Tag Archives: collaboration

Shakespr: (Re)creationally Writing Hamlet Online

shakespr

 

 

Shakespr

Overview:

My project argues, through a case study on Hamlet, that tumblr users in the Shakespeare fandom have constructed their own Shakespeare that reflects both the demystification of the exception Author and the deconstruction of a monolithic, culture-controlling Academy. While tumblr users genuinely seem to enjoy Shakespeare’s work and value the texts immensely, they do not bring a sense of reverence to Shakespeare as typically presented in high school and college classrooms. They engage in the queer readings some academics pursue but that never reach a first-time reader of Hamlet. They place Hamlet next to Ke$ha without batting an eye. And they turn Hamlet‘s narrative into a series of emojiis. (Among other things). Often through collaborative writing , tumblr re-presents, remixes, and remediates Shakespeare. Along the way, the site recreates Shakespeare’s body of work as fun and flexible, and Shakespeare becomes Shakespr.

Process:

I suppose I can say that I started this essay (without really knowing it) before I started this course. I have been on tumblr for several years now, and I have been pursuing Renaissance literature (particularly Shakespeare) for about the same amount of time. So, before the course began, I had already had on my blog several posts from other users about Shakespeare. Posts I found fascinating to view.

When I began this course, I knew early on that I wanted to work with tumblr. As I’ll talk more about below, I think that tumblr’s interface – though it might take a bit getting used to – allows for variation in digital composition.

In looking at the Shakespeare posts, I first continued my collection work. I followed as many Shakespeare blogs I could find, reblogged a bunch of posts about Hamlet, used my tumblr at first to curate.

I then went through these posts to categorize the different modes users employed in discussing Shakespeare. It was at this point that I made the divisions: re-present, remix, and remediate. I organized the blog by dramatic vocabulary: preface, dramatis personae, three acts, an epilogue, and source materials. I then got a lot of excellent feedback from my group on how to guide my audience across these divisions.

Affordances:

For me, the main appeal of tumblr is the way in which posts are divided. A post can be text, photo, video, a chat, a link, a quotation, or any variation/combination thereof. Tumblr can be extremely visually appealing as it integrates all of these sources.

But, I would say even more than that, tumblr is immediately public in a way other blogging sites are not. If I tag a post “Shakespeare” the post immediately moves into the website tags, where anyone who is scrolling through or tracking the tag can see it. Users on tumblr also, then, read differently. They usually read in their dashboard – looking at tracked tags or what the people they follow reblog. Generally speaking, they do not encounter a blog by going to the blog home page, but by seeing one post by that user and then looking for more. The interaction this enables made me view my writing as much more public than I otherwise would (especially when I was writing my commentary directly on the posts of other users).

Constraints:

Tumblr is not designed for a linear essay. One of the constraints I dealt with was how to link clearly and easily across all of my posts so that users both familiar and unfamiliar with the site could navigate my essay. The other main constraint is in the writing process on tumblr; when things are posted, they are (generally) complete posts. So I did have to respond to one confused (and slightly aggressive) anonymous message about how my blog was working.

Overall, I have absolutely enjoyed this writing process and project, and might have already started a more long-term blog about being a graduate student more broadly…(plug).

I look forward to talking about my work and hearing about everyone else’s!

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Video Essay Models

I’m going to cheat a little bit and post two examples. But they’re both fairly short (and you don’t have to watch them in their entirety to get the point). More importantly, they both show the power of video essays in very different ways. Here’s the first one:

As you’ll see in the info section, this video was created by a college student for a class project. And while this video is certainly not perfect (I find the choice of soundtrack to be absolutely awful), I do think it interestingly shows how a digital medium (YouTube) can be used to explore itself.

The videographer used YouTube to create his driving question (why do people use youtube?), to collect data (through sending out a survey request), to compile that data (through creating the video itself), and to present the final project (through hosting the video on youtube). It seems to me that this multi-layered use of a single medium is something that is distinctly digital. That is, it is something that really could not be accomplished in other mediums.

And that’s what I find most interesting about the possibilities of digital writing—not only does it allow us to transform “traditional” texts into something else, but it opens up whole new areas of research and production that were heretofore unavailable.

The second video is something I just came across on Facebook earlier today (and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you have seen it already as well). Here it is:

While this video is different from the one we watched above in many ways—perhaps most obviously in its production quality—it is similar in that it is using digital mediums to make an argument that would otherwise not be possible (or at least not nearly as effective).

This video not only relies on the visual footage itself to make much of its argument—both through the people walking past their relatives and through their later reactions to watching themselves—but it seems to me that it is also relying on social media in order to spread its message. Through creating a short, relatable video with a clear message, this video just begs to be shared with others (which, according to my Facebook page, it is accomplishing).

Taken together, these two videos all show the possibilities for collaboration that come through digital mediums. Both of these videos use interviews as their primary source of content—yet they are also both edited to reflect the overarching argument of the videographer. It seems to me that this type of interweaving of different voices is one that is not fully possible in static print texts, and it is one that I find to be very successful in crafting an argument.

Collecting an Argument on Tumblr

A content warning for the digital text below – while not graphically, it deals with violence against women, rape culture, misogyny, and references to self-harm/suicide. Not to bring anybody down or  anything…

A Woman’s Worst Nightmare

This particular post, written by several tumblr users over months and with nearly 70,000 notes (of both likes and reblogs), represents one way in which tumblr collaboratively composes.

The post’s origin was in January 2011 with alullaby posting the quotation from Mary Dickson’s 1996 article hosted on PBS, “A Woman’s Worst Nightmare.” The piece as it currently stands exists primarily in this form, although there will be small variations across blogs as the person reblogging may add to the written material. It is not a static piece of writing, and, at first, I was hesitant to put it forward as a digital “essay” – as I do think of essays as writing with a clear start and end date and that will appear the same no matter who posts/reblogs it. But it is certainly a digital text.

Further, the piece represents one significant mode of writing on tumblr: collection. The collection could be the most ridiculous posts surrounding the government shutdown, the strangest high school sex miseducation moments, or a more serious post such as this, where women (and a couple men) voice their understanding of women’s worst nightmare. This one in particular is a collection because it has been curated in a certain way. Normally, when a post is just reblogged again and again and added to, the final product on your dashboard looks like this:

x11 1

Courtneystoker reblogged the original post from radiantbutterfly and clicking on either url will bring you to the post on those users’ blogs.

This text, however, looks like this on the dash (I’m only showing a section because it is far too large to screenshot and insert the whole thing):

x11 2

Here, the relationship between each comment is unclear; while it’s possible kaitg reblogged and then added to kittencoaster’s comment, it’s impossible to tell, especially as the urls lead only to the users’ homepages and not their reblogged version of the post. This suggests, then, that this is a collection of posts – though the collector seems to be anonymous. (At least at this point, there may be a way to find out the exact history of the post, but it would involve going through its tens of thousands of notes.)

Collections seem to work uncreatively as Kenneth Goldsmith imagines the mode. If we think back to his presentation on the Brooklyn Bridge – he selects various pieces about it to make a clear, but implicit, argument. While the majority of my own tumblr essay differs from the collection as it has one author, a linear structure, and close reading, some of the work outside of the essay’s main body is in the collection of posts around Hamlet and Shakespeare original to the site.

As a collection, this text works similarly to what Goldsmith describes in that there are a large variety of users putting vastly different thoughts on the table, from “Wow” (kittencoaster) and “men, read all of this please. including the commentary. esp if you consider yourself a Nice Guy” (static-nonsense) to the longer narrative posts (someauthorgirl) and references to outside writers (becomingchichi). The comment that indicates how the piece has grown through the various commentary also stays in the most popular version of it (everythingbutharleyquinn).

The collaborative process embraces different writing styles. Some users don’t use capitalization/proper grammar and spelling, some write extremely informally and casually use obscenity, and some take a more academic, critical tone while still describing intensely personal experiences.

And, the writers recognize the writing that they are collecting as unique. Gtfothinspo writes, “I referenced this quote in a discussion I was having with a teacher a few weeks ago. He shifted uncomfortably and didn’t say anything for a few minutes, then told me ‘I couldn’t write like that in an essay.’ The truth hurts, huh.”

Collectively, the post embodies several elements of digital writing: an element of anonymity, a vast range in styles, collaboration, and a self-awareness of its own project.

Teaching, Preaching, and Co-Creating Digital Text?

bear with me … this self-indulgent narrative has a point

When I began teaching ENGL110 last spring (has it really only been one year?), I had in mind a teaching persona and classroom ethos that I was going to cultivate:

Me: Strict, but kind; witty but magical director of discourse; organized; gives cool assignments

Classroom: Erupting in huge debates (directed by me); happy and inspired; students in my office hours every week, desiring my knowledge and wisdom

Then I actually became an ENGL110 teacher.

In my fifth section, this is currently my persona and classroom ethos:

Me: sets out rules but constantly breaks them; compassionate to the point where I know I get taken advantage of; often forgetful; constantly changing my teaching style to reflect the needs of each class; constantly betraying my excitement about writing concepts

Classroom: extremely engaged, though often not willing to talk in the large group setting (very willing to talk in groups and one-on-one with me); open to ideas; embracing difficult concepts and lessons; regrettably suspicious of their peers and their peers’ comments; desiring (and fearing) creative assignments; avoiding my office for “fear of taking up your time” (!!)

One of my initial slight disappointments with Adam Banks’s Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age is the lack of teaching anecdotes or advice on teaching as a DJ griot. He does give us an idea of what his own community courses looked like, but this didn’t seem helpful for the UD teacher of a (mostly white) ENGL110 classroom. “Give me methods and systems so I can craft the right identity,” I cried in my head. “How can I teach this in the correct way?”

Then Banks asked us to consider teaching in the community as preachers rather than wisdom-imparting-intellectuals in Chapter 2 “Mix.” At this passage, I paused to reflect:

“These processes of collaboration and identification, of call and response and building shared knowledge, of code switching, finding, and using shared language, for Moss lead to the creation of a shared text. In other words, the preacher is no longer a sole author, and the congregation can no longer be said to play the role of mere listening or receiver. They create text together” (51).

My inclinations as a teacher were originally to control and create a strong queendom (with me at the head, of course). I discovered very quickly my first semester of ENGL110 that this would not work for two reasons: (1) in making myself a figure of absolute authority (without vulnerability), I was creating a person that my students didn’t care about and thus resisted; (2) in my personal ideology (as this class has seen in my former responses), I am extremely open-sourcy, championing free knowledge and anti-establishmentisms.

In my own teaching life, these two realizations led me to be more vulnerable with my class (sharing opinions about long-established writing rules, sharing my own failures as a writer, being honest about what I knew and didn’t know). They also led me to adopt a policy of consistent dialogue in drafts, in groups, in the large class, and one-on-one with my students. This kind of dialogue creates a sense in my classroom that each student has valuable ideas and messages, which is shown in how seriously I take them.

That said, I still don’t think that my class has the aurora of “creating together” that Banks mentions. There is a sense that each individual is creating a text with me, but there is not the same sense of community creation in my class. I really want to get to this point of community collaboration, though, and I also really believe that digital media is the place where this can be done the best. So I’m going to propose some things to try for the next class that I will teach, and I would also welcome feedback and ideas from others.

pleaz?

Proposals for Co-Creating Digital (and/or Public) Text

  1. Class blog/discussion forum (outright stealing this from our 685 class, where I feel it has been extremely successful).
  2. Creating some assignment together; perhaps a collection of narratives (with visuals) with a discussion about how to organize and group them
  3. Public feedback; perhaps beginning with a text created by me and then easing them into presenting their own work for the public eye.

Alone in the Archive, Together in Google Docs

Those of us in the Transatlantic Gothic seminar submitted our archival research papers today. The assignment asked us each to choose one of the course texts and investigate its afterlife and reception by doing research in library databases and other primary sources. We did not sign up for specific texts, nor did we discuss our research questions in the confines of the class. It was a purely private exploration, just me and the archives and digital databases.

Once the papers were safely submitted to the professor (uncontaminated by secondary source materials or, apparently, the influence of others), she encouraged us to post our completed papers in the Sakai class forum so that other students in the class can read them. Finally, we devoted a few minutes at the end of class for is to share the scope of what we found.

Even that gesture toward sharing and commenting on each other’s work is more than in some grad courses.

Although grad students are frequently together—in seminar, in our super-tight cubicle offices—we often read and write alone.

Image
Scrolling through a document, all alone.

 

In Planned Obsolescence, Kathleen Fitzpatrick argues for a significantly more open and collaborative reading and writing community. She writes about “new conversational publishing practices”* in digital forms and shows that our obsession with being original and proprietors of our intellectual property are keeping us from adopting these new means of sharing and publishing our work. We need to see that “some of the most important work that we can do as scholars may more closely resemble contemporary editorial or curatorial practices, bringing together, highlighting, and remixing significant ideas in existing texts rather than remaining solely focused on the production of more ostensibly original texts.”

I crave this. I love the open exchange of ideas on this blog, from comments and suggestions on my writing from colleagues, and from the forwarding of a link or title of an article that someone I respect thinks would interest me.

But currently, those mechanisms for collaboration and sharing my writing happen only because I seek them out, extracurricularly. I sometimes feel sheepish asking a friend (see especially the ever-compassionate Katie Wright and bad-ass Carolyne King) to take the time to read a paper I’m writing in order to give me feedback. I ask myself, How good should it be before I ask them to offer reader reaction? Some of this is pride—I don’t want to waste anyone else’s time with my shitty first draft. I want my ideas to be somewhat formed before someone other than me opens my document. And yet I don’t want to wait until I’m so far into the drafting process that a nudge or wrist slap from a reader I respect can’t shift my thoughts in a more productive way.

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This is a video of a cat helping a dog open a door. It’s a metaphor.

While much of the time I spend reading and writing is, by necessity, alone time, the most invigorating and momentum-building work I do comes when I am challenged by another writer responding to / critiquing / pushing back against / extending / asking me to clarify my ideas.

I resolve to seek out ways to make my writing more public (I admire scholars who draft in public like Dr. Michelle Moravec and those who blog like Frederick Coye Heard), and in doing so, making myself vulnerable to criticism. I also commit to making sure that I, too, engage in helping my peers create, strengthen, and share their writing with a broader audience.

Together, I believe that we can set a new model for ourselves of inculcating helpfulness. As Fitzpatrick writes in her conclusion, “the new communication systems that we develop for networked environments” are scary, but they’re also “generative,” and we must be willing to continue remaining open to the discomfort of “instability, of the frighteningly uncertain, of the wide-open and new.” It feels weird, it feels scary, and it doesn’t always feel good, but we’ve got to do a better job of embracing more open and collaborative/conversational means of writing, commenting, editing, and publishing.

*I have a Kindle version of the text and don’t have page numbers. I’m sorry.

Curated Reality: Directives, the Collapse of Collaboration, and Technology in School

If we all took the Invisible Gorilla experiment (1-3), and you were one of the people who saw the gorilla, you’d probably try and figure out who else saw the gorilla, detect what they have in common with you that let them see the gorilla, and find a way to say “Hey, you saw the gorilla too. What’s the deal with the gorilla?”

Since you’d been directed to count all the passes, though, you would then convene with the Basketball Counters (who, all this time, have been doing to their calculations what you’ve been doing to the gorilla) in an attempt to arrive at an accurate picture of what’s going on here. That’s the collaboration that Davidson gestures ambitiously towards in her introduction (5), it’s the framework for the book’s objectives–to examine how we might adapt our schools and workplaces to account for this human tendency to pay attention to some things and not others, and to seek new information on what they’re missing when they need to problem-solve.

But let’s suppose (in a little mental experiment) that the Invisible Gorilla experiment that no one directed the audience to count the passes—there is no clear problem to solve. Without this directive, people would watch the video with a more open filter, with the counting-inclined counting all sorts of passes in different categories, the sports-inclined watching the form of the passes, perhaps, the literature-inclined attempting to close read the scene for symbolic meaning, and a fair number of people just watching. A larger number of people, without their attention externally directed elsewhere, might see the gorilla–without telling everyone to count (as Joe deliberately neglected to do on Friday), most people see the gorilla. It’s a gorilla.

In a group large enough, without this counting directive, people might generally see the gorilla and understand the passes and the coding of the colored shirts, and talk about what it means. But this central consensus on the (now obvious) gorilla presence would still generate a series of outlier groups: people who don’t think the gorilla is important, who counted all the passes between black shirts, or white shirts, or all the passes from one color shirt to different color shirts, and so on. They form their own small groups, reinforcing each other’s beliefs.

This is basically the internet in a nutshell. There is a mass of data, to be processed by people, with no filtering directives or directive towards problem-solving. Like Baby Andy (47), it’s just spitting data at us, and we’re selecting parts, giving them value, reinforcing the reproduction of that data, and grouping up with other people to form cultures where “Dada” is a word and “Mada” is not, where the gorilla doesn’t matter but the black-shirt passes do.

Internet Opinions

Collaboration under these circumstances may or may not be as prevalent as under the “count the passes” directive, but this collaboration is fragmentary and self-reinforcing non-collaboratory (or intra-group collaboratory) activity is just as common. Team Gorilla and Team Mathematics don’t always talk. They have no reason to. This self-selecting group-identity without an impetus to collaboration creates what I call a Curated Reality (sometimes called a bubble world, or a pundit sphere, or when properly financed, a cable news network). Davidson seems particularly unconcerned about this (the book is deliberately “optimistic” [back cover] after all), but it does make me nervous. I’m usually one of those “the internet is THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED” people, but there’s no ignoring the fact that people (all of us) select data that we are already pre-inclined to find interesting, accessible or agreeable, and filter out as “crap” all that stuff which is uninteresting or contrarian, and are generally blind to these filtering activities.

What this has to do with my experiences as a student and as an instructor grows out of the fact that, like Duke, my undergrad institution distributed iPods to its incoming freshmen (in the 2006-2007 school year). The problem was, without the financial resources of Duke or the Apple branding help garnered from Duke’s large public profile, the iPods were only distributed by specific programs in specific colleges. Unlike Duke’s student population, which as Davidson indicates was directed towards education their whole lives (64), the population at my not-quite-Ivy institution was less inclined to go along with the overtly experimental program, effectively fragmenting the student population (and the school) into iPod Education Advocates (developing apps and doing work), Happy iPod Hijackers (who laughed at this heavy-handed idea that if you just dump new tech into an old classroom things will get more efficient, and just used it to listen to music), and The Humanities Students (who did not receive the technology at all, despite appealing to the administration). The collaboration that Davidson commendably notes at Duke (65) collapsed before it even formed, except for isolated, intrepid pockets of iPod Education Enthusiasts and iPod owners. Like miniature Dukes.

In the following years, whole colleges in the university abandoned the program. The programs that abandoned the iPod did so because collaboration and innovation was stifled–ironically, stifled because these programs had implemented free iPods in an unequal fashion and hoped that crowdsourcing without directives would somehow magically collaborate them straight into the information age. iPod education became a Curated Reality–those who had it said it worked, those who had given up on it said it was worthwhile but not exemplary, and those who never had it scoffed at the idea that technology had anything new to offer, and none of these groups was really interested in talking because there was no directive, no problem to solve. Collaboration became in-group only, and attention blindness became the mode of the day.

While Davidson says Duke’s program never came with a directive (62-63), it did implicitly have one. Duke distributed the technology to a student population already inclined to work outside class time on improving the university, with specifically branded partnerships with Apple, under an educational initiative undertaken by the whole university with the direction of Davidson herself (64). In essence, she did the Invisible Gorilla experiment on a room full of professional counters at a conference on counting basketball passes–a directive is implicit in the context, creating an object of, and impetus for, collaboration.

The excerpt from a Youtube video that follows, by user Gabgorilla from October 20, 2011, stands as a prime example of both an argument for technologically enhanced education, and as an example of an artifact of collapsed collaborative possibility and implicit, limiting directives, forming a Curated Reality:

In the video, the user (a student or professor, perhaps, in a digital composition course) juxtaposes the “classrooms of today” (which are filled with laptops, mostly Apples) with the “classrooms of the past” (with patriarchal paintings and warped desks) (see 00:16 to 00:19), using Dictionary.com and proprietary clip-art to make a point about technology and classrooms in a painfully artificial use of technology that students would giggle a bit at. The video transitions from talking about technology in education generally to focusing implicitly on composition, challenging the notion that technology can only be used for “word processing” (01:48 to 01:50) while it fails to cite any uses that are not composition-oriented. The end result is commendable, but fails to reach outward beyond its implicit focus on composition technologies, proposing to enable a collaboration it implicitly fails to imagine. The video’s author challenges us to use technology in new ways, which in the video seems to mean making essays with more expensive software than a word processor.

This video gets caught up (as Davidson does, a bit) in the rhetoric of technology as panacea for education–a Curated Reality based on enthusiasm for technology and education whose laudable enthusiasm frequently erases the dangers of technology inequality and of shoehorning technology into a classroom without regard for its actual pedagogical usefulness or the ways in which technology has already impacted the classroom. Technology, despite everything said, insistently remains a replacement for or enhancement of older technology, and paying attention to it at all is grounds for self-congratulation (see all of Davidson, Chapter 3). Likewise, it remains bound up in an implicit economic language where the cost of these technologies, and their accessibility, is ignored. iPods are used to record and distribute spoken lectures to other iPod users (Davidson 66), and Duke (and Davidson) congratulate themselves on crowdsourcing new ways to use technology to make education accessible to everyone (with the several hundred dollars necessary to purchase an iPod in 2006).

Selective attention to one aspect of educational technology by a specialized group of educators with a specialized group of students (Davidson’s Duke and it’s implicitly elite student body) with the directive (implicit or otherwise–it was certainly obvious to Duke students) of modernizing educational practices creates a small group which can collaborate but collapses the possibility of collaboration outside that context–no one cites the problem of unequal implementation, or of the social forces built into educational systems which disqualify certain approaches (and which contaminated Davidson’s experimental control of not telling students what to do). Davidson, pointedly, recognizes this skewed basis but continues to universalize her experience at Duke anyway (64). She claims there are no directives or conditions–but directives were built in everywhere. Likewise, at my undergraduate institution, the unequal implementation of the initiative put further directives in the mix, rapidly enabling very specific kinds of collaboration and utterly destroying any other kind.

My much-belabored point is this: Much like the video’s limited embrace of technology, Davidson’s ideas of where this technology goes in Chapter 3 perpetuates some of the problems she wants to fight: it disables the awareness of attention blindness and collaboration that she champions. As many education technology enthusiasts (like me, and Davidson, and others) have done, we have challenged the conditions of an old, conservatively anti-technology Curated Reality on education and, in the process, perpetuated our own Curated Reality, blind to our structural preconceptions. We have enabled some forms of collaboration by disabling others, blind to our own implicit directives while claiming to be “open.” Our utopia is smaller than we imagined, because membership and collaborative knowledge is governed by criteria we pretend aren’t there.