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Guy on the internet doing internet things. I write at blog.trentgill.ca.

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Trent Gill

Indie Microblogging: owning your short-form writing | Kickstarter

Posting this to my Known website is interesting, given that this new Kickstarter project called micro.blog replicates what Known does. 

It's a compelling project, and I could definitely see a use for it with a native iPhone app. Known doesn't have an iOS app, so my own site has suffered from the usual neglect that comes with my personal webspaces. I tried to setup a workflow that allows me to publish content easily from an app to Known, but I never quite figured it out. 

I've also been on mastodon.social a bit, an open-source Twitter clone. It has a bit of momentum among tech-savvy educators whose work I follow, but the critical mass in my own network just isn't there for me to migrate over from Twitter. 

Trent Gill

Susan Sontag on the Writer's Task

From Brain Pickings:

A writer ought not to be an opinion-machine… The writer’s first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth … and refuse to be an accomplice of lies and misinformation. Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental despoilers. The job of the writer is to make us see the world as it is, full of many different claims and parts and experiences.

It is the job of the writer to depict the realities: the foul realities, the realities of rapture. It is the essence of the wisdom furnished by literature (the plurality of literary achievement) to help us to understand that, whatever is happening, something else is always going on.

Trent Gill

Trent Gill

(Shared by Gerry Caravan)

Trent Gill

Jesse Stommel on making education a public good

If education is to be a public good, then we need to take pedagogical training seriously:

If we are to make higher education a public good, and I think we should. If we are to open education to those for whom it might not otherwise be available, and I think we should. If we are to make college free, we must also offer free training for college teachers — as part of and also beyond graduate degree programs.

Adjunct teachers must no longer be required to attend unpaid required job training, as they are by many institutions. Any required training should be subsidized. Kathi Inman Berens takes this one step further to say, “Don’t just make tools freely available. Pay adjuncts and other teaching-only faculty for their *time* to learn them.”

And if graduate programs and employers of faculty are currently unable to offer free pedagogical training (or to pay adjuncts for participating in this training), how about offering any pedagogical training at all?

Trent Gill

"The Forrest Gump of the Internet" | The Atlantic

As I learn more and more about the slow death of the open web, I've noticed a bit of a distrust of Medium, the emergent social blogging platform being embraced by thousands of online writers. This profile of Ev Williams, its founder, portrays Medium in a different light, and implies that Williams is a proponent of the open web. 

There are so many dynamics and complexities to this debate. I wish it could be simpler:

Williams and his team at Medium say they are working to resist this consolidation, though they are not doing quite what anyone else would recognize as resistance. The truth is that they themselves want to consolidate some of the web, too; and then—with that task done—govern as just, beloved, and benevolent despots. Josh Benton, a media critic at Harvard, once described Medium as “YouTube for prose,” and that’s an apt summary of what it feels like to use. But as I spend more time with Ev, I catch him thinking of Medium as a project philosophically akin to the “Foundation” novels by Isaac Asimov. The heroes of those books sought to centralize all the learning across the galaxy before a dark age set in, knowing that though they cannot stop the shadowed era, they may be able to preserve scholarship and therefore shorten it. Ev’s ambitions, though not as grandiose, follow similar lines. Medium seeks to replicate the web’s old, chaotic hubbub on a single, ordered site—because, ultimately, Ev values the chaos.

Trent Gill

Thinking About Writing and Code in Education

3 min read

Lately, I've been investigating a few different solutions for public-facing course websites. Why does it interest me so much? I spent several years in the classroom as a student, and a few more as an instructor. My growing interest in basic web "hacking" and "development" (I put those in quotes because I'm ignorant of both) has led me to imagine what a course "optimized for the web" might look like. This is an entire field of study, of course, and I'm fairly new to it. Most of my contributions include shallow assessments and blanket statements like "This is cool" and "All courses should be like this!," but curiousity is how I learn, so I'll continue fumbling blindly through the darkness until someone tells me not to. 

If anyone is interested, here are some impressive educational projects that show what's possible:

These spaces would be immensely helpful if I wanted to commit the time to learn their subjects, or if I needed to brush up on previously-acquired knowledge. 

I'd love to know what else is out there. I'm especially interested in humanities and literature courses shared in this way. 

This investigation has been enlightening to say the least, and there's a ton to learn when it comes to sharing educational content on the open web and moving beyond the LMS as a one-size-fits-all solution for education. I'll be using this space to collect notes and links for a longer piece about why this transition is important, but for now I'll say that I'm inspired by educators who go above and beyond to share their content in this way.

I also wanted to share a brief excerpt from one of the above links, the Advanced JavaScript syllabus, that speaks to the complexities of plagiarism and learning to code. My primary teaching experience is with first-year writing, and plagiarized writing offers a problematic scenario for "reuse," one of the 5 R's of open content. It's possible for writing instructors to advocate for openness and reuse while also being firm about plagiarism as a serious infringement, of course, but I think we need to be honest and forthright about the complexities. I like how the Statement of Plagiarism on this syllabus handles this problem:

Reuse and building upon ideas or code are major parts of modern software development. As a professional programmer you will never write anything from scratch. This class is structured such that all solutions are public. You are encouraged to learn from the work of your peers. I won’t hunt down people who are simply copying-and-pasting solutions, because without challenging themselves, they are simply wasting their time and money taking this class.

Please respect the terms of use and/or license of any code you find, and if you reimplement or duplicate an algorithm or code from elsewhere, credit the original source with an inline comment.

The principles remain the same in different contexts: if you reuse (for writing, that's paraphrazing, quoting, and summarizing) you must attribute. But ultimately it's a question of each student's own learning. In software development and writing, the outcomes are different, but the process remains the same.

Trent Gill

Interesting: "In The Year 2114" | The Rumpus

Some literary news from The Rumpus and others. Authors are using their creative work in new ways:

David Mitchell’s latest work will not be read for another one hundred years. He recently handed over the manuscript, called From Me Flows What You Call Time, to the Future Library in Oslo, Norway. He is the second author to contribute the project, the first being Margaret Atwood. Each year from now until 2114, one author will be asked to hand in a manuscript that they have shown to no one; eventually the one hundred manuscripts will be printed on paper made from 1,000 trees planted in 2014

This seems unfair to those of us who'd like to read their work now, but I guess the deeper significance is existential. 

Trent Gill

Learning: "Un-Fathom-able: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech" | Hack Education

In trying to learn about educational technology (including its forgotten history), I stumbled upon this talk by Audrey Watters in 2014 in which she talks about the LMS and MOOCs. Not much has changed:

The learning management system is a silo, a technological silo, by design. This isn’t because the technology isn’t available to do otherwise. Rather, it’s a reflection of the institution of education. The LMS silo works because we tend to view each classroom as a closed entity, because we view each subject or discipline as atomistic and distinct. Closed. Centralized. Control in the hands of administrators, teachers, and IT but rarely in the hands of learners.

If you look at the much-hyped online courses of today — those offered on the Coursera or the edX platforms, for example — you can see the influence of the LMS. Each course you enroll in is separate, siloed. At the end of the term, your access to your course disappears. There’s a tab on the LMS so you can navigate to the syllabus and a tab for assignments and one for assessments, and there is, of course — thanks early Internet technology! — a discussion forum. A message board. It isn’t an accident — and it certainly isn’t an innovation — that our online classes look this way.

Trent Gill

Recommended Reading: "I Stand With Gawker" - The New York Times

The story about libertarian tech billionaire Peter Thiel funding Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker has been interesting to follow. I find myself more indecisive than expected because I have little respect for the snarky, cynical, "gotcha!" style of journalism fostered by Gawker's notorious blogs. Their process also seems to represent a race to the bottom for the business of online content. Nonetheless, here's Stephen Marche of the New York Times in defense of Gawker and its brand of celebrity gossip:

Whether Gawker should have posted the Hulk Hogan sex tape I will leave to the care of finer souls than mine. I will say this: No one could possibly object if that were the tape of a congressman. But even a pathetic D-lister like Hulk Hogan has more power to shape the world today than most congressmen. The world we live in has made a presidential nominee out of a reality television star. This is the world that Gawker predicted and took up arms against.

By contrast, here's Ryan Holiday, a well-established critic of Gawker who frequently exposes the less-noble side of online publishing, talking about the the case:

In the real world, every decision one makes has consequences. This is true for businesses and for people. Just because someone pursues journalism as a profession or works behind a computer screen does not suddenly exempt them from the unalterable fact of life that every action has an equal reaction.

It has become common for writers of the Gawker generation to pretend that something said over the internet is somehow different from something said to someone’s face. That your snarky expose or needlessly vicious takedown or gleeful reveal of private secrets is a fun game. As I’ve detailed before, a client of mine once challenged former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio on a ridiculously inaccurate and unfair post he’d written. Mr. Daulerio’s response, “It’s all professional wrestling.”

Except it’s not. Justine Sacco lost her job because of Sam Biddle’s article. A potential rape victim and her family must have felt incredible pain as they pleaded against the posting of a video of her alleged attack on the site. People have contemplated suicide over Gawker articles. I know—I’ve met them.

The story reveals a lot of underlying conflicts and struggles that come with changes in culture. It deals with privacy, power, wealth, and fame. Before you express an opinion, though, it's important to know both sides of the story, and to accept that maybe it shouldn't be public opinion that resolves these kind of disputes.