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.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Seeing is Living

In Kress’s article, 'English' at the Crossroads: Rethinking Curricula of Communication in the Context of the Turn to the Visual, he discusses the changing landscape of education literacy from a tightly organized discursive space being read to liberated non-discursive space being used by students. Kress notes this change in congruence with the changing visual society that emerged in the 20th and 21st century. With this article, I began to think about how image studies truly can be used in a composition class. These are my initial thoughts:

First of all, Berger was right: seeing comes before reading. And writing instructors have long embraced text and labeled image studies as low brow because of a desire to label seeing image as laziness while reading text is real ‘work’. But, as George and many others have pointed out, the visual world and visual literacies are inextricably tied to composition studies because images are essential to understanding and creating meaning alongside discursive text.

What I am interested in—being a computer lab administrator and all—is how software today is capable of allowing students to easily compose visual arguments. When Harris Leonard disallowed the creation of comics in his classroom, he stopped them from exercising the student’s inclusion of their voice within the classics (George 27-28). If his students had Comic Life, there would have been some brilliant expressions of visual literacy that would have showed competency in design and the conglomeration of the oral, discursive and non-discursive in composition and meaning making. I would love to expand on George’s article to express how software and computer knowledge gives students the ability to create visual pieces in a composition classroom.

I suppose I can start by looking at how Yancey proposes that the composition classroom pay attention to Circulation of composition, Canons of rhetoric, and the Deicity of technology. Particularly, the creation of visual composition through the computer screen is the beginnings of the circulations in the way that Yancey evokes David Russel: “Writing is alive when it is being written, read, remembered, contemplated,
followed—when it is part of human activity” (Yancey 312). Melding textual and non-discursive composition (thus, the crafting and reforming meaning) in a software program like comic life allows students opportunity to break beyond purely discursive modes and begin writing in a human way—a visual way—by seeing meaning as both discursive (words) and non-discursive (image).

As well, Wysocki develops several strategies for helping students analyse and compose visual texts. What I appreciate most about the Wysocki article is that she gives the potential instructor using visual rhetoric a ton of questions to ask their students about the visual world that surrounds us. These activities and questions eventually move from observation of visual rhetoric to creation of visual rhetoric. All the while, the processing of visual rhetoric is recursive: thinking about about visual rhetoric and creating it are a circulation process! So, after spending class time thinking about visual rhetoric, a student could essentially design a comic book in Comic Life that not only follows certain conventions in comic book making, but the student is also free to explore his or her understanding of visual rhetoric in an learning environment where the main goal in encountering, negotiating, analyzing and manipulating visuals.