15 Megabytes of Fame

Michael Wesch’s compelling video An anthropological introduction to YouTube is a Rosetta Stone for the current state (give or take a few years) of the video blog or vlog.

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He highlights and translates a possible meaning for the shared experiences of Gary Brolsma’s Numa Numa, Juan Mann’s Free Hugs, and Lonely Girl 15, while thankfully leaving Brittany alone.

What is intriguing yet utterly confusing to me is the need to share one’s innermost thoughts or outright silliness with this cold and cynical world. Where would Numa Numa Gary have lipsinked before YouTube? Would Free Hugs Juan still be seeking a little warmth in a pre-internet life? How would he have been received by passers by? And what about Lonely Girl 15? Would she still be a soap opera queen in training, but in a different venue?

And what about all the copycats?

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Is this any different than me and my friends pretending to be The Supremes when we were kids? We were just having fun, sharing the experience of a song we loved and at the tender age of 8, a group we emulated. When the eccentric Charles Caleb Colton wrote “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” I doubt he had his kid brother in mind. Yet hundreds of emulators and autotuners are only sharing the love, right? What makes us want to imitate and remix and mashup? Is this the only way we can acquire our god given 15 megabytes of fame?

When I invite my students into the visual rhetoric conversation, where will I draw the line? How do I grade a re-envisioning of mashup of a repost?

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While I love the absolute joy and liberation from the drudgery of grad school that free-form video allows, I am ever practical and looking for a way to teach this genre of visual rhetoric without losing site of critical thinking. Your thoughts and ideas are most welcome below.

Addendum and Reflection

I went to a Community of Practice workshop yesterday sponsored by Berkeley City College and The Academy for College Excellence. My takeaway is that there are definitely more inspiring uses of online video and social networking that I can share and discuss with students. I do not look down on the imitators, autotuners and mashup artistes of the world. Collective entertainment and shared experience has its place and makes me laugh. However, at the end of the day, I want a bit more substance. For example, look at the work of Oluwaseun Odewale, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. He writes about elections in his home country, Nigeria:

Of the 87 million mobile phone users in Nigeria (44 million of which have access to the Internet), it was an interesting trend to see how social media, for the first time, was adopted and, quite interestingly, adapted, to ensure credibility of the electoral process in Nigeria.

And then there is the social justice work we are doing with ACE, to promote success for basic skills students.

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New Media in Composition Classrooms

David Buckingham says in “Introducing Identity” that digital media shapes young people’s identities. I think that the internet makes it easier for people to create multiple identities.

http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/security/cybercrime-and-the-problem-of-online-identity-verification/7506

In “Students Who Teach Us” by Cynthia L. Selfe talks about how composition teachers are slow to utilizing media texts in the classroom. New media is different from print text in that it increases interactivity and creates multiple literacies (seeing, listening, writing and reading)

People who are familiar with printed text may have a difficult time adopting the new media.

Here is an interesting site

Something that print text cannot offer is aesthetics and design along with information. New media, therefore, caters to a wide audience. Some interesting quotes are brought up in this article:

“New media texts now exist on William Blake, the Salem Witch trials, hip hop, the architectural history of Rome… among many other topics” (44)

Coverage of historical events is more accessible and convenient for the younger generation to get a hold of.

Also, “Imaginative texts percolates through the sub strata of composition classrooms in direct contrast to students’ laissez faire attitudes toward more conventional texts” (44) This means that there is more enthusiasm to learning. If teachers can utilize this enthusiasm, it would make for a dynamic curriculum.

The essay also talks about how students can be teachers as well, as they can teach the older generation of new computer capabilities. Rather than curriculum being teacher-centered, students can benefit from teaching their teachers new computer skills.

In Selfe’s “Becoming Literate in the Information Age” there is talk of increasing computer usage. Selfe says “writers might compose differently with computers but probably not better.” This is problematic because computers may not help people become better writers.

Two people’s lives were followed as case studies in Selfe’s article. Both of these people, Melissa and Brittney grew up in middle class families. The term “cultural ecology” was introduced. Selfe points out that schools are not the sole places where people gain access to digital literacy (644). From 1978-2003 personal computers slowly became commercially available into composition classrooms. In the 1970’s computer programming was introduced into classrooms. Britney was born into an era of internet and email. She grew up with computer as a child while Melissa taught herself how to use computers when they were first being used in the military. Britney says, “I appreciate when my teachers embrace technology” (660). She also says, “We do best at things we have a genuine interest in, not those that are spoon-fed to us.”

If English teachers can address new literacies in their classrooms, that would make a more dynamic way for students to learn.

The Value of New Literacies in the Composition Classroom

We’ve all been there.  At least once in our academic careers we have spent the first 20 minutes of a class period watching the teacher or student presenter battle it out with the technology they were dependent on for that days lesson.  Does the occasional misfire of technology signal its unwarranted place in the classroom?  Are we wasting our time, or are we wasting the potential of the tools we have before us?

You have also very likely sat behind (and quickly learned to sit in front of) this guy:

who has been perusing his Facebook and email while typing a paper on the effects of Hurricane Katrina all throughout the lecture on poster propaganda in Berlin.  Bravo on the multi-tasking skills, but will he be fully present for the ensuing group work?  I’d rather not take my chances.

While these are two examples of many unfortunate drawbacks to technology in the classroom, they certainly cannot justify excising technology from schools.  Not only that, but they bring up very important questions surrounding digital literacy and our own agency.  What is the current role of technology in the classroom?  Is it effective?  Should we throw it out, work within it, or transform it to what we need it to be?

In “Students Who Teach Us: A Case Study of  a New Media Text Designer” Cynthia Selfe points out that English comp teachers are becoming more and more interested in new media texts because not only do they see more of them and have more access to reading and authoring these texts themselves, but their students are paying noticeably more attention to these texts as well.  Selfe argues here that teachers should be paying more attention to them, as well as using them systematically in the classroom to teach about new literacies.  In the chapter Selfe uses the technological and traditional literacy narrative of one student to explore how this contested landscape effect students working in specific English comp programs, the role new media literacies play in the negotiation of new social codes, and what English comp teachers must do with this knowledge to squelch the risk of composition studies becoming increasingly irrelevant (or politicized as such).

As hard as it is to believe that something so absolutely necessary for the educational (read: professional, personal, future) career of American students (read: communities, future leaders, country) as the critical thinking skills learned through composition could be devalued by anyone with the power to support it, the sub-topic of the use of technology in the classroom comes with a built-in debate which could serve to bolster a positive view of the necessity of comp studies or derail it.  David Buckingham explains in “Introducing Identity,” how the long debate on the impact of media and technology on children has always served as a focus for much broader hopes and fears about social change.  The idea that technology is transforming social relationships, the economy and sprawling realms of public and private life is recycled in popular debates, drawing on its long history of public opinion ranging from celebration to paranoia.

Research like that of Kristen Drotner, who believes that schools need to more directly address the new forms of competence needed today and is concerned with the implications of young people’s emerging digital cultures and the role of schools, along with the digital literacy case studies carried out by Hawisher and Selfe can help us put together an informed picture of how new literacies can or should play out in the composition classroom; one not overburdened by celebration or paranoia, but balanced by the real emerging needs of students.  Though Hawisher and Selfe are (rightly) hesitant to apply their ethnographic research to form a larger narrative, their approach points out how little English teachers know about the numerous literacies their students bring to class, and calls on them to seek out and embrace a broad understanding and valuing of multiple literacies in schools to cooperate with those at home, in the community and in the workplace; the literacies their students shape and are shaped by in other (social, professional, educational) aspects of their lives.

Of course this “unique position of the teacher to make a difference in the literate activities of students” requires an aspect of pioneering bravery on the part of teachers (especially those who do not consider themselves tech savvy), and it will certainly include a learning curve (occasionally we will spend some of our precious class time searching for a dongle).  Introducing the specific strategies and activities she suggests to take this road, Selfe explains that these strategies will depend on the teacher’s willingness to: experiment with new media compositions, take personal and intellectual risks as they learn to value different types of texts, integrate attention to such texts into the curriculum, and engage in composing such works themselves.  Not to mention on computer resources, tech support and the professional development that they have available at their specific institutions.  This is clearly a risk for teachers, not only in their own dynamic with their students, but in breeching this learning curve quickly and smoothly enough to justify the value of new literacies in the composition classroom while the composition classroom itself is still in the process of being contested, questioned, and possible threatened.  The successful use of a range of literacies in the classroom may keep composition studies relevant to students, the students’ skills relevant to future academic and professional work, and therefore the composition classroom relevant to the university.

Teaching Writing Offline (With Online Support)

Even though Scott Warnock’s book Teaching Writing Online: How & Why focuses on writing classes that take place entirely over the internet and hybrid classes which are about half online and half in person, any writing teacher in the digital age can glean important advice from his book on how to update and enhance their own teaching practices. Here are some suggestions I thought I would adopt and, in many cases, adapt, with comments and musings about why they are significant.

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