Bear with me on a metaphorical stretch. Seat belts are not required, but we will practice our breathing.


Wikimedia CC licensed image

As a kid, I always liked being in the water- I never enjoyed swimming per se, but I loved seeing how far I could go, how many laps I could do, underwater in one breath. The more I tried it, the longer I was able to stay under. Push, push, while the heart beats pound like bass drums in your brain, logic saying “go up go up” but the will saying “just a few more strokes”. Not that I set any world records, but this sense of just trying a little bit harder, and getting the reward of stretching… I may have forgotten the meta level of that experience.

This was the metaphor I found myself coming back to for assignment 2 of ds106, in reviewing Gardner Campbell’s article and video talk on his concept of a personal cyberinfrastructure.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I have to say at first, that beyond being a friend and colleague of Gardner’s, I am in awe of his ability to weave together Big Important Ideas and rally passion around it. As I listened again to his No Digital Facelifts video recorded from his presentation at OpenEd 2009, I can hear myself laughing and cheering in the audience.

And I would like to declare Gardner Campbell as the Poet Laurete of Educational Technology and Bigger Ideas, he truly is a poet of ideas.

So here we go. Start the deeper breaths.

While there are bags of gold, there are more of them, and even “golder” bags, down at the bottom of the sea. Sure you can find a decent amount of flakes and small bags floating at the surface, but if you want the good stuff, you gotta start diving. And the main equipment that helps you dive deeper is your own will.

I did nto even know there was a name for this, but Wikipedia abides- it is called Free-Diving, a family of water activities, many competitive, that involve going as far as you can underwater without any scuba gear.

Heck, there is an even an app for training http://netanelsoft.wordpress.com/apnea-app/

So what does this have to do with technology?

I find we tend to think of tools, strategies as aiming for one approach to meet a wide range of needs, but we more or less end up aiming for for the lowest technical denominator as to not be “too technical” or worrying about “people cannot do that because it is complex”.

Hence the Blackboards for creating web content for courses. It made sense, a lot in the late 1990s, as there was nothing to help people without HTML raw coding schools create learning content. At its basic level, and where it seems most people go, they are floating at the surface. Sure the LMS/CMS/WTFCMS provides a reliable way to safely float, and you can certainly get a good supply of gold on the surface.

But the real gains are if you go deeper. Even in a system like Blackboard, there are ways to go beyond what it offers out of the box, be it finding ways to use widgets or HTMl within, or to extend what a class does to the Outer Web. But it means you have to hold your breath, and venture beyond what is available under the Big Buttons or What They Tell Me to Do in Training.

Training and workshops merely teach you how to float better.

Let’s talk about HTML, which really is one of the things you can use to dive deeper. Obviously you are not required to know HTML to float, there is WYSIWIG at the surface. I find it an essential enabler, and I am continually fixing other people’s blog posts, posted content, and just being able to create content better elsewhere by knowing my tags. I do not expect, nor hope that most people can love HTML as much as I did, yet I spent a lot of time in the 1990s trying to make it easier to dive with.

Just knowing how an href tag works, or what happens by knowing how to add a target attribute, can get you below the surface. Tack on sone CSS and you can really go deep. You are not bound to what your WordPress template provides if you know how to dive a bit. And each time you go under water, you get better and going underwater.

So getting back to what us supposed to be the topic of this blog post- this concept of a personal cyberinfrastructure. Gardner nevre was suggesting (he even questioned it) if the web hosting cPanel was the instantiation of the concept- it si an example. There are, and ought to be many ways one can build a cyberinfrastructure, the main one now being the notion of building your own digital space, deftly painted by Poet Campbell as the non-trivial marker of identity- the very thing the Blackboards disallow– “decorating your locker”. The way he has done it, and is being done in this very course, is in establishing a domain of your own and web/data space too., but to me, it might also include the concept of developing your own unique online identifier, handle, avatar, and using ti everywhere. You might be able to have a distributed personal cyberinfrastructure or some combination there of.

But in every case, something like the cPanel is but one level you can dive or float at- you can always go deeper, and the better such systems allow those options to dive really deep if you want to say, go command line (you will find people like D’Arcy Norman burrowing down in the bottom, trying to go even deeper).

I find it key to dive down to the description of cyberinfrastructure to the American Council of Learned Society’s report on the topic:

“Cyberinfrastructure” is more than just hardware and software, more than bigger computer boxes and wider pipes and wires connecting them.

Or how Gardner framed it, “more specific than the network but more general than tools and resources”- so it is not just a personal learning network or a social network, but also not just a web site or a cPanel. It is in between.

We know the usual reasons for discounting the possibilities. “Our faculty cannot dive deep”, “They are trained to be swimmers, not divers”, “diving is not scalable, what if everyone dove down and did not come up?” Frankly, we are setting the bars too low but not having an expectation to go beyond the gold that is one the surface. Just look at the current/past students in Jim Groom’s ds106 classes- a group of people who are not geeks, technocrats, web gurus, and all of them have been able to register domains, sign up for personal accounts, get their sites up and running, and then publishing/sharing like crazy. They learned to dive by trying.

If college undergraduates can do this, why not everyone? As Gardner implores:

I’d like to believe students begin their life’s work when they come to school.

Shall we encourage them just to float on the surface or to learn to dive?

I see a whole lot of diving going on in ds106- and its not that everyone needs to look around and compete with deep divers like Tom Woodward– who you are competing with is your own self, your own levels. That is where we need to focus. Just by trying a little harder, a little different, a littler stretching, extending, you get better at it. Diving is a virtuous circle replicated in small steps.

That said, I see ds106 as being a perfect exemplar of the three key areas Gardner described:

  • Narrating – essentially each of our blogs are a place for doing our own narration. We are not extolling academic certainties, not defining definitive answers, we are questioning, we are making notes of our place, we are exercising our outboard brain (the 2002 classic Doctorowian truth). you do not narrate in a discussion board, and its not really cohesive in twitter/facebook, narrating is done best in your locker, your space.

    What is also valuable, and I enjoy seeing, is not only that people are sharing what they create, but how they have done it. Look at all the different ways people were describing how to do animated GIFS (before the class even started). In this way, and with item 3 below, your diving can help other divers.

  • Curating which seems to become an overkill buzzword of 2011, but in the Campbellian sense, “taking care fo stuff.. arranging it as you contemplate it” – This is aready being done from curation of ideas (“this is my first blog post”) to media people find and share, to resources (the activities people are sharing), and most visibly, the things each person creates.
  • Sharing is provided obtusely in the ds106 site, it reeks of it. But remember, the flip side of sharing is providing feedback and commentary to others. Do not forget to spend time reflecting back to others.

How far can you dive? Start small and keep at it.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by somnambience

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

  1. Before I dive into my comment, let me say that your post reminded me alot of this
    Mark Morford column about the deep end, take a look.

    But moving on, as a lover of the water and diving I found your analogy apt and fitting. I hate getting caught up in edu-jargon double speak, and no term bothers me more than life long learner, because so few teachers are actually doing anything about their learning, but I love the term, “the main equipment that helps you dive deeper is your own will.”

    And really, this is what is missing from most classes I have been involved with, is that the will of which you speak is missing. People just don’t care, part of that may be due to the fact that they have somehow been “forced” in to a learning environment, but it always comes back to each person and the strength of their will and how deep they want to dive. Question, how can we help people find their will, find the courage to dive?

    Think you answered that spot on. You learn by doing, but how many of the undergraduates taking this course for credit, will continue to dive after the course is finished?

    In closing, I loved this line:

    Training and workshops merely teach you how to float better.

    It is courses like this that help us dive. I am looking forward to more of them in the future. In the meantime, see you at the bottom….

  2. Pingback: Bags of Gold |
  3. Freediving is one of those things that take your body to its limits. It’s an experience like no other and only a few could have. One thing I love about it (yes, I do freediving) is the challenge, the challenge to conquer your fears and the feat of beating your previous depth mark.

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