food discouraged or dismissed as culture then embraced as trend

“The US is undisputedly in the midst of a barbecue boom - there are currently more than 14,000 barbecue restaurants in the country - but African American restaurateurs and pitmasters may be getting left in the dust. Thanks to television and professional barbecue competitions, barbecue chefs have become celebrities with cult followings, but those celebrity faces are largely white.” http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33994947


“This cultural appropriation stings because the same dishes hyped as “authentic” on trendy menus were scorned when cooked in the homes of the immigrants who brought them here. Fashionable food from foreign cultures may satisfy a temporary hunger, but if you’re trying it for shallow reasons, you’ll be culturally unfulfilled in the long run.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/31/childhood-friends-called-my-food-chinese-grossness-how-did-it-become-americas-hottest-food-trend/

like a video game

"'the normal morals and process of thinking goes out the window when it's like you're playing a videogame,'" he said. "'It's dehumanized, it's depersonalized.'"

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/08/new-law-permits-north-dakota-cop-drones-to-fire-bean-bag-rounds-from-the-sky/


"'When I watched it, it looked like a first-person-shooter video game to me,'" he said. "'The viewer had the same visual perspective as the killer.'"

http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/08/27/435076699/why-shooters-record-themselves-in-the-act


social media savvy

"Say what you will about their role in U.S. foreign policy — what with the drone program and the torture and the coups — but the CIA has proven itself to be very, very good at Twitter."

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hayesbrown/the-head-of-the-cia-chose-the-agencys-first-tweet-ever-new-i#.aiVV8aBpB


"the killer had anticipated the moves — that he had been counting on the mechanics of these services and on our inability to resist passing on what he had posted. For many, that realization came too late. On these services, the killer knew, you often hit retweet, like or share before you realize just quite what you have done."

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/08/27/technology/personaltech/violence-gone-viral-in-a-well-planned-rollout-on-social-media.html

transcript and video of contribution to "everyday methods" roundtable #g9 #cwcon

I want to begin by acknowledging Karl Stolley’s call to action that we “hold our colleagues and students accountable for their technological choices just as they would be held accountable for any other rhetorical choice.” I want to begin with this acknowledgement because I think this is one of the things our roundtable is about. My particular choices related to digital methods have been largely informed by two things: bad luck and paranoia.

My bad luck is rather particular here. I mourned the loss of Google’s Buzz, Reader, and Wave, all of which I used for academic purposes. I had a blog on Posterous before Twitter acquired those responsible for the platform and caused a service shutdown. AppDotNet, an alternative to Twitter, recently became, as Mashable’s Christina Warren observes, “a bit like Schrödinger's cat — both alive and dead at the same time.” 

I mention these services and tools because my past experiences inform my present methods, most of which now involve paid services. I use NewsBlur for my RSS feeds, Pinboard for my bookmarking needs, and Posthaven for online writing. NewsBlur and Pinboard are both run by single individuals and a two-person team is responsible for Posthaven. I have only good things to say about them. I value these services and what I do with them enough to pay for them.

I don’t have a high opinion of free, and I’m not alone. The Atlantic’s Alan Jacobs suggests some companies offer their online services for free so they don’t have to provide real support for users. The Globe and Mail’s Amber MacArthur observes how “free is proving to be a serious threat to our privacy.” The Guardian’s Steven Poole notes that “we obediently conduct our own self-surveillance and voluntarily upload the data to companies who profit from it.” So, while Jacobs notes a lack of company responsibility when it comes to free services and tools, MacArthur and Poole connect ideas of free to privacy and surveillance. 

For as appealing as free might be, there are often consequences for choosing such services and tools. There is a now common refrain regarding the use of free services: “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” But there’s at least an additional wrinkle here that deserves attention. Given recent news about the relationships between the National Security Agency and major tech companies, perhaps it would be more accurate for us to say, “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, and the object of surveillance.”

I’m concerned about the influence of surveillance on our digital methods. I even worry about using services and tools that contribute to the normalization of surveillance and the surveillance of normalcy. Such worry informs why I still prefer handwritten drafts and print books and journals over digital and online versions. In keeping at least some of my everyday methods offline, no one else can lay any claim to them. Marginal notes are my own, not kept in the cloud. Article drafts are my own, not data-mined for targeted advertising. 

I realize these choices in digital methods could paint me as a privileged academic flush with cash, or a paranoid delusional with a tinfoil hat. I don’t think I’m necessarily either of these. I’d just like us to value what we do enough to pay for it, to not leave ourselves and our work vulnerable to the whims of tech companies who depend on the allure of free. 

A step toward such valuing might involve department and program funding and support for website hosting and premium accounts at independent online services, or maybe just a specific stipend devoted to the development and maintenance of digital methods. Perhaps some departments and programs already have such funding in place. If so, I’m heartened to know there are others who value and hold accountable our technological choices, just as I know my roundtable colleagues do.

On #craftwriting

Since I had my first Two Hearted Ale, my introduction to craft beer has been slow and steady. I pick up the latest and greatest from Bell's, Brewery Vivant, Dark Horse, Founders, Greenbush, Short's, and others about once a month, often along with something from an out-of-state brewery or two that just started distributing in Michigan. And I keep track of what I drink in a notebook and sometimes take a picture for posterity. 

However, my introduction to writing about beer has been slower and not quite as steady. Beyond Make Mine Potato and a couple of beer-store and brewery blogs, I don't know much about beer writing. So, when I learned of Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture, I just jumped at the opportunity to go. 

The drive south on I-75 tested my patience between Dayton and Cincinnati, but I got into Lexington, checked in at my hotel, and walked over to Country Boy Brewing for the night-before get-together. I really couldn't imagine a better start to the conference. I got to meet UK people I'd only known via Twitter, sample some good food, and have some really good beer. 

The next morning, coffee and a breakfast pastry from Sunrise Bakery (recommended by a UK person) soothed what little hangover I had and energized me for the walk to the UK campus and the Craft Writing conference. And I was able to sit in the back row and joke with Twitter friends before things got started.

Conference organizer Jeff Rice began by talking about why we were all there. "You're here because you believe in the story of craft beer," he said. Of course, Rice also talked about writing, how it is integral to craft beer, sparking and sustaining our interest in craft beer, shaping our relationships with and teaching us a lot about craft beer. Variations of Rice's comments came up in each following session.

The first session had Stan Hieronymous, Julie Johnson, and Teri Fahrendorf discussing (among other things) the influence of writing related to craft beer and the rise of both, but what stood out to me was a near-seamless interweaving of personal, professional, and industrial histories. There were echoes of such interweaving in subsequent talks by Roger Baylor and Jeremy Cowan and in Garrett Oliver's keynote, during which he mentioned the brewers' commonality of the "diversion of an intended path." Oliver also implored those in attendance to ask who they thought they were going to be, what they sacrificed, and who helped them along in becoming brewers. 

The speakers prior to Oliver addressed these questions, but perhaps none more than Fahrendorf and Cowan. Both spoke with energy and humor about their craft-beer lives, Cowan detailing in frank terms about what happens when "you let an English major start a brewery" and Fahrendorf marking her development from computer programmer to brewer to founder of the Pink Boots Society and beyond. Again, these were interwoven histories, seamlessly personal and professional stories.

Now, I'm glossing here because there are already some conference recaps out online and they're better than what I could attempt to provide. The most comprehensive and arguably best I've read is by Jessica Miller of heybrewtiful.com: "Beer Nerds Unite Over Kentucky Craft Writing Symposium." Kevin Patterson of Lexington's The Beer Trappe offers a similar, pointed perspective with "The Elephant in the Craft Beer Room." Conference speaker Roger Baylor's "Not so simple a symposium"  and Hoperatives' "Writing About Beer" are alike in their more experiential notes on the conference. And Shea Anderson spins a few conclusions from an additional viewpoint: "5 Valuable Marketing Insights from Craft Beer Writing Conference." 

I direct attention to Miller and others because these writers and their pieces gave me more of what the conference did: an education. There were plenty of names mentioned and faces seen I didn't recognize but that were respected if not revered by many in attendance. Learning about what people like Michael Jackson, Stan Hieronymous, Julie Johnson, Teri Fahrendorf, Garrett Oliver, and others have done and, in many cases, continue to do for craft beer and for writing was invaluable. 

Craft beer culture is still an entity I'm coming to know. And I'm coming to know it as much through writing as through beer. Countless books and beers were mentioned throughout the conference and now I have so much more to read and to drink. I plan to start with the Baylor-recommended Tastes of Paradise, by Wolfgang Schivelbusch, and something out of my six-pack sampler from The Beer Trappe. 

The courier Tolstoy in Goodsprings

The courier Tolstoy later heard that getting shot changes a person. He didn't know if that was true, but he remembered how odd he felt recovering at Doc Mitchell's. Like he shouldn't have been there. Like he should have instead remained in the shallow grave atop the hill overlooking Goodsprings, where Benny had left him to die.

Benny. That was what else Tolstoy remembered, how Benny had raised the gun to Tolstoy's face. That gun was the last memory of whatever life he had before. What an awful thing to have. The memory of the gun unsettled him. Tolstoy didn't wish it on anyone else. 

So, as he stepped out into the Mojave, Tolstoy resolved to never let violence be anyone's last memory of him. And that included Benny, if Tolstoy ever managed to find him. 

Confronting Joe Cobb and his Powder Gangers proved an early challenge, though. Even when left with no options for peace, Tolstoy refused to leave Goodsprings in endless anticipation of terror. The choice to empower and enable the residents of Goodsprings to fight for their town was a difficult one. He watched, not impartial, as Sunny Smiles, Trudy, and others cut down Cobb and his men. Tolstoy helped clean up after as best he could, gathering armor, weapons, and other items for trade at the general store. The persistence of Joe Cobb's corpse upon Tolstoy's every return to the town would continue to disturb him in the days to come. 

prepared comments on "institutionware" at Siena Heights University

Before I begin in earnest, I want to thank my friend and fellow BGSU alum Matthew Barbee for the invitation to speak with you this afternoon. I also want to offer a preemptive thank-you to everyone present, including those listening in, for your attention and patience. The ideas I’m talking about today are still pretty green, so I’m thankful for your understanding. Also, my presentation style may be a bit unconventional and jarring, so please let me know if I’m moving too fast or if some aspect is just too distracting.


I presented the first version of this talk at Network Detroit: Digital Humanities Theory and Practice<http://detroitdh.org/schedule/> at Lawrence Tech in Southfield two weeks ago. My thinking has already changed some since then and my talk this afternoon reflects that, so let’s begin.

This is an argument for understanding certain kinds of proprietary software as “INSTITUTIONWARE.” Influence and inspiration for this argument comes from Georgia Tech professor and game designer Ian Bogost and media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff.

In a Gamasutra column<http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/134735/persuasive_games_exploitationware.php?print=1>, BOGOST recasts gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems, as exploitationware. He does this to connect gamification to “better known practices of software fraud” and to “situate gamification within a larger set of pernicious practices in the high-tech marketplace.” Similarly, in an Authors@Google talk, Douglas Rushkoff comments on the “awful, but brilliant” nature of Blackboard.

[clip of "Authors@Google: Douglas Rushkoff<>," 7:38-9:10 - "From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created to help create an equivalence between distance learning and real-life learning so that in your classroom you're actually using this technology as much as you would long distance...It's created not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software."]

Bogost and Rushkoff are both talking about software approaches not made for users but for the used. Building on their observations, I want to provide a definition and provide characteristics of institutionware. I’m also curious about what this might mean for the digital humanities. That is, if we use institutionware to make projects and produce scholarship, what else are we saying?

So, first, a DEFINITION: institutionware is software that supports and maintains traditional ideas under the guise of providing a service. The clearest examples of institutionware are Blackboard and Turnitin, the successes of which are tied to the institution of higher education. To a lesser extent, Microsoft Word, iTunes, and even Facebook, Google, and Twitter are forms of institutionware. In particular, Google’s movement into higher education via Google Apps, which the UM system uses or requires to varying degrees, and Twitter’s recent partnerships with television entities reveal both companies as institutionware-like.

It might be helpful to place these examples on a continuum or a MöBIUS strip because some are more tied to particular institutions than others. Blackboard and Turnitin have explicit ties to higher education while Google has some. Twitter may be foremost in supporting the institution of television, which we can see in the near ubiquity of hashtags in commercials and in its advertising partnerships with CBS, ESPN, FOX, and Globosat in Brazil.

All forms of institutionware share similar characteristics, though, and here’s where my thinking is under further development: LIMITED USE may be the hallmark of institutionware and what binds its other characteristics together. Examples of limited use include Blackboard for grades, iTunes for MP3s, Google for email, and Microsoft Word for essays, five-paragraph or otherwise. In each example, we use instititutionware for one specific act, ignoring everything else offered, but this might be what allows institutionware to be so pervasive, for so many to depend on its various forms.

Now, the relationship between institutionware and limited use is a curious one, because institutionware works against limited use in certain ways, but it’s also because of limited use that institutionware is able to sustain itself. The AIMS of institutionware are very much influenced by the reality of limited use. Institutionware works against limited use in service of the following goals: decrease user agency, increase user dependency, preserve market dominance, and contain features.

Institutionware decreases user agency and increase user dependency by demanding and reinforcing user COMPLIANCE. I’m recalling here Rushkoff’s earlier comments, but I’m also thinking of Blackboard’s design choices. For example, the number of times Blackboard asks us to click OK represents a sort of endless acquiescence, an indicator of our eternal compliance. In this way, institutionware does not ask us “where do you want to go today?” but instead forces us to ask “what is thy bidding, my master?”

I quote from The Empire Strikes Back because the line is from an important scene. Until this point, we see DARTH VADER only in positions of power. When we see Vader go down on one knee, before a hologram no less, it is poignant. We come to institutionware like Vader to the Emperor, subservient in spite of our own abilities and power. Institutionware holds it own external demands over the internal, individual desires of its users. The “join us or die” line may be instructive for institutionware, too, if maybe a bit overdramatic.

But this is also part of how institutionware preserves MARKET DOMINANCE. Compliance is evident here, too, but it is through a blanket of equivalence in systems and users. This equivalence is limited use. In other words, it is our limited use of institutionware that allows it to continue to dominate a given market. Using Blackboard just for grades enables further use; using Microsoft Word just for five-paragraph essays does much the same. Limited use itself is a kind of compliance, too.

Because of limited use of institutionware, though, we may become as frustrated as comedian HANNIBAL BURESS:

[clip of "Hannibal Buress on Odd Future and Young Jeezy<>," 1:05-1:13 - “Why does iTunes keep trying to get me to download a new version? I got a new version a couple of days ago. I’m fine with this version. It plays music.”]

Buress’s frustration reveals another of institutionware’s characteristic aims. Persistent UPDATES, which often occur with annoying regularity, are similar to Blackboard’s insistent OKs, reminding us of our compliance, of our inability to do anything but accept. In fact, I encountered this myself while putting together this talk because I still use PowerPoint.

Institutionware’s updates also have to do with another of its aims. Institutionware is about CONTAINMENT. And features of institutionware aren’t so much offered as they are contained, kept within an overall system so users have less reason to go elsewhere. For example, Blackboard now contains blogs, discussion boards, journals, and wikis, all things available and free on the open web. Feature containment also works against limited use and helps further preserve market dominance. Furthermore, persistent, “feature-rich” updates tend to benefit the service providers more than the users.

The assumptions within such features and updates are almost too many to list here, but again such characteristics of institutionware can provoke strong reactions like the following summarized by Mike Muir of SUICIDAL TENDENCIES:

[clip of "Suicidal Tendencies - 'Institutionalized' Frontier Records<>," 3:05-3:35 - "…how do you know what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy? When I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I went to your institutional learning facilities? So how can you say I’m crazy? They say they’re gonna fix my brain, alleviate my suffering and my pain, but by the time they fix my head, mentally, I’ll be dead. I’m not crazy, institution. You’re the one who’s crazy, institution."

I often had a similar reaction any time I saw Microsoft Word’s CLIPPY, who is less of an enabler and more of an enforcer of existing genres and norms. Clippy is indicative of how institutionware is about preserving the institution as it is and has been, enhancing and supporting rather than challenging or threatening. To harp on Blackboard and Turnitin as examples once again, neither is out to question education but to scaffold it in particular ways. Their very names alone are evidence of current-traditional methods and values of classroom instruction. Much the same can be observed about Microsoft Word as its design principles are about preserving traditional ways of understanding and valuing writing.

Institutionware signals stagnation, if not regression or reversion. By dictating use through changes in appearance, institutionware becomes about how Blackboard, Turnitin, Microsoft, Google, and Twitter want us to use what they provide. And there are many more reasons for institutionware to persist than to fade away, namely because of limited use.

In giving greater measures of control to proprietary software, though, we inhibit our freedom and ability. When we use proprietary software, we decrease our agency and encourage collective dependency on such institutionware. And this is what I worry about regarding the digital humanities: that we are in some way reinforcing reliance on old ways and means for new ends, whatever we might be attempting to do or show.

In arguing for an understanding of proprietary software as institutionware, I attempted to explain here pernicious aims as well as effects, but I don’t want to end on such a down note. So, here are a few quick suggestions on a way out: free, open, and single-serving software (distraction-free writing tools as example), Git, HTML, and Markdown. In other words, learn a language instead of an institution. There are also some positive examples of institutionware in Eli Review and Zotero, both of which I’d be happy to discuss.

rough transcript of #detroitdh talk about "institutionware"

Last Friday, 27 September 2013, I was among the presenters at Network Detroit: Digital Humanities Theory and Practice. Below is a rough transcript.

Good morning. My contribution to this panel is an argument for understanding certain kinds of proprietary software as “institutionware.” I’ll get to what I mean by that in a second, but first a little background.

I am influenced and inspired by Georgia Tech professor and game designer Ian Bogost and media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff. In a Gamasutra column, Bogost recasts gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems, as exploitationware. He does this to connect gamification to “better known practices of software fraud” and to “situate gamification within a larger set of pernicious practices in the high-tech marketplace.” Similarly, in an Authors@Google talk, Douglas Rushkoff comments on the “awful, but brilliant” nature of Blackboard. 

[clip of "Authors@Google: Douglas Rushkoff," 7:38-9:10 - "From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created to help create an equivalence between distance learning and real-life learning so that in your classroom you're actually using this technology as much as you would long distance...It's created not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software."]   

Bogost and Rushkoff are both talking about software approaches not made for users but for the used. Building on their observations, I want to provide a definition and provide characteristics of institutionware. 

So, first, a definition: institutionware is software that supports and maintains traditional ideas under the guise of providing a service. The clearest examples of institutionware are Blackboard and Turnitin, the successes of which are tied to the institution of higher education. To a lesser extent, Microsoft Word, iTunes, and even Facebook, Google, and Twitter are forms of institutionware. It might be helpful to place these examples on a continuum, or even a Möbius strip because some appear more tied to particular institutions than others. All share similar characteristics, though, and Google’s movement into higher education makes it all the more deserving of a place on the strip. Much the same can be observed of Twitter, given its recent moves in support of the institution of television. 

Regardless of placement, institutionware aims to decrease user agency, increase user dependency, preserve market dominance, and contain features. These aims are achieved in a multitude of simultaneous ways, so I’ll try to keep them straight.

Institutionware decreases user agency and increase user dependency by demanding and reinforcing user compliance. I’m recalling here Rushkoff’s earlier comments, but I’m also thinking of Blackboard’s design choices. For example, the number of times Blackboard asks us to click OK represents a sort of endless acquiescence, an indicator of our eternal compliance. In this way, institutionware does not ask us “where do you want to go today?” but instead forces us to ask “what is thy bidding, my master?”

I quote from The Empire Strikes Back because the line is from an important scene. Until this point, we see Darth Vader only in positions of power. When we see Vader go down on one knee, before a hologram no less, it is poignant. We come to institutionware like Vader to the Emperor, subservient in spite of our own abilities and power. Institutionware holds it own external demands over the internal, individual desires of its users.

This is also part of how institutionware preserves market dominance. Compliance is evident here, too, but it is through a blanket of equivalence in systems and users. This equivalence is in acknowledgement of limited use. Examples of limited use include Blackboard for grades, iTunes for MP3s, Microsoft Word for essays, and Google for email. Because of limited use of institutionware, we may become as frustrated as comedian Hannibal Burress.

[clip of "Hannibal Buress on Odd Future and Young Jeezy," 1:05-1:13 - “Why does iTunes keep trying to get me to download a new version? I got a new version a couple of days ago. I’m fine with this version. It plays music.”] 

Institutionware works against limited use by introducing new features and updates, often with annoying regularity. Regular updates are similar to Blackboard’s persistent OKs, reminding us of our compliance, our inability to do anything but accept. 

These updates also have to do with how institutionware contains features. Institutionware is about containment. Features aren’t so much offered as contained, kept within an overall system so users have little reason to go elsewhere. Feature containment also works against limited use and helps further preserve market dominance. Furthermore, persistent, “feature-rich” updates tend to benefit the service providers more than the users. 

[clip of "Suicidal Tendencies - 'Institutionalized' Frontier Records," 3:05-3:35 - "…how do you know what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy? When I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I went to your institutional learning facilities? So how can you say I’m crazy? They say they’re gonna fix my brain, alleviate my suffering and my pain, but by the time they fix my head, mentally, I’ll be dead. I’m not crazy, institution. You’re the one who’s crazy, institution."

We can even see this with Microsoft Word’s Clippy, who is less of an enabler and more of an enforcer, indicative of how institutionware is about preserving the institution as it is and has been, enhancing and supporting rather than challenging and threatening. Blackboard and Turnitin, for example, are not out to question traditional methods of education but to scaffold them. Names alone are evidence. 


Here the transcript ends. The notes I worked from devolved into improvisation and speculation, fueling a discussion focused almost entirely on Blackboard. This was somewhat unfortunate, but Blackboard looms large in the minds of many educators. 

I feel comfortable admitting this development because I’m still very much thinking and working through the very idea of institutionware. It is by no means fully formed. Since this #detroitdh talk, I’ve come to see limited use as playing a larger part in institutionware overall. Limited use itself may be more of a defining characteristic of institutionware than user agency or dependency, market dominance or feature containment. Limited use may be what binds the other characteristics together. What this in turn says about the relationship between service providers and users is something yet to be determined. I look forward to finding out. 


#wideemu teaser for "Free to P(l)ay or Maybe Not"

photo credit


"While it’s in Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn’s interests to attract as many users as possible – and clearly free is the way – there are obvious consequences: Users get to play without paying, but every few months we get kicked in the face when our digital profiles get abused." - Amber MacArthur, Free sucks. I want my privacy back. 


photo credit


"When you're a free service, you get to say these magic words: 'X is offered as is.' You are off the hook for problems. If people don't like it they can go elsewhere." - Alan Jacobs, Take My Money, Please! The Strange Case of Free Web Services


photo credit


"Research has shown that humans like getting rewards, but they hate losing what they already have much more than they value the same item as a reward. To be effective with this technique, you have to tell the player they have earned something, and then later tell them that they did not. The longer you allow the player to have the reward before you take it away, the more powerful is the effect." - Ramin Shokrizade, The Top F2P Monetization Tricks


photo credit


"One of the secrets of success of a F2P game is the implementation of a powerful system of statistical analysis. Game data provides clues as to the users' behavior and preferences." - Pascal Luban, The Design of Free-to-Play Games: Part 1

Rise Above The LMS #4C13 [video & transcript]

VIDEO: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jh2bqmv9r28dwr0/RATLMS.mov

TRANSCRIPT: Good morning and welcome to session L.24, Reaching New Publics with Homegrown Learning Management Systems. My name is James Schirmer and I’m presenting in absentia for a very good reason: the birth of my first child. But I want to thank Brian and Quinn for allowing me to present in this manner. Please know that all are welcome to tweet about or at me. My Twitter handle is at the top right corner of most slides; our session and conference hashtags are at the top left. Also, a full transcript of this talk is available at betajames.net (and at betajames.posthaven.com).

Now, in talking about learning management systems, we talk about many things, including access and control. We talk about who has access to what information at which level as well as who controls that access and that information. We also talk about persistent and potential obstacles to access and control. In such discussions, it can be very easy to conflate a course and a learning management system. So, I hereby invite my colleagues on the panel and in the audience to challenge me if I appear to make such a conflation.

In talking about alternatives to learning management systems, I think we talk about access and control, too, but with an acknowledgement of honesty and openness. More of what we do as writing teachers may be exposed in LMS alternatives; things can get messy in having all or some of the construction laid bare. And I think there’s a public-ness to LMS alternatives that standard, traditional platforms like Blackboard lack. I see this as a net positive for alternatives, varied as they are.

New media and Web 2.0 technologies are more accessible and open by nature, sharing a similar degree of public-ness. As writing teachers, we can — and sometimes do — voice our LMS frustrations via social media, but these online spaces are also opportunities for us to connect pedagogical aims and goals in new ways. This is not necessarily a new thing anymore, but I think it’s an idea worth repeating because it is also shared in the do-it-yourself ethos. Open the course, expose the scaffolding, encourage more and varied interaction, get beyond the Blackboard box.

Using a computer keyboard, we can blog about yesterday’s class and tweet course updates, but it is through social media that the work we do may be public in unanticipated ways. Searching Twitter for hashtags like #englishsucks and phrases like “I hate writing” can be very revealing. I mention this, too, because I want to steer clear of triumphalism here. Moving from a standard, traditional LMS like Blackboard to an alternative doesn’t eliminate certain problems; it may only change them.

But we’re talking about such movement this morning for reasons in addition to access, control, messiness, and openness. I think it’s safe to say that we, as writing teachers, value these concepts to varying degrees. I want to extend things a bit, though. If we acknowledge that writing often constitutes public work, if we are interested in enhancing the status of first-year composition, we should rethink housing our courses in learning management systems. Do not mistake this statement for blind adherence to an ideal, though. Often enough, I still find myself singing the following song.

[clip of “I’m Against It” from the Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers, ]
[LYRICS:
I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
But let's have one thing understood,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it.] 

I admit my own resistance to Blackboard and to learning management systems in general. However, I must also admit my reservations about this resistance. Do I dislike Blackboard for what it is or do my frustrations deal with broader concerns about higher education? Are my operating methods and preferences just too different? Do I just need to be more patient, more willing to discover and learn how a particular LMS organizes and values the efforts of students and teachers alike? In an “Authors @ Google” lecture, Douglas Rushkoff explains the Blackboard situation a bit better than I can: 

[clip of "Authors@Google: Douglas Rushkoff," 7:38-9:10]
[From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created to help create an equivalence between distance learning and real-life learning so that in your classroom you're actually using this technology as much as you would long distance...It's created not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software.]   

While I agree with Rushkoff, I no longer think of standard, traditional LMS platforms like Blackboard as software. Instead, I think of them as “institutionware.” For as much as Blackboard may be about preserving itself as the top LMS option, it is also about preserving the traditional aspects of higher education. Even more recent social media ‘features’ are about containment; blogs and wikis are stuck in the Blackboard box and mark the introduction of new environments and tools for learning but only serve lectures and exams. It’s all enough to make one rage against the machine.

[clip of "07 - Rage Against the Machine - Freedom (Live)," 4:15-4:45]
[LYRIC: anger is a gift

I agree with Zach de la Rocha that “anger is a gift.” When directing it in a productive way toward an issue or problem, clarity can often follow. I also agree with Matthew Gold’s perspective that the problem with learning management systems ‘lies in the conjunction of three words that should not appear together. Learning is not something that can be “managed” via a “system.”’ Given how we may use Blackboard or another platform, our course banners might as well read “Under Old Management.” Many of the faults of traditional LMS platforms are also the faults of higher education.

Still, the title of this talk isn’t “Rage Against The LMS.” Well, it was, but it isn’t anymore. In fact, my co-panelist Brian McNely has, in his words, “backed away from a militant anti-LMS perspective in everyday practice, in large part because it’s simply not conducive to getting things done with what we have…I don’t have the energy or influence to overturn my university’s LMS policy; I can offer my students interesting workarounds to the limitations of the LMS.” Like him, I’m more interested in how we might rise above the LMS, either through alternatives or by other means. 

[clip of "Henry Rollins/Black Flag 'Rise Above' Live, 0:25-0:55]
[LYRICS
Jealous cowards try to control
Rise above
We're gonna rise above
They distort what we say
Rise above
We're gonna rise above
Try and stop what we do
Rise above
When they can't do it themselves

We are tired of your abuse
Try to stop us it's no use

Society's arms of control
Rise above
We're gonna rise above]

Part of rising above the LMS may involve remembering that, as Sean Michael Morris writes in a piece for Hybrid Pedagogy, “the LMS is meant to help us think about teaching, not to do the teaching, or to tell us what teaching needs to occur. The LMS is not the course; it’s the launching pad for the course." In other words, we need to see the LMS as an opportunity to reconsider how and what it is we do as teachers.

This diagram is part of a blog entry by Lisa M. Lane in which she looks at how and where courses begin. According to Lane, starting in an LMS implies a teacher-centric model, closer connection with the college and its structures, greater concern for security and privacy, and emphasis on presentation and content over interactivity and community. Starting on the open web or a social media site implies a learner-centric model, greater connection with the outside world, and emphasis on community over content. 

Lane sees both starting options as doors, with the LMS linking out to social media and social media linking in or to the LMS. Whichever we choose “sets up different kinds of hierarchies, implies differences in pedagogy, and creates different kinds of opportunities for learning” (Lane). Similarly, William Beasley notes “there are good pedagogical reasons both for providing links that take students outside the LMS, and for bringing portions of the outside world into the LMS." 

This diagram is part of a blog entry by D’Arcy Norman in which he sees a role for the LMS in higher education “if for no other reason than the simple reality that most instructors, and many students, aren’t ready, willing, or able to forge their own solutions." Norman also acknowledges that “even a grassroots No-LMS environment eventually grows to resemble an LMS-like space." Through these diagrams, we can come to see the LMS in general as less of a learning management system and more of a learning mediated system. 

Now, in my own courses, I seek to rise above the LMS by incorporating simple, effective tools with a low barrier of entry. Here is one such example: Posterous, a soon-to-be defunct online writing service that allowed students to blog via email. Students and I were able to subscribe to and comment on each other’s blogs as well as personalize our online spaces. Twitter’s “acqui-hire” of the Posterous staff one year ago prefaced the announcement of a full-service shutdown on April 30. 

However, Twitter is (I hope) a more reliable online writing service used in many of my courses. Hashtags and/or specific tweeting times help foster community and that greater connection with the outside world mentioned earlier by Lisa Lane. 

Now, before turning things over to Brian and Quinn for more substantive inquiry, allow me to share a couple other, perhaps more interesting examples before closing with some persistent problems related to rising above the LMS. 

“Part storytelling workshop, part technology training, part critical interrogation of the digital landscape,” DS106 stands among the most unique and successful endeavors to engage students of all kinds in the development of skills for using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression. Searching on Twitter for the hashtags #ds106 and#ds106radio will send you down a rabbit’s hole into a wonderland of digital artifacts of all kinds.  

In sharing this screenshot of materials for a web application development course posted on GitHub, it is worth noting that Karl Stolley uses Git, version control software, for just about everything he writes. But, for Stolley, posting his syllabi on GitHub is worth doing so that his materials “are a tad more easy to get ahold of” but it also changes how he writes the source of his materials, whether Markdown or HTML.  

And, as usual, we are at an interesting time in higher education. The MOOC looms over much discussion of academia’s future, but it also stands as another potential LMS alternative. Many MOOCs serve as a combination of approaches and strategies; some are united as much by Twitter hashtags as more traditional methods of instruction. So, with these examples, we’re once again back to the opening concerns of access, control, honesty, messiness, and openness.

As also mentioned earlier, rising above a standard, traditional LMS like Blackboard may not eliminate certain problems, only change them. Our position in a college or university may determine our ability to rise. We may be limited to engaging in the strategy explained by Brian McNely rather than implementing one of the “door” approaches explained by Lisa Lane. Using free online services invite archival, privacy, and reliability issues. Hosting and growing our own spaces requires time and vigilance we may not have. 

While there are among the persistent problems related to rising above the LMS, I want to remain optimistic. When we rise above the LMS, we assert as ourselves as activists as well as writing teachers. We show others what alternatives are possible in particular capacities. And I look forward to what Brian and Quinn are about to show us. So, to close as so many of my students do, here is my references page.

Thank you.