Wednesday, October 28, 2009

notes from the {gendered} revolution

I don't like talking about gender politics.

It's not because I'm not interested. It's not because I don't see the value of engaging with social issues tied to gender and identity. It's not because I don't have tons to say about these issues.

It's because most of the time, I feel marginalized by the rhetoric of gender, identity, and belonging. I feel like this rhetoric is talking about someone else--it certainly doesn't represent my values, needs, or beliefs. And I hate feeling marginalized. I hate feeling unnoticed. So I'd much rather not show up to the conversation than feel like nobody's interested in my needs.

Let me try to explain why by backing up a step to explain why I'm writing about this issue at all.

It came up in a conversation about a recent seminar with Leah Buechley, an educational researcher who directs the High-Low Tech research group at MIT's Media Lab. Buechley's recent work focuses on computational textiles, and a big chunk of her focus is on embedding conductive thread and circuitry into clothing.

There's sewing involved. And when sewing gets mashed in with computation, smart people start talking about gender.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

you have to watch this vlogpost

file under: world's most awesome 16-hour vlog project

This link to pure awesomeness comes to you courtesy of my buddies, Jeffrey Kaplan and David Phelps. If you care about literacy or the learning sciences, you will die of joy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

who you calling 'we'? Part 2: Peggy Orenstein version

I, good little revolutionary that I am, have been reading Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Some of my colleagues find this fact cute. Cute like this: "Oh, lookit Jenna getting all outraged again. Now she's even carrying Freire around with her. That's so cute."

That's okay. Other cute things include: anteaters and baby pterodactyls.

Reading Freire can make a guy excessively aware of anything that gives off even the faintest whiff of colonizing tendencies: Actions or words that ignore, dismiss, or (intentionally or unintentionally) distort or misrepresent the interests of oppressed groups.

A good recent example of this is Peggy Orenstein's recent New York Times piece Stop Your Search Engines. The piece, which focuses on "our" struggle to control overwhelming levels of information inundation, offers a peek into how even the best writers so often end up re-colonizing marginalized voices by treating personal issues as if they were universal concerns. It's a common trend in writing about new media, which coincidentally happens to be the topic of Orenstein's piece. She explains that, much like the irresistible urge of the Sirens' call in Homer's The Odyssey, the internet and the knowledge contained therein can drain "our" spirit, energy, and very lifeforce away. "It is heartening," she writes,
that the yearning for learning is the most powerful of all human cravings (though it applies equally to obtaining the wisdom of Zeus or the YouTube video on how to peel a banana like a monkey). Yet the sea surrounding the Sirens was littered with corpses. Can increased knowledge really destroy us?

Well, yes.... [T]he trap is more of a bait and switch: the promise is of infinite knowledge, but what’s delivered is infinite information, and the two are hardly the same. In that sense, Homer may have been the original neuropsychologist: centuries after his death, brain studies show that true learning is largely an unconscious process. If we’re inundated with data, our brains’ synthesizing functions are overwhelmed by the effort to keep up. And the original purpose — deeper knowledge of a subject — is lost, as surely as the corpses surrounding Sirenum scopuli.

There's a lot of "we"-ing and "us"-ing in this article. The piece, after all, is part of a regular feature called "The Way We Live Now," a feature intended to represent personal approaches to larger cultural issues. And this is exactly what Orenstein attempts to do. She cites Fred Stutzman, the inventor of an internet-blocking application called Freedom, as saying that "we’re moving toward this era where we’ll never be able to escape from the cloud." (emphasis mine)

The internet, Orenstein argues, "has allowed us (emphasis mine) to reflexively indulge every passing interest, to expect answers to every fleeting question, to believe that if we search long enough, surf a little further, we can hit the dry land of knowing 'everything that happens' and that such knowledge is both possible and desirable. In the end, though, there is just more sea, and as alluring as we can find the perpetual pursuit of little thoughts, the net result may only be to prevent us from forming the big ones. (emphasis mine, emphasis mine, emphasis, emphasis mine)

We sure do spend a lot of time talking about what the internet means to us, don't we? I've been as guilty of this as the next guy--it's a nice rhetorical move, a way of enlisting allies around a cause and demonstrating an awareness of cultural trends.

It also silences people who aren't part of the "we" in question.

One of the most exciting aspects of the internet as an information and communication source is that it offers the promise of real revolution: of tools for dancing along with and in resistance and opposition to dominant cultural forces. We feel inundated, overwhelmed at times, by information, but when information is necessary, useful, and used it feels anything but. They--people who, for example, have used Twitter as a tool for revolution; who have used cellphones to document the most abominable acts of cruelty and degradation; who have used news sites and blogs and forums to gather information they couldn't otherwise access--are less likely than "we" are to feel like limits must be set, like too much knowledge is a dangerous thing, like "self-binding" is the only path to true productivity.

Pervasive among members of dominant groups, writes Paulo Freire, is a fear of freedom: a fear that liberating the oppressed--making possible true conscientizacao, or critical consciousness and the will to resist oppression--will threaten the status quo.

"We" would do well to remember that the internet serves many purposes, some revolutionary and others not, but the leisure and reflexivity with which many of "us" approach consistent internet access is a long, long ways from universal. It's the old Tree of Knowledge issue again: Eating the apple only constitutes a fall from grace if you had the luxury of grace in the first place.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

liveblogging the Home Inc Conference: keynote speaker Alan November

From Alan November's website:

Alan November is an international leader in education technology. He began his career as an oceanography teacher and dorm counselor at an island reform school for boys in Boston Harbor. He has been director of an alternative high school, computer coordinator, technology consultant, and university lecturer. He has helped schools, governments and industry leaders improve the quality of education through technology.

His opener:
"I used to think I knew the truth. I don't know it anymore. So whatever I say is only good enough to criticize."

Here's why, according to Alan November, we've been able to spend over $10 billion on putting technology into schools over the last decade without making any gains on learning. He pulls much of his arguments from Shoshana Zuboff's 1989 book, The Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power.

1. The real solution isn't bolting technology on top of what we used to do.
November pointed to Zuboff's notion of "automating," which is the process of using technology to automatically transfer information. "When you automate," November said, "at best, you only get incremental improvement. Not surprisingly to me, you often get a decline in quality.

According to November, connecting our classrooms to the Internet has lowered the quality of education int he U.S. Plagiarism has skyrocketed. "Everywhere I go," he said, "teachers complain about how students are taking the easiest route to learning" through copying and pasting and other plagiaristic approaches.

2. The real issue isn't technology; the real issue is control. We have teachers and administrators controlling learning and we need to ask how well (or poorly) that serves the needs of the learners.

Here are the solutions November offers:

Zuboff's notion of informating:
Giving people access to information they've never had before. "I've been to schools that are technology-rich and information-poor. Teachers don't have the right information at the right time to do the right job. Students don't have the right information at the right time to do the right job. Parents do not have the right information--ever, hardly."

Identify new opportunities for collaboration. This is, according to November, a mark that you're beginning to use technology well.
"The one-room schoolhouse was a great idea. We need to go back to that. The very structure of the school system is what's in the way. That structure is a control model."

If you do those two things well, November argued, then more and more people become self directed. They don't need an organization to tell them what to do. That's the ultimate skill, according to November.

"One of the most important questions we need to ask is: Who should own the learning?" Since technology is typically used to reinforce teacher control, we need to think of new strategies for using technology to shift control over learning toward learners and, November argues, parents. He argued that the best thing schools can do is to "build capacity in every family as centers of learning.

"But I can say this until I'm blue. i don't think anybody's going to do this--because it falls outside of the boundaries of the current collaboration people have."

Time? Money? Energy? "It's all red herrings," said November. "It's all about control!"

November says the biggest technology from his perspective that can help lead to a shift in control is Skype.

my thoughts on November's keynote:

It's refreshing to see his energy and enthusiasm about rethinking the use of technology in the classroom. I worry, though, that his stance on transferring agency to the family could just shift the control issues from the schools to the family structure. In brief, it's not just control that makes schools worrisome institutions; it's the colonizing effect of middle class values on members of non-dominant classes and ethnicities. Collaborate with families and you get the same old divide we've been seeing for much more than the last decade. Middle class kids will get inculcated with middle class values, which we know lead to success; lower class kids will learn a different set of values, thereby reifying the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Add to this the increasing influence of new media technologies--and the participation gap that Henry Jenkins has pointed to--and this concern becomes even more vital.

Control, after all, is much less simple (and simplistic) than we try to make it appear. Add to that the fact that institutional control has nuances that aren't easy to talk about in the keynote structure.

"If you don't have the right mission," November said, "it doesn't matter what technology you have." Yes, and we need to consider the broader (if tacit and unexplored) mission of the American education system.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

state of the blogosphere 2009: the kids are all right

I've been following technorati's 2009 state of the blogosphere report with the level of interest you might expect from someone who spends the vast majority of her free time blogging. Much has been and will be made of the following statistics, culled from technorati's survey:

• Two-thirds are male
• 60% are 18-44
• The majority are more affluent and educated than the general population
◦ 75% have college degrees
◦ 40% have graduate degrees
◦ One in three has an annual household income of $75K+
◦ One in four has an annual household income of $100K+
◦ Professional and self-employed bloggers are more affluent: nearly half have an annual household income of $75,000 and one third topped the $100,000 level
• More than half are married
• More than half are parents
• Half are employed full time, however ¾ of professional bloggers are employed full time.

These statistics are worth mulling, as they point to a disturbing trend toward the mainstreaming of what was previously a counterculture form of communication. Others have begun exploring this in depth.

What interests me most at the moment, however, is the statistic on journalistic credentials. According to the report, 35% of respondents have worked in traditional media formats, including newspapers and magazines, radio, and television. Compare this to the less than 1% of the entire American work force employed in traditional media fields.

And one more statistic before we dive into analysis: Of those who identified as having employment history with traditional media sources, 72% are no longer employed by a media outlet. This means that just over one-fourth of the bloggers surveyed are formerly affiliated with traditional media outlets.

Why does this matter? Because it points to two interesting and important trends among bloggers: They have had more exposure to traditional journalistic ethics than does the average American; and they are disproportionately drawn to blogging as a news circulation format. This is, in my view, a double smackdown to those who fear that the shift away from traditional news sources will lead to a decreased quality in reporting.

journalistic ethics, carried over
As I've explained before, I'm a former newspaper reporter whose paper folded after a long slide toward decreased advertising revenues. Not all of us who worked at that local paper were journalists, exactly--our crew included two sales reps, two assistants, a circulation manager, and various part-time employees--but everybody at that office embraced a deep commitment to honest, responsible information delivery. It kind of came with the territory.

Journalism is guided by an ethical framework--what we might call an appreciative system--that's undergirded by intellectual rigor, critical curiosity, and chronic curmudgeonry. Though this commitment is move visible in its breach (which is in part why Jayson Blair became a household name), it's a big piece of what drives so many people into traditional journalism even as its dying gasps turn into death rattles.

disproportional representation: paid journalists become voluntary journalists
Old journalists never die, they just get de-pressed, har har. In fact, the thriving popularity of blogs and their potential to reach a vast--indeed, potentially almost infinite--audience is by my lights part of what draws us traditional media curmudgeons to new media. Though I can't speak for all traditional media-affiliated bloggers, I can tell you that I was drawn to journalism because I believed in its power, believed in its transformative potential. I believed, even before I could articulate it, in the power of a free press in a democratic society. That's free as in speech, not as in beer.

Now, as a blogger, my understanding of "free press" has changed: When I talk about the power of a free press, I now mean free as in speech and as in beer. This does not, contrary to common belief, mean that I believe we can sustain a thriving communication system without funds; I just don't believe that the people should be required to pay for information. I have elsewhere delineated between 'news' and 'the news' and discussed various approaches to funding that may be more sustainable than the current system, so I won't go into that here; instead, I only want to submit that for many traditional-media types like me, blogs offer what a career in journalism did, only more so. More communication of ideas, more potential readership, more opportunity for direct conversation between the writer and her readers. News can be broken, immediately, to overwhelming impact, via blogs; ideas can be offered, discussed, and modified; a reading public can be mobilized to act.

There are those who will (and do!) argue that unpaid citizens will never be willing to commit to reporting on local, national, or international news without pay; or that even those who are willing to do so will offer substandard, biased, or useless content. These charges may be true, but only of a subset of the online journalistic population. For the rest of us, our commitment to delivery of high-quality, well researched and useful information has never been higher or more valuable--essential, really, to a democratic society built on a presumption of freedom of speech and of the press.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

update on bigot Jan Moir

First, I want to show you this fantastic video I snagged from the Online Journalism Blog. If you're like me, you're not thrilled about the notion of sitting still and watching a 3 minute video, but I promise it's worth it.

The video was embedded in a post by Paul Canning called "Jan Moir is a Heterosexist." If Canning and I were to follow the advice of the video above, we would write things like:

  • Jan Moir's column was heterosexist (or homophobic, depending on your take).
  • Jan Moir's column adopts a heteronormative (or homophobic, depending on your take) approach to gay rights.
  • Jan Moir's argument promotes homophobic (or bigoted, depending on your take) attitudes toward gay rights.

Nope, I'm going with the old "Jan Moir is a bigot" approach. It's not that I think the advice in the above video is wrong; it's just that Moir followed up the bigoted assumptions espoused in the column in question with an Official Statement that rejects the notion that the piece espoused bigoted assumptions. Here's her statement, in full:

Some people, particularly in the gay community, have been upset by my article about the sad death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately. This was never my intention. Stephen, as I pointed out in the article was a charming and sweet man who entertained millions.

However, the point of my column-which, I wonder how many of the people complaining have fully read - was to suggest that, in my honest opinion, his death raises many unanswered questions. That was all. Yes, anyone can die at anytime of anything. However, it seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately's death - out all evening at a nightclub, taking illegal substances, bringing a stranger back to the flat, getting intimate with that stranger - did not have a bearing on his death. At the very least, it could have exacerbated an underlying medical condition.

The entire matter of his sudden death seemed to have been handled with undue haste when lessons could have been learned. On this subject, one very important point. When I wrote that 'he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine', I was referring to the drugs and the casual invitation extended to a stranger. Not to the fact of his homosexuality. In writing that 'it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships' I was suggesting that civil partnerships - the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting - have proved just to be as problematic as marriages.

In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.

Mischievous in the extreme? Really? Let's return to the scene of the crime, where Moir writes:

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened.

It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death.

Ok, so let's be clear on the association Moir is making here: The only thing that these three men have in common is that all engaged in relationships with men. Michael was arrested for public indecency; McGee, after a long struggle with depression and addiction, committed suicide; and Gately was in an apparently happy relationship with his husband, Andrew Cowles.

And, by the way, it's not at all clear what the death of McGee has to do with Gately's death, though for some reason Moir thinks the two events together "raise troubling questions about what happened" on the night that Gately died.

What the hell does the suicide of a young gay celebrity have to do with the death, apparently of natural causes, of another young gay celebrity?

Moir's column was homophobic; but her defense of the column, when a public mea culpa would have been the appropriate action of someone who--as she herself declares--has in the past publicly supported civil partnerships, takes things one step farther. Her column presents a bigoted argument; and her follow-up self-defense presents her as the bigot she is.
  • Jan Moir is heterosexist (or homophobic, depending on your take).
  • Jan Moir is heteronormative (or homophobic, depending on your take) about gay rights.
  • Jan Moir promotes homophobic (or bigoted, depending on your take) attitudes toward gay rights.
Additionally, her writing skills are fairly abysmal, though I suppose that's another argument for another day.

bigot update

file under: for the love of god shut the hell up, you homophobe

Last week, Irish pop singer Stephen Gately died at age 33; preliminary reports point to acute pulmonary edema, or a fluid buildup in the lungs. Gately was young and presumably otherwise healthy, so of course it makes sense for us to reach for an explanation of his terribly untimely death.

Daily Mail columnnist Jane Moir has her theories, and every theory she offers assumes something sleazy. "Whatever the cause of death is," she writes,
it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered.

And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

What's the sleaze of this particular story? Well, Gately was seen dancing at a nightclub with his husband several hours before his death, and they left the club with another young man, who was at the apartment at the time of Gately's death. It also appears that Gately smoked cannabis in his apartment before he died. None of these, just to be clear, are considered to be contributing factors to Gately's death. Not the presence of the young man, not the marijuana in his system, and not the fact that he was gay.

Moir is clearly one of those ignorant people who are on the prowl for proof of what they assume is true: that gays are sleazy sexual perverts. Every sentence of her column points to exactly this.

Gately was on vacation with his husband of three years, Andrew Cowles, when he died, yet Moir calls his death "lonely." There was no sign of foul play, no evidence that Cowles or the young man they brought to the apartment played any role in Gately's death. No evidence that Gately died of a drug overdose. No evidence that he died of AIDS or any other sexually transmitted disease. No evidence, at least so far, of the slightest bit of sleaze. In fact, Gately's mother insists that her son died from a genetic heart condition. Yet Moir still finds reason to assert that
Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened.

I have a couple-three things to say about this:

1. Nobody is arguing that gay couples are any more likely than straight couples to get this partnership thing right. To be crystal clear, there is no happy-ever myth of civil partnerships. There is only the premise that gay couples have the same rights as straight couples to make an honest, legally recognized go at a committed relationship with the person they love.

2. George Michael hasn't cornered the market on unconventional approaches to sex and relationships. Lots of people of all orientations take an experimental approach to their sexuality. And guess what--when that experimentation takes place between consenting adults, and when all parties involved approach their interactions safely and maturely, it's none of our damned beeswax what they do. And besides,

3. We're well past expecting gay couples to prove they're 'just like' straight couples. It's ignorant and homophobic to presume that for gay couples to "earn" their right to marry they have to prove they're not as perverted, dirty, and disgusting as some straight people think they are. It is, in short, ignorant and homophobic to assume, despite preliminary evidence to the contrary, that when a gay man dies young the circumstances must be sleazy.

Oh oh oh! and one more thing:

4. If we're going to use celebrities as spokespeople for a sexual orientation, then I bring you:
  • Roman Polanski (for raping a 13-year-old girl)
  • David Duchovny (for uncontrolled sex addiction)
  • Jude Law (for cheating on his wife with their child's nanny)
  • Woody Allen (for cheating on his partner, Mia Farrow, with Farrow's daughter)
  • Charlie Sheen (for multiple documented 'encounters' with prostitutes and a failed marriage as a result of addiction to porn)

Of course nobody would take the actions of these celebrities as proof that all straight people are perverts. And there's no reason to act differently when it comes to gay celebrities.

I'm so goddamned tired of homophobia. I'm tired of people like Jan Moir acting as if hateful, despicable, and cretinous attittues toward homosexuality and gay marriage are perfectly intelligent, thoughtful, and rational. Even if the final reports point to what Moir would consider 'sleaze,' the fact that she didn't need that evidence in the first place tells us exactly what we need to know about her: She's a bigot, pure and simple, and her vile attitude toward human rights is despicable and, thank god, woefully outdated in an increasingly warm, accepting, and tolerant society.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

who you calling 'we'?

In general, I like Nicholas Kristof's work for the New York Times, and I basically agree with his argument in today's Times that when it comes to education reform, Democrats are too easily cowed by powerful teaching unions and too willing to let underprivileged kids languish in impoverished learning environments.

I only take issue with the implications hidden in Kristof's analysis of why this is so often the case, midway through the column:

as long as the students in question are impoverished and marginalized, with uncomplaining parents, they are allowed to endure the kind of teachers and schools that we would never tolerate for our own kids.

Who's the "we" Kristof is talking about here? The suggestion appears to be that the Democratic Party is made up of those whose children are not forced to endure despicable learning conditions. It's a double fallacy, since even the children of the affluent are too often ill-prepared for doing anything other than school and--more importantly--not all Democrats look, act, and believe like Nicholas Kristof does.

This is, in fact, an all-too common double-silencing effect: As Kristof points out, underprivileged kids and their parents are forced to put up with underqualified teachers and subpar learning conditions, without much recourse or say in the matter. And then, to add insult to injury, education writers like Kristof build a "we vs. they" approach: "we" would never tolerate the kind of teachers and schools that "they" have to put up with.

It's not accurate, and it's not right, and it's certainly not fair, to imply that the most significant, vocal, or powerful Democrats, on education or other issues, are those with whom "we" most easily identify. Certainly the mainstream of the Democratic party is made up of affluent white men and women, but perhaps that's because "we" spend so much time assuming that these are the Democrats whose voices matter most that "we" forget how to listen to people who don't fit that mold.

may I suggest a new hashtag?

In my search for interesting new blogs to follow, I recently realized I could easily crowdsource this search to the Twitter community, assuming I could get enough users behind it. Twitter users have leveraged the #followfriday hashtag for recommending follow-worthy users and #musicmonday to offer musical suggestions, to roaring success.

I'm going to try starting a #blogroll hashtag, intended to share interesting blogs with other users. I think this will work best if the blogs are grouped by category, so that people who search #blogroll will be able to sort by their interests. So a #blogroll tweet might look like this:

If this works for you guys, then perhaps we should choose a day. I nominate Wednesdays, since for some reason that's the day I most often find myself looking for new blogs to read.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

news may not want to be free, but people want (and deserve) free news

There is, apparently, a "news wants to be free" contingent. I learned this because I was accused of being a member of this contingent over at Beat the Press.

There is no definition of the "news wants to be free" contingent on that blog or in the Boston Globe piece by Lou Ureneck that started the whole conversation. As near as I can tell, though, Ureneck attributes this stance to people who believe that there's no putting the genie back in the bottle when it comes to online news content--that it's far too late to institute paywalls or micropayments now.

If this is the stance of the "news wants to be free" contingent, then count me in. I don't buy Ureneck's comparison of online news content to cable television. "Are you doubtful?" he asks. "I remember when television also was free."

Nah, I don't buy the analogy. The slow but steady transition to paid television content was a master stroke that cannot be replicated with online news. Cable's success lay in its ability to offer something far superior to free content; to offer pure, easy entertainment (fluff mixed with filler mixed with news channels; if cable was only news, we'd never be willing to pay); to leverage our willingness to pay to be entertained; and, most importantly, to rig up a corporate monopoly on that entertainment. In most parts of the U.S., if you want cable you get fewer then three providers to choose from, and they all cost about the same and offer about the same features.

News outlets, thank christ, could never manage the same sort of monopoly, even if the Big Five news agencies do end up buying all of the major news outlets. There will still be independent sources, alternative journalism, free public radio streams, underground journalism, forums, blogs...and platforms we can't even imagine yet.

Here's an example of why it won't work. My news outlet of choice is currently the New York Times. If the Times decided to charge--even micropayments, even a dime or a nickel per visit--I would take my readership elsewhere. I might go to CNN, and if CNN charged, then I'd head to the Chicago Tribune or the Boston Globe or, god forbid, USA Today. If all of the major news outlets started to charge, then I'd head to the Huffington Post or BoingBoing. If those outlets started to charge, then...well, you get the point.

And I'm not alone. There are millions of people just like me who will refuse to pay. There will be others who will pay in order to access news that they will then distribute to others free of charge. Media moguls might stop some of these resisters, but they'll never stop them all. It would take nothing short of a carefully orchestrated international conspiracy--every outlet deciding to charge the same amount, at the same time, for the same content--for things to be otherwise.

Besides--and it's strange to have to remind Ureneck, a lifelong newspaper man and the chair of Boston University's journalism department, of this--newspapers have never made the lion's share of their revenue off of reader subscriptions. It's always been sponsorship, ads, and corporate funds that kept the lights on. The fact that advertising no longer pays does not give news organizations license to suddenly turn to readers to pay the delinquent bills. It only means that new corporate marketing models become necessary.

You should not, contrary to Ureneck's strange and irrational assertion, assume that I want reporters to starve or their children to have to drop out of school. In fact, as a former newspaper reporter whose paper closed when ad revenues declined, I am deeply sympathetic to the plight of the print journalist. But Ureneck should know that wishing things were otherwise does not make them so.

It would be passing strange to assert that "news wants to be free." It's less strange to assert that people want their news to be free. Less strange still to assert that democracy wants news to be free, despite the capitalist tendency to charge. Even less strange to assert that in a free, democratic society dedicated to democratic ideals, more news, made more freely available to a broader public, is better than the alternative.

a wordle of my last 50 blogposts

I've been accused, off and on, of being a technological determinist. I'd just like to point out, for the record, that the five most common terms I've used are, in order or frequency:
  1. new
  2. media
  3. people
  4. like
  5. social
Emphasis on the social effects of new media for people who like stuff FTW.

Monday, October 12, 2009

time to smack down the Wall Street Journal

(Don't worry; I snuck around the pay wall.)

As my sister Laura put it when she sent me this article on why the Wall Street Journal is five years behind the times why email is no longer the communication tool of choice, "It's trying so hard to be 'with it' and in the flow of the times... But it seems stuffy and like a 40-year-old's take on new media."

The piece is called "Why Email No Longer Rules… And what that means for the way we communicate," and it reiterates points that were interesting to tech folks a handful of years ago. (Here's a 2007 piece on the decline of email from Gawker; here's a 2007 piece on the same topic from Slate ; here's a 2006 blogpost on the issue ; and so on.)

Among the "insights" of the WSJ article are that email seems painfully slow to us now:
Why wait for a response to an email when you get a quicker answer over instant messaging? Thanks to Facebook, some questions can be answered without asking them. You don't need to ask a friend whether she has left work, if she has updated her public "status" on the site telling the world so. Email, stuck in the era of attachments, seems boring compared to services like Google Wave, currently in test phase, which allows users to share photos by dragging and dropping them from a desktop into a Wave, and to enter comments in near real time.

There is, reporter Jessica E. Vascellaro explains, a new phenomenon wherein we receive a constant stream of information, both personal and professional. There is a downside, as she points out:
That can make it harder to determine the importance of various messages. When people can more easily fire off all sorts of messages—from updates about their breakfast to questions about the evening's plans—being able to figure out which messages are truly important, or even which warrant a response, can be difficult. Information overload can lead some people to tune out messages altogether.
Additionally, the speed of communication presents problems:
While making communication more frequent, they can also make it less personal and intimate. Communicating is becoming so easy that the recipient knows how little time and thought was required of the sender. Yes, your half-dozen closest friends can read your vacation updates. But so can your 500 other "friends." And if you know all these people are reading your updates, you might say a lot less than you would otherwise.

Good lord! she exclaims. We're surrounded by this constant stream of information! How will we manage it?

It makes sense that we would compare new forms of communication--Twitter, Facebook, text messages--to older forms of written communication like email and, going back more than ten years (!), letters, memos, and personal notes. If we compare newer communication technologies to those previous modes of written communication, then Vascellaro's points ring true.

But here's where Laura got it right: Thinking of Twitter as a faster, shorter, and less consequential version of email is an old-school paradigm that ignores that other than the fact that it works primarily with printed text, Twitter (and, more broadly, microblogging in general) is not like email at all. Anyone who approaches these new platforms with an attempt to figure out what's 'important' and what's 'trivial,' what needs to be acted on and what can be ignored, is missing out entirely on the spirit of these spaces.

In fact, Twitter, Facebook, and similar participatory platforms support a convergence of multiple types of communication. Twitter, just as one example, supports a type of identity work that was not previously seen in other communication environments. Through the careful combination of tweets about personal information, 'trivial' details, and and professional interests, people are painstakingly (sometimes, especially at first, accidentally) crafting and presenting a coherent if fluid and flexible identity, which then informs the identities they present in other spaces, online and off.

What makes Twitter new is the particular combination of people and affordances. Facebook and similar social networks require people to send out friend requests that must then be accepted; it means people can control, fairly strictly, the size of their community. Twitter requires no such permission. Because I can follow almost anyone I want to, and because almost anyone who wants to can follow me, we're seeing a fascinating intermixture of near and distant connections between people. I follow my best friend, who follows me; I also follow my idol Clay Shirky, who doesn't follow me (yet); and I follow colleagues who fall all along the friendship continuum. Some of them follow me and some of them don't (yet).

Vascellaro largely focuses on the professional implications of new communication tools, and agrees that one nice feature of these tools is that information is often available instantaneously--if you need to know whether a colleague has left work yet, you might check her Facebook status. The downside, she explains, is that

a dump of personal data can also turn off the people you are trying to communicate with. If I really just want to know what time the meeting is, I may not care that you have updated your status message to point people to photos of your kids.

In fact, if you're using Facebook and Twitter just to find out the kinds of information you used to get through email and phone conversations, then the volume of information may feel overwhelming and prohibitive. But if you're only focusing on how to use these tools to do the work that email used to do, then you're kind of missing the point: Social media communication tools provide new avenues for doing deep identity work in communities that mix professional and personal relationships.

To be clear, Twitter is not email on steroids. Facebook is not like coffee circles for 500 people at a time. And blogs are not diaries with 100 or 1000 readers. Twitter is Twitter. Facebook is Facebook. And trying to parse these spaces by comparing them to previous one-to-many types of communications (like email) limits one's ability to see the full range of the affordances of these platforms.

I don't mean to hammer too hard on Vascellaro, who has written numerous interesting tech-related articles for the WSJ. But a quick look at her homepage reveals her biases (this, by the way, is another interesting aspect of an increasingly participatory culture: a public figure's digital footprint becomes a matter of public interest). Her site points to her Facebook page, the details of which are locked to the public; the ability to lock down a Facebook page, in my experience, is a feature largely leveraged by people who struggle with the notion of mixing the personal and the professional. But increasingly, the ability to engage with this mixture--even by getting it wrong sometimes--is more valued and valuable than the ability to carefully separate the two.

A look at Vascellaro's Twitter feed is even more telling. Her first several hundred tweets mimicked the style of Facebook status updates:

Eventually, she switched to a broadcast approach, mainly tweeting about interesting articles or linking to her own writing at the WSJ. These forms of participation are, just to be clear, perfectly legitimate. But other people do it better, and I imagine they get more out of the Twitter experience.

"Better" in this case, means "with deeper engagement in the collective meaning-making process supported by the affordances of Twitter."

[insert contemplative pause]

Truly, I've been sitting here considering whether an examination of Vascellaro's social networking practices are germain to a critique of her article. She links to her Facebook page (locked to outsiders) and her Twitter feed on her home page, and I believe that there is much to be learned about a technology reporter's biases through an examination of her use of those technologies. But I wonder how I would feel if someone picked apart my use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. At the very least, I might be engaging in an ad hominem attack. But then I think, if a school reporter critiques public schools, we should try to find out where she sends her kids. If a tech reporter smacks down Apple products, we should find out what kind of products she uses at work and at home.

Am I being a crudwad for examining Vascellaro's digital footprint? Is it relevant to the issues she identifies in her piece? I would love for people to weigh in on this. In fact, I think I'll try to get Vascellaro herself to weigh in.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

putting the "new" in "new media literacies": a helpful visual aid

Here's a Prezi project I've been working on to visualize some key features of what Kress, Lankshear & Knobel, Scribner & Cole, and others find salient in emerging new media literacy practices.

This visualization emphasizes Lankshear & Knobel's characterization of two distinct approaches to the "new" in "new media literacy." As they explain, the use of 'new' in the paradigmatic sense is a sociocultural approach to literacy practices:

the New Literacy Studies comprise a new paradigm for looking at literacy as opposed to the paradigm that already existed that was based on psychology. The use of 'new' here parallels that which is involved in names for initiatives or movements such as the New School of Social Research, the New Science, the New Criticism (and New Critics) and so on. In all such cases, the proponents think of their project as comprising a new and different paradigm relative to an existing orthodoxy or dominant approach.

Okay, that's the paradigmatic sense of 'new.' Here's the ontological sense, which Lankshear & Knobel explain

refers to the idea that changes have occurred in the character and substance of literacies associated with changes in technology, institutions, media, the economy, and the rapid movement toward global scale in manufacture, finance, communications and so on. These changes have impacted on social practices in all the main areas of everyday life within modern societies.... Established social practices have been transformed, and new forms of social practice have emerged and continue to emerge at a rapid rate.

Gunther Kress, in "Literacy and Multimodality," emphasizes design, perhaps above all else. He explains:
Design does not ask, 'what was done before, how, for whom, with what?' Design asks, 'what is needed now, in this one situation, with this configuration of purposes, aims, audience, and with these resources, and given my interests in this situation?'

Design matters; and my choice to work with Prezi and a publicly accessible blog shaped my engagement with this project. It would have looked very different had I sketched it out on a sheet of paper; even had I sketched it first, with the intention of designing it in Prezi and posting it to my blog.

This visualization is only my first attempt to point to two broad groups of shifts into new media literacy studies. I hope to gather feedback (you can comment below!); return to, revise, and refine this project; and resubmit it for your approval at a later date. Thank you in advance for your input.

To take a look at the visualization, click the arrow below the design. It's interactive--you can zoom in on any part of the graphic.

getting the actors we deserve

In today's New York Times, Dick Cavett introduces a video of his 1980 interview with Richard Burton, in which Burton talks about his struggles with alcoholism, overcoming both positive and negative reviews, and the differences between stage and screen acting. The interview starts and ends with brilliance, with Burton beginning with an articulate meditation on what it's like to constantly struggle with addiction and ending with a delicate performance of a simple speech from Camelot.

Here's what we get: Tom Cruise on scientology.

On the other hand, somehow we've earned Colin Farrell:

And Will Smith, who sometimes sneaks in an opportunity to show his skill in between shooting aliens and beating up mutants:

And some day, sowhere, some film director will start giving women some serious roles that aren't pre-orchestrated for maximum pathos (cf. self-denigration, overcoming hardship, overcoming hardship), and we'll start seeing female actors taking opportunities to rise up to their full heights. Here's hoping somebody makes it happen before Dakota Fanning gets too old.

Friday, October 9, 2009

fyi, I was wrong about district 9

Several weeks ago, I posted a negative review of the sci-fi alien-apartheid flick District 9. In brief, here was my take on this particular movie:

Maybe someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to combine a touching story of refugee camp residents with the excitement of an alien invasion. It turns out that whoever came up with that brilliant idea was wrong.

I'll tell you what, you guys: I'm the one who was wrong.

I stood strong on my anti-District 9 stance despite rave reviews--both online and offline--from people whose opinions I deeply respect. (Click here and here, for example, to see reviews from media scholar Henry Jenkins.) Then I read this review (warning: spoilers) by Andries du Toit, which was followed up a week later by an even more insightful set of "further thoughts" on the film.

du Toit, in this post as well as in a follow-up, picks up on the very issues that made me dislike the film. Of course, he did so much more thoughtfully than I did. My biggest problem with the movie was apparent racism in its depiction of black Africans, made more frustrating when contextualized within a movie that ostensibly wanted to problematize that very issue. Here's how du Toit, apparently a white South African living in Cape Town, explains it:

I do think that the representation of the ‘Nigerians’ is the one place in the film where the movie falters in its ability to unpick the workings of racist ideology. Because, for all of these interesting complexities, the reality is that the movie does not obviously withdraw or complicate its apparent endorsement of the African stereotypes. There are ironies and complexities – but they are evident only to a fairly sensitive and conscious viewer. In fact, the film actively pushes these complexities in side. The crucial flaw, in fact, lies lies precisely in this: it relies for its narrative drive, for its satisfaction of the ‘adventure’, on the antagonism against (and the extermination of) the ‘Nigerians’. So even though the real villains are all white, and even though the movie subtly mocks xenophobic discourse, many audiences will no doubt identify with this ‘othering’, and will cheer when Wikus’s alien exoskeleton kills them all so picturesquely.

With that one caveat, however, du Toit finds much to value in District 9. He calls it

the best movie I have yet seen about South Africa – and specifically, one of the most penetrating, disconcerting and subversive meditations on the nature of racism and repression in the post-colonial world. District 9 is fresh and transgressive, hilariously funny and absolutely horrifying: brutal, sly, streetwise and in your face. It’s not a voice from the ghetto – it is, completely and incontrovertibly, a white voice – but is a voice from the postcolonial periphery; a voice speaking harshly, grittily and urgently about the surrealism of racism and the confluence of violence and normality here at the edges of the West’s old empire.

du Toit has convinced me when nobody else could. Therefore, I strongly recommend you disregard my negative review and go see the movie. Wait until you get home to read du Toit's review--it contains spoilers--but do read it. It's perhaps the smartest recent film review I've seen anywhere, online or off.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

making edible play dough is hegemonic

Science education that enables students to make sense of their world without empowering them to transform it doesn't go far enough.

You guys, I have to cop to a general apathy about science education. It's not really my thing, after all, and any time I find myself in a conversation about science pedagogy I basically check out until it's time to talk Language Arts.

But look: There are serious social justice implications to how we think about and teach science, and anybody who tells you otherwise--anybody who tries to argue that science is somehow "pure" or immune from the issues of rhetoric, marginalizing, and silencing that are so commonly explored among language ed researchers--is some combination of well-intentioned, stupid, uninformed, or mean.

Before I launch in to an explanation of why, I just want to make a short disclaimer: I'm new to thinking about science pedagogy and am therefore less well read on this topic than I would like. (And by the way, if you're looking for someone to blame for this post, blame Joshua Danish, who blew my mind with a handful of science ed readings and thereby offered me the grist for this particular mill.)

Science education, argues Angela Calabrese Barton in her 1998 piece "Teaching Science with Homeless Children: Pedagogy, Representation, and Identity," is key in thinking about education's role in reifying equity and power relations. She writes that

knowledge construction about science and self-within-science occur within and are shaped by the relational space of the social, historical, and political. It is from this perspective that questions of representation in science (what science is made to be) and identity in science (who we think we must be to engage in that science) become central.

What I guess didn't occur to me is that teaching science is more than teaching the scientific method or the basic features of DNA. Indeed, the deeper issues of research into how and what we teach in science classrooms are linked to the deeper questions of our underlying social structures: Who gets to decide what counts as legitimate participation in the field? What counts as valid, what counts as true? What are the standards by which we decide what and who are allowed in, and who benefits most from the answers to these questions?

Science education is not, after all, just about how best to teach the scientific method; it's also about reflecting on how the scientific method became the dominant method and on how we decide who measures up, and why, to the standards inherent in our chosen scientific approach.

Calabrese Barton explores this through a feminist approach to science education for homeless urban youth. She considers tactics for addressing the "hegemonic practices" in science that "have resulted in an unarticulated, yet highly active caste system." In her view, science can serve an important function for the highly disenfranchised young people in the shelter she visits twice a week for two years; she argues that the purpose of her visits
was not simply to help the children do science, but rather to do that which grows out of their questions and experiences. It was not to fit their experiences into science; it was to fit exploration of the natural world, questioning, and critique into their experiences. This distinction is important because it makes the borders of science fuzzy in two ways. First, it removes the binary distinction from doing science or not doing science and being in science or being out of science. Second, it allows connections between students’ life worlds and science to be made more easily. This is significant because, as the feminist arguments remind us, much of the culture, discourse, and content of science is reflective of masculine, Western, and middle-class values (Harding, 1986).
Calabrese Barton's science lessons embrace the everyday experiences and needs surrounding these children: Exploration of the pollution in their neighborhood, food-based experiments in an environment where children often go hungry or exist in anxiety over whether they will get enough to eat.

Wolff-Michael Roth and Stuart Lee have a similar take on science education in their 2003 piece "Science Education as/for Participation in the Community." As they argue, ignoring the role of cultural power struggles in determining what "science" is and aligning science education to scientists' definitions of what it means to 'do science' means that, as Shamos (1995) and others have argued, "the needs of diverse groups of people--except white middle-class males--have not been met, leading to, by and large, their exclusion from science. Despite tremendous efforts expended, educational reforms have for the most part failed to produce scientifically literate citizens."

Roth and Lee, working with seventh graders in a Canadian community, design a science curriculum as a set of social practices that bring together learners and older community members in a project to clean up and protect the local (polluted) river. The interactions between community members of various levels of expertise, the authors argue, allows for an authentic apprenticeship model of science education to emerge. In this model, it's not just that authentic interactions between adults and children allow genuine, if largely unstructured, learning to occur, but that the interactions themselves represent the genuine social practices of science.

Fine, fine, I'm on board with many of the arguments identified by these authors. You know me: I'm a dyed-in-the-wool liberal with liberal accessories and liberal highlights in my hair. I certainly don't disagree with any argument about the hegemonic nature of the "hard" sciences, and I buy wholeheartedly the assertion that most science education only serves as a continued source of oppression for lots of disenfranchised groups.

What I can't bear, though, is the hint of soft bigotry. It's not okay to start an argument by declaring that "science is hegemonic" and to end the argument with "...and so we will not force oppressed groups to engage with it." Calabrese Barton, for example, tailors "science education" to the direct experiences of the homeless children: In exploring their neighborhood, in experimenting with food, they are certainly engaging in science-y activities, but apparently without any contextualization. These children, it can be assumed, are generally not aware either that they're doing (some version of) science or that the science they're doing is a kind of political act, set up in opposition to traditional notions of science education. They are not introduced to the Discourse that serves to oppress, if not them, then other members of their community; they're not, at least within the confines of this particular description, offered tools for countering that oppression.

The children described by Roth and Lee are in a similar situation. Though the activities are linked to their (presumably) school-endorsed science class, the activities stand in fairly stark opposition to the typical approach of seventh grade science. One child, for example, chooses not to conduct experiments or work with materials directly; he films the experiments of his classmates instead. Another student, at a school science fair, shows off a colorimeter to an adult. The conversation looks like this:

Miles: What is this?

Jodie: A calori . . . meter. It measures the clarity of the water.

Miles: Ah! A calori . . . a colorimeter?

Jodie: You take the clear water and you put it in this glass and then here [puts it into instrument] (Pushes a few buttons.) and you take the standard, which is like the best there is. And then you switch this (takes different bottle) and put the one with the water from the creek. (Covers sample.) And then you scan the sample. And then you see what the thing floating in the water is.

Miles: Over-range, what does that mean?

Jodie: (Pushes a number of buttons.)

Miles: Oh, it is when it is over the range, I see.

Jodie: First I have to do the standard again. (Does standard.) Then I take the creek water. (Enters bottle into instrument. Pushes buttons.)

Miles: Oh, I see. This is really neat.

None of these activities are science class as we tend to think of it; none of these students are forced to engage with the hegemonic aspects of an oppressive Discourse. But as far as I can tell, the students are also not introduced to the notion that science is, by its nature, hegemonic. They are not shown how it oppresses.

If students are not made to question the colonizing effects of a Discourse, then, what is the point of finding alternate routes into the domain? Seventh grade science probably went pretty well for Roth & Lee's students; but eighth grade science was probably hell.

Again, I haven't read other work by these authors, but it seems to me that the strategies identified in these particular publications stop short of the most important pedagogical work: empowering learners to shape their world. The authors' approaches may very well enable students to think critically about the information that enters their community, but I wonder about the extent to which it empowers them to reshape the scientific conversation, both inside of and outside of their physical environment.

There's no other way to say this: When we stop short of empowerment and choose instead to merely enable, we are engaging in a soft bigotry of the most insidious sort. We're telling those learners that participating in domain transformation is not for them, that they should leave that work to those students with the higher grades or the different skin color, that all they need is the basic skills to get by in their everyday lives. We're telling them they're separate but equal, but we don't really mean that they're equal at all.

Monday, October 5, 2009

how to eat pistachios and where to buy your jeans

Here's how the infamous ex-soon-to-be-son-in-law of Sarah Palin, Levi Johnston, eats them:

And speaking of advertising campaigns that have no problem taking advantage of perfectly unsuspecting people, Levi Strauss & Company has unveiled a new campaign called "Go Forth." Here's a sample commercial that embodies the tone and spirit of this most recent sales offensive.

This campaign takes on a tone similar to the 2000 Volkswagen commercial that featured Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" and a group of young adults in a VW Cabrio who choose the purity of a beautiful nighttime drive over the stumbling chaos of a college party.

To be honest, the Nick Drake commercial seriously moved me, and I bet if I'd had the money I would've gone out and gotten me a Cabrio. Though if we're going to be really honest about it, I was that kind of 20-something: I read a lot of Ginsberg. I bought extra copies of On the Road to hand out to my friends. I listened to Dylan, refused to own a TV, and made sure everyone knew it oh god I was such a lame-o.

I was, I'll admit, curious enough to go to the campaign website, which features a Blair Witch-style video featuring the lost treasure of Grayson Ozias IV. Ozias, according to the site, was a close friend to Nathan Strauss, a nephew of Levi Strauss, and he disappeared in the late 1800's to explore the Great America. Along the way, he buried $100,000, presumably his entire inheritance. Levi's has Officially Discovered the cash and will give it away to whoever locates it.

The Levi's commercial--in fact, the entire campaign--is beautifully executed and would be pitch perfect if it weren't for the tiny detail that the whole thing is engineered to sell run-of-the-mill clothes manufactured by a company whose labor practices are controversial at best.

God, it's all a lie. Over at ARGNet, Michael Anderson explains that one key member of the campaign is Jan Libby, formerly of lonelygirl15. If you know your YouTube history, you know that the lonelygirl15 webisodes were carefully (some might say brilliantly; others might say a bit too preciously and heavy handedly) engineered so that viewers couldn't tell whether Bree, the protagonist, was completely real, kind of real with a scripted story, completely made up or some combination of the above. (If you don't know which category she ultimately fell into, then I leave it to you to go forth and see the Great Wikipedia Page.)

I can handle the idea that a group of smart(ass), young, new media types would try to make money off of an enormous cultural dupe. I can even accept that Volkswagen and Gap would see nothing wrong with climbing the economic ladder by stomping on the heads of our most awesome dead celebrities.

But Levi's is trying to out-Whitman Whitman. It's trying to out-Christopher McCandless Christopher McCandless. It's trying to out-Dorothea Lange Dorothea Lange. This is a case of a company that wants so badly to be viewed as a Real American Original that it will go so far as to manufacture a Real American Backstory even though nobody's buying it.

Seriously: Go to the site. There's a Last Will and Testament of Grayson Ozias IV. There's the hint at a cast-off pedigree (he is, after all, the fourth and presumably last of the Grayson Oziases, and he turned his back on all that mantle could have meant). The video presents beautiful young men and women frollicking to the backdrop of a grainy sound recording, apparently of Ozias himself explaining his decision to set forth into the great Unexplored America. "Therefore," he states with unequivocal soundness of mind, "I commit the fortune I have made in my travels back to the earth from whence it came" (cut to beautiful young people in Levis uncovering and then reburying an old-timey trunk).

This is clearly a corporate attempt at harnessing the spreadability factor of social media. And I wonder how well it's working. For my part, the only message I'm interested in spreading is a message about how lame it is to create a fake genuine American hero to sell fake genuine American apparel.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

on successful blogposts, successful blogs, and skilled bloggers

more thoughts on blogs as tools for teaching and learning

If we're going to think seriously about how to use blogs as tools for teaching and learning, it seems to me that it may be useful to differentiate between crafting a successful blogpost, developing a successful blog, and being a skilled blogger.

Successful blog posts
Here's an example of a successful blogpost, on a blog called "neologophilia," that identifies a gulf between the new National Writing Standards and the actual skills required to write well: We Interrupt This Writing Process... It's a smart, well supported, and articulate argument, supported effectively through the use of hyperlinks and development of ideas; but the blog itself appears to be dead in the water: The writer published only seven posts in eight months (all of which were excellent, btw), and the last post went life a full two months ago. No audience has the patience to stick around through gaps that big.

Successful blogs
Here's an example of a successful blog that contains a mix of successful, moderately successful, and far less successful posts: Ironicus Maximus, which uses as its anchor this quote by the Rev. Ray Mummert: ""We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture." The bog focuses on politics and social issues, attacking lameness with irony and precision. It's one of the smartest, wittiest, and most subtly hilarious blogs I've read, and the author has kept it running for over four years. Not every post is of equally high quality, but when you're tossing up an average of just under 240 posts a year, you get some wiggle room in this respect.

Skilled bloggers
Here's an example of a skilled blogger: Media Nation, run by Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy. Kennedy keeps a clean, well ordered, and regularly updated blog, and it attracts a wide and active reading public. Because of his relative celebrity as a media analyst (and his participation in a range of communities, including writing for The Guardian, CommonWealth Magazine, and the Boston Phoenix), he gets some of his readers for free. But Kennedy also works hard to cultivate his readership. He posts regularly, responds to nearly every comment on his posts, and places himself squarely inside of a network of blogs and bloggers who write and think about the issues he grapples with. He serves as an ideal intelligent filter, pointing readers to links of potential interest both in his blog and through his Twitter feed.

Kennedy has built his growing readership by going far beyond shamelessly trolling for readers. He offers himself up as a trustworthy source for others and refuses to engage with the traditional broadcast style of reportage that news sites and some blogs still promote. In short, Kennedy is a skilled blogger because he understands and engages with the largely unspoken norms of being a blogger.

Lots of really good blogs are maintained by people who publish beautiful, articulate, and engaging posts but clearly miss the boat when it comes to the norms of blogging. Being a skilled blogger takes time, and not all of that time is devoted to simply drafting new blogposts. Skilled bloggers engage with other blogs. They read like crazy, comment like crazy, hyperlink like crazy. They feel a deep responsibility to their reading public and to other bloggers within their thematic sphere. They're self-promoting fiends, sure, but they also promote, criticize, and filter the ideas of others.

In a future post, I plan to explore how four different types of engagement--procedural, conceptual, critical, and consequential--align with the requirements for publishing a successful blogpost, keeping a successful blog, and being a skilled blogger; for now, because this post is getting way too long as it is, I want to offer a provisional description of the features of each:

Features of a successful blog post

  • A well organized argument or main point, supported through the use of hyperlinks and multimedia materials (video, sound, images)
  • A clear, unified voice that is appropriate for the intended reading public
  • A title that links clearly to the content of the post

Features of a successful blog
  • Short, concise posts that use multimedia materials (video, images) to effectively make a point
  • Effective use of hyperlinks to support ideas, to direct readers to relevant, interesting posts, and to demonstrate an awareness of the community of writers focusing on a common theme or set of ideas
  • A clear, unified voice that continues to grow and develop over time

Qualities of a skilled blogger
  • Ability to quickly synthesize and articulate ideas
  • An awareness of a wide range of blogging techniques and of how these various techniques reach different target audiences effectively or ineffectively
  • Reading with mouse in hand: Engaging with (online and offline) materials as potential material for blogposts
  • Willingness to serve as an intelligent filter for a wide public audience
  • Engagement with the wider blogging community, including offering thoughtful comments on others’ writing and reading widely and broadly

This is far from an exhaustive list, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to build on, reshape, or refine the categories above. My next post, I'm pretty sure, will focus on assessment strategies across these categories--so input would be most welcome.

All content on this blog has been relocated to my new website, making edible playdough is hegemonic. Please visit and update your bookmarks!