Writing in the Public Sphere

In my last blog post I made a point about how technology has created a culture where we are “always on”; we expect and are expected to be so. Jenkins suggests we actually teach students how to multitask, but I never intended to put this into practice. Based on the comments received I can see how this was misconstrued – probably as a result of last minute editing that eliminated the way I had been contextualizing it. I do not think we need to teach students how to multi-task; by and large, they already know how. We need to help students control assert control over the infinite stream of information and modes of communication coming at them. One of the ways we can help them is by showing them that nothing actually happens when they silence their phone for 50 minutes to devote their attention to the issues being addressed in class.

Similarly, we need to help students be critical consumers of media and aware of the online persona they enact. Our students are online, reading, writing and participating; therefore, as Benson and Reymon point out in their article “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom,” “we have a clear obligation to help them participate thoughtfully and responsibly” online. The Internet is a fun, liberating, exciting, scary, and dangerous place. Students need to know how to navigate and explore such temperamental waters.

I consciously create space for students to write privately, publicly and to me in my classrooms. The last on I could do without; I’m working on it. The benefit of having students write publicly, even when that public is limited to the class is just as Charles Tyson claims in his “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition”: “students will take writing more seriously if they are writing for public on the Internet.” I could not agree with this more, but I think it’s more about a fear of being judged by their peers than it is the general public.https://i0.wp.com/wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/files/2013/09/bigbrother.jpg

The arguments in favor of a public audience for novice writers is the same as that against it – there is a public full of possibilities, both good and bad. Students know there is a public audience and that anyone could read it, yet they maintain a sense of anonymity online and refer to it as writing to their friends despite its public nature (Benson and Reyman). Only a couple of students in their study were really aware of it.

I have seen this first hand as recently as this past Friday. With the BART strike I ended up taking my Friday morning class online. I had planned to do a lesson on word choice through jigsaw, so I created group chats and forums for the groups to report back to. The lesson worked out really well, but when I commented in one of the chat’s a student that never speaks in class came back with “wow…creeper…” I was, admittedly, Big Brother. Her perceived comfort online is not the only notable takeaway, however. Even though they all knew I was signed into their chats, they didn’t consider that I would be following them.

The success of this lesson supported Richardson’s point in Blogs, Wiki’s and Podcasts that blogs “support different learning styles,” “everyone has a voice,” and the expansion of the walls of the classroom. This was just a couple of forums and chats on ilearn, but it all applied. I believe the lesson was more successful online than it has been in the classroom because everyone participated more. When a student was quiet they were quick to call each other out and ask them to chime in. I didn’t really need to be Big Brother.

Regardless of how we host writing online we have to monitor it in someway. I can’t think of anyone I’ve seen advocate against monitoring. I haven’t used blogs, but I do use the ilearn forums pretty heavily and I had to remove a student post last year. One of my students posted a largely homophobic essay. There were three openly gay students in our class. Fortunately, the problem was a writing problem. He wasn’t homophobic per se, he was only trying to describe one of the many things he was adjusting to with his move to San Francisco. A less patient reader wouldn’t see that though; all they would see was an aversion to gay culture. Luckily, no one saw the post and a similar issue hasn’t come up since, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

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Henry Jenkins on “Reducing the World’s Suck”

Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture, has some relevant (for us) things to say in an interview posted on Boing Boing. His take on the connection between literacy and play seems especially connected to conversations we’ve been having about games:

Reading, writing, and understanding words on a page won’t cut it anymore. In a digitized world, Henry says young people need new skills that go way beyond basic composition and comprehension. Skills like play (“the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving”), collective intelligence (“the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal”), and transmedia navigation (“the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities”).

What’s the deal with “suck”? Would it surprise any of us that he’s talking about school? “[S]uck consists in imposing your tastes on someone else by cutting them off from participating in meaningful activities. Right now, our schools do that all the time,” according to Jenkins. This critique is, in some respects, very similar to the ones made about school in the chapters from Gee we read last week, in that school seems not to encourage “active and critical learning” in the context of some “semiotic domain.” Of course, school is itself a “semiotic domain,” so one could argue that what school is fairly good at is teaching kids how to be in school. The question, I think, is whether that alone is worth spending 12-16 years of one’s life on. The answer, I think, is no.

Finally, when asked about the issue of “videogame addiction,” Jenkins says “I would be asking as much about what [the kids were] escaping from as I was concerned about what [they were] escaping into.” That is, perhaps we could spend less energy worrying about questionable aspects of videogames themselves, and a bit more of it trying to figure out why youth might prefer to spend so much time in them. This seems to me a more ecological approach to the issue, since it asks us to situate gaming in the broader context of a player’s “lifeworld,” to use Gee’s phrase. We assume that videogames exert force on peoples’ lives — such as making them more violent or prone to other questionable behaviors — but it’s just as true that peoples’ lives exert force on their participation in videogames. In other words, we need to stop thinking of videogames as something foreign, as attacking us from the outside. They are, instead, embedded in our lives, for good or ill.

Video Games, Textuality, and Community: This Post is Not Self-Indulgent at All

In the spirit of Henry Jenkins’ collective intelligence, I’m posting cumulative thoughts about video games and pedagogy based on discussions I’ve had in the past year with several people (including Kory, Nathan, and others).  Their ideas, along with my own, have become so wiki-fied in my head that I find myself not being able to formally attribute them to specific entities.  Huzzah.

James Paul Gee and Ian Bogost seem to be so hopeful in terms of using video games as effective learning tools that I find myself wanting to step back to tend to the reservations expressed by crusaders of conventional pedagogy.  Gee (the person, not the exclamation), in his introduction, does touch upon what he acknowledges as tired debates over sex and violence in video games (10-11).  To his own arguments, I would add that, at certain historical moments, other “new” media such as the novel (17th-18th centuries), film Continue reading

Digital Nation

PBS’s Frontline this past week ran a documentary that might be of interest to us here, called “Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier.” In case you missed it, you can watch the whole thing online. Even better, the Digital Nation website has lots and lots of extras, including more interview footage and collections of material on specific topics like identity and attention.

We’ll likely look at some of this stuff for our course, but thought you might want to poke around on the website on your own a bit. You might also want to look at a critique of the program by Henry Jenkins, who participated in the documentary.