Problems

In today’s hypertext theory and practice lab we began to frame the research problems that are going to be researched, individually, for the rest of the semester. Since I’m into process based teaching I got everyone to present their research questions individually to the group, and then invited others to respond. Not a lot got said but it was mainly to begin to model the sorts of dialogues that peer critique might provide. I then got everyone to document the following in their blogs:

  1. Describe your research problem in two or three sentences
  2. Why does it interest you?
  3. What do you imagine (or hope) you will learn?
  4. How does (3) relate to (1) and (2)

The last question is potentially the most productive since it invites the students to try to identify what they want to learn and then ensure that their problem, and why it interests them coincides. In other words that their research project is relevant to what they want to learn. Several students revisted their problems as a result of doing this, which is a rather good outcome. I reckon.

Analog History

The Museum of Victoria is currently conducting an online vote to determine which objects from the ‘vault’ will be displayed during International Museum Day (who knew they had their own day). In amongst there is an interactive noughts and crosses machine from the early 1960’s. I imagine it is an old analog computer, though I’m not sure. Would love to see it (vote early, vote often). Sarah Jessica Parker’s dress is currently number one.

What is DAC?

I’m currently the chair of this years DAC conference, and there’s a ton of stuff I’m trying to achieve with the conference, and a ton of stuff (well, a few kilo’s anyway) that i’ve learnt along the way, and I really need to start documenting some of this. For me, for others, and also so people get some idea of what the conference is actually on about. So, here goes.

DAC is digital arts and culture and it is a conference series that was initiated by Espen Aarseth in 1998. This one is the fifth and the first one without external funding, so this is the one that probably makes or breaks the conference as an ongoing series.

I want the conference to be serious about being a collaborative and interdisciplinary event where the papers are intended to be precursors to serious conversation. DAC specifically seeks to bring together a diverse range of theoretical views and practices, addressing a range of new media, because L believe that interdisciplinary and collaborative work is the basis for moving forward on key theoretical and practitioner based problems in digital arts and culture.

Too many conferences are simply ‘talk and walk’ events where you present work that you treat as finished, closed, and more or less outside of criticism. You answer a few questions, say hello to people you already know and possibly meet a few new people. You attend sessions that pretty much reinforce what you think you’re already interested in, here more papers that think they’ve got the answer, and perhaps ask a question. This is not going to happen at DAC. A parody? OK, but if you’re into computer games and there’s a session on games on one on interactive fiction which one will you go to?

At DAC all papers are available to all participants prior to the conference, and co-session speakers are expected to have read each others papers, and to have prepared open questions about each others work. These questions are not of the “good paper but you’re wrong and if you have done x, y, and z (ie. written like I would have) then you’d be right.” The questions will be specifically framed to draw out what is useful, productive, problematic, innovative in each others papers. This is because the most valuable work of the conference will be in the dialogue that the papers begin, and if it doesn’t do that, then it would be just easier to send everyone the proceedings and to stay at home!

Violence

Slashdot has an item about violence in computer games. It points to an article in The Seattle Times by Mark Rahner. Rahner provides some contemporary statistics about game purchases and ownership in relation to violent games, in response to a Washington state proposal to ban some games. (We’ve had a similar debate in Australia in the past.) As he points out, the scientific research is unclear, and he raises the obvious point. These games are played all around the world, but there is apparently only one country where violence is a problem. This does suggest the problem is not with the games, or possibly media (though I do find US news reporting offensively graphic), but with the culture as a whole. In a community with no meaningful social welfare provisions, where to be poor means to be literally destitute, within an ideological culture that so thoroughly invests social support in terms of personal action and moral value I think violence ought not to be surprising. America is, after all, one of the very very few western liberal democracies that has a significant population that thinks it is perfectly reasonable to legally kill its citizens. 33 executions in Texas alone during 2002, did someone mention violence?

Tom Watson

Tom Watson – Labour MP for West Bromwich East (and isn’t that a thoroughly English name) blogs. A fair dinkum local member type blog, and apparently since July 2001. And he has a sense of humour as this vote rigging scandal indicates. Thank god he’s labour. Don’t know what sort of bad faith consciousness reframing I’d have to go through if he were a Tory.

Google Paper

The Anatomy of a Search Engine is Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page’s original paper on Google. Good resource for research.

Report on Warblogging

7.30 Report is a flagship national current affairs television show that is broadcast to the entire nation by the national (state based) ABC. Two things I find of interest, no, three things, in the transcript (and I did watch the story last night to boot).

That this story got, by anyone’s standards, plenty of airtime, the story would have got at least five minutes of ‘serious’ journalistic coverage. But reading the transcript, it treats all blogging as journalistic, uses warblogging (the preceeding stories were all on Iraq) as the only model, yet manages to say very little about what blogging actually is. In particular assuming that most of it is sort of derived from people listening to media sources at home and offering editorial commentary. Um, yes, and what does a journalist do most of the day apart from read the wires, watch CNN and BBC World, and offer commentary? (I’m reminded of the junior reporter from the Melbourne Age< on their first posting to the national capital who’s morning job was to listen to ABC radio’s AM current affairs program and to rewrite the copy for the paper.) So I’m intrigued that so much time in a major media space manages to convey such little actual knowledge.

The second point is perhaps obvious, or only apparent after the fact, but you find much better content about blogs in blogs. I imagine it is a bit like trying to explain what a newspaper might be on television when you’d sort of realise pretty quickly that the best way of figuring the thing out would be to start reading them.

The final thing is just the vanity of journalism. This is a truism in professional journalism – a reporter being injured, captured, hurt or whatever is always considerably more newsworthy than most other people having the same thing happen to them. So this story about blogs is actually only about war blogs (because being a foreign correspondent is, alongside being a political commentator from the national capital, the top of the journalistic tree), and then only about their relationship to journalism. Blogs aren’t a reaction to journalism, though the way journalists respond to them you’d be hard pressed to know that.

Finally, (yep, there’s a fourth), if this link is picked up in the blog community then someone at the ABC will probably pretty quickly realise the significance of blogs in terms of the connections they make. This just has to be a high link somewhere and the page will get a traffic spike that someone might figure out represents a completely different economy to that understood by journalists and broadcast media (including newspapers).

Dullest Blog

Oh, this is very very good. You know a genre is a genre when it can be parodied.

An Assessment Matrix

In hypertext theory and practice this semester I’ve written an assessment matrix (which I believe Jill has used) which all of my students have access to so that they can begin to understand what criteria are used to determine marks. The advantage of this for me, of course, is that it actually makes me articulate what I expect and gives me a simple matrix to assess against. For the students it is more significant because they generally don’t see each others work. This means that a common experience for students is that they simply never have a context within which to judge their work. A high distinction student might be well pleased with their results, but literally has no idea of what a credit essay (for example) might look like, and vice versa.

The assessment matrix then provides a set of standard criteria so that at a minimum everyone understands what sorts of activities are required to achieve particular levels, and I guess if a student read what was required of a high distinction and just doesn’t understand it, then they probably won’t ever get a high distinction. I wonder.

So, their blogs are a major assessment task, but an issue with students writing blogs is the amount of time you can spend reading them for assessment. (I have a very simple rule in teaching. If a new strategy or task increases the amount of assessment time, then it is excluded.) To get round this students are to nominate their four best blog posts, email them to me, and it is on that basis that I will assess their blogs. Which is something I used from Jill. The advantage of this is that students can then use their blogs in an appropriate way, as their writing spaces, as this assessment method helps free the students from feeling like all their content has to meet the teacher’s expectations.

This week, I have asked everyone to identify one blog post and to briefly assess it against the assessment matrix, and email the url and the assessment to me. I will read the post and the email, and if the student’s assessment diverges from what I think the matrix describes I’ll respond. This helps concretise what the matrix actually does, since otherwise it will remain abstract and something that happens after they’ve finished all their work.