Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Snapshot of Student Digital Culture Projects Underway

Our students' final papers and projects are well underway. Here is a snapshot:

In her project, "You Are What You Pin," Aleesha is exploring the issue of online identity and how this is mediated through pinterest. Greg is looking a lot at virtual worlds and emergent digital nations, asking how we can civilize the digital wild. Meanwhile, Paul is continuing to examine video games in terms of the larger literary tradition, claiming that certain games are "neo-romantic pieces that update the ideals of romanticism to the post-industrial state." Kelsey wants Mormons to pay attention to metadata as a way of optimizing online proselyting efforts. Kristen also explores contemporary LDS missionary work. She is creating a blog and set of digital resources for Mormon missionaries who return early from their full-time service. Mele wants to look at technology and family relationships. Lizy's interest in fandom has led her to studying the development of a fandom around Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, while Victoria is connecting fandom with education and the study of literature. Melody is thinking through what it means to be human as transhumanism and the singularity promise and threaten radical change. Brittany sees maker culture and the DIY (do-it-yourself) movement as providing people an avenue to entrepreneurialism within our increasingly digital economy. New formats for books and literature are topics being looked at by two of our group: Shelly is looking at how ebooks and e-readers are more suitable to today's youth and to changes happening in education, while Amber is reformatting Moby Dick and thinking through how new digital formats productively raise new interpretive questions for literature. How technology is influencing education is Cheri's topic. Ashley is writing on digital natives raising digital natives. Kayla is creating an ebook guide for those doing citizen journalism, while Danielle is rethinking editing in the digital age. Mary is investigating smartphones linguistically by examining the problems of speech interfaces to smartphones for those having nonstandard dialects of English. In addition, we have Kylee investigating travel in the digital age, Sam looking at how local bands in Provo have used social media, Heidi looking at gamification in the workplace; Derrick examining how producing a podcast altered his education and developed professional opportunities.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Real Reach of Student Research: Four Outlets

image credit: creative commons 2.0 license by Jesper Rønn-Jensen
Undergraduates learning to write and research are handicapped by the artificially isolated environment of the traditional classroom. With two billion humans a few keystrokes away, many audiences are there for students to address. The real reach of student research should be those authentic audiences and not just a teacher.

Students can find, interact with, and know various interested audiences while researching and writing. Peers, enthusiasts, and experts can and do give feedback to students who seek them out. In the process, students get social proof for their ideas that inspires them to advance and complete their work.

As students formalize their research findings, there is no reason for them not to take their intellectual work to authentic audiences and online communities. This is why I require my students to do more than submit a completed research paper for grading. If they know that they are actually going to submit their work for permanent archiving and access; for formal presentation at a conference, or for publication of some variety; if they know that their work will be circulating beyond the classroom and beyond the present grading period; if they know their research can in fact be a catalyst for ongoing discussion or that it can be content that others will respond to or act upon -- then they will take their own ideas more seriously; they will research better; and they will turn their academic writing into a form of professionalizing.

But students need to have some idea of where they can take their academic work. This post is meant to provide four concrete suggestions:
  1. Academic Archives
  2. Conference Presentations
  3. Scholarly Journals
  4. Guest Blogging

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Moby Dick Model for Deeper Blogging

Image by Palmovish from DeviantArt
(creative commons license 3.0)
When blogging, getting beyond the superficial to the substantial takes conscious effort. After all, as a casual and social medium, a blog can trap us in the tidepools of everyday novelties and low-level commentary. 

But a blog can be used to sound a subject, to go deep. Derrick Clements has already used Moby Dick as a model for better engagement of topics in his "Going Deep in Digital Culture" post. He says Melville's novel is an example of "the type of profound commitment and thoroughness to a subject that twenty-first-century bloggers may employ" and that "just as Moby Dick stands as a testament to the human ability to commit to a single subject for more than a few minutes, blogs can, if one so chooses, be a great way to dive deep – as long as community-minded creators can budget their attention..."

Profound commitment to subject via blogging? Thoroughness? Can these really go together with blogging? Yes they can, but not usually without some conscious effort. Earlier I discussed three phases of academic blogging. A lot of the magic happens in that second stage where one shows diligence and discipline in honing a topic. One can move from the superficial to the substantial (to paraphrase my prior post) by including these four things:
  1. Analysis of primary texts
  2. Use of secondary texts
  3. Curation of content  
  4. Social proof
I would like to use the novel, Moby Dick, to teach each of these four components, on the way to asking my students to follow this algorithm for deepened blogging.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Digitally Mediating Literary Texts

adapted from gHiRo3, DeviantArt
(creative commons 3.0 license)
One of the great changes to literary study in the digital age is the ability to do things with texts previously not possible, or possible only to few. While literature's new digital life has entailed some disorder, it has has generally proven an enormous benefit, expanding the reach and role of literature as never before: providing access to and exposure of literary texts otherwise unknown or unavailable; adding a variety of aids for interpreting and exploring texts; opening new methods and theories of analysis; putting literature to new creative and educational uses; and generally giving new life to old texts. By multiplying the media through which texts are experienced, it has benefited both the creators and consumers of literary works.

What can be learned by playing with literary texts through various new media? Plenty. Using Moby Dick as a test case, I'd like my students to explore various ways of mediating literature digitally. As they do so, I want them to pay attention to how these electronic ways of dealing with literary texts open up the texts to new audiences, new meanings, and new uses. I hope that they will see that meaningful mediations do not require highly sophisticated tools in every case.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Literary Study in the Digital Age: 17 Comparisons and a Provocation

How is the study of literature evolving today? This is a crucial question for the digital humanities. It is a topic that prior students and I explored in our eBook, Writing About Literature in the Digital Age. I invite you to browse its table of contents or download it for free.

I'm taking our thinking from there a bit further. Below, I list 17 specific comparisons between traditional literary study from the print period and the ways by which it is transforming in our digital age.

We who study literature need to come to terms with the new conditions for communication that are operative in our digital culture. I offer these starting points. For good measure (and to invite response), I conclude this post with a spirited challenge to the future of literary study as we know it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Evolution of the Book Review (part two)

In my last post I discussed how the traditional book review is being updated in the digital age. Here, I would like to look at the way the book review is evolving from a text medium into a multimedia genre with a strong social component. Once again, there are new contexts to apply to this evolution of the book review.

Reviewing in Digital Culture
Those reviewing books online are doing so in a context in which many other things are being rated and reviewed: consumer goods and digital content of every variety, as well as services, sellers, suppliers, and companies. Contributing one's opinion about something viewed or purchased online has become a primary kind of online activity. We "like" things on Facebook, +1 them on Google+, and we assign star ratings to movies on Netflix or to books on Goodreads. We are even reviewing things indirectly simply by expressing our feelings about things. A good deal of time is spent on "sentiment analysis" of consumers as they discuss various brands or products through the various social media (such as Twitter):

The Sentiment 140 service searches Twitter and returns sentiment analysis on tweets for a given brand.
Note how the red-coded negative review is inaccurate.
Note that one can rate the accuracy of the rating (in grey)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Evolution of the Book Review (part one)

The book review's evolution reveals key changes to literacy in the digital age. What has the book review been? How is it being adapted to the new media? What is its future? I want my students to wrestle with these questions by writing a conventional book review (about an individually assigned book in the field of digital culture) and by producing a video book review.  I will give some explanation and guidelines for how they should think about and carry out those assignments. But first, some contexts.

Context #1: The Digital Humanities
A central concern to the emerging field of Digital Humanities is reconsidering the basic objects of study that are the subject of humanistic inquiry: the book or manuscript, the work of art, the musical performance, etc.  These components must be reconsidered because they are newly mediated: the eBook is not the book; the virtual tour of the Louvre is not the same as visiting the Paris museum; the musical performance is a creature quite different than ever before when one can capture, sample, and remix various recordings. Even so late a comer to the humanities as the motion picture is no longer the same cultural artifact or experience it was in the 20th century -- not when one can experience films on a mobile device, on demand, and in computing contexts where audiences are as much creators as viewers.
Is this the Mona Lisa? This is the way it appears on the
official website of the Louvre. Studying a painting becomes
studying digital ways of manipulating its presentation.
(Image credit: Musée du Louvre, used by permission)

What is more, the sense-making frameworks that have been the staples of humanistic study are equally at risk. By such frameworks I mean physical locations (the museum, the classroom); methods of publication; methods of inquiry and expertise; theoretical premises; and finally, the very rhetoric of critique. People discover, learn about, make use of, comment upon, disseminate, and build upon art and literature in far different ways than they did back when we had fixed institutions and clear lines of expertise.