On texting, videogames, and writing #dyr

Last year, 4.16 billion users made SMS the most popular data channel in the world. An estimated 6.1 trillion texts were sent, up from 1.8 trillion in 2007. And while the proportion of customers using SMS for more than simple messaging is still small, in poor nations these services are already changing the nature of commerce, crime, reporting news, political participation, and governing.

 

The subjects and themes and audiences of games should be no less of a concern than the contexts and purposes to which they are put. Not just adolescent fantasy and political activism, but everything in between.

 

research found that giving players the chance to adopt a new identity during the game and acting through that new identity – be it a different gender, hero, villain – made them feel better about themselves and less negative.

Looking at the players' emotion after play as well their motivation to play, the study found the enjoyment element of the videogames seemed to be greater when there was the least overlap between someone's actual self and their ideal self.

 

Video games aren't science. They are not a mystery of the universe that can be explained away via testable predictions and experimentation. We need to stop looking for answers, whether those answers would come from a technical innovation whose arrival only renews obsession with the next breakthrough, or from the final exploitation of the true nature of our medium by means of a historical discovery so obvious that it will become indisputable. The answers lie not in the past or the future, but in the present

 

We enter college hoping to learn effective communication skills—the kind of skills the recruiter in the Wall Street Journal article wished we possessed. But the joke is on us: the professors from whom we seek guidance, themselves don’t know good prose from porridge.

When we attend college, we throw our impressionable young minds headlong into this bog of ”scholars” such as Parsons; headlong into this asylum in which esteemed academic journals will publish gibberish if one uses the right buzzwords; headlong into this funhouse in which a computer program can generate random meaningless prose that reads passably like the stuff assigned in most graduate and undergraduate humanities classes. And from within this stylistic cesspool, we hope to get an education in how to write good prose.

 

Future assignment: The reverse-engineered essay

Among the ideas behind assignments like Mashup Scholarship and Pop Up Scholarship are that students need lots of practice writing and that they need to perform this practice in different ways. By explaining why and reflecting on how they perform academic writing instead of just producing 4-5 essays over 16 weeks, I like to think that more is happening here. The performance, i.e., the essay, is but one way of showing proficiency. The ability to reflect on that performance before, during, and after is just as important.

Such assignments also challenge how we should conduct ourselves in relation to academic writing. We need not be serious as a heart attack when discussing particulars of the kinds of writing students will be expected to do in college. There is no reverence in Pop Up Scholarship, given how much I encourage students to approach the assignment in much the way Pop Up Video did its own subject matter, i.e., with an affable, critical, knowledgeable, and playful edge. Furthermore, Mashup Scholarship invites students to do what other writing instructors may balk at.

However, both assignments focus on somewhat specific aspects of writing, including audience, grammar and syntax, organization, and source materials. Neither account much for argument or idea development, though, focusing and reflecting instead on the end result over whatever process produced it. This is not to say that my first-year writing courses are bereft of discussion concerning argument, idea development, or writing processes, only that I haven't devised a clear assignment addressing them. I think I might have something for my Fall 2011 class that does, though.

During my first year at UM-Flint, I had the privilege of working with a fourth-year student on an independent study project about comic-book writing. The student's semester-end project was a 25-page script of an origin story for a new superhero. Helping the student get to that point was an earlier assignment in which he reverse-engineered Dennis O'Neil's Batman: Birth of the Demon, breaking it down into constituent parts for further examination, seeing how the frames, panels, and pages fit together, and where O'Neil likely began.

A recent column on plagiarism got me thinking about reverse-engineering again. Even if a student were to reverse-engineer a plagiarized essay, they will undoubtedly still learn something worthwhile in the process, yes? Both Mashup and Pop Up Scholarship as well as some of the required reading in my first-year courses lean toward the idea of reverse engineering. This is something I want to explore more with students. So, similar to Mashup Scholarship in that I ask students to do something they and/or other professors may have reservations about, reverse-engineering an essay asks students to fill in the steps that led to final publication.

I'm still working on the specifics of the assignment, but here's some starting language:

Choose one of the longform articles below or submit another for approval. In an entry this week, provide context for and a summary of your chosen article. That is, note the author, the publication in which the article appears and when, etc. It's pretty much impossible to reverse-engineer an essay you haven't read.

Using either the sample steps provided below or your own identified process, reverse-engineer your chosen article. Over the next two weeks, we will move from revised drafts to shitty drafts to outlines to brainstorming to initial curiosity/perplexity. In other words, we will work backwards until we have reached a satisfactory starting point for your chosen article.

 

I welcome any/all feedback on this. Do you see particular use in devising such an assignment?

On blogging, social media, self-publishing, and teaching reading and writing #dyr

What does that mean: Blogging is writing without a safety net?

This means that you are on your own. Your work is all yours, and it rises or falls on its own merits. Nobody is fact-checking you before you hit “Publish” (though many commenters will afterwards), and nobody is having your back after your publish – you are alone to defend your work against the critics. If you are good and trusted, you may have a community of bloggers or commenters who will support you, but there is no guarantee.

You can see, from the above paragraph, that there are two senses of “blogging is writing without a safety net”. One concerns pre-publication – there is no editor to check your work. The other concerns post-publication – nobody protects you.

 

While the blogs have exposed wrongdoers and broken news before, this week’s performance may signal the arrival of weibos as a social force to be reckoned with, even in the face of government efforts to rein in the Internet’s influence.

The government censors assigned to monitor public opinion have let most, though hardly all of the weibo posts stream onto the Web unimpeded. But many experts say they are riding a tiger. For the very nature of weibo posts, which spread faster than censors can react, makes weibos beyond easy control. And their mushrooming popularity makes controlling them a delicate matter.

 

We assume that Facebook is something we should associate with the young, but my evidence suggests that this is entirely mistaken.

If there is one obvious constituency for whom Facebook is absolutely the right technology, it is the elderly. It allows them to keep closely involved in the lives of people they care about when, for one reason or another, face-to-face contact becomes difficult... Its origins are with the young but the elderly are its future.

 

Twitter/Facebook/G+ are secondary media. They are a means to connect in crisis situations and to quickly disseminate rapidly evolving information. They are also great for staying connected with others on similar interests (Stanley Cup, Olympics). Social media is good for event-based activities. But terrible when people try to make it do more – such as, for example, nonsensically proclaiming that a hashtag is a movement. The substance needs to exist somewhere else (an academic profile, journal articles, blogs, online courses).

 

There are many reasons potential authors want to publish their own books, Mr. Weiss said. They have an idea or manuscript they have passed around to various agents and publishers with no luck; they may just want to print a few copies of, say, a memoir for family members; they want to use it in their business as a type of calling card; or they actually want to sell a lot of books and make their living as writers.

 

In a hyper–abundant book world, where previous patterns of discovery may not work as well as they used to, readers are developing, and increasingly will need to develop, new ways of discovering titles that might interest them. Marketing and discovery are moving to the forefront of book marketplace activity, and social networks are adding new ideas and opportunities to the stable of traditional ways to bring books to the attention of potential readers.

 

The academic study of literature is a wonderful thing, and not just because it has paid my salary for most of my adult life, but it is not an unmixed blessing, and teachers will rarely find it possible simply to inculcate the practices of deeply attentive reading.

Over the past 150 years, it has become increasingly difficult to extricate reading from academic expectations; but I believe that such extrication is necessary. Education is and should be primarily about intellectual navigation, about—I scruple not to say it—skimming well, and reading carefully for information in order to upload content. Slow and patient reading, by contrast, properly belongs to our leisure hours.

 

email has such obvious promise as a tool for writing, and sharing writing, and teaching writing. It takes words and it sends them anywhere right away. If in 1976 you wanted to see a student's work in progress, you needed a printer and an appointment. The student had to take notes while you talked, walk home, remember what exactly you said, and work up a new draft. If he came to another impasse he'd probably keep it to himself -- nobody is going to office hours five times in three days. (Nobody is holding office hours five times in three days.)

Today each of these transactions -- copy, paste, send; receive, annotate, reply -- might take a few minutes. Emails can be composed and consumed anywhere, privately, quietly, at one's convenience. It is the free ubiquitous highway for words. It is exactly the tool you'd invent if you were a teacher of writing who wanted a better way to teach people to write.

 

On social media, terrorism, and academia #dyr

working online also pushes education beyond the confines of school, allowing kids to broaden discussion of their work. And it forces them to do "authentic" work that gets tested out in the real world, as outside viewers see it and respond to it.

 

Today's online experience is really the experience of being part of a gigantic crowd of people, said Jon Kleinberg, the Tisch University Professor of Computer Science at Cornell, in a lecture about what social media and other popular websites can teach us about ourselves, July 20 in Kennedy Hall.

When we go online, we do not just learn about an event, said Kleinberg...We also learn about the experiences, opinions and reactions of millions of people.

 

psychologists call it "deindividuation". It's what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed...And it's why under the cover of an alias or an avatar on a website or a blog – surrounded by virtual strangers – conventionally restrained individuals might be moved to suggest a comedian should suffer all manner of violent torture because they don't like his jokes, or his face. Digital media allow almost unlimited opportunity for wilful deindividuation. They almost require it. The implications of those liberties, of the ubiquity of anonymity and the language of the crowd, are only beginning to be felt.

 

Don't talk, then, about the wildness in our rhetoric today, and its undeniable roots in that deep strain of political violence that runs through our national DNA, on a gene that is not always recessive. Don't relate Centennial Park in Atlanta in 1996 to Oklahoma City to murdered doctors to Columbine, and then to Tucson and to the bag on the bench in Spokane. Ignore the patterns, deep and wide, that connect each event to the other like a slow-burning fuse to a charge. That there are among us rage-hardened, powerless people who resort to the gun and the bomb. That there are powerful people who deplore the gun and the bomb, but who do not hesitate to profit from their use. And when the gun goes off or the bomb explodes, the powerful will deplore the actions of the powerless, and they will reassure the rest of us that We are not like Them, who are violent and crazy and whose acts have no reason beyond unfathomable madness. But above all, they will say, Ignore the fact that there is still a horrible utility in political violence, the way there was during Reconstruction, or during the labor wars of the early twentieth century. If there were not, it wouldn't be so hard to get an abortion in Kansas, and assault weapons would not have been accessories of choice at recent rallies purportedly held to discuss changes in the way the country organizes its health-care system.

 

Breivik wrote about different classifications of “traitors,” or individuals he felt could be killed during his imagined revolution.  In his handbook, he suggested that revolutionaries consider attacking both “literature conferences and festivals” and “annual gatherings for journalists.

 

Almost by definition, academics have gotten to where they are by playing a highly scripted game extremely well. That means understanding and following self-reinforcing rules for success.

 

Academic journals generally get their articles for nothing and may pay little to editors and peer reviewers. They sell to the very universities that provide that cheap labour.

 

I can only recommend graduate school in the humanities—and, increasingly, the social sciences and sciences—if you are independently wealthy, well-connected in the field you plan to enter (e.g., your mom is the president of an Ivy League university), or earning a credential to advance in a position you already hold

 

"Did you read?" #dyr

I read when I should be writing. I'm often more interested in the ideas of others than my own. Most days, my Twitter profile features many more links to readings than my own original content. The same can be observed of early entries in this space. I posted snippets of articles I deemed worth the time of any visitors here. I even started a feature of sorts called "What You Might Have Missed," shortened to #wymhm for easier archiving and searching both here and on Twitter.

Given the relative wealth of news and information available online as well as the time of day I shared some of that wealth, I thought it worthwhile to compile elsewhere what I offered. This lasted for a while, at least until I read one too many general, passive-aggressive tweets about blogs lacking original content. I gave in to those arguments and stopped #wymhm altogether.

However, I've received the occasional inquiry about bringing #wymhm back. Not everyone keeps the morning online schedule I do, and I think one of the benefits of curation is that it allows us to come to links more on our own time. We don't have to keep such an attentive eye to those we follow online if we know links will be suggested again elsewhere. We don't have to be as concerned with answering in the affirmative to the question posed in the video above. 

The video also speaks to the absurd demand we place upon ourselves and others, how we can become blind to the most practical reading we should be doing, how an awareness of what's happening in the world in terms of events and ideas often isn't as important as reading what will allow us to cross the street and still exist.

But reading isn't just about keeping up with current events and new/old ideas. And curation isn't about posting links on a blog in lieu of original content. Both are important because they allow for better, deeper reflection on the part of the reader/curator. For this reason, not everything I post to Twitter will be part of future entries here, only those items of some persistent importance.

This is because I was privileged to witness a recent back-n-forth online that had conversants bemoaning the lack of worthwhile news about technology. Not much reported today will probably be important or relevant tomorrow, much less a week from now, they agreed. So, my focus for these specific entries will be on sharing those more "timeless" pieces.  

This isn't to write that everything here will be serious, though. After all, the title I gave this space is "Against Multiphrenia," which means that I try to work contrary to Kenneth Gergen's idea of technologies that increase social contact also draw us in multiple and conflicting directions. In other words, a lolcat or two may sometimes be part of an entry or three.

Besides, originality is overrated anyway. The creativity and originality featured via such entries will be in how I contextualize and justify what I share. Articles and items can speak for themselves in their own spaces; that's not what will happen here.

So, #wymhm is now #dyr. I plan to do this on Tuesdays and Thursdays to account for my fall teaching schedule as well as time sufficient for reflecting on what should be allocated. As mentioned in yesterday's announcement, I look forward to sharing with you.

announcement

Announcements are funny things. In the time taken to announce something, we could often spend our time better, perhaps devoting ourselves to whatever we happen to be announcing. As a writing teacher, I have an acute awareness of this, often crafting entries that do little more than announce new course materials or the next assignment when I could/should be reading current course materials or assessing old assignments. 

Announcements serve a function, though, given variance in attention and value. We appreciate the occasional heads up on things deemed important. This is what announcements are and do. This is important to me, they say. I want you to be aware of this, to know this, to be prepared for it.

Beyond the handful of invitations we sent, M and I didn't announce our wedding. On a formal basis, this wasn't supposed to happen until after the event anyway, but even on an informal basis there were many we didn't tell. I kept quiet about it on Twitter and in my summer course. When asked why I wouldn't be providing an update on the course project until the last week of July, I only replied that I would be too busy.

The lack of a formal announcement until after the wedding produced a customary amount of congratulatory cards and notes, including a quaint $10 check from M's great aunt. The lack of an informal announcement online produced a similar influx of congratulatory remarks, including a "sweet zombie jesus!" from Ethan Watrall, which remains a favorite exclamation of mine. Some were bewildered, too, thinking they had overlooked a previous announcement. Such a mixture of confusion and surprise occurs when something isn't announced.

Announcements signal intent, too. This is what happened, they say. This is happening, is about to happen, will happen. As the title of this entry implies, I want to announce something about this space: There will be more here more often. I will be resurrecting a past feature or two. I will be writing more focused pieces about my fall courses, my interests scholarly and otherwise. In other words, stuff's gonna be happening here on a more regular basis. Any confusion or surprise resulting from this or that will be because of this or that, not because I didn't announce it first. You've been warned, dear reader, and I look forward to sharing with you.

Where we stand: Week 7 #560wr

I’m big on shitty first drafts and writing-to-learn activities. In my view, shitty first drafts are one of the goals of this #560WR collaborative authoring project, if only so that we have something tangible to work with should we decide to go beyond semester’s end. Something tangible sits now on my desk, a hard-copy draft of each of the seven chapters for the Book. 

It’s quite clear to me that all students are quite capable in introducing and integrating secondary source material. That all were able to draw and apply so much from the research pool is a clear, positive aspect of the project overall. The wealth of block quotes and summary provided in these drafts, though, are unnecessary for a Book and instead give the appearance of a lengthy literature review. Furthermore, when aiming for a Book as the end product, I think there needs to be integration and uniformity in the content produced. There can’t be sole reliance on writers writing independently of each other followed by slapping together their 10-page offerings with the expectation it will all work.

Perhaps JS was right all along to suggest something other than a Book (SOTAB) during Week 2. That’s not to imply we’d get away with doing less via a group blog or a wiki, only that maybe we’d be better served by SOTAB. Different forms of scholarly communication have different demands and, based on the apparent reluctance of certain chapter drafts to make arguments, some kind of digital reference or repository might have worked better. I’m not writing now to gauge the depth of my hindsight, though; that’s for after I’ve locked in final grades. I will offer this teaser: Writing a Book is a noble endeavor, but perhaps an unrealistic venture for eight weeks with 14 graduate students. 

I offer that because some chapters revealed writers’ interest in writing what they wanted rather than committing and contributing in a more collaborative way to the project itself. Of course, this may also be related to the frustration and hesitation mentioned earlier. I know that if I’m more comfortable writing about X instead of Y, I’ll do just that even if Y is the main focus of what I’m writing. So, I don’t fault anyone for the chapters drafted. To be honest, I’m impressed we made it this far. 

I provided all feedback to students with the understanding that we are still in pursuit of a Book as the end result of the project. This admission as well as last week’s entry may hinder or even sabotage the revision work of some researcher/writer pairs, but I’m hopeful that a majority will engage, if not humor me. Perhaps their revisions will reveal their own ideas and opinions about the future of this collaborative authoring project. There’s a lot still to be done with the content produced, and I look forward to discussing with #560WR students their ideas and opinions about the project’s future on Thursday, June 30, 2011, from 4:15PM to 6:45PM.

Where we stand: Week 6 #560wr

The second scheduled in-class writing session was marked by artificial lighting. Having found the Torch bountiful in distraction and noise, we retreated to our classroom. This change was welcomed by some, but not by others. As last week's location wasn't conducive for all, I observed much the same this week.

While lacking the distractions and noise of the Torch, the classroom also lacks fresh air and windows, either of which may have been an unfortunate influence on the productivity of some researcher/writer pairs. Furthermore, less potential distraction made for greater focus, but also greater possibility for burnout. As the session wore on, there were more than a few audible sighs and rubbing of the eyes, both of which may have led to pleading by some for a break in the monotony. I had nothing to offer beyond declaring a 10-minute break up and away from our computer screens.

However, many researcher/writer pairs were in full-on writing mode for much of the session. Some pairs took to further brainstorming, but all had their game faces on and appeared serious about getting ideas down. I also appreciated those who worked within Google Docs as this enabled me to see their writing in action. At this point, I have no concerns about the seven 20-page chapter drafts due next week.

Given this lack, I want to look ahead and entertain some possible futures for this collaborative writing project. Week 7 will be our first and perhaps only editing and proofreading session. Each researcher/writer pair will bring two hard copies of their completed, 20-page chapter draft for peer review. My expectation is that each pair will provide substantive feedback on two chapter drafts. My suggestion is that each pair will do this for the chapter before and the chapter after their own, i.e., the Chapter 3 pair will read and respond to Chapter 2 and Chapter 4.

With differences of opinion about the location most conducive to writing work, researcher/writer pairs will be free to go wherever they wish at 6PM. For that first half hour, though, we will meet in our classroom and discuss particular approaches to peer review. Come 730PM, we will reconvene in the classroom for further discussion.

I anticipate at least some of that discussion will be about the future of the project. While this depends in part on the status of each chapter, I want to think beyond the end of the semester. Right now, I see at last three possibilities:

  1. Students decide to go their own way, continuing written work divorced from the collaborative writing project. I remain available for feedback and guidance, but the project itself ends with the semester.
  2. Students decide to continue the project, either toward a print publication or something else. Perhaps there is a fruitful, realistic discussion about what's attainable vs. what's desired, ending in the construction of a blog or a wiki as well as the transformation of current project content.
  3. Students decide to leave the project in my hands, allowing me as executive editor to do as thou wilt or with email notifications of changes to and updates on the project.

As #560WR remains an experiment, I'm unsure if any one of these possible futures could be indicative of failure or success.