5376: Blog for Week 3

As ideas for my own personal homepage begin to take shape out of the watery chaos that is my mind this early in the semester, the three themes for the change at whitehouse.gov have actually become quite helpful as a heuristic. I’ll start by briefly summarizing what the three points mean in their original context, and then discuss how that translates to my own projects. Briefly, (and with bullets, because I like a bullet list):

  • Communication: “Timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date and educated.”
    • Will include video and slideshows, a blog, and email updates (all through a central portal called “The Briefing Room”).
  • Transparency: “A window for all Americans into the business of the government.”
    • In this case, policy announcements, orders, and proclamations.
  • Participation: “We’d also like to hear from you.”
    • The review & comment section of the site, including assorted email forms and other commentary options.

Thinking about the “academic homepage” genre:

  • Communication: I see this element more or less in the traditional context of “Author Communicates to Audience,” in that I’ll have specific information about myself that I’m trying to get across to multiple audiences. “What do I want to say?” (Tied tightly to “Who am I saying it to?” More on that later.) We’re essentially talking primary content. I’d like to include such as the following: professional blog, podcasts/videos on composition, rhetoric, digital and literary topics), basic course information, a CV, projects I’ve done and that I’m working on, etcetera. I’m thinking along the lines of the kinds of content at Colleague A ‘s Website.
  • Transparency: For President Obama, the “clear window” is more political issue than strictly a design issue–that is, he is attempting to draw a clear line between his own administration and that of his predecessor. (And gladly so!) I think that transparency in terms of web design might have just as much to do with the ethos of the author as it does with an obvious navigation system . That is, my materials will need to be honest–I don’t want to purvey myths about myself that my students (present or future), colleagues, administrators, or whomever else manages to trip over the site will later find to be horrifically untrue. At this particular moment, I rather like the balance of professional/academic material and “personal” material that I seem to have struck on this blog–there’s a nice level of transparency (in a revelatory sense) about my personal life that doesn’t take away from my professional ethos. Transparency in navigation and construction would also mean a consistent and obvious (or at least logical) system for circumnavigating the site, much as Carie points out in her own blog. I like graphical symbols (like the PICOL system that Bilgil uses), and hope to integrate them at some level.
  • Participation: Traditionally, participation isn’t “the point” of the academic/professional homepage. It’s usually just a digital CV or a document repository. (See, for example, Colleague B’s Website, which is badly designed on a number of marks–there’s no content on screen until you scroll down, and then it’s an inconsistently formatted list of links.) I say why not? Why not have videos and blogs with comment-functions? Why not have some kind of chat function for my office hours? Why not use it as a centerpiece for my own reflection and practice, letting students (undoubtedly the primary audience) have not only a glimpse into the profession, but even a bit of input on what they’d like to see on their professor’s homepage? I use Moodle for course management purposes, so syllabi and course materials would be redundant on a homepage, but having preview information for courses makes obvious sense. A kind of “suggestion box” for site content, special topics courses, or even for texts and projects within regular courses is an idea I’d like to put into play–something that could be a feature of multiple parts of the site, and bring an interactive/participatory element not just to the different elements of the site but to my courses.

I think most of this can be helpfully/similarly applied to other projects. For the church website project, participation has a definite community/audience in mind, but I need to look into how much effort to put into audience “feedback” (like commentary); how much this element may or may not be “worth it” for this type of site & audience will be a critical concern.

Here’s my “Artist Site of the Week” (aka Colleague C’s Website). This follows–according to my experience thus far–the fairly standard “artist webpage” design. A sample of the art, a picture of the artist (maybe), and a very brief explanation of the site/group/artist or whatever. (I note that this has become art-less for the present, although much of Brad’s art can be seen on his faculty page.) Communication & transparency are easy–how participation might come into play is an issue better reserved for the artists themselves, I’d wager. The real question may become, however, would they rather have a homepage that contains/showcases/complements the art or a homepage that becomes part of the art itself (without supplanting it).

Question(s): All of us are professional students, and (I assume) have some experience navigating (or failing to navigate, as the case may be) our professors’ websites. From a student perspective, what do you like to see? What seems to be a waste of your time? What’s the most useful feature you’ve seen in that particular genre?

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8 thoughts on “5376: Blog for Week 3

  1. I really enjoyed your discussion of the many different ways to invite participation to your homepage. Good ideas and thanks for “Colleague B’s” homepage – welcome to my universe, indeed! :-)In response to your questions at the end (re. academic homepages), I know my expectations are very different than my student’s expectations of the same. Honestly, I don’t seek out my professor’s website unless I’m searching for something specifically related to a course I am taking from them. It’s nice when you get to know your professors but I don’t really have a need for that.My biggest pet peeve, though, has to be how many very bad academic faculty websites there are. If I had to choose classes solely based on the image conveyed in many of these sites, I would have no interest in what they might have to teach me and I can only hope their course content is stronger than their web design (which I am sure it is). Of the aspects I appreciate more than others – I like to see what my professors are publishing and be given the opportunity to see the caliber of their writing. Sometimes, too, I appreciate if they have a blog. Like I said, I realize my expectations are very different than that of others.

  2. Thanks–and that’s a helpful answer. I’d probably give the same answer as you, and think that most students (even more so for undergrads) aren’t interested in filling their days checking out profhomepages and learning tons of personal information (and they don’t need to know THAT much anyhow).I think that I’m being just as inspired–at this point–by every single terrible faculty homepage I’ve seen. And that’s a lot… Some helpful answers, Monica–thanks.

  3. Chris, I appreciated that you inserted examples of websites that illustrate your points. May I borrow that idea?I have never had an online resource for a professor other than WebCT and Blackboard for online courses. Therefore, I would agree with Monica that I typically won’t visit a professor’s website except to gather course-related information.Perhaps my standards will change as I pursue an online PhD. However, because the faculty reply so quickly to emails and are on the internet so much, I feel like I’m getting to know them without visiting their websites. (Do they all have websites?)

  4. That's a good point, Carie, and it brings me to question the value of an academic homepage that goes much beyond a superficial level… But then I guess that puts us back in "Colleague B"-land…And then there's the Online Ph.D. element. It makes sense on a practical level to have something that's useful for degree-oriented work and also connected to all of the other things we've got going on online (courses we teach, projects we work on, etcetera). Perhaps less of a "faculty" page and more of an "academic" page would make more sense. This would take students out of the primary audience (although they'd definitely remain as a secondary one); the p.a. would then be other academics & colleagues (my compatriots from our M.A. days, for example, have really taken up social networking as a way to keep tabs on each other's scholarly & personal pursuits).Oh, and borrow away!!

  5. Chris, You raise many interesting points in this posting. One issue that particularly confounds me is “participation,” especially in relation to the genres of an academic homepage or portfolio site. I get the idea that YouTube and Facebook and MySpace and the like all offer intriguing outlets for people to engage with each other and create social networks. But the purpose of those sorts of things are so different, I’m having a hard time making the leap into my projects.I already post lectures and YouTube videos that I use in class and files of that sort, plus all class materials (although I’d hardly call that participatory). I’m intrigued by the idea of holding office hours online and collaborating more with the students on each class, letting them dictate within certain boundaries. And I’m sure there are many other good ideas out there. But in some ways, it feels like trying to do something that doesn’t fit the form very well. I’m not even really sure my students would want to spend more time engaged with my class (they already say I give them too much work). So audience building comes into play, and audience targeting, and audience motivation. I’m looking forward to exploring those concepts more in the coming weeks in class and hearing your opinions about them. – Brett Oppegaard

  6. I’ve actually been playing around w/ creating “groups” on facebook to interact w/ my students. I’ve created them already, as a matter of fact.But…I just can’t bring myself to give them my facebook page or tell them to “friend request” me. I believe that students want boundaries to distance themselves from their professors. But, I’ve been thinking that I want the boundaries, too. I don’t want to feel censored on my facebook page because some of my conservative students might feel uncomfortable with my liberal tendencies. Likewise, I don’t want to learn, like I did last semester, that the reason said student was absent from my class was because she was too stoned from partying the night before. (It was quite “bitchin,” I gathered.)I’m enjoying hanging out digitally in your class discussions…kinda cool…

  7. @ Rochelle:That’s why I like having course management software of some kind. Facebook is cool and all, but its purpose is too social for the kinds of engagement we want in a classroom. Blogs, eduspaces, other widget-type pages, and course management software–if it’s any good, and I think Moodle is one of the better ones I’ve seen–allow you to do a lot of things that take advantage of the benefits of social networking, but without all of the “i got drinked up las nite d00d” stuff.@ Brett:That’s exactly the kind of participation issue that I’m still working over. I think it’d make more sense in an online/distance teaching context than in others. So much of my own teaching is in the traditional face-to-face, in-classroom mode. What kind of participation can I really expect from people who, as you say, think I ask too much of them already? (And I probably do–but that’s what they pay me for!)Audience, purpose, context (and subject, too). Hooray for rhetorical analysis.

  8. Can faculty homepages, though, be more like warehouses for students, researchers, and community members? Go to your site for learning tools, for researchable information, for ideas for the community…

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