Mixing Analog and Digital

I was on campus last week for a campus technology committee meeting, and I ran into one of the faculty I used to perform instructional technology support for. We started talking about the class I’m teaching next quarter, an introduction to literature and textual analyis, and she wanted to know about the technology I was using. She was enthused and interested in my description of using a blog, and requiring students to make posts, and in my plan to use my iBook’s DVD player and my iPod, connecting them with Apple’s nifty AV Cable to the room’s video monitor, controlled via BlueTooth, my Sony-Ericson T68i cell phone, and Salling Software’s Clicker, but astonished when I mentioned overheads.

Yes, that’s right, traditional overhead projector transparencies, not PowerPoint, or even Keynote. She seemed to feel it was “wrong” to use “old fashioned” technology. I had to explain why I wanted to use overheads instead of a software-based slide show.

I’m using overheads because I want to be able to interact with my students, rather than with the technology. I’ll be creating large-type overheads of poems so we can mark them up together, analyze them, annotate them, and notice the metrical and rhetorical features. I want to model the kind of close reading and analysis I expect them to engage in as they read and annotate their copies of texts and write their papers. It’s much easier to do that with transparencies than it would be in a presentation program like PowerPoint or Keynote.

News Aggregators, Teaching and Scholarship

There are a number of useful ways to incorporate news aggregators into teaching. There are lots of classes in English, Social Science, Communication Studies and Journalism departments that ask students to read newspapers and journals on and off the web and then write about both the content and the larger issues. News aggregators are a valuable research tool, and should be included in any discussion about how to use other online research tools like search engines and databases.

In the case of NewsIsFree in particular, news aggregators are especially good at providing fresh interesting, and timely content, in languages other than English. Students (or teachers) can use an aggregator to automatically fetch and display content that interests students, content that is current in the language they are studying. There are hundreds of sources in almost any language, ranging from periodicals to web blogs, that offer students an opportunity to read content written in a variety of styles. It’s a great way to get students to read in a language that they are struggling with, and to expose them to the language as it’s used by real people. Tie news reading/blog reading to blogging (using any number of blog tools) about what they’ve read, using the language they are studying, and you’ve got a fabulous combination, particularly since there’s a very good chance that students will read each other»s blogs, and comment on them.

I wish that academic scholarly journals used the web and RSS for publication so that scholars could subscribe to a feed containing the non-article material, the necrologie, table of contents, lists of forthcoming books, conference calendars, the things that have a “timeliness” value. It’s a much better way of keeping up to date than waiting for your university library to receive an expensive bound journal, catalog it, and then make it available for circulation. So far I’ve not found any humanities journals that have a “news” page with a subscribable feed.

Blackboard coaxing WebCT users to Defect

In this press release BlackBoard urges WebCT users to come to the mother ship with promises of “conversion kits.”

You know they aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, which makes me wonder just what kind of “conversion” and support they are offering. I’m not going to speculate about why and what a user would be converting. After all, both companies purport to use open standards right down to their meta data. It’s also likely that that the sites to be converted are would need to be fairly vanilla, that is, template driven, “course module” using sites, rather than anything more instructonally appropriate or useful.

The release is an interesting example of marketing drivel. The name of the “web based” conversion kit is “EasySwitch.” The release alludes forebodingly to WebCT’s announcement of ceasing support for the “standard edition” in favor of the more kitchen-sink “Campus Edition,” which costs more, as the release implies, and then, near the very bottom, refers to BlackBoard as “a single reliable learning solution with long term viability.” Implying, of course, that WebCt is neither reliable nor viable—and it may well be neither, but I’m not sure BlackBoard is any better.

Were it me, I’d spend the money on smart people, including using trained graduate students as support staff and HTML folk, working with trained undergraduate HTML folk, and look at things like NNTP for discussion boards, Radio, Manilla, Perl, Apache, and MovableType–which looks like a super application for web-writing. It’s got me thinking about finding a web host that will let me use Perl.


According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “More and more institutions are encouraging—or even requiring—students to create “electronic portfolios” that highlight their academic work and help them reflect on their campus experiences.” The article goes on to say “This month, Indiana University – Perdue University at Indianapolis and the University of California at Los Angeles formed a consortium to develop e-portfolio software”—at 10,000.00 an institution.

As much as I’ve encouraged, even evangelized, the creation of digital portfolios for graduate students, I think the consortium idea, and the price, is a bit daft. Frankly, I’d use some of the excellent blog tools that are already out there. Although BloggerPro doesn’t seem to have a license option, either Manilla or Moveable Type look possible to me as portfolio creation,management and hosting solutions. A school would create a couple of portfolio templates, make them available, add some custom locally written documentation and tutorials, encourage the interested students and faculty to learn the ten basic tags of HTML, and there you are!