Thursday, February 23, 2006

The centre of the university?

I was at a talk today called Web-essays, wikis and weblogs: Teaching with digital texts by Sian Bayne from the University of Edinburgh. Very interesting!

She started with a screen full of university crests and logos. She pointed how many university crests included a book - often at their centre. This is true not just for the ancient universities, but you see it in more modern universities, eastern universities, even some online universities! The University of Strathclyde, my employers, (who pride themselves on on being modern enough to include a wavicle) has not one but two books on their crest.
ome educators are uneasy about all of this. As teachers we are making increasing use of digital texts and our students are using and creating them so we recognise the value of the easy accessibility and the potential of collaborative creation... and yet we remain suspicious. However, although we have trusted books for a long time, we want our students to ask if we should still trust them?

This discussion on print verses digital surfaced in the comments to my last post on the AOL poster adverts. A related topic was raised in a recent post about digital versions of ancient texts from Antoninus Pius. (that well known dead Roman general!) What are the implications of making texts like this available outside specialist academic libraries? Apart from easier access, what other advantages will digital texts bring?

Other questions I find myself asking include, how do we enforce copyright when it is so easy to make copies of digital resources which are indistinguishable from original and at essentially no cost to the copier? How do intellectual property rights apply when the work is collaboratively produced in a rip, mix and burn digital world?

Sorry, another blog post with more questions than answers. I'm really just thinking aloud here. Have I any conclusions? My only thought is that I see some parallels with where we are just now in education and where the music industry was. How did the music business react to MP3 sharing? They reacted with draconian actions, for example by taking legal action for huge sums of money against teenagers... then along came iTunes who said, "Here's a cheap, easy way to get music legally, are you interested?" And, surprise, surprise, millions of people were interested. Then there's the Arctic Monkeys who gave away their music on the Internet and when they released their first album, not only does it go straight to number 1, but it beats the combined sales of every other album in the chart!

So is education's response going to be to raise the barricades against the digital hordes or are we going to take the Arctic Monkeys' route and look for the best ways to use both to the mutual advantage learners and teachers? I don't think it has to be exclusively print or digital. (I listened with some disquiet to a radio report on an American school that had got rid of textbooks altogether and given every child a laptop with a wireless Internet connection.) The Arctic Monkeys embraced the possibilities of the Internet - but they still released a CD. I don't think the book should be removed from university crests, but perhaps digital media will begin to join it centre stage.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

To click, or not to click...

I was at a meeting yesterday where, among other things, the university's home page was discussed. I remember that the advice used to be that it was important browsers should be able to get to a sub-page within three clicks. If it took more than three clicks, many would give up and your beautifully crafted page would only be seen by the few users who could be bothered to work their way through your byzantine hierarchy of pages.

originally uploaded by snaperture.
However, according to the web design person, the latest research on how people use the web suggests that this is no longer that important. She said that many people didn't even bother to read home pages and work their way through the links. What people look for now is a search box on the home page. The advice seems to be: display a search box in a prominent place on your home page and let people search for what they are looking for and then leap to it in a single bound!

Interesting! (Well I think it's interesting.) Is this an unintended Google effect? Have people got so used getting to where they want to go by typing keywords into Google that they think that it's the only way to navigate? What effect (if any) will this desire for instant links to the right place have on education? Hmm! Thinking aloud at the moment rather than having any real answers.

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P.S. I think this is one of the longest gaps I've had between blog entries. Sorry. The problem is I've had a fairly big post I wanted to make but never had the time to do it. (I still haven't had time... but maybe it will happen soon!) As a result, I've felt guilty about making quick posts like this one... so I didn't do any. In retrospect, this was daft. I'll try not to leave it so long between posts next time. On the upside, my previous post generated a surprisingly large number of comments. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

P.P.S. Sometime last weekend, I seem to have hit my 5000th visitor, which was nice. I wonder who it was? Site Meter only keeps the last 100 visitors, and the oldest one it lists was the 5040th visitor. Anyway, thank-you to everyone who visits and (I assume) reads my ramblings.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Good or bad? Discuss!

I suspect that many of you will have seen the posters that AOL have all over the place at the moment with the question:
"Does the Internet make children lazy or smart? /Discuss"
The poster has a picture of a child wearing a dunce's cap. Do you know the one I mean? I was talking about it with my wife the English teacher in the car this morning. She said that, when she was in Primary school, she was picked to take part in a debate. The subject of the debate? It was asking if television makes children smart or stupid!

Plus ca change... What else did we discuss in the past? "Do pencils make children lazy or smart?" What new technology will we question in the future?

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P.S. I had a quick Google to see if anyone else was talking about this, or to see if there was an image of the poster I could direct people to. Didn't find the poster, but did find a marketing blog, Offbrand, who questions the cynical motives behind AOL's campaign. Not sure who writes this blog, but his/her post title is much better than mine!