Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It Gets Better: a Vid idea for MLA's Narrating Lives

As I prepare to visit my first MLA since 1996, I'm reflecting on the people I know who stayed in the field, and those who left, and what influenced their decisions to leave or to stay.

I was cheered that my friend Cynthia recognized herself in the previous post as the friend who left UCB to attend rabbinical school: but actually, she's one of two.  When it comes to why we leave English, it's as if a tiny vacuum of shame or ambivalence sucks us in.  We generally keep quiet about it.  I haven't found a community of people sharing firsthand stories about this.  Maybe we feel isolated.  It's embarrassing to dwell on a "failure."

Media coverage of the issue doesn't break the isolation.  See the spate of articles about how humanities Ph.D.s need a Plan B, should conceive of their career path akin to an actor trying to make it in LA or NY, should curtail research because everything smart has already been said, or should just plain not go.  All of these, published in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, are better than the stuff you'll find in mainstream presses like The Economist or the NYT.

Those articles, and the dozens you'll find like them, are the context in which the conversation about humanities Ph.D.s is situated.  The one read by all your relatives who worry over why the hell you did this degree in the first place.  Note, in this excoriating May 24, 2010 New Yorker cover, how iconically the blithe Ph.D. is drawn compared to the lined, worried faces of his parents:

That's the dominant story, but I don't think it's the truest one.

I think that if we were to ask a lot of people why they left and what they're doing now, we'd find a heartening story.  

Afterall, there are some significant benefits to leaving.  You can choose where you want to live.  You may change jobs at your discretion, because the job market is perpetual and more porous--even in this economy--that what goes down at the MLA.  You might even earn more money, and/or have other kinds of flexibility that you value (weekends? travel to places other than conference locations? the freedom to live with your life partner instead of hope for the same time zone?) 
Does this mirage exist? 
It does for me, for my husband, Brad Berens (also a Berkeley English Ph.D., 1999), and for many of our friends.  But more broadly than our group?

We won't know until we ask.  "We" being us.  Being MLA.

The MLA could do something bold and wonderful.  It could expressly invite the stories of Ph.Ds and ABDs who chose to leave the profession to its "Narrating Lives" project.

MLA President Sidonie Smith (Prof of English and Women's Studies, UMichigan), has created a YouTube channel and has invited all people--not just MLA members--to post their stories about transformative reading, teaching and mentoring moments.  I should think this might also be a place to house stories of the sort I mention.

Smith's project "Narrating Lives" uses new media to gather and distribute stories about why the humanities is vitally important at this cultural moment.  It's a wonderful idea, and I hope that many many people post their stories there.  I intend to.  Whenever I've asked student to write blog posts about transformative reading experiences, it's some of the most powerful writing of the semester.  I could see posting one vid about opting out of English, and one about reading, teaching, mentoring or being mentored.

I see this as a kind of "It Gets Better" vid series aimed at helping those who are struggling with their decisions to leave or to stay in the profession.  Some of the emotional resonances are similar to the situation of gays deciding whether or not to come out, or figuring out how to cope with being gay in a still largely homophobic society:  the fear of how one's community will react to the decision, the shame of wanting something different, the way in which coming out punctures the normative story of success and happiness.

I don't know if others who left the profession would wish to share their stories.  But I'm pretty sure those stories would help people currently trying to find a place in the field.

If the "Narrating Lives" project were officially broadened by President Smith to welcome autobiography from those who left the profession, MLA would demonstrate its commitment not just to the humanities, but to the full range of people who have devoted many years of their lives to studying and teaching it.

Another advantage:  the mainstream stories peddled about brilliant-but-foolish humanities Ph.D.s would be met with a morally authoritative corrective.  The "Narrating Lives" project would trump the petty spectacle of the "cream of the academic crop" (in the words of the Dec. 16 Economist article) "clinging like limpets before eventually falling off" the academic career track.

There's nothing to stop me or anybody else from posting an autobiographical vid about leaving English.  The platform is open.  (Yay!)  But MLA can increase this openness by broadening President Smith's video invitation to include multivalent, autobiographical stories of what it means to find work with a Ph.D. in English.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Exchange with MLA Executive Director Rosemary Feal about Openness

Thank you, Dr. Feal, for responding to my post about lack of openness and transparency at the MLA11 site.

You are right that $220 for non-member registration is a low conference fee. The fee is even less for MLA members.

But the convention fee is not the point of my post. 

Instead, I suggest that both the MLA and MLA non-members might benefit from more openness and clarity about the content of the upcoming convention Jan. 6-9.  Access to information, not fees, is at issue here.

I registered as a nonmember with the MLA site, but was not given access to the schedule chronologically, as it appears in PMLA.  Instead, I was offered three ways to search:  by Participant, Subject, and Meeting Type.

If I happen to know exactly what I'm looking for (e.g., a talk by a particular person), then the search options function.

But if I'm browsing and want to control my own progress through the panel information, I'm out of luck.  The user interface is unnecessarily fragmented.  For example, I found session #331: "The Open Professoriat:  Public Intellectuals and the Social Web" by wading through 261 "Special Sessions."  If I hadn't known of its existence from the Digital Humanities sessions posted on Mark Sample's "SampleReality" blog,  I doubt I would have found it on the MLA site.

"The Open Professoriat" certainly seems like it ought to be open to the public, but neither the session description nor general information on the MLA site indicate whether non-registered guests might attend.  I'm inclined to think "The Open Professoriat" is CLOSED to the public. 

Walling off content is a sure way to limit its influence.

On Sat. Jan. 8, David Parry will present "Be Online or Be Irrelevant" (at 606: Methods of Research in New Media).  The subhead on Mark Sample's SampleReality blog says: "Own your ideas.  Make them free."  Cory Doctorow, the fiction writer, Boing Boing co-founder, and net neutrality activist, gives away large chunks of his intellectual capital and has found that free access to his ideas spreads them and, counterintuitively, earns him a tidy living.

What might happen if MLA convention information were published in the open, not behind firewalls?

The MLA might find a population of unaffiliated experts who collectively possess a vast, diverse range of opinion and skill.  

It's a little more than 10 years since I filed my dissertation in English with UC Berkeley.  In that last decade, I've seen some friends from my cohort (and from similar departments) scatter into fields far from the Ph.D. training we engaged in during the 90s.  I haven't done a survey, but I would guess that about 50% of my cohort got jobs in the field (defined broadly to include jobs like mine, an NTT composition position).  The other 50% are working in digital media and advertising, selling products in small storefronts, attending rabbinical school,  working as college admins, writing commercial books, making commercial videos, staying at home with kids, teaching adjunct, founding independent theaters, directing plays, teaching K-12, and the like.

These are people Ph.D.s and ABDs who may well have interesting things to contribute to the MLA, but who lack the information to even know what's happening in the field, let alone judge whether they'd wish to participate.

The MLA doesn't have to permit everybody to attend its conference.  It's a professional organization with specific work in the field to be done.  But opening its information--starting with a clearer, more transparent website--could only vitalize the MLA. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Premiering in L.A.": the "New" MLA 2011 Jan. 6-9

I walked the red carpet once in L.A., when the movie Practical Magic premiered, in 1998.  I don't remember why I was brought there.
[Img: Steves2cents.blogspot.com]

I was writing my dissertation 6 days a week, scuttling from my office only for yoga and the occasional swim.  I remember thinking I might see Stockard Channing, or Nicole Kidman, or Sandra Bullock.  But they didn't show.  The premier was in Century City, a red carpet unfurled over what looked like a law office courtyard.  Freestanding Kleig lights blazed.  Jennifer Beals, who did not appear in the movie, walked the carpet.  Paparazzi shouted her name. Autograph hunters/vendors huddled behind a velvet rope and awaited her scrawl.  I walked the carpet, to no one's notice whatsoever.  Then I took my seat in the dark alongside everybody else and watched a forgettable movie.

In L.A., not every premier is a grand event.

MLA 2011, this year's annual convention for professors and advanced graduate students in English, comparative literature, romance languages and ancillary fields, is new in one respect: a date change places it well after the Christmas holidays.

But transparency would really make this MLA "new," and transparency and openness are glaringly absent.  The MLA has always walled its convention against outsiders.  This year's non-member registration fee is $220.  Just to search the titles of the 800 convention panels, one must be a paid-up member or guest, which means that intellectually curious non-initiates are shut out of even learning about the event, let alone participating in it.  [Exception: anybody on Twitter can follow the tweetstream at #mla11.]

Like a castle under siege, the MLA looks even more cloistered now than it did before new media radically increased our expectation of access to information. 

How out of step is the MLA?  Check out this Dec. 17 tweet from the well-meaning Rosemary Feal, MLA's Executive Director, who manages the tweetstream:
Are you blogging about what you'll be speaking about at #mla11?  Put link here for all to see:  http://www.mla.org/conv_listings_mysessions

I clicked delightedly. Finally, to be able to see what people are talking about.  But the link redirects to a membership log-in page.  As does the page that invites one to "Exchange Collaborative Session Ideas."  MLA's notion of "all" is just a tiny fragment of people in the field--registered participants--let alone the broad world.

The happy oasis in this desert of information is Mark Sample's reprint of MLA's digital humanities panels on his blog, SampleReality.  Reading those titles, I thought: something cool may well go down in L.A.  I am less sanguine about the other 650 MLA panels, which eluded my open search.  I got a full list when I accessed the November issue of PMLA via my university's firewalled databases.  

I've been toying with the idea of attending MLA for the first time in more than a decade specifically to hear what's going on in digital humanities. I'll follow the Tweetstream whether or not I attend, but of course I'd rather have the full experience--particularly as someone studying how information is conveyed and absorbed in face-to-face settings.  Having just returned from LeWeb in Paris, and seeing firsthand the feedback loop created by f2f & Twitter right up on the mainstage, I know how quickly the social media/f2f combo platter can advance and spread the conversation.

As compared to previous MLAs, which I attended in the mid-90s with my husband before I was ABD, the emotional stakes this January would be low.  I don't have to worry, for example, whether one tweet might kill my interview prospects--as actually happened at last year's MLA.  See the 34 comments following the roguish "MLA 09 Survival Tips" at SampleReality (co-published at the Chronicle of Higher Education's ProfHacker column; scroll down to see specific discussion of the fatal tweet.)

The self-consciousness of job candidates (and those who evaluate them) is both excruciating and merited.  You hear horror stories, or just plain silly-slash-tragic ones:  the candidate who learned through the grapevine that offering a Kleenex to a sneezing interviewer was perceived as "too forward":  the Kleenex drew unwelcome attention to the interviewer's body.  Another strategized a jaunty way to toss her winter coat on the bed as she walked into the interview.  (After a fruitless two-year search, she left the academy, turned her dissertation into a commercial biography, and won a Pulitzer.)

During my sabbatical year, on leave from teaching advanced composition at the University of Southern California, I've been developing more new media skills and connecting with literary & media critics who attend to the vast landscape of user-generated, DIY content.  My progress seems slow, but it's steady enough.  I can't conceive of a more exciting time to be making stories, analyzing them, and teaching/collaborating with students.  

How ironic that at this moment of unprecedented access to tools and the explosion of genres, the MLA convention is operating largely the way it did when Wimsatt and Beardsley (below) promulgated the "new" criticism in 1946.
[Img: chainsawzombie.blogspot.com]

Is it any wonder that the English professoriate frets over its diminished cultural influence, and runs MLA panels about the "crisis" in its profession?  Explicitly, untenured faculty and graduate students are warned to filter all digital traces of their personae, combing them through and through and through for any little nit that an influential someone, somewhere might find objectionable.   This extreme caution is at odds with the way most of us behave on social media platforms.  Social media has vastly extended my intellectual reach, and is facilitated by the immediate, open, casual tone of exchange.  

At a premier, Hollywood can make any product look good.  But it's actually word of mouth--crowdsourcing--that determines whether a movie makes money or fails.

Will there be WoM about this "new" MLA?

How could there be, with all the goodies locked away from anybody hungry for a taste?  

MLA already has its answer about how vitalize the field, but it doesn't want to know.  This "new" "premier" isn't a fresh beginning, but a sequel.  MLA's survival depends on openness and transparency.  Other disciplines--communications, emerging media, composition, digital literacy, various interdisciplinary hybrids--are spreading themselves across the digital marquee.

At least there are many people in the field trained to recognize an elegy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sex & Drugs in Amsterdam

In America, we believe in "bank error in your favor," as it says on a Monopoly "chance" card.  We believe in good luck, in getting away with it.  In doing what you want with or without the law on your side.

In Amsterdam one does not.

At a restaurant, I made a small faux pas:  a waitress brought me turkey on my salad when I asked for salmon. I pointed out the error.  The cook added salmon on top.  But I did not set the turkey aside:  I ate it.  Bank error in my favor.

Later that evening, I realized it must have looked vulgar to eat the turkey I'd pointed out as a mistake.  Social decorum here would suggest that if the error meant so much that I requested it to be rectified, then the least I could do is leave the turkey aside.  It is crass to have profited from their mistake.

I pieced this together reviewing tiny clues in body language. Social decorum here is subtle, but palpable.

Anybody in America can get drugs whenever they want.  Just ask the cops who visit elementary schools to warn children away from drugs.  Amsterdam's allure is not about access to drugs, which is what I assumed was the case before I visited.

Amsterdam is about the freedom to consume marijuana and hash, and then hang out.  In public.  Where lots of people can watch to make sure you're doing as you ought.

You can see a similar principle at work in Amsterdam's attitudes about graffiti. Beautiful graffiti decorates some old buildings in Amsterdam.  Graffiti infuses new aesthetic energy into the old buildings, allowing them to reflect the people living in the city right now.  That's a really different notion of history than, say, the Parisians'.

Amsterdam calibrates the tension between civil rights and social decorum well, but still, I'm American.  I'm surprised when I smell marijuana at the train station, or when I walk by a mostly naked woman seated on a stool in her dark, tidy booth in the Red Light district.

At first I was unsettled to see prostitutes vulnerable in their glass storefronts, illuminated only by the red rectangle of light framing their stalls.  I would try to catch their eyes and offer a smile or business-nod, but they almost never looked in my eyes.  They didn't want my solidarity.  They wanted another client.

Then I realized:  these women are probably the safest prostitutes in the world.  They are protected. They have a union.  I'm a NTT [non-tenure track] professor.  I do not have a union.  Sometimes I sit in the dark in my little stall, grading papers late into the night, illuminated only by the rectangle of light flowing out of my screen.

Amsterdam is forthright about its pleasures and the social limits on that pleasure.

It doesn't promise that what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam. It doesn't wink and look away.

Why Amsterdam Is Better Than Vegas

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wearing a Mink in Paris

Moments before Brad and I were to leave home for Paris--we are attending LeWeb--I was still coatless.  I hate to shop.  Half-hearted attempts left me with two old light coats layered atop each other, the way people used to layer Izod shirts in the 80s.  My Paris style.

I stood in the entry way next to packed suitcase.  Brad was loading the car.

"Take my mink!" said my  generous mother-in-law, who had flown in to watch the kids while hubby and I went to Paris. 

I demurred.  "It will get rained on," I said.

"The minks wore it rain or shine," she replied.

"It's so pretty, and so expensive. I'm afraid it would get ruined." 

"It's made to be worn!" she exclaimed.  "I never wear it."

Brad was starting the car.  

I said yes to the coat, and thanks.

Hours later, I found myself in line for passport check at Charles de Gaulle feeling self-conscious.  It took a few hours for that to transform into confidence.  When it hit, I looked in a darkened window and saw myself costumed for Paris.

I wear the mink on the Metro.  To LeWeb.  I drape it over the metal door of stalls in bathrooms.  I toss it on chairs at bistros.  I stroke it.  Brad said others on the subway were stroking it, too, but it's so thick I didn't even feel it. 

Living in Paris for a week feels like finally getting your childhood wish to sleep overnight in Disneyland.  You promenade through sumptuously lit ancien regime monuments, luxuriate in the superabundance of the Louvre, jog past La Tour Eiffel still fizzing straight up into the sky.  It's history, this nook of Paris in the 2nd & 9th arrondissements, but with the centuries of contradiction and violence scrubbed clean.  

So now, consider this.  It's four days into my trip.  I no longer notice the mink, or feel like an impostor, or a goddess.  I'm at the Nation Metro stop.  I have just kissed goodbye my friend Beatrice, whose talk at a local university I have attended.   I am alone, but of course not alone:  Paris's unwonted snow yesterday shut down the streets and drove every last person underground.  The metro car is literally body-to-body.  I can feel the shirt buttons of the man behind me pressing into my back.  I am trying not to inhale a woman's hair as I breathe.

My stop.  Auber.  The door on the other side of the car opens.  I begin to move forward toward the door.  A man crouches down in front of me.  He lingers a moment, blocking the door.  People begin to curse.  "Excuse me, excuse me," I say in English, flustered.  I'm pinned, can't move.  Hands push me over the crouching man.  My body juts over him.  My purse stays behind, right hand barely holding on.  I hear the doors rumble, as they do before they slide close.  I am stuck.  Then a wave of exiting passengers surges forward and pushes me out, like a wax plug dislodged by water.  I pop up into the air.  My right leg wedges down into the gap between the car and the cement platform.  I give a cry of surprise and pain.  I feel my purse being separated from my hand.  I yank with the tips of my fingers.  Seated passengers outside the car gape.  A runnel opens inside the car.  My purse yo-yos from the center of the car toward me.  I hoist myself out of the gully.  In a second, I'm on my feet, purse in hand.  Shrugging for the crowd and escaping into invisibility.

My Parisian souvenir: a 4-inch pink gash above my right knee.  Strangely, I really like it.  It's unsentimental.  An American in Paris wanders outside of her little wedge of FantasyLand.  The city grabs you by the mink and holds on.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Talk's Cheap? Columbia's $500 F2F Experiment

Did the Office of Student Life at Columbia University misfire Monday when it offered a $500 prize to the undergrad who can collect the most secret passwords from fellow students?  Will this game achieve their goal of engaging students in nonacademic f2f conversation?

[Image:  Ivygate]

Media have jumped all over this story:  FoxNY, HuffPo, NYT's CityRoom blog, the Harvard Crimson.

Says Eve Binder, Managing Editor at the Ivy League blog Ivygate, "Instead of having a citywide meltdown, maybe we should be commending Columbia undergrads for assimilating so well into the ethos of New York City. After all, the rulebook does indeed say that you’re not allowed to talk to anyone who smiles, wears colors, or is not from New York."

Sure, but according to an unsigned article at Insider Higher Ed, a dearth of walking-across-campus sociability is not limited to mawkish urbanites at Columbia:  "[E]ven rural campuses, including those that pride themselves on a culture of sociability, have had to contend in recent years with the threat posed by mobile devices."  The article cites examples of the Speaking Tradition at Washington and Lee in Lexington, VA, and at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, the “Passing Hello” which has been "institutionalized as one of the university’s most cherished traditions."

For some faculty and admins age-35+ whose college years were mobile-phone-free, the sight of undergraduates mashing buttons or sliding fingers over screens as they walk to class suggests a loss.  Did they meet their future spouses as they strolled across the campus?  Maybe.  Did random campus conversations contribute meaningfully to their sense of the college experience?  Absolutely.  Steven Johnson offers one reason why.

"Liquid networks" generate innovation and creativity.  Cities, college campuses (or both, in the case of Columbia) permit random connections among people who are loosely joined together.  Innovation is more likely to happen when sparks from outside one's customary orbit blaze new neural pathways to the puzzles your brain is working to solve.  That IR major you recognize from a party last night and who you bumped into on the library steps today might remind you of a conversation you'd had at the party, but forgotten--until this random connection reactivated it, and shot it into the forefront of your consciousness.

We can agree that this f2f randomness is potentially meaningful. A good result of proximity.

But do you actually have to be f2f to get that same thrilling brush against difference?

Nope.  Twitter has yielded for me more surprising, diverse information than I found bumping into others on the quad.  But the conversations I have in the halls with my colleagues are deep, sustained and continuous.  The mix of both makes for the most creative thinking.  

Why do Columbia's well-meaning admins assume that students' screen socializing is inferior to the exclusively f2f socializing they did when they were in college?  

"We are appalled at the absurdity of this game,"declare Columbia undergraduates Tom Miner and Liz Lund in an Op-Ed for the Colubmbia Spectator.  "It is certainly a noble goal to get students to better interact with one another, but when you attach a $500 prize to a game whose winner must inherently be a systematic, blunt, and tactless maniac, the purpose becomes lost."

They concede:  "The administration is right, though: Columbia students—perhaps more than most college students—have issues socializing."

Wouldn't it be smarter to create f2f experiences that screens can't replicate?

And to involve students in the creation of such experiences?

At the University of Washington, the Seattle Times reports, about 900 people play Humans vs. Zombies Tag, or HvZT.  "It's a complex game that sweeps through the UW campus every quarter. 'The best part of it is you meet a ton of people,' says student Malcolm Badewitz-Brown, one of four overseers, or game organizers."  HvZT is a trend across universities and around the world.

At the University of Southern California, more than 1,500 students participate annually in the Visions and Voices program, which treats students to a huge range of arts performances and lectures both on- and off-campus.  It facilitates guided discussion after each event.

The brouhaha burbling out of Columbia's Social Experiment underscores the technology divide between students and the people in charge of educating them.

Ironically, although some faculty and admins profoundly distrust how students socialize on screens, they rarely bother asking students whether they perceive a lack of sociability.  In fact, students just might be up to their ears in social experience.  Going to college doesn't mean leaving behind their K-12 network, as it did before social media.  When we think about how to create community on campus and in the classroom, we must keep that in mind.  Each learner at the seminar table is not just one person, but a web of many people that moves and breathes with that learner everywhere she goes.
Wouldn't $500 be an excellent prize for students who invent a cool new game that promotes f2f on campus?  Trust the students to describe their experience and figure out a new way to connect.  My guess:  the game would be a hybrid, something that would use screens to enable f2f in ways most of us over 20 couldn't imagine. Which is why we haven't.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do I Have Your Attention? Howard Rheingold's Balloon Experiment

[src: djsoundwav's YouTube Channel]

Are we afraid to ask students "Do I have your attention" because they'll say, as Zuckerberg does in the clip, "No"?

Of everyone I've been reading lately, Howard Rheingold is the most innovative thinker about attention in the f2f in networked classrooms.

Check out these two tweets (18 minutes ago) about a social experiment he ran in his class today:
2 show capabilities of social networks, my ingenious students placed balloons arnd campus, challenged others 2 ask friends 2 locate them
Students sent SMS, tweets, Facebook updates @ start of class. An hour later, one student had located 11 balloons through her social netowrk

What better to collapse the distances--physical, psychic--between our lives online and our lives on campus than the balloon experiment?

It literalizes the proximal nature of our networks: those folks chasing balloons across campus are both of us and their own selves, following their own desires. Those who get the call to chase balloons can opt to do it or ignore it. But if they see the status update about the balloons and choose not to pursue them, they still have more knowledge than they had before the update: if they see a balloon on campus, they'll *see* it. The social network has given them more knowledge and insight than they would have had without it. And that's just for being part of one: not the reward for opting in.

The social network, in other words, allowed something otherwise invisible or unremarkable to take on significance. To become meaningful.

Today in Howard's experiment, one student's network found 11 balloons. Wouldn't it be fun to figure out why her network found so many? Is her network more playful than most? Blessed with more disposable time? More spontaenous? How are networks inflected by the personalities that gather them, and are there folks studying this? At what point are networks so compendious as to exceed the parameters of personality, turn into a blob of electrons?

Howard's students (and all of us, thanks to his tweet) might think through a couple of ideas manifest in the balloon experiment.

1. In classroom settings, the virtual and the physical (f2f) work most productively in tandem. Neither group (the students in the classroom nor the ones hunting balloons) could find the balloons alone.

2. F2f classes must deliver something that students cannot find themselves online. Bahktin, in Dialogic Imagination calls this "eventness": the infusion of surprise and contingency into the prosaic. Now more than ever, classes need to be "eventful" in order to compel attention. The balloons surprised Howard's students into "seeing" an element of social networking that perhaps they'd taken for granted. That's the job of "eventness": to make visible underlying assumptions of how systems of power operate.

3. Compelling attention in an f2f writing class will necessitate rethinking what counts as a classroom activity, and what gets done in the network or alone in front of a screen. I'm proposing to teach my Advanced Writing class at USC 75% online/ 25% f2f. That ratio is my best guess of how student writers will most productively and eventfully use their time. But that ratio is being met with deep skepticism among decision makers because to acknowledge how much the writing classroom is changed by social media is to heap onto already full plates the challenge of redesign and the thrill of experimentation.

I offer these observations not to those who know social networks to be fundamental to one's self. I offer them to the many people I encounter in higher ed who think of SNs as virtual replications of f2f. If your SN is comprised entirely of people you know f2f, this might be you.

Howard has some f2f exercises for increasing students' awareness of how they spend their attention. This is from his recent EDUCAUSE article, "Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies":

The first thing I do in my class now is ask the students to turn off their cellphones, shut their laptops, and close their eyes.

I tell them that I will let them know when 60 seconds have gone by, and I ask them to just do nothing but notice what happens in their minds, to observe where their attention would go without any external distractions.

Of course, anybody who meditates knows that your mind is pretty much out of control. Your attention can go anywhere: to yesterday, to tomorrow.

After they open their eyes, I ask them to keep their laptops closed, and I add that I will upload my notes for that first lecture so they shouldn't have to worry about taking notes.

But because my intention is to probe, not control, and ultimately to instill in students an experience of some reflection about their media practices, I did not outright ban the use of laptops.

This move at the end is most interesting. It's tempting for teachers to abuse our power and prohibit screens by edict.

But there are several innovators in my department at USC who are already using screens in fantastically exciting ways: Geoff Middlebrook's Blogfolios, Mark Marino's crowdsourced anti-bullying resource, Stephanie Bowers & John Murray's "Writing for the Common Good," docu/writing in the neighborhood course, Matt Manson's tweet stream, Ron Scheer's students' YouTube advocacy vids, and Norah Ashe-McNalley & Nathalie Joseph's student online writing journal, AngeLingo. There may be others flying new stuff: I'm on sabbatical this year, and removed from the day-to-day chez JEF.

I think Howard's fusion of the f2f with the networked is a micrograph of how classrooms will begin to look: shuttling between f2f and screen, lively, kinetic, expansive.

In networked classrooms we're going to be using our bodies more, not less, than we do in the f2f classroom. Rather than passively regard the folks sitting around the seminar table, our bodies will activate new kinds of learning when the networked writing class gathers f2f: as we crowdsource knowledge, extend our selves far beyond the classroom, and jump into the cities that house our universities. Those cities are living texts to explore and annotate. Ulysses.

My wish is that someday soon, we'll all have the chance to hunt after Howard's balloons.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Kaplan U. Investigated by GAO for Predatory Practices; Some Public Univs in CA cost $50K/yr

Just a short post about predatory practices among for-profit online learning vendors, and the high cost of brick-and-mortar public universities.

The NYT placed a story today in my content aggregator, which means it was one of the 3 top stories it blasted out: "Scrutiny Takes a Toll on For-Profit College Company."

Kaplan higher education revenues eclipse not only the test-prep operations, but all the rest of the Washington Post Company’s operations. And Kaplan’s revenue grew 9 percent during the last quarter to $743.3 million — with higher education revenues more than four times greater than those from test-prep — helping its parent company more than triple its profits.

For-profit education companies will protect the interests of shareholders, not learners. A series of lawsuits pending against Kaplan suggest that it aggressively recruits students who it thinks will be unlikely to finish the program. Even when students complete coursework, Kaplan may withhold access to the last degree requirement (such as a practicum), so students are left in limbo. Non-white single moms are Kaplan's ideal recruit.

NYT's Tamar Lewin explains how Kaplan became enormously profitable: "All these schools get most of their revenue from federal student aid. Kaplan Higher Education, for example, gets 91.5 percent of its revenue from the federal government, through Pell grants, Stafford loans, military and veterans benefits and other aid."

The government pays Kaplan. But only 28% of Kaplan's students repay the government, a rate significantly lower than the 48% of brick-and-mortar repays and 45% University of Phoenix repays.

Kaplan's significantly lower repay rate might reflect its predatory practice of allegedly admitting students that are unlikely to 1) complete the program; or, 2) earn more money as a result of obtaining the Kaplan degree. According to the NYT, most Kaplan students did not see a boost in earning power as a result of their Kaplan degrees, despite Kaplan recruiting promises to the contrary.

It's no wonder that students are scrambling to find affordable alternatives to community colleges and public universities. NPR reported Nov. 1st that:

A year of college at a public university now costs more than $50,000 — if you enroll at the University of Berkeley and don't have in-state status. Berkeley is the first public school to join the 50K club, according to College Board data analyzed by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Still, Berkeley isn't likely to have the distinction to itself for long. Back in the 2008-2009 school year, only three schools in the nation charged more than $50,000. For 2010-2011, there are 100.

With perils at either end of the prestige & costs spectra, I think more students will take matters into their own hands and crowdsource knowledge. Not all learners are motivated enough to do this, and a college degree is still the Golden Ticket to white collar jobs.

That may change if more and more students opt not to incur tremendous debt but can find equivalent knowledge on their own.

Monday, November 08, 2010

In Your Face: the New York Times & Online Learning

Last week's two NYT articles,"Learning in Dorm, Because Class is Online" and "Live vs. Distance Learning: Measuring the Differences", both by Trip Gabriel, attribute a number of maladies to online course delivery: hyper-crowded classes (1500+!), lack of faculty/student interaction, student malaise and boredom, and learning inequities among Hispanic and non-Hispanic learners exacerbated in online settings.

When a motivated student complains, at the end of "Learning in a Dorm," that online learning is "all the same . . . . No comments. No feedback. And the grades are always late," Mr. Gabriel takes the student's observation at face value. In this the same article we learn that one professor is teaching 1500 students in a blended (online & f2f) intro microeconomics class. What kind of TA support is that teacher getting? Or training in interactive technologies (like Hotseat, a Twitter-and-text app created at Purdue) to augment student participation in large lecture classes? Wittingly or unwittingly, Mr. Gabriel has created dramatic irony: we who are watching this tragedy of learning know more than the players themselves.

Gabriel's narrative choices got traction. The article dug into the ten "most-emailed" NYT articles for three days after initial publication, until the Sunday edition rolled out and the popular columnists swept it away. One imagines parents frantically emailing this article to each other and worrying whether their kids are getting the instruction they deserve, and for which they are richly paying.

The article makes trenches of the lines drawn in the sand: those who see social media as shallow, trivial and ephemeral, a root cause of young people's disengagement from "real" social contexts; and those who see social media as participatory, liberating, and fundamentally enabling of identities. danah boyd is my favorite author writing about teens, social media and identity-formation. Her Oct. 29 address to the 32nd International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners cannily explained teens' attitudes toward privacy even as they pervasively build identities via social networking platforms like texting, Facebook and Twitter. She observes:

People may not like having their privacy violated or being in situations where they're being surveilled, but they will always choose social status and community over privacy. They would rather be vulnerable to more people and deal with institutions than to feel disconnected from their peers and loved ones.

Students are already online all the time. Online instruction, far from alienating them, ought to hit them where they live. If it's not, the fault is not with the online mechanism, but human error: either burdening faculty with new technical requirements they are ill-prepared to meet in addition to their other responsibilities; or cramming classes so full of people that they resemble small cities or raves: full of random possible connections, but not designed to inculcate individual learning and satisfaction.

Readers of this blog know that I advocate f2f learning. I love it. But I want to teach 75% of my class online--all the while mentoring students, continuing to give them the "high touch" insight and access they expect from a f2f setting. I advocate HYBRID writing classes), as do others in the field. See Scott Warnock's post at Online Writing Teacher to learn more about this trend.

Whose interests are being served, I wonder, by the NYT's choice to villify online learning?

The U.S. Department of Education, in its 94-page study "Evidence-based Practices in Online Learning" (September 2010) notes with alarm that there are no sustained, meta-critical studies of online v. f2f learning outcomes dating from 1996-2008. It's a strange elision, this aporia of data. It suggests that we did not *see* f2f as a form of information delivery until online delivery attained sufficient critical mass to be an option for a huge volume of learners.

And sucked such learners away from f2f settings: witness the huge jump in homeschooling among K-12 families, and the rise of the for-profit online learning vendors.

Those developments alone might make the NYT and other ancien regime media institutions board up the brick-and-ivied chateaux against the hoards of collegiate learners rushing online--at a fraction of the cost of residential universities. Online learning, in the NYT and other top-down media outlets, is frequently portrayed as a financial last resort: a bargain-basement knock-off of authentic, holistic learning, which, we are left to conclude, happens face-to-face.

[Shout out, btw, to John Hagel, who coined "ancien regime" to describe old-media film critics' passionate embrace of The Social Network. See his terrific post about SN's "grand narrative" here.]

Mr. Gabriel's most glaring elision in that online learners have unprecedented access to information, academic research and actual university classes. Never before have the vistas for non-privileged learners been so expansive. This seems worth mentioning as we worry over whether freshman will elect to blow off lecture, and maybe never get around to watching the vid stream. Did you know anybody who blew off class and failed to borrow the lecture notes? Online delivery changes how we can participate in class, but it hasn't changed human nature.

Mr. Gabriel's allegorical tale about online learning (sloth! avarice! despair!) might actually be sensitive to the tectonic rumblings of the ground beneath our feet. The big story isn't the one about lazy or disenfranchised learners.

Rather, it's the hint that brick-and-mortar universities are St. George battling the dragon: the valiant human brandishing his sword against a fierce, vast opponent who has no honor (for-profit learning? Onscreen? Bah! Begone, dragon!).

Trick is to watch for the a huge reach and sharp claws.

Villifying online learning delivery won't slay the dragon. Learning how to tame it, integrate it, bring it home to the chateau, will.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Are F2f Classes the Luxury Sedan of the Edu Biz? Go Hybrid!

USC President Max Nikias believes that undergraduates benefit most from face-to-face learning environments. Faculty working with undergraduates are discouraged from creating courses with distance learning components of their residential classes.

F2F is quickly becoming perceived as a luxury because august public institutions like the University of California are turning to online class delivery to cut costs. Online is seen as a necessity, a poor cousin, not a choice to empower learners.

But as more and more of our lives move online, and crucially, more professional work is being conducted in hybrid environments (that is, online and f2f), what really is the best learning environment for students?

Student writers don’t want face time for its own sake. They want f2f if it delivers something they can’t get online.

Something more compelling than "it feels good."

I am the first one to confess that face time feels great. I volunteer teach classes in my local public school district because I love the learning that happens f2f. Done right, it's a place of serendipity. Even I don't know fully what I'm going to say, or what students will say. And having to wrestle that unpredictability into a set of learning goals for each class session is a puzzle I never tire of solving.

But could it also be that college students prefer f2f classes because they have to work less hard?

Not all students, of course. Some students, across the spectrum of talent and collegiate preparation, will knock themselves out for your class: do the reading, come prepared with comments and questions, jump into debate, hit all the deadlines. Those students power seminars and make them richly meaningful not just for themselves, but for their quiet mice neighbors.

Online, everybody talks. There are no quiet mice. It's easy to see and measure quality of contribution. Students can't take a day off without penalty. There's a digital record of your daily contribution.

Which some students may not like.

And so they may clamor for f2f for reasons not entirely wholesome. Or intellectually sound.

This is not to say that online writing courses are superior to f2f modes, even if, as Prof. Scott Warnock notes, online writing students write 1500-2000 words more per week than their f2f counterparts. Warnock is Director of Freshman Writing at Drexel University and author of Online Writing Teacher and a 2009 book Teaching Writing Online: How and Why. Citing report in the Feb. 10 eCampus News, he notes that "hybrids are hot."

In my own experience, f2f is less rigorous than that same conversation would be if students had already discussed it online first and then come to class ready to hash it out.

My individual experience is consonant with findings from the U.S. Department of Education, which in its "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning" (Sept. 2010)finds that online learners perform marginally better than students in f2f classrooms. I should note that this report compares online and face-to-face learning environments and outcomes for K-12 learners, not post-secondary.

Time and again in my experience, f2f student discussion is better--deeper, more attentive to nuance and contradiction--if we have already broached it online.

And the benefits are more than intellectual.

The online/f2f combo-platter allows us to be more socially aware and dynamic. Bouncing between the two contexts, we glean information that locates the private writerly self in a body seated somewhere around the seminar table. That guy who wears his cap backward and acts like a goof? He's actually the contrarian pushing against the class's majority opinion. The silent student who sits near teacher has volumes to say online, freed from the terror of public speaking. The one who scowls through much of the class? Turns out she's busy thinking, which is evident in ruminative posts.

Many of us are also using hybrid settings to take students into the cities where our universities are located. The cities are "living texts" for the students to explore and write about. As mobile computing becomes more widely adopted for uses we commonly associate with laptops, such adventures will even more seamlessly integrate with writing programs' curricula.

When f2f looks in the mirror, it sees Socrates and Plato, brick-and-ivy, and students--even if they are seated in a circle and looking into each others' eyes--waiting for the teacher to lead.

When f2f looks into a computer screen, it sees a blinking cursor waiting for fingertips to fling it into Google, into the blogosphere, into social media and crowdsourcing, into hyper-abundance and the aching sense that to find your way, you need guidance from a teacher who's right there with you, using the same tools you use today and will continue to use after graduation, because they are not locked behind proprietary platforms like BlackBoard, or even the marvelous, addictive, and curated databases your library subscription buys you but to which you may not have access when you're no longer a student.

Teachers, f2f and online, have never been more useful and necessary.

If f2f is ready for its close up, it will dance between these contexts, between the body-in-class and the screen.

F2F need not be like the delusional murderess Norma Desmond, who is ready for her return to silent movie glory only after the movies have definitively passed her by.

But that means we're going to have to give her, give f2f, a facelift.

The hybrid can erase those fine lines.

Friday, October 15, 2010

F2F and Dancing with Steven Johnson, Kaleb Nation, and a Journey Tribute Band

[Sun a couple hours from rising.  Breath steaming in the cold, but feet bare anyway.  Soundtrack: DJ Wombat's Deep House mix.]

I like to be alone.  Social media has made it more fun.  I no longer like to read nonfiction without Diigo.  I check Twitter several times a day to see what my network has curated for me.  I carry social media's perpetual buffet in my pocket.  I bike with it pressed to my belly into the cityscapes I love.

And yet, for all this plenitude,  serendipitous f2f events last weekend packed the Diigo'd snowflakes I'd been reading into a ball I could toss to someone else.

Like to you, right now.

3 events, 3 days:

Steven Johnson's book tour at the Bagdad Theater three days after the launch of Where Good Ideas Come From delivered presence, aura.  Johnson writes prolifically about the history of science and how it shapes innovation today.  He is both old school and new:  he writes monographs in solitude, just like the Enlightenment intellectuals he admires; but he's also robustly new media, with 1.5 million Twitter followers and a cadre of high-test bloggers who learn from him and spread his ideas.

Sitting at the Bagdad, washing down slippery fries with Hammerhead, I wondered why Johnson (or anyone) bothers with book tours anymore.  In the age of viral video, why zoom up and down the coasts selling books one at a time?

Indeed, about half of the material Johnson presented at the Bagdad I'd heard in his September 2010 TED talk. Midway through his perf at the Bagdad, I became conscious of my behavior as a fan:  I was nodding at his big reveals & laughing at punchlines I already knew.  Why?

I meant to testify:  we need to redefine the open web as essential to innovation and growth or risk its becoming, as Scott Rosenberg has suggested, "a brief transitional interlude between more closed informational regimes."  

Next AM, I was still thinking "why does Johnson bother with f2f?"  I rolled over, scooped up my iPhone, and found that he'd tweeted #ideachat, which led me to this video from Derek Sivers about how to start a movement.  Iranian progressives and Burmese monks have used Twitter to start social movements.  Why do movements culminate in physical presence, even when it's very dangerous to do so?

Sivers' crucial idea:  the leader embraces a "First Follower" as an equal and collaborator.  Contagious excitement takes off from there.

I was thinking of Sivers' vid twelve hours later when I decided to dance on the periphery of my row in the Alberta Rose Theater.  The 300-seat ART is stadium-style seating, which prescribes passive, butts-in-seat art consumption.  Friends, hubby and I were there to see a Journey tribute band, Stone in Love.

I didn't take my shirt off and wiggle around like the guy in the vid above.  I stood at the edge of my row, swayed against the wall, and held my microbrew as a kind of shield.  Because yeah, I don't really like to stand out.  But I like to dance more than I fear judgment.

You know what's coming.  3 women in the row ahead of me got up and danced next to me.  Their leader turned her head to gaze at me.

I thought about the First Follower.  I smiled, toasted her with my Ninkasi Double Red, and we bobbed our heads in time.  Then she returned her attention to her friends.

Skip ahead, skip ahead.  A coupla songs later, and 6 people rushed to the front and began dancing with abandon.  I darted down.  Kevin the lead singer made eye contact with me.  He sang to me for a coupla bars.  I felt like it was my reward for being the first.  Of course I sang along with him. What else to do in junior high but memorize pop songs?

Fully half of the theater was suddenly rocking out down at the front.  Pressed together, lights beaming, vocals soaring, double bass thumping.  Women I don't know throwing their arms around my shoulders and dancing.

A movement for  . . .  movement!

Not exactly one of Johnson's Liquid Networks--no grand intellectual ambition here; we did not discover GPS--but I still think there's something intellectually relevant about physical crowds in the era of crowdsourced knowledge.  Not sure what exactly.  Post a comment if you have a hunch.

Next day, my friend Laura called.  She was buried hip deep in grading and could I use her ticket to Wordstock?

Sure I could.

That's where I saw Kaleb Nation.  This YA author, seasoned at age 22, is the canniest DIY architect of a new media promo campaign I've seen in a while.

Only some of Steven Johnson's potential audience is NM savvy.  Many of his readers rely on book reviews and other top-down media to discover his book.

Not so for Mr. Nation, whose 18K+ Twitter followers upload photos of themselves in Kaleb Nation t-shirts they've bought on his site.  KN makes and uploads a vid every day.  He showers his fans with Tweets many times a day, at least 12 hours daily:  his whereabouts, responses to fans, jokey photos, glib throwaways.

Talk about high-touch!  Nation's fans are never far from his electronic caress.

In response, Nationeers dutifully show the love.  Example:  NPR asked KN to write a book review.   When it went live, he Tweeted his Nationeers, asking them to favorite it on the NPR site.  Result?  Within 5 minutes, KN's article leapt to the number #1 slot on NPR "most popular" beating the next article by like 400%.  Shortly thereafter KN's article was promoted to the NPR front page, and  . . . .

A star is born. Or at least showing up in the telescope.

KN exemplifies Johnson's idea of the Liquid Network:  weak ties bound together by common interest and physical proximity.  Except now, the "physical" is virtual:  all those photos and vid we upload.

Like the eighteenth-century broadsheeters who cranked out satires and other entertainment overnight and posted them outside coffee houses in the morning, Nation amps up the production schedule:  24/7, always-on.  Instead of being inspired by caffeine, that "chat-inspiring liquor" as c18 poet Laetitia Pilkington called it, Nationeers get high uploading, mashing and spreading Kaleb-inspired arcana.  They're not consumers of ideas. They're producers.  KN is the context, the venue.

He's the juice in the Liquid Network.

What's the takeaway, you might ask?

The smaller the feedback loop, the more contagious your ideas.  Nothing makes a feedback loop smaller, more immediate and intimate than f2f.  

Why else would Steven Johnson be knocking himself out on the road?

But an electronic constant caress is a close second.  Witness KN's killer book tour sked (two!  two at once! His own for Bran Hambric:  The Specter Key, and another, as chief media officer for The Beautiful Darkness Tour, a book by his friends, #2 on NYT paperback bestseller list.)

F2F.  Still what's for breakfast.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Desire and eMotion: The Wilderness Downtown

View The Wilderness Downtown in Google Chrome or Safari 5.

Almost everyone likes “The Wilderness Downtown,” the interactive film by Chris Milk set to the song “We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire.  David Pescovitz at Boing Boing declares The Wilderness Downtown “perhaps the best browser-dominating Net art piece I've experienced since Jodi.org's best work more than a decade ago.”  Of the 27 comments posted to Pescovitz’s piece, many go like this:  “I didn't think I would like this when I saw it a couple days ago. Just some web-tricks. However, the song and the personalization really did it for me. I'm going to send it to my brother and see what he thinks. We have so many memories of the place we grew up.”
The teenage boys to whom I showed it like it.  My elementary-school aged daughter likes it.  My former boss likes it.  My new-media-agile friends like it.  I like it.

Is it a bland aesthetic, this burger to which everybody adds their own secret sauce to make delicious?  Or is “The Wilderness Downtown” popular because it’s a game-changer, creating the expectation of interactivity:  that stories will work harder to meet you, quite literally, where you live.


How can both of these things be true?

Metonymy, the rhetorical trope, is the muscle powering Wilderness Downtown’s emotional punch.

Metonymy is the trope of contiguity.  Of desire.  Metaphor draws relationship from similarity:  “Achilles is a lion.”  Metonymy draws relationship by approximation:  “Madison Avenue scripts what we want.”

“The Wilderness Downtown” is metonymy in motion.  Its structure reinforces the nostalgic theme.  Up to five windows open and shut in perfect synchronicity with the music. You watch the faceless, hooded proxy of yourself running through your childhood neighborhood as depicted in present-day Google Maps street view.  The percussive, moody music pushes you through the experience.  Unlike many pieces of eLit, there’s a beginning, middle and end.  The unities of color (black, white, gray and orange) and pacing direct the eye, guide you to unify the window-fragments into a satisfying whole. You are instructed to write or doodle a postcard to the self you were when you lived there; this is the only moment where the piece slows down.  The creators assume you have a lot to say.  “And so I wrote a letter,” intones the Arcade Fire lyric.  “I never took my true heart, I never wrote it down.”

Now you can. 

At the end of WD you can send your postcard along to strangers if you like, or to the  Wilderness Machine, or to the Arcade Fire tour; but of course that defeats the intimacy of the conceit that you are writing to your younger self.  It’s a tease, a fake.

Indeed, the interactivity of this “interactive film” is limited to the moment when you enter your address; after that, you’re just watching the movie play out across the literal landscape of your childhood.

“If the measure is the concept, not the interactivity,” observes Mark Marino at Writer Response Theory, “I find the piece to be a nice mashup of html5 effects, maps, and music under a creepy combo of nostalgia and surveillance crows. True, other elit is more interactive--or offers more significant interaction. This is more of the you be the star of the story -- or Dora episode -- genre.”

The first time I saw it a few weeks ago,” notes Dustin Stevenson in response to Marino, “I expected/hoped that the doodle I drew would manifest in the climactic moment of the film. . . .  [R]eading this post left me wishing for a more deeply mutable digital object.”

Indeed, WD bets that genuine interactivity takes a back seat to nostalgia.  Given the positive reception, it looks like they won the bet.  Urged on by the sexy Arcade Fire refrain “aaaaaah, we used to wait,” WD is a steamy broth of conflicting desires:  to be the self in the video and yet to escape out of it; to be inside that childhood landscape and also watch it destroyed by crows pummeling the ground and thrusting up into trees that occlude your view.  In short, it can be anything to anybody:  a perfect marketing machine (recall WD was created in part to show off the HTML5 and new Google Chrome).  But is it a perfect aesthetic object?  It’s too empty to be truly memorable.

And yet, pretty much everybody I've come across likes it.  A lot.  The negative comments fall along the lines of:  what happened to interoperability?  Why can't I run this on Firefox?

Which returns us to the question of why people like The Wilderness Downtown.

Filmmaker Chris Milk:  “My real motivation came from my quest for music videos to have the equally soul-touching emotional resonance that straight music does. Honestly, I'm not sure they ever can. Music scores your life. You interact with it. You listen to it in the car.  It becomes the soundtrack to that one summer with that one girl. Music videos are very concrete and rigid. They don't allow for that emotional interaction.”

Unless you customize to each user.  Let him plug in his own address, his own memories and desires, and the user can make the meaning.  In a way, it’s the dream of every artist and reception theorist:  reading is performance, its own art.

But is it art, the infinite regress of me dancing between two mirrors, watching all those arms raise and lower simultaneously?  Milk has created a compelling empty screen on which to project our fantasies about our younger selves.  Empty but with "boids" flying across it.  Duchamp’s fountain has more instrinsic meaning.  

Metonymy in motion = eMotion.  The secret sauce you’ll buy every time because it tastes like you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On Informal Learning, Joi Ito, Teenage Boys and Nostalgia

"The focus on education and accreditation instead of learning is something we need to change."
Joi Ito--entreprenuer, dropout, thought leader--has at least one reason to care about the fate of the university:  his sister Mimi is a distinguished cultural anthropologist at USC, a theorist of how teens use new media in the US and Japan.  In the video interview I link to above, Joi lays out a powerful case for the rise of the informal learner.

Joi doesn't feel the love for Tufts, the Univ. of Chicago (both of which he left without degree) or other institutions of formal learning that presume the university remains the best way to gather thinkers and distribute research.  Joi is not so much an advocate for informal learning as a bright exponent of it.  He did it twenty years ago.  Today, it's easier for informal learners to operate entirely project-based, acquiring the skills, community and knowledge particular to their goals.  The most interesting undergraduate classes I'm following on the Web, for example, are the ones that appropriate DIY skill and zeal.  Ironic, eh?  That the most "cutting edge" courses at the university emulate the informal learners' MO, urgency and skills?

What does the rise of the informal learner mean for the university beyond "fasten your seatbelts.  It's going to be a bumpy night"?

Learners are going to be impatient of requirements they don't see as directly contributive to their knowledge goals, especially when those requirements cost a lot of time and money.  Their parents may or may not be similarly impatient.  It depends on how vested they are in the university that opened its iron gates to their own knowledge and careers.

What sort of people will continue to value the university's judgments, its intricate system of sorting and filtering the quality of student performance?  Will employers always insist on university credentials if informal learners like Jio Ito short circuit the process:  the 4-yrs-long process that is an eternity in communities of practice? 

I still believe in the university, perhaps out of nostalgia and loyalty to the enormously transformative effect it had on my life.

The university put its stamp on me:  BA, MA, Ph.D. Lecturer, Sr. Lecturer, Assoc. Prof: so many degrees like a line of Chinese chops marking ownership and provenance. On me.

Today, as I prepare some bookmarks on Diigo and edit video to collaborate on a service learning project with four teenage boys--all of whom know more about filmmaking than I do, though I am the "teacher"--I doubt these guys will need the university as I did.  They might look to the university for a kind of education it is ill-equipped, as yet, to provide.

I hope this is not the case.   That the university rises to meet them.  Lets them learn at the pace they expect.  Listens to what they know.  Forgives me my fragments, for I have sinned.  Changes quickly before the 4 boys are gone, gone, gone.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Big Brother Tracking Little Sibs 30% More Than Adults

Following up on how DP's course design plays out IRL. 

This just in from the "Regain Control" team: their Tracking Our Children entry analyzes data reported in the WSJ that kids' sites dropped 30% more cookies on kids' sites than in the fifty most popular adult sites.

Tabatha reasons: 
[W]e have to ask why companies on the net would use their resources any differently than television advertisers. If an advertiser twenty years ago utilized morning cartoons to sell sugary breakfast cereal, why would  an advertiser refrain from using the  internet gaming phenomenon to sell products today? Of course, some of the tools installed by the tested sites logged information that did not reveal privacy concerns, like where a user paused in a game. However, other tools tracked the outside sites visited by users, logging trends in their usage.
 Tabatha's analysis does more than posts generated by peers on other blogs in emac4325 because she knows she must explain the relevance of the data to us.  Her decision to historicize it by looking at Sat AM cartoons as precedent is insightful.