I am, at the moment, just freaked out enough to feel the need to post this right away, though it’s one of those things that on further reflection may make me wish I’d waited. But…

I got a request from a former student a few minutes ago asking to add me to his LinkedIn network. After I accepted, I got this little window listing “People You May Know.” On this list are included:

— 4 former students (which, okay, that one’s fairly easy; educational info produces that connection, I guess, but how did they come up with three of my former students and one student whom I knew through residence life channels from among all the institution’s alumni?);
— a former colleague (ditto for job history info, but this is a former staff member who did not work in my department, but whom I knew fairly well);
— a colleague at another institution whom I know through conferences and blogging;
— another bloggy pal from another country with whom I attended a meeting;
— one person I actually don’t know, but really ought to;
— and my father. To whom I haven’t talked in a very long time.

I’m trying to come up with some rational, non-scary explanation for this, but am at the moment coming up dry. How LinkedIn am I, really?

From YouTube to YouNiversity

Henry Jenkins has a new article in this morning’s Chronicle of Higher Education, suggesting the ways that the field of media studies needs to shift in the face of the increasing penetration of the read/write web (the link above should be good for the next few days, after which time I’ll hope that the article has been moved to the free side of the Chronicle website.)

I’ve opened the floor to reactions and discussion over at MediaCommons. What do you make of Jenkins’s arguments? And how might MediaCommons figure into the future that Jenkins projects? 

On the CMS

JD asked me the other day about my experiences using Sakai, and how I liked it as compared with something like Moodle. This is something I’ve been thinking a fair bit about, not only because Sakai marks my school’s third primary course management system in perhaps four years, but also because I’m speaking at a NITLE symposium on such systems in mid-October.

The reasons my institution has changed CMSs so many times of late make sense, though they don’t ameliorate the difficulty for most faculty in having to learn a whole new system. (Me, on the other hand–I’m always happy to tinker with new software, so changing systems isn’t automatically a bad thing.) We began using one of the large commercial CMSs a couple of years ago when one of our consortial partners got a big grant from a major foundation designed to get the thing set up and help get faculty up and running on it. This school offered all of the faculty in our system training and access to the CMS, hoping that as many folks as possible would get on board. I, frankly, refused, because I find that particular commercial system to be unwieldy and overloaded with features, not to mention generally unattractive and clunky. Instead, I became part of a pilot program through my own IT department, which recruited a small number of faculty (call me “guinea pig”) to test out an installation of Moodle. For a couple of years, I ran most of my courses through Moodle, which I found to be lightweight and flexible. You answer a couple of basic questions– for instance, do you want your course site to be organized by week or by topic?–and Moodle then lays in a basic template that you can fill with various resources. The main Moodle page for each class can thus become a multimediated, hypertextual form of the syllabus, with all of the readings, assignments, quizzes, discussion questions, and so forth laid directly into the schedule. Moodle also comes with a host of modules and plugins and extensions and the like, such that any given instructor can add threaded discussion forums, wikis, synchronous chat, etc., to the class site. Best of all, Moodle is open-source, with an active development community, and I felt strongly about supporting my institution’s impulse to move away from commercial educational software and toward the communally developed and supported open-source model.

So my experience of Moodle was great, and it really began to gain purchase on campus, particularly after our consortial partner informed the faculty that their grant had run out, and that those faculty who were not employed directly by the original grant-getting college would no longer be supported in their use of the commercial CMS. It’s expensive, after all. So the faculty at my school who’d been using that system migrated to Moodle last year. But in the course of the year, the council of deans at our institution finally decided that the consortium should have one common CMS, and that the CMS should integrate with our student information systems, both for populating classes and for LDAP purposes, and so forth. One of the institutions was heavily invested in Sakai, another open-source package, and one that promised better integration with our other systems. So while Moodle is still supported around here this year, there’s a big push on to begin moving people to Sakai.

My experience of Sakai has thus far been much like my experience of Drupal, which I’m using to support the interactive side of both my classes this semester. That is to say, they’re both an interesting combination of lightweight and powerful, which I found utterly perplexing at first. As I described my initial experiences of mucking about in Sakai to our director of instructional technologies here, where Moodle gives you a recognizable framework to begin building from (this weekly structure reminds me of my syllabus!), Sakai basically hands you a big empty box, and a bunch of tools. And then says, make whatever you want! And perhaps it’s just because I’d already put so much effort late this summer into learning Drupal in order to support those class sites, but when I was faced with the big open box of Sakai, I kinda froze, and just wasn’t sure what to put where or how to structure things, or frankly even what the possibilities were. I suggested to our IT folks that they bring someone in who’s been using Sakai for a while, to show some examples of how it’s actually being used, and to demonstrate the more innovative and exciting possibilities that I’m pretty sure are there, but that I just can’t quite imagine yet.

I’ve also got another reaction, though, to the entire CMS question, which is what I’m going to be talking about at that symposium in October. I feel pretty strongly that most CMSs are designed for faculty to be able to manage their courses–and thus the emphasis on things like automated quizzes and gradebooks and the like. What I want the CMS to do is to leverage (sorry) the technologies of the web to get my students involved and invested in active learning–not content delivery, but interaction. Which is why I’m running the Drupal experiments with my classes this semester; I want to argue that the CMS needs to become not a means for faculty to organize their end of courses, but instead a form of social software that gets students interacting, thinking, and writing collaboratively.

But that’s a whole other rant, about which I’ll no doubt be writing more later. Once I’ve finished the BlogTalk talk.

What Exactly Is the Deal with Technorati?

This time last week, something on the order of 72 blogs apparently linked here; today, it’s 58. (I’ve also dropped from a nice, solid rank of 36,000ish to well into the 45,000 territory.) Does Technorati know something I don’t know? Am I losing my appeal? Or has their database/algorithm/little magic box with hamsters inside gone wonky? Or is the only problem here that I pay any attention to such things?

[UPDATE, like 30 seconds later: Wait — now it’s 57 blogs, leading to a rank in the 46,000s. Am I gradually disappearing, like in one of those time-travel movies where some paradox has just negated my existence entirely?]

On Fakery and Fictiveness

So word is spreading throughout the blogosphere this morning that the Lonelygirl15 phenomenon was produced (actually, that link seems to have disappeared, at least for the moment, perhaps victim of a metafiltering) by a group of filmmakers with a connection to a major Hollywood talent agency. And around the net, folks are crying “fraud,” “sham,” “bogus,” etc.

It’s that reaction that drives me a bit up a tree: not the drive to find out who’s actually making the videos, but the conviction that, if they aren’t in fact the home-brewed product of a 16 year old girl who is exactly who and what she claims to be, they’re a lie, and of no value whatsoever. I’ll blow this particular horn as often as I need to–which, alas, seems to be pretty often–but honestly, folks: have we never heard of fiction? That’s the thing where somebody makes up a story because it’s (a) entertaining, or (b) edifying, or (c) both of the above. Why have we as a culture gotten so locked in to the notion that the only value in narrative is truth value, and that the only truth value is that which can be demonstrated to be verifiably “real”? Are we all really that literal?

I’d go on, but I’m in a bit of a rush. Instead I’ll direct you to past maunderings on this issue, here, here, and here.

Tagging the Library

Under the category of things I’ve been meaning to note for a while: David Weinberger at Many-to-Many brought my attention to PennTags, a project of the UPenn library that allows users not only to collect and tag bookmarks, style, but also to tag links to the library’s catalog data, thus leaving traces for themselves (and for others) of their research processes and pathways. (More info about the project.)

While this project doesn’t yet affect the structure of the actual libary catalog (something that I’m not quite sure is clear in Weinberger’s post), it does present an exciting possibility for research libraries to explore: how can they provide user-oriented social software resources that are integrated with the library’s more traditional static archiving functions?

[UPDATE, 6.27.06: I meant to note this a couple of days ago; I was wrong, wrong, wrong. It turns out that PennTags does affect the library catalog; when an entry gets tagged, a box appears at the bottom of the entry’s page noting how it’s been tagged, and by whom, with links to the tag pages. See for yourself. Pretty darned nifty.]

Not a Loser, Thank You Very Much

Via unrequited narcissism, the affirmation I’ve been waiting for:

The cyberworld expands people’s social networks and even encourages people to talk by phone or meet others in person, a new study finds.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project also finds that U.S. Internet users are more apt to get help on health care, financial and other decisions because they have a larger set of people to whom they can turn.

Further rebuking early studies suggesting that the Internet promotes isolation, Pew found that it “was actually helping people maintain their communities,” said Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto sociology professor and co-author of the Pew report.

The study found that e-mail is supplementing, not replacing, other means of contact. For example, people who e-mail most of their closest friends and relatives at least once a week are about 25 percent more likely to have weekly landline phone contact as well. The increase is even greater for cell phones.

“There’s a certain seamlessness of how people maintain their social networks,” said John Horrigan, Pew’s associate director. “They shift between face-to-face, phone and Internet quite easily.”

Meanwhile, Internet users tend to have a larger network of close and significant contacts — a median of 37 compared with 30 for non-users — and they are more likely to receive help from someone within that social network.

A nice thing to read after a full day of meetings, a drink with a former advisor, and dinner with my sister. Except for the part about the telephone — don’t get me started on how much I hate the telephone — I’d say eat that, luddite naysayers.

Some Things I Love About the Internet

One day, you write something about a guy’s first book, and the next day, you get an email message from that guy thanking you for your comments and offering help with a critical issue you’re currently facing.

One day, you express a desire for a new feature in a very cool web tool, and later that very same day, the author of the tool pops by to discuss the feature’s possibilities.

One day, you go to a conference where you get to hang out with an exceptionally cool woman whose blog you’ve been reading, and she takes you to meet another fabulously cool blogger who shows you around the town, and then you can watch over the next two years as that blogger meets another blogger at a conference on blogging, as they fall in love, plan their wedding, and are finally married by, you guessed it, a blogger-priest they met at that very same conference.

The ways of the internet are strange and wonderful, and some days it’s just exciting to get to be here. So says AKMA:

The next time somebody tells you that technology will destroy our civilization because nobody actually talks to other people any more, remind them about this evening. Although Joey and Wendy didn’t exactly meet online, the Internet played a vital role, several vital roles, in bringing this holy occasion about. I became acquainted with Joey online; Wendy was working at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the three of us converged on the same place at the same moment as part of a conference on blogging. If ‚Äì as we are taught ‚Äì marriages are determined in heaven before we are born, then God has been clearly been an early adopter of cutting-edge social software, for which we all have much reason to give thanks over and above the expected celebration of a marriage.