Ferguson and Myst IV Tuesday, Apr 24 2007 

First, see the next post for my long diatribe on Gee, it is much more thoughtful and extensive (and much, much linger) than this one!

Now, I do not want to go on too long on either Ferguson or Myst (see above) and, since many have already commented on Myst and I have no real strong feelings on it one way or the other (except that it was okay, nothing I would ever play normally but mainly because I like Command and Conquer and Age of Empires and strategic games like that…plus, I’ll admit that I did not give it near as much time as others did), I shall thus copy the notes I took while reading Ferguson’s article (I actually tried the write notes in Notepad as I read the article on the cpu and it worked fairly well, but I would only probably do it for relatively short articles, less than 10 pages or so…but I like saving the paper and thus, the environment!!):

The thing Ferguson is seemingly searching for is a way to play a game of “what if’s” with WWII and describing that as somehow doing appropriate history, but isn’t that going against what we are taught as historians, that playing that game is fun and interesting, but not necessarily the best scholarship?

I see the biggest problem with this approach to teaching history as confusing the real issues and events of history by too much attention paid to the outcomes (whether the real ones or altered ones) and not enough on the actions taken that resulted in those outcomes. Would the games come along with long explanations of what the actual actors did during the given crises? How would one then decide which strategic path to take instead if they wished a different outcome? And once one starts on that different path, what value does that really have for a student of history except to say, “well, this could have happened and this could have happened given these circumstances”?

My Comments on other people’s Blogs:

Gee Wizz…I just had to!! Tuesday, Apr 24 2007 

So, we are given yet another of Professor Gee’s writings, “Learning by Design” and I have yet another long list of grievances. And again, I don’t think it is necessarily about his theories of learning per se, it’s just the way he generalizes education into this big ball of bordem and bumblings…let me discuss a few things I find fault with for just a moment:

  1. page 6: “Good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers) – this one, I tend to agree with except for one major problem: aren’t we, as a capitalist society, raising our children to be good and thoughtful consumers? Thus, this would seem to contradict that teaching, no? And, while I tend to be more socialist than capitalist these days (and this strikes me as a socialist mantra: everyone in society having a stake in it and thus, contributing in some way to it), this mix and match seems to be an issue. I’d almost prefer going one way or the other, but just pick one!
  2. page 7: later, in the same section on “co-design,” Gee claims that “forced and enforced group discussions are about as far as interactivity goes in most classrooms” – now, I may just know or had too many “good” teachers and I realize this is purely anecdotal, but are not many classrooms filled with role-playing (esp. in the humanities), team debates, mock trials or meetings (like the U.N. thing almost everyone I know did in grammar school), group projects and presentations, and much more?
  3. page 9: he is basically asking the question whether students actually use the knowledge taught to them in “practical” situations, and again he brings up science as a way they don’t (i.e. learn “facts” without any context or visible use for them) – did this guy ever have a Lab??? I mean, every school I have ever been at or attended had labs associated with their intro science classes and most, if not all, had them as requirements that went along with the lecture. Now, I am in favor of making sure they coincide more perfectly (I remember one where I had the lecture in the fall and the Lab in the spring, and that DID NOT WORK AT ALL), but this seems to be something that is already being done. Even in grammar and high school, I recall several projects like building an encasement for an egg to prevent it from breaking using several laws of physics to do so (gravity, momentum transfer, parabolic trajectory and others that I cannot remember because it was so long ago!).
  4. page 11: he says, “games let learners experience expertise, schools usually don’t…[this] allows learners to learn how to manage their own lifelong learning and to become skilled at learning to learn” – I couldn’t agree more, but is this not what we already tell our kids (at least I was told it and still subscribe to it today)? In other words, isn’t most pre-college learning not about learning content at all (high school being some of both), but learning the skills needed to learn efficiently later on? If not, I agree that it definitely should be!

Okay, I could go on, but I won’t. But before I stop piling on ol’ Gee, I will mention one more thing. I decided, after reading this article, to look at his endnotes (for both the article and his book) a little more closely. First of all, they are not endnotes, it is bibliographical information (which any historian will usually be a bit suspect over right from the beginning). Second, his article cites WAY too many of his own works! Third, and most serious, many of the places in the book where I disagree with him most vigorously (i.e. the way he depicts physics classes as only learning Newton’s laws and never applying them), he is using sources that are anywhere from 15-25 years old. So, I then begin to wonder, is this guy just too far removed from his school days to really know what the heck he is talking about???? Has learning passed him by????????

As for Ferguson and Myst IV, I include that in the next Blog post so folks can pick the one they wish to read, since when I first published this one I realized how long I went on about Gee, sorry…

Design Assignment: I Hope it’s okay… Monday, Apr 16 2007 

Okay folks, as the person bringing up the rear in Design abilities, I NEED feedback on my current project. I am 50/50 about it and I like some parts of it, while others I cannot stand!! I am nowhere near finished playing with it, but since I actually had something up and running on time for once (thank goodness for these hurricane-like conditions, nothing else to do but work on it!), I figured I would see if you would be kind enough to give me some comments, good and bad, I can take it!!

Check it out here and look, no more ads!! Also, the 1st link is the only hot one at the moment, but the other 2 (at the very least) will be working for tomorrow. The biggest question I have is whether the background color works on the document pages. My thinking is that using the background I used in the homepage would not work for the embedded pages because it would be the same text on top of the same text.

But, for now, since I have been up since 9 staring at this damn ‘puter, I am taking a nap!!!

Before I do, here are my comments for the week:

Thanks in advance for your time and see you in the ‘morrow.

Playin’ around on the Web Tuesday, Apr 10 2007 

Okay, so, I actually liked Jakob Nielsen’s Participation Inequality article, unlike some of my fellow classmates (see Laura’s Blog and Jenny’s comment on Laura’s Blog, among others). See my comment on Laura’s Blog to check out the whole reason, but it is mainly because of his awesome stats and the love he gives Amazon’s “people who bought this book, bought these other books” recommendations. I love that feature about Amazon and it has helped me out a lot (especially since many of the books I am looking for have only been bought by fellow historians or scholars, so I know they are reputable…I have not been steered wrong yet!). Nielsen calls them “a side effect of people buying books. You don’t have to do anything special to have your book preferences entered into the system.” You just buy the book and that’s it!

As for Prof. Gee, I take some definite issue with some of his contentions about school and learning, but first what I agree with: I do think that learning in a community setting where you contribute a little of knowledge, as does the next person, as does the next, is the best way to learn – it’s, in fact, what we do the most of in our graduate classes (and personally, it is why I am sad after this Fall, I will only have one or two “actual classes” left to take…but then, I guess, it is conferences and the like where we would also get this community-driven learning, along with scholar’s blogs et al). So right there, it seems he is missing this important feature in grad school as he condemns all school-based learning.

But, I know, he is probably not talking about grad school, his main focus seems to be middle school and high school, and he also mentions a freshman physics class, which is the point I shall attack directly given that I took 2 freshman physics classes en route to my physics degree.

He claims that 1st-year physics student learn to “write down Newton’s laws of motion” and thus pass the class “with good grades” (p. 22). Now, I did go to a good undergraduate school, but I feel my experience was not more or less than average because, while my school was in the upper third of colleges, it was a liberal arts school and thus, did not focus its attention on the sciences (except the chemists! they got all kinds of money, it always rankled my feathers, but that’s neither here nor there). And NEVER did any of my tests consist of “writing down Newton’s laws”!!! If anything, we were usually allowed to take a “cheat sheet” with all the formulas we thought we would need on a notecard or piece of paper. It was not about memorizing formula and regurgitating it, like Gee seems to think, rather it was about using those formula in the proper situations and using them correctly. I liken it to the fact that we tell our undergrad history students not to focus too much on a lot of dates, rather just get the chronology down with some very important dates thrown in, but concentrate more on analyzing sources and backing up their own arguments.

In the end, I don’t disagree with most of Gee’s rules, I just think he has a very narrow view of school learning (and I suppose most of us like school and went to pretty good ones so we are somewhat biased in that regard). And I do see his point that, early on in grammar and middle school, kids need more exposure to “real-life” situations that you cannot learn from just reading a textbook or taking standardized tests (and in his condemnation of those, he has my whole-hearted support). But again, while studying for those tests is distracting and would probably do better at a different time of the year than in the middle of a term (if they were retained at all), they do not represent the whole of the learning experience.

My comments on other people’s blogs:

Best book EVER!!! Tuesday, Apr 3 2007 

Ok, Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug is not the best book EVER, but definitely of the ones we have read this semester AND probably the best book written about computers, the Web, or anything related to them I have read yet! Mind you, that number is by no means vast, but nonetheless…

Now, several things jump out that I would like to address. But, one that I was particularly fascinated with and somewhat justified my early position in my first Blog Post of the semester was that usability, accessibility and ease of navigation were more important to me than design or presentation. And after several comments and our discussion, I just figured I was in the minority, which was no biggie.

Then, here comes Mr. Krug with his sensible and very readable book for cpu dummies like myself…and, if you don’t mind, I shall quote a few lines from him that serve to validate my earlier thoughts (although, if I got anything out of this class, it’s that my taste is definitely not other people’s and vice-versa, so I guess it’s all for naught anyway, right?):

  1. “From what [Krug has] observed…as many as half [of web users] just aren’t aware of color coding in any useful way. Color is great as an additional cue, but you should never rely on it as the only cue.” (p. 83)
  2. “It’s just as likely that the next user [to view your site] will say that she hates [this color] and that the drawing is too simplistic. Don’t get too excited by individual reactions to site aesthetics.” (p. 151)
  3. “Your site looks amateurish. You can lose goodwill if your site looks sloppy, disorganized or unprofessional, like no effort has gone into making it presentable.
    “Note that while people love to make comments about the appearance of sites…almost no one is going to leave a site just because it doesn’t look great.” (p. 165)

I say hallelujah for Steve Krug, I shall praise his name throughout the Universe as I only do for the Buddha!

Now, in reality, I think both our positions and most of us in this class are not that far apart. In other words, design and presentation/aesthetics is only ONE of the important items in a good website and not having at least some level of attractiveness is not advised. But I shall stick to my original opinion that, for me at least, usability and accessibility (and I am speaking more about ease of use by non-cpu folks than disabled folks, but both apply) rank higher in the panthion of what makes a good website than design – I sure hope Prof. P. doesn’t read this, but she has probably given me up as hopeless by now anyway 🙂

My Comments on folks’ Blogs this week: