Category Archives: Musings & Reflections

What is Web 2.0?

People use the term “Web 2.0” regularly in conversation and writing. What does this term really mean? Contrary to what some people might envision, it is not a newly released version of the Internet. It is, however, an innovative way people use the Internet and other technological tools to engage with one another in an online space. As Michael Knievel describes Web 2.0 involves being a critical producer, not just consumer, of electronic texts. The days of searching for information on the Internet and reading it are the “old” days—the days of Web 1.0. This passive consumption of information has faded into the background as social online interaction has exploded. Examples of “Web 2.0” abound: blogs, wikis, and social media sites, to name a few.

When searching for information on Google or any other search engine, blog posts proliferate the results. While an untrained reader may not recognize that the material they are reading is a blog post, many online writings actually are pieces of a blog. Blogs are web logs; this means they are online written recordings of information. The topics of blogs vary as widely as people do: cooking, politics, movie reviews, reflections of a mom, tips for becoming a gardener, and the list goes on and on. If one merely reads a blog post, then that is a web 1.0 experience. Yet many people no longer just read blogs, they engage. Most, if not all, blog posts have a section at the bottom that allows readers to share their thoughts, comments, and opinions, and many do just that. Some people ask for further clarification on tips or directions, while some argue their point of view on a current issue, and others offer messages of support and encouragement. No matter what people write, this written interaction propels them from consumer to critical producer. As Greenhow and Gleason elucidate,  “texts can be interactive as users can ‘write back,’ thus blending authorship, readership, production, and consumption.” Blogs provide this opportunity to write back and engage, thus making it an interactive experience, which embodies the spirit of Web 2.0.

Another type of website that promotes interaction are wikis. Wikis allow a variety of people to develop, write, and share their ideas in one easily accessible location. As the YouTube video “Wikis in Plain English” shows, people in a group used to share ideas through a barrage of group emails. This interaction was cumbersome and time-consuming. Wikis, on the other hand, allow groups of people the opportunity to read what others say as well as an opportunity to contribute without providing the inbox clutter and requiring people to dig through old emails wondering which is most current. With a wiki, the most up-to-date information is visible to all, and it can be edited by all. Any group of people can use a wiki: a class, a work group, a committee, friends, or just people with a common interest. The key to a wiki is collaboration. Without that, a wiki will die. The emphasis on collaboration makes this tool another strong example of Web 2.0, as it asks people to do more than just read and consume; it encourages people to contribute and produce.

The term Web 2.0 really came to life with the creation of social media sites. These revolutionary sites transformed online communication and interaction. The essence of social media sites is to be social and to engage with others. Stephanie Vie describes online social networking sites like Facebook as Web 2.0 technologies that allow individual people an opportunity to create multimodal expressions by offering text, images, sounds, and hyperlinks to compose their message. For Facebook to work effectively, participants must engage with one another. Some people post pictures; others share links; some offer life updates; many provide feedback to their network with comments or likes.

The fairly instant success of social media sites like Facebook and MySpace led to an explosion of other social media sites. Another well-known and frequently used social media site is Twitter. As Ebner said, “Twitter is more amenable to an ongoing, public dialogue than Facebook because Twitter is primarily a microblogging platform” (as qtd. in Junco, Heiberger, and Loken). The constant in-the-moment updates of tweets allows users a chance to respond and produce many comments. For this reason, some teachers promote its use during class lectures; groups organize online chats with the use of a particular hashtag; some television shows have encouraged viewers to save their favorite contestants through tweets with a hashtag. The focused interaction of tweets coupled with the ease of searching previous tweets by hashtags makes Twitter a highly collaborative social media site. While users could be just consumers on Twitter or any other social media site, most want to engage and share, thus making these social media sites the perfect example of Web 2.0.

Over the last decade, the use of online sites has progressed. Passively ingesting the words on the screen is no longer enough; people wish to contribute too. This desire to create, share, comment, and engage can be seen on almost every online site. From the comments box, to hyperlinks, to multimodal social sites, people are producing on the Internet. These contributions are the definition of Web 2.0. Now understanding the meaning of Web 2.0, it’s time to reflect: Are you a Web 2.0 user?

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Exciting Opportunity

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This past Thursday my college had a faculty in-service day. While most of the day was filled with pointless meetings, our two break-out sessions (taught by various faculty members) were wonderful. The first one helped me understand the tenure portfolio and process much better. The second I learned about an exciting opportunity I have for creating a course. All of the students at our community college are required to take a IDS capstone course. It is a 1 credit course, and it provides them a chance to synthesize the various skills they have learned across multiple disciplines. In addition, it provides the college an opportunity to assess their learning and their writing through the culminating essay. (This essay is not graded by the faculty member teaching that course; instead, it is graded by a collaborative group of faculty that convene each semester for this purpose.)

So the opportunity…the capstone course is meant to be engaging and relevant, and therefore the focus of the course can be anything really. Faculty members create their own version of the course and submit a proposal for it. The main requirements are that the course meets 3 of 7 college-wide learning outcomes and includes at least one learning outcome from at least three different clusters (kind of like departments). I had heard of this course before this in-service day, and during this semester, started formulating an idea of what I would like to do with the course, partly based on things I have learned in my Computers and Composition class. However, I had no idea the logistics of the course or how to proceed. Now, I know that, and having attended, I have additional ideas of what to focus on in my course.

My idea for the course is “Using Social Media Professionally” or “Using Social Media to Create a Professional Image & Network.” I’m still working on the exact title, but that is the gist of it. Usually most people have the courses last five weeks, which I will propose as well. Some are offered F2F; some are online; others are hybrids. I hope to make my version a hybrid course. Each week we will focus on a different aspect of social media and how it can be used to create a professional persona. The first week we will focus on the overall notion that social media can be beneficial for work-related reasons and not just socially. The main social media sites I will focus on in this course are Twitter, WordPress, Diigo, LinkedIn, Google (Profile, sites, plus), and maybe Facebook.

So this week I will complete the paperwork for this course proposal, and hope that I can still get it added to the Fall schedule. I might be too late for that. If so, I hope it is approved for Spring. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Ethics in Using Technology for Research and Education

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I read an article for my Computers and Composition class this week entitled, “The Ethics of Digital Writing Research: A Rhetorical Approach” by Heidi McKee and James E. Porter. The article opens with three possible ethically debatable situations. I am including two below to give you an idea of what was discussed:

“A teacher-researcher conducts a case study of several students’ remediation of genres in
the multimedia compositions they created for class. When presenting his research at a
conference, he shows, with his students’ permission, the complete video files for
students’ digital autobiographies. In these digital autobiographies, students incorporated
photographs, videos, and sound clips of friends and family members — and, in some
cases, the family members are providing sensitive personal information about their lives.
While the researcher has the permission of the students who created the multimedia
compositions, does the researcher have any ethical responsibilities to the “third parties,”
the family members represented aurally and visually in these digital works?

A researcher studying young adults’ Web blogs notices that several blog writers have
expressed suicidal feelings. Because she does not know the names or emails for many of
the authors, she decides not to try to direct people toward resources for help as she would
had students written such disclosures in, say, a live, face-to-face forum such as her
classroom. When encountering distressing information like suicidal tendencies in texts on
the Internet, what ethical actions, if any, should a researcher pursue?” (McKee and Porter 1).

As soon as I read these situations on the opening page, I was hooked. As I read these, I thought, “I see both sides of these issues.” It awakened me to the idea that like most things in life–using technology for research and educational purposes–is not so black and white. Often, there are no easy answers as to what is acceptable. Throughout the article, they referenced these two situations again in more detail. In the latter one, the researcher did not attempt to gain the name of suicidal blogger until much later in her study, but it was too late. The researcher received an email back that informed her the blogger had committed suicide (McKee and Porter 8). When I read that, my heart sank. I am sure it devastated the researcher. This was not someone she knew personally, but still, she saw the signs and reacted too late. That is a complex situation that occurs regularly on the internet, perhaps even in every day life. What if we see troublesome posts, but we do not really know the people? Are we obligated to get involved and try to help?

The first situation mentioned above was addressed later in the article. They discussed how this researcher was working with multimedia projects that students created. These projects contained pictures and videos not only of the students themselves but also of their family and friends. The researcher had obtained the necessary signed consent of the students, but she did not have the signed consent of these third party people. Unfortunately, when she realized this in the almost-publishing stage, it was two years later (McKee and Porter 22). What should she do? That is situation I am sure that happens a lot, especially in multimedia. She decided to blur the images of the images of the third party people. Sounds like an easy decision, but how many people would have even thought about that or considered it?

These are only two situations; however, they make me aware that anytime technology is involved–whether with students in a class or “subjects” for research–much thought is needed about your personal responsibility with interactions between people and technology. It is not cut-and-dry or black-and-white. Failure to consider the many sides of potentially complex situations can leave one with regret. On the other hand, to just say, “Well, I just won’t use technology then.” is not really an option either in this digital age. That is just a stick-your-head-in-the-sand approach.

So before you begin your next research study or technology project with your class, pause for a little bit and ask yourself, “What are my ethical obligations to these people? What permission should I obtain? What should I inform them about ahead of time?” To some extent, as is true in most of life, I think the Golden Rule can help guide you–Treat others how you would wish to be treated yourself.

I wonder, “Why?”

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I wonder, “Why? Why don’t teachers, especially college teachers, use technology to enhance their teaching and instruct students in a way they process information?” It seems many teachers still instruct students the way they learned 30 or 40 years ago, which consists mostly of lecture and individual practice (aka worksheets or textbook practice). I have noticed this inability to recognize the need to change teaching styles is prevalent in college–well, at least at the college where I teach. However, I suspect that attitude is widespread among many higher education faculty. The part I struggle with is why. Do these professors not see a need for it? Or is it too much extra work (especially for those who have been teaching their courses for years)? Or is it a lack of knowledge? Do they really not know that so much of this technology exists? I have reflected on this topic from time to time throughout my teaching career. The last two years teaching at the college has led me to ponder these questions even more, as I notice the general apathy, and sometimes disdain, among faculty towards teaching with technology. Of course, they use projectors and PowerPoints, but that is almost a 20-30 year old practice itself. These last two years I have heard all three reasons speculated above as answers. Even this week, I was amazed when one of my colleagues asked while we working together if I had a flash drive to save our work. I responded with, “I save almost everything on Dropbox and my hard drive.” She countered with, “Dropbox. Never heard of that.” Having interacted with this woman many times, I sincerely believe she does not realize there is such a concept as saving things “in the cloud.” Part of me wants to believe she is the minority—the anomaly—but deep down, I know that is not the case. I will leave you with this video we viewed in my Computers and Composition class at the beginning of the semester. It’s thought-provoking.

Wow…who knew?

I attended the Southeast TYCA (Two Year Colleges of English Association) conference here in Tampa, FL, last weekend. One of the sessions I attended was presented by one of my colleagues, Dr. Rick Gaspar. His session was entitled, “Becoming a Digital Sherpa.” If you are interested, you can view the accompanying PowerPoint for his presentation here on his blog. There were two images he showed that overwhelmed and excited me at the same time, both related to the number of social media sites that exist presently. Here is the more organized image of the two, which breaks down social media sites by their primary function:

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On one hand, I am overwhelmed. I mean who knew there were so many social media sites? I surely did not! I know the handful most people know: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogger, WordPress, Delicious, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr. I do feel some relief that most of the ones I know cover a vast area of the different functions and purposes. One area I realize I am deficient in is my knowledge of social media gaming sites; although, I think I know some not listed here, such as Words with Friends, Scramble, etc. As I stated though seeing this list also excites me. Why? Because I love technology, and especially social media, so knowing that there is still so much to learn makes me thrilled to know I have many more sites and apps to discover. Now, I just need to find the time. Of course, that is easier said than done.

Getting my feet wet

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Being a “big picture” person, I am struggling with my lack of a big picture for this blog. I wish I had the clarity of focus many blogs possess, but those are usually people with a particular expertise they wish to share, like cooking, building furniture, photography, or with a difficult life event they wish to share, such as battling cancer or dealing with the loss of a loved one. This blog does not serve either of those purpose. Instead, I have freedom to explore, especially in relation to the topics of my class, which is entitled Computers and Composition. The pressure unfolds though with an immediate audience, my classmates and professor, who will read these posts and whether they want to or not, whether consciously or unconsciously, they will form opinions about me based on what I write. Ideally, we are community of educators or writers sharing ideas, but in the age of technology, every post I write becomes another part of my digital footprint. My greatest concern is not really knowing what to say or not really having anything significant to say. I hope those fears subside a little more with each post. So here’s to getting my feet wet. As I often have to do at the beach, I am going to get wet slowly, in hopes of avoiding the shock of the cold, unknown waters.