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charge, taught by some of the world’s leading scholars, what justification do we have for continuing to offer such an outdated pedagogical model?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.


Silent Paper Movie II (Geronimo Elortegui, 2011)

Classical Hollywood gets the silent paper treatment.  I have watched this short film half a dozen times now and still have no idea who speaks when, to whom, etc.  Silent Paper plays with the problems that language and translation pose to the image, particularly in the silent era.


Taxidermist at Work on the Roosevelt Safari Specimens (1911, Smithsonian Institute Archives)

Posting has been slow and infrequent these last couple of weeks, mostly because I am lucky to be on research leave this semester and I have been trying to focus my writing energies elsewhere.  At the moment, I am in the middle of revising a chapter that examines the intersection between ethnographic writing and cinema.  It begins with the following excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt:

I almost always had some volume with me, either in my saddle pocket or in the cartridge-bag which one of my gun bearers carried to hold odds and ends. Often, my reading would be done while resting under a tree at noon, perhaps beside the carcass of a beast I killed, or else waiting for camp to be pitched; and in either case it might be impossible to get water for washings. In consequence the books were stained with blood, sweat, gun oil, dust, and ashes; ordinary bindings either vanished or became loathsome, whereas pigskin merely grew to look as a well-used saddle looks.”

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Sent from someone’s iPhone (30 May 2011)

A couple of days ago, my colleague Paul Flaig brought a fascinating trend to my attention.  In the wake of Hugo and The Artist, a wave of new media applications have emerged that transform (ho-hum) full color and sound video into hi-def mimics of the silent era.   See here, here, and here.  The “Silent Film Director” app reached a startling 300,000 uploads in April of this year.  As Paul pointed out, the reviews and comments on these applications are perhaps strangest of all (esp. for those who have spent years trying to get students excited about silent cinema).  Just one example here.  “The effects are really cool.  You have black and white…”