TROLLING THE ARCHIVE

David Archibald of the University of Glasgow recently circulated an abstract for a paper I will be giving in March as part of their seminar series. The full abstract and details for the event can be found here.

Leo Enticknap, a Lecturer at Leeds in Visual and Communication Arts, read the abstract on the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies email list and wrote the following (italicized portions are excerpts from my abstract):

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REAL AND VIRTUAL LEARNING

An interesting (short) interview with Keith Devlin, Mathematics Professor at Stanford University, on the subject of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  Devlin recently finished teaching “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking” to more than 62,000 students, aged 16 to 70.  Devlin describes the new forms of teaching that the virtual classroom encourages.  He does not offer a traditional lecture, for example, but invites students into a kind of intimate proximity with his own writing, thinking, ideas.  Students peer over his shoulder as he works through problems.  For all of the technology at work in delivering these courses, it is a relatively low-tech approach that approximates a one-to-one encounter with a mentor.  It also hints at the field of alternative teaching models that the MOOCs are generating.

These courses have the potential to change our approaches in the non-virtual classroom as well.  This will be especially important in Britain, where large lectures remain the norm and fees for this learning environment are on the rise.  If our students can enroll in MOOCs free of charge, taught by some of the world’s leading scholars, what justification do we have for continuing to offer such an outdated pedagogical model?  And charging extraordinary sums of money for it?  MOOCs (I hope) will force us to think more carefully about how we teach.  We either need better arguments for lecture-style learning (I’m not convinced that any really exist) or we need to focus on what real-time, on-campus learning can offer that this first generation of MOOCs cannot.

In related (visual culture) news, MOOCS seem to have produced a new video genre: the MOOC trailer, complete with a green screened Stanford campus.

TEACHING AND TECHNOLOGY

A good Chronicle article from UCLA philosophy professor Pamela Hieronymi on the difference between technology and teaching as a “tsunami” of online education heads our way.  Key point(s):

As we think about the future of education, we need to sharpen our understanding of what education is and what educators do. Education is often compared to two other industries upended by the Internet: journalism and publishing. This is a serious error.

Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.

[…]

But the core task of training minds is labor-intensive; it requires the time and effort of smart, highly trained individuals. We will not make it significantly less time-consuming without sacrificing quality. And so, I am afraid, we will not make that core task significantly less expensive without cheapening it.

TWO NEW JOURNALS: NECSUS AND FRAMES

Two new open access, e-journals dedicated to film and media studies have appeared over the last two weeks.  The first, Necsus, is institutionally affiliated with the European Network for Cinema and Media Studies and, content aside, is just plain beautiful.  Its first issue focuses on the theme of “Crisis” and opens with a very timely essay by Jacques Rancière entitled “The Gaps of Cinema.”  Here, Rancière explores the irreducibility of cinema’s disparate parts (part material, part experience, part memory, part ideology, part art, part industrial craft, part philosphical concept, part utopia of parts).  The essay was first delivered on the occasion of the award ceremony for the Maurizio Grande prize in Reggio de Calabria in January 2004.  Upcoming issues of Necsus will organize around the themes of “tangibility,” “green,” and “waste.”  These themes invite us to think between the concrete and the conceptual, the material and the experiential.  In this way, Rancière’s essay seems to foreground the very gaps that are at stake not just in the concept of “crisis,” but in the thinking of cinema and media that frames this particular journal project.

The second journal, Frames, appeared just two days ago.  It is edited by the graduate students at St. Andrews University.  The first issue is edited by Catherine Grant, a Senior Lecturer at Sussex and writer-editor of the inimitable Film Studies for Free, and focuses on the intersection between our discipline and the digital.  The issue is bursting with forty contributions from scholars, researchers, artists, and archivists.  I was lucky enough to be invited to contribute, and even luckier to have my essay selected to open the issue.  Frames includes a set of “point of view” pieces that I am just starting to make my way through (and hope to post responses to here).  At a first pass, one will immediately notice the multiple experiments at work in the journal.  Frames innovates in a number of directions and challenges the boundaries of both the traditional journal and even the formats of e-journaling that have come into view in recent years.  Frames is not a digital journal modeling or mimicking an analogue one.  Rather, Catherine has taken the opportunity to bring a community together and play with the possibilities of digital forms and the formation of digital knowledge.

UVA: REAL AND VIRTUAL THREATS

I am just catching up with the mess at the University of Virginia.  For those who haven’t heard, good summaries and commentaries can be found here, here, and here.  The short story: the University’s Board of Visitors fired the University President, Teresa Sullivan, after just two years in office.  A string of emails between the Board and Sullivan reveal that she was under pressure to dismantle disciplines that “couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.”

The conflation of academic value and financial solvency is deeply troubling, especially at such a wealthy institution (UVA’s $5 billion endowment is the largest of any public university in the United States).  Humanities programs rarely sustain themselves financially.  They always rely upon other, more profitable disciplines to survive.  Moreover, the humanities have historically been regarded as instrinsically valuable.  They do not need to meet any other conditions or criteria to justify their existence.  Without them, you no longer have a university.

Kevin Carey’s article in the New Republic makes an important link between the global economic crisis and the corporate culture of (many) university administrations: Continue reading

ARTIST(S) IN RESIDENCE

Laurie Anderson gave the 2012 commencement speech at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.  Anderson is a multimedia artist and former Artist-in-Residence at NASA.  Her talk covers work, play, politics, the necessity of art, and learning from Sol LeWitt.  Her words, wit, and voice are a real pleasure to take in.  But then she puts a “pillow speaker” in her mouth and things get radical:

REBIRTH OF THE AUTHOR

A follow-up to my last post on virtual conferences:

Over the last two to three years, the term “digital humanities” has displaced “interdisciplinarity” as a kind of new bureaucratic buzzword, a rallying cry for administrators under pressure to attract students, make an impact, and embrace the future, whatever that might be.

Anxieties are high among many of those who actually research and teach in the humanities.  What will the digital do to us?  And what can the digital actually do for the humanities?  Does the “digital” have any substance?  For film scholars, the digital poses a number of questions about the boundaries of our discipline, the future of our archives, and the ontology of our beloved objects.

In his most recent piece in the NYTimes, Stanley Fish takes up the term and offers his own skeptical position.  He begins:

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THE ETHICS OF THE VIRTUAL

Michael Clayton, Vascular bundle of a fern rhizome (2010)

I have decided not to attend the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in March.  My reasons are largely financial.  My institution has a limited budget for research expenses and I did not receive any funding for the trip.  This particular year, I can’t afford to pay entirely out of pocket.  The conference has become a major expense since I moved to Scotland in 2009: $200 for the conference, $800 for the plane ticket, $500 for several nights in a hotel in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, etc.

I will miss the SCMS conference.  It offers a valuable snapshot of the discipline.  I learn what people are working on and what subfields are developing.  I meet new colleagues and potential collaborators.  And: I catch up with old friends, colleagues, and mentors.  It has become a kind of lifeline to an academic and social world outside of Northeast Scotland.

There are other conferences, of course.  And some outstanding ones in Film and Media Studies across the UK and continental Europe.

But my decision not to attend the SCMS conference this year has me thinking about academic conferences (esp. the large, multi-day, many-paneled, state-of-the-discipline events) and the more inclusive, accessible, and environmentally sustainable alternatives that (I hope) are on the way.

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