Saturday, December 01, 2007

How-To Howdy

Yesterday's meeting of the Digital Educators Consortium about bringing blogging to college campuses was certainly worth the trip to USC.

Unlike many digital media associations, this group has explained its overall mission in highly pragmatic terms and is targeting learners at the level of the four-year college experience:

Our goal is to share nuts-and-bolts information on teaching - focusing on redefinitions of the undergraduate student body; expanded notions of literacy to account for the growing significance of visual, aural and network culture; and the potential of an array of new tools for enhancing, rethinking and/or transforming what we do in the classroom.

The meeting yesterday was led by Holly Willis, who announced the DIY Video Summit and plugged the New Media Consortium. The main program of the afternoon featured presentations by Geoffrey Middlebrook and Cynthia Nie.

Middlebrook encourages his upper-division writing students to choose their own topics for their blogs and foster the professional identities that they will use in a diverse array of careers in fields like marketing, health care administration, and urban education. Since my current students are English majors who often don't have a sense of what they will be doing after graduation, without intensive career counseling, I had different -- although also positive -- results with an open-ended blogging prompt.

Middlebrook estimates that about 15% of his students continue with their blogging after the class. Although he doesn't comment publicly on their blogs, partly for FERPA reasons, he does spend about twenty-eight hours a week just giving them written feedback on their electronically published work. In addition to this tax on the instructor's body, he also pointed out taxes to the mind and spirit in that some students ignore instructions and "harvest headlines and idolize the obvious" while others get bogged down in technology issues and the formatting limitations of the software. Middlebrook said that blogging produced so much more investment of learners in their writing instruction experience that he thought it was well worth it, and he cited Rebecca Blood's three functions of blogging -- 1) information sharing, 2) reputation building, and 3) personal expression as justification for the potential of the genre. He did acknowledge that writing curricula aimed at revision needed to be rethought somewhat, given the inherent forward momentum of such a newsy writing format, but he said that other aims of traditional college composition could be effectively accommodated, and that this opportunity for students to "run with the big dogs" paid off for them in social and cultural capital.

Nie gave a talk about the relative merits of different blogging platforms from a technical perspective, which began by differentiating blogging "services" (Xanga, LiveJounral, Vox, Blogger, WordPress, Typepad, etc.) from blogging "engines" (Movable Type, Expression Engine, TextPattern, Manilla, Wordpress, etc.). She discussed the pros and cons of Blogger, Movable Type, which serves as the basis for the MFA student blogs on the USC Interactive Media Division website, and WordPress. As a blogger, I've used a lot of different systems and recognized all three input interfaces that Nie showed. This blog is obviously on Blogger, and with almost a thousand entries, it's difficult to overcome the inertia to move it to another platform, even if I wish I had more template choice and more independence from Google's corporate control. Sivacracy is on Movable Type; Osocio is on Expression Engine, and my class Social Media blog and SCIWRITER are on WordPress. Given that my colleague Julia Lupton is such a booster for TextPattern, I'm also tempted to try the open source alternative.

I would encourage others in the Southern California area to attend their next meeting on February 1 at noon at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, when Critical Commons' members will talk about using technologies that can convert video files from less portable proprietary formats in order to facilitate their pedagogical use. Such programs might include Vixy, Flvix, vConvert (for Flash to Quicktime), Mac the Ripper, Handbrake, ffmegx (for ripping DVDs), and Cinematize, Streamclip (for ripped DVDs to Quicktimes). They also disseminated the important report for educators, "The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy."

Check out opportunities for regional collaboration, here on the SCIWRITER site as well! And visit Writer Response Theory for attendee Mark Marino's talk on Teaching Web 2.0.

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Blogger Lupton said...

I think the point about revision is really important (forward momentum of blogging gravitates against drafting and redrafting of posts).

The concept of an ideas folder, where one begins to put together stuff for blogs in the pre-posting process (something you discussed at the UCI Blogging Panel) is one way to put drafting into the process. And I see a lot of my own blogs as drafts for future writing. The blog is perhaps best when conceived as the middle point of a process, coming out of a draft, and, in the best of cases, pointing forwards to a more finished product. You seem to be using Facebook now as a staging ground? a pre-publishing tool?

About Textpattern: I do love this software. It's not as easy to use as the public sites, however, and it also doesn't automatically connect users up with a community. So I would advise it more for people setting up a website that will include blogging elements, than as a teaching tool for more temporary blogging ventures.

9:06 AM  

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