Thursday, August 25, 2011

This blog is moving to kathiiberens.com

Hey friends,

Please visit my new site, kathiiberens.com, to access my blog, syllabi, schedules, assignments and resources for two advanced social media classes I'm teaching this fall, and other goodies.

I'll tantalize you by saying I've just posted there a vid created by some of my students this morning in our class, COMM 499 at USC Annenberg.

The students shot this vid impromptu, after kicking off class today with a discussion of prohibition of devices in the classroom, distraction and attention.

Click here to be taken right to the video.  See you at the new site!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Video Overview of COMM 499

People have emailed me to ask about "F2F in the New Media Classroom," an advanced social media class I'm teaching at USC's Annenberg School of Communication starting 23 August.

So I made this 6 min. video overview. It discusses why

  • we build and not just consume 
  • students must bring their devices to class and consult them at will
  • the class meets 65% online and 35% F2F 

Those of you who read my post about The Flipped Classroom know that I believe that everything that can be moved OL should be.  OL can deliver experiences that are themselves uniquely valuable: some killer guest speakers are slated to Skype in, for example.

What remains in the physical classroom is the unique value of F2F: embodied, thrilling, spiritual, ephemeral.  My version of the classroom is face time ++.  The students and I will amble outside classroom walls to snap photos on campus to gather assets for our first lesson in visual composition; we'll visit LACMA, view street art, engage with locative digital art in situ, wander.  Digital flaneurs.  I've had Baudelaire unshakably in my head for months as I've dreamed up this class.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Building the "About": Coding Changes How & What I Teach


I've been thinking about how learning to code changes what I think is important to teach.

Here at the end of my post-doc fellowship at the Mobile Tech Research Initiative, I'm building an "About" page in jQueryMobile for the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival.  Finally, I'm seeing what I've learned about code authoring syntax translate into keystrokes.  That's a big deal.  Groking is one thing.  But when it comes to building, it's like I'm seated at the piano bench, trying to find the right finger placements before I can play my song.  My fingers had to learn how to do this.  Honestly.  I can't explain except to say that there's a kinetic quality to the learning to code that was completely beyond my apprehension ten weeks ago.  I spent time shoving concepts and tags into my brain.  It didn't matter, none of it mattered, until I learned how to type code by, say, opening and closing a tag quickly, then spacing to insert the specific calls.  I used to type exactly the sequence.  Now I type in syntactic blocks.  Without the typing, I wouldn't know anything.  It feels hubristic to claim I know anything at all.

The vulnerability of making bonehead mistakes, especially if you're a professor and are hanging out your total ignorance  like undergarments drying on the community line, can stop you in your tracks.  A few of the Fellows in MTRI do not, will not code.  They work their tails off collaborating, editing and generally "getting" code.  They are vital to the process.  But they are not pushing the keys and sitting alone in front of the screen.

Here's why it's a mistake not to try.

Waaay back in 2002, my pal Norah Ashe McNalley and I got a USC Innovative Teaching grant to start an online student journal, which our founding editors named AngeLingo.  (Two years ago, AngeLingo was rebranded "SCribe.") Our first coder, Jason, was charged with building the site over the course of an entire school year.  Everything was HTML: CSS hadn't been invented/adopted yet.  Jason--one hell of a coder, by the way, who went on to build games for Dreamworks, etc., etc.--procrastinated epically.  Norah and I didn't know enough about code (read: we knew zilch) to understand just how far, far behind Jason was in the build.  At that cultural moment, before crowdsourcing and Wikipedia, before pervasive broadband and YouTube videos that explain anything you want to know, it was impossible to educate ourselves.  Without the intervention of our code-savvy husbands (and without growing a pair: my first lesson in management) AngeLingo would have died.  Over the years, AngeLingo has published hundreds of student-authored and -edited academic essays, stories, poems, songs, movies, and the like.  Back in 2003, we tripped on how amazing it was to publish without the need for print, paper and $$$$.  In 2011, as smartphones make publication a daily, common, WYSIWYG experience, we're in another watershed moment.  Faculty need more than a little code literacy (hat tip to Douglas Rushkoff) to give students a learning experience they can't get on their own.

Do faculty need to know how to code?  Is it a nice to have, or a gotta have?

At the Modern Languages Association's 2011 Convention (see my post-convention overview here), Stephen Ramsay declared "Do you have to know how to code? I’m a tenured professor of Digital Humanities and I say ‘yes.’. . . Personally, I think Digital Humanities is about building things. […] If you are not making anything, you are not … a digital humanist.”  See Stephen's summary of his MLA talk here.  This comment rippled through the field in the weeks subsequent to the MLA.

(For more on the DH "to code or not to code" debate, see Stephen's thoughtful clarification "On Building," Matt Kirschenbaum's ADE piece "What is the Digital Humanities, and What's it Doing in English Departments?" and Marilee Lindemann, who is "supremely uninterested in determining whether or not I am a Digital Humanist." Of course there are many other resources, to which Matt's piece can lead you.)

Returning to the "About"

My magnificent partner in this summer's appland, Jeannette Altman (cellist, code and Illustrator teacher, perfectionist, goof), has created almost the entire app for the CGIFF.  "About" is my foray.  Jeannette is gray-eyed Athena, building not one interactive map with the Google Maps API, but *ten*: one for each venue at which the films will show in two weeks.  We'll see if we can get it all to sit still in such a light little app.  Messing around with her has been one of the highlights of this unbelievably cool summer. (Check out, btw, MTRI's rich resources page, loaded with all kinds of goodies: a little souvenir from our summer trip.)  God bless Creative Media and Digital Culture Program Director Dene Grigar for insisting that stuff on the web should be free & shared.

I now know enough about code to appreciate that it's an accomplishment to be playing even one note at a time.  I'm really happy to make something tuneful no matter how slowly.  An echo of that song "Fill In the Words" sung by Robert Klein in the 1979 musical They're Playing Our Song has been plunking lightly in my ear.  He taps a C on a kiddie piano: "You play a C, you get a C.  That's simple.  That's easy..." (It's a quiet, introspective little number: no YouTube vid to show you. Here are the lyrics.)

As I set my syllabi for the advanced social media classes I'll teach in August at USC and at Washington State University, I am modeling the daily activities on what we've done at MTRI.  Building teaches differently than conceptual work.  Conceptual work equips students to make sense of the task long after the urgency of a particular build is finished.  There's a shelf life for the skills.  (One example as an index of how quickly it's moving: the jQuery Mobile code updates frequently: you have to check daily to make sure your header files are current.) Conceptual work allows students to forge the important critical thinking that John Seely Brown and Doug Thomas extol in A New Culture of Learning.  It's vital.

But I would say that I'm with Stephen Ramsay on this one.  Learning how to build rewires your sense of how things work.  As I said, it's in the fingers, this knowledge.  There's some kind of recursive loop between the fingers and the brain. Please indulge me this long quotation from Stephen's piece "On Building": I read it in January and loved it then.  But now my fingers know it to be true.
As humanists, we are inclined to read maps (to pick one example) as texts, as instruments of cultural desire, as visualizations of imperial ideology, as records of the emergence of national identity, and so forth. [...]  But making a map (with a GIS system, say) is an entirely different experience. DH-ers insist – again and again – that this process of creation yields insights that are difficult to acquire otherwise. It’s the thing I’ve been hearing for as I long as I’ve been in this. People who mark up texts say it, as do those who build software, hack social networks, create visualizations, and pursue the dozens of other forms of haptic engagement that bring DH-ers to the same table. Building is, for us, a new kind of hermeneutic – one that is quite a bit more radical than taking the traditional methods of humanistic inquiry and applying them to digital objects. Media studies, game studies, critical code studies, and various other disciplines have brought wonderful new things to humanistic study, but I will say (at my peril) that none of these represent as radical a shift as the move from reading to making. [Emphasis mine.]

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Flipped Classroom: Exploiting the Best of F2F & Screens

The Flipped Classroom inverts the typical way teachers and learners engage: lectures are delivered via video podcast; class time is spent in collaborative problem solving.

As you watch this video overview, ask yourself two things:  1) why was the Flipped Classroom was borne of collaboration, not by one teacher alone?  2) How does it exploit the unique properties of F2F learning in the digital era?



Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams are high school chemistry teachers in Woodland Park, Colorado.  They create video podcasts of their lectures which students watch outside of class via laptops, mobile devices, tablets or DVDs.

This means that students can access the lectures on-demand.  They control the pace of information delivery, which they can't do F2F.  Crucial: screens allow MORE student participation in their knowledge acquisition, not less.  This is obvious to many of us working in the field, but remember that we are still a tiny subset of educators.  High school students in my local school district are FORBIDDEN to bring any screens the classroom: there's still a deep distrust of screens as portals to distraction or cheating, and the false but abiding sense that occasional distraction is inherently a bad thing.

In the Flipped Classroom, students come to class primed to do the applied problem solving, what we typically call the "homework." Instead of struggling in isolation, learners work the problems in small groups.  Peer-to-peer  engagement in quite natural in this setting.  The teacher, as master tutor, wanders around answering questions and sparking further engagement in the problem solving.

Maybe "homework" no longer means that "work you do at home," but "the work" you do IN CLASS that drives the concepts "home."

The takeaways for the superiority of hybrid learning environments are pretty obvious:

  • Screens are better at conveying lecture-style information 
  • Screens are ubiquitous and permit learners self-paced knowledge acquisition
  • F2F is better for problem solving (more on this later, when I write about what I've learned, done and observed as a post-doc Fellow at the WSU's Mobile Technology Research Initiative)
  • The social dimension of learning F2F doesn't suck time away from knowledge acquisition.  It doubles the learning.  Social in tandem with screen cements learning ways previously unavailable in the pre-digital era.  

Silent work in a F2F classroom punishes learners for their natural inclination to share and collaborate.  It mistakes the animation of collaboration and its occasional "distractions" as barriers to serious knowledge acquisition, rather than the bursts and rests of how we think/work in real time.  Ever get up from your screen to go make a cup of tea?  Even looking up from your screen and staring into the far distance for a minute can refresh your attention and enable greater focus and retention.

Thanks to the folks at DML Central for surfacing this today!  See this to join the Flipped Classroom social network. Here's a Colorado Springs TV news affiliate describing the Flipped Classroom: useful to be sent to local school district admins in your neighborhood.

Why do you think the Flipped Classroom was borne of collaboration?  Drop me a comment and I'll tell you what I think too!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Math Geeking Out: an autobiography

Code Apnea

This summer, I'm learning how to design and code mobile apps.  It's freakin awesome.


Awesome in the Kantian sense: standing on a precipice and looking down, gauging the likelihood that gravity will clutch your knees and yank you to a fast fall.

Yesterday I wrote my first computer program.  I copied the code as instructed in the iOS SDK.  Class was taught by our Xcode native guide Nick Hill.  I hit "Build and Run" in Interface Builder.  My program popped right up in the iOS simulator.  Hello, World!  I blinked a little.  I went back into the code and turned it yellow.  Blue.  Cyan.  I changed the font size and the x-position.

Then I realized that I'd been holding my breath for the better part of an hour.  Code apnea.  I sucked in a deep breath.

On the next exercise, I called the instructor over.  I'm doing this wrong, I said.

No you're not, he said.  I just haven't shown the class how to do that part yet.



Math Grrrrl

It's 1978.  I'm 10 and I'm working a couple of years ahead in math.  I had been hungry for math earlier in grade school.  Now I'm in a dark room next to a mimeograph machine, the purple smeary ink, the wet chemical smell of the paper. I'm doing "new math": pattern recognition.  I think I'm stupid because this is supposed to be harder but it's basically kindergarten shapes.  It can be done without thinking, without computing.


I put my pencil down, pull out a book and read.

It's 1980, the beginning of 7th grade.  The algebra teacher walks up to me in the hallway and asks why I'm not in his class.

Shrug.  I don't want to be in it, I say.

Why not?

I want to pass notes with Becky McAllister, I think silently. Becky was the sort of girl, in retrospect, who peaked in junior high.  To her credit nobody's hair feathered better and she wore purple mascara.

A couple of months later, the algebra teacher approaches me again.  I deflect him again.  My parents, who adopted me at birth and are among the kindest people on the planet, were middling-at-best students in school.  They are shocked and pleased by my grades, and never ask questions.

I buy a smoky blue mascara.



Where it leaves you.  How it comes back.


The little voice that wonders these things.

Learning to code for the first time at age 42, three decades after stopping my ears to all things mathematical, is like the blood returning to fingers so numb they are white stubs.  I have this frozen-finger condition, Raynaud's Phenomenon.  (Check out the lurid photos in the wikipedia link.)  Depending on the severity of the onset, it can take several minutes of warming (in hot water, wrapped around a latte, stuffed in my armpit) before my fingers swell and turn livid, then bright red, and return to normal.

It isn't comfortable getting the blood to flow where it hasn't been.

That's why I'm grateful for the gentle code teachers who never make me feel stupid for asking questions Will Luers, Nick Hill, Nick Schiller, Jeanette Altman, John and Dene, Margarete and Hunter, and especially Michael Sasser, whose canny analogies translate entailed concepts into terms I can grok.  Example: the difference between object-related code and procedural code.  Procedure is the highway, object-related is the vehicles.  Working with mobile apps, I'm thinking a lot about the touch modality.  I'm thinking about the design and feel of objects in my hands, like the rounded edges and M&M-like candy coating encasing my white 3GS iPhone.  Like the Legos scattered in our loft.  I turn them over in my palm.  I teach our 6YO procedural logic as we build.  I'm alive to the sensory qualities of building.

I am now almost exactly 6 months into learning code.  When I started, I knew nothing more than how to modify text to be bold or italic.  I know much more now, but am still very slow to execute.  I haven't yet made anything really pretty (but the mobile app I began coding today is already head-and-shoulders above a project I worked on 1 month ago).

How lucky I am to live in a cultural moment when near-pervasive access to tools, free instruction, and generous communities of practice make it possible to build beautiful things in HTML5 and CSS3.  Wrap it in Phonegap and you're good to go.  WYSIWYG programs like Interface Builder and TextWrangler lower barriers to entry.


Coda



My husband and I are in the living room reading when our 10YO night owl pops downstairs.  We look up from our devices.  The three of us banter.  Our daughter declares to my husband, "You are a geek.  And you," she says, turning to me, "are a popular wannabe."

"No, dear," my husband intones.  "That's what she looks like on the outside.  Down deep she is a geek."

My husband urges the girl upstairs.

I insert earbuds, go back to my screen.


["Mascara" image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yoliee/]

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Experiments in Hybridity: F2F and Mobile Learning

video

This fall I'm piloting at the University of Southern California a class that explores the unique properties of face-to-face [f2f] and online [OL] learning environments.  35% of the term I'll meet with students f2f in Los Angeles; 65% of the term we'll meet OL, synchronously during regularly scheduled classes (Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30-10:50) and asynchronously on various social media platforms.

I should add that the f2f sessions extend beyond regular classroom meetings.  Students will also go on evening field trips once a month: to the LA Co. Museum of Art, to play with QR-linked locative narrative in LA Flood, to view street art through the VR app Layar.  The Annenberg School of Communications, which is generously sponsoring this pilot, will send along a videographer on our excursions to capture [some of the] learning dynamic as we wander peripetatically through the city.  This idea was born for me from Baudelaire and the notion of the digital flaneur.  Students will drop digital files in the city in real time as we also collect assets we'll build into other digital artifacts for course assignments and collaboration.

Stay tuned to hear about the sister class I'll teach next fall at Washington State University/Vancouver at the Creative Media and Digital Culture program, an advanced social media class that will meet 65% f2f and 35% OL while I'm in L.A.

These experiments in classroom hybridity--f2f, OL, the combination--emanate from my sense that the physical contexts for learning create unique avenues into learning that previously were invisible: f2f was simply the de facto mode of learning "delivery."  Now that learning can be more expressly collaborative and mobile, it behooves us to determine their unique affordances so that, among other things, we can thickly describe the c21 mobile classroom to stakeholders (higher ed administrators, students, parents, government officials, business leaders) who influence the shape and funding of classrooms.

As I said recently in a talk at USC's Teaching With Technology Conference, if universities mimic the RIAA and lock down mobile and digital access to learning, they will suffer the similar fate of becoming irrelevant. Joi Ito, co-founder of Creative Commons and entrepreneur, was recently appointed Director of MIT's Media Lab.  Ito sits atop this prestigious lab even though he lacks a B.A., let alone the Ph.D. that is ordinarily a prerequisite for such a position. 

If increasingly the question is not "where did you get your degree" but "what can you do," then residential universities must integrate digital media into their learning environments or risk becoming antiquated--like cds or "Must-See TV" that required viewers to park in front of their sets at designated times.  But that doesn't mean throwing the baby out with the bath water.  F2F remains a crucial modality.  It's up to us to figure out exactly how and why.

Friday, May 27, 2011

#Urban Outfitters Twitter FAIL

Urban Outfitters sat on their hands yesterday while their brand equity hemorrhaged cool. In three hours, UO lost 17,000 followers on Twitter; #urbanoutfitters and #thieves became a trending topic. The tweet that started it all:


Urban Outfitter’s meager response--this one tweet posted a few minutes after Karnes'--was insufficient to staunch the blood that kept spilling all day:


The @amberkarnes tweet became a “Top Tweet,” and was quickly dispatched to another nearly 1.3 MILLION followers. Boing Boing, The Consumerist and Huffington Post picked up the story. Even Miley Cyrus got in on the act and shared with her one-million-plus followers.

Amber Karnes’ full blog post has all kinds of smart things to say about how her Tribe of 1000 followers turned this into an assault on an incredibly powerful brand.

The big story for brand marketers: every second of delayed response to an accusation creates
space for a tsunami of ill will that can wreak havoc with even the most carefully manicured brands.

The indie-cool vibe that Urban Outfitters diligently built by hiring independent designers to craft the in-store brick-and-mortar displays and creating an entire lifestyle from its products--from clothes to furniture to soaps and drawer pulls--is now jeopardized. In less than 24 hours. A slew of “me too” posts on other blogs such as this one about other wronged artists is lending credence to Karnes’ claim that Urban Outfitters is a serial indie art thief.

Whether or not angry tweeters make good on their promise to boycott Urban Outfitters, the brand tsunami wreckage is there for all to see: still flowing in via #urbanoutfitters.

Special thanks to co-author @SixSevenStudios who brought this to my attention yesterday! Check him out on Twitter!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Joi Ito's interview w/Fast Co. Design

Excerpts from Linda Tischler's Fast Co. Design interview with JOI ITO, the recently-appointed Director of MIT Media Lab.

Read the full interview.

"My whole life has been about connecting things that aren't connected."

Obviously there were a few raised eyebrows when MIT found out that I didn’t have a [bachelor's] degree. The Media Lab people felt like it was a badge of honor because they don’t like to conform. But after I met the administrators and they got that I don’t disrespect academia, it’s just that I have never fit into any of their patterns.

Reed Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, is a friend of mine. We talk a lot about careers. The whole idea that you figure out what you want to be, then plan your course and execute on it doesn’t work anymore. Now, you want to find the things that you’re good at, be able to pivot when you need to, and have the network you need to support that.

Why f2f is crucial in Ito's reinvention of the MIT Media Lab:
Brand is important, but we need to make ourselves less intimidating. And part of that is showing up everywhere. That’s what I did with Creative Commons. And I’d go to Syria and say, “Hey, anybody want to work with us?” Or to Ramallah, and say, “Hey, can we set up a Palestinian network here?” Then I’d go to Israel. Once you start going to places you see that face-to-face is really important.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Social Media Influenced School Closure Decisions

On April 25th, my local school board voted to close just one elementary school, Palisades, in Sept. 2011.

This decision surprised the 250 people crowded in the high school library, where board members, seated behind a long table, faced them and publicly voted. It surprised us because in the 90 minutes leading up to the vote, board members laid out the rationale for closing 3 schools and moving 6th graders from elementary school to middle school. Further, the cuts and reconfiguration were strongly endorsed by both of the official parental-input groups, Site Council and the Committee on Reconfiguration.

The Board slowed the process: closure of the other two elementaries and 6th grade reconfiguration is slated to happen Sept. 2012.

You can read my live Tweets here. To increase the size of my Tweets, hit the command key and the +. Or, in your browser's dropdown menu, select View-->Zoom In. The first post is the one at the bottom; read up to experience them in order.



Next-day, traditional media coverage of the vote can be viewed in the Lake Oswego Review and Oregonian.

Twitter informed the community about the meeting's result IRT [in real time]. It changed how we build consensus. District Superintendent Bill Korach customarily builds consensus by convening a lot of face-to-face meetings. He works hard to allow many people to participate in decision making process. I salute him for that! But social media can open the door wider, and it opens on demand.

The LO United site, created and maintained by a small band of local parents amassed facts. Its members, including me, left digital traces of conversations across platforms (most notably Facebook and the comments stream of our local newspaper, the LO Review).

Social media also made clear that our actions as a community were viewable by people who live beyond it.

To get a sense of just how pervasive even a droplet in social media can be, consider this anecdote from USC Annenberg librarian Avril Cunningham, who shared how a Tweet she sent to her 150 followers got retweeted and was seen within 24 hours by up to 5000 people on Twitter. Cunningham presented this case at last week's USC 2011 Teaching With Technology Conference. Avril's is one tiny example of how social media can spread information beyond where we might intend it to go. Our school closure debate, with its many passionate participants, probably sent its social media tendrils out to the tens of thousands. Some people in my Twitter community passed along to their followers URLs to the videos I shot.

Why does social media matter in this example of local politics?

It is still a new thing for us to conceive ourselves as being "always online"; but that's exactly what smartphones enable. Being "always on" doesn't mean being exclusively online, as we are when we're focused on a specific task at our computers. It means we're always aware that we could be online at any moment: snap a photo and post it to Flickr or FB; consult an app to find a restaurant or play a game; Tweet a URL; access a map to figure out where you are or where you want to go; drop a pin so it's faster to find next time. Always on. The gadgets and platforms are so seamlessly integrated that we're no longer aware of being "on," as we were when we had to do everything at a desktop. Our collective mindset is catching up with the actual practice of being Always On.  It's changing how we make collective decisions.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hacking: Apps, School Budgets, Hegemony

Jason Jones, co-founding editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education's ProfHacker, sent me a Tweet today:

Which led me here:



Jason and I met at MLA11 and have chatted intermittently since January about public school education. We both watch what's going down in our local districts (his: New Britain, CT; mine, Lake Oswego, OR) and send nervous tweets about radical cuts to teaching staff (80 in his next year) and impending school closures (proposed 35% of elementary schools in mine).

We've also talked about how far out of sync our districts are with new media curricula. Hence the cool Tweet he sent today: a way to crowdsource said curricula by asking teachers what they need and offering up micro solutions in the form of apps. From this distance and through my perpetually-at-hand, rose-tinted glasses, this seems like a great premise for workable solutions. In public school districts where admins in charge of tech are usually thinking only of equipment replacement, crowdsourcing seems like an efficient workaround to get some curricular innovation dirt cheap and super efficient. From the "Hacking Education" Contest:
Help to shape your school system's budget by revealing what teachers really need. Build the first mobile app for hyper-local education philanthropy. We've got a list of suggestions to help get you thinking.

On the long parchment scroll of stuff I love about the Internet, quotations like that one live near the top.

Jason's suggestion is timely because I just found out I've been named a Fellow at Washington State Vancouver's Mobile Tech Research Initiative.


WSUV is a hub of mobile tech research and storytelling. Dr. Dene Grigar, Assoc. Prof. and Director of WSUV's Creative Media and Digital Culture Program, was just awarded, with Brett Oppegaard, a $50K NEH Start Up Grant for the Fort Vancouver Mobile Project.

It's ironic that at this moment when mobile apps are at the cutting edge of digital academic research and enable the timely fulfillment of hyperlocal public education curricular goals, our schools are being hacked to bits: not binary digits, but little paper snowflakes where whole sheets of paper once unfurled.

In my own district, the School Board will vote next Monday (April 25) on how many elementary schools to shut down and whether or not to move 6th graders from elementary schools to middle schools.

Regular readers of this blog know that the parents of grassroots org LO United surfaced $4-8 million of alternative budget reductions and a substantial body high-test academic research about how 6th graders fare in middle schools compared to elementaries.  (Short answer: poorly.)  LO United supports closure of one school and keeping 6th graders in elementary school.  After studying the issue, I made three videos to promote the LO United positions: "Keep Our Schools Open,""LO Unites: Saving Schools and 6th Graders," and "Fiscal Responsibility."

Here's where the part about hegemony comes in.

I had assumed that community resistance to the LOU positions emanated from doubt about the quality of LOU's work.  I made the movies to let LOU experts talk and find an audience.  The videos galvanized conversation, but the lion's share of credit falls to the assiduous LOU folks who kept up a steady stream of emails and face-to-face meetings with district admins and the School Board, who have used LOU tools and data to revise their original plans.

What motivates the huge impending change in our school district is not the surface story about budget, but a deeper one about ideology.  Hanging around at pick up, volunteering at art lit, co-hosting a mom's margarita fundraiser for the school, I hear again and again: 6th graders are bored in elementary school.  They need the specialized curriculum at middle school.  I wasn't even tracking it at first.

Then I drove my 4th grade daughter to volleyball practice at the local jr. high and she said, "I can't wait to go here!  You get to choose your classes!  6th graders are bored at my school."

That's how hegemony works, right?  Invisibly.  Not a top-down declaration but murmured here and there.  It functions the way gossip does, policing community values.  "Everyone" knows it to be true. Perception of this kind is not susceptible to facts because it is boundless like water, always moving, re-routed by a little factual blockage here and there, but finding nevertheless its path to the wide river of common knowledge.

This is a picture of a colonized subject.  With a little Geek Dad thrown in for Jason.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In-Progress: Syllabus for Comm 499

Hi readers,

I welcome comments on this work-in-progress.

F2F In/And the New Media Classroom
Syllabus for COMM 499: Special Topics
Assoc. Prof. Kathi Inman Berens
Fall 2011
Class meets Tues./Thurs. 9:30-10:50 in ASC 223

When Socrates and Plato invented the tutorial, face-to-face was the only way in which teachers and students could engage.  This remained true for 5000 years.  Until now.

Join me in a collaborative research opportunity where we investigate the unique properties of face-to-face [f2f] learning in the age of ubiquitous computing.

Does f2f classroom experience enable learning that can or can’t be replicated online?  Are the intimacies we build blogging, on chat, Twitter, FB and Skype the same as or equivalent to those we develop around a seminar table?  Does one mode promote learning and retention better than another--or is it wrongheaded even to consider them separately?  There’s a smartphone in everyone’s pocket.  Is the strictly f2f classroom already a relic of the past?

In this class, we will:
Meet f2f 35% of the semester, and OL 65% (Additional f2f in evening excursions not included in ratio above.)
Build digital artifacts
Evaluate the work those digital artifacts do in the world
Collaborate f2f and online [OL]
Analyze the specific qualities of f2f and OL settings

WHAT TO EXPECT
Participative learning.  We will use asynchronous forums, blogs, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, Twitter, some geolocative platforms, and a movie making program of your choice.

In short, we’re going to play and make stuff, and we’re going to think through whether f2f augments our learning, efficiency, and pleasure in our engagement with digital media.  You aren’t required to know a lot of platforms before this class, but you must be willing to teach yourself things.  I usually find videos on YouTube that show me how to do whatever I’m working on.  I also buy step-by-step books about particular programs.  I’ve heard great things about Lynda.com, where for $25/month it’s all-u-can-eat instructional videos on pretty much any platform or program you’d want to learn.  I haven’t subscribed because my needs have been met by googling what I want to learn, watching videos, and spending time playing with it.  Budget time for learning platforms if you are not yet digitally active.

I expect we might pull in guest speakers via Skype to our f2f sessions.

We will meet three evenings outside of class, going out into LA and playing with mobile and geolocative experiences.  Please review the dates on this syllabus carefully to make sure you can attend the 3 evening excursions; your participation in them is required.

If you are thinking that 65% class time online sounds like you can check out, you’re in the wrong class.

The workload is actually steadier than what you’ll find in most other classes.  Think of it like a language class:  if you skip a week, you’ll fall behind.  You’ll submit work weekly, and you’ll be accountable (via chat or in classroom seats) in every class.  The reward: you’ll get immediate feedback on your work, build cool stuff, make some friends with common interests, and think through questions about physical presence and attention that are quite literally at the nexus where humans meet computing.  You’ll walk out with some useful digital skills.

ASSIGNMENTS
A collaboratively-authored blog, co-produced with 2 or 3 classmates, will feature writing, images, links, videos you make, and other objects you decide are thematically relevant. Grading emphasis will be on your ability to gather useful information on your theme and explain it to non-specialists.
An individually-authored final project: this can be a pecha kutcha presentation (=20 slides, 20 seconds each for a 6:40 oral presentation).  It can be a movie.  It can be a woices project, or a Street Art project.  I’m open to good ideas.
Comments posted in every class.
Blog post weekly.
Robust social bookmarking engaged with at least weekly.
At least 2 or 3 tweets/week.


EVALUATION of YOUR WORK
Collaborative Blog (weekly entries on a theme): 40%
Social Bookmarking/Midterm: 15%
Essay: Twitter and Infotention: 10%
Oral Presentation: 25%
Class Participation: 10%

READINGS
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (trans. Glaser, 1994)

Guy Bennett & Beatrice Mousli, Seeing Los Angeles: A Different Look at a Different City (2007)

Jay David Bolter & Richard Grusin, Remediation (2000)

danah boyd, “Streams of Content, Limited Attention” (2009) and “Sociality is Learning” (2009)

John Seely Brown & Doug Thomas A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (2011)

Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (2010)

Henry Jenkins, “How YouTube Became OurTube” (2010) & some posts from Aca/Fan

Steven Johnson, excerpts from Where Good Ideas Come From (2010)

Howard Rheingold, “Attention, and Other 21st Century Social Media Literacies” (2010)

Mobile LACMA

Team blogs authored by students of EMAC 4352 (Prof. Dave Parry, UT Dallas/fall 2010); their theme, privacy and surveillance, is not ours; but these are excellent examples of collaboratively authored students blogs.  Note that class for these 4 blogs ended Dec. 2010, but they are still being maintained, which is pretty cool.
Big Brother is Watching Us
Under Surveillance
OutOutsiders
Nonopticon

Mike Wesch’s digital ethnography videos, including the current project Visions of Students Today (2011)

SCHEDULE
Week 1: F2F
Readings: Johnson, Rheingold
Build: your Twitter acct., form teams for blogs; register with Diigo (social bookmarking)
Aug. 23, 25

Week 2: F2F
Readings: EMAC team blogs, Brown& Thomas entire; social bookmarks, Twitter;
Aug. 30
Sept. 1: Evening excursion (6-8 PM)

Week 3: OL
Readings: Boyd, “Attention,” Bolter & Grusin: Theory section; Media ch. 10-14; social bookmarks, Twitter
Team blogs go live 9/8
Sept. 6, 8

Week 4: OL
Social bookmarking: what you’re finding & reading
Readings: class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter; Bolter & Grusin, Self section; Wesch’s videos
Sept. 13, 15


Week 5: OL
Readings: class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter; Bennett & Mousli, excerpts
Sept. 20, 22

Week 6: F2F
Readings: class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter; Jenkins, “YouTube,” Baudrillard, excerpts
Sept. 27
Sept. 28: Evening excursion (6-8PM)
[or: depending on scheduling prefs of co-learners; TBD during first week of classes.]
Sept. 29: Evening excursion (6-8 PM)
Over weekend: upload some digital artifact you made during/after our excursion

Week 7: OL
Readings: class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter; Boyd, “Sociality”; Oct. 4, 6

Week 8: OL
Readings: Damasio, excerpts
Essay due 10/13: Twitter & Infotention
Oct. 11, 13

Week 9: OL
Readings: class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter; Rheingold
Oct. 18, 20

Week 10: F2F
In-class workshops; individual conferences w/me
Oct. 25
Oct. 26: Evening excursion (exact time TBD)
[or: depending on scheduling prefs of co-learners; TBD during first week of classes]
Oct. 27: Evening excursion (exact time TBD)
Over weekend: upload some digital artifact you made during/after our excursion

Week 11: OL
Readings: Bennett & Mousli, continued; class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter
Nov. 1, 3

Week 12: OL
In-class workshops: prep for oral presentations
Nov. 8, 10

Week 13: F2F
class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter
Oral Presentation of digital artifacts
Nov. 15, 17

Week 14: F2F
class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter
Oral Presentation of digital artifacts
Nov. 22
Nov. 24: Thanksgiving holiday

Week 15: OL
class blogs, social bookmarks, Twitter
Wind up & rumination on f2f & OL
Nov. 29
Dec. 1: Last Day of Classes


Academic Integrity Policy
The Annenberg School for Communication is committed to upholding the University’s Academic Integrity code as detailed in the SCampus Guide.  It is the policy of the School for Communication to report all violations of the code.  Any serious violation or pattern of violations of the Academic Integrity Code will result in the student’s expulsion from the Communication major or minor, or from the graduate program.

ADA Compliance Statement
Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester.  A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP.  Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible.  DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.  The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.

SUCCESS METRIC
Howard Rheingold’s “Expected Learning Outcomes” summarizes what the diligent student will achieve in our course:

“Students apply the tools we use in this course in five interrelated kinds of activity: research, reflection, collaboration, presentation, and networking. In the course of team co-teaching, and collaborative note-taking, students will use one or more of interactive presentation media. Group project teams will use social bookmarking to conduct research, forums to discuss how to organize the project on the basis of this research, blogs to reflect on the personal, social, political significance of the project, and interactive media to augment their presentations.

Students who successfully complete this course will be on the way to mastering the 21st century meta-skill of knowing how to learn to use new social media, to assess a new social medium's potential cognitive, social, and political impact, and to tune or relinquish use of the medium for their own purposes. In addition, students will have practiced mindful self-observation of the ways they use their own attention. Increased facility at inquiry and collaboration are other meta-skills dedicated students should expect to gain.”

I add: students will understand the common and different valences of socializing online and f2f, and bring to their interactions a deep awareness of how those contexts operate singly and in tandem.

I look forward to working with you!

Twitter: @kathiiberens
blog:  F2F in the Mediated Classroom
email:  inmanber[at]usc[dot]edu; kathiberens[at]gmail[dot]com

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Video v. F2F

As my participation has increased in LO United--a group of parents crowdsourcing solutions to our school district's $6.5M shortfall--I find I'm leaving more and more digital traces of our work. Collectively edited letters, notes and comments on FB, videos to articulate LO United positions to the broader community.  I speculate that these digital artifacts have turned up the heat on a local debate that was already moving from simmer to boil.

It's a David-and-Goliath story, this small group of parents pooling their expertise to challenge what had looked until a couple of days ago a fait accompli: closing 35% of our elementary schools and moving 6th graders to middle school, a one-two punch that now seems to have been in the works for months before its official announcement last December.  But the smooth thing in David's hand isn't a rock.  It's a smartphone.

As of two nights ago, the district is officially considering Scenario A, which closes just one elementary school and leaves intact the 6th graders in elementary school while our district studies the academic literature about moving 6th graders to middle school and otherwise assesses the suitability of that proposed move for our learners.  This is a HUGE shift in both tone and process.  For months, it had seemed, LOU had been knocking its head against the brick wall: presenting a metric tonnage of alternate budget cuts, academic research, and, most crucially, an interactive data enrollment model designed by LOU dad Jeff Carpenter that allows one to forecast precisely how many seats will be available in a given classroom in a given school in various scenarios of growth (0%-5%).

If there's one thing responsible for the district's willingness to entertain Scenario A, it's Jeff Carpenter's interactive enrollment tool.  It demonstrated unequivocally that the proposed six remaining elementary schools would not have sufficient capacity to house our learners, even at a 0% growth rate.  (In fact, district enrollment has grown by 8.3% in the last four years.)  District officials availed themselves of it, and backed away from the proposed three-schools closure scenario.

AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by miss_rogue; via Flickr

As of two nights ago, when the district directed Consolidation Committee members to review the feasibility of closing just one school, it would seem that the LOU message finally resonated with district leadership.  They deserve serious kudos for listening.  They must be exhausted.

The Lake Oswego community places a strong value on face-to-face meetings, and there have been many and many and many of them.   Brown-bag lunches, informational bits at PTA, Consolidation Committee, Site Council, school board meetings, city council meetings, and lots of private meetings.  Face time big time.

I wonder if the introduction of video into the social media mix on Feb. 28th might have shifted the perception of the "face":  facing our choice because knowing we are being watched, in-your-face, the intimacy of a screen and face time.  The first video I made took people by surprise.  Volunteering for art lit the next day, several women approached me to discuss it.  The principal, who has always been friendly, snubbed me.  The video's very existence seemed to excite strong reaction: effusion, revulsion.  I'm not sure why, beyond the idea that perhaps I was taking what was construed as a family matter in a small town and quite literally enabling anyone in the world to see and judge it.  I've been told this gesture is "negative" and have been advised to "go the parent meeting. Get yourself informed locally." So I did.

I've just returned from a Q-and-A with the principal at the junior high school.  On the plus side, the science curriculum would flourish in the lab setting with science-specific teachers.  On the minus side, many many elements of implementation have yet to be determined; and 6th graders will certainly lose the formalized leadership opportunities that exist in our elementary schools (Green Team, school store, planning graduation--even the cherished Outdoor School program.)  Class sizes and student:teacher ratios vary widely.  While I appreciated that principal Dr. Ann Gerson nimbly and honestly responded to questions, it's clear that moving ahead quickly with 6th grade middle school configuration would make for a bumpy ride.

I didn't Tweet the meeting because I've not encountered anybody in LO on Twitter.  I took notes on my phone.  From what I could tell, that notetaking was the only digital record of the meeting.  Which is the problem when a community relies on f2f to transmit major developments: working parents or those otherwise occupied get stranded on the shores of the information stream.  This creates little klatches of people who have not just different kinds of information, but even different content.  The lack of a consistent digital stream has made it harder to foster consensus.  We may not even agree on basic facts because we aren't swimming together in the digital stream.

The vacuum left in FB and YouTube seems to have advantaged LO United.  It's created space for David's smartphone to find the soft spot around the temples, not to strike, but to linger there and whisper in people's ears.  Videod faces--on demand, declarative, Panoptic in their implication that people were watching--perhaps has leached some energy out of the closed-door meetings.

"Fiscal responsibility" may be a tattered mockery in D.C., but here in our small town it means real dollars and deep accountability.  One disappointed Consolidationist at a meeting two nights ago presented the steep cuts to schools and the precipitous 6th grade reconfiguration as "fiscally responsible." I knew we would need faces countermanding this claim, because it's a potent political cliche: "making hard choices."  In this case, it seems the hard choice is to question authority: however respectfully and armed to the teeth with facts.  Hence.......

video

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Hyperlocal Internet Public

As radicalized Egyptians massed in the streets and Mubarak shut off internet for 92% of his citizens, Dave Parry (Asst. Prof. of Emerging Media, UT Dallas) wrote a post called "It's not the Public Internet, It's the Internet Public." Parry observes:
While the government could shut down the hardware of the internet, it could not shut down the social effects of the digital network. In the same way a public is fundamentally changed by the existence of print technology, a public is fundamentally altered by access to the digital network.
I've been thinking through Parry's formulation over the last month, as I watched citizens in my small town (38K people) organize against a proposal to cut 1/3 of our elementary schools and move 6th graders from elementary schools into middle schools.

At first, I was indifferent to reconfiguration.  I had long marveled that a community of our size (5667 students K-12) would maintain 9 elementary schools.  It seemed luxurious, like loitering beneath a showerhead unmodified for water conservation.  Atavistic.

But then my good friend Martha said, come to this meeting.  She's actively involved in LO United for Schools, a grassroots dream team.  About 400 people have signed their petition; this meeting drew about 200 people, including the mayor, the school district superintendent and local news crews.  The LO United team presented three tiers of budget cut ranging from $2.5 million to $11M, each tier preserving the 9 schools.  (Easier to do than you might think: even the rosiest projected savings from this utter reconfiguration nets only 1.5 million.  The LO United folks put that number around $400K.)

Breakout sessions, brainstorming solutions, willingness to engage skeptics: the rigor and emphasis on transparency impressed me.  I realized I was watching a f2f enactment of crowdsourcing, the culmination of hundreds of hours of budget work, mathematical modeling of the schools' physical capacity, social scientific research and lots of community organizing and outreach.

I went away to think.  And watch what might come of it.

Two weeks later at a school board meeting, district officials were indifferent to, even tacitly disdainful of, the bound book of solutions presented to them by LO United.

Me?  I was disdainful of the book. It seemed a slow way to navigate so much disparate information. Why not a webpage with links?

But even that bound report, it turns out, was too technologically progressive for district officials.  For it literalized the unsettling effects new media had rendered on their budgeting process and attendant public relations.  It was no longer credible to imply: we're the only experts.  We have all the facts, you don't.  Back off and let us do our jobs.

Over the ensuing weeks, the district kept mum as LO United churned out more budget ideas, more literature reviews, feedback from realtors about the depressing effect of shuttered schools on home values.  It seemed arrogant, this silence.  Not one suggestion worthy of consideration?  Really?  Many resonated with me.

Silence is no longer tenable for the powerful, because the Internet makes information hoarding difficult and costly.  Wikileaks shows that even high-test professional hoarders will mess it up anyway.

The folks at LO United hadn't heard the term "crowdsourcing" until I introduced it, but taxonomy is irrelevant. They were crowdsourcing; their entire MO is based on it.  Which goes right to Parry's point that "a public is fundamentally altered by access to a digital network" whether or not they are conscious of specific new media practices.

At a Feb. 28 webinar on Information Arts, Liz Losh (Director of the Culture, Art and Technology Program at UCSD's Sixth College) declared that she's "troubled with the ease with which people talk about new media literacy" because it "ignores digital rights and responsibilities." (Those interested in this subject should consult her book Virtualpolitik.)

I'm struck, in this hyperlocal example, by the extent to which social media has drawn a political line in our community: those who exercised their digital rights to insist upon transparency, and those who hewed to paternalism, however well-intentioned it may be.  Again, this question of taxonomy isn't relevant to the agents in question, though it is to me: I doubt people in my community would construe the issue in these terms, but as a scholar I'm alive to the political valences of mediation.

But what exactly is crowdsourcing "mediating" in this hyperlocal example?  It collapses the space between online and offline.  Face-to-face is the grounding element in the circuitry that is crowdsourcing.  As information and social applications of information zip through the grids too fast to follow individually, hyperlocal grounds those potentialities, that energy, in a specific place and specific bodies.  In this sense even what we saw in Egypt was hyperlocal: the global and networked telescoped down into particular bodies standing on a bridge being sprayed with power hoses in a particular moment.  I was suggesting this in my previous post.

Circuitry embodied in microscopic feedback loops of f2f conversation, connecting the wired and those who do little more than check email online: we stand shoulder to shoulder on the school yard watching our kids play.  Or nod at each other as we cycle down a path.  Or greet the local baker by name as we walk into her shop.  This is what I was thinking as I stood there at the playground last week, listening to my friends talk about their online LO United work as our kids loped around the schoolyard, a dog barking in the distance, gray clouds thinning overhead.  I thought, so many of these people standing next to me are not going to read a text heavy web page.

So I took out my flip camera and started making this video.


Sunday, February 06, 2011

Infotention: Our Bodies, Our Selves, Egypt (xposted on Mind Amplifiers)

 I was struck, during our live session about Infotention in Howard Rheingold's Mind Amplifiers entirely OL class, how much of the discussion was about our bodies: the retention/"software" limits of our brains, the ways exercise awakens our bodies and augments attention, the traces of handwriting and design in calligraphy, the impermanence of ink on paper as a metaphor for human expiration.

Our attention, our bodies, our Selves.

I capitalized "Selves" because I am thinking through the parameters of selfhood as they got redrawn in our entirely virtual community on Friday, and then redrawn again as I think about the moral force of bodies in Tahrir Square.

Now more than ever, I believe the ideal environment for thinking, learning and being human is hybrid.

We are watching the profound power of feedback loops between F2F and OL circulating so quickly that those circuits are literally powering revolution: in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Jordan, in Yemen.  Revolution--relatively peaceful agitation for democracy--becomes imitable as we watch it unfold.  

Dave Parry (UT Dallas/Emerging Media) sez: "It's not the Public Internet.  It's the Internet Public." That is, social media has changed how we perceive being in public, being a citizen, whether or not Mubarek decides to shut off the internet for 92% of Egypt (the remaining 8% being allowed for the highest eschelons of commerce.)  Says Parry:  "when the government in Egypt chose to shut down the internet, they could shut down the trafficking of information along those channels, but they couldn’t shut down the public that was already created by having already communicated and interacted along those channels."

To Dave Parry's idea I add:  The Internet Public is also perforce a physical public, bodies in the square: f2f.  The point may be obvious, but it's not trivial, and it's not being theorized alongside the implications for networked culture, new media and its implications for social democracy.  What happens when you take Parry's credo (you can shut down the Internet, but not the public that the internet fosters) a step further is that you suddenly have a population that's willing to put its bodies on the line because of what it learned in the networked contexts.  And that continues to be willing to do so because the global channels of information are buffering them from the horrendous human rights violations perpetrated against pro-democracy advocate by other brutal dictatorships such as the Orwellian-named SPDC ("State Peace and Development Council") in Burma.

In Egypt, we have the results of highly concentrated Infotention:  an informed citizenry putting their bodies at risk to assert their will for democracy. As Howard has noted in his Smart Mobs work (and here I'm mixing in Dave Parry's gloss) it is not inevitable that Internet Publics will operate progressively, or even in their own interest.  It can go either way.

That is the power of contingency, of unpredictability.  It's ideology on the clock: people wound up by ideas fed by that intense circuitry of F2F/OL and then set loose IRT, most recently in Tahrir Square.

That unpredictability: it flies in the face of Foucauldian over-determinism, the idea that human agency is "always already" contained by a public that's internalized the Panoptic gaze.  That fears the prison guard.

Not to minimize the real force Foucault identified: look to Burma (Myanmar) to see the fear unleashed by the SPDC, an unremitting police state, a smug and brutal junta systematically leeching the natural resources from Burma.

My point is that bodies are never fully contained, or inscribed by those in power.  It so happens US and other western interests are too keen in the Middle East to abandon the pro-democracy movement there as we have abandoned Burma to China and India.  

In Egypt, because of its strategic advantage to the US and its allies, ordinary people will step foot outside their homes and walk to the public square.  Informed.  And knowing they are being watched by us.  And by their neighbors, who have started to agitate for democracy themselves.  The Twitter stream for #egypt and #jan25 updates so quickly one cannot really even read the stream: you can only soften the eyes and watch it whirl.  You can click, but it's moving so fast that the chances of not actually hitting the thing you clicked on are pretty high.  Which seems like more than a metaphor for what's going down.  It is the thing going down: that pace, IRT.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Students Want: Learning Google Can't Provide

I'm designing two new classes that are headed to curriculum review.  If approved, I'll teach them fall 11.  I'm a little nervous because mine don't look like the syllabi I read of classes offered this spring in the same unit.  Those syllabi are analog.  Most of them require papers and maybe an oral presentation.  My classes are 75% online, 25% face-to-face: predominately digital, with some experiments in turning off our devices when we're f2f to track how and where we spend our attention. (Yes!  Meditation & mindfulness. Namaste, Howard Rheingold.) We're meeting synchronously, during class time, but we're also working asynchronously via various social media platforms.  Lots of feedback loops, big and small, whenever and where ever students want them.  Then, when collectively we roam out into that great urban lab that is Los Angeles, we're wired, of course, but also physical, proximate to each other:  walking, exploring, collecting digital objects we'll assemble later into finished products. Tagging things as we go.  Open to serendipity and chance.  

As I envision it, we're doing the opposite of what one does in, say, directed search: plunge in, hunt for the treasure, then swim back up again, like the Tahitian kids Rupert Brooke observed diving for oysters.  Directed search is the way most of us learn things today.  This isn't any less true for students than it is for you and me; it's just that students are too young to have acquired the larger, paradigmatic frameworks on which to hang those facts and examine them from multiple angles.  That is potentially worrisome, I grant you.  But is Google making us stupid?  Of course not.   
We're sucking at the firehose of information.  We're not yet teaching students how and when it might be appropriate to put the hose down.

During my sabbatical, I've watched for-profit online learning vendors breach the university gates.  This has left a bad taste in peoples' mouths about online learning.  There's some hand-wringing--appropriately so--about how online learning might suck the life out of university practices as we know it.

Online learning is not inherently bad; in fact, online resources are the best thing to happen to education since the pencil, another remarkable, lightweight tool that made student learning mobile but was pretty much abandoned as a tool for innovation.  Why did the pencil get deployed in ways almost identical to the fountain pen?  Because people saw it as a cheaper version of the old thing, and didn't look beyond that.  Why is online learning perceived to be a poor man's version of f2f?  Because people are treating it as a massively scalable (read: cheaper) version of the old thing.

And what is that old thing, exactly?  It's not college as you and I experienced it, dear reader.  (You and I were in graduate school when cell phones went mainstream, weren't we?  Didn't I see you with that ungainly shoe-sized thing pressed to your ear as we loitered outside before the Milton seminar?)

Check out Mike Wesch's first remix (released today) of early submissions to his new project "Voices of Students Today (2011)."



Disconnected.  Programmatic.  Will this be on the test?  If somebody sez in my class they might as well be at home on the couch, I'm not educating them.  I have to provide what Google can't: judgment, wisdom, skepticism, compassion.  A unifying vision they're at liberty to pull apart, rebuild.  Tell me a better story, a truer story.  Explain.  It's not just the facts, ma'am.  Stay on the couch if you like.  We can chart new terrain from there.  But drop a pin to mark the start, because we're not going to stay on your couch for long.

Stalwarts say students today want to be entertained, coddled, coaxed into learning.  If we're approaching students with shoe-sized phones pressed to our ears, pretending things haven't changed, how will we be able to hear them?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

MLA11: Hangin' Out & Movie at the End

At the end of this post, I've added a movie I made here in PDX upon my return from MLA. I rode my bike, thought about DH and what it means at this cultural moment in our universities, sat on a rock in the rain and talked into a camera. Voila! Scroll down if u don't want to be bothered by WORDS.

MLA 11 exceeded my expectations in every way.



Moving chronologically through the happy surprises:

1. Blazing fast, ubiquitous wifi. The first thing I did upon arrival at at the JW Marriott at the L.A. Convention Center was to grab Tweetdeck. The columns allow one to watch hashtag streams (#mla11, plus tags for particular sessions), responses, those one follows, and direct messages. It's a very functional interface. Yummy. And I was never disappointed by the Marriott wifi. Never got booted, was never slow. Which goes to show how few of the 8K MLA attendees were sucking broadband: at Brad's dig conferences, they truck in extra bandwidth and even then, it's a struggle to match demand. But as you'll see, broadband demand may go way up at MLA12 in Seattle. This conf was just too exciting to be missing the digital "backchannel" (not sure it was a "backchannel." Think it pretty much *was* the channel.)

2. Had my first f2f encounter w someone I follow on Twitter. Off to my first panel, I opened up the laptop and started Tweeting. Noticed that Brian Croxall, oh he of Profhacker fame (& Emerging Media Librarian at Emory), was also tweeting. I discreetly examined the room from my mid-room row. Nobody looked quite like that tiny icon I was accustomed to. Then: @kathiiberens The wallpaper in this room is like being trapped inside a Louis Vuitton bag. I laughed. He saw me laugh and located me. @kathiiberens I'm sitting right next to you.  I glanced to my right and scanned the room. Nothing. Turned my head to my left and--gasp!--inches away--waved Brian Croxall. F2F? More like elbow2elbow.

3. New Tools Panel; or, The Ghost of MLAs Past It was waaaay too early in my MLA11 experience to gauge how contestatory were the remarks of Marc Bousquet. He was describing an MLA org I recognized all too well: complacent, in denial about market realities, etc., etc. MLA11 Executive Director Rosemary Feal tweeted: "Marc Bousquet looking back, rehashing old history, while the ppl in the room seem to want to look forward"; and "So imp't to stay focused on what we can DO, how we can progress, n not to live in resentment. Bousquet's talk inspires me." Like I said, it was too early in the conf for me to believe her. I didn't even listen to all of Marc's talk (rude, eh?) b/c I felt like I'd heard it, and lived it, all before. Others in the room who hadn't lived through it were alive to the generational differences playing out agonistically on the Tweetstream: "the river runs deep," said Natalie Houston of the old resentments that weren't hers, but were on full display. Remarkably, #newtools didn't get mired in this morass. Urged along by Marilee Lindemann's show-stopping use of humor and political indignation, a strong case was made for unity and action in a time when the humanities are under forthright attack by universities that expect more work (digital plus traditional) for equivalent or less pay. Chris Newfield, whom Lindemann extolled as a hero of political action and careful thought, was the moral center of this panel.

4. Talking w/ the Tweeps I Follow Parked in the back of #newtools on "iPad Alley" sat a few of the (mostly) guys who had taught me a lot about DH before I came to MLA: Dave Parry, John Jones, Matt Gold, Ryan Cordell & Erin Templeton. Met up with all of them. Didn't have to fumble for conversation, b/c I knew what the heck was going on. Inquired after Fun Run meetup space. Chatted abt the panel. And we were off. To Cork Bar, as it turns out:



Here I met Katherine Harris (who loved that wine so much she's hunted it down for a DP this weekend), Stephen Ramsay, George_Online (argh! forgot his last name but can tell u how John Wesley and Methodism figure into his dissertation), Matt Kirschenbaum, Jason B. Jones, and Mark Sample--who on his fantastic blog SampleReality published all the DH panels, thus enticing an outsider like me to haul myself onto a plane. 41 panels, I think it was? It became the de facto guide to the conference for many of us. I kept the paper program for access to the maps.

This was the first afternoon and evening. At Cork, I split a bottle of wine with Dene Grigar, the electronic lit artist, mythologist, and MM program director extraordinaire. We exhorted John Jones and his wife Amy to have a little charcuterie and cheese as Amy told us about teaching music to kids, and preparing to do a doctoral program in astrophysics. Someone showed up, and I wondered if she felt a little bit like a celebrity when I looked her in the eye and said, "You're Amanda French." She was dazed, having conferenced all day with little break for food (an exhilaration I was to experience each subsequent day for the rest of the MLA: too much to see and hear to bother much with eating.) After we'd all hung out in the delicious air, the rectangular fire pit doing its job of making us feel cozied around a hearth, but outside, towered over by the deco downtown LA buildings and wrapped up in the wail of sirens and cars whooshing by, I walked back toward the Marriott alone, chatting with my husband on my Bluetooth. Mark Sample and Matt Gold were ambling the same way, so I signed off and we walked together. Matt lives in NYC. Mark and I took turns telling stories about teaching our kids to walk city blocks without getting run over. (Key: don't stop at the kerb, b/c it's too close to speeding cars. Stop at the edge where the buildings end.)

There's so much more to tell, of course; that's the nature of the new MLA. Pleasure! Who'da thunk it? When I'd told my grad school pals on FB that I was going to MLA for fun, they crinkled their noses as if someone had wafted stinky cheese: "Whhhhyyy? Too much stress!"

Maybe so, maybe so: hard for me to tell, b/c the only job seekers I hung out with were DHers, who generally all had multiple interviews. Nerve wracking always, to interview at MLA; but so much worse if you have only 1 or 2.

I'll end with some reflections about what it all means. Nothing like a bike ride in the rain to extract that from you. Check out the biblio at the end of the vid: blog posts and some panel talks that caught my eyes and ears. Can you name the bands at the head and tail of the vid b4 the music cred rolls?