All genre categories presume ideal readers, people who know the conventions and secret codes, people who read them in the "right way." Many of us – female fans of male action shows, adult fans of children's books, male fans of soap operas – read and enjoy things we aren't supposed to and we read them for our own reasons, not those proposed by marketers. We don't like people snatching books from our hands and telling us we aren't supposed to be reading them.

Delicious Every Other Day 12.3.09

Learning to Play: The Potential of Gaming in the Classroom
"After learning what videogames could do for a classroom full of students, I soon found myself responsible for both designing and teaching a college composition course over the next three semesters. I knew then what I had to do."

YouTube: the People's University of the Internet
"Education has been slower than other sectors to respond to the digital revolution but through YouTube it is catching up."

Facebook profiles capture true personality
"Online social networks such as Facebook are being used to express and communicate real personality, instead of an idealized virtual identity, according to new research from psychologist Sam Gosling at The University of Texas at Austin."

Your Life Is Online
"People are committing all kinds of personal data to online repositories, through the likes of social networks, online commercial activities and behavioural tracking systems. These collations of data can say a lot about who we are - at the time of record - or (possibly) the image we wish to project of ourselves."

The Over-Prompting of Young Writers
"The obstacle is that one prompt doesn't fit all because kids need to make personal connections to their writing topics."

Skip the Sub and Teach with Twitter
"I thought to myself, 'How can I still be a presence in my classroom when I can't be there?' I could create movies of my own teaching, of course. But that wouldn't be interactive. And it would require my sub to run the technology of the room, and that is its own challenge. So I decided that I would try an experiment -- Twittering with each class period."

My Hilarious Warner Bros. Royalty Statement
"we all know that major labels are supposed to be venal masters of hiding money from artists, but they’re also supposed to be good at it, right? This figure wasn’t insulting because it was so small, it was insulting because it was so stupid."

Delicious Every Other Day 12.1.09

The New Writing Pedagogy
"Grammar and spelling are not emphasized, because the focus is on communicating with peers in fast microposts, but Allison says he works with students to self-assess and then eventually grades the bigger discussion pieces that include quotes from many different online resources and multimedia."

Anatomy of a Search

When I teach research methods in the classroom, I often concentrate on doing real-time, live searches based on suggested topics from the class while narrating some of the ideas and choices I’m thinking about as I go from one resource to the next."

The Rise and Fall of Media
The most popular books of the holiday season have become cat toys in a price war between online and offline retailers. Newspapers still hang onto a portion of seasonal ads, but the retail chains that place them have consolidated into a much smaller cohort, and much of their spending is bifurcated between old and new media marketing. Magazines intended to help the reader primp for Christmas parties are, in many cases, half as big as they were just a few short years ago."

UC Irvine takes video games to the next level
Once ridiculed within university halls as merely a nerdy pastime, computer games are being promoted to a full-fledged academic program at the Irvine campus, a medium as ripe for study as the formats before it: film, radio and television."

How many virtual war crimes have you committed?
Perhaps games could take into account the legal ramifications of a player's actions in their epilogues. If he or she goes around torturing people and laying waste to civilian areas, the game’s ending might change from the soldier flying off into the sunset a hero to a court room scene in which a judge lists off his criminal indiscretions, lecturing how the ends don't justify the means before passing sentence."

Psychology of Cyberspace - The Online Disinhibition Effect
"As you move around the internet, most of the people you encounter can't easily tell who you are. System operators and some technologically savvy, motivated users may be able to detect your e-mail or internet address, but for the most part people only know what you tell them about yourself. If you wish, you can keep your identity hidden. As the word "anonymous" indicates, you can have no name - at least not your real name. That anonymity works wonders for the disinhibition effect."

Week 11/12 Reflections

With pecha kucha presentations complete in 252 and 298, it is time to reflect on how they all went down. For the most part, I was impressed with what students put together. As expected, there were some technical difficulties, but nothing that was too damaging to any one presentation. Many utilized images and phrases to their advantage, capturing not only the spirit of pecha kucha but also providing better explanation of their ideas. I was also better able to see how these creative and critical topics of interest mattered to students. Whether working from a script, notes or memory, the importance of their projects was often quite clear. "This means something to me," said many of the presentations, "and here's why." Of course, there were a few that showed a lack of practice, preparation and/or respect for pecha kucha, but even these showed deeper concern and interest in particular topics. I have even greater anticipation now for the drafts of their projects due Week 13.

Despite the hiccups encountered, the most recent 513 session represented a return to form. Thanks in large part to the last two student facilitations, both of which were presentation-heavy but otherwise handled well, there was again some real engagement with issues concerning online identity and the technologies utilized to foster it. Cynicism and skepticism were present in the comments of certain students, but not without foundation. The Internet can be an overwhelming, if not scary, place, and it has the potential to become even more so as it and the surrounding user-cultures/societies continue to change. This is not to imply a doom-and-gloom future, though, as I think just as much potential exists for creative, positive utilization, which is something I hope students know and understand as a result of taking this course. Perhaps their pecha kucha presentations in two weeks will reveal this...

Delicious (Almost) Every Other Day 11.24.09

Finding more in 'most': Scientific study of an everyday word
"...the exact meaning of plain language isn't always easy to find. Even simple words like 'most' and 'least' can vary greatly in definition and interpretation, and are difficult to put into precise numbers."

Local Bookstores, Social Hubs and Mutualization
"Like record stores and video rental places, physical bookstores simply can’t compete for breadth of offering and, also like the social changes around music and moving images, the internet is strengthening rather than weakening the ability of niches and sub-cultures to see themselves reflected in long-form writing."

The Videogame Debate: Bad for Behaviour, Good for Learning?
"...research suggests that appropriate use of recreational and educational video games can facilitate learning and the development of important skills. "

Half man, half machine: The cyborgs are coming
"Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed ultra slim and flexible electronic circuits on silk that dissolve once implanted inside the body leaving the electronics behind to do their thing."

The I's Don't Have it
"The Internet makes everybody a linguist, the same way it turns us all into medical diagnosticians and tracers of lost persons. Counting words has become a favorite way to track a trend, uncover a hidden meaning or cut a long text down to size."

Conference Humiliation: They're Tweeting Behind Your Back
"The microblogging service Twitter is changing a staple of academic life from a one-way presentation into a real-time conversation. Flub a talk badly enough and you now risk mobilizing a scrum of digital-spitball-slinging snark-masters."

Can Science Fight Media Disinformation?
"In the 24/7 Internet world, people make lots of claims. Science provides a guide for testing them."

Your Brain On Books
"...the human brain is a much more constrained organ than we think, and that it places strong limits on the range of possible cultural forms. Essentially, the brain did not evolve for culture, but culture evolved to be learnable by the brain."

Games 'permit' virtual war crimes
"Video games depicting war have come under fire for flouting laws governing armed conflicts."

(Skilled) Self-Presentation
"Presenting knowledge or arguments effectively involves putting together a lot of different sub-skills on the fly."

Teaching With Twitter: Not For The Faint Of Heart
"...asking 250 students to post questions on Twitter during a class doesn't risk life or limb. But it can cause ego damage if the mob of students...gets disorderly online."

Week 10/11 Reflections

The near end-of-the-semester doldrums dissipated with the introduction of the final project in ENG 252 and ENG 298. Both courses appear to have some late life left in them as a result. Project requirements ask for students to focus on an issue of their interest within the focus of the course, writing studies and game studies respectively. Beyond posting initial proposals to their blogs for peer and instructor approval, the final project asks for pecha kucha presentations prior to a first project draft. There was some initial resistance to this aspect alone, with students expressing surprise at the strict requirements and others suggesting slight variations of the established rules. For perhaps the first time in the semester, I was immovable to any suggested changes, which some interpreted as anger or frustration. Class sessions focused on the discussion of final projects proved to be some of the most energetic and interesting of the semester, but not just because I kept saying no to possible variants of pecha kucha. The level of engagement missing from previous weeks made a triumphant return, I think, as students thought aloud and online about possibilities. Freed of blogging and reading about predetermined subjects, which I intended as preparation for final projects, many students showed great willingness to move forward in creative and critical ways.

For as glad as I am about students taking to their final projects with some degree of gusto, I'm concerned about the timing of such work. It is normal for most all college-level courses to conclude with some larger project, but the effect of this often means overwhelming students more than usual. While we might justify such work by saying that which does not kill us makes us stronger, I want to entertain the idea of having students complete final projects in future courses two weeks before the semester's end. In earlier posts, I observed how the constant grind of blogging and reading didn't sharpen students' resolve but dulled their senses. Perhaps an earlier introduction of the final project could work as a preemptive attack then. Having a calmer last two weeks, too, would also leave students more time to reflect on the course and their performance as well as to complete their final projects in other courses.

Such a change would be most welcome in 513, given reactions to my suggestion of taking a figurative, collective deep breath after the completion of midterm essays. While I think some viewed this as another step toward full dissolution, I'm hopeful that the next session will be more of a return to proper form. Right now, I think the course suffered and, to a certain degree, continues to suffer under the weight of great expectations, both mine and those of certain students, and also how some of those expectations remained unspoken for the majority of the semester. As observed in previous reflective posts, the level of prescription could, and perhaps should, have been higher from the beginning. The majority of the class still appears to be learning and getting something helpful out of the course. At this point, the lone apparent sensible thing for any of us to do is just ride out the avalanche.

Delicious Every Other Day 11.18.09

Twittering the Student Experience
"An experiment into the use of social media at the University of Leicester has shown that Twitter, an online blogging service, can act as an exceptional communication tool within academia."

Ghost in the Shell: Why Our Brains Will Never Live In The Matrix
"To recreate a brain/mind in silico, whether a cyborg body or a computer frame, is equally problematic. Large portions of the brain process and interpret signals from the body and the environment. Without a body, these functions will flail around and can result in the brain... well, losing its mind."

Educator Use Of Social Networking Lags Behind Interest
"The final results of an extensive nationwide survey on educator use of social networking were published last week, and it appears that more than six educators in ten are at least interested enough in the growing medium to register on one or more sites."

Choose Your Own Freshman Comp
"Freshmen are required to take this six-credit seminar, which is organized around a specific topic. Students spend three hours with a full-time faculty member focusing on the specific topic and then another three hours with a writing instructor -- typically a graduate English or writing student -- who uses content from the topic section to teach college composition."

How Not to Write Fiction: Style and Evidence in Qualitative Research Studies
"I had begun to read research studies, and I found that good research studies – the ones that were solidly grounded, well written, and intellectually curious – were more interesting than fiction to me."

Venezuela bans violent video games: a first-person guest essay
"The law is just the latest nail in the coffin of Venezuelans' right of dissent and broader civil liberties. A pitiful attempt to blame video games and toys for the widespread lethal violence in our country, instead of a defective judicial structure, systemic corruption and governmental (purposeful?) ineptitude to deal with the problem."

The truth about videogame addiction
"Tabloid headlines gorge themselves on this kind of stuff. These tragic events are just a handful of instances among millions, perhaps billions, of gaming lives, but they're easily exploded out of all proportion by the hype-seeking missile of cheap journalism."

The History of the Internet in a Nutshell
"...considering how much of an influence the Internet has in our daily lives, how many of us actually know the story of how it got its start?"

Week 9 Reflections

Course frustrations culminated in an abrupt assignment adjustment this past week. The decision to eliminate the fourth and final observation from ENG 252 came from suffering through the third round of submissions, both oral and written, which were enough evidence that the once interesting idea had gone stale. In future incarnations, there will be two total observations required, one oral and one written, in which students analyze and compare representations of writers and writing, composers and composing. Asking for four such observations from students this semester was just too much for all parties involved.

In contrast, the last student-led reading group session went well. Despite the "boring" and "painful" focus on forms of professional writing, the ensuing whole-class discussion was enlightening and productive. Student discussion leaders offered some very good observations on the importance of putting together cover letters, personal statements and resumes. What I appreciated most was the introduction of a writing activity asking students to compose resumes for cartoon characters. I found this to be an appealing assignment for many reasons. Students in my Winter 2010 technical writing course shouldn't be surprised to encounter some variation of this.

Discussion in ENG 298 was better this week, even though it remained apparent that whole-class discussion has lost significant momentum. The same six or seven students contributed to the conversation; the other two-thirds sat in relative silence with some variance in terms of attention and engagement. As mentioned in my previous reflective post, I am quite glad to be moving forward with the final game studies project because it changes the entire point of holding class. Course goals will soon be even more common and students will need to rely as much on each other as they might me for critical feedback on their work.

I had some expectation that my lunch meeting with three ENG 298 students might turn to their thoughts on the final game studies project, but we ended up just talking about videogames. I was surprised and energized by their questions about the relationship between learning and videogames, about my own starry-eyed aspirations for changing the very structure of college-level courses to better fit what's most successful in RPGs like Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and FPSs like Left 4 Dead. Perhaps that will be a course I guide sometime in the future.

For now, though, I'm skeptical and worried about ENG 513. It appears on the edge of full dissolution. I realize this is my fault; I've mentioned reasons in previous posts. The first few facilitations were of such high quality; perhaps it was naive of me to assume such a level could be maintained. It's almost as if the course began as a modest snowball that took on greater mass each week until it became what it is now. As facilitations became less cohesive endeavors, marked by unexpected comments and uncomfortable silences, an avalanche took shape, and now I wonder if I should try in vain to slow the descent or just ride it out to the end and then climb up and out. This is not to say that some aspects of the past few facilitations haven't been helpful, but these parts seem fewer and farther between.

Then again, these observations might be little more than evidence of how I'm being too hard on myself, the course, the students. The melodramatic nature of my words here are designed to draw attention, of course, but there is a strong element of truth as well. As always, I welcome comments that further this conversation.

Delicious Every Other Day 11.4.09

Professionalization in the academy [Harvard Magazine]
"...the more self-limiting the profession, the harder it is to acquire the credential and enter into practice, and the tighter the identification between the individual practitioner and the discipline."

The golden age of infinite music [BBC]
" the great digital revolution rolls on, bands are no longer having to compete for people's money. Instead, they're jockeying for our time. And the field is huge, crossing not just genres, but eras."

Going Offline In Search Of Freedom []
"If we’re inundated with data, our brains’ synthesizing functions are overwhelmed by the effort to keep up. And the original purpose — deeper knowledge of a subject — is lost."

Privacy is dead, and social media hold smoking gun [CNN]
"It's easy to see the associated risks of a life-logging device. From stalkers to identity theft, recording such information (and to unlock its true value, posting it online) makes us vulnerable to all manner of bad actors.But what about the cost of not sharing? In the online realm, that might mean you simply don't exist."

What sociologist Erving Goffman could tell us about social networking and Internet identity [O'Reilly Radar]
"That the Internet suppresses implicit signals such as body language, and maps poorly to high-context cultures, is well known. But what we can learn from Goffman is that the elimination of all these nuances reduces the effectiveness of team behavior when they interact in groups with other participants who have differing interests or viewpoints."

Google Wave: we came, we saw, we played D&D [Ars Technica]
"...there seems to be an emerging consensus that Google Wave has as much RPG potential as any platform since the venerable and proverbial tabletop."

The Science of Retweets on Twitter [PR 2.0]
"Retweets, in my opinion, are one of the most sincere forms of recognition and validation, empowering users to pay it forward through the recognition of noteworthy content."

Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter [Wired]
"It’s easy to write off Twitter as a happy accident, a right-place, right-time fluke. But that misses the point. When Twitter’s creators designed the service, they made a series of crucial and deliberate decisions — ones that seem brilliant in retrospect — that created the conditions that allow users to innovate."

The power of tweets [Guardian]
"So is Twitter a neat way of keeping in contact with your mates? One of the most effective promotional device yet invented? A powerful new tool for democracy, enabling abuses to be exposed and offenders to be defeated? Or (in this country at least) a liberal rent-a-mob bent on hanging out to dry those who express an opinion that differs from their own?"

Some thoughts on Twitter vs. Facebook Status Updates [apophenia]
"[The] difference between the two has to do with the brokering of status. With Facebook, the dominant norm is about people at a similar level of status interacting. On Twitter, there's all sorts of complicated ways in which status is brokered."

Is Your Facebook Profile As Private As You Think? [NPR]
"Social network users assume a degree of privacy within their circle of friends — but it's not a safe assumption to make."