Archives and Student Engagement

I really enjoyed this week’s readings of keywords. In particular, I found the reading of Lauren Coats and Gabrielle Dean’s keyword “archive” to be extremely insightful.

I’m very interested in creating a digital archive of fashion images to be used as a teaching tool, but it had not occurred to me until this reading to create an exercise where it is the students themselves who are involved with it’s archive’s creation. As the authors clearly assert in this writing, archives are not neutral. What is included and what is excluded can speak volumes about not just about the archive, but what it is ultimately trying to get across to its viewers. I think giving students the opportunity to engage in this type of activity will lead them to the very important realization that we must be just as critical with images as we are about what we read. Where did this come from, who made it, what is it telling us?

Great bit of reading to end the semester!

Steph Ceraso on “Sound”

As Steph Ceraso notes on the Sound section, that there is a renewed interest in “sound studies” but scholars have trouble analyzing the place of sound in various fields. Ceraso notes that there are four approach to sound studies that are useful tools; writing with sound, curating sound, sound mapping, and critical listening. She also presents several sources which would be useful for scholarship. I have worked on a sound studies project before and I can attest that multiple sources seem to be necessary at times. Mapping sound, for example, requires sound curation, especially when dealing with sound in history.

Lauren Klein’s Digital Pedagogy essay on “Code”

Lauren Klein synthesizes a number of streams of thinking about why/how should humanists teach students to code, calling for a pedagogy demonstrating “both theoretical rigor and technical expertise.” She offers a perspective familiar from media studies, noting that computers incorporate “older representational forms” as well as using their affordances to invent new representational forms.

As I ponder questions about what learning to code teaches us, and as I attempt to learn to code myself, I particularly enjoy reading the genre of essays that attempts to supply the (often) missing links between new media, e-lit, code studies, the history of technology, STS, and computer science, among other fields.

A comment by Mark Gudzial on paragraph 5 of Klein’s essay led me to a 2007 Michael Mateas essay that has held up surprisingly well. (The interim almost-10 years seems very long considering the dynamic nature of the internet.) Mateas uses the concept of “procedural literacy” to talk about students learning to understand the socio-technical nature of exchanges that occur in “technically-mediated processes.” I think his idea is a very useful way to think about the benefits of digital pedagogy. Mateas notes that students are apt to see computational methods as merely technical and not worthy of study. Without being conversant in the basics of computational processes, they will miss the opportunity to fully understand the ties between “authorship, code, and audience reception.” Mateas is particularly concerned with gaming and literary studies; but, his idea about procedural literacy is equally applicable to Klein’s discussions of digital pedagogy and the culture, politics, history and economics of computational technology.

WWMD (What Would Montaigne Do)?

Shawn Graham uses the keyword “History” to reflect on the essay’s function in education, and to suggest strategies and models for reinvigorating the practice of writing and learning in the undergraduate classroom. “History” as a discipline and mode of inquiry is not the focus of this entry, and it hardly makes an appearance at all, except when Graham historicizes the essay as a genre. With Montaigne’s work as a starting point, Graham restores the essay to its original form: a written exploration or experiment. Because digital pedagogy shares this exploratory spirit, it can exploit the experimental, open-ended nature of the essay to great effect.

Graham is careful to differentiate online learning and digital pedagogy from the outset. The former is primarily a matter of course management and content delivery, with little room for creativity. The latter is where things get interesting and where there is potential to engage students in a meaningful way around the practice of writing and research. I think he makes a too-simple distinction, however. Online learning=conforming to the neoliberalist agenda of the corporate university; digital pedagogy=creative, humanistic methods that redefine what teaching and learning can be, and change the power structure from the inside out. Although I agree in many ways with this assessment, it seems like Graham creates this easy binary distinction mostly for rhetorical purposes, to structure his contribution to this project. His point, that digital pedagogy transgresses the parameters of traditional education, depends on this distinction, but he doesn’t address, for instance, how the various artifacts he has curated could actually be used to transform “mere online learning.” Experimental and “transgressive” teaching models existed long before a computer ever appeared in a classroom. My question is this: while digital pedagogy has yet to revolutionize the educational system, can we still call it transgressive? If so, then when does it cease to be?

Collaboration – In-Class Activities section of the the Pedagogy Project (Hastac)

A core premise of the collaborative pedagogy is for the instructor to function as “less of a ‘master explicator” and more as a facilitator” therefore leading to the potential dilemma of crafting pedagogy that is both student-centered and participatory while maintaining critical analysis and academic rigor.  The Pedagogy Project of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) provides crowd-sourced resources for educators seeking to develop syllabi, lesson plans and assignments.  I reviewed the section on In-Class activities which corresponded to my interest in incorporating participatory learning tools into undergraduate and certificate labor studies programs.  The majority of the students in these courses are working adults and many are members, staff and leaders of workers organizations accustomed to popular-education techniques utilized within skill-training and leadership development workshops.  What sorts of in-class activities can best foster bigger-picture critical engagement and discussion within an academic classroom setting – tools that can work both in the academy and reach greater numbers if incorporated into worker education outside the academy?

Module #6 on “Game Pedagogy for Teaching Marx’s Capital” piqued my interest.  The game is played in two parts – the first to simulate C-M-C in which payers exchange commodities and the second based upon M-C-M as an exercise in capital accumulation.  If gaming can be used to demystify Capital, certainly models can be also found to ground discussions of precarity, globalization, historical precedents for organizing without the New Deal labor rights framework and other strategic dilemmas confronted by workers and workers organizations.  As noted in the module discussion, these participatory tools only facilitate a limited examination of complex issues – they draw students in making them more engaged participants as a basis for higher-level discussion, not as a substitute for the instructor but enhancing the teaching and learning prospects of classroom interaction.  The inclusion of the In-Class activities provides a vehicle for collaboration towards strengthening and refining individual modules but also for expanding their reach as educators adapt them to their own classroom context.

Authorship as a Scale

In the chapter devoted to “Texts” in Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s excellent and thorough work Planned Obsolescence the author continues her investigation into forms of networked publishing and its impact on authorship. Her argument that the necessary investigation into new forms of academic publishing should not attempt to mimic the codex form takes her from an examination of the implications of hypertext (it’s shortcomings in satisfying the transition to a new publishing paradigm), to more socially-tethered, born-digital works. My provocation deals with the practicalities of attempting to elevate the reader to the status of “writer.”

Although it seems worthy and necessary to think about the existential framework for the networked publishing model, and its place in the social landscape into which it is born, reducing the demarcation that is the fruits of authorial labor seems misguided. Setting aside the challenges of creating a deep structure that organizes the feedback mechanism (comments on comments on comments) inherent in the networked form, I still see an issue akin to the fallacy of freedom in hypertext. The leveling of the hierarchy between author and reader (a hierarchy that I can find very little fault in) ushered in by the linking and anchoring of hypertext markup, from my perspective, is false. Someone is always behind the placement of links. A deliberate choice about what choices are available should be kept in mind as a byproduct of authorship. Just because a reader has a new way of choosing what they choose to read doesn’t restructure their relationship to the creation of the content. They are choosing entry points into someone else’s ideas. It is in the interpretation of the content, and the unique articulation of individual thought that positions the reader as a true participant in the enlivening of any publication.

For conscientious, open-minded authors, reader feedback has always informed the iterative versioning of a work. With networked texts, the iterations can happen more quickly and with greater ease. That the conversations surrounding the iterations of a work can be made public and displayed as a single package is a truly fantastic element of the networked text form. It’s not that all commenters are worthy of a mention in an acknowledgments page instead of their name listed on the metaphorical front cover (or metadata bisac). It’s that they are contributors to the networked text, and it’s unique ecosystem. It may very well be that the demarcation between author and reader in the codex form should not extend to the networked form. However, what should be we call comment contributors? And should they really factor into the discussions of authorship. Ultimately, it may be the syntax that bothers me. That being said, I do not see the robust data-driven labor of reader feedback as an adequate contribution to allow for the moving of the dial in this regard. Remix, borrow, analyze, and contribute all you want, but this does not necessarily constitute a contribution worthy of authorship. Although all works are born from these same techniques, it may ultimately be from the sheer weight of skin-in-the-game that an author derives the title.

Peer Review

Since the more conventional academic publications have changed and online publishing isbecoming more common within academia, consequently, other methods to review and evaluate different academic publications are needed; a “more open mode of publishing requires an open mode of review.” In this first chapter, the traditional peer review system is problematized and Fitzpatrick questions if this system really works the way it is supposed to.

The author narrates from a historical point of view how the peer review method originated during the 17th Century censorship by elite societies such as the Royal Society of London: peer review acted as “a quality control system” allowing the state to control and distribute what they considered “knowledge.” Nowadays, academia has taken over this method/system, keeping it alive and disseminating what academics acknowledge as “scholarship.”

In her critique, she points out how the anonymity of reviewers in this traditional system allows them to have “power without responsibility,” at the same time as the author is excluded of the process. In her proposal, peer-to-peer review, she argues for a more open conversation in the review process in which not just the reviewers but also the author has a voice and participates actively. However, I wonder if allowing this type of shift into the review system will or could change the impact and relevance of academic publications. In other words, how is this public conversation helping academic publications be accessible to a broader audience? If these conversations are still happening within small academic circles, even if more publications are done and accessible online, the “knowledge/scholarship” is distributed to a small and specific audience.

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Fitzpatrick Planned Obsolescence and Authorship

Fitzpatrick’s chapter “Authorship” in Planned Obsolescence tackles the challenges presented by digital technologies of academic authorship, especially in the humanities. In the humanities, academics are expected to produce creative and original work on their own (in contrast to the science where multiple authorship is common.) Single authorship causes anxiety, Fitzpatrick argues, because the demands of producing scholarship and how scholars tend to tie their work (and ideas) to their egos. Single authorship, she notes, is a product of historical and cultural forces, which created copyright laws and the environment of scholarly publishing. Some critics and philosophers (Michel Foucault among them) have noted that the author has “died.” Moreover, the digital world, however, has forced the academy to consider where authors fit in the internet era where the gift-giving economy, collaboration, “remixing,” and the process is privileged and important. Fitzpatrick suggests that the academic community should start to assimilate community, “remixing,” and process into their own work.

This chapter raises a few important questions. Has “single” authorship, and the authority that accompanies it, really been accorded to individuals? What role do governments, universities, and publishers play in backing or “creating” single authorship? The chapter suggests, as do some thinkers, that the author is “dead”; is this really the case? If academics are to make shifts based on the world of the internet what kind of collaborative authorship or creation is useful or not? What about the other innovations? What would be useful or not?

Academic Publishing and the University Press Revolution

As it currently stands, the publishing infrastructure is deeply beholden to academic journals who hold so much power that they are able to charge universities exorbitant fees for access to their content. These journals do not compensate the authors of the material they then peddle to libraries, placing this responsibility onto the universities that employ the researchers. Universities effectively pay twice for this content: paying their faculty to research and publish, and, then, paying journals for access to the materials their faculty created. Fitzpatrick presents the case that while these publishing houses do offer value, the degree to which they control how academic publishing is done is an untenable regime that must eventually topple.

How this revolution will come about is yet to be seen but Fitzpatrick provides a few suggestions. A university press can publish the work of its own faculty in order to have access to this material both cheaply and with far greater control over how that material can be distributed and maintained. A university press can also prioritize open access for peer-review and publishing, generating an environment that spurs greater involvement of the field while avoiding the pitfalls of vanity press.

Fitzpatrick claims that services, not access, will be vital to the open access method of publishing. This means that institutions providing these services (i.e., libraries) will become the integral in deciding whether the university press is viable. While this may be true after a substantial amount of progress is made in making academic research available through open access, it is certainly not the case now nor will it be true until the relationship between the university and academic presses is transformed. Specifically, the power that these publishing houses have is far too great and universities are complicit in amplifying that power. I would argue that a university press will not be necessary if the academic fields collectively refuse to pay. If Nature is slowly but firmly excluded from our databases, the appeal of publishing in Nature will inevitably diminish.

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