Monday, October 17, 2005

This is your program: This is your program on weblogs

Before reading what is below, start with an overview of what we have done in our own program:

One teacher's perspective on weblogs in a curriculum, from Teaching teachers to use weblogs, TESOL 2005, San Antonio TX.

We are considered brave, to put our program out in public, and it is in fact brave. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and somebody has to actually be there to do this people know what they're getting into? Probably not. Nor do I, completely. I write 100 cool things to do with weblogs, but if everyone did all this stuff (and eventually I'm sure someone will) some institutions would simply prohibit the use of this media by its faculty, etc.

Now let's talk about the institution itself. It takes a lot of courage, I believe, for an institution to be really open to the blogosphere and everything it entails. One can only conclude that the big ones in our lives (in my case, CESL, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, the State of Illinois, and the US Government) are (perhaps unlike China) unaware of what it really entails, or they're really quite brave, in a first-amendment, benevolent kind of way. The price of trying to control freedom of speech in this country is often greater than the price of letting it go where it's going to go (in our case, not very far)... Because the fact is, you can change these weblogs any minute, and you can change them deep inside their own insides, etc. etc. You can even change them inside their own templates and you can even hide stuff in there, not that I would ever do such a thing.

My sense is that the institution would probably be more worried about a well-done deception (several of these have been well-documented)...than a disagreeable opinion...

It's scary. But not so scary as, say, teaching with Skype. Still, as a responsible person, I worry about such things. After all, I teach people to teach with them. Most of them are young people. They're from all over the world. They'll go home expecting to be able to own the media... What are we unleashing on the world?

One of my students was shocked the other day that everyone had the log-on and the password to our entire system. That's a fact, at least at the moment. But I think we forget the fact that, really, the whole world has freedom of speech anyway. It's just that people don't always realize the consequences of certain speech until it's too late. Or they have to learn the hard way.

blogging in academia

an article about blogging in academia (tribune might require log-in)...

I can't say that I've had any big problems in academia. Nobody at my university really reads my weblog much, even when I've gone out of my way to, say, put a burning cigar on it and point it out to the guy who just had a baby girl...I've put public statements on there, against the war, against the disestablishment of linguistics (I'm an antidisestablishmentarianist)...and haven't heard a peep from anyone who it might have made a difference to. But that's ok, I'm sure they'll read it someday. On some level I'm sure they're aware that it's there...

This article rankled me a little, partly because it contained the assumption that "the academy" was assuming that this guy's communicating directly to his audience was somehow undermining or influencing, perhaps even trumping (or end-around-ing) his published work.

It's partly because in many ways the definition of academic is often at the other end of the spectrum from the "personal" world of the blogosphere...but should it be?

More on this later...

Friday, October 14, 2005

This is your brain: This is your brain on weblogs

This space is intended for my thoughts on what weblogging has done for me personally. I include here observations that friends and acquaintances have made about the process.

weblogs and the weblogger

Using weblogs changes the way you relate to the world. It changes your sense of responsibility. You own the media. You are responsible to it, responsible to your audience. Why is it so different from, say, printing your own newspaper?

First, you had to own a press to print your own newspaper. You were also stuck with whatever you wrote was history the minute you printed it. The paper started yellowing the minute you set it out under the sun.

With weblogs, you can not only go back and change them, you can also consider them history. Forever. As many billions of words as there are in the blogosphere, they are also findable down to the infinite degree through google. They not only can be found, but probably will be someday. And they are also being archived. But they are lit-up history. Information is so easy to store these days, that whatever we write can be stored, even as we write about it, with no great loss to anyone.

I sometimes reflect on the responsibility of the blogger...other than to entertain and be truthful at the same time. That's already a handful, and I don't always live up to it.

People are using blogs for a number of purposes: they complain, criticize, persuade in the political arena, share information, spread rumors, promote themselves, etc. I've partaken in some of these, especially self-promotion, but I've also found them useful in some unusual ways. First, I find that if I challenge myself in them, I often live up to the challenges- so they are useful in tentative self-actualization...and very empowering in that way. Second, as a scattered person, it's good to keep track of various projects that I have going...and weblogs serve as an online organizer.

As a "multiblogger" (Hornsby 2004) who speaks in different realms, I find that the truth is often boring but stretching it is dangerous. This is true in every realm, in self-promotion, in esl, and here. Just like the print media...

Sometimes I consider myself like a baseball pitcher. I want to put it right down the pike, as we used to say in PA. You always get another chance, even if the last one was a mile wide. The audience is always a little hostile, waving a bat, waiting to pop one out of here, if not pop me outta here. But they aren't going to get the chance. My hat's down, I'm glaring at them, I'm down here, publishing in the bowels of my own obscure blog, which is meanwhile being hidden by the fact that I'll just move the top post up whenever I need more space...

But I'm not really like a pitcher, because the world isn't always hostile. I'm really playing to the fans, who want mostly to be entertained on a nice day. They are impatient with poor writing, and with people who don't know what they're talking about. They're impatient with drivel and bad grammar, or maybe I'm just projecting here. They want something to think about.

Visual nature of weblogs

I've been thinking about this a lot, because so many weblogs start out in your typical blogger format, but some of the more resourceful people see how important the visuals are right away and exploit them. I"m behind the curve on this one: though I have lots of photos I could use, I actually use the wrong ones; I give conflicting messages, etc. I'm a beginner.

There are a number of implications for teachers and the academic environment. Teachers may be quick to realize when they're being manipulated by an image; they may be more in tune with the words, etc. But everyone likes a good picture, a "look"...and there are some good "looks" out there.

I've also been slow on the technological end of things. The average picture uploaded from a digital camera is way too large for most web purposes, yet this is what we need a constant running supply of: instant picture news. We actually have to run them through e-mail to make them smaller, but flickr has been a lifesaver too. The hardest thing is to organize this stuff when you're busy. But I"ve begun to see the weblogs as the center, rather than the static pages, and I've begun to organize accordingly.

Here's an example of the power of visuals:
Jason de Fillippo, technology

Watson, quoted in Badger:

"It's the image they'll remember the next day, and the next week and possibly for the rest of their lives."

Not this one in particular, but you get the idea. Put something strong, catch them, draw them in.

Another example follows the Google theory. Simple, a lot of white, colorful, let the image(s) do the talking.

Parking Lot, Chris Corrigan.

Creative uses of weblogs & their environment
(see 100 things to do with weblogs)

I've found a lot of practical processes to use while blogging. First, your blogger "edit-post" supply cabinet is full of drawers that you can reorganize at any time, and this can be very useful to you when you aren't ready to show the world all your thoughts right away (like now) you can treat it like your own accordion file which you can access when you are ready, and make public ready when you are ready to point to it. And the rest of the time, the world will leave you alone, because it's not the top post (which is always being read by the surfers/blogbots, etc.).

I've read about schadenbloggers (using blogs to complain?)...does this actually make people feel better? Sometimes I want a blog for all my moods, one for each, one for my political self even, just so I can vent whenever I want. But I already feel bad about the blogs that I've put out there that are like dead branches on a tree. One part of me wants to go out there and "delete" one sense blogs are like shouldn't plant more than you can weed or hoe, you shouldn't let them go to flower and overflow year after year. Haiku has taught me to be spare, put out there what you need, make it sharp, powerful, put it right down the pike. Then it'll sit there and look interesting for at least a little while...

Not that I always follow all my own advice. I do the best I can...

weblogs and the researcher

The previous post had a section on academia's tenuous relationship with weblogging. I have always found academia to be uneasy with frank open truthfulness, even though research at its heart goes after truth, seeks the science and the logic behind all human and other behavior. In this sense weblogs have the capacity to profoundly change research. more later...