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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.......

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.