The Last American Pirate

Image of Pirate Flag
Image Credit: “It be a Pirate Flag” by Nick Humphries

Update: Turns out this site was a hoax, there is no student, but rather a cadre of students who set about creating a fake student, who wrote a fake blog, and did fake research. For more information see this post by Mills Kelly, who engineered the hoax for the benefit of humanity more generally 😉

Thanks to a tweet by Dave Lester and push to read it by Patrick Murray-John I found not only a really cool example of the power of these tools for an individual to track and frame their own educational experience, but some absolutely exciting research about a 19th century Pirate (possibly the last US pirate of his kind) no one’s ever heard of: Edward Owens. This undergraduate took her research to the next level by framing the experience on her blog, full with images and details from her Library of Congress research, video interviews with scholars and her visit to Owens house, her bibliography, along with a link to the Wikipedia page she created for this little known local pirate.

What’s even cooler is the fact that she not only framed a digital space for her research by getting her own domain and setting up a blog there, but she understood that she could also protect her identity at the same time by keeping certain information private. It is such a perfect example of the importance of framing your identity as a student/scholar online, and it really buttresses beautifully with the ideas we’ve been thinking about recently in regards to digital identity at UMW. More than that though, is the fact that this project was hers and she was fired up about what she had accomplished, and she could actually share that fact with others through her blog.

This project has been a journey for me, not only as a student but as a historian. This may sound a little lame, but I am really proud of the work that I’ve done and how far I’ve come. I’ve learned a lot, not only about Edward Owens, but about the Chesapeake Bay during the late 1800’s, the shipping industry, the U.S. Navy, etc. ( I could go on forever, but I’ll spare you). I’ve also developed my researching skills. (Grad School here I come!)

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18 Responses to The Last American Pirate

  1. Martha says:

    A lead? :http://codex.wordpress.org/Template_Tags/wp_list_authors

    Looks like a template tag that displays authors and a link to a feed for each?

  2. Martha says:

    That’s weird. I had another (longer) comment that I had added just a few minutes before this one. But this one seems to have overwritten it. Is that possible?

  3. Sue F says:

    This is a great example and is striking me as a perfect item to share with the folks in the First-Year Seminars amidst a process of introducing (or re-introducing?) and sharing notions of digital identity. Love the mixed frames it invites too — a working diary, the bits and pieces (textual, visual, conceptual) in their process of discovery and assembly, all in one spot.

    I v. much like the idea of projects having multiple frames too (thinking portfolios again, as ever, here) with the working diary and overlapping (via links, tags) frames for related presentations of knowledge and experience, including many of the famous CogDog 50…

    Great stuff.

  4. Reverend says:

    @Martha,
    I think it was on th Katbasis post. By the way, that feed for everything from one author in WPMu or one blog would be awesome, we need to figure this. I will be checking out the codex link shortly.

    @Sue,
    Exactly what I was thinking, what better example of a series of frames that are the students own, domain and all. It was most serendipitous finding this one.

  5. jmcclurken says:

    Hmmmm, so what would we need to do to get a student at UMW to do this? It seems to me that someone could do this with the tools we have now, and the right (pedagogical or maybe just mentoring) support.

  6. Jon says:

    This may be interesting for other reasons. You’ve been had.

  7. Jon says:

    Heh. Now that‘s edupunk! 😉

  8. Reverend says:

    Jon,

    How did you make that connection so fast? You are the internet! So what are you going to do about their bogus Wikipedia article? There screwing with you too, ya know. We should gang up on them 🙂

  9. Jon says:

    Heh. I knew I’d seen it somewhere… and that’s even with your RSS feed still not working for me!

    They’ve fixed the Wikipedia article. Go look.

  10. Jon says:

    Ah, I see from Twitter that you were already on to it…

  11. jmcclurken says:

    “Hmmmm, so what would we need to do to get a student at UMW to do this? It seems to me that someone could do this with the tools we have now, and the right (pedagogical or maybe just mentoring) support.”

    Well, now that we know it’s a hoax, then I think that with the right (devious?) support we could definitely get a student (or a class) at UMW to do this. Of course someone’s sure to raise the question of the school’s honor code in all this….

    It’ll be interesting to see how the Chronicle article addresses it. Another online problem story, or a creative approach to(and quick lesson on) learning and information creation?

  12. Reverend says:

    Jeff,

    This raises some issues, and Mills contacted me earlier to let the cat out of the bag—which I appreciate—but the more I think about it the more I wonder why. What strikes me is it could have more negative effects than positive. Sure, we could view it as fun project for lessons in online sourcing and reliability, and for the most part I do.

    But at the same time I’m not sure the “lesson learned” is all that profound given it was a student blog we were looking at as a model for framing their own identity and research. No one was actually quoting the research an building upon it. I’m afraid it will quickly turn into a pedantic cautionary tale about the dangers of sources and the like in academia given these new fangled tools and that strange thing called the internet. For the lesson is really nothing new. And given the source that blogged it, namely me, it’s not like this is a blow to the academic community at large. In fact, it was me and a pop culture blogger at USA Today, which means I know my company well and that it went mostly unnoticed.

    That may all change tomorrow (or today) with the Chronicle article, and if turns out to be another “fear the power of openness and web 2.0 tools” in universities and colleges, well then it seems like a real shame and waste of collective energy.

  13. zach whalen says:

    Well, I just read the article, and it seems pretty even-handed in terms of any criticism. That is it seems as much “this is a weird thing that happened” as anything else.

    For my part, I have to say I love that this happened; I’m only jealous that I didn’t do it first. As my wife can attest, I totally had this idea when I was putting together my Virtual and False class, but I didn’t think I could muster the focus to pull it off. We did talk some about hoaxes in contrast to ARGs, but not seriously enough to frame a project in which a hoax would actually be perpetrated.

    And Jim, I think the lesson learned really is pretty profound or, at least, important — not necessarily because it “worked” so well at tricking people, but because we’re talking about it. Think of the power this puts in student’s hands: you can use this web stuff to create belief in other people, and that’s real ultimate power. It demonstrates the sway at the disposal of online content creators, not because audiences are naive or Web 2.0 technology is easily exploited toward duping people, but because we, and students, increasingly take these things for granted as part of our collective online consciousness. The trick for me (and the reason why I wasn’t ready to fully commit to it this semester), is that, especially in the context of new media studies, you then have to turn it around to using that power for good.

    To return to ARGs, the only big difference I see between this project and the things my students created this semester for the ARG prototypes is that the last American Pirate seems kind of plausible. And there’s a dash of romance in the idea, so it’s the kind of thing we want to be true.

    Anyway, ARGs are valuable pedagogically for a number of reasons, one of which is that it teaches students to be more critical audiences for online information. But what I tried to convince my students (however ineffectually) was that if you agree that ARGs and hoaxes can use rhetorical appeals to effect belief and belief-like behavior in large groups of people, maybe we can use that collective energy to make the world a better place. Jane McGonigal thinks we should, and whether or not World Without Oil or Superstruct ultimately succeed at this, they’re certainly to be commended for their efforts.

    So, all that is just to say that I love this assignment, and I will be trying some similar things myself when I can think it through well enough to lead it (i.e. probably Fall 09).

  14. zach whalen says:

    Another topic that this raises, of course, is the difference between lying and storytelling. Note how often the Chronicle article refers to the pirate and the student as as existing within a “plot”. And I love that they decided a fictional student was necessary to be the vehicle for this. They could have much more easily all blogged individually about finding this information about Owens, but it probably wouldn’t have been as coherent or, probably, as compelling.

  15. Reverend says:

    Zach,

    I’m glad you commented here, I was wondering what you thought about all this. I have a couple of things to say in response to your point here:

    I think the lesson learned really is pretty profound or, at least, important — not necessarily because it “worked” so well at tricking people, but because we’re talking about it. Think of the power this puts in student’s hands: you can use this web stuff to create belief in other people, and that’s real ultimate power. It demonstrates the sway at the disposal of online content creators, not because audiences are naive or Web 2.0 technology is easily exploited toward duping people, but because we, and students, increasingly take these things for granted as part of our collective online consciousness.

    I think one of the things that Martha suggests on the original post by Mills Kelly is that the idea that it might be considered a “hoax” (if it, indeed can be—but more on that later) was predicated (at least in my case) by a breach in trust networks. I got the tweet from Jeremy Boggs and Dave Lester (who I had followed for a while, and actually just met at WordCamp Ed the previous weekend). As it turns out, they were both in on the hoax, and if they hadn’t pointed to it as an intentional part of the gag, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have found it. More than that, my post about their link was not so much interested in the scholarship of the student and its veracity as much as the methodology and design of the research as an online, open exercise. Being particularly interested in how the student had gotten her own domain and protected her identity given what we had been discussing about UMW’s potential domain experiment. So, I think calling this a hoax is kinda questionable, and the idea that it worked even more so.

    For me, what it really points out is how much I have depended upon my networks for information, and when someone breaks the trust, there are immediate implications. This is not about the online medium as much as one might think. This is about having people around you you trust, networks of trust, when that breaks, therein lies the bigger questions and issues surrounding information and controlling consciousness. It’s easier to contact a group of people you are acquaintances with, and throw a curve ball their way, but the act remains a choice that is not defined my the inevitability of any medium—this risk pre-exists the internet–though the web does magnify it 1000000x fold.

    What power does this example really put in student’s hands? I think in many ways it frames a kind of arrogance of knowledge and power, with the intention of hoodwinking people because you can. How do you think I will respond to future tweets from Dave Lester and Jeremy Boggs? I understand it is all in good fun, but at the same time the real issue I learned is not about empowering students through this medium to change consciousness or create a false one, but rather how fragile and invaluable my network of people is—and how much I have come to depend on them for my information. I’ve been thinking about this fact a lot since, and Brian Lamb always talks about how much his network kicks ass and I both knew and didn’t know why he said that so much–but now I know what he means and how unbelievably invaluable it is to me—and how weird it feels to have that relationship in crisis to prove a pedantic point.

    As to the Chronicle article, I agree with you, even-handed and rather tepid– but they are in many ways the real media at play here? They were in on the gag before it even went live, they were called in. They could have just as easily got this link from someone in their network and blogged it, but they were always already in on it because that is the logic behind the hoax–a form of promotion–which the more I think about it the more it seems Like a cheap gimmick–and at the playful expense of others to prove your own point through a straw man you created. Perhaps the class should have thought a bit more about the networks of trust out there rather than the GMU’s network use policies 🙂

    But yeah, it was fun, and I appreciate a good gag, and I learned a thing or two I already knew. So, I guess a few things were re-enforced for me, though I’m not sure the students learned all that much, but then again–I wasn’t there and I can’t really trace the process of their thinking because the course was not an open hoax, but a closed one, even after the fact 🙂

  16. Shannon says:

    Did someone say they wanted a student to perform a hoax at UMW? Because I might be able to clear my schedule for that kind of mischief 🙂

    Anyway, I think what you hit on in your last comment is right. Think of when people choose to read a certain newspaper its because they expect that the paper will hold itself to a certainly level of credibility. Along the same lines you aren’t necessarily on the lookout for your network to be lying.
    I don’t understand the intentional hoaxing to prove a point they don’t even really prove in the end.

  17. Ed Webb says:

    My comment is here: http://the-ed-rush.blogspot.com/2008/12/pirates-v-punks.html

    Season’s greetings to bavatuesdays and all who sail in her!

  18. Pingback: discovery and creation and… lies! « info-fetishist

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