The internets giveth, the internets taketh

A colleague of mine sent me a couple of links to articles in Inside Higher Ed the other day that I thought were actually kind of interestingly contradictory. On the one hand, there’s “The Distance Ed Tipping Point,” which is about the sorts of things that institutions need to think about when the percentage of online classes reach some sort of “tipping point.” To quote:

But what about after distance education takes off? At what point does the question shift from what a college does to offer quality online programs to how a college needs to change in its entirety when it reaches a tipping point in enrollments — and at what point does such a change take place?

(and then)

“What do we change — if we change anything?” said Dylan D. Mattina, director of information technology, in introducing the session. “This is something that many institutions will have to deal with at some point.”

Mattina and others from his college discussed several of the choices colleges need to make as they reach either 50 percent or some other critical mass where the institution is changed by the success of its distance offerings.

The article goes on to provide strategies for things like hiring and training faculty, it discusses what happens with the question of local ties, technology, etc., etc. So in some ways, I think this article is describing a panel/group of people who are trying to figure out how institutions can deal with these changes and, in a way, maintain something that resembles the status quo in the face of these changes in teaching as a result of the internet.

On the other hand, there is also the article “Tenure in a Digital Era.” Here are the opening paragraphs:

Among the “horror stories” Rosemary Feal has heard: Assistant professors who work in digital media and whose tenure review panels insist on evaluating them by printing out selected pages of their work. “It’s like evaluating an Academy Award entry based on 20 film stills,” said Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association.

Such horror stories abound. Even as the use of electronic media has become common across fields for research and teaching, what is taken for granted among young scholars is still foreign to many of those who sit on tenure and promotion committees. In an effort to confront this problem, the MLA and a consortium called the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory have decided to find new ways to help departments evaluate the kinds of digital scholarship being produced today. The MLA ran a program for department chairs at last year’s annual meeting in which chairs were given digital scholarship to evaluate, and that will take place again this year.

But it’s clear to me that dealing with multimedia scholarship is not the only reason for rethinking and reconsidering “digital scholarship;” it’s also because paper/tree-based scholarship is disappearing quickly:

One reason for the new effort is that shifts in publishing may make it impossible for a growing number of academics to submit traditional tenure dossiers. With many university presses in financial trouble and others — notably the University of Michigan Press — turning to electronic publishing for monographs, there will be fewer possibilities for someone to be published in the traditional print form that was once the norm for tenure.

The article goes on to give a list of principles for evaluating digital scholarship; in brief:

  • Material shouldn’t be judged inferior when it is identical to traditional work in every way except medium.
  • New systems are needed to evaluate scholarship that is unique in digital form.
  • Peer review matters — and needs to involve people who understand the work.
  • Digital work doesn’t fall neatly into teaching vs. research categories.

In other words, while part of this approach is to capture the kind of work that doesn’t translate neatly to traditional genres and forms (such as the example at the beginning of the article about evaluating a film or video), it is also an approach of preserving traditional genres and forms. That first criterion about not judging work on its materiality speaks to that.

So, when the internets creates a dilemma/opportunity/situation that potentially changes the way we teach, the reaction is to figure out the “tipping point” where this technology jeopardizes the stats quo, or, if we must teach online, how can we make these new classes look like the status quo? On the other hand, as the implosion of paper-based academic publishing picks up speed, there is some urgency among organizations like the MLA to reconsider the internets as a viable place to think about scholarly publishing. In doing so, we have a chance of preserving something akin to publish (albeit not on paper) or perish, aka, the status quo.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m reading these articles wrong, but it just struck me in my own head as a contradiction.

I’m happy to point out two things though. First, (insert “shamless self-promotion” tag here) I kind of feel like I was ahead of this curve in “Where Do I List This on My CV?” I originally wrote this in 2002, and I discussed in that piece some very specific ways in which self-published web sites “counted” as scholarship and the kind of problematic assumptions academics tend to have about how tenure and promotion is figured. (end self-promo)

Second, I am in a department that has embraced lots of different kinds of scholarship for a long time. In a way, I think that makes EMU a lot more forward-thinking and cutting-edge than many/most “research universities.”

A boatload of links about video, media, and tech literacy

There’s way too much for me to go through all of these links now, but just glancing at this list tells me it is something I will need to look at for 516, 328, maybe for 121, and God only knows what else: “80+ Videos for Tech. & Media Literacy” from Alec “open thinking” Couros. Definitely worth checking out.

Twitter is one of my summer projects

Via Shaun Slattery on Facebook, I came across two potentially interesting/useful Twitter links:

First, there’s “10 High Fliers on Twitter” from CHE is about some popular academic Twits– or Twitterers, I guess. The most active Twit(terer) is Sarah Evans, director of PR at Elgin Community College. Over 20,000 followers. Jeesh.

Second, there’s “Ten Handy How-To Resources for Twitter” by Traci Gardner on the Bedford Bits blog. Basically, a list of good links about what Twitter is and hwo to use it for teaching and beyond.

I’ve had a Twitter account for a while now, but I really have as of yet to see what the hype is about, even compared to something like Facebook (which, given the fluff factor of the book o’ face, is sathing something). Things weren’t helped much by my winter 2009 section of English 516, which was generally (and rather curiously) somewhat Luddite in terms of technology and teaching. They were pretty resistant to Facebook, actually, and we never got to Twitter because, well, we just had a lot of stuff to do.

Anyway, I know we’ll deal with Twitter next winter, and I might find a way to include it in 444 this summer and 505 in the fall term.

Some thoughts on Jeff Smith, Bone, Indie Comics, and Columbus

The fam took a mini road-trip to Columbus, Ohio Friday and Saturday mainly to see The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone, and the Changing Face of Comics. I personally am not a particularly big fan of Bone and/or Jeff Smith, but the complete Bone is one of Will’s favorite books, Annette is teaching it this spring in a class, and I generally like comics, though I think I like them more in theory– that is, what they mean in terms of visual rhetoric, teaching with images and words, etc.– than I do as a fan. Though the movie made me think that Bone might be something I ought to give another chance.

One of the highlights for all us was Will getting his complete Bone signed:

Jeff Smith signing Will's copy of "Bone"

Smith was super-duper nice to everyone waiting to get stuff signed, and he chatted a bit with Will, noting that his copy of the 1300+ page well-worn book had obviously been read.

The movie itself was pretty good/kind of so-so, mainly because it was essentially a Jeff Smith love-fest/puff-piece. But I thought it was interesting in a lot of different ways. Smith had an extensive background in making animated television commercials, and that definitely had a major influence on his approach to comics and Bone in particular. Bone began as a self-published comic, and I suppose it still is self-published in the sense that Smith and his wife (and his wife seemed to be the real business brains behind the scenes) still run what appears to be a pretty lucrative operation.

What I didn’t realize before this movie was that lots of the independent/underground comics sold in places like Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor are self-published, though obviously not on the scale of Bone. Which made me wonder why this hasn’t worked in conventional “words in a row” publishing; I mean, self-publishing a novel or a collection of short stories or poems is pretty much a good way to not be taken seriously, and while I know that’s changing a bit with some web sites, you’re still not likely to see a lot of self-published books even in locally-owned and independent book stores.

I suppose the same is true with academic writing and publishing.

Some of the difference seems to be in the materiality of the comic and the collecting fetish. There were many geeky 30 to 50 year old men waiting in line with Will to get signatures from Jeff Smith, only they were holding stacks of the individual issues of Bone or other Smith comics. In the movie, Smith and some of the other featured comic writers (including Scott McCloud, BTW) spoke a couple times about the physicality and “object-ness” of comics in a way that just isn’t the same with words-in-a-row books, IMO. Interestingly though, one of the ways that Bone caught on and one of the main ways comics continue to be promoted was/is the Internet.

As for Columbus proper: we didn’t get to see much, unfortunately. We had so-so Ohio “Mexican” food in a place in the Short North area, which looked like it would have been a fun place to hang out but which probably involved more “adult” entertainment (e.g., bars and stuff) than might have been fitting for Will. He did have fun in the hotel room though:


And now it’s back to a “working holiday:” stuff around the house today, commenting/grading on papers tomorrow.

This is perhaps the only post I will ever have about “American Idol”

I sort of watch American Idol, sort of don’t care, etc. Last night, we actually ended up over at some friends’ house after dinner watching the big finale, and everyone in the room– even children– remarked at the crappiness of the last song that both finalists had to both sing. Then this morning, I was greeted with this Facebook update from my friend and colleague Bill Hart-Davidson: “RT @spinuzzi: Kara’s song was the Kobyashi Maru of American Idol. (Heh. If that’s a spoiler, welcome to geek club!).”

Indeed. Only neither Adam nor Kris changed the outcome/rules of the song enough to “win” it.

We now return to the usual meaningless posts….

The square foot garden continues

Mid-May, Looking west Last week, Annette and I took some time on a Tuesday to go to Blocks Stand and Nursery to buy a wide variety of plants for cheap, including everything now in the square foot veggie garden seen here– except the peas, which Will and I planted from seed a few weeks before. I suppose if I was a “real gardener,” I’d grow everything from seeds, and I’d preferably start growing seedlings in about February under some light in my basement. But since I’m not a “real gardener,” I buy fairly large plants ready to go into the ground for that impressive, “wow he must be a real gardener” look.

Will and I did most of the planting together on Saturday last weekend. Will simultaneously complained about the work and diligently planted things, as if he was unsure if he was supposed to think that gardening “sucked” or was fun. We had some cold weather that could have been a freeze, but nothing so bad as to damage the crops. And at this point, I think weather-wise we are in the clear. I think.

As you can see from the picture (if you click on it, you can seem more or less a map of what’s here), we’ve got lots of tomatoes, zucchini, and yellow squash. For whatever reason, we don’t seem to get that much zucchini or yellow squash from the CSA farm where we get a share of produce, and tomatoes you grow in your yard are always the best. I’m attempting to grow the zukes and squash “up” with the help of tomato cages; we’ll see how that goes.

I also mixed up Mel’s mix for flower pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes too. I’ll be curious to see how that works out because I think it is basically a somewhat better deal than buying potting mix at a place like Home Depot, and it is more satisfying to make your own, too.

Two very cool movie making links

First off, there is Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video from the American University School of Communication Center for Social Media. How’s that for a mouthful? Anyway, the site includes a very handy video and lots of other resources to help academics/students/etc. navigate a bit through the world of social media. This will probably be must reading for 516 next year, maybe for 444 too.

Then there’s xtranormal “Text-to-Movie,” which is a site that allows you to make very simple animations quite, well, simply. Here’s my first effort:

I don’t know if this is a teachable moment or not; it probably is, actually. But beyond that, it’s a fun little site to play around with. This might even find its way into my 121 this spring.

Us Now: a documentary about web collaboration

Via boing-boing, I learned about Us Now, which is a documentary film/project “about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet.” I don’t really have time to watch it right now, but I can imagine this being something worthwhile for English 444 this summer and maybe 328/516 in the near future.