Archive for the profession

Sunday Links, Hulu, Video Privacy, and 56 Up

Embracing the last quiet Sunday morning before classes start back to catch up on some of my online reads. This semester will involve a number of transitions for me in that I’ll be teaching an online class for the first time (Introduction to Business Writing, which is also a new prep for me) and I’ll be preparing to teach a completely revamped Introduction to Film course next spring. I’m also in the final stages of polishing up my second book (page proofs should arrive in my inbox in the next few days). But all of these changes point toward the possibility that 2013 could be an exciting year. Here are the links:

  • I’ve been writing bits and pieces about the Video Privacy Protection Act, the 1988 law that is now being revised to allow companies like Netflix greater freedom in sharing customers’ rental habits. The bill is designed to give Netflix more freedom to create an app on Facebook similar to Spotify that would allow users to post what they’re watching in their Facebook news feeds (I’d assume something similar would be in place for Twitter, too). Think Progress has a great article on the implications for the bill, but I also wanted to highlight an Ars Technica article that documents how much (over one million dollars) Netflix has spent over the last two years lobbying Congress to pass this bill. It’s also worth glancing at some of the other media companies have spent to pay for lobbying efforts.
  • David Poland attempts to forecast where the studios will go this year in terms of cultivating new delivery systems. Since this is a major aspect of my next book, I was intrigued by Poland’s analysis. The most striking prediction is the speculation that Disney may eventually “eat” Netflix and seek to split its independent and children’s content into separate systems. I’m hoping to write further about some of these issues elsewhere, but Poland’s hunches–from my experience–have been pretty solid.
  • Hulu CEO Jason Kilar has apparently left the company. Om Malik reviews his tenure at the company and where Hulu might go from here.
  • Michael Atkinson has a review of 56 Up, the latest in Michael Apted’s long-running documentary series. I think that my introduction to the series came at around 35 Up, so like many others, I now feel as if I have quite a bit invested in the series, and I’ve also been fascinated to watch as it has evolved from an effort to document class stratifications in Great Britain to something more profound about the changes associated with aging, and how that experience is altered by having your life documented periodically.
  • For my online course this semester, I decided to use audio podcasts to deliver the course lectures. After struggling mightily with a podcast function on our university’s course management system (CMS), I had the good luck of stumbling into a slideshow instructing people on how to embed podcasts on Blogger (which I can then link to in our CMS). The cool part is that you can upload your podcasts to the Internet Archive where they are stored for free and where they uploaded very quickly. My two 7-minute mini-lectures both went up in about five minutes or less.

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The Next Question

After several years of writing, I’ve just submitted my revised manuscript for second book, On-Demand Culture: Digital Delivery and the Future of Movies. The book is still several months away from publication–there’s copy-editing and page-proofing to be done–but the lion’s share of writing and researching is complete. And quite naturally, completing such as task has me reflecting on my writing process for this book and thinking about what I would like to do next.

To a great extent, these questions are caught up in the personal. I started writing book two just a few weeks after meeting and falling in love with the person who would eventually become my wife, and although she has been supportive of my research, I also have little interest in maintaining my hermetic lifestyle and the writing pace that saw me through the completion of Reinventing Cinema. It’s also a “professional” question, in that I am aware, as many scholars have been discussing lately (I’ll cite many of them soon), that there is some value in writing in formats that are not considered “academic” or that we need more flexible ideas of what counts as a “sellable” piece of academic writing in an era in which academic presses are struggling (as the discussion of the University of Missouri Press illustrates). It’s also “political,” in the broad sense of that term. Writing in academic contexts can often be very insular, and I’d like to branch out from that and to see more scholars do the same.

With that in mind, I’ve decided that I’m going to be taking a little breather before I decide on my next Big Project. I’ve maintained a more or less frenetic writing pace since about 2007, and I think it’s time to recharge a little bit and figure out where I want to focus my writing efforts in the future. That’s not to imply that I am not excited about the work I have done in On-Demand Culture or in the scholarly essays that grew out of it. Instead, I think this might be an opportunity to go back to using the blog as a space for thinking about and testing ideas, for cultivating new approaches and new ways of thinking about the issues and ideas that matter to me. When I finished Reinventing Cinema, I already knew, even as I was sending off the manuscript, where I would be going with my next book, that I wanted to address the distribution “crisis” and especially how it might be affecting independent film. In the process of writing, my focus shifted slightly. I became interested in Redbox kiosks, 3D movies, digital cable advertisements, movie apps (such as the Netflix iPhone app), and other aspects of the movie industry, but they were all tied to the idea of digital delivery and to the underlying concerns behind my original set of questions: What is digital delivery and where is it taking us? What are the implications for the movie industry, for independent artists, and for audiences? The answers, as I hope my book will show, are complex and sometimes contradictory. I don’t have that gnawing question this time, that sense of crisis that propelled my research for the last three years since Reinventing came out.

But in thinking about the process for this book, it was (in some ways) much less “public” than the process for my first book. In some ways, that was a function of time. I chose to cut down on blogging so that I would have more time for bigger projects, such as academic essays and the book. Part of that was the changed nature of the academic blogosphere, and here is where I think that some of my experiences might fit into the (very productive) discussions that I have been following about blogging and academic writing. One of the reasons that I have likely slowed down on blogging is that the format seems less social than it used to be. There are a number of reasons for this shift, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick identifies a few of them. RSS feeds make it so that readers don’t have to go directly to the author’s blog, and perhaps more insidiously, Facebook has a “hovering” effect in that it sucks comments and content in, making them less visible on the blog. Comment spam also became a factor, especially starting around 2004 or so, which also adds a barrier–required registrations, demonstrating that you’re not a robot–to keep readers from commenting on the blog directly.

That being said, I think the blog format–informal and conversational–can foster valuable dialogue and can allow authors and readers to share and develop ideas. I like Kathleen’s idea of blogging as serialized scholarship, and her suggestion that we need better methods for “capturing thought in the idea of being produced.” Some of this process is “captured” in blog archives. I can see, for example, that I wrote quite a bit about Redbox and related phenomena, but many of the helpful responses I received along the way aren’t there. And like her, I’m not ready to suggest that humanities journals no longer serve as “tombstones” for thought, in the same way that Paul Krugman sees happening in economics journals, but I think the play between blogging, academic journals, and books can help to foster healthy discussion about a research topic, whether it’s Keynesian economics, the future of the book, or the ongoing evolution of the movie industry.

Further, as Jason Mittell notes, there is some value in using blogs and other social media formats as a form of pre-publication publicity. Jason had a much more “open-source” process for his second book, in that he posted entire chapters to his blog and Media Commons for peer-to-peer review, inviting feedback from anyone who wished to comment (he also points to Scott Higgins’ ongoing research, which has, so far, only been published on his blog. I’ve posted a few ideas, but rarely have I posted actual content here, but like Jason, I think these forms of “pre-publication” can serve a vital role of engaging with a wier audience, even while having your ideas tested by this more expansive form of readership. Their comments provide me with even more incentive to renew my focus on blogging, especially during a moment of media transition when it feels like so many writers are getting it wrong, as I tried to complain in my bullet-point post mentioning Neal Gabler and Ranall Stross’s recent articles.

Ultimately, these questions about format and informality even speak to the possibility of reconsidering the object that can be monetized by academic presses. Jeff Rice has been addressing the University of Missouri Press’s evolution by suggesting that presses ought to consider selling short articles/essays for a dollar or two via electronic formats, following the “singles” model used by iTunes to great success. I think there is quite a bit of value in that, especially when many journals charge exorbitant rates ($15 and more) for digital copies of single articles. I realize the motivation behind the higher rates–protecting the value of institutional subscriptions–but a bestselling academic “single” might provide academic presses with some additional revenue.

No matter what, I am excited that On-Demand Culture has taken this big step towards completion, not just because it frees me from an intense focus on a single deadline but because it allows me to begin thinking about the “next” question, about what I want I want to write about and even about the formats I’ll be using to engage with others about those ideas.

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SCMS on YouTube

Just a quick pointer to the Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ YouTube page, where they have compiled a number of videos from the conference. I even participated in one of them (it’s embedded below), where I talked about one of the conference panels I most enjoyed (and, no, I didn’t discuss my own).

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More SCMS Reflections

I’ve been intrigued by the wide range of SCMS conference reports that have been published this year. It seems that more and more scholars, including many junior scholars, have been thinking about the ways in which SCMS expresses something about the fields of film and media studies, and although a conference is an incomplete snapshot, one marked by individual tastes, I think that SCMS’s decision to embrace some of these social media tools has helped to foster some of these conversations. Rather than update my previous entry, I would instead like to highlight what others have said about their experiences at the conference.

Chris Cagle’s thoughtful roundup of the conference argues that SCMS would benefit from requiring contributors to submit papers in advance of the conference and creating a mechanism for publishing “proceedings” of the conference. I’m generally in favor of having authors submit complete papers, and Jason’s decision to post his paper to his blog illustrates how well this can work to encourage conversation. I’m a little less intrigued by the idea of conference proceedings, but an anthology of papers that address a specific theme–such as this year’s conference theme of media citizenship–could be valuable.

On a related note, Justin Horton argues that there is a “gulf” between TV and film studies in terms of social media use, and I think this is a reasonable observation–one that was occasionally raised at the conference. Justin also calls into question the 20-minute presentation, but again notes that more “traditional” media like film seemed to invite longer-form presentations while TV scholars were more likely to do shorter workshop and position papers. I’m tempted to attribute this, in part, to the different models of fandom associated with both media. Even with all of our discussion of asynchronous TV viewing through DVRs, streaming video, and other platforms, TV, far more than film, seems to inspire more real-time chatter. But that’s just a hunch on my part.

And it’s worth noting that many of these scholars have expressed a great deal of ambivalence about the conference. Although my experiences were generally positive, Mabel Rosenheck, among others, has pointed out that SCMS can (still) be an alienating experience, especially for younger scholars seeking to network and/or navigate their way through panels and other aspects of the conference that are less than transparent. In particular, Mabel points out that the purpose of scholarly interest groups (SIGs) isn’t clearly spelled out, and I tend to agree that is something that conference and SIG organizers could work on.

Noel Kirkpatrick also highlights some of these limitations, including the politics of tweeting (especially when you might be the only person tweeting a panel). Noel also offers a useful reading of the blogging “workshop,” which I wish I could have attended.

In all cases, these perspectives on the conference are well worth reading, and I hope you’ll drop by and comment on some of their posts. Although many of them are far more ambivalent about the conference than I was, their reflections help to illustrate (at least to my mind) the ways in which social media can be used to rethink our current practices as academic professionals.

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Monday Links: e-books, Facebook, Hitchcock, and More

Here are some the things I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about this morning:

  • First, Inside Higher Ed has an interesting discussion of Daytona State College’s plan to convert to a textbook system based entirely around e-books.  There are obviously some benefits here: no more heavy books, cheaper textbook prices, and more profits for publishers.  The campus bookstore would–at least in the short run–appear to be the biggest loser, financially.  I’m still ambivalent about e-book readers, in part because I appreciate the tangibility and permanence of physical books, but this is an interesting experiment, especially given that most students essentially rent their textbooks at a prohibitively high cost.
  • On a related note, Kairos News has been exploring questions about why open-source textbooks appear to be struggling to catch on.  Part of the problem, of course, has been that these open source projects, fairly or not, are perceived as vanity projects.  I can imagine that many tenure committees would look with skepticism at the open-source model, so there is probably a need for some form of institutional change and continued education from open-source advocates.
  • Continuing with the education theme, Catherine at Film Studies for Free (one of the best open-access models out there) provides a pointer to yet another wonderful tool for the Introduction to Film classroom: Majestic Micro Movies’s video primers on film aesthetics.  Catherine cites four videos dealing with topics such as deep focus, shallow focus, tracking, and short-reverse-shot.  They’re witty, fun, and provide some context for why these techniques are often hotly debated.  Their YouTube and Facebook pages are great resources for students and teachers of film.
  • More classroom stuff: The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a recent study published in the Journal of College Student Retention has concluded that frequent Facebook users are more likely to stay in school and shows that students who have more friends on Facebook are more likely to return for their sophomore years.  Because the study is based on a survey at a single university, Abilene Christian University, I’d like to see the results reproduced elsewhere before I put much stock in them.  Is a public HBCU or regional state university going to be different than a private, religious institution?  A bigger question might be causation versus correlation. Perhaps the networked students are already disposed toward returning to school and Facebook is simply an expression of that.
  • Tama Leaver points to an Economist article on “the future of the internet.”  Like Tama, I appreciate the article’s acknowledgement that the internet seems to be continuing its fragmentation into various “walled gardens,” many of them highly profitable, as well as the discussion of the ongoing attempts to create tiered internet provision (different levels of internet service for different prices), moves that the author characterizes as a virtual “counter-revolution.”
  • The journal Off Screen devotes its most recent issue to internet-based film criticism. Especially noteworthy: Paul Salmon’s “A Film Prof at the Cineplex.”
  • Finally, Christine Becker links to David Carr’s article arguing that there is “too much” TV out there.  A couple of key quotes: “Our ability to produce media has outstripped our ability to consume it. The average photograph now gets looked at less than once simply because there is almost zero cost and effort to producing one.”  And perhaps more crucially: “We don’t watch TV anymore as much as it seems to watch us, recommending, recording and dishing up all manner of worthy product.”  Database TV seems to hold out the prospects of unlimited choice, and yet, as Carr suggests, recommendation algorithms, DVRs, and other tools have become more adept at assessing tastes, analyzing us and, in some sense, choosing what we want to watch.

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Blogging and Tenure

Cathy Davidson has a provocative post up on the HASTAC blog that considers whether blogs should toward promotion and tenure. Her conclusion: blogs should count, but as a form of academic service rather than as a publication.  In general, I agree with her, even while understanding the potential risks of broadening our definition of “service” well beyond its traditional boundaries.

As she acknowledges, peer-reviewed books and articles have already been “vetted” before they reach publication, whether through blind peer-review or through the crowdsourced approach used (experimentally) by Shakespeare Quarterly I mentioned yesterday.  Davidson adds that blogs are not peer-reviewed, and as a result, they offer academic writers greater freedom to explore topics freely.  This is certainly my experience: when I’ve been able to devote more time to the blog, it has provided space for me to develop and work through ideas. Or just to write for pleasure.

As one of my Facebook friends describes it, blogs offer room for mediated scholarly conversations.  Many of the discussions that may have taken place at conferences may now take place online.  And, of course, as blogging has evolved, new forms such as MediaCommons’ In Media Res posts (be sure to Check out Jennifer Holt’s recent post on net neutrality, Google, and Verizon).  The ideas in these posts often circulate well beyond the blogosphere, of course.  In my case, an exchange that started on IMR eventually led to a co-written, peer-reviewed journal article.    So the activity of blogging has been valuable for me, whether that’s defined as sparking scholarly conversation or as something else.

I think that part of what’s fascinating about Davidson’s comments–and the debate they are likely to spark–is that we are still having many of the same debates about blogs nearly a decade after they have become a visible form.  I referred to some of these issues back in 2004, when I was a relatively new blogger and there seems to be some of the same caution today, with many people arguing that we don’t know how to evaluate blogging or implying that blogs are a form of vanity publishing. These arguments, however, overlook the ways in which incoming links and citations function as a means of establishing credibility (a recent citation in The New Yorker’s Front Row blog is a testament to some of the very cool work being done by Anne Petersen on celebrity, to name one example).

Although I am happy to argue that we do (potentially) have mechanisms for judging blogs through incoming links citations and other criteria,  not unlike the peer review system that might judge an article based on how often its cited, I think the more fascinating point is that blogs as a form of academic activity remain difficult to categorize.  And perhaps that’s what makes blogging such an engaging activity for me (at least when I can find the time to write).

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Tuesday Links

I had no idea that it has been nearly two weeks since I last posted.  At some point, I’d like to get back to a more consistent blogging schedule, but the last few weeks have been dedicated to article revisions, frantic book chapter drafting, and even more frantic syllabus planning.  All good things, but also things that take away from blogging.  For now, here are a few recent links that others might have missed:

  • The New York Times has an interesting article about several indie rock labels that have taken on the role of film distributors.  What seems interesting about the article is the attempt to define screenings as “events,” and screening at non-theatrical venues.  Obviously, many of these practices have been around for a long time–filmmakers have done movie “tours” for ages–but there are some interesting connections here.
  • I think it’s brilliant that Star Wars: Uncut won a creative arts Emmy. Just for fun:  Here’s the trailer.
  • Scott Kirsner has a good overview of the New York Times series on the future of television.  One of Scott’s takeaways is that audiences seem relatively satisfied with the ways they currently access TV (or at least unwilling to change them), choosing to continue paying for cable rather than accessing TV online.  There’s also the requisite push for 3-D TV, with industry types hoping that 3-D TVs will account for half of all sales within five years.
  • Finally, there is also a terrific discussion in the Times of some of the work by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Dan Cohen and others to use the logic of the web to reimagine peer review.

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SCMS Blogging

In case you missed it elsewhere, I wrote yesterday’s SCMS conference report for Antenna.  It’s pretty much impossible to summarize my reactions to four different panels in the space of 600-700 words, but as you’ll see, I found many of the panels I attended yesterday to be incredibly productive and engaging.  While you’re in the neighborhood, you should read yesterday’s report from Derek Kompare, as well.

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Film Criticism is Dead (Again)

The latest paean to print-based film criticism, Thomas Doherty’s Chronicle of Higher Education article, “The Death of Film Criticism,” surveys the recent history of film criticism and concludes that today’s digital “young punks” are happily supplanting all pretense of literacy and seriousness in order to pour out their “visceral and emotional” responses to films all over the (digital) page.  Doherty is weighing in on a debate that has been circulating for several years now online and in print–I weighed in on this very debate about film blogging in Reinventing Cinema–and reaches a not terribly surprising conclusion that the internet age has threatened a form that featured such luminaries as Carl Sandburg and that reached its apotheosis with the debates between Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris.  It’s a powerful and persuasive narrative, especially when juxtaposed against job market crises in academia and in journalism, but in treating film criticism as a genre, it obscures quite a bit.

To be fair, Doherty acknowledges that a number of prominent traditional film critics have found new voices on the web, citing examples such as David Bordwell and FlowTV, but even there, the suggestion is that Bordwell is a reluctant blogger, “feeling the…heat” of the digitalization of everything rather than recognizing that Bordwell and others have found a medium that allows for a more conversational, and yes, potentially obsessive, focus on film analysis.  Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s blog posts, like those produced by many other film bloggers, are like mini-seminars in film analysis.  Even more curious, Doherty seems to imply that all film bloggers, including Bordwell, seek to have an influence on box office numbers, a goal that seems rather marginal, at least in my corner of the film blogosphere.

Perhaps more frustrating is the generation-gap baiting that permeates the entire article.  Web-based critics are “young punks who still got carded at the multiplex” or “a man-boy of the people, visceral and emotional, a stream-of-consciousness spurter with no internal censor or mute button.”  The “gnomish” Harry Knowles is our “poster boy.”  In short, internet based film critics are young, chubby anti-social males who don’t get out much.  And we pour our thoughts onto the page without any reflection whatsoever.  Doherty is thus falling victim to what might be called the “immediacy fallacy.”  Just because blogs can be published instantaneously doesn’t mean that bloggers necessarily publish ideas without hours or even days of reflection, and even if they post quickly, their posted work is often the product of years of research and reflection.

Finally, Doherty sets in opposition blogs, with their conversational immediacy, and scholarly journals, with their significantly slower publication rates.  As a number of academic bloggers have pointed out, this logic represents a misunderstanding of the scholarly ecosystem where ideas can be tested in the blogosphere before being expanded, developed, and reconsidered before finding final form in a book or scholarly article.  That was my experience not only with my book but also with an article I co-wrote with Richard Edwards on viral videos.

I’m not suggesting that film criticism isn’t changing.  The demand to publish quickly, to get scoops over competing web publications, can encourage writers to make provocative claims or to rush their analysis just to collect page views.  Assessing the place of a film blog in a tenure file still remains a sticky subject.  And the wide-open nature of the film blogosphere fragments the audience for film criticism, making it less likely that we will ever have a rivalry that matches the epic battles between Sarris and Kael,  but I don’t think anyone benefits when we place the present in competition with the past without seeing the connections and continuities between them.

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Blogs, Twitter, and Wikis: eCitizenship at Fayetteville State

Just a quick reminder that tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 PM, I will be giving a revised version of my talk, “Blogs, Twitter, and Wikis” in Fayetteville State’s Continuing Education Building.  If you are a student or faculty member interested in these issues, I’d be delighted for you to drop by.  I gave a much shorter version of this talk at our Mid-Year Conference, but this will allow me to cover quite a bit more material.

It will also allow me to show the legendary Stephen Colbert commentary on “wikiality,” which still holds up incredibly well, three and a half years after it first appeared on the air (hard to believe it was that long ago).  Hope to see some of you there.

Update: I’m also hoping to bounce briefly off of the debates about the Siegenthaler controversy before moving into a more specific discussion about wikis and even Wikipedia can be used productively as teaching tools in the college classroom.

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Wednesday Links: 3D TV, Year in Cinema, Digital Humanities

Here are a few of the items I’ve been watching, reading, and thinking about in recent days:

  • Both James Poniewozik and Nick Bilton discuss the recent announcement that several channels (including ESPN) are planning to offer some 3D programming in the next few months.  Like them, I’m a little skeptical about whether or not there is a huge desire for 3D programming at home, especially if it requires wearing the glasses, and wondering whether programming trends that emphasize cheaply-produced reality TV actually warrant 3D.
  • Via Michael Newman on Twitter, “Cinema 2009,”a  very cool montage by Kees van Dijkhuizen, featuring clips from 342 different films produced in 2009.  Van Dijkhuizen has an eye for rhythmic editing and demonstrates an engaged–even obsessive–love of cinema that makes this little video a pleasure to watch.
  • Scott Kirsner points to a Wall Street Journal article that provides data on customer movie rental and purchase habits in 2009.  Actual theatrical spending increased dramatically, while DVD sales plummeted (DVD rentals stayed about the same).  Online purchases and streams remained a very tiny, but growing, portion of overall spending.
  • David Parry has a thoughtful response to recent discussions of the so-called rise of the digital humanities in light of Brian Croxall’s paper on the state of academic labor.

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Twitter, Blogs, and Wikis: eCitizenship at Fayetteville State

This post is part of a panel at the upcoming mid-year conference at Fayetteville State University organized by several faculty members and students who attended the American Democracy Project’s eCitizenship Initiative Meeting in Detroit.  The goal of the project is to introduce faculty to social media tools that we can use to help students become more engaged with their classroom experiences and campus communities.  My contribution to the panel is a very brief overview of Twitter, blogs, and wikis, three tools that I have used both in the classroom and in my professional and personal life.  The panel itself leaves room only for about a 15-20 minute description, so these remarks will be incredibly broad (and I probably won’t be able to cover everything listed below, but want to make it available for faculty after the presentation), but if you have anything you’d like to add in the comments, I’d appreciate it.

Blogs: Although blogs are becoming a fairly visible part of web culture, professors and teachers are still exploring their implications for classroom use.  The most common expectations of blogs is that they are frequently updated, with newer entries appearing at the top of the page, making them valuable for course updates and for organizing class discussion.  Although Blackboard offers a blog function, I have often used public blogs in order to help students learn to write for a public audience.  Some useful links for faculty interested in blogging:

  • There are two major free blogging services, Blogger and WordPress (demo setting up a Blogger blog), where you can set up blogs, usually within minutes.  Both services offer default templates, but if you have basic web design skills, you can customize your template rather quickly.  Both services allow you to insert hyperlinks, video, and images quickly and easily.
  • Here are two past courses, both at Georgia Tech, where I required students to create both personal and group blogs, Rhetoric and Democracy and Writing to the Moment.
  • Be prepared for readers outside the class to discover your blogs and your students’ work, especially if you create a direct link to someone else’s site.  In a few cases, authors have left comments on student blogs responding to what they have to say.  For the most part, this seems to validate student perceptions of their writing, suggesting that others found it interesting or engaging.
  • Sample class blogs by faculty at other universities include David Silver (University of San Francisco), Bill Wolff (Rowan University), and Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Pomona University).
  • For some information about blogging and scholarship, here is a presentation I gave at this year’s MLA conference in Philadelphia, and for another helpful explanation of the value of blogging, you might also read Andrew Sullivan’s “Why I Blog.”

Twitter: Another easy-to-use resource, Twitter is a microblogging service that limits updates to 140 characters.  Although it has been much-maligned, it is also an incredibly valuable tool for sharing information and organizing conversation.

  • My personal Twitter account
  • Possible classroom uses for the @reply/retweet feature: users can direct a response to a specific comment while keeping their tweet public (demonstrate, asking readers to say hi)
  • Role of hashtags in organizing conversations: #MLA09 as conference backchannel.  You could create a course hashtag and allow students to submit questions via cell phone/text during class or to raise questions outside of class (one problem: older tweets may not be successfully archived after a few days; Twitter is more ephemeral than blogs).
  • Posting links: although Twitter is often criticized because it limits discussion to 140-characters, many tweeps use it to link to longer forms of writing, including blog posts.  There are several URL shorteners on the web, including and
  • Although students have been more reluctant to pick up Twitter than Facebook, it is being widely used by film, media, and literary scholars (among others).  For some discussion of Twitter’s use in the classroom, see Kelli Marshall (who identified some problems with using it) and David Parry, who offers a number of helpful instructions on setting up students with accounts.
  • Lists as a convenient way to follow a sub-group of specific Twitter users:  Film Studies for Free’s “Essential Reads” and Dan Cohen’s “Digital Humanities” list.
  • Two recent articles on Twitter: Inside Higher Ed reports on Twitter’s use at this years MLA Convention, Clive Thompson on Twitter’s “sixth sense,” and my AlterNet article, “Why You Should Be on Twitter.”

Wikis: Most people know wikis only from the collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia that “anyone” can edit.  Although this crowdsourced approach to knowledge organization has been widely criticized, research has shown that it is no less accurate than other major encyclopedias, but most media scholars are interested in the wiki tool as offering a new mode of authorship for the digital age, one that emphasizes collaboration rather than individuality.

  • Blackboard offers a wiki function that I haven’t yet tested.  PBWiki is a free wiki service that offers basic wiki authoring tools (they make money through ads).  Other professors have had success with requiring students to write Wikipedia entries on subjects that haven’t yet been included in the site or to polish entries on subjects familiar to the students.  Wikipedia has a very helpful page offering suggestions for instructors thinking about creating assignments around the site.
  • There is a relatively slow learning curve with teaching students wiki authoring.  I spent several class periods working with students and many of them still struggled.  But here is a typical welcome page for a wiki (login may be required).
  • A more productive project–one that I found to be very successful, even if students were originally resistant–was an assignment asking students to analyze Wikipedia as a source.  Here is my original description of the project (note: this entry offers a number of useful links, including the assigned readings I gave) and an update a few weeks later after I’d read the students’ papers.
  • My project in particular asked students to examine how a typical Wikipedia entry is conducted in order to make conclusions about new forms of digital writing and collaboration.  I used the entry on Representative Joe Wilson to jumpstart this project, showing students both the discussion and archive pages for his entry (see the tabs at the top of the page on Wilson).

If you have any questions or observations about this project, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me by email at ctryon[at]uncfsu[dot]edu.

Update: Here are a couple of pertinent links that have crossed my radar since I composed this post.  First, via David Silver (linked above), an article by Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times about the role of hashtags in reshaping Twitter conversations.  Second, Steven Johnson explains “how Twitter will change the way we live.”

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[MLA 09] “Blogging, Scholarship, and the Networked Public Sphere” Draft

It’s probably too late for any substantial commentary, but in the spirit of my MLA panel, convened by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, on Media Studies and the Digital Scholarly Present, which calls for taking a closer look at new models of digital scholarly communication, I’ve decided to post a draft of my conference paper below the fold.  In essence, the paper looks at how blogging as a practice has begun to shape other forms of scholarly communication and, more crucially, how scholars can learn from the three primary styles of blogging as defined by Jill Walker-Rettberg in her book, Blogging. Walker defines these as personal, topic-driven, and filtering, and part of what I’m trying to do in the paper is to make a case that “filtering blogs,” blogs that offer collections of links, often with short commentary, are a crucial means not only for navigating a wide array of material but also for creating collectives with shared interests.

I’m still not satisfied with the paper, in part because the concept of the filter seems imprecise, especially when it comes to the role that many “filter bloggers” have in building communities with shared interests.  I’m also still trying to map out the ways in which blogs are defined in terms of how they structure (or are structured by) time.  I’ve always been intrigued by the tension between immediate (but not necessarily spontaneous) publication and permanent archives that accrue over time.  It’s a topic I’d planned to address years ago (way back in 2003, when blogging was very young) but never found the right forum.

Apologies for any formatting problems below.  I copied this directly from a Word processing file.

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Friday Links: Paramount, Moviegoing, Wikis

I’m in the last throes of the semester and ready to start thinking in earnest about spring semester and some writing projects that have been, shall we say, dormant for the last few weeks.   Here are some of the links that have crossed my radar over the last few days:

  • ProfHacker has an interesting post on a new wiki sponsored by the Modern Language Association for discussing “the evaluation of digital work.”  These questions have been the subject of debate at my university as we revise our promotion and tenure standards, and it’s good to see a professional organization such as MLA become more actively involved in endorsing digital work.  Obviously (for example), my blog has become a significant site where I have done work that might be defined as scholarly (or at least as a form of “service”), but we are just now developing a language for talking about materials that aren’t peer-reviewed journals that happen to be online.  This type of definitional work is valuable, however, not only for protetcing the intersts of younger scholars but also for imagining new forms of knowledge creation and dissemination.
  • The Auteurs recently tapped into my ongoing fascination with end-of-an-era listmaking with their recent thread calling for users to submit the “most memorable” movie images of the past decade.  A number of personal favorites showed up, including images from Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine, but this form of listmaking fascinates in part because of its collaborative nature and also because it places emphasis on how a single frame can convey so much information or have so much power.  The stills also provide a short visual history of the past decade in filmed entertainment.
  • Speaking of lists, Anne Thompson’s end-of-year and end-of-decade lists are also quite good.  I’m glad to see someone who shares my admiration for Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, a film that continues have incredible power as a commentary on post-9/11 New York.
  • Two divergent narratives are developing to characterize current moviegoing practices.  First, Patrick Goldstein looks at box office numbers and concludes that audiences are still enthusiastic about seeing movies on the big screen.  But according to a National Endowment for the Arts study, moviegoing is on the decline, with fewer adults reporting that they attended a movie in a theater last year.  The latter study seems, to me, to be a poor measure of the health of moviegoing, especially gven that it obscures the frequent moviegoers who attend movies often.  Nevertheless, the writers at Big Hollywood misread the statistics to suggest that there has been a 7% drop in movie attendance since 2002 and to further argue that such a drop can be attributed to Hollywood being “out of touch” with their ostensibly conservative customers.  Yeah, the same ones who elected Obama to be President about a year ago.  And the same ones who are eagerly consuming those movies on DVD, cable, and elsewhere.
  • On a related note, Variety reports that single-screen theaters are continuing to struggle in their competition with multiplexes.  I addressed this issue in passing in my book, noting that digital projection, especially, could hurt single-screen and smaller, independent theaters.
  • Finally, in one of the more compelling stories of the day, at least for low-budget filmmakers: Paramount has decided to open a division designed to focus on producing and releasing micro-budget films, focusing in particular on films with budgets of less than $100,000.  Filmmaker Magazine and Cinematical have bothe responded.  The decision is likely connected to Paramount’s recognition of the success of Paranormal Activity, which was made for approximately $15,000.  A number of commenters at Filmmaker Magazine are skeptical, speculating that Paramount may focus on developing genre films with a better chance at the kind of grassroots success that greeted Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project.  But it is nice to see at least one major studio investing modestly in supporting low-budget filmmaking.

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Reinventing Academic Publishing

Earlier this week, Kathleen Fitzpatrick announced that her most recent book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, scheduled to published later this year by NYU Press, is now available online for you to read and comment.  The book also serves as the launch for MediaCommons Press, a site promoting the publication of books and article-length texts.

As a member of the MediaCommons advisory board, I’ve been excited to see the attempts to rethink academic publishing–and all of the assumptions that go along with it–for the digital age.  Chief among those changes is the shift from blind (anonymous) peer review to something approaching an open-source model, where authors invite comments and observations from a wider public, some of whom happen to be academics.

As Kathleen notes in her announcement, we’ve worked hard at MediaCommons to build a scholarly community around media studies.  Now, with the publication of her book, we’ll get a chance to see how these tools can be used to invigorate media scholarship.  If you get a chance, take a look at her book, share your observations, and keep the conversation about scholarly publishing going, both in the margins to her book and on your own blogs.

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