madness, and Mayhem project, but to be honest, I had never really taken the time to look very closely at what it was all about. Very impressive, but definitely beyond what I can do in this version of the course. But I should study it further as you suggest.

      I don’t have a lot of experience with, though I’m excited because one of our faculty members is planning to use it (upon my recommendation) extensively in a class this coming year. My sense is that it does keep the annotation in context…so if I share a link to an annotation, like this one (, the resulting note shows a link back to the article, if you want to see the note there (of course you would have to have your account turned on or active). Or maybe others wouldn’t see what I see?

      Next week, in addition to the Belshaw book, we’re going to take a look at the Mozilla Web Literacy Project (which I actually think Belshaw has moved on to now). We might play around with their Webmaker app…looks like it can do some cool things…

  3. That’s the chicken-and-egg problem with tools like — they are significantly less helpful if the person who you want to share with hasn’t likewise installed the plugin or bookmarklet (and created an account). Still, it’s progress.

    The Web Literacy project has some interesting stuff. But I find “web” literacy even more problematic and bounded than I do “digital” literacy, so while I might pick and choose a few bits here and there, it’s not an initiative I’m leading students to (I suspect a few will find themselves there anyway though). There’s something about the entire enterprise that doesn’t sit well with me, though I haven’t thought too much about why and I guess I haven’t cared enough to examine more deeply… or perhaps it’s just laziness since the principles in Doug’s book are enough to be a basis for the conversations I’m interested in now and I probably will choose something different next time. Maybe even the Mozilla project. I’m fickle.

    I wasn’t aware Doug was affiliated with them.

  4. This sounds like it’s shaping up to be a really interesting course! Wish I had had the chance to take something like this when I was an undergrad.

    And re: connectivism: I talk the talk and all, but when it comes right down to it, the courses I teach for credit are VERY content-heavy. More than I’d like. But I also think content is important. I’m not sure Siemens would disagree; he just said the pipe is MORE important than the content, not that the content means nothing!

    Let’s see…mind mapping free software…I’ve used Mind Mup, which is free and open source: It’s a bit clunky but it gets the job done. I’ve also used Prezi for mind mapping, and once you get used to it it can be fast as well!

    I use Diigo for bookmarking but you can also use it for annotations. I haven’t heard of, though. I’ll have to check it out.

    • Christina, thanks so much for your encouragement…I’m still feeling like such a noob with all this, but little by little it’s coming along.

      Of course, to stay with the metaphor, the very reason that pipes (or wires or what have you) exist is to carry something, to transmit something. And it’s that something (ideas, data, etc.) that we’re really interested in. The reason I have pipes in my house is because I want water, not because I particularly value a set of tubes behind the wall or under the floor. Now of course in a learning network, connections shouldn’t be reduced to just getting something useful from others in the network; relationships with others have value that transcends a purely utilitarian consideration. Still, the relationships have to be ABOUT something, just as the reason we have conversations is to talk ABOUT something.

      And yet, what make connectivism persuasive for me is that, in the act of attempting to transmit ideas or knowledge to others, and in the reciprocal act of responding to the ideas of others, I do really deepen my understanding in a way that I could never do by myself in solitary reflection. It’s the fact that the ideas are moving and flowing and changing through the pipes, and not just stagnant, that is really critical.

      I’m really intrigued by as an annotation tool. I think the philosophy behind it’s development really fits in well with your perspectives on “openness.” The concept of “open annotation” is what is driving the development, as this blog post explains Very exciting to see this happening.

  5. I dropped back into this thread to note that your excitement about was enough motivation for me to take a fresh look at it. I had kind of mentally lumped it in with Diigo’s annotation tools which I find more frustrating than useful. I’m starting to see the bigger vision that founders have (which is all laid out there if I’d bothered to look) and it resonates with me…and I’m getting pretty excited myself about both their efforts and how might fit into my own personal workflow…being a longtime maker of–and lover of others’–marginalia.

    I also, in the spirit of intellectual openness, note that I sounded negative about the Mozilla Web Literacy project and that feeling really has no basis in reality. I think it’s probably that I’ve been so focused on the bigger picture and philosophy of literacy that the reality of actual implementation of, essentially, a curriculum just feels foreign right now. Or something…


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