can weblogs accelerate expertise?

A brief dissertation: weblogs: Can they accelerate expertise. In short, yes:

Weblogs offer a significant potential benefit to learners, by accelerating the learning processes that contribute to expertise.

The technical and social nature of weblogs enables them to be used in a number of pedagogically useful ways. Perhaps most usefully, the simple act of posting to a weblog satisfies a number of educational criteria such as semantic analysis and metacognition. The technical infrastructure of weblogs assists knowledge gathering with the creation of taxonomies and the automatic display of domain knowledge from other websites.


selling out to turnitin: alienation makes a comeback

Later this month, discussion is going before the BSU Faculty Senate on whether to rent access to turnitin to ease Fears of Plagiarism. It has mixed support on this campus. As far as I know, no one in English supports the idea. Faculty in other areas are suggesting it, but I haven’t heard their arguments and I don’t know how enthusiastic they are about it. The administration is ready to pop the $3,600 a year it costs.

I’ve never been one for using turnitin. It’s better to create writing tasks that demand that students become knowledge producers rather than knowledge hackers; the need for turnitin, that is, is an admission of educational failure – or boredom, at the very least. Using turnitin means faculty won’t have to read the papers anymore: just run ’em through the database, have a quick skim for form, and on to the next one. I find it embarrassing that our faculty would look to turnitin. To propose that turnitin might be an option is to suggest that faculty are seeing their roles less as teachers and more as plagiarism police, citation cops, knowledge vendors.

I also know there are more detailed and persuasive arguments out there. And this morning, while looking for something else, I came across a paper on the very thing: “‘Turn It In’: technological challenges to academic ethics,” by Jennifer Jenson and Suzanne De Castell. This is a dense article – and it’s worth every word of reading. I’m still thinking this one through, so my consideration here is a little rough yet.

Their starting point is identifying an underlying change in higher education: our work has shifted from maintaining sites of knowledge to sites of legitimization. Essentially, the university is a gatekeeper and award-giver:

Under changing conditions of knowledge, knowledge production, knowers and the value of knowledge (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003), universities and their roles and functions have shifted from sites of learning. What is now transmitted is of value principally as an end in itself to sites of legitimation where what is of value is a degree with high vocational ‘exchange value’ (de Alba et al., 2000).

They then open up one of the less-mentioned ironies of turnitin, one I’ve mentioned to faculty before: turnitin makes a profit from using texts that they never pay for or acknowledge. Turnitin, that is, engages in the same violation of property rights of student work as they purport to defend. (Hang on to this idea because it will appear later in their argument.)

Strangely enough … , when Turnitin uses the work of others to turn a profit, the fact that they have made use of the work of others ‘for free’ is not evident or questioned, except for a section on the size and authority of Turnitin’s legal representatives, and those advisors’ arguments about why it does not violate students’ intellectual copyright4. So access to and use of ‘intellectual property’ is permitted for corporate profit, but not for students’ deployment in an ‘information economy.’

Next, they address the changed role of the essay – or any text production – at the new capital-exchange university. In the idea economy where knowledge is finding and neatly organizing given ideas, writing as a means of developing arguments and orchestrating ideas falls flat.

[T]he cultural, and therefore the educational, significance, functions and uses of the essay itself have changed. We are today very far indeed from inhabiting an essayist culture, so it is no surprise that for most of those students from whom the production of a formal essay is demanded, the point and purpose of that genre is something they have never experienced and fail largely or entirely to comprehend.

But we’re not bemoaning the loss of essayist culture here: this is not nostalgia. This is a deeper sea change. Whereas the essay used to be a way to articulate and circulate ideas, and the ability to create essays was a means to education, now,

In the current culture of consumption, within which the university has readily positioned itself as a ‘broker,’ its professors/researchers as ‘service providers’ and its students as ‘clients’, an essay today has, in Lyotard’s words, ‘exchange value’—no longer a practical or useful tool for the development and dissemination of one’s ideas; the essay as a scholastic ritual functions as itself a commodity, traded primarily for marks. The essay does not have the kind of cultural ‘currency’ it once did, and students and their professors, even those who routinely assign this task, recognize this. Like tests, essays today are symbolic artifacts exchanged for marks, which in turn are exchanged for degrees, which buy not only cultural capital (i.e. a ‘higher education’) but a place in the ‘market’—a job (Noble, 1998).

Because the means of developing knowledge has shifted, the need for documenting sources becomes ornamental; and if the need for documentation is mere ornament, then a technology like turnitin is perfectly fit and sound.

We can insist that they ‘cite their sources,’ and we can teach them ‘when and how to cite,’ but this amounts to little beyond an ornamental response to the underlying educational problem university educators are experiencing. This is better understood as a chronic and pervasive inability to manage complex ideas and information in the production of a well-informed and artfully composed argumentative text. And from an educational standpoint, we argue, resorting to technologies like Turnitin makes matters worse by making appropriation a vastly more dangerous practice for students both overstretched and under-supported by ill-suited and ill-fitting institutional performance requirements.

That last sentence can be driven home: As we resort more to turnitin, so we abandon our responsibility to teach knowledge production for the less problematic knowledge transmission. Teachers and administration are part of the problem – and this is what makes the whole matter so embarrassing: adopting turnitin actually runs against our stated ideals for education:

Such a view surrenders educational values for economic values, as educational production (in this case, in the archaic and culturally exhausted form of the essay) is progressively reoriented away from use value and towards exchange value …. We have argued that Turnitin and similar ‘educational’ technologies, in terms of the kinds of compositional processes it alternately promotes and prohibits, is a reductive, fragmented and educationally damaging product for both students and professors/teachers, as well as being ethically in direct violation of its own purported ethics with respect to ‘intellectual property rights.’

Finally (for this part of the essay), they return to the larger context of teaching: a shift in zeitgeist that’s been occurring over the past 10 years or so. There’s a deeper concern for the intellectual health of public education, one they characterize as

a species of anomie and alienation which has been a direct result of the (technologically mediated) reorienting of public education towards economic models of investment and return, rather than cultural and educational models of social identity and self-formation.

Alienation arguments are out of fashion; they faded away with Marxism and Existentialism – and with them went a powerful means of critiquing the relationship between knowledge and the knowledge-maker. And students have become more estranged from learning over the past ten years or so. Many don’t speak of learning as a verb so much as Their Education, a noun, something that they are not responsible for creating or working with but simply possess by exchange. And they are encouraged to become even more alienated if we bring in turnitin.

Still, I don’t think the faculty who are proposing turnitin will listen to the arguments much. The drive to make look like we’re Doing Something, that we’re Addressing the Problem, is strong, and renting turnitin is such an easy and visible solution, that the implications are easily brushed aside as the off-kilter concerns of A Few.


connecting open source to wikis…

by way of a shared social epistemic: Open Source / Open Access as a Social Constructionist Epistemology, by Charles Lowe. The wiki – especially Ward’s first wiki – becomes a site where this epistemology is enacted.

Now, go and persuade the weblogs and wikis students to value the collective.


marketing ethos: Campus Technology

I needed a good “using technology for campus recruitment” site for e-rhetoric next fall. Here’s the one I was looking for: Campus Technology: Education Technology for Higher Education. It has everything: a magazine, a newsletter, a conference, a pr kit, advertising.

And it’s infused with a forward, in-your-face marketing ethos that’s easy to recognize. Listen to how Frank Tansey writes about a current trend (!) in eRecruiting Technologies (!!)

eRecruiting Tools Sweep In

In the world of higher education, one truth, at least, remains constant: Campuses are always looking for more effective ways to recruit and enroll new students. In fact, conferences are perennially teeming with tracks on recruiting and marketing, and the sessions in those tracks never fail to attract hefty attendance numbers.

In recent years, one of the hottest session topics has been the use of e-mail and the Web as recruiting tools. While it is the rare college or university that does not have a Web site, students frequently complain that the information they want is difficult to find. At the same time, students are increasingly expressing a preference for obtaining their information about a college via online communications. This expectation, however, goes well beyond the one-size-fits-all notion of a typical campus Web site. As is often the case, student expectations are for more services and information than many campuses now provide. They want accessible information tailored to their needs; they don’t want to sort through dozens of pages of information filled with links, in order to uncover the key information to help them make their college decisions. Rather, they want campuses to anticipate their needs and interests, which may be very different from the needs and interests of other students, and in many cases, very different from the perception the campus has of itself. Is this a tall order? Possibly, but savvy admissions pros are discovering that it’s an order well worth the effort.

What’s in order, according to Tansey, is more pull technology, but that’s not the interesting side of the article. It’s the case study of how a college re-crafted its identity, supported by an erecruitment technique: “targeted students began receiving short e-mails with links to more details on the campus Web site,” which then pulled them to the site. And here the military language is right up front: pools, targets, campaigns:

[I]n past years, the prospect pool was carefully pared to reduce brochure and mailing costs. With the new online recruiting tools, all prospective students who matched target criteria could be included in the campaign. Says Nostrand, “We are conducting campaigns we could not afford to, if they were direct mail.”

The intent is to “leverage information captured in their new eRecruiting systems.”

Lanham suggests that the reason bureaucratic language calls attention to itself stylistically is that bureaucrats want to be poets. The difference here is that poetic, like bureaucratic, language calls attention to its style. What here?


comic relief

How to do fundraising right: Comic Relief Homepage.

Marketing people: Have a close look at how to get people to stand with you (marketing needs to commit before anyone else will. Let me repeat that: The only way marketing is going to get buy-in is to commit first. Sincere. Buy in.). This is a campaign that respects its audience. Most don’t. Evidence: Martha Stuart. The Apprentice. KARE.

Since she was a kiddie, Vivienne remembers relief funds: 2/6 in the kitty for the lifeboat fund. A whip round at the pub for a co-worker. A tenner for Amnesty International (which, as a US working class suburbanite, I had never heard of until I spent a week in Paris, c. 1978). A raffle for a manager out sick: (a bottle of Famous Grouse yielded £ 200 raised – and the manager got the bottle.) Big sister Christine had given £50.00 to the UK tsumani fund on 26 Dec., before Bush heard about the quake, before PBS had caught up with the world news.

Is the US a giving nation? A country of compassion? Not in your life – Not under the conservatives, not under the liberals – not when you look at what other people do, have done, will do. We’re comic relief wimps.

[PS: Viv txted BBC 4 her vote for the Archers’s guest celeb. We’re for Stephen in this house. 35p to Comic Relief. More on the way.]


oh to be in london

where the tube challenge is a spectator sport, and where The Bees play Brixton Academy. And it’s snowing, too.

Then there’s this: an a – z underground project: visit 26 stations and write a poem or song about each of them, and then take it to the Fringe festival this August. Shades of Dave Gorman, I guess. Very Victorian. Very much the box logic, travel writing manner.


moinX and others

MoinMoin has released moinX, a MoinMoin wiki for OS X that runs easily on a local machine, or can be put on the Net. Because it runs with its own server (Twisted), it doesn’t need Apache and is easy to configure. I had it up and running in less than a minute on a Mac PowerBook. MoinMoin has some nice features for writing and for teaching writing.

Some reviews: MoinMoin has a WikiEngineComparison chart that links to other considerations and reviews, including one by thinking space.


authentic engagement at the best prices

This article Authentic Engagement of Adult Learners in Online Learning, could open up some interesting discussions in TWWT. It touches on the need for (and how to provide) human, social contact ih DE, and how to set up authentic, academic engagement, and why. For this, the article is worth a look.

But one of the more interesting points is this conception of studentdom on which much of their concluding discussion rests

Twigg (1998) joins a chorus of observers claiming that ultimate victory in education’s intensifying competition for students will depend on the relative quality of teaching and instructional design, irrespective of delivery mode. She describes a universe where learners have increasing options to choose the learning experiences that suit their needs. In such a world, Twigg suggests, only the best learning experiences offered at attractive prices will survive sharp market competition. Ely (1996) declares that the adoption of distance education should be driven by carefully assessed educational needs…

“The best learning experiences … at attractive prices” suggests just how far “authentic engagement” can slip. Discuss.


obligatory cat photo

As expected –


what’s a wiki for

A quick link and comment on Matt’s Embrace the Wiki Way! I’m with Matt on most of this – (public) wikis are open to collaboration, so if you don’t need collab, if you simply want to re-create paper, use something else.

But I’d expand the appropriate use of a wiki to include process and a kind of rhetorical quickening. As a minimum, the student who is writing the essay can use the wiki profitably to garner collaborative feedback – better than file exchange, better than a blog, better that BBored. That the student is writing the essay on a wiki provides opportunities for going futher – into the collaborative – that these other means don’t provide. That is, the wiki quickens the rhetorical situation, points students and teachers towards the wiki way.

I’d argue that a classroom wiki open to the students to create and re-create both the class and their own work engages the wiki way in ways that other media do not readily support.

We have a presentation to give at Standford this May, don’t we?