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Laura Gibbs

Unit 2: Artifact Example: A Real Desire to Learn Online

6 min read

I had fun reading Stacy's Unit 2: Artifact Example: My Web History for

The questions she starts from are:

  • What is my documented history in the world of the Web?
  • How has my presence changed over time?
  • What is my current existence in the Web?

From Stacy's post, I learned that she got online in August of 1997, which predates me: my first webpage must be from October or November of 1998 because I took an afternoon workshop in Doe Library at Berkeley on how to make webpages using Netscape Composer... a very simple tool that changed my life forever. Because of the way the socrates webserver at was set up, those pages were not harvested by the Wayback Machine, but I do indeed have fond memories of those first pages. I was hooked from the first moment: the workshop was on a Friday, and I spent all weekend making webpages. And I've been making webpages ever since.

So, beginning with the year 1999, I have spent a substantial amount of time EVERY DAY doing something online. Since 2002, when I began teaching fully online courses, I have spent most of every working day online. In a very real sense, I "live" online. It is a country I inhabit, it is a place I know well, it is a language in which I am very fluent. This beautiful "Map of Internet" by Jay Simons captures that metaphor perfectly: the Internet IS a world.

Here's a close-up of just part of the map so you can see how it works; be sure to check out the Deviant Art page for lots more detail:

Even more exciting: this is a world that I am helping to create, and my students are too. With every tweet and blog post, with every image shared, with every comment and status update, we are creating that land, bringing it out from under the waters of existence, making it solid, giving us something to stand on, a space we can inhabit. I am a true believer in the open Internet and the power of hyperlinks to hold it together, making it possible for us to travel freely through the land we have made.

I have been an eager online content creator for so many years now that I cannot imagine any other way of doing my work. Best of all: I am more enthusiastic with each passing year, feeling more and more confident about the value of the time invested in these projects. I benefit, my students benefit, total strangers benefit. We all benefit.

Instead of trying to provide a history of where I've been online for the past 16 years (I can't even imagine how I would do that), let me just quickly give a list of the online spaces I actively maintain right now, and you'll get a sense of what I mean by eager creating online content. As part of my job every single day you will see me creating content at Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and Blogger, with Blogger being home to MANY active blogs; you can check out my overall content stream at which combines my activity across these various platforms. My latest experiment is with Known, as you can see from this post: I am hoping to use Known to create a new kind of group content-sharing experience with my students this Fall. My students, meanwhile, create blogs and websites too; you can see their work for Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics if you are curious: they do GREAT work.

In addition to these active spaces, I have many other blogs that are no longer active, but even those are still useful; just this week, in fact, I got a nice email from someone who built a Latin macronizer who wanted to thank me for my old Ictibus Felicibus blog — he used it to train his macronizer. It's those kinds of connections with total strangers that make the Internet different from (and better than!) any other educational enterprise I've participated in.

So, going back to the "Map of the Internet," I would contrast the open sense of adventure and exploration — maps make you want to go places! — with the painfully limited, mind-numbing, closed LMS which has become the default web space for all classes offered at my school, even the fully online classes. When we first went with D2L as the LMS for my school about 10 years ago, I was optimistic: it was clearly better than Blackboard at that time, and I thought it would be a good way for faculty who had not put anything online to get started. Little did I imagine the nightmare that D2L would become: instead of being a way for faculty to get started, it has become pretty much the ONLY way faculty share online materials with their students ... and, even worse, D2L has remained frozen in time, oblivious to the social transformation of the Internet that has taken place over the past 10 years. My own life online has become so much richer thanks to the ever more personal ways in which networked learning and sharing now happens online, yet D2L is disconnected from that world, fundamentally lacking in a "networked" understanding of how people learn by sharing and working together.

As a result of this decade-long emphasis on D2L, instead of traveling the wonderful world of the wide open Internet, the faculty and also the students at my school have found themselves locked in a windowless room, unable even to connect with one another effectively inside that space. In a great G+ conversation yesterday, Michelle Pacansky-Brock made a plea for BEAUTY in online courses, and I agree completely: I aspire to both beauty and wonder in my online courses... experiences that are antithetical to the antiseptic, lifeless space that is D2L. What a terrible loss for us all!

But on a happier note, I'll close with my meme cat of the day, a cat who understands that what we need is "desire for the vast and endless sea" ... the Internet, not D2L — and as for D2L having recently removed the word "desire" from its name, well, I'll let that irony speak for itself! :-)

When you want to build a ship, do not begin by gathering wood, cutting boards, and distributing work, but awaken within your heart the desire for the vast and endless sea.