Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Schizophrenic Relationship With New Media

So, yeah, you know how Kylie said something about someone getting angry at the Bauerlein reading while running on the treadmill. Well, I was actually on an elliptical, but that was me. But I wasn't entirely angry just because of his impossibly flawed arguments. I was angry because some (very few, but some) of them made sense. And I was angry, because a ton of the things he was lamenting about young people nowadays were really true about me, although I never would have the audacity or stupidity to blame them on new media.

So, while I found Ito et al. to espouse everything I want to believe about new media, and all of the great, informal learning that goes on there, I found Bauerlein to point out all of things I want to ignore.

Which brings me to studio time last week. You know how a few blogs ago I whined about how noisy studio time was, how I couldn't get any "real" work done, how I hate constructionism and blah blah blah. Well, guess what. I've been born again. Because this past week, I had a plan to work that INVOLVED OTHER PEOPLE. I interviewed you guys. I got David to help me with Movie Maker, and Steve helped me when I couldn't find my video files because I'm, well, me. I was so durn productive, I got all but like 30 minutes of work done on my final studio project.

Which brings me to my last studio project. Finally, I found something that was easy, that was fun, that felt meaningful. Scratch was cool, but so demanding on my nonexistent skills. And computational textiles, well, that involved SEWING . . enough said. So to be able to use a tool that took little brain power, like a flip camera, and another tool that took just slightly more brain power, windows movie maker . . . it felt like vacation . . . it felt like oreos and milk . . . it felt like-- how everyone else has been feeling studio time all semester.

So, I hate to end on such an embarrassingly positive note, but I've got to. Because sometimes I love new media, and sometimes I hate it. And most of the time I recognize the tremedous help new media can be in accomplishing some pretty cool things. And I ALWAYS admire people that do these pretty cool things.

As for my little movie, I don't think I'd quite rank it as a pretty cool thing, but it's definitely closer to a pretty cool thing than my daughter's Halloween shirt with half a battery sewn in is. . .

And, no, I'm not going to post it. Premier showing this coming Tuesday, the 8th.

Don't miss it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

I can't help but think, as I delve into these readings with a Philly Cheese Steak in one hand and aching legs from walking around Philadelphia all day, that I might have actually liked art class, (pause for the two most bitter-filled words of the English language) . . . if only . . .

Painting is scary, because you paint a stroke, and it's just kinda stuck there on the paper, and you're stuck with either painting over it, keeping it, or starting over. Drawing with pencil is scary, because I can't seem to ever recreate the cool ideas I have in my mind, and the amount of erasures I make usually create a rip or hole in the paper. Sitting there is intimidating, because the teacher wants me to stay pretty quiet, so getting help from a friend or socializing is somewhat diallowed. So my options: do it yourself, or bring it to the teacher so she/he can do it for you. I usually brought it the teacher.

I embraced abstract art with the enthusiasm of a kid at a candy store. Unfortunately, we never actually tried our hand at this type in class. Class time was for refining your artistic skills. Painting with a paint brush. Threading strands of paper together. Molding slimy clay. I longed for the safety of being allowed to make a mess on paper, and then be able to use language to BS your way out of the mess into something profound and deep. Sadly, no amount of BS could save my realistic bird blobs and landscape scenes . ..

So the vision of new media art seems promising in a lot of ways. The vision of "visual culture inquiry" (Freedman and Stuhr) could have transformed my art-class-taking-bad-attitude from "this is pointless" to "this is the point." Being encouraged to work collaboratively could have removed the discomfort I felt in the silent, whisper-filled classrooms and the feeling that "I was doing this whole thing on my own." Relying on technology art tools beyond my amazingly-stupid/rebellious hands and fingers seems like a dream come true.

No time machine, yet. But I'm pretty sure, if I happened to have one parked in my garage, I'd throw the key in the ignition and hop right on over to 1993, 6th grade art class, Mr. Hadley. I would hand him these articles, pat him encouragingly on the shoulder, and be on my merry way, with an artistic swagger to my step . . .

Monday, November 16, 2009

Trumpets and Paintbrushes

Here's the thing.
I got out my trumpet yesterday.
I'm not claiming to have read all (or any) of the readings on Art for next week.
But I did get out my trumpet yesterday.

So I have a few thoughts about art. Some pre-emptive thoughts . . .

-Art can happen when I play my trumpet.
-Art can totally NOT happen when I play my trumpet.
-For me, it happens best when I don't have any music in front of me.
-For some, it happens best when they do.
-Art involves dynamics.
-Art feels good.
-Art is very linked to originality/improvisation/individual stamp stuff.
-Art is created by being exposed to other art first; it arises from past experience.
-Art can be really satisfying when you are doing it for a huge crowd, and it can be really satisfying when it is just you, your trumpet, and nobody.
-Art happens less when there is a functional purpose to what I am doing. (AKA warming up or warming down)

Anybody have any more pre-thoughts about art??

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Okay, so despite the title, this blog ISN'T in reference to the fabulous gender discussion going on in Jenna's blog. (I just now noticed it, and felt like it was way to late to drop my 2-5 cents in, but wow is it interesting, so if you are reading THIS and you haven't read THAT, I recommend you drop this immediately and go read it.) It is, of course, in reference to the club Stephanie Doll, Laurie Russel, and Tara Black, and I formed on the jungle gym in the third grade. It goes without saying that the club was totally, ridiculously awesome, and we did all sorts of really cool third grade club things (aka created a secret language, gossipped about Abby, the pretty girl, etc).

More than that, though, it's about the world of exclusivity, the gains and losses that we get by sequestering ourselves into groups of common interests, and the fact that, although I KNOW that everyone is equally important and valid, I couldn't help but continually hierarchize IT folks above creative artist folks as I read this week's articles.

Yes, I know this is the wrong answer. I know the POINT of this week was to enlighten us in the amazing innovation that can result from the blend of design and computer technology, and even to point out that, in a very real sense, computer IS mud. (A deliciously messy metaphor.) But all I kept thinking was, yes I love art, and I love looking at cool things, but I love function even more. I want computers to make stuff easier, and more entertaining, and not only by creating crazy-brilliant abstract art.

So the Mitchell et al piece gave some great examples of collaborations that HAVE contributed amazing (dare I say FUNCTIONAL) things: architecture, movies, video games. I certainly see the value in those blending of the lines. But when Mitchell bemoans the evil biases that draw fewer IT folks to art and design than vice versa, I just have to stop and scratch my head. (figuratively of course) When he mentions, significantly, that "there seem to be more resources offering IT skills training and tools than offering arts education," I think, equally significantly, OF COURSE. THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE.

I also take issue with the idea that creativity is in no way directly connected to IT, that in order for creativity to be involved, we have to add in art/design people and add a few letters to the acronym . . . ITCP.

My feeling is that we should certainly celebrate collaboration and diverse perspectives, as they can enrich any field, but I'm not so sure that ITCP, in the form Mitchell is purporting, is the most important wave in the future.

(This, from one who got a B- in art class, so, really no surprise.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Illusive Mystery of Sticktuitiveness

So, all of my faithful blog followers (all two or three of you),

My experience at the Saturday workshop about computerized textiles will be no surprise. I loved the lecture at the start, loved the big ideas about democratization of technology and found the methods and motives of the group incredibly inspiring. But, once again, in trying to actually be a practioner of the art, I found myself completely, totally, unbelievably, inept.

I could go into the gory details of the day, but let's just say (and I am no slacker, I tried my darndest for the entire 11:30-2:30 section of the sewing part of the day), the hours were a blur of unsuccessfully trying to thread needles (thank God for Ying Sin, the best lady in the world), losing the thread off of my needle, pricking myself, starting over because of fraying thread, and the cycle repeats. I did my most work of the day during the last ten minutes, when I panicked because I had no project for Dianne to take a picture of, so I miraculously somewhat-successfully sewed on a battery and half of an LED onto my daughter's "BOO" Halloween shirt.

I blame my slow-to-nonexistent progress on the following:
1. My lack of sewing skills. (I got a B- in sewing class in the 8th grade.)
2. The fact that several of the assistants recommended that I do a "trial run" of the circuit on a meaningless block of cloth. The second I moved to my daughter's shirt, I suddenly worked a lot better.
3. My lack of sewing skills. (Oh to have hand eye, small motor, coordination)
4. And finally, my lack of basic sewing skills.

I could comment on the computer programming section of the workshop (which did go slightly better, but no gold stars here), but this is getting lengthy.

I ran into an ethereal-with-joy Dianne at lunch (the lady practically ran the workshop), who breathlessly described the easy-connection she has with this medium, and related my frustration with it to her frustration with Scratch. (What happens if I was frustrated with both?) Of course, this validated the assumptions of Leah and Kylie's research group, that the medium makes all the difference, that it's not that technology is "too hard" for most mainstream girls, but that the medium is often unappealing.

One last topic to explore. My poor, sleeping daughter's ghost Halloween shirt. It has a battery and LED slightly dangling, thread all over the place. I, due to Kylie's encouraging urging, have some beads to attach and a very shaky vision of how I might actually be able to make it work, for Lucy's movement to make the light go on and off. Unfortunately, I've more than lost my motivation. This is the story of my life. I love the starts of things, the ideas of things. If I could, I would simply learn about interesting pedagogies, perhaps think about how I could adapt them to my context. But it's the actually putting them into practice, the cutting out of materials, this is where the rubber meets the road, and where I lose my interest. I figure understanding the new concept of the idea is the point, while most people find being able to actually physically represent this understanding is the point.

Does this make me a bad person? In our culture, it usually does. But I'm not so sure. I think some of us are finishers, and some of us are starters, and the really lucky ones of us are both starters and finishers. I feel like my daughter's messy shirt is pretty perfect the way it is, and I'm not sure if that is because I'm a lazy excuse for a human being, because I fear the constant prick of the needle, or because, in some way, me understanding how the circuit could work and how the medium has real potential (for some people) is enough for me. . .

And, more to the point, what about my students who are like me? Most of us "judge" our students by their output, their final projects, their revised and edited papers. Process gets very little credit, very little notice. I feel like I learned a lot from the day, but if Kylie just would take a look at Lucy's sad shirt, she would be hard-pressed to tell. In a world we are judged by the only thing that we CAN judge, the output, the product, is there anything more to us than just what we do?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Studio Time today, and why I'm not a Good Constructionist

It could be because I normally use Monday mornings to play with my daughter. It could be because I couldn't sleep well last night after viewing Jarhead and raging about the ludicrosity of war. It could be because I'm pretty sure I'm PMS'ing. But today, I found being crammed into a small room with other delightful members of class (I really don't mean this sarcastically, you all really are delightful), trying to learn about a new technology and its pedagogical potential, somewhat . . . how do I put this . . . frustrating. I, immediately, of course, attributed my frustration to my new media inadequacy (which is, quite naturally, the first place I usually go), but then I got thinking . . . does difference always infer hierarchy? I never would think this of my students. SO maybe I shouldn't do this to myself.

So here I attempt to critically reflect on why studio time wasn't doing it for me today.

1. I couldn't see the particular affordances working independently sitting beside my classmates gave me. (I realize the point was to work together, to share out ideas, and Steve and Jenna actually did this quite well, but at the early stage I was at at digital storytelling, I was just gathering initial articles and information. Once I get to the actual software, I will be ALL OVER getting help from folks, like David, who the good guy that he is, offered to help me out with Windows movie player.)

2. I felt distracted by the animated conversations going on around me, and found it nearly impossible to concentrate. (So, yeah, at 27 I'm one of those old folks that prefers to work in near complete silence.) Everyone had such interesting stuff to say about what they were doing, and Kylie offered such interesting responses, that I kept half-reading things, wondering if I should change my topic, second guessing my choice. It could be argued that this is a positive thing, but I think, for someone as perpetually indecisive as I am, it's helpful to have a goal and go for it. I felt somewhat paralyzed by the good stuff going on. Oh- and Mike's cool music kept taking me back to sixth grade band, when I was first learning simple melodies to play on my trumpet (good times, good times), which, though interesting, wasn't really where I wanted to spend studio time.

3. I felt pushed to create something, show something, contribute something tangible (although Kylie was quick to reassure me that I didn't need to!) I felt somehow vaguely guilty that I kept finding myself resorting to reading articles, looking at digital narrative examples, doing the typical research I always do when learning about something new. I felt like I was supposed to be a PRODUCER, not a CONSUMER. My work was, in some way, elementary and non-new-media-literacy-like.

So a lot could be said psychologically about me from this piece. And I should point out that I LOVED the share-outs other folks did at the end of the class; it's safe to say that Mike blew pretty much everyone's mind with the concept map craziness. I guess my main concern is for all of my middle school kids (who are FAR more A.D.D./distractible than me). How can we allow the collaborate tinkerers to talkatively tinker and the quiet, independent thinker/researchers to think ? And how can we keep everyone on their particular "task at hand"?

These are the universal question that will always plague/confound educators: How can I effectively teach a class (which is usually limited to one single classroom in a fairly traditional building) with so many different students? How can I both provide autonomy and push students to work at their highest potential? How can I maintain the focus of some without stifling the creativity of others? For those of you who have taught non-honors students at the middle school and high school level, I think you know these are very real questions.

So, any takers? How do we do these things?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Literacy: A matter of Decoding or UNDERSTANDING?

Being the fabulous and dedicated student that I am, I checked the syllabus to see the question to focus on for this week. This seemed particularly, embarrassingly un-blog-like, as it appears (from my SMALL amount of exposure to the delightful genre of the blog), that blogs are places for random, delightful, genius ephiphanies that strike you out of nowhere, as you sip your coffee in the morning, profoundly and deeply. Unfortunately, I have ten minutes set aside in a very packed schedule to "type my blog for P650", so this was what happened, the pure, honest, truth.

So, what, my friends is NEW MEDIA LITERACY?

I'd say we've all hit "what is new media" about three thousand times, so I think I'll skip, conveniently, to the last word in the concept . . . LITERACY.

I found the quick history from "reading and writing" (more psychological in tone) to "literacy" (more sociological in tone) enlightening, and, shockingly, during my three semesters at IU studying Literacy, Language, and Culture, no one has made the shift quite this clear. Here are some of the main distinctions or controversies, as I see them, relating to the definition of literacy:
-Is literacy merely a matter of decoding and encoding words?
-How is literacy linked to power?
-In, ever-broadening and liberal defintions, is literacy just a synonym for competency?
-What new literacies are being called for and created in relation to new technologies? (Is "literacies" a better way to think about than "literacy"?)
-Are critical literacy skills the "highest" form attainable?
-How are literacies linked to a person's identification with particular groups? (Socio-cultural, ideological, generational, etc)

For me, literacy is about communication . . . about meaning-making. Even when I wrote in my journal in the fifth grade about my crush on the deeply handsome Michael Chumley (his brown eyes could totally melt you), I was attempting to make sense of my own new feelings, a communication of self to self so to speak. What this means in the context of new media, which is so often-touted for its networking, social-connecting, participatory nature, could very well be profound. Maybe the way literacy will look when wearing the garment of new media will be the way literacy always wanted to look, that sexy little red dress that fits just right.

On the other hand, maybe new media is the sweatpants and t-shirt version of literacy, the kind of literacy that feels best in an informal setting, just hanging out with friends . . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

What's New About New Media: Take 2

Ooooh . . . I am steaming, piping, hot mad.

I thought Kylie was one of those earnest, sincere professors, the last person to take up mind games.

But here I am, at 8 AM on Friday Morning, reading some good old "Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation" by Bolter and Grusin (1999.) (If you haven't read this, you better get to it by Tuesday.) And I find, that this seriously posed discussion question, as posed by Kylie to be the topic of blogs this week, is actually a complete and total TRICK question. Unbelievable.

The authors write, in their climactic last sentences:
"Once again, what is new about digital media lies in their particular strategies for remediating television, film, photography, and painting. Repurposing as remediation is both 'what is unique to digital worlds' and what denies the possibility of that uniqueness."

So I guess my sort-of-hunch in my last blog post resonates pretty well with their theory. The "new" in new media changed both everything and nothing, because the very aspects that make them especially new, but definition, incorporate all of the old.

Who woulda guessed?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

NEW Media: A Matter of Semantics or Reality?

You know how there are these people you've known, that, no matter how far removed you become from them, geographically or temporally, you still have constant little visits from them in your head? Well, one of inescapable voices, for me, is Professor Keller, a kind, unassuming, balding man who believed that deodorant was simply created by marketers and that any ethical, moral person with a shred of independence should avoid wearing it. He usually visits me with one sentence, a sentence he repeatedly referred to no matter what the topic of our public speaking or communications course was, a sentence coined by Marshall McLuhan: "The medium is the message."

So, let's just pretend he and McLuhan are right. If all of our media ARE the messages, and the question of the week is "what is NEW about NEW media", then is the answer, EVERYTHING? If every message being sent through my iPod, through my blog, through my status update, and my Scratch creation somehow becomes MORE about the medium itself, than the content of the message, does this mean that new media are changing the world in subtle ways all of the time?

A quick check on good old Wikipedia (which is a great example of the medium being the message), helps me see the radical nature of McLuhan's philosphy:

"Hence in Understanding Media, McLuhan describes the "content" of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. [5] This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time.[4] As the society's values, norms and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions [4] that we are not aware of."

Despite Prof Keller's resonant voice, I remain highly skeptical.

Sure the medium influences the message. But I have a feeling that new media, for all their hype and promise and true, good, real potential, have more in common with old media than we think. Content has always mattered, does matter, and will continue to matter. Humans do change and evolve, but fundamental aspects of humanity keep popping up in various media, such as our need for human social connection and interaction. Whether I send a love note written with quill and ink, or a love text on my little cell phone, I still have the same purpose in mind, and can still, hopefully, invoke a feeling of "awwww" on the receiver's end. On the other hand, some still find "an old fashioned love note" to be a much more highly romantic expression than a quickly rattled off text.

So what's new about new media? Is new media changing everything, or nothing?

I'm pretty sure it's somewhere in between.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why I hate texting, and other secrets about not learning in new media . . .

I have a confession to make. I want to be cool. Not cool in the hipster, slangy sort of way, but cool in the sophisticated, modern, techno-skilled, I-can-do-anything-and-quote-anyone way. But I have a problem. I have a terrible memory for pop culture. Sure I love good music, but ask me a band's name and my palms start to sweat. Not only this, I am 5'3" tall, with naturally curly curly hair, and I can't get the hang of walking in heels. Forget sophistication. And then, there's the worst offense of all. I hate texting.

So, as a way of getting to some thought on how we learn in new media, I'd like to approach from the opposite end of things . . . how don't I learn in new media. Why do I so often find myself waiting until I'm absolutely the last person on Earth who hasn't joined Facebook, owned a laptop, gotten a cellphone, downloaded pictures on the Internet, so that the unescapable force of peer pressure finally knocks me over and conquers my inhibitions?

Not-Learning-in-New-Media (and why my lack of motivation never ceases to amaze me)
1. The media doesn't fit my needs.
(Texting is annoying because it forces me to make all of my thoughts into short, concise, simplified sound bytes. I think better in full, lengthy, convoluted sentences.)
2. I don't have the time to learn/use the new media.
(It once took me fifteen minutes to find the exclamation point for texting.)
3. Old media suits me just fine.
(I like the smell of books. I like taking notes in lecture classes. Super Mario Bros is so much more fun to play than these new-fangled video games.)

I could go on, but I figure that my list can be boiled down into one word. Fear and intimidation. (Okay- maybe two words.) My not-learning in new media involves a not-wanting-to-learn, which is linked to entirely complex and psychologically interesting string of insecurities. Unfamiliarity is made of some fascinating stuff. It makes some people crazy with excitement and hope, and it sends others into immediate self-defense-mechanism-mode.

As for me, I'm willing to play with Scratch a bit longer. . .

But I'm not making any promises.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Constructionism Article and Why I Love Writing Workshop

First of all, a quick confession . . . I have been completely, totally, fully, and wholly brainwashed by my colleagues connected to the National Writing Project of Indiana (ITW). Just one summer, one month really, of sessions devoted to the practice of writing workshop and the incredible quality of the professional development that ensued was enough to convince me that the process writing approach via writing workshop is the only REAL way to "teach" writing in school. Perhaps it is this particular bias of mine that caused me to read everything in Bers' introduction about technology and coonstructionism in early childhood as pure validation for the hunches that I already had . . .

Here are some similarities I noted:
**Writing Workshop involves "learning by designing meaningful projects to share in the community." (Especially if the teacher plans a read-in, share, exhibit, etc day after portfolios are finished.)
**Writing workshop also focuses on ideas, dictated by each student's interests . .
** The self-reflections I had students do on their portfolio certainly aid in engaging metacognitive skills.
**"Technology circle time" seems nearly identical to "author's chair" time.
**"Debugging" according to children's needs are favored over general lectures.
**Gaining help from peers (through peer review and peer writing groups) are essential.
**Both content AND process is emphasized

Of course a myriad of distinctions set apart manipulating concrete robots and writing a sci-fi short story. But I think an important truth unites both actions. Good teaching, clothed in any garment, is good teaching. Bad teaching, despite the good intentions, is bad teaching. It seems to me that Bers' description of constructionism is just about as pure a form of "common sense powerful pedagogy" as is out there in the world of education.

Welcome to my World

Julie Rust. Mother. Grad Student. Teacher. Wife. Sister. Daughter.
There is always so much more to us than can be stuffed inside these labels.

A PhD candidate in the Language, Literacy, and Culture Department at IU, Bloomington, I find myself pleased to be back in the "student role," after four years of teaching middle school and high school English in Terre Haute, IN. My 14 month old daughter, Lucy, consistently colors my life with her giggles, facial expressions, babble, and occassional, real, English word. My amazing husband of five years, Justin, is a compassionate nurse, and spends three days a week working 12 hour shifts and the rest of his week taking care of our child and all of the other things I throw at him.

I absolutely love to travel, eat, run/work out (which naturally follows after all of this eating), act in theater, play music (jazz trumpet), and, of course, the obligatory English Teacher hobbies . . . I like to read and write. Most evenings you can find me on the couch simultaneously watching Food Network and "reading" with my daughter, who has recently learned to climb said couch. Our recent move to Bloomington this summer has also facilitated a love for walking around downtown, enjoying the flair of this diverse "little" town.

I came to IU obsessed with wanting to learn more about student engagement, community in the classroom, digital literacies, authentic writing in the English classroom, and the ability (and lack of ability) to "transport" during the reading experience. I'm also interested in how schools and policies need to change and adapt in today's technologically-charged learning environment. I still find myself driven by these questions and am struggling to actually narrow down my quest here at IU.