Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Final Essay #2: Bring Socially Optimized Research to the University

 Through socially optimized research available through the digital age, engaging in literary scholarship is more meaningful and practical  than ever before. One of the foundational practices of literary study is to engage in what we frequently call "the conversation." This literary conversation is more accessible and meaningful through digital resources such as social media, blogging, user-generated content, and curation tools, to name a few.

This is not say that traditional scholarship should be done away with. That would be utterly absurd. The beneficial part of socially optimized research is that it continues to include traditional scholarship. However, socially optimized research allows for students to connect with others that can provide essential information and perspective in regards to their topics.

The social center of this research process requires students to make the transition from amateur to professional. As students receive social feedback online, especially from enthusiasts and professionals, students are able to enter communities that treat their topics seriously. Such communities require students to produce higher quality work while gaining direct feedback from legitimate persons.

Additionally, socially optimized research gives students a goal for their work. When interacting socially with a  variety of enthusiasts and experts, a clear purpose for their projects take shape. Online communities often refer to venues and events where students can submit papers, abstracts, and guest blog posts.

When students submit their work to legitimate organizations, they are able to cater their writing to the relevant interests of the professional audience. Therefore, students' work becomes directly relevant to the intended topic in the "real world".

I have personally experienced the beneficial effects of socially optimized research. Through social media, I was able to tell  others about my interest in this topic and I got extremely positive feedback that gave me confidence that my topic was interesting and worth pursuing. My Digital DIY/Maker Movement project, I reached out to the Makers, hackers, engineers & artists community to better understand the online communities surrounding the movement. I was able to use one of the members' specific  project to legitimize my understanding of Maker culture. Additionally, I was able to add to my project through researching traditional scholarship from one of the top names in digital manufacturing, Chris Anderson.

I think that University-level literary studies would greatly benefit from engaging students in socially optimized research. The connections made through such social research can lead to legitimate publishing opportunities for individual students. I believe that such opportunities will also reflect well on the University as the students engage in more well-rounded learning through digital resources.

Final Essay #2: Criticism through the Digital Age

Traditionally, academia has been commonly seen as an exclusive to digital culture. With the digital age upon us however, there is need to adjust a traditional academic setting in order to utilize the digital culture in an optimal way. There are many benefits that come from digital culture in advancing and enhancing one’s education. One aspect of digital culture doing this, is through the criticism that students are instructed to demonstrate in a literary way. This includes criticism of published works set to be studied in a course, or any other literary cannon.

Traditionally, a student demonstrates literary criticism through an academic paper that they would submit to their professor. Unless able to share with classmates or other people, the student’s criticism is only read by the sole professor. After a submission to the teacher, it may take a long time for the student to have their paper returned back to them and receive feedback on their writing. 

Looking at literary criticism with the digital culture lens allows an individual to see the benefits that come from other web-based resources to produce criticism, other than the standard academic paper. Blogging is a great example of expressing criticism. Blogs are not only for digital diary usage or posting culinary creations. People are able to post their criticism on the web and receive immediate feedback from other web users. The Asylum is an example of a literary criticism website that is done informally out of a classroom setting. 

Through blogging, various people are able to review your criticism, as opposed to only the professor. This enables a student to see the purpose behind assignments in a greater scheme; that it’s not just another essay to write in order to get a score, but it’s to enlighten the mind by demonstrating critical thinking and writing abilities. Another benefit that comes from posting online is the ability for other users to provide commentary and feedback on your posted blog. Through this resource, students can receive varied viewpoints on a matter and obtain helpful direction from viewers that comment. This is almost immediate and can be developed into the criticism if desired. 

Another form of criticism through digital culture is curating through a curation tool, such as Pinterest. This is a method that is a different kind of criticism, because while it may not be traditional, it allows a student to learn how to filter and consume content. Curation tools demonstrate criticism through the user curating what they deem is noteworthy and significant to a subject. It expressed someone’s appreciation of a subject, as well. This can be seen depending on how much a user has curated on the subject, and if it is positive or negative curation. 

Criticism can take many forms in digital culture. Using web-based avenues such as blogs and curation tools allows a student to become more in control of what they want to critique and how to critique it. 

Final Essay #1: Ahab and Socially Optimizing Research

If we are to embrace digital culture and the digital humanities, it helps to be rooted in a literary cannon, or a text that is considered the American novel, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. This is a great text that can navigate a traditionally academic student through the digital wilderness in understanding an aspect of digital culture. 

One aspect of digital culture that really stands out in Moby Dick, is socially optimized research. Socially optimized research consists of gaining social proof through your homies, peers, enthusiasts, and experts. In addition to the “who,” it also encourages collaborative learning through tagging, commenting, and providing feedback to help a student achieve a quality formulated idea. In return, for the feedback you receive as one seeking social proof for research, it is expected that you also contribute to socially optimized research by providing your help and feedback for others’ needed ideas. 

In Moby Dick, Ahab is a self-driven character, solely motivated by the desire to kill the whale, Moby Dick. Throughout the novel, we see him exemplify social proof by stopping every passing ship, and seeking their knowledge to achieve his goal. Ahab doesn’t have any family members or close, loved ones to speak of at this time, so he isn’t quite able to achieve proof from homies. He has, for most of the voyage, relied on his peers - his crew - to help him find Moby Dick. Ishamel could be considered an enthusiast; after all, he does have a whole section on cetology and is repeatedly reminding the reader of his enthusiasm for whale and whaling. Ishmael isn’t much help though; he helps around the ship in the whaling process, but isn’t a huge asset in finding Moby Dick. Lastly, Ahab enlists the experts - the captains of other ships whose paths they cross. For example, when the Pequod meets the Rachel, Ahab asks his usual question of, “‘Hast ye seen the White Whale?’” (468). Through asking this question to various ships, he is gaining a sense of direction in where to search for the whale and how close or far he is from the whale. 

The problem, however, is that while Ahab demonstrates good social proof, he doesn’t do much to contribute to the others’ needs. When the newly acquainted ships make a request of the Pequod out of need, Ahab ignores them and continues on his journey with the information they freely gave and he hoarded. For example, when the Pequod meets the Delight, Ahab requests information on any encounter with Moby Dick. The Delight captain responds that they have, but they have been damaged and members of his crew killed by the whale. They sought help from the Ahab’s crew as they buried a crew member in the sea, but suddenly, “Ahab now glided from the dejected Delight” (477). 

Through Ahab’s example we can see the benefits of utilizing social proof in our research. Optimized research should also entail providing feedback and direction for others when they help in our own quest. Doing all of this will bring variety and optimization of our research. 

Final Essay #1: The Various Mediums of Moby Dick and the Internet

The very format of Moby Dick can be directly related to the diverse  mediums of content available online. Moby Dick has a reputation of being hard to get through as some have asked the question, "Is Moby Dick an analogy for reading Moby Dick?" The difficulties in reading the text come from the diverse forms of text presented in the text.

In the first part of the work, we experience a plot-driven narrative by Ishmael that proves rather traditional and engaging. However, when readers hit Chapter 32, whale cetology becomes rather dry and disengaging. The plot is suspended and the pages drag through tedious details of the variety of whale species. Once readers hit chapter 37, Ahab has a sort of soliloquy, as does Starbuck in Chapter 38. Then, Chapter 40 presents a full-blown song, sang by the Pequod's crew, as if the text were suddenly a script for a musical.

How does one interpret the text through each of its various forms: narrative, encyclopedia-esque, theater script, etc.?

The text must be read with an innovative thought process, even like a puzzle. Each of the different portions of the text offer different types of information in terms of thematic content, informational content, as well as characterization. We can interpret the text most efficiently as we put these different pieces together and create larger meaning from the different strengths the various formats provide.

Likewise, the Internet is full of various mediums that help us to efficiently interpret text if we will simply use the various mediums together. Online, we are presented with many different platforms that perform different functions: email, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, video, audio, journalism, curation tools, etc. The list could go on and on.

The internet is becoming increasingly relevant to our culture. But it's influence as a tool can only be found if we navigate the various mediums and platforms mentioned above. Just like our reading of Moby Dick, we are only successful in the digital realm if we take into account all of the different online platforms.

 For example, we use curation tools to gather and organize our literary findings. We use social media  such as Facebook and Twitter to initiate topic-centered conversations with relevant and knowledgeable audiences. We can look at visual content such as videos or illustrative adaptations of text to enhance our perspective on the primary work.

+Kristen Reber is a great example of this as she has connected with a skilled editor to launch her website. She has also crowdsourced information about the term "ERM" through Facebook. She documented her process of launching the website on her blog, where she has gained ideas and feedback from peers. Additionally, she conducted a photo shoot to add visual effect and appeal to the purpose of her website. Kristen's use of various forms of digital media has been extremely successful because of the variety of digital resources she has compiled to create a fascinating project.

Moby Dick helps us to make sense of digital culture as it teaches us that many forms of text and presentation are essential to capturing a greater depth within our online experience.

Teachers: Get your students out of stuffy classrooms and onto the online web.

"The classroom can feel rather stuffy compared to online," said one of my peers, Eliza Wooley. Her statement is more true than many people realize. The online web is alive and well, and it is advancing at an alarming rate. In order for students to be successful in their future careers, knowledge of how to use online tools is essential. Teachers of literature can help students gain these skills by incorporating certain forms of online rhetoric into their curriculum. Online rhetoric includes knowing how to use online databases for research, finding credible sources through social media, and embracing new skills in technology such as multimedia such as YouTube.

I once had a teacher tell me that I had to use five printed sources for an essay. This required me to go to a library and check out some books. Students before me that did not have access to computers or the internet probably have a hard time feeling sorry for me. That is fine. I’d probably have a hard time feeling sorry for me too. However, I told this story to some peers today and they groaned and said how sorry they were for me. With databases thriving and new material being added to them constantly, what good reason was there for my teacher to limit me to books that were published within the last ten years, but that were still outdated by the web’s standards? Newer information was out there yet I was limited to old information. Some might argue that because the book had to go through a rigorous publication process, it is better quality. Sometimes that is the case, but that is not always true. Online databases allow students to access high-quality peer-reviewed articles, and sometimes even books. Sometimes copyright law gets in the way of these high-quality articles being online, but for the most part, many scholars have embraced the internet and allow their work to be published online. Knowing how to use online databases is important to quickly accessing quality information. Instead of research papers taking months to write, they can be written in weeks, and no quality is lost.

Social media is generally looked at as being fun, but not being of much use in academia. This statement is only true if students do not know how to use social media for academic purposes. Teachers ought to get online and learn how to use social media academically, and then teach what they learn to their students. Students are already adept at navigating social media sites. Now, they just need some direction in how to use them for academia. Twitter allows hashtags to be searched, allowing students to find experts in fields of study that interest them. Facebook allows people to create searchable events, that students can then find and go to in order to connect with experts. Social media is fun, but it can also be a great tool for academia.

Finally, studying literature can really be enhanced by embracing multimedia. The multimedia I am going to choose to focus on is YouTube, although there are many other good options out there. I was introduced to the idea of using multimedia in literature by this blog post from Dr. Gideon Burton. I have never liked poetry, but seeing poetry put in a multimedia format helped me to better understand it. If teachers can embrace multimedia as a new way of approaching literature and encourage students to show their understanding through multimedia instead of, say, traditional essays, students will become more enthusiastic and more involved in what they are learning.

Creativity is a natural part of being human. New forms of creativity are being introduced thanks to the online web. New skills are being introduced too, skills that are absolutely necessary to know for future success. Teachers ought to help their students develop those skills and taste that success now by encouraging them to learn these new tools, create, and then share what they have created. Sharing can be scary, and some encouragement is needed, but once a student shares and gets good feedback, they will likely be more willing to venture out and continue on with what they have learned in a course, rather than light a bonfire on their essays at the end of every semester.

Let's Be Ishmaels

Back in the days of whaling, a whaling crew would follow a captain’s orders even if it ended up being to their detriment, as in the story of Moby Dick. The story of Captain Ahab chasing the white whale to the point of his and his crew’s destruction is well-known. Only Ishmael, an insignificant crew member, survived to tell the tale. Perhaps it was dumb luck that Ishmael survived the encounter with Moby Dick, but his telling of the tale is amazing because of all of the curation of research he does after his survival, and all of the mental notes he makes on crew members. Ishmael did not have a one-track mind, unlike Captain Ahab. And just like Ishmael, we need to be willing to look at all angles of literary study and abandon the angles that do not work (even if they used to be the best angles). The angle that is most important to look at right now is the digital and how it can enhance the study of literature today.

One way that the study of literature can be enhanced is by writing often and publishing quickly. Some might say that Herman Melville could have used a good editor when he was drafting Moby Dick. But the book has held its form, and because of the vast amounts of information, and seemingly unnecessary details drawn out in it, many different understandings can be drawn from it. Melville researched, curated, wrote, and published the book, and the book did not receive good feedback at first, just as the digital did not. But in time, the benefits of Moby Dick were seen and the benefits of the digital have been seen as well.

One of my classmates, Shelly Russon, recently wrote a post about how she did not want anything to do with the digital when she came home before her mission, and before that only used it to watch others, but never create anything herself. Now, because of the Digital Culture class, Shelly has learned how to filter and use the digital to help her in her literary studies, and other studies.

Learning how to filter through the digital is a critical tool as it helps us to find information quickly and put out information quickly. Not every idea that is put out there is great initially, but in time as feedback is given, and ideas are better developed, thoughts, papers, projects are launched that really benefit society. The digital allows things to be launched immediately too. Traditional modes of launch generally center on isolation, limited audience, and delayed publication.

People are so plugged in to the internet these days, why would we continue to use traditional modes as our sole means of studying literature? We must stop being Captain Ahab’s bent on one way of doing things and one end goal in mind (getting that essay written, getting that book finally accepted for publication) and start looking at the other opportunities for good around us. We must be Ishmaels and not be afraid to embark on a new voyage and then not be afraid to share our story afterward (even if it takes awhile for people to become interested in it).

Academia and Fandoms: One more time!

The study of the humanities has often struggled against the apathy of its students. Students who had no interest in the great author's of history and would instead rather be reading the newest young adult novel that had just come out, or were anxiously waiting for the newest installation of a series they'd been waiting on for years. The fandom culture is rampant in the digital age. Fans are able to connect in various ways that make distance and even country unimportant. Digital culture has enabled forums, chat rooms, fan fiction sites, fan art sites and even fan theory sites to connect together and make an entirely immersive environment for whatever medium the fans are obsessed about. The sheer size of fandom culture has grown in the past 10 years to dominate several different websites and take over a huge portion of identity within the digital age.

What does that have to do with literary culture? Everything. Classes have been filled with students studying literature with all of the passion that fandoms embody online. Teachers who have fallen in love with texts from centuries before that are trying to transfer that love onto their students. These are fans that haven't had an opportunity to participate in the life of a fandom because they are confined to a classroom. But academia often doesn't appreciate the comparison of their high end academic study to the obsessive and neurotic fans. But if we as an academic community could get over the stigma that fandoms are no more than obsessive teenage girls, then we could apply the love of literature to the study of literature.

If more classes were available for modern-day literature than there would be an increase of interest in the humanities. Academia has a stigma against modern pop culture, and often people consider poplar fiction or poetry to not be as good as the obscure. Many women writers of the 19th century were written off by later generations because they had been popular during their time, but they had needed money for writing so their writing wasn't as good. That doesn't make sense, and it shouldn't make sense now either. If students had the option to come together and ask for a class that was focused on a book or tv show that they had fallen in love with, critical thinking, analysis, and study of literature would rise in popularity. Many people enjoy learning about stuff they like, and to restrict the study to only something that white men have decided are worth studying some 50 years before is damaging the academic community.

Fandoms are already studying content. They do it on forums and chat rooms, they even analyze important messages in their fanfiction. If they had a more focused medium, a teacher to guide them or help them create content that was polished and honed then they would be able to teach a new kind of academic study. A study that is more up to date with what is going on in our day then what happened in the last 500 years. Of course the older kind of academic study is still important, but compared to the changes in literature and the rise of popularity of science fiction and fantasy, it is falling behind.

Fandoms have the potential to become real academic critics talking about stories that people are interested in today. Not just academics who want to go over the same text for the thousandth time, but new content that is coming out and people are reading now. Tapping into the interests of the general public to create a real interest in literary studies and maybe then people would stop calling what we do useless and unimportant.