The Joys of Disruptive Technologies

I wanted to share a quick link from the Chronicle of Higher Education about a professor who encourages students to use Twitter during class (found via Twitter, of course—thanks @zandperl!). The course, originally taught for grad students, is called “Disruptive Technologies in Teaching and Learning,” and features a live Twitter feed projected in the background so students can offer outside links and shyly-yet-publicly consider comments that may derail the discussion.

I think it sounds neat—and, much to my surprise, so do most of those offering comments on Chronicle, it seems. A former student of the class also chimed in to offer some positive reflections and a link to her course blog, which links to other students’ blogs. That should give a sense of the conversations that these technologies encouraged.

In unrelated news, I have about a dozen drafts for new posts that I am dying to complete and post, but they’re going to have to remain drafts until I push through some of my real (i.e., deadline-bound) work. Blogging is my own personal “disruptive technology,” I suppose (but usually in a good way). I expect to be posting a lot come August, the month I defend.

Reconsidering “Digital Natives”

Things have been quiet (okay, completely silent) around Geek Studies lately, as I’ve recently moved from Philly to Boston, started teaching a graphic design class, and focused more closely on work that takes me away from the blog. And things will likely remain quiet until I defend my dissertation—but every now and then, something will occur to me that will make me need to speak up again.

What’s got me blogging now is a funny coincidence: Just as I was commenting to my friend and fellow Annenberger Moira about the concept of “digital natives” needing some revamping (if not outright rejecting), she pointed me to “Generational Myth,” an article in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Ed by Siva Vaidhyanathan. (Link updated to direct to the free version—thanks, Siva!) The long and the short of the article is precisely what I have been observing in my own class: The generation of “digital natives” might not be so native to the digital as many presume, and is certainly not so homogeneous as to be able to be described by a single way of thinking across the board.

Continue reading “Reconsidering “Digital Natives””

Geek Writing Seminars at Penn

Fellow Annenberger Deb L. emailed me a scan from the catalog of freshman writing seminars happening this semester at Penn. I was able to scrounge up full descriptions from the Critical Writing course listing.

ENGL 009 314 TR 1:30pm-3:00pm Smith
Brains, Jocks, Burnouts, and Rebels

What is a nerd? A Jock? Have these identities always existed in school, or are they new? Do they exist across cultures, or are they a uniquely American phenomenon? How is it that unique individuals embrace these categories or are pushed into them? This course will explore identities as they exist in high schools, and students will engage in critical writing around the creation and definition of identity categories, both generally and in terms of personal experience.

“Brains, Jocks, Burnouts, and Rebels” is about high school hierarchies (with a description starting with the words “What is a nerd?”), and “Freaks and Geeks” is about fandom (“Most of us would admit to being a freak or a geek about something—in other words, a fan”).

ENGL 009 319 MW 3:30pm-5:00pm Cook
Freaks and Geeks

Most of us would admit to being a freak or geek about something — in other words, a fan. This is a class about fan culture, in which we will think critically about the idea of the fan and his or her relationship to literary and cultural production. Using critical essays, documentary films, novels and websites, we will study the theory and practice of fandom. We will examine the ways fans creatively demonstrate their enthusiasm for literary classics like Shakespeare and Austen, consider the communities created by contemporary phenomena like Star Trek and the Harry Potter books, and explore the idea of a cult classic and what it means to be part of a cult following. In short weekly assignments and several longer, formal essays, students will discuss their own experience as fans and reflect upon the ways in which fandom constitutes a unique mode of reading a text, whether it be a novel, television show, film, or piece of music.

I’m fascinated that in two pages you get such different takes on practically the same concepts. One conceptualizes nerdiness as part of a distinct social category, and the other assumes that we all have a certain amount of geekiness, our “own experience as fans.” It’s often quite intentional to refer in one case to “nerds” and in the other to “geeks,” although there’s little ambiguity about the oddity associated with the word “freak.”

If you’re a Penn student, note that the last day to add a writing class is September 14th!

Breaking Down Academia

I’m in the process of revising the categories on the site a bit. Before, I was lumping a bunch of things under the “Academia” category that really didn’t belong there. Now I’m dividing that category up into three different categories:

Research: For academic research and conferences related to geek culture and various traditionally geeky media. (I’ll also tag posts about my own research with this because I still can’t bring myself to make a category titled “Me me me,” though I admit I’m especially interested in getting feedback on my papers.)

School Culture: For items pertaining to school culture as lived by students, such as clubs and social hierarchies.

Education: For issues pertaining to teaching and education at all levels.

Honestly, this is mostly for my own convenience as I go back through old posts and collect thoughts for papers and such, but I figured I might as well let everyone know.

Update: Going through my bloated “Miscellaneous” category to categorize them more specifically, I noticed a definite thread of posts tallying up people’s ways of defining the boundaries of geekdom—geek vs. nerd, art geek vs. science geek, and so on. And so I figured I might as well go ahead and also add a category for Defining Geekdom. Sorry if this brings up a bunch of old posts on people’s RSS readers (the way I believe it does with mine).

Plagiarist Paradise, or Homework as Communication Medium?

A friend and fellow Ph.D. student just referred me to “‘legitimized’ plagiarism on Facebook,” an application called Facebook Docs. From the Facebook page:

Make next year easier… upload last year’s homework to Facebook Docs! […]

It may be summer, but before you delete all of your homework, you should upload it to FACEBOOK DOCS!

FACEBOOK DOCS is an application made by a company called SCRIBD.

Wouldn’t it be nice if next time you got stuck on a problem, you could just open up Facebook Docs and find the paper of a student from last year… not to cheat, but just to compare…

Everything you write is /your/ property. Thus, there’s no reason to not share off your mad writing skills and maybe help some poor soul down the road…

Its like getting a book with comments already in the margin!

PS… Cheating is wrong. but helping others is Christian.

Now, a few things.

Continue reading “Plagiarist Paradise, or Homework as Communication Medium?”

Where to Study Games

Terra Nova has a conversation going about where students can pursue graduate study focused on games and virtual worlds. It’s reassuring to see other academics noting that this sort of research is increasingly well regarded at various institutions.

Update: Kotaku linked to this conversation as well, and now has its own conversation going between gamers debating whether game research is pointless and obvious. At the risk of self-parody, I can’t help but comment here about how interesting I find that: here we are, finally taking this medium seriously after years major institutions saying it’s all just kids’ stuff, and now we’re called irrelevant. I don’t know whether it says more about gaming or academia, but it may be the first thing in my own young life to nearly make me throw up my hands and say, “Oh, you kids today!”

Alternative Teaching Styles

The forum at the Chronicle of Higher Education lists ways to spice up your classes. Most of the suggestions are the sort of madly inappropriate things that teachers joke about doing but would never do, just to blow off steam. I found four in a row, however, that I think I could justify doing in a Communication class and still call it educational:

37. Bring a CPR dummy to class and announce that it will be the teaching assistant for the semester. Assign it an office and office hours.

38. Have a grad student in a black beret pluck at a bass while you lecture.

39. Sprint from the room in a panic if you hear sirens outside.

40. Give an opening monologue. Take two minute “commercial breaks” every ten minutes.

Okay, maybe #39 is stretching it. But there’s something to be said about amusing ways to address youth subcultures (#38), television flow (#40), and … well, I don’t know about the dummy either, but I’m sure I could link it back to The Media Equation through some convoluted explanation. Of course, this is coming from someone who admires teaching strategies like grading a game design course out of a million points. Not that I think that teachers should make learning easy or that it’s our job to “edutain” students (see Mark Edmundson’s article “On the uses of a liberal education: 1. As lite entertainment for bored college students”); I’m just more a fan of the object lesson than straight-up lecturing. Also, I like dummies.

The Death of the Term Paper

A Washington Post article suggests that “the term paper is dead”. (Link via Slashdot.) The author basically suggests that plagiarism is rampant and there’s nothing educators can do about it, so we should switch to in-class methods of evaluation.

I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I can’t help but agree that in-class writing would reduce plagiarism. On the other hand, at-home paper writing is one of the few times in a classroom experience that students can really cut loose and write about (practically) whatever they want. If it weren’t for open-ended term papers, I wouldn’t have been able to write about comic books in my undergraduate courses. Knowing that I could get away with doing things that actually interest me in academia is what convinced me to continue on this career path.

Is there a way to make a curriculum cheater-resistant but also stimulating for motivated students?