New Media Faculty Seminar, Beginnings

"The task is the same now as it ever has been..."

This fall I am participating in, what I hope will be, a very interesting experiment.  “Awakening the Imagination:  A Networked Faculty-Staff Developmental Seminar“.  We will meet weekly, from September 12 – December 2, for 90 minutes sessions.

The New Media Faculty Seminar is the brainchild of Dr. Gardner Campbell,Virginia Tech University. Faculty members interested in the application of new media to teaching and learning, come together once a week for thoughtful reflection and discussion.  The idea is to fire up our imaginations by gathering together to discuss a series of assigned readings.  Thoughtful discussions, partnered with blogging and reflection, among a cross-disciplinary group of like-minded people?  You bet!

There will be a number of these faculty seminars going on, in different parts of the country, all networked together through blogs and hashtags.  My particular instance will meet in the virtual world of Second Life (a new, intriguing twist).

Janet Murray

I just finished the first reading assignment: the introduction to our book of readings (The New Media Reader, MIT Press, 2003) which was contributed by Janet Murray (there is an additional intro, written by Lev Manovich, which I skimmed but didn’t enjoy nearly as much as the Murray intro).  Janet Murray (Georgia Tech) is the author of the book, Hamlet on the Holodeck, The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace.  In that book, and in her work, she poses the question, will computers support the development of unique narrative forms, as print media did for novels and film technology did for films?  I’ve always appreciated Murray’s clarification of the unique advantages of the computer for interactivity:  immersion, agency, and transformation. In her introduction to The New Media Reader, she talks about this as she lays important foundational footing about these advantages that will undoubtedly serve us well in the readings to come.

Consider Murray’s point about immersiveness and the spatial properties of the medium.  We can put an item here.  We can place things of value  – and then reliably navigate back to them.  Whether it’s a line of text on a shared document, an image on a web page or a teleporter by a tree in a virtual world.  It’s that locatable dimensionality, those persistent relationships in extensive space that are so very compelling and useful.

Murray goes on to explain that the processing power and participatory quality which allow computers to receive input from us and respond so that we are manipulating, are also critical factors. Our input is processed and responded to in a completely predictable way that makes perfect sense to us.  Interactivity. Right.

Gardner's "bag of gold" analogy.

Murray’s cautionary notes on the issue of technology critics really caught my attention. Important stuff. I so often find myself lamenting the lack of openness, on the part of educators, to participatory media — why can’t they see what’s good here?  Why is this taking so darned long?  As Gardner Campbell puts it, “It’s a bag of gold!”   Murray points out that new media in any age (the cotton gin, the steam engine, the automobile, the printing press) are always distrusted and that those doubts are reasonable. “Fire warms and fire burns”.  She reminds us that the doubters are an important part of the process when developing a new medium because they challenge us to think clearly about what we find so compelling here.  What are the truly unique affordances and how can they best be put to pedagogical use?  A welcome reminder to embrace the doubters and have more patience. And good to remember that getting at those unique affordances, those pedagogical advantages is the topic of this seminar, afterall!

Murray traces a clear line of history through the 1950’s to the 1990’s- pointing out key evolutionary steps along the way – Eliza, hypertext, the rhizome as a metaphor for the network, interactive design, video gaming, to the World Wide Web.  I found it interesting to note the relief (relief!) I felt in reading this compact historical summary.  It occurred to me that we might actually have enough temporal distance on this topic to finally get some perspective!

And I just loved, loved her wrap up.  She asks, at the end of her essay, why do we persist with these machines?  Why do we put up with the crashes, the inconveniences, the work-arounds and frustrations?  Why do we choose to communicate with each other this way?  “For the same reason that we couldn’t put down the stylus or the whittling knife.  We are drawn to a new medium of representations because we are pattern makers who are thinking beyond our old tools.”  And then (drum roll please)…
“The machine, like the book and the painting and the symphony and the photograph is made in our own image, and reflects it back again. The task is the same now as it ever has been, familiar, thrilling, unavoidable:  we work with all our myriad talents to expand our media of expression to the full measure of our humanity.”
WOW.  Just wow.  How can we not be inspired by that?!


Filed under New Media Faculty Seminar

5 responses to “New Media Faculty Seminar, Beginnings

  1. Neil Heyden

    As to the spatial nature of computer interaction and the potential seductiveness of saving or placing items or knowledge, it is important to not equate saving with learning. It is very useful to store and visually represent (to enhance) items and knowledge, but to truly learn something it must be internalized. Storing or representing may help but does not substitute for understanding.

    Another virtue, which warrants tolerating if not listening closely, to “doubters” is their help in pointing out where we are, in our enthusiasm, wrong or have overreached. The trick is having the patience and skill to filter thru all of their naysaying noise to capture the gem.

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