Friday, July 13, 2012

Step Away from Ray Bradbury's Bonfire

creative commons licensed
Vaultboy (Flickr)
I do not like speaking ill of one of my favorite authors, just as I hate to sound critical of fellow teachers or lovers of literature, since we share common cause in learning and the life of the mind. But a bonfire is burning, Bradbury's bonfire, and we who believe we care about books had better pay attention that we do not join him, tossing to the flames the very things we thought we cherished.

Bradbury burning books? The author of Farenheit 451? What high school student has not chilled at Bradbury's depiction of those firemen of the future ferreting out books and burning them? Who has not sensed that something is terribly wrong with any group who will put the torch to the written word? Those who burn books are the ignorant, the tyrannous, the bigoted, and the anti-intellectual.

They may be us, if we do not take care. Some are more culpable than others. I once chided my wife for throwing out a manuscript of mine, but of course she would never have done so had she realized the content. And that is why those who value the content of books are especially culpable if we are party to any bonfire of the books.

But that is what I am accusing us of. We, like Bradbury, may end up destroying the thing we love by clinging too closely to the physical format of the book. As Staci Kramer pointed out in an editorial right after Bradbury's death in 2012, a terrible irony attended his passing. With so much attention to this man and his works, almost nothing of his could be found in electronic form. Why?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Digital Citizens Unite! Announcing Our Final Event

Digital Citizens Unite! We need YOU to become more active in our digital world. 


Let us show you. 

Come to our free and food filled event and discuss topics like reforms in education, open government, and technology in the arts. 
Think you know enough about technology? Think again. Come to our Digital Citizens event right here on BYU campus and learn how you can better participate in the world around you right from home. 
Can’t make it to campus? Don’t fret. Just visit and watch the entire thing via our live stream. Be sure to participate by tweeting your comments and questions at #digiciv. 
WHEN: April 11th
TIME: 7:00pm MST
WHERE: 251 TNRB   and
This is one event you don’t want to miss. We need YOU!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Organizing our Final Project

Today we regrouped in order to begin our final project for DigiCiv 2012. While students had been grouped both in historical period groups and a digital culture topic groups, we have now organized them into content groups or production groups. Our students will continue blogging at least twice weekly, but their focus now will shift to developing the content for their assigned group.

DigiCiv Content Groups:
  • Art & Music
  • Business
  • Education
  • Government
  • Inquiry
  • Intellectual Property & Creative Commons
  • Openness
  • Science
We are producing an eBook as our core project, complemented by a YouTube channel, an image gallery, and a final event to launch and showcase our work.

DigiCiv Production Groups
  • eBook
  • graphics
  • video
  • event
Two students head up each of the content or productiongroups (based on expressed interest and on content they had produced to date) and all students will serve as resources to the other groups.

As outlined in the Prezi presentation embedded below, each week each content group will supply content to the eBook leaders by noon on Monday for a "build" that the eBook leaders will create and publish for all to review on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The 18th Century and Participation Media

As our students explore the 18th century and the concept of participation (as in digital culture and Web 2.0), I'd like to connect the two areas in a couple of ways.

In the 18th century, a new sense of "the public" emerged. There were many reasons for this, but high among them was the emergence of mass media. Sure, printing had been around since the mid-15th century, but it was in the 1700s that printing was both frequent and cheap enough for literally hundreds of thousands of people to be regularly consuming the same content tied closely to current events. This is the time when periodicals emerged and when newspapers began to take off.

London coffee houses were
vital social centers in the 18th century
We've taken for granted this sort of thing for centuries, but think about how much that changed the way people thought and acted.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why Cloud Computing is a Big Deal

Another day at RootsTech, and today I want to focus on cloud computing and how it is fundamentally changing the Internet. So what is cloud computing? It is the ability to store information in a large collection of servers on the Internet, so it is always available whenever you need it. Josh Coates gave a great definition of what this means for a developer in his keynote address yesterday:

  • the illusion of infinite resources,
  • no up front commitment, and
  • pay as you go.
You use cloud computing when you create a Google document, access your genealogy at, or backup your data with Mozy.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Can an Apple addict be an advocate for openness?

Can an Apple addict be an advocate for openness?

That's the sobering question I ask myself today. This comes in the wake of challenging students in our Digital Civilization class to be more critical about the open movement (we have been studying openness in its many exciting varieties this week).

I have found students too easily agreeing with open science, open government, open source software -- as though openness were a self-evident truth that the founding fathers overlooked in the Constitution; as though openness were a techno-utopian condition that only morons or devils would disagree with.

Frankly, some of the advocates for openness play the devil rather well. (I get uneasy when I find myself on the same side as that Anonymous group, even just a little.) When openness becomes a kind of irresponsible liberalism or the toy of anarchists, it starts to lose its shine. And despite my own strong statements in its favor, I must admit that openness can't just be about rapacious publishers too benighted to understand the virtues of open access, or about venal congressmen and MPAA lawyers coming down on life-as-we-know-it-online with ham-fisted censorship legislation. SOPA was wrong; does that make all openness right?

Time for some soul searching. "Okay, Gideon," I asked myself, "where are you truly committed to a closed or restricted system? Where is it that you are most hypocritical when trumpeting openness?"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gamification: Using Games to Change Behavior

At RootsTech today, I attended a session on gamification, the process of using game mechanics and game dynamics to engage users and keep them visiting your site.  The session was taught by Dave McCallister, of Adobe, who has clearly thought a lot about this issue.

Here's a quick sense of how gamification works:

These stairs were created as part of The Fun Theory, an initiative by Volkswagen to show that making something fun is the easiest way to change people's behavior.  After the stairs were installed, 66% more people than usual chose the stairs over the escalator.  Once the stairs were removed, half kept taking the stairs anyway!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Making Killer Presentations

Too often when students give slideshow presentations they waste everyone's time. 

There, I said it.

Now, this is partly due to poor presentation techniques ("death by PowerPoint"), but mostly due to our changing information environment and evolving learning methods. So, even a very good presentation by past standards may not be good anymore.

In short, when we can all access a wealth of information on any topic, why would we put up with it being rehashed (often less adequately) in class? When we know that active and participatory learning beats more passive modes, why would we tolerate any format that is essentially an info monologue?

I want to do three things in this post: evaluate the relative evil of the slide show presentation format; introduce a great resource for avoiding "death by PowerPoint"; and finally, recommend four components for a killer presentation.

Let me quickly add that a killer presentation may not in fact be the best vehicle for the teaching or learning that is needed. But if we do use them, then let's use them well. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tools for Collaboration

A basic activity of the digital age is self organizing using readily available (often free) online tools and social media. In terms of digital literacy, to take needed action in the world we must have tools to CONSUME information; CREATE content; and CONNECT with others. Tools will vary over time in their utility, but whatever suite of tools you have, make sure they help you in those three areas. I want to focus briefly on the last of these, CONNECT.

Obviously by requiring our students to use Google+ and to post links there to their blogs, this enables connecting (as well as consuming and creating). But as one starts to move into collaborating on presentations or on projects, Google+ is not enough. Here is a short list of essential collaboration tools that we recommend:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Open Movement on Seven Fronts

Below I have briefly listed seven different fronts of the open movement that are very active today.

Openness is a core component of digital civilization. And when I say "core component" I mean it is as central as voting is to democracies, as foundational as silicon is to computing, and as game-changing as books have been to education. But openness is not a given. In fact, it has a long, uphill battle against entrenched interests in business, politics, publishing, and education. A lot of people resist the open movement -- often without actually understanding anything but its apparent threat to their status quo. Others blithely advocate for openness as though it were the 21st century equivalent of 1960s counter culture. "Open" sounds attractively liberal or liberating. And it is. But of course, it is not so simple as a slogan.

We need to know what "open" is and what it means. If not, we can become subject either to cultural fads or to devastating business or political practices. At the very least, anyone who cares about how education can succeed in the 21st century must come to terms with how openness can scale educational opportunity for individuals and whole nations.

And so, building here upon work done by David Wiley, a national leader in the open content movement, who is currently teaching "Introduction to Openness in Eduction" at BYU, I have curated a list of seven fronts upon which the battle for openness is being waged. Following the list, I have embedded two video playlists (one from YouTube; one from Vimeo). These videos will give you a quick introduction to the issues (and to some of the important people) in the open movement:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stifling Innovation

Created by Jessica Duensing for
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It's purpose is to encourage disclosure of innovations in return for the exclusive right to practice the invention for a period of time.  Like any other property, a patent can be sold, transferred, or abandoned.  The typical justification for patent law is that it encourages inventions to be made public; without this protection an inventor would be likely to keep the invention secret, with the possibility that the idea would be lost once the patent holder died.

In the software industry, however, patents are generally regarded as stifling innovation.  Software patents are often granted for technology that is considered obvious, such as the infamous "One-Click" patent granted to Amazon for an online shopping cart.  The U.S. Patent Office often lacks the expertise to be able to review patents based on advances in highly specialized fields of Computer Science, letting through patents where prior art should invalidate them.  Large companies buy up huge portfolios of patents to squelch competition from smaller companies or to protect themselves against lawsuits from other large companies.  Patent "trolls" purchase patents without any intention of creating a product based on the patent, but for the sole purpose of suing other companies that may infringe on the patent.  Lawsuits are often threatened for any remotely related technology, in the hopes that a large settlement and subsequent licensing revenue can be received.

Consuming Content via Google Reader

Learning to throttle one's information stream is a key trait of digital literacy (under the category we call "consume"). Finding lots of blogs and websites isn't hard, but it is not efficient to go checking those websites routinely. It is easier to use a "feed reader" or news aggregator to bring all of those content streams to you, much like you receive email. Enter Google Reader. This is not the only feed reader available, but it is a very good one and is tied in well with other Google products such as Gmail and Google+.  (More on that below)

I also love Google Reader because it can be used on any device and can be accessed through a large variety of software clients. On the web I simply go to But on my iPad I read my Google Reader feeds via Feedler and Flipboard. On my iPhone I use Byline -- all of those simply accept my Google credentials and synchronize perfectly across programs and devices. I find it very easy to stay current with all of my students blog posts by checking my Google Reader in these various ways.

I have created the following tutorial to walk people through how to set up Google Reader to follow, read, and manage feeds from a set of blogs or websites. If you have ideas for better practices of consuming using Google Reader (or another feed reader), please chime in on the conversation. 

One thing I failed to mention in the video is how well you can use Google Reader with Google+. (This brings together the "consume" and "connect" parts of digital literacy.) When reading an item in a feed, one can click on the +1 at the bottom of that item, which then gives you the option of sharing that item with any of your Google+ circles. Try it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ten Tips for Academic Blogging

An academic blog isn't like other types of blogs. It isn't a Mommy blog, nor a political blog, nor a personal diary blog. It is a blog devoted to developing and sharing ideas. However, at the same time, an academic blog is not an academic paper. Student bloggers must balance their posts between less and more formality in what they post.

Here are 10 suggestions. Most of these are tips for good blogging in general, but toward the end the tips are more focused on academic sorts of blogging.

Notable Posts from DigiCiv Students

Blogging is a flexible medium, and as a new set of students gets accustomed to it, I think it would be helpful for them to know what we see as valuable in posts that have been created to date.

Posting or linking to prior academic work
Bryan Mulkern posted a paper he wrote about Jackson Turner's frontier thesis to contribute to a discussion of manifest destiny. Similarly, Brett Riley, as a follow up to class discussion, paraphrased a paper he'd written last semester about publishing and linked to his bibliography. Marcos Escalona, chiming in the copyright debate, also referred to a prior paper he'd written on the topic.

Posting critically
Not to encourage people simply to be contrary, but I admire when students have the courage to make reasoned cases contrary to popular opinion or to the explicit bias of the instructors. Both Brian Robison and Michelle Frandsen opposed open science (Brian: "Open Science and Why its a Bad Thing"; Michelle: "Open Science vs. Good Science"). David Perkins swam upstream with his "Three reasons why I stayed off the anti-SOPA bandwagon" as well as his post on why the Internet is a drug.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How Do I Know When I'm Done?

Questions We know that we've thrown a lot of new stuff at you in this Digital Civilization class so far, and this paradigm shift can be overwhelming, to say the least. A few of you have asked some very valid questions in the past couple days: How do I know when I've done enough? How can I be confident that I'm prepared for class?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Internet Piracy? Or Internet Censorship?

The music industry wants to turn your kids into pirates.  And not in the cute, dress-up way.  Take the case of Lenz vs United Music, in which the EFF sued United Music for sending a take-down notice to a woman who posted a short clip of her baby dancing to a Prince song that was playing in the background.  United was acting under the DMCA, a law passed in 2000 that allows copyright holders to notify a website that they must immediately remove infringing content.  In this case the woman was clearly within her rights of fair use of the copyrighted material, but as copyright holder, United would rather that this part of copyright law didn't exist.  When laws give copyright holders free reign over the system, the way the DMCA does, then they will use it to their advantage, eroding any rights that might be accorded to the public.

This situation promises to get even worse if SOPA passes.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blogging and You

kosmic blogging in samsara Up until now, to you blogging may have been something that your aunt did to keep the extended family in the loop or something your creative writer roommate did to put her work up online. You may not have thought about blogging in an academic context before, and the idea can take some getting used to.

I'm a big proponent of blogging in academic courses--I even wrote a research paper on the subject that I'm presenting at a conference in March. Blogging provides a way for you to synthesize ideas in writing and get them out there for your classmates and the world to see. However, the purpose of blogging in this course is bigger than that.

You see, part of becoming digitally literate is sharing your ideas and contributing to the online conversation. It's true that in this class, blogging will be a way for you to record your ideas, share them with your classmates, trace your learning process over time, and make progress toward your final projects. But more important than that, blogging is one of the most powerful ways for you to shape your online identity--an identity that will take on more and more importance if you wish to make an impact in our increasingly technological world.

In this post I'll outline some aspects of the blogging process in terms of Consume, Create, and Connect that will not only help you do well in the class, but will help you make your blog a vibrant learning record of lasting value to you and others and make your voice a part of the conversation.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Welcome to the Future: An Introduction


So you've been to the first day of Digital Civilization, and if you're anything like I was after my first day (and even first few weeks), you're feeling slightly panicky right about now.

What's going on?? This class is nothing like what I'm used to. Blogging? Google+? No set number of pages to read? No universal textbook? What in the world will I be graded on? What is this class?? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO??? 

First of all, CALM DOWN. DON'T FREAK OUT. You are going to be okay--promise.

You are experiencing, in a way, a little thing called Future Shock.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reinventing the Syllabus

The first modern syllabus
(Henry Adams, Harvard, 1876)

For the average college student, a course syllabus is a critical form of information. In fact, without one they would feel as lost as if one took away their cell phone. Well, maybe not that lost.

In Digital Civilization we follow a teaching philosophy that is somewhat at odds with the course syllabus as traditionally conceived. We use a syllabus, but we do not wish for this course, or for our students' education more generally, to be syllabus-driven.