Private Universe Theory and the study of the painfully obvious….

As the private universe theory attests, misconceptions in science and other disciplines are hard to debunk.  It seems that in physics, astronomy, or just about any other field, we oversimplify important facts and our ability to explain the natural or social world is somewhat impaired.  Like many Harvard grads surveyed in A Private Universe, I too thought that the earth’s season were due to the earth’s closeness to the sun as it orbits it.  This is not quite the case, yet this is myth pervasive.  I can’t pinpoint a reason for the prevalence of a myth, but I can attest to its power of myths as I have taught sociology. People have their myths about how the world works, based on their private universe (normally anecdotal evidence) and its nearly impossible to break these myths.  Dr. Muller outline five reasons that teaching facts in science education is difficult.  I took a screenshot of the video at the point in which he shared them:

5 myths

Let me discuss my own dilemma in teaching ‘facts’.  I have taught sociology at several community colleges and for some, its truly mind-boggling.  Sociology has been dubbed the ‘study of the painfully obvious’ for several reasons.  For one, sociologists are notorious for developing sophisticated terms to describe mundane concepts. I think that this gives people the impression that we are attempting to appear clever when we could simply describe social phenomenon in everyday terms.  Another reasons is that in many cases, sociological research backs up what most people intuitively ‘know’ to be true.  The causes however are often not individual ones (i.e. students make their fashion choices with no regards to others).  Time and time again, sociologists point to structural causes of social phenomenon, while most Westerners (and I suspect most humans) see behavior as individual.  The private universe theory manifests itself in sociology education when you present a theory and a student feels that it can’t be true since they can cite anecdotal evidence to the contrary.  For example, I presented Emile Durkheim’s research on suicide in a community college class and one wrote me privately and told me that this could not be true.  Durkheim found that the socially isolated people were more likely to commit suicide.  This student could not believe this since her outgoing father took his own life.  I explained to her that many sociological studies outline the propensity of certain groups to do certain things and that a finding like Durkheim’s does not mean that all socially isolated people will commit suicide (or on the flip side, that people like her father won’t).  Another reason is the epistemological overreach of early sociologists.  Until the 1960’s, sociologists made grand theories to explain universal behavior.  They made culture fit their concepts, rather than viewing culture as it truly exists.  This seems absurd in a post-modern intellectual landscape.  And yet most critics of sociology cite its worst offenders in this regard (ex. Talcott Parsons, Auguste Comte).  Finally, sociologists are typically far left-of-the-center politically and this tendency casts doubts on the validity of their research and conclusions, especially from right-leaning political pundits.  So like Muller and other science educators, I find it difficult to break through the private universe, particularly when students doubt that the scientific method could be applied to the social world!

Multi-Dimensional Media + Inquiry-Based Learning = Knowledgeable Students

I believe that the extensive use of videos and media in the classroom will better assist all types of learners (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners) to grasp concepts.  In my mind, technology is a not a cure for all of education’s woes, but it can certainly address the deficits of traditional education.  As an older millennial, I can see how my educational experience in grade school was limited by technology.  Graphs and images are expensive to publish and sadly, many older textbooks opted out of visual depictions of concepts.  This is less the case, but watching a video about how the earth simultaneously rotates and revolves is far superior to reading it in a textbook or having a teacher with limited illustration skills attempt to sketch it out on a chalkboard.  I wish, for example, that I had the benefit of YouTube in my education to explain seasons, like this simple video does.  Textbooks and lecture-based teaching do not engage visual and kinesthetic learners, so many learners missed out on important concepts.  Students with limited English proficiency or who struggled with reading were further impeded by text-based transmission of knowledge.  Educational videos, if done correctly, could remedy this problems for visual learners.  Simple hand-on activities using Web 2.0 technology (i.e. Padlet, Google Drawings) could benefit kinesthetic learners.

Using media and creating media alone will not solve our educational deficits.  As Muller pointed out in his YouTube video, many students gloss over what they think they already know.  The private universe ‘satisfices‘ our curiosity to understand the world, making it difficult to consume new information.  Presenting students information, particularly in the sciences, is counter-productive since students don’t get to experience the scientific method.  Inquiry-based learning, on the other hands, presents a problem and guides students through the problem-solving process.  Presenting students with conflicting narratives and having them solve a problem using the scientific method (or information literacy skills more broadly).  Making students aware of their gaps in learning is a good way to debunk their misconceptions.  Testing a hypothesis for oneself is far more valuable than having facts imparted to students; they learn to be critical consumers of what are essentially hypotheses and practice good research skills to test them.  This would, of course, cede the passive learning model of education, but that’s a soapbox for another day!


What kind of license would you use?

For this assignment, I had to brush up on my knowledge of Creative Commons licensing.  I found this helpful chart comparing licenses

I hear a lot about it these days and I would encourage profs at my college to pursue it and open access publications.  I don’t like the traditional publication process of scholarly works; it benefits big publishers more than researchers.  Articles are written and then locked away on a publisher’s website.  If the article is not indexed in a database or on Google Scholar, there is a poor chance that it will be accessed at all.  Most articles cost between $30 – $70 to access if you don’t subscribe to a journal!  For this reason, I’m a big advocate of open access journals.  The open access movement is growing and while there are predatory journals that accept gibberish publications (such as “Get Me off Your Fucking Mailing List”). the movement is growing.  I’m hoping to publish more and as a personal rule, I will only publish on open access journals.  There is more visibility and the people who need the info the most (like researchers in developing nations who can’t afford databases that cost $15,000 a year or), can access the information.

What License Would I Choose?

I have published a peer-reviewed article, “Shifting the Instructional Paradigm”, in an open access journal, Tennessee Libraries.  All articles published in this journal are licensed under a CC 3.0 license that allows others to distribute, access, and remix my work with attribution for non-commercial purposes.  This is the logo found at the bottom of every article on Tennessee Libraries:


This strikes a balance between accessibility and respecting the intellectual works of others.  I did not make a profit when I published the article and I wouldn’t want others to do that either.  I thinks its only ethical to cite your sources and I would encourage others to read my work and do further research on the topic.  Therefore, publishing in this journal made sense to me.

A Really Cool Work that is Licensed on a Creative Commons

In the Library with a Lead Pipe is an innovative trade publication for librarians that examines libraries and information issues from the lens of critical theory(ies) (i.e. Marxist, feminist, queer, colonialist, etc.).  The journal is very cutting edge in that authors are writing peer-reviewed work, but including media, like videos and GIFs.  Back in January of 2014, nina de jesus (intentionally not capitalized, like the author bell hooks) published an outline of an article that she would like to write, “Locating the Library Within Institutional Oppression”  She posted her outline and encouraged readers to write the article based on her outline.  Eventually, Joshua Beatty did just this.  nina de jesus later decided to write the article herself.  Here is the article written by nina de jesus and the one written by Joshua Beatty – they are written from the same outline.  Both articles are published under CC License 4.0, which allows for even commercial reproduction.  This license goes a step further than the one I chose since the articles can be re-used for commercial purposes (which is odd for a journal that holds the for-profit information-publishing complex in contempt).

I believe that nina de jesus was attempting to crowdsource a paper by publishing an outline.  I think she realized the value of crowds in articulating ideas and giving examples of these ideas.  The author and the journal have radical assumptions on the value of information (i.e. that it should not be locked up in a for-profit journal, that a good article does not rest on the wit of one single author).  These assumptions are similar to mine, but I would not allow the article to be re-used for lucrative purposes. I’m I’m reading the CC licenses correctly, a non-commercial clause would prevent someone from publishing the article in a book for lucrative gain.  CC 4.0 licenses allow for non-exclusive rights to disseminate an article, as explained in the Submission Guidelines, so that authors can share their works on other avenues.  Some publishers limit authors to only using a particular journal for sharing their work (ie the author could not download the PDF and share it with their colleagues via email).  Given the critical focus of this journal, I’m sure this was the reason for the CC 4.0 license.  I believe the author of the outline and I share similar assumptions about information and this why we chose similar CC licenses.

Wikipedia and related galaxies

I did some research on the vast world of Wikipedia and discovered some projects that I had never heard of.  As a librarian who serves online students at two institutions, I’m always looking for new ways to integrate open access electronic information sources in our library’s portal.  My project with one institution has been to scan sites like Open Library and Project Gutenberg and add records to books freely available on the web (basically anything published before 1923).  So my interest in these two sites is both professional and personal.  Let’s see what I found…..


Wikibooks’ slogan is “Open books for an open world”.  The site boasts have over 2,000 books, mostly of the textbook variety.  I get the sense that this project was intended to replace printed textbooks.  I clicked on the sociology section and began browsing the collection of books.  There were several sections related to sub-fields like Systems Theory, Social Psychology, and Stratification, which read like typical Wikipedia articles.  Then there was a textbook for an introductory sociology course, which was a featured textbook since it was complete.  The language of this textbook reads much like a typical sociology textbook – it has all the familiar sections and covers the same basic topics. I give you an A- thus far, Wikibooks.  I then opened a ‘freshly started book’ and found a book on Sociology of Religion which seems to have been last updated in 2011(?). So far, I’m not to impressed – Wikibooks seems to be like that had ambitious plans but has since imploded.  I have heard about several open access textbooks projects, most of which followed the wave of MOOCS, but Wikibooks is not one of them.  I wondered if Wikibook’s ‘market share’ of creating free textbooks has been edged out by competitors, like OpenStax where the content is free AND vetted by subject matter experts.


I decided to check out another subject hoping for better results.  Since this site was dedicated to creating textbooks, I decided to open a page on Portuguese language, something I’ve always wanted to learn. I was very elated to discover this!  There were two full-length courses in Portuguese, one for Brazilian Portuguese and one for peninsular Portuguese (i.e. what is spoken in Portugal).  The textbooks read much like the Spanish textbooks I read as a undergraduate; they focused on basic greetings, masucline/feminine nouns, and pronunciation.  Though it took some digging, I found an online pronunciation guide for Portuguese words.  I’m beginning to see the potential for an online textbook.  I think its nifty that a Wikibooks textbook can combine text and audio – this is a definite limitation of printed textbooks.

I perused a few categories on the rest of the site and found books that had been started 5 years ago and never finished, like the Constructivist Theories in Education.  Many of these books had inconsistent formatting and the book itself was not very different from the Wikipedia entry.  My overall impression of Wikibooks is that it had a grand vision but has lost steam.  Discovering this site in 2015 is much like rediscovering an abadoned them park or finding your GeoCities page from high school.  As I was perusing the site, I thought of a video on the Onion about an archaeologist’s discovery of Friendster – an early social media site.   Overall, I would give this site a C – it needs serious improvement, but its worth revisiting at some point.


Wikisource is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation that began in 2003 to digitize primary source texts.  All of the texts are classic texts that are licensed under a Creative Commons-Share alike license.  According to their Wikipedia page, Wikisource does not allow books that were digitized in other libraries.  This is odd since most Wikimedia projects want to amass the world’s scholarship even if has been published in other sources.  A Wikisource book contains the original illustrations in the book and the text itself in Wikipedia’s markup language.  Most of the books are well-organized and easy to read.  Take, for example, this children’s book by Ruyard Kipling.  One of the criticisms of Wikisource is that the works are not vetted for accuracy; amateur editor are transcribing entire texts and even translating them without supervision.  As a result, some of the works most notably the English translation of a Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew, has several well-noted errors.  On the other hand, Wikisource could be used to transcribe PDF scans of books into a format that is easily readable by screen readers for the visually impaired.  Older texts with antiquated fonts and brittle, deteriorating pages cannot be easily scanned like newer books.  So I think there is some merit in using Wikisource.  However, Wikisource’s collection of books is miniscule compared to OpenLibrary (1 million books) or Google Books(130 million).  Plus, its easier to scan texts of multiple books using a Google search – I’ve searched for a phrase and Google has picked up the phrase in the books it has already scanned!  The future is now, folks!

My overall impression of Wikisource is similar to Wikibooks, it seems like a project that has lost steam and has been eclipsed by other projects.  I don’t think that I will attempt to created records in my library’s catalog to the either of them – the works are incomplete, potentially inaccurate, and the Wiki formatting deprives the reader of the original character of the book.  Quality PDF scans of books, while not perfect for the aforementioned reasons, give us at least a surrogate experience of the original book: the yellowed pages, the ancient script, and original images.  Having classic books transcribed into Wiki source by novices seems like a recipe for disaster.  I’d trust a PDF scan of a book over a Wikisource book.  My grade for Wikisource: C-.

Its week 5 and I’m still alive….

It’s now week 5 and I and I’m learning more and doing more than I expected I would at the beginning of this course.  The workload has often left me feeling like a hamster on a wheel, but I’ve hopefully kept up with the pace.  My stress level has been moderate, but I can feel myself beginning to panic at moments.  I do feel that the workload is such that is hard to reflect on what I’m doing.  The assignments seem ‘disjointed’ and I’m still struggling to make a connection between them and with the overarching goals.  I believe that the nature of the course has taught me latent skill of learning communally and manifestly, I have come to work what lies next in the evolution of the Web 2.0 (Robert Merton coined the terms latent and manifest functions to describe the ‘hidden rules’ of social institutions like education).

Latent Learning: Learning as a Communal Act

The lack of a social script to handle a course like this has been hard.  There has been little instructions about how to do assignments and for the most part, I have taken cues from classmates’ submissions or used our Facebook page.  The Facebook page in particular is where we share what we think each assignment entails.  In lieu of the structure of most courses, I believe that we have bonded as a class in a way atypical of online classes.  When I say ‘bond’, I don’t mean bonding in a sentimental way.  Instead, I think that we have become interdependent (most of us, anyways) in making the sense of the assignments and the desired learning outcomes.  How, for example, can social bookmarking sites or audio sharing sites be used in the context of education?  I’m amazed at some of the things my peers are already doing with this.

Viewing other students’ blogs and reading the responses on the Facebook page has underscored the intersubjectivity of the learning experience.  My experience with each assignment is validated by reading others’ reactions.  Most of us felt like Delicious and other social bookmarking sites were a waste of time, while most of us were a bit ‘awestruck’ by Wikipedia editing exercises.  There is a sense of camaraderie in this course that is tangible, but hard to put into words. The social script for an online learning community has yet to be written and its absence in most online classes that I’ve taken is sorely noted.  Forming a true community and flexing our collective expertise is a hallmark of social constructivism.  I think this class is helping us to write a social script that we will later seek in other courses and hope to facilitate if we teach online.

Manifest Learning:  Web 1.0, Web 2.0, Web 2.5 (?), and then what??

The Web 2.0 revolution has made its mark.  Given my earlier research on YouTube, I would guess that 2006 was the year that the revolution began.  As mentioned in a previous post, Time Magazine declared it the year of ‘you’ and YouTube was purchased by Google.  Since then, we have developed new outlets for expressing ourselves and we have gotten more sophisticated in our media production skills. Even now, earlier iterations of YouTube and tools like Delicious seem antiquated in comparison with the interactivity and ease of use of newer forms of Web 2.0.  I would call the present state of technology Web 2.5; faster, more advanced, easier to use and yet not all that different from the mid-to-late 2000’s.  While I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t too much weight in any person’s speculations, I must ask myself, “Where do we go from here?”.  What next innovation will bring a paradigmatic shift in web technology?  And will the next revolution be one of increasing sophistication (moving ‘up’) or will it be one of diffusing innovation (moving ‘out’)?  My guess is Web 3.0 will be a bit of both.  Increasingly, there are completely online churches, schools, and book clubs (i.e. innovation was diffused) and cheap cloud storage and the open source movement brought content creation to amateurs (i.e. we moved up).  In reality, we have, the technology has not fully diffused throughout society.  I can’t imagine what the future of technology holds for us.  Holograms? Teleporting?  Breaking the time/space continuum? I can, however, envision how diffused innovation of current technologies could overhaul social institutions, particularly in education.  We have the tools at our disposal to make education more exploratory, individualized, hands-on, etc. but we haven’t realized the potential yet.  Watching Wensch’s video on YouTube reminded that major technological shifts produce equally monumental societal shifts, many of which are felt years later.  YouTube spawned amateur celebrities who shared their lives and did silly things in front of the camera.   10 years into this YouTube revolution, people now to depend on it to learn new things, get entertained, or have a soapbox to stand on. Yet we still sectors untouched by the revolution.  There are, for example, still brick and mortar schools, textbooks, and lectures in classrooms.  While I’m not in favor of innovation for innovation’s sake, I do think a Web 3.0 revolution would be one where we actually use the tools at our disposal to transform outdated societal practices.  I’m optimistic that there is a better way to do nearly everything and that most of the time, the innovation is right under my nose.  Sometimes I get a ‘spark’ from other creative people and sometimes I have ‘epiphanies’.  Its possible to take commonly used technology tool and uses it to achieve a purpose (ex. using Twitter to get students to tweet about what their didn’t understand from their lesson – a very easy form of assessment).  Perhaps a real Web 3.0 revolution will be one where potential meets praxis.


Oh, Photobucket!  This site has come a long way since 2006 when I first used the site.  In those days, MySpace did not host images on its server, so Myspace users had to upload images to 3rd party sites and then get the embed code to display them on their profiles.  I vaguely recalled those days – it was my first time using HTML code.  I went back and dusted off my Photobucket account.  I experienced a sweet nostalgia because I saw photos that I had uploaded in the late 2000’s, mostly from my concert-going days.

I had an album called The Stellas- it was one of my favorite local bands in Charlotte’s local music scene and this album was of pictures I took at their concert.  I looked through the photos and I’m attaching one of my favorite pictures from one of those late night, sweaty venues.  This is the opening band, whose name I have forgotten.  It’s still a great pic.  I’m guessing this picture was taken in 2008 and if I could guess the venue, I would say Tremont Music Hall.

 photo HPIM0206.jpg

Photobucket has improved a lot since the last time I used it.  For one, they have options to create photo albums, coffee mugs, and even shower curtains (lol) using images uploading to their site.  Like YouTube, they have become quite commercial.  I would not have recognized their interface from the last time I used it – it now syncs with Facebook and Twitter using API.  I did some research on the Wayback Machine to see what the site looked like in 2006.  Take a look at the site today as compared with 2006, what a difference!

Photobucket in 2012

Photobucket in 2012

Photobucket, circa 2006

Photobucket, circa 2006

I noticed that the upload process is way smoother.  You can upload images manually and upload from an URL or Facebook page.  This is a definite improvement!  The options to share include a link to a page within Photobucket, HTML code, HTML5 code, and a direct link to the image for external hosting.  While I think the changes were appropriate and its far more interactive than 8 years ago, I don’t see myself using Photobucket again.  All of the social media sites I now use (I ditched Myspace in 2009) allow for photo uploads on their server.  Plus, I use Google Drive and sometimes Dropbox to keep images online.  I would still recommend this site to colleagues who need an image hosting place – there are times when image hosting is still needed.  I recently styled a chatbox widget for my library. This chatbox is placed on our website and in Blackboard so that we assist students with research through chat.  I had to host the library’s logo on a third party site (though I had long forgot about Photobucket).  Still, two thumps up for Photobucket!

I’m attaching an image I recently created for a library event.  I used the old-fashioned HTML to embed the picture on my blog:

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Audio Uploading with audioBoom

audioBoom is one of many audio sharing sites on the web.  I’ve only used SoundCloud to upload audio files, though I’m certain that I might have used another app in college (does anyone remember Winamp??).  Comparing these sites is hard, because they have different features.  There are many audio sharing sites that have a free version that allow for an hour of free content with shareable links.  audioBoom connects to Facebook and Twitter and provides an embeddedable widget to share a podcast or similar audio content on websites and blogs.  The free account allow for unlimited uploads of up to 10 minutes.  In fact, audioboom has an educators’ account so that students and teachers can create and share their own audio content.  When digging around the Educator’s page on audioBoom’s site, I found that they have hours of recorded content for teachers, lesson plans, and content to support flipped learning and Common Core learning objectives.  If I were a K-12 teacher, I would definitely use this site and share it with my fellow educators.

The upload process was quite painless.  I used my Twitter account to log in, upload the audio, and add a thumbnail picture to my creation.  The site is super-intuitive and I noticed that I could share my ‘profile’ page and RSS feed for my content.  The upload process took about 5 minutes!  One thing I noticed was the content aggregation – there were news broadcasts from BBC and CNN.  The site is a bit more than just an audio uploading site; one can add a profile pic, write a personal description, and follow other podcasters/content creators.  While I’m not overly impressed with the site (the graphics and organization are rather generic), I would recommend this to educators and peers if they’re looking to upload audio content.

I’m attaching a reading of “Versos Sencillos” (Simple Verses), a book poetry by Cuba’s poet laureate Jose Marti.  Marti wrote beautiful poems in stanza form about his homeland and his desire for national freedom.  Marti is identified with the revolution  that overthrew Spanish rule in 1896.  He is an icon for Cubans, much like Mark Twain is an iconic American writer.  The music in the background is an acoustic version of ‘Guantanamera’, a song whose lyrics are taken from this poem.  I am narrating it and thus, the Spanish is not quite native.

Video Sharing with Youtube

YouTube has come a long ways in recent years.  From watching the Wensch video in 2008, I have seen the evolution of YouTube from a grassroots site to a slick commercial search engine of videos.  YouTube had very recently been purchased by Google and the exploded around 2007.  Now, YouTube has paid ads and links to other video sharing sites, notably VEVO.  The current Youtube is international, ‘glocalized’ (i.e. they have national versions of YouTube for about 40 countries), and even more massive than in 2008. According to their own stats, YouTube now has 1 billion users who upload 300 hours of content every minute!  This is mind-boggling to me!  YouTube is paradoxical – its has been more democratic in its ease of use and editing functions and yet more ‘capitalistic’ in its ever-pervasive ads.  There are ads at the beginning of the videos, ads on left hand panel, and ads on the top.  The suggested videos on the right become downright uncanny in their ability to discern your tastes in videos; YouTube has become a modern panopticon.

The uploading of videos has gotten far easier due to technology and Internet speeds.  I can upload a 6 minute video from college’s Internet connection in about 5 minutes.  This would have taken at least 20 minutes in the early days of YouTube with my sub-par DLS connection at home.  The editing options have become quite sophisticated in recent years – users can now add annotations, captions, background music, transitions, and change the video’s appearance (ie. color saturation, fill light, etc).  The ease of uploading and the fact the we all now carry on us a video-making devices (ex. tablets, smartphones) are the democratizing elements of YouTube.  Now even amateurs can created videos with the polish of editing.  I use YouTube daily and I can’t imagine my use of YouTube slowing down.

I’m embedding a video I created for my blog. Librarian Hacks, about free tools for librarians. I don’t use editing tools a lot (not a fan, really).  I created this video using my pro version of Screen Cast-o-Matic and a U37 USB microphone – a moderately price microphone that sits on my work desk.  Enjoy!

Youtube through an anthropological lens…..

Michael Wesch delivers yet another insightful analysis of the emerging media landscape through analyzing YouTube.  This video is now seven years old and as such, YouTube has changed somewhat.  Youtube content creators have gotten more ‘creative’, technology has improved so that even amateurs can produce higher quality videos, Youtube is much more commercialized and not as ‘grassroots’ as in 2008, and the novelty of video blogs has waned (or so I think).  Even so, Wesch underscores a number of ways Youtube has and is transforming human connections.  He raises some ideas that I’d like to explore in-depth in this course.

Media Mediates Human Relationships

Wesch claims that media has a mediating function around the 12:10 mark of the video.  I have never personally connected ‘media’ with ‘mediate’.  If anything, I’ve heard shrill warnings about how Youtube, social media, and the smartphone revolution has caused us to be more isolated, rather than connected.


If anything, technology makes it possible for us to deny the presence of the people in close proximity to us.  I have been in a coffee shop working on my homework and looked up to discover several individuals in their own ‘pods’; staring at computer screens, talking on a phone, listening to music with ear buds, reading a book.  We might be a few feet away from another customer, but we might as well be millions of miles part from them.  At best, we might take part in what sociologist Erving Goffman called civil inattention.  For example, we move our table slightly in a crowded coffee shop to accommodate someone who has just entered and has nowhere else to sit.  I realize that this a glass-half-empty view of new technology, but I’d like to know more about how social media and personal devices are affecting our interpersonal communication.  Will we have the capacity to speak to strangers in public or will we ‘act out’ online and ignore those close to us?  I’d like to learn more in this course about the affect of technology on face-to-face human interaction.

Connection Without Constraint

Wensch makes a powerful observation around the 30:49 mark about how Youtube satisfies the very human need for connection without the fear of judgement.  We can sense an ‘aesthetic arrest’, a sense of profound connection with another human, by watching the uploads to Youtube.  People share their darkest secrets, lip-sing to their favorite songs, and share vignettes of their lives with others.  Wensch posits that YouTube is a microcosm of our culture in that we can see manifested our cultural tensions.  He shows a list of these tensions, which I took a screenshot of, below:


These tensions really resonated with me.  I think that YouTube illustrates a point made by Robert Bellah in his book, Habits of the Heart, which was published nearly 30 years ago.  Americans (and now the whole world) lives in tension between individualism and a desire for community.  YouTube provides a niche community where people who are molded by their perceptions of themselves and the perceptions of others (i.e. looking glass self).  They can meet like-minded people in a non-threatening environment.  While this can be an opportunity to publicly perform acts of hatred (like trolling comments and insulting other users), there is a lot of potential for YouTube and other social media platforms to foster authentic(?) relationships between people.

For the purpose of this class, I’d like to know some strategies for creating online community.  I think that with other class’s Facebook page, we have begun to do just that. But what about online teaching scenarios with students who are skeptical or less than excited about being part of a community?  From my online teaching experience, I find that many students would just as soon take classes online as they see my class (intro. to sociology) as a means to an end – a needed elective for their degree.  They do the minimal amount of work necessary and don’t see themselves as members of a learning community.  Others would like to take classes face-to-face, but cannot due to disability. lack of transportation, or long work hours.  How can we bring all learners in online settings to a place where they feel comfortable expressing themselves?  How do we articulate the ‘rules of engagement’ for online learning and online discourse?  How can make learners aware of their learning community, of which they are ideally interdependent with other learners, in the absence of a physical classroom?  I’d love to learn more about this!

Reflection on this course thus far….

I’ve completed half of Master’s program, a graduate certificate, and now I’m pursuing the MA in New Media online.  I’ve experienced a number of different professors with different personalities, expectations, and teaching styles.  With one or two exceptions, I can say that my online education experience has been largely formulaic.  The professor assigns readings, hosts a discussion forum for ‘critical reflection’ (whatever that means), I write a paper or two, and this course ends with little fanfare. It is a little like that scene in Office Space, where Bill Lumburg asked Peter to not forget the TPS report.  Many of the online courses I have taken have their own version of TPS reports, tedious busywork that a professor insists must be turned in a certain way.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike online education.  I’m largely a self-starter and if I like the topic of the course, I will learn about the course material on my own.  This course, on the other hand, has none of the familiar TPS reports.

Like I mentioned on the first week, I was bewildered by the lack of a ‘social script’ to handle this course.  Three weeks into this course I still find myself confused.  I have not seen a course syllabus or rubrics for my assignments and I’m somewhat anxious to know how I’m doing in the course.  I do like some flexibility in a course, but I also like having a mission and clear goals to work torwards.  This encourages me to work hard.  So far, I haven’t seen a clear direction for this course.  In the absence of clear instructions, I have found that the students in this class have been most gracious in bonding to form a real learning community.  The Facebook page now has 15 members.  In fact, I believe that all of the active students in this course have joined the page.  We ask questions, we share answers, we crowdsource ideas, and we inspire on another on that page.  My online learning experiences in the past have been largely anonymous (to my chagrin), but no so for this class!  I already feel a connection with my classmates.  I believe that having everyone videotape themselves at the beginning broke the down wall of anonymity and set us up for creating an authentic learning community.

Sadly, most of us do not have a social script for communal learning.  Our educational experiences, particularly in the online environment, treat students like individuals silo who receive information.  Discussion boards, however helpful they might be, feature superficial interactions among classmates.  The Facebook page has been a successful experiment in that participants have shared their feelings with near-complete strangers.  Being known in a community is risky as it exposes one’s flaws. By bringing our weaknesses before a group of gracious peers, I believe that we have learned from one another.  I do hope more of the group members will take the risk and expose their questions/anxieties/curiosities, but again, being vulnerable in a learning environment is novel concept for most of us!

The workload in this class has been substantial.  I don’t recall a course where I have had to do as many weekly assignments as this class.  The assignments have been enlightening, however.  For one, I have dusted off some Web 2.0 tools that I have left on the shelf for a few years, such as Delicious (which has gotten really awesome), WordPress, my YouTube Channel, and my Wikipedia editor account.  I learn technology by tinkering with it and I do believe this course has encouraged me to ‘tinker’.  Until the course assignments compelled me to learn new skills, I didn’t know that YouTube has an advanced editing screen where you can merge videos (which I had to use for the 1st video).  I can even add subtitles, background music, and captions!  Who knew??  By tinkering with Wikipedia, I finally discovered how to fully edit a page using Wikipedia’s markup language.  I used these skills to format my resume with links to schools I’ve attend and places I lived in my Wikipedia editor profile.  Knowing how to edit the world’s largest (and most trusted, no joke) encyclopedia empowers me to create not only content, but to spread knowledge.  As a librarian who lectures about the importance of good information, I can now teach students how to make the world a more informed place by showing them how to edit Wikipedia.  I’m keeping a list of the Web 2.0 tools this class created for future tinkering.  By having as many tools in my arsenal, I hope to have a tool for nearly every situation.  Given the broad experiences of the students in this class, I’m looking forward to testing them out and sharing new insights with classmates and colleagues.

Overall, I’d say this class has been an interesting experiment in learning in the absence of structure.  I’m still waiting for the ‘a-ha’ moment when I figure out why the course has lacked structure, the purpose/learning objectives or how the assignments connect with these objectives.  I guess I’ll wait and see.

Me…wading through the unknown territory.