TVS 101: Teaching an Online Intro to Television Course
Shelley Rodrigo / Mesa Community College

Introduction to Television Arts

Introduction to Television Arts

This article is second in a three part series that includes:

  • TVS 101: Television Outside the Box
    I discuss what I’m considering to include as part of an introduction to a television course. Look at this Flow installment published on 06/09/08.
  • TVS 101: “Tracking the New Show” Course Project
    I’ll share the major course project and discuss how it balances student interest with course content requirements. Look for this Flow installment on 09/05/08.

In this article I discuss how I am designing the Introduction to Television course I will be teaching online this Fall 2008 semester.

Reality Checks (or premises to consider as I build this course):

  1. This is the first time that I’m teaching this class, and I do not proclaim to be a television studies person (definitely more film and computer media studies). I look forward to learning about the material with the students; in that vein, I’ll be doing all the assignments with them!
  2. I believe in social-constructivist learning philosophy; therefore, I want to construct the course in a manner that allows students to have input into what, how, and why we are studying various ideas and concepts.
  3. There are 19 course outcomes that students are supposed to be able to achieve at the end of the course. These do not perfectly align with the textbook I have selected; therefore, I have to somehow mesh the textbook material with some outcomes as well as find supplementary material to support other outcomes.
  4. I believe it is unethical to require students to have watched something that is not easily available (i.e, that they can view online for free or can easily be rented at a local video store). However, I will also admit the online course is cross-listed with a Monday night course which will allow online students an opportunity to come to class for specific viewings.

One of the main reasons I decided to offer an introduction to TV course online was because of the proliferation of television shows that are freely and legally available to watch over the web. Besides the specific show’s official website (many of which provide the most current episode) and other network websites, there are the following types of sites that also stream different shows:

hulu.com

hulu.com
and

joost.com

joost.com

Obviously, the fact that so many shows, both classic and contemporary, are being released on DVD and are therefore easily available through Netflix, also helps. Like I mentioned in “Television Outside the Box,” I also think that the sprawl of television narratives, especially in various forms on the web, makes teaching this course online a little bit easier and more relevant.

The course will be offered using a Wetpaint Wiki. Wikis are websites that allow readers to contribute to the content (like Wikipedia). Wetpaint Wikis also include discussion boards for each wiki page, and track individual contributions to the different pages, which is extremely helpful when grading student contributions.

Wetpaint Wiki

Sample Wetpaint Wiki

As you can see from the course wiki site, there is not much up yet (obviously I’ll be adding a little bit more prior to the course starting at the end of August). Instead of developing an entire set of materials to then pour into my students, they will help me construct the website as we work through the course. During the first week students will rank their interest in the topics of the different textbook chapters, and I will then assign each student a chapter. Students will then become “experts” on the chapter and then help construct the wiki page and course activities associated with it. Specifically students will be asked to develop the following “packet” for their specific chapter:

  • chapter summary and outline;
  • 3-4 discussion questions (questions must have participants engage both the reading material and example television shows and episodes);
  • reading quiz (multiple choice, true/false, matching, and fill in the blank);
  • brief discussion of 3-4 television shows, preferably specific episodes, that function as examples of the chapter content (at least one must be freely available on the internet and at least one can not be listed in the chapter); and
  • associate chapter content with relevant course outcomes.

I will develop the first chapter packet After I synchronously “meet” with students to discuss their packets, the class will work through each chapter on a weekly basis (take the reading quiz and participate in an asynchronous discussion board).

Once we have developed the course content for the textbook chapters, we’ll do the same type of assignment for the course outcomes. Students will rank their preference for course outcomes, I will assign individual outcomes to each student, and then they will build another “packet” of information, including:

  • detailed description of what the outcome means and why it is important to understand in television studies;
  • annotated bibliographies of 3-4 readings that help discuss, explain, or explore the outcome (one reading must come from Flow and another must be a scholarly or peer-reviewed source and come from the library databases); and
  • brief discussion of 3-4 television shows, preferably specific episodes, that function as examples of the outcomes (at least one must be freely available on the internet).

Like with the textbook chapters, students will each become an “expert” on an individual outcome. Instead of working through each outcome on a weekly basis (there are not enough weeks in the semester and the outcome “packets” will not be fully developed until the seventh week of a sixteen week semester), students will then work through most of the outcomes while building their “Tracking the New Show” course project (which I will expand upon in the final article within this series). And as students need help making connections between what they are consuming with their new show and various course outcomes, they will be able to seek out the assistance of the course “expert” for each outcome.

I’ve taught a few different courses in a similar manner where students help construct the course content. This past summer I had one of my students mention that it must be “easy” teaching online because the students are doing all of the “work.” However, I think this goes back to asking ourselves what do we want students to remember from our course five years from now. I know these students will remember what they became “experts” on, a chapter, an outcome, and a new television show. Is that being a “slacker” teacher, or a savvy one?

Image Credits:

1. Introduction to Television Arts
2. hulu.com
3. joost.com
4. Sample Wetpaint Wiki

Please feel free to comment.




TVS 101: Television Outside the Box
Rochelle Rodrigo / Mesa Community College

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Whew, a book I can teach from, at least for this first “season.” The cover of Butler’s Television: Critical Methods and Applications 3rd Ed.

I am starting to prepare to teach our humanities based “Introduction to Television” course this fall. As I think about what I want to cover in the class, I keep asking myself what does it mean to teach Introduction to Television Studies (TVS 101) in the 21st century? Is it teaching the “same old thing” as it is outlined in the current course competencies, or is it turning into more of an introduction to “new media”? and, what is the difference between television and “new media”? Even though I say the “same old thing,” is there really a “same old thing” in an introduction to television course? If there were, would there not be a textbook or two? Confession #1: First and foremost I am a writing instructor; however, I do have a masters in humanities with an emphasis in film and have been teaching film classes for the past several years. This will be my first time teaching introduction to TV; so I am very aware that I will be learning a lot along the way. And, to be blunt, I was hoping for some teaching guidance from a textbook. The answer is “no”; I learned this last year when I asked various textbook publishing companies and all they could point to were film studies textbooks or introduction to mass communications books with television sections. Prior to this search for an introduction to TV textbook, my library was filled with more film and new media studies books like those in the image below.

Thankfully, Amazon.com came to the rescue and I found Jeremy Butler’s Television: Critical Methods and Applications 3rd Ed. It looks like a good introduction text to me (unless any of you have the Rock Star introduction to television textbook—comment below!).

Butler’s text includes all of the general areas that I think are important (and that the district’s course outcomes require):
• history,
• finances/economics, and
• culture/trends,
• as well as instruction in the basic “how do you ‘read’ motion pictures” areas.

Needless to say, comprehending the impact of technology on television production and distribution is critical to understanding the history of television. And if we are talking about television in the 21st century, we are talking about radical impact of technological change on the distribution and consumption of television. Television is not just in the box anymore, right? It is now on the Digital Video Recorder (DVR), on the computer, on the iPod, and in Second Life.


Have your TV and read it too!

Discussing the interpretation of television viewing has become a bigger “problem” because it’s not just about the television competing for attention with the old household conflicts like the family, pets, and household chores.

Asking students to think about how the viewing context impacts their interpretation of a text is now much more complex. The today’s viewing context includes multiple, multi-modal conflicts like the book vs. iPod image above and the layered computer monitor below.

Confession #2: Of course I am obsessing about this topic because this is what I am interested in with television studies right now. And yes, although I have the responsibility to teach the “basics” and what is outlined by the official course curriculum, I also have the obligation to keep myself motivated, engaged, and enthusiastic by covering what I am passionate about as well, right?


Why watch TV when you’ve got laundry to do, a cat to cuddle, or a guitar to play?

These developments make me realize that television studies, like film studies, has been around long enough to have an “intro” class that is separate from the “history” and “contemporary” classes; however, the course curriculum is not caught up with this realization, and in theory (or as outlined by the curriculum), I should be covering it all. Obviously, I cannot! Here is where the beauty of being a teacher that subscribes to social-constructivist learning theories can help me out. While I confess that I am not an expert in what I’m about to teach and that I have my own agenda, I have to also acknowledge that my students are coming in with their own interests in the course, in television itself, and how it fits into their overall curricular paths. I also think that students learn by making connections with the content with their own experiences as well as the shared experiences of the class, thus it is important that I allow the students to direct some of the course agenda according to their own interests. Therefore, as there are certain things that I need to cover (like ye ‘old course outcomes) in addition to the need to consider the interests of those involved (myself included), I am released from the burden of covering it all and just need to make sure I balance their interests and engagements with “some of that serious stuff.” Additionally, I am very aware that for the majority of my students, this is not an introduction to television studies course that leads them into a media studies degree; instead, this is a “fun” class to fulfill their humanities requirement.

Do not fret…this television course will not be a “fluff” class. Remember, I am a writing teacher. Most of my students from my film classes complain about the amount of writing. It is writing, however, that allows students to engage with their own interests, while also fulfilling the course’s basic requirements. Students will be able to wander off, following their own interests, while writing about how what they are following is helping them better understand the core ideas we are covering. In other words, we will, basically, systematically work our way through the textbook, and I will ask that students find their own audio-visual and textual examples to conceptualize their socially constructed meaning. I cannot wait to be taught by my own students!

To follow with how I continue to construct this intro to television course, tune back in:
• TVS 101: Teaching an Online Introduction to Television Course: I will give more details how I will design this social-constructivist course in a wiki-environment. Look for this Flow installment on 07/25/08.
• TVS 101: “Tracking the New Show” Course Assignment: I will share the major course project and discuss how it balances student interest with course content requirements. Look for this Flow installment on 09/05/08.

Image Credits:

1. Whew, I book I can teach from, at least for this first “season.” The cover of Butler’s Television: Critical Methods and Applications 3rd Ed.
2. Have your TV and read it too!
3. Why watch TV when you’ve got laundry to do, a cat to cuddle, or a guitar to play?

Please feel free to comment.




Adapting to DVRing: Narrative Franchises and Advertising

Rochelle Rodrigo / Mesa Community College

Adapting to DVRing: Narratives and Franchising

A terminator robot gears up to battle the FoxBot.

Setting: Super Bowl Sunday

Since this year’s Super Bowl was in my home state, Arizona, I refused to leave the house. My partner, however, was not going to be denied the pleasure of watching the game. Because we now tend to DVR (digital video record) almost all TV that we watch, it was a rare thing that we were actually watching the game as it was broadcast. Like at most Super Bowl parties, some people watched the game (my partner) and others watched the commercials. I only looked up from my laptop if I heard something interesting during the commercials.



I am a science fiction fan, and personally I was more interested in what was happening on the new television show Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles than who was playing in the Super Bowl. I was happily surprised that I had the opportunity to get my Terminator fix during the Super Bowl intros where one of the unskinned Terminator androids battles the NFL FoxBot, a robot mascot adobpted by Fox to promote their NFL programming. Early during the football season I had commented on how I didn’t like the “toyness” of the NFL FoxBot, which so clearly resonated with the aesthetics of the Transformers robots from the summer before. I was so excited when the terminator android threw the NFL FoxBot around the screen that I cheered!



[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pI-cxETjtwo[/youtube]

Terminator vs. the NFL FoxBot



Setting: Some weeknight at the end of February 2008

My partner and I finally got around to watching the DVRed two-hour television kick-off of a new Knight Rider series. Since I was actually taking a break and not working on the laptop at the same time, I controlled the remote during our viewing session. My partner started getting extremely agitated after the second time I stopped fast forwarding mid-commercial sequence in order to rewind and play one of the Ford commercials “starring” Justin Bruening and the Ford mustang who were both playing their characters from the movie’s narrative.



[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqemKcXUGfA[/youtube]

Mike and KITT, a love story. (You may want to fast forward through the first minute and a half to skip the regular ford commercial and the opening sequence for Knight Rider.)

Specific narratives branching out into a variety of modalities is nothing new; in fact, they do it in a number of ways. ((Lauer, Jean Anne, and Shelley Rodrigo. “Resident Franchise: Theorizing the SF Genre, Conglomerations, and the Future of Synergy.” Playing the Universe: Games and Gaming in Science Fiction. Lublin: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Sklodowskeij, 2007.





)) In the 1980s, George Lucas demonstrated the profitability of “continuing” the story across different media (films, books, action figures, video games, …); you see the Star Wars franchise everywhere now. For example, get in on the action in the Star Wars universe–to Las Vegas and play a slot machine.



Industries using narrative franchises to help advertise products is not new either. Product placement is big business in itself. Let’s admit it, McDonald’s’ marketing ploys aimed at small children are based on a child’s desire to continue a specific narrative’s storyline after eating his or her happy meal.



[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LPM4akJXj0[/youtube]

And in this instance, the narrative sprawl emerges from video games, not film or television.



Narrative franchises merging together in no longer new either.

 When you are talking the third, fifth, eighth, and eleventh numbered film in a series, you’re talking guaranteed audience attendance!

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That’s 4 Alien movies, 2 Predator movies, and 2 Alien vs. Predator movies for a grand total of 8 films in this merged series.

All three of these methods of narrative franchise sprawl have a common goal: to help advertise the consumption of the narrative, some other product, or both. I think, however, with the Terminator vs. FoxBot and Night Rider Mustang spots we are seeing something a little different. Obviously in both cases the commercial spots attempt to promote either one or both products; however, these commercials spots also try to keep viewers from fast-forwarding through their DVRed material. These commercials do not have the “trapped” audiences of pre-DVR broadcast television or online streaming re-cast “television.” Instead, these commercial spots have to persuade the viewer that if you don’t watch the commercial, you might miss something.



The Super Bowl spots with the Terminator and the FoxBot are a simplistic form of this type of advertising. Beyond seeing which android will win, there is no narrative motivation to continue watching the spot. In other words, if I never saw those commercials, I would not miss anything from the larger narrative of the actual television series. On the other hand, the Mike and KITT Ford commercials do include material that is critical to the larger Night Rider narrative. In the commercial series we quickly find out that Mike will not be able to have a love life with anyone who does not know about, and tolerate, KITT. This is critical to the larger narrative since throughout the movie, there is tension between Mike and Sarah (Deanna Russo), his childhood friend and former girlfriend, who just happens to be the only person at the end of the film who can work on KITT’s artificial intelligence system. Sarah is a woman that Mike might be able to date because she does know KITT.



With an already well-developed industry for placing products into media narratives, will we now see an emergence of broadcast commercials that expand narrative franchises within the advertisement’s storyline? Will we see a growing number of ads that contain knowledge critical to understanding key components of the narrative franchise’s overall plot? Will we see more technological advancements that allow us to continue editing out non-narrative-dependent materials? Or, will it become all narrative, all the time?



Image Credits

1. The Terminator robot gears up to battle the FoxBot.

2. That’s 4 Alien movies, 2 Predator movies, and 2 Alien vs. Predator movies for a grand total of 8 films in this merged series.

Please feel free to comment.




Uncle Stevie vs. Aca-Fan: What CopyBlogger can teach us about Popular Scholarship

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7 Ways to expose your scholarship to the world.

As someone who writes and teachers about popular culture, I’m always playing catch-up with full season marathons of television shows. Right now I’m watching The Tudors. Like SF & F, I love period pieces for their imaginative wardrobe possibilities. When The Tudors is on, I want to be able to look up every minute or so to see what new exquisite costume they will display next. Unfortunately, I can’t read Henry Jenkins’ Confessions of an Aca-Fan blog and keep up with the wardrobe! Although it is “bloggy” it is still very “academicy” as well (ie, a lengthy, constructed scholarly effort that demands I stay focused on the blog at hand).

tudors12.jpg

The cast of Showtime’s The Tudors in all of their finery.

But my efforts to combine my popular culture interests with my academic pursuits are not the point here. Instead, in a time when the academy is increasingly being considered irrelevant or out of touch with the real world (especially “those” researchers who seem to shy away from practical application at the end of a research project) shouldn’t we be making an effort to invite “real world” readers into our scholarship? And with the 1.2.3. easy publication capabilities of web 2.0 technologies, why aren’t researchers being more transparent, making themselves accessible to the “real” world? Oh, wait, they are! Henry Jenkins is blogging; and those blogs are easier reads than his scholarly articles and books. But I still can’t watch The Tudors and read Jenkins’ blog. I can, however, read Uncle Stevie (Stephen King’s “The Pop of King” column in Entertainment Weekly), along with various technology blogs that keep me up on cool new techie-tools and toys I might incorporate into my teaching (LifeHacker, ReadWriteWeb, and Web Worker Daily to name a few).

henryjenkins.jpg

Henry Jenkins, the scholar behind Confessions of an Aca-Fan.

So how is Uncle Stevie different from Henry Jenkins and other academic bloggers? Copyblogger, another one of those techie blogs I like to read, has some features that might help put this into light.

Lists
Lists are what first “got” me with Uncle Stevie. How can you turn down the list of the king of horror’s top movie or reading picks for the year? After reading one of his top music lists, I tracked down, downloaded, and made a 2006 Stephen King mix on my iTunes (I’m late on catching up with 2007). But more importantly, lists are engaging and easy to read (especially while glancing up at what King Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn, are – or aren’t – wearing). Not only am I making Stephen King playlists for my iPod, I use King’s various lists to start discussion at family gatherings. But, as always, “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” and Uncle Stevie doesn’t use lists all the time.

Brevity
Brevity is what keeps bringing me back to Uncle Stevie. I know I can consume an entire article during a commercial break. But who watches live television anymore? King’s articles are only one to two digital “pages.” Although King’s articles aren’t only made up of the bulleted lists and highlighted key words that are supposed to support how people read on the web, he does get the idea that one idea per paragraph and a focused topic for the article allows the reader to move quickly, and break away for quick glimpse of a broach or necklace as needed.

tudors-101_0616_270gold.jpg

Costume pause: Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Tudors.

Improvisation
King knows he’s juggling multiple audiences: EW readers, EW editors, and himself. “The Pop of King” is published in EW; these readers want to know what is hip, in, and cool to consume. But they don’t just want the list, or suggestion, they want the short story that’s going to make it stick as well. So, for example, we get his listing of what actors are cool, which begins with a grammatical mini-lecture about the word cool. The writing teacher in me loves it. King also appeases his editors with the annual top 10 lists. But ultimately, I think King also “keeps it real” by writing about things that matter to him. And in a column that is mostly irreverently upbeat about popular culture, his reflection on Anna Nicole clearly came from a heartfelt, slight self-identification with the harsh reality of America’s celebrity factory.

Cosmo Headlines
Or sub-headlines…I’m still giggling about “pop dope” since I first read it. Popular culture is addictive and I can’t wait to see Anne’s wedding dress next season! King headlines many of his articles with movie titles. Like Clark’s CopyBlogger article says, these titles draw me in with the question “how will he connect the movie to the content this week?”

Generating Comments
Chartrand at CopyBlogger says wrapping up the text into a nice little package doesn’t invite the reader to participate. In the academy we are trained to point out problems, have a thesis as a solution, support the solution, address objections, make refutations and call it good. In this article about Amazon’s Kindle, King asks lots of questions, providing some of his own answers and leaving lots of space for readers to comment, and they did!

amd_tudors1.jpg

Natalie Dormer joins Meyers in race for best accessory.

Go Big or Go Home
Who the hell is Stephen King to rank music? He’s a writer by god! But hey, he’s the King of Pop, right? You can balance taking a stand and leaving space for your readers to engage. Being bold makes people want to engage with you. Not to mention you might receive some great provocative and generative comments.

Academic Writing is Bad!
Do I really need to explain this? If these tips are designed to make your scholarship accessible to a “popular” audience, your tone and style needs to be appropriate. Even in his serious piece, after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, about predicting violence through writing, King still uses a conversational tone and style.

tudors-gal-bofintrigues_comp2.jpg

One last costume change before concluding.

I’m not saying we should “dumb down” academics. Instead, I’m proposing we take advantage of web 2.0 technologies. Of course, Flow is an example of what I’m suggesting: a great forum for popular scholarship, i.e. a rhetorical repurposing of our regular scholarship for a broader audience. Notice, these CopyBlogger tips are not necessarily getting you tenure; they’re not supposed to. But heck, they might increase the number of people outside of the academy who purchase your next “serious” book. Hopefully one of the characteristics of scholarship in the 21st century will be the academic coming out of the white tower and calling all the kids around the campfire for a few stories, just like Uncle Stevie.

What steps have you taken to make your scholarship available to a general audience?
How might you use your pop dope addictions as transitions to connect general readers with your scholarship?
What pop dope are you currently addicted to (maybe I should be too)?

Image Credits:

1. 7 Ways to expose your scholarship to the world.

2. The cast of Showtime’s The Tudors in all of their finery.

3. Henry Jenkins, the scholar behind Confessions of an Aca-Fan.

4. Costume pause: Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Tudors.

5. Natalie Dormer joins Meyers in race for best accessory.

6. One last costume change before concluding.

Please feel free to comment.




Technofetishized TV: CSI, Bones, and ReGenesis as Science Fiction Television?

While trying to define science fiction (SF) in Foundation’s Profession of SF series, author Robert Sawyer claimed that science fiction “will have to change if it is to survive…it will be much more common for serious SF novels to have contemporary settings” (16). Accepting this claim begs the question of what we might consider new SF, specifically new SF television, and how we will recognize it as such. More specifically, can we consider the highly technologically fetishized murder/mystery dramas like the various CSIs [1], Bones, and the Canadian show ReGenesis as SF television.

csi1.jpg
Dr. Roberts and Grissom working in the CSI lab

In the various CSI shows we get scenes that glorify various technologies as they are used in the pursuit of justice. For example, towards the end of the CSI: Miami episode “Rio,” viewers watch a montage of Natalie’s DNA analysis of miniscule skin scrapings from a cell phone. The montage is structured like a MTV music video from the 80s or early 90s with quick editing, contrasting colors, and background music that would be at home in a dance club. However, whereas the 80s MTV music videos usually festishized the human body, beautiful women, or sexy rock stars, this video montage clip focuses on the technological tools used to analyze the evidence. We see close up images of all of the equipment used to analyze the DNA, ending with a close up of the monitor showing the results of the analysis. This type of scene is standard viewing across all three CSI shows, as are scenes where the genetic scientists in ReGenesis conduct lab analysis of infected blood.

csi2.jpg
Analysis of the Cell Phone, “Rio,” CSI: Miami

Almost every episode of Bones includes a scene where one of the scientists, Angela, either reconstructs the face of the murder victim or reconstructs the crime scene itself. Although Angela can easily draw the faces, most of the time she reconstructs them digitally and shows the results to both the team and the show’s audience, using a three-dimensional holographic monitor. The audience is sucked into these scenes, wowed by the technology in the same way we oohed, aahed, and “whoad” in scenes about “advanced” technologies from films like The Matrix. With these scenes that focus on technologies in a fetishized manner, these shows begin to associate themselves with a long line of science fiction film and television narratives that build themselves around the concept of an advanced technology.

In all five of these shows, the CSIs, Bones, and ReGenesis, the narratives promote the message that science and technology will find the “truth” behind the murder or illness. But why do the shows want, or need, science to find the truth? Or more importantly, why is it so important to the viewers that science and technology prevail? Again, the “Rio” episode gives us some insight. Natalie, the character who conducts the DNA test, was reprimanded earlier in the episode for allowing her emotions to impact her actions while working on a different case. In other words, the narrative sets up Natalie as human, emotional, fallible—she can’t be trusted. However, we can trust science! Although it is Natalie who runs the DNA testing, her face is either completed covered, like at the beginning of the montage, or relegated to a small portion of the screen during a three part split screen in the montage.

csi3.jpg

Greg conducting scientific analysis on CSI Las Vegas

In A Genealogy of Technical Culture: The Value of Convenience, Thomas Tierney’s theorizes how technology functions as a way to overcome the temporal and spatial limits of the body, using technology to promote the Cartesian mind/body split and even overcome death. Obviously in these shows the technologies begin to also overcome the emotional and mental limits of being human. These technofetishized scenes in the CSIs, Bones, and ReGenesis also reenact typical Mulvey [2] moments, with the close-ups of the technology standing in for the close-ups of female body parts; both objectifying, disavowing, and displacing dangerously emotional humanity. In many of these episodes female characters conduct the scientific analyses seeking the truth. The women who play these roles have their “Hollywood beautiful” bodies erased by the lab coat wardrobes they wear; nothing must distract the viewer from focusing on the beautiful infallible technology.

regent1.jpg

Actress in Lab Coat surrounded by Beautiful Technology, ReGenesis

In the same 2000 article that Sawyer claimed science fiction will have to change, he also argued that “The days when you could tell the public that a microwave oven would replace the traditional stove are long gone; we all know that new technologies aren’t going to live up to the hype” (11). Maybe Sawyer is focusing on the public that reads science fiction, because the “we” in this statement clearly are not the primary viewers of the various technofetishized murder/mystery dramas. In these shows the technologies do live up to the hype. They are not emotional fallible humans; they can remain “objective” to find “the truth” so that “justice” prevails.

Sawyer stakes the claim that “the central message of science fiction is this: ‘Look with a skeptical eye at new technologies’” (6). He compares his definition to one of William Gibson’s, “‘the job of the science-fiction writer is to be profoundly ambivalent about changes in technology’” (6). To contrast, Sawyer discusses the success of Michael Crichton: “Crichton isn’t a prophet; rather, he panders to the fear of technology so rampant in our society…The writers of real sf refuse to sink to fear-mongering” (7). Clearly shows like the CSIs, Bones, and ReGenesis do sink to fear mongering. Crime is out of control; we can’t trust the human-run “system” to administer justice and save us. Therefore, we need infallible technologies to succeed. Although these shows focus on science and technology, do they fetishize the technology too much? Are they not critical enough to be true science fiction?

Maybe the idea that we must be skeptical of technology is being recognized. In newer shows like Heroes the narrative only depends on the emotional people; all of the characters are constructed as fallible. And at the end of season one, it’s the most fallible character, the unethical politician, who saves the day. And although Heroes seems more fantastic as a genre, with characters that have magical abilities, the narrative situates these advanced abilities within the realm of evolutionary science (fiction).

[1] When referring to the CSIs, I’m mean all three television shows: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY.
[2] I am specifically referring to the objectification of the female body through the spectator’s gaze that Laura Mulvey discusses in her article “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema.”

Works Cited
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18.
Sawyer, Robert J. “The Profession of Science Fiction, 54: The Future is Already Here.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 80 (Autumn 2000): 5-18.
Tierney, Thomas F. A Genealogy of Technical Culture: The Value of Convenience. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Image Credits:

1.Dr. Roberts and Grissom working in the CSI
2.Analysis of the Cell Phone, “Rio,” CSI: Miami
3.Greg conducting scientific analysis on CSI Las Vegas
4.Actress in Lab Coat surrounded by Beautiful Technology, ReGenesis

Please feel free to comment.




Playing in the Technological Sandbox

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I am a faculty member that test drives newer technologies in my classes. Although I do not like having the occasional student decide to leave the class because the technologies we are using are too new, I do still believe I have a function in the technology adoption cycle in higher education. In other words, depending on the specific technology, I am either an innovator or early adopter in Roger's (2003) diffusion of innovations theory. This means that I generally imagine ways that a newer technology might better facilitate learning in my classes, and try that new technology out without necessarily having stories or “proof” that the technology improves learning. Instead, I'm the faculty member who shares those stories with my colleagues. Do the newer technologies sometimes fail? Absolutely! That is why it is so important to dialogue with my colleagues about these trials and errors.

For example, once I was talking with a colleague about teaching with technology. She had been asking me about how I learn about, and learn how to use, the various new technologies I incorporate into my classes. I mentioned that I spend a lot of time watching TV while also “playing” with new technologies. She latched on to the word “playing.” This particular colleague was one of the first faculty members to teach both computer mediated, as well as online distance learning, writing courses at my large community college in the southwest. Jackie, the teacher, told me a story about how in the early days of computer mediated classroom instruction they had the students learn how to point and click with a mouse by playing video games on the computer. In other words, as a part of the classroom activity, Jackie would assign students to spend time playing games. That practice came to a grinding halt the day the school's president came by the class with guests touring the campus. He was appalled that the students were playing games in class. However, I realize that Jackie's “play” assignments had the same function as my first week “learn the technology” assignments in my online classes. I basically have students do mini-assignments with each technology. The assignments really have nothing to do with the course content–their purpose is to have the students practice with the different technologies.

This conversation with Jackie made me realize that there were some possible contradictory forces at work when it comes to teaching with technology. On the one hand, many higher education administrations emphasize the need for faculty to incorporate different learning technologies into the classroom. However, on the other hand, the manner in which people learn, both faculty and students, how to use and incorporate the technology into their teaching and learning processes may not happen in the manner, or the timeline, that the administration desires.

My discussion with Jackie resonated with my discussions with both my department chairperson and my dean. This past semester my department chair and dean observed and evaluated one of my online classes instead of one of my face-to-face classes. This particular semester, in the class they observed, I was having students work with blogs, an online bookmarking/archiving tool (e.g. Furl, del.icio.us, etc.), and a RSS aggregator. Needless to say, most of the students had never worked with any of these technologies.

After the digital tour of my course, my dean responded by saying, “Those are difficult technologies. How do you support the students?” My chair asked a similar question: “How can we better support you?” In both cases, we talked about different forms of support for faculty and students. I discussed the more traditional forms of support such as the detailed instructions with screen shots that I made into PDF files. However, as an early adopter, no one made those documents for me and I had to make them for my students. We also briefly discussed the school's helpdesk and how they could not function as support since these were newer technologies that the school did not officially sanction. (At a regional computing conference in 2006, Warger discussed the difficulty that many campus media and IT support folks are having in keeping up with the ever-increasing number, at an ever-increasing pace, of newer technologies.) I then talked about other forms of support such as having students come in for face-to-face introductory sessions as well as the “learn the technology” assignments at the beginning of the course. Similarly, “traditional” technological support mechanisms on campus are not only insufficient for the students using newer technologies, but also the faculty who are using newer technologies. I talked about building my own support infrastructure by networking with various media and IT (information technology as well as instructional technology) folks on campus. I also mentioned the need for financial support to purchase newer computers and new software.

I took this opportunity to dialogue with my chair and my dean about how working with these technologies has really forced me to reflect on the balance between a course with deadlines and the flexibility of leaving time and space for students to learn the technologies. This flexibility is almost necessary since students very rarely take my suggestion of taking time to “play” with the technologies and instead wait until the last minute for a deadline when they then run into technology troubles. Students often don't want to “waste” their time “playing” with the technology because they want their “work” in a course to have an outcome associated with a grade. I told my dean that I've had to extend my “learn the technology” period and assignments to help students take the time to learn these newer technologies. In other words, like Jackie above, I had to assign “play” into the course to get students to just work with and learn the technologies.

Playing on the beach

Girl playing on the beach

I also emphasized that as a faculty member working with these newer technologies, I also needed the time, energy, and recognized support of “playing.” In other words, in a time when administrators are requesting more and more documentation or “proof” of achievement and outcomes, I am requesting time to “play”–time that has no immediate outcome beyond just testing the boundaries of a newer technology. I will not build a class with it (that comes later if I think the technology will better facilitate student learning); I will not develop some project or lesson with it; I will only get to know the technology a little better. At most, all that would emerge as an outcome for this “play” period is a report on how and why I thought the technology might better facilitate student learning and how I might incorporate it into a course.

If I am correct about needing play, and dialogue about play, to better experiment and incorporate newer technologies into teaching and learning in higher education, what does this mean? What is the impact of “playing” with new technologies on teaching and learning outcomes? I think playing with new technologies in a course does encourage instructors to critically rethink their learning objectives. How does “playing” with new technologies shift responsibilities for teachers, students, even administrators? Obviously I'm arguing it changes what we do and how we do it as teachers; and I know it impacts students' interactions and learning in classes–but how? And are these changes for the better? And if playing with new technologies impacts are teaching, how does it impact research and scholarship? I'm especially interested in how “play” is beginning to impact the sharing of information and publication processes–with Flow being a great example. What is the impact of “playing” with new technologies on professional development and tenure? Kairos, an online journal in computers and writing, dedicated an entire issue to tenure and technology. And finally, how can, and should, “playing” be “professional”? I sure hope it can, because I like having fun at work!

Works Cited
Rogers, Everett M. Diffusion of Innovation. 5th ed. New York: Free Press, 2003.

Warger, Thomas A. “Supporting the Newest New Technologies on Campus.” Presented at the North East Regional Computing Program Conf., Worcester, MA. 11 May 2006.

Links of Interest
CogDogBlog by Alan Levine
Rodrigo's SuprGlu
Rodrigo's Online Course example
Sifting Through a Technology Sandbox

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2. Playing on the beach

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