I’m taking a week-long class on D2L, which is a “course management system” that the South Dakota regential school system is implementing in place of WebCT. The seminar is populated by other faculty here at Komplexify U that are planning on using D2L in the upcoming semester, partly because it’s a new pedagogical tool they can use to reach students, but mostly because they get paid a summer bonus to do so.
As a result, the class is chock full of folks who, beyond being unfamiliar with a web-based software interface, in fact seem to have never seen a computer before. This class is like running a relay in which your teammates have not only failed to stretch and settle down into the starter’s block, but in fact are still learning to tie their laces. To wit, I submit the following moment from class.
The instructor has just logged everyone into their “sandbox” account, an arduous task taking almost forty minutes. Once everyone is logged in, she shows off the welcome page and points out that it is divided into a number of cells that resemble the “windows” of Microsoft Windows. “In D2L,” she says “these windows — the cells that you interact with to edit the site’s content — are called widgets.”
“Why are they called widgets?” asks a student.
“Well,” the instructor replies helpfully, “a widget refers to anything that adds content to a web page that is not static. That’s technical mumbo-jumbo, though. Suffice it for us here for D2L, a widget just refers to any of the windows you see on the page.
“Why not call them windows, then?” another student asks.
The instructor smiles. “Because in D2L itself, they’re called widgets…”
A third student quickly interrupts. “Well, can we think of them as windows here instead of widgets?”
“Sure,” says the instructor hesitantly.
“Aha!” he announces triumphantly. “Then why don’t we just call them windows here instead of widgets too?” The student sits back with the air of a man who has just determined he can checkmate Gary Kasparov in three moves.
A pained expression briefly flits across the instructor’s face.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” she suggests. “When you go to set up your class page, you won’t see any options for editing the information in a window in D2L, but there are options to edit the information in different widgets, so…”
The first student blows a disgusted raspberry. “This makes no sense. Why not call them windows if they’re windows instead of wedgies or whatever you called them…”
“Wijjitz,” the second student adds helpfully.
“Right, wijjitz, whatever,” grumbles the first. “Stupid name for a window.”
“Why widgets?” ponders a fourth student, at which point a fifth student, evidently an economics professor, pontificates for ten minutes on the etymological origins of the term as a generic place-holder for manufactured goods, which in turn engenders a further forty minutes of heated debate on (in this order) the flaws of the capitalist system, the fault for the current state of the economy, the general political listlessness of the university community, and finally gun control, during which, unobserved by most of the class, the instructor hung herself with a makeshift noose fashioned out of her laptop’s power cord.