Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy’

Documentary Ontography: Nonfiction Stories Using Lists of Things

Some of what I’m teaching this semester.

The below as a pdf….


Exploded view of a JVC GY-HD100U Camcorder (

Like a medieval bestiary, ontography can take the form of a compendium, a record of things juxtaposed to demonstrate their overlap and imply interaction through collocation. The simplest approach to such recording is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma. (Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to be a Thing p.38.)

What happens when things in the world world, not us, is made a cause and the centre of telling stories?


There is a wave of new ideas in media and cinema studies loosely known as media materialism, speculative realism, or post digital media. This work is changing how we understand what the media is and our relation to it. These theories criticise media and cultural studies for placing us (the social, human, even language) at the centre of our understanding of what the world is. These theories also provide different ways for us to think about the role of narrative in what we do.

These new ideas are relevant when the internet and social media, combined with global environmental and cultural problems, change what making media is. These ideas can provide us with a different vocabulary for how and what we make as media professionals. One step in achieving this is to make creative
Like a medieval bestiary, ontography can take the form of a compendium, a record of things juxtaposed to demonstrate their overlap and imply interaction through collocation. The simplest approach to such recording is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma. (Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to be a Thing p.38.) nonfiction because it addresses the world. A second is to learn how these ideas let us understand and work in digital media in more sophisticated ways.

These ‘materialist’ theories describe the way things form relations that are more complex than we give them credit for, and how we are part of these relations too. They regard an object, person, even an idea as, equally, a thing. When this is understood our relationship to media, making, content, tools, stories, and ourselves changes.

This studio is relevant for anyone wanting to understand and play with network media, video, media theory, digital media, documentary, cultural studies, and philosophy.

In the studio we will do theoretical readings that will be understood through making a variety of media
artefacts. This will include online media and interactive documentary.

Students will be required to purchase required software (OS X or PC) for US$25 for this studio.


  • To get an introduction to recent radical media theory
  • Learn how to make sophisticated online work that demonstrates complex ideas creatively
  • Learn and initiate ways of making media that is about the world that is relevant across different media and stories

Learning Approach

The learning approach of the studio is a mix of problem based and action learning methodologies. Each of these emphasise the ways that to learn anything you have to do something, and then take what you have done to inform what happens next.

Problem based learning emphasises the asking of complex, open questions — problems — that don’t have simple answers, and the class using what is already known to see what is already known, what is not known, and what needs to be found out. This last step defines what is done next.

Action learning is common in management seminars. However, it is useful for us because it places an emphasis on being able to identify what you don’t know that matters, and recognises the value in sharing different points of view, understandings, and experiences to solve problems.

The combination of problem based and action learning will lead to what we will describe as ‘matters of concern’ for the class. These are the things that the class decides are significant and will form what we need to investigate.

Work in progress will be regularly reviewed in class by the students and teacher together as a basic principle of studio teaching is that making is public, iterative, and constructively critiqued.
The studio will rely on face to face teaching and will make extensive use of a variety of online platforms to share information, resources, and work. This studio will not use Blackboard to share or distribute course work, undertake discussions, or generally do anything. The platforms and services used will be defined by the studio, and may be a mix of individual blogs, FaceBook, a dedicated web portal, Google Apps, or new services such as Slack or Podio. We are committed to using ‘real world’ platforms as part of the learning in this studio.

We are committed to the work of the studio being public facing (online and available for others to see).

Teaching Schedule

There is no set weekly schedule for this studio. It is anticipated that the first studio each week will concentrate on readings and theoretical problems which will then be explored through the second studio. The direction that the studio takes in relation to readings, problems, and work undertaken will emerge from the ‘matters of concern’ that arise in the classes. These concerns aren’t known in advance.

Assessment Criteria/Learning Outcomes

Students will be assessed according to the Learning Outcomes of the Media Course they are enrolled in:

COMM2626 Media 3
Discuss and apply relevant theories and frameworks in order to demonstrate media literacies
Investigate, design and produce media at an intermediate level
Work collaboratively at an intermediate level
Reflect on and evaluate your own and other’s creative process to improve outcomes

COMM2628 Media 5
Independently situate your practice in relation to appropriate disciplinary theories and frameworks
Research, design and produce media at an advanced level
Work collaboratively at an advanced level
Analyze your own and other’s creative process at an advanced level and critically evaluate and act on feedback provided

These learning outcomes will be assessed in relation to specific pieces of assessment. Individual project briefs for the studio may assess one OR several of the learning outcomes. Project briefs will clearly indicate which course learning outcome is being assessed.

Project Briefs

Project One: An Exploded Map of A Media Thing
Due: presented in class, week 2.
Description: This is a prototyping task. Select any thing (where a thing can be any object, idea, artefact, tool, event) that is clearly and unambiguously a media thing. Draw a map showing all the parts/things/units that make up, influence, include, effect, participate in, are influenced by, this media thing. Colour and labels are essential.
Form: The completed artefact is to be at least large enough to require a sheet of butchers paper. It will be a flow chart drawing of all the parts that you have found, thought, think, make up the media thing you are documenting.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 4

Project Two: An Exploded Media Map of a Media Thing
15% of overall result
Due: presented in class, week 4.
Description: This project requires you to develop the map you prototyped in project one, refining and ‘thickening’ it. The new map is to distinguish human, technical, nonhuman physical and nonhuman nonphysical actors.
Form: Poster, that includes images, labels, arrows and so on. Can be done by hand, printed, or not. Can be presented electronically.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 2, 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 2, 4

Project Three: A List of 100 Concerns from the Point of View of….
25% of overall result
Due: presented in class, week 7.
Description: This project will be done in pairs. Describe a statement or question that will become a proposition that is the ‘point of view’ of the project. This statement may include a ‘productive constraint’. The point of view must be from a thing. This proposition is to be realised by creating 100 brief video or audio clips that express this point of view (aka ‘a matter of concern’).
Form: A Flickr album or any similar platform that allows them to be presented as an array of 100 images/videos.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 1, 2, 3
Learning Outcomes Media five: 1, 2, 3

Project Four: A Poetic Listing of Concerns from the Point of View of…
40% of overall result
Due: Week 13, work is published online and url emailed to Adrian Miles
Description: This project is to be done in pairs.
Using media from Project Three develop a multilinear, poetic video documentary (an interactive documentary) that becomes a description of the thing that the point of view is of. The media from Project Three can be edited, remixed, reshot, etc.

“Let’s adopt ontography as a name for a general inscriptive strategy, one that uncovers the repleteness of units and their interobjectivity. From the perspective of metaphysics, ontography involves the revelation of object relationships without necessarily offering clarification or description of any kind.” (Alien Phenomenology, p. 38).

discuss one of:

  1. how does your film reveal ‘object relationships’ and the ‘repleteness of units’?
  2. how has using lists and other non–story strategies let your documentary engage the world? (Does it engage with the world?)
  3. how does your documentary show how ‘replete’ things are?
  4. what sort of difference has not using a story made to how your documentary discusses something in the world?
  5. how and in what way (is?), your interactive ontograph a documentary? Why? How?
    Submission: to be confirmed

Learning Outcomes Media three: 1, 2, 3, 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 1, 2, 3, 4

20% of overall result
Due: Week 13, if electronic email url to Adrian Miles, if hard copy then hand in via Building 9, Level 4 submission box.
Description: Using the studio experience graph (this will be made in the final week of the studio) write an essay of up to 1000 words that selects the ‘critical moments’ or ‘critical events’ that signify important moments of your studio journey. This essay should provide a narrative of your semester. It can be chronological (ie, time-based narrative), highlighting positive or negative things that happened, or it can be thematic that coalesce insights, inspirations and changes in your understanding that took place. It is expected to use evidence from the informal documentation you have made through the semester. The submission must include your studio experience graph.
Learning Outcomes Media three: 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 4

Reading Cloud

Bill Nichol’s Documentary Nodes

Wikipedia introduction to Oulipo

Wikipedia on Fluxus

Fluxus on fluxus

MOMA on fluxus

Tim Morton’s OOO for beginners

studio blog

i-docs (UK)

Adrian Miles’ blog

Korsakow Manual

Studios, Open Pedagogy

We have moved to a studio model of teaching in the media degree (I got it adopted it across the honours degree several years ago). In practice this means that our media students have half of their course load in media specific subjects (the other half is made up the sorts of subjects you’d expect to find in a media and communication school). These subjects are now generic studio ‘placeholders’, ie media studio 1, 2, 3, and so on, right through to 6. In each studio (except for 1 and 6 which get special treatment) rather than a particular subject, we simply have our staff offer individual topics. They are available (currently) to a mix of students from different year levels, and with our enrolment numbers it means that this semester, to kick it off, we have seven staff offering seven different topics. We call each topic a studio (which sounds confusing but it isn’t really), so for instance I am offering the documentary ontography studio. Students completed a ballot of preferences, and as so often happens, everyone easily got their first choice.

There is no reason for a studio topic to be repeated, so I could offer a different studio next semester. Why? To reflect and align with research I may be doing. A symposium that is coming up, a visitor coming to town. It is, as some colleagues from another university noted, very agile. We have also, in one fell swoop, changed the entire experience of the degree (apart from the pedagogy) as now instead of 2 subjects that were writ in stone the students can choose from 7, every semester.

How studios are being taught will vary a bit, given the differences in staff ability to let go of older practices, of being comfortable to a greater or lesser extent with emergent curricula, and so on. While once upon a time I probably would have worried about that, these days I’m not. Students will work out the differences amongst the staff, and probably manage to get a variety of experiences and learn what they prefer. (We will prevent students from following an individual staff member from studio to studio.)

Anyways, for those curious enough, here’s a gallery of our studio offerings (and as a pdf booklet).

Documentary Ontography: aka Nonfiction and Lists

This semester in our media undergraduate program I’m running a 12 week studio entitled Documentary Ontography: aka Nonfiction and Lists. (I’m riffing off Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology a lot at the moment.) I’m intending the studio to be problem based, come action learning, which will freak me and the students out till we get the learning culture embedded. I’m looking forward to it, and really don’t have a strong idea of where they’ll end up taking it.

It is situated somewhere amongst materialist media studies, lists, interactive documentary, posthumanism, and generative or procedural methods of making. I do know that I want to begin from (quite literally) this quote:

Let’s adopt ontography as a name for a general inscriptive strategy, one that uncovers the repleteness of units and their interobjectivity…. Like a medieval bestiary, ontography can take the form of a compendium, a record of things juxtaposed to demonstrate their overlap and imply interaction through collocation. The simplest approach to such recording is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma. (Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to be a Thing p.38.)

I might use this quote as the basis of a textual exploded diagram (in much the way that Bogost discusses the exploded diagram as a type of ontograph) that the class builds over a couple of weeks, and let that model what we do, as well as find what directions the thinking and making might go. I want to teach them, beginning with this quote, how to read and think as if they were scientists. What sort of thing is this quote? What does it do? What can it do? What tests, experiments, questions, tasks, do we ask or use it for to try to find out what it is. And to understand that what it is, is what it does (like Bryant talks about his blue coffee but cup doing colourness, rather than being blue). It isn’t about right, or intent, a correct reading or even just meaning. It is making machines (including of them) to revel in and show the density of a world where they need to learn the humility of not being a radiant ego.

This, incidentally, is also why it is situated in documentary. Not that documentary doesn’t suffer from didacticism or auteurism, but nonfiction does provide an avenue that explicitly addresses the world, for fiction as best I can tell has absolutely no use outside of the explicitly and only human. (Which I guess means fiction can be thought of as either Bataillean excess, a glorious general luxury who’s point is precisely it’s uselessness, or as the epitome of our species’ vanity.)

Possible, not Intuitive

This is, perhaps, a useful guide to how I teach (and the angst it appears to regularly cause). Thanks to the inestimable Mark Bernstein. As I wrote to students today (well, blogged), leaving a class confused isn’t really a problem unless you think the role of your teacher is to unravel your confusion, or to explain things so simply that nothing troubles. But if confusion leads to wonder, in the sense of wondering and even wonderment (why am I confused? why does that trouble me, what is it, at heart, that confuses me? what am I going to do about it?) then we’re well on the way to learning. Not telling, swallowing, but learning.

Korsakow, Field Notes

These are notes from my teaching in 2011, and are the various strategies and things I’ve learned through using Korsakow that make using the program simpler, or at least easier. They are a mix of tech and conceptual things. Am dusting them off for the new subject and realised worth reprising here.

  1. Dense nodes. One way to make connections between clouds in your k-film is to use dense (dense in the sense of thickly linked with keywords) nodes that work like ‘hubs’ that join or connect different clouds together. I’ve written about this in more detail nearby.
  2. Export as you go (the quick way). Korsakow now lets you do a low res export, or the usual export to web. A tip. Ignore low res export because if you choose to do this it exports everything, every time. You are much better off setting your compressing settings to the lowest quality, doing an export for the web, and then as you add more media do the web export. That way you get the dialog box that asks you if you want to redo everything or any the new additions. Choose new stuff and things export much much faster. This is also how you can easily test interface changes, and make minor changes to keywords and so on. These changes don’t require video to be added or recompressed, so are exported very very quickly and you can then look at the work to see what differences your changes have made.
  3. NAME YOUR PROJECT. Yes, that is yelling. Why have no title for your project? Why publish it as ‘untitled’. It is your work, give it a name. Also the title of a work can do.
  4. Transcoding. Transcoding is what Korsakow does when you export a project. It takes the media you have added to the project and recodes (recompresses and changes the file format) to FLV using what you have selected under File – Project Settings – Export. This takes ages, literally if you have a lot of video it can take hours. So be prepared for this.
  5. Export a project but nothing appears. If you load up a project with video, but have not added any keywords in or out (‘snuified’) the clips, then when you export your project to the web and go to play it there will be nothing visible. Your video will be transcoded, but nothing appears because it needs clips with rules (keywords) attached to build anything.
  6. Compression settings for export (File – Project Settings – Export). H.264 medium currently provides the best compression options (file size versus quality). If you want to be low rez (compression artefacts, etc) then use the low resolution H.264 project settings.
  7. Thumbnail videos. Don’t use the video you add to provide thumbnails. They are large files and it is very (very) inefficient to use these as thumbnails – people will be downloading something the size of an elephant when it should be a mouse. This matters because we all pay for bandwidth, so please don’t expect people to have to pay for elephants to buy a mouse. If you want video thumbnails then compress your video a second time to the size of your thumbnails.
  8. Start simple. Complex structure is created by the repeated application of simple rules. Use this when thinking about keywords. Don’t use 20, use 4, build, export, test. Then think about what changes you might need.
  9. Korsakow is only for authoring. This means you make content – video, still images, audio, outside of Korsakow using whatever software takes your fancy. What you bring into Korsakow is your media already to go. You don’t make video edits in Korsakow (well, in my terms you make edits possible via the keyword link structure, but that’s a different kettle of fish entirely to editing a movie in the usual sense of the word). So all the media your bring into your project should already be the right size for your project, the right compression, and in the format and data rate that you want. You NEVER bring in something bigger and then make it smaller within Korsakow (for instance a video that is 1280 x 720 that you then present as 640 x 360). This slows things down since heaps more is being downloaded to be played than necessary, and is, well, the digital equivalent of picking your nose at the dinner table (seriously, that is how uncool it is).
  10. Use this as part of an iterative process. This means do not think you can plan your Korsakow project on paper, or somewhere else, and then you will just import your media and link according to your plan. You can try to work like this, but that is a bit like thinking you can write music by writing each instrument and not listening to them all together, and not actually playing music while you’re writing music. Or it is like writing something in Word, then exporting it as HTML, and then telling yourself that you are writing hypertext. No. You need to work within the medium to be working in that medium. And you need to work in that medium to learn how to work in that medium. You don’t learn how to play a piano by reading about it, watching others, watching a DVD, or writing out instructions on paper. You have to play. So it is with Korsakow. But there is more to it than just having to use it to learn it. There is a logic to the tool which you can only use if you work in the tool. So the way to make a project is to add some media, add keywords, export, and play the work. How’s it going? What happens? Does it do things you didn’t expect? Good things or bad things? This is really much easier to do when the project is small, when you can try things out easily, and then as you develop an understanding of the shape,patterns, and behaviour of your project you can add more media, and keywords, and then export and evaluate the work. This is what I mean by an iterative process. You add some stuff, you evaluate, you make changes. It is built up through small steps, small increments. This might be unusual for mamy of you. In TV you are taught to script, storyboard, and then use that as your plan. In essay writing you prepare an essay plan and use that to build from. Here it is much much more organic. Personally I’d describe it as more like writing a song. Add a line, sing it, fiddle with it a bit more, back to the music. You sort of have an idea of what it is about, or where it comes from, but there is no strict plan or map.
  11. Do low res exports. Part of this iterative process is to add, keyword, add SNU ratings and so on, and then export to test and see what is going on. (Again, think of this exporting and viewing as what you would do in radio or TV, you do an edit, then you look at the shots, or listen to your piece, with your new edit. You don’t just keep editing to the end then check that the edits are OK, same process for making a k-film.) So, exporting can be slow since the Korsakow engine will take your video and audio, and then transcode and recompress it. This is slow work. So for work in progress when you export go into File – Project Settings – Export and choose FLV Low. This will export much more quickly, and yes it will be low quality but this is drafting. The final export or for publication of work in progress you will change the Export settings to a higher quality and re-export. But remember, if you have a lot of material this will take a lot of time. (And this is also why you must always have your original media, if you have moved it, deleted it, renamed it, then there is no way for Korsakow to export and render a better quality version because it can’t find the source media.)
  12. Complexity comes from the iteration of a simple structure (or rule). You build complex structures (patterns) in a k-film not by using a lot of keywords but by defining and applying a simple set of rules, consistently.
  13. What happens if the source videos are different dimensions? A mess. In a word, well two. The software is designed to support video that, more or less, is at the same dimensions. Being smaller might not be a problem, it might just be presented larger, or you can put a background behind it to make it fill the frame. I suspect (but haven’t tested) that the default behaviour will be to fill the video screen you have defined. So if it is a different aspect ratio (which is a much bigger problem than a different resolution) then it will be stretched, or squashed to fix. Work arounds would probably be to use Compressor to crop the video to get it to the right aspect ratio and/or dimensions.
  14. Read the error messages. Yes, Korsakow is low budget software so you can’t export the sort of design, support and so on you get for either very large open source projects (WordPress for example) or commercial software. However, pay attention to error messages you get, while cryptic they usually point to what is going on. For example if you get an error message about a file type being not supported or corrupt it will tell you which file. Remove the file from your project. If the export now completes there is something wrong with the file. There are a lot of examples like, this, so read the error as it does give good clues as to what might be going on.
  15. Thumbnails can be video or jpegs. Video thumbnails are very cool, because when you mouse into them they play. But this seriously increases the bandwidth demands of your project. If you are going to use video thumbnails then it is essential that they are recompressed to a suitable size and data rate. This means they get recompressed to the size of the thumbnail. You NEVER compress video to, say, 320 x 240 if it is going to be displayed at 160 x 120. Why? Because the larger video requires four times as data as the smaller. It is about bandwidth which becomes about how much data has to arrive at your viewer’s computer before they can do anything. The more you can minimise this (the less data that has to arrive) the better off you are.

An Old Man Mad as Hell Moment

The title sort of sums it up. A certain time, age, history. Looking backwards as much as at now. Generational difference, wearisomeness, frustration. It isn’t about Gen Y rubbish, that’s just my generation blaming the youngsters for the world we made for them.

I have stepped in to coordinate a first year compulsory media subject known as ‘network media‘. The original curriculum I wrote probably eight years ago, taught it once or twice back in the day, and returning to it though in a rather outsider, hands off sort of way. Except turns out lectures weren’t factored in, and everyone (except me) thought I’d be doing them. So I’ve proposed that we ditch lectures, and no, they’re not that flipped nonsense (flipped is a nice idea but if students won’t come to a lecture because they can’t see the use, why on earth are they going to watch, read, do something else in their own time, and I like lectures, but that’s another story), but symposia. There are three teachers, and me, so I said we’d sit at the front each week, and talk. In other words, be academics. This hit a bump as a key staff member had to be away for the first three weeks, so week one was me saying all the cool things we’d be doing. Then, as my colleague still had more urgent matters to deal with, week two became a crowd sourced lecture. We distributed sheets of paper, students wrote questions, my two younger colleagues curated and I responded. Yes, it was a default lecture style, but we were making do, which is sort of one of the key themes of the subject (indirectly).

So, one question arrives:

“Why should we come if the content of the lectures is completely irrelevant?”

It was set aside. I collected them all and took them back to my office. But this one, this one sat by my computer on that pile of stuff to be done one day, and gnawed away at me. Yes, it hit a nerve. Yes, it made me squirm, and yes, it made me angry. It was just the smug paucity of the position. So, the following week, after some prefatory material, I warned them it would be a lecture, for most of the time. (We’ve since had our staff member return, held our first unsymposium, to general acclaim from the students.) This is it.

The Reptilian Brain

Fight or flight. There is deep primitive part of the brain that is instinctual, that we don’t control, and if anything it controls us. It is what, when confronted with risk, danger, or something threatening, triggers the deep urge to run, or if running is not much of a viable option, to fight. Some of the posts in your blogs fall into this sort of category, so that when you’re confronted with a subject that refuses to be ‘normal’ and is explicitly describing and asking questions about your learning, your education, the university, and along the way, media and the network, while some are excited by the possibilities, others have lashed out.

The method here in this subject is not better than other subjects, but it is different and rewards and encourages some other things. Some of you will struggle. The fault is not with the system and processes being used, for just as some struggle with highly defined and what I think of as rigid systems (“you didn’t answer the question, though it is great work”, “you introduced a really good idea at the end but it isn’t in the introduction”, “you used ‘I’”, “you used Wikipedia as a source”, and so on) where there are very explicit assessment criteria, and so on) and so have done less well than they are capable of, here they will shine. In other words if you like highly ordered, sequential, defined pathways, (for example your recent experience of VCE where, because it is assessed across the state then for reasons of equity, risk minimisation, standardisation, and being able to accommodate diverse resources, teachers, cohorts, locations and so on, every criteria is very precisely described, and defined and so becomes relatively straight forward to teach to – hence VCE becomes the intense work of drilling) then you might find what we are asking you to do in this subject uncomfortable.

Two things. 1. Learn if this unsettles you now, so you don’t make the mistake of thinking you can work in risky, innovation creative roles in your career as these jobs don’t provide such explicit and clear criteria up front. 2. Realise what you’re strengths are, and please recognise they’re yours, and that because they are now being challenged it does not follow that what is doing the challenging is at fault. If you’re good at order and structure, then, for example, this is what producing requires. And you’re probably the ideal person on a creative team to keep that team on track, and finishing stuff, instead of following their crazy ideas after the next shiny bright thing that passes.

(Here I inserted a bit of a side story about Basil Bernstein’s sociolinguistic work on student access to university in Britain and that free education didn’t much change who got in, simply because the values that the university selects for, the cognitive skill set, are those defined and legitimated by the middle class.)

Another anecdote. Modern education theory is what we call constructivist. This means we understand that knowledge is built, and that learning requires the learner, the student, to do the building. Constructing knowledge means our own contexts, personal, intellectual, social, come to bear and inform our learning and knowledge making. There is no primary or high school teacher who has taught you who has not been trained in constructivist assumptions. This is not the same as having an opinion and that is that. At university you make arguments that are evidence based, and we have rules about what things count as evidence.

Two things should immediately jump out. Knowledge is constructed. You do the constructing. This means knowledge is different to information, and information is really just about all I can give you, in a lecture if I don’t want to risk rich ambiguity, complexity, and saying things that realistically will only sit with those of you that already ‘get’ theory. But we can, here, in this ‘lecture’ model and perform what it is to negotiate, construct, make and work with knowledge. On my side I am in the business, right now, in speaking like this, of constructing knowledge, warts and all, and you get to see it.

The other big consequence of constructivism is that if knowledge is constructed then it varies, it cannot be communicated in a single direction from me or anyone else to you, and so not only is delivering information the wrong way to teach and learn, but the information that could be delivered isn’t actually knowledge as knowledge has to be information transformed, and the transforming needs to be done by you. This is what being a student is. Now, if the personal informs how we construct knowledge then that applies equally to me as to you. In my case it dramatically informs my approach to teaching.

I value knowledge and ideas, that is one of the reasons I work in a university. I regard the university as a knowledge institution, not a trade school. In my family, and here I include cousins, second cousins, uncles, aunties, (I have had 13 uncles and aunties so that is rather a lot of cousins), nieces, nephews and so on, I am the only person, in my family’s entire known history, to have gone to university. As far as I know, I’m the only one to have finished high school. My father, who wanted to be a primary school teacher, was educated to grade six. My mother completed first term of first form as it was known then (year 7).

To me, university is a privilege, not an automatic right. To teach, and to have a career that is premised on the freedom to explore, investigate, and contribute ideas is, for me, an even greater privilege.

This question from last week. Thank you for asking it. It has stayed with me, like a shadow all week. I imagine it was thought to be brave to ask. From your blogs most seem to be figuring out answers to this question, but I think if one person asked it, then there are at least ten wondering it. I am not going to answer this question directly, but I am going to talk to it, which is what this lecture is.

Imagine (speculate, if you like) a job interview. A real job, one you want. You’re short listed because you’ve got outstanding results. You are nervous, anxious, and excited, all at once. You sit opposite an interview panel, almost certainly made up of people who have been to university. You’re asked about this subject, and what you did in it. You explain that in the second lecture everyone had the opportunity to ask a question, any question, and it could be answered. One interviewer, who has been to university too, is a bit shocked. “You mean the lecturer let you ask questions, any questions?” You answer “yep”. “And this lecturer, they’re like a real expert in this stuff?” “So”, says your interviewer, “what did you ask?”. “Oh”, you reply, “I asked why come to the lectures if they’re irrelevant.”

Now, at this moment you should understand that it is unlikely that you will get this job. It won’t really matter what else happens or you say. The interviewer may not ask more about it, but will think about the initiative, imagination, responsibility, respect, vision, and creativity that your question shows. They might ask, in case they’re trying to help you join the dots, “why didn’t you ask a question that made it relevant?”, but they will know if they ask that then you’ll know you’re not getting the job.

Now, I thought that this was what hung around me about this question, why it troubled me so much. How it became an idea–worm squirrelling its way into how I think about the subject and what we, as teachers, are trying to do with you. That we’re not mucking up the model for the sake of it, but to recast how you conceive of yourselves as learners, and to raise the significance of the agency you need to bring, and have responsibility for, as students. But it wasn’t really this that troubled me. It was something more.

I could call this double loop learning, for me [this was a reading from the previous week], as I thought more about where a question like this might come from. I wanted to find the assumptions it relied upon, contained, deep inside. I wanted to bring these to light. No, not even that. I needed to bring them to light.

The question assumes, grants itself, the assumption that you are here to receive and I to give. That if it is not obviously or explicitly ‘relevant’ then it is my responsibility, as a teacher, to ‘fix’ this. That as the teacher I (magically) know what you don’t, so can say just the right things, to all 138 of you, in the same moment, to achieve relevance. (Think about that for a moment. This model can only work where you are all being assessed the same way and things will be standardised. But if the criteria is not that, but to learn, then how on earth do I know what should be said, in a lecture? In other words, what happens if we take learning as our key aim, and not meeting a standardised set of metrics? What to teach, then?) Here your responsibility as a student begins and ends with attending and listening, and when given the opportunity to offer this complaint dressed up as a question. This, in turn, treats what you learn as a one way exchange of my expertise to you, that you’re more or less empty vessels awaiting filling. This is an understanding of learning that disappeared in about 1970, when constructivism came along. It is a model of you, as a student, where you surrender your agency, even as you think you are exercising it, where your point of view of learning reduces the dialogue of knowledge to the spectacle of education as consumption.

This question contains and is the rhetoric of commodity consumption, of the sales assistant and the customer, where “the shoes don’t fit properly so another pair please” (and the shop assistant notes to self that the problem isn’t the shoes, its your feet). So this relation, between me and you, becomes one of passivity on your behalf, where you see yourself as client, or customer, and I’m now some sort of customer service officer as the public ‘face’ of a service institution. In this moment, in this question, your understanding of education, and the university, has turned it into a merely retail transaction. I don’t mean it is about money, I mean the logic of the question, and its assumptions, is retail. Mercantile.

I am not your shop assistant. This is not a mall. You are not my customers.

This confusion isn’t surprising, and isn’t really your fault. It is how most of your high school’s have framed education for you, and quite a lot of you, or your parents, have paid a lot of money to ensure a suitable ATAR score, and in spite of all the rhetoric of high school’s about learning and so on, it is the VCE results that every high school, state and private, is judged by. As a result we are all carefully nurtured and helped in every possible way to maximise those results. Results in exams where every variability (remember model 1?) is precisely defined and governed by detailed and explicit assessment criteria (that runs to tens of pages for examiners and teachers). So in that experience we really are clients or customers, and is certainly how we are treated.

It is also, now, the rhetoric of universities, where you are increasingly defined and regarded as clients, not students, and so as an institution we develop and provide ‘services’ that support you as clients, and in the process diminish your agency and responsibility. (For example, having pages of explanation about plagiarism in every course guide, we pretend it is being student centred and ‘teaching’ you about plagiarism, but it is actually there as risk mitigation so you can’t say ‘I didn’t know’, and we can’t say “we didn’t tell you”. If we were serious about plagiarism we wouldn’t invest in detection platforms, we’d spend time in a first year subject teaching you about academic ethics, professional ethics, and invest in staff development so that the sorts of things we asked and assessed you for don’t really accommodate plagiarism, it isn’t actually that hard.)

(As an aside, obviously, you are all also contributing some of the cost (in most cases about a quarter) of your education through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). However, most of the cost of your education is paid for by the rest of society, because as a society it is considered a good idea to invest in you, as the future of us. To me this means that if you want to play the “I am paying for my education so I am the customer” card then since the rest of country, including those who are excluded from university, are footing most of your bill, you need to acknowledge your obligation to them.)

Though, I don’t think this retail ‘theatre’ is what really has stuck to me about the question. It is that unstated in here, not only is there a passivity and the idea of consumption and some sort of pedagogical unit that is a commodity that can be identified and exchanged – where my job is to provide and you to receive. What troubles me, ethically, is the assumption in the question that this one way transaction is an agreement that we’ve apparently already agreed upon, and the premise for such an assumption is the granting of this right to define relevance, legitimacy, and my labour, to yourself, as an inherent right. That you have the right to receive, to have it packaged in way that doesn’t trouble (is obviously ‘relevant’) and if you feel like you haven’t received, haven’t been given to in the dutifully relevant way, then the obligation, the only obligation, lies with me. Here education and learning (remember constructivism, remember the ambiguous complexity of the world and media that you want to enter?) has been confused not only with a mercantile transaction but with neoliberalism writ large into the small moment of a lecture theatre. The institution of the university, the project of critical thinking, of engagement, of the labour of the academic in knowledge, is made mute and trite because your individual freedom to be the unproblematised student consumer is mistakenly thought to trump the historical institutional episteme of knowledge as a vocation. In this moment, in this understanding, it, my job as a teacher and an academic, the university as a particular sort of institution, and your responsibility as a learner, has become the same thing as that BMW to be purchased.

Education is an experience, not a commodity. Learning is an experience, it is an experience that you have to have, therefore it is not something I have any capacity to give. I can facilitate, help nudge things along, but I can’t flick your neuronal switches to make it happen. You do that. To think otherwise is to confuse going to a club, or joining a dating site, with falling in love. If anything is for sale, it is the possibility for this experience, but an experience is not something I can or will package (for that becomes simply education as entertainment).

You do not buy this and the right you have granted yourself is a right I will not recognise. To be here is a privilege, and it involves reciprocal obligation. These are earned and because they are earned they are respected.

This question is not yet, enough, to earn that privilege.

As teachers what will we do? Instead of lists of specific content we can help you learn where to find these things. More usefully, we can help you to learn how to ask better questions, which generally lead to more useful answers. When reading difficult things rather than us teachers just telling you what it then means why not let us start to teach what to do, when confronted by something we don’t understand?

I’ll wrap this up with one example. This is from one of your blogs, and I apologise if I embarrass you:

This Tuesday morning I had decided that I wasn’t intelligent enough for the University degree that I was enrolled in, (Professional Communication). I had spent the first few hours of my day crying, convinced I would never reach my dream career aspirations. That was it, I was going to head into the city and seek an appointment with a professional in dealing with students that change their minds. I was going to become a primary school teacher instead. Im great with kids!

But then I realised, ok not straight away but the next day, that this was Mode 1. *Lightbulb* I was AFRAID OF ERROR.I thought the easiest way to deal with this problem would be to CHANGE THE QUESTION. I was not going to challenge myself to find a new, better and more efficient way of doing something, I was just going to give up. I can admit to high levels of anxiety and stress … I will stress about the potential of failing before even starting something. But I eventually just sit myself down and get it done… I’m going to continue my degree. If I feel the same way in a year and a half, I can look into teaching, Im sure there will be a good post-grad program out there right?

For me as a teacher I can’t tell you how fantastic that is. No, it isn’t about the network, media, or networked media. It isn’t, say, repeating what I may have said about Internet Protocols and IP numbers and packets and how that is the technical backbone of the internet. That’s on Wikipedia. And will be forgotten except for those that it might matter to (who probably know it already). But this is something that has been learned, will never be forgotten, and will slowly change a lot for this person. They are learning how to be something. This has happened for this person in two weeks, this subject is about learning how to be on, in, a part of a network. A network that is about flow, dialogue, exchange, and reciprocation. All the way down. It’s already happening, in your blogs, in your classes, and in your choosing to come here, but it is only the third week, you do have to let it grow.

Doubt, Difficulty, Error

Set some odd reading for the undergrads. Chris Argyris on double loop learning, though it is a subject about networked media. I can make connections between model I and model II and heritage and new media forms, but that may appear later. The main intent was to make manifest some of the ways to think about the speculative and reflective curriculum that I’ve adopted. Then, this happened:

Second lecture. Ask you to ask questions (in the language of the network this is called crowdsourcing). In the spirit of ‘model II’ learning and risk taking I invite those that didn’t ask a question to put up their hands. You did. I then told you why you’d been wrong to not ask a question.

That was me reverting to my mental map and not my espoused theory. My espoused theory includes things like “I will encourage and support students to contribute, to be peers in this learning, to experience trust, to take risks, that risks and errors will not automatically be criticised” and so on. My habits are that I am an academic, I have always questions, I always wonder about everything, and my golly goodness everyone else has to too since, well, isn’t that what has to happen? (You can see the mental model is just messy and full of assumptions – ‘governing variables’ – that collapse pretty quickly when made visible.)

The unlecture model is for all teachers to contribute and participate. I answered all questions and said everything. I never once stopped and asked the teaching staff, or you, what you thought. This is partly my narcissism (there’s a certain moment of self deprecation there but also some home truth), and again is my mental model. While I publicly advocate (and believe) in diversity and debate and getting a mix and variety of ideas in there to make things really rich, I default to the spectacle of me as academic expert. Mode I. It is easier for me, it is defensive, , it is trying to control things, and to ‘not lose’ rather than just hang out with the ideas.

I did the same thing in the tute too. So to change this takes an enormous effort on my behalf. Not physical or even intellectual, just to notice it, and then to let something else in. The double loop is to recognise the gap between my espoused theory and what I did this week in practice, and to then see that my ‘governing variables’ can be questioned. IN that moment I have the potential to become a better teacher, a better researcher, a better practitioner. By noticing, and having the know how of what to try and do next. Try to do next. A risk, another experiment. It might not work, again. But that is not a reason to not do it, is it?

The lectures are known as ‘unlectures’, and I still don’t really know what’s going on in them.

Apparently we Don’t Get Grumpier as We Age

This could be some odd rant about Gen Y, X, or whatever us who are older decide we’re threatened by, but I think it says more about me. In class I mentioned that I studied media in university in 1985 when U-matic was our video tape format, editing was analogue, and so on. No one, out of 134 students, was born then. I am that person who tells children tales that sound impossible (remembering our family’s first TV, telephone, colour television, car) or if not impossible then from a time that is so far away as to be, well, not of a life that relates to mine. So, for me, the web and the internet remains a paradigm changing revolution, a revolution still being resolved.

Which is by way of introduction to the how we are marking participation this semester. First year, second semester. They do a weekly diary and we simply aggregate what they claim to have done. We do this in every class, so yes, they need to be there to do it. In reply to the inevitable question of what happens if they can’t get to class “can we do two the next week?” (a not unreasonable question), I ranted:

A simple premise come central tenet of this subject is that you are responsible for your learning. This translates in normal talk as you are responsible adults. I’ll be blunt. From my point of view you are all old enough to:

  • vote
  • get a gun licence (and shoot ducks, rabbits and foxes)
  • get a drivers licence
  • get married without your parent’s consent
  • join the army (and receive the training to kill people)
  • join the police force (and receive the training to use a weapon lethally and arrest people)

Given all that, if you can’t come to class then you’re certainly mature enough to:

  1. tell your teacher before the class happens
  2. print a copy of the participation diary (it’s included as part of the participation sheet)
  3. fill it in
  4. scan it at any printer at uni or photograph it with your phone
  5. and have it sent to your teacher that day

if you’re so sick you can’t do this, then you’ve gone to the doctor so you can include a copy of a medical certificate. If you’re not so sick you need a doctor, then you can manage this as a) a courtesy to your teacher, b) as understanding what taking responsibility for your learning means. (In your job you don’t take time off work and then tell your boss you couldn’t make it afterwards. Not sure why anyone thinks treating your teachers, your classes, or your learning any differently is OK, it isn’t.)

Penny Dropped

A current student, on Korsakow:

Is that the thing refuses to be linear.

I’m not sure what its problem with structure and linear progression is, but Korsakow films have no defined beginning and end. They have no centre. They offer no closure.

Ant that’s why they are so refreshing.

When we began using the program, I thought it would be a great tool to create “choose your own adventure” type stories. And I wondered what the point of it all was. I had used a different platform (YouTube) to create something similar a while back. What was the need for using this program then? It was just a fancy way of creating projects that other platforms had allowed us to make for a while. As it happens, I was wrong.

K-Films are about mood and feel, about connections and associations. It is a web of visuals, sounds, ideas which are organised in a non-traditional structure. You cannot determine what decisions your users will make, so there is no way to make a specific, logical path for them to follow.

The Questions

As we near the end of another semester of a subject that revolves around network literacies, online video, multilinearity, and, well, making as strange as I can the world for some students, I read the usual (and inevitable) complaints about Korsakow. Why use it? Why use something that isn’t ‘industry standard’? Why use something we won’t use again?

Some Quick Answers

  • In an emerging field (new media, internet practice, network specific media practice – that isn’t merely naive) that is being invented and debated while we teach, what, exactly, could ‘industry standard’ actually mean?
  • If you want merely industry standard (an industry by the way that is throwing money every which way as it tries to figure out how to save itself in the face of fundamental change to media making, consumption, use, the audience, advertising, that is, the way it was) then you’re confusing technical education with university (this is as much the fault of the university as anybody else’s as we trumpet ‘industry ready’, ‘real world relevance’, and ‘work integrated learning (which regularly risks being a fancy term for work experience like you might have done in High School) as our features).
  • Experimental practice often uses experimental methods, which often needs experimental tools
  • It’s cheap
  • It’s really easy to learn so we can spend weeks thinking about multilinear structure, design, and experience, and not weeks learning How to write a script so a bloody button can change colour because someone clicked on it
  • Network specific practice, that is making in the network rather than making off it and using it merely as a mute publishing vehicle, is about relational media
  • And Korsakow is very good for learning about relational media
  • Ever tried a new food? Drink? Experiernce? Didn’t like it? Does that mean you won’t try a new taste, drink, experience ever again? I’m serious, what’s with a culture that on the one hand embraces the ephemeral and transitory, yet can’t see value in just playing with something just for the experiment of playing with it?

That’s enough for now. This year though, for the first time, I’ve realised that by the end of semester most of these questions dressed up as complaints, well, no, they’re complaints masquerading as questions, that most of these complaints come from the students who haven’t come to the lectures and often not the labs. Those that come, the questions stop. (This could be because they just give up in the face of my stubbornness, which would well be the case.)