Monday, October 31, 2011
The idea of social networks have been connected to websites such as Facebook and MySpace since their origins, however social networks have existed long before Mark Zuckerberg and Tom Anderson launched their sites. Social networks flourished before the Internet was even publically available in the form of families, churches, corporations and institutions. These networks were limited, most importantly by geography. One unbound, and possibly the most interesting social network is a fan group. Fan groups are united by their passion for a common group, person or story, a factor that connects people regardless of location, personal beliefs, occupation or gender. What makes these fan groups so interesting is their collective strength as a body having a greater impact than it would as individuals.
Fan groups are more than simple collections of people who all enjoy the same thing. They are like the boy in the AppleBox commercial, an interactive audience, producing, distributing, publicizing and critiquing the distributed media. Writers for fan-based shows were quick to recognize the power and influence the fans have and would actively engage in dialogue with them through newspapers, mail, conventions and now the Internet. All of these components bypass geography allowing for the social network to grow despite the physical separateness. Fan groups became so influential that storylines were changed, series were continued and characters even changed their sexual orientation to meet the desires of these fan groups. This chapter suggests the power of the group to bring about change in the entity itself, however I find a slight flaw with this thinking because we have no way of knowing if the change is a reflection of what the group wants or what very vocal individuals want.
A second power of the fan groups is their collective body of knowledge. Through the Internet fans can easily access websites, blogs and wiki pages offering specific details of character’s lives or missed plot points of shows. Fans also have free access to ‘show off’ their individual knowledge. Jenkins analyzes this behavior and says that it reflects “not a pleasure in knowing, but a pleasure in exchanging knowledge” (139). If the pleasure were in exchanging knowledge why would this be considered showing off? If everyone knows it, there’s nothing to show off. Each member of a fan group has the option of feeding off the same base of knowledge yet individuals still pride themselves in ‘knowing the most’. This would speak to the exact opposite, that there is pleasure in knowing.
So how does this apply to the classroom? Good question.
In class we have been discussing the need for more academic collaboration and we have expressed frustration that students are refusing to be a part of the general conversation. While reading this article I was inspired by the Soap Opera fan clubs and how they functioned as the perfect example of collaboration. Soap Operas produce 5 shows a week, lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and have run for up to 72 years. (Guiding Light) This equals out to 18,720 episodes of information. This is why, as Jenkins explains, “the fan community pools its knowledge because no single fan can know everything necessary to fully appreciate the series” (139). Together they are stronger than their individual parts, as each person feels they have the right to contribute and partake from a very vast body of knowledge.
This kind of collaboration is what Levy describes as the “collective intelligence” or knowledge available to all members of a community as opposed to knowledge known by all members of a community. Collective intelligence creates a new kind of expertise, one that is dynamic and reciprocal. Typically expertise is contained within an expert, because all the knowledge required to become an expert resides in the same place or in the same person. Within a social community, the same level of knowledge is present, however it is spread out, yet just as easily accessible by some simple typing and the click of a mouse.
This has great potential in regards to our students. If these kinds of communities can function at the academic level our students can have complete access to this same kind of expertise. They too can become part of the social network that passes around information, shares ideas and establishes expertise. The problem is unlike the supposed active consumer in the AppleBox advertisement our students are not always aware of the choices they are making and are more often than not swayed into the decisions they do make by outside (sometimes negative) forces.
So how do we get our students to the place where they can be active members of this sort of knowledge exchange?
When I was in my junior year of college I had a professor tell me that if I wanted to do well in life I must question everything. Everything I see, everything I hear, everything I read. Each class we had to submit to her five questions from her assigned readings. At first I thought this was kind of a pointless exercise, however through her class I realized she was giving me a vital tool; she was teaching me to think.
In schools we are quick to harness students who ask too many questions because we fear they will eventually think themselves into rebelling. But by limiting these thoughts we are also limiting their potential to actively engage with the knowledge around them. Essentially we need to get our students thinking.
One idea I had was to assign a question journal for an entire novel. For each chapter students would be required to ask 5-10 questions about what they read. This activity does two things. First, the ability to ask questions about what they read places students in a position of authority where they feel they have the right to think about what and why things happen. Second, the practice of questioning will ideally lead students to a place where they are asking important questions and seeking out their own answers, i.e. critically thinking. Once they have found answers to their questions they then will have a platform from which to contribute to the community of knowledge and discussion.
Ø How else can we get students to engage with the community of knowledge?
Ø How do we get students to recognize their own passive stance in regards to knowledge?
Ø How do we prevent the same problems from happening?
o The voice of one becoming the voice of many?
o Or one dominate source of knowledge having authority over the other members of the network?
Ø If everyone has access to the expertise of the community, doesn’t that eliminate the idea of expertise?
Ø In regards to Kajder…What happens when her students take wrong photos or not exactly correct photos of the words they are attempting to define? A speaker is not the same as voice nor is a van of groceries cumulative. Thinking this is what these words mean could lead to some serious confusion later.
Jenkins, Henry. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York UP, 2006. Print.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Rhetoric and the Public Sphere
The readings for my blog post are Mike Rose’s “Writing for the Public” and Jenkins, Chapter Nine: “Blog This!”
When we had our class discussion about House of Leaves, we wondered as a group if Danielewski was mocking academia with his extensive footnotes. I believe it was Ian who mentioned that academic language is often so dense, it excludes non-academics.
Back in my undergraduate years, I took a difficult class that was devoted to the works on John Keats. I wrote this hifalutin essay, connecting Keats’ medical background to his nature poetry. I thought I was pretty fancy. Upon receiving an A from a professor that I admire, I brought the paper to my Dad, who said he was proud of me, and sat down to read it.
He said, “I can’t read this.”
I didn’t believe him. How could he not get it? The man is no dummy, and he went to college himself. I asked him why.
“I understand the words individually,” he said, “but I can’t really make any meaning out of what you’re trying to say.” He added hopefully, “I’m glad you got an A!”
This brings us to Mike Rose, an academic troubled by the “linguistic bubble of our specialties.” Not only does academic writing pose problems for pedestrian access, as in the case of my outsider father, it also creates problems in journalism when non-academics use the sexy and “edgy” language to make their polemic point. Rose believes rhetoric is going to save academic writing from extinction, and offers two of his graduate courses and the start of a solution. As someone who would love to structure a freshman composition class around rhetoric, this is music to my ears.
In the class where I am a TA, the first round of papers was a disaster. One of the suggestions I gave my students was to read their paper out loud as part of the proofreading process. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that the rewrites were better. Hearing writing out loud forces the author to consider their audience. I’m currently writing this blog with an “out loud” voice running through my head, and often imagine how one of my parents would read the last sentence I wrote. Rose calls this “a kind of bilingualism,” and just like you change your voice between friends and dear old grandma, so should academics lighten the hell up.
Here’s the essay he was talking about, Patricia Nelson “Dancing with Professors”:
Pretty amusing, if not a little rude.
Jenkins, in Chapter 9 of our reading, takes this line of thought a step further, saying there is a gap between journalism and blogging. He uses interesting language, often lumping bloggers into a mysterious and anonymous “they” pronoun. Yet it’s clear what side of the fence he’s on when he refers to bloggers as “grassroots Intermediaries,” and not for example, talentless hacks with a digital soapbox.
Does academia have a responsibility to change, on behalf of the public? Is the ultimate goal here a wider readership, or scholastic rigor?
Would you take a rhetoric writing class during your graduate program?
How can we teach our students that not everyone on blogger knows what they’re talking about?
When you think about teaching rhetoric, what do you imagine?
These are the questions I pose to you, dear classmates.
Monday, October 17, 2011
General thoughts on blogging in the classroom
When I was in High School (I graduated in 2006) working with computers in class meant the following: We would hardly even work with any. On the rare occasions we did use them, we would hang around in front of the screens, with no clear purpose, surfing on the Internet, bored to death and going crazy. At that time I did not even know the term “blog.
Obviously, something completely different is possible today, and could have been back then. The first blogs spread in the late 1990s, gaining mainstream popularity only in the early and mid-2000s. “Already” in 2005, Will Richardson showed the great potential of technology like blogs for the classroom. In his article “New Jersey High School learns the ABCs of blogging: Weblogs can create online forums for classroom discussion, and build student skills,” he shows that this ground-breaking technology could and should be used in class. Blogs excite students because—if used properly—they get a “sense of audience,” as Richardson puts it, and they are motivated to read closely and think deeply about what they are writing. In addition, blogs are very useful because students can “post homework, create a portfolio, archive peer feedback,” etc. Another thing that sounds really great about this concept is the possibility to have “experts” and other sorts of “outsiders” attend class discussions, which could really enrich students’ and teachers’ life.
Blogging and the teaching of literature
When it comes to teaching literature this “new” technology can be easily applied. As Sara B. Kajder states in the chapter “Making Meaning” in Bringing the Outside In: Visual Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers, blogs can help students create meaning in literary texts. They represent good tools to help students “organize content” and “construct meaning.” Basically, some of the established concepts can be transferred to the new genre. This could happen, e.g., via a character journal, which means students try to write something, e.g. a diary, from the perspective of a character, an “open mind strategy,” having students visualize (parts of) the text, or graphic notes, like digital stories or audio blog posts. In general, all these new forms of expressing oneself encourage students to reread more often and to discuss. Questions that can arise in such discussion are, e.g., “How do images represent words?” or “How can a writer’s words evoke different images to different readers?” Another big advantage, in this context, is that students can respond to each other’s blog posts easily and fast. Classroom discussion thus does not have to be limited to the “actual” classroom anymore.
It seems like the idea of introducing blogs to class is the right way to meet students’ expectations of future teaching and learning. So: Blogging in class = good. Right?
Consider the following questions when responding to this blog post.
If you don’t share my unlimited optimism: What negative aspects of blogging in class can you think about?
Aren't ideas like inviting experts to class discussions a bit unrealistic?
Which of the concepts of teaching literature introduced by the text (e.g. “two-minute movies”) would you use in your own classes, which not? Why/why not?
What do you think are necessary conditions/requirements that blogging as a teaching tool works? Consider didactic, disciplinary, monetary, and other aspects.
What experiences did you have with blogs in school?
Sunday, October 9, 2011
The fact that you're reading this on the internet, specifically on a blog, means that digital writing has won. The fact that you've clicked links, traversed what Jay Bolter calls "hot" text in Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print is more than enough proof of the New World Order. I knew this before I read chapter 3 of his book. A book published in 2001, which means in the world of hypertext and the digital age that is far past being a dinosaur and quickly approaching petroleum. That's why I signed up for this chapter, why I ventured to blather about it on the internet and in the classroom. I'm a believer. In fact what I found in Bolter's book wasn't sage-like insight or futurism, it was an adorable relic of the past. For while there is no doubt that hypertext is involved with the remediation of print, I would argue that hypertext is actually the remediation of text, or more specifically the possibilities of it. So what I'm proposing through these words, translated into bits and bytes, translated into a Blogger document, translated into meaning via your eyes and into your brain is that what Bolter predicted was the paradigm shift in print text, and what it has been swept up in is the hypertextual shift in our own collective consciousness. And since we're dutiful teachers and future teachers, the question should become how do we use this?, since as I've already indicated it's too late to try and fight it.
Read these words on your computer. It's already won.
Bolter and the Remediation of Print.
Chapter Three of Bolter's book is concerned with the remediation of print in the world of hypertext. As I've already lamented, the chapter itself is part of a relic from an age where the iPad wasn't dreamt of, and the Kindle wasn't giving book dealers anxiety attacks. So it's hard to take it entirely seriously, but it does make some good points, though it never seems to take that next daring step and predict what it all means. Perhaps that's coming in a later chapter. A good portion of the chapter is spent trying to serve as a mediator between two warring factions: the Luddites who swear off the notion of digital writing. Imagine them, if you will. Phone jack ripped out of the wall, chests heaving swearing at their Compaq laptop from 1998. On the other hand are the techno fetishests who even back in 2001 were worshiping their copy of Neuromancer and proclaiming something like the "cumbersome nature of the flesh."
I would know, I'm one of them.
The gist behind Bolter's chapter is that digital writing and hypertext is not some new creation walking onto the scene. Shiny, fancy, new. Instead Bolter ties it into his narrative of the remediation of print going on throughout the centuries. In his words, electronic writing with its multiple forms of representation is actually reminiscent of hieroglyphics because the computer "welcomes elements that we in the West have long come to regard as inappropriate to writing; it constitutes...a continuum in which many systems of representation can happily coexist" (37). Fair enough. Remediation is essential not only to the point of the chapter, but also the book. So Bolter is pushing hard. Can you hear him laboriously grunting in an effort to corroborate his thesis?
For what it's worth, I buy into what he's selling. Nothing new under the sun! No sir. What Bolter wants to argue is that the "newness" of digital text is predicated on how it differs from that which it pays homage to. Digital writing can only be a new form of writing by simultaneously paying homage to the older forms that it is breaking out from. So while it sloughs off the printed page, it also reflects that page and also goes beyond it. Under this conceit digital writing strikes me as the kid who goes off to college and totally acts up, but only because Daddy and Mommy are footing the bill. It may not be the most accurate depiction but it's late and it's making me laugh while I labor under my own efforts.
Hypertext(ual): What It Means, Where We're Going.
The sexier segments of Bolter's chapter are those in which he begins to dip his toe into theoretical water. I was disappointed that he spent more time defending the middle ground between print and digital and less time asking what does this all mean? Digital writing is becoming prominent, hypertext is vomiting up all over the place whether the scholars and fogies want it to. So what does this mean? Bolter briefly begins to address this when he comments that "some supporters of hypertext may even argue that hypertext reflects the nature of the human mind itself -- that because we think associatively and not linearly hypertext allows us to write as we think" (42). Yes Bolter!, I proclaimed. Tell me more. Where do you think this will take us? Being freed to dabble in a world that more accurately reflects our consciousness? The slipstream of our thought process. That's where he stops though, daring not to ask where we're going (again within this chapter) but rather simply that hypertext is the remediation of print.
However! Hypertext isn't merely the remediation of print. As we've discussed in class, text itself is much more than words on a page. A variety of things can be looked at as text: books, movies, advertisements, pictures, posters, television shows. Only willing and waiting to be read. Another trope we've discussed in class. Hypertext is more than a way of looking at a print, or digital writing. Instead it's a concept that has writhed its way into our collective psyche, being reflected in much more than the way we write. We are living in a hypertextual world where reference is everything, where non-linearity is king. A time that may be staggering to someone from even a hundred years ago.
Consider the short stories that we had to read this week. Michael Joyce's Twelve Blue and afternoon.They hop, skip, and jump around the page. Frankly, I think they're unsatisfying and gimmicky and not in the same way that led me to build and altar to Mark Z. Danielewski. They're effect in demonstrating hypertextual storytelling. In digital print. If you're me, you blindly clicked around a couple of times, felt unsatisfied, and left. What I want to push is the idea that this sort of non-linear narrative has bled its way into other avenues of text. I can think of no bigger example of the pop-culture take over by hypertext than that Frankenstein's Monster that JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse gave birth to.
Everybody is LOST In Hypertext.
LOST isn't just the source of the greatest let down in recent television history. It is also a testament to both the power and the pitfalls of hypertextuality. It began with simple non-linear narratives interspersed through the main storyline. One simple click of the "hot" story text to someone's flashback and then they returned. As the show continued it sprawled out. Further and further into the madness of hyper referentiality. Those wooshes took the viewers not just into a character's past. It took the viewers into the past, and into the future, and into different dimensions. The show was hypertext at its finest. Unfortunately it was hypertext at its worst, as the show became an untenable mess. By the end of the series the writers were lost in their own sea of diversions, gobbled up a pantheon of questions never answered. Bolter describes hypertext as being "extremely malleable" and it "can be fashioned into one tree or a forest of hierarchical trees" (32). Unfortunately for the writers, they built themselves a labyrinth they could never escape from.
Man, it sucked.
The point is that hypertext has far exceeded being merely a question of print living or dying. It's a concept we live and breathe. It's spread to movies. It's spread to music. Genre-smashing artists such as Between the Buried & Me start off annihilating ear drums only to segue into a western dance-off in Ants of the Sky. (If you're meek, it's around eleven minutes in.) It seems at this point that hypertext has won. Or if you're not a sadly testosterone soaked male and you don't need to measure everything in terms of wins and losses: it's here, it's arrived.
As teachers, now what?
Pedagogy In The Era of Forking Paths.
All of these forking paths in my diatribe converge if momentarily on this important fact: we're all aspiring teachers and professors here. So the salient question is: what does preparing to teach the Children of the Hypertext (not to be confused with the Children of the Atom) mean? The students we inherit will be used to a world where everything forks and diverges at almost imperceptible speeds. How much thought goes into clicking that link? It's pointless to consider this mutation good or bad, but rather all our energy should be directed towards figuring out how we can harness hypertext for our benefit. Dry texts by old dead white guys may be important to us, and they can be important to our students. The question becomes how we convey this importance.
It makes sense to me to begin to bring the hypertext into the classroom, our own class functioning within the same mechanisms as the internet and our developing world. An introduction to Macbeth could be a student reading aloud the opening scene. Whoosh! Click! Then we're onto watching a video of a performance of the opening scene. Whoosh! Click! Now we're back to a classroom discussion regarding this scene. If nothing else, hypertextual existence should demand dynamism out of the classroom. Static presentations and top-down instruction were never the most fun. Don't let your Mom and Dad wax nostalgic about the "good old days", I'm sure they were bored as Hell too. They're certainly not fun in the world of instant gratification. At its core, hypertext is dynamic, and our pedagogy should reflect a desire to meet these dynamic expectations of our students.
Things To Consider:
- Do you believe that hypertext is merely the remediation of print? Is it possible for new modes of writing to not bare vestiges of the old?
- For that matter, do you view hypertextuality as anything more than gimmick?
- Who is faster, Batman or Superman?
- Is there room for old, longer texts in a world of constant diversion and fragmenting attention? How do you teach them?
- How do you approach classroom dynamics in the age of the immediate and hypertext?
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