Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Notes from Annoying Yellow

The Google Docs experience incited that techno-skeptical part of me that disagrees with the belief that online spaces actually decenter the classroom. I am still not convinced that face-to-face (or atleast real-time phone or chatting) interaction can be divorced from digital space interaction when working on a joint document. Synchronous chat is one thing—I don’t think anyone is ever trying to get anything cohesively created with synchronous chats. Without one common agreement on where a thesis is going, I think the writing will remain fragments until (eventually) the ideas meld together through active editors in the text. In many ways, I think this format forces one person to become an editor (as Shawn mentioned in class). Look, I think it is possible to make a cohesive paper through Google docs without meeting with the other collaborators; but I think it will take a whole lot longer if the group doesn’t hash out the motives over the paper over coffee.

I feel like some old dogmatic comp teacher here, but I just can feel the frustration with the lack of focus. It seems contradictory to work towards an argument and yet not spend time planning with a group of voices. I don’t mean to say that multiple voices won’t be apparent in the document, but having a document written by as many as 12 people requires some serious face time before it become somewhat cohesive.

On the flip side, I had fun writing a paragraph with Shawn when it was just him and me. He wrote a sentence; I wrote a sentence in reply; he wrote in reply to me; etc. And, oddly enough, it read like a cohesive paragraph. And small groups (2-3 people), if they worked slow or not simultaneously, could put together a very cool collaborative document. However, I am still skeptical of collaboration w/o f2f.

Also, as long as I am sounding like a old codger, my opinion is that Google docs is most helpful as a revision tool. Collaborating with others to write a document requires much more social interaction; but when someone posts a draft on Google docs, it becomes a great forum for outside editors to revise and add to the document. This type of revision is a type of collaborating towards a document, yet it deals more with established text instead of the pre-writing process. For the pre-writing process, I would recommend using other social tools in cyberspace (a/synchronous chats, etc.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dispositions, Weapon Bags, and Toolbars

I thought the Thomas and Brown article was incredibly informative to our classroom discussion regarding design and pedagogy. Through engaging with the World of Warcraft and reading this article, I was reflective of the learning processes occurring in my quest. Here is my central observation: awareness of the toolbar is a key dispositional ability and this connects gaming learning to software composition.

I logged onto to WoW and the first thing I saw was a bar at the bottom of the page; I logged onto Photoshop, Comic Life, Word, etc. and the first thing I saw was a toolbar. In Thomas and Brown’s article, they discuss disposition and awareness of the learning environment. Action in the learning environment is accomplished through the toolbar. What am I selecting? What is the tool I am using? What will it do?

A game like WoW encourages the user to select and place things in the toolbar and experiment to find out what these tools do. If you can’t use it, the game indicates when and why you can use. (ex: certain weapons cannot be used until you reach a certain experience level). In the same way, a palette in a design software program encourages experimentation. The main difference between Wow and a program like Photoshop is that WoW starts you in a world and gives you direction while Photoshop gives you a blank digital page. Both encourage imagination and both require dispositional knowledge. So how do we combine creating and playing? Is that the big question in this class?

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Killed a Cougar, and I Felt No Remorse.

Damn you, World of Warcraft! I told myself that I would play it from 10am -12pm today, and I ended up starting at 9:30 and playing until 1:30. I had a lot to do today: I had a book review and a blog to write, some research to do, and a computer lab to manage. But instead, I just couldn’t stop myself from killing little beasts alongside the road. Ugh. . .I have been told that WoW is addictive, but I did not think it would appeal to my insatiable desire to acquire fake money and weapons.

Okay, I’ll back up a little and share my whole experience before I start venting about by weird fetishes and lack of time management.

I initially chose to be a member of the Undead because they looked freakin’ cool. But, for my first tour of the World of Warcraft, I wanted to have friends to share my experience and help me out. So, I abandoned my aspirations to be a wicked awesome zombie killer and I became a Tauren: the Native-American, large teddy bears with horns-type characters. I prompt hung out with Chris, Rachel and Jerry.

Initially, it was fun hanging out with the group for a little while. Yet, the “Playstation-gamer” in me wanted to go off on my own and do individual tasks. The social aspect was a little frustrating at first—I really just wanted to call Chris on the phone and ask him what I should do. Once I figured out how to text, I kept just wanting to talk to Chris because I just wanted to learn how to talk, joke, dance, fight, jump, etc. Basically, I just wanted to know how to maneuver my character to be able to play the game.

I was not that interested in socializing. When people wanted to socialize or duel, I just ignored them or declined. Once, I got help from another guy to kill the head of the razorbacks; but that was the extent of my social interaction with people in the game. I was all about the task-oriented game. Because of this, I found a few aspects of the game to be frustrating. First, I am all about fast-paced action fighting. It seemed like it took forever for me to kill plainstriders and boars. I am used to games like God of War where I press a whole bunch of buttons and my arms become nuclear warheads to kill everyone on sight. It irritated me that it took me five minutes to kill things, especially when it was part of my current task.

Second, I hated having to stride slowly across fields. Although the view of the plains and surrounding mountains were depicted in beautiful hi-def graphics, I couldn’t stand lumbering for minutes on minutes to get to my task.

I guess I am impatient with the game and I am not sure exactly why. Is it because I just wanted to earn my gold star and leave? Is it because I wasn’t excited playing a Tauren? Am I just not a social gamer? Regardless, I am sure that there are people like me that just want to do their thing and get their prizes. That is probably where much of the addiction comes from: there is always a new level and a new achievement. However, my anti-social behavior is something I want to address in class. If someone like me, who doesn’t care much about interacting with people, treats the game as more of a goal achieving experience as opposed to a social experience, is the pedagogical significance of the game still relevant?

Ugh. . .I think I am going to go back and play the game. . .stupid addictive game. Nothing says St. Patrick’s Day like Beer and mystical creatures. Maybe I’ll go play some rockband tonight to offset the fantasy buzz.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Identity Tourism and Americana

When I was in High School, a friend of mine made a very astute observation about white male middle class ego. He said, “ in our lifetime, guys like us went from bragging about how much horsepower their cars have to how much RAM and Memory their computers contain.” I didn’t realize it when he said it; but it eventually sunk in what he meant by cultural shift and control on both a domestic and international scale. White Americana has trickled its racist notions into the pervasive stream of ideology that dominates new media communication. Those white kids that used to fix up their cars now sit in a cubicle and create or play video games. And these white consumers then become the starting point for Nakamura’s Cybertyping when cyber identity tourism becomes a mainstay of game play.

I will give a personal example: I just bought the game Rockband for my Playstation. The first thing I do when I start my world tour is to create a character. What is interesting about the profile creation interfaces is that there is an assumption that race is not significant—it is merely coincidental. The assumption is that one creates a type of ‘Rocker.’ However, these rockers fall into the category of typically ‘white rockers’: Punk, Metal, Goth, Rock. Hence, the stereotypical outfits of white rockers are available to create your character. There is the ability to change the color of skin on the character, but the facial types are restricted to assumed rock facial types, like ‘pixie’ for women (a very thin face) and ‘meat head’ for men (a very thick face).

In its apparent avoidance of race, Rockband solidifies that white people own the profiles of rock n’ roll. It is this type of cybertyping that makes new media susceptible to subtle forms of overt racism. Of course, this happens all the time in profile creation interfaces. They are a space for identity tourism that both solidify dominant ideology and allow for blackface and cross-dressing among white male gamers.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Feminine Miss Geek

If there are two main ideas that I have (so far) gleaned from this course, it would these two: 1) technologies introduced into the classroom have the opportunity of being panoptic, and 2) the same oppressive ideologies that exist in the physical world also manifest themselves in the cyber world. The later point was definitely manifested in the three articles that we read—Romano, Sullivan, and Hawisher & Sullivan. The male gaze still exists online and discursive oppression in chat forums still exist despite the fact that the chat forum gives women more of an ability to speak and not be silenced.

I further shatter my hopes of technology being a liberating space in reading (and agreeing with) these three readings. Romano’s hope for reform of the female subjective self seems only partially possible in that women are able to speak in online forums, but they can only really control their own cyber personae and not the male oppression that speaks them. In this same way, Sullivan accounts the disturbing male gaze as perpetually objectifying women, and making them self-conscious in an online space that is able to transform hegemonic gazes (but traditionally refuses). When I got to Hawisher & Sullivan’s article, it then hit me: women are able to take control of their visual representation when they are able to alter the image on their own terms. Here is some hope to counteract male hegemonic gaze, and yet this ability to alter the image is exclusive in itself.

One characteristic that I noted about Hawisher & Sullivan’s 20-something women whom creating websites was that both of them were studying graphic design. Hawisher & Sullivan note that these women have more control over how they are visually portraited and they expose themselves to the male gaze on their own terms. However, they have the liberty to do this through their expertise: they are cyber geeks who know how to operate the internet and they are graphic design geeks who know how operate graphic design software in order to represent themselves in the ways they want to be represented. In contrast, the faculty example of Susan Hilligoss showed that Susan either did not have the time to make her own website, did not have the expertise to construct a site, or was restricted by the department from creating her own site; these days, the first two possibilities are more likely. Those women with the abilities to visually alter themselves, to mold their cyborg selves, can do so. But what about the women that don’t have the expertise to alter image? Are they still subject to the male gaze because they cannot shield themselves through technological abilities?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Expectations and Desires in Learning: a scattered synchronous chat

The three major evaluative thoughts I had about Thursday’s synchronous chat are 1) I learned a lot about learning 2) I am unsure whether any learning took place, and 3) it was lots of fun. I’ll explain.

When we broke up into two groups, our (Me, Chelsey, and Jerry) goal was to have one group that was to be more controlled and one that was more free. Chelsey assumed the role of the controller of conversation, making an effort to try and keep everyone in the group focused on a particular topic. Jerry and I had the opposite approach with our group: we opened up the conversation with a question and then let things happen in the group, occasionally inserting deviating comments.

What is interesting is that the opposite effect happened than what we hypothesized: the controlled group was out of control and the uncontrolled group wanted more structure. Particularly, in my group, we started looking at the question proposed:
“In Fragments of Rationality, Lester Faigley states that " Electronic discussions both invite participation and seriously limit a teacher's ability to control the direction they take. Just as the authority of the teacher is decentered, the authority of the text is also decentered in electronic written discussions, demonstrating Lyotard's claim that truth is local and contingent" (185). In what ways does a space with decentered authority and textual meaning foster a learning environment in the classroom? What are it's advantages and it's disadvantages?”
Many insightful comments were made about this question including these comments by Amy and Jeanette:

amybethm: I think the decentered-ness may give more individuals a chance to speak, but their comments could also easily be overlooked since we could all be typing at the same time.

dr.migglerstein: Lyotard's notion of truth as local and contingent captures the essence of synchronous discussion in the classroom - those fleeting, yet focused moments of learning that are difficult to monitor

After a apt metaphor by Jeanette about how the conversation in synchronous discussions flow freely “like Albion Creek, that just overlapped it's floodplain area,” the members of the group quickly became impatient that no one was controlling the conversation:

amybethm: (I'm already wanting someone to take control)

amybethm: I'm thinking I'd be annoyed if I were a teacher who was hoping to actually get something focused accomplished.

dr.migglerstein: I agree with Amy

And then there were some attempts to get the conversation moving in a productive manner:
amybethm: I'm curious, how many of your IM like this on a reg. basis?

donnajeanevans: I wonder if having different threads occurring simultaneously
generates unusual connections--critical thinking possibilities that could contribute
to new knowledge

My overall assessment was that Amy took a leadership role in the chat because she seemed the most frustrated that the conversation was not being directed; mainly her leadership came from asking questions. My other assumption was that Kristin did not want to be the leader, even though there might have been more restraint in the group because “the teacher” was in our chat. (That also might have been the reason why Chelsey’s group felt more free to be disruptive.) Either way, my assumption that our group would be more chaotic because we were not directed ended up being false. There was a genuine desire to have a productive conversation in the chat.

So, what I learned is that desires for productivity and interpretation of productivity is large factor in the motivation for conversation in synchronous chats. How do we measure this productivity? Does the conversation have to be productive? Is it a learning environment without being a traditional productive space? In short, did we learn anything from this experience?

But overall, I had fun.