Blogging in the classroom: A failed use of technology

Krause, Stephen D. “When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Emailing Lists, Discussion, and Interaction.” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 9.1 September 2004. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013. http://english.ttu.edu/Kairos/9.1/binder.html?praxis/krause/index.html. Also reprinted in Johnson, T.R. (Ed). Teaching Composition: Background Readings.
Third Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

Stephen Krause is a professor of English at Eastern Michigan University. Most of his classes and his scholarship focus on the intersection of writing and technology. More information about him, along with more of his academic work, is available at http://stevendkrause.com/ and http://www.emich.edu/english/faculty/facultypages/skrause.php

In this piece, Krause recounts his failure in using blogs in the classroom around 2003-04. In a time when blogging was kind of the new thing, he used blogger.com and Blogspot in an MA class called “Rhetoric and Culture of Cyberspace.” He had students use their blogs as a primary mode of discussion of the texts, but found that the discussion of the texts was lacking compared with his other classes’ use of listservs for discussions.

Krause gives a number of reasons for the failure of his experiment, including: limitations of the software regarding collaborative work; a lack of directions from him as an instructor as to the assignments and discussion themselves; a lack of motivation to blog (he notes that blogging is easy, but a writer must have “generally, a personal reason” to blog); and a general lack of dynamism in blogging technology. He notes that email listservs were far more effective for discussion and blogs are generally “spaces for publishing highly individualistic writing.”

Krause does offer two suggestions for successful use of blogs in the classroom. First, blogging can be useful as an electronic alternative to traditional reading journals. Students posted their own individual thoughts, but were asked to interact with each other via the class listserv. Krause found that this utilized the strengths of both media: individuality in blogs and dynamic discussion through the listserv. The other suggestion is a research blog, not unlike this one.

I thought this was a useful article because it recounts an unsuccessful use of technology in teaching rhetoric and composition. As I prepare to apply for a teaching assistantship for next semester, I am trying to find ways to use technology to get students writing more organically and increase their literacy. It’s useful to know what doesn’t work.

I also thought this was a good piece to highlight for another reason: It’s incredibly dated. First of all, most of the links do not work. Many pages seem to have been taken down, or at the very least, moved, and the author has apparently not done any necessary upkeep (which could be as simple as noting that the links no longer work, or removing the hypertext markup). Second, the essay can also be presented as a blog, with each section appearing in reverse order, as if they were chronological posts. An interesting, if gimmicky, idea, but in execution it just creates a weird and disjointed reading experience (actually, the reading experience was a bit disjointed anyway). Finally, he’s writing about blogging, a technology that is still used but not in the same way it was used 9-10 years ago. It would be interesting to see how Krause might use other technology, such as message boards or social media, to achieve some of the same teaching goals. Ultimately, this article is an artifact of an earlier technological area, and is itself an example of a poor use of technology.

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Critical literacy, critical thinking, and Facebook

Coad, David T. “Developing Critical Literacy and Critical Thinking through Facebook. Praxis Wiki, at Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Last modified 16 August 2013. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/praxis/index.php/Developing_Critical_Literacy_and_Critical_Thinking_through_Facebook

David Coad is a PhD student at the University of California, Davis, School of Education, with an emphasis in writing, rhetoric, and composition. According to his web page(davidcoad.com), he is interested in topics such as multimodal composition and the “intersection of social media and literacy.”

Coad explains how he uses analysis of Facebook to engage his students in critical thinking and enhance the growth of their critical literacy. He doesn’t want his students to simply know how to use Facebook; they already know how to do that. He wants them to think about how the designers of Facebook shape users’ experiences with the site, and metacognitively understand how Facebook affects their everyday lives.

The author wants students to understand how Facebook’s form reflects human forces who want to drive discussion in a particular manner. He also wants them to be aware of how they evaluate audience and craft messages in a digital environment, with an emphasis on how such communication constitutes “real, live rhetorical situations.” He sees digital communication as an essential component of literacy.

At first glance, this piece may appear quite similar to Elaine Childs’ piece on using Facebook in the classroom, but they’re really quite different. Childs explains how she uses Facebook as a forum for discussion and a vehicle for delivery of class information, while Coad explains how he asks his students to analyze the social networking site. He wants to challenge the idea that social media are trivial forms of communication and emphasize that such communication is complex, even if we don’t realize it. I think his ideas provide important intersections with Shirky (whom he cites in the piece), Sheridan et al, and McCorkle. His assignments make students think about what they do every day and how that activity relates to their studies. I don’t know that I’d incorporate Facebook into a classroom in the same manner, but it’s certainly an interesting analytical activity.

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14 October 2013 · 12:28 am

Using Facebook in the composition classroom

Childs, Elaine. “Using Facebook as a Teaching Tool.” Praxis Wiki, at Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Last modified 25 May 2013. Web. Accessed 13 October 2013. http://praxis.technorhetoric.net/index.php/Using_Facebook_as_a_Teaching_Tool

I could not find much information about Elaine Childs, except that she at least used to teach English at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (she is not currently listed on the department’s website). However, I am familiarizing myself with Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy for an assignment for another class, so I can say a few things about the journal, as well as one of its projects, the Praxis Wiki, from which this piece (along with others I have read) comes. Kairos is an open-access online journal that covers the intersection of technology, rhetoric, and teaching. The journal’s content, which takes a variety of forms and uses multiple modes of communication, is free to access. The Praxis Wiki, a major section of the journal, provides testimonials and suggestions for teachers of rhetoric and composition.

This article details how the author incorporated Facebook into her first-year composition class and how successful that incorporation was. Childs taught an English 101 class using The Simpsons, and retooled that class when her department standardized first-semester composition by emphasizing rhetoric. She explains that she incorporated Facebook because she wanted to show her students that practicing rhetoric is “something they do, not merely an artificial exercise deployed in order to earn a greade.” She also wanted to increase students’ access to her and bring the classroom to them. She notes that Blackboard was “too impersonal and ‘academic'” for what she wanted to do, so she created a Facebook group for her class and required participation on that page.

Childs recounts the successes and shortcomings of her first attempt to use Facebook as a teaching tool. While she notes that she didn’t provide enough motivation for her students to participate on the group page beyond the basic requirements, the group’s wall was a success. She gives an example of how one student answered another’s question before she, the instructor, could get to it. She also notes that Facebook’s messaging system, and indeed the site’s overall aesthetic, was more personal than email or Blackboard, and led to easier contact between instructor and student.

Childs writes: “I am convinced that placing course material in students’ social space promotes the demystification of writing, the university, and the instructor.” I think that her positive experience using Facebook is due in large part to how integrated the social network has become in the daily lives of most people. Nearly everyone (except my dad, who didn’t know he could have both his email and a browser window open simultaneously until I told him he could a few years ago) uses Facebook to some degree. People post statuses. They comment. They share. Indeed, social-networking sites have made a lot more people produce text (aka write) on a regular basis than any other tool that I can think of. The usefulness of showing composition students that they’re already writing and using rhetorical strategies cannot be underestimated. If I ever teach first-year composition, I would like to use social media in some way for that very reason.

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14 October 2013 · 12:27 am

The Touch-Screen Generation

Rosin, Hanna. “The Touch-Screen Generation.” The Atlantic, April 2013. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/the-touch-screen-generation/309250/

Hanna Rosin is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she covers a wide variety of topics for the magazine, including family issues, sex, feminism, crime, and more. She also writes for Slate.com, where she helped found the feminist sub-site Double X, and is the author of The End of Men, a book that examines whether men are still the most dominant sex. She is also a mother of three with plenty of gadgets at home, adding to her ethos in writing this article.

This article examines how rapidly changing technology is affecting children’s development, focusing on touch-screen devices such as tablet computers and smartphones. The author draws on sources including decades-old research, modern scholars and experts, and personal experiences (her own and those of other parents) to examine the topic from several angles. The fear for many parents concerned about the developmental effects iPads and iPhones and Androids have on their kids comes down to the same concerns parents have always had about any new medium: Is the TV/video game/touch screen going to turn my child’s brain to mush or make him or her socially stunted?

Over and over, Rosin hits on two major themes: Interactivity and moderation. Several pieces of research Rosin cites suggest that interaction is the key to very young children understanding things told to them, whether by a live person or by a computer program. Apps on the iPad are frequently cited by several experts and parents as effective ways to foster young children’s development, more effective than old-school educational television programs. But on the other hand, most of those cited in the story preach some moderation and control: Much like any other medium, too much iPad time can be a bad thing. Other topics touched on range from attachment to a known icon like Elmo (whose erroneous information is trusted implicitly by Rosin’s youngest child) to prejudices that favor one medium over another (one parent toward the end of the article says that “to say to a kid, ‘I’d love for you to look at a book but I hate it when you look at the screen’ is just bizarre. It reflects our own prejudices and comfort zone. It’s nothing but fear of change, of being left out”).

This article does a great job of thoroughly examining the impact that emerging media have on the very young. I think it is a must-read for anyone trying to wrap their heads around how to think about seeing a toddler swipe her hands across a touch-screen. Katie, a friend of mine from my past life as a journalist, told me at a brunch meeting a few weeks after this article was released, that she’s constantly amazed at seeing her daughter (now 16 months old, but only about 11 months at the time) play intently with her iPad, swiping not randomly but with some degree of actual understanding about what she was doing. I hadn’t read all of this article yet, but I told Katie about what I’d read of it so far, and after a little bit of discussion she expressed the opinion that, while she wouldn’t let Vivian play with gadgets all the time, there was little doubt that some play time with the iPad was a good thing.

The article points out that a lot more research needs to be done, but my takeaway is this: Interactive gadgets are just one more plaything and one more potential developmental tool. Much as Clay Shirky points out that adults still consume media even as they participate and share more, I think that in children’s development, every plaything and tool has an appropriate time, place, and use.

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Biometric data and the Fifth Amendment

Hofmann, Marcia. “Apple’s Fingerprint ID May Mean You Can’t ‘Take the Fifth.'” Wired, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 Sept.

2013. http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/09/the-unexpected-result-of-fingerprint-authentication-that-you-cant-take-

the-fifth/

Marcia Hofmann is a lawyer who runs a practice focusing on electronic issues, free expression, and intellectual property. She formerly was a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and works with Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society and University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

This article examines potential legal implications of Apple’s newly revealed fingerprint ID technology, which uses biometric data to unlock the newest generation of iPhones. The author cites legal precedent, both modern and centuries-old, to explain the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, and why it’s important. Then her argument takes an interesting turn: Biometric data might allow prosecutors and investigators to skirt that protection.

Her argument hinges on the idea that the amendment only applies to things we know, not physical evidence, including our own bodies. She cites a 1988 Supreme Court case, John Doe v. United States. In that opinion, a justice said in a hypothetical that a suspect can be forced to surrender a key to a safe, but not to reveal the combination to a safe if the only location of that combination is in his mind. That particular bit of precedent, Hofmann argues, can be extrapolated to include forcing someone to unlock his or her iPhone if the only protection on it is biometric data (physical features).

This article shows us a new angle for the discussion on Apple’s newest technological step forward. When the feature was revealed last week, I heard and read skepticism about it, ranging from reliability concerns to worries about Big Brother (or whatever the Apple equivalent would be; perhaps Uncle Steve? Maybe iBrother?) having access to entirely too much data about us. But this angle is a great example of unintended consequences, as Hofmann points out toward the end of the piece. It gives us one more thing to think about as we become ever more entwined with the technology we use.

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16 September 2013 · 4:47 am

Facebook privacy changes

Goel, Vindu and Edward Wyatt. “Facebook Privacy Change Is Subject of F.T.C. Inquiry.” The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Sept. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/technology/personaltech/ftc-looking-into-facebook-privacy-policy.html?_r=0

Vindu Goel covers social media and other technology issues for The New York Times, where he was previously an editor overseeing coverage of energy, automobiles, and labor issues. The Times did not have a biographical blurb for Edward Wyatt, but a search for stories he wrote posted online reveals that he too focuses on technology.

This article reports on the most recent development in Facebook’s always-evolving privacy policies. The newest iteration of the privacy policy, revealed a couple of weeks ago, makes users’ personal information available to the company for advertising purposes. This, however, seems to violate a 2011 pact the social networking site made with federal regulators over the very subject of using users’ data in advertisements, prompting the Federal Trade Commission to step up its monitoring of and interaction with the site.

The company insists the only change is in the wording of the policy, and that users’ data has always been up for grabs in targeted advertising. The company claims to show a user’s name, photo, and comments on a particular product only to people who already have access to such information. However, adoption of the new policy was delayed after user feedback and a notice of FTC investigation, and privacy advocates have expressed concerns as well.

Facebook’s ongoing battle with privacy issues highlights an important aspect of the changing digital world. Information about us, once made public, can’t be made private again. The proverbial bell can’t be unrung. So, in theory, responsible users of social media should be able to control what is private and what is public. The specifics of Facebook’s operations, however, have long been kept in secret. Users don’t know how the news feed algorithm works, and I personally occasionally fear that filters I use to keep certain acquaintances, colleagues, and even relatives from seeing certain posts will fail (to my knowledge, the only failure of my filters has been user error). This article serves as another reminder that we must stay vigilant in protecting our information.

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16 September 2013 · 4:42 am

Digital lying

Garber, Megan. “The Way We Lie Now.” The Atlantic Sept. 2013: 15-16. Print.

Also available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/09/the-way-we-lie-now/309431/ (here titled “How to Catch a Liar on the Internet”)

Megan Garber is a staff writer for The Atlantic. She usually writes about technology. She wrote about media innovations as an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab. Twitter: @megangarber

The main point of this article is how the act of lying is changing in the digital world. The writer first brings up an example of a woman who was caught lying on her workers’ compensation claim after she was seen spinning the “Big Wheel” on The Price is Right. Pictures she posted on Facebook from a vacation also betrayed her fraud.

While lying is not new, the ways people are lying these days are changing in a major way: A lower standard of accountability in the digital world makes it much, much easier to lie. Cornell professor Jeff Hancock is paraphrased in the article saying that the spatial distance between people interacting over the internet makes it easier to lie.  He also says real-time interaction (for example, over Facebook chat) increases the likelihood of lying.

But the flipside of the increased ease of lying is that it’s also much, much easier to get caught, as was the woman who fraudulently claimed she was too hurt to work. Our communications (honest or not) leave traces, from trails of text messages to “message seen” labels to photos and videos of someone doing something or being somewhere. The article ends by pointing out that as people figure out how much easier it is to get caught, more are paring back their lies in order to be seen as trustworthy by the people they’re connected to.

This article is an exceptionally interesting example of the way communicating and connecting has been forever changed. From false details on dating-site profiles to text messages lying about why we’re running late, we really are finding more outlets for dishonesty than ever before, despite how easy it is to get caught. I really like how the article ends by talking about how the phenomenon has sparked something of a rebound for social reasons, and I think that can be tied to another bit of new media. In the article, the author writes, “The network can be its own kind of lie detector.” I think this is similar to what happens on wikis. While the potential for disinformation exists and prevents Wikipedia from being a truly reliable source for academic work, journalism, or what have you, I have rarely encountered information on the website that doesn’t match up with other sources. I believe this is because the community of Wikipedia editors does a good job of fact-checking edits to pages that they follow.

Also of note from Ms. Garber: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/attention-as-performance-or-heres-a-photo-of-john-mccain-playing-poker-during-the-senates-syria-hearing/279320/. Contains interesting commentary on public attention spans, but not really worth a full post.

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16 September 2013 · 4:40 am