Breaking Up in the Digital Age

The following cartoon is a tale of breaking up and communicating in general in the digital age.  Helena Burns and myself worked on this ‘fun’ project together.  We both like GoAnimate and we wanted to create a funny cartoon about how digital technology is transforming communication.  We were both inspired by the public service announcement, Dumb Ways to Die. The song is catchy and darkly funny – it conveys the point of being safe around trains without being too indignant.  We wanted to do the same thing, but teach media literacy skills.  We brainstormed a public service announcement in which we comically discuss faux pas in communication.  So here we present “Breaking Up in the Digital Age” in three scenes.

Scene 1 – Jeremy Breaks the Bad News

Scene 2 – Prof. Turner Shares Her Perspective

Scene 3 – Jeremy Breaks The News to Ashley and Learns an Important Lesson


My Educational Technology Event (In Lieu of a Second Life Event)

The Appalachian College Association is a consortium of private college in Appalachia and among its services, it offers professional development opportunities to ACA faculty & staff.  The library ‘arm’ of ACA holds quarterly webinars on relevant topics in academic librarianship which are hosted by librarians at one of the 29 schools.  These webinars are enjoyable since the presentations are peers at similar institutions with similar staffing and budgets.  The large national library conferences, on the other hand, feature presentations from larger schools whose expertise, funding, and staffing puts my little college library to shame!  I often cannot implement ideas shared at these conferences since my institution lacks the tools and resources.

On April 15th, I took part in a Tech Trends Webinar hosted by the Appalachian College Association.  Four librarians presented for 15 minutes each.  We discussed Google Drive, Padlet, and electronic calendars and how this might assist us with our work.  The event was moderated by the Bowen College Library Association’s Director of Library Programs who is responsible for scheduling webinars and professional development.  As the moderator, she was able to temporarily grant administrative privileges to each of the presenters for the duration of their meeting.  My presentation was on Padlet, a virtual pinboard, was the first in the webinar.  I discussed the many ways that Padlet can be used in hand-on learning activities and assessment.  We used AT&T Connect to host the webinar – a video conferencing software that captures narration and ‘screencasts’ the participants screens.

Like many people attending webinars, I experienced a bit of context collapse.  At no point in the 15 minutes i spoke could I gauge the reaction of my audience.  Did they like the presentation?  Were they confused by it?  Was I explaining concepts too quickly?  Too slowly?  I would not know.  The event had about 30 attendees.  Attendees could ask questions by ‘raising their hand’ and asking over their microphone or using the chat box to pose questions.  In spite of this, we only received 5 or so questions. I’m certain that many people still find video conferences intimidating, if not plain awkward.  It was, however, interactive as I was able to share a PowerPoint and my screen.

In the early days of the Internet, there was a lot of optimism that the Internet would facilitate human communication.  Any one could share their opinion in the comfort of relative anonymity.  The lack of a physical space (i.e. context), inability to read facial expressions, and the discomfort that some people have with new technologies (such as videoconferencing) has create a situation where people can ‘broadcast’ rather than communicate.  There are many uncertainties in a webinar, such as knowing when it is appropriate to ask questions.  Webinars are not fully participatory the way Second Life is since individuals can only watch what others are doing.  Webinars lend themselves to the ‘broadcasting’ of information, rather than sharing and creating knowledge collectively. Perhaps our growing comfort with technology in general, and more specifically videoconferencing software, will empower all people to fully participate in webinar-like online meetings to discuss ideas.

ACA webinars are very democratic and inclusive in other ways.  For one, I know that most of the presenters are from peer institutions, not large, Ivy League universities.  The librarians who presented may not be well known outside of their professional circles, but they become ‘experts’ in a subject, if only for a few minutes. These webinars are highly practical and a good source of ‘hacks’ that make our lives easier.  I knew how to use Google Drive, for example, but I found new purposes for an existing technology – like using Google Slides to create a scrolling announcement for a web page.  At the end of these webinars, some librarian colleagues share other purposes for existing technologies.  This sort of collective brainstorming is essential in our profession and in our institutions.  I can attest that many librarians in small, private colleges  have limited budgets and big ambitions.  We practice collegial sharing of information, a value of our profession, and the net result is that we all benefit.  While there are many challenges to free and open communication, I think that online communication platforms can facilitate the type of communicative action that Jurgen Habermas praised and is sorely needed among educators.

Geotagging and the Curation of the World

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Stained glass window at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Bristol, TN. The window depicts the four apostles (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and there is a wood carving of Jesus and Mary in between the windows. 

Since I’m not a regular Flickr user, I’m not accustomed to the geotagging feature.  After watching the TED Talk and reading about EXIF data, I got the strange sense that the ‘future is now’.  It is mind-boggling to think about the ways in which the average person with some Internet access and a modicum of technology skills can curate the physical and social world.  It’s not hard to see the positive consequences of this; the flattening of information hierarchies (i.e. there are less gatekeepers of information) and the flattening of the world itself (e.g. I can now explore nooks and crannies of places I might never visit or things I might miss).  Like Wes pointed out in his blog post, this also something eerily Orwellian about a future where every picture has metadata that reveals the precise location.  We can make ourselves prone to surveillance and disclose information that we would rather keep private.

One of my favorite classes in college was art history.  Art became ‘real’ for me since I had two good professors in art history who curated the canon of Western art, giving the rich social, cultural, and intellectual context of the paintings.  I was able to see works of art as a reflection of the zeitgeist of an era and having loved social studies since childhood, it was fascinating to look at works in their time and place.  The EXIF data on images can now curate the time and place of simple images we take with smartphones.  This is helpful in the way that it takes the guesswork in knowing where and when an image was taken place  Like Aguera y Arcas stated in the TED Talk video, the sum is greater than the parts.  That is the hope of social media – that we can collectively create a world that is far richer than anything that any one of us can experience or document. EXIF cannot tell us, however, why a particular photo is important to a person (i.e. the subjective value) or what is the historical/social context of a type of photo (ex. selfies) which we ourselves cannot always articulate.  For example, why did someone share an random image of a empty urban lot?  Perhaps they went on their first date there at a restaurant there and since then, the restaurant was closed and torn down.  I’m sure in 50 years people will scratch their heads if they uncover ‘seflies’; without understanding the trend and fun attaching to taking part in a social trend, selfies wouldn’t make much sense.  Neither do Cubist paintings make much sense to someone who doesn’t understand how Cubism developed and how it reflected the increasingly rational, urban Western world of the early 20th century.  I can imagine a scenario where the web is filled with ‘image dumps’ (such as Flickr and Photo bucket) that, in spite of having EXIF data, don’t really give us much context.  Like a lot of ‘primary sources’, we are left scratching our heads.  Unless computers can read our minds in the future, which brings me to my next point…………

A Picasso paiting – an artist most closely associated with Cubism. Very esoteric (i.e. it makes you ask wtf?) if you’ve never taken art history!!!

It’s also scary and disheartening to think of a world where there is nothing left to discover and no way to slip off the grid.  It’s one thing to make yourself visible to the world and quite another to be the unwilling object of surveillance.  Yet it happens all the time. I like the idea of using this data but I think we would be wise to educate ourselves and others about potential risks of sharing photos online.  [Insert spiel about media literacy here].

Using a Creative Commons Image in Your Blog

I decided to add a new header to my blog from a CC-licensed image on Flickr, a good source for images that can be reused.  Flickr contains millions of images that can be reused and since I love mountains and travel, I look for an awe-inspiring image of a mountain.  Here’s how I found an image and used with proper attribution.

Step #1: Use Creative Commons filter in Flickr.

I highlighted the Advanced Search where you can filter out non-CC licensed images.


Step 2: Download the image and upload it in WordPress (or other blogging site) with appropriate attribution.  

I googled how to attribute photos in Flickr and found a Wikipedia article.  There is not official style, but you need to include: 1)name of image, 2)name/user handle of person who uploaded it, and 3) type of license. I added caption in the upload, so the licensing info is saved in the photo’s metadata.


Step #3: Add a Blog Footer with the Attribution Info

WordPress now allows users to add footers.  I created a footer with the same info, but I created an HTML link to page in Flickr where the image is hosted.  


Step #4: Save and Publish Your Blog with the Footer

This is what the blog footer looks like – there is a link to the Flickr page for the header image I used.  


My Wishtrip


My Wishtrip

My Wishtrip is to visit (or revisit) art museums in major cities within a few hours of my house.  I created a Google Map of the cities with images of the art museums I would like to visit.  I enjoy visiting art museums by myself as I feel that visiting museums alone gives one the feeling of transcendence.  I gaze at the images and I’m taken to the time and place of the paintings.  Each gallery takes me to a time and place and reading the captions on the art work evokes the epoch’s zeitgeist.  I usually leave museums feeling refreshed, unless of course, there were excessive tourist groups or crying children.  They tend to ruin the mood!

Google Custom Maps has made a lot of progress since I last used them.  I don’t believe earlier iterations allowed me to upload images in my custom map.  I utilized this feature to add images (using a built in Google search) of the art museums I would like to visit or revisit on each trip.  I love this technology and I can attest to how it has enriched my trips.  As my blog title suggests, I love to travel, though I don’t do it professionally.  There is nothing more fun than driving to a city for the weekend and soaking up as much culture as possible.  I depend on semantic tagging to help me find out-of-the-way spots not usually found on tourist maps.  In fact, I actively avoid most tourist destinations in the cities I visit.  Thanks to semantic tagging in Google Maps and such sites as Yelp, I’m able to find the best local restaurants, dive bars, and quirky art spaces.  I credit Yelp to introducing me to restaurants which I wouldn’t normally frequent.  There are many restaurants that are a ‘turn off’ due to a dingy exterior, bad location, etc.  This site has helped me to find them and share my own experiences.

I can think of mostly positive consequences of semantic tagging in travel.  For one, you can spend more visiting places rather than trying to locate them.  I recall the era before GPS in which getting lost meant losing your temper, a few hours, and a lot of gas!  Yelp and other review sites helps promote local businesses.  In many cities, local restaurants have as much visibility as national chains, not because they advertise heavily or are featured in tourist literature, but because of their online reviews.  Another benefit of the GPS age is to see the world from the eyes of another person’s tastes.  I have enjoyed looking at the maps of my classmates because their destinations tell me something about their interests.  I have used Google Maps to ‘curate’ my own life and give people a better sense of who I am (particularly my travel interests).  I think geo-tagging is a powerful tool in that it can highlight local culture, cuisine, and attractions rather than steer people to predictable but mass-produced restaurants and bars.

If there’s any disadvantage, it would be the loss of serendipitous discovery of places that comes with getting lost.  It is now possible to plan an entire trip, not deviate from that route, and miss what might otherwise be discovered.  I have lived in larger cities and I found that many newcomers are dependent (and remain dependent) on GPS.  They know how to get from point A to point B to point C, but have no idea where point A is in relation to point C.  In a way, GPS systems are robbing us of our own sense of navigation – a skill that I think is very important.  Whenever I move to a city, I spend plenty of time driving around streets just to explore and get a general sense of navigation.  In my city and in city, there is as much to be learned by visiting the sidestreets as visiting the main streets.  Every city, no matter how big or small, has curious microhabitats that a very focused traveler would miss. I hope that GPS technology does become a way of avoiding the interesting side trails that really make traveling fun.

Being “Online” – The Future is Now

The Net was an oddly prescient film about a reclusive systems analyst whose identity is stolen by a hacker.  Sandra Bullock’s character conducts her life online; she orders pizza online, chats with men on dating sites, and works from home.  From the vantage point of 2015, her life is not atypical from many adults in the developed world.  Yet, the film was released in 1995, long before the web 2.0 revolution, the bubble, the release of Google, etc.  Angela Bennett, Sandra Bullock’s character in this film, embodies the fears and challenges of many people living in the digital age.  She lacks basic human interaction and becomes the target of a worldwide hacking scandal.  At the time of the movie’s release, the ‘world wide web’ had become a part of the American vernacular.  Netscape, an early web browser had just been released and even by 1996, only 20% of Americans had logged onto the web.  In 1995, the web was still mysterious to most people  Later films, like You’ve Got Mail, explored the lighter side of this new virtual world.  But films like The Net evoked an apocalyptic, the-future-is-now anxiety about our relationship to technology.  What if, for example, we all become recluses due to technology?  What if the web allows evil forces to perform more spectacular acts of evil?  How do we negotiate personal identity in a virtual world?  What if our identity is robbed from us? The questions seem far-fetched in 1995, but they are incredibly relevant ones in 2015.

The Internet has redefined how we conduct our lives and flattened social hierarchies.  This is particularly true when one considers how online education has impacted the roles of teacher and student.  Online education is still new in the sense that many of us lack a social script and/or a mental framework for understanding how it works.  Education is a mutli-faceted process that involves far more than the transmission of knowledge.  Removing social context of learning creates new challenges.  How, for example, does one ‘teach’ online?  How does an online instructor do the things that are taken-for-granted in the face-to-face classroom, like gauge students’ confusion and provide clarification?  How can a student feel comfortable learning from someone who seems anonymous?  Teaching and learning in the online environment has many long-term, paradigmatic implications as well.  For example, students openly question the need to recollect facts when they can simply Google answers.  What is the value of learning facts when simple facts can be easily retrieved online?  And how this redefine who is a expert on a subject?  Many educators, like myself, opine that the new online world requires new literacies, such as information literacy and media literacy.  What and how do we teach online learners these skills?  As a librarian, I can attest that library instruction has evolved from how to find information (i.e. by looking up a book in the catalog) to how to sift through tons of information that is already freely available.  The latter, not the first, is a more valuable skill in the digital age.  I believe that online education will fundamentally change our teaching priorities.

For years, educators have been able to put off these questions since few institutions had the infrastructure to offer online courses.  The Internet was a novelty, not a necessity, in education.  Now the picture has changed as it is possible to take courses and earn accredited degrees online; every step in the process can be done virtually.  The ongoing recession and de-industrialization of the U.S. and the West has created a market for online degrees.  Workers need specialized training to be gainfully employed and often cannot afford to attend full-time or have time to attend physical classes.  Like spectators of The Net, educators are now faced with a scenario of the-future-is-now.  I can’t speculate what exactly will change, but I strongly feel that online education ‘revolution’ (pardon the hyperbole) will be more than translating what educators have always done in face-to-face environments online.  Instead, I think it will be a fundamental re-imagining of education.

Tie the Worlds Together

Daniel Leiker, MA Student and English Tutor

Daniel Leiker, MA Student and English Tutor

As much as I love online education, I think that my experiences thus far have been hampered by the lack of interaction with classmates. Online course design that does not encourage students to get to know each other is deficient, in my opinion, since we have as much to learn from our classmates as we do our instructors. This is particularly true in graduate school since many of us already have rich life and vocational experiences that give context to our coursework. This is precisely why I chose to interview a classmate, Daniel Leiker, who I barely knew before taking this class. I have taken another class with him and I don’t recall us interacting in the previous class, but I did know that he lived in Germany. I made an overture to Daniel to ‘meet’ online and he obliged my offer. We met this morning, March 10th, and spent 45 minutes or so discussing his work in Germany, the state of educational technology, beer, and career plans.

About Daniel
Daniel is a Greensboro native who moved to Germany in 2011 to pursue a career in teaching English. He lives near the border of France in a town of about 100,000 people. He now tutors adults with English part-time and attends graduate school part time. Daniel enjoys living in Germany, but occasionally longs for American culture. He indicated that Germans are not as friendly or humorous as Americans and lack the creative, entrepreneurial spirit. This is particularly true in German education. He recounted a story of showing high school teachers how to use Prezi two years ago. They were astonished that such technology existed. He does enjoy the ease of travel in Europe, its compact cities, and the number of vacation days he gets. German employers generally give 4 weeks of vacation, plus additional holidays! We discussed our plans with the M.A. program and found that we have common interests in that regard. He and I enjoy using Web 2.0 technologies and moving beyond the novelty of them to the practical application of them in the classroom. We also share our beer preferences for some time – I had to ask about German beer since I associate Germany with beer. Let’s just say that Daniel also has ‘discerning’ tastes in beer!

Reflecting on Virtual Conversations on Skype
I am relatively new to virtual conferencing – I have only used Skype or similar video conferencing software once or twice. I’m still not completely at ease using video conferencing. I think the problem is that I can simultaneously see someone else’s face and my own. This strains interpersonal communication for me as it makes me even more conscious of my facial expressions and demeanor, a sort of looking-glass self on steroids. I’m all the more aware of my impression management techniques when I can see my own face, particularly when interacting with someone in real time who I barely know. I found myself wondering about the ‘rules of engagement’ with online conferencing. For example, I think that I naturally make good eye contact with people in real life while occasionally looking away (continual eye contact is creepy). At times, I found myself staring at my corner of the screen rather than the web cam (perhaps my mind naturally follows the trail of sound which emits from the computer?). Daniel is an engaging conversationalist, but I found myself distracted by the novelty of Skype. It is strange to think that I was communicating with someone thousands of miles away, though I’ve done the same thing using the telephone for many years. I experienced some type of collapse, not a full collapse of context as YouTube vloggers, but something intangible. While Skype provides a platform for real-time, face-to-face communication, I still cannot see the entire individual in their context. It’s not easy in this environment to gauge body language which heavily shapes our face-to-face interactions. How do we, for example, indicate that we’re ready to end a conversation apart from subtle body language cues?
The experience having an in-depth conversation with a classmate was invaluable for me. I think this made this course and the M.A. program more ‘real’ to me; I found that Daniel shared the same perceptions and frustrations with online learning that I did. Hearing his perceptions of this course and this program confirmed some things I thought all along, such as the ‘open-endedness’ of online learning in general and this course and the dynamic nature of educational media as field of study. We both agreed that individuals taking this course or similar ones could tailor their learning experience and that educational media is so new and fluid that it often lacks an established cannon like other disciplines. How could you major in psychology, for example, and not learn about Freud? Neither one of use could point to a single educational media scholar, nor a text discussed in our class that was older than a decade. Daniel and I both agreed that we are entering into a very nascent field of study, a reality that is exciting for us both. Perhaps conversing with a fellow student and having your subjective experiences confirmed is a proof that reality is intersubjective? I don’t know, but I would definitely like to engage with other classmates in online classmates in the future. I think that creating a community is online is difficult and awkward, but it would solve a major deficiency of online learning: avoiding the ‘siloing’ of students and building community in the online classroom.

Gap Analysis

Gap Analysis
Original Objectives Where I Am Now
How to use social media in the classroom beyond the obvious applications I have been exposed to an array of tools, many of which are not in my normal experiences (i.e. Second Life, Wikibooks). I still do not feel that I have learned to do anything other than the obvious with these tools other than edit a Wikipedia page – this would make a good assignment on how information is created, maligned, changed, etc. I do feel more comfortable using the tools after seeing the social media matrix this week – this would make a good diagnostic tool for determine what tools I could use in my portfolio.
How to use social media for assessing learning I have not learned much on how to use social media tools for the purpose of assessing students’ learning. Again, the matrix of social media tools this week was helpful for exploring this topic – Candice Freeman did a good job of outlining tools she used in her classroom. I think that there is a lot to learn – assessment is crucial in this age of teaching and I’d like to get beyond quizzes and tests.
How to communicate my ‘presence’ (as an educator and a human being) in the online environment While this can be hard to quantify/teach, I do believe that this course has given me the opportunity to announce my presence and recognize the presence of others in an online environment.   The Facebook page has been instrumental in sharing our thoughts, anxieties, and miscellanea about our lives. I do feel that I have connected with people, though, I’ve never met them. I now feel free to share jokes and memes with near strangers! I see the presence of others as well and I can gather insights about their offline personality through their comments and questions on the FB page. I have learned to take the first step and be vulnerable in sharing my presence online.   I think this encourages others to share more about themselves. This course has made me think about the ways I could share my presence: a video about myself (very helpful), or using video, audio, and photo sharing sites to share my intellectual property and tidbits about my life. There are endless ways to share one’s presence online – I look forward to exploring more in this class.
How to control my ‘voice’ or the perception I give students in using social media Again, this is hard to teach/quantify. I do believe that this course has given me the experience to portray myself as a friendly, competent individual who is willing to help others (or this is the image I hope to portray). I have already taught online courses and I have garnered a few things about controlling my online ‘voice’. This course has reminded me to 1) not assume others’ knowledge (i.e. you can’t read facial expressions that could cue you to a person’s mental state), 2) use humor judiciously (i.e. dry humor does not translate well to the online environment), 3) be even more affirming and praising than you would in a face-to-face environment.
How to develop a tailored strategy for approaching students’ need in a particular course This is huge gap in my learning.   I would like to explore how to engage students who are anxious in online environments, don’t want to participate in the community of learners, or have an ‘ought of sight, out of mind’ mentality (those students accustomed to passive learning or are not self-directed enough to thrive in online learning environments). Another concern is how to accommodate special needs in the online classroom. How might I ensure the hearing or visually impaired students can take advantage of all learning resources? What about students with social anxieties? Or those along the autism spectrum?
How to apply a social constructivist approach to online learning and teaching The course is clearly taught from a social constructivist perspective as best I understand it. So far, our instructors has not articulated a set of learning objectives for the course. Instead, the learning objectives have been largely selected by the students. The assignments have not been ‘curated’ by the instructor so it has depended on us to make sense of them and think about how we can apply them to teaching and learning. If this course has been intentional in one thing, it has been to create a learning community. Every week, we are expected to give feedback on other students’ assignments.   We often ‘crowdsource’ a big assignment, like creating a matrix of social media tools. I have learned that more collaboration is better to achieve a social constructivist learning perspective. I would still like to learn more about how to create assignments in a given discipline to foster independent inquiry and class collaboration.
How to dismantle myself as the expert and encourage students to become active learners When it comes to topics like Web 2.0, I do not believe that anyone is an expert. The range of tools is too fluid, dynamic to ever truly grasp them.   Studying Web 2.0 and social networking is an inter-disciplinary experience. Even ‘expert’ commentators, like anthropologist Michael Wensch, can provide one facet of understanding while scholars in other disciplines and those of us on the front line of Web 2.0/social networking (i.e. those of us who teach/instruct students online) can bring an entirely different (and yet equally valid) perspective on these tools.

This is not true for other disciplines. I teach sociology and I don’t expect my students to be experts on the field or to think that their anecdotal evidence of how society works can replace an instructor who has read empirical research in sociology. While I’m not an ‘expert’, I do have enough knowledge to guide students to think sociologically. I try to convey that I’m not an expert, but it’s very easy to fall into social scripts of ‘sage on the stage’ teacher and passive student. In this model, I ‘broadcast’ my knowledge, but there’s little dialogue between instructor and student. It’s a script that I’ve learned and students know all too well. I’d like to learn how to balance my insights in my discipline with a desire to see students take ownership over their learning.   I want to validate their observations about society and politely correct misunderstandings they have without making them feel as they have nothing to add to the discourse. Good social constructivist learning environments value the knowledge/experiences of learners and I’d like to make sure I do that when teaching.   Perhaps some later assignments in this course will explicitly or implicitly teach me how to make this possible.

Promo for Web 2.0 Guru

Hello, my name is Seth Allen and I’m a Web 2.0 ‘guru’ who has used social media technologies in several roles in higher education; as a student, a librarian, and an instructor.  I have a B.A. in Spanish and Sociology, an MLIS in Library & Information Studies, and I’m currently pursuing an MA in New Media and Global Education.  I hope to combine episteme and techne in how I use social media in higher education.  I believe that harnessing the power of social media involves technical skill and an understanding of how social media platforms can create collaborative, democratic communities of discourse.  I believe that my experiences and education have equipped me with a unique blend of skills and knowledge to help me implement these tools in educational settings.  I am flexible, pragmatic, and quick to learn new technologies.  I believe that one’s education is never truly complete and I immerse myself in opportunities where I can sharpen my skills and share my knowledge with others.  Please contact me if you are interested in a Web 2.0 candidate with a broad, inter-disciplinary outlook.

Week 7 Reflection: Myth-Busting, Inquiry-Based Learning, and the Social Sciences

I created a practical, how-to video on using inquiry-based learning in the social sciences.  Derek Muller, creator of the video, “Khan Academy and the Effectiveness of Science Videos”, points to the passive transmission of knowledge and the lack of ‘myth-busting’ in science education as reasons that students don’t learn basic facts.  I’m really passionate about inquiry-based learning and I plan to involve more of it in my future teaching.  Hope you find it helpful!