one more thing

The final assessment for the first unit of the Graduate Certificate of Higher Education calls for a 500 word post answering the question:  What idea(s) explored in the modules have you found most useful and why?

The most personally affecting idea explored in this, my first module, has been that of the ‘student’. While some research skills and learning practices remain from my former experience of ‘being’ a student, the less sanguine memories of endless waiting in line for enrollment or for empty desks in the computer lab have diminished. Good memories of student life are, on reflection, all face-to-face interactions with peers, academics, causal and general staff, and librarians.

The faceless interaction of the ‘online’ unit has provided a much-needed perspective on the generally disempowering experience of ‘being’ a student today. To be fair, I’d already developed an acute sense of this while coordinating my first unit at Deakin earlier this year. The ‘first-person’ perspective of the student experience has reinforced the need to seek out and develop technologies and practices, assessment structures and participatory curricula design to help overcome the distance between student and teacher, and students themselves, that is somewhat achieved in the experience of co-presence, whether it’s the lecture or the tutorial.

My experience of this unit and the certificate in general has been extremely valuable in helping me develop insights into the changing nature of ‘being’, or perhaps, ‘becoming’ a student at Deakin and as a consumer in the Australian Higher Education industry. Failing to manage my own understanding of the course through reading the unit guide, was excruciatingly embarrassing, especially in my previous ‘beings’ of a student I was competitive, organised, driven, etc. I find myself far more sympathetic to new and newer generations of students, especially off-campus students, as they attempt to juggle studying with work and family commitments, and submit assessment materials ridiculously late, or incomplete.

The experience has planted seeds in my imagination as I plot to overcome the focus on student grading in the humanities, and re-evaluating the relationship between assessment, grading, feedback and student learning.  Even the idea of ‘trimesters’ and units, drops away as I review all the brilliant, compelling and interesting contributions from peers participating in the unit, that would be useful and productive to read, review and respond to in-depth, and in our own time, especially at this point in the year when teaching briefly winds down, which brings me to my concluding point.

Returning to the dialogism between constructionism and behaviourism, was also useful, but I’d also add to that mix, the principles of connectivism, coined by George Siemens and written extensively on by Stephen Downes (2012), that knowledge is quite literally the set of connections that consist between sets of entities or, in this case, people. Downes (2012, p11) writes:

“Connectivist learning is a process of immersion in an environment, discovery and communication – a process of pattern recognition rather than hypothesis and theory-formation. Learning is not a matter of transferring knowledge from a teacher to a learner, but is rather the product of the learner focusing and repeating creative acts, of practising something that is important and reflecting on this practice.”

The unit has been a wonderful chance to work through some of the assumptions I’ve made in my teaching and curriculum design, and my peers have presented a range of approaches and solutions to problems I hadn’t envisioned and encountered yet, but I have a nagging sense, a feeling, that the certificate, like other initiatives at Deakin, such as the new ‘cloud’ focus, are not fundamentally grasping the efficacy, openness and empowering experience that fully ‘connected’ learning can achieve.

Downes, S. 2012. Connectivism and Connective Knowledge:Essays on meaning and learning networks. National Research Council Canada. Available: http://www.downes.ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012.pdf [Date accessed: October 26, 2012]

online teaching and teaching online (more GCHE posts)

This is an archived version of my online participation in a Graduate Certificate of Higher Education, this is from a post on the experience and challenges of 'online' teaching.

One of the biggest challenges as a tutor and new unit chair at Deakin has been the diverse student population spread across the multiple campuses, or the Deakin archipelago, as Prof Paul Carter described it. Making sure all students have access to the same information at the same time, and can make use of it in the same way is an unrealistic dream, one that no MOOC or LMS can fulfill on their own but is this a feature or a bug?

The D2L platform, like Blackboard, is a woefully inadequate walled garden, a legacy of the centralisation and control over student and staff activity. Granted it embeds html in a much more user friendly manner (allowing YouTube, Delicious, Scribd, Prezi and other platform integration, see below) than the predecessor, but the dropbox, discussion thread focus, student/staff profile and content management features are not an improvement.

We may see radical changes, as older structures are disassembled and effaced by new innovations and innovators to emerge from the top-down institutional challenge of the ‘cloud’ (whenever hearing that term I am tempted to quote Inigo from The Princess Bride: “I do not think that word means what you think it means), but a system is only as good as its users.

The distinction between online and offline teaching is of course a furphy, much like the division between the notions of offline and online in general. It’s a meme-like paradigm that has dominated thinking about digitally networked communication and human-computer interaction since their inception (the notion of the ‘online’ as virtual rather than digital is largely a result of cyberpunk fiction seeping into the mainstream), one that rejects the fully embodied nature of technology use and the broader phenomenology of the cyborg relationship between the human bodies, graphic and haptic interfaces, computation process and networked communications.

We are already fully ‘online’ as teachers (and students in this case), like the other parts of our lives, our activities and processes are dominated by ‘online’ activities, connections, products, services and media. Try getting by without your email, phone, PC, laptop, mobile device,internet or library database in in your daily teaching (if you can please let me know the secret).

In the “move to online teaching” or even the mythical’ cloud’, what we are talking about is the diminishing role of the lecture and the tutorial as the primary physical interface between teachers and students, and students and students (see more on this from the always impressive edu-blogger Music for Deckchairs)

Online tools support various kinds of replacements and expansions to traditional learning environments and as we move to cloud teaching, in its Deakinised hybrid form, I was encouraged by the atmosphere of experimentation and it was by pure chance I realised an opportunity to bring off campus and non-Burwood students physically into the tutorials I was teaching.

Google’s social network might be less popular than alternatives like Facebook and Twitter, but the clutter-free interface makes the G+ Hangout feature an extremely useful, free and mobile video conferencing app that can automatically upload the interaction to YouTube for later reviewing.


Check out the Web TV producer Felicia Day’s intringinly titled book club ‘Vaginal Fantasy’ hangout (SFW – safe for work video and link, mostly) which gave me the idea to try the use the app to bring off-campus and non-Burwood students into the live tutorial experience. Notice how the video feed switches automatically to the person talking, which prompts turn taking. (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).




Students are required to sign up to Google mail to participate. This also gives students a constant connection to me as a tutor/unit chair as the Skype-like features of Gmail mean students can text, chat, email, and otherwise contact me when I’m online and using status updates like ‘available for consultation’: this allows me to roll some administration, email, consultation and student support time together into more regular and consistent hours, although it can be more work than traditional measures to become established.

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 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, and context, to a degree, but not in the technology (being examined or implemented), which requires the student to become an expert 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.

Digital Humanities

I have been watching some of the HUMlab seminars and reading about the Digital Humanities and the work of Dr Patrik Svensson. From what I have read so far, Dr Svensson (2010) contributes to the conceptual mapping of the Digital Humanities (especially the shift of the Computing Humanities). He recognises Professor McPherson’s (2008,) typology of the Digital Humanities where the Computing Humanities (and its focus on building tools, infrastructure, standards and collections) is separated from the Blogging Humanities who – it is said – are more concerned with the production of networked media and peer-to-peer writing. McPherson (2008) also outlines a third a sphere of digital humanities, a multimodal domain for scholarly  tools, databases, networked writing and peer-to-peer commentary, while also leveraging the potential of the visual and aural media arts that are part of contemporary life.

Presner et al (2010) dates the first wave of Digital Humanities between the 1990s until the mid 2000s, noting a focus on the quantitative, automating, digitizing, and projects of infrastructure. The second wave expanded the field with a qualitative focus that involved critical and interpretive interaction in digital contexts to produce  new convergent fields, as well as hybrid methodologies of old and new models of analysis, curation, research and publication. Berry (2011) suggests a third wave of digital humanities, concentrated around the underlying computationality of the forms held within a computational medium, such as Software Studies and Ian Bogost’s Platforms Studies. The study I want to present at HUMlab, (I hope) will follow in these lines. The culture of players, of gamers, is well established, as is the academic field of games studies, but the analysis of the culture of video game production is less well attended. Bogost’s Platform Studies draws attention to the role of hardware alongside that of software, in the history of video games, but the network is not complete without the actors with access to the means of production, the programmers, developers, engineers. I’m not so interested in the political economy of the industry, or at least that isn’t my primary interest but a necessary part of the picture.

What I am interested in is the cultures of production, and what those who make video games think about their work, and how that translates in the use of social media. Berry (2011) considers the way digital technologies are already part of everyday research practices, influencing and being shaped by that use. Students access to mobile and highly convergent technologies, that have changed the nature of study, attending university and doing their own research. Similarly, in the culture of video game production at a very local level, digital games technologies are transformed by the use of social media, from Facebook, to Skype,  Forums, Twitter, even Wikipedia, Podcasts, etc. Hardware also had its role in the reshaping of the industry, especially with the success of the iPhone and iPad as mobile games devices. Understanding the intersections of play and production, means better understanding the relationships between those involved in the production of the digital and physical objects of games and the conditions of their play.

 

Berry, David, 2011. ‘The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities’, Culture Machine, Vol 12.

McPherson, Tara 2008. ‘Dynamic Vernaculars: Emergent Digital Forms in Contemporary Scholarship’,  Lecture presented to HUMLab Seminar, Umeå University, 4 March 2008. http://stream.humlab.umu.se/index.php?streamName=dynamicVernaculars.

Svenson, Patrik,  2010. ‘The Landscape of Digital Humanities’, Digital humanities quarterly, Summer, vol. 4, no. 1. http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/4/1/000080/000080.html

Presner, Todd, et al. 2010. “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0”. UCLA Mellon Seminar in Digital Humanities. http://www.humanitiesblast.com/manifesto/Manifesto_V2.pdf.

Presner, Todd, 2010. Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.  Connexions, June  8, 2010. http://cnx.org/content/m34246/1.6/

Sweden is real

Sweden is suddenly very real and I’ve been invited to give a seminar at the HUMlab at Umeå University on the 28th of September, following the two day Social Media Cultures Workshop.

‘Indie’ and Independent Games and Culture in the Australian Video Game Industry
The global financial crisis has brought the Australian video games industry to the end of an era. The survivors emerging from the independent sectors are now competing directly with the older studio system whose ongoing survival is reliant on an industrial work-for-hire production and distribution model. New independent studios, partnerships, and collectives have responded to the opportunities of online and mobile games, and their successes have reaffirmed the relationship between the cultural production of games in Australia and their globalized mainstream audiences. This seminar examines these changes and considers their effect on the synonymous relationship between the terms, ‘indie’ and independent. It argues that if ‘indie’ culture is to maintain its ideological relevance and critical creativity it must be active in the overlapping spheres of operation between itself, the independents and ‘big gaming’ culture in order to better address issues of identity, gender, sexuality and intellectual property in the content and context of making games.

Deciding on the pitch for the abstract was difficult. I could be talking about machinima, affect, mobile play and first person shooter games. I am going to be talking about persona and social media, but as I am hoping to conduct research interviews while in Sweden to find out more about the industry there, I felt I ought to tell people about the industry and the culture of making games in Australia.

Ever since #Freeplay11, I have been preoccupied with the tension in the usually synonymous treatment of the terms “indie” and independent. The post GFC changes to the local games industry serves as a microcosm for the larger global patterns, and the independent games festival functioned as a lense for the study of the actors of the small but significant network of games Australian development.

The biggest thing to come out of the independent games festival publicly was the explosion of blog commentary, twittering and blog activity following the unexpected tension over gender issues that bubbled over in the panel – the words we use

The issue of gender is central, but also take note of the diferent media spheres the discussion has crossed, from the live conference panel, to twitter, facebook, podcasts, blogs.

Ben Abraham   at  Gamasutra

BRKeogh

Searing Scarlet here and here

Topy Twitter coverage of the festival

The blog coverage represents what is left of the overlap between indie and indepdendent. Can we call academics independent, or journalists and critics unbiased, similarly is it possible to make games outside the dominant systems for their production?

I was already aware of the great disparity between the number of men and women working in the industry: only one in the 15 respondents so far have been female and only two considered the lack of women working in the industry to be a problem. Instead, at Freeplay11 I saw the resistance, a challenge that I understood to represent the qualities of ‘indie’ culture.

The ‘indie’ position, is one from which to criticise dominant operations of the mainstream, it is an oppositional culture. Indie cinema, says Newman (2009, 20) shares a common principle with other kinds of ‘indie’ culture, in that the attempt to appeal to a mass audience on its own terms entails an unacceptable compromise.  I don’t think that is necessarily true or possibly in game design.

In the seminar I will be asking if the success of independent studios post GFC, in Australia is an environment capable of sustaining the oppositional perspectives and frameworks from outside the mainstream, particular on issues of gender, race, sexuality and age that are central to the operations of indie cultures in other entertainment mediums. I intend to  map out where I think the independent and the indie have spilt, and how that split has a lot to do with social media, and the importance of the digital persona in games culture and developer culture.

Newman, M. 2009. Indie Culture: In Pursuit of te Authentic Autonomous Alternative. Cinema Journal, vol. 48, no. 3., 16-34.

Edit: Apologies to  SearingScarlet for posting the wrong link to her blog.

#Freeplay11

Freeplay, the independent games festival at the State Library of Victoria over the weekend was excellent. The conference presentations and panels were lively and informative, the workshops were varied and interesting and the Twitter coverage was on fire and on the giant twitter wall in the Experimedia section of the festival which also housed the the awesome Winnitron AU indie arcade cabinet and a range of hands-on examples of games in development by local and indie talent. The event couldn’t have come at a better time and it helped me get a closer look at the relationship between ‘indie’ and ‘independent’ in the local games industry, and the wider operation of an Australian game culture that is not centered purely in the act of playing or producing , but an intersection of the two.

Independent game design in the Australian industry

Freeplay is an Independent Games Festival this weekend in Melbourne. The festival includes a free arcade and expo in the Experimedia room of the State Library of Victoria. The conference program over the weekend at the Library’s conference centre has two stream of speakers, from whom I am hoping to find out more about the lifecycle of the local games industry and what it means to be ‘indie’ and ‘independent’ to video games developer in Australia.
I think the winnitron AU will be popular, and going to treat the event like a practice run for the research trip to Sweden. I am only going to have couple of days I have in Stockholm and Umea and I am going to have to cram as much into them as possible. Freeplay will provide a very timely chance to observe the local industry and its public reception. The festival first ran in 2004, and seems pretty well known in Melbourne.