Thursday, May 24, 2007

Using wikis in teaching

After creating the Narrative Workshop wiki, I am all set and ready to embed this in my own and other colleagues' teaching. Funding permitting, I am planning to purchase a suite of laptops so that my students can use the wiki as a means of capturing class room discussion, then being able to go back and redraft and critique this later. I've been looking at what others have done so far. Vicki Davis blogs about her use of wikis, and you can look at a UK based example in HE at Oxford Brookes with the work of Richard Francis.

Next task is to design the assessment task for one of the MA English Literary Studies, which is currently a traditional essay, but is about to be transformed into something like a wiki portfolio. Of course this is going to have to be developed, approved and then let loose on the students, and it is dependent on being able to do simple things like purchase the laptops I need.

Watch this space! And if any of you have good ideas for innovative assessment using wikis, please do let me know.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Critical images - Juan Luis Sancez

Just wanted to put a link here to my friend Juan's blog. Not only does he take gorgeous photos, but now he is critiquing them too, or at least those about Blair and Bush. For those of you into digital photography, you might like to check out Juan's website. Oh, and by the way, Juan is my claim to fame and has worked on so many prestigious projects from Star Wars to Harry Potter and much more (including the video of my wedding, now 13 years ago!). Personal bragging by proxy aside, his use of image is interesting as a multimodal aspect of blogging, and links in with some of the themes from my recent symposium.


More on blogging like a man

My earlier post about the Gender Genie made me remember that I have an article by Herring and Paolillo (2006) sitting on my desk precisely about this very piece of software. Herring and Paolillo examine and extend the empirical work of Argomon and Koppel (2003), which posits a connection between the gender of the author and certain linguistic features in writing style: namely, the use of pronouns and determiners, which they map onto interactional and informational styles.

Herring and Paolillo's piece is interesting for the critique they offer of Agromon's work. Crucially Herring and Paolillo find that the linguistic features that Argomon and Koppel identify don't function as gender variables, but rather as genre variables, at least for personal and filter blogs. The implications of this are many. (1) We need to be careful about the relationship between gender and genre. How are these relationships formed? What criteria are they based on? What does this mean for language and gender studies? (2) Is it that writing on blogs really is more universalised than other forms of CMC, or is this only in respect of the linguistic features they have examined (pronouns, determiners)? What would happen if you looked at other features too?

I'm taking this further in my own work, examining a range of 'narrative-like' features in the cancer blogs in my data sample:
(1) linking (are these informational or personal)
(2) post length
(3) Evaluation (cf Labov) (so intensifiers, comparators, correlatives, external expressions of evaluation)
(4) construction of a world view, as indicated through transitivity (Halliday 1994) choices.
I also want to do a corpus based analysis of the blog entries, where I build on the work of Andrew Salway and David Herman with the corpus narratology initiative. What I like about their work is that it builds the theory from the textual analysis up, rather than pre-supposing which categories will be significant to start with.
Hmm, I seem to have my work cut out for me here. But what I am looking forward to most is finding the points of juxtaposition and connection within this analysis. And I have learned a fair bit about treatments for different kinds of cancer too.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Call for papers - Second life and education

For those interested in Second Life as an environment with educational potential, you should check out the Call for Interest from the English Subject Centre. It looks like a great opportunity, especially for those in the arts and humanities.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

More thoughts on transliteracy

Returning to the attributes of Transliteracy debated at the Colloquium on Tuesday, I wonder if it is better to see the qualities associated with this concept, less as defining properties and more as commonly associated communicative features. To recap, the attributes are:

The ability to use and understand a range of tools
Something about
collective behaviour
Awareness of historical/cultural context
Sense of
embodiment / lifeworld
Multimodal sensibility

I have started to think of this in terms of a medical metaphor. Some syndromes, as I understand it, are diagnosed on the basis of a cluster of symptoms. So, for example, Kallman's syndrome may involve a decreased of sense of smell, bone abnormality, decrease in sex hormones affecting development during puberty (don't ask me why I know all this!). So it is possible to have Kallman's syndrome with some, but not all of the symptoms manifesting themselves. In terms of transliteracy, this might translate as some of the features being present while others are not.

In turn this begs the question of which properties are then essential (and hence defining) of transliteracy and which are not. In linguistics, it is common to distinguish between core and optional properties. This means that you can reach a 'baseline' or minimal definition where you decide that a certain property must be present in order to categorise say a word class or a genre in a particular way. Hence for narrative, a minimal definition might be that offered by Labov, as two temporally sequenced clauses where the events in the report match that of real world events. However, debates about narrativity rage about the many varied other properties that many narratives exhibit, and the extent to which a text is perceived as demonstrating narrativity varies considerably (see Ryan 2006 for an excellent discussion of this).

I wonder if we can use this principle to distinguish between core and optional qualities of transliteracy, hence refining, clarifying or confirming the current working definition. So, for me, multimodal sensibilty would be essential, as would the ability to move between tools or platforms of communication. It seems to me hard to think of examples of transliteracy that would not invoke either of these features. On the other hand, while collective behaviour is typical, it is not definitive of transliteracy (as you can be transliterate on your own, and collective behaviour need not be transliterate). The same is true, I think of the contextual awareness and lifeworld/embodiment, both of which seem to me to be facets of the same thing and closely related to the more essential properties of multimodal sensibility and using different communicative tools.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Blogging like a man

I was just checking out Jess's blog and saw this fascinating post about gender genie. For those of you who don't know (yet) this is a piece of software that thinks it can guess if you are male or female on the basis of your writing style.

Guess what - apparently I blog like a man. Clearly, this is an indication that I, like Jess, am active, dynamic and able to put my point of view across clearly!

Well, those of you who know me in person can smile at that apt description!


Transliteracy Colloquim

Yesterday I attended a Transliteracy Colloquim at DMU. I had a great time meeting new people and enjoying the conversations. I'm summarising here the main points from the morning presentation:

Sue Thomas argued that defining what is meant by Transliteracy is important because before you can quantify or measure something, you have to know what it is. Of course, whether or not it is desirable to measure transliteracy is a matter for debate, and it seemed that most people who were there didn't really want to do that! However, the small group I was working in later in the day developed a neat chart for looking at the effects of transliteracy, where Ted Nelson's binary paradigm of the Reader/Author contribution to a text was replaced by a continuum of participation in digital texts (which we assumed to be transliterate). At the most readerly end of the continuum is simply viewing a web page, followed by linking to it, followed by commenting, blogging, then creating collective pages (like a wiki).

Sue's definition of transliteracy can be found in the presentation she also made at the Narrative and Multimodality symposium. A briefer version is:

'Transliteracy is the ability to read write and interact (so modes of communication) across a range of platforms, tools or media'

But how wide can you go with the definition? When does it cease to become meaningful?

Much of the discussion invoked digital media, and it seems that transliteracy has become a matter of debate because of recent technological developments. Sue pointed out that transliteracy is the literacy of convergence, not just about computers but across all communication modes reading + writing + sth else? (music, you tube?) Being able to read and write is no longer enough. For me in education this raises the question of how we assess these qualities.

Sue also argued that transliteracy involves an awareness of historical and cultural context. Textual literacy so ingrained as become invisible in the western world. How else do we communicate? What are the synergies between them? This is important to me, because
how do we shift away our dependence on writing in places like a school of English? I actually think that this issue of contextualism is not definitive for transliteracy - in fact moving across from one form of literacy to another - reappropriating or mashing it seems to do away with context in a more abstract sense. I think that what she is reaching towards is that transliteracy can cause us to become more aware of our embodied experience of communication and textual forms. And as such, the text becomes more than words (as it always is), and as such, context becomes experienced in a more vital sense. Maybe.

Sue argued that transliteracy involves collective behaviour. I see the relationship between transliteracy and collaboration as one of mutual and dialectic enabling, rather than as one being a defining property of the other. I questioned whether one could be transliterate on your own? Surely you can? Similarly collective behaviour need not be translitaracy. Instead, I think the collective (web 2.0) nature of communication is both a by product and a cause of transliteracy.

A series of presentations followed from the PART team and speakers from the IOCT

Simon questioned what transliteracy can enable – is it a cognitive tool? An important point is that the pre-fix ‘trans’ implies both across or beyond? Moving across implies a plurality of literacy. For me this is both one of the most important but muddy points in this concept. How is transliteracy different from multiliteracy? In narrative studies we distinguish between the terms multimodal (meaning using more than one mode similultaneously) and transmedial (comparing or transforming across modes). I think transliteracy needs to decide whether the multimodal / muliliterate concept (and their definitions) are implicit in its own scope, and if so, how it is saying something more than this.

Kate Pullinger talked about her new project - Flight paths, which will be a Companion print / online narratives. She questioned what happens when you post first drafts of material on the web? Why shouldn’t people see behind the polish – demystify the process of writing / research and collaboration. Although it is messy - I think it can be useful to see this kind of process. I also wonder if it might sharpen some of us up in the way we carry out our work.

Chris Joseph spoke about production in transliteracy – how and why? This includes looking at the structure and forms of output (beyond and across) beyond types of textual structure – beyond narratives, generating new texts, oral /aural (narration, voice over, podcasts)
Writing to be tasted, felt, smelt, like Kate Pullinger's The Breathing wall. He pointed out that types of productive communication / collaboration suggest a shift from monologue to dialogue, again alluding to web 2.0 (eg a million penguins) He posed the important question of why particular transliteral forms are created? What power relations are put into play?
Jess Laccetti spoke about Transliteracy and multimodality, arguing that the online environment shows the transliteracy very clearly. She showed a sample of digital writing, indicating that hypertextual reading is multidirectional, not just straight left to right, up through down, and can invoke multimodality. Further questions from me are why does this matter? Do we process it differently from other texts? What difference does that make in the classroom? What does it tell us about offline texts?

Bruce Mason compared Transliteracy / culture / communication as an object of study and Transliteracy as a research tool (lens through which we look at culture).
He suggested that in the process of transliteration we should ask how we take our nderstanding of one mode of study and then transfer it to sth new to us? In particular he argued that we might look at existing studies of literacy, and note that these involve more than the skills of reading and writing but also the social meanings of literacy. How people encounter new literacies or struggle with them are important, and the plethera of new modes of communication + new affordances allow us to see existing forms in a new light.
Bruce raised the point that terms used in one field of study (taking the term 'publish') can carry different currency when transferred into another domain. The value implications of this are important, as are the misunderstandings that arise then the translation doesn't quite work. Lost in transliteration?

Simon Mills raised some significant points about how technology, text and perception are related and embedded in wider philosophical and political issues, asking 'Why transliteracy now?' He claimed that new tools engender new processes and the way we perceive the world. This involved not just the ability to use technologies but the practice of technology use – is this the same thing? The example given was how we experience time and space – how is this changed by technology (clocks, calendars) disorientation? He claimed that digital media – a new form of memory – allow us to experience memory over and over again, suggesting that this is a form of technologies of the spirit, and drawing on the concept of tertiary retention.

Mohamed Ibrahim spoke of the importance of the prefix ‘Trans’ meaning 'across', because of its implied plurality, especially multiculturalism. He argued that cross disciplinary research needs common vocabulary with clear grounding, and that this was especially true for human centred activity – the humanities and natural science. Suggesting that AI does not help us understand how humans think and behave, and questioning what the term ‘design’ means in different disciplines. Of course this has happened with the narrative turn too. It is pretty clear to me that multiple meanings of narrative translate in very different ways.
What implications does this have? Can we go across the divide and talk to each other in meaningful ways? We still need the divides in order to define who we are – but these surely should not be barriers that keep people out or stop forging new synergies. When we put the same word into different contexts and discover what it means to someone else, does it then mean that we dismiss it (oh, I didn’t mean it like that) or could we use this more productively to examine critically our own use of the term, make our assumptions and practices more visible, learn from the weaknesses and limitations and strengthen our understanding of how the environment as a whole works?

In the Q/A session that followed lunch some of the questions were:
How/why does the tran in transliteracy help us going from between, across to beyond? Can it help us to think about what is further ahead (for example how might 2-D immersion say on the web, 2nd life etc become multidimensional and more embodied?
How do we see transliteracy in a diachronic perspective?
What is the utility value of transliteracy, and why now?
How is ‘trans’ different from ‘multi’?
How does transliteracy relate to immersion and how in turn does this relate to deep and surface learning?
Maybe it is the speed, scale interactivity audience that is different with the digital media, and this is why transliteracy is arising as a topic of discussion now?
Is the use of digital technology and cyberspace resulting in an almost groundless experience?
The day was very productive for me. I came away with lots of thoughts I need to explore further. Watch this space.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Social Networks and blogging

In between seeing my undergrads about their end of term projects, I'm getting stuck in to the analysis of the 'Cancer blogs' and reading more about blogging in general. Courtesy of another of my students (thank you Cassie), I came across Stephanie Nilsson's essay:
The Function of Language to Facilitate and Maintain Social Networks in Research Weblogs. While it's getting a little out of date already (there is no date on the essay, but it looks like it was written 2003-04 from the dates on the blogs posts referenced), there are some interesting ideas here. The most relevant to me are the notion of hyperlinks being categorised into informational and personal, and the capacity these have to establish social networks. Although Nilsson emphasises the significance of the hyperlinks over and above linguistic content as a means of establishing a social network, Herring et al.'s (2006) paper I discussed in the last post, indicated that linking is becoming less prolific in blogs over time. In my own work, I'm interested in whether women and men use these links in similar or different ways. Do women use more personal links, and men more informational (that good old stereotype of collaborative speech styles as feminine)?
For reference: the bibliography from which Nilsson's essay is taken is also a little out of date, but still a useful point of reference.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Back to the research on blogs

I'm back to reading the research literature on blogging, which seems to have increased just in the few months while I've been doing phase 1 of the analysis of my sample of cancer blogs. The end of term projects my students are doing are fascinating here, and it is they who alerted me to some recent work that Susan Herring has generously put on her web pages. This morning I was reading

A Longitudinal Content of Weblogs: 2003-04 (In Press) In M. Tremayne (ed.) Blogging, Citizenship and the Future of Media. London: Routledge.

Some of the findings that Herring et al report are particularly interesting, especially that in the period they sampled, the blogs appeared to become increasingly text based, and that the linking remained relatively infrequent. This is interesting to me, first because the textual nature of blogs justifies the kind of linguistic analysis I've been doing on them. Second, the issue of linking and connection is really important to me, both in relation to the claims of web 2.0 philosophy (for want of a better way of putting it) but also because of the gendered potential here. In my sample the links are unevenly distributed (I've got to finish coding the whole lot yet, anyway, so this is an approximation), but I hypothesise that the women might link more to each other, while the men link to sources of information (that old community v. information binary).