There’s a too-long-Twitter-canoe that is getting into questions of whether use of commercial services are of the faith or not. It’s a worthwhile discussion, but I thought I’d bolt from it and put something on the blog instead.
A while ago I decided I wanted to work with one of our most technology-phobic faculty here. We had two goals:
- We wanted the students to do public writing
- We wanted them to learn a useful technology for their scholarly practice
We had two constraints:
- It had to be simple. This requirement was described to me as “something John McCain could use” in a reference to the revelation in the 2008 campaign that McCain didn’t know how to use email.
- It had to be, in my thinking, non-invasive and cheap. I didn’t want to sell the students upstream to a tools provider.
So what did we do? We bought one big Pinboard account for the class. We emailed the creator of Pinboard, the incomparable Maciej Cegłowski and asked him if it was OK to let everyone use the account (he said yes). We paid about $9 for a lifetime account (it was 2014). And then we asked the students each week to find a substantial article about public policy (either a journal article or a multipage press treatment) and write a summary of it, and post that summary as a social bookmark.
What does that look like? Well, not too exciting:
But they loved it, actually, and thinking back, I wish I’d rolled out more social bookmarking classes. I got deep into wiki for a while, and just didn’t push it because my mind was elsewhere. The next time that class came round we used Hypothes.is which went wonderfully the first time and hit some glitches the second time around. The fourth iteration comes up this Spring, and we’ll do a post-mortem soon.
Here’s their writing. It’s impressive actually.
But back to Pinboard. The reason that this comes to mind today is I’m getting back into Pinboard as a kind of Twitter replacement for finding articles. And last night, when reading something on polarization, it mentioned that Obama’s NCLB waivers were a massive overstep that — while not travel ban-level despicable — asserted the same rights of the executive branch to route around Congress. And I searched for something in Pinboard on this, and suddenly there was this students summary and analysis, tying it to broader thinking on public policy. From a student in that class years ago.
The project had the students learn through the important practice of summary, and the teacher said the students had really grasped the material much better because of this activity. It showed them social bookmarking, an important practice in doing their own web research and in sharing it with others. And it engaged them in public writing — they knew these notes would be visible to the world, and prepared them with care and purpose.
I’m not sure what my larger point is here. I suppose I think of this as open pedagogy, even though David Wiley might disagree — in practical terms they have offered up this work for anyone to copy into their bookmarks. They now understand one way to participate and share their work using the web. And I think of this as providing that digital sanctuary that Amy talks about, because Maciej supports the site with a subscription fee and eschews any tracking or advertising.
Anyway, it was a simple project, a great success in a course with little tolerance for tech issues, and though it looks very boring, it ended helping me out in the end — three years later the student is teaching me in a serendiptious collision. I put it up here on the blog now now, because it strikes me we cover the massive things, whether Digipo or blogging clusters or federated wiki, and don’t share the simple solutions quite as much.