Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Teaching 2.0, Initial Thoughts

In the last three years I have slowly introduced Web 2.0 technologies into the classroom with various levels of success. Because classrooms have so many other demands, I have to say that this portion has never really gained the kind of attention that it needs. Also, a lot of this has involved some significant stumbles. But that is to be expected. If you are teaching Wikis, Blogging and the like, you are teaching on terms that the students think they fully understand and so many teachers are convinced that they do not. Neither are completely true, but I do think they need to noted.

For example, Will Richardson claims that many teachers need to recognize that they have a "digital accent"
Marc Prensky says that students are Digital Natives while most educators are veritable Digital Immigrants who were not born in to technology and will always keep their accents. We print out our e-mail, prefer plain paper to digital paper, and still use phone books to look up numbers. This divide makes bringing technology to our students more difficult, and our accents many times get in the way of our use of technology. But accents are easier to lose than you might think, especially when all sorts of constructivist technologies are lowering the bar to entry.
To some extent I would buy that, but I do not think that students really understand Web 2.0 at all. My experience is that beyond e-mail and instant message, your average student is as "passive" a media consumer when it comes to the Web as they are with TV. The great majority of my students have never published a website until we make them do so. When it comes to Web 2.0, the environment of Blogs and Wikis mean something to students but Podcasts and RSS mean very little to a great majority. I teach mass media and when I ask students about podcasting very few of them partake in either end, consuming let alone producing. And if I was to ask a student to mkae their own Wiki they wouldn't know how to do it, despite the fact that PBWiki makes it very easy to do so.
Bryan Alexander notes in EDUCAUSE REVIEW | March/April 2006, Volume 41, Number 2 that
the concepts, projects, and practices of Web 2.0 as a whole, insofar as we have surveyed them, are fluid and emergent. They are also so accessible as to be launched and interconnected at a pace rapid even by Web standards. At the same time, many services are hosted externally to academia. They are the creations of enthusiasts or business enterprises and do not necessarily embrace the culture of higher education.
This is true of the entire culture: both educators and students. As a scholar who tries to teach Web 2.0 this is an area where so much is up in the air right now. Don't believe me? Download Firefox 2.0 and page through the "Add Ons" portion of the Firefox home and you will see a number 2.0 like extensions, each of which allow users to tag, comment and interact with and on the web. And these extensions, like Diigo will mean the creation of a World Wide Palimpsest. I am all for that and I think students and scholars should be too... however, so many of them have no clue how to utilize any of these resources. Right now we, student and scholar alike, are in a position to play collective catch up. True those students grew up with Web 1.0, but all of us new to 2.0, and we need to understand that.
So, how to teach it? Here are a few suggestions...

1) First and foremost, develop exercises that are low risk and allow for "maximum play" -- When you teach Blogging and Wikiing I firmly believe that the deepest, most profound lessons come from repeated, short term engagement that see the exercise as something that has low-level consequences. Much like a videogame, the proficiencies can only be developed over time, with repeated engagement and with a sense that this means very little in terms of grade. I often add a wiki or a blog to a course but do not "grade" it so much as I check to see that is done. This works well with small classrooms (I wouldn't even bother to do this with a 200 person classroom) where you can build groups and teams who you can hold accountable with a checkmark. The issue of the grade is counterintuitive to many, but has precedence in writing and oral competency: You give small assignments that have minimal impacts on the grade, but they all add up. What I have found is that by making web work as additional to a larger paper then you can a) avoid grading web work that feels punitive (and, I would argue, severely unjust) for most people unless they are in a Web Design class and b) you find that it actually benefits the organization and composition of the traditional paper.

2) Make students work in groups if possible -- The whole point of 2.0 is collective intelligence and students get a better sense of what this means if they can see how others can and do contribute. This includes the shy kid who never speaks up. When they work in these groups it teaches the students that the power of Web 2.0 is where you get intelligence from non-traditional sources and unexpected places.

3)Do one 2.0 thing at a time in a class unless that class is explicitly about the Web-- Teaching Web 2.0 should really be seen as an additive, not a main course. If you are a historian and you would like to have your class use Zotero simply to acquire bibliographic information, then you are not asking much other than you require them to use free and easy-to-use browsers and attachments. You may ask them to do little more than write Zotero and tell them what you like and what you would like to see their device do (or be better at doing). In my eyes, this allows students to understand how research is dependent on collective tools and standards. You can take time to discuss this in class, with other students as well as peers. This is a moment where you can begin to discuss many "inside baseball" issues that are pertinent to your work and the work of your colleagues.
So, I will continue my thoughts on this later, including some thoughts as to why I believe that this connects to a number of media issues that have, historically, operated with little academic or professional attention given to them.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Quick Thoughts on Wikipedia Debates

Friend and Colleague Jason Mittell got schrift in today's NYT article about Middlebury's History department ban of Wikipedia as a source for their papers. He blogs about it here and notes
If you're in the Middlebury area and want to hear more, come to the event on Monday Febrary 26 at 4:30 in Library 201: "What is the Wikipedia in Higher Education?", featuring myself and History professor Amy Morsman.
Since I am nowhere near Vermont these days allow me my two cents: Wikipedia is a great resource to begin any research on contemporary popular culture. There, I said it. When I tell students that if they want to study something like Podcasting I always say, "begin here, don't end here." Same for video games, hip-hop, etc. And there is a simple reason for this. Like an encyclopedia it is meant to be a "jumping off" point. Unlike traditional encyclopedia of all types, you get in-depth entries on Katamari Damacy, Dj Drama and Bratz. Because popular culture is so ephemeral and traditional, expert-oriented publishing moves so slowly by comparison, the Wikipedia because a repository for all kinds of fads and new cultural movements. Take, for example, the Marc Maron Show, a show that ran off and on for about two and a half years as a syndicated radio program on Air America Radio. Here's some of the detail that that now-cancelled program has in its Wikipedia entry,
Regular Features
Marc Maron's Short Order News - Maron's take on the day's news; airs at the top and bottom of the show
Dick (as in Cheney) of the Day - the most reprehensible person of the day as chosen by Maron; airs at the bottom of the show
Liberal Confessional - Maron and callers confess their less-than-progressive moments
Wheel of Anger - Rants by Earl
Weekly Remembrances with Mort Mortensen - Earl disrespects the recently dead
Movie reviews with Svetlana, the Russian prostitute - contributor Iris Bahr
. Not bad and I defy anyone to find an entry about this show in any number of encyclopedia of American popular culture.

Which brings me back to the initial banning by the History department. I can understand it to a certain extent. You may be teaching about events that have been mulled over for several hundred years and your profession has developed a set of methods and databases that are quite refined. Wikipedia looks like a poor place to start in comparison and you are sick of "collective amateur efforts" being utilized over the many collective efforts of trained professionals. But those of us who study mass media and popular culture don't have that luxury. There just isn't the tradition surrounding our field, yet. So the Wikipedia looks like an opportunity to build something new, which is what we are up to! It hardly beats a day in the archives, reading old trades or even a solid book. But man, am I glad someone has made and is working on an extensive entry on Art Bell, a broadcaster who I hope to never forget.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

This one is for my Fiance'

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Zizek and The Unconversation

There is a lot to say about Zizek and, well, I am not necessarily qualified to talk about him. But here's an example of how he realizes, early on, that there is no possibility for a "conversational dialogue" and just rides it out. Check out how he accepts, early on, how his interlocutor cannot say his name and is cool with it...

This is pretty hilarious stuff if you ask me and so many questions arise when you have this kind of "unconversation" between the talking head and the philosopher, that I would love to see more of these encounters. I mean, can we really assume that Zizek knows who Dennis Leary is as a comic figure? Can we assume that the talking head has learned anything? Who the hell was the producer that booked this segment? Does the talking head know that he is a Fred Willard character? Does Zizek care that his interlocutor does not care about or react to terms like "ideological projects"? But here is the rub... there is more "human interaction" here(i.e. the host shouting out "Yes", the laughter, the way that Zizek just rolls with it, etc.) than you typically get in 10 hours of MacNeil Lehrer. Zizek even gets a "class propaganda" joke in here and the host laughs out loud. Stunningly odd. Now if only we could get Spivak on The View.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Super Weekend

It's Super Bowl Sunday and, yes, I am watching the game as I write this. Because the pre-game coverage is out of control, I waited until the very last minute to tune in, which was great since I was able to watch the kickoff return for a touchdown. Anyways, that's not why I am writing. I have had a great last four days. Some big time events took place in my personal life, which I will keep personal (all very good, thank you very much). And I returned from a two-day visit with the good folks at University of Pittsburgh's Department of Communication, where I gave a talk for their Agora series. Much thanks to them. It was challenging, collegial and inspiring. I left with a small list of lit to read and, well, that is always a good thing.

Also super positive, I have accepted a position as a charter member of the editorial board for Media Commons, a project that is lead by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Avi Santo and is affiliated with the Institute for the Future of the Book. This is really exciting and I am honored to be part of this group.

But really, you don't come here to read about what I have been doing or who likes me... you come here to see what I am listening and watching. Here you go...
  • Night Ripper - by Girl Talk .... probably my favorite record of the last 8 months
  • The Sound of Young America-- A radio show and podcast which is promoting "things that are awesome". One can only hope that this is the future of NPR.
  • The Paul Goebel Show-- Hosted by the self proclaimed King of TV, Paul Goebel, aka "The TV Geek", the show is a lo-fi gem where the conversation swings between rambling, profane and illuminating. Its always good, always funny and Goebel is always impressive. His knowledge of TV trivia plus his birds-eye view as an actor gives one an insight into the mind of a solid LA comedic actor who is somewhat successful but hardly a star. Just terrific!
Ok, there's more, for sure, but I gotta get back to the game, the compelling commercials and all of those promos for the CBS lineup. So far the robotic arm commercial is the only one I have truly loved.