Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Travel bugs are particularly interesting. You have an object (called a travel bug) and you give that object a 'tracking' number. Then you say that your 'bug' wants to get to Delaware. When users come across the bug, they will help it along it's way, even if it's just a few miles in the right direction. These travel bugs often travel the world. You could say it's like Fed-Ex, only not as fast, since it may take years to get to the right destination.
There are other variations on this 'game' that prove to be quite interesting.
As of today, there are 122304 active geocaches in 210 countries.
Monday, September 27, 2004
*My assignment is down below, and it may make more sense to read in chronological order*
The question thread over in the class I'm taking got me thinking...
I originally stated I believed that there is no such thing as pure altruism. Every time I say that, however, I'm met with looks of surprise. Or if I'm online, I'm met with: O_O.
So I've thought about revamping my definition. I think I'm willing to concede that altruism exists, but only as the opposite of selfishness. My definition of the two would be as follows.
- Selfishness: Acting in your own self-interest at the detriment of others.
- Altruism: Acting in your own self-interest for the benefit of others.
I believe that every time we make a conscious decision, we go through a cost/benefit analysis, and then choose an action based on rationality (or perceived rationality). We weigh the benefits of the action against the perceived costs of the action, and then simply choose the most rational path.
For example, let's say I come upon a $20 bill lying on the ground. I do a quick cost benefit analysis and determine that the cost (the act of bending over and picking up the money) is worth the reward (being in possession of the money after the cost has been expended). It's a simple exercise in economics (referring to Dave's question for this week).
However, if you move the $20 to the inside of the lion cage at Hogle zoo, then suddenly the cost has risen. After analyzing the situation, I may decide that the benefit is no longer worth the cost. In my analysis I may look at how desperate (hungry, in debt) I am (which would raise the benefit of obtaining the money), or I might look to see if the lions are sleepy, absent, or have just eaten lunch (which would lower the cost side). If the benefits outweigh the costs, then every time I will perform the action. If the cost is too high, then every time I will not perform the action.
Now, I know what you are saying... You are saying that it is not in your interest to painfully smack yourself upside the head, but you just did it to prove me wrong. And I would say, "But in that case the benefits did outweigh the cost. The cost of smacking yourself upside the head (which left a mark, by the way), was lower than the benefit of proving me that I was wrong.
We are doing these cost/benefit analyses all of the time. What we have for breakfast, whether or not to go to class, whether or not to buy the textbook, whether or not to read the assigned chapter; it is all based on what we think the benefit is, and what we think the cost will be. Sometimes our perceptions are wrong. In looking back we are made aware that our actions were irrational, but only based on the new knowledge that comes with experience. At the time, we were acting completely rational based on what we knew then.
So, tying that all back in to USENETS, you could almost ask, "Why is the internet, particularly bulletin boards and online communities, so good at giving us opportunities to serve our self-interests, while still serving others' self-interests?" or to shorten the question, "Why is the internet so adept at helping me while helping you?" Or to take it out of question form, and put it back in a self-interested frame of reference. "Let the internet help you, help me."
Friday, September 24, 2004
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
I came across this article today and it seems to be a nice blend of the two topics I'm currently interested in, online collaboration and the educational potential of video games.
The more I ponder this topic, more I think an interesting research question is "To what extent does self-interest play in an online learning community?" It seems that learning that takes place in schools is very isolated. I do my work, the instructor grades my papers, and I receive an individual grade at the end of the term. If I happen to be concerned about what my grade I receive, or am interested in the topic at hand, then I'm probably more likely to listen in class and do the work. But if I'm working with a group of people, then there are more reasons to become involved. Now I have peer pressure. Vanity comes into play. Reciprocation is possible. Suddenly there are more reasons to pay attention and do the work.
And doesn’t the group work closer represent what our jobs our like? Who works in a vacuum? I haven’t been given a ‘test’ in my entire career, but I’ve sure worked on a lot of team projects.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Back in the day, when I taught internet classes to senior citizens, I used to tell them to go out to the Web to see if the information they were looking for was there. If I were to teach those same classes today, I would tell them that the information is almost certainly there, the only question is whether or not they can find it.
I believe we are the last generation that won’t understand that the answers are all out there, right at our fingertips. All of them. Even the question of life, the universe, and everything has been answered .
The other day I was teaching a WebCT Vista class and one of the students lamented the fact that his particular site had over 150 links, and he didn’t want to bother checking them to see if they were all still active.
He, and a fellow instructor, both of whom were sitting in front of computers with a 100 megabyte Internet connection, talked about the possibility of hiring a student to go through the links to verify whether or not they worked.
It took me a minute before I realized that this was a question which had probably been asked before. I hopped onto Google and within a minute found a site that did this service for free. Somebody else had the same problem, and had already solved it.
Even while I’m writing this, a co-worker asked me what a ‘gray collar’ worker is. She was looking through her textbook, her computer sitting right behind her. I don’t know what gray collared means either, but in less than 10 seconds I was reading her a definition from a website. While she looked through her text book for the answer, I found it online. Sometimes I don't think about the Internet. I will write and ask my cousin for technical help, or talk to the techie down the hall. But when I do think to first search the internet, more often than not, the answer is out there.
The thread I picked to analyze is a perfect example of this; somebody asking a question, and somebody else answering it. In fact that is all that happens in this thread. It is two posts long. On the surface it appears to be a simple question and answer, but there is much, much more going on.
Our first person, JP, poses a question. In just a few lines, he explains his situation as a college student, asks for good deals or places to get a good laptop, and then mentions what his price range is.
The second post is by HTH, or ‘Anonymous Jack’. He spends 41 lines, or 456 words, answering JP’s question.
He first asks for a clarification of the question, and then without waiting for a reply, goes on to answer all possible scenarios. He gives him the low end laptops, and what they are good for. Then he goes into the middle grade, talking about Dell and IBM brands. Then he goes through several different types of specs that you need to watch for in a laptop including integrated network cards, modems, USB 2, hard drive and RAM storage, CDRW and DVD players. He talks about how buying your own RAM is cheaper as long as you ‘can use a screwdriver and follow instructions’. Then he gets into the processor speed, video cards, and even goes so far as to warn the student about the importance of backing up the system in case a “spilled beer, or larcenous roommate/visitor” might ruin a year’s worth of work.
There are two things we can surmise, or at least guess, from JP’s post.
First of all, it is likely that JP is not a full time member of this community (comp.laptops). He starts out by saying, “Hey folks”. His question in not addressed to somebody in particular, nor does he refer to any other topic or thread that relate to his question.
It is also possible that JP is not very technologically savvy. His original question is not specific, and he acts as if by stating that he is buying the laptop for college, the question can be answered with no further information. He also asks what ‘features’ to look for when buying a computer. This again shows that he probably does not frequent this site often, and is not an active member or even a lurker.
Anonymous Jack’s post is much more interesting. As well as the free market works, this is not why Jack is doing it. At no point does he attempt to sell JP a laptop, nor does he gain any immediate monetary benefit from answering the question.
So there is the question, and the crux of the analysis. Why does Jack do what he does?
I only had to look back 5 days (this appears to be an active thread) to find other posts that have been discussed by Jack. A quick search of the site shows 171 posts or references to Anonymous Jack. Clearly he is an active member of this community. In the two additional threads I looked at, Jack was again answering questions and showing a superior level or knowledge, and helpfulness. In one case he tracked down federal surplus auctions near a fellow user's home.
While it is clear he is not attempting to obtain money, can't it be argued that he is in fact obtaining another commodity?
Jack probably frequents this newsgroup for the same reason JP came to it. They are both looking for information. JP had a question and hoped that somebody could answer it. Jack can and does answer this question, but it is likely that he asks questions as well. Because Jack uses the community for information, he may feel a sense of duty to return information when he is in possession of it. "Sharing" is a large part of what makes the Internet so appealing and useful. When Jack answers question, he has in fact obtained 'reputation'. Several threads contained people thanking Jack for his answer or information. If those people are also members who frequent the site, when Jack has a question himself, can't it be argued that those 'indebted' to him will assist in finding the answer? It is in Jack’s best interest to help out others who may in turn someday help him.
Another possible reason for Jack’s involvement is that his profession might be tied to laptops, or knowledge about them. I argue that learning occurs when you solve a problem. Not an arbitrary problem on a worksheet, but an applicable, in-context problem. By solving and researching other people's problems, Jack is becoming better and better at using, fixing, knowing about laptops. This broad knowledge may secure him a better job, promotions, or contract work. Again, it is in Jack’s best interest to assist other members, especially when Jack is not sure of the answer.
Jack’s involvement may also be about ego. Maybe Jack just likes being worshiped by the other members of the community. "Ask Jack, he knows everything." This may serve as a motivation because the praise makes Jack feel good. Since Jack enjoys feeling needed, it is in his best interest to assist other members, especially those that heap praises on him.
For any of these reasons, it is important to note that Jack is not doing it because he is 'altruistic'. Both parties are self serving. JP got his answer, and Jack learned something new, or increased his status in the group, or stroked his ego. I do not mean this in a negative way. The success of the free market is based on greed, and the free market works just great. When Steve Jobs serves his own interest (makes a lot of money, solves a problem, explores an interest), he also serves many other people by giving them a viable alternative to Windows.
Because both parties are served, the Internet works. This is a fundamental concept. The Internet is not filled with altruistic people, rather people benefiting from what communication with others has to offer.
How does this tie back to instructional design in an online setting?
It tells me that self-interest is key to instruction. A student will learn better if they see the relevance to their lives. When teaching math, instead of just having them work problems, I would have them solve everyday problems that required math.
Another thing we can learn from online communities is that self-directed learning appears to work quite well. If I was to teach a class on how to use a GPS device, I could do it in two words. Click Here. I would tell the students that they needed to visit 25 sites and sign the log in each one. I would build a discussion board on the internet, and I would be willing to bet that by the end of the semester, most of the students would know just as much, if not more, than if I had prepared 15 lectures on the subject ob GPS operation. They would have learned by seeing a solvable, interesting problem, built strategies on how to solve the problem, assisted and learned from each other, and, I wager, ultimately succeeded. By learning and doing, rather than hearing and seeing, they would know more.
The last thing to realize is that learning takes place by those who interested about a certain topic. I would much rather learn about politics from those who are passionate about the subject. In fact I have been ‘studying’ politics ever since I did my undergraduate work in the political science. I have been a member of a discussion board that discusses anything from elections, to political theory, to current issues. I think it is safe to say I have learned as much in those four years as I did in the four years at college. Now when I scour John Locke, it is not because I’ve been told to by my teacher, but because I want to back up a point I am making on the board.
It just may be that the future of e-learning is highly specialized and you engage in learning with those who have similar interests, and have similar experience and expertise.
I thought I would take just a moment to explain the title of the blog, since it might be argued that it is a little '3rd graderish'.
Anyway, he started this blog and mentioned it to me at almost the same time I discovered I needed a blog for this class. Since he said he hadn't planned on posting until the end of the year anyway, he graciously offered to allow me to use it until then.
Monday, September 13, 2004
I was thinking about OSOSS yesterday and realized something. As many of you may or may not know, my area of interest has been video games. How they teach, motivation, organization around, etc. etc. etc.
Anyway, I had come up with a few key elements that in my opinion must be present for a video game to be ‘sucessful’ (engaging, entertaining, sell a boat load of copies, etc.). I believe that the four elements also must be present for good instruction. Yesterday I realized that these four elements must be present in online communities as well, and may help explain why the communities exist in the first place. I was further surprised to find several of these elements mentioned in The Cathedral and The Bazaar, by Eric S. Raymond. (Raymond, 1999)
The four elements that must occur in a good video game (and good instruction) are:
- An individual must see a relevant and/or an engaging problem
- The individual must have hope that they can solve the problem
- The individual must begin to build strategies to solve the problem
- The individual must have power to implement those strategies.
If any of these elements are missing, then the game/instruction will not be effective, and learning will not take place.
For example, in the case of a video game, if the game poses no challenge, it will not be interesting to the user. If the problem is too difficult, and user has no hope to solve the problem, they will quickly tire of the game. Once the player understands the problem (or has formed a problem in their mind), and believes they can solve the problem, they will begin to develop strategies. If a student develops these strategies themselves, they will learn better, but some assistant will often be necessary. The student must also be empowered to attempt to implement, and experiment with, the strategies they have developed. They may learn as much from a failed strategy than from a successful one.
Curiosity is key to this process. If the student is not curious about the problem and the strategies, they will not continue with the problem.
So, back to OSOSS. As a user wanders the Internet, they come across discussion boards, USENET’s, Blogs, etc. If they read about problems they do not understand they do not stay. If they read about problems that they have already solved, they also leave. But when they find a group asking questions and posing problems, that the user feels they have the hope to solve (and maybe obtain some recognition from their peers), they stick around. The benefit is that you have thousands of users wandering the web on any given topic. Chance alone states that a few of those users will be interested in the problems, and have the necessary skill level (not too high, not too low), to hang around and begin working on the problem. Eric Raymond mentions as much in his book on page 61. (Raymond, 1999)
Raymond, E. S. (1999). The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. Cambridge: O'Riley.
While I haven’t been on the USENETs for years, I have moved to a similar medium, bulletin boards; same idea, different interface. I have been participating in one in particular for over 4 years now. In fact I recently posted the question posed to us, and got a roaring debate going. Well, maybe not roaring, but it did raise the ire of a few regulars.
My main impression of the newsgroup now is that they seem to have died down. There are still many, and people still post, but it seems like there are only a handful of people in the more active sites. Where have the old users gone? Slashdot? Blogging? Discussion boards?
I was also surprised to come across old posts of mine from almost a decade ago. That was quite surprising.
I participated in several threads, only one really got a reply.
Basically I described my recent introduction to geocaching. I asked about GPS receivers and several people were very helpful in providing information about what kinds of equipment worked well, and where to go to get it. Several posted nothing more than a welcome to the world of geocaching. I guess you could say, the ‘natives’ were very friendly.
I spent nearly 6 hours of time posting and reading to discussion boards. Some of the highlights included fining The Tick being discussed (though not as much as it should be), learning some terminology in geocaching, and getting a fresh perspective on world events from a truly global audience.
For those who would like a play by play, I kept track of what and where I went below. All in all t was a fun exercise, and a stroll down memory lane.
3:45 - Log into Google groups. Decide to see if there are any geocaching groups.
3:58 - Find somebody else blogging because of an assignment. Master’s of Library science at University of Washington Seattle on the alt.rec.geocaching. Looks like other students are being assigned to explore USENET.
4:03 - Read several of the threads. Many of them are in other langues.
4:18 - Think about other hobbies that might be out there.
4:19 - Find alt.tv.the-tick.
4:20 - Weep for joy.
4:21 - Realize the usenet is pretty much dead.
4:22 - Just weep.
4:25 – Try posting. Does not seem to be working. Wonder if there is a time lapse.
4:32 – Go searching for napoleon in Europe… find rec.games.board.ce find several links to blogs. Does that answer the questions as to why newsgroups aren’t used much anymore? Maybe people just blog now.
4:42 - Find a great list of Eurogames I haven’t played (I’ve played many, but not these), and post them to myfamily.com.
4:44 - Realize I am supposed to be in Newsgroups… Go back to Google groups.
4:53 - Post a bit to the eurogames about some of my favorite games.
5:05 – Decide to tackle the question as to why my posts not showing up. Wander over to the FAQ and realized it takes a while.
5:19 - Look at the clock and realize I’m supposed to be home.
5:20 - Log off.
Total time – 95 minutes
11:45 - Log on.
11:46 - Decide to find out what other hobbies of mine have usenet groups.
11:48 - Find more information on Boardgames. I guess that hobby is pretty all-encompassing.
11:52 - Look up a few favorite authors and find the rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan. The site is not just about Jordan’s books though. Nothing really interesting, too broad and I like the classics. Not much talk about Heinlein, Asimov, and Frederick Brown, at least not the current stuff.
11:56 - Look up puzzles and find rec.puzzles.crosswords. That’s not what I’m interested in. Also find rec.puzzles which is much more interesting.
12:01 - A group of the users are trying to find the smallest string of numbers you can enter into google that does not bring up a hit. 16958037 appears to be the smallest they could get. It is comforting to know that people somewhere are attending to these matters.
12:05 - Glance at a few more threads, and move on.
12:12 - Look up Instructional Design and just find job groups. Education brings up a few sites, including one on home schools. It appears there is a Christian homeschool group, and a misc. Not sure which religion misc. is.
12:18 - Most of the posts are links to web sites. Not a lot of discussion going on.
12:28 - Just for fun I look up Mormon. This site is hopping. Visit a few threads but not much that grabs my interest.
12:40 – Decide to go eat my lunch.
12:41 – Log off
Total time – 56 minutes.
3:40 - Log On
3:43 - Read a reply to my geocaching post. Get some good information for what kind of gps systems to buy and a sale going on at Office Max.
3:47 - Tempted to log off and shop.
3:48 - Resist temptation.
3:49 - Read for a while about the different types of GPS devices, and what people use them for.
4:13 – Read an interesting thread about what TNLNSL means, and that there is quite the uproar about defining etiquette. The group is coming to grips with what their mores are.
4:25 - Observe that many of the posts are from Denmark.
Read many threads…
4:28 - Became bored with geocaching…
4:30 - Log off.
Total Time – 50 minutes
11:38 - Log on
11:39 - Decide that today, rather than browse by specific topic, I would go and see what is out there.
11:42 – notice that Soc.culture has quite a few.
11:42 - Click on soc.culture.russian. It is very active because of the recent tragedy at the elementary school.
11:44 - Spend some time reading posts. The issues really come through in a global light. I read a post from a Hindu showing support against “Islamic Terrorists”, and placing shame on the Western World for not reacting with more voice against this act of terror. I read a post by an Islamic professor who quoted passages from the bible that demonstrate that Jesus taught terrorist principles.
12:18 - All quite interesting. It’s a refreshingly different perspective on world events, though some posts are better than other. There is a mix of logical, thought provoking discussion, and posts like this. “India and Russia should join with America and take over the Middle East and crush Islam.
12: 22 - Go visit rec.humor to lighten things up a bit. Find a thread bashing Bush. Little humor, but much vulgarity is used.
12:28 - Decide that most of this is not very interesting humor. 12:32 – Wander over to the alt. sites.
12:35 - Log into alt.aardvark. Mostly spam. Sexual enhancement, make money doing nothing, get your college diploma. I’m tempted by the last one since it can be done in 14 days, but resist.
12:46 - I find one post in alt.aardvark that was very interesting… Somebody doesn’t like Matt Parker. That is bizarre.
12:55 - Leave alt.aardvark
12:58 - Alt.idiot has 30 groups, which somehow seems fitting. There are several active, but it seems like just a group of friends who have found a little known place in the vast internet, and are using it to shoot the breeze.
1:24 - Check back into my geocaching site. More people have replied to my post.
1:35 – Log off.
Total Time – 120 minutes.
3:00 - Log in
3:04 –Search for my name. Found posts! I used to post to several threads ‘back in the day’ while attending university. They are still there in all their glory ;). Hard to believe. I posted in talk.politics.theory, rec.games.miniatures.misc, rec.music.beatles, and rec.arts.poems
3:08 – Find a poem I wrote back in 1997. I must have been having a bad day.
The dark, black circles that fly past my head are hollow, and swollen, and full of the dead.
3:013 – It is amazing to think something I wrote almost 10 years ago is still floating around…
3:14 – Wonders if the time spent back in 1996 can count for the 5 hours time limit needed for this class.
3:15 – decided to play it safe. Return to alt.rec.geocaching a few more people have replied, but the thread is pretty much dead. It would be silly to revive it.
3:25 – Look around the site a bit more.
3:25 - Log off
Total time – 25 minutes
Total Assignment Time: 355 minutes
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
I guess I first saw the concept of connecting computers in the movie War Games starring Matthew Broderick, John Wood, and everybody’s favorite, the one and only, Dabney Coleman. I was shocked to see Broderick place his rotary phone headset on a textbook-sized piece of equipment, and then ‘hack in’ to another computer. Surely this was akin to James Bond’s laser watch; something that existed, but I would never experience myself.
Two months later my cousin had this textbook-sized piece of equipment that connected two computers together. I never saw this ‘modem’, as he called it, in action, though a year or so later it was so outdated he gave it to me. I could never figure out exactly what it did.
When I got to college, I discovered the computers in the public labs were already ‘hooked up’. I could get on a computer and ‘telnet’ to another computer in a different location, or at a different school. I fiddled with Gopher and a few other programs before thinking, “big deal”. I could see no practical use for this thing that did not help me find single girls, or discounts on pizza or ramen.
Then a friend of mine, who spent hours and hours in the computer lab, told me I should check out the MUDs.
After we got our vernacular on the same page, he showed me what a MUD was. I was hooked. This was a big deal after all. I spent hours and hours gently guiding my fledging character along to greater experience and glory. Just as I learned DOS by trying to get my games to work, just as I learned programming in BASIC trying to transcribe game programs onto my old TI 99 computer, I was introduced to the internet by a text based role-playing game.
I remember very distinctly one experience. I had hooked up with a very friendly person whose character was much stronger than mine. We went hunting the bigger monsters together, and I was racking up the gold and experience. Just when things were going great, he text messaged me.
“Sorry, my mom tells me I have to go to bed.”
It was 1:00 in the afternoon.
“What?” I asked, “where are you from?”
“Norway. I’ll see you later.”
I didn’t see him later, but just realized I had engaged in a game, talking almost instantly with a person on the other side of the globe. I realized that this ‘internet’ thing, was global and it was catching on.
Through gaming I realized that the internet allowed asynchronous discussion. Two people could hold conversation at the same time. I heard about things called chat rooms where you could talk to another person outside of a game.
One day I got on Utah State’s chat room and found a girl on the other end. Another great use for the internet! I got online and realized my glowing personality did not transfer well online at all. I would say something in jest, but how did she know I was joking if she couldn’t see my winning smile? How could she tell I was being sarcastic if she couldn’t see me rolling my eyes? To say I floundered is probably an understatement. At one point, after yet another joke bombed, I wrote, “I’m just kidding you.” Unfortunately the d and the s are right next to each other on the keyboard. I glanced up to see what I had just sent to this nameless person and realized I had written, “I’m just kissing you.”
I know when to throw in the towel. I simply got up and left the computer lab.
I missed the next two years of advancement while serving a mission for my church. Upon return I noticed that in all of the magazines I was reading, there were these strange www things people called addresses. I had no concept at all what the World Wide Web was. As I began to learn, I was incredibly frustrated. How did you find something in all of this mess, where did you start? Where did you finish? Where was the first page of the internet? Which government entity created it?
I looked for a class on how to use the internet. I found none. How could people create, navigate, or use the internet if there wasn’t a class? I was in college; I couldn’t learn anything unless there was a class about it.
Slowly and surely I picked things up. I realized you didn’t need a teacher to learn something. In fact, the internet could be used to learn about the internet itself. I found HTML tutorials and began to build simple web pages. Then I discovered Clarus Home Page and other WSYIWYG editors. The most important thing I learned was that if you didn’t allow yourself to feel intimidated, you could learn just about anything.
Through many painful trials and errors, I learned what was proper and what was not. I was flamed, and I participated in flaming, before I realized it was a waste of time. I pontificated, studied, and searched for days and weeks on topics that I had before not given a moments notice. I figure out how to smile, wink, and frown online. The only thing I didn’t do was spend my Pell grant money on e-bay stock, which would have netted me roughly 1.4 million dollars. Instead I bought an education in political science, which has netted me roughly nothing.
The internet has become a staple in my life. My family is the only entity I interact with more than my computer, which is probably an embarrassing thing to admit. I was born three years after ARPANET went online. I was born three months after the first e-mail management program was written. Since I was 9, computers have had a soft spot in my heart. And 31 year later, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can express that warm, fuzzy feeling to the world with a teary-eyed emoticon. :’-)