I suppose it’s a form of pathetic fallacy to link the five days of fog we in Vancouver are experiencing with the hazy state of my cognition lately.
One of the things I’ve been batting around in my so-called mind is a framework for ripping, mixing and feeding collections of weblogs and resources for courses… This fall we launched a set of weblog-based courses linked up with aggRSSive. So far, based on the feedback we’ve gotten, I’d say these were successful efforts. We do break most of Farmer’s dictums, but that doesn’t bug me much. Rules are made to be broken, especially with this kind of stuff. None of the instructors had any familiarity with weblogs before we launched, and each had a set of requirements (privacy, etc…) that led to fairly tight integration of our networks. In a sense these are hybrids between weblogs and traditional course management — which is something of a cop-out, but I’m a believer in going where the users are, and for better or for worse these projects reflect that.
I had a promising meeting a couple months back with a professor here who wanted to go the other way… He was all for trying a blog-supported framework, but wanted it to be tool-agnostic (for our current courseblogs we need the students to have UBC-hosted Movable Type accounts, in order to exploit category-based security and RSS feeds), and wanted the individual students to be able to self-select what content they wanted to toss into the collective pool, and better yet to be able to group activity in an emergent, folksonomic way.
In a sense, this is dead simple. Get the students to add Technorati tags (or something like that), pull out the RSS, and render the feeds in something like Suprglu (sample from the Textologies course), backing it up in a searchable database like Blogdigger (ditto). Or we might use a portal-like tool such as Netvibes (which if you haven’t seen it, is worth a look) to pull it all together.
There are downsides to this approach — depending on third-party apps, even well-established ones like Technorati can cause its own form of pain. The risk is higher when using new apps (seemingly in a perpetual beta state) from start-up companies. Then there’s the advertising.
Talking with the resident office tech-heads, it seems we might be able to roll our own complement to this approach, tailored to educational needs, conceivably by taking advantage of already-planned improvements to aggRSSive, and rolling out a simple presentation template to give the collective output some sort of appealing and manageable format. They tell me it wouldn’t even take much programming time — but developers always say that before a project gets rolling.
My current thinking is that we try piloting the course using both approaches — the third party tools, and the custom job. The beauty of RSS is that once the content is created it can be republished and remixed in any number of permutations without any additional hassle to the users. We run the two approaches side by side, comparing and contrasting as we go. I watch the happenings, and write the occasional meandering weblog post like this one.
I don’t see any obvious holes in this plan, but I’m haunted by the sense that I’m missing something. Either that I’m missing an opportunity, or that something will break down. So out of the fog and onto the blog it goes.
Update: just so the fallacy can get a little more pathetic, as I finish writing this post the fog seems to be lifting, and the sun begins to shine in my window…