Monthly Archives: July 2010

Hurts Cause It’s True

I wish I could convey to you how many times I’ve made this argument (verbally, not visually) to administrators.
Venn Diagram of University Websites: What they show vs. What people want to know
“But every other university’s website looks like this!” Right — this is your chance to differentiate yourself by providing a useful site instead of a brochure site. Alas, to no avail.


At last, something Mark and I can agree whole-heartedly about! In his most recent post on the topic of textbooks and digital media, Mark notes the phenomenon of standard-issue textbooks that come with a website! Ooooh! A few yeas ago, it was textbooks with a CD-ROM (usually for PCs only, because who wants a Mac?)!
Mark notes that commendable as it is that these frontline textbooks have useful web supplements, they’re still monophonically oriented toward the single author of the textbook (which is not to say that only the author contributes to devising these sites — it’s my understanding that at least some the web content on these sites may be developed by others, working under contract). Mark responds with a call to action: “This is where the digital pioneers come in. Because we have at least some understanding of how the internet works, and what its potential is, we are in a position to do the kind of thing that these traditional textbooks, with their limited companion websites, are aspiring to do.” Mark and Tim and I see and do different things — it’s a big Web out there, folks, and digital media entail a range of affordances that we won’t begin to understand till we’ve lived with them many more years (although having read Philip Dick novels decades ago was a great boost) — and our interests are, by and large complementary.
Here’s the big problem, though: although the Web is capacious, and our ends are complementary, the institutional support for those ends is meagre and schools and granting agencies will tend to regard their interest in our visions and work as rivalrous. One reason I tend to push back against Mark’s excellent, generous work is that it tends to look less threatening to a non-digital viewer. “Oh, it’s like an index or a table of contents! I don’t have to know my way around, I can just follow these links!” (That’s not a knock against Mark, by the way; making things easier for those not ready for solid food is a laudable New Testament tradition.) Some of the things I’ve pressed harder for seem impossible or dangerous (or both) to the homeostatic interests of the publishing-academic complex, so I tend to feel protective of ideas whose time seems not yet to have come (or whose time is banging on the door with a battering ram, only to be barricaded out by the impulses of institutional self-preservation).
So anyway, cheers to Mark and Tim and Brooke, and James and everyone in the party. Maybe (ahem) now that there’s demonstrable international interest from colleagues of the highest standing, someone (ahem) could fund a summit meeting and even coordinate support efforts. Doesn’t the sound of “The Duke Divintiy School Digital Curriculum” sound grand (and Duke has an established, distinguished university press with whom to collaborate). Or “The Princeton Seminary Free Online Library,” which reminds me that we ought to get some librarians onboard for this. “The Lilly Theological Education blah blah blah” or “The Pew Digital Academy” or (think big) “The MacArthur Digital Seminary” or “Ford” or who- or whatever, don’t those sound good? It would be a drop in the bucket compared to some of the programs that get funded, and with support for the dangerous, threatening kind of disruptive change, would transform theological education especially outside the already-over-resourced countries.
Once again — let’s push things forward.


I know, I know beyond a doubt, that there’s no occult power synchronising the iTunes shuffle playlists at my home and office computers, but it still startles me when I hear the same cut randomly from both devices in a short interval. Latest examples are the live version of “I WIll Follow” from the b-side of the Irish release of U2’s “Gloria” single (don’t know how I ended up with that, and I intended to pass along to Josiah the box with 45s in it, so he may have it now) and “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)” by Van Morrison.
Paradoxically, I also have to resist the intuitive sense that one playlist digs up tracks that the other one “doesn’t play.” Now there’s some rationale to that — the two playlists have slightly different weighting schemes — but mostly it’s just my inner pattern-maker ascribing intentional agency to the para-random outworking of a machine’s computations.

More To Read

Because the field of comics is so richly populated with gifted authors, I’m like a comics katamari, rolling around and accumulating authors and storylines I admire. This morning’s addition is Dylan Meconis’s Family Man, which I bumped into by way of Erika “No longer drawing webcomics” Moen’s Twitter feed. When I was browsing Dylan’s work, I saw this frame and realised, “Any comic that covers exegetical questions including St Paul’s use of the Old Testament is (yet another) webcomic that I simply have to read.” So I’ll start Family Man this morning.
“Self-pity won’t pay the rent, though, and Luther has become desperate for employment, which isn’t easy to come by when your only marketable skill is scriptural exegesis.” Amen, Dylan!
Oh, and if anyone wants to support my family and pay tuition for me to go take some drawing classes (probably about eight or ten years’ worth of remedial drawing, so by the time I approach adequacy I won’t have many years of productivity left), I’d be eager to give it a try. Unfortunately for me, xkcd has already laid claim to stick figures, Ryan North already uses the same eight-bit dinosaur images every day, and David Rees owns the tacky clip-art images franchise.

Askew Views

It’s a good thing Mark Goodacre and I are such long-time friends, because whenever certain topics come up, we end up adopting positions at variance with one another. Not finally at variance, not even essentially at variance, but if we were married we would probably be squabbling continuously.
Mark hails the FOSOTT/OAOTT project, except he really wants to remind us that the web is overflowing with lots of pre-existing pedagogical goodness — to which I say, Bravo, and many of us already know about those resources (some indeed even make those resources). Nonetheless, what Brooke and I have in mind (don’t know if I’m speaking fairly for Brooke, here, but we appear to be on the same wavelength) is not contrary to “using all these wonderful resources,” but “developing a more-or-less coherent, coordinated pool of resources on the familiar, pedagogically-conveninet model of a textbook.” Mark thinks textbooks are just too “texty,” and I’m with him on that as well — hence my long-standing interest in comics models for instruction, especially at the introductory “textbook” level. (I haven’t gotten overwhelming support for that one, either.) Mark cites the very impressive Bibledex videos and suggests that someone just sit down and “record your own audio or video” response to a pre-existing resource. Perhaps, but a large part of the point of a textbook is (again) its coherence with itself (thematically, discursively, graphically, physically, and so on); the presentation of materials that are consistent one with the next is part of the teaching and learning, especially at the introductory stage.
So anyway, Mark and I will probably go on squabbling collegially as long as we’re both at work. He convinced me about the Synoptic Problem, and maybe someday he’ll allow me to convince him about hermeneutics (it would befit his vigorous interest in non-verbal instructional media). Cheers, Mark — give my regards to the USA, and if I ever descend to England, I’ll raise a pint for you there.
[Later: Gah! John Ahn points to the promo for Rick Pearlstein’s Nixonland as another take on the future of books.]

Funding Neopublishing

OK, “neopublishing” is an unattractive coinage (I’m not talking about the defunct French DVD reissuer Neo Publishing), but I wanted some way to point to an approach that doesn’t renounce print, doesn’t encumber digital versions with crippling restrictions, remains agnostic about F/OS – OA, and in general embraces the affordances of digital media rather than eschews them. A quick Google survey reveals no uses of “neopublishing” apart from the DVD company, so it’s as good as original with me, here.
So if you’ll granted me the neologism, I saw a good post this morning that recounted the process of using Kickstart to fund an art-book publishing project. Using Kickstart to neopublish a textbook would entail different processes, but one stands to learn a great deal just from reading through Craig Mod’s detailed analysis of how he prepared the book and the Kickstart funding. Were one to Kickstart a textbook, for instance, one could offer sponsorship tiers for a single chapter (slightly higher tier for a chapter that the donor chooses), for a print copy, a digital copy, and so on. And granted the high cost of textbooks and interest that schools have in encouraging neopublished resources, plenty of departments could certainly shake loose a few pounds, dollars, rupees, forints, drachmas, whatever, to ensure that a reputable F/OS textbook would be available for their students.
Brooke said he’s working on a proposal; Kelvin has some useful queries and advice in the comments to my original post; Tim Bulkeley, who has been more media-active than almost anyone I can think of (Mark Goodacre is the other candidate — no surprise that he and I take a different view of “gateway’ sites, as we have for years), is on board, which is very encouraging. It’s too early to say, “I love it when a plan comes together,” but it’s exciting to sense that something for which I’ve been lobbying since 2005 if not before might have sufficiently broad support actually to take shape. So if not yet “comes together,” I’ll reprise my 2005 post and say, “Let’s push things forward.” There’s no excuses, my friend.

So Big

Big ups, props, and every other form of digital applause for the EFF and its sister organisations who have won for us this great victory. By pushing back against provisions of the noxious DMCA (and over here, the DEA), public-interest groups actually advance the cause of next-generation businesses, despite the efforts of legacy businesses to drown the future’s babies. There will soon come a time when the legislation and business practices that occasion these cases will appear futile, incoherent, and self-defeating. Our pols and execs have the opportunity to tune in to that reality and begin exploring the terrain we will inhabit tomorrow — but they prefer trying to forbid the future’s arrival, to everyone’s detriment.

Think Think Think

As an aspect of my deliberations about words and non-verbal communication, I remembered a scene from a film that involved a continentally-dislocated character. He either gives or receives the two-fingered salute, which then provokes another character to ask “What does this [gesture] mean?” I think it was either A Fish Called Wanda, in which case it would have been directed at Otto while he was driving wildly without regard to the correct side of the road, or In the Loop (or it might have been an episode of The Thick Of It), in which case the gesture would have been directed at an American or an especially clueless Briton.
Now, there are worse things in life than re-watching Wanda and Loop, but I wish I could remember where (or whether!) I saw it; I’d like to be able to use the scene as a conversation starter about gestures and meaning.

Worthwhile Tabs

Paul Graham points out why the things you think about in the shower are so important. This one is for my sweetheart.
David Weinberger appreciates Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good, a book that’s also important to my teacher Stan Hauerwas (so that many of us in the doctoral program read it).
• I bookmarked this early in the week, when the BBC was devoting hourly outrage to the idea that a head teacher who turned an urban school from the pits to the pinnacle of education would be paid more than the Prime Minister. David Mitchell hits the nail on the head: conventional wisdom holds that teachers aren’t worth paying, whereas managers, executives, lawyers, and so on truly deserve higher salaries.
  If one steps away from the status quo and brainstorms what one would want for a healthy, productive society, it’s hard to imagine that one would say, “Let the teachers who prepare children for their futures be paid a pittance; let the people who direct the flow of widgets, or who decide to produce widgets rather than wodgets, or who devise the slogan that makes wadgets even more popular, roll in wealth.”
• I had a chance to see Derek Jarman’s movie Wittgenstein the other night. Although I approached the arty treatment of the philosopher (this is not a biopic) with trepidation, the presentation (and especially Karl Johnson’s portrayal of Wittgenstein himself) rang true. The green alien, not entirely; but overall, Jarman (working from a script by Terry Eagleton) did excellent work squeezing important aspects of Wittgenstein’s identity and thought into an hour and nine minutes.
• Getting back to teaching and management, it seems the future of the Warburg Institute is threatened by a series of administrative mandates and policies emanating from its (theoretical) protector institution, London University. “University of London policies decree that all libraries come under common management,” and “whereas historically we paid between 20 percent and 30 percent of our grant for our premises, we now pay more than 60 percent.” The problem with those golden-egg-laying geese, after all, is that they aren’t exactly like the other geese, which generates inefficiencies. Better to make all geese the same, and manage without the eggs.