was it really only 30 days?

It’s finally over, and what an epic month it has been, while the crowd funding campaign didn’t make the target to fund the Values of Play survey or PlayCache project, the Deakin and Pozible crowdfunding experiment has been a tremendous success. I’ll explain why, but first, a very big  thank you to all who pledged, messaged and contributed to the campaign.

Thank you to all my wonderful friends, family, peers, colleagues, students and all the new friends, contacts and campaign supporters who put their names to the project for your willingness to fund original research. Thanks to those who tweeted and re-tweeted project messages, and to those who posted, liked and shared the PlayCache Facebook page, which has attracted new friends and followers. I will be continuing the project from there and posting regularly.

A special thank you to Professor Deb Verhoeven, Chair in Media and Communication, whose initiative, direction and leadership has created new opportunities for those of us at Deakin. Thanks must also go to Matthew Benetti and the Pozible crew. I’m already a proud supporter of a number of projects and will continue to be an active Pozible pledger! Thank you to Professor Matthew Allen, Professor of Internet Studies and Head of the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin for backing the crowdfunding initiative and trumpeting the call for support to the School.

We often learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. One of my favourite definitions of a gamer comes from McKenzie Wark’s book Gamer Theory, in which he defines gamers as “those who come to an understanding through quantifiable failure”. As a games studies scholar with an interest in the ‘indie’ and independent production of games, it’s given me a unique insight into the types of challenges developers are currently wrestling with.

The coverage of the Pozible campaign by journalists and bloggers with an interest in games and the values of play, helping us work past the stereotypes, has been fantastic. It’s also been a great chance to participate in the debates across Facebook, Twitter and Reddit over the implications of crowdfunding research and what it means to the Australian University sector.

The campaign has enabled me to create new networks, contacts and opportunities, such as panel at the Human Rights Commission in Sydney next week, where I’ll be talking about Games and Human Rights (http://www.mcvpacific.com/news/read/australian-human-rights-commission-to-host-panel-on-human-rights-in-videogames/).

The attention from the Pozible experiment has also created a marvelous new opportunity for Media and Communication and Creative Arts students at Deakin and I’ll be working with student filmmakers and bloggers in a collaboration with Invest Victoria, the business and innovations promotions unit of the Victorian government to cover the PAXAustralia games convention in July (http://aus.paxsite.com/).

Please do consider pledging to James McCardles’s ‘Retake Melbourne’ Pozible campaign at http://www.pozible.com/project/22875 and Euan Ritchies ‘Discovering Papua New Guinea’s Mountain Mammals’ project at http://www.pozible.com/project/22847. Two great projects that definitely deserve our support.

Thanks again and play on!

 

fictions of science and narratives of technology in SF games

Much of my primary research is concerned with the many and varied creative cultures of production in the games industry, but I am also a long time science fiction fan and have recently begun to consider an intersection between Doctor Who and another research interest; the obsolescence of technology and the environmental and social impact of electronic waste, particularly from games. This presentation was delivered as a short paper to the first gathering of an emerging research group on Science Fiction at Deakin University, at the Waterfront Campus City Centre, on Wednesday, November 5.

The initial plan was to examine three ‘fictions’ of science across the three major games media platforms the PC, consoles and mobile devices. Ultimately the ten minute window for the presentation prohibited the ambitious scope and even as I was writing I saw the distinction between PC and consoles almost vanish completely now as Steam, XBOX Live and the Apple Game Store mean the digital distribution model and the movement between devices of the same operating system is increasingly practical, transferring across desktop, portable and mobile devices.

[The link to the ‘prezi’ presentation slides is here: ‘The Fictions of Science and Narratives of Technology in mobile, console and PC games on Prezi‘. I hope to re-record the audio for the presentation and combine the two via YouTube soon as the recording on the day didn’t come out very well.]

The earliest digital games were science fiction games for a number of suitably obvious reasons connected to the military industrial complex and the still male dominated environment of software and hardware engineering in the private and higher education sectors. Right at its origins one of the very first computer games neatly encapsulates the doubled ontology of the entire multi-subgenre spanning range of the science fiction game category.

Spacewar! created by Steve Russell and others on the PDP1 at MIT in 1962 is a game that strictly adheres to an internally consistent and purely scientific world order. The game’s code simulates gravity and involves player decision making through cybernetic interaction with logically predictable outcomes. The content of the game play is contextually framed in a world of rockets and interstellar flight, the battles of Spacewar! are not unlike the relativistic light speed navel ballet of Peter F Hamilton’s space opera and  scientifically literate and imaginative Nights Dawntrilogy.

Spacewar--the world's first computer video game.
[image by richardzx]

What is immediately noticeable about Spacewar! is the ‘science’ of the game, as the two players must navigate around the gravity pull of a star through trial and error, observation and testing, navigating and understanding the world from the perspective of curved gravity and momentum. Also immediately apparent to the player is the choice between the two ships, known as the ‘needle’ and the ‘wedge’. The controls and weapons are similar, but the look and feel are not exactly the same. Affect and difference are encoded directly into the ‘game world’ for the player to experience through the software, the code’s iterative universe.

Simultaneously the body of the player is engaged through the cybernetic interaction of the physical human machine interface, and further the player is involved in the symbolic action of play and negotiation of the representative capacities of visual and audial information, right from the very start of the video game format.

These three categories of Code, Cybernetics and Symbolism are just three of the ‘fictions of science’ in science fiction (and non-overtly SF) games, but they conveniently overlap the three orders of science fiction simulacra populated by Jean Baudrillard (1991) in his ‘Two Essays: Simulacra and Science Fiction’, the natural, the productive and the simulation. Baudrillard schema was new to me, but I found real measure in the notion that in terms of science fiction texts the ‘ordering’ structure is typically a statement about the relationship between concepts of the real and the imaginary and is governed by the principle logic of distance. The orders of simulacra immediately seemed to correspond with the three categories I’d arrived at. Like Baudrillard, I don’t consider these definitive, but illustrative of a domain of experience that is unique to the science fiction game.

The Natural Order

365:162 I found utopia (and it is a food store?)

[image by pennacook]

In the natural order, Baudrillard regards science fiction as a realm of the pure imaginary, at its most complete distance to a known ‘reality’. The natural order is a harmonious balance, the cycles of life and death and the ordering laws of the universe; the harmonics of the light spectrum in science fiction of this order are, for example, consistent with a quantifiable known existence. The natural order of simulacra is most famously represented in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and Ursula Le Guin’s novella, The Word for World is Forest. This order of simulacra situates Utopia and the ‘natural’ are more unending if not unchanging in its cyclical patterns of nature. This order neatly maps over the structuring effects of software code, especially in computer games which are orchestral systems of feedback, databases, algorithms, inputs and pixels, and however ‘messy’ and labyrinthine the code layer becomes once in operation it is the wheels of game universe turning.

The primary order is operatic, theatrical and maintains the gothic fantasy of almost arcane high machinery, like the Steam Punk sub-genre and the “grand Opera” of technology (Baudrillard, 1991) in the ‘Gaslamp’ fantasy of web comic serial, Girl Genius (2006). Games like Tetris and WipeOut embody the Utopian principles of order and balance, the system requires the human player to assist in its operation, an endless search for completion.

Games like Audiosurf use their code to translate one material world, music, to that of another, the game world; players must integrate listening as much as viewing as they steer their spaceship across a lightbridge whose spatial dimensions are encoded by the frequencies of the their music collection and their familiarity with their musical selection guides their ability to steering effectively along the courseway to gain points. Audiosurf is the encoding of the harmonic capacities of music into the material dimensions of the game world. The software ‘playing’ itself is not a game. Tetris may be the literally encoding of the Sisyphean punishment, but its emergent narrative for is the player is therefore near operatic in scale, acting almost at the subconscious level. The game’s content is abstract, but it’s narrative is what happens when the player plays.

The Productive Order

Modern plantation

[image by t_a_i_s]

Baudrillard’s framing for the second order of simulacra is the productive, it is through the productive that the dominant structures of energies, forces, politics and actions are  Promethean obsession, modernist drive, mechanical fetishism, expansionist logic and the extreme ends of the mutated desires of capital. The productive order is the centre ground for much science fiction and can be considered an intersection of the distance between both the real and the imaginary.

The productive or projective order, as described by Baudrillard, arises from the capricious indistinction of distance between the real and the imaginary, occurring from its proximity to the third order of simulation. It is the immaterial that is altered in this encounter, given structure and purpose through the processes of the productive order, but the second order is similarly infected with the exponential gearing of the non-material modes of production. The computer is key and illustrative of this doubling:

“One can, for example, clearly discern the difference between machine robot-mechanics (characteristic of the second order) and cybernetic machines like computers which derive axiomatically from the third. But one order can easily contaminate the other, and the computer can very well function like a supermachine, a super-robot, a mechanical superpower: exhibiting the productive genius of the simulacra of the second order, not following the processes of pure simulation, and still bearing witness of the reflexes of a finalised universe…including ambivalence and revolt, like Hal in 2001.” (Baudrillard, 1991.)

The second order’s operative production of energy and mechanistic organisation of power according to industrialised logic on a grand scale is iterative within a great deal of science fiction games, especially science fiction themes in First Person, Role Playing and other game genres. It can be observed clearly in the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre with the classic SF text reborn as Dune 2 in 1992 and the decade long obsession in Korean with StarCraft, and the global hit Starcraft 2, which model the productive order of simulacra.

The projective framework of the RTS genre operates symbolically, encapsulating the second order of simulacra, in the mechanic production and micromanagement of mechanised troops, itself a simulation of the toy soldier simulacra (entering the third order in the networked era with online play) across space battlefields and alien environments in endless mimicry of imperial expansionism for territory and heroism.

The Simulation Order

Some kind of cybernetic warrior in Trona!  O_O

[image by nasw.rm]

The third order of simulacra for Baudrillard is an informational model, the simulacra of networked and cybernetic play, it’s hyperreality is always in a state flux and is as imprecise as it is chaotic. Simulation, like cybernetic interfaces, are operational, existing indeterminantly and  with a capacity for “meta-technologicality” to mangle Baudrillard’s (1991) concept. Simulation possess a textuality which corresponds with all kinds of interfaces, narratives, concepts, states of memory and imaginative worlds that are produced today within the overlapping conventions of the SF genre and computational networks. The distance between real from imaginary is at its maximum with the utopian claim to a natural order and at its most logically compatible but subjectively indeterminate in the information model. Games in the information model include the dystopian Ayn Rand dystopia of the 2K’s Bioshock and EVE online

EVE Online is a galactic space opera, a massive multiplayer online role playing space simulation that straddles the second and third orders of simulacra and is a perfect ‘ant colony’ example of Pierre Levy’s culture of collective intelligence in operation. Eve is a perfect vision of real time network cybernetics of the third order: there is no scripted and governing narrative to the game, the players play the role of a spaceship captains flying spaceships from small scout to mammoth capital ships, forming factions called corporations with other players, mining, bounty hunting, pirating and privateering. The productive order infects the virtual as players looking to discover their fate amass a fortune of virtual (but real) currency and players invest hundreds and thousands of hours of play, driving the emergent narrative of the persistent world through their actions. The played can customise their skills and specialities of their characters, ships and allegiances across a galaxy consisting of more than 7,500 individual star systems connected by stellar sized stargates.

Eve Online was released in North America and Europe in May 2003, ahead of the other MMORPG giant (and despite its heavy fantasy elements is a science fiction text) World of Warcraft. The many moons, asteroids, planets, space stations and deep space features like wormholes, occupy a persistent popular of 400,000 active subscribers. Hundreds of players simultaneously coordinate their various factions in colossal  fleet battles, multiple corporations align momentarily in a delicate dance of space naval warfare, each player occupying a specialist role on the battlefield from frigates and incredible massive capital and battleships, to long range and short range ships, medics and shock attack, scout and sniper. Eve’s connection to the productive  is unique in the MMORPG genre with its ‘real-time’ character advancement system  in which characters develop or ‘train’ and advance their game skills according to a 24 hour clock cycle forever anchoring the incredible expansive virtualised simulation of a galaxy and its inhabitants in the labor cycles and planetary rotational spin of Earth.

Common to all these games is another fiction of science: the narrative of technology that, for the player, promises empowerment and agency through research, innovation and scientific progress, but in most cases even within first order game worlds, it is an illusion, and worse an enslavement. Power, through scientific advancements; ‘power-ups’ are a common feature of FPS games, paths of progress for more efficient troops are standard RPS features, and common to all RPGs is the advancement of player skills of intellect, knowledge, as well as strength and dexterity. The player is at their most free at the start of any game, they can make the decision to follow the narrative but use cheats, to record machinima, to complete every mission, destroy every adversary and accomplish every achievement. As the player invest time and emotion in their characters, factions and stories their options become narrowed, by investing in particular ‘classes’, skillsets, weapons, contacts, and game information they are limiting their option, reducing their own agency. This is why the character creation screen on role playing games like Oblivion and Fallout can take hours, in public online worlds investment in the character’s look and feel extends throughout the game, some players even sacrificing power for the ‘look’ of their in game operatives.

In, Imaginary Games, Chris Bateman (2011, p.30) considers SF as a marginal experience coded through the discourses of symbolic materialism, but marginality can also be found in the first order of simulacra at the code level of the game. The first and second orders of simulacra occur at the code (especially in the production of the game) and at the content layer aligning and tuning the science fiction themes of the games content to a unique range and set of symbolic expressions of what it is to be marginalised, while the third order of simulacra arises from the network connections and broader meta-game textual elements of what Jenkins calls transmedia fiction.

Borderlands 2

Welcome to the Borderlands

It was the 2K published Borderlands that successfully serialised the narrative FPS game, by combining the ‘loot’ and fixed-path role playing elements of games like Diablo and the team-play focus of Left4Dead series, with a model of downloadable content (DLC), within a post apocalyptic Western frontier style science fiction.  The Borderlands world of Pandora, is Mad Max in  Wonderland, and like Matrix everything is at once familiar and different, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz you are thrust into the role of an adventurer, a killer, know in the Borderlands folklore as a Vault hunter.

Richard Adams (2006) says of Frank Herbet’s novel: “The world of Dune throws the alien into relief against a background of familiarity and therefore makes Otherness all the more striking.” In Dune, Herbet was constructing an elaborate simulacra of concerns about the ecologies of religious fanaticism and environmentalism, and of course the idea that superheroes were disastrous for humans. “… In societies such as ours,’ suggests Adams ‘where Otherness is often demonised, Science Fiction can pierce the constraints of ideology by circumventing the conventions of traditional fiction.” Borderlands, like Dune, is very much in the second order of simulacra, equipped with what Adams calls a ‘retro-vision’ that offers as a symbolic referent point to contain ourselves within; for example the elements of Dam Busters in Star Wars the original film to Dam Busters (Adams, 2006, p.34), the re-writing of Lawrence of Arabia in Dune and the Western reinterpreted in Star Trek, and in a typical post modern turn, remodelled again in like Firefly, and again in Borderlands.

The game is at its most vibrant when in multiplayer mode, with up to four team members, the game increases its difficulty and dynamics. Action is brutal and sporadic , numbers fly out of the attacking robots, aliens, monsters, mutants and freaks as the code layer is symbolised in a intricate dance between dealing damage and receiving it. Otherness is encoded everywhere in borderlands, it is the carnivale written large across a planet of immense danger and reward. Alterity and otherness, like the damage code, are symbolically realised as with Dune in concerns of the environment, religion, sexuality and heroism.

Conclusion

To discuss ‘science fiction’ games is somewhat incongruous, as all digital games are virtualised according to one or more of the order of simulacra of science fiction. The science of games (used in game theory) appeals to the ‘natural’ order of code, but is compelled by the productive order and slaved to symbolic logic and consistency as a recognisable text, but it is in the play of networks and the creativity and investment of individuals in communities of practice and cultures of production that new kinds of science fictions texts may be produced (see Antichamber).

Darko Suvin (1979) defined Science Fiction as the establishment of a narrative hegemony of a fictional ‘novum’ validated by its own internal cognitive logic. The novum contains within it a symbolic function to inform us to the changed nature of reality, reforming the distance and relationship between the real and imaginary. The novum of science fiction in Borderlands is an attempt at confronting the intertwining of science fiction with scientific advancement, military superiority and corporate structures of dominance and control, and of course a clear subversion of male and female heteronormativity, through hyperreality, pastiche and parody, humour and comedic violence. Although the visual aesthetic of the game may appear to be caricature, it is through such extensions and ridicule of such simulacra that the limits of the science fiction and first person shooter genres are revitalised, if not quite transcended, with meaningful engagement and comprehension of the marginality of otherness.

References

Adams, R. (2006) Science Fiction, New York: Routledge.

Bateman, C. (2011) Imaginary Games, Zero Books.

Baudrillard, J. (1991) ‘Two Essays, Simulacra and Science Fiction’, Science Fiction Studies, vol 18, no. 55.

Suvin, D 1979 Metamorphoses of Science Fiction,  Yale University Press.

postcard from the deakin archipelago

‘postcard from the Deakin archipelago’, a presentation by Dr Christopher Moore

This presentation was prepared for the unit EEE710 – Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, the first unit undertaken for a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education in Trimester 2, 2012 at Deakin University. The ‘prezi’ presentation slides are available here: http://prezi.com/nqbxk2ri2oop/postcard-from-the-deakin-archipelago/

introduction
The plan is to share how I used Google’s social network and video conferencing ‘Hangout’ feature to run ‘LIVE’ tutorials for students regardless of location. I’m going to keep the technical details to a minimum, and if you are interested in the experiment I have my contact details at the end of the presentation slides and I am more than happy to chat about the finer points and problems.

I am going to draw attention, in a open and hopefully thought provoking way, to the strengths and weaknesses, or the ‘Fail’ and the ‘Win’, of my approach, and to point out that when experimenting with digital and online technologies in pedagogical contexts that sometimes ‘winning’ is actually failing, and that ‘failing’ spectacularly can always be looked at as ‘winning with style’.

LIVE the future
So the remit or the mandate for the presentation, is to critically examine an example of a recent  teaching and learning practice, but I am going to frame the discussion as a response to Deakin’s Corporate’s Agenda 2020 LIVE the Future strategic plan.

I usually  mispronounce the ‘LIVE’, preferring ‘live’ (as in going live, or live act), mostly because unless you are a Looper, you can’t really live the future, and even then it’s a short lived experience.

Deliberately mistaking live for live the whole theme takes on new dimensions, and  liveness, as in being alive or live as in electrically charged has connotation of being both powerful and dangerous. Another sense of LIVE, that I want to focus on with this presentation is to go live, to be broadcast, to be in the public’s eye, to be alive and living in the present, which in social and media media terms means the experience of networked communications, and to take another term adopted by Deakin Corporate, is the experience of the ‘cloud’.

the archipelago
I began teaching at Deakin in March 2012 and babysat a unit (Researching Media: Texts, Audiences and Industries’ for Dr. Nina Weerakkody) which was my first introduction to the deakin archipelago: this distinct arrangement of campuses across multiple Victorian regions and regionalities features a diverse student population and multiple modes of interaction: Burwood, Waurn Ponds, Warrnambool and the off-campus iterations of all of these locations. I have tried to represent these [in the presentation slides]  in a kind of semi-rhizomatic structure indicating where the horizon of the physical locations of these campuses intersects with less well defined territory of the ‘cloud’.

the mythical cloud
Whenever I hear the term ‘cloud’, I think of the quote from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “ I do not think that word means what you think it means…”

The cloud as defined by Deakin in the 2020 strategic plan:

Cloud learning’ is Deakin’s term for harnessing new and emerging technologies to provide highly visual, media-rich, interactive learning experiences wherever our students are located. It signals our intention to re-imagine assessment and learning experiences — both in the cloud or on campus or industry sites— as personalised and accessible in all times zones, enabling our students to access premium learning resources and work collaboratively with teachers, mentors, peers and potential employers, generating ideas and solving real world problems in preparation for the jobs and skills of the future.

The cloud, as envisioned by the edupunk movement (circa 2004-2006), which borrowed the concept from cloud computing, is a means to liberate educational experiences from behind the closed doors of ivory tower thinking and boardroom strategising. From Keith Kirkwood (2010) on the edupunk DIY philosophy of the cloud:

Constructivist, collaborative and connectivist pedagogies have found their enablers in the tools and technologies of the read/write web. Increasingly, web-savvy instructors are abandoning institutionally-sanctioned closed-access systems for the greater flexibility and facility of Cloud-based platforms. Those who are venturing into the Cloud are finding new ways to bring students and student contributions into the academic conversation and curriculum, in a renewed focus on the power of peer- and community- based learning.

Kirkwood (2010) goes further when he argues:

This new form of distributed learning signals something much more profound: it signals a reinvention of formal education, at a time when even some professors are starting to say out loud that without such changes, universities will be irrelevant in another ten years’ time .

the big picture
Trimester one at Deakin was a real eye opener for me, not only were the students, tutors, and support staff in this isolated island arrangement, with little to no interaction between the various modes and campuses, I also had to come to terms with all the separate systems and unconnected databases involved in the administration of a unit: from tutorial organisation to student histories and the antediluvian grading system, it all made me feel like I was trying to pilot the Battlestar Galactica.

the galactica
The Battlestar Galactica – is the last surviving ship of the first Cylon War, and to protect it from a viral attack – none of its computer systems are networked – and so like all of Deakin’s various intranet, databases,DSO logins, library systems, email servers, phone systems – everything runs really well on their own, but there is no intercommunication which makes navigation, coordination and communication that much harder.

the staff online experience
Making sure all students and tutors have access to the same information at the same time, and can make use of it in the same way, is therefore an unrealistic dream…
(one that I not sure any MOOC or LMS can actually help us achieve)

PEBKAC
Is this a situation where the problem exists between keyboard and chair? Is this a feature or a bug? My take is to think on this as a feature and to think about the role of the human in the system to help the overcoming the isolation and siloing effects of compartmentalised systems, people and locations.

the dso galactica
Bruno Latour in discussing the rise of machines with artificial intelligence, alluded to the already existing role of humans as the artificial intelligence of machines, saying that with the current generation of software programming “The engineering dream is to morph the human into a rational machine.” while “The humanist counterdream is to recover an intentional, reflexive and coherent carriers of values. while the result is a rather bizarre cyborg that ressembles nor the machine nor the human, or as I like to call it the DSO (the learning management system recently introduced at Deakin, based on the Desire2Learn platform).

It’s no secret that I think LMS like Blackboard and DSO are really big cash cows that are a complete waste of time and money – its the kind of thing you paid for when you paid for internet browsers – and the result is more machine than human. The D2L platform, like Blackboard before it, is a walled garden, a legacy of the principles of management that demand centralisation and control, this goes against what the cloud is actually about,  but I do admit that the current version of the DSO does embeds html in a much more user friendly manner (allowing YouTube, Delicious, Scribd, Prezi and other platform integration).

So Galactica is a relic…
The Galactica is a relic, but its power, utility, survivability and expertise is in the crew and the crew at Deakin are endlessly supportive and innovative.

There is chatter everywhere and with back channels like Yammer and Deakin’s social network presence is slowly emerging, but the point is no matter how good or how bad your systems are, it is what we as academics bring to their iteration, what we add to them – the ‘live’ component.

That extra bit of something else is what makes the machines work and function seamlessly, and its something that only we can bring to the network and make them useful. It’s a ‘something’ that is fragmented across multiple services and structures.

That something, in the digital era, leaves a trace, a footprint, and a series of impressions, that coalesce into what we call our persona. Think of the academic’s ‘persona’ not as a concrete ‘thing’, but rather a digitally organic networked embodiment of “the art of making do”.

the art of making do
In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau (1984, p. 30) perceives an aesthetic in the work of those whose creativity is both constrained and enlivened by  spaces, both cultural and physical, in language, in the home, at work, and at play, where the boundaries of circumstance leave no choice but to live with a sense of plurality and innovation:

“By an art of being in between, the artists draws unexpected results from his situation.”

So our systems don’t communicate – well that becomes part of our experience of the Deakin existence….so there is no WiFi COVERAGE in the Media and Communication department, we make do…

Kopyism
In the religious doctrine of The Sweedish Church of Kopysim, the pressing of the ‘control + c’ and ‘ctrl + v’ keys are sacred invocations. Each time you copy and paste you are conducting the holy sacraments and these everyday technology shortcuts suddenly become an act of worship.

With similar thinking then, every conversation with a student, every online post or news item, every work related email, every database you open, ever powerpoint presentation and word document you create, you are enacting and enlivening yourself in your role as teacher, academic, administrative agents, etc and in the acts of making do that we are forced to adopt with these technologies, there spaces, functions, limitations and affordances for your own unique impressions on the world.

The persona of the academic self, as Kim Barbour and Professor David Marshall describe, in a recent issue of First Monday, is the idea of identity as a performance.

digital persona – I wish I were more like my online persona
A digital persona is accrued over time, as our activities across our many networks and communications and media devices leave footprints, make new connections and generate data about our everyday acts of being an academic, that do translate in very small but meaningful ways as creative acts of expression.

Social media helps to render these acts visible, lending them a semi-permanence, and enables us to reveal what it is we actually  think and do in a publicly visible way

One of the features of using Skype and Google mail is the status icon so that students in my network can see when I am online and can announce my availability to students – so that my emails session can double as consultation times if I want them to – but it also helps identity times that I am not approachable, during other admin, research, writing and other times.

My Facebook, Twitter and G+ timelines are locations and records of important work related-conversations, following PhD candidate Edwin Ng on Facebook for example, comes with a good amount of required background reading in Foucault, Derrida and Secular Criticism.

Harry Persona
The academic persona, and indeed any digital persona in general is, to cite Barbor and Marshall (2012), an idea of “intentional presentation of a specific identity from the ‘composite of multiple selves’ which exist in all of us the idea of the persona is the very embodiment of the LIVEness of the Deakin plan, but how does the concept persona help address the archipelago issue, and how do we steer the Galactica?

steering the Galactica
I inherited a subject titled ‘Globalisation and the Media’ to teach in trimester 2, 2012.  I had previously experimented with a blogging assessment that is based on weekly writing and underpinned by a rigorous peer review structure, and I knew this would help bring students across the campus together as a common audience but I suspected we could do more.

I was thinking about the term the ‘deakin archipelago’, which I am sure I heard from Professor Paul Carter, and in searching for the term I came across Karen Le Rossignol’s article on what she calls Archipelago design. She writes about achieving “… a nexus between experiential and formal knowledge that can be engendered by relevant teaching/learning design, by an associational or archipelago approach”.

“Archipelago design …. conceptualises a string of associated communities of online learning, providing an interactivity and immersion by the participants, and a social community of collaborative knowledge.” (Le Rossignol, 2011)

Much of Karen’s approach aligns with the goals of the new Deakin strategic plan, where technology serves a structural role. From experience the experiential and integrated learning environments that result in productive communities of knowledge and learning  are co-generated between teacher and student, and student and peers. The beauty of this approach is to shift the focus on expertise from the context of learning to the content: acknowledging the students probably know more about the technology in use than we do is one thing, but incorporating them into the everyday running of the unit, as co-collaborators and facilitators as well as audience.

The issue then  becomes, not how to speak or transmit information to everyone at once, in a broadcast framework, but how to establish an online persona that makes the best and creative use of all the technologies and platforms availables to establish a presence and activity that is useful to all students, tutors, peers, institutions etc at all times.

This gave the idea of using the social network and the hangout feature of G+ to reach students enrolled but disinterested in tutorials, and reach those students in off campus mode who miss out on the ‘liveness’ of the tutorial interaction.

hanging out
Google’s social network might be less popular than alternatives like Facebook and Twitter, but the clutter-free interface makes G+ and the video-conferencing ‘Hangout’ feature an extremely easy to use.

The circles features gives a nuanced control over your social groups and their online iterations – making the groups of large numbers of students easy to sort and identify. At the start of each ‘live’ tutorial I broadcast an invitation to the tutorial that is only going out to students enrolled in the unit.

At the start of the tutorial I use the ‘circles’ social network feature of the G+ system to invite students enrolled in the unit to participate in the video conference ‘Hangout’ via a laptop.

Using the laptop I can face the webcam towards the whiteboard, especially when using the material on the web (does that make tutes online?) and during discussion small group work etc, I can swivel the laptop around to be another set of voices in the discussions and students can accompany me as I move to between individual, small group and class interactions.

The video feed switches automatically to the person talking, which prompts turn taking and can be automatically uploaded to YouTube to be reviewed later, although none of the tutorials this trimester were uploaded to YouTube, as we are still working out the public/private ethical and Deakin policy issues involved in this, but hopefully it will be practical to implement and embed in the DSO next year.

The trial with G+ during this trimester has been ‘successful’, frustrated only by the vagaries of the WiFi at the Burwood campus. As I have found experimenting with other platforms and practices, like Facebook, Twitter, Online Video, Podcasting, Social Bookmarking and Blogging (the list goes on), these early failures are typical and useful stepping stones towards a more reliable and informed use.

The philosophy of teaching here is one of expertise in content not context, which requires the student to become an expert themselves in the relevant digital literacies involved; calling on them to provide peer-based technical support, the active sharing of knowledge, making recommendation on use, guidelines, sharing information, combat cheating and plagiarism, and reviewing implementation that can be crucial to the use and improvement of the technology in supporting not an online or offline, but an ‘enlivened’ and connected student and teacher experience.

The trial was a ‘success’ through failure, mostly technical in nature. The big fail was the WiFi,  some days it would behave and other days it was simply absent, and most times only partly awake. The second big fail was structural, as the setting up of the G+ Hangout typically took up to 15 minutes,which is simply far too long for a 50 minutes tutorail. The real ‘win’ was with those students helping me to get the hangout service working, helped me troubleshoot and report on browser issues and audio/video connectivity- and next time I will foster this collaboration to a much higher degree.

Kirkwood, K. 2010, ‘The wisdom of the clouds Distributed learning, MOOCs, edupunks, and the challenge to formal education’, Proceedings of The Second International Workshop on Open source and Open Content WOSOC 2010, http://repository.gunadarma.ac.id/bitstream/123456789/2179/1/02-03-002-The_Wisdom%5BKeith%5D.pdf aviailable October 7, 2012.

Bruno Latour 1995 ‘Social theory and the study of computerized work sites’
in W. J. Orlinokowski, Geoff Walsham (editors) Information Technology and Changes in Organizational Work, Chapman and  Hall, London, pp.295-307
http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/61-COMPUTERS-GB.pdf

Le Rossignol, Karen 2011, Archipelago design : virtualopolis and the interactive virtual team scenario, in Experiential learning in virtual worlds, Inter-Disciplinary Press, Witney, England, pp.147-154.

and now for something not so completely different

I’ve been neglecting the blog again while teaching intensified again, but now the tsunami of marking is receding and exposing the wreckage of my research in its wake, I figure its worthwhile sharing (or at least archiving here) the (very ordinary) contributions from my recent reiteration as a student participating in a mandatory Graduate Certificate of Higher Education.

Trying to teach, administer, research and be a student has not been easy over the past twelve weeks, but I have gained a renewed sympathy for higher education students. The experience of enrolling, following unit guides, managing readings, assessments and contributions, missing deadlines and participating in the faceless, clinical online only course mode, in the margins of an already heavy marginalised existence, has been a positive one overall, but I’m reasonably confident everything I have taken away from the certificate could have been generated in a half-day workshop with some pre-reading, but heh what do I know?

Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

How has your own educational journey shaped the way you see the role and the responsibilities of a tertiary educator?

My transition away from studying Science and Law and the move to the Humanities and Creative Arts, meant exposure to a range of teaching styles as part of my undergraduate experience: from the biology professor you could mistake for Zizek, to the endlessly disorganised, but amazingly captivating linguistics professor.

My views as to what makes a ‘good’, ‘effective’ or even ‘excellent’ teacher have always been a little different to those of my peers. I recall being struck by the vacuousness of a very popular lecturer: big personality with energetic lectures, full of humour and anecdotes and almost entirely bereft of any intellectual content.

Conversely I found lecturers who seemed to drive students away from their lectures and tutorials with poor delivery, or technology management skills, or other issues, but who, in a one- to-one situation, shone as superb mentors.

Ramsden (2003 pp.93-9) proposes six principles of effective teaching: organisation, stimulation of interest, understandable explanations, empathy with students’ needs, feedback on work, clear goals, and encouraging independent thought’ (p. 87). Useful categories, if not definitive, but in my experience academics often demonstrate capacity in some of these categories, and many others, but it is rare to see those whose accomplishments in teaching span all of the many elements that are part of an effective and responsible tertiary educator.

I’ve very interested in my current colleagues at Deakin, their approach to assessment, curriculum development, student learning and enjoy gaining knowledge from their experience and discussing our often polarised approaches. I’ve also learned a great deal from reading all the responses to this module, but does all this ‘shape’ my perspective on the roles and responsibilities of a tertiary educator? I’m not sure.

What challenges do the current generation of students offer you? Do you believe these challenges ARE different to previous generations?

Among the many issues, triumphs, obstacles, joys, and difficulties students engage us with, it is the complicated notion of the student identity, as it is constructed and conceived of by the Higher Education industry and institutions, that I find the most challenging. The conditions involved in being a student are fairly stable, from memory my undergraduate peers were as equally distracted by the demands of social life, employment, domestic and family expectations and other commitments, as students are today. New technologies aside, what has changed most profoundly is both the increased emphasis on higher education degree and the tenuous connection this has on career employment post degree. The myth (often perpetuated by us) of higher education degrees as necessary precursors to better employment and lifelong learning has been shattered by the open structures for learning (reinvigorated through digital and social media) and the ongoing recession, particularly in the US and UK where graduates are just as likely to be employed/unemployed as non-graduates (Weissmann, 2012).

Claims, like those of Ramsden (2003: 86), that the “…‘quality of student learning should be improved and can be improved..” on first reading seem appropriate, but are actually characteristic of a more insidious drive towards massification that is so firmly entrench in the globalised model of higher education model. Ramsden has a point, but misses entirely, surely the challenge is not that we must always see to do ‘better’, but that we must constantly re-evaluate what it is that we do, how we do it, what principles and practices we operate on and question the market and endless and unshaped expansionism. As Alvin Toffler noted, ‘The illiterate of the 21st Century, will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn’, which is why I am very supportive of the compulsory graduate certificate in higher education, although I’ve found it almost impossible to fit into a busy trimester of teaching and research.

How does this shape your overall teaching?

The lack of formal training, beyond simple administrative briefing, available for casual teachers and new academics across the higher education industry generally, and in the humanities specifically, was indeed a shock when I began tutoring in 2003. Accepting a short-term teaching-intensive contract in 2008, the only available training (a two hour ‘briefing’ session) concentrated on issues of plagiarism and cheating, misconduct, and the timesheet paperwork. What went on during the ‘teaching’ part of the job was of importance institutionally only in terms of retention, grades, completions and recruitment.

On the one hand, this represents a level of trust, suggesting we can all get on with the job without intrusive oversight as to the implementation of the curriculum, minimising intervention in our pedagogical capacity. On the other, it signals a disinterest and devaluation of the most important function of universities and forces the dependence on superficial and inaccurate student satisfaction sampling.

This institutional distancing drove me to applying my research skills to the domain of higher education itself, as a parallel research interest, and I whole-heartedly concur with Kane (et al 284): “purposeful reflection on their teaching plays a key role in assisting our participants to integrate the dimensions of subject knowledge, skill, interpersonal relations, research/teaching nexus and personality into recognised teaching excellence.”

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing your own journey towards being a tertiary educator who is able to offer quality learning to an increasingly diverse student population?

Breaking students out of the near comatose learning experience of high school, helping them to transition from an uncomplicated use of social media and new technology towards that of a critical, empowered, digitally networked learner. Personally, my biggest challenge is that of assessment. When I first began teaching, I created grading rubrics as a way to help smooth out the arbitrary nature of assessment, but more recently I’ve come to see the grading assessment of students work entirely unnecessary altogether and seek to ensure that any assessment structures I employ above all work to restore the intrinsic drive to learning that I can see being expunged from my own children in the primary school systems and further systematically dismantled by the increasingly standardised secondary system.

I’ve recently been inspired by the work of Alfie Kohn (http://vimeo.com/47765590) and my work in games studies and what is emerging as ‘critical university studies – link has intersected over concerns of the directions of the gamification of education – the inclusion of badges, levels, achievements, awards and other systems of ‘pointsification’ as part of the student the ultimate expunging of the intrinsic desire to learn.

A draft here and there

Since the last post on this blog, I’ve been thinking about heading back to Blogger. I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with WordPress and its inability to load on any browser on my home PC. To be fair, it is not just WordPress, Tumblr also refuses to load at home, so I am not exactly sure what is going on there.

I like the availability of iPad apps for blogging, but neither the WordPress or Blogger apps offer a really comprehensive means for managing posts, especially drafts. The Blogger app is limited to the iPhone resolution and typing is a real pain without a Bluetooth keyboard, but the WordPress has the full iPad screen keyboard and isn’t limited to the vertical display.

My reasons for not going back to Blogger just yet include control over the page layout, themes, the tagging and category features of WordPress. Plus, I am also contributing to a couple of group blogs on the Blogger platform and its nice to keep somethings out of the Google cloud. Unless Blogger integrates my Google reader or perhaps G+ and then maybe I will have to live there.