A Beautiful Web of Obsession and Pen Spinning

Every so often I head into Google Analytics to check out the traffic on UMW Blogs. This used to be a more regular occurrence when we were having load issues on the site, but this semester our blogging platform has been so solid I haven’t been checking the numbers nearly as much. But when I went in today I was shocked to find that yesterday was far and away the most traffic we’ve ever had on UMW Blogs. Almost 10,000 visits (9,579 to be exact).

I was floored, what had driven a 3000+ visit spike over our daily average? After a little digging I found that the student blog penspin.info that was being kept for professor Zach Whalen’s Writing through Media course was responsible for the increased traffic.

Interestingly enough, professor Whalen hosts the sharing/discussion space for this class on the public site of Reddit, and as it turns out the Reddit community picked up on the awesome Pen Spinning tutorials at penspin.info and as a result they’ve become a rather popular item in the HowTo section of Reddit. So, over the last two days Reddit has pointed almost 5000 people to this student’s blog. I love that what ultimately garners the most attention on UMW Blogs is pen spinning. The very thing people do in order in order to kill time in class becomes the reason for an instructional site par excellence on UMW Blogs.

And I have to think this happened as a result of professor Whalen’s decision to have students share and discuss there work on Reddit, which is in many ways right in the middle of the wilds of the web. What’s coolest though is that this is yet another example that the web, at its best, is made up of obsessed people that can’t help but share the things they are passionate about—and something as ostensibly useless as pen spinning becomes the site of sharing, instructing, and connecting. And I think one of the reasons why this site was so popular is how well the how-to was both illustrated and executed with both images and video, see this post as exhibit A.

What I love most about the web is that it ultimately challenges higher ed’s assumptions with regards to audience, relevance, and meaning. You never really know what people will be drawn to, what they will get out of it, and how it will inform their world view in different ways. We need to foster this uncertainty rather than run away from it, in fact I think the web makes way for a new era of teaching, to quote Ray Land, it makes way for a “pedagogy of uncertainty.”

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5 Responses to A Beautiful Web of Obsession and Pen Spinning

  1. Another amazing thing is that this happened without my knowing it. Prof. Whalen just informed me of the popularity of penspin.info on HowTo; I had no idea X-D.

    • Reverend says:

      Aha! It was you Patrick! Why am I not surprised? Though I do hold a grudge against you for your tepid my response to ds106 #4life on campus walk. I am watching you! 😉

  2. I haven’t a clue of what you speak 😛

  3. Jim says:

    Yeah, yeah, yeah…

  4. @cljennings says:

    Wow, wow, wow….MY HAIR IS ON FIRE!!!!!!!!!

    How could I not have encountered Ray Land before???? Thank you sir for dropping that little gem in here!!!!

    I am just browsing around my reader today catching up on stuff and there it is…sitting there so innocent looking and unassuming – “threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge”. To other readers of this space….go there and watch that video (PAY ATTENTION!!)….It is those threshold concepts about ‘life on the web’ that the Rev here and @GardnerCampbell and @cogdog and others tntc have been trying to tell us about. Go ahead, open the door….step through/over the threshold.
    (Oh, and…to those who have written recently speculating that the web is killing serendipity, uh…complete and utter nonsense that).

    Thanks again Jim. This was one excursion down a rabbit hole that was well worth the trip!!! I am happily off now on a search for more.

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