Sunday, July 19, 2015

Unit 2: Artifact Example: My Web History

This week, we’ve been talking about connections, about how information is not really informative unless you get it at the right time and place. Information is most valuable when it’s matched to a specific need. Without connection or context, it’s simply data or, even worse, noise.

Recently, I started thinking about how our information needs actually change over time, and how our organization and structuring information change as well. These thoughts, coupled with my reminiscing last week about my favorite bookshelf, set off on a mini-project that I hope you will find interesting. It’s about tracing the past in order to visualize the context of where you are now.

The questions I have in mind for this project are:
  • What is my documented history in the world of the Web?
  • How has my presence changed over time?
  • What is my current existence in the Web?
I started to build out my answers by looking at my own web presence. The first thing I wanted to know was, "What was the first web page I ever made available on the Internet?"

I can still see it in my mind. It was a page I created to to support the art history class I was teaching. I built the HTML in a simple note app – the old fashioned way – and it was AWESOME! It even had some tiled background images and other touches that were en vogue at the time.

The question is, does it still exist and can I find it?

Okay, so on to the Internet Archive WayBack Machine (here’s more information about the Wayback Machine).

I knew that my first website had one of those / addresses, but wasn’t sure if it was associated with my first/last name, or initial+last name. I decided to begin by searching for, and – bingo! – my first sign of a trail! WayBack had a page directory archived From August of 1997, the exact month I left the University of Colorado as an employee. What are the chances, right?

And what did I find there in that archived directory? ME! Stacy Meiser. Unfortunately, the page itself was archived, meaning I must have already removed my pages, because it looks like this...
(Just for fun – here is what the University of Colorado at Boulder’s webpage looked like in 1997

Now, you may be getting nervous because you think you’ll never get to see my marvelous first web page. But don’t despair! I don’t give up so easily!

As a next step, I dug through my current computer (yes, I am a bit of a digital hoarder), and looked through some of my oldest files (sorting by "Date Added" and "Date Created," then filtering by .html). And there they were, some of the study pages I created for my class!

Now that is a beautiful webpage for 1997-ish, even if I do say so myself. The one thing missing in my files was the tiled background image file, so I did insert a new one, but this is a fairly good match to what I would have used at the time.

I found some other interesting digital in my archive, by the way, such as duplicates of all of my art images, small low resolution thumbnails and higher res/larger copies of the same images. Does anyone else remember when we had to structure our pages this way – economies of size so pages would load through modems – trying to keep the page size as small as possible? For me it is also interesting to see that my penchant for bulleted lists is nothing new.

The next webpage I created was for my work as the Distance Education Coordinator at the University of Central Oklahoma. Once again, check out the awesome tiled background image. I don’t know for sure, but I would bet good money I made this with Claris Home Page.

One quick note about finding this page. As with my Colorado page, I didn’t remember the specific URL of the site I created at UCO, so I started in the WayBack Machine with my best guess – This didn’t return anything, but it did give me the option to search all archived pages under

I filtered for terms that I thought I might have used in the URL of one of my pages, like "distance learning," and "WebCourse," finally it was IVE (interactive video) courses that got me back to our domain of "cyber." I would never have remembered that on my own.

After I left UCO for OU, I didn’t really have a strong web presence for a long time. I was listed as an instructor and had a page that linked to course syllabi, but most of my recent web life has been lived through the LMS since I spent 7 years teaching full time. Over the years, I have started more than one blog, although I am not as consistent as others, and I have a Google+ page and a Twitter account. I’m not sure it’s worth mentioning my very dormant LinkedIn and Facebook pages.

So, going back to the initial thoughts I had before I started this project, and as I have concluded many times before, it’s not really about the wrapper or the layout or how you build or structure something. It’s about the content itself! It’s about what we put out there for others to absorb and what we gain from sharing information with others. When I first began making webpages, I was putting a lot of content out for my students. It was not always well structured but it was available for them.

As I moved into more formatted websites, I realized that I was actually posting less content. Now, as I move back to blogging, I see myself more willing to be open with content, to share ideas as I work through them. This process is invigorating, and I am going to push myself to be more "out there."

I have also been a stronger consumer on the web (my RSS reader has 100s of feeds). What has changed most dramatically for me over the last few years is my general frustration with internet silos – the loss of good RSS support from Google and the subsequent lack of RSS support from websites and services like Twitter. I have also grown increasingly aware of how boring and crushing a closed system like an LMS can be for students. These systems often become mostly about the administration of the course – how to keep students in one place, track them, structure their interactions, and drive them through the course content. There is no room for students to interact organically – the space is all about content and interaction coming from the instructor, casting the student in a passive role. Even discussions within these systems must be initiated or created by the instructor.

In the past, I made a very conscious decision to keep all of my content and my students’ work inside of the LMS. Learning online was relatively new and I wanted the students to have everything in one system, some place that felt stable and safe for me and for them. As I move outside the LMS, I have been trying to focus more on breaking down the system walls that exist, for myself and for my students.

I am now striving toward a paradigm of working out loud, of documenting my work as I work through it. I am also encouraging my students to do the same. I want them to learn out loud and to share their learning and working processes publically. Of course, this has to happen in spaces where students can start and own their conversations, where they can make choices about how to interact and be allowed to make and show their work creativity.

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