To continue with the theme of The Web of the Future, I want to think out loud about some fundamental changes to html itself that could assist with quoting, remixing, cross-site conversations, and even revolutionizing how instructors could evaluate student learning. I’ll hit on the actual structural idea first and then touch on how it could change online assessment, so hang with me until I get to that. Or skip ahead and see if it is worth reading and then come back for the details. I won’t know either way :)
I love the idea of remixing web content, but to be honest it is a bit cumbersome and disjointed to do so now. You have to copy/paste, create hyperlinks, and give source credit manually. If you are just referencing a blog post in your remix, that’s usually not that hard. But what if you want to remix a particularly insightful comment on a blog post that has dozens of comments? Some platforms make that possible, others not so much. But then you could go through all the trouble to properly cite, link, etc in your remix, some sites may change structure and ruin your work.
I know that some say not to bother with linking and citing because its still too difficult to follow the trail of connections anyways, but I think those connections are important and I will explain why in a bit.
The biggest problem is that for all of the tags and code that goes into making modern web pages work, when you get to the actual content, there have been no major changes to that since html was invented (I know the exceptions, but you know what I mean). What if we could create a new set of tags that allows you to ID separate comments, ideas, and paragraphs in the code, and then utilize those tags to help you quote, remix, and follow conversations across various websites?
A New Tag For Pinpointing Content
So let’s take a look at a tag that could help here. Since I’m talking remix, let’s call this tag “remix”. When you create content, the <p> tags in the content itself might have a remix attribute id, such as <p remix_id=”1012″>. This could be an individual ID that is specific for that page. Theoretically the author could designate certain ideas as one section or each paragraph separately. Content could start with “01–“, comments with “10–“, images with “20–“, metadata with “50–” or whatever it may be. Each comment would get its own id, each paragraph it own, etc.
Now, that may seem kind of pointless until you combine it with a browser plugin that recognizes those tags. Then you can click on a paragraph or quote and choose to remix it by sending it to your blog editor, Twitter, etc. If Twitter, Facebook, and other sites would use this tag, you could also remix posts on social media sites, or images on Flickr, or videos on Vimeo, or whatever the case may be. So quoting and remixing could be made easy. But how to give credit and link backs?
Obviously, there are probably enough numbers in the universe to give every single paragraph, comment, tweet, you name it a unique number of its own. But going that route would not necessarily allow for connections to be made with individual author’s content across websites. So we would probably need some more tags and a centralized tagging service.
For example, in the remix ID for a comment, if there was an author ID that connects to a central service to identify that author ID, the browser plugin could automatically identify the author or remixed bit of content. So the tag surrounding the comment could expand to <p remix_id=”1012″ remix_author=”3949930923″>. Just think about how much control you could have over your digital identity if you could track every comment, forum discussion, etc you have ever made?
On blogs and news sites that might have new pages every day, you’ll still run out of numbers (or they will get too large to manage) if you don’t have a remix page ID for each page. This could be pretty easy – in the page header just stick a tag like <remix page_ID=”201401011234″ />. Obviously, mot sites could just use the date and time stamp for this, but you could also ID static informational pages with numbers that start with “1”.
Once you have a specific ID for a page as well as each bit of information on that page, you would finally need a site ID. Right above the page_ID tag could be one for site ID: <remix site_ID=”03489432o3u5″ />. That ID could be registered at the same site that manages user IDs. Why would you want to use this instead of just the URL? Because URLs can change as blogs change names, companies get re-branded, school change owners, etc. If you do any kind of database work, it is kind of akin to assigning a random number to user accounts for searching a table instead of just using the user ID – the public-facing user ID can change.
So, in theory, the comment that we have been talking about all along would have a random string of numbers attached to it: 03489432o3u5:201401011234:1012 [this works out to site ID:page ID:remix ID]. No matter how much the website changes, if the site owners keeps their site_ID updated in the remix database, a service that uses this number could easily find that content no matter where it moves. So a bit.ly kind of permalink service could be created that crunches those numbers based on the remix database in order to keep each permalink always correctly working.
In quote and remixing different bits of information, you wouldn’t even necessarily need to paste the original quote in the text – a system that is designed well enough could find and pull the content for you. Other attributes could be added to snip the beginning, end or middle off of a quote to just focus on the parts you want. A long quote could be cut down to a tag that just looks like this: <remix quote=”03489432o3u5:201401011234:1012″ snip_beg=”26″ snip_end=”57″ snip_mid=”78,90″ bold=”27,56″ />. For one quote this much code might be a draw, but in true remixing where you are pulling in large numbers of quotes, this could become as easy coding short cut.
Controlling Your Online Content and Portfolio Storage
So what is the big point in doing all of this? So far I probably just sound like an anal-retentive organizer that needs therapy because I want to tag and organize the whole Internet. So let’s ponder a second want all of this could mean for individual students and educators.
If everything you are writing online is tagged with your ID (or IDs if you wish to have separation or privacy), you could theoretically also have a portfolio on your website that collects everything you create. It doesn’t necessarily have to publish it automatically, but you could easy create a dashboard that tracks all of your activity. You could them be in control of what you publish to your portfolio, of course. But the general idea is that you can take ownership of all of your work.
In addition, it would be easy to track your conversations across several sites, as well as how people respond to your thoughts across the net . When a conversation starts as a tweet that gets a few responses, and then is turned into a couple of blog posts, all of which get comments and shares on Facebook, and those shares get comments that lead into more blog posts and so on…. well, you see how hard it is to fully follow conversations across the web. But a system that can follow the tags and connect these diverging conversations together, kind of like a tree of some kind, could be very useful. Visually, I am thinking of something like a resembles a Prezi presentation. I know some people hate those as presentation tools. But as a visualization of a branching conversation with several levels of depth? Could be fascinating. Add in the ability to add to the conversation on the appropriate platform at the appropriate level as you are digging through the branches – even more intriguing and powerful.
You could even theoretically see a row of symbols at the bottom of tweets, pics, posts, discussion forums, etc that somehow indicate what direction the conversation took after the part you are reading, and even where it came from. I know several services will show you how many times a blog post has been shared on Facebook or Twitter or other sites, but what if you could actually follow those conversation forks to those sites rather than just a useless number?
Evaluation of Sociocultural Heutagogical Learning in a Networked, Internet-Like Fashion
So how does all of this revolutionize how we evaluate student learning? Think of how we typically do so now. Students turn in one artifact – a paper, a group project, a discussion response, etc – and they are “graded” on how well they performed on this uni-dimensional task. They may get lucky, or they may really demonstrate that they learned something. But what if students could turn in a conversation that demonstrates progressive, non-linear, real-life application of knowledge? What if we left the knowledge acquisition up to the students, who would demonstrate understanding or mastery by turning in a tree of conversation across formal and informal website activities to demonstrate that acquisition?
Basically, instructors would stop being knowledge vending machines and would become the true “guide by the side” as some call it, evaluating student understanding based on real world applications. They would assign a particular skill or knowledge demonstration or whatever it may be, provide input and assistance along the way, maybe even participate in the conversation, but ultimately review the conversation itself that students turn in. They could respond by saying “you did well here and here, but I think you are still missing ____ and need to go to ____ site and ____ to really dig into this concept.”
Obviously, this is a different paradigm of assignment and assessment than most or used to, so it would take adjustment. And none of these ideas are necessarily new or original. But in many ways it could transform online learning and assessment into a new paradigm that more closely matches the networked interconnectedness of the Internet itself. This method would take advantage of true sociocultural learning and well as heutagogical principles to determine if students are learning or not. The entire Internet becomes a canvas to craft learning based on formal and informal social interactions with those of a shared culture (the topic being learning).
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.