tfws14 module project: designing an online information ecology

Assignment Overview

In 1990, Neil Postman wrote: “Nothing could be more misleading than the idea that computer technology introduced the age of information. The printing press began that age, and we have not been free of it since. But what started out as a liberating stream has turned into a deluge of chaos.” A “deluge of chaos”—and it hasn’t gotten any better what with millions of tweets, instagrams, blog posts, Flickr images, Facebook posts and so on uploaded per day. How do we make sense of all this stuff and what technologies can help us filter through it all so things that are interesting to us find us (rather than us finding them).

In this module, and for our module project, we’ll be attempting to do just that through the creation of an information ecology—an ecology that extends from desktop to laptop to mobile device to those oh so quaint technologies, paper, pen, and pencil. Bonnie A. Nardi and Vicki L. O’Day (1999) “define an information ecology to be a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment. In information ecologies, the spotlight is not on technology, but on human activities that are served by technology” (p. 49). Our own personal online information ecologies will be comprised of these interrelated, symbiotic spaces (in order we’ll be learning them):

  • a blog on WordPress
  • an account on Twitter
  • an interest news service, Zite (or Prismatic)
  • a “read it later” service, Pocket
  • an RSS reader, Feedly
  • an online (scholarly) library, Zotero
  • cloud storage on Dropbox

Now, there are a lot of names here and most will probably be unfamiliar for most students. That’s a good thing. It means that there is much to learn about writing, reading, and archiving is the age of social media.

Being a Writer (and Reader) Today

Being a writer today is (and will continue to be as we move into the future) about being able to:

  • organize various online spaces
  • share information across different spaces
  • archive what is needed in such a way that allows us to find it in the future
  • be able to access everything across multiple platforms (desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, and so on)
  • use what you need when you need it so you can compose what you need to compose, whether it be a tweet, blog post, lesson plans, or academic paper

The goal of this module is for you to learn how to do that.

The Primary Functions of our Web 2.0 Spaces

One key to doing so is understanding the primary functions of the Web 2.0 applications we’ll be using this semester:


While each Web 2.0 space has it’s primary functionality, they all allow for and encourage the movement of information among various spaces. As you begin to use them, look for ways to connect different apps together in the Settings area. Also look for icons of other apps in the app you are using. Look for the RSS icon , as well, as that will tell you if the space can be subscribed to using an Reader, like Feedly.

Encouraging Shared Information

Another important thing to understand is that when you use Web 2.0 spaces, you are entering into an environment that encourages users to share information from one space to the next. For example, in the Twitter app, users can set up their account to send things to the Read it Later service, Pocket:

setting up pocket

This, of course, cam also be done from desktop apps and web interfaces. I’m showing mobile screen shots to encourage those of you who have smartphones to use them this module.

Setting up to Receive Information Automatically

Furthermore, many Web 2.0 apps and spaces allow users to set up systems where information will automatically move from one space to the next without users having to repeat the process. That is essentially how an RSS Reader like Feedly works. You subscribe to various blogs or news sites and once subscribed, the information from that site automatically shows up in your space. You can then send it to any other space (like, Twitter or Pocket, as below):

set-up-feedlyIn the tweet above, I should have added the course hashtag, #tfws14 or #tfebt. Ooops.

These are just two examples of the kind of things we’ll be doing this module.

Assignment Specifics

In this assignment, each student will:

  1. learn how to use and connect various Web 2.0 applications together with the goal of being able to move information (posts, tweets, articles, and so on) around to help facilitate composing and archiving
  2. complete and turn in the Connecting Your Information Ecology handout (.pdf)
  3. complete a Prezi with background audio track using in which you discuss your information ecology in terms of the readings discussed in the class.

Connect Various Web 2.0 Applications

I’d like you connect the following applications together, using whatever settings or structures the site has to afford such connections. We’ll be going over each of the applications in class (—> means “connect to”):

  • WordPress —> Twitter
  • Zite/Prismatic —> Twitter
  • Zite —> Pocket
  • Twitter —> Pocket
  • Pocket —> Feedly (do Google search to find out how)
  • Zotero —> Feedly
  • WordPress —> Feedly
  • In Feedly, subscribe to 5 blogs or news services (not including your own blog)

You have the option of integrating these applications, as well, though we will not be discussing them in class:

  • Diigo
  • Pinterest
  • Facebook
  • Storify

Complete and Turn in the Connecting Your Information Ecology Spaces Handout

As a way to help you keep track of and visualize the connections between applications and how you are using them to help you compose, I’d like you to complete the Connecting Your Information Ecology handout (.pdf).

This is an important document, so please do not lose it. Keep it next to you as you are tweeting, blogging, and connecting the applications together so you can update it as you go.

Feel free to be creative with your color selections for the lines you’ll be drawing. The sheet should like a tangled web when completed. Please try to write as neatly as possible.

You will turn it in the last day of the module.

Final Prezi with Audio

The final product will be multimodal, composed in Prezi with an audio voiceover that you add to the background. The voiceover will consist of reading aloud a written narrative that addresses the main issues discussed in the module:

  • How do we handle the massive amounts of information we have access to?
  • What does it mean “to write” and to be “a writer” today?
  • How is literacy changing?
  • How does the space where writing occurs impact the writing itself? What role does mobile play in all this?
  • And what do you think writing will look like and where will it be completed in the future?

The narrative should be informed by:

  • the readings and videos we have watched in class
  • your use of blogging, Twitter, and all the other spaces in your Information Ecology

The Prezi should include screen shots of your various information ecology spaces as well as direct quotation from the readings we’ve read and videos we’ve watched (see below for how to create screen shots—you can also include screen shots of your phone as a way of discussing the mobile nature of composing and archiving). You can also photograph or scan in the information ecologies handout you’ve been completing, create a screencast of how you are moving between spaces, other anything else that you think will help you illuminate what you are stating in the assignment.

By the end of your discussion, you should come to a proposal or idea about what you think writing will look like, where it will occur, and how it will be processed in the future.

What Not to Do
Do not merely go through your information ecology, saying, “First, I used this blog and then I used Twitter, and then I used Pocket and this is what happened,” and so on. Doing that you are structuring your presentation by the spaces and not by the ideas. Also do not merely go through the 5 questions bulleted above, one after the other.

What To Do
I’d like you to present ideas on what you see happening to writing (which those questions address). The visuals in the Prezi should enhance your oral narrative, and as a result, I’d like you to write the narrative first and then complete the Prezi after it, using images that compliment and visually enhance what you are saying. That is, I strongly recommend this order (and the draft due dates enforce this):

  1. Write your narrative
  2. Revise your narrative (thinking about what images could be used to enhance the discussion)
  3. Record your narrative
  4. Complete the Prezi and add the audio from the narrative to the background
  5. Check to make sure the time of the changes from one image to the next will be 4, 10, or 20 seconds for all changes. I will be playing the Prezi on Autoplay, which allows for 4, 10, or 20 second auto shifts between your path stops. Try to time the images that you use to correspond to what you’re discussing so when they switch they are related to what is being said. You’ll let me know whether to play it at 4, 10, or 20 second intervals.Alternately, you can add sound to each path stop (instead of putting it in the background). This option will allow you to control more precisely what is stated over each image, but will be more complicated to record and create. The choice is yours.

The Overall Production
The overall production should have the following characteristics:

  • 2 – 5 minutes long (that is, the narrative you write should last 2 – 5 minutes when read aloud)
  • the audio narrative should take the viewer through the Prezi so each stop (or “slide”) illuminates and enhances when you are reading
  • if you want to add images that are not your own, you either need permission from the photographer or they need to hold a Creative Commons License

Assessment (updated 3/25 to fix math)
Your project will be assessed in terms of

  • how well you engage ideas information overload, new forms of literacy, and what it means to be a writer today and will mean in the future (50%)
  • how well you integrate each portion of your information ecology into your narrative and your Prezi (10%)
  • how well you integrate the texts we’ve read and watched in your narrative (15%)
  • the overall quality of the presentation (25%)

Recording the Voiceover
To record your voiceover you will need something that will create a digital recording. If you have the option, I recommend using the recording app that comes with your phone. Prezi supports the following audio file formats: MP3, M4A, FLAC, WMA, WAV, OGG, AAC, MP4, 3GP. You can see various options for recording audio in the list Prezi provides. Most laptops and some desktops now come with a built-in microphone and that one should work just fine. Don’t record in noisy or windy spaces.

Follow this video tutorial for adding audio to your Prezi, in either the background or in each path stop (you can see a step by step guide, too; note that audio other than music can be added to the background despite their description):

Sample Projects (updated March 25, 2014 at 12:15pm)
You can see two sample final projects by Amanda and Gary. They are two of the better projects that I received from Module 1. Using the auto-play, watch Amanda’s at 20 seconds, and Gary’s at 10 seconds. Both are successful because they have presentations that are grounded in ideas rather than just going step by step from one question to another. Note that other then when they are quoting from others they are not including the content of their transcript in the Prezi. I would prefer to see more quotations and references to both the course texts and their own work, however.

To start the Autoplay, click on the arrow with the little timer in to the bottom right of the video bar. Then select the correct time:
Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.11.47 PM

Screen Shots For Mac Users
To take a screen shot of anything on the screen using a Mac, hold down at the same time:

SHIFT + Command Key + 4

The Command Keys, also known as the Open Apple keys, are to the right and left of the Spacebar, and look something like this:

command key on the Mac keyboard

This will bring up a cursor that looks like a large + sign. Move the cursor to the top left of the area of the screen you want to capture. Click, hold, and drag the cursor over the entire area. Release the click. You may hear a sound that sounds like a camera shutter.

An image will automatically be saved to your desktop (or wherever the default save is on your computer), called Picture #.png.

Screen Shots For PC and Mac Users
For PC users I recommend using a free application called, Jing (if you know of others, let me know so I can add them to this). Jing allows users to take screen shots and also take video of what they are doing on the screen. It is easy and fun to use. To create your screen shots, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Jing. Watch the introductory video and download it for free.
  2. When you are ready to make your screen shot, open Jing.
  3. Hover over and then single click on the Jing sun. Select the cross-hairs (the left most ray).
  4. Move the cross-hairs to the top left of the area you want to capture. Click and drag and a box will open over the area you want to capture.
  5. Select the image icon in the lower left of the box. A pop-up window will appear with the screen shot in it.
  6. Create a meaningful file name and save the image to a place on your computer designated for this class so you’ll be able to retrieve it easily later.

Due Dates (updated 4/9/14)

Module 3
: Bring to class a digital or printed draft of your narrative (not recorded)
4/29: Rough draft of your Prezi including the recorded narrative due
5/4: Final Project due online by 11:00pm: Create a blog post on your group blog in which you provide a brief introduction (100 – 150 words) to your Prezi, in which you link to it (make sure your Prezi is set to Public).

Module 2
: Bring to class a digital or printed draft of your narrative (not recorded)
4/1: Rough draft of your Prezi including the recorded narrative due
4/6: Final Project due online by 11:00pm: Create a blog post on your group blog in which you provide a brief introduction (100 – 150 words) to your Prezi, in which you link to it (make sure your Prezi is set to Public).

Module 1
: Bring to class a digital or printed draft of your narrative (not recorded)
2/25: Rough draft of your Prezi including the recorded narrative due
3/2: Final Project due online by 11:00pm: Create a blog post on your group blog in which you provide a brief introduction (100 – 150 words) to your Prezi, in which you link to it (make sure your Prezi is set to Public).

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