Monday, September 30, 2013

The Three Phases of Academic Blogging

As I have taught blogging to students over several years, I've noted that the best academic blogging happens in three distinct phases. This post is written for those who are in phase one of academic blogging and preparing to take it to the next level.

While I am describing the blogging of undergraduates in literature, I believe these phases to be just as relevant for students in general and for scholars of all disciplines. (See, for example, how Jessie Daniels describes going from a tweet, to a blog, to a published scholarly article). 

Elsewhere I have written on using Twitter for academic research. While I am not focusing in this post on such microblogging services as Twitter and Google+, they are a significant means for finding and testing ideas and can greatly complement academic blogging. 

Blogging doesn't automagically result in anything. It requires thought and discipline to lead to something worthwhile academically. It can. Here's how.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Power of the Long Tail in Digital Culture

"I celebrate the tail," says Ishmael in a chapter devoted to the flukes of whales in Moby Dick. I wish to celebrate, metaphorically, the concept of the "long tail" as a key way of understanding digital culture.

In a whale's tail, Ishmael explains, "the confluent measureless force of the whole whale seems concentrated to a point." As we take stock of the new powers unleashed on the world through ubiquitous computing and a liquid market for information, the "long tail" effect first described by Chris Anderson of Wired magazine may be among the most influential forces of the digital order.

So, what is this "long tail"? The "long tail" boils down to being a way to talk about both diversity of content and a new dynamics of demand for that content that has been opened up through digital means. 

The term was coined and popularized by Chris Anderson beginning with a 2004 article in Wired magazine which he then expanded into a book by the same name.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Collaborative Creativity and Crowdsourcing

We began today by considering technological utopianism and a positive sense of possibility to be had through technology today. I referenced the Renaissance and the romantic views of travel and that animated the European imagination and ultimately led to America as a kind of place of possibility.

In the spirit of optimism about technology, I asked students to read "A Call for Digital Explorers" which included this video about someone figuring out how to launch a camera into space:

I also showed this short video of a woman regaining her hearing:

I then showed Eric Whitacre's virtual choir and walked through how that came to be. Please see this blog post which details all of that. For the rest of the lecture

Monday, September 16, 2013

Emerging Themes in Moby Dick and Digital Culture

I'm always pleased at the way students are able to latch onto key themes even very early into a semester. Here is an index to a few such ideas as we have begun to explore both Moby Dick the novel and Digital Culture the phenomenon. I've added my own thought questions connected to each idea, and hope that some of you will carry the conversation forward:
  • Isolation
    In his "The Sea and Solitude" post, Greg Bayles comments that "Moby Dick is full of disconnected, discontented strangers." He links this to "connectivity and how modern technology is shrinking the gaps between individuals." Do you find technology increases or decreases the distance between you and others?
  • Collaboration
    Mele related an experience in which a teacher, upset with how technology isolates, required students to do group work. The students ended up using online collaborative tools like Google Docs. How is digital culture changing the way that people work together?
  • Categorizing
    Dr. Wickman's lecture, problematizing the genre of Moby Dick, illustrates how much we rely upon categories to make sense of things. Amber (in a response to a post by Kayla) claims that "novel" (meaning "new") is most appropriate for such an experimental piece of prose such as Moby Dick. Victoria devotes a thoughtful post to whether Moby Dick is a novel. She sounds a lot like Ishmael at the close of his Cetology chapter when she states "Perhaps we have gone down the wrong path with constantly trying to categorize everything." Her post led to a follow-up post by Brittany who explores the concept of the new and how both the form and content of Moby Dick take us into novelty. Amber in turn responds, suggesting that our classifications are in flux and we therefore ought to consider blogs to be a category of literature. How fitting is the novel as an art form in the digital age? Where do we see categorizing happening within Moby Dick? within digital culture? What is to be gained by being more inclusive in our literary categories? What lost?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Thinking about Moby Dick alongside Digital Culture

I thought my colleague Gideon Burton's presentation on digital culture was tremendous. The previous meeting, members of our class will recall, I introduced Moby Dick. And on the surface, those two subjects are very different.

But then again, they're provocative to consider alongside one another -- even before we get to the digital afterlife of Melville's text. In our initial discussion of Moby Dick, we posed the question of how to categorize that text, and ultimately, and with the help of Georg Lukacs, placed it somewhere between epic and novel. Such categories tend not to mean much when taken as ends in themselves, but they open new avenues for thought when imagined as windows onto intellectual and literary history. Here we must ask ourselves some interesting questions about the breadth and depth of human expression. For example, what is the logic behind different literary and rhetorical forms? Why do they develop? What do they imply? In the case of Moby Dick, we said, the tensions between epic and novel tell us something not only about literature, but also about the history of the idea of technology, even converting Melville's text into a technology in its own right.

This is important to bear in mind in a class that perhaps reflexively equates technology with digital culture. So next week, we'll pick up where our discussion last time left off.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Digital Culture: An Overview

I lectured today on digital culture and gave this overview. Step through the Prezi presentation below, and if you wish listen to the lecture (45 minutes).

Digital Literacy: Consume, Create, Connect

I find these three principles very useful for grappling with the many tools and services that inundate us in the digital realm:
  1. Consume
  2. Create
  3. Connect
The following Prezi presentation runs through these three principles. If you'd like a narrated version, see the video right below it. Also, see this student-created wiki based on these principles, "Backpack 2.0"

The narrated video version:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Michael Wesch's "The Machine is Us/ing Us"

This video is important for many reasons, and I want my digital culture students to watch it carefully -- perhaps a few times. I've actually made it the first of a playlist of videos about digital culture.

  • It introduces some key ideas associated with "Web 2.0
  • Its focus on text -> hypertext is especially apt for students of literature
  • It is an example of (one of the earliest) viral academic videos. Wesch's student project video essentially launched this anthropologist from Kansas State into the national spotlight.
  • It is a very creative use of basic screen capturing, and a good example of issue-based, persuasive video.
Here are some thought questions to follow up on the video. I'd love to see students do blog posts exploring some of these:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Beginning Academic Blogging

Blogging is still a very new medium, and my students who have kept blogs have mostly kept personal ones. How does one get up and going with a good academic blog? There are some technical aspects, but the most important thing is developing the habits of digital literacy that accompany the best uses of blogs (rather than going by print-based habits that aren't always in keeping with the online environment).

Technical Basics
We are using the Blogger platform, for which there are ample tutorials and help pages available online. I tell my students that if the interface is new or confusing, first look up some of those aids and then ask help of fellow classmates. The basics for just posting are simple enough. My students are working off of blogs already created to which they've been invited to be an author, so they do not have to create or set up the blog fresh (though tweaking the design is something to take on soon).
  • Get onto 
  • Navigate the dashboard
  • Create a new post: title, body, basic formatting (including adding in links), using the jump break if their post goes beyond one screen, and adding labels to a post.
  • Add an image to a post
Post Length
While Google+ posts should be very short (more quick updates than developed thoughts), blog posts should be longer (a rule of thumb: 100-400 words to start with). Of course, that length is less than two typed pages, double-spaced. It's relative. A good rule of thumb to go by is not to go beyond a screen, or else to front-end what you are saying, since it is a small percentage of those who browse blogs to read past the first screen. (Note that I am violating that rule of thumb right now. There are occasions that justify longer posts, especially as you get into drafting a paper or developing a project. When you do longer post, just be sure that you use the important jump break feature, as I am doing right here before giving further instruction on blogging:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Welcome to Moby Digital

This blog accompanies English 326 - Digital Culture, a course taught by Gideon Burton and Matt Wickman at Brigham Young University during Fall 2013. We have created a course wiki to complement this blog where students can find details about assignments, etc.

Using Moby Dick as our literary test case, we intend to explore digital culture and the digital humanities in particular. How is the study of literature evolving in the digital age? What do the digital humanities offer? How can great literature, such as Moby Dick, help us to "read" the digital age? These are the core questions we are pursuing as students acquire digital literacy skills and investigate the culture, tools, and concepts surrounding digital culture and the digital humanities.

Some of the readings we will be doing will be drawn from two compilations about the digital humanities (Texts are linked from the images below). Other works we will use for research can be found on our digital culture bookshelf on Goodreads.