May 27, 2007

Lazy Sunday Links

Thanks to some thunderstorms near Chicago, I returned from my visit to Champaign very late last night, so I've spent much of the morning recovering from the trip. I very much enjoyed my visit, especially catching up with old friends, but I was also vividly reminded of why I enjoyed my two years as an instructor at the University of Illinois. Champaign-Urbana is an underrated college community, even livelier than I remembered.

But because of the travel and a general desire to escape from the wired world for a few days, I've fallen way behind the rest of the blogosphere, so here are a few links that I've been following this morning over my second--soon to be third--cup of coffee:

In other news, I read most of Michael Chabon's latest novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union during various legs of my travels this week, and I'm very much enjoying it. Hopefully more on that at some point.

Update: Forgot to mention that comments are still down because of ongoing security issues. We're working on it.

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April 7, 2007

Ghost Maps, Laptops, and Wikis

Getting a bit of a late start this morning, but here are a few links worth checking out. First, fellow Wordherder Jason interviewed Steven Berlin Johnson (blog) for PopMatters. The interview focuses primarily on Johnson's most recent book, The Ghost Map, but Johnson also discusses books from earlier in his career. Scroll way down for a YouTube clip of Johnson discussing Ghost Map.

Interesting Wired article, The TV Is Dead. Long Live the TV, which tracks the ongoing fragmentation of the television audience. According to the article, the average television viewer now has over 100 television channels. Not that we have time to watch TV now that we're all on YouTube.

Jason's discussion of his class wiki project illustrates some of the unintended consequences of incorporating technology in the classroom. My wiki assignment hasn't worked this semester, and I think that's probably the result of not defining my expectations for the assignment very clearly.

Related: a Wikieducator tutorial on setting up a wiki and David Cole's Washington Post editorial on laptop use in college classrooms. Cole explains why he has chosen to ban laptops from his law classes, arguing that laptops offer too many distractions and often inhibit class discussion as students frantically transcribe notes rather than engaging with ideas. Cole's argument is interesting, although I'm not quite sure that I'm fully convinced that an outright ban is beneficial. In my "Technology in the Classroom" class, we've been considering how to use technologies (podcast lectures, blogs) to make better use of class time, and in that sense, laptops might be a distraction, but in other circumstances, I've benefited from having students do a quick Google search on a topic pertinent to class discussion (in fact some of my best class discussions have taken place in computer classrooms). Curious to know what others think.

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February 24, 2007

Sunstein on Wikipedia

I've already mentioned this in the comments section to Jason's MediaCommons blog post, but wanted to mention Cass Sunstein's Washington Post editorial on Wikipedia here as well.

Sunstein describes Wikipedia as "one of many experiments in aggregating knowledge and creativity, that have been made possible by new technologies." He also notes that Wikipedia is now cited four times as often as Encyclopedia Britannica in judicial opinions, but I think his definition of Wikipedia is perhaps more useful in illustrating how the site functions for me.

Update: Not related at all, but I also wanted to mention the interesting Washington Post article on Al Gore and the Oscar buzz surrounding An Inconvenient Truth. As I've said elsewhere, Gore's presence in the film is so magnetic, it's easy to forget David Guggenheim's excellent work in making a well-crafted documentary, but Gore is obviously the biggest star here, even if I think the speculation that he's planning a presidential run is probably wrong.

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February 22, 2007

The Great Wikipedia Debate

Via Altercation: A New York Times article on the decision of the Middlebury College history department to ban students from citing Wikipedia in their papers and exams. While I recognize that Wikipedia has its limits, I'll join the chorus of those who think this policy is a bad idea, but this debate illustrates the degree to which educators will need to rethink how they teach academic research.

Like Jason Mittell, who is heavily quoted in the article, I think the history department's policy misses a tremendous opportunity for thinking about changes in research methods and knowledge acquisition. In fact, like Jason, I have assignments in one of my classes requiring students to participate in a course blog and wiki. In my case, I have asked students to contribute to a course wiki rather than editing or adding to an existing wiki such as Wikipedia (others are obviously welcome to participate in the blog and the wiki). While the blog and wiki are relatively rudimentary, I think its useful to consider how these forms can inform our goals as educators and researchers. Such activities seem far more effective in thinking about information literacy than an outright ban on using certain sources.

That being said, I encourage students to think critically about such sources as Wikipedia, namely its status as an encyclopedia that offers very little in the way of specialized knowledge and one that may be more subject to factual errors than other encyclopedias. But banning Wikipedia prevents us from having some valuable conversations about how these online tools can be used.

Update: Tim Anderson has a useful defense of Wikipedia on the MediaCommons blog. I'm inclined to agree with Tim that Wikipedia can be especially useful in tracking popular culture ephemera that might otherwise fall beneath the academic radar or get caught up in academic publishing limbo. While he's right to argue that Wikipedia may appear to be poor starting point for researching events or texts that have been discussed for decades, if not centuries, the site can be of value for those of us who teach and study popular culture.

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January 20, 2007

Classroom Distinctions

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog entry explaining why I don't like movies about teaching, but a recent NYT editorial, responding to the upcoming release of Freedom Writers, articulates the problem with these films far better than I did. In the editorial Tom Moore describes what he calls "The Myth of the Great Teacher," and I think he's right to criticize the film for portraying teachers as missionaries rather than professionals, willing to sacrifice themselves (and even financial compensation) for the sake of education. Not much to add here. I'm mostly blogging as a form of procrastination from the writing I ought to be doing.

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December 10, 2006

Tentative Syllabus: A Request

Because one of my students in my spring semester graduate course, "Technology and the Language Arts Curriculum," requested that I provide her with a reading list in advance, I've put together a tentative syllabus (or at least a reading list) for the class. One of the stated goals of the course is to provide high school teachers with a few strategies for using technology in the classroom, and I've been working to balance theoretical debates in media studies with the specific, practical problems that my students will face in the classroom. I've added the reading list below the fold, and I'd very much welcome any suggestions my readers might have. And of course I'm very grateful for interesting courses by Kathleen and Scot (among many others) that have informed my thinking about this course.

To name one example, I'm considering spending one week of class discussing the debates about plagiarism detection services, drawing in part from Clancy's discussion of that topic a few weeks ago. But I'm very much looking forward to teaching this course, so I've enjoyed taking a break from grading today to put this reading list together.

January 16: Introduction to Course

January 23: Blogging and Writing Instruction:
Julian Dibbell, “Portrait of the Blogger as a Young Man.”
Charles Lowe and Terra Williams, “Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom.”
Rebecca Mead, “You’ve Got Blog: How to Put Your Boy Friend, Your Business, and Your Life On-Line,”
Chuck Tryon, “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition.” Pedagogy 6.1 (Winter 2006): 128-32.

January 30: Understanding Media Change
Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” Understanding Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1994. 7-21.
Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation,” Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1999. 20-51.
Raymond Williams. “The Technology and the Society.” Television: Technology and Cultural Form. New York: Schocken, 1974. 9-31.

February 6: What is New Media?
Lev Manovich, “What is New Media?” The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press 19-61.
N. Katherine Hayles, “Material Metaphors, Technotexts, and Media-Specific Analysis.” Writing Machines. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002. 18-33.

February 13: New Media and Authorship
Jay David Bolter, “Seeing and Writing.” The New Media Reader. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003. 679-90.
Lev Manovich, “Models of Authorship in New Media.”
Jill Walker, “Feral Hypertexts: When Hypertext Literature Escapes Control.”

February 20: Composition and New Media
Geoffrey Sirc, “Box Logic.” Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Ed. Anne Frances Wysocki, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Cynthia L. Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2004. 111-146.
Anne Frances Wysocki, “With Eyes That Think, and Compose, and Think: On Visual Rhetoric.” Teaching Writing with Computers: An Introduction. Ed. Pamela Takayoshi and Brian Huot. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. 182-201.

February 27: New Media Cultures
Richard A. Lanham, “Stuff and Fluff.” The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. 1-41.
Lev Manovich, “Generation Flash.”
Jeff Rice, “21st Century Graffiti: Detroit Tagging.” June 7, 2005.

March 6: Spring Break

March 13: Interactivity
Luis Arata, “Reflections about Interactivity,” MIT Communications Forum.
Dan Gillmor, “The Read-Write Web,” We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. Cambridge: O’Reilly Press, 2004.
Cass Sunstein, “The Daily Me.” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. 3-22.

March 20: Participatory Cultures

Henry Jenkins, “Why Heather Can Write: Media Literacy and the Harry Potter Wars.” Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006. 169-205.

March 27: New Media and Democracy
Henry Jenkins, “Photoshop for Democracy.” Technology Review. June 4, 2004.
Patricia R. Zimmermann, “Digital Deployment(s).” Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream. Ed. Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt. London: Routledge, 2005. 245-64.
JibJab and other videos TBA.

April 3: Video Sharing
Joshua Davis, “The Secret World of LonelyGirl.” Wired 14.12 (December 2006).
Bob Garfield, “YouTube vs. Boob Tube.” Wired 14.12 (December 2006).
Christopher Conway, “YouTube and the Cultural Studies Classroom,” Inside Higher Ed, November 16, 2006.
Selected YouTube videos TBA.

April 10: Digging Through the Archives
Browse the following web resources:
American Memory Project
Making MediaCommons

April 17: Wikiality
Brock Read, “Can Wikipedia Ever Make the Grade?” Chronicle of Higher Education. October 27, 2006.
Alan Liu “Developing a Wikipedia Research Policy.” Kairosnews. June 29, 2006.
Jeff Rice, “Wikiality.” Yellow Dog. August 3, 2006.

April 24: Computer Classrooms and Writing
Richard Selfe, “Goals in Action: Student Workers at the Center of Things.” Sustainable Computer Environments for Teachers of English and Language Arts: Creating a Culture of Support.

May 1: Student Presentations.

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December 6, 2006

Lazy Wednesday Links

Just a quick pointer to the latest installment of the Teaching Carnival curated by David of Silver in SF. As always plenty of great reading.

And, for your viewing pleasure, a "Scary Mary Poppins" trailer (thanks to Wiley for the tip).

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November 24, 2006

Media Studies and Fair Use

Some good news regarding media studies and fair use. According to an AP report, the US copyright office has just announced several new exemptions to copyright law, at least one of which will benefit media and film studies professors. The exemption would allow film and media professors to copy clips from DVDs for educational compilations (an important teaching tool in Intro to Film courses). As the AP article explains it:

The exemption granted to film professors authorizes the breaking of the CSS copy-protection technology found in most DVDs. Programs to do so circulate widely on the Internet, though it has been illegal to use or distribute them.

The professors said they need the ability to create compilations of DVD snippets to teach their classes — for example, taking portions of old and new cartoons to study how animation has evolved. Such compilations are generally permitted under "fair use" provisions of copyright law, but breaking the locks to make the compilations has been illegal.

Hollywood studios have argued that educators could turn to videotapes and other versions without the copy protections, but the professors argued that DVDs are of higher quality and may preserve the original colors or dimensions that videotapes lack.

Other exemptions dealt with computer obsolescence, allowing copy-protection controls to be circumvented for archival purposes for computer prorgams and video games that require obsolete machines. The full list of new exemptions is available at the US Copyright Office website.While I'd like to see Fair Use extend a little more broadly, these changes will certainly benefit scholars and teachers working in film and media studies.

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November 16, 2006

Teaching Information Literacy

Via JBJ: An interesting IHE article by Paul Thacker on teaching information literacy. Some of these issues will no doubt be relevant in my graduate seminar on technology in the liberal arts classroom. I had a much longer entry on this topic, but it disappeared into the internet abyss, and I'm no mood to reconstruct.

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November 14, 2006

Teaching YouTube

The folks at MediaCommons have pointed to an interesting Inside Higher Ed article by Christopher Conway on the potential uses of YouTube in cultural studies classrooms. The discussion at both IHE and MediaCommons is worth checking out, and I'm writing this post in part as a reminder to revisit these ideas in my "Technology in the Liberal Arts Classroom" seminar next semester.

Specifically, Conway, a professor of Latin American studies, points out that clips uploaded to the service can provide a useful accompaniment to course readings, documentaries, and other assignments, adding that in one recent course, he was able to show Hugo Chavez's notorious "Bush is the Devil" speech (with a Noam Chomsky book playing a key prop). Conway points to a number of other useful clips including the Chomsky-Foucault debate and Malcolm X appearing at Oxford. I think there's little doubt that Conway is right that scholars and teachers should plunder, I mean borrow from, YouTube at every opportunity, and Conway is also right that blogging software makes it relatively easy for professors to link to these clips (although I don't think it's necessarily fair to assume that students will have access to the high-speed internet connections required to view the clips, at least not at my university). At the same time, YouTube's "video library" vastly exceeds the resources available at my local university or at the high school libraries where many of my students will eventually teach, so I think he's right that it can be a very useful resource.

Conway's article also raises some imprtant questions about YouTube and copyright, asking whether a professor who links to an illegally uploaded YouTube clip is "complicit in infringing on someone’s copyright." And, of course, now that Google owns YouTube, we may see some of this valuable material removed from the website. I think that the MediaCommons position, which emphasizes "fair use" addresses many of Conway's concerns, but these legal and institutional issues will significantly effect what kinds of material remains available on YouTube and other video-sharing sites.

And yet, I find myself wanting to read Conway's article somewhat "against the grain," emphasizing not the "hidden gems" that he describes but the amateurish, home movie clips that he describes at the beginning of the article before asking what YouTube can do for professors "apart from giving them something to look at during their lunch breaks." Instead of looking at YouTube as a source of content, why not look at it as a technological form, focusing with our students on how the site not only changes what we (can) watch but how we watch (the beauty of the SNL "Lazy Sunday" clip is that I didn't have to watch an entire SNL episode to see it). I think these questions are implied in Kathleen's question about how we could re-imagine YouTube as a "scholarly tool."

Lots of interesting questions here, and I'm not sure I have any answers yet, but I'm happy to see others thinking about the role of media sharing in the liberal arts classroom.

Update: Jeff's reading of the IHE article is also worth checking out. In particular, Jeff offers an insightful reading of Conway's passing comment that instructors who use YouTube may not want their students to view the sometimes inane comments that accompany most videos, and like Jeff I see comments (and the video responses inspired by such video series as the LonelyGirl15 saga) as a crucial component of the medium. Again, some interesting questions.

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November 7, 2006

Making MediaCommons Launched

A few months ago, I mentioned the very exciting new digital publishing initiative, MediaCommons. Like Kathleen, I am enthusiastic about the possibilities for and implications of electronic scholarly publishing, and MediaCommons should offer a valuable new venue for media studies scholarship (and, yes, I'm hoping/planning to participate in this project). The project is still in the planning stage, but I'd like to mention that The Institute for the Future of the Book has launched Making MediaCommons, a planning site where this new project will begin to develop.

Some of the current features include a blog where the site's organizers are working to imagine just what an electronic publishing network can do, as well as a series of short videos, "In Media Res," with different media scholars offering impressionistic responses to short video clips, including Jeffrey P. Jones' insightful reading of Keith Olbermann's recent "Special Comment" segment on his MSNBC show. There's also a call for "papers" that explore media history, theory or culture, using technologies made available through the digital network.

While Making MediaCommons has only recently launched, I think it can be a valuable resource for media studies scholarship. In this sense, Kathleen's recent post calling for participation in the site sounds about right to me. As more people become actively involved in MediaCommons, I think it can become a valuable community and resource for media studies, so please do check out the site, leave some comments in the blog, and offer suggestions about how the site can contribute to the field of media studies.

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October 24, 2006

Before I Forget...

Still in full scramble mode, but I didn't want to lose track of KF's discussion of the NITLE (National Institute for Technology and Liberal Eductaion) symposium on Learning Management Systems. Because I'll teaching a graduate seminar this spring on almost precisely this topic, her discussion of the symposium looks very helpful.

I'm hoping I can get back to a normal blogging schedule after I get back from the Flow Conference in Austin this weekend, but this semester has been unusually busy.

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October 5, 2006

Spring Teaching (Already)

I've just received the very cool news that I'll be teaching my first graduate-level course in the spring (in addition to the anticipated three sections of freshman composition), one that will present some interesting challenges for me. The course, "Technology and the Language Arts Curriculum," is designed for teachers seeking their M.Ed. in English education, and as the course catalog suggests, the class is expected to focus on emerging media technologies and their effectiveness as pedagogical tools, with one of the goals being the production of a syllabus for a "computer intensive language arts course."

So far, I'm only in the very earliest stages of brainstorming about what such a course should look like. Because I have quite a bit of experience with using blogs in the classroom, we'll certainly discuss how blogs can be used in writing classes (something that went particularly well in my Rhetoric and Democracy course a few years ago, a course that also taught me a lot about teaching in a computer classroom). I'm also thinking about setting up a course wiki, which will (hopefully) introduce them to the possibilities and challenges of using wikis in their classrooms. Finally, I'm also hoping to spend some time working with my students on how they might set up video projects for their students (and to discuss the questions that such projects raise). There are some challenges here--including the availability of equipment--but it seems like it could be a fun class to teach.

Hoping to have more to say about the course in the next several days, but I still have one last round of grading tonight and I need to stop procrastinating.

Update: Forgot to mention that I'll almost certainly discuss pedagogical uses of iPods and podcasting in general, but I don't want podcasting to be considered merely a form of (course) content delivery. Still brainstorming. Must grade.

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September 26, 2006

Believing is Seeing

I'm doing a unit on "visual literacy" in my freshman composition classes this week, and because the photographs in our textbook aren't that interesting, I've been trying to find images that will make class discussion a little more compelling. With that in mind, I'm thinking about introducing the recent debate over Thomas Hoepker's "Brooklyn, New York, September 11, 2001," discussed most recently in this Richard Cohen Washington Post op-ed. Hoepker's photograph became the ubject of some controversy when it was mentioned in a Frank Rich editorial published in the subscription-only section of New York Times. The CBS news blog, Public Eye quotes Rich as arguing that

Mr. Hoepker found his subjects troubling. ''They were totally relaxed like any normal afternoon,'' he told Mr. Friend. ''It's possible they lost people and cared, but they were not stirred by it.'' The photographer withheld the picture from publication because ''we didn't need to see that, then.'' He feared ''it would stir the wrong emotions.'' But ''over time, with perspective,'' he discovered, ''it grew in importance.''

Seen from the perspective of 9/11's fifth anniversary, Mr. Hoepker's photo is prescient as well as important -- a snapshot of history soon to come. What he caught was this: Traumatic as the attack on America was, 9/11 would recede quickly for many. This is a country that likes to move on, and fast. The young people in Mr. Hoepker's photo aren't necessarily callous. They're just American. In the five years since the attacks, the ability of Americans to dust themselves off and keep going explains both what's gone right and what's gone wrong on our path to the divided and dispirited state the nation finds itself in today.

Hoepker found his phoographs so troubling that he withheld publication of the photograph for five years until it was included in the recently-published anthology, Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11 (see David Friend's blog entry on the discussion).

Of course, as Slate's David Plotz and others have pointed out, the subjects of the photograph do not appear as if they are enjoying just another relaxing fall afternoon but instead look as if they are engrossed in the events taking place across the water in Manhattan, and while I wasn't present when the photograph was taken, it's not hard to guess that they are discussing the attacks, a reading confirmed by two of the photograph's subjects, Walter Sipser and Chris Schiavo. Slate has also included a response to the controversy written by the photographer, Thomas Hoepker. I don't know that I have anything specific to add to the debate about the photograph, but I think the debate itself would be interesting to teach.

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August 31, 2006

Teaching the Intro to Film Course

I've been thinking over the last couple of days about how I might be able to contribute to this month's Teaching Carnival. Like Mel, I think George has asked some excellent questions, and because I've just started a new teaching gig here at Fayetteville State, I'm most interested right now in thinking about what I'll be doing differently this year. I addressed this question in passing a few weeks ago when I discussed my plans for my freshman composition classes this fall, but I haven't really discussed my other course, Introduction to Film and Visual Literacy, in much detail.

Right now, I'm teaching the course as a variant of the Introduction to Film courses that I've taught at Purdue, Illinois, and Georgia Tech. Like an Introduction to literature course, the intro class requires a lot of juggling, introducing students to the formal language of film study (close-up, low-key lighting), to film genres and histories, and to the basics of film theory (the male gaze, etc). And because I'm interested in how social and technological forces affect our experience of moviegoing, I've decided to teach the Intro course using Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White's The Film Experience, but in general, like Chris at Dr. Mabuse, I've been thinking about what the Introduction to Film texts and courses--including some specific classroom practices--say about our discipline, and I've been specifically trying to address this question as it relates to my position withing Fayetteville State's student population.

One of the challenegs I've faced so far is the lack of a recent institutional history of teaching an Introduction to Film course, which means that I've had to scramble a bit more than usual to organize screenings of the films that we'll be discussing in class. At the same time, the relatively small class size (15-17 students) and the number of students who work or live off-campus have translated into screenings attended by only a few students each night. In the past, one of the pedagogical goals of the screenings was the hope that it would model for students the colllective experience of moviegoing. Now, if my course proves to be popular, these numbers may change, making it more productive to schedule class screenings, but given the challenges of setting up these screenings, I'm wondering if my students will be served just as well watching the films independently, either by placing them on reserve in the media center or by allowing them to track down movies on their own. But this experience has also alerted me to the fact that the Intro course practice of scheduling required movie screenings may in fact be the result of a technological history in which many of the films would be shown on film rather than on DVD.

The second question I'm confronting is related to these technological issues and is also implied in the official title of the course, Film and Visual Literacy. As I put together this semester's class, I found myself becoming acutely aware of the degree to which the Intro course should perhaps be more honestly described as an "Introduction to Classical Hollywood Cinema" course emphasizing film's status as an art, a bias resulting in part from the need to justify the cinema as worthy of study. And this question draws from my own interests in new media studies. Should a course introducing students to the discipline of film studies today spend a week looking at videos on YouTube? At home movies? At industrial or pedagogical films such as those found in the Prelinger Archives? These questions might be more relevant at a university such as Fayetteville State where I'm not involved in the task of preparing students for a film major because there won't be other opportunities for me to present such alternative film practices to my students. The most recent film that I teach right now is Run Lola Run, a movie I love, but I can't help but think that my Intro course, as it stands right now, needs to be updated for the new ways in which we watch and engage with motion pictures of all kinds.

technorati tag:

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August 1, 2006

Colbert and Composition

Summer "vacation" is quickly coming to an end, and with classes soon to begin, it's time to start thinking and writing about teaching in higher education again. With that in mind, George has announced this year's schedule of teaching carnivals where he explains the whole concept of the teaching carnival and how you can participate.

If you're not sure what to write, George suggests a number of possible questions you might address, including a question about whether you'll be doing anything differently in the classroom in the approaching academic year, a topic I plan to address as I make a transition between two very different student populations, although I'm hoping that my experiences teaching media studies this past year will inform my approach to freshman composition. I flaked out on a number of the carnivals last year, but I'm planning to contribute more consistently this time around.

Speaking of media studies, I continue to be amazed by The Colbert Report. The commentary about language and media is incredibly sharp. Last night's "Word" sequence, in which Colbert coined the word "Wikiality" to describe the ways in which "anyone" can edit an entry to change the facts based on their whims (and, yes, I know that Wikipedia is more complicated than that). I happened to have my laptop nearby while watching Colbert, and within seconds (I believe before the end of the "wikiality" segment), the Colbert Report entry had been changed to reflect Colbert's mention. Colbert's "truthiness" won last year's American Dialect Society Word of the Year. Wikiality might make it two years in a row. BTW, if anyone has the video on that segment, I'd love to have a link to it for my composition classes. It seems like a humorous way to remind students about the credibility of internet research.

Update: At least for now, it's available on YouTube.

Update 2: While skimming some of the blog buzz on "wikiality," I came across the news about Lewis Black's planned series for Comedy Central called Red State Diaries, which also looks like a lot of fun.

Update 3: There's an interesting overview of the controversy over "wikiality" at the No Fact Zone, a Colbert Report fan blog.

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July 25, 2006

Facebook Communities

Patricia J. Williams' Nation article on online communities, "The 600 Faces of Eve" (subscription only) looks like it might be a useful resource for my planned freshman composition course focusing on new media topics. Williams rather quickly moves past the questions of sexual predation to address what she calls the "invisible hands" that guide the activity of these social networks. Williams notes that when you create a MySpace profile, you are encouraged to "choose" interests that reflect your personality, which in her read isn't an entirely benign activity:

You proceed by filling out themed questionnaires and following links and pursuing guided suggestions. If you choose a Paris Hilton-themed path, you might be asked how often you go shopping. If you choose hip-hop, you're asked to "fess up to the acts of a true thug."
Of course she's right to point out that Rupert Murdoch's ownership of MySpace raises important questions about what kinds of information MySpace participants post about themselves in a public space (and to what extent that information is subject to data mining), but in my experience, these quizzes are often treated with at least some ironic distance, a point that Williams acknowledges when she describes the practice of trying on different identities within MySpace. Not sure I have much to add for now, but Williams' essay looks like something that might be useful for starting a conversation about the relationship between social networks and constructions of identity.

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July 16, 2006

Sunday Afternoon Links

A few unrelated articles and random observations from the Barnes and Noble cafe:

I didn't make it out to a movie theater this weekend (still waiting for A Scanner Darkly to get to F'ville, which should be happening soon, but have been watching Chris Marker's Grin Without a Cat off and on all weekend, which I've been wanting to see for a really long time.

Update: Just wanted to add a pointer to this LA Times interview with Kevin Smith promoting Clerks 2. I happened to catch the original Clerks at precisely the right time, when I was working as a cashier at a Very Big Box DIY store. Reading the article, I also realize that I'm almost exactly the same age as Kevin Smith, and as a result, I shared many of the concerns articulated by Randal and Dante, the two clerks in the original film. In addition to promoting Clerks 2, Mark Olsen's article addresses and challenges Smith's reputation as a "lazy" filmmaker and discusses his ability to connect with his enthusiastic fan base. It also mentions that Smith worked with Richard Kelly on the graphic novel series written to accompany Kelly's latest film, Southland Tales.

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July 7, 2006

New Media Studies and Freshman Composition

Inspired by a conversation with George, I've decided to use a "new media studies" theme in my freshman composition class this fall. I had originally planned to put together a course similar to my Fall 2004 "Rhetoric and Democracy" course, which focused on the various kinds of argument used during the presidential election, but because there is no central national election, such a course doesn't seem feasible in 2006. I'm still thinking about what such a course would look like and how it might serve Fayetteville State's student population, but given the number of important questions raised by new media, I think students could benefit from such a course.

I'm still debating about whether to require students to maintain blogs this time around for a variety of reasons. I do think it's important that students produce new media texts in a new media studies course, and blogs are becoming one of the more accessible versions of that kind of "democratized" new media production. When I taught the "Rhetoric and Democracy" course, blogs also made it easier for students to generate content for class discussion by linking to news articles or op-ed pieces on their blogs, a practice I found especially useful and informative when I taught the election-based course. But I've also found that when I don't have actual paper assignments to return to my students that I find it much more difficult to remember their names (and I'll have a lot of students this fall). I'm also becoming less patient with the role of being a default blog administrator for seventy-five or so students and am somewhat unsure about what kind of technological access students will have. I have obviously had good success with using blogs in the classroom in the past, but I'm also ready to try something different.

Also, because the course is the composition course focused on teaching the research paper, it may make more sense to look at significant debates about new media to provide contexts where students can write argumentative essays. Here, I'm thinking about the debates about the place of copyrighted material on YouTube, whether it's the "Lazy Sunday" clip from Saturday Night Live or fans filming themselves dancing to their favorite songs, to name one example. But I'd also like students to think about issues such as YouTube's popularity rankings and comments features and how those functions might affect how and what we watch, as well as pointing students to writers who are performing interesting interpretations of amatuer media, such as Henry Jenkins. And, of course, amateur media raises all sorts of questions about public and private boundaries that students need to consider, especially with many of them maintaining Facebook and MySpace pages, which often feature their names and contact information.

This is sort of a brainstorming post, and I'd be happy to hear your suggestions, but there seems to be at least some enthusiasm among my colleagues for this kind of composition course. I'm planning to keep some aspects of the course flexible under the assumption that as new media practices continue to evolve, so I'm a little cautious about imposing too many required readings at the beginning of the semester. Plus, I think that this flexibility may, in fact, provide one way of modelling some of the challenges of doing new media research.

Oh, while I'm thinking about it, I've been invited to join the group blog, Dr. Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope, and so from now on, some of my posts may be cross-posted over there.

Update: Via Planned Obsolescence, Alan Liu's draft policy statement on student use of Wikipedia. Like him, I've seen students increasingly rely on Wikipedia as a source, and I think it's worth discussing that practice with my students. I'm probably less inclined than most English or composition instructors to expect my students to spend time in the library stacks, but I do think it's important that students gain some self-consciousness about how they research and how they come to conclusions about what's reliable and what isn't.

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June 23, 2006

Entertainment Empire

The Nation recently devoted a special issue to the topic of entertainment and politics. The special issue featured a chart that lists (PDF) all of the media properties of the major media empires (Disney, News Corporation, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS). It's an eye-opening chart in terms of illustrating where and how most Americans get their news. As the authors point out, the lnadscape has changed considerably since they produced their original chart ten years ago in part due to the rise of new media, but because television remains the primary source of news for most Americans, this chart remains an important resource.

I've only had time to skim a few of the articles in the entertainment issue, but Rebecca MacKinnon's " The Self-Expression Sector" is a useful analysis of the popularization of self-expression tools such as blogs and podcasts, and Robert McChesney continues to raise important points about media deregulation, while Mark Crispin Miller and Amy Goodman describe the continued threats to real reporting presented by corporations primarily interested in the bottom line. While Markos (Daily Kos) Moulitsas Zuniga and Robert Greenwald are slightly more optimistic, the overall picture is rather dire (with good reason).

For this reason, I find Richard Morin's Washington Post column to be deeply misguided. Morin argues that "Jon Stewart and his hit Comedy Central cable show may be poisoning democracy," pointing to a study that viewers who watched The Daily Show were more likely to view both 2004 Presdiential candidates negatively than people who watched the CBS Evening News. He goes on to cite the argument that the negative perceptions of the candidates "could have participation implications by keeping more youth from the polls." While I think it's important to note that watching TDS or CBS does not take place in isolation (which I believe deeply complicates the result of this study), isn't it also important to speculate about why these negative perceptions persist and what it says about the political process itself. It's not Stewart that's poisoning democracy. Instead, his appeal--not to mention Stephen Colbert's--grows out of the fact that so many of us feel alienated from a democratic process that is already deeply flawed.

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February 7, 2006

Early Photography Links

I'll be talking about photography in my Media and History course starting tomorrow and found some links that might be useful for my class (and maybe others as well). First, a link to the George Eastman collection of Lewis Hine's photography. The Eastman House online archive looks pretty useful, with a nice collection of early photographers including Eugene Atget, Matthew Brady, and a small number of daguerreotypes.

But one other topic I hope to revisit will be the Cottingley Fairy Photographs, which were taken by Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright in 1916-17 and showed fairies and gnoes leaping and playing next to the teenage girls. Their pictures led to a widespread effort to detemine the authenticity of the photographs, and even Sherlock Holmes writer Arthur Conan Doyle, who was an ardent spiritualist and believer in fairies, endorsed the images as genuine. Only in 1983 did Griffiths and Wright acknowldege that the photographs were a hoax.

I wasn't specifically planning to discuss this story, but given that various permutations of spiritualism have been an ongoing theme in the course, I'm hoping that my students will find it interesting.

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January 8, 2006

"Abundance of Books Makes Men Less Studious"

Spring semester starts on Monday, and as I've mentioned, I'll be teaching three sections of a sophomore "Media and History" course. On Monday, I'll do the typical first-day stuff and set up Wednesday's discussion of Walter Ong's "Orality and Literacy: Writing Restructures Consciousness," which focuses in part on Plato's misgivings about writing ("writing destroys memory, those who use writing will become forgetful").

This is a long way of explaining why I've linked to web versions of Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" and Phaedrus, which I'm hoping to discuss (or at least introduce) in class on Monday.

Update: Just came across this interesting and creepy flash video, EPIC 2014. Might make for an interesting discussion with my students.

Update 2: While I'm linking, SHARP has some great resources for teaching print culture.

Yet another update: The last time I checked, Bruce Sterling's Dead Media Project and Manifesto was down, but it might be a useful resource for my course as well (and, while I'm at it, this April 2005 article complicates Sterling's original project).

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January 6, 2006

Building the Syllabus

I'm putting the finishing touches on my Media and History syllabus (more on that later), and a colleague suggested a few resources that I wanted to keep in mind for future reference (other people might find them useful, too).

First, George Mason University's Center for History and New Media has an excellent resource, a syllabus search that allows you to search 639,752 syllabi at the Center for History and New Media and over 500,000 syllabi via Google using keywords, names, and titles. I think I've mentioned this site in the past bceause of their September 11 archive, which also looks incredibly useful.

Second, a couple of resources that might be useful in teaching students how to read academic writing. Tim Burke's "How to Read in College," which illustrates its suggestions with a reading of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, which I was considering teaching. Another good resource for helping students navigate difficult material is Susan Strasser's "How to Read a Book."

More later, but I thought others might find thees resources particularly helpful this time of year.

Update: The one section of my syllabus that seems a little underdeveloped is the unit on photography. I'll likely use sections of Susan Sontag's On Photography and Walter Benjamin's A Short History of Photography, but found lots of other cool ideas while digging around on the Center for History and New Media's syllabus search.

Update 2: This is mostly a bookmarking update, but I have 1-2 open sopts in my syllabus, and I'm thinking about devoting one of those classes to a discussion of early debates about sound recording, including John Philip Sousa's intriguing essay, "The Menace of Mechanical Music." The Phonozoic website also has Barnet Phillips' 1891 essay, "A Record of Monkey Talk" and several other articles reporting on the early history of the phonograph, as well as sound files and other cool stuff.

Update 2.5: The Phonozoic site also has a pointer to a nice collection of Edison sound recordings.

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December 15, 2005

New Teaching Carnival

If you read my blog, you very likely read New Kid on the Hallway, but just in case you don't, she's just posted the December Teaching Carnival. Lots of good stuff on teaching, and I'd say that even if I wasn't included.

Posting may be infrequent over the next few days as I work on my paper for MLA.

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November 26, 2005

Media and History Course

In the spring, I'll be teaching 3 sections of CUA's Media and History course. The stated goal of the course is to "explore mediation in and across time," with the hope of introducing students to questions about the transitions and interactions among media and culture. In the past, the course hasn't been taught as a comprehensive survey of media history (teaching several thousand years' worth of media in fifteen weeks would be rather difficult). Instead the emphasis is on using past media transitions to make sense of contemporary transitions, which I think is a good idea. So far, I have the basic scaffolding for the course set up, including the books I'll require my students to read:

I'll certainly supplement these books with some relevant historical essays (too tired to list them right now) and required encounters with relevant texts (Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, possibly the Bela Lugosi film, Murder by Television, and others). I'm thinking out loud over here, so any suggestions or observations would be welcome.

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November 18, 2005


I'm leading a discussion that involves this MCI advertisement. More later.

Update: I'm also talking about this IBM advertisement.

Update 2: Just a quick explanation of this entry. In my senior seminar, I was teaching a section of Lisa Nakamura's Cybertypes, in which she discusses the utopian imagery of the MCI "Anthem" advertisement and the Microsoft "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" advertisements and came across this useful resource, Representations of Global Capital, by Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, and Noah Kersey. The site stores a number of corporate TV advertisements that depict a world shaped by global capitalism.

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November 13, 2005

Merchants of Cool

I'm moving into a unit on youth culture/subcultures in my junior seminar this week. I've already taught Dick Hebdige's groundbreaking work on subcultures and will be teaching Angela McRobbie's "Youth Culture and Femininity" later this week.

But because of a blip in the schedule, I'll have some extra time in class on Monday, in which I'll be showing segments of Douglas Rushkoff's fascinating Frontline documentary, Mercahnts of Cool, conveniently available online at the Frontline website, and discussing Malcolm Gladwell's essay on "coolhunting."

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October 14, 2005

Teaching Times

This Teaching Carnival entry is about some of my current experiences teaching a senior-level seminar for the first time. Both G Zombie and Another Damned Medievalist, in their discussions of grading, and Anbruch, in his discussion of teaching a seminar, have addressed some questions I'd like to discuss. Also, as I'll suggest below, because this is my first 3-hour seminar, I'm still learning how to pace class discussion, a process that I'm describing under the concept of "teaching times" in honor of my interest in media and time.

The senior seminar is the culmination of the media studies degree and requires that students write a major research paper on a course theme selected by the instructor. In my case, I've chosen "Media Times" as the theme, which has allowed me to draw from research for my current book project, something I've really enjoyed doing. Rereading some of the important work on media and time (Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes; Television by Raymond Williams, and The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918 by Stephen Kern, among other readings) has allowed me to see my own research anew and to recognize a little more clearly what I'd like to contribute with my book.

But teaching the seminar also has been a learning experience in terms of teaching an advanced course. I think Anbruch's advice makes a lot of sense, and I intuitively incorporated some of his pointers into my senior seminar. Like Anbruch, I've generally tried to frontload the reading, with the knowledge that my students will be working hard on their projects at the end of the semester. I've also created a situation in which students do some of the work of leading class discussion. This also allows me to gauge how students are responding to some fairly difficult reading assignments. So far, so good. Discussion has been enthusiastic, and students have been eagerly re-reading theoretical concepts, such as Raymond Williams' notion of "planned flow" through the contemporary situation of a society saturated with countless cable television channels, advertisements embedded within other TV shows, and other contemporary phenomena. I've also been pleasantly surprised at how quickly a three-hour seminar can sail past, at least from the perspective of the instructor. The first couple of weeks, I had to remind myself to take breaks because I'd get so caught up in the discussion, and because I know from recent experience that three hours from a student's perspective is a lot longer than it is from an instructor's. In one of my undergraduate courses, I even learned how to read a clock backwards in its reflection in a window. This clock-watching was not necessarily due to boredom or lack of interest but was instead due to a combination of exhaustion and a lack of control over the "narrative" of the class, and I'm still learning to account for the different level of concentration required in a senior-level class.

Also, as I've suggested, I'm still learning here, and this learning process includes developing strategies for managing senior-level research projects rather than shorter assignments. Unlike Anbruch, I'm not planning to cancel any classes this semester (my conference schedule is busier in the spring), but I will meet with my students individually to ensure that they are making sufficient progress on their papers. Because I have a relatively small number of students (12 or so in my senior seminar), for the first time in several years, it's actually feasible to conduct conferences and to make them more meaningful. I'm also planning to have students "present" their paper projects to the class next Friday, an activity I picked up from one of my professors at Purdue. Not only will this require students to be prepared to talk about their projects to a classroom full of peers, but also it will allow them to cultivate networks and share resources as they conduct their research. It will also establish the seminar paper as a process rather than a punctual, last-minute activity.

But, as my discussion of the seminar paper implies, this will have the effect of backloading the work of grading for me. I've been careful to require occasional written assignments--a proposal, a dilation, a write-up of their presentation--so that there are no surprises at semester's end, but I'm a little concerned about the time crunch in November and December when I'll be prepping for MLA. G Zombie's questions are similar to my own. How do you learn to comment judiciously on seminar papers? I know that I won't be grading seminar papers like I do freshman composition papers, but I'm still trying to gigure out how I'll be positioning myself as a reader (beyond the already-established position as teacher). Here, I think ADM's comments about establishing grading rubrics and clearly defined goals for the assignemnt are really useful. If there's a context in advance, it makes it easier to use comments more efficiently and hopefully to grade more quickly.

Finally, there's the more obvious refrence implied by "teaching times," with teachers fighting to secure morning or afternoon schedules based on their preferences. I'm not a "morning person," so picking up a morning schedule has itself been a learning process. I didn't plan for this entry to focus on "teaching times." It just happened to take that direction, but given my focus on time in some of my research, it seemed like an interesting way to frame some of these questions.

technorati tag:

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October 5, 2005

Sadie Benning Pixelvision Films

Just a quick link to an online collection of Sadie Benning Pixelvision videos to show my students (via Video Data Bank). More later, maybe.

Update: The O'Reilly essay cited above provides a good overview for the technical specs of the Fisher Price Pixelvision camera Benning used for her short films.

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August 31, 2005

Transitions, or the Anticipation of a Future Post about Teaching

I've spent a significant chunk of the evening thinking about how I could contribute to G Zombie's Teaching Carnival, but because it's the first week of class and because I'm learning the ropes at a new university, I'm pretty exhausted, but that's pretty typical for me during the first week of class, especially in the fall. For this reason, my contribution to the Carnival might end up being a little disjointed. That being said, G Zombie's suggestion has inspired me to dig around in the "teaching" catgeory of my archives to see precisely what I talk about when I think I'm talking about teaching. It's probbaly not surprising that when I think I'm talking about teaching, I'm less focused on the process of teaching, of the specific narrative of a course, and often more interested in the "content" of the class (as my film class brainstorming posts illustrate).

So, perhaps this post will allow me some room to think about how at least one of my classes will provide an opportunity for me to reflect on my pedagogy in a more self-conscious way. In some sense, this process of reflection is determined by the shift in disciplines, in that I'm moving from teaching freshman composition almost exclusively for three years to teaching media studies courses. I'm also able to take advantage of a much different academic/research community. I think that regular readers of my blog can probably guess that I'm very excited about the courses that I'll be teaching this year and the opportunity to learn alongside my students about DC's fantastic media archives.

But one of the most interesting changes in my teaching practice will be the fact that I'll have a teaching assistant working with me in the junior seminar, which is completely new to me. In fact, I've never served as a teaching assistant, which means that I'm still learning the basics, especially when it comes to asking someone to do a lot of the busywork (copying, making PDFs, etc) that I would normally do. Because I know it's tedious work, I feel mildly guilty about asking others to do it. At the same time, I'm quickly learning that my TA can also teach me a lot about my classroom practice, in part by observing the dynamic in the class from a position slightly closer to the students' POV. So, perhaps this post is actually a moment of anticipation, preparation for a future post or two (which is okay because there will be other Teaching Carnivals), as I learn to navigate this new pedagogical community.

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August 30, 2005

Media Times: Baudelaire and Griffith

Classes started this week at Catholic U, so I've been running non-stop for the last few days doing all of that typical beginning-of-semester work, including making appointments for guest speakers (more on that later) and arranging for passcodes for classrooms, that sort of thing.

But for now, I just wanted to re-bookmark an old entry of mine that discussed the controversial online "docu-game," JFK: Reloaded (lots of good discussion of the game in the comments to that entry). The post seeks to connect the game's rhetoric of authenticity with D.W. Griffith's cinematic theory of history, which imagines motion pitcures as an unmediated window onto the past ("There will be no opinions expressed. You will merely be present at the making of history").

For the first day of class (it's a 3-hour seminar that meets on Friday), I'm thinking about discussing Griffith in relationship with Charles Baudelaire's famous rejection of photography in the Salon of 1859 (of course, Baudelaire's distaste for photography did not prevent him from being photographed). I think the two short pieces will prexent an interesting juxtaposition for establishing how potography and cinema were received, specifically in terms of the concepts of time, memory, and history that I want to unpack in the class.

I'll try to post my syllabi online in the next few days so that I can get some feedback and comments from media studies scholars who read my blog. I've already learned a lot from KF's media studies syllabi for my junior seminar.

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August 16, 2005

Home Movies as Cultural Artifacts

I've already discussed my plans for the senior seminar I'll be teaching on "media times," and that course is starting to come together, but my plans for my junior seminar course are still developing. The goal for the junior seminar is to "introduce students to the methods and problems of research and writing on media." Students are required to find, describe, and use primary and secondary sources and tow rite two short (6-8 page) research papers, but within that framework, they should have a lot of room to find subjects that interest them.

For this class, I'd like to work through several examples of cultural artifacts, and one that I think would work particularly well would be the home movie (Super 8) and home video cameras. I've been thinking about some of these questions ever since I started working on my Capturing the Friedmans article (still somewhat in limbo due to the move), because of the father's home movie hobby, which I find to be one of the more significant subtexts of the film (in a sense, it's really a movie about images). I probably won't show the film to my students, but I'm intrigued by how home movies and home movie cameras were used, as well as how the marketing of the home video camera might change things. In that sense, I think these technologies (and their products) would work very well as examples of cultural artifacts.

Nick has already discussed in some detail questions about do-it-yourself filmmaking and the discourses that emerged around amateur movie-making. For secondary sources, I'll likely use James Moran's There's No Place Like Home Video and Patricia Zimmermann's Reel Families, among other sources (other suggestions are welcome). The "home movie" (or D-I-Y filmmaking) discussion won't provide the primary content of the course. This is primarily a brainstorming post, allowing me to work through some ideas for the course, and suggestions are welcome.

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April 19, 2005

For my Film Students: Run Lola Run Links

For my students, here are the links to the articles on Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run:

For the O'Sickey article, click through to the link to the PDF. I had some trouble getting access to the article from home, so if you have the same problems, try the link from a computer on campus. Also remember that your papers are due at the beginning of class on April 15.

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March 27, 2005

High Noon in Germany

David at GreenCine points to Patrick Walsh's insightful discussion of teaching Western films in Germany. Walsh's stated intention was to use the Western to "guide [his] students toward a consideration of American manhood," but students instead identified the Western with George W. Bush's "cowboy" persona and instead used the course to think about "American self-sanctioned violence."

Also interesting that "anti-heroes" from such films as The Wild Bunch and Fistful of Dollars also failed to appeal given that the men in these films still used violence to achieve their goals, even if they did so in ways that weren't sanctioned by the dominant culture. Also interesting that Blazing Saddles, a film that tears at the seams of the Western myth, was among the students' favorites.

I mention this article because I find the students' reading "against the grain" to be rather insightful, but also because I want to remind myself to return to Flow, the very cool online journal that published the article.

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March 14, 2005

Errol Morris on David Harris

When I was preparing to teach Errol Morris's Thin Blue Line this morning, I came across this interview with Morris conducted on Wisconsin Public Radio within a few days of David Harris's execution last summer, which I wrote about last summer. Morris's discussion of their relationship is actually pretty fascinating:

I don't get him. I probably never will get him. One of the things that is so interesting, he was described by many people as "The Kid". He was kind of a fresh-faced kid at the time of the killing of the police officer. There's something actually sweet, something sympathetic about David Harris, and it doesn't quite square with the things that he's done. It's one of the puzzling things.

You know, I met him several times when he was a free man, and he scared me. He scared me but there was something endlessly fascinating about him as well.

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March 2, 2005

Harlan County Links

Just a quick link or two for future reference. I'm teaching Barbara Kopple's Harlan County, USA, this week, and just wanted to note that Robert Yahnke's notes on the film were partcularly helpful, especially in terms of showing how the film's plot is organized (also see his Resources for Teaching Documentary Film). Yelladog also has an interesting review of the film. I haven't taught Harlan in several years, so I'm looking forward to talking about it again.

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February 18, 2005

The Harder They Come Review

Quick note to self: when I teach Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come next time, it might make sense to teach it after teaching Bonnie and Clyde, especially when talking about the editing in the final showdown scenes of each film.

Update: A Salon review of the Critereon DVD from November 2000.

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January 12, 2005

Reel Changes

I've just been offered the opportunity to teach an Introduction to Film course this semester, so I'm doing some very last-minute planning/organizing. The class will probably look a lot like the Intro to Film course I taught this past summer. Here's a tentative schedule, but because I'm still working out the details, I'm open to suggestions, though I'd like to have the syllabus etched in stone by no later than Friday.

Week One: Early Cinema, Edison shorts via American Memory Project (ca. 1900).
Week Two: Narrative, North by Northwest (1958)
Week Three: Mise-en-scene, Blonde Venus (1932)
Week Four: Cinematography, The Third Man or Touch of Evil.
Week Five: Editing, The Harder They Come
Week Six: Sound, The Conversation or Meet Me in St. Louis (1974 or 1944)
Week Seven: Narrative, Citizen Kane (1941), but I may try something else here.
Week Eight: Documentary, The Thin Blue Line (1988), or other Errol Morris doc.
Week Nine: Genre I, His Girl Friday, tentative.
Week Ten: Genre II, Lady from Shanghai
Week Eleven: Indie Cinema, Do the Right Thing (1989)
Week Twelve: Run Lola Run (1998), also tentative.
Week Thirteen: Blade Runner (1982), or Dark City
Week Fourteen: Chungking Express or, more likely (because I've taught it before), Tampopo.
The plans get pretty tentative at around week five or six, simply because I'd like to spend at least one more week covering documentary. I'd also like to work in several films not listed, especially Breathless, which I haven't taught in a few years (I'd also like to pair Breathless with a Bogart film, maybe Maltese Falcon). Finally, I'm resisting the film studies imperative that you have to teach Citizen Kane in an introduction to film class. Would I be causing my students tremendous harm if I skipped Kane just for one semester? Any film titles that you, my readers, can suggest would be much appreciated.

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December 23, 2004


Just a quick bookmark post: Collin has a nice round-up of a discussion of "centripetal" versus "centrifugal" blogging. He notes that Clancy's use of blogging in the classroom emphasizes the goal of creating "a close community ethos in the classroom," while Collin expresses less interest in community building, emphasizing the goal of "having students looking outward." For now, I just want to store this set of links so that I can return to it after MLA when I'll be doing the bulk of my planning for srping semester.

Note: Clancy's post provides a great overview of some of the instructional basics that many of my students have struggled with in the past. In the spring, I'd like to spend more time getting new bloggers up to speed, so this may be a good way to start.

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December 20, 2004

Spectacle, Surveillance, Control

My original plan of a documentary media-themed freshman composition course didn't work out this semester. Because the course is supposed to introduce students to literature/literary studies, my documentary emphasis didn't quite fit. So, instead, I've decided to teach a very loosely related theme, "Spectacle, Surveillance, Control," using Debord, Foucault, and Deleuze as reference points for each of these themes. I taught a section of Foucault's Discipline and Punish together with Deleuze's "Postscript on Control Societies" at Tech a few years ago, and the discussion of both essays turned out to be fairly productive (thanks to Anne for the link). I'm planning to use excerpts from The Society of the Spectacle for Debord, but that's still somewhat up in the air.

I think that one of the major benefits of this type of approach will be that it will portray the means by which academic argument can proceed. Foucault responds to Debord. Deleuze responds to Foucault. At the same time, we can "test" their approaches on a range of contemporary phenomena. Inspired by Ryan, I'll likely start the semester with the unit on spectacle, by focusing on the inauguration and protests as forms of spectacle (and given last year's controversy, the Super Bowl halftime show might be interesting to watch, too). Later in the semester, I've heard that Georgia Tech is planning a symposium on Freedom Tower, so that might be a useful moment to revisit those questions.

I will also require students to read Douglas Coupland's Miss Wyoming and William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. The latter, especially, can introduce students to questions about control societies quite nicely. Plus, I think both novels would be fun to teach. I've been trying to think of some good short stories/films for teaching alongside of Foucault. I think Bentham's Panopticon is such a powerful image that it stands on its own, so I'm more intrigued by the ways in which Foucault talks about disciplinarity. If you have any suggestions, I'd appreciate them. I have thought about teaching Cube, but that doesn't quite seem to fit what I'd like to do in terms of surveillance and disciplinarity. One other possibility (again, for control societies) would be Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World, another film I've long wanted to teach.

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December 11, 2004

Counting Words

I'm grading my students' group blog projects today, and one of the expectations is that all blog entries should meet a certain minimum word length. In the past, I've usually opened Word and copied and pasted text there to run a word count. Now, after a quick Google search, my grading has been completely transformed. The javascript at this website makes counting words faster and easier than ever before.

Of course, word count isn't the only factor in determining my students' grades for their group blog projects, which means I've been grading most of the day, and I continue to find it difficult to grade online work, not simply because I'm still thinking about evaluative criteria for online writing (I certainly allow for a greater degree of informality, for example), but also because the rest of the Internet is only a click away, making it easy to get distracted. I noticed that last year at this time, I found it somewhat difficult to stay on task while grading student blog projects. I'd imagine that this sense of distraction may be more acute this time of year due to the fact that I'm on the job market (sorry I can't be more specific here about how the job search is going), but I'm still convinced that I need a better method for evaluating online work. Any suggestions?

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November 22, 2004

Documentary Film Note

Still thinking about my documentary course this spring and just wanted to jot down a few notes. First, an indieWire blogger mentions two screenings he attended at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.

I'm still operating under the assumption that the course will run more smoothly if all the documentaries I show are available on DVD, especially given that not all students will be able to attend screenings, but I'm still working on the list of films that I'll teach. I'm now almost completely certain that the course will culminate with a group project in which students produce a short documentary film using Georgia Tech's cameras and editing equipment (iMovie and Final Cut Pro) available in the library. I'll be thinking about these issues a lot over the next few days now that my travel and writing schedule have slowed down a bit.

I'm finding it strange to return to a somewhat normal blogging schedule this week. More later as I move towards deciding which films to show and what essays/books to assign.

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November 17, 2004

Kind Words

Two of my students have written blog entries about their experiences in my election-themed composition course, "Rhetoric and Democracy," this semester. While I've had an incredibly busy semester, I've deeply enjoyed teaching the class using this approach and would certainly recommend it to other composition instructors. I've certainly learned a lot about the American political process from teaching it, and I'm glad to see that two of my students (Danielle and Derek) have spontaneously commented that they've learned a lot as well. In a one-semester course in which it's often difficult to measure student progress, it's pretty rewarding to get this kind of positive feedback.

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November 9, 2004

Teaching Journeys with George

I'm still recovering from post-election malaise and dealing with mounds of work, so I've decided to show a film this week in order to shift gears a bit. After quite a bit of wavering (i.e., staring at a shelf full of DVD cases at my local video store), I decided to show Alexandra Pelosi's Journeys with George, which focuses on then-Governor Bush's 2000 election campaign (I reviewed the film here a few months ago).

I haven't had the chance to talk at length with my students about the film, but I am impressed by the way that it holds up on a second (and third and fourth, I hope) screening. One of the interesting aspects of the film is its "home movie" quality (Pelosi herself describes her film in these terms), a phrasing I'm not sure I gave enough attention to in my earlier review. The film also captures the extent to which the press bubble becomes a kind of alternate family and we see the degree to which this group of reporters becomes separated from their "real" families (two of the reporeters talk at some length about their separation from their families). At any rate, I'm anticipating that the doc will provide us with a lot to talk about on Thursday.

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November 1, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11 in the Classroom

Michelle Malkin worries that several public high schools have allowed teachers to show Michael Moore's documentary to their students. She cites a Seattle Times article reporting that a Mill Creek, WA, teacher planned to show the film:

A high-school teacher's classroom showing of the controversial film "Fahrenheit 9/11" has some local Republicans fired up.

Judy Baker, a teacher at Henry M. Jackson High School, showed the anti-Bush documentary last week to students in her government class as part of a lesson in propaganda and politics. She adhered to district policy that requires permission from both the principal and a parent for students to see the R-rated film.

"We're supposed to be training kids to be informed voters. It seems appropriate to help kids critically dissect information and analyze it," Principal Terry Cheshire said.

Only one parent opted for their child not to view the movie Thursday, but the local GOP headquarters received a call from a concerned parent and an e-mail about the movie, said Darcy Cheesman, coordinator for the Snohomish County Republican Party's get-out-the-vote campaign.

The staff called Cheshire to complain because of the film's portrayal of President Bush.

"I have a 13-year-old out in Monroe and a second-grader, and I would be up in arms if a teacher decided to show this movie, even if it's [labeled as] propaganda," Cheesman said.

While I do not have any immediate plans to teach Moore's film, I'd like to defend this teacher's choice. In this particular case, I see little reason for controversy. The teacher obtained permission from the students' parents before they were permitted to see the film, and students who objected were free not to watch.

The film was taught in the context of a course on politics and propaganda, and it's perfectly reasonable to assume that students and the teacher may very well have been critical of some of Moore's arguments and techniques in the film (I found his use of the "My Pet Goat" footage to be pretty ineffective myself). In fact, it's not necessarily clear from the article that the teacher endorses all (or any) of Moore's positions. Finally, I'm uncomfortable with the continued attempt to curtail any political discussion in the classroom. If Moore's film does anything, it provokes political conversation, and with an upcoming election, that seems like a worthy goal. It's not the case that students will automatically accept the arguments in his film without questioning them. In fact, in my experience, many of my students are willing to engage critically with the texts they encounter, especially when it's clear that in this election there is so much at stake, and I think it's important to encourage that tendency rather than stifle it.

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October 31, 2004

Documentaries and Argument

Inspired by George's discussion of his planned course for Spring 2005, I've begun thinking about what I'll be teaching next semester in my English 1102 freshman composition classes. Right now, I'm thinking about focusing the class on documentary film. It's the topic that I'm most passionate about right now, and the topic would certainly lend itself well to paper assignments in that many documentaries structure themselves as argumentative.

I've just begun thinking about this topic in earnest, and I haven't yet decided what the course would look like. I imagine that it would heavily favor contemporary documentaries (films made in the last ten years), but I would also feel the need to teach some foundational docs, too. A tentative list might include:

I'd also be interested in teaching a Maysles Brothers film, and I'd like to include a "rockumentary," probably Don't Look Back. My list is heavily tilted towards American political docs, so I'm trying to find ways to either reduce that emphasis or to simply run with it. And with Capturing the Friedmans, I'd love to supplement that discussion with clips from An American Family or something similar (maybe Seven Up?). Because I haven't quite decided what I want to do with the topic of documentary film, I'm still trying to put together an exact list (given the limitations of the class, I'm guessing I'll do 6-7 films, tops).

In addition, rather than doing a "group hypertext project," I've considered requiring that groups make a short 5-10 minute (?) documentary film using equipment checked out from Georgia Tech's library, which they could edit using iMovie, which is available in many of Tech's computer labs. That idea is pretty tentative right now. I'm not sure how much tech support I would need to provide, and it's possible that supervising 15 student film projects might be more than I want to take on right now. On the other hand it could be pretty damn cool, especially if 1-2 of the student groups put something cool together. Right now, I'm leaning towards a "more traditional" group hypertext project where students could research a documentary film or filmmaker, although I'm unsure how that would work right now.

The only drawback that I can imagine is that it would be a royal pain to arrange for students to see all of the films I'd like to teach. Some of them aren't widely available (according to IMDB, Titicut Follies isn't even on VHS or DVD, so that's probably out), and if I schedule an evening screening time, I imagine that a significant percentage of my students won't be able to attend.

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October 1, 2004

Watching the Debates

Watching the debate (transcript) with my students turned out to be a great experience, and afterwards, many of them had interesting things to say about their experiences. I don't think I've ever watched a presidential debate with such a large audience, and never with a group of people with such a broad range of political commitments. Like most of the post-debate polls, an informal survey of our students seemed to indicate that Kerry "won" the debate.

I was surprised, or at least intrigued, to see that many of the students felt that "the media" would somehow misrepresent or distort the results of the debate (although we never quite established how the media would misrepresent it). The theme that seems to keep coming up my class is a lack of faith in the media, and while that mistrust of the media is likely justified, I'm hoping to explore that question in further detail over the rest of the semester (among many other questions).

What were your observations about the first debate?

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September 28, 2004

Teaching the Election

Many of my regular readers may know that I'm teaching my freshman composition class using an election theme. The classes seem to be going well--lots of great conversations, and many of the students in my classes are asking good questions, raising valuable concerns, and doing lots of independent reading on the election.

All that being said, this should be an exciting week for my students. On Wednesday night, my students will attend a talk by Vince Keenan, the founder of, about electronic democracy (Chris linked to the announcement and map several weeks ago). Should be a rewarding lecture, and it's open to the public, so I encourage all Atlanta bloggers to show up.

Thursday, my colleague and I will combine our classes for a discussion of youth voting led by Vince. My students and I have already begun talking about various debates about voting, so combining the classes should make for an interesting discussion. Then on Thursday evening, our classes will be watching the debates together, followed by a discussion before student (and teacher) perceptions are affected by the post-debate spinners. All of these activities should be very cool. I'm looking forward to hearing Vince, and I think it will be interesting to watch the debates with such a large group of people.

Then, I'm going to take a deep breath and start doing some heavy-duty writing.

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August 24, 2004

The Tyranny of the Undecided Voter

Just a quick reference to an Alan Wolfe New York Times op-ed piece from the 2000 election, "The Tyranny of the Undecided Voter." I may ask my students to read this essay later in the semester, but not just yet.

Update: My colleague's monitor seems to be working fine for now (knock on virtual wood). I'm not sure I'll use the Wood essay in my class bceause it's talking about the 2000 election, but it's worth storing in my blog memory. Thanks to Amy Sullivan, guest blogger at Political Animal.

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August 15, 2004

Winner Take All

Some quick notes about my upcoming composition class:

Even though Michael Bérubé assures us that "this is not a real post to the blog," the post did remind me that I'd like to include sections of Lani Guinier's Tyranny of the Majority for class discussion (see his review of Guinier's Lift Every Voice). The course textbook, Good Reasons, anthologizes a short section, but I'd like to require my students to read a little more, if possible.

Her discussions of citizenship, and the willful mischaracterization of those positions in the media-frenzy confirmation hearings of 1993, should fit very nicely into the course I'm teaching this semseter. I taught a longer section of "Tyranny" when I was at Purdue, and her critique of winner-take-all elections provoked one of the more compelling discussions I had that semester (in a fairly lively class).

I'm also considering revisiting a discussion I had two years ago with my students about citizenship using material from Chris Hables Gray's Cyborg Citizen, an assignment that worked very well a couple of years ago, but something I'm not sure I'd be able to re-create. One of the most important points raised in Gray's "Cyborg Bill of Rights" is his stipulation that "Business corporations and other bureaucracies are not citizens, or individuals, nor shall they ever be," which would allow for a discussion of what it means that corporations, under certain circumstances, can be understood as "persons."

I know that I should be finished with my syllabus. After all, classes start on Tuesday, but I'm just tinkering at this point, I promise. I'll try to post my syllabus in the next few days, but I've had a bad habit of not posting my new syllabi lately.

Update: Here's a transcript of George Lakoff's appearance on NOW with Bill Moyers, which includes a discussion of "framing" that might be useful for my students. In addition, I think I may have my course title (courtesy of Ruth Rosen of the Rockridge Institute): "Demcoracy Matters."

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August 13, 2004

Call the Spin Buster...

Just a quick note remindning me to include the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk in my course blogroll once things get rolling. I'm still trying to come up with a cool title for the course, so no course blog just yet (because we all know that a cool title makes all the difference).

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August 11, 2004

New Bush Campaign Advertisement

Like George, I'll be teaching an election theme in my freshman composition course this fall, and his recent collection of some prominent political weblogs should be very helpful for me as I set up my course blog (note: I've been planning to include one essay by Lakoff, and this exerpt from Moral Politics just might work)..

In addition, I'm planning to ask students to do analyses of some political advertisements (both historical and contemporary). With that in mind, I came across an article on Yahoo about a controversial new Bush advertisement, "Solemn Duty," which invokes the September 11 attacks. Might be interesting to talk about this ad/the coverage of it in the Yahoo article.

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August 9, 2004

Sam Waterson and Rhetoric

CJ has a great idea for teaching rehtoric: show an episode of Law and Order. I quite like the idea of using a courtroom scene from Law and Order to illustrate the importance of audience awareness to students. I'm going to continue using blogging to illustrate this point, but courtroom TV shows and movies, especially L&O, can be a great way to illustrate this point.

CJ includes even more useful suggestions in the comments. I also like the idea of using John Edwards' "Two Americas" speech, and given my course's focus on the election, I'll likely direct my students towards that speech, either for class discussion or as one possible text for their first paper assignment, a rhetorical analysis.

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August 5, 2004

Journalism and Rhetoric

Few bloggers out there offer better sustained rhetorical analysis of the media than Andrew Cline in his blog, Rhetorica. With fall semester kicking into gear, I'm still trying to think about some of the questions pertaining to this year's election and the role of the media in framing it. With that in mind, I'll be stealing links from Andrew over the next few days.

First, he points to Tim Porter's discussion of the most recent content analysis of American newspapers by the Readership Institute.

Second, and perhaps more relevant to my English 1101 class, he addresses the question of media objectivity. Journalistic objectivity has been getting a lot of play lately because of films such as Outfoxed and F9/11, and I think that Andrew's comments about the structural biases of journalism are very important here. As Andrew points out, the "fairness bias," which requires a journalist to get both sides of the story, often prevents journalists from identifying clear lies in campaign discourse (and here he helpfully points to Bryan Keefer's essay in the most recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review). As Andrew succinctly puts it, "The fairness bias becomes a detriment to journalism when journalists fail to call a lie a lie--especially when the facts are plain to see." He also complicates any simple notion of a political bias in the media, whether conservative or liberal, and because the Liberal Media Bias is one of our most convenient and ongoing cultural myths, I think it will be crucial to discuss and hopefully debunk that my classes.

Also useful: Andrew's breakdown of various media biases and how they might play out in the coverage of an event.

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We the Media

Thanks to Dr. B. for recommending Dan Gillmor's book, We the Media. Dr. B. mentions that the book focuses "on democratic journalism is available for download under the CC license. It looks like an interesting read and includes work on blogs." Sounds perfect for my freshman composition course this fall.

Update: I took some time this afternoon to "flip through" Gillmor's book (is that what you call it when you read something on Adobe Acrobat?), and it looks really useful for some of teh discussions I'd like to have in my composition class. I will likely supplement Gillmor with some more recent news articles and blog entries on the blogging of the Democratic and Republican conventions. Still working out the specifics, but I think this could be a great way of introducing some of the technological issues associated with elections and citizenship in general.

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June 12, 2004

The Film Experience Website

Bedford-St. Martins has launched a website designed to complement Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White's The Film Experience: An Introduction. I haven't dug around too much, but the links section looks very useful and informative. If anyone is planning an introduction to film course, this might be a helpful resource.

Cross-posted at Palimpsest.

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May 31, 2004

Vertigo and Cinematography

I'm teaching cinematography through Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo this week (through Tuesday), and I've been trying to track down a few film stills to support some in-class activities. The main difficulty is actually finding stills that are in the proper aspect ratio. Most of the stills online appear to be publicity stills (not film stills) or cropped. So far, I've found this book review with a couple of good stills. Any suggestions (in the comments or by email) would be much appreciated.

Update: Here are a few other Vertigo sites I found after my original post: A site called "Vertigo Described," which includes an extende essay on the film as well as a few film stills (too cluttered for my purpose), and a very interesting news article on a "Vertigo Tour of San Francisco" that directs tourists to all of the locations Hitch used in the film. Finally, a site called NorCal Movies, which is dedicated to documenting films made in Northern California (this site has plenty of great film stills, but having a better method for finding stills would probably be a good thing).

Cross-posted at Palimpsest.

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May 10, 2004

Film Schedule Brainstorming

Here's a quick tentative schedule of my film screenings for my summer film course. I'm running into the difficulty of having only eleven weeks (rather than the normal fifteen), which allows me only one week on documentary film and one week on global/independent cinema. Of course, I'm trying to include some indie/global films elsewhere in the semester, but it's hard to juggle everything. Here's the schedule so far. Suggestions are welcome.

Week One: Distribution, The Player (1992)
Week Two: Mise-en-scene, Blonde Venus (1932)
Week Three: Cinematography, Vertigo or North by Northwest (1958 or 1959)
Week Four: Editing, Very tentatively, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Week Five: Sound, The Conversation or Meet Me in St. Louis (1974 or 1944)
Week Six: Narrative, Citizen Kane (1941)
Week Seven: Documentary, The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Week Eight: Genre I, Lady From Shanghai or another film noir (1947)
Week Nine: Genre II, Blade Runner (1982)
Week Ten: Global/Indie Cinema, Do the Right Thing (1989)
Week Eleven: Film Theory, Run Lola Run (1998).
I think the syllabus seems a little too heavy on contemporary films right now, but if I don't include The Conversation for sound, I'll pretty much lose "New Hollywood." I really wish that I had two weeks on documentary so that I could work in a cinema verite documentary (Harlan County, USA, for example). I'm also short on experimental films. I'd like to do Man With a Movie Camera, among others. Citizen Kane seems mandatory, and "narrative" is probably the best fit for it. I have some reservations about The Player, but I think it does the meta-Hollywood thing well, and it introduces auteurism, distribution, and exhibition issues nicely. Other suggestions, again, are welcome.

I have a few supplemental scenes that I'm already planning to use. I watched Sullivan's Travels (the film that inspired O Brother Where Art Thou) last night, and it conveys crosscutting nicely during one chase scene. His Girl Friday is perfect for overlapping dialogue, and will allow me to discuss screwball comedy during the sound week. Right now, it's a pretty conventional syllabus, so I'm trying to find alternative short films, etc, that might broaden the scope of the class beyond Hollywood.

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May 9, 2004

Apparently There is a Cheating Crisis

Go read the latest Doonesbury. I shouldn't have spoken so quickly before.

Update: It looks like Doonesbury is going to follow the cheating theme all week.

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May 4, 2004

Is There a "Cheating Crisis?"

Mike Arnzen recently blogged about the Primetime Thursday special on the "Cheating Crisis." Because I rarely, if ever, watch primetime television (for reasons that have nothing to do with being a snob--I'm simply too lazy to watch primetime television), I didn't see the episode. Basically, it sounds like Primetime is offering a familiar argument: the Internet is making it easier for students to plagiarize papers or to share test information via text messaging. Students feel pressure to cheat because of the need to sustain a solid GPA. Students see adults cheating in the workplace without any serious consequences, so they believe they can get away with it, too.

After quickly glancing through the article about the Primetime story, I'm a little suspicious of some of their statistical information. According to the Turnitin analysis, something like 30% of all submitted papers "have significant levels of plagiarism," which seems a little misleading, given the ways in which the program measures "plagiarism." Most of my students have fairly significant "matches" with other sources, simply because they are quoting familiar passages. I'd also guess that the ABC survey (which I'd imagine is based on self-reporting and may in fact suggest higher levels of cheating) may also be innacurate. But before I state my primary reservation about the "cheating crisis," I'll point out that, yes, I've caught a few students who have plagiarized, either through Turnitin or Google searches and that I will continue to use those resources as deterrents (although I'm ambivalent about using them). I think they are "necessary evils," especially when I'm dealing with such a large number of students.

My primary objection to calling the current situation a "cheating crisis" is that I wonder if there are more students cheating now than in the past. It was relatively common for students to cheat on tests when I was in high school, and I'd imagine (although I can't confirm it) that some of my classmates plagiarized papers. And universities certainly have a history of academic dishonesty, as the so-called Jan Kemp Affair at the University of Georgia illustrates (I also remember hearing stories about students at UGA who routinely altered their professors' gradebook, but certainly can't confirm that).

What I'm suggesting is that Primetime's claims of a cheating crisis seem to imply an innocent past when students were more honest and cheating was less widespread, and I'm simply not convinced that students were any more honest ten or twenty years ago than they are now. In fact, perhaps there really isn't a cheating crisis so much as the new computing technologies have made cheating somewhat more obvious because of the very materiality of cell phones, graphic calculators, and paper databases. The kind of cheating that might have involved a conversation in the hallway or dorm is now made visible by the technologies that seem to enable dishonesty. The "panoptic" systems of surveillance make cheating easier to trace.

I realize that I invest a lot of trust in the teacher-student relationships that I cultivate (and when students do cheat I often feel somewhat betrayed), but it seems that to speak of a cheating crisis establishes a teacher-student relationship based on suspicion. Mike's absolutely right on this topic--we do need smaller classes. I also realize that my confidence in my students derives in part from the comparatively small class sizes in composition classrooms, a relationship that cannot be duplicated in large survey courses. When the teacher and student have a personal relationship (and the student isn't a mere number), I'd imagine there's a certain responsibility to that relationship that reduces cheating.

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May 3, 2004

My Contribution to Grade Inflation

I'm just about to turn in grades, and now I'm thinking that perhaps I should follow the "advice" of Michael Bérubé and recalibrate my grades to avoid grade inflation. I'm sure that my students would be pleased to see me uphold the virtues of rigor and fairness that grade inflation has destroyed.

To be honest, grade inflation is apparently relatively minimal here at Tech (at least my students tell me that), especially given the "stingy" reputation of engineering professors, but this issue has an additional complication in Georgia in that most in-state students are on the HOPE scholarship (which pays tuition and a small book allowance) and have to maintain a 3.0 GPA to keep the scholarship.

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April 18, 2004

Duke Abolishes 8 AM Classes

Duke administrators made what I regard to be one of the better university administrative decisions I've seen in a long time (note: Yahoo links are notoriously unstable). They've decided to eliminate 8 AM classes in order to "help its sleep-deprived students, who too often are struggling to survive on a mix of caffeine, adrenaline and ambition." Not to mention their sleep-deprived, over-caffienated, ambitious professors.

I really do think this is a good idea and not just because I am a "night person." Okay, I can't really think of any other good reasons, but still, early morning classes were nearly impossible for me. I do find it disconcerting that someone who could qualify for admission to Duke University would need sleep orientation to "understand the importance of sleep."

Yes, I'm in the middle of a grading marathon, which means I'll be easily distracted for the next few days.

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March 30, 2004

Summer Film Class

I've just received the wonderful news that I'll be teaching a 2000 (sophomore) level course in film studies this summer, and I've been searching for resources online to supplement the course. In the class, which is essentially an "Introduction to Film" course, I plan to use David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's Film Art: An Introduction, a relatively popular film textbook.

So far, I'm still canvassing for ideas. During my search, I came across the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Resources page, which offers a section where people can submit resources for teaching, research, and scholarship on film and media. The SCMS just launched their new webpage, so it may take some time for the resource page to build up a collection of useful material, but it's something worth watching.

Right now, I'm trying to find ways of complementing the excellent treatment of film form in the Bordwell-Thompson book with a project that focuses on the material, social, and economic bases of film production. One possibility that I've considered is a collaborative project in which groups of 4-5 create a page focusing on (1) a specific decade of US/world cinema or (2) a specific technological or social development (the emergence of widescreen, the Hays Code, etc). I want to temper my ambitions somewhat because it is a summer class while still ensuring that students understand individual films in terms of their social, economic, and technological contexts. But any suggestions from people who have taught intoduction to film courses would be helpful. What assignments do you use to get students to think beyond film form? Will I be asking too much to encourage them to think beyond formal elements in such a limited time?

I'm really excited about getting a chance to teach this course again. I've enjoyed teaching similar courses at both Purdue and Illinois. There's usually a fair amount of enthusiaism for the course among students in the class, so it should be a fun way to make some cash over the summer.

Cross-posted at Pamlimpsest. Feel free to comment at either location.

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January 26, 2004


Palimpsest, a weblog "devoted to teaching langauge and literature," is now up and running. Thanks to George Williams for all his work in getting Palimpsest up and running.

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January 22, 2004

The First Rule of Fight Club that you don't talk about fight club or at least the narrative twists in Fight Club. I've been teaching Fight Club this week in my cultural studies and composition course, and in teaching the novel (in some sense, alongside the film), I've been confronted with an interesting "disciplinary" dilemma. On the one hand, I feel obligated to discuss certain narrative details about Fight Club, namely that Tyler and the narrator are the "same person." On the other, when I discuss a text such as Fight Club, I catch myself falling into the disciplinary practice of a filmgoer who quickly learns that he or she is not supposed to reveal important plot twists in order not to spoil the shock effect for others.

This conflict between two very different institutional organizations (the classroom and film audiences) became remarkably clear last spring when a student group completed project called "Twisted Celluloid" that focused on films (Usual Suspects, Memento, Sixth Sense) with narrative twists designed to revise our knowledge of everything that happened in the film until that point.

My thoughts here are following two unrelated lines right now:

  1. In general, I'm intrigued by what these films are doing, what they offer to viewers. The effect is obviously something that many viewers find pleasurable, given the popularity of this type of effect. Of course the idea of the secret itself seems like an important part of the successful marketing of these films (The Crying Game would seem to be the best example here), but the narrative shock effect offers a pleasurable disorientation or destabilization that seems important. In a recent essay, Linda Williams compares this feeling to the shock effect offered by roller coaster rides, an observation that I find promising.
  2. How do you talk about these texts in class? When teaching the novel, especially, I wanted to be careful not to reveal the "secret" too soon for readers who were unfamiliar with the text. Again, at some point, you have to assume the students have read far enough into the book, but I constantly find myself questioning how and when to reveal this kind of information, a hesitation that I think is primarily based on my desire to remain complicit with the expectations of movie audiences not to give away the ending.

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January 10, 2004

Blogging and Peer Review

Brian Weatherson comments on Brian Leiter's recent posts on whether or not academics should receive scholarly credit for writing in their blogs. Both Weatherson and Leiter agree that blogs can count as service, an opinion I certainly share.

In fact, given some of the discussions that have taken place this week focused on starting a collaboratively-authored blog for sharing teaching resources, I'm inclined to believe that "service," rather than publication or research, might be how blogs best support academic labor in the humanities, although I'm not ready to exclude the possibility that blogs could serve as scholarship.

I've mentioned this discussion recently, but I think it bears further emphasis. These tools would automatically be subject to some form of review and revision as different professors adapt them to their classrooms and their needs. It would also, I think, contribute to some interesting cross-fertilization in terms of discussions of how to teach and interpret cultural texts. Another potentially significant use might be the public nature of the website itself. Because humanities faculty have frequently been subject to critique for their use of jargon, a website/blog/wiki that further contextualizes what we really do might also be of value.

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January 8, 2004

Sharing Teaching Resources

In a recent entry, George proposes developing a collaboratively-authored blog for sharing resources for teaching English language and literature. George suggests that such a blog could function by the same logic as "open source" programming:

I'm not talking about software, mind you, but I'm agreeing with the assumption that the open source philosophy can be successfully applied to all kinds of projects. We're all going to be coming up with course materials anyway. Why not collaborate or at least share?
The blog would allow teachers of literature (as well as film and other cultural studies topics) to share resources such as assignments and glossaries with their colleagues.

George offers a guide to the mechanics of quoting and paraphrasing soucres in MLA style and mentions Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar and Style as resources that our students might find both useful and convenient. While chatting with George and Jason, I happened to remember Dino Felluga's very helpful Guide to Literary and Critical Theory. But instead of just accumulating resources, George's suggestion would allow teachers of English (again, loosely defined) to exchange and collaborate on course materials.

After receiving so many useful suggestions for supplementing my class discussions on Fight Club, I think it's a great idea, and I've already agreed to participate. If you're interested, go to George's blog and leave a comment. Also, spread the word by mentioning George's post in your blog so that other readers can find out about it.

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January 6, 2004

What's the Matter With Ikea Boy?

Quick question while I'm sorting out the schedule for my spring semester English class (yes, I know I should be using Moveable Type; maybe next fall): I'm teaching Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (and probably David Fincher's film adaptation), and I'm trying to find a couple of critical essays that tackle Fight Club's treatment of consumer culture and masculinity. I have Henry Giroux and Imre Szeman's "Ikea Boy Fights Back," but I think their resistance to the film needs to be complicated by an essay that affirms the film's critique of consumer culture.

I think it's important to find an essay that finds value in the novel and film as critical texts, in part because I know many students will be entusiastic about them (with good reason), and I don't want to position film and literary critics as "censors" who think that the popular is somehow bad or wrong. I realize that Giroux and Szeman aren't making that argument, but when professors talk about the popular, students seem to anticipate that we will reject it.

Any suggestions? Has anyone taught Fight Club (either novel or film) in their classes?

This question grows out of an experience on the first day of class yesterday in which I was asking students to introduce themselves and to mention a film they had seen recently that they either liked or hated. After most of the students had introduced thesmelves, mentioning what I considered to be a relatively broad range of recent films, one student apologized for the class having such popular tastes. I'll admit I'm kind of a movie snob sometimes (though not always--I just don't like Ben Affleck, Julia Roberts, Robin Williams, Tom Cruise....), but the student's response, given on the first day of class, seems to suggest an unconscious perception that liking the popular is somehow wrong, particularly in a college classroom. There's a larger question brewing here, one that I'm struggling to even ask, but I think the reputation of English professors as elitists makes teaching students a critical engagement with the ideological contradictions found within any popular text an even more difficult task.

Then again, maybe I'm reading way too much into a throwaway comment....

Update: Thanks to Steven Shaviro for the link to the Amy Taubin article, "So Good It Hurts."

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December 13, 2003

Prescient Student Analysis

This week's Guardian has an article, which asserts that "we are all nerds now," and notes the shift from Revenge of the Nerds encouraging viewers to embrace their inner nerd to the current celebration of "nerdiness" in American Splendor and the concluding film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One of my student groups here at Georgia Tech in their group blog on "college movies" made a similar point several weeks ago, especially in Ayyad's discussion of Nerds being very much a film of the 1980s. Of course, as my students point out, at a university like Georgia Tech, almost everyone has learned to embrace his or her "inner nerd."

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December 9, 2003

Grading Marathon

I'm back in grading mode and currently looking at my students' blog protfolios. So far, I've been very impressed with the work they're doing in terms of analyzing their writing and the significance of blogs both within the class and within the public sphere in general. I think most of my students really "got it." More later, when I've finished grading a few more blogs.

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November 24, 2003

The Turing Game

I wish somebody had told me that there is a version of the Turning Game online "here" at Georgia Tech. This would be a great student activity for talking about gender performance on the Internet. Instead, I learned about it through reading

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October 5, 2003

Recommendation Letter Checklist

Matt offers a handy checklist for his students who have requested or will request recommendation letters. I've written a few recommendations in my very short career, and this is the information that I generally try to pass along to my students. The last point--letting me know how things turn out--is pretty important to me. Some of the letters I've written have supported students who were quite successful (which in all likelihood is not related to my letter writing skills), and it's always satisfying to hear the good news.

In other news, I can't stand the Cubs.

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