On Monday I checked in on the traffic stats for UMW Blogs, something I do from time-to-time when the semester starts to slow (the fact this didn’t happen until week 14 is telling). I was pleasantly surprised to see that UMW Blogs hit a new high for visits in a single day with 14,099 on Thursday, November 14. This is about 5,000 more visits than our daily average of 9,000. So, alongside Tim Owens and Martha Burtis, I started to dig into the details of the traffic for November 14th to see if there was any one post that was driving up the traffic. And, lo and behold, this post about The Matrix and the allegory of the cave by a student named Rebecca in Zach Whalen‘s Spring 2012 Adaptation course got 715 up votes on Reddit, and the rest is UMW Blogs traffic history.
In just one day that post got 4,356 hits, and 8,193 hits over the course of the month. Crazy.
This list of traffic by landing pages not only illustrates the reddit effect for the Matrix post, but also pointed us to another post that has been getting a lot of traffic this month. The post in question provides context for the pioneering research of scientists Masters and Johnson into human sexual response. This post was part of the Psychological History of Women resource site professor Dennis Nissam-Sabat’s students created back in the Fall of 2011. Turns out this post is getting so much traffic because it actually is a top-ten Google search result for the term “Masters and Johnson.” Which, as it turns out, is quite timely given the relationship between Masters and Johnson is currently the basis for a successful Showtime series titled Masters of Sex.
How about that, people interested in using the web to find out more about a particular topic cable televison has piqued their interest in. And what comes up in their Google search? A resource site created by students as part of a class at a public university that is paying it forward with open publishing platforms. This shouldn’t be radical, this should be the norm. And this, I would argue, is what gets lost when we suggests that all cats are gray and the LMS is just a misunderstood tool. Fact is, the LMS does not understand itself as part of the web, it has been purposefully designed to be anathema to it. Take a look at that screenshot above, what else is getting traffic? These aren’t throwaway topics, these are important ideas people want help understanding. For example, what W.E.B. DuBois’s concept of double consiousness means, or some more information on the social control theory of organized crime (might use that for the True Crime course), or some more context to more fully understand Arthur Penn’s film Bonnie & Clyde.
All this makes me very happy, and also makes me feel like I’m doing my job as an instructional technologist. I shouldn’t be slavishly supporting enterprise systems that firewall information, I should be building communities that are premised upon openly sharing the work we’re doing as public institutions. I understand the need for the LMS, I just don’t understand its value. This field should be pushing to make the work faculty and students are doing part and parcel of the web in order to bridge the understanding for hundreds of thousands of people on the web. And this is not overstatement, this is an everyday reality at Mary Washington thanks to an open, public educational publishing platform like UMW Blogs, and more recently Domain of One’s Own. These aren’t just fringe experiments, or at least they shouldn’t be. They should represent the moral imperative of what we do as part of the teaching and learning mission at the core of our institutions’ raison d’être. The question we should be asking is how that mission has increasingly become compromised by the dominant technologies we still find ourselves entrenched within at our institutions.