New Methods, New Data: Manovich and Hayles on today’s research and writing

On Monday and Tuesday, I attended the keynote addresses at the Digital Cultures in the Age of Big Data institute at Bowling Green State University.  Lev Manovich skyped in on Monday morning for a talk on methods for studying contemporary interactive media, and N. Katherine Hayles spoke this morning, sharing with the audience her digital companion repository that pairs with her book How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis.  A few words here about my take-aways and the questions that arose as I listened to each talk.

Manovich made an extended argument that research in the digital humanities needs to turn away from digitizing and analyzing documents alone, but instead that researchers need to be looking toward cultural activities as data, meaning the processes and performances that occur when a user interacts with software.  Practically, he was advocating for more attention to users and what’s going on with them when they use a technology and less attention to the technologies themselves.  While I agree that these methods could be a useful line of inquiry for humanities scholars, I have been mulling over some of the claims and assumptions that Manovich made with respect to “old” and “new” media: old media as non-interactive or less interactive, new media as fundamentally different, and thus more interactive. It is true that users do interact with newer forms of media in shifted ways, but users also interacted with older forms of media–the scroll, the book, the pencil–but perhaps in ways not as visible as mouse clicks are today.  Perhaps research methods of old could also have been shifted to pay more attention to interaction, then, too.  I’m also left with questions about how to put Manovich’s ideas to practical use: how can we even begin to record and analyze user experiences on a big data level?  Maybe the starting place is to begin small, working up to the big data inquiry that Manovich argued we need.

Hayles spent her talk describing and showing her own digital humanities project, the digital companion to her book, How We Think.  Hayles created this companion site in part to make the data she used when composing her book available to more scholars.  Using the repository, other users can come to their own conclusions and the data can generate new and different questions.  I’d be interested to hear if Hayles has any information about if the site is being used, and if so, by whom.  Also interesting was that the repository gave access to full recordings of interviews that Hayles conducted with prominent scholars in digital humanities as part of her book research.  The recordings are tagged with key themes, so that a user can go directly to the portion of the data that is of interest.  While the audio quality of the interviews isn’t superb, and navigating through the material isn’t the easiest with the controls provided, the raw data is available to others and visible in a way that research data usually is not.

Overall, both talks got me thinking about methods, research, data, and how the digital offers different opportunities for developing, asking, and answering questions about texts and users of texts.  As Hayles mentioned, these concerns are becoming more and more relevant to the academy, and soon, they will be the concerns.

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Reflections on Cs 2013

Post-Vegas, my brain is a little fuzzy.  I’m now 3 hours off, and I didn’t sleep much last night because I took the red eye into Detroit.  Before I am swallowed whole by the coming week, which will involve continuing to draft my dissertation, driving to campus for class, and showing around the new class of recruits, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect over my favorite moments from this year’s Cs conference.

Awesome moment 1: making myself compose with objects in the half day workshop “Evocative Objects.”  We brought objects into the workshop, we traded with other participants, and we picked one object out of a bag.  Then we had an hour to “compose” with the objects in front of us.  I found myself sitting there with an organic paper stationary set, 2 notepads, chalk, and a cloth doll, rolling the paper and unrolling it, situating and re-situating the doll with the other objects before me.  I kept thinking to myself what’s my purpose?  What am I trying to say with this composition?  I tried new combinations and new juxtapositions; I cut up letters and started to spell.  Check out my composition here.  But the the coolest part of the workshop was having others “read” our compositions to us once they were finished.  Being able to see where my own piece was unclear or not as directive as I’d hoped was fascinating.  And I also was a little shocked at my own ability to analyze and pick out the messages in the work of others.  The entire experience left me with much to ponder about how composing with objects is different from and the same as composing with words.

Awesome moment 2:  Yancey’s talk on Wednesday at the end of the QRN: “Navigating the Currents of Research Activity on Transfer of Knowledge and Practice in Writing.”  It was the end of the day and I was exhausted, but Yancey’s concise summary of the transfer research in the field was so useful.  She pointed me to several recently published texts, and made me think deeply about concepts such as the role of metalanguage in our courses.

Awesome moment 3:  Kevin Roozen talked about transfer of writing knowledge across media in his Thursday morning session with Wardle and Nowacek.  He called it “remediation,” drawing from Bolter and Grusin.  I was just excited that someone else was actually going there.

Awesome moment 4:  Saying hi, ever so briefly, to my wonderful mentor Lisa Ede after her feminist rhetorical practices panel on Thursday.  She is so wonderful!

Awesome moment 5:  My favorite panel of the conference was “Compositional Expansion: De- and Re-Composing Materialities” with Jody Shipka, Erin Anderson, and Trisha Campbell.  Dr. Shipka showed her latest video, which was layered and complex in exciting ways.  She layered together found home-video footage and sound material, along with a ghostly image of herself on the side – reminding me that there she was, underneath it all, mixing and remixing the materials.  Some of the sound she used came from her classroom and some from interviews with others, and she layered multiple sound tracks at various points in the movie.  The video we watched isn’t up on her website yet, but she has posted many of her other projects there.  Erin Anderson then showed us her “Coerced Confessions” remix videos– she uses digital video editing to remix the words of actors into confessional statements.  The videos are jarring and bizarre, but suggest much about what can (or should) be done with digital voice as a compositional medium.  Finally, Trisha Campbell finished the panel by showing her “Composing Murder” project, where she maps and composes a network for the murders that take place in Pittsburgh each year.  She also collects evidence of the victims’ digital imprint, archiving Facebook pages and images.  I was emotionally moved by Campbell’s project and think it could have an important impact as a tool for the community, but it also challenges my notions of composing new media.  Is her archive a composed text?

Awesome moment 6: Presenting with Chris Dickman and Ben Gunsberg during the last session to a much larger audience than expected!  People hung in there for us, and we had a great showing.  I talked about my dissertation research, and Ben and Chris showed really interesting work relating to making video resources for students and having students compose screencasts.

And there were other awesome moments, too – hanging out with others in my program, seeing graduates and catching up on their lives, seeing the fountain show at the Bellagio, and realizing that writing teachers, well, we just rock!  But I already knew that before.

Thanks, Cs 2013 and everyone involved, for a great conference!

In the Lit. Review trenches

Sorry no dress pics today.  I worked on my Lit. Review for several hours and avoided most things wedding.  My main issue with the lit review  is that I have so many parts to the section, it’s hard for me to keep them all straight.  Also, I’ve pulled paragraphs from several course papers and exams that I’ve written over the last two years, so I’m also having a hard time weaving everything together into something coherent.

For example, I know that instruction in new media composition has something to do with all the following: transfer and meta-awareness literature (Wardle, Jaratt, etc); definitions of writing and composition and new media; Selber’s multiliteracies framework; learning-by-doing/social learning theory,; metalanguage for new media; reflection….

You see the problem.  How to put all of that together and transition between in a way that makes sense.  One of my committee members told me last week though that I can have some gaps in the prospectus and that those can be worked out in the diss itself.  So that’s comforting, although I want to keep everything straight in my head and understand how I can think of all these pieces aiming toward one goal.

Tomorrow = finish lit. review and figure out what the heck my conceptual framework is supposed to be.

Thinking about making video….while listening to Etta

I just heard that Etta James passed away today, which makes me sad.  So I’m listening to her “The Essential Etta James” CD as I compose this post.  Here’s a taste for you, so you can listen while you read.

This morning I attended a workshop on making and teaching video led by MSU’s Danielle Nicole DeVoss.  I was excited to meet her as I’ve used her book Because Digital Writing Matters in a few papers.  It was a small group for the workshop, which made the format informal and conversational, which was nice.  We talked about teaching video in a writing class because most of the attendees were writing teachers.  It was interesting to hear different folks talk about their perceptions of video composing and its role (or non-role) in the writing classroom.  For some, “writing” and video seem like two totally different things, for others, making video opens up possibilities to highlight a rhetorical approach to writing any kind of text.

A few instructors voiced anxieties or frustration with having their students compose in video but not knowing how to help them or coach them when technical issues arose.  I think it’s true that the instructor should have at least a little bit of knowledge about software and hardware; however, I also think that the classroom can become a sort of “workshop” space where students and instructor play and learn together, where no one really is the “expert.”  This approach is a definite switch from the model where the teacher brings in the expert knowledge, but I think it’s a model where collaborative learning is at the forefront, even for functional or technical questions such as how to import a video clip into a software program such as imovie.

Another concern that was raised was how to assess products like videos in the writing classroom – a question which I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about lately, too.  I’ve come to see that setting students up to self-assess (set goals, reflect and revise their goals multiple times, and then evaluate their goals and process) is very useful along with evaluation from the instructor.  This approach highlights not just the video product in the end, but also the process.

I was also happy to get some time to just play around with imovie in the workshop.  Danielle provided us with “found materials” – images, video clips, songs – and we got to spend about an hour manipulating them in imovie and making a short video.  This is the kind of activity that would work great in a writing class to introduce video composing.  I’ve done something similar, but I really like that Danielle provided the materials for us, which saved a lot of searching time.  I think I will steal and adapt for my own classroom in the future!

 

a burning pile of RQs…

Today I met with my co-chairs and we discussed my committee, my timeline, and my prospectus draft itself – mostly the research questions.  We decided on other members of the committee which I now need to meet with and ask to join the project (one of which I talked to this afternoon and is on board!), and my co-chairs approved my proposed timeline.  So we are shooting for a prospectus defense for the week of March 12, as long as that works for other committee members.

We spent the remainder of our meeting talking about my research questions, which at this point feel like piles of burning refuse.  Not really – but I’m finding it hard to articulate the big questions about what I want to know and learn through my study.  Here are the questions I brought to the meeting today: 

Study Research Questions:

  1. What are the challenges to implementing strategic instruction in new media composition in the college writing classroom?
  2. What role does the instructor’s prior experiences and background knowledge play in the implementation of strategic instruction in new media composition?   
  3. What is the role of a learn-by-doing approach within strategic instruction in new media composition?
  4. What is the role of instruction in metalanguage within strategic instruction in new media composition?
  5. What is the role of reflection within strategic instruction in new media composition?
  6. Does strategic instruction in new media composition open an instructional space that leads students to develop a deep meta-awareness about writing, rhetorical choices, and multiple modes of expression?

1 and 2 probably will collapse into one question about the obstacles and opportunities for instructors and students presented by new media composition.  3-5 most likely will collapse into one question something to the effect of “What factors within strategic instruction in new media contribute most effectively to students developing a meta-awareness about writing?”  And question 6 can’t be a Y/N question, but a how question makes too much of an assumption, so I need to figure out a way to word it that takes the middle ground. 

All this tinkering with wording in the RQs seems silly to me in some ways, but on the other hand, it is true that I need to think carefully about what exactly I want to learn before I can think about designing my methods or about how to organize my lit. review. 

So the plan at this point:  continue forming my committee and dance around the fire of the RQs that once existed.  It’s ok – they weren’t that good anyway.   

 

Fraizer on coaching transfer in context

Not much time to work on the prospectus today, but I did read Fraizer’s 2010 article on coaching transfer after FYC.  His point is that transfer coaching strategies (he pulls these from Beaufort: genre analysis, discourse community analysis, and metacognitive reflection) should be done when students are encountering new writing situations and new disciplines.  He points to “writing studios” and writing centers as places where this kind of transfer coaching can be done. 

I agree that “in context” coaching for transfer seems logical, but I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon having students reflect a lot in first year comp.  And new media composition offers a space where they can experience diverse writing situations IN the writing class, using diverse materials.  Can’t FYC be used to develop a “metacognitive foundation” for the awareness to come, if you will?  I will have to consider more.