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?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Paraphernalian on Why She's Leaving the Academy

From the trenches.  When the wound is fresh, as opposed to the mellow posts I've been writing.

Remember:  It Gets Better.

This is directly from Paraphernalian.  Click through to the blog.  It's a short post . . . . . .

Because the failures of a flawed system are not my personal failures.
Because I am tired of being made to feel like a failure because I have been failed by a flawed system.
Because doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is stupidity.
Because participating in a system that degrades, demeans, and disempowers you is masochism.
Because productivity for productivity’s sake is futility.
Because stupidity, masochism, and futility should not be rewarded.
Because obfuscation, elitism, arrogance, and self-righteousness should not be rewarded.
[Post goes on:  check it out].