The current education system is heavily lopsided with extrinsic reward systems, starting in the earliest elementary grades. Students are constantly earning prizes and trinkets and free stuff in return for their efforts - most of which is not creative but is quantitative. By the time the students arrive at my college composition class, many of them have no recollection of coming up with a project or paper on their own. Teachers have assigned very prescriptive work, again reducing (if not obliterating) the creative and emphasizing a measurable outcome. Of course, teaching at a community college, we serve a population where 60% of the newly enrolling students test in under-prepared. A large number of my students claim they have never been asked to write a paper on their own. They tell me about templates or highly structured worksheets they were told to use for the process. Most of my students have never written creatively, certainly not for enjoyment. By and large, my students have rarely been asked to think.

Krug's title, Don't Make Me Think, is a phrase regularly resounded in my classroom at any given time during a semester. Students quickly recognize that my assignments are designed in a way to make them think, and a few of them are excited about the freedom that allows right away. Several of them take a while to get comfortable with the idea, and a few never do embrace it. Personally, I find thinking to be such a rewarding process in itself that I have a hard time understanding the students' perspectives. They will often self-describe as lazy, but I watch them put in double (if not triple) the amount of effort to reproduce something rather than to create something unique. My theory on all this is not that students don't want to think, but that they don't recognize what thinking looks like, and they aren't aware of the many ways of thinking. It's almost a fixed mindset thing. Students identify either as thinkers or non-thinkers.

In the past, I've attempted to tap in to their intrinsic motivation is by forcing them out of their existing comfort zones and creating new comfort zones. I quickly try to undo the fear and intimidation students have about thinking by having them do it often and by having the thinking be something more playful. I also try to preserve time and space for reflection, so students can begin to recognize the thinking process at work and see the results. This course on Web Content Design has given me some new ideas about how I can perhaps have more success in helping students develop the meta-cognitive skills and be more intrinsically motivated.

The concepts around Web Content Design made me reorganize my teaching philosophy. I want to develop curriculum and a classroom environment where students are expected to think and to think about thinking...and if all goes successfully, to discover a new appreciation for the process.

Administrative Details

Here are some things I learned from Krug:
Krug's concepts are ones I plan to employ immediately when it comes to developing content for the courses I teach, both the online content as well as the face-to-face. I thought Krug's principles are really useful when applied to the more administrative aspects of the class. Krug's principles will assist me in being able to clearly communicate information that the students need to know but don't really need to think about.

Beyond rethinking how I present the administrative content, I have been reconsidering the materials and curriculum of my courses. The readings we tackled and the emphasis on linking, really gave me a new perspective, and I'm excited to apply these ideas in an upcoming semester.

I can't stop thinking about how students would respond to a |Hypertext Garden - both the actual piece linked to here and just the concept. I really like the idea of designing my class from the perspective of a gardener. I'd fill the space with lots of enchanting artifacts which the students could explore of their own free will. There would be certain paths they could take, some marked, some hidden, some leading to shortcuts, some leading deeper. I am very curious to see what students would do with this amount of freedom. I'm imagining a garden where some areas are meticulously groomed and sculpted (meaning, I'll provide more specific instructions, more information about the texts provided and specific texts to read), other areas of the garden would be more like a large state park with several paths to choose from, some easier, some more challenging, several possible look-out stops for deeper learning or further reflection, some additional tools provided to get a closer look or dig in a little deeper, a camping area for those who want to spend more time in one area... (I'm not sure if these metaphors are coming across clearly in terms of how I would set up the curriculum, and I don't even know exactly what it all would look like myself, but it's a vision that I'm excited to execute). Finally, there would be the wild flower and wilderness section of the garden - just a mass of hyperlinks for students to explore by either forging their own paths in, standing back and admiring from afar, or carefully selecting wild flowers of their choice to pluck and keep. Students would have the opportunity to develop this land into a new gardenscape for the class or for themselves, or they could leave it as is and just be a visitor.

Essentially, what I'd like to do is provide a lot more choices (via hyperlinks) and show students that not all reading is the same, not all texts are the same, and you do not think the same way when you engage with these texts. It would be nice for students to recognize that they were more intrinsically motivated to read certain texts (and to figure out why). I feel like exercises like this would boost my students' confidence and move them to self-identify as "thinkers." Pieces that we read in class that I think would be really conducive for this would be:
I wish I were extremely talented because I think it would be neat to set up an entire class the way Will set up his |Wunderkammer website or perhaps by mimicking the layout in |...and by islands I mean paragraphs. I am imagining designing the announcement for the week on D2L. I could post images on the page, and each image could be a link to one of the possible texts I've selected for the week. One image would always open to a message urging the student to head out to the web and find their own destination. One announcement could be set up like the islands piece with blue ocean and small ships or islands to click on. Another week's announcement could look like a garden with different paths to click on or types of plants. Each week could have a new visual theme that relates to what we're talking about. This plan sounds ambitious for a 17 week semester... but maybe we could do every two weeks or so... We could also do some weeks where the readings are assigned and then weeks where the students choose. This would allow them to think about their responses and their motivation based on each circumstance.

Applying Halavais to the Classroom
Reading |The Hyperlink as Organizational Principle reinforced the many ways hyperlinks can be used. I like how the hyperlink is a quick and easy way for students to cite their sources. I think that by asking students to link to the articles they used in their research, students will become more aware of the need to attribute sources. Students don't understand MLA format, and so that often is an obstacle to good research and/or a layered approach to reading. The link is simple, and I think it's a great way to get them to not only cite their sources but to also link back to their own notes on something.

Applying Lafarge to the Classroom
|Lafarge argued that online reading could be even a better experience than print reading because via hyperlinks and technological advances (along with creativity, vision, and innovation), readers could plunge in to the experience. There could be no end to the depths the reader could travel to. I love this idea, but I'm wondering how to get some of my students there. I have some who would read everything humanly possible between class periods, putting their own health at risk because they felt they had to read everything to get the good grade, and then I have those who will barely read at all. How do you get students to read for the experience of it?

Another thing I like about Lafarge's argument is directly stated in his title - "The Deep Space of Digital Reading." Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows, concludes that one benefit of doing research at a physical library is gaining an awareness of how much you don't know because you see the rows and rows of books all around you, and it sort of puts things in perspective in a way that online researching can't do. Carr claims that because the resources are basically invisible online, one cannot grasp the vastness. I think people like Lafarge might disagree, especially in the context of hypertext. One thing I was struck by when reading more hyptertext articles this semester was the vastness of articles available on any given topic. Once I traveled to one article, there were several more linked to and so on. The journey seemed like it would just go on to infinity - in to the "deep space."

I think this would be really beneficial for students to be made aware of. It was really eye-opening for me to learn about the number of people who contribute to Wikipedia and other wikis voluntarily and simply because they enjoy it. Similarly, I think it could be eye-opening for students to see how many people are writing about certain topics and contributing to the web (through the written word). To see for themselves that a lot of people are interesting in reading and writing, social issues, political issues, personal interests, etc..., might get the students more engaged in the process for themselves.

Applying Vennavar Bush to the Classroom
Bush's concept ( PDF )of the Memex as a way of storing personal information might be really useful in helping students achieve the desire to plunge in to reading online the way Lafarge argues. In this class, we used the wiki pages as a sort of Memex to contain our notes and our thoughts on what we were studying. I'd like to assign something similar - something that the students could constantly be adding to and changing as they read new texts or visit new sites. It might be motivating for them to watch their own pages fill up with notes as they study. Especially, if they can look in at what their classmates are doing - to add a little competitive edge to it. Asking the students to keep notes about the things they've read or sites they've visited, will also provide some type of reward for the student because he/she will be documenting what they've done in a way that both students and instructor can see it. This might motivate students more than just being asked to read but them not being provided any opportunity to demonstrate the work they've done. The additional benefit of using a form of a Memex is that the student has something preserved for future use.

Applying Mcluhan to the Classroom
What really stuck with me from Mcluhan's essay9PDF) was this phrase, "...unconscious consumer of industrial folklore." I think he's saying we are consuming the media blindly and recreating it unwittingly. His article motivates me to try and find an innovative way to wake students up from that slumber - from their passive existence (and ours) as blind participants to progressive and proactive thinkers. I'm deeply troubled by the state of education in my sons' school, especially in the area of technology. Four years ago, when my youngest started kindergarten, the Rochester Public School District rolled out their one-to-one ipad initiative. The quality of education at our school plummeted soon after. I cannot blame the teachers. They were forced to implement the use of ipads in all of their courses without much training. Even my husband, who teaches P.E. in the district had to find ways to use the ipads as an integral part of his P.E. curriculum. He's a great teacher, and he was able to do it successfully, and his solution addresses this topic perfectly, but before I explain his solution, I want to step back and talk about what was going on at my sons' school. Suddenly, with this pressure to use the ipad, my kids were getting homework from every class due on the ipad. We saw endless math programs and reading programs. My kids were being introduced to a plethora of "educational" games on the ipads. But one thing all of this new high tech curriculum had in common was a consumerism focus. The kids consumed or completed a very dictatorial task, and that was it. There was no curriculum (and still isn't) dedicated to helping the students become the producers, creators and innovators. Students are introduced to a new program, learn the conventions, meet the objectives, end of story. My husband found a creative way for the students to make the technology work for them. Twice a year he does fitness testing. Once at the beginning of the year and again at the end for students to assess their progress. The students use the video camera on the ipad to record themselves (or with a partner) doing their push-ups or squats or whatever exercise. Then the student watches his/her own self, critiques his/her own form and repeats the exercise, making any necessary adjustments. I love this because the students are using the technology as a tool that is useful for them. Of course, it doesn't leave room for creativity and innovation, etc... but they are not simply consuming.

I'd like to use Mcluhan's idea in a classroom to get students to try to see how they have been consumers and to find creative ways to step outside of that. Maybe just ask the students to seek out ways they could change how they engage with some of the technology or media they consume everyday and report back to the class what they did. This could be really empowering for students and eye-opening. Using |Jill Walker Rettberg's book, we might be able to delve into the way technology is shaping us a bit more, but I haven't decided whether I want to use these things as texts or as optional texts. I think it will be exciting to experiment with giving many more options.

Applying Ted Nelson to the Classroom
Nelson argued in |Computer Lib it was a myth that the computers were hard to understand and on the elite "geeks" could dabble in this science. Nelson claimed that everyone needed an understanding of computers... and I think this argument goes for many things in our society. We live in a society that functions on the idea that you either are or you are not, or you can or you cannot. We don't really operate with the mentality that you can learn something if you try. And there are some things you must learn to do. Nelson thought that was computers. I'm arguing it's even more basic than that. My argument is that everyone needs to learn to think and to develop a growth mindset.

This semester was very energizing for me because I was one of those fixed mindset people in many ways (even though I believe in the growth mindset philosophy, it's hard to change your wiring). I didn't believe I was tech savvy or that I could be. I thought it would be much more of a struggle than it was once I got my feet wet and actually went into the water. I also had to re-evaluate my own self-perceptions. I realized I had a very narrow definition of what it meant to be "tech savvy". I thought it meant to understand the way computers operate, to know how to code and develop software, to hack the systems, etc... I wasn't really considering the ability to navigate systems that are already in place (something I am quite efficient at). I wasn't thinking about how I could engage with different sites or content online, and I wasn't thinking about my own contributions. Bringing technology and media from something out there to something very personal was life-changing for me. Nelson ponders why humans tend to think of some machines (like the toaster) as a warm machine but a computer as a cold one. I don't know that I would go so far as to say people think of their toasters as warm in any other way than literally when they get hot during use, but it did make me think about how one's perception of a machine can certainly be altered based on the experiences one is having with it.

That brings me back to the classroom, particularly the English classroom. Many of my students do not look forward to my class. They feel intimidated coming in. English has never been their "thing," they say. Other students, however, love reading and writing. So, I do work hard to try and kindle a flame for literature and writing by helping students understand what it's all about. To take them from the position of outsider and welcome them in. But maybe there's something to be adapted here from these guys who were so enamored with the hyperlink and it's ability to draw people in. Maybe by using hyperlink rich texts, I can help some of those students who are nervous about reading, find their own way in.

Overall, I'm excited about the way the hyperlink encourages thinking. A reader has to make a choice to follow the link or not. To go back to the original text or keep moving forward down the trail of links. Each linked to page opens up new ideas and new perspectives. It can be chaos, but it can also be organized. Another aspect that I really liked about the wiki and hyperlinks was the ability to add a page to contribute and fork out to a new idea. I think this would be a great way for students to stay motivated.

This class opened up a whole new side of the web and technology to me that I wasn't aware of, and it's been life-changing. The saying, "you know enough to be dangerous" applied to me and I would venture a guess that it applies to most of my students. They are consumers of the web and have been exposed to a very narrow section of it. Exploring what some of the innovators and experts are doing has given me an appreciation, a hunger and an enthusiasm for web stuff that I would never have thought possible before taking this class. I was pretty much anti-anything tech related and was convinced it was ruining our society. Now I'm actually planning some web projects for the kids and I to do this summer, and I'm considering abandoning all print materials for digital next semester! Nothing will replace a good paperback in my hands when I curl up on the couch with a blanket during a spring thunderstorm, or for those hot summer days on the beach while the kids swim in the lake, but when it comes to "deep-space" thinking, I can now see endless possibilities with the web which is a complete 180 from the mind-numbing machine I perceived it as five months ago. Thank you for introducing me to another way of seeing.

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