Online Journal for the CyberOne class

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The Questions

The purpose of these journals will be to evaluate the characteristics of the particular technology as a medium of expression. Is it easy to use? What kind of expression does it encourage? What kind of expression does it discourage? Is it a useful tool for education? That sort of question and whatever else you find interesting about it.

My Thoughts on Wiki

First off, I was shocked how easy Wiki is to use. The only thing I have to compare it to is Google's blogger software, and it seems much easier than that. For example, I was impressed that all I had to do was put double brackets around a word to create a new page. Similarly, a link to another page was created with a single bracket. As is evident in my wiki profile, I got carried away with the links, just because it was so easy.

In fact, the simplicity of the software actually fostered my creativity, and encouraged me to provide a lot more information than I otherwise would have. Usually when I have to write a profile of myself, it's for normal print media. So I give the requisite boring details, and that's it. With my Wiki Profile, I linked a few obvious things like Stanford and Harvard, and was having so much fun linking that my creative process changed. Rather than trying to think of facts that I should include in a biography, I began trying to think of things that I wanted to link to, and I created the [User:Kgarrett|biography] around those links.

What was fun about writing the Wiki was the thought that it could become an authoritative source on "me." Just like people go to Wikipedia for a complete take on any topic under the sun, they could come to my Wiki Profile to learn all about me. That's assuming, of course, that this site is going to survive the semester. But I could imagine it becoming something that is worth investing a considerable amount of time in, because I could continue to build on it in the future.

As far as Wiki goes as a teaching tool, I think it could be fantastic for group collaboration. It would be a lot better than constantly passing around "the" project and each adding to it, or having to get together to produce something, as we did in high school.

I do see some potential problems with Wiki as a teaching tool, though. Chief among them is the interplay between real-life interpersonal dynamics and cyberworld interpersonal dynamics. What makes Wikipedia so effective as a tool of collaboration is that the normal rules of etiquette don't exist. And that's good, because they'd get in the way. There are different rules of etiquette there, which have developed and are appropriate to that space.

For example, if I were working on a project with peers in real life, I would expend a lot of energy doing a song-and-dance about respecting their opinion, even if I thought they were dead wrong. I would even sacrifice the quality of the final project just to preserve relationships. On Wikipedia, on the other hand, people can hide behind the internet. If they disagree with something someone wrote, they just delete it and write something better. They don't worry about hurt feelings. They only care about the integrity and accuracy of the final product. The niceties of manners don't get in the way.

So, in CyberOne, we have both dynamics, and I fear the intersection will be awkward. I predict that the pages where we signed up to work as a team to summarize a week's reading will be less effective (as far as the optimum use of Wiki goes) than the project to petition the administration to make the course pass/fail. Why? Because the small groups are comprised of people who are friends in real life, or who at least know each other's real names. So they won't be as willing to just slash and burn other peoples' work. It'll be a lot more like a real-life interaction, with the attendant manners. Since the group working to petition the administration is voluntary and ad-hoc, people don't have to be as polite.

Anyway, I guess the insight I'm trying to articulate is that Wiki works best when it's anonymous, because real-life manners get in the way. It's better to keep the real world and the Cyber world separate, so that the Cyber world can develop its own regulations (laws?) that suit it best.

  • nesson here: it will be interesting to watch, whether you continue to think the wiki works best when it's anonymous. you express yourself the pleasure of using the wiki to express identity.

My Thoughts on Scratch

I really understand the concept of "code as law" now that I have tried to code a game.

It seems the overriding law in this space is "be specific." It's just like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich example. If I don't say exactly what I mean, it will do exactly what I say anyway. Its logic is relentless. As a result, there's no "spirit of the law" fuzziness in the cyberworld. There's not some judge waiting to reform your contract based on what you meant. If you don't get it right, it shows up wrong. So, when trying to express yourself in the cyberworld, you are very much constrained by this "law of PB&J".

Scratch is a useful way to learn these lessons because you get feedback instantly. I write code, push the green flag, and immediately my sprite starts doing something. If it does it in a way that I don't like, I can see that immediately, and go back and fix it.

What was sometimes frustrating about the Scratch experience is that its language is limited. So my ability to express my idea was limited. I wanted to say "If I receive a broadcast of XYZ..." but that's just not possible. If you want to have your sprite do something based on receipt of a broadcast, that has to be the start of a script, not in the middle as a condition. That limited what I was able to do with my game, unless I found another way to get around it. This seems reminiscent of bureaucracy in the world of atoms. You know there are better ways to do things, but you can't change the language being used by the lady behind the desk. She will only listen to you if you fill out this form, even if this form doesn't fit exactly what you're trying to say.

The beauty of the cyberworld, though, is that I CAN change the language if I have the will to do so. I could write to the Scratch people at MIT and get on their team, or just write the code myself once they make it opensource. So, laws are much easier to re-write in the cyberworld.

In that way, using Scratch encourages different levels of expression. You realize what goes into the games we play (through which we express ourselves as consumers/players). When trying to write those games, we express a vision of what the game ought to look like as authors/creators. And then, when we realize the limitations of Scratch itself as a tool, we desire to express ourselves as meta-creators, as if we are creators of a human language itself. Those layers are kind of like in the world of atoms: as citizens, we are consumers of promulgated law. Once we run into a problem with that law, we sue or we lobby to get the law written in a way we like by judges or Congress. But if the system won't allow that vision to be expressed, we can go back to Constitutional amendment or even a constitutional convention to fix it at the most basic level.

In law and in Scratch, digging one level deeper encourages us to keep digging another level deeper.

  • nesson here.