Today’s class was awesome. The summer edition of the Internet Course is proving pretty epic, and this morning was a good example as to why. Last Friday we decided we were going to create a site to try and explain how the internet works in as clearly and plainly as possible—inspired by the explainlikeimfive (ELI5) Reddit (thanks to James Dawson for the suggestion!).
E is for explain. This is for concepts you’d like to understand better; not for simple one word answers, walkthroughs, or personal problems.
LI5 means friendly, simplified and layman-accessible explanations, not for responses aimed at literal five year olds (which can be patronizing).
With that idea in mind, this week’s director, Steven Hartzell, came out of the gate running. He broke down the internet into six categories to explain: hardware, protocols, languages, data, networks, and ISPs. The separation of data into its own category was interesting to me, and I think it worked. ISPs as its own was less compelling, but at the same time I think the categories themselves made everyone start to think and discuss how the internet works. We came up with one more category: software.
Steven had us brainstorm the various examples for each category we would want to have explained, that list is recorded in the image above, as well as the wiki page for “how it works.” Each category has 4-5 topics that have to then be explained in as simple a fashion as possible. Each student volunteered, or was assigned, a category and by tomorrow they need to find and link to as many specific sources that explain how each topic works in the wiki under their category. The creation of a resource explaining as many as 30 technical topics to total beginners should be done by Wednesday. By Thursday, they’ll each have to code their section in HTML and post it to their server, another lesson in how the internet works Steven came up with 🙂 I like it!
It could be argued that such technical content as how the internet works would demand the use of a good textbook, or at least predefined content that I choose and present in as boring and alienating a process as possible 🙂 The Internet Course says no to the tyranny of content as infrastructure. The web is infrastructure and “educational” content (at least the stuff branded as such) is just one small piece of it. I’m finding that the creation of that content with students is far more useful as a residue of what’s been learned in terms of the course, than text as the defining tool through which we learn.