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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moving along…

I’ve taken a hiatus from posting for the last week or so, and in the meantime, I’ve actually gotten a lot done on the prospectus.  The plan is to turn in the document this week.  My defense date is only one month away!  I also realized that the defense date is March 15…the ides of March!  I hope my best friend (or anyone for that matter) doesn’t stab me to death on the day! 

The work I’ve completed over the last week includes redoing the introduction and the research questions.  I wrote the questions in narrative style, so I no longer have 1) 2) 3), etc, but instead paragraphs articulating the questions and giving context for them.  I’m liking it a lot more than previous versions.  I’ve also gone through and planned methods for data collection and analysis.  This is foreign-ish territory to me, as the only study I’ve ever conducted that had official “methods” is the pilot qualitative study I did last semester for a course.  I’ve read many articles that have an official “methods” section though, so I’m drawing from that knowledge in part.  Today I wrote a conclusion, which was basically a summary section of all that came before.  I’m not sure how proposal documents actually end: now I’m going off to do this?  Please say yes?  haha. 

I’m meeting with some colleagues tomorrow to get feedback on my first 4 pages.  I hope that my study and rationale is clear right from the opening, so that’s what we’ll discuss. 

I do have in the draft right now a “sample analysis” section that is supposed to be a video.  I think I will spend some time this afternoon making something and see if I think it could fit there.  Otherwise the sample analysis can be regular old paragraphs, too, like I did in my qual study paper last fall. 

Onward!

On wedding dresses and lit. reviews…

I did a lot today, alternating between looking at wedding dresses online (I’m getting married in August) and revising my prospectus lit. review.  But I feel like I accomplished much.  So I will alternate in this post as well with talking about what I did on my prospectus and photos of my favorite dresses so far.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed both activities – the writing and the dresses!  So you get both too.

Prospectus Task #1.  I revised my research questions, yet again.  Yesterday, I was able to meet with one of my committee members, who gave me suggestions on refining the questions.  They are in a similar form to the form that I posted last, now with some more wording tweaks.  The most useful thing my committee member told me yesterday was that the RQs serve to shape my data collection and beginning data analysis, and that’s all they really have to do.  So I think that my questions are pretty much there for that purpose.

Here’s fave wedding dress #1: The Mackenzie by Jenny Yoo.  

Prospectus Task #2.  I re-wrote my prospectus introduction.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.  I really want to make a video for the intro still though, and I looked at the video footage of instructors talking about the challenges of teaching new media that I collected in Dec.  If I can get my act together, I’m making it and putting it in.

Fave wedding dress #2: The Presley by Amy Kuschel.  Looks a lot like fave dress #1, now that they’re juxtaposed!

 

Prospectus Task #3.  I added to the meta-awareness section of my Lit Review, putting in Jarratt et al., Fraizer, Bergman and Zepernick, and Nelms and Dively.  At this point in my grad career, I’m a master lit. reviewer, so I feel good about that section.

Fave wedding dress #3 (on the right), Bella by Jenny Yoo.  Conservatory appropriate, but mucho dinero for a little bit of dress.

 

All right, enough is enough.  Tomorrow I shall return with more prospectus news, and perchance you’ll get more dress options as well.

 

Revising my questions

This week’s overarching job is to get the research questions in line and then to attack the rest of the paper with the revised questions as a guide.  Here are the questions as revised based on the feedback I received last week: 

  1.  How should students learn to write in the 21st century?  What do composition instructors and students need to know about this learning process? 
  2. In what ways can strategic instruction in new media composition lead students to develop a deep meta-awareness about writing, rhetorical choices, and multiple modes of expression?  When is strategic instruction in new media composition not a mechanism that leads students toward this goal? 
  3. What aspects within strategic instruction in new media composition lead students most effectively to develop a meta-awareness about writing? 
    1. What is the role of learning-by-doing?
    2. What is the role of instruction in metalanguage?
    3. What is the role of reflection?
    4. What other aspects should be involved in strategic instruction in new media composition?
  4. What opportunities and obstacles exist for instructors and students when strategic instruction in new media composition is implemented in a college writing class? 
    1. What is the role of the instructor’s and the students’ prior experiences with writing?
    2. What is the role of the instructor’s and the students’ expectations and emotions about composing in new media, such as excitement or anxiety?
    3. What is the role of the instructor’s and the students’ functional and technical knowledge of various software programs and tools? 
    4. What is the role of the instructor’s and the students’ critical and rhetorical literacies? 
    5. What is the role of collaborative learning? 
    6.  What other factors can assist or hinder the implementation of strategic instruction in new media composition?
  5. In what ways can composing in new media in this dissertation inform the development of new media instruction?  What do composition instructors learn when they compose in new media?  What are the limitations of having instructors compose in new media? 

I seem to have too many sub-questions and overarching questions in general, but I feel like I need them all to look at the entire new media composition instruction process.  I have a meeting in 45 minutes with a professor who is not on my committee but who has read the first draft of my prospectus that I wrote last term.  I am going to ask her to look at these revised questions and help me revise them yet again.  The next task after the questions are ready is to go back to the lit. review and start revising it to center around the questions.   

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.