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Archive for May, 2003

May 2003 blog archive

May 31, 2003 Leave a comment

Archives: May 2003 [source]

Sat May 31, 2003

Foucault on getting a life

In an interview, Michel Foucault reflects on self-knowledge and making something of yourself:

I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.

He may be onto a bit of the engaging character of writing in general and blogging in particular — a sense that through one or another of the cultural games available to us we can shape ourselves and move toward something we desire to accomplish. You work out each day at the gym or the martial arts studio; you draw on sheet after sheet of blank paper; you fill computer screens with your sentences. Any of these things serve to make something in the world by and as you make and remake yourself.

Blogs may have some advantages for our day. They don’t require other people to be in the room, so our happy individualists can practice their skills without denting their dignity by submitting to a master or teacher. Like the first few days of taekwondo, they are easy to begin and some of the results are immediate. (The most powerful results are not immediate, probably.) They can be a way of engaging the wider world that otherwise might be happy to ignore the individual, or at least they provide that dream. (Cool, someone in Kamchatka is listening to me! Or might!) But overall I still imagine that the real virtue of blogging is the long effort and risky experiment, rather than the joy of one’s easy opening remarks.

Original source: Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault – October 25th, 1982. From: Martin, L.H. et al (1988) Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Tavistock. pp.9-15.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 31, 2003 | 6:44 pm

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Ed Cone on Kraus

Today Ed Cone was able to use my favorite Karl Kraus aphorism, “baking bread from breadcrumbs.”

Posted by Ken Smith on May 31, 2003 | 6:38 pm

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Summary judgment

Tom at Commonplaces ends a discussion of Derrida-bashing with this nice description of the problem of summary judgment in blogging or in other writing:

Summary judgments tend to elide the question of whether one has read the person one is judging — read them aright or at all. If you wish to deliver yourself of a judgment about a writer, you could do worse than offer a passage from her or him, and your reading of it, to support your case. Especially when you’re dealing with folks whose lives’ work was, in many ways, an inquiry into the act of reading. #

In other words, we have an ethical requirement to grapple with the specificity of the other’s language and experience if we really want to speak respectfully about their work. This is a clue to the problem with a lot of blogging. Students won’t pick this up by wandering the web, I’d say. We’ll have to wrap blogging projects in good teaching about the skills and ethics of careful reading and adequate response.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 31, 2003 | 12:32 pm

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Blogging about place

Lisa Thompson has pointed out a movement of bloggers writing about place. These are good examples of people with interesting and often lovely projects, and they provide examples for student work — in our department, say, one could ask students to prepare a topic-centered blog like these for the W250 Writing in Context course. I’ll try to assemble more examples of these — see in the Links collection already the Wild Skye, Donegal Hedgerow, and Skye Flora sites, not all blogs, though.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 31, 2003 | 12:20 pm

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Resource page

The Common Dreams News Center provides a huge number of links to news sources on the web. One might ask students to browse through a site like this one and report back from time to time on an issue, or create a smaller collection of annotated links to sites or to articles that would serve as an aid to research on an issue. See also their NewsWire.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 31, 2003 | 1:42 am

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Fri May 30, 2003

That’s not writing, that’s typing

Via Thoughtsignals I find William Gibson’s 5/2/03 post arguing that blogging’s informality dooms it from the chance to produce the results we expect from serious writing. In a general way I agree, except that serious short-form writing on the web can be as rich as other serious short forms — good columns or editorials, notes and comment pieces from the New Yorker, etc. But there is much laziness (or something) to combat before we get there — I think Ed Cone may be hinting about that this week in his entries about InstaPundit: 1 & 2. We might need a weblog journalism review, for one thing. Somebody should grab the domain name!

Posted by Ken Smith on May 30, 2003 | 12:03 pm

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What makes a blog a blog?

See today’s posting by Dave Winer called What makes a weblog a weblog? and his comment about how he wrote it:

I did something different with this piece, I didn’t publish it for a few months. I started writing it as soon as I got to Cambridge in March. We did about ten Thursday night sessions. I polished my skills as a user, and watched other people learn weblogs, saw what they got, and didn’t. I asked other people for ideas of what made weblogs different from professional pubs and Wikis. I thought, and I wrote, and deleted, and wrote some more. In other words, I did something rather unlike a weblog to try to get to the core of what one is. So if you ever doubt that I believe in other forms of writing, put that to rest. There are occasions when you want to spend a fair amount of time reflecting and editing. Some writing that isn’t like a fresco, writ in quick-dry plaster. #

I wonder what will happen if he has more time to converse with the writing faculty there — these kinds of posts might develop more of a discussion of the nature of writing and even the pedagogy that can support students as they try for new skills.

It makes me wonder, also, whether one might work on a natural history, a developmental theory or a life-cycle, of an increasingly skillful blogger.

What I’m doing here is hinting that a good writing teacher could take his ideas further; I guess it’s time to stop complaining about the other guy’s writing and get to work.

Furthermore: most of Dave Winer’s essay is a catalog of technical options, good to have, good to think more about.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 30, 2003 | 11:14 am

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Passion statement

Fred, the somewhat anonymous government lawyer who writes as the Bureaucrat by Day, provides a mission statement for his blog, expressing a need for a louder voice in public affairs. He says:

It’s a time for anger, excitement, and passion. And this blog is the perfect place to do so. As I have written before, blogs are the new broadsheets.

The role of passion in public debate, then. Fine, but for the classroom, blogs need to be more than passion alone. We are responsible for the history of our disciplines, the skills necessary to practice them, the research necessary to improve them, the open exchange necessary to test them, and the teaching necessary to pass them along. Passion energizes them all, but so do pride, ethical standards, and curiousity. Blogs may need to be adapted from their wild state for the best classroom use.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 30, 2003 | 11:12 am

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Thu May 29, 2003

Foucault on polemics

One way of elucidating the differing natures of blog writing might be to turn to the distinction Michel Foucault draws between polemics and what he calls “the serious play of questions and answers.” In distinguishing between the two, he says “a whole morality is at stake, the one that concerns the search for truth and the relation to the other.” In an interview he describes the increasingly rare, always difficult ethical path with some urgency:

In the serious play of questions and answers, in the work of reciprocal elucidation, the rights of each person are in some sense immanent in the discussion. They depend only on the dialogue situation. The person asking the questions is merely exercising the right that has been given him: to remain unconvinced, to perceive a contradiction, to require more information, to emphasize different postulates, to point out faulty reasoning, and so on. As for the person answering the questions, he too exercises a right that does not go beyond the discussion itself; by the logic of his own discourse, he is tied to what he has said earlier, and by the acceptance of dialogue he is tied to the questioning of other. Questions and answers depend on a game—a game that is at once pleasant and difficult—in which each of the two partners takes pains to use only the rights given him by the other and by the accepted form of dialogue.

The alternative, so familiar to us from public figures who would much rather win arguments than anything else:

The polemicist , on the other hand, proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is [h]armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.

I see that the root for “polemic” means of or for war, which is the grimmer part of the dictionary definition that is otherwise far more polite than Foucault’s. Much is at stake here.

We might ask students to locate some passages of polemic and some passages of the serious play that Foucault admires. They could write about the differences in their blogs and compose a set of guidelines for ethical writing as a result.

Original source: The interview called “Polemics, Politics and Problematizations” was conducted by Paul Rabinow, translated by Lydia Davis, and published in the “Ethics” (vol. 1) of “Essential Works of Foucault”, The New Press 1997.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 29, 2003 | 6:12 pm

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A strong introduction

See Barclay Barrios’s generous introduction to blogs for teachers called The Year of the Blog: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 29, 2003 | 1:02 pm

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A page design

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a clear, very compact design for its columnist page. See also their neat idea called Webtowns, in which they give information about various areas they serve along with links to recent stories about the area.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 29, 2003 | 12:44 pm

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A Donegal hedgerow

I’ve been enjoying my visits to A Donegal Hedgerow, thanks to the frequent brief posts and many photographs by Stuart Dunlop. He is using a digital camera for one year to record flora and fauna from a 3/4 mile stretch of hedgerow in County Donegal, Ireland. He suspects that the hedgerow is hundreds of years old.

I noticed that lovely bird song began coming through my speakers a moment after I arrived at the May portion of the site. Because there are so many pictures, I had to be patient as the pages loaded slowly when I was using the older modem from home. Perhaps cutting the site into weeks rather than months would help out computer users with older, slower equipment?

The site is a pleasure, a good example of using a blog-like structure to follow one’s interests and offer something lovely to others. Students might compose a site like this, following an interest for a semester, working to accumulate something of use or pleasure for others. Or they might catalog and annotate web sites that concentrate on a particular interest like this.

Most of the photographs are close-ups — I would enjoy a few more shots of the broader landscape as it changes through the seasons, too. Mr. Dunlop has granted permission, so I will post one of his photographs here — from May 5th, the white flowering hawthorn. Thank you.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 29, 2003 | 10:51 am

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A small assignment

In the past I’ve seen students and teachers do good things by following up on daily discussions with questions or class notes. Several variations are interesting: two students keep detailed notes from the class discussion and copy them for classmates before the next session, and the class reviews these at the start of the next discussion, revising and clarifying as needed. Or, each student brings two questions to class based on the previous discussion or on a new reading, passes these in on a slip of paper, and the teacher reads them aloud anonymously and the discussion starts from there. Or students pass in one or two questions at the end of the period that they’d like to see addressed next time. Or students write for one minute at the end of class, giving the teacher a sense of what they have understood from the discussion. Or the teacher starts the period by asking a student to summarize the highlights of the previous session, using memory or notes.

These give the teacher new ways of knowing what students are understanding or not, and they also share some of the responsibility with students for shaping subsequent discussions. Let’s imagine doing some of these things on a class blog, though.

Two students could be responsible for writing class notes and posting them before the next session, certainly. They might be asked to write two sets or to collaborate on a single set. By posting, the class starts to build a record of its deliberations that students can return to and reflect on. The teacher can assign this as a standing assignment, and follow up on it by asking students to quote from the class notes in a later paper, say. Or two or three students might be asked to work up discussion questions for a new reading a few days in advance, post them, and then start the discussion of those questions as comments below the post. Or other students might be asked to comment before the class meeting. The teacher can review these posts before class and know much more about how the students are processing the material to be discussed in the next session — a technique I learned from my colleague, Eileen Bender.

I also imagined that a teacher might require students to learn the names of their classmates — a good assignment for small to medium-sized classes anyway — and then they could take turns blogging highlights from class discussion, including the best two or three comments and questions offered by classmates on a given day.

The variations seem endless. The process should invite students to take a more active roll in processing class discussions, and it should create a record of the course that students can build on in later assignments.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 29, 2003 | 10:15 am

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A stock of mannerisms

One way to read Ed Cone’s spoof of InstaPundit today is to say that blogging can become a stock of mannerisms rather than a progression of linked, unfolding thought. From a writing teacher’s point of view, it’s a familiar struggle. See The Plural I by William E. Coles, Jr., for example, that wild novelization of a college writing class. The teacher and students work up a list of stock moves that students make in weak papers, give them memorable names, and use them to test the seriousness of the thought in papers written later in the course.

What do I want, every posting to be a developed essay? No, but it would seem to me that some postings need to head in that direction and others need to have the specificity of idea and example that will start to carry some weight and create a worthy persona for the writer at the same time. Yes, some writers will be playful, like Cone today, some will be lyrical, some will be more journalistic or whatever, but some elements of what makes writing good elsewhere seem to apply here in the blogosphere. It is useful to think of there being no difference between good writing here and good writing there, even thought there probably are differences.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 29, 2003 | 1:41 am

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Wed May 28, 2003

College web news services

Three college newspapers have won awards as the best college internet news services, according to CyberJournalist.net. See the main site for a variety of other blog and web resources, such at the list of journalism blogs, their blog on news blogging, and more.

They also point to a fascinating site, Deep Throat Uncovered, produced through college courses at University of Illinois, investigating the identity of the mysterious Wategate informant. It’s an amazing example of collaborative work in the classroom and beyond. #

Posted by Ken Smith on May 28, 2003 | 10:45 am

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Tue May 27, 2003

Theory and practice

Two substantial articles have come my way this week, full of ideas and resources.

From Web Tools Newsletter, a new offering on Interschool Online Collaborative Projects.

From Oliver Wrede at the Vienna Blogtalk conference, a theory of pedagogy paper on Weblogs and Discourse.

And now I find another by Andrew Grumet, undated, perhaps a little older, but containing many resources and at first glance no tongue in cheek about its title, Deep Thinking about Weblogs.

And a long essay written by Joi Ito and others in a Wiki about weblogs and democratic process — see section 1.9 for a description of the composing process. See Joi Ito’s Wiki about the nature of Wiki, too.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 27, 2003 | 11:10 am

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Mon May 26, 2003

A page design

Butterflies and Wheels offers a bright, clean page design — easy to draw the titles out from the text, for one thing. I also like the “More” pages where you see a fuller listing of articles, eg., or items from other categories. And they also offer fairly detailed introductions to their favorite books, such the Essays of Hazlitt.

Other interesting features: a quotations page, a series on poor rhetoric, and a series on poor argument.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 26, 2003 | 10:12 am

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Sun May 25, 2003

Covering an event

David Weinberger is blogging from the blog conference in Vienna this week, summarizing events as they take place, which is interesting enough, but he also offered a list of links to bloggers who are also covering the event. This should provide a couple of dozen perspectives on the conference — good. Even better might be an aggregated version of their posts.*

But for the classroom, take away two ideas: reporting an event as faithfully as one can and preparing a site with a variety of perspectives on an event. For event, we might mean a weekend conference, a visit by the governor, the state primary for the next presidential election, or whatever. The plastic, elastic web.

*I saw later that two bloggers were aggregated as semi-official recorders of the event.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 25, 2003 | 12:51 pm

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Photo blogs

Don’t forget the big article on photo blogs in the Sunday Times today.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 25, 2003 | 10:24 am

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Sat May 24, 2003

Philosophy in development

Dave Winer just posted a link to a 4 year old essay in which he explains how to use template and data base-driven software to make writing for the web easier. It was a sweet vision:

What’s needed is a way to put the right software in front of the right keyboards, so people who love to write for the public and who do it well, have an easy way to do it. A place to be heard. A place to teach and learn. A place to be powerful and feel the power of others.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 24, 2003 | 11:43 pm

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A draft assignment

For the next four weeks, scan the news aggregator at least 5 times a week and occasionally pick out an article to study more closely. Choose articles that interest you and that help you think further about one of the 4 social problems we are addressing the course. When you have chosen an article, read it closely and prepare a 100-word summary to post on your blog. Then discuss two or three ways the article helps you advance your thinking about the social problem you have chosen as your focus. Select and write about at least one article a week, and also write about 3 articles every two weeks, for a total of 6 by the end of the assignment. During these four weeks, also read the posts made by classmates who have chosen the same social problem. During the fifth week, discuss what you see as the important findings and disagreements in the posts by you and the others who have been writing about the same social problem.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 24, 2003 | 10:29 am

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A draft assignment

For Monday, find an article that interests you from the last four weeks of the NY Times. Use Google to find a dozen blogs that have followed up on the article or the events that inspired it. Post links to the article and the blog entries and discuss the types of responses, their range, their strengths and weaknesses, and their value to readers. Then for Wednesday post a list of your suggestions for quality blogging, based on your findings. Read and respond to several of your classmates as they offer their suggestions, and in the days following refine your list as you consider their ideas and experiences. For the following Wednesday, post your revised guidelines for quality blogging. Come to class ready to discuss your final version in light of these exchanges of ideas.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 24, 2003 | 10:20 am

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I wonder about process and product

I wonder if skillful and experienced bloggers love the process not just because it helps them build something — a community, an item of commerce, a better idea, something we might call a product — but also because the process is a building of self and enriches the product at the same time. And I wonder if we should assign students to make a product as part of a course blog in order to increase the odds that they will come to know those two rewards of the process that I just mentioned. As if the assigned product can help lead to the true process. Maybe.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 24, 2003 | 12:01 am

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Fri May 23, 2003

Taking the long view

Robert Atwan, in the Foreward to The Best American Essays 1996:

Montaigne equipped his home office with one of the earliest book-lined studies, where he loved to spend his time browsing. His mind too mercurial to concentrate wholeheartedly on any one volume, he would “leaf through now one book, now another, without order and without plan, by disconnected fragments.” An idea took hold: he began to write just the way he read. His medium became his message, and the personal essay was born. (x)

A time of social and technological change, a change in the ways of reading available to individuals who had time to think and write, and a new or newly energized genre emerges.

Or, from Geoffrey C. Ward’s introduction to the same volume:

I never seem to tire of hearing that things are not as simple as they seem, which may in part explain why so many surprises, large and small, lurk in this collection . . . . I envy you the chance to read these pieces for the first time, to discover for yourselves the familiar in the unfamiliar — and to be surprised. (xiv)

Ward hints at the process of mind at work in the essay, which reminds me of some of the best writing I run into on the web. Two things: pulling back the curtain to reveal a clear complexity, and finding patterns we understand in unfamiliar realms. Both imply both the joy of speedy perception and the labor of clear thought, I think.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 23, 2003 | 11:25 pm

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Resources for wiki and edublogs

Ed Tech Dev on Wiki resources.

Alterego on edublog resources.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 23, 2003 | 10:46 pm

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Thu May 22, 2003

A research project

Following up on the issue and method of the blogosphere stories piece from Microdoc News, a teacher and students could pick a few dozen articles from web and print sources and see how they live on, or not, in blogs and print media. I would suggest that some of the pieces be challenging to popular opinion, such as “Embed Catches Heat” by Ron Martz, which is about people’s resistance to certain kinds of war reporting (Editor & Publisher 5/15/03). Students could report their findings and, following Microdoc and others, theorize about the exchange of ideas in our society, the health of our democratic literacies . . . .

Posted by Ken Smith on May 22, 2003 | 3:19 pm

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More page designs

The news service called AlterNet provides at least three good examples of page layout that might spark the thinking of blog page designers: their main page, their MediaCulture page, and their Mobile Edition.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 22, 2003 | 3:09 pm

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Wed May 21, 2003

Bloki for collaborative composing and editing

The Wiki-like software called Bloki looks good for collaboration among students during composing and editing. I threw up a simple set of files, called Links, in just a few minutes, including the colorful annotation included in the hi02 posting. That feature could easily be used in student feedback groups.

I wish the names of documents could include spaces, but it appears that they cannot. I suspect that you can’t see this feature unless you register at the Bloki site, but each document is preserved in each stage of its history, so you can see all the edits and additions that have been made, as in this example for hi01. The software is very suggestive for writing classes, team projects, collaborations between classes from different universities, etc.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 21, 2003 | 5:53 pm

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Blogging Headline News

Major syndication of blogs at BHN, Blogging Headline News.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 21, 2003 | 2:31 pm

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A clean page design

Tom Watson, British Labour MP for a place called West Bromwich East, has a blog about his work in Parliament, amazingly. It is also a good example of a clean page design.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 21, 2003 | 2:27 pm

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Tue May 20, 2003

Catch (phrase) of the day

Based on a study of 45 “blogosphere stories,” Microdoc News says, depressingly, that stories that gain momentum in the blogosphere are often those that have been “branded with a keyword” — not so different from what we expect on the television news. It is interesting to see the few types of posts that make up the process: lengthy opinion pieces that focus a discussion and build on a collection of relevant links, brief posts that do little more than approve or disapprove of an earlier post or portion of a post, and summaries that assess the work done so for by bloggers and other writers on the topic.

So the real work, it appears, is done by people reading and interpreting and evaluating in some detail — in other words, the usual blogosphere or anysphere work of careful and critical thinking. Apart from the way the blogosphere widens the cast of readers and writers, the report might as well be describing any good to average collection of journalists, yes? There is no magical democracy in the blogosphere, the report would seem to suggest. Everyone should get serious, improve their skills, and put in the hours good work requires.

The author of the Microdoc piece is Elwyn Jenkins. The site’s name shifts from page to page, for some reason. See also the position paper on blogging.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 20, 2003 | 10:57 pm

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Model magazine site

I’d say that the Grist site is a very nice example of a blog-style magazine design, and it is also a good example of an editorial group filtering and focusing the content they find at a wider range of sites. Students could pick up either or both aspects of the model. It would be good to ask students to consider the sources for a half dozen of Grist’s posts and see what kind of work they are doing with the source material. Then students could write an editing guide of their own and try it out as they contribute to a topical site of their own.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 20, 2003 | 11:05 am

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Mon May 19, 2003

Wikipedia as model

The Wikipedia, “a multilingual project to create a complete and accurate open content encyclopedia,” is a fascinating model for topical collaboration appropriate to a course, service program, or academic major. We see from the main page that the project is a normal Wiki, the radically-open collaborative web software that allows any reader to contribute new pages or edit old ones. We see from the list of poets who should have articles, but don’t yet, how easy it would be to set up a skeleton for students to flesh out. We see from the editing area for one of those as-yet-unwritten pages how easy it would be for students to contribute something. And we see from the general introduction to the WikiWikiWeb and its practice area, the WikiWikiSandbox, it’s very easy to learn.

And by the way, here is a lovely article in the Wikipedia about Humphrey Bogart. The revision history shows the main people who composed and edited the piece and how they did it, and the examples of actual editing are of interest not just as signs of good prose work but also as clues to how powerful the software is.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 19, 2003 | 11:17 pm

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CSM on blogging

The Christian Science Monitor weighs in on blogging, noticing the freedom, the gossip, the fairly mundane chance for educators to have students post assignments.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 19, 2003 | 1:22 am

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Abraham Lincoln on Powerpoint

A nice reminder, via Ed Cone, of how we may be driven off the path by our technology — Peter Norvig’s Powerpoint version of the Gettysburg Address.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 19, 2003 | 12:31 am

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Sat May 17, 2003

Elastic design

If I am reading correctly, the pMachine software that supports the page you are reading now also supports the amazingly different design of the AlwaysOn site, which just goes to show how radically weblog software allows us to distinguish form from content, if we wish. That is a good reminder to me, at least, about one element of this realm. I can imagine a few faculty members on a campus setting up good uses for blogs and perhaps drawing others in, but in a better world you might have a series of designs available from IT as the starting point for interested faculty, students, and staff to work from.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 17, 2003 | 5:56 pm

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Fri May 16, 2003

A class-constructed site

Students in an American literature class constructed this site devoted to “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is suggestive of some of the ways students and faculty could link web resources, including primary and secondary sources, and a variety of web discussion tools to create something of use to others. It isn’t a blog, but one might play out some variations that take advantage of the ease, the serial nature, and the archiving of blogs.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 16, 2003 | 11:41 pm

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Syndication wish list

I spent an hour or two learning more about syndication this morning. It seems to me that a campus interested in offering a flexible weblog program (for programs and work groups to post their work, for faculty to post their work, for faculty to use in courses, for students to use as course assignments, and for students to use as major portfolios or as individual blogs) should set up a variety of syndication options that users could quickly build into their pages. So that needs to be supported both by the software and by the IT group supporting the software.

We would want to be able to syndicate the student blogs to a course page, campus blogs to a campus page or series of campus pages, a variety of non-campus blogs to a variety of campus blogs, and news sources to course and individual blogs. You might want alumni from your major to be turning to your department home page for updates in your field, for example. You would want students to be able to read the blogs by their classmates easily, starting from an aggregator. You would want campus public relations pages to pick up the best of campus developments quickly.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 16, 2003 | 1:50 am

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Wed May 14, 2003

Bombs Over Bloghdad!

In Bombs Over Bloghdad! writer Patrick Otlewski recently concluded a semester of required blogging with this remark:

Yesterday was my last final exam of my entire undergraduate career. As I walked out of the test room, I took all of my papers from the entire year and dumped them into the garbage can in the back of the room. Done and done. Now I can focus all of my energy into making this blog kick some major ass. Yee-hah! (5/8/03)

I’ll see if I can persuade Patrick to say a word or two about his experience blogging for a course and his enthusiasm to continue. Patrick?

And as a writing teacher I would love to know more about his decision to pitch a year’s bundle of college papers while in the next breath pledging himself to continue writing.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 14, 2003 | 5:06 pm

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Anniversaries / keeping at it

On the occasion of an anniversary it might be good to think about what makes for persistance, strength, growth, success. It would be good to interview students who persist with their blogs after the semester ends, for example, and ask why they think that might be so. I’ll see if I can find a couple of people to speak up about that. Maybe their teachers would have a clue, too. It would also be good to read in the archives of some long-lasting blogs and look for clues about enduring, evolving, reinvigorating . . . and what else, I wonder? How do college students connect to writing as a generative process, say, or how do they make enough connections to others through the blogosphere to build a lively sense of community, or how do they understand the genre and find some passion for it? How else to explain it?

April and I were married 14 years ago today. My parents were married 49 years ago last week.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 14, 2003 | 4:51 pm

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Tue May 13, 2003

A lively designer / a school site

Lots of nice design work by Bryan Bell at his site — via Scripting News. I especially like the way he’s used vintage local photographs to set up his own site. See also the school blogs that appear in his design for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School, and their page on theory and practice.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 13, 2003 | 10:21 am

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Keep stretching

I find I have to keep stretching my ideas of what is possible, and that’s a pleasure. I just glanced through Alan German’s moment-by-moment blog of Dave Winer’s May 9th talk at Dartmouth, posted during the talk itself in small chunks through a wireless network hookup. The world or is it the word, the word or is it the world, might someday move much faster than we now imagine.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 13, 2003 | 10:02 am

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Something lovely

I ran across a site by Mark Rosenfelder devoted to the process of creating languages. It has lovely invented alphabets and describes dozens of elements of language creation. We should all find work that has something playful about it, yes?

Here is a sample of the script:

And here is the alphabet itself:

What does it have to do with blogs? This is at least a reminder to myself to include images when I can, but also a small testimonial to the blending of play, beauty, and technical knowledge on that site. Aim high . . . .

Posted by Ken Smith on May 13, 2003 | 12:43 am

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Mon May 12, 2003

A good model for a resource site

Though it is not their purpose, the Web Tools Newsletter is a very good model for a resource page that students or groups of students might emulate as they do research. See, for example, the issue on Online Communities for Professional Development.

The newsletter is not presented as a blog, but one might adapt the task to a blog format, producing elements of the final product over a period of weeks and offering them in a blog. This would be one way of helping some students get past the crippling habit of quickly assembling research and then seeing what they can easily say based on what they have in front of them. This would start to unpack or demystify the thinking and other elements of good research.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 12, 2003 | 10:17 am

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Basic questions

In the 5/3/03 post on Persian Blogger Chronicles: An ethnographic journal on the world of Persian blogs, Alireza Doostdar offers several paragraphs on “why I am blogging, and why I am blogging the way I am blogging.” As we can see from the sub-title, the blog will use anthropological methods, which will be interesting to watch develop, but I like the two questions and want to keep them in mind as a possible task for students. See the early paragraphs of Robert Holland’s essay on academic writing, in which he proposes asking students to write about their academic discipline in three ways: in what sense is it academic, in what sense is it a discipline, and in what sense it is theirs?

Posted by Ken Smith on May 12, 2003 | 1:30 am

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Sat May 10, 2003

Local visibility

Dave Winer sketches a plan for a university to increase its visibility through blogging. He’s talking about big-name schools, but the idea seems pretty interesting for a regional university like ours. How about starting with an informatics course in which students design and carry out a weblog about the university, trying to make a parallel web site, as blog, that is more dynamic than the university’s web site?

Posted by Ken Smith on May 10, 2003 | 12:06 pm

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Writing good links #2

As I’ve said, students need a guide to writing good links, to speed along their early work. # Let me continue that project now.

A few principles might be gleaned by newcomers to blogging from this short post (5/8/03) by Ed Cone:

“Does the beauty industry hate women?” Body Shop founder Anita Roddick says yes at her weblog (via Lex Alexander).

1. Cone offered “weblog” as a link to Roddick’s posting on the subject, rather than to her main page, where even a few days after the original posting it is slipping down the page toward its retirement in the archive.

2. Cone offered “Lex Alexander” as a link to the writer who tipped him off about Roddick’s post. That’s a courtesy to both reader (you and me) and writer (Roddick), I think. Cone himself may want to go back to his source and think more about how Alexander views Roddick’s ideas. The “via” wording is efficient.

3. Cone does not offer a link the Lex Alexander’s May 7, 2003 entry about Roddick because there is no clear way to find its URL visible on Alexander’s page, a shortcoming of the software or the page template. If you can’t provide a permanent link to the entry itself, I suggest giving its date and title, but certainly its date. On many sites, you find the permanent link to each message there at the end of the message, ready to be captured.

You might add a fourth item for times when you refer to a site for the first time, since this would be a good place to refer not just to the particular post but also to the main page. I believe I’ve seen people do this two ways:

And then there’s Philip Warbler, who claims that blogs were invented by Martians disguised as American teens.

Or:

And in his blog (It’s Me!) Philip Warbler claims that blogs were invented by Martians disguised as American teens.

In both cases, I would offer “invented by Martians” as links to Warner’s particular posting, and either Warner’s name or the name of his blog as a link to the blog’s main page.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 10, 2003 | 1:57 am

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Thu May 08, 2003

How ideas work

It’s true, I’m charmed by the subheading of Philip Greenspun’s blog:

an interesting idea every three months; a posting every day

Worse case: 90 days of banality and one interesting post; repeat the process. But that’s not really very likely, is it? Aren’t people who are interesting on May 1 likely to be interesting, one way or another, the rest of the month?

A more hopeful view of the subtitle: thinking just works that way. One interesting idea, then a couple of weeks of working it out, trying it out, seeing how it relates to other interesting ideas and cases, then a couple of weeks of noticing its limits, and a couple of weeks of rebuttal at whatever level might be deserved, then starting to explore the areas the idea didn’t do justice to for a couple of weeks, then a couple of weeks of brainstorming about those unaccounted-for things, then a week or two responding to some new aspect of the problem that throws open some doors and provokes fresh thought, and then another interesting idea; repeat the process. Maybe throw in some exchanges from collaborators and readers along the way to leaven the process.

In other words, we work to and with and through ideas; we don’t just have them.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 08, 2003 | 12:15 pm

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Wed May 07, 2003

An action disguised as an object

In his introduction to The Best American Essays 1997, Ian Frazier wrote that an essay is an action disguised as an object. (xv) Weblogs may help us recover the sense of writing as an action rather than an object; while reading and writing the small, daily pieces, we may more easily see the acts of mind as part of a process rather than as a product. If I could understand student blogs as powerful enough examples of this process, I might retract earlier arguments I’ve made here in favor of assigning certain kinds of products along the way, rather than having faith in the nature of the blog experience as a sufficiently educational process in itself. As I get further into this experience with students, I expect to figure out where I stand on that matter. For now, I’ll try to keep an open mind.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 07, 2003 | 10:55 am

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Tue May 06, 2003

Will blog for food

I can’t remember where I found the link to this blog, but this is the chef of Google’s daily menu. Three cheers for whimsy.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 06, 2003 | 9:09 pm

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NPR on audio blogs

This morning NPR offered a story on audio blogs, with some links to other blogging stories.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 06, 2003 | 11:31 am

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Mon May 05, 2003

A reinterpreting exercise or two

Following up on Saturday’s entry . . . if reinterpreting is a vital part of the textual tradition of blogging, we might ask students to try one of these exercises:

1. Use repositioning to help reinterpret: write about the same incident a few days in a row, each day writing about it in connection with a different concept, quotation, or fact drawn from another context. Reflect on the different aspects of the incident that come to mind when repositioned or juxtaposed with different materials like this.

2. Find a few contrasting interpretations of a contemporary or historical incident. Look at the differences between the interpretations and speculate about the agenda of each of the interpreters. Reflect on your own agenda, then write a fresh interpretation of the incident.

3. Rogerian argument: find a political argument that alarms you in some way, and look for the elements of the argument that you most agree with, most respect. Name the common ground you share with the other writer and speculate about how you could build on that common ground to solve a problem.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 05, 2003 | 11:46 pm

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Sun May 04, 2003

A retelling exercise or two

Following up on yesterday’s entry . . . if retelling is a vital part of the textual tradition of blogging, we might ask students to try one of these exercises:

1. Find a half dozen or more accounts of an interesting historical event. Use them as the basis for their own retelling of the event. Have students post their versions on a particular day, then read each other’s versions and discuss the differences, the decisions each writer made, in the next few days.

2. Find a dozen or more political blogs that mention a recent event and assemble their accounts of the event. Based on this collection, have students make a guide to types of retelling. Ask them to discuss the strengths and weaknesses, the uses and misuses of retelling, based on the collection.

3. Have students write the “back story” or the sequel to a well-known incident, as a form of contextualizing, interpreting, or judging of consequences.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 04, 2003 | 11:47 am

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Sat May 03, 2003

Learning from poets

I spent three hours today in a coffee shop with two poets who were working on translations of poems by contemporary Israeli poets, with the help of a skillful linguist who is fluent in Hebrew and English. All of the poems were retelling, in one way or another, episodes from the book of Genesis. It was fascinating to see how the poets could reopen the familiar stories and retell them so as to bring out elements of the human drama that the Bible had not emphasized. A major character like Joseph appeared in several poems and was interpreted freshly and variously; minor characters like Potiphar’s wife (her name is not preserved) come forward in suggestive new detail. Needlesss to say, this process of reinterpreting by retelling is a central element of Jewish textual tradition, and it was quite moving to see the translators taking the rich originals and bringing them forward another time by creating English versions of the recent Hebrew poems.

Of course retelling and reinterpretation are well-established in the blogosphere. We can ask students to participate in the two acts when we ask them to compose blogs, but we might also ask ourselves whether there are kinds of retelling and reinterpretation that are most well-suited to academic purposes and whether there are approaches to retelling and reinterpretation that can deepen the value of those acts for students.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 03, 2003 | 11:33 pm

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Fri May 02, 2003

How much can one person read?

Every time a teacher of a writing-intensive course assigns students to write, the teacher in effect assigns herself twenty or thirty pieces to read and think about and comment on. No matter how much a teacher believes in asking students to write, the teacher’s workload always threatens to become a problem, one that is intensified by modern message-rich software tools.

In the next few days I’ll finish grading for the semester and start planning next semester in more detail. Before the lessons of the semester slip away, I want to see if I can learn anything from the experience about managing the workload. Some thoughts:

1. Every semester I give the speech: One of the most important goals of the course is get the teacher out of your life — that is, to make the skills your own, to add them to your tool kit and walk away knowing how to do things for yourself. That means that the course has to give students a chance to practice critical skills. They should be responding to each other’s work often, practicing their critical skills, with guidance, as a step toward independence. I should not be the only reader of their work. The class web page helps make that easier, but so does small group work in class, email exchanges, and so forth. Share the responsibility for giving feedback, I tell myself. If you work hard on learning how to read and give useful feedback on your classmates’ work, I tell students, you will learn how to read your own work more critically. While you are helping others, I tell them, you will be practicing the good kind of selfishness, helping yourself.

2. I need to improve my ability to juggle the schedules of my different classes. Instead of planning one course at a time, I need to plan all three of my courses together, so the papers don’t pile up too much at any one time. Clearly staggered due dates among the different courses, for example, should help.

3. I need to decide how many pieces of writing I will read by each student most weeks. For example, can I give a good writing class by carefully responding to one piece of writing per student per week? Probably so, if the class sessions provide guidance and if classmates are also giving feedback.

4. I need to continue to teach students how to give feedback by reading and discussing their papers in class. This powerful technique makes their writing the central text of the writing course; it is no hyperbole to say that many times when my courses go flat or students struggle too much it is because we are not looking at enough of their work in class.

5. Students sometimes don’t really see the point until it is their own paper being discussed. Speed that along by looking at substantial paragraphs rather than whole papers — done this way, most students can have their work discussed in a writing class in the first few weeks of the semester, more efficiently and, by choosing the samples carefully, more strategically.

6. If the students are posting to their blogs, then I should be able to save time finding their new work by aggregating it in a central blog. Or instead of each student having a blog at a different address, they can each use a thread or category, as it is called in pMachine, allowing the teacher to work through all their new contributions at the same class site. Disadvantage: the students can’t have the full experience of shaping the design, graphics, and link collection of a blog.

7. I have written several times about asking students to edit, to anthologize their work, to annotate. If they do so, then their blog is like a portfolio, and as you would in a portfolio course you can ask them to guide your reading with a cover letter, table of contents, or other organizing document that speeds your reading and writing by giving it a focus.

8. As I have written before, don’t hide the moves — post criteria for each assignment and use those as a guide to focus your response. This should help students work on a particular skill with more care and should help a teacher respond more quickly.

9. If you do post criteria, then your course starts to have a more substantial paper trail, and you can use that next semester to save course preparation time.

10. If you post goals and criteria, you might as well ask students to use that information to give an evaluation of your own work. That should speed your reading too.

11. Hey, thunder and lightning. I have to get off this machine before something bad happens.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 02, 2003 | 10:55 pm

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Thu May 01, 2003

Testimonial

My students in W250 used pMachine for posting work and giving feedback to each other all semester. This was not a blog in the usual sense, but it was a serious test of the software: the 16 students and I posted 455 messages and 460 comments during the semester, with hardly a glitch the whole time. During the final class several students spoke with enthusiasm about the software, its ease of use, the handiness of being able to consult the work of classmates at any time, to learn from their work and build on it. They also said it was easier to use than the alternatives provided here at IUSB, principally Oncourse. It doesn’t do all that Oncourse does, though. Next semester, full-scale student blogs in at least one course.

Posted by Ken Smith on May 01, 2003 | 2:03 am

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