Lenticular lenses

I was recently reminded of a chapter by Tara McPherson in The New Media Book called “Self, Other, and Electronic Media” by an ad campaign targeted at children who are suffering from abuse at the hands of adults. McPherson describes the complexities of race representation in new media by comparing it to an older visual technology: lenticular lenses. Lenticular technology interlaced two images in such a way that when viewed through a special lens, only one image could be viewed at a time, depending on the physical position of the viewer and the image surface. The two images coexisted, but their relationship to each other was obscured. McPherson argues that this repression of relationality between the two images exemplifies the problem of constituting the self and the other as if they were not related and reflects similar difficulties in new media spaces where people may work with fragments of representation or code which obscure relationships with the larger social world.

This ad attempts to use lenticular lens technology to send different messages to adults and children, based on calculations of average height:

People in the comments have raised the predictable concerns: short parents, tall children, children of the expected size being unable to read or without access to a phone, the psychological constraints that prevent children from reporting, the problem of parents and children seeing different messages.

This last issue seems to most nearly echo the concerns that McPherson raises in her chapter. The conversation (or lack of conversation) that the ad might provoke between adult and child will rest on the premise that they observe different realities and take away different messages from them. The repressed relationship here is not so much between the two images, which can coexist, but not co-appear, but between the two viewers, the adult and the child, who coexist and co-appear in a reality that relays different messages and attempts to obscure the mechanism by which it does so. What happens when what an adult sees and what a child sees differ? How is the difference accounted for? How is the (child) self constituted in relation to the (adult) other, and vice versa? Do children and adults live in different worlds? How do we deal with lenticular realities?

The visual drama of the advertisement highlights the social drama of situations where children and the adults responsible for them are not necessarily on the same team.  McPherson concludes that “[her] argument builds to a warning, a cautionary tale about the multiple modes of meaning a coded fragmentation can create” (191). Will coded messages improve the lives of children in desperate situations? Whether the ad accomplishes its stated goal or not, it has certainly brought attention to the possibilities and problems of constituting adults and children as inhabitants of unrelated realities.

Reflections on multimodal assignments: part 1

Note to readers: Apologies for the way wordpress may warp the text to accommodate pictures. I’m working on it. (In full screen it’s okay, still not great.) Please comment or message me if you have suggestions!

We’ve been thinking together about multimodal composition in a “Computers and Writing” class that I’m taking this semester, especially about how digital composing might be similar to and separate from other kinds of multimodal projects. It seems especially important to think about in terms of what we mean when we say that we integrate technology (use) in the classroom. I think true integration includes some aspect of creation/production on the part of the student.

Over the years, I’ve tried multiple strategies for drawing students into participation with literature, multimodal composing, and technology with mixed success. I’ve had class blogs and wikis, used learning management systems (like moodle and ctools), made comments and held conferences (both synchronously and asynchronously) through google docs, assigned multi-genre projects, designed displays of student work at varying levels of publicity, and encouraged the production of comix and video. It’s been messy and fun and frustrating. It’s a lot of work, and I kind of love it.

I thought I’d share a bit of my students’ work here and think through what these multimodal assignments offered.

Mythology unit

P1050517For this assignment, students worked in groups to “translate” a myth (the myths were chosen from various cultures) into comix format. They identified the major plot points, divided dialogue and description, modernized the language, and balanced image and text to convey the story. Willie Houston (10th grade) was the lead artist for this group and worked several hours after school and during lunch to complete this project. I especially like the”thinking” backgrounds behind Promethius and Epimethius.

After this project, students wrote their own originary myths – explaining how the world or something in it came to be. Playing on Promethius’s sacrifice, Willie wrote “The Origin of the Fro,” in which the protagonist suffers his hair being snipped away every night so that mankind might enjoy glorious hair.

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You can see his rough draft, peer comments, plans for revision (in the starburst), final copy, and illustration.

Offrenda

Around Dia de los Muertos, students wrote a short memorial and copied it onto yellow, orange, or red paper for a class offrenda. iphone%2520350The memorials were about cousins killed in Iraq, grandparents left behind in Mexico, beloved pets, or if someone was lucky enough not to have lost anyone yet, celebrities. Some of my students worked harder and more thoughtfully on these pieces than anything else they did, and it prepared them to read or reflect on (depending on whether we read it before or after) Antigone and her struggle to honor her brother. We lit candles, read Aztec myths about monarchs carrying the souls of the dead, and had cocoa and pan de muertes on the final day of the unit.

Antigone unit

I’m so sad that I don’t have anything to share from Antigone. My husband and I acted out a scene between Creon and Antigone in the courtyard at school for an audience of our combined classes. I can’t believe no one took pictures! We did the scene twice for each set of classes – once with Antigone seeming reasonable and Creon inflexible, and once with Antigone seeming proud and Creon struggling to understand. Administration and students from other classes came to the edges of the courtyard to watch William chase me through the crowd with a baseball bat. It was intense and provoked some thoughtful discussion and writing. I also cut the play into scenes and groups filmed adaptations that we then watched in sequence. I particularly remember one group that spun the play as a gunslinger western. (I’m in communication with my co-teacher at the time to see if she has video.)

Night unit

In this project, I asked students to choose one memorable moment from Night by Elie Wiesel, choose one color, and illustrate it. When they were finished, I put the illustrations in order as a kind of review for the events of the novel. A few moments have only one illustration, but some of the more traumatic/emotional got multiple illustrations, reflecting their importance in the memoir.

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I read Night aloud every Spring for six years to multiple classes. These lessons were part of my TAKS preparation unit.

I also did a one-day workshop in test-taking strategies. Sara Simmons (10th grade) created this “paragraph” response for the notes page:

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used with permission from Sara Simmons

Shakespeare unit

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used with permission from Stephanie Perez

After testing, we typically did a Shakespeare unit, and students had the option of making a poster/comic or adapting and filming a scene. By this time they had done both and had a better feel for where their talents could be best put to use.
I love this final page in Stephanie Perez’s Othello. The silhouette of Desdemona waiting, the image of the candle put out (that’s a reference to the source material), the broken and bleeding heart, and the joined hands at the end capture very well the mix of sorrow, finality, and forgiveness at the end of the play.

In Traci Partida’s work, the damning evidence comes from Desdemona’s cell phone record, though the handkerchief, and Desdemona’s inability to account for it, is still the final straw.

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used with permission from Traci Partida

So I have plenty of “composing” going on, great thinking, interesting conversations, but a legitimate question remains: where’s the writing? I believe this kind of work promotes deep engagement and familiarity with texts, community in the classroom, and appreciation of the varied experiences and talents of the students, but can it count as writing? These activities were not the only things we did in class, but I gave them a great deal of time, and I insisted that we read these works aloud together to model my own comprehension strategies and to be sure we all had the opportunity to contribute. By the end of the year, students were fluent in the two page personal reflection essay required for the state exam and well-prepared to tackle the open-ended response questions that required using evidence from the text to make a point. Though I felt pressure to prepare them for those tasks, I also believed that these multimodal projects had the power to get them there. Students had an opportunity to see their thinking embodied in the classroom. They looked at each others’ work with a critical eye and commented on what worked and why. Did these skills transfer to their later reading and writing tasks?

It occurs to me that a great deal of what I was aiming for with these assignments was building “common” knowledge. The potential for display and quick uptake of these projects meant that students often walked around the classroom before and after (and sometimes during) class, taking in what their peers had made of the works we were reading together. So as I revise and research to adapt this piece for my scholarly webtext, maybe I should be looking for the ways in which multimodal projects contribute to community and classroom knowledge.

Confessions of a Conference Lurker

I couldn’t afford to go to 4Cs this year – or, any year for that matter. I’ve never been. To any conference. Anyway, that’s a conversation for another time. Because I knew about the conference this year, and I wanted to go, and I couldn’t, I stalked the conference on twitter.

I’m not sure what to make of what I found there, so I’ll just share what I observed.

First order of business was to figure out the right hashtag. I was not the only person wondering.

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It occurs to me that I don’t know the citation etiquette here. Do I black out people’s names? Get their permission? Everybody who tweeted about Cs is (surely) over 18, so at least there’s that. Will I have to delete this post later to be safe?

None of the hashtags proposed here were quite right. (You can learn quite a bit about diamonds following #4Cs.) A quick visit to the Cs site solved the problem:

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So I loaded it up in TweetDeck, and cruised the #4C13 column whenever I had 30 minutes or 4 hours to spare.

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I am interested in language learning, digital/online reading and writing, coding, and social justice, so I naturally paid closer attention to tweets around those topics,

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but I think it’s fair to say that there were more tweets about the role of digital spaces/platforms/uses for writing instruction than other Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 3.52.10 PMsubjects.

Perhaps people who were predisposed to tweet were likely to attend sessions about digital composing.

Obviously, this method of eavesdropping only afforded me a tiny slice of the convention, and didn’t stretch to cover even the digital sessions that it might have been expected to.

Some tweets were cryptic:

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Some were logistical – targeted at people who were there and (often)tagged with room numbers:

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There was some meta-commentary on presentation:

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And Henry Giroux’s address got people fired up. It was a highly tweeted event.

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Tweets with twitter handles and presenter names were helpful when I wanted to search the web for more info. I often followed people whose presentations looked interesting and visited their websites (if they had them) for more of their research.

Tweets with links to webpages, presentation slides and videos were few and far between, but much appreciated. They gave me an opportunity to think and say something in a way that tweeted observations and quotes did not.

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If twitter is a Burkean parlor, then linking to source material is a serious hand up in helping someone on the outside “join the conversation.” Because of people’s tweeted links, I watched @annetv’s video on the movement for coding literacy, I went through @trentmkays’s prezi on using twitter in his FYC course, and watched @betajames’s remotely presented video (with transcript) about learning management systems (LMS). Several presenters tweeted links to their handouts or transcripts of their talks, and the Cs site had a place where presenters could upload materials, though it didn’t seem much utilized. The “Creative Writing” folder had no uploads and the “Teaching Writing and Rhetoric” had 18, with most of the others having 3 or 4. The links go back to the landing page for the session, and occasionally there are no materials there.

And though I don’t think I really got a feel for the conference experience, I concur with @ahhitt. I was happy to “attend” and attend to what I could find and sad to miss presentations by so many great people.

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Of course, people who were there in person had similar difficulties:

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And now I’m wondering:

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I’m thinking about how we tweet to “converse” with people who are experiencing (or at least are familiar with) what we are tweeting about and how we craft tweets to try to include people who are not. I’m also interested in the tension between the idea that “all the little sips” add up to a “big gulp of conversation” and the worry that Sherry Turkle expressed in her TED talk – that they might leave us “connected, but alone.”

Experimenting

So here’s a video I made in case you are using WordPress Reader to follow the class blogs. It is less than a minute and a half, and it will show you how to add non-wordpress RSS feeds to your WordPress Reader.

It was easy and fun to make. Let me know if it actually helps. I’m interested in how people make these kinds of videos for “flipped” classrooms, and what that might look like in ELA classrooms. I like the idea of being on hand to help students work through their practice/implementation of what they learn in class, but I spent a good deal of time altering what I did in class in response to what students did/did not understand about the literary texts that we read, and I’m not sure that we wouldn’t lose something important by relegating instruction to a pre-recorded lecture. Something about the immediacy of ideas, maybe? Or maybe all that time I spent reading aloud to my classes could simply be podcasted or posted to youtube, and we could have class discussions that went beyond getting through the text together.

Caption Fail Experiment

Here is a simple youtube video recording (made in my Computers and Writing class) of a blog post that I wrote two years ago. Turn on the caption feature (click the [cc] box) and behold the bizarre effect.

Some of my favorite bits:

“jeans occupancy mexican for us”

“still not added to his malcontents”

“I can have two ideas in the house isn’t going to let the sun together danish”

“the foundation making chicken temple”

“slightly less likely to write to kill each other in ring”

“also there’s flooding in opera”

and finally,

“the catholic up this morning

edges okay.”

I was planning to take the entry and run it through voiceover for Mac to see what the youtube caption feature spit out from a computer-generated voice, but I’ve been incredibly frustrated in getting voiceover to work smoothly.

ETA: Here is the VoiceOver version. The captions are not available yet. Not sure how long that might take.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

Sometimes I think: “I don’t believe in Intellectual Property!” but that’s not really true. For example, I think JoCo was burned by Glee’s appropriation of his arrangement of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” I get tetchy when I think someone else has the rights to use my pictures or blog posts because they own the site that hosts them. (And I’m not even planning to use them to make anything artistic or profitable!)

Also, the person who thought he could take credit for work done by The Oatmeal was a moron.

I want artists to make a living off their work and to get credit for having come up with something awesome. But I love transformative  and derivative works, and I think they tend to boost (or extend, recirculate) the profile of the art rather than compete with it – unless they are running around leaving scars, collecting a jar of…no, no, I mean, unless they are trying to take credit for or make money off of someone else’s brilliance without their consent. The way the internet works can make giving credit difficult (but also important), as John Green explains:

Copyright is still a relatively new notion and the beneficiaries are often corporations rather than creators. (This may or may not bother you, depending on how you feel about the status of corporations as people.) Hank Green explains:

If you wonder why people keep performing Shakespeare (apart from the awesomeness of Shakespeare) or why the best use they can find for Jeremy Renner right now is Hansel and Gretel (which I am totally going to see… at some point), part of the reason is that those stories are public domain. What I wonder is whether commercially copyrighted stories today will have the 300+ year staying-power without letting people use them to make art that will pull in a new generation of fans.

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Composing

As I was making this, I couldn’t help thinking about the expression – “to compose oneself,” and about how we are always putting our identities together for performance – in person, in print, in traditional and in digital media. The composing process both reveals and conceals identity. Elements are chosen for their ability to reveal or convey a message or a feeling or an impression, so that a composer goes through Burke’s “selection, reflection, deflection” process to arrive at a final product that says something specific about the maker.

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Transformative Times

I discovered the internet in 2003. Oh, I used it before then. I got my first email address in 1992, and I routinely checked  my email, sent emails, paid bills, and checked my bank account. That process took about 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. I was away at college, but none of my family had email accounts (or even computers), so most of the emails I received were from the university. Professors didn’t even use email very much at first, so if I went a week without checking, it wasn’t really a big deal.

I joined facebook and twitter on Nov 4, 2007. My first tweet was about my new cat and the fourth was about conning my little sister into getting an account. I didn’t post anything to facebook until June 2008. I had hated myspace and was not sure what to think, so I spent some time watching this new platform. I still don’t know what to think of it. It is equal parts useful and irritating, and I continue to use it for the simple reason that it liberates me from having to make phone calls, which I have always detested. (Long Live Texting!)

So what did I do online in those four intervening years? I made multiple blogs and online journals on different platforms (myspace, livejournal, blogspot), trying to find a space that fit; I followed fansites and discovered fanfiction and fanart. I read salon.com and followed my friend’s monthly article in austinmama. I discovered lots of crazy-smart and wildly creative (mostly) women making things that were relevant to my interests. I lurked, for the most part, and my capacity for spending time on the internet expanded greatly.

My interest in digital rhetoric revolves around online communities of interest. Why do people join? How do they find them? How long do they stay in? What causes someone to step across the “lurker” threshold and into the digital participation space? How much do online affiliations contribute to a sense of identity and purpose?

Digital artists are constantly pushing boundaries, and many of these communities transform pop culture moments into critical, social, or humorous commentary. How can we safeguard the “makers” while maintaining an artist’s right to remuneration? Will online platforms end/alter copyright as we know it?

As an example of the ridiculous end of the copyright arguments going on, I’d like to present the marvelous “Buffy vs Edward” vid:

and the aggressive attempt by Lionsgate to protect their “intellectual property” (That would be Twilight, y’all. Some people’s intellectual property is other people’s… yeah, I’ll let you fill that in for yourself.) by harassing the maker of the vid, taking down his work, posting unwanted ads, and constraining his ability to post to youtube.

On a more serious note, there is the sad untimely death of Aaron Swartz, who has been hounded in the courts for the last two years for… well, it’s complicated, but depending on how you look at it, for crusading for freedom of access to information or for downloading millions of articles from JSTOR. (Articles which JSTOR later made publicly available.)

In all these conversations, the metaphors of space, boundaries, and property are being applied to ideas, text, and images, either explicitly or implicitly.  Capitalism rests on the sanctity of property. Will the internet?

ETA: The New Yorker’s piece: “How the Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz

Negotiating Online Boundaries

“Mom, you just don’t get Tumblr,” my daughter insists.

She’s partly right. I have a Tumblr, of course, but I don’t use it much. Merlin can spend hours being alternately horrified and delighted by the parade of images at her fingertips. I’m easily bored with it. I thought, ‘Well, maybe I just need to take a lesson or two from an expert,’ so I wandered over to her page to check out what’s got her so enthralled. When I entered her email to find her, it automatically made me a follower so I could view her page, but it didn’t notify me on the screen. I scrolled through her posts, nearly had a seizure from all the animated gifs and decided that, all things being equal, I could probably stand not to engage on this platform, but in the interest of giving it a fair trial, I signed up to follow some education tumblrs and a couple of people my daughter follows.

Three days later, I had decided that there’s nothing I want on Tumblr that I’m not already getting elsewhere. By then, though, Merlin had noticed that I was following her and the vlogbrothers, and she pulled her father aside to ask him if he would talk to me about my invasion of her space.

I get it.

She’s thirteen, and she “gets” Tumblr, and she loves John Green, and in a real sense, those things “belong” to her. In her view, they do not belong to me, and my interest in them is suspect. Even though I recommended John Green to her, and I had no intention of spying on her posts, my accidental “following” of her Tumblr felt like an encroachment on her space.

In a horrifying reversal, I’ve had several online border disputes with my own mother. I write about things, and I post them, and sometimes I link to the posts on Facebook. When my mother has something to say about a post on my blog, she comments on the link on Facebook which drives me nearly to distraction. The personal and painful things that I sometimes write about in my blog posts are not read by the majority of my Facebook “friends,” so when Mom posts lengthy and personal commentary on them on my Facebook, I feel caught in a conundrum. On the one hand, my blog posts are haphazard, and the few interested parties like to be notified when I make one, on the other, I expect any specific or lengthy reaction to the posts to be routed through the blog itself or through private message. I use Facebook for “liking” and “sharing,” not necessarily for communicating.

So what space is mine and what is theirs? Merlin’s attempt to toss me out of her space produced mixed results. Her father insisted that one of us follow her on Tumblr because she is too young to have unfettered roaming rights online. I’ve quietly deleted Facebook links that generated commentary that I felt got too personal, but I’ve never attempted to have a conversation with my mother about it.

The metaphors of space tied up in conversations about the internet imlpy (to the capitalist mind, certainly) issues of ownership and property, of what is “appropriate” in a given “location,” with the boundaries (often imperfectly) agreed upon by the users. What are our territorial rights and responsibilities online?