Jul 242015

Rereading my “What’s Up?” post, I realized I’d never followed up about my decision to assign GamerGate as a topic in my research writing class this past Spring. As a kind of prelude to some other teaching related posts that I’ll be writing in the coming weeks, I’m going to give a brief description of what I saw happening.

What I Planned

The course I was teaching is a standard first exposure to college-level research writing for first-year students. I chose to use GamerGate as the topic for an early unit because it touched on an interest in video games I knew many–and perhaps most–of my students shared. There were also some other advantages. Because GamerGate was on-going at the time, there were no ready-made works students could crib to write their essays. More importantly, because all the sources they would need to use were online, the unit would give me an opportunity to teach them how to find, manage and document the kinds of real world sources they used on a daily basis.

The project was intended to be short, and I scheduled it to run for only three weeks of class time with another week reserved for revising essays before final submission. Feminist Frequency was our starting point: the videos and posts exposed everyone to the intersection of gender and gaming that were at issue. I also provided some articles from The New Yorker, The New York Times and Rolling Stone. From there, students would work to research responses to a variety of questions that came up in our daily discussions. As their final assignment, they were to write a thesis-driven argument about some aspect of GamerGate, a prompt open-ended enough I thought to allow for everyone to find an angle that suited them.

What Happened

It’s hard to think of a topic I’ve broached in a class that was as divisive as this one.

The first day went well. I showed two “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” videos. The women in the class lit up, contributed to discussion, were engaged. Many of the men were hesitant, but excitement about the fact that we were discussing gaming carried the day. A few I think were excited because the topic signalled the class was “easy,” most because games they played and liked appeared on-screen.

I have no way of knowing what happened between the end of that first class and the beginning of the next, but when we next met, the tenor of the class had changed profoundly.

The woman and a handful of the men stopped speaking: they watched and listened attentively, paid close attention to what went on in class, they wrote with real interest and insight–there was in other words, good will–but for the remainder of the project, regardless of the activities I planned, they chose by-and-large to keep quiet, reserving their comments for the page or for small group work.

Many of the remaining students were now sitting sideways in seats. They whispered quickly to each other in response to class activities but rarely to the group. When doing work in class, they suddenly demanded detailed instructions in order to do things as simple as web searching or navigating basic web pages. They resisted doing more than reporting factual answers to questions. Were they even listening? I couldn’t tell. In these and many other small ways, they seemed to be setting up obstacles to their participation and expressing what I took to be frustration.


When students react badly to material, you cope by improvising and experimenting. You try to find the areas of the topic they are willing or able to engage with so that you can stake out some common ground. You do the same thing with activities: if they will write more frankly than they will speak, get them writing; if they are silent except in small groups, translate discussion down to small group responses to prompts. Whatever the case, you use what they give you the next class to try to build some momentum.

For the GamerGate project though, there were so few students willing to comment publicly on the topic in class that there seemed to be no momentum to be had. So bit by bit, I broke the class project into a set of small group projects that allowed student to engage less publicly. I also created an option for the essay that downplayed the argumentative requirement, an aspect of the assignment that, given the circumstances, many appeared to have found intimidating, if not overwhelming. Most importantly, I moved things steadily forward and got us onto the next topic, where things cooled down and went back to normal.

Looking Back

Either GamerGate or the feminist critique it tried to shut down–I can’t be sure which–upset a group of students. I’m not going to judge that reaction here other than to say that the fact that many students were initially excited to be talking about video games seemed to make their subsequent frustration worse. The rest of the class seems to have picked up on their frustration immediately and reacted to lower the temperature the best (or the only?) way they knew how: silence. For my part, I was stuck trying to coax students beyond these basic reactions, adapting course materials on the fly, but doing so with very little input from the students themselves, which is difficult.

I don’t think it is ever easy to sort out why a particular project worked or not in a specific course, especially when dealing with new material. There is always the risk of projection, of accounting for student responses in terms that are not theirs and so missing the hints they give about why they actually reacted the way they did. So looking back now, I’m not convinced that I’ve understood what happened yet.

So I’m glad that I won’t be teaching this course in the Fall and that I don’t have to decide right away whether to raise this topic again. In theory, I would like to, but in good conscience, I can’t–and won’t–until I figure out a better framework for bringing it up.

 July 24, 2015  Teaching
Jul 032015

This past week, the Beav and I went down to Concord, Massachusetts to see Walden, Emerson’s house, the Old Manse and the rest of the sites. It was an interesting trip but it made a problem involved in teaching these writers concrete for me.

I’ve read the Transcendentalists, most of them quite carefully, and I teach more than a few of their works. So I was interested in seeing Emerson’s study and Hawthorne’s writing desk, but I was also, as unromantic as it sounds, collecting photographs I could show my students, most of whom find these works quite difficult. Pictures of relevant places should, I thought, help them visualize what they are reading.

Concord also has many Revolutionary War historical sites. These hadn’t figured as I’d imagined the trip, yet they were what was most evident once we arrived. We toured them as well, and as we did, I noticed that historical sites were easier for people to appreciate than the literary ones. Everyone seemed to have at least a bit of the necessary historical context while people touring the Emerson house, for example, knew nothing but the name. This got me thinking about the difficulty of providing context to students for reading.

At a historical site, a guide can say “The militia turned back the British at this bridge, a first victory in the War of Independence,” and that is informative even if the listener knows nothing except that the US declared its independence from Britain. It also cues all kinds of imaginative processes–fuelled by memories of movies and television–that recreate the place in the mind and sentiments as a site of a battle. It’s exciting, even if you know nothing.

But in the study at the Old Manse, which is located just across that same bridge, when the guide points to a tiny ratchet desk beside the fireplace and says “Hawthorne wrote Mosses from the Old Manse here,” those with minimal context can do little but imagine a man sitting silently, his forehead close to the wall and his back to the windows and the other chairs. Without some sense of what is in that book, without having read it, the room is the site where, by design, nothing happened silently.

Which brings me back the pictures I took. I’ll show them, but I don’t think they will do very much to push my students beyond their difficulties with their reading. Thoreau’s cabin doesn’t exist. There’re some stone markers. The reproduction cabin is empty except for a bed, a stove and a desk. Emerson’s house looks like an old house. There is a grape arbor. Thoreau built it, just like he planted the original vegetable garden at the Old Manse. You can’t tell that from looking at it though because it’s just a garden.

In other words, my pictures are horribly boring and I suspect my students will look at them with the same blankness I saw on the faces around me on the various tours. That sounds like pessimism, but it’s really just me wondering what seeing Walden–and by that, I mean a picture of any lake as long as I call it Walden when showing it–what does seeing that picture do for a student reading Thoreau for the first time? A kind of magic needs to happen to illuminate the words and to bring them to life. Does seeing the place the author walked help?

Jan 302015

Blogging has been scarce these past weeks. Initially the hiatus was about travel: a vacation followed by holidays with family followed by an unexpected week away. But the time away let me work on other projects and think about what this space is for, and that whole process isn’t done yet.

The news I have:

1. I’m done for now with the Faulkner hypertext project. I had no real appreciation for how radically different hypertext writing was. Neither did I realize how much I need, personally, to let go of an old project that feels done for me. Faulkner needs to be set aside. That said, the questions about linearity that trying to make the project readable brought up for me are very much alive…and very troubling. I hope there will be more to say about that here soon.

2. A series of work projects have taken on a life of their own. None of them are appropriate to discuss here. (An interesting insight: not everything is internet-ready.) This means that life and blog are competing a bit for the time being. This too shall pass, right?

3. More abstractly, this blog feels adolescent. I’ve spent a lot of time these past weeks wondering what this blog is for and what I want it to be. Because I am old the idea of blogging about blogging makes me shiver. Because I am not that old, the questions sting. What started as an experiment has become important, but how? And that “how” is public. /sigh.

4. I have planned for months to blog about the way I’ve been experimenting with wikis in my classroom. In the coming weeks, I may spend some time catching up on what I’ve been doing there. It’s a matter of finding the time to pull out my notes and making posts that I feel ok with.

Finally, I’m sure that anyone who’s read this far will already have read Mark Bernstein’s recent series of posts about Wikipedia and the ongoing GamerGate fiasco. I’ve found them inspiring enough that:

5. This semester I’ve decided to throw GamerGate at the students in a first-year research writing class I’m teaching. It’s the sort of topic that teachers dream of: it touches an intensely personal aspect of students’ lives and challenges them to think about what their casual pleasure mean. But to make sense of the conflicting materials (and their reactions) will require classroom skills they prefer to cordon off in a box labelled simply “school.” Bernstein’s posts set alongside Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency videos, Zoe Quinn’s blog  and supplemented with the resources Bernstein links to in posts like this one and the various articles in news sites and in magazines like The New Yorker, will present my students with a real problem. I can’t wait to talk about it with them and to see what they write. Depending, I may keep tabs on it here.

So that’s where things are and why posting is slow.

 January 30, 2015  Hypertext, Moments, Teaching Tagged with:
Sep 032014

In a previous post, I asked what four or five books could define the basic knowledge in your field? Here is my answer.

My Field

The area of the Venn diagram where America, literature, film and narrative overlap. Let’s call it “American Storytelling.”

My Five

  1. The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, & Joseph M. Williams
  2. Story and Discourse by Seymour Chatman
  3. Overhearing Film Dialogue by Sarah Kozloff
  4. Reading for the Plot by Peter Brooks
  5. Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

My Reasons

Writing is fundamental to everything in my field, and The Craft of Research provides a model for thinking about its purposes and processes that is among the best that I know of. It’s old enough to have bits that strike today’s reader as funny—there’s a chapter on how to organize index cards, for example—but the conceptual stuff—what are notes for? how will you use them? (for example)—are still rock solid. Best of all, it asks simply, What do you want to know?

Stories are experience worked into a temporal pattern and shared with others. They have a form, a history and a context. Story and Discourse and Overhearing Film Dialogue are two large-scale synthetic works that together sketch out or suggest many of the most important narrative frameworks. Chatman’s book lays out some basic but highly abstracted ways of thinking about narrative as a form. Kozloff’s examines the various ways traditions and stories interact while modelling a solid approach to close reading.

My last two choices are again large-scale and synthetic, but they turn their attention away from how narrative works and toward what it does. In Reading for the Plot, Brooks explores how stories—inventing them, writing them, reading them—illicit and address our desires. In doing so, he suggests why stories matter. Beyond it’s specific concern with sexuality, Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet demonstrates the process by which careful, intelligent reading that is attuned both to pattern and detail can allow familiar stories to reveal and to recreate the world we live in. More than thirty years after it’s publication, it remains an essential work and shows clearly one important aspect of what literary study is for.

My Sixth…

Despite the difficulty I had arriving at this list of five, once I had it and had settled on it, I felt (and continue to feel) good about it. I do have one reservation however: I think it is lessened by having no work of general history. I chose not to have one because I wanted Booth’s rhetoric, and I need the other four to complete each other by working within and between the two pairings.

If I could have a sixth book, it would be a standard history such as The Oxford History of American Literature. Histories like these are marginalized or absent in many undergraduate programs, but they are fundamental. English majors would do better and learn more if they were to read them in their first few years.


 September 3, 2014  Teaching
Sep 022014

In a recent post about picking books to read, Mark Bernstein makes the following incidental comment:

if you master four or five books, … you know chemistry.

His point here is simply that the basic body of knowledge that constitutes his field is definable and more manageable than we realize.

Does the same idea apply to the humanities? I don’t know, but given how basic the needs of my students are, I would like to think that the rudimentary principles and practices of what I teach could be stated more or less directly. Or failing that, that I could at least point to books that together come close to capturing those principles. But can I do it? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m interested in what books other people would come up with if they tried. I’m so interested in fact that I’m going to post the following scenario both here and on Facebook despite the very real risk of being met with total silence. (ack!)

The Scenario

Imagine that your preferred apocalypse is upon us. Thankfully the governments of the world are working together and have a plan to save civilization. As part of this plan they have stored all primary texts in a safe location: books, films, paintings, musical scores, everything. But they discover they have room left over. So they ask you to select four (max five) non-primary texts that they can preserve in order to pass on the basic knowledge of your field to future generations.

What are the book titles you give them and what field do they define?

I’ll chime in in a bit. But I’d also love for you to let me know your answer in the comments here or on Facebook. (But if it’s all the same, I’d prefer to hear from you here. Or as always, by email. Or even Twitter.)

No pressure.


 September 2, 2014  Teaching
Jun 132014

It’s been awhile since I made any political posts but this story about a California judge overturning the state’s tenure laws is troubling news.

In a lot of ways, this case just looks like old-school, conservative anti-unionism. But I see it through the lens of the ed tech tsunami crashing down on me at my school. This tech push is jargon laden and relatively thoughtless. It is also generally commercially driven: too often tech vendors aim to lock schools-as-markets into proprietary systems of instruction; or to install “free” systems that open student data up to some level of commercial access and use.

Teachers, because their primary obligation remains teaching, often push back by demanding that new tech also be better tech.

So when I read an article about some elementary, middle and high school students being used by a tech mogul’s activist group to eliminate teachers’ job security, I’m suspicious. Is this someone fighting for what they believe is best for students or is this someone with a commercial interest piggy-backing on an established anti-union politics that just happens to equate student success with at-will employment for the group best positioned to comment on the utility (or lack thereof) of the product they’re selling?

The whole thing looks like astroturf to me.

 June 13, 2014  Teaching
May 042014

A few months ago I wrote a series of posts about revising my Tinderbox course planning file. (The sidebar links to a good starting place.) When that series ended, I’d settled on a new strategy for writing materials and using links to navigate, but my course maps were either auto-generated or simply rough groupings of linked materials.

Neither was very useful, but I was hopeful that as I worked, a sense of how to organize the material would emerge and that the software would be flexible enough to handle the changes. And it turns out that an organization did emerge and that Tinderbox never broke a sweat as I whipped things into shape.

So this is my revised course map:

Revised Map

The changes are extensive and represent a huge departure from the maps I was using last year. But I couldn’t be more happy with the results. So in the next few paragraphs I’d like to explain how to read what you see. In a subsequent post, I’ll explain the tools I used to actually build the map.

Navigation Buttons

The map breaks into two sections. On the left is a column of dark, wide notes with large text sitting upon a red container. The notes in this column function as buttons that drop me into my wiki-view.  I selected which notes to make buttons by looking for notes that emerged as a link hub in my rough early maps.

For example, the note “Required Texts” contains a basic description of every text I will assign or reference in the course along with a summary explanation of how each will be used. Text titles are always an in-text link to that book or film’s note. The text of that note contains links to other notes in turn. So by double-clicking “Required Texts,” I can navigate to information about any of my readings with only a click or two. The same holds for the other buttons.

“Daily Schedule” operates slightly differently, and so I set it off by colouring it black. This button opens a journal note. After every class, I write a very brief description of what we did. The journal serves as my record of what was accomplished and assigned rather than what was planned. Every reading, lecture, activity or assignment mentioned in the “Daily Schedule” is linked in-text to the relevant note. So by the end of term, this note will provide a textual version of my schedule map (which, naturally, is contained in the map view of the “Daily Schedule” note).

Finally, the red container at the bottom of the column contains notes for each of my individual students. These notes are never accessed through wiki view. So to access student notes I drop into this container and work in a separate map (or call up an outline view).

Unit Adornments

The second section of the map sits to the right of the column of buttons. It contains three adornments laid out in a row, one for each unit of the course. I use these adornments to plan the content of the course independent of the schedule of the classes. (This screen cap was taken as I was beginning the second unit, so the second and third units are not yet complete.)

Using prototypes, I have distinguished between four different types of materials.

  • Blue notes with round edges are primary texts that are either assigned or discussed directly. A blue border indicates a print text; a green border, a film text. The notes that have been darkened by changing their pattern to lines are texts held in reserve as alternates.
  • Yellow notes are graded work. A purple border indicates the assignment involves students creating and drafting pages on the course web site.
  • Grey circular notes are mini-lectures. A red border identifies history lectures that build upon each other independent of other course materials.
  • Green notes with pointed edges are in-class activities that involve a formal assignment sheet or complex instructions.

The map shows only one type of link. These links are visible on the map as arrows leading from one note to another and indicate that a reading, lecture or activity will be used directly in graded work and so must be completed before it is assigned. All other link types are invisible.

Finally, overlapping notes indicate when lectures use primary texts as examples or incorporate activities.

Oral Presentations

Managing oral presentations is always difficult. For this class, I laid out the presentation texts in order on an adornment below the units. I then created aliases of student notes and lined them up under the text they were speaking on. This simple set-up lets me to know who’s presenting on what at a glance and allows me to make adjustments when needed with little hassle or up-keep. This reduces my workload so much that this section of the map is just about my favourite.

A Info Rich Map

Finally, what may not be immediately obvious in all of this is that each of the notes visible on this map contains note texts accessible by double-clicking the map object.

Double-click on a lecture and you’ll find my speaking notes and, probably, a link to the keynote file I’ve prepared. Double-click on graded work and you’ll find the assignment sheet. If the assignment will be completed on the web, those instructions will be in mark-up, ready to be copy-pasted into the text field of the edit page on the course wiki. Most importantly, every single one of these notes will contain at least one in-text link, which means that from any point, I can navigate to all my other notes independent of my map or outline.

So I think my revised course map is incredibly useful, and I’m very happy with it. In the next few days I will post an explanation of the nuts-and-bolts of how I actually built it. That post’s not done yet but it’s shaping up to be a love letter to the Attributes and Inspector Panes. So stay tuned.

 May 4, 2014  Hypertext, Teaching Tagged with: ,
Feb 112014

In my original template, dates and deadlines, kinds of material and their topics, and everything else I needed to know about a note was indicated and organized visually in map view using nested containers, colours  screen position, badges, borders and even pattern overlays. This worked well but it also made my maps rigid rather than creative spaces. Every visual element was assigned with little room left to experiment. I’m trying to change this with my template revision my displacing some of this visual information from the map onto other attributes.

Flat Maps

Because of how I’ve generated notes using my “wiki view,” my maps start out autogenerated, unadorned and monochromatic.

Autogenerated Map

These maps are also oddly beautiful.

To begin working with these maps, I simply grouped notes loosely to get a basic sense of flow. This arrangement was ad hoc and changed based on what I was looking at. As I’ve worked and my notes have multiplied, this map has become a challenge to work with and to “see”–but this confusion is useful and generative. So I’ve resisted eliminating it by simply “tidying up” the map.

Flat Maps

A very early map with few notes or links.

The one container I have created so far is called “Daily Schedule” and I use its map view to plan activities that have clear start dates or deadlines. But even here I have resisted nesting containers and have tried to move information into non-map attributes: my schedule is now built with overlapping adornments and on-add actions set the $StartDate attribute automatically for aliases dropped on an adornment.

Adornment Schedule

Same old grid but now flattened into overlapping adornments

Having working $StartDate data allows me to use timelines, something I couldn’t do before and have barely begun experimenting with.

Boolean Attributes & Agents

In addition to $StartDate, I have created a series of user attributes to carry the information I’d previously stashed in note colour, badges, etcFor example, material types are now stored in $Story, $Film, or $SecondarySource attributes. $OralPresentations and $Assigned attributes criss-cross these and distinguish materials selected for use from those that were simply considered.

All of these attributes are boolean, which is another departure. In my previous template I used mostly sets. For example, I had a $MaterialType attribute that was first a string and then a set. But typos were a hassle and selecting from (or remembering) multiple names for the types I was using was too. Having multiple yes/no attributes (one per type) is easier for me to maintain and keep consistent.

These new boolean attributes also make it easier for me to build agents on-the-fly. Do I need a schedule of oral presentations? Then I create an agent that searches for $OralPresentation as “true” and set it to sort by $StartDate. Am I building a bibliography of supplementary readings and screenings? I create an agent that searches for $Story, $Film and $SecondarySource as “true” and $OralPresentation and $Assigned as “false.”

These agents have a simple syntax and take only moments to create. As a result, I can make them up as I need them even if I need them only for a short time.

Link Types on a Map

Finally, the links on my top-level map have become extensive and they read primarily in terms of density. But I have been thinking about what else they might be made to tell me if I thought of them in terms of link types.

What I’ve realized is that many of these links are simply for navigation, and I don’t need to see them in map view. Others are navigational and also informational insofar as they indicate kinds of materials and the relationships between them. It seems there would be value in assigning these different links different types and then setting them to display differently on the map. Navigation links could be hidden, for example, but links to required and supplementary materials might be presented in different colours.

And in a Note Text…

If link types can be useful in map view, it also seems they ought to be able to differentiate relations between materials in note texts as well. For example, right now link-text colour simply tells me what I’ve clicked on. Knowing instead that a green link leads to an assignment and a blue link leads to reading notes could be very useful. But I suppose this depends on whether I could set up rules or agents to make link-text colour representative of link type. And I don’t know how to do that or even if it’s possible…

The End (for now)

And so this post ends with ideas and speculation and I take that as a sign that my description of my template revision has caught up with my practice and that it’s time to wrap up the series. When the term is further along and I know more about how things have gone, I’ll give an update.

 February 11, 2014  Hypertext, Teaching Tagged with: , ,
Feb 052014

I’ve been thinking about the mismatch between how revolutionary my “wiki view” seems to me and how completely insignificant it appears when I reread my description of it in my last post. When I reread, my take-away is: so I’ve started writing notes…in Tinderbox…”The Tool for Notes”…and… (yawn).

So I’m wondering: what is it about my work that makes writing and navigating notes with links seem so powerful?

The answer I think lies in the way I have been using “course content” to refer to two different things. On the one hand, it is my knowledge of a field, call it literature. On the other, it is all the lectures, activities and assignments I create for my students so that they can practice skills and demonstrate knowledge. The first of these is what I teach; the second, how I teach it.

In order to organize how I teach, I need to sequence course lectures, activities, and assignments so that they fit within the time constraints of a single semester. I also need to manage and track my movement–and my students’ movement–through this sequence. My original template offers me the tools I need to do these things.

Sequence is less important when organizing what I teach. Literature is complex. It operates through language. It organizes itself aesthetically. It is a field of meaning and a history and an etc. When I organize what I teach, I create an interpretation of this complexity pitched at my students.

My “wiki view” creates a word-based system for organizing what I teach that is independent of the graphical representations of sequence that organize how I teach. It allows me to dive into and swim freely through a sea of words. And when I need a breath of sequential air, I know that I can come up to the surface and bob around in map or outline view.

This new freedom to develop what I teach in a way proper to my field is, I think, the revolution I’m feeling.

 February 5, 2014  Hypertext, Teaching Tagged with: , ,
Feb 022014

The roots of my course plan revision reach back to the classroom wiki project I began creating last May. As part of my early preparations for this project, I created a personal wiki to experiment with the software I’d be using and decided to populate it with course materials to get it started quickly. This got me thinking about how planning a course in my Tinderbox template was different from what course planning would look like on a wiki.

Now, it was obvious almost immediately that the wiki was too limited to do any actual course planning. But at the same time there were two real and enormous benefits that I could see in a wiki-based approach. First, the wiki forced me to focus on texts and how pieces of text lead me to other (or new) materials. Second, the wiki nurtured a mild but generative confusion as I worked. Both of these seemed worth importing back into my Tinderbox template.

So, in this post, I’ll explain how I’m rearranging my template to shift my focus to the text of my notes, and in my next, I’ll explain how (and why) I’m “breaking” my template enough to let in some confusion.

The Problem of Title-Notes

Because I worked in outline and map views in my original course planning template, many of my notes consisted of little more than the title attribute (plus whatever attributes or copy-pasted text I used to catch them later with agents). These titles needed to be short enough to be viewed on a single line or within a reasonably sized box. They were also largely static.

In practice, the titles of empty notes named or described content (lecture notes, exercises instructions, etc.) stored outside my template, often as a keynote or word processing file. Generally but not always, I linked to that external file from my note. Generally but not always, I copy-pasted the content of that file to the note on the day I taught so that it would be included in the Nakajoki view printout I brought to class.

Notes as Titles

Dig down into map view and you find a bunch of empty notes.

Notes in my Wiki

In my wiki, things worked very differently. There were no map or outline views, and page-note titles were displaced to the top of my browser window. I was forced to deal with the actual content of pages and found this confrontation with the imperfect messy details of my work inspiring.

I also found that depending on links to navigate created a pressure to state ideas and information rather than merely to name them. In principle, blank pages in the wiki were the same as blank title-notes on my outline or map views, but in practice they were not. I needed note texts with links to navigate from page to page on the wiki. A blank page was a dead-end in a way an empty note wasn’t in map or outline view. The way past these dead-ends was to add content and links, even if only provisionally, so that the blank obstacle opened up and gave me a way to move on to the rest of my materials.

Living in note texts and making them lead one to the other through links pushed me to bring materials into existence and toward maturity in a way I hadn’t been pushed to do in my original course template.

Creating “Wiki View” in Tinderbox

A primary goal of my template revision has been to create a similar immersion in note texts and a similar link-driven push to develop materials in Tinderbox. To do this, I set my old template aside, created a new file, and:

  1. switched my preferences to hide the sidebar;
  2. created a first note called home in the initial outline view and opened it;
  3. closed the initial outline view;
  4. worked out from the home page, creating and writing new notes as I need them.

This set-up recreated my wiki experience. Note titles, which were central in my original template, were here displaced to the title bar, and my note text was pushed front-and-centre. As I write material, I added links to new notes, and used these links to navigate.

Wiki View

My “Wiki View”

But It’s a Tinderbox Wiki

This set-up is not, however, simply recreation of my wiki experience. It also improves on it in two ways.

First, links in my new template open in a new window. Some might find this annoying (and tabs are coming to Tinderbox) but without the sidebars, the note window is very compact and I like seeing and working on multiple related notes simultaneously. (Multiple windows also makes linking pieces of text to other notes very easy.) More importantly, open windows can be arranged on my desktop as an ad hoc map view but with one great benefit over a regular Tinderbox map: my note texts on this map are both visible and editable.

Second, because of how Tinderbox is built, this new way of working can operate alongside all of the course planning strategies I used in my previous template. My workspace has been expanded–an entirely new “ground level” space has been created underneath the eye-in-the-sky map views–but those map views are only a hotkey way. When I’m ready to do so, all of the notes I create in wiki view can be organized into semester schedules and content groupings just as I did in the past. Which is incredible.

(What’s even more incredible is that, although I’m working in a completely new and better way, I get the sense that, if it talked, Tinderbox would say “well of course you can do that” as if it had been designed to do exactly this new thing and had been waiting all along for me to realize it.)

Next up, how I’m cultivating a bit of confusion

 February 2, 2014  Hypertext, Teaching Tagged with: , , ,