15.9.08

Technical requirements

In my syllabi for any of my courses that utilize blogging, I spell out a set of "technical requirements" that a course blog has to meet. These usually involve things like: each post needs to have a unique url, comments must be public, etc. Sometimes students ask me to take class time to teach them how to do these things with their blogs, especially one of the requirements I spell out:

each blog must have some easy way that a viewer can bring up all posts written by a specific author. With Blogger, this is a matter of using Google’s “Blog Search” technology and then adding a link to your blog’s template, but note that you have to add the search links to the blog template; it is not enough to simply set up the blog! Other options exist for other blogging platforms.)


But I am extremely reluctant to spend class-time on this, for three reasons.

1) when I require papers to be e-mailed to me, I do not consider it my obligation to train anyone in the techniques of word-processing a document or attaching a document to e-mail. Similarly, I would not consider it my obligation to train anyone in handwriting if I were administering an in-class exam, or in basic English grammar and syntax if I assign a text to read. I presume that the student has acquired those skills elsewhere, and if not, that other offices and services exist on and off-campus to help the student in this respect. I am more than happy to point to the student towards the correct office, and help them get the support that they need, but that does not mean that I am prepared to provide that support myself.

2) one of the things that people have to be comfortable doing in the age of the Internet is googling around to find out how to do things online. This goes doubly for basic web work. "Adding a link" is the sort of thing all competent web users ought to be able to do, kind of like "gassing up the car" and "checking the tire pressure" are things licensed automobile drivers ought to be able to do as a matter of course. By now I presume that everyone in one of my classes has conducted a basic web search, read through online discussion boards, and looked at the ways that other web pages are put together, so looking around for a few minutes at basic html syntax and Blogger's voluminous help files and FAQs should not be beyond anyone's competence. Seriously, this will take you about ten minutes -- and if you find out how to do it yourself, you might even remember it, or at least remember how you figured it out.

3) by giving an expectation rather than a procedure, I am allowing -- even encouraging -- students to be creative in how they meet that technical requirement. In my syllabus text I suggest one method, which involves adding a link to the blog template that points to a blog search, but there are other methods: the proper use of tags/labels for posts, the construction of a simple image map overlaying a graphic featuring everyone's name and pointing to aggregate posts, etc. I am indifferent as to how you accomplish the goal, so long as I can visit everyone's blog and with one click get access to all of the posts written by each individual person.

And as I said, I am happy to talk to people outside of class as they think about this technical requirement -- I'm more than happy to point people toward appropriate resources. But this is not a technology class so I am not going to spend class-time training people in the use of technology.

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