9.29.2006

Found Friday

Three found notes (all on Post-it® Notes) for Found Friday.

I've been coming across an almost unhealthy amount of found notes (and other stuff) lately, so Found Friday is designed to help the research team at metaspencer monster blog! process materials through the archival process.

9.28.2006

iTunes Networks

Earlier in the year, I set up an iTunes network at home for the purposes of filling the house with sound. This past week, two friends emailed asking how I set this up, so I thought I'd post a brief how-to on the arrangement here.


All you need to do is:

→ buy an airport express (or two, or three) from Apple
→ plug speakers and/or your old stereo into said Apple gizmo
→ if your mac supports wireless, simply select "multiple speakers" in iTunes and you're set for full-house-acoustic-action
→ if your mac does not even know what wireless is, like mine, connect the airport expresses by about twelve ethernet cables strung madly about the basement, then proceed as described above



I give this pitch for Apple products despite my diminished quality of life following the demise of my office mac. Though I swore at least one vendetta against Apple, and very much enjoyed my loner pc with the built-in "I'm watching you!" camera, if there's one thing I learned in my undergrad ethical theory course it was that failing to fulfill the promise of a vendetta is okay.

This home network complements another iTunes network I enjoy at work—this one consisting not of multiple play zones but a vast archive of shared music files. Every mac user on the network who openly shares their iTunes has access to this archive, and at any give time there are about six zillion songs you can listen to.

If you thought reading your colleague's blog was revealing, try perusing his or her music collection.

9.23.2006

UIUC's Human Mascot on YouTube

It's not totally new, but YouTube has a newish feature called "colleges" which organizes content on the site in much the same way that, say, Facebook does. Localized content (Craig's List works this way, too) makes the web seem a bit smaller and local in ways that mimic the geographic local.

I looked at a few of the videos localized through the UIUC link—but watching drunk undergrads streak through the quad just doesn't do it for me.

And I guess I can't say I was too surprised to see that there are several detailed and revealing videos of the UIUC human mascot, the Chief, in action on YouTube.



At a recent all-campus faculty meeting, University of Illinois president Joseph White was asked when (if ever) something is going to be done about the Chief. White stated very clearly that decisions about Chief Illiniwek are in the hands of the trustees, all of whom are accessible via email from this page.



I wonder if I speak for anyone else who would rather not see the Chief continue to represent the U of Illinois when I say that it is not so much the support for the Chief among the trustees that I find disturbing so much as it is much wider Chief-enthusiasm in the community. If I can find the time, I'd like to make a short video documenting this sentiment for our localized hub on YouTube.

9.22.2006

Typewriter Composition

Each course I've taught at UIUC has amounted to continuing education for me. New materials make this true, but I’ve also been learning about old materials in new ways.

I posted a while back about how I planned to use del.icio.us to organize readings in my "Writing Technologies" course, and after that post I ended up using del.icio.us to organize links for my "Rhetoric of Public Engagement" course as well.

(Note to practitioners: If you’re in class and say something like “Check out my delicious,” people will giggle. If you try to modify this by saying “Check out my delicious links,” people will still giggle.)

Organizing links is one thing, but mapping networks of online reading is another. I've underutilized del.icio.us in the "Writing Technologies" course—so far.

I'm not worried about it, though, as we've been doing other neat things. On Monday, students will be "turning in" websites on their research of campus handwriting, and projects include inquiry into handwriting on/for:
  • public and private white boards
  • ibooks (a branded scheduler we have at the U of I)
  • class notes
  • graffiti
  • and hands

The projects about handwriting on hands are particularly interesting to me, reminding me of how valuable it is to have students develop topics. At least when I teach, this leads to inquiry into things I would never have thought of.

Our typewriter composition unit is gearing up, too.



As students will be using typewriters to compose a few of their graded assignments, I hauled my growing fleet of machines to class for a little typewriter composition primer. It took some a while to figure out how to turn the electric ones on; others avoided the return arms and manually return their carriages; another student stood before her manual typewriter, waited a bit, and then asked “Where’s the return key.”



Typewriter composition gets at the significance of technology in writing, a practice we often think of as entirely cognitive, linguistic, and rhetorical. The technological mediation/element in composition is something that, having taught this course, I would add to any overview of composition theory and practice.



Even more interestingly, understanding the typewriter (historically, mechanically, culturally in terms of its range of uses) means understanding the word processor as remediating typewriter technology and, in some ways, as simulacral. Our word processors are typewriters in ways that, I think this unit reveals, significantly structure our composition.

Next week, students in the course will turn in their first assignment written (not just typed) on a typewriter, and we'll go from there.

9.20.2006

Another Foundling

My "Writing Technologies" class is currently doing research about handwriting on campus, and in their preliminary findings I'm reminded of just how much you can do with the page (and a handheld implement) that the constraints of the screen militate against.

This found object emphasizes the directional elasticities of the page; from the backlog file.

9.17.2006

Digital Double Exposure

With all one can do in Photoshop the GIMP these here days, there's something increasingly special about naturally occurring images with a manipulated look to them.

I found just such an image this morning on my digital camera: a "double exposure" that, technically, is a single exposure. The image is of a digital moving image, so two "frames" in the moving image were captured in one "frame" in the capture device.

A "double exposure in a single exposure" is accomplished differently but to similar results here.



An alternative interpretation of how this "double exposure" was created might insist that, like Godzilla, nuclear radiation was to blame.

9.16.2006

Found Recently

The other day, walking along with ml and dh, I noticed this note on the ground. Per the research mission of this blog, I picked it up.



We had a good laugh about the meticulousness of the numbering, the "blue curling iron" proviso, and the list-lingo of "socks & such." P, did you get your stuff?

This list goes in the archive beside two others found this week:



Over the years, I've found a lot of don't-tow-me-because notes like this one, but none deploy the brilliant "Sorry/Thanks!" closing. I'm going to start closing emails sorry/thanks from now on.



The last one, as you can probably tell, was both a product of and found near our beloved English Building. A simple note card consists of simple notes, which makes it work.

9.14.2006

What Your Computer Sees In You

One of the wonderful department managers I work with came to my rescue yesterday, providing me with a laptop PC to stand in for my once avian and now dead Mac. "Take it for as long as you need it," she said, and I ran upstairs with the laptop under my arm prepared to remember what it was like to have a computer in my office.

The loner laptop is equipped with a Sony Visual Communication Camera, and this being my first webcam, I've set up the documents I've been working on today so that they take up only 5/6ths of the screen so the live video image can take up the other 1/6th.

I've never known what I looked like while working at the computer, and now I know all too well. Though it's a video image, you'd hardly know. The little video version of me at screen right is generally static, equipped with a mezmerized stare and sitting oh so computationally still. Clearly something is occupying said subject, and it is transfixing. From time to time I catch myself (on screen, of course) assuming clich├ęd contemplative gestures such as fist on chin, index finger at temple, and head tilted back with eyes slightly squinted. Who am I making these gestures to?

There is a discussion on the WPA list today about the effects of computer composition. Compared to many other writing technologies, it has arrested our bodies.

The face-on-the-screen remains deadened, intent, placid.

Perhaps I need to document this and fizz it over to YouTube ... Look out LonelyGirl15, here comes WritingAcademic54!

9.11.2006

Learn to Write on YouTube

Last week, it was all YouTube, all the time, given my blast of interest in teacher videos on the site. It crossed my mind to map out an article about the films, contextualizing them with other forms of student review and a jag about the video documentation of labor, but other writing calls. This week, the focus shifts ... to films about writing on YouTube!

This video, "9 Steps To A Good Essay," receives metaspencer's high-larious rating—and it's as smart as it is funny. The video is a general overview on writing an essay from a very pragmatic, fairly disinterested student perspective. If you have time, the last minute of the film is completely worth waiting for.



Video essays on essay writing like this next one are equally terrific, with the film's creator putting together an inventive sound track. In fact, the sound track is the best part of this film. "Punctuation by the layers, true grammar playahs." If I received a student project like this one, I'd question ever assigning another written essay.



Of course, you can see the footprints of clever pedagogy in all of these videos, evidence of creative assignments taken up by students in imaginative ways. Really, I can't think of a niftier assignment. Who's teaching these?

Videos like this one are a little different, not overtly about essay writing, but in a sense, entirely about essay writing. This vid's caption reads:
I was killing time while writing an english essay, and I found the SuperMan theme on a John Williams myspace fan site.




Several other videos on the site document writers not writing, perhaps one of the most understudied practices in composition/rhetoric.

The assigned topic of this essay, which the filmmaker reads aloud on YouTube, is "The Differences Between Humans and Animals." I didn't find too many other essays read aloud, though it's nice to see the site prompting/enabling writers to bring their words to voice through this kind of insta-publication.



And as you may already know, there are other much more polished videos about writing up on YouTube. These are generally produced by campus units of one kind or another, but the life is in no way sucked out of them simply because of the institutional affiliation. This one, for instance, receives the high-larious rating while covering the basics (peer review, drafting, etc.) of college writing.



Check IHE in a few days if you want to read about this again.

9.08.2006

Dead Hard Drive

The final diagnosis on my office mac is that the hard drive is toast. Close readers of recent comments will recall that it sounded as if a small bird was lodged inside the thing, reminding me that Hitachi still has these diagnostic sounds of toasted hard drives online. Speaking of birds: I'm much more used to using recorded sounds of actual birds to identify birds than I am to using recorded sounds of dead and dying hard drives (that sounds like dead and dying birds) to diagnose computer failure. The adjustment has been rough.

Those same close readers of recent comments will note that there has been a tad of critique of the nature of the recent IHE piece. (And you should see the email.) Having had my code copied and republished with my name as "author" still on it several times, I'm not too tweaked off about the degree to which the article mimics my original posts. Okay: I'm a little bothered. But when your hard drive croaks and serious data loss ensues, a little un-cited paraphrasing is small spuds.

What is bothering me is how s-l-o-w-l-y some of my students are picking up html this semester. No joke: three weeks into the term and several very bright students are still struggling with the most basic elements of the coding structure.

Since it's Friday and I'm as toasted as that hard drive, I will attribute this attenuated learning rate to the mechanics of online template composition which establish benchmarks for techno-literacy that are measured only in terms of how deftly one learns to manipulate a code-generating template and have nothing to do with the careful orchestration of tags and commands.

9.07.2006

Reports of the YouTube Effect Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

There has been some thoughtful response to yesterday's piece in Inside Higher Ed following up on discussion in various places about videos of teachers on YouTube. In the voice of Renetto: Hey all youz YouTubers, listen up!

Collin Brooke has a provocative policy clause on re-broadcasting (though I'm not sure this would do much for mooning incidents, :) ), Alex Reid has a well worded clarification/restatement given the flattening of the debate stemming from the IHE piece, and Clay Spinuzzi has a discussion regarding the control of representations.

In an unfolding online discussion like this one, with so many soundings in so many places, it's very tempting to restate, clarify, and restate again in the effort to be heard ever more clearly. If I were to do that, I'd emphasize again how very few professors are represented on YouTube and how very many K-12 teachers are, and then repeat a discussion of how many more issues (mainly of public humiliation) those K-12 teachers face in the ways they are represented. By steering the discussion of teacher-YouTube-videos to the representation of the professoriate, we miss a larger set of sentiments and beliefs informing the videos of K-12 teachers.

But (having just said that) I want to emphasize something else:

Critique and evaluation of instruction on YouTube is only part of a larger trend of similar web-based efforts to relocate the evaluation of instructors away from institutionally sanctioned systems of evaluation.

At the University of Washington, for instance, students signing up for a course can view course evaluations for their instructors in the online course evaluation catalog. (When I taught at UW, this data was open to the public; now it's available to students, alums, and anyone with a UW netid.) First point of reference.

If you're at UW and want to see if your instructor is attractive, or least has been rated as such, you can go to ratemyprofessors.com/hotProfs.html. Second point of reference.

Another place where instruction gets represented is on Facebook, a site where groups have been known to form in organized action against an instructor, program, college, or institution. At the University of Illinois, where I now teach, simply searching for the keywords "department sucks" on Facebook reveals a number of condemnatory reviews of departments and instructors. Third point of reference.

This is to say that reports of the YouTube effect have been greatly exaggerated, at least in terms of how videos of teachers on YouTube are being construed as a significantly new form of representation and evaluation. Sure video is powerful, even more powerful than words in some cases, but students have been creating web texts of various kinds for some time now to variously rip on their professors. Homepages like the ones hauled in by that last link form a fourth point of reference.

Instead of thinking of ways to wipe out teacher-YouTube-videos with policies, rules, and the sponsorship of electronic illiteracy (really: wouldn't that be the most effective way to keep our students from representing us online?), I think we and they would benefit more from a thorough examination of the attitudes that inform both the clandestine documentation of our labor, the bodily objectification of female instructors, and the violence/humiliation perpetrated against teachers for entertainment.

This is why, in my post titled Let's Play Humiliate Teacher I told the story of an Assistant Professor I work with who became the subject of a bingo-ish game about her and her teaching. This game emerges from a set of attitudes and positioning of teacher and student that are being expressed not only on YouTube, but much more broadly in the classrooms where we work.

9.06.2006

Story on Teacher-YouTube Videos @ IHE

A story today, at Inside Higher Ed, following my reports last week about videos of teachers on YouTube.

My post from last week began "You think ratemyprofessors.com is unsettling? Try having a video taken of you teaching and uploaded to YouTube." Today's article in IHE begins "If you don’t like what RateMyProfessors.com has done for the image of professors, get ready for the YouTube effect."

9.04.2006

Let's Play Humiliate The Teacher!

When I came across the videos of teachers on YouTube late last week, I had the sense that others would find them disturbing, interesting, and worth thinking a bit about.

With blogosphere speed, Jeff Rice and Alex Reid picked up the topic and posted about it, each adding insights I hadn't considered. For four days or so, I've simply been in shock at how many videos there are of teachers and about teachers up on the site.

Alex Reid makes this important point in his post:

As teachers, particularly in English, we encourage our students to write, to express themselves. We often discuss how effective writing can have power in a community. Well.... here you go. We got what we asked for. Now the students turn the panopticon back on their teachers somewhat. I'm sure there have been students over the past decade in my classes who have been sitting there thinking "this guy is boring" or "he's an idiot" or "I hate this teacher!" Why not? I've had those thoughts as a student. Now they have a way to express those thoughts, besides talking to their roommates.


This is certainly the case, and with videos such as the ones in THIS PLAYLIST, students are using simple technology (often phones) to attempt to document their oppressive conditions. We may all have a bad day, we may all lose it at some point, but these students are saying with the publication of their texts "We've had enough."

In THIS PLAYLIST, all of female teachers referred to as "bitch," or in THIS VIDEO, labeled with the phrase "a high school student screams about how he wants to fuck his high school teacher [Ms. P.]," we see a coalescence of disrespect and organized humiliation aimed at female instructors in particular. This is not about documenting abuse; it's about perpetrating it.

(Jenny, in a comment on my last post, talks a bit about this.)

I recently heard a story involving a colleague of mine, an Associate Professor, who was delivering a lecture when one of her students called out "Bingo!" Distracted by this interruption, my colleague inquired into what the heck was going on, and it turned out that a number of students were playing a game in her class involving filling in little bingo cards whenever she said certain things or manifested certain mannerisms.

I've heard about the bingoish game law school students often play, an attempt to ostracize and challenge other students, but I hadn't heard of a game like this one directed at making an instructor self conscious, trivialized, and generally reduced to an object of play.

Many of the films of teachers you can find on YouTube document lousy teaching, angry teachers, and capture the feel of incarceration brought about by the warehousing environment of many schools. But the films additionally turn our attention to the ways teaching is increasingly perceived as a service industry where disrespect and disregard seem primary ways of relating to service-worker-teachers.

In response to this predominant service-industry position of our labor, many of us demean ourselves by performing modes of synthetic personalization and pedagogical emotional labor. I may be exaggerating, but I think these videos on YouTube have enormous power to put us in our (new) place.

9.01.2006

Is Your Teaching on YouTube?

You think ratemyprofessors.com is unsettling? Try having a video taken of you teaching and uploaded to YouTube.

Perusing the many videos featuring teachers up on YouTube, I see several categories of videos:


There are many CELEBRATORY VIDEOS, this category characterized by videos like this one featuring students having fun with their teacher, and this one featuring a very fun and funny teacher. Though I don't want to embed/host many of these videos, I'll embed one from this class:




More potentially disturbing is the class of VIDEOS DOCUMENTING TEACHER OUTBURSTS, like this one of a teacher "gtin pissed" or this one featuring a teacher trying to manage a loud and unruly classroom. Elsewhere, teachers are caught screaming and yelling at their classes. This vid is of a teacher talking about respect and self respect, and it's important to note that the video is titled "Teacher is sooo gay." Without a doubt, videos in this class aim to discredit teachers by capturing and displaying de-contextualized instances of, primarily, disciplinary instruction.


A related but different class of videos are generally tagged with the terms BAD TEACHING. These videos have such titles as Stupid English Teacher, Oblivious Biology Teacher, Stupid Physics Teacher, a different Stupid English teacher, and the emphatic DUMBASS earth science teacher. This last video shows a teacher working very hard to entertain and have fun with a class while teaching a lesson, and because of this I think the title of the video could be read as sarcasm. By and large, though, these videos seem aimed at documenting and publicizing poor instruction. Students snooze with heads on desks in one; students sit on desks chatting in another while the teacher does something indiscernible at the board. Again, I want to emphasize the problem of context in all of these videos: short clips of instruction enable the posters of these films to discredit their teachers very quickly without having to explain how we got to where we are in the particular lesson or class.


Perhaps the most disturbing class of videos document TEACHERS BEING PUBLICLY HUMILIATED AND PHYSICALLY ABUSED. This video is subtitled "me trying to tape our teachers ass" and displays a short video of exactly what it reports to be: a video of a teacher shot from behind. It gets worse. This multiply-posted video is of a teacher having his pants pulled down in front of class (referred to as "kecking" in this version of the same clip), this teacher is fairly harmlessly kicked by a student, and this video captures a teacher getting violently punched in the face by what may be a parent. It's hard to tell.





Those of us who teach web composition used to caution students to "Be careful of what you put online, because you never know who will see it and where it will go." Now a more appropriate caution for all of us is "Be careful of what you do and say, because you never know if someone else will document it and put it online."

A very old strategy of bringing about change involves documenting oppressive tactics. Police brutality, for instance, is powerfully documented by users of YouTube, requiring an increase in, users seem to hope, the accountability of police departments and officers. The class of videos that attempt to document "bad teaching" seem to try to make teachers (in particular and in general) more accountable. What I find troubling about this effort is that it puts too much responsibility on individual teachers and too little on the conditions within which they struggle to do their jobs.

The class of videos, though, that document teachers being variously assaulted and publicly humiliated are symptomatic of something else. Evident in these videos is, of course, the extremely low status teachers have. Why else would they be such acceptable targets for public humiliation? In the kecking video, though, and also in the kick-the-teacher-in-the-butt video, I think you can see an effort to dislodge the disciplinary power dynamic on display and fought for by some of the teachers in the class of videos I've called "videos documenting teacher outbursts." In those videos, teachers work to establish their control; when a teacher is publicly disrobed in front of a class (and subsequently on YouTube), that authority is challenged.

I began this loooong post with a mention of ratemyprofessors.com. When that site first went online, many seemed outraged that college level instructors would be publicly assessed in this way, outside of our already established course-evaluation-systems, and in many cases, professors have been graphically slandered and bodily objectified on that site. Ratemyprofessors.com made our lives as college level instructors suddenly unstable and encouraged some of us to be just a bit more careful, if that's the right word, when it comes to what we do in the classroom.

Videos of teachers on YouTube, however, magnify whatever paranoia ratemyprofessors.com may have generated. Were you video taped in front of your class yesterday? Today? Yesterday? Will what you do with your students be edited and presented in a way that you feel misrepresents how you teach? There are, you should know, videos of college professors up on YouTube, variously titled things like "[Professor Name] is a tool" and "Sleeping in LTS."



[UPDATE: Others taking up this topic: Alex Reid and Jeff Rice.]