2/20/2007

WordPress as a CMS

Filed under: — Joe @ 3:21 pm

Well, I’m here to tell you it can definitely be done. I’m not the first to discover this, of course, but I really was surprised to see just how well, and how easily, it works. My favorite art historian wanted (with her colleague) to turn all the content they had developed (“lectures” from online courses, podcasts, YouTube videos, flickr images, great sites and web resources) into a kind of free, multimedia, online textbook for art history.

Their experience was that most of the art history textbooks for undergraduates were just, well, wrong. They were pitched to a level that didn’t match, they weren’t engaging in either style or content, and they managed to turn the exciting social history part of art history into just more dull-as-dishwater, decontextualized, blahblah.

(A perfect example of this–today I was in the Art department at my college, and I saw a copy of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages–one of the major textbooks in the discipline, being used extremely effectively, extremely practically….It was used as a booster to lift a computer monitor up to eye level. Probably would make an excellent doorstop or paperweight, too.)

Even the textbook publishers who did have websites connected to their texts seemed to just reproduce the text–nothing towards making them more engaging–and in any case, those sites were closed–available only to people who bought (for more than a few dollars) the print textbooks or some kind of access key.

So they wanted to do something different in style, something open, something making good use of multimedia, something searchable and visually attractive…and they didn’t want to have to learn a whole lot of html, flash, css, and everything else. And they wanted to be able to collaboratively add to and edit the site.

WordPress to the rescue! With a theme they liked, wordpress’ built-in pages and custom fields, and a few expedient plugins (and the help of their friendly neighborhood geek guy–me), over one long weekend they got a very good start, which can easily be continued and expanded, at creating exactly what they wanted…smARThistory.org!

I think the potential here is very exciting–student sites, course sites, more of these “web-books” (or whatever you want to call them), that can be used to publish and collaborate and produce. The idea of the CMS is perfect for this kind of project, and yes, there are many CMS’s out there. But for simplicity of installation, configuration, extension, design…I like the wordpress!

2/14/2007

For this was on seynt Valentynys day

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:15 pm

The Parliament of FowlsThe lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne,
Th’assay so sharp, so hard the conquerynge,
The dredful joye, alwey that slit so yerne,
Al this mene I be Loue, that myn felynge
Astonyith with his wondyrful werkynge
So sore iwis, that whan I on hym thynke,
Nat wot I wel wher that I flete or synke.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

2/8/2007

Considering Tenure

Filed under: — Joe @ 5:51 pm

Catherine Stimpson had a piece at Inside Higher Ed yesterday about the 2006 report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for and Promotion. The first thing that struck me was a statistic.

The MLA report estimates that of every 100 English and foreign language doctoral recipients, 60 will be hired to tenure-track positions within 5 years. Of them, 38 will be considered for tenure at the institution where they were hired. Of them, 34 will be awarded tenure.

So that makes me one of those 34 out of 38 out of 60 out of 100. Unless I’m figuring the odds wrong (quite possible), that’s actually a bigger number than I would have expected. I’m glad to be tenured, of course, but it turns out that it really doesn’t feel (to me at least) as completely a relief as everybody said. I still think about my career, where it’s going, I still have ambitions and new ideas, and I don’t seem to feel like I’ve totally “made it” or finished.

Stimpson (and the MLA) make another important point, too.

Moreover, because of those new communications technologies, much scholarly inquiry is now being done digitally. Some of the most important work about and in digitalized scholarship is appearing from university presses, an invaluable resource that the task force correctly praises and for which it seeks more institutional resources. Yet many departments are clueless, all thumbs in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase, in doing evaluations of digital scholarship that respect peer review. Of the departments in doctorate-granting institutions that responded to the MLA’s survey, 40.8 percent report no experience evaluating refereed articles in electronic format, and 65.7 percent have no experience evaluating monographs in electronic format.

Now, this (deplorable) situation doesn’t really match with my experience, at least not recently. At my own institution, electronic publications were evaluated, were accepted, and did play a part in the decision to grant me tenure and (later) promotion. So that’s a good thing. But it’s also a relatively new thing, and this is something where most departments absolutely need to get on board. Electronic formats, electronic publication, holds the promise of the most exciting new venues for scholarship and publication–because the work can get out there farther, and faster, for more interaction, criticism and comment, than more “traditional” venues can every achieve.

And there’s another area, too, where I think most departments and administrations are “all thumbs,” inexperienced, missing the boat. Scholarship of teaching and learning (which my institution does value) is neglected too often, at too many places. I’ve heard too many stories of faculty who do this kind of work having to really struggle to get the work recognized and accepted in tenure and promotion decisions. I’m glad the MLA is urging more attention to electronic publications…and I’d like to see them urging more attention to SoTL, too.

2/7/2007

On Online Discussion Forums

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:44 pm

Forum Cartoon from weblogcartoons.comI’ve discussed before my on-again off-again membership in the online discussion forum Global Affairs. I’ve been banned, reinstated, considered quitting, taken long breaks, thrown up my hands in disgust, been forbidden to send private messages to some members, and received very friendly and considerate messages from others. I’ve won a “post of the month” award, read posts by others that have brought tears to my eyes, or had me literally trembling with anger. I’ve been called a bigot, a socialist, a decent human being, a true gentleman, an ideologue and an apologist. But through all of that, since November 2002, I’ve been an active member of the forum, reading and posting day after day.

So, why?

I’ve been thinking about this in a couple of contexts–one, of course, and always, is the connection and the contrast with the kinds of online “forums” that I run when I teach online. Those are different than the experience at GA (or the other forums where I’m a member and post some of the time, but less frequently–at BroadbandReports, UbuntuForums, Brighthand,TotalChoiceHosting, InternetInfidels, Beliefnet…I didn’t realize there were so many!). A discussion forum where I’m teaching a course is different for me–and I think that it’s different for the students than for the participants in the other forums, too. (I’ve often wondered how it would go if someone I knew from online discussion would take my online class. How would we interact in the class, and how would we interact in the forum, after that?)

And there’s another context–recently my daughter has started her own involvement in her own online discussion forum…and she seems to enjoy it (and be frustrated by it, and drawn to it), just as much, and in the same way, as me. Brings up some interesting nature/nurture questions!

I’m thinking that part of the appeal has to do with the community–which is rather obvious–the people about whom I end up caring, who have characters and roles that feel familiar, and comfortable, with shared in-jokes and jargon. But connected to that, too, is the adoption of a persona. I don’t think that my online persona is all that different from my face-to-face persona, but the fact is, when I look at it (looking back, especially), I’m much freer online–to be playful, or aggressive, or to push arguments way beyond where they can really productively go.

This seems to be what my daughter does, too–the hot political topics of the day, or the bigger philosophical questions (the existence of the soul)–online I get totally involved in discussing these, and discussing how we’re discussing them, and little tiny elements of the discussion of the history of this discussion. Face to face, to preserve peace, or to save time, or just to get anything done, there’s just no time for this.

It’s also especially attractive to discuss these issues with people who are so, so different from me (except that they’re the same in one important area–they like to discuss things online!). I seem to spend the most time, and have the most fun, in forums (like GA) where I’m a distinct minority. Almost everyone (very few exceptions) is politically far to the right of me there–and almost nobody (very few exceptions) has the same kind of experience (professional, personal, academic) that I have. Over and over again, I’m the sole defender of a point of view–against multiple (I won’t say enemies, but opponents). And I must like that, somehow, because I keep coming back for more. My daughter’s role in her forum is the same in this regard, too.

Of course, there are also advantages which are shared in all asynchronous online discussion (as I’ve written about elsewhere). There is time to consider, to take someone else’s argument apart line-by-line, to pursue an off-topic drift or digression. There’s also the entire resource of the internet right there–to cite sources, investigate claims, illustrate with images, and so forth. The “wizard factor” (you want to see a hedgehog? I wave my hand and there’s a hedgehog!) that I enjoy so much in teaching online shares its magic with all online discussion.

Finally, there’s something I notice especially in the tech-oriented forums (and the tech areas of broader-ranging forums like GA). People like to help each other in these forums. How do I get the Beryl Window Manager working in Ubuntu? What should I say on my resume about a college that changed its name after I graduated? What do I do about an invitation from an in-law I can’t stand? In these forums, people ask for help with problems from the mundane to the life-threatening, and they get it…and everyone values both the giving and the getting. That’s a human interaction, whether it’s in the online world or the physical world, which is truly valuable.

There’s plenty more to be said on this subject…but it’s partly what I’m thinking now.

2/4/2007

I Wish I had Created this one!

Filed under: — Joe @ 6:07 pm

A great quick introduction to Web 2.0, and while it makes points that many others, including me, have made before, I like it a whole lot better than the other ways the points have been made.

It does a great job of using the medium to illustrate the medium…and all in less than five minutes.

Best of all is the conclusion: “We’ll need to rethink copyright/ authorship/ identity/ ethics/ aesthetics/ rhetorics/ governance/ privacy/ commerce/ love/ family/ ourselves.”

Excellent work by Michael Wesch and Digital Ethnography @ KSU.

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