Revolution Lullabye

October 9, 2013

Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses

“Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 688-703. Print.

This CCC symposium brings together two short essays by Steven D. Krause and Jeff Rice who reflect on their experiences as students enrolled in a massive open online course (MOOC) sponsored by Coursera. This seven-week MOOC offered in July 2012 was entitled “Listening to World Music” and led by University of Pennsylvania professor Carol Muller. The purpose of the symposium is to understand how MOOCs change (or replicate) the traditional face-to-face classroom learning environment and to speculate on how MOOCs or other forms of distance/digital learning could impact the teaching and learning of writing.

“It seemed wise to learn more about MOOCs, and it seemed wise to learn about them from learners – who continue as perhaps the most consistent source of information about writing and learning to write in the field” (689).

Krause, Steven D. “MOOC Response to ‘Listening to World Music.'” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 689-695.

Krause’s response focuses on the MOOC’s writing assignments and the evaluation of those writing assignments. The writing assignments (2-3 paragraph responses to a choice of weekly prompts), coupled with the video-taped lectures and the discussion boards, were part of the course’s basic curricular structure, not really all that different from the structure of lecture-driven courses. At the beginning of the course, the MOOC had registered over 36,000 students; however, only a small percentage (2,731) of that number actually finished the course. To deal with the vast number of writing assignments that needed to be assessed, Muller and her graduate assistants turned over the grading to the students themselves in a kind of “crowdsourced” assessment, with peers evaluating each other’s writing responses based on an (under-explained) 10-point rubric.

Krause notes the problems of this kind of under-directed peer evaluation and response and contrasts it with the research on peer evaluation in the classroom, which does work well given the correct guidelines and constraints. He points out that one of the key issues of this crowdsourced grading is accountability – there is no mechanism to reward or correct good responses or peer evaluations.

In his conclusion, Krause moves beyond discussing and critiquing the MOOC’s writing assignments to comment on the failures of MOOCs and some of their untapped potential. The MOOC he experienced was “content without teaching,” focused only on the delivery of prescribed content, and that delivery itself had a pretty low production value.  However, Krause contends, MOOCs could break out of this static pedagogical delivery model and tap into the collaborative, social, and multimodal possiblities afforded in the digital sphere.

“After all, a MOOC is first and foremost a content delivery platform, one significantly more interactive and dynamic than a traditional printed book. Perhaps future Coursera MOOCs will do better at breaking out of what is essentially a nineteenth-century pedagogy of lectures, tests, and writing prompts that go nowhere. Perhaps it will turn out that writing ‘papers’ for a MOOC makes no sense because it doesn’t take advantage of the possibilities of networked writing” (694).

“So the writing assignments in ‘Listening to World Music’ left me with a feeling I fear some of my own students might share: it didn’t really matter what I wrote because no one (including myself) cared, and I was destined to get the same grade no matter what I did. It was garbage in/garbage out” (694).

“And as we all know as both educators and students, a textbook is not the same as a teacher. If education were merely about content delivery, then Socrates would have been the last teacher and Phaedrus his last student” (694).

The crowdsourcing grading: “It was a strange feeling: even though the class consisted of thousands of students from all over the world, this review process was oddly lonely, even more anonymous than the discussion forums” (693).

Writing assignments in a MOOC: “simulataneously a bold effort at thinking outside the box and a foolish exercise that was doomed for failure at the start, an example of both the grand promise of MOOCs to challenge education orthodoxy and the delusional, wishful thinking of pundits and administrators who think MOOCs will solve various education crises” (690).

 

Rice, Jeff. “What I Learned in MOOC.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 695-703.

Rice, who was enrolled in the same MOOC as Krause, questions why he ended up not completing the course. He points to the lack of affect in the MOOC structure: the MOOC relied on “nonsocial” videotaped lectures, multiple choice quizzes, anonymous discussion boards, and short writing assignments that failed to keep him engaged in the course (699). He draws on Richard Lanham’s argument about the attention economy, arguing that the interactive, networked, and inventive environment of the Web cultivates more desire and attention than the packaged content available in MOOCs like “Listening to World Music.” Rice argues that digital writing invites participation through aggregation, and that participation leads to occupation and desire. In their current form, MOOCs treat participants as spectactors, unable to invent and truly engage affectively in the material.

“Our current emerging institution, we might argue, is aggregation. Texts, images, ideas, videos, responses, and critiques are aggregating virtually into shifting identites of information encountered in online spaces” (701).

“This aggregation keeps me occupied with a sense of learning unique to network spaces. Being occupied is a feeling, an affective state central to a learning experience or occasion. Being occupied is a state of desire. Being occupied is an occassion for digital aggregation (i.e. learning and expression). When I am occupied, I encounter (as opposed to just ‘watching’). In other words, I want occupation. Pretaped lectures and a message board don’t provide me with that same feeling…My issue with Coursera was not just that its method of content delivery has nothing to do with how content is aggregated online, but that I cannot be aggregated aswell in this particular setup. I am left as spectator. Message board commenter. Watcher of videos. Writer of two paragraphs” (701).

“What Coursera lacks, many higher education courses taught via lecture and graduate student breakout discussion lack as well: emotional occassion” (702).

draw on Jim Corder (the occassion) and Gregory L. Ulmer (avatar)

“The overall question of whether or not to endorse online learning because it will save/destroy higher education – at the level of MOOCs or some other type of iteration – is not a question worth asking because it falls into the cliche trap of face-to-face value or the fear of alleged corporatization. Neither response gets at the issue of desire or occasion regarding learning and how such desire might be facilitated in a digital age where attention functions differently than lecture formats and message boards deliver” (700).

MOOCs as part of a long line of other forms of distance learning (like correspondance courses) (696).

 

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January 16, 2009

Schuler and Namioka, Participatory Design

Schuler, Douglas and Aki Namioka. Participatory Design: Principles and Practices. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993.

Participatory design, as opposed to expert and speciality-driven design, asks the eventual users of a product or system to assist in the design and development with it. This collection, which arose out of the 1990 Seattle Participatory Design conference (sponsored by the national nonprofit organization, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility), focuses primarily on software and system design, but the prinicples of participatory design can be applied across disciplines. Advocates for participatory design argue that it is a more democratic design process and results in higher quality products because more people are participating in the design, especially those who know the intimate context of how it will be used (the workers and users.) Drawbacks of participatory design are mainly logistical: it requires much more time to involve several people in the design process (not all are specialists or professionals, so they don’t even share the same language to talk about the design), it is sometimes difficult to locate appropriate users and find adequate motivation to get them to participate in the process, and it is difficult to keep track of (and continue to motivate) participants to assess the performance of the product or process as it is being used in the workplace. Participatory design theory developed first in Scandinavia and works well with the demographics of their workforce: highly educated, highly unionized, and ethnically and racially homogenous. When participatory design is used in the United States and other European countries, however, researchers and designers need to understand that the demographics of their particular workforces will impact the effectiveness of participatory design (what the participants will expect, what will motivate them.)

Quotable Quotes

“Leaving out the users isn’t just undemocratic – it has serious consequences for worker health, human rights, job satisfaction, and also for the work process and the bottom line” (4) Ellen Bravo “The Hazards of Leaving Out the Users”

“User involvment and iteration are generally acknowledged to be more critical to success in software design than adherence to conventional design paradigms” (xii).

“Participation Design (PD) represents a new approach towards computer systems design in which the people destined to use the system play a critical role in designing it.” (xi)

“Practice as the social construction of reality is a strong candidate for replacing the picture theory of reality. In short, practice is our everyday practical activity. It is the human form of life. It precedes subject-object relations. Through practice, we produce the world, both the world of objects and our knowledge about this world. Practice is both action and reflection. But practice is also a social activity; it is produced in cooperation with others. To share practice is also to share an understanding of the world with others. However, this production of the world and our understanding of it takes place in an already existing world. The world is also the product of former practice. Hence, as a part of practice, knowledge has to be understood socially – as producing or reproducing social processes and structures as well as being the product of them” (63) Pelle Ehn, “Scandinavian Design: On Participation and Skill”

“Central and abiding concern for direct and continuous interaction with those who are the ultimate arbiters of system adequacy; namely, those who will use the technology in their everyday lives and work” (vii)

Notable Notes

secretaries and computers, eyestrain

Expertise is valued as a resource, not an unchallenged authority (xii)

unions and participatory design

participatory design doesn’t mean workplace democracy, but it does mean a bigger chance of participating in decision making.

making products and systems integral to the workplace, not just dumped into it by people who don’t work there and understand the context

using ethnographic field methods to describe and understand before beginning the design process

January 10, 2009

Shedroff, Experience Design

Shedroff, Nathan. Experience Design 1. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders Press, 2001.

Experience design seeks out the common elements that make “superior” experiences, those that are successful and memorable. Shedroff includes all experiences in his analysis, both online and off-line, and his goal is to define principles of good experiences so that they can be consciously reproduced. Experiences are contained by their boundaries and usually consist of three major phases: attraction, engagement, and conclusion. The principles Shedroff discovers by evaluating and analyzing superior experiences (those he deems superior) connect to all three of those phases and include attributes like consistency, usability, interactivity, feedback, control, creativity, adaptivity, and community and identity creation. These types of good experiences have developed cognitive models, which is a structure based on how the designer predicts how the audience might understand the information, find meaning in it, and remember it. Shedroff also argues that good design is derived from insight, which is created by thoughtful, contextual structured information, developed along a continuum of information, stretching from pure data (which has no context), to context-driven, organized information, to generalized knowledge, to personalized, non-transmittable wisdom.

Quotable Quotes

“The elements that contribute to superior experiences are knowable and reproducible, which can make them designable” (2).

“[Seduction] has always been a part of design” (8)

“Information is really data transformed into something more valuable by building context around it so that it becomes understandable” (34) and “Information is data put in context with thought given to its organization and presentation” (42).

“The path to wisdom is not even open until we approach understanding with an openness and tolerance for ambiguity” (54).

“The most important aspect of any design is how it is understood in the minds of the audience” (cognitive model) (60).

Notable Notes

Experiences must “compete for the attention of the audience and partcipants” – novelty isn’t enough to keep a person interested for long. Compare with Lanham The Economy of Attention. (4) “Successful digital media are those that offer experiences unique to their medium and complete with traditional media in usefulness and satisfaction” (4)

Look at experiences throughout history to inform the design of present and future things (23)

Important experiences include birth, death, and the takeaway moments – those important experiences that you take away with you as you die as your lasting memories of Earth (rarely have anything to do with modern digital technology)

Information overload is really information anxiety – there is too much information out there as just data, no context or insight to put it into perspective or communication with others (34)

Ways to organize data (only 7) – magnitude, time, numbers, alphabet, category, location, randomness. Many presentation possibilities for the same data (example of the periodic table of the elements.) (66)

There is a need for multiplicity for different learning styles, redundancy, different levels of understanding and meaning (example of Vietnam memorial in DC), navigation routes.

Clear navigation and cognitive models are key in design.

Important design considerations: consistency, usability (learnability and functionality), design must create meaning, interactivity (audience are participants), feedback (audiences know that their participation matters), control (audience has control over experience – or thinks they do), creativity (people feel valuable, satisfied when asked to be creative), productivity (usefulness), adaptivity (customized, personalized), community membership, authentic identity formation, storytelling, narrative, perspective and point-of-view.

Sensorial design (276) – smell, taste, touch, sound, sight

January 5, 2009

Helfand, Six (+2) Essays on Design and New Media

Helfand, Jessica. Six (+2) Essays on Design and New Media. New York: William Drenttel, 1997.

Helfand’s essays, which all first appeared in Print and Eye Magazines, ask how our ideas are being shaped by new digital media and vice versa, how new digital media is shaping our ideas. She writes as a designer, calling in each of her essays (some more overtly than others) for her fellow designers, whose formal training probably did not address programming code or hypertext or moving visuals, to take up the challenges presented by the internet and digital new media and find appropriate, responsible design solutions instead of leaving the digital landscape open to chaotic, untrained interpretation. Her argument (which she admits is a bit elitist) takes her from an analysis of electronic typography to the relationship between information and form and from questions of access to a discussion of the physical, hardware and software constraints of digital design. Her first essay, “Design and the Play Instinct,” claims that responsible and thoughtful play is an essential component of the design process, and the computer has made play easier and more efficient because of the possibilities of erasing and reverting to previously-saved, “uncorrupted” drafts. She warns against designers relying on old design paradigms, such as those developed for the printed page, calling for designers to find ways to accurately present the overload of information and non-linear narratives found on the internet in ways that allow for clear communication without making complex concepts and relationships overly simplistic. The technology might limit the design, but the concepts a designer can communicate are not limited. The text is a little dated to the new media debates of the mid-1990s (lots of discussion of CD-ROMs.)

Quotable Quotes

Interaction design: “It demands, instead, more comprehensive thinking that involves cognitive, spatial, and ergonomic considerations” (59) Interface designers can’t just rely on traditional design training; they have to branch out and collaboarte with software engineers, psychologists, and other experts who can help them with the unique design challenges of new media.

Designers need new ways of “visualizing stories in multiple layers, for designing with mulitple points of entry” (60).

The problem with websites that “dutifully mimic the form and structure of a paper publication, which is its own restrictive model” (49). Instead, we need “more ambitious thinking, more inventive models, and, undoubtably, more inspired design than presently exists” (49).

“The internet is a dialectic hybrid: a utopian archetype at once pragmatic and mythical, borderless and structured, it is a potentially infinite space with no geographical, political, or otherwise material boundaries” (47).

“Texture is complexity made physically manifest” (22).

“As information overload tips the scales, the demand for editorial and design direction will become more and more critical” (45).

“Thoughtless computer-aided (or driven) design maximizes shortcuts. It delights in gimmickry and exploits for effect. Here, in the land of the gratuitous filter, it is a celebration of bells and whistles, uninspired form and negligble content…This is the play instinct gone awry – devoid of imagination, brain-free, giving way to the loathsome gravitational pull of mediocrity” (10).

Notable Notes

Essay Titles:
1: “Design and the Play Instinct” – play is essential to the design process. Computer and technology facilitate it (and allow it to happen.)
2: “Electronic Typography” – typography is now asked to represent spoken, time-sensitive word, can disapper and appear in the 4th dimension, need for visual literacy to develop, emails are constrained but serve all purposes.
3. “The Pleasure of the Text(ure)” – digital new media is often pushed into linear forms when that doesn’t make particular sense because it gets rid of the texture. CD-ROMs discussion.
4. “The Culture of Reciprocity” – access to new media is limited around the world, how educational institutions are teaching and using new media, new media is formed by and for those who participate in it.
5. “A New Webbed Utopia” – the internet is controlled by its constraints: html code, upload times, ambiguous target audience
6. “The Lost Legacy of Film” – new media designers should look to film designers to help unlock the power and potential of narrative and drama. New media has more choice and participation; the audience become the authors.
+1. “I Design, Therefore I Am” – avatars as identity, one that can be manipulated and edited constantly.
+2. “The Myth of Real Time” – our world has equated real with efficient, and the potential of leisure time as productive time is ignored. Also, digital media seems by its very nature ephemeral, not as a comglomerate of building layers over history.

blue underlined hyperlink developed by U of Illinois for their Mosaic project – now ubiquitous in website design (49)

information highway should be reconceived as an information landscape – by MIT research team

January 1, 2009

Hodge and Kress, Social Semiotics

Hodge, Robert and Gunther Kress. Social Semiotics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1988.

The authors, who developed a theory of usable (or critical) linguistics in their 1979 book Language as Ideology, wrote Social Semiotics to address two limitations in their linguistic theory: the lack of focus on “the primacy of the social dimension in understanding language structures and processes” and the inattention to the meanings inherent in non-verbal messages (such as in aural, behavioral, and visual codes.) Their study, which begins with an overview of twentieth-century linguistic theory, explaining the structuralist foundations of Saussure and Peirce, highlights the importance of social context in the meaning-making process. That context includes ideology, the current logonomic system, history, and social relationships. Drawing from Durkheim (and Marx), Hodge and Kress point out that there are two parts of every social message – power and solidarity – and show, through examples ranging from sub-population accents and antilanguages to the Biblical debate over the pronounciation of “shibboleth” and from classic Davy Crockett and Two-Gun Lil cartoons to the traditional Greek familial relationships showcased in Sophocles’ plays, that every meaning-making act is a social strategy to position one person or group in power and authority over another, who confirms their power through by going along and acting in solidarity with the rest of society. For both social control and an understanding of truth and reality, there is an interdependence between those in power and those being controlled.

There is a good appendix with definitions of Hodge and Kress’s key terms and concepts from pages 261-268.

Quotable Quotes

“Meaning is produced and reproduced under specific social conditions, through specific material forms and agencies. It exists in relationship to concrete subjects and objects, and is inexplicable except in terms of this set of relationships” (viii).

“Genres only exist in so far as a social group declares and enforces the rules that constitute them” (7). What is captured in genres is the relationship between the participants.

“Meaning is always negotiated in the semiotic process, never simply imposed inexorably from above by an omnipotent author through an absolute code” (12). Social semiotics is interested in what happens (expected and not) in the action between participants.

“Every semiotic act has an ideological content” (40).

“Every semiotic structure inevitably exists in space and time” (163). You cannot ignore the temporal dimension, for with history, you can understand large-scale structures that inform the meaning of small, individual semiotic acts.

Notable Notes

Jokes are a reversal of the logonomic code – they are broken rules, subversive, oppoistional discourse, drawing from Halliday’s antilanguage (78)

Logonomic code – a set of rules about meaning-making and communication, based on an entire system of thought, which orders society by explaining who may make and receive messages and knowledge under what circumstances and with what behaviors (4)

Key words: formality, informality, constraint, energy, open, close, accents, T form/V form, truth, reality, modality, genre, logonomic, ideology, message, semiotic, act, participants, power, solidarity, social construction, system, history, context, control, style, grammar, metasign, group, cohesion

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