via Shaun Wood on Flickr:

I just received word that the website for Learning Through Digital Media: Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy is live! My essay, “Delicious: Renovating the Mnemonic Architectures of Bookmarking,” comes first, right after Trebor Scholz’s wonderful introduction. Thanks to Trebor and his team for making this exciting collection (which is also available in print and e-book formats) possible!


The History of Universality, Technological Determinism, and Other Deep Thoughts

This weekend I attended the “Media Histories: Epistemology, Materiality, Temporality” conference at Columbia. Now, when I say “attended,” I mean to say that I was physically present, in room 501 Schermerhorn Hall, for most of the sessions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend Jonathan Crary’s keynote on Thursday evening. I also missed Joseph Vogl’s keynote on Friday, because I went downtown for Diana Taylor’s keynote at the Memory conference at The New School. And I just couldn’t make Saturday morning happen, so, sadly, I missed Erhard Schüttpelz, Weihong Bao, and Marilyn Ivy. Even though I was bodily present for all the other panels, I can’t say that I was mentally all there. As I explained a few weeks ago, in regard to my experience at SCMS, there’s a limit to my concentration — particularly when the object of concentration is a 45-minute scholarly presentation…or two or three in succession. I found myself much more engaged with the first presenter on each panel, and a little less attentive to the second and third presenters. Regardless of the order of presentation, however, several of the presentations seemed to me much better suited for the page than the ear (a valid observation at a conference on epistemology and materiality, I’d say!); I would’ve much preferred to read these papers, and I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do so at some point.

Those presentations that most stuck with me were Adrian Johns’ “Unpacking the Universal Library: The Morals of Massive Research Collections, 1810-2010” and John Durham Peters’s “Two Cheers for Technological Determinism.” I was also inspired by Jimena Canales’s “A Tenth of a Second”; her book has been on my “wish list” for a while, and I’ve finally decided to order it. And Mary Ann Doane’s “Lost Time: Technologies of the Gap” reinforced my admiration for her earlier writings on time, indexicality, and cinema.

Job Koelewijn’s Mobius bookshelf via BoingBoing:

Johns’s presentation was particularly satisfying because he essentially covered, in 30 minutes, much of the same terrain we’re covering in my “Libraries, Archives & Databases” graduate seminar this semester; it served as a welcome reassurance that I did a pretty good job of constructing that syllabus! He called for a historicization of the concept of universality. The dream of the universal library of course has a long history — but various epochs’ notions of universality are tied to their distinctive understanding of how books work; of the economics of book production, distribution, and consumption; of how reading takes place (i.e., what does it mean that, today, books are scanned not to be read by people, but to be read by machines?); of how aspirations toward “placeless” information are perhaps paradoxically tied to the construction of library places.

The Q&A after the presentations, led by Ben Kafka, raised interesting questions regarding the significance of ordering and classifying library materials; these are not only epistemological concerns, but also moral ones. And what of the new librarian for the digital library? Is she a human or an inanimate aggregator? According to Johns, librarians advocate for themselves as professionals who perform important skills-based, critical educational roles. We’d all agree that this should be the case — that librarians should serve as “information mediators,” and patrons should rely on them as such — but will this be the case? Or will patrons simply turn to aggregators whose algorithms for selection we don’t understand? These questions of “library morality” have long been woven into library history; just look at the Progressive Era library and its aspiration to serve as an instrument of uplift. How the library aspired to function, and how patrons used it, are two separate issues.

As a closeted McLuhan sympathizer, I was especially psyched by Peters’s “Two Cheers” polemic. Peters traced the history of “technological determinism” — particularly its use as an insult (calling someone a technological determinist, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young says, is akin to saying he likes to strangle puppies!) or its invocation as a preemptive disclaimer (“Of course I do not mean to lapse here into technological determinism!”). He traces the concept through Thorstein Veblen’s use of the German technik (see also this), to 20s and 30s debates about economic history, to Lucian Febvre, to Mumford’s technic, to McLuhan, to SCOT and actor-network theory. Peters argues that fear of technological determinism rests in part on a “suspicious subject/object distinction,” a failure to recognize that human are “always-already technical beings.” We often fail to realize that “to say that technology creates possibilities is not to say that it causes them.” Fear of technological determinism “hinders big thoughts.” Media studies is necessarily interested in media shape, form, delivery, etc., and to resist exploring and arguing for these factors’ potential roles in influencing social change or shaping history, is to “giv[e] up critique.”

An immensely inspiring talk.

Redeeming McLuhan?

Fun With Light

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of joining a thesis workshop at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program to see and respond to students’ works in progress. I had spoken earlier with Morgen Fleisig about his intentions to visualize, or materialize, the relays — all the invisible acts of translation — in the digital communication process (drawing a little inspiration from Tim Hawkinson), so I was quite excited to hear how his thesis is evolving.

I’ve been to a few ITP thesis shows before, and I’m always amazed (if at times a little perplexed) by the students’ projects. This time, I was particularly taken by the work of Don Miller, who does amazing things with light for bit music (or chipglitch, or whatever they’re calling the genre these days). Don’s worked with Anamanaguchi, whom I’ve seen play a couple times; I might’ve seen Don’s work live and not known it.

Self Portrait from Rune Madsen on Vimeo.

I was also super-impressed by Rune Madsen’s work. I came across the above video a while ago, and I was excited to discover that the person behind it is doing such fantastic interaction and data visualization work. I mean, just look at this:

Generative Logo from Rune Madsen on Vimeo.


We’ve Got the Archive Fever… Achoo!

Awww! via Aureusbay on Flickr:

My plan was to try to bounce between three great conferences happening in the city this weekend: the Media Histories: Epistemology, Materiality, Temporality conference at Columbia, the Memory conference at The New School, and the Mapping New Media symposium at the Bard Graduate Center. Alas, I missed the mapping symposium (thanks to the wonderful Tanya Toft for generously sharing her notes with me!), which left me to spend two days thinking about universal libraries, archives, drawings, paperwork, medium-specificity, seriality, temporality, memory, preservation, epistemology, materiality, and myriad related “ities.” What a luxury! It’s rare that I can spend a whole day — let alone two — thinking about the ideas that most captivate me. Still, I must admit: all that archive fever is enough to give one an archive headache! (groan)

But wait: it’s actually such references to “archive fever” that trigger a slight uneasiness. Over the past couple years I’ve noticed that a lot of people are appropriating Derrida’s phrase to refer to a supposed infatuation with archiving — a passion for assembling and sorting and storing; a compulsion to do things like organize houseplants in retired card catalogues (which I’d totally do, by the way, if I had a card catalogue sitting around); a tendency to refer to our hard drives and junk drawers as “archives.”  “We’re cuckoo for collecting!”

But that’s not what “archive fever” is about, really.


Derrida’s lecture is titled Mal d’archive, which, Carolyn Steedman argues, would be much more appropriately translated as trouble…, misfortune…, pain…, hurt…, sickness…, wrong…, sin…, badness…, or evil of the archive, rather than the “faintly comic ‘fever’ of the English translation.”[1] But even if that off-the-mark title translation escapes us, Derrida’s description of the mal d’archive in the book’s Exergue should clue us in to the fact that this mal isn’t some cutesy fad: it’s an “irrepressible desire to return to the origin” — one linked as much to the pleasure principle [2] as it is to the death drive.

Not so cute. I’m not cuckoo for that.


[1] Carolyn Steedman, “Something She Called a Fever: Michelet, Derrida, and Dust” The American Historical Review 106:4 (October 2001): 1159-1180.

[2] Side note: principle/principal are homophones that lend themselves to funny mix-ups. Consider, for instance, what a Pleasure Principal would be. I bet that’d be a popular job 🙂


Course Building

via decade_null on flickr:

Tomorrow I’m talking about “Course Building and Pedagogical Media” in the Provost’s Office’s Pedagogy Workshop, a course for all new teaching assistants and teaching fellows. There’s been a lot of ticket scalping, so I’m considering doing a couple extra shows at Terminal 5 (yes, that’s a joke). For those of you who can’t join us, here’s what I plan to address:

Much of what follows is drawn from the following sources:

  • Barbara Gross Davis, “Preparing or Revising a Course” In Tools for Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993).
  • Bob Fox and Alex Radloff (Curtin University of Technology), “How Can We ‘Unstuff’ the Curriculum?” In Romana Pospisil and Lesley Willcoxson, Eds., Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, Australia (1997).
  • L. Dee Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003).
  • Wilbert J. McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki, Eds., McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 12th ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
  • My 10 years of teaching 25 different classes (holy crap!) at five different universities.

stuff to do and think about when developing a new course:

(It’s important to remember that, although there are a lot of variables to measure and interests to negotiate when building a new course, we shouldn’t regard course design as a rigidly regimented process. It’s also a tremendously creative act!)

Clarify the rationale and context for the course

  • Some of us have the luxury of creating our own “boutique” courses, but most adjunct and junior faculty and graduate instructors are either commissioned to develop a syllabus for a course the department needs, or asked to teach a section of a “scripted” course.
    • Talk with others who have taught the course before
    • Ask your department and search online for syllabi for similar courses
  • Consider the role that your class plays within the curriculum as a whole, and its relationship to other classes.
    • What will students have learned before reaching your class? What texts will they have read? What skills will they have practiced?
    • What are other instructors depending on you to cover in your class?

Identify YOUR learning objectives and outcomes

Many of us are tempted to design a course by listing the readings or topics we want to cover. A “learner-focused” approach starts by listing your short – and long-term learning goals. Fink (2003) advocates  “backwards design”:

“the [course] designer starts the process by imagining a time when the course is over, say one or two years later, and then asking: ‘What is it I hope that students will have learned, that will still be there and have value, several years after the course is over?’” (63, italics mine)

Fink proposes a taxonomy of “significant learning” that we might use to identify a set of parallel, or nested, learning goals for our classes (75):

  1. Foundational Knowledge: what information do you want students to remember and understand in the future?
  2. Application: what kinds of critical, creative, and practical thinking should students practice; what skills should they develop; and what “complex projects” should they know how to manage?
    • Some people frame these various thinking practices as “literacies” — What literacies do you want your students to cultivate?
  3. Integration: what connections should students be able to make between ideas within your course; between your course and other courses; and between your course and various extra-curricular contexts?
  4. Human Dimension: what should students learn about themselves and others?
  5. Caring: how can you help students care about the course content, about learning itself, about themselves, and about one another?
  6. Learning How to Learn: what should students learn about how to be a good student, how to “engage in inquiry and construct knowledge,” how to be a self-directed life-long learning?
    • For the challenges of encouraging students to take time for this “meta”-learning, see my “The Other Spring Class

I would add one additional consideration:

  • You should consider, both when you’re building the class and perhaps at various points as the course is in progress, what will your students want to know and be able to do?

Fink acknowledges that some instructors, after being encouraged to adopt this “learner-centered approach,” panic: “But I can’t cover all the content I need to cover now, and you are telling me I need to spend time on whole new kinds of learning as well??!!” (56). He responds:

“[I]f students learn how to apply the content, can see how it connects with other knowledge, understand the human implications of what they have learned, and come to care about the subject and about learning how to keep on learning, it seems much likelier that they will both retain what they have learned and continue to enlarge their knowledge after the course is over” (57)

Learn about your learners

  • Find out how many students will be in the class; whether they’re upper- or lower-level undergrads, grad students, etc.; what their typical life/professional goals and learning styles are; what the conventions of their majors are, etc.
  • You may need to appeal to students from multiple programs, build “hooks” for students with varied interests and ways of learning.
  • Speak with the directors of, or faculty in, your students’ programs.
  • Conduct a survey on the first day of class to gauge students’ interests, learning styles, and expectations for the course.
  • Post course development notes on your website and solicit student input!
    • Duke’s Cathy Davidson enlists her classes in crowdsource-designing their syllabi. Read about it here and here.

Develop assessment criteria to match your overall objectives

  • Consider how different formats (and technologies) of assessment can allow you to assess different variables, and to operationalize those variables differently.
  • Weight assignments/requirements appropriately.
  • “Increase feedback but reduce formal assessment” (Fox & Radloff)
    • “… create a safe environment in which students can try, fail, receive feedback, and try again” (Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do, 2004: 60)
    • Fink distinguishes between backwards-looking auditive feedback (i.e., grading) and forward-looking educative feedback. Educative feedback is “frequent, immediate, discriminating” delivered “compassionately.”
  • Provide opportunities for instructor feedback and self-assessment.
    • Allow students to work with you in developing criteria for assessment.
    • Encourage them to practice using those criteria on one another’s work, then on their own.
  • Fink encourages the use of “authentic” assessments — those that are “realistic”; involve the students actually “doing the subject,” engaging in activities and performing in contexts that would be “authentic” for real practitioners (86).


  • If you use a textbook, these “framework” decisions will largely have been made for you.
  • What are your units?
    • Consider using a flow chart or mind map
    • Fink encourages us to “look at the whole subject of the course and identify the most important concepts, issues, topics, or themes that constitute the subject of the course — usually at least four and no more than seven.” (128)
  • How do the building blocks fit together? Consider the interrelationships between individual class topics, activities, and assignments.
  • Possible organizational strategies: Theoretical ==> Applied, Micro ==> Macro, Chronological, etc.
  • Examples:
    • See my “Media & Architecture” syllabus: After years of organizing the class chronologically, I decided to move reverse-chronologically — from the contemporary / familiar to the historical / unfamiliar. This organization also emphasizes the recurrence of various questions presumed to be unique to our time.
    • See post chronicling the development of my “Media & Materiality” Class: “Media and Materiality…Slowly Materializing
    • See post chronicling the development of my “Urban Media Archaeology” class: “The Big Dig: Urban Media Archaeology
  • Provide “signposts” throughout the semester so students see where they are in relation to the whole, so they understand the logic behind the course design.
    • You could build these signposts into the syllabus via narrative introductions to, or transitions between, thematic units.
  • Build in time for review and reflection
    • Read about my experience of saving time mid-semester for students to reflect on their first-half-of-the-semester learning, and to design their learning experience for the second half of the semester: “Plug-In Syllabus

Select Texts (Reading/Listening/Screening Assignments), prune and prioritize

  • Various pedagogy books offer tips on selecting textbooks
    • Many recommend supplementing textbook w/ current/popular pieces
  • I never use textbooks. I construct my own readers, for which I  commonly choose a primary text, a secondary text, and a popular application text for each lesson.
  • Contextualize your chosen texts: explain their value.
    • Perhaps you could provide reading questions/guides on the syllabus
  • What’s essential, recommended, and supplemental?
    • What to do with the “clippings,” those texts that didn’t make the cut? Add endnotes to your syllabus, or create a “supplemental materials” section for your course website. Students can use these materials in their independent research, or you can integrate them into your prepared lessons

Gauge the workload of each unit and the class as a whole

  • Consider how long it will take students to read difficult texts that demand multiple readings.
  • Cut back on readings and recurring assignments when major assignments are due.
  • Spread assignments throughout the semester — and consider implementing “incremental” assignments that build upon each other toward the creation of a comprehensive final project.
  • Fink also recommends finding ways to “move the initial learning of the content to out-of-class activities” (131). In other words, have the students expose themselves to the course content at home, so you can devote your in-class time to “learning how to use” that content.

Evaluate Uses of Technology + integrate them appropriately

  • Assess your own, and your students’, skill level and availability
  • Different modes/degrees of integrating technology:
    • Presentation media: delivering content
      • e.g., PowerPoint, Prezi
    • Comprehensive course management
      • Password-protected Ning site for “Understanding Media Studies”
    • Resource provision, e.g., posting readings, posting supplemental materials
    • Interaction: discussion boards, required blog posts
  • See Learning Through Digital Media edited collection
    • Chapters on: Google Wave, Facebook, Google Docs, Individual / Collaborative Blogs, CommentPress, Zotero, Delicious (my chapter!), Omeka, Twitter, Arduino, Second Life, Google Maps / Ushahidi, Seesmic + Voice Interaction, YouTube + Vimeo, Apps, etc.
  • See also DML Central + ProfHacker

Networked Libraries

via wetheim on flickr:

The New School is part of a consortium of libraries that includes NYU, Cooper Union, the New York Historical Society, and a few other institutions. The contract forming this consortium is occasionally renegotiated — and when that happens I often wonder how people are talking about divisions of labor. How do they divvy up the responsibilities to build particular collections, to provide services to one another’s faculty and students, and to provide all those essential back-of-house services?

Given the number of great libraries in New York — and the fact that all of them, public and academic alike, are facing serious budgetary issues and demands to continually prove their relevance to the powers that be (whether the taxpaying public, city officials, university administration, etc.) — I’ve occasionally wondered when something like this would come along:

“The New York Public Library and the libraries of Columbia University and New York University—three renowned research institutions all on the island of Manhattan—have launched an initiative to expand collections and better serve their users.

The collaboration, dubbed the Manhattan Research Library Initiative, or MaRLI, will help the institutions increase access to research collections, increase use of specialized collections, and stretch collection dollars for covering research resources.

The institutions will coordinate their research collecting, eliminating overlap of specialized materials and identifying opportunities for shared collecting.  They will be able to do so by making their collections mutually available to researchers.”

via NYPL Press Release, 3/17/2011

As long as, collectively, they continue to offer multiple access points — with diverse services that meet the needs of their different user populations, I think this makes total sense. Together, the three major-partner institutions, and their secondary partners (of which The New School is one), can offer an amazingly extensive collection, with little wasted on unnecessary duplication. They can save their time, money, and effort for providing excellent service, and for doing all the other super-important things that libraries do that go beyond building a collection and providing access to it.

And checking books out of the 42nd Street Library? (I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to call it the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building — although I certainly do thank Mr. Schwarzman for his generosity!) Dude, that’s huge!


A Place for the “Enduring Delight and Significance of Poetry”

via NYTimes:

Last week Sage, publishers of Space and Culture, sent me a form email with tips for spreading the word about my recently published article. I’ve never been keen on self-promotion — the most I ever do to self-promote is post my work here — but I figured I could at least post my article abstract, in hopes of making it accessible to the handful of people who are interested in poetry, architecture, pedagogy, libraries, reading, materiality, Alvar Aalto, George E.. Woodberry, and Roland Barthes — and what they’ve got to do with one another. Here ’tis:

The 2006 renovation of Harvard University’s Woodberry Poetry Room, one of few American designs by the noted Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, sparked an international controversy over the means and ends of architectural preservation. Arching over these debates about architectural heritage, the responsibility of the Harvard administration, the quality of Fixler’s renovation, and so on, were larger, often unarticulated, questions about what constitutes a poetic text or an architectural work, whether they have definitive forms, and what their responsibilities are to the people who use them. I explain how the different constituents invested in this specific project bring to the table different understandings of the purpose of the room and its preservation, and the distinction between the physical design and the “institution” and collection it houses. I argue that the controversy over the recent renovation reflects disagreement regarding the fluidity or fixity of the architectural “object” and the poetic text—disagreements informed by theoretical and pragmatic debates in librarianship, pedagogy, media and literary studies, and architectural preservation.


More Materiality

This weekend we went to MoMA to see the AbExNY show, which was wonderful — but I was just as happy to encounter even more evidence of the growing interest in the materiality of media. Following up on all the recent zine and little magazine shows, the Looking at Music 3.0 exhibition incorporates a table full of photocopied Riot Grrrl zines.

A Few Zines @ Storefront – Photo by Me
Looking at Music 3.0 – Photo by Me

And then I encountered Henrik Olesen, who, according to the wall text, has drawn inspiration from Artaud:

“When you have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom.”

Portrait of Kirsten / Canon PIXMA iP4200 and Portrait of Scott / 12: PowerBook G4 — Blurry Photo by Me

Thinking about BwO, I felt a weird resonance with this Paula Hayes piece I saw on the way out:

Paula Hayes’ Egg – Photo by Me

And then, later on, I dug out the Deleuze & Guattari and recalled that “the body without organs is an egg” (Anti-Oedipus), and it’s also “the Earth — the Deterritorialized, the Glacial, the Giant Molecule” (A Thousand Plateaus). How wonderful to see on two adjacent floors the Body without Organs in two such disparate forms: an exploded PowerBook and a giant terrarium.


Wait, *I* Did That?!

Sarah Sze @ Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Photo by Moi, 10/15/10

This coming Monday evening in my Understanding Media Studies lecture class I’m talking about methodology. It’s just an overview — an opportunity to introduce students to the concept of “methodology” (and its relationship to “methods” and “theoretical frameworks” and “epistemologies”), and to encourage them to start thinking now about which specialized methods courses they might want to take in future semesters.

Okay, that probably sounds super-boring. I happen to love thinking about methodology, but I realize that it makes most people’s eyes glaze over. Rest assured: I’m not going to talk about participant observation or standard deviation or triangulation. Instead, I’m here because I want to take a minute to dust off some pretty awesome (if I may say so myself) resources I dug up from the wordsinspace basement while prepping for next week’s lecture. I apparently created this stuff back in 2005 for my graduate Media Research Methods class, but lord help me if I remember doing it.

Well, some of this material has reappeared regularly in a few of my classes since then. My lesson on Surveying the Field, for instance, evolved into this:

And my lesson on “Exploring Topics and Beginning Research” turned into this and this, and my literature review assignment eventually became this guide. Then there’s my lesson on “Finding Funding,” which I simply haven’t had the energy to update regularly.

But there’s all this great stuff that I completely forgot about: like my lessons on “Production and Culture Industry Research,” “Historical Research,” and “Critical Approaches” (covering everything from formal to narrative analysis, and with a special hidden “audio motivator” — “Eye of the Tiger,” of course — to encourage perseverance). Then there are the lessons on “Discourse Analysis,” “Qualitative Methods,” “Media as Research Instruments,” and “Media in Ethnography,” and a quick overview of “Quantitative Methods.”

How do I not remember creating any of this?

Edison’s Laboratory, via Stacino on Flickr: