Archive for the profession

Thursday Links

A quick post today because I have a to-do list that seems to be growing by the minute:

  • Some recent research by Wharton Operations and Information Management professor Serguei Netessine and doctoral student Tom F. Tan seems to challenge Chris Anderson’s assertion that the internet is creating a “long tail” of niche alternatives to mainstream fare.  I’ve only had time to skim the article about Netessine and Tan’s research, but I’ve been somewhat skeptical about many of Anderson’s arguments for some time.  No matter what, their arguments are well worth engaging.
  • Catherine Grant continues her indispensable work at Film Studies for Free, compiling a list of all of the University of California Press books on film that are now available as public-access e-books.  I’ll just refer you to the list and (as usual) offer a note of thanks to Catherine for creating this list.
  • Kairos has just opened up its call for nominations for its 2010 Awards.  Categories include best webtext and best academic blogPast winners include a collection of many of my favorite blogs and scholars, so nominate your favorites now.
  • I’ve been a little out of the loop lately, but I’m intrigued by a post about the promotion of Paranormal Activity, a new low-budget film, on The Fayetteville Observer’s entertainment blog.  In particular, I’m intrigued by the use of footage from a test screening in this video as a way of guaranteeing the movie’s authenticity as a truly scary movie.


First-Year Writing: Narcissism or New Literacies

With the emergence of a new academic year–we’re already a week in at Fayetteville State–we are greeted with another round of the annual rite of passage: the lament that Kids Today can no longer write effectively.  Perhaps the highest-profile version of this annual genre appeared in the (web) pages of The New York Times in a curmudgeonly blog post written by Stanley Fish that opens with a complaint about his graduate students’ prose before evolving into a complaint about what is being taught in first-year composition classes.  Fish’s comments echo concerns by John Sutherland about the encroachment of text-speak and Facebook-inspired narcissism into academic writing and are not that remote from a widely-discussed lament by Roger Ebert about a “gathering dark age.”  A new generation of writers and thinkers are paying attention to the wrong things, and their writing and critical thinking skills are diminished as a result.

It’s easy enough to refute some of the generational claims.  As Glenn Kenny observes, after offering ample evidence: “The kids of today didn’t invent dumb. They inherited it.”  Perhaps more vexing for those of us who teach first-year writing courses, is the question about whether Johnny and Jane can write.  Fish, after a brief review of his grad students’ prose, concludes that something is getting lost in writing instruction, an analysis that is reinforced for him by a review of an American Council of Trustees and Alumni white paper and a survey of his university’s composition syllabi, few of which seemed to offer explicit training in the craft of writing.  Although I am sympathetic with Fish’s concerns about the need to focus on writing, I cannot share his “conclusion that unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham.”   Nor do I believe that it makes sense “to insist that all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else.” Many of the approaches that Fish rejects–courses that focus on the politics of culture–succeed as sites for the teaching of writing precisely because they are so attentive to how texts make meaning and to the importance of a rhetorical context (kairos, in classical rhetoric) in which these texts are produced.

In that context, I found Clive Thompson’s recent Wired column on “The New Literacy” to be a compelling read.  Thompson cites research conducted by Andrea Lunsford as part of the Stanford Study of Writing, a massive research project that examined thousands of pages student writing–from papers to short assignments–before coming to a much different conclusion: today’s students can write, and in fact, they write far more often than past generations, in part thanks to the massive amounts of socializing that take place online, whether in Facebook or Twitter status updates or in blog entries.  Much of this writing is text-based, and crucially, it is written for an audience.  I’ve done a number of activities, including my virginity auction activity last fall, in which students are asked to think about audience, and because of their online writing practices, I think it’s a concept that many students grasp intuitively.

I do have some reservations about Lunsford’s research.  The writing that she studied consisted of a longitudinal study of work produced by Stanford students, so I’d be curious to know if similar improvement could be measured in other university contexts; however, Lunsford’s conclusions (and Thompson’s synthesis of them) are a nice corrective against the claims that Kids Today don’t know how to write.

Update: Just to follow up a little further, as usual, I’ve been teaching my composition with a general focus on media or information literacy, and as I was doing some blog surfing (I prefer to call it “research”) this afternoon, I came across this MediaShift post about the evolution of media literacy.  One of my concerns about media literacy as its often constructed is the idea that students are unable or unprepared to “read” the media.  Toward the end of the post, there is a video of a public service announcement tutoring kids on the dangers of revealing too much information online.  Although there are notable cases of cyber-bullying (and other problems), these announcements often seem to underestimate the ability of teenagers to negotiate their online reputations.  Worth noting, though, is the article’s discussion of a bill sponsored by Senators John Kerry, Olympia Snowe and others, “21st Century Skills Incentive Fund Act,” that would encourage schools to promote media literacy education.

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Marketing Etiquette in the Age of Social Media

Over at Crooked Timber, John Holbo has a question that is pertinent to my own experiences as a newly-published academic author.  Holbo, who has a co-authored (with Belle Waring) book on Plato coming out soon, asks about the thin line between marketing and spamming in the era of social media.  This is a concern of mine on a number of levels.  First, as someone who writes about digital cinema and the use of social media to distribute and promote independently-made films, I’m aware of the challenges that these filmmakers face in finding an audience for their films, and I try to review most of the DVD screeners I receive in a timely fashion.  I don’t always succeed, given the demands of teaching and research, but a polite, semi-original email doesn’t bother me at all, and I’ll at least consider writing a review.  The benefit for me is the opportunity to learn more about various forms of digital cinema and to see some interesting films that I might otherwise miss.

But now with my own book soon to appear in print–my author’s copies are stacked neatly on a table just a few feet from my computer–I find myself in the uneasy position of thinking about my own role as a marketer and what Holbo calls “the line between marketing and spamming.”  When I first mentioned that I had a book coming out, one (former) colleague suggested that I send a mass email to department chairs and others introducing myself in my book.  I immediately cringed at the idea, regarding that as a form of spam, one that would likely annoy potential future collaborators and colleagues.  But like Holbo, given that academic presses face tight budgets and difficult economic models, I do feel some obligation to support the marketing of the book.  This tension inspires Holbo to pose the question of what a theory of “just marketing” might look like when it comes to academic texts.

As one of the Crooked Timber commenters recommends, I’ve started a Facebook group for my book although I’m not yet sure what role the “group” will serve (a question that seems to haunt other academic authors who have started Facebook groups for their books).  So far, I’ve only invited people who are already listed as “friends” to join the group and I’ve seen some ripple effect where friends of friends have joined.  This approach seems relatively fair in that it allows people to opt-in.  Ignore or block the initial invitation and you won’t continue getting emails.  A blog, much like Matt Kirschenbaum’s for his book, Mechanisms, also seems like a useful way of promoting the book.  So this raises some questions: first, how has the marketing of academic books changed in the eraof Twitter, Facebook, and blogs? To what extent should academics market or promote their work? What’s the line between marketing and spam?  Some of the answers over at Crooked Timber have been enlightening, but I’d enjoy hearing from others on this issue.

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Tuesday Links

I’ve been out of the loop for the last few days thanks to a wonderful long weekend with Andrea in Atlanta, which included a Braves-Sox game, tours of the CNN Center and Coke Museum, and a sentimental trip to some favorite restaurants and hangouts.  If you’re ever in Atlanta, the CNN tour is probably worth checking out, although I was a little disappointed by its relative brevity.  Still, spotting Ali Velshi working the newsroom on his way to the anchor’s desk was sort of fun.  I’ve got a couple of other entries lined up, so hopefully, I’ll have some new (and substantive) content soon.  Now, for some links:

  • Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker review of Chris Anderson’s latest book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, captures many of the reservations I’ve had about Anderson’s argument when I first encountered it in a Wired Magazine article a few months ago.  Essentially, Anderson argues that as bandwidth and server space becomes less expensive content creators can profit from giving away some of their content for free.  Gladwell, in his review, challenges a number of key assumptions in Anderson’s “technological utopian” argument, in part by deconstructing one of Anderson’s key case studies, YouTube, which still hasn’t shown a profit despite Google’s investment, and showing how giving content away for free often masks other costs.  I’ll try to write up a full review of the book when it comes out in July.
  • In the most recent issue of FlowTV, Ted Friedman offers a welcome corrective to some of the technological utopianism that has been swirling around the events in Iran in recent weeks, a celebration of Twitter and YouTube that sometimes swept me up in its massive scope.  However, as Frieman points out, there are only a small number of Twitter users among the thousands of protestors in Iran, and the cyberutopian rhetoric often obscures what supporters of Ahmadinejad may be doing with these social networks.  Finally, it has the potential to obscure some of the genuine, on-the-ground activity that may be taking place in the protests on behlaf of Mousavi.
  • One of the case studies I address in the book is the contest sponsored by Netflix, in which the video rental service invited people to create a better recommednation algorithm than their current version.  According to Cinematical, Netflix is ready to declare a winner of the $1 million prize.  Wired Magazine also discusses the contest, reporting that two front-running teams, Team Pragmatic Theory and Team Bellkor in Chaos, joined forces to create the winning algorithm.
  • The Scholarly Kitchen has an interesting discussion of the Impact Factor, a tool used to determine how much impact a sholarly book or journal has based on the number of citations in peer-reviewed journals.  The Schoarly Kitchen argues that such rubrics are now obsolete, given that citations can now appear anywhere, including tweets, blog posts, and Facebook status updates.  While these citations may not be equivalent with a mention in a peer-reviewed journal, theyoften do come from peers in the field.  This is something we’ve been talking about for a long time now at MediaCommons, but I think it is worth highlighting othes who are thinking about the ways in which digital media are enmeshed with questions of scholarly impact.
  • Finally, I’ll go on the record, about a week too late to matter, in saying that expanding the number of Best Picture nominees may do a little to open up a usually restrictive category to some non-traditional nominees.  As a number of people have noted, having ten nominees last year likely would have allowed popular and critical favorites, The Dark Knight and Wall-E, to get nominations.  This year, a successful, if overrated comedy such as The Hangover, could even be nominated, as Patrick Goldstein speculates in his analysis of the Oscar news.  The move might also allow documentaries and forign films to get nominated.  I’ll add that I’m not that concerned abut watering down the significance of a nomination (which seems like a relatively trivial issue for the most part), but it does have an intriguing marketing twist that allows five more films to use the little gold statuette in advertising and promotions.  For a low-budget indie or documentary, something like that could be pretty significant.

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Teaching Carnival 3.5

Just a quick reminder that Teaching Carnival 3.5 is now available at academHack. Plenty of good reading on the future of education.


Sunday Links, Local Edition

Just in time for summer, I’m starting to find my writing mojo once again.  After finishing the book, I’ve been languishing a bit this academic year (probably in part due to increased university service demands), but thanks to an upcoming grant application deadline (more on that if I get it), I’ve regained my focus a little.  But a recent post by Collin, building from a post by Jim Brown, comparing dissertation and book writing to the vicissitudes of baseball season has helped me make sense of my writing process.  The book, like the season itself, requires pacing.  Games are available when you want, but if you miss a week, you don’t feel particularly lost.  I’ll add that when finishing my book and my dissertation, I did put in seriously long hours (sometimes 20 hours a day), but perhaps that’s the equivalent of the pennant race or playoffs, where you need more sustained attention and focus.  Still, it’s reassuring to think about writing this way, as something that can occupy my “continuous partial attention,” to use Collin’s phrase, rather than a disconnected series of sprints.  Now for some links:

  • The Fayetteville Observer has a blog post about the successful efforts in preventing Time Warner Cable from “experimenting with” metered billing for internet use in nearly Greensboro, NC (among other places), that would require frequent users to pay more for internet service.  For those of us who often work from home, this could have been pretty costly.  Obviously TWC’s plans aren’t going away anytime soon, but glad to know that the protests worked.
  • Also from The Observer, a reminder about an upcoming forum on how to spend the government stimulus money locally.  The forum will be held Thursday, April 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Smith Recreation Center on Slater Avenue in Fayetteville.
  • By the way, I’m planing to attend a forum at Duke University’s Frankilin Humanities Institute on May 1, “Histories and Humanities at HBCUs: Embracing the Legacy of John Hope Franklin.” It looks like a terrific opportunity to network with some of my colleagues in the humanities and nearby colleges and universities.
  • On a related note, I finally had a chance to see Godfrey Cheshire’s Moving Midway, a thoughtful meditation on the legacies of slavery wrapped around a creative narrative hook: Cheshire’s cousin decides to move the family plantation, Midway, from a busy intersection in Raleigh to a wooded area a few miles down the road.  During the film, Cheshire, thanks in large part to the efforts of Al Hinton, works to reconnect the black and white sides of his extended family.  It’s a solidly researched, entertaining little documentary, well worth adding to your queues.


Teaching Carnival 3.4

Welcome to the fourth installment of the 2009 Teaching Carnival.  For many of us, including myself, the end of the academic year is fast approaching, but even as stacks of papers to grade loom large, there continues to be a wealth of blog posts and videos reflecting on our teaching practices.  With the South by Southwest Film Festival taking place over the last few weeks and with the significant challenges raised by the current economic crisis, I’ve been impressed by the number of bloggers who have been reflecting on the activity of teaching.

As usual, here are some definitions for those of you unfamiliar with the Teaching Carnival concept, along with some words of advice to consider as you read Carnival entries.  Finally, thanks to Alan Benson for doing such an excellent job with Teaching Carnival 3.3, as well as Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Jason Jones for the first two 2009 carnivals.  Check out the new issue below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Teaching Carnival Reminder

A quick reminder that the next issue of the Teaching Carnival will be going live in less than a week.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in participating to send along links either via email to chutry[at]msn[dot]com or according to these instructions from the Teaching Carnival website.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m espeially interested in getting some of my media studies colleagues involved this time, but I’d welcome submissions from anyone who is interested in participating.


Teaching Carnival Update

Teaching Carnival 3.3 is now available for your reading pleasure.  This issue was hosted by Alan Benson and includes a number of great reads about education.  In related news, I’ll be hosting Teaching Carnival 3.4 right here on March 23, so if you have links that you would like to nominate for inclusion, please send them my way via email (chutry[at]msn[dot]com) or by posting the links on Delicious using the teaching carnival tag (teaching-carnival) or just follow these instructions from the Teaching Carnival website.

For readers who are unfamiliar with the Teaching Carnival, it was established a few years ago as a way of collecting some of the more interesting discussions we have about teaching in a single location.  Much like the film blogathons, it has proven to be a great way of developing community around shared interests.

Teaching Carnivals have always done an outstanding job of culling posts on pedagogical issues from humanities scholars, and those of you who are attending the Conference on College Composition and Communication (aka 4Cs), feel free to pass along your pedagogy-related posts about the conference, but as a scholar of film and media studies and as someone who hangs out in the film blog community, I’d also enjoy receiving blog posts on film and media studies topics as well.  What are some of your teaching strategies in film courses? In TV studies courses?  What are some of the best practices for teaching media, old and new?  What can movies and TV shows tell us about education?  Does film or television serve a pedagogical purpose?  As usual, everyone is welcome to participate, so please do send along your links.

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Tuesday Links

Quick pointers to some of the more recent links to cross my radar:

  • Kathleen has assembled the latest version of the Teaching Carnival, with plenty of links to ongoing conversations about education from across the blogosphere.  David Parry is up next, and I’m on tap for March 23.  Just a reminder for all the film and media bloggers out there: I’d love to collect some posts from you about movies and teaching (or teaching in the movies).  Have a favorite film course? A favorite film about teaching?  Send me the link, and I’ll add it to the collection.  I’ll post more detailed information after Teaching Carnival 3.3 comes out in early March.
  • Speaking of teaching, Inside Higher Ed has a couple of recent articles about technology and instruction that are worth checking out.  Elizabeth Redden has an article about Kathleen Blake Yancey’s NCTE report calling for new pedagogies that take into consideration the fact that most of us will soon be “writing for the net.”  I’ll almost certainly have more to say about this report in the days ahead.  Meanwhile, thanks to a link in my Twitter feed, another IHE article by Steven Bell on the changing nature of the library, one that is marked by an increasing reliance on digital, rather than print, resources (I’ve lost the original pointer, but if you’re reading, thanks for linking!).
  • Meanwhile, Doc Searls’ post from the Integrated Media Association conference on the future of public media is well worth checking out, especially in relationship to the white paper recently published by the Center for Social Media on “Public Media 2.0.”  Searls points out that local news broadcasters are facing declining advertising revenues similar to those of newspapersand makes the cogent argument that PBS stations could reinvent themselves in part by taking a more active role in newsgathering.  Robert Paterson also reports from the same panel, with similar conclusions.
  • Finally, I found Marshall (“quarterlife”) Herskovitz’s discussion of internet movie distribution to be worth a read.  Herskovitz argues that Hollywood studios are not fully prepared for the new business models they’ll need to operate successfully online.  He’s also skeptical about the liberation narratives commonly associated with internet distribution.  Money quote:  “The question of the Internet being the great democratizer may be on its way out. Because although it is still cheap to create and distribute stuff on internet, it’s not cheap to market on the Internet. And that may be where big companies win as well, because they’ll have money to promote on the Internet. “

Update: By the way, saw this mentioned on Twitter, I believe by David Silver, and didn’t have time to blog it before, but Andrew Sullivan’s article on blogging for The Atlantic is well worth reading and (potentially) teaching, especially for students who may be relatively unfamiliar with blogging.


Tuesday Morning Insomnia Links

Awoke at 4:30ish unable to sleep, so here are a few links before I head to campus for what will be a very long day (two classes, a meeting, and a research presentation).

  • Jason Jones has posted Teaching Carnival 3.1, an excellent collection of links to recent posts about teaching.  Kathleen Fitzpatrick will be hosting the next carnival on February 23.  I’ll be doing hosting duties on March 23, and given my interests in film and media studies, I’d love to get some participation from the film blogging community.  I’ll have a more specific call for entries up soon, but here’s some information on how to nominate entries (including your own) to upcoming carnivals.
  • Spotted on BoingBoing last night: a video featuring every swear word on every episode of The Sopranos, in chronological order.  I didn’t have time to watch the entire thing last night, but this is a fascinating, odd, humorous video. Not for the easily offended (Vimeo page).
  • Some good news for Indie Film Bloggers Road Trip, the documentary in which I am briefly featured: according to Sujewa, IFBRT will be playing at the Atlanta Film Festival in a non-competitive slot.  The film will be use to launch a conversation, presumably a panel although that’s not clear from Sujewa’s post, at the festival about the future of film criticism, blogging, etc.  I’m still planning to attend the film’s premiere on February 17, in New York.

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Snow Day Links

So, my previous post was just supposed to be a links post, but my excitement about the inauguration left me wanting to write more.  Now here are some links:

  • Via George on Twitter: The New York Times has an incredible graphic timeline looking at the language of presidential inaugural addresses.  The graphic lists each word both by frequency of use and relative frequency as compared to other presidential addresses.  Interesting frequently used words from Obama’s speech: work, generation, work, crisis, hard, and endure (implicitly echoing Faulkner, as Forest Whitaker did at the Inaugural concert).  Clicking on a word allows you to see each use in context.
  • Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day,” as transcribed on the BlueSkyWriting blog.  I’ll admit that I didn’t find the poem to be that impressive on Alexander’s initial reading, but a second gance suggests some nice moments.  Still, it was nice to see an inauguration in which so many poetic voices–and I include Reverend Joseph Lowery’s humorous, heartfelt benediction here–were heard.
  • Due to a Twitter post about Jill Biden’s doctorate, I did some digging and found her Rate My Professors page.  Obviously this is a bit voyeuristic, but I was fascinated and pleased to see that so many of her students apparently appreciate the work that she’s doing in the classroom (if these ratings can be fully believed).  But for a more official account of her impressive educational credentials, the White House biography page has a lot of information.
  • Finally, in non-inauguration news, the Cinema Eye Honors nominees were announced the other day.  I’m hoping to write a longer post later, but I’m glad to see Man on Wire and Order of Myths, two of my favorite films from the 2008 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival included in the best nonfiction film category.  The latter, especially, deserves a much wider audience.  I haven’t had a chance to see Waltz with Bashir–it came to Atlanta after I left for the holidays–but it looks like a major favorite with seven nominations.

Update: Via Jay Rosen’s Twitter feed (here’s his blog), a link to a nice overview of the renovations to the White House website by Saul Hansell.  As Hansell, points out, many of these changes are cosmetic: we’ve long been able to view the text of bills on the House and Senate sites, and there have always been means for communicating with the president (although the five-day discussion period for non-crucial bills is impressive).  Still, as this CNN article points out, these cosmetic changes matter in creating a more inclusive, participatory government (scroll down for a quote from fellow academic blogger, Dave Parry).

Update 2: Text and video of Derek Wolcott’s “40 Acres,” a poem for Barack Obama.  Wolcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.

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Obama Inauguration

Watching Barack Obama take the oath of office this morning and then listening to his bracing call for national responsibility, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by a variety of emotions: Relief that it snowed today so that I could enjoy this moment from the comforts of my apartment rather than spending a day of distracted teaching on campus; excitement that President Obama’s election signifies, for so many people, that one element of Martin Luther King’s dream has been realized; sadness at what eight years of conservative rule have done to our country; apprehension at what the next eight years will demand.  In fact, even as Obama talked about what he called “the price of citizenship,” I found myself reflecting on my role as an educator, as someone involved, however minimally, in the process of preparing students not only for a beleagured work force but also for participation in a larger national, and even global, dialogue.

If you’ve read my blog, you may know that I don’t wear the “teacher as hero” mantle very comfortably.  I’ve often expressed ambivalence about movies that depict teachers who come in and rescue students from the ghetto, from middle class conformity, or from established gender roles.  And I don’t think I’ve reimagined my role as a professor significantly after watching Obama’s speech, but it’s difficult not to feel some sense of encouragement–for lack of a better word–at hearing Obama endorse values that might be regarded as intellectual: curiosity, seriousness, dialogue.  Or to hear various pundits describing someone as “professorial” without intending it as a pejorative. No matter what else happens today, I can’t pretend that today’s events aren’t meaningful for me.  For the first time in ages, I feel like my values are being affirmed by the people who run our feeral government, a feeling that is only strengthened by seeing the millions of people lined up for miles along the National Mall.

There are other things about the day that are exciting as well: the reinvention of the White House website, complete with a blog run by a director of New Media (Macon Phillips), seems to promise a more inclusive, participatory government.  In fact, Phillips’ first post emphasizes three priorities that are enticing for any of us who have felt excluded from the direction the country has taken for the last eight years: communication, transparency, and participation.  Obviously, these principles are ideals and may be difficult to achieve.  The cacophony of blog comments and video responses may complicate any desire for participation, and promises of transparency often fade as the real challenges of governing emerge. But as an ideal, it’s truly impressive.

And although there are many reasons to be enthusiastic, I’ll admit to some wariness.  Inviting Rick Warren to give the invocation at today’s inauguration feels like a rejection of all of my gay and lesbian friends.  And like Marc Bousquet, I’m concerned about Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, because I’m concerned that Duncan’s results-driven educational models that may not lead to actual learning.  Of course, if Obama is sincere about increased participation, then this is an opportunity for educators at all levels to contribute to a national dialogue about what eductaion should do.  I’m also aware of how my own emotions have been shaped by the scriptedness of the national ritual and the affective accounts of the day’s events from pundits attempting to convey the scope of this transformation.  But, for the first time in a long time, I’m cautiously optimistic about where things are heading, and judging by the crowds gathered in front of the Capitol and lining up around the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech” forty-five years ago, I’m guessing that others feel the same way.

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Philosophers on Screen

Via Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed’s new Intellectual Affairs blog, the news that Astra Taylor has a new documentary out, Examined Life, in which she interviews eight philosophers, in what Scott aptly describes as “philosopher-in-the-street” interviews.  The subjects include (alphabetically) Kwarne Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Michael Hardt, Martha Nussbaum, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Sunaura Taylor, Cornel West, and Slavoj Žižek, and Taylor’s style–interviewing subjects walking down the street, riding in the back of a car, sitting in a rowboat–works well here to capture these thinkers outside the usual sites of conferences and classrooms to produce more informal conversations about philosophical principles.

Taylor proved her critical theory documentary chops with her debut feature, Zizek!, which explored the ideas of the superstar Lacanian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek.  In Zizek, Taylor worked hard to present Zizek’s often complicated, always compelling ideas in an accessible format, and based on what I can see in this trailer, she’s done that again.  The shot of Cornel West describing himself as a “philosopher bluesman” alone makes the doc worth watching.

I may be in New York in February, so if Scott’s correct, hopefully I’ll be able to catch it then.  Otherwise, I may be forced, like him, to beg Zeitgeist Films in public for a screener.


More Syllabus Scramble

I’m still in the process of sorting through ideas for my graduate course on “Technology in the Language Arts Curriculum,” and I’d like to jot down a few ideas and request even more suggestions. In a comment on a separate post, Maria reminded me that I should be aware of the “paranoia” that exists in some school districts regarding the use of digital technologies, and in general her comments suggested that I should perhaps leave some flexibility in assignments with the recognition that students will be coming into the course with specific needs and possibilities (and thanks to everyone who has already commented online or IRL). Many of these thoughts were inspired by conversations and panels at this year’s MLA convention, and more recently, by a number of blog posts and other materials.

One of my frustrations in thinking about such a course is the degree to which the existence of digital technologies have been used to reify an entire generation of students, to assume on the one hand that Kids Today have shorter attention spans and on the other that they are fluent in using digital technologies. These assumptions often say more about the people who articulate them and their attitudes toward digital technologies than about actual students, and in fact, I would argue that attention is relative. Take for example the attention required to play video games for hour at a time, attention I sure don’t have. At the same time, students use some digital technologies, such as texting and social networking sites, but may not others. Still, it’s clear that digital media can be used to rethink writing, argument, and other concepts commonly addressed in the freshman composition classroom (and elsewhere). To take just one quick example, Alex Halavais has an intriguing post on the role of the web in creating a “distributed memory” that will provide us with a more detailed dossier on pretty much everyone. He imagines what we will potentially know about our 49th president, who willlikley have a Facebook page, a MySpace account, and who may blog or Twitter. These questions of information literacy are important and I’m excited to be asking them with a group of current (or future) teachers.

As I mentioned in an update to my previous post, I’d like to spend some time thinking about microblogging in general and Twitter in particular. As the election season deepened, I became a much more avid Twitter user, and the Twitter panel at MLA, reviewed here by media scholar Cathy Davidson, covered many of the strengths (and concerns) about Twitter. As the panelists pointed out, a number of critics have argued that Twitter fosters an unhealthy narcissism and that it prevents deeper reflection. However, these readings often focus only at the level of the individual “tweet,” which taken out of context can seem a bit navel-gazing. Instead, the panel helped to provide a language for thinking about the connective elements of Twitter and its larger role in aggregating knowledge. To be sure, this aggregation could (and probably will) be used in some form of data mining–imagine what the two major political parties could do with all of this year’s election tweets–but the “ambient intimacy” of Twitter can be used in a variety of powerful ways, as Shaun Huston and Nick Rombes point out in a couple of recent posts.

I’d also like to spend some time talking specifically about Wikipedia and about wikis more generally. David Parry’s article, “Wikipedia and the New Curriculum,” looks like one good place to start. In my freshman composition classes, I often try to have a conversation with my students about what they’re taught about Wikipedia, and in some cases, they are still taught not to consult it. David’s article addresses how Wikipedia fits within contemporary digital literacies and looks like a good starting point for larger conversations about how to do internet research. If you have other articles or discussions of Wikipedia, both positive and negative, I’d enjoy having them.

One alternative assignment that I’m considering is getting my students involved in one of this year’s Teaching Carnivals. I’ve already volunteered to host one, and given that George is hoping to expand the concept of the carnival to include interviews with educators at all levels, getting the class involved might be a good way (1) to diversify the carnival’s contents even further and (2) to illustrate how some of the social networking and social bookmarking technologies can be used in creative ways (on a relate note, I’ll also likely encourage my students to play with some during this semester (here are my course links, so far).

I’m continuing to sort out ideas for my class wiki idea, The Fayetteville Project, which would entail using wiki software to create a hyperlinked text about Fayetteville. I’d like to avoid creating something that is either a consumer guide or an encyclopedia. Those materials already exist online. Instead, I’d like to do something closer to Benjamin’s Arcades Project, albeit on a smaller scale. Brian Croxall’s suggestion of incorporating timelines using Google docs also looks like a good activity. There are a couple of really good histories of Fayetteville, and students who wanted to identify traces of the past in the present would be welcome to do so.

Finally, I do want to spend some time thinking about how my approach to this course is invested in recent scholarship on participatory media. I think that essays such as Henry Jenkins’ “Why Heather Can Write,” is one good place to start, but I’d also like to discuss some of the essays compiled in Joi Ito’s FreeSouls collection, including Howard Rheingold’s “Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies” and Dan Gillmor’s “Principles for a New Media Literacy” (thanks to Tama for the last two links). I’ll try to pot something more specific–possibly even a draft of a syllabus–in the next few days, and as always, I’d love any feedback that you might be able to offer.

Update: By the way, here is the course blog for English 518, in case anyone is interested.

Update 2: I’ve started a new post on “Wikis and Place” in order to continue the conversation that started here and to respond to Krista’s blog comments on her 35 W Bridge Collapse course wiki, comments that started out on Twitter, evolved into an email conversation, and then found another form as a blog post.

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