Monday, January 17, 2005

EVONLINE 2005: Initial Post

My first post for the course

[disclaimer]
My Role is Curmudgeon. I do not intend to find fault, pick nits, or otherwise be critical for the sake of being a PITA. But. I also have some pretty well defined biases about the use of web and internet resources for educational purposes, the role of the classroom in the delivery of education (and at the expense of learning), and how those two issues relate to the notions of distance education (a redundant phrase) and distance learning (an oxymoron).
[/disclaimer]


The assignment is to do one or more of the following tasks in this post:

a) Comment on the picture and the quotation (found on this week's task page) in the light of what you have read and done this week

Well, given that this post is supposed to be one of the first things we do this week, this seems like it must be intended to be a way to establish existing levels of knowledge rather than any kind of assessment of the week's activity.

A cartoon of a juggling elephant with the caption I blog therefore I am

What does this picture mean to me?

On the one hand, the paraphrase of St Augustine's, "ego cogito, ergo sum," indicates that blogging, somehow, represents a validation of the individual in the world -- that is, a person cannot exist unless represented in the blogosphere. In a literal sense, one does not exist in the community of bloggers unless one writes a blog, but in another sense, there are many other spheres in which an individual exists including other forms of community, other forms of publication, other forms of validation that do not include blogging. This carries back to the notion of "virtual communities."

A "virtual community" is called virtual only from the perspective that the qualifier "virtual" means created using a computer. It does not mean "virtual" in the sense of "existing in essence but not in actual fact." Online communities are real communities made up of real people who are represented by abstractions in cyberspace but are no less real than the abstractions that represent them in meatspace.

I think I'd prefer the caption to read "I think, therefore I blog." It would seem less trivial, less marginalizing.

As for the Doctorow paraphase of "Writing is an exploration..." I find that much more acceptable. Blogging IS writing. But I think that we miss an important aspect of blogging if we focus ONLY on the writing. My perception of blogging is that it is a communications channel - not a broadcast channel. A large portion of the blogosphere is reading and reflection on what others in the blogosphere are saying. If all we do is write, we fail to participate in the social construction that represents the blogosphere at large.

Many people read blogs. They are the ghosts in the shell. Their shades drift from notion to notion, taking what meaning they can back into other planes of existance -- or not -- based on their own participation in THOSE planes. It is the writing of a blog, however, that instantiates an individual in the blogosphere. A critical characteristic of that instantiation involves whether or not the individual actually participates in the blogosphere through reflection, or merely pontificates IN the blogosphere without participation.

A "real blogger" participates in the conversation otherwise the "blog" is nothing more than a web page.

b) Write about the most important thing you've learned so far this week

Let's see. It's the first day of the week. THE most important thing?

I don't like this set up.

On the plus side, it's using mostly free, readily available resources. The Yahoo Groups provides for a replicable environment with a minimum of technical expertise, as does the group blog on blogger.com. I can't tell about the MediaWiki on opensource.idv.tw - I haven't looked at it enough to see what it really is.

On the downside, I'm required to create (or re-purpose) specialized blog space for my personal blog in order to be able to participate in the group blog. Blogger.com isn't a BAD space, but I much prefer the trackback and "read more" capabilities of WordPress over blogger. Using the Blogger as a group blog, means I MUST have a blogger space in order to participate. That limits my ability to use my own knowledge and resources in my participation in the course. I may find this to be less of a concern as the course goes along than it feels like right now.

The other part that I don't like is the use of synchronous audio. The "bandwidth" limits on spoken language -- particularly in an environment of EFL/ESL -- is so drastically limiting. I need a pretty good pipe just to participate technically, but then the channel can only accommodate 150-200 wpm. Add to that the requirement that -- at least for ONE of the platforms -- I cannot participate in my prefered Linux/Firefox mode ... my feeling right now is "bleh."



c) Write about what you still find confusing

- I'm confused as to why the organizers would choose media that exclude non-sighted, non-hearing, non-Windows people. (I am HOPING that my participation here will help raise the awareness of the organizers as well as the participants.)

- I'm confused as to why synchronous modes of communication would be considered given the global span of the community. Perhaps there will be multiple, parallel opportunities for participation allowing for sub-sets of the group to communicate with each other.


7 comments:

aaron said...

a. I find resonance with your comments on the sentence in the picture. Why would the act of blogging, or any other act for that matter, serve to validate the existence of the individual? One can certainly BE without blogging, and even BE without being! And no doubt blogging is about conversation, not pontification. We must think to blog, and project our thoughts through writing to communicate. When done well, blogging is an act of listening, giving, and sharing.

b. I don't like the fact that you need a Blogger account to participate in the collective blog either. But one of the main reasons we've chosen to use Blogger, though, is that it is easy, free, and internet based; it's as simple getting started as signing up for an email account with Yahoo! As most teachers have little technical knowhow - myself included - this is an important point, one that takes precedence over the cons. If you have any better suggestions than the use of Blogger for our purposes here in this course, please share them. We'd love to learn more about what's out there!

c. You've certainly raised my awareness of this - thank you for that. I am a little confused, though, about media that excludes non-sighted, non-hearing people. What possible media could we have chosen that includes people with such handicaps? Don't most non-sighted, non-hearing people already have special software applications to aid them in reading and listening? What should we have done differently in terms of selecting appropriate applications for this course? You've made me acutely aware of my ignorance in this area.

As a Mac user (lover) myself, I am not aware that we have chosen any media that excludes non-Windows people. The only possible area of difficulty I can see might be with Alado. The folks over there have said they'd have a beta ready for Mac users by chat time. Could be unstable though. What other media have we chosen to use that excludes Mac users?

As for synchronous modes of communication, I think they complement the asynchronous modes nicely. I am personally somewhat averse to synchronous text communication myself, but I know that some people really enjoy it. It definitely adds to the richness of the learning exerience. All of the relevant content will be both blogged and summarized on the wiki, so I don't think participants will miss any content by not being able to attend the chats. The transcripts will also be made available, as will recordings of the audio conferences. We've also planned collaborative tasks each week, so I think everyone will have ample opportunity to discuss and share asynchronously on blogs, wikis, and the discussion list - should be rich with ideas.

Looking forward to more of your comments and observations!

Nathan Lowell said...

Aaron said

"c. You've certainly raised my awareness of this - thank you for that. I am a little confused, though, about media that excludes non-sighted, non-hearing people. What possible media could we have chosen that includes people with such handicaps? Don't most non-sighted, non-hearing people already have special software applications to aid them in reading and listening? What should we have done differently in terms of selecting appropriate applications for this course? You've made me acutely aware of my ignorance in this area."

Assistive devices ARE generally in use and available for people who have difficulty seeing and hearing. But the devices only work on pages that are constructed in such a way that the assistive devices can make sense of the information on the page.

And I was actually talking about two different sets of people, altho I AM aware of internet users who are deaf/blind. They use refreshable braille displays to display the text and read it by braille. But again, if the pages are built without any consideration for accessibility, then what the display tells the user is not terribly useful.

What I was referring to is the inaccessibility of audio to users who are deaf, and the use of graphical elements that are not accessible to users who are blind.

In my world, we do not allow the use of audio without text transcription for those who may not be able to hear. The time and expense of providing those transcriptions means we use audio sparingly, and ONLY for those kinds of messages that require audio. Using audio for synchronous chats is not something we would support. (See below on the value of synchronous activities.)

Likewise, we don't allow the use of graphical elements without a MINIMUM of alt-text tagging. For example, I put an alt-text tag on the elephant image in my blog, but there isn't one in the original source. And how would a blind person be able to navigate in that nice map of our online world? The client side image map is only BARELY accessible when adequate alt-tags are available (they're not on that map at all) and is prone to error (only shows the first link). Techniques exist. I would be happy to share them with you.


Aaron said

"As a Mac user (lover) myself, I am not aware that we have chosen any media that excludes non-Windows people. The only possible area of difficulty I can see might be with Alado. The folks over there have said they'd have a beta ready for Mac users by chat time. Could be unstable though. What other media have we chosen to use that excludes Mac users?"


I was referring to Alado's Window's only requirement. I use Linux and Firefox. I'm looking over the other audio tool at Learning Times, which I *think* maybe Linux capable. I'm having a little trouble getting it to send me my password so I can log in and check, but I think it'll be ok. Other than the problems with it being audio and therefore inaccessible to people who cannot hear.


Aaron said

"As for synchronous modes of communication, I think they complement the asynchronous modes nicely. I am personally somewhat averse to synchronous text communication myself, but I know that some people really enjoy it. It definitely adds to the richness of the learning exerience. All of the relevant content will be both blogged and summarized on the wiki, so I don't think participants will miss any content by not being able to attend the chats. The transcripts will also be made available, as will recordings of the audio conferences. We've also planned collaborative tasks each week, so I think everyone will have ample opportunity to discuss and share asynchronously on blogs, wikis, and the discussion list - should be rich with ideas."


IF there's going to be synchronous session, I prefer text based sessions. It's an acquired taste, I realize. And I agree that sychronous activities greatly enhance the social presence of the participants to are able to use those tools. Even those who type slowly. But a transcript is not a good "substitute" for participation because, IMHO, the value of synchronous activity is the participation, not the content.

My rationale for text over voice is that several threads can be running simultaneously in the same chat window using text, but the conversation is limited to a single thread using voice -- hence the bandwidth limit of 150-200 wpm -- the speed of a single human voice. While most people TYPE considerably slower than that, the aggregated message traffic thru the space using text can easily be 2 or 3 times that of voice. This has HUGE implications for perceptions of distance and social presence.

I'm looking forward to these next 6 weeks with a GREAT deal of anticipation, too.

NL

Nathan Lowell said...

Accessible Version of the MapThis is a rough cut. If the underlying graphic were arranged with the idea that the graphic would be sliced up, I'm sure it could be made so that there are fewer little shims in there and would make the whole thing scan better on a screen reader.

Bee said...

Blogging is definitely sharing resources, opinions and learning. Thank you for pointing out the problems. I am more than happy to correct them. You see...I have learnt making pages by myself on an error and trial basis so am not as technologically proficient as you are.

I learn as I go, thanks to people like you. Please send me a private mail on how I can adjust the settings...I could not open the link you suggested for the map.
Warm regards from Brazil and thank you for your suggestions :-)

aaron said...

Well, this has certainly changed the way I look at creating learning evironments for the web. Not being intimately in contact with any non-sighted, non-hearing people in my daily life has made it difficult for me to maintain awareness of accessibility issues. I will certainly take greater care in the future when both choosing applications for learning experiences and when making webpages. And yes, a transcript is no substitute for participation. Well said. Thanks for this.

Anne said...

Thanks for passing by my blog earlier.

I don't know why you are so against synchronous audio. I have used it on several occasions and the emotional power of connecting people on different sides of the world is unforgettable for many of the participants. I understand that we have to make internet content accessible to as many as possible but I don't see why we should exclude some areas simply because some people are not able to use them for what ever reason.

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