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Here's a little question for you:

I was talking with a colleague last night who teaches some of our professional writing and/or technology courses. He and I were talking and he asked me if there was a term for this phenomenon: not so long ago, when he would ask his students if they had ever heard the word hypertext or had authored web pages (via HTML, CSS, etc), most of them hadn't. And he had the sense that they hadn't yet arrived at that point. Now, though, he asks these questions, and has the impression not that his students haven't arrived there yet, but that they're beyond it and would think of it as backsliding. In other words, given all the SNApps, like blogging software, Facebook, MySpace, etc., there's been an emphasis on allowing users to avoid ever having to go under the hood, such that the idea of teaching those under-the-hood skills like coding may start to appear quaint.

Anyhow, my colleague asked me if there was a term for this, and the best I could come up with was leapfrogging, although I think I've heard of it more in the context of diffusion studies, where particular societies will skip intermediate steps in a particular line of development for whatever reason.

I also thought that retromediation might make for a workable term, in the sense of these interfaces remediating particular skill sets, but doing so in a way that makes the skills themselves seem "retro." Maybe I'm overreacting to what is unquestionably a limited sample, but I wonder if being able to tweak one's own HTML and CSS isn't rapidly becoming akin to being able to keep your truck running with a coat hanger and duct tape. Useful, yes, but also a little old school.

Then I look up the word, and find that Derek's already coined it, albeit in a more punceptual fashion than I'm using it.

Hmm. Just thinking, I suppose, with the question implied. That's all.


No real comment about the terminology, but this story just popped up in bloglines.

Very eerie.

Sometimes those under the hood skills come in handy. A piece from Salon yesterday, about a similar issue with respect to computer programming -- that BASIC was a great way for kids to learn the skills that help them understand how/why the more advanced stuff actually works...and how impossible it is to get a computer to run BASIC anymore --

A good question Collin. I've been thinking about this myself in the context of planning my "Writing in Cyberspace" course. Yes, the course with the outdated name (which I didn't pick, btw). In the past I taught HTML, Dreamweaver, Photoshop/fireworks, and a little CSS.

Now, I feel I need to teach blogging, using wikis, using web 2.0 services/apps from to flickr and beyond. I also see the need for teaching audio and video, where before they were rare elements on the web.

It seems to me that the technical demands are moving horizontally rather than vertically.

I met with a faculty member this week who wanted to discuss some possiblities for using technology in his class. He usually has them make their own web sites using html and then a wysiwyg editor like Dreamweaver. Knowing what I know about how we've pulled back on those resources (we no longer have DW installed except in the specialty lab) and about how hard it is to teach basic html skills now, I suggested such things as Flickr, Google Pages and Photo Blogs. I watched his brain pop a little. He insisted it was worth teaching the html. I'm thinking, what's your goal here, to have them present the material in an interesting way or to learn html? The former, he assures me. So I think using html in any kind of class except a web design class might have jumped the shark.

I also think good web design has become a real professional activity. It's hard for amateurs to keep up.

Sophisticated use of wikis, weblogs and similar web applications all but requires knowledge of code. "Some HTML is OK" appears on flickr and a bunch of similar sites, in input boxes for comments, avatars, etc. Perhaps that's the way to teach it; those little cycles of HTML input and display work effectively as a sandbox.

In other words, I'm not sure if we can say there's a procedure or steps to be skipped. What skills should we teach first? File management? Networking? Standards compliance? Strong arguments for all are possible.

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on September 14, 2006 1:27 PM.

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