Audience Collaboration in the Niche Creative Industries.

A new guest lecture for BCM303 Collaborative Production Workshop.

Audio Version

Square brackets represent transitions in the lecture slides:


Hello, in this lecture, I want to explore the various ways we can think about what audiences do, and how we might think of audiences as collaborating in the production of media experiences.

A [common misconception] is that audiences are simply consumers at the endpoint of a linear top-down production chain. 

[Feedback] in this system is typically considered in terms of sales and popularity.  Media producers know to make more of a thing because it sells well and makes a good return on investment.

Historically the audience is framed as being entirely [passive]. However, more recently, what we call the creative industries have been forced to take into consideration the collective agency of a type of audience that we call ‘fans’. 

As you may know, the creative industries include a wide range of enterprises from film and fashion to the creative and performing arts, toys and games to photography, architecture and design. However these industries usually only considered fans in terms of further potential [consumption].

My aim for the [first part] of this lecture is to contribute to your understanding of the critical language and theoretical frameworks that have changed the way we think about audiences over time. I also want to give you a range of ways to think about audiences as participants and potential [collaborators] in future projects that you will work on in your careers and professional lives. To complete this approach, I’m going to be focussing on what I call the niche creative industries, and I’ll explain what that means in part two. 

Part One:  Audience Theory

Much of our understanding of what an audience is and what an audience does comes from attempts to understanding the concept of meaning. Although these ideas are often expressed in terms of meaning, it is not meaning that we are ultimately concerned with in this lecture, but rather what audiences are doing with meaning, and how that informs their role as audiences.

Frankfurt School

The [Frankfurt School], or the [Institute for Social Research], was established in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1918 and it featured several important theorists, including [Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse].

Together this group was using [Marxist-informed theory] as well as new ideas from sociology and psychology, to critique modernity, capitalism and mass culture.  

They were interested in examining people, society and culture and attempting to figure out why the [working class] didn’t [overthrow] their [political and economic] masters.

Leader of the Frankfurt School, [Max Horkheimer] recognised that people don’t behave in [logical] ways and that we don’t [act] in our collective or individual best interests. 

He argued that [capitalism] had successfully integrated the working class into its system, structuring a divide between those in long term employment and those under or non-employed.

According to Horkheimer [capitalism] is successful because of the way it convinces the working class to maintain the status quo and maintain what jobs, property, wealth and advantages they do have.

This has the effect of cementing the class division between the wealthy elite and middle class and between the middle-class and the working class. 

Horkheimer and others like [Theodor Adorno] and examined economic, psychological, political, cultural and social forces, to shed light on the various ways that capitalism encourages conformity and this became known as [critical theory]. 

Critical theory serves as the first point on our trajectory for thinking about audiences. It argues that [audiences] make meaning according to the ways that the ruling class dictates. It views [audiences] as passive receivers of messages that convince them that the status quo is in their best interests.

In 1933 as the [National Socialist German Workers Party] took control of Germany, the Frankfurt School and its intellectuals went into exile and eventually moved to Columbia University in [New York.] 

Horkheimer and Adorno would go on to write the [Dialectic of Enlightenment], in which they argue that modern totalitarianism originated during the enlightenment. 

The argued the period of history known for the turn to reason and rationality laid the foundation for objectivism, conformity and standardisation applied to the whole of society, leading to the rise of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Capitalist America in which individuals are treated merely as parts of a giant machine. 

This view led to a critique of what Adorno called the Culture Industries, and he said in its appeal to the masses: [“Culture today is infecting everything with sameness.”] 

Critical theory saw popular culture as a system with the unanimous goal of making money. The culture industries simply sought to please as many people as much of the time as possible and therefore have no artistic, creative, social, educational, or indeed cultural merit. 

Adorno and the Frankfurt School argued that the sameness of mass culture was depriving audiences and robbing them of individuality and self-expression that would assist in the resistance of totalitarianism. So it is unsurprising that these theories have been recently resurrected as can be seen in this [article] from Stuart Jefferies in the Guardian, responding to Trump’s victory in the US election in 2016. 

Responding to how [Print, Radio and Screen] media had been so useful in establishing and maintaining the Nazi party through propaganda, Adorno viewed the culture industries as having a terrible effect on audiences’ ability to discern and think critically. 

Adorno, for example, criticised audiences for liking popular music such as Jazz over more important culturally significant contributions like Classical music. 

This is the same type of argument that is used against social media and platforms like YouTube.

Their view was that audiences didn’t know better and should not be encouraged to enjoy such unrefined taste, because this would further limit their ability to engage in opposing authoritarianism and capitalism.

The main problem with this theory is the view that audiences in this model have no [agency]. 

Agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make choices. The idea is contrasted with structures that influence those choices, such as class, age, religion, gender, ethnicity, genes, education, culture and so on.

Communication and Cultural Models

Of course, there is much more to critical theory. However, I want to move on and start to plot out a [trajectory] for thinking about audiences and briefly discuss two models that originate in the 1960s and 1970s. 

The first is Marshall McLuhan’s approach to understanding media in 1964 that proposed that a [communication] medium itself should be the attention of study, not the messages it carries. This has important implications for audiences in the internet era, which Ted Mitew unpacked for you in a previous lecture, so I’m going to move on to the cultural model of [communication] and media studies.

This model emerged from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). The Birmingham School, as it is known, was founded in 1964 by Richard Hoggart, and I’m going to focus on the work of Stuart Hall who led the school for ten years from 1969 and his model of understanding how audiences,  called [encoding/decoding].

Hall was building on the foundation of the [dialectical model] and what’s known as the [structuralist model] of meaning, established by thinkers like [Louis Althusser] and [Roland Barthes], which inherited the Marxist understanding of how audiences were structured according to [Ideological State Apparatuses]. ISAs include schools, legal systems, media, banks, religions, corporations and governments, as well as other institutions that act both explicitly and unconsciously to reinforce the power of the ruling class through capitalist ideology, by producing systems in which audiences internalise and reproduce these ideologies. 

ISAs employ a linguistic discourse approach to domination that is reproduced by institutional practice and structures: Television, for example, works for powerful interests, like nation-states, even when critical of individual governments. 

The Marxist theory of [cultural hegemony] developed by Antonio Gramsci is the idea that the ruling class manipulates the value systems of society, in ways that convince its subjects to consent willingly. 

An example of cultural hegemony operating in the ideological state apparatus of screen media is the notion of [professional codes].

Professional Codes in screen media can be recognised as the [technical competencies] which are called “production values”.

Barthes mentioned previously, argued that the media have become myth-makers, who are capable of producing rules and conventions through the construction of ideology embedded in professional codes. For example, before the internet, celebrities were constructed as mythical people with qualities that lifted them above ordinary folk. Of course, these qualities were all the just the result of the professional codes of institutions like Hollywood. We see this today with Social Media, particularly Instagram and the use of filters and photoshopping by media influences to construct the idea of their best selves.

Hall described these codes as having political and ideological order imprinted in them that have themselves become institutionalised, including [scripting, editing, camera operation, music arrangement, direction and acting, as well as stars and celebrities] among others. 

Through these codes, media producers are able to ‘encode’ the preferred meanings and embedding ideology and specific values via notions like professionalism, scene selection, even narrative and information order, that are not objective but highly selective and deliberate. 

The critical theorists were anxious that these codes create unthinking, obedient citizens who were slaves to capitalist ideology.  

All media argues Hall, [encode] their products with the interests of the dominant hegemonic forces structurally bound in professional codes even when the meaning of texts themselves may be in direct opposition to those forces. 

However, Stuart Hall’s approach is enormously important because he reworked the structuralist and critical theories of ideology into a systematic theory of media audiences, which recognised the broader and there social and cultural functions of texts that emphasised the [agency] of audiences.

Hall’s approach criticised Althusser and Gramsci, for assuming that the audience simply internalises ideology, and that mass media functions merely to reproduce capitalist values. 

Hall recognised that audiences don’t just consume and replicate capitalist values but rather have much more agency and indeed even had the capacity for entirely subversive responses to products they regularly consumed and enjoy.

Audiences, argued Hall, can exert agency over the intended professional codes, as they actively [decoded] media messages. 

Hall’s model assumes a direct correspondence between the meaning that is intended by a sender and how that meaning is received and understood by an audience/receiver but asserts that processes are not symmetrical.

Instead, Hall identified three broad categories of reading that audiences might engage in when decoding media messages: [the Dominant Reading, the Negotiated Reading and the Oppositional Reading]. 

A dominant reading is in line with the intended meaning of the professional codes of a text, and the audience members accept the preferred meaning encoded by the producer. 

A negotiated reading occurs where the audience may accept some of the preferred meaning of a media production but opposes others. 

An oppositional reading occurs when the audience member may completely disagree with the preferred meanings of media production, decoding the message in a contrary way (Hall 1980: 137).

For those interested in applying these ideas further, the recommended reading to accompany this lecture is Adrienne Shaw’s 2017 article “Encoding and Decoding affordances” Stuart Hall and Interactive Media Technologies. 

Shaw, Adrienne (2017). Encoding and decoding affordances: Stuart Hall and interactive media technologies. Media, Culture & Society. Vol 39, (4).

Participatory Model

The next point of the trajectory for thinking about what audiences do is the idea of participation, in which audiences are directly [contributing] to the encoding/decoding process involved with textual production, distribution and reception. 

The core themes of [Participatory Culture] were proposed by Professor [Henry Jenkins], a fan scholar who popularised the notion that fan labor is a form of civic contribution. He argues that fans are rogue audiences, who go beyond standard decoding to actively “poach” popular culture in order to construct their own cultural framework through fan fiction, artwork, costumes and cosplay, music and video and other forms of participatory media. 

All audiences, argues Jenkins, appropriate the media they consume to some degree in the construction of their personal identities and their social relations with others – this occurs naturally when in conversation with others using the phrase “Have you seen? Or “You should check out…”. Furthermore these participatory practices are magnified and accelerated by the internet, which expanded the creative industries by challenging the logic of media production under the industrial paradigm that only considered audiences as consumers.

Jenkin’s ideas are echoed by Australian media scholar, Graham Turner, who described culture as “…the site where meaning is generated and experience becomes a determining, productive field through which social realities are constructed, experienced and interpreted.” Turner, 1996, p14. 

Two examples of this are the idea of audiences as the [prosumer] and the [produser].

Futurist Alvin Toffler coined the term ‘prosumer’, in 1980 to refer to the idea of an expert consumer, someone like a fan, although that term was not used at the time. Sociologists George Ritzer and Nathan Jurgenson, have argued that even the earliest forms of capitalism are characterised by the continuous cycle between production and consumption, and use the term to suggest how the internet has reclaimed and recognised this conceptual proximity. 

Ritzer, however, is concerned with a type of exploitation that is common in prosumer capitalism, particularly unpaid labour and the offering of products at no cost, largely provided by fan communities. As the internet paradigm is marked by an abundance of content, not scarcity, the free provision of content means that prosumers are often not compensated for contribution. However, this approach is fundamentally problematised by this view of contribution as unpaid labour.

Axel Bruns (2008) concept “produsage” does not frame the audience’s contribution as unpaid labour but rather as a type of participation that occurs through networks of collaboration around which communities emerge and thrive. In its earliest days, Wikipedia was an excellent example of produsage, and the Wiki model still works as a good example of participatory media, especially within media fandoms.  

Produsage occurs where a platform empowers users to build content from the ground up. Participants might not have equal skills or expertise but have equal ability to make a notable contribution to a project. It is here we start to see more nuance appearing in the participatory model, as Mirko Tobias Schafer identified the difference between [implicit and explicit] participation. 

Implicit participation that can be as simple as [liking] a Facebook group or page, favoriting a Tweet or Instagram post, or upvoting or downvoting a post on a subReddit.

Explicit participation occurs where fans are creating art or fiction, producing YouTube videos discussing elements of a show, or organising community events via Facebook (where we might see all levels of Hall’s encoding and decoding in operation). 

In his study of video game culture, Joost Raessens, identifies three types of audience participation: Interpretation, Reconfiguration, and Construction.  

Interpretation occurs when the audience actively deconstructs the mean of a text. This is the primary level of participation and advances the idea of decoding. The audience is actively making meaning, deconstructing the ideas in the text beyond what is operating at the literal surface. Raessens describes this as “breaking through the cracks in the text to disrupt its superficial functioning” (Raessens 2005 : 376).

Reconfiguration is the act of making strategic choices, and this is where the participant goes outside the text to add meaning by liking a Facebook post, sharing an YouTube video or adding a video to a playlist, indeed playlists are long-stand form of media reconfiguration. 

Construction is the third and most pronounced form of participation that makes modifications to a text or adds something that wasn’t present previously. This can be as a minor such as a making a meme or a gif, posting about adding comments to a video on YouTube or as major as a video game modification, an audiovisual mashup, or a work of fan fiction that remixes elements of the primary text.

Fandom is an obvious form of reconfiguration and constructions as it enables the participant to “… control the transformation of a body of information to meet its needs and interests. This transformation should include a capacity to create, change, and recover particular encounters with the body of knowledge, maintaining these encounters as versions of the material.” Joyce, 1995 p.41

Successful media operations now rely heavily on participatory fan cultures to market and advertise their products through social media, but largely fail to understand the true potential of the internet paradigm, often resulting in attempts to curtail and constrain fan activity through ideological state apparatuses, particularly the law and the use of intellectual property, notably trademark and copyright restrictions.

That brings us to the final part of our audience theory trajectory and the idea of collaborating with audiences in the production of media. In order to apply these ideas with examples in part two, I’m going to focus on a specific form of collaboration with audiences, that of conversation, which transforms the idea of producing media texts, into the idea of producing media experiences. This form of audience collaboration is made possible by the dialogic function of the internet paradigm, which collapses the distinction between encoding and decoding meaning making and implicit and explicit participation and increases the agency of audiences as a result.  In part two I’m going to narrow the focus to the idea of producing media experiences in what can be called the Niche Creative Industries. 

[Part Two] 

The Niche Creative Industries involve: Specialist Knowledge, Paratextual Media, Conversational Experiences and Speculative Content.

We are going to examine these concepts across four main platforms: [YouTube, Twitch, Patreon and Kickstarter], starting with [YouTube].  

Specialist Knowledge 

[YouTube] was created by three ex-Paypal employees in 2005, and Google purchased the platform for $1.5 billion USD in 2006. The most recent quarterly reports put the company’s annual revenue at around $15 billion USD. As of late 2019, more than 500 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Much of this content is specialist knowledge, such as fan-created reviews, discussion and critiques. Most of this content lacks the identifiable production codes associated with legacy media and the broadcast industries. 

I can’t help but think Horkheimer and Adorno, would be horrified by the amateur nature of “shitty internet” videos and the platform as a whole. Adorno especially, I suspect would see the billions of hours of vlogs, reviews, how-to videos, Tik Tok collections, conspiracies theories and hobby videos as evidence of the mindlessness of popular culture leading us to replicate the status quo and sleepwalk into totalitarianism, fascism and worse.  

The critical thing to remember is that YouTube was built by its users. It is one of the biggest examples of participatory media. Much like the introduction of the home , and the availability of video recording on [smart phones], YouTube introduced an unprecedented degree of agency for its users seeking to express themselves via the screen. The question of quality is largely irrelevant to the massive numbers of YouTube audiences because the platform has become a hub for experiencing specialist knowledge. 

Many of the high-profile YouTube channels do replicate the production codes of broadcast media but adapt them for the interests of niche audiences. This makes the platform the ideal space for prosumer media, in the sense that Alvin Toffler imagined it – the professional consumer. 

In May 2020, Linus Tech Tips was the 4th most-watched technology channel on the platform, with almost 11 million subscribers and 5 thousand videos. The channel has hundreds of millions of views each month, with a total number of views in the billions. It’s star persona, Linus Sebastian is a YouTube Micro-Celebrity. Micro, not in the sense of the size of the audience, but in terms of the highly focussed niche in which he operates, which is to showcase highly specialised products in the tech industry, skewing heavily towards the high-end PC user, crossing over in the gamer market. 

Another example of prosumer media is the [Khan Academy]. Translated into several languages the channel has 5.7 million subscribers and 7.5 thousand videos, tens of millions of views and it has transformed the way mathematics and other fields are taught around the world.

It is interesting to note that this channel is criticised for the lack of professional codes associated with formal qualifications in teaching. It also lacks many of the professional codes associated with the educational content of broadcast media. Yet, the Khan Academy has been enormously important for those without access to formal education, and those struggling in traditional education experiences.  

Given the hundreds of millions of comments on these channels, we can situate them on a graph ranging from [Active] users to [Collaborative] audiences.

With large scale success, YouTube has become a platform for much smaller, but equally successful channels engaging with audiences across a fantastic range of niche interests, including [Video Games, Fashion and Cosmetics, Health, Fitness and Lifestyle, Review and Criticism, Sport, Music and Dance, Travel, Technology, Cooking, Education, Pranks and Challenges, Design and Art and Animation. From entirely new genres unique to the platform emerge with their own hybridised production codes encoded in [Daily Vlogging and commentary, Let’s Play and Unboxing videos, Conspiracy theories, tutorials and how-to’s, ASMR and among many, many others].

The majority of these genres are paratextual.

[Paratextual Media]

Literary Theorist, [Gerrad Genette] wrote about paratexts as the liminal materials that accompany a printed text. 

With a [book], for example, the paratexts include the cover, index, author name and publisher information. Paratexts for a [DVD] include the cover, but also the menu and more importantly the other materials like the special features; the director’s commentary, the behind-the-scenes materials, as well as bloopers and deleted scenes. 

With the internet, however, paratexts are divorced from their physical containers, and text starts to stretch out across multiple platforms, and become entwined in the  process of intercommunication.

“Intercommunication is an elaborate layering of types and forms of communication that are filtered and directed and engaged with by particular individuals in interpersonal ways.” (Marshall, 2010. p.4) 

Marshall, P.D. (2010). The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media. Celebrity Studies 1(1): 35-48.

This is not transmedia but rather the way that texts become enrolled in the presentation of on our online selves, our personas.

Intercommunication is a result of the interpretation and decoding process of participatory media, in which individuals are appropriating paratexts and reconfiguring them in order to then encode their personal expression of themselves online. Not just as fans, although fans might be described as experts in this process. But simply liking a Facebook page, tweeting about an episode, or commenting on Subreddit or YouTube video, you become active “participants”. Not only in terms of your agency of expression but also in terms of the algorithmic logic of capitalism that is expressed by those systems.

A [Netflix] series, for example, will have an ‘official’ Facebook page, a Subreddit, a twitter account, and all of its content creators including, producers, directors, actors and crews social media presences will become paratexts for that series, so too does fan activity. The show might have merchandise and associated products that also serve as paratexts for the primary text. The line between official and unofficial paratexts begins to blur through participation, that becomes so active it can be considered as a form of collaboration.

Fan groups on Facebook, moderators of the Subbreddit, YouTube channels analysing and discussing the series, fan-made wikis and so on, all of which is contributing their online persona, which builds the economic potential of the niche creative industries associated with that text. 

All fandom is paratext, and this has become a large part of the niche creative industries. It used to be that derivative works were frowned on, as part of the elitist notions of cultural hegemony, but is now considered a marker of success. 

Take, for example, Minecraft – the economic impact of this one game is so immense that it has its own ecology of paratextual media. This is a big rabbit hole that we could disappear down, so let’s keep it focussed on one example, Hermitcraft.

Hermitcraft is a collective of 27 Minecraft YouTubers and Twitch streamers, of which 23 uploaded Minecraft content regularly to the platform. These are audiences of the game, who have created their own massively successful derivative franchise from the paratext of the YouTube genre of Let’s Play videos.

The team’s Minecraft server acts as a shared world and is restarted for every season. First created in 2012, Hermit craft is now in its seventh season, has 30 million YouTube subscribers and episode one of that season currently has 5.4 million views. One the season is completed the audience can download the server to explore for themselves. 

Current estimates, by Forbes, put 1million views at an advertising revenue of about USD5000, but then you can add sponsorship, Twitch streaming subscriptions, merchandise on top of that. 

(On average YouTube pays between $USD0.01 and $USD 0.03 for an ad view, around $3 – $5 per 1,000 ad views,

So this is a very lucrative paratext, but not all niche and paratextual media command such a high audience, and it’s not necessary to think that you have to have millions of participants to have a successful collaboration with your audiences. 

One of the reasons for Hermitcraft’s success is the production costs are minimal, but that is not to say that the series or its streamers are without professional codes or various ideological positions associated with those codes. Still, those codes are not so much associated with what’s on the screen, but rather the [conversation experience] that is going on around and because of the screen. 

I also want to point out that many YouTubers  are having to respond and negotiate with the ISAs of the YouTube platform itself and its regulators. These channels and their participants have had to adapt to governmental and commercial regulatory mechanisms in the form of advertising and algorithmic recommendation systems, as well as the uncertain management of the advertising revenue system, and multiply iterations of the automated policing of intellectual property rights, censorship, de-platforming and most recently content aimed at younger audiences. 

As the platform has responded to these challenges, YouTube has decreased the value of individual content creators and their participatory audiences, while increasing the value of content coming from the broadcast media industries, particularly large networks. As a company, YouTube is acting more and more like a cable company, and this has profound implications for participatory audiences.

Conversational Experience

While YouTube does has live streaming, and there are other platforms in this space like Mixer and even Facebook, Twitch is perhaps most responsible for establishing the new professional codes of live streaming as part of the niche creative industries.

Twitch was [created] in 2011, as a rebranding from Justin.TV, which was a general-interest streaming platform. Until recently Twitch was devoted entirely to video games, but it has now become a place to watch visual artists, graphic designers, musicians, cosplay creators, and other professional craftspeople practice, perform and produce their art.

Twitch was [purchased] by Amazon in 2014 for US$970 million, in the same year it went viral for a channel which used a command chat translation bot to enter player commands from the chat window. Called Twitch Plays Pokemon, this event has the Guinness World Record for the most participants in a single game with 1,165,140 users contributing commands to the stream. 

This points to the most important feature of live-streaming, which is not the televisual content of the stream, but the experience that is produced by the relationship between the participants in the text chat and the streamer. 

Streamers earn money on the platform through subscriptions. The key to this system is not always responding to every chat comment because this becomes impossible with large numbers of viewers, but rather the conversational experience emerges through collaboration with the audience community through chat, bots, memes, emotes and a range of other interactions. 

These professional codes are still being worked out by companies that own these platforms, in negotiation with their users and their communities. The content and behaviour policies for Twitch streamers are an under constant revision as the company attempts to negotiate a space between other only conversational platforms like Omegle and more adult entertainment activities like web-camming.  

The conversational experience is entirely participatory as the audience engages in real-time decoding and interpretation via the conversation occurring in the chat, which is then encoding as part of the experience which can be reviewed at a later time as a separate video. 

Live streaming of games, but also other media is an example of what Raessens calls the reconfiguration of play. Still, through the paratextual layers of the interface, the conversational experience becomes an example of construction in the niche creative industries that is entirely a product of collaboration between the streamer, the platform and the audience.

This can be quite simple, as with the case of the Kiwi Te Arawa woodcarver whose stream went viral following this clip shared on social media:

Because the streamer, whose channel id is Broxh, is employed by New Zealand Tourism, his Twitch stream became a paratext to that industry. His goal is to get other carvers who are not employed during the pandemic lockdown to share their craft and their culture with the world.

The subscriptions he received however meant that he could then employ others to develop emotes and participate in moderation for the channel and his streams are a mix of viewer chat and responding to questions in between carving:

A much more elaborate form of this conversational experience is the work of Twitch stream TheSushiDragon:

Unlike majorTwitch micro-celebrities, Stefan Li’s persona goes beyond text chat and response to include the contributions of his audience in the performance. )

(Streamer Disguised Toast on Twitch revenue:

Li began on YouTube in 2011, with some viral videos, but felt constrained by the professional codes of the platform. Many find the grind of the production cycle needed to maintain viral viewership on the platform unsustainable. 

If you are reliant on views, rather than a community of engaged participants, that your revenue stream is going to be unreliable. 

Li started as an Overwatch streamer on Twitch, but converted his apartment into a studio by painting the walls green and he created a personal rig to wear that he could program key bind commands for real-time visual effects, and got viewers to assign the music that he would dance and perform to. Paying tips puts your song to the top of the cue – this is a pretty ancient bardic tradition. 

Speculative Collaboration

Speculative collaboration can be thought of as the culmination of specialist knowledge, paratextual media and the conversational experience, operating via user-driven platforms, like [Patreon] and [Discord].

The bigger picture here is Henry Jenkins’ anticipated this form of participatory media when he described internet-based audiences as migratory. When YouTube went through it’s first of four ‘adpocalypses’ back in 2017, and the platform cracked down on a range of different or content creators and began aggressive algorithmic tinkering to benefit legacy media content producers seeking ad revenue on the platform, those creators had to take their audiences away from the platform to maintain the conversational experience. 

Both Patreon and Discord are providing alternatives and indeed centrepieces for dealing with the platforms responses to various ISAs, and this has lead to a much more vibrant and collaboratively drive niche creative media industry.

Patreon is a US-based platform, created by Jack Conte and Sam Yam in 2013 and currently has around 3 million active users, who are providing direct financial support for content creators producing videography, drawing and painting, comic artists and writers, podcasters, musicians, cosplayers, scientists and researchers. There is also a huge range of educational opportunities where you can learn to play the banjo or find out about architecture or even more specialist niches like sailing or 3D printing. Indeed membership sites like Patreon are only likely to be more successful in the future as they offer an entirely different learning experience that benefits from both the expert and the community of participants. 

My area of interest is board games and tabletop games. I began collecting miniature-based games during my PhD, and painting them has become an essential part of my mental health, providing relaxation and thinking time, doing something creative with my hands. This is a niche interest that is widely supported by a range of Patreon experience that cross over between YouTube, Twitch and other social media platforms. The niche even has its own micro-celebrities from around the world, including Australians who produce content regularly. 

By becoming a patron to these channels, I get access to the associated Discord server, which is where the real conversation happens. 

Discord is a freeware voice and video chat application that was initially made for games, but has been embraced by a range of communities using the platform, for education, business, healthcare, and specialisations. With more than 250 million users around the world, Discord is both an old-style internet chat program and the new core for speculative collaboration and conversational experience online. 

Of course, as these platforms become successful, they inevitably end up compromising with ideological forces and Patreon has been criticised by both sides of the left-right political spectrum for deplatforming content creators who fund projects which overt political content and that why some platforms like [Indiegogo] and now on the rise. 

The more significant point is that as an audience member, I get to reconfigure my participation on that platform, into direct collaboration with these content providers. I am regularly chatting with them and the broader community of co-patrons and participants. Interpretation is welcome, and by being a patron I get to have a critical voice that exists beyond a downvote, dislike or negative YouTube comment. This shift the focus of encoding from discrete or even serialised content to an ongoing processual and experiential relationship based on conversation and collaboration is the reason for this models success 

So to conclude, we can then fill in the details of our participatory matrix. Adding these platforms and others, including crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and of course, throwing social media into the mix. You might like to think about where you would place these and your favourite platforms in this matrix. Where would Spotify sit for example?


So there we have it, hopefully, part 1 gave you a series of conceptual tools for thinking critically about audiences, and part 2 might have provided some ideas for planning future potential collaborations with audiences, or at least planted the idea of thinking about your audiences as participants in your media work in the future.

persona autosurveillance

Nearly finish impmapping* the paper for the October talk on ‘Persona Autosurveillance’ over the weekend, still some missing pieces but I’m happy with the shape that is slowly coming together

impmapping (impermanent mapping) Persona Autosurveillance

Plans for a new paper on Persona Autosurveillance

* impermanent mapping – a temporary mind map of the flow of a research project

ecologies and networks

An ecology is a study of interactions and relations among organisms and their environment (Bennett 2010). An ecology is a co-presence of objects in a shared arrangement of space and time.

A network, defined by Kadushin (p14 Loc 382), is a set of objects (nodes) and a description of relations between them. A network is an assemblage of the self-organising forces of heterogenous elements in techno-social relations (Shaviro 2014).


Bennett, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press.London.

Kadushin, Charles. 2012. Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts, and Findings. Oxford University Press. New York.

Shaviro, Steven. 2014. The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism. University of Minnesota Press. London



persona studies

In preparation for the upcoming book on Persona Studies, and the M/C journal ‘persona’ edition I thought I would just share a couple of blog posts that all use the term ‘persona’ to talk about very different issues and concepts.

Persona 5 – a very popular Japanese game

Persona – the television show

Persona and Greek Theatre and Sound in Counselling

Persona in Design

Persona and Target Audience in Advertising

Persona and Dorothy Parker – a poem

Persona and Grief

Serres, time travel and the Gothic in science fiction

Three new postgraduate students to co-supervise this year. The first I’ve caught up with so far is a Creative Arts students writing a science fiction novel. The exegesis for the thesis will focus on the Gothic in science fiction and to kick the process off, we will be working on an analysis of the Gothic in the Mass Effect series. The aim is to prepare an article for a games studies or the science fiction studies journal, and to contribute to the formation of an emerging research group on technology and science fiction studies at Deakin. In doing some fresh research I came across a great article by Laura Salisbury on Michel Serres, time travel and gothic SF. It’s a cracking read and coincides with the material I’m working on using Serres concept of quasi-objects to analyse the use of screenshots in participatory gamer cultures (to adopt Joost Raessen’s term).

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:

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)

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…

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, 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

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.

effective assessment in higher education

The sixteen indicators of effective assessment in higher education is a useful checklist (link broken, new source needed!) that provides a timely opportunity to review the changes introduced to the unit I inherited at the start of the current trimester. I reflect here on a several, but not all the indicators and address their concerns in relation to the changes I made to the assessments for the unit.

Assessment is treated by staff and students as an integral and prominent component of the entire teaching and learning process rather than a final adjunct to it.

The content for the unit had not been revised since 2007, which for a Media and Communication subject is almost an ice age (and it proved problematic all trimester), but after babysitting a 200 level unit in the first trimester I was also less than satisfied with the general standard of writing, analysis, research and reflection demonstrated by the student’s approach to writing essays.

In the past I’d achieve fantastic results by removing traditional assessment practices like exams and essays, replacing them with a continuous blogging assessment structure with a peer review component, which then became the focus for the unit and influenced what elements of the course materials I reviewed on the fly.

The multiple roles of assessment are recognised. The powerful motivating effect of assessment requirements on students is understood and assessment tasks are designed to foster valued study habits.

Through previous experimentation I had found that a short weekly blogging task coupled with a peer review assessment, introduced students to a repertoire of digital literacy skills and help to encourage regular writing and reviewing habits to help foster better research and analysis.

Tutors cannot be expected to read all the blog posts each week, so the peer review eliminates the need for constant surveillance and encourages students to take on the responsibility of monitoring, evaluating and engaging with each others’ work through a compulsory comment requirement (each student must comment on two blogs per week) and a grading component (each student uses the same grading rubric as the tutors to to evaluate each other’s work).

As with previous years, I’ve found this approach draws on the students’ intrinsic drive for learning, and encourages the completion of their posts on time and to a high standard, as they contributed to a micro, but vibrant, public sphere in the awareness of the whole student cohort as their audience. Students often go well beyond the minimum effort required for the task.

There is a faculty/departmental policy that guides individuals‟ assessment practices. Subject assessment is integrated into an overall plan for course assessment.

The blogging assessment starts in the first week of the trimester, and students are required to read, conduct further research and compose their reflections from day one. This proved to be a challenge at Deakin, as the School/Faculty policy allows student to enrol in units quite late in the trimester.

Those students coming late into the subject had to work harder and with less feedback those those who started in week one, and of course there are always students who consider the idea of a weekly writing task daunting and find themselves catching up at the last minute in week five, week nine and week twelve when students nominate a single post to be formally assessed.

Assessment tasks assess the capacity to analyse and synthesise new information and concepts rather than simply recall information previously presented.

The students are required to review the lecture and background materials (including traditional readings as well as online video, podcasts, and other blogs), select a single concept to examine, discuss and expand their writing through the use of hypertext links and embedded media. The individual blog posts are limited to 250 words, and this is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the process for many students, as it forces them to think much more strategically about their writing choices. This constraint is countered with the final piece of the assessment which involves reworking one of their posts into an extended scholarly blog with a 1200 minimum word count

A variety of assessment methods is employed so that the limitations of particular methods are minimised. Assessment tasks are designed to assess relevant generic skills as well as subject-specific knowledge and skills.

There is a steady progression in the complexity and demands of assessment requirements in the later years of courses.

Each blog post must address the four elements of the task, which can be abbreviated here as concept, definition, discussion and exemplification. Each component of the overall assessment is essentially the same, but students are encouraged to use digital communication practices and media rich methods to approach the task differently each week: we have student’s video blogging, live podcasting, and using Pinterest, Reddit, G+ and other social networks and web sites to expand the connectivity of their blog and increase their audience via the affordances of the web. The extended scholarly blog also begins to bridge the gap between the critical, but often informal, voice that students adopt for the blogs and their writing in other units.

There is provision for student choice in assessment tasks and weighting at certain times. Student and staff workloads are considered in the scheduling and design of assessment tasks

The ideal version of assessment would allow students to submit their blogs for assessment by the tutor in their own time, but this places too great a demand on the time and availability of the tutor.

Excessive assessment is avoided. Assessment tasks are designed to sample student learning.

A delicate balance, more for the tutors than the students, and I will be reducing the number of times the blogs are assessed when I run the unit again, from three to two, in order to help alleviate the added administration and marking time caused by the fully online submission. I do like saving trees, but it can be more labour intensive for some tutors less used to providing feedback in digital form.

Grades are calculated and reported on the basis of clearly articulated learning outcomes and criteria for levels of achievement.

I spent a great deal of time at the start of the trimester aligning the activities of the blog and peer review assessment task with the explicitly and clearly stated grading rubrics matching the unit and graduate outcomes and attributes to the demands of the content but more recently I’ve began to doubt the effectiveness and perspicacity of grading. I don’t consider the need for a grade other than a pass/fail to be required for the situation and all students who fail the first two rounds of assessment are afforded the opportunity to revise and resubmit. Students are also encouraged to revise their blog posts at any stage in response to their peer and assessment feedback.

Students receive explanatory and diagnostic feedback as well as grades.

The submission of the blog fulfills multiple purposes, the student is required to copy their comment logs, grading rubrics and a single nominated pot into a word document that is uploaded to the DSO dropbox. Comments and feedback is marked up in the word document and the grading rubric. The brevity of the posts helps to ensure tutors are able to turn around feedback remarkably quickly and students can implement changes at any time.

Plagiarism is minimised through careful task design, explicit education and appropriate monitoring of academic honesty.

The blogging structure and peer evaluation makes direct plagiarism more difficult, although students do invariably find new ways to game the system. I did note a small degree of repurposed materials from other units, which I don’t discourage, and it was noted by other students who made recommendations on how to redraft these posts to better fit with the scholarly and critical blog genre.

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.

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 ( 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.