The Tao of Posts

injured books and ribbons

I’ve been having quite a few conversations around student portfolios eportfolios online representations of their learning over time. These conversations have mostly centered on using WordPress and, almost inevitably, the first instinct is to create a series of pages that are aligned to either courses or assignments. Those pages usually contain a number of different pieces of content. That structure makes the most sense to people who are used to building websites in the Dreamweaver/static paradigm. I don’t think this is the right path in most cases. It’s easy in the short term but starts to limit you (absent lots of work) in the long run.

Strange that I don't really know what a web page is anymore. Individual tweet? Blog post? Flickr image? #vcuols

— Tom Woodward (@twoodwar) May 14, 2014

At the heart of this is the issue that “page” is hard to define. In the broadest sense anything I can address with a URL is a webpage. That’s a big bucket. WordPress makes things more complex by including a way to create pieces of content called “pages.” Pages are usually contrasted to posts. I usually described1 the page/post difference was that posts were pieces of content that flowed with the timeline (more ephemeral but archived) and pages were pieces of content you wanted to be more permanent/static. People also usually consider the post content to be “blog”2 related.

To complicate things (at least in my head), if I click on a category or tag I end up on a page (although not a WP defined page) and that page is composed of posts. Additionally, some themes have page templates that present posts. The more I think about it, the more potential for confusion I see. I can’t find it but there’s a twitter (page) out there somewhere with Alan saying blogs and posts are the same thing in the WordPress database.

It may appear that this is one of those irritating discussions that while true are only of interest to nerds and have little practical value.

Nothing3 could be further from the truth. The tao of posts is a way of life and the way you think about constructing a portfolio-ish thing matters quite a bit in terms of what you want to do and what you can do.

To begin with the “page” is much like the desktop folder of old, or old school browser bookmarks- it is directly hierarchical and content can only exist in one place at a time. This sucks. It is especially bad when you consider that the purpose of many portfolio-thingees is to try to get students to understand (and reflect on) the interrelationship of concepts and courses. Their content might be completed as part of a specific course but it’s also tied to a particular skill/understanding or many skills/understandings. That’s a good thing. It’s a blurry world. We want interdisciplinary, vertically aligned, transmedia, multi-whatever but when you build with pages you’re almost certainly making that kind of consideration antithetical to the way you’re organizing the content.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you are giving up the ability to tie content to particular courses (or any other concrete categories for that matter). You can still do that, you just do it through categories and/or tags. That’s going to allow the “learning artifact”4 to be associated with whatever concrete things you need. It is often handy to be able to associate content with courses but that association tends to be functional. It’ll help with grading or with creating lenses of focus etc. The aspirational/philosophical elements tend to evolve and overlap in ways that extend between and beyond courses. Now that assignment/work/product can be found via UNIV200, via “critical thinking”, and via “integrative thinking”. If you tried to do something similar with that piece of work in a page things would get ugly very quickly.

None of my thoughts are unique or groundbreaking but they’re often absent from these conversations. The very same forces that have driven users to adopt tagging in social bookmarking, smart/virtual folders, and search as an interface could provide not just solutions but actual advantages in considering presenting and interacting with student curated content. These dynamic aggregation opportunities have distinct advantages if they’re considered in light of learning goals and the way you’re going to encourage students to think and interact with their own work. It’d be difficult to say the same thing for the static presentation considerations forced through the typical page based construction.


1 Past tense

2 Cue the useless-Internet musical equivalent of Dueling Banjos- maybe the Nyan cat song. Pages are for the serious work. Posts are for your cat videos.

3 Well. Somethings could be. Probably many things.

4 It hurts to write that.

Weekly Web Harvest (weekly)

  • “Watson then presented three relevant arguments in favor of banning violent video games for minors, but qualified its assessment by bring up several relevant counterarguments and considerations. In all, it was a fairly cogent review of the data.

    tags: ibm watson debate ai weekly argument thoughtvectors

  • “Michelle Phan found success posting make-up tutorial videos, attracting more than six million subscribers to her channel since she started it in 2007. She is a member of a group of YouTube stars whose popularity rivals that of many mainstream pop stars.

    tags: bbc youtube copyright weekly tweet

  • “Ben Jonson’s frustration that Shakespeare’s plays were far more inconsistently and incoherently put together than his own but were nevertheless, somehow, more popular, and commented that this was just it: Jonson’s plays were put together, more like “mechanical models of plays” than the real thing, whereas Shaksepeare’s plays had all the odd growths and irregular edges of organic life. This is my chief complaint with much fiction of the past fifty years, including much very highly regarded fiction, like that of John Updike: these aren’t novels, they are mechanical models of novels. Precision-engineered down to the last hidden screw, but altogether without the spark of life.

    tags: structure perfection writing patterns weekly

  • “A great deal of the work of the post office would then be to regulate the use of these personal television channels. Much of the information now sent by mail could be sent through the air on the personal channel, to be viewed in the home or to be printed out for a more or less permanent record. …

    tags: asimov future tv channel weekly

  • “This is lovely, strange, and wrenching all at the same time. A teenager whose father passed away when he was just six had pulled out an old Xbox game that he and his dad used to play together, only to discover a part of his father lived on in the game, as a ghost car.

    tags: weekly video games future now tweet

  • “Reluctant to transcend his station as a mere mortal and interfere with the vicissitudes of fortune, local lifeguard Blake Dunphy confided to reporters Tuesday that he found himself mentally shackled by the question of whether to save a swimmer currently thrashing for his life or allow destiny to take its course unfettered. “Though this man sputters and flails before my eyes and the path to his salvation lies readily before me, the broader question remains: Who am I, a mere earthly being of flesh and blood, to determine whether my fellow man lives or dies?” “

    tags: weekly satire onion lifeguard life destiny

  • tags: history human shape change world weekly tweet

  • “They had unwittingly stumbled onto patterns that tied into theories humanities scholars had been discussing for years. The sagas are thought to have been written using actual genealogical information, says Tangherlini — in fact, many of the Icelandic sagas are classified as “family sagas,” and they may have been written to cement a family’s glorious past — so it makes sense that their social networks are very realistic. There’s a theory that the person who wrote Njal’s Saga used Laxdæla as a source, an idea that recognizes the interconnectedness of the locations and people involved. And Laxdæla, which tells the story of Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir and her four marriages, is thought by some scholars and critics to have been written by a woman. The physicists’ networks suggest that the patterns close readers were picking up on are quantifiable. They’d arrived at similar observations using different methods.

    “THERE ARE A LOT OF LATENT PATTERNS IN THIS MATERIAL THAT YOU CAN’T DISCERN OVERTLY.”

    tags: viking facebook socialmedia research weekly

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Grave Trails

I went driving looking for things of interest to photograph. I saw a small cemetery on the side of the road and stopped to take a look. I thought it might be a local family cemetery and it was . . . only the family was from much farther back than I thought.


View Snead Cemetery at Edgewood in a larger map

Robert Snead

That he was born within 9 miles of Hanover court House on the 23 day of May 1762,
that, he has seen a record of his age in the family Bible, and that he believes it is now in
possession of Benjamin Thomas, of the said county; that when he went into service, he lived at
the place of his nativity, that since the Revolutionary war, he has lived in the same county near
Ground Squirrel Meeting house1 and still lives in the same place; that he served many tours; the
first he substituted himself for his brother John Snead, in the company of Joseph Cross, that
he marched as a private in that company in the fall or winter of 1778, as he thinks to
Williamsburg; that he served at that place and at a place called Rich Neck [in Richmond
County] until discharged after two months; that during this tour Gen’l [Thomas] Nelson2
commanded; that there was but one regiment as well as he remembers, at that place; that they
were engaged in guarding the coast and that nothing material occured. that when Arnold
invaded the state [Gen. Benedict Arnold, 5 Jan 1781] he was drafted, and served as a private
under Capt. John Anderson;

from this source (links/footnote are mine)

Sophia Snead

Twelve children. Seems more heroic than the whole Revolutionary War thing but also disturbingly like baseball card stats.


1 Now known as Cavalry Christian Church. I prefer the old name.

2 Founding father

Photography – Week 33

There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman.

Emile Zola
Letter to Paul Cézanne (16 April 1860),
as published in Paul Cézanne : Letters (1995) edited by John Rewald

IMG_8115.jpg

blue period

snapping turtle

Graffiti Train Car

just another shadow

Try #342

@streetfighter!

Harley Skull and wheel

IMG_7529.jpg

Led by her phone

On the road

As I continue to take more pictures, more consistently, and with a bit more focus1- I find I wander farther afield (both geographically and conceptually) rather than narrowing and, perhaps, perfecting. Or at least improving more rapidly. It seems I follow a path in photography similar to the way I wander in everything else. I don’t really know if this leads to greater or lesser progress. Does taking landscapes influence your street photography? Do macros influence your portraits? Is it all part of a greater whole which shapes how you see the world? I have no idea. I’m hoping for the last one. It seems our society bets heavily on the opposite.

It’s interesting to me to look at how the extrinsic “reward” elements of photography plays out as well. It’s a tricky thing in my opinion. There is this idea of “pure” art for art’s sake versus a kind of “compromised” art for audience. This feels overly polarized to me. Art and audience seem inextricably intertwined. Weighing the value of audience against your own ideas and intent becomes the interesting place for me. It may very well be harder to do that in a time of low-cost likes, favs, and just about anything else you can imagine- all expertly designed to reward certain behaviors/content.2

For example, I consider the image below one of the best photographs I’ve taken. It has been viewed nearly 200 times and has zero “faves” and never saw any action on Explore. Jim likes it. I remain in love with the photograph in spite of the social media feedback.
I went through the desert . . .

I also like this photo and feel like it is good work. It has 71 faves and made it to #461 on Explore. It’s also the only one of the six photographs I’ve had make Explore that wasn’t dropped. I don’t consider it a better photograph than the other ones despite all the social feedback to the contrary.
of the city

Yet a third example, which has 28 faves and made it to #67 on Explore- much higher than any of the other photos I’ve had in that system.3 I don’t know exactly how I’d rank these photos. I like all three of them. I do know it has little to do with the elements that Flickr makes apparent to me. They do matter some. I do find it interesting. I do, for good or ill, look at that information. I imagine it impacts some of what I do. It’s always harder to say something “sort of” matters. It’s easy to argue that being in Explore can lead to good things for your photography. It brings in new people. You see their photos. They influence you. You make new friends etc. etc. Other possibilities open up. Maybe your photography changes. Maybe. Maybe.
sunflower macro

I’ve had three images in Explore in the last two months compared to three in the last nine years and I only know that because I looked. Does this mean my photos are getting much better? Maybe. Are they that much better? Almost certainly not. Does my dramatically increased publishing and interaction on Flickr influence Explore? Maybe. Maybe.

There are certainly many ways to game these systems- both the human aspects and the algorithmic ones. There are tons of posts on how to get your photos “explored” and even more advice on how to build an audience. I’m sure you can buy fav love someplace on the wide world of the Internet in much the same way you can buy Twitter followers.

This is a lot of writing to say very little. My general theme in life is that there’s very little that is black and white despite our best wishes to the contrary and each person tends to have to navigate all the gray based on their own choices and considerations.


1 That’s a photography pun.

2 Not too unlike grades in school.

3 See Alan, not all my photos are brooding.