How To Crowdsource Grading

I loved returning to teaching last year after several years in administration . . . except for the grading.  I can't think of a more meaningless, superficial, cynical way to evaluate learning in a class on new modes of digital thinking (including rethinking evaluation) than by assigning a grade.  Top-down grading by the prof  turns learning (which should be a deep pleasure, setting up for a lifetime of curiosity) into a crass competition:  how do I snag the highest grade for the least amount of work?

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Digital Biography

This paper reflects on an emerging field that has no accepted name or boundaries but is described here as “digital biography.” The activities, formats, and genres associated with this field are rarely linked with life writing or traditional biographical studies. Rather, this field is seen as the domain of those concerned with digital privacy, copyright, data preservation, and identity management. Over the past decade or so, critics in various disciplines, mainly legal studies, information management, multimedia design, and IT development, as well as sociology, psychology, and marketing, have focused on the complexity of online identity. Though online identity has become such a significant focus of attention in these disciplines, few who study biography have discussed it. Indeed, as Nigel Hamilton points out, biography itself has had less attention than one might expect for a field that “has enjoyed an extraordinary renaissance in recent years”, a field that, according to Carl Rollyson, is widely recognized as “the dominant non-fiction of our age”.

open call: NEH/Scholars’ Lab GIS institute

This is a follow-up to my previous post, to say that the Scholars’ Lab has now issued an open call for applicants to its NEH-funded Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship. We’ll run three tracks of the Institute, with the first two (Stewardship and Software) happening concurrently this year, from November 15th to 18th (which happens to be GIS Day). The third track (Scholarship) will be held May 25th-28th, 2010. NEH will generously cover travel, lodging, and working meals for ten attendees in each of the first two tracks and twenty attendees in the third track. We’ve even built in a special funding for graduate student participants in track 3.

Because one goal of the Institute is to build the capacity of participating institutions (from the policy-and-collections-building side to the infrastructure-and-interfaces side to some serious scholars-bootstrapping-each-other goodness!), we encourage you to collaborate with your colleagues in IT, the library, your local (digital?) humanities center, and interested academic departments. We’ll be giving careful attention to applications from institutional “teams” who can be represented in each track — but individual applicants are encouraged, too.

The deadline for consideration for tracks 1 and 2 is September 1st. Track 3′s deadline is the 1st of December. Read all about the Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship, check out our amazing faculty, and apply at our website.

Who Makes Those Great NY Times Maps, Anyway?

If you follow this blog much, you know that I have a fondness for the New York Times, especially when maps are included in their coverage. I've mentioned it here and here and here and here. Now I know who GETS the great job of making all those terrific maps, Matthew Bloch. Here's Bloch's web site,, with loads of those fun, interactive maps he's made as a graphics editor for the Times.

This map/article gives you head's up on where NOT to park in NYC.

Here is an interactive map of Beijing, showing photos, prior to the 2008 Olympics.

And finally, a point I've made before is that the Times rarely gives credit to their mapping expert or that software that the maps were made on...GIS! Take a look at Bloch's 'bloopers' page, his mapping accidents, as he calls them and you can spy a couple of references to ArcGIS software.

This graphic has the description "1917 map of Beijing (after trying to use spline-based georeferencing in ArcGIS)"

And this "U.S. states (Shapefile, opened in ArcGIS)" Ewww!

Thank you, geoparadigm for tweeting this link.

Why Creating A New Word For Reading On Screen Is A Terrible Idea…

Multi-column layout: better than a poke in the eye with a sharp pixel...

Dan Bloom is a journalist who currently lives in Taiwan. Over the past few days, he's generated a flurry of activity on this blog, my Inbox and on FaceBook, with a suggestion that we need to create a new term to describe the activity of reading onscreen. He suggests the term "screening". (See the comments on my previous post: Paper Dies - But Reading Lives: The Richness of Future Web Reading )

Dan was also very enthusiastic about the multi-column layouts I've been experimenting with on my website, and wants to know if there are free templates anywhere he can use, for example so he could read his email in multi-column.

He asked for my opinion on the term "screening". So here it is:

Creating a new term for reading onscreen is not only unneccessary, but actually counter-productive.

However, Dan's heart is clearly in the right place, so rather than just respond with another in a string of comments, I decided to escalate the topic and make it the subject of this post. (It's my party, and I'll blog if I want to...)

First, the term "screening". IMO, that's like admitting defeat - that somehow "reading on screen" is different to "reading on paper". It's not. Yes, there are differences today. Reading on screen is not as comfortable as reading from paper. But it can - and should - be. Once it is, then all the advantages of digital information really start to pay off.

Imagine a conversation between two people, fifty years from now...

"How did they communicate information back in the old days?"

"Well, they'd plant trees. After 30 or 40 years of growth, they'd cut them down and transport them in hydrocarbon-burning vehicles to a place called a pulp mill. There, they'd mash them up with a load of chemicals (when they were done with the chemicals, they'd dump them in the nearest river).

"Then they'd roll and press the pulp into long sheets of "paper". They'd transport those (again, in hydrocarbon-burning vehicles) to a printing works, where they'd use huge machines to put dirty marks on the "paper", fold it, cut it up, and transport it (more trucks) to the readers, or "bookshops" where people would go to buy the information they wanted or needed."

Anyone really believe we'll still be doing that, 50 years from now? For any kind of information?

In the early days of automobiles, they were noisy, smelly and unreliable. In some parts of the world, you weren't allowed to drive one on the road without a man carrying a red flag walking in front of you as a warning to other road users.

People said the automobile would never replace the horse as the primary means of transport...

As far as reading onscreen is concerned, it's still the early days. It took about 400 years from Gutenberg to the Linotype machine. We've been doing onscreen reading for about 25 years - and it's only been even halfway bearable for about 10.

We don't need the man with the red flag any more, but the automobile is still noisy, unreliable - and stinks.

There's no reason it should be that way. All the technology we need to make reading great on a screen already exists, and could be implemented within a year or two. But the technology companies who make Web browsers, and the people who create Web content, have decided that fighting battles over market share based on "features check lists" is more important than stepping up and implementing a comprehensive plan to make real improvements for everyone who reads on the Web.

Technology companies don't "get" the importance of fixing reading on screen. Journalists do. That's why I'm really happy to see someone like Dan stirring up the waters here.

Journalists should be giving technology and media companies a hard time, along the following lines...

  • Reading and writing are still the primary means of human communication (because text is easiest to create).
  • Reading and writing are moving from "making and viewing dirty marks on shredded trees" to "making and viewing digital information".
  • Reading onscreen is still inferior to reading from paper.
  • What's your plan to make reading onscreen just as good?
  • What's your schedule for implementing that plan?
I'd like to see the answers they give.

Now, on the subject of templates for multicolumn layout. The short answer is: I don't have any, although you're welcome to use any of the HTML and CSS markup from my website.

But at the risk of repeating myself yet again:

  • Multicolumn layout is much more suited to the screen than single-column (because of the way human vision works)
  • However, it can't work without Pagination (who wants to scroll down to the bottom of one column, then have to scroll a long way up to the top of the next?)
  • There are many different sizes and shapes of screen. Information has to be paginated "on the fly" for each device
  • This requires adaptive layout. It's not rocket science - you can see it at work today in applications like the New York Times Reader. But no-one's doing it on the Web yet, although it's easily possible.
Fixing reading on screen is vitally important for the human race. You can instantly create the Library of Congress in a village in West Africa. Digital information can be easily translated into minority languages. Books will cost less. Information can be kept up to date. And so on, and so on.

I happen to believe that the first Web browser to do this properly will leave all the others sitting in the dust, wondering just where their market share disappeared to.

I see plenty of "features lists" from the browsers. What I don't see is strategic, long-term vision.