Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Out with the Old, in with the . . . MOOCs?

Recently the semester stared. Without me. I have been a student most of my living memory, so to not be a student this semester is weird. It's throwing me off. So I am looking into ways to continue learning even after my degree. My first approach was TED talks and Khan Academy, but as September has worn on I wanted something that resembled an actual classroom more. So I decided to try out a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). I previously heard about Coursera (thanks, Katie Wilkie!), so I browsed the courses starting soon and found several I found interesting. I narrowed my selection down to the courses that seemed the most interesting to me. Then I enrolled in two: "Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative," which looks at the different ways Tolkein's Lord of the Rings is taken into different media, and "Understanding Media by Understanding Google."

I enrolled in two Coursera classes, and I'm interested to see how they go. A few things that are exciting:

  • I get to learn about things I'm interested in, even though I'm not enrolled in a traditional university.
  • I get to interact, in real time (or delayed forum-time), with other people interested in learning about the same things that are interesting to me.
  • Teaching across this new medium could open up new ways to teach, and more ways to make education available to more people.
  • There are people from many places in the world participating in these courses. I hope to learn from the different peoples' perspecitives. One of the MOOCs I'm enrolled in has students from over 150 countries.
  • It's free.
But there are some things that make me wonder how this experience will actually work, and how the MOOC format will affect how much I am able to interact with other people and really learn the things the course is about. Here are some of those things:
  • There are 44,000 people enrolled in the course. Of those, I suspect only a fraction will stay with it the whole time; let's say a fourth of the people stay. That means that 11,000 people are posting on the forum, on the Google+ group, and participating in the class. There is NO WAY that I, just one student, could keep up with that. Not that I have to. But the constant Google+ notifications and emails are getting annoying, only 3 days into the course.
  • With such varied backgrounds, how do we have a starting point? What's the common denominator of people tuning in from all over the world?
  • How does a professor truly teach students that he or she never personally interacts with? Or even know the name of?
  • Will such a massive scale encourage thought and discussion on topics, or will it be too difficult to monitor even the threads you're participating in?
I'm interested to see how things will pan out. But for now, I see that MOOCs need to work out a few kinks before they take an established place in the world of further education.
And by the way, I structured this HTML mostly on my own! I'm learning HTML5 on Codecademy—I feel awesome.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Beginnings of a New Kind of Publication?

I'm working on a project right now where we're preparing academic articles to be more accessible to a worldwide audience. We've been editing them and preparing them for translation.

Just for a little background information, the main focus of the online publication is on religious articles, but we also want to have other things that are relevant to the church and its history. The purpose is to aid the readers in their religious scholarship by editing academic articles to be more appealing to a lay audience, and also in a way curating articles that might help in the readers' religious study.

The current model is to edit the articles, get the approval of the original publishers and authors, and then publish the articles on a website. The original idea was to create a print publication, but we determined that putting the information on a website met the needs of a wide audience better.

Something that has sat on the back of my mind for a while is that we're making such a great entrance into the world of academic research about our topic, but we're planning on just putting the information out there, then leaving it. That makes a static site, zombie-esque, if you will. We want to generate more interest and discussion than that. And from the digital culture class I took, I know there are so many more ways of using the resource of the internet than just posting and forgetting. I wondered if making the site more interactive would help us meet the purposes of the publication, hopefully in better ways than we thought of before.

So I'm going to pin down some of my ideas here.

We want to encourage connections—between individuals and between ideas.
AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works
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The purpose of our publication is to encourage people to expand their knowledge of the Church and its doctrine. Our approach is to provide accessible versions of scholarly articles (meaning we shorten them and edit to include global English).

I wonder if we could enhance learning by providing more interactive means on the website. Here are a few things I've been thinking:

  • Discussion boards. People could talk about the issues raised by the scholarly articles. A link to the discussion would be provided at the bottom of the article.
  • General discussion boards for gospel topics.
  • Some ways to connect people with other (online) resources. 
  • We want people to be able to create connections, between people and between ideas.
  • Other ways to let them interact?
  • A connection to social media sites?
  • List questions the article raises? (This seems so didactic to me...especially since the information is supposed to be cross-cultural, and people from different backgrounds will probably see different questions in the articles. We don't want to discourage them from participating. How would this be a good thing?)

What are some other ways to create a place where people can come to talk about topics? How would we get the word out? What are ways we can engage people in a community so they can talk about things, not just read them?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Death of the Letter?

Are letters dying? Already dead?

I've heard people lament the death of the art of letter writing, and I'd have to agree that it seems that the way letters were once will probably never be again, at least on that grand of a scale. But I wonder if the lament is more than just a lament of the loss of the cursive, the folding, and the form of the content of the letter. I think what people are usually mourning is the loss of communication and beautiful words that letter-writing signifies.

So does the death of the letter mean that we don't communicate as well as we used to? We are swimming or sinking in a digital world, surrounded by new ways of speaking, new connections with people who see the world differently, and an inundation of words, words, words. Does it mean that we're stuck with "btw" and "lol" instead of more meaningful ways to communicate? Is all of this making us communication-dumb? Is technology making us less human?!

To start with, I don't think that everyone in the Victorian period (some mark that time as the height of letter-writing) was good at writing letters. Why would they need letter-writing guides if everyone naturally did it well?

In a similar vein, I don't think everyone that communicates online does it well or eloquently (sometimes the same thing, sometimes not). I have seen many a poorly-written blog post and many websites that are not helpful at all. But I do think that this change in medium doesn't mean automatic death of our desire as humans to communicate and connect with other people. And so the decline of one medium simply means we will find ways to communicate using our new options.

It's kind of exciting, actually. Whereas before you had to be good at letter-writing or speaking in person (luckily that one never really gets ruled out) to be able to communicate well, now there is a whole array of options to communicate: video chat, email, social networking, forums, and other institution-organized forms of communication. We can communicate with many people at once through video, and unlike the assemblies of old, our message stays up there, as easily seen in ten years as it is this afternoon.

So the actual act of conveying words from one person to another can be facilitated by technology. But what of the quality of those words? Does more words mean less true human connection? I think for some people it can. Some people are intimidated by or disillusioned with technology, so their messages to others and the world get obscured by the medium. But I don't think this is new; I'm sure some people got so caught up (or tripped up) by using the form of letter writing, or were so afraid of using it incorrectly, that they communicated very little. And some who were considered "experts" by the neatness of their writing and the fanciness of their paper might have had very little sense in the content of their letter.

How do we connect in the digital world, not allowing the methods of communication interfere with teh message? How do we make sure our word still carry value, still make connections with other people on the planet, those that share our human condition?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reflecting on the Semester of Digital-ness

Self-directed Learning

Some Topics of Personal Blog Posts 

a.     Transmedia/reality
b.     Dissemination of knowledge [Post, Another post]
c.     Form of website influencing function and how people interact with it (or not) [Personal Post, Making Menagerie Post]

Kinds of Interactions via Google+

a.     Responding to others' posts

b.     Posting my own finds

c.    Asking for feedback/social proof for my ideas

d.    Posting links to my blog with a question to get discussion going on Google+ and generate interest in the actual post (hoping people who saw it would want to read the full article).

Other Materials I’ve Looked at in My Self-directed Learning.

 I looked into transmedia storytelling because I’m involved in developing one right now.5 Lessons For Storytellers From the Transmedia World— Jumping on the Transmedia Bandwagon: The Four Ways to Approach Transmedia Storytelling—

Others’ assistance

My Menagerie group—They helped me figure out elements of digital culture and helped Menagerie become a reality (especially Sarah Talley on the website design—I wouldn’t have gotten very far without you working through stuff out too).
Tara—lots of posts, some of which caught my interest, so I wanted to make my own posts (some of them I was actually glad/interested in)
Rebecca—commented on several of my Google+ posts, which encouraged me to continue posting on Google+.


My group’s project—I contributed by putting together some google docs, by starting menagerie and making menagerie websites, facilitating discussion during our planning meetings, and posting assignments so everyone could figure out what was up.
Other group’s projects—I commented on Digital Sweet Home, Mormon Badges, and the LBP groups’ Google+ posts and also gave them feedback on their ideas.

Digital literacy


At the outset of this class, I thought that I was pretty good at consuming. I knew how to navigate Google and the more closed searches in the library database systems. I would watch funny videos on YouTube, informational talks on TED, and watch movies with my roommates on Netflix. I used Google Reader as an aggregator and would check product reviews online (usually starting on Amazon) before buying the product (whether in-store or online). It was my mindset that the Internet was mostly there for me to consume information from.

During this class, I learned that consuming is just part of the use of the Internet. I learned to consume smart, such as looking for curated lists that other people have made (people-sifted lists, which can be much better than algorithm-created lists). I became aware that just using Google may preclude me from finding the things I want to, so I tried Bing and other search engines to try to get out of the Google algorithm. I also looked to social sources to help find the kind of information or services I was looking for online. Net Smart reminded me that we need to be aware of what we’re paying attention to, and how much time we’re spending on things that have little consequence.


Before taking this class, I was vaguely aware of the option to creating things and posting them online, but this really didn’t seem like my kind of thing. I thought that people had to either be fantastically talented or very conceited to post things online. I didn’t feel like anything I would create would be valuable to complete strangers, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to figure out how to get around copyright restrictions in order to post something that had even remote ties to previously-copyrighted things. I also didn’t want anyone to steal what I created and claim it as their own.

Over the course of this course, I rethought some of those approaches—stuff on the Internet doesn’t have to be as polished as other formal published material. I learned that you have to just get stuff out there and not worry too much about getting it exactly “right.” I started to explore the Internet as an area of discovery by just getting your ideas out there. I wrote blog posts, some of them without finished sentences, just to see what it was like to publish something obviously unfinished. I got a comment on an unfinished (but still published) blog post, and the person reacted to my ideas, not to the incompleteness of the post. Other creations I participated in were the Google+ posts, Menagerie, Making Menagerie, and a book I’m going to eventually finish and sell on Amazon. I wanted to try out how hard or easy it would be to create a book to sell in print and as an eBook—there were some hitches along the way, and I’m still working on getting it actually published, but it has been an interesting process. There are a lot of resources out there for people who want to share their creative projects.


As wary as I was of posting my creations online, I was much more afraid of posting information about myself online, and even more of talking with anyone I didn’t know on the Internet. My Facebook account was pretty locked down, and I rarely posted on it. I avoided any site that said it was designed to help its users connect with other people, be it dating sites, online forums, or “collaborative” endeavors (although, after watching the TED talk about them, I liked doing the reCaptchas, and I liked the possibilities that opened up with crowdsourcing indexing and family history work).

I learned that, although it’s important to be careful about some information you disclose online, putting information about yourself in profiles and such gives you some credibility. The ideas of reciprocity, social proof, and currency all gave me reasons to create an online presence. If you show that you’re not afraid to show who you are, you can connect with some pretty cool people that can help you with projects you’re working on, and you can give them feedback and ideas to help them work on the things they’re working on. If you follow someone’s blog or Google+, they may reciprocate and follow you or direct people to you. The most eye-opening thing I learned about connecting was how much it can help you create online interest communities to address issues that you’re interested in. It hadn’t occurred to me before that you can use the Internet to create friendships, not just keep in touch with ones you met in person. And some digital things can help create another dimension (ha,ha) with the relationships you already have—I can see my friends’ recommendations for books on Goodreads, and they can see the bookshelves I’ve created.