Our class on how we run our class

The following are brief notes from our recent discussion with the great Alan Levine (twitter: @cogdog) and the New Media Consortium.  To see & hear the full discussion, click here.

How our class works:

First off, we organize it as a research group, not a class.
So, instead of a syllabus we have a research schedule.
The research schedule is editable at any time by anybody involved in the project.

All edits are (almost) instantly reported at our Netvibes research hub via RSS.

The hub also includes a Yahoo Pipe combining the feeds from each of the 15 students’ blogs.
There is a second Yahoo Pipe that combines all the comment feeds from those blogs as well.

To the right, we have a feed from our Diigo group, which we use to share links and notes on the web.

The course is entirely purpose-driven, so it does not have much of the traditional structure typically provided by a syllabus, but it is (loosely) structured.

The basic format is this:

  • First 3 weeks: exploration stage
  • Second 3 weeks: guided introduction to the field
  • Next 4 weeks: self-guided research
  • Due at 11th week: Research paper (followed by collaboration exercises)
  • Final (16th week): Share with world (video, website, etc.)

Students keep a blog throughout, and do most of their “assignments” as blog posts.

The exploration stage begins with the “94 Articles” activity, allowing us to cover a good chunk of the literature in our research area.
During the exploration stage, students are also making video “trailers” which are ultimately all put together into one single “course trailer”

The next stage – the “guided introduction” – is the most traditional part of the course, with readings selected by the professor.

At the same time, students are preparing for the self-guided research stage by writing their research proposals.

The research proposals are edited and collated together on the wiki to form the Course Research Proposal, representing our goals as a research group.

Students then work toward writing a research paper on their piece of the project. To clarify their own piece, we talk quite a bit about our KYHOIs (Knock Your Head Off Ideas) of which each student should be able to name at least one that is central to their project.

They use material from their work to help create the class research paper using Google Docs (work in progress below).

NMC Discussion - Digital Ethnography

This process helps us:

  • see how our projects are related
  • find holes in our overall argument
  • see all the big ideas we have entertained throughout the semester coming together to create something beyond that which any single one of us could have created
To see this even more clearly, we created a (long) outline of our core logical argument, which summarizes our insights and serves as the basic outline for our video project.

Students have just submitted their first video drafts, which you can see on their blogs. They will do 2 more drafts before the final video is due.

The videos will be further edited over the coming months (year?) into one final documentary, similar to the Anthropological Introduction to YouTube project (the end result of the previous 2 semesters of this course). We will probably also try to publish our collaborative paper.


What this project is all about:

Exploring how self-awareness and self-experience are shaped by new media.

Basic idea:

We know ourselves through our relations with others.
Our relations with others are mediated by media.
Therefore, new media create new ways of knowing ourselves.

Twitter example: What are you (really) doing? A: exploring new ways of connecting with others, and therefore new ways of knowing yourself

4chan is especially interesting because of the default setting of anonymous posting
Collectively, anonymous posters form the “group” Anonymous.
They are like the primordial ooze of the internet, from which so much of internet culture is born (LOLcats, etc.)
They even have their own language,
with (sometimes deep and philosophical) sayings and proverbs that help define who “they” “are”.
They are most famous for trolling for LULZ …

and their protests of Scientology.
Fox News calls them “hackers on steroids”
But they are not really even a “they” … As Chris Landers of the Baltimore Sun has noted, they are only a group “in the sense that a flock of birds is a group … they’re traveling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely.”
They sometimes say that they seek “permanent destruction of the identification role”
In Second Life they have been implicated in the flying penis attack on Ansche Chung and the attack on John Edwards.
They find e-celebrity disturbingly hyper-individualistic, and subvert it through mockery, ultimately creating e-celebrities out of Tay Zonday, Boxxy, and others.
They promise to subvert anybody who takes themselves too seriously, creating the Duck Roll (and later the Rick Roll) for the purpose.

In sum, they are a fascinating study for an anthropologist because they subvert all our traditional categories of study: most notably those of “group” and “identity” – forcing us to rethink exactly what it is we think we are doing and how we should approach the life of these crazy primates we call humans now that dez trolling d’ 1nternetz.

Wesch

Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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18 Responses

  1. Jemimus says:

    Glad to see you are taking a good academic look at 4chan and similar phenomenon. Most people cannot look past the porn and what people refer to as the “moral” issues surrounding what the 4chan community is all about. The behavioral of this group, or collection of communities is a sign of the time, and deserves study. I believe we can learn a lot about human nature by coming to understand better how these sub-cultures work and the dynamics that bind these kinds of people.

  2. Mike Johnson says:

    Very nice with 14 students – do you think this could scale up to 150-200?

  3. Kriss says:

    discordian was the written phase.

    subgenius was the audio & image phase.

    failchan is the image & video phase.

    I fear what phases 4 and 5 might be.

    I guess I just want to point out that the people, who you might think of as making up failchan have been around a lot longer than failchan or even the internets.

  4. Prof Wesch says:

    All hail Discordia and the Law of Fives.

  5. Prof Wesch says:

    Seriously though, I made the same connection with Discordia when I first noticed 4chan, but it is rarely mentioned on 4chan, and you can see how quickly it was dismissed when a compilation of great books were being considered here: http://dis.4chan.org/read/book/1106786604/1-40 Review: “it may have been amusing 40 years ago (but probably not) when its targets were taboo, but that’s simply not the case anymore … The book seems absolutely quaint by today’s standards. There’s a “Gee, aren’t we daring and clever” attitude that permeates this book, but ultimately it falls flat on its face. It’s pretentious, boring, and just not funny.”

    There is still the societal inversion thing going on though that ties them together – which has some manifestation in all societies – sometimes ritually, but other times as a rebellious group representing disorder and chaos. I’ll have to look into this some more.

  6. Now THIS is how to run a class and teach…everyone teaching everyone. Great job!

  7. Bryan says:

    Looks like a great way to induce student ownership and provide ‘entry points’ for each to lend their area of passion or expertise to the project and the benefit of their peers. I’ve tried a few isolated projects in this vein this past year with a group of 27 gifted learners (grade nine & ten split class) that allowed individuals to oversee areas of comfort – brainstorming, organization, research, draft-writing, fine-tuning, editing, publishing, etc – and learn (chiefly) from one another. The energy and pride taken in such work is miles beyond what is generally seen in more traditional teacher\professor – focused learning, as the learner’s responsibilities are no longer mandated by a teacher (for the grade), but peers.

    Next year I am looking to incorporate something of this type of network learning into both English and Socials curriculum (with the above mentioned class): there is plenty here to adapt! Thanks for the links, materials, etc!

  8. Ted Lowe says:

    Really inspiring! Have been looking for models to try and move in this direction with some of my upper div classes. This one really nails it … Keep up the great work!

  9. Dane says:

    Any chance of a collaborative project with the Digital Communication (Communication and Media Studies) department the University of Wollongong Australia. We’ve looked at issues of identity and Anonimity in relation to social new media formats, with particular attention given to Social Network(ing) sites.

  10. Brad says:

    I think a great topic for your class to cover this year would be the inspirational side of youtube. Certain videos have a way of inspirng, empowering and motivating. Here are a few to start with:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEqdr_Awdak&NR=1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adLxTDJgXUw&feature=fvw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4zWBHFCmXM&feature=related

  11. %9 nedsisson says:

    i love this girl so much lol she is so cute and funny its a shame boxxy has gone away :( at least we have these tho hehe! http://emo-porn.com/boxxy-nudes/

  12. Alexandra says:

    Thank you for posting this. I wonder if this is applicable to all subjects in the humanities; I’m thinking especially of the rather traditional Italian Renaissance art history that I teach. I tried to use a wiki and a collaborative approach and guess what? Half the students did not even write on the wiki – and a few didn’t know HOW.

    We DO need to change the way information is communicated to our students, and this is a step in the right direction.

  13. Helena Prieto says:

    Hello everyone,
    I’ve watch these great videos that show teaching and learning processes changing with the help of the ” machine” . I found it interesting that the focus of this change is not in technology by itself but in the way people use it to make everyone participate and promote active engagement and true enthusiasm in their own learning process and in problem solving.
    Another notion that I’ve found curious is the intertwining of the human element with the machine in such a profound way that eventually we become part of that machine. Our digital self can only exist in and through the machine – the machine is us/ing us.

    helenaprieto ( student at Open university , Lisbon)

  14. dubstep says:

    Looks like a great way to induce student ownership and provide ‘entry points’ for each to lend their area of passion or expertise to the project and the benefit of their peers. I’ve tried a few isolated projects in this vein this past year with a group of 27 gifted learners (grade nine & ten split class) that allowed individuals to oversee areas of comfort – brainstorming, organization, research, draft-writing, fine-tuning, editing, publishing, etc – and learn (chiefly) from one another. The energy and pride taken in such work is miles beyond what is generally seen in more traditional teacher\professor – focused learning, as the learner’s responsibilities are no longer mandated by a teacher (for the grade), but peers.

  15. I agree it was definitely worth my time at this site, the actual individual knows about what he is saying. I hope you come back again and post much more, when it’s convenient.

  16. zossip says:

    Looks like a great way to induce student ownership and provide ‘entry points’ for each to lend their area of passion or expertise to the project and the benefit of their peers. I’ve tried a few isolated projects in this vein this past year with a group of 27 gifted learners (grade nine & ten split class) that allowed individuals to oversee areas of comfort – brainstorming, organization, research, draft-writing, fine-tuning, editing, publishing, etc – and learn (chiefly) from one another. The energy and pride taken in such work is miles beyond what is generally seen in more traditional teacher\professor – focused learning, as the learner’s responsibilities are no longer mandated by a teacher (for the grade), but peers.

  17. Nevar says:

    I’ve watch these great videos that show teaching and learning processes changing with the help of the ” machine” . I found it interesting that the focus of this change is not in technology by itself but in the way people use it to make everyone participate and promote active engagement and true enthusiasm in their own learning process and in problem solving.

  18. Sab says:

    Hello my name is sab and I am in grade 10 but in a grade 11 french media class my class has to pick and article and discuss what it’s about also we have watched a lot of videos about media that you have done on YouTube and how people use technologie differently to use it in many ways. Also we learned about the videos that your students have done that the “user is always the content” and a lot more quotes from you to describe what the internet is and what it can do to effect our life’s and future. ( good job) And thought your collage was pretty cool about how many hours and day and year kids spend their life with technology

    Sab

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