“In The Loop”

October 21, 2008
Bloglines Screenshot

Bloglines Screenshot

By popular demand, the “Filtering the Web” genre now continues! Here are those original three questions:

  • How does technology ease or make difficult the dissemination of information?
  • What problems or issues have you encountered in reading blogrolls on various weblogs?
  • What issues have you encountered in incorporating a blogroll and web filtering into your own weblog?

Dissemination of information

One of the benefits of JOMC 713 for me so far has been the encouragement to dive into the blogosphere — to read opinions and views in blogs as part of my daily routine. I have bookmarked dozens of them and consulted them even on important topics.

I have picked up on some fairly offbeat political stories, generally put forth by partisan sources but still interesting and flying under the radar of mainstream media. One example was the apparent controversy surrounding the construction of the Palins’ home in Alaska, questioning whether Todd Palin inappropriately used state government resources in building his home. This story was put out by “Stef” of DailyKos.

Another story thread came from across the aisle, concerning the fate of author Dr. Jerome Corsi in Nairobi, Kenya as he pursued the nature of the connection between once-Illinois Sen. Obama and Kenyan politician Raila Odinga. Corsi was deported by a not-so-tolerant government for trying to dig up dirt on a Kenyan hero. This story made it to YouTube under the title of “Deported: American author declared persona non grata“.

These stories are attractive because, to me, they’re categorically richer and more detailed than the bland, sentiment-gushing fluff that now constitutes much of the election narrative of the mainstream American media. With the attraction, of course, comes a need for skepticism about the claims. But in the end reading these types of blogs is a win-win situation. If the story’s facts end up checking out, I will have heard of it long before the media picks it up; if it was a fairy tale, I’ll know which blogger to distrust the next time around.

Reading blogrolls

One problem I have faced in exploring blogs and their blogrolls is their grossly disconnected locations on the web. They seem to be sprawled out all over cyberspace, and either isolated on self-contained islands like WordPress and Blogger, or else embedded deep within the bowels of websites of every genre.

At first I thought a solution to this problem of scatteredness might be using Google’s Blog Search feature. This, I thought, would give me a common frame of reference to keep returning to while reading several blogs on the same topic. But I have found one serious drawback to Google’s Blog Search. Because of PageRank prioritizing, the more interesting, spicy, completely personal blogs, such as those maintained by members of my class, almost never show up. The list of results ends up being full of corporate blogs and blogs attached to mainstream media sources.

Luckily, over the weekend, a friend told me about Bloglines. This turned out to be much nearer to the mark! This is an application that allows you to import your blog feeds to one place, where you can create running “playlists” of the most recent posts. I’m just getting started using this service, but already I’m finding that it tends to venture away from the mainstream and into the more flavorful and offbeat. It may turn out to be just what I was looking for: one virtual “place” to organize and read all of my blogs on a daily basis.

Incorporating a blogroll

Incorporating a blogroll into Socratic Questions has been a continual joy for me. WordPress makes it super-easy to create and organize link categories. I have collected and “rolled” dozens of URL’s that lead not only to content on education proper, but also to many areas of my personal, eclectic interest — from inspiring ADHD stories to readable math tutorials to a dissident blogger in Cuba to my classmates’ blogs and back again.

The Autodidact and the Web

October 13, 2008
Jackson Pollock painting in his studio, Springs, New York, 1949 © Time Inc

Jackson Pollock painting in his studio, Springs, New York, 1949 © Time Inc

Kirk Hathaway, Jackson Pollock

Many thanks to classmate Kirk Hathaway for his substantial comment on “Checkered Trousers,” my review of Randy Burton’s guitar blog.

It is illuminating and, most of all, educating, to be seen through the eyes of another; and this is what Kirk sees in my blog approach:

… here Ramsey goes into dissecting routine and examining inspiration.

In Math Wars, I examined the routine of how mathematics is taught in the elementary school classroom, searching for the substance of what was being taught. In Faith and Science, I proposed writing about famous scientists and their spiritual beliefs, what made them tick. In ADHD, I looked at swimmer Michael Phelps’ ability to use ADHD to his competitive advantage. Now Kirk is treating me by my own standard, dissecting what I’ve been doing to trace the pattern of my inspiration.

A classroom assignment, such as the one I have been given in JOMC 713 — to read and review at least three of my classmates’ blogs, is a kind of routine, which leads Kirk to ask next:

… and so when the hurdles of the assignment [are] thrown on his track, and he must, for class, produce posts that review other blogs, does he hold true to his artist’s inspirations?

Kirk likened my blogging to artistry, specifically to the painting style of Jackson Pollock.

I like the reference, for two reasons: Pollock’s apparent disdain for tradition and his love for his underlying medium. These qualities allowed him to step back and create something that was wholly his own.

With his “drip method of painting,” Pollock created a kind of beautiful pattern out of randomness. I would aspire to do that with writing about things on the Web, especially on my topic of education, where we find a chaos of information that, with a little artistry, can become a supply of raw material for our own Socratic canvas.

Filtering the Web

So let’s approach the following assignment with a painter’s eye. My assignment for “Filtering the Web” is to write about one or more of these questions:

  • How does technology ease or make difficult the dissemination of information?
  • What problems or issues have you encountered in reading blogrolls on various weblogs?
  • What issues have you encountered in incorporating a blogroll and web filtering into your own weblog?

Technology plays right into the hands of the autodidact, the self-taught person. No one can teach you how to filter the Web; you have to dive in and experience it for yourself. Sure, someone can teach you the nomenclature of blogs, what each thing is called, such as the blogroll.

But the experience has to be wholly your own; and experience is so much more than information. Information can be the raw material – the paint. Through experience, the artist shapes it into an expression of who he or she is, an outgrowth of his or her soul.

In examining other websites and blogs, I have tried to pick and choose which threads may be useful for weaving together the tapestry I have wanted to create, according to my interests.

Technology obviously increases the overall amount and variety of information I can dive into. I have had no trouble finding a plethora of relevant sites and blogs, even by simply Googling the keywords I listed in my Research Plan. At first the sites came pouring in in waves like a Tsunami.

But I am learning to hone my searches by starting with better keywords, using search sites other than Google — such as internal searches on bookmarked blog depots. Finally, I let some of my favorite blogs do the work for me by thoroughly investigating their links and blogrolls. I found a number of good so-called “edublogs” (blogs on education) simply by learning that new piece of vocabulary — edublog — and then searching for it.

My style is eccentric and, at its best, serendipitous. The idea for “Math Wars” actually started several weeks ago when I was on YouTube enjoying some videos about fractals and happened to stumble on the video “Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth.” The video was talking about some of the novel approaches to multiplication and division that I had been exposed to as a student teacher, so I was intrigued; I immediately followed up the video with the responses by James Blackburn-Lynch.

Googling “Blackburn-Lynch” led me to that professor’s personal website at Berea College, where I happened to find a whole mini-site devoted to Faith and Science, which played beautifully into the idea I had already written down for my next blog entry!

This is my own, eccentric, approach, and I cannot prescribe it as a model for anyone else to follow. I have tried to show that by seeking to educate myself on topics of personal interest– autodidacticism — I have gotten surprising results that have influenced the direction and enriched the content of my blog posts.

I would add that even though I have chosen what some may call a “serious” topic, I have not shunned “popular” websites such as YouTube, in favor of only rarefied academic journals. Similarly, when Jackson Pollock embarked on painting with his “drip” method, he tended to prefer cheap household paints because he could drip them better! If I may squeeze out a comparison, I likewise found a popular YouTube video that just seemed to flow!