Tuesday, May 02, 2006

AMST Project has moved. In honor of the AMST @ UMD Project proposal presentation (whew!) before a thesis review board today, I am moving the blog and discussion thread to a brand new home! Look for more content and features at this address:

AMST @ UMD Project

Over the next week, all of the elements of the presentation will become available on the Squarespace site.

Another squarespace addition: Discussion Board

Monday, May 01, 2006

AMST @ UMD Internet Use Survey Report --Download PDF file

Email me for a PDF copy of the survey report and survey. Use the subject: "AMST @ UMD pdf survey and report"
AMST @ UMD Internet Use Survey is now available online. This is the same survey that 63 participants filled out in the beginning of the semester. If anyone has skills making online surveys that can actually be taken online, feel free to comment.

A detailed report of the results will be available online soon.

Update May 1, 2006-- AMST @ UMD Internet Use Survey as a PDF

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Interviewees, including Acting Assoc. Director of MITH (Maryland Institute of Technology in the Humanities) Matt Kirschenbaum, describe the student community and the potential for online interaction across a department.YouTube - AMST @ UMD web video #2

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Web Resources:The Californian Ideology

Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron respond, in part, to Reingold's portrayal of an anti-establishment 'virtual class'. This is an interesting analysis of the social, political, and economic forces shaping the internet. This article is dated August 1995, which places it before the current 'Web 2.0' revolution which is taking place online, but the conflicts described are still very relevant.
Web Resources: UO Psychology: Intellectual Communities. Web community at the University of Oregon Psych Department

This website "allows the department to function as a whole rather than as a set of insulated areas". UO has also given their undergraduate honors students a place to share their projects online. American Studies is also made up of a number of "insulated areas". According to the current AMST website, students can have a focus in any of about 18 areas of study. Professors in AMST also have a particular focus or area of specialty. We need to make additional efforts to encourage a "cohesive" community.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

AMST @ UMD web video #1
Contextualizing American Studies: Excerpt from my interview with Dr. Vincent Stephens. Vincent describes students' approach to education and the changing nature of the university system.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

If every student has a well of information (areas of interest, favorite resources, interesting classes they took, etc), then what better way to tap that well than establish a peer-network that allows for resource-sharing. To put it in geek-speak, if every student is a processor of whatever media or educational input they recieve, the more processors that are put to work on a particular problem, the faster it is done. I don't mean to take the idea of students-as-resources too far or dehumanize them in any way. I am reconciling a number of ideas not all of which are on the technical end of the spectrum:
  1. Computers were first concieved of as extentions of the brain which would "amplify human thinking and communication" Reingold, 59
  2. With the advent of the internet (ARPANET, BBS, then Usenet, etc), there was a consious effort to democratize the technology. The idea was to give more tools to more people and allowing them to talk to eachother, thereby creating the possibility of community
  3. Fast forward 30 years and there are active communities all over the net, some of these are "intellectual communities" which allow for rapid growth of ideas and collaboration among the community members
  4. My undergraduate experience was shaped by my constant hunt for resources in my areas of interest. American Studies is rich in part because all of the classes taken to fulfil the major and resources used its students are not centralized in one location or department. However, this very thing can inhibit a student's sense of fellowship within the department.
  5. Can an online outlet be created for AMST students which would encourage a sense of community and allow students and teachers alike to collaborate and share ideas?
Wired Magazine has an interesting article on generation Y and how they interact with the world. Wired 14.04: Dream Machines:
..the Internet has morphed what we used to think of as a fancy calculator into a fancy telephone with email, chat groups, IM, and blogs. It turns out that we don't use computers to enhance our math skills - we use them to expand our people skills.
When it comes to how young people are interacting with information both in the virtual world and the real one, Will Wright says that this generation of gamers are processing information differently than their predecessors and "treat the world as a place for creation, not consumption". This assertion lends more support to the evidence of a rise in producer culture as Stephen Carson, Senior Strategist at MIT OpenCourseWare describes:
..The idea of learners as consumers of learning objects (even if they "custom-tailor" their learning experience) may be misguided. Learners may well be most usefully thought of as producers of learning resources as well.

This affirms one of my thesis statements that the students themselves are the biggest untapped resource in the AMST department.

To continue a point that I made in the previous post: Howard Reingold insists in The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier that online communities occur in "a cognitive and social [place], not a geographic place." The concept of identifying with a virtual space, which is a primary part of engaging in the community that 'resides' there, "requires an individual act of imagination."
The different mental models people have of the electronic agora complicates the question of why people want to build societies mediated by computer screens. A question like that leads inexorably to the old fundamental questions of what forces hold any society together
Quotes from pages 51-53

The society that Riengold is discussing is one that is formed by its members through choice and common interest. Given that students have chosen American Studies as their major, does this implicitly make them a part of a community of common interest, even if it never meets as such outside of classes and a handful of special events that relatively few attend?

I do not imagine that every AMST student would participate in an online community, whether it manifested in a message board, wiki, or blog. Much like Reingold's example of the WELL, I would imagine that "16 percent of the people [would] contribute 80 percent of the words". The beauty being that anyone is free to participate when they feel inspired to do so, but all can benefit from the conversation.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I am struck by the idea that the interactive online community that I am proposing should model discourse rather than cater to casual or disengaged users.

The notion that education has become a passive activity for most of the consumers (students)-- that it is something that is being 'done to them'-- has pervaded my discussions with teachers at UMD. How can I expect to interest students enough to participate in online discussion when they don't talk in class?

I have heard from both of my teacher interviewees that online discussion is not a venue that allows reticent students to participate, as they had initially hoped. Quiet students remained quiet. This anecdotal evidence suggests that online interaction will not change a particular student's level of participation in discourse. Interestingly, many of the returned surveys from students have indicated that not only is a certain amount of participation in online discussion required for some classes, but their teachers expect them to have better thought-out arguments than in class. This perception that written observations are placed under greater scrutiny than comments made in class may account for some of the reluctance my interviewees have seen.

I am not interested in implementing an online course website, but an electronic agora where discussion and resource-sharing occur almost entirely outside of class. Users (students, primarily) are empowered to participate at whatever level they choose. Give students the agency and see where it leads. Just more food for thought.
Via BoingBoing today. This a documentary about the state of the internet in 1972. The most interesting part is that resource-sharing is championed as primary goal for ARPAnet. How can their dreams be better realized today? The technology is already there...