Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Essay Two: Remixing Academia

Literature has the unique opportunity of being subject to a new style of learning in this digital age. Digital Culture presents many unique ways to interpret a once rigid and traditional area of academic. No longer is reading and writing papers necessary to communicate understanding of both ancient and modern authors. The digital concept of remixing allows students to demonstrate their understanding of key texts through new mediums.

Remixing is editing and reformatting of an existing idea and is an exciting trend occurring in all fields of the digital world, including music, videos, memes and pictures. If college English curriculums were to adopt this method of creation, students could transcend mere theoretical understanding through an applied knowledge. For instance, an English student would take a literary work of someone else's or his own and "remix" it through another means to communicate his total understanding of the original idea. This student might take Paradise Lost and create an encyclopedia of the classical allusions Milton uses or a video montage of key themes using artists' renditions of the literary scenes. Through remixing in Digital Culture, students transcend rote rehearsal of ideas and repetition in papers, and format the same ideas in a way that appeals to audiences beyond the classroom.

In practice here at BYU, we made memes, word clouds and videos of themes present in Moby Dick. This allowed us as students to narrow in on important concepts in the work and create artistic renditions that would convey our knowledge in an accessible and clear fashion. The art of remixing is constantly expanding, and if academic leaders choose to incorporate this idea into their studies, they will continue to be educated as new students present their ideas in innovative forums and styles. It benefits infinitely more people than the few an academic paper has the ability to impact. Overall, remixing, used as a creative tool in Digital Culture, can be applied to theories in learning, to positively influence and educate a greater audience than current traditional assignments. 

Final Exam: Essay Two

 Essay Two: Proposal for Studying Literature in the Digital Age

One of the most important concepts in Digital Culture is that of Digital Literacy. In order to better work with digital culture, people must learn the essential skills of how to consume, create, and connect within a digital age. Because these skills are so basic to understanding and working effectively with digital culture, I propose that they be implemented in each of our English courses in the new curriculum. Just as students must develop specific skills in order to effectively analyze literature, they must also develop skills in order to effectively consume, connect, and create within digital culture. Specifically, I will focus on the essential nature of learning to connect and how learning to connect will help our students to more effectively work within digital culture.

In the traditional English class, students write within a bubble. They may connect with their classmates or their professor by bouncing ideas off one another or getting a draft of a paper peer reviewed. However, the exchange of ideas limited. Students learn primarily from one instructor and also a limited number of scholarly sources. However, this is not sufficient for the digital age. By learning how to connect with others by using digital tools, students have the ability to connect with others who are studying similar material and to have discussions with them. This is different from having an in-class discussion because students and those they are interacting with will be learning about the topic from different sources, and thus have different insights on the topic. Students will be able to learn more effectively about any given topic by interacting with their peers because they will be exposed to many different points of view.

Not only can students connect with their peers through digital culture, but they should also be taught the necessary skills to connect with enthusiasts and experts in whatever field they are studying. Digital culture allows students to reach out to professionals and interact with them. Students can share their ideas and get feedback from experts who are heavily invested in the topic. This frequently leads to more enthusiasm on the part of the student and a renewed determination to learn. Additionally, as students network with experts in whichever fields they are interested in, they gain valuable contacts that will help them both during and after school.

As we infuse the skill of connecting with others into each course in our new curriculum, our students will gain experience interacting with their peers and professionals that will not only help them with their education while they are attending this university, but they will also gain valuable skills for their future employment after graduation. 

Essay Two: New Cirriculum

As English Majors, it's our job to share ideas. Our value comes in our ability to think critically and share our ideas in a clear way. Quoting Chaucer is a plus, but we need to understand why knowing Chaucer gives us any kind of advantage in life. A traditional study of literature is very helpful for English Majors, but we need to be able to apply these skills in ways that are relevant today. One of the most outdated practice for English Majors is to share their ideas in literary journals that are very selective and require complex writing skills. This does not allow for the fast exchange of ideas that is found today online through blog posts or video reviews.

Instead of 8-10 pages of literary critic jargon in magazines only being read by a specific audience, some critics are able to articulate their ideas in a way everyone can understand.

Anita Sarkeesian, for example, is able to convey her ideas about feminism in 30 minute presentations that anyone can understand. These utilize video clips and pictures to help illustrate her points. They are easy to share and people are able to participate in the discussion by posting their own response videos or by discussing the ideas in forums.

There are also shorter videos which are able to take a complex idea and summarize it in a two minute video. A 30 page essay about gamification and its potential to help prevent speeding in pedestrian-heavy areas would not be as helpful as this two minute clip.

In order for our English Majors to share their ideas effectively, they need to have the tools to share those ideas and participate in the academic conversation. Therefore, English majors should have a curriculum or classes that teach them how to give an academic presentation in a video or blog post. This does not have to replace traditional academic paper writing, and they will still need to learn how to formulate and support a thesis, but they should learn how to do it in the context of something more relevant like a video than an academic journal.

There is no MLA format for academic blogging or for making academic videos, so this might be a difficult thing to teach. How much personality is allowed in an academic blog post? How much video editing work should go into these? Although there is no form that we can teach students, we can pose those questions to the students and help them decide the best way to present their ideas. With this kind of skill set, students will be more able to meet the demands of an English major in the digital humanities age.

Final Exam: Essay One

Essay One: The Importance of Literature in Understanding Digital Culture

Our students are best prepared for understanding the digital world around them by a traditional study of great literature. As students study quality literature, they learn how to think critically and analyze difficult texts. Their abilities to speak, write, and communicate in general are increased. These skills and others help our students to be better equipped to understand the digital world around them. However, today I will focus specifically on how studying Moby Dick by Herman Melville helps our students to understand the importance of collaboration in a digital age.

In Moby Dick, it is essential for the entire crew to work together in order to successfully hunt whales. Paul Billis, in a recent blog post, discussed a similar concept as he detailed the importance of each individual character in the text. Billis argues that Melville “craft[s] each of these characters expertly to allow each of them their own voice and personality.” Just as the Pequod cannot function without each of its crewmen performing his assigned functions, digital culture cannot function at its fullest potential without the countless men and women who actively consume and create content in a digital world.

The importance of each individual in the crew is highlighted by Starbuck’s futile attempt to convince Ahab to stop his fanatical hunt for Moby Dick. He exclaims, “O, my Captain!...Away with me! Let us fly these deadly waters!” (Melville 604). However, Ahab decides to ignore Starbuck’s counsel and continue on his hunt for the white whale, eventually leading to his death as well as the deaths of every crew member except for Ishmael. Had Ahab listened to Starbuck, the story would have had a different ending entirely. However, because Ahab ignored those around him, his quest failed and let to devastation and ruin.

As students contemplate the results of Ahab’s dismissal of Starbuck’s counsel, they learn about the importance of collaboration. When all of the crew members work together as equals, they catch whales and all is well. However, when Ahab reigns as the dictator of the ship, discounting advice from his first mate, tragedy strikes. While the results of not collaborating with others may not be as dramatic, the results are similar in that the end result is not as good as it could have otherwise been. Collaboration allows others to help us to see flaws in our work that we cannot always find on our own. As students learn about Ahab and his mad quest, they also learn about the benefits of collaboration.

This one specific example from Moby Dick shows both the benefits of collaboration and the consequences for failing to do so, which can help students to learn about this important aspect of digital culture. Classic works of literature help students to understand both collaboration and other important principles of digital culture as students think critically about such texts.

Works Cited:

Billis, Paul. "Moby Dick, Democracy, participatory Culture, and Games." Web. 18 December 2013.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Library of America Paperback Classics, 1983. Print.

Essay One: Moby Dick and Isolation in Digital Culture

Moby Dick reflects a multitude of themes present in Digital Culture. Primarily because of these four concepts: unique characters, new environment, a previously unknown/or misunderstood subject and relationships. I am going to focus on one of these ideas-relationships, specifically in terms of isolationism.

Within the bounds of Digital Culture, we have learned of the importance of collaboration, which Cheri will address, and how it is necessary to gather social proof and reach out to others. The very act of isolating yourself is forced denial of supporting ideas, helpful resources and a greater knowledge (Heidi is studying this in her essay). In theory, the concept of social outreach is comprehensible, but is largely neglected, in practice. Through Moby Dick's Captain Ahab, we see the dichotomy of collaboration and isolation and their respective effects.

From the beginning of the epic, Captain Ahab isolates himself from his crew. This does not inspire confidence in his comrades, and alienates him from them, and also his sole purpose-to find the great, white whale. Captain Ahab only slightly embodies the spirit of collaboration when he interacts with other ships and captains to inquire if they have seen Moby Dick. His lack of interest in their plights is not well-received and is destructive to his relationships. He even recognizes it in himself and his family, as his obsession deepens and gains control of his life and actions. Nevertheless, it is only through his collaboration with the other ships and their captains that Captain Ahab is able to track Moby Dick's whereabouts and eventually locate the whale.

Captain Ahab's example of isolation and collaboration can be echoed in Digital Culture as we create our online identities. We, as individuals, have the opportunity to build up reputations, yet if we do not interact with others, there will be no reputations. Beyond that, by isolating ourselves, we do not share our ideas, and allow them to progress, thus begging the question of why do we come up with these ideas? Captain Ahab represents one who does not care about his identity, and is thus, is disregarded or thought of as a lunatic. By creating an online presence and interacting with others, we further our own knowledge, establish credibility and ultimately, reach our full potentials.

Essay One: Dr. Glen Smith

An advantage of our position as English majors is that we are given the tools to put current writing in a historical context. We can compare literature now to literature written hundreds of years ago, we can compare social situations that created certain literary works to literature being created now in different circumstances, and we can use forms and tools that have been utilized for hundreds of years to continue a tradition of high quality literature. Traditional literary study is essential for an understanding of current literary study.

The same applies to a digital approach to studying the humanities. As Alan Liu points out, social media is not a brand new idea. Humans have been sharing ideas in different forms for centuries. Web 2.0 is the current manifestation and it would be harmful to ignore all of the forms of sharing that have been used in the past. 

Moby Dick is a great example of a book that reveals a lot about digital culture that might be ignored if we are preoccupied only with writing that is current or discarding traditional literature. Moby Dick, with all of its tangents about mariner life, whales, and back stories for each character, functions a lot like a wiki. Reading chapter 32, about cetology, might be like opening a browser alongside the text to learn more about whales and to better understand the narrative, which is heavy with nautical jargon. 

Moby Dick is obviously more complex than a wiki because it offers its facts through the lens of the narrator, which is not always reliable, and the presentation of information is all in the context of the story, but what it showcases is the human hunger for knowledge. The author channels his enthusiasm for the sea and his own research about whales into a narrative with a lot of chapters about cartography, how lines work in a ship, and how whales are taken apart and boiled down into oil after they have been caught. Without the explanatory chapters, we would have a harder time understanding what it means to be "caught in the line." This is very much like how modern bloggers will insert links in their entries to direct readers to more information about a subject.

If we connect with traditional literature, it will continue to enrich our writing and help us to offer better reading experiences for our readers. Sharing stories doesn't mean that we need to limit ourselves to a narrative. Like Herman Melville, we can be creative with the text and add things to give a better overall understanding. 

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Studying traditional forms helps us to expand upon those forms and change them, like Mozart did with forms invented by Bach. And Beethoven with forms invented by Mozart. 

Class Reflection: Building Ideas and Sharing Them

Like I've said before, the reason I decided to join this class was mostly because it fulfilled a course requirement and fit into my schedule. It also had the word "blog" somewhere in the course description and I thought: Bird Course.

What I'm learning, though, is that there are no courses at BYU that you can just fly right through. I'm glad we were warned that we would be reading Moby Dick over the course of a month, which helped give a better idea of what this class would require. (I'm sure that was a mechanism to weed out the weak. Like Accounting 200.)

This class has been challenging, but is has given me a lot of tools that I know I'll be using beyond this classroom. I made real-world connections with people in fields that I'm interested in by experimenting with tools for connecting. The class helped me get outside my comfort zone and email people I didn't know to ask them questions about a field that's still developing. I know I'm actually learning in a class when I stop focusing on how I think I know everything and open myself up to what other people have to say. Reading the posts from other people in the class helped me see what other people were getting out of the same discussions in class and how there are a lot of different ideas we can build on if we share them with each other. I already have a lot of ideas that I want to continue building and sharing even after the class is over.

Something that has been a running theme in several of my English classes has been a push to go deeper than a simple analogy and to make claims about things and back up those claims with facts. I have been resisting a lot of these ideas because I have thought that it's always better to just tell a story or make a simple analogy without working yourself into a philosophical fit trying to constantly connect to a greater whole. The more I've seen movies this year and thought about the stories, the more I've found that deeper stories or stories that resist a simple reading are a lot more satisfying. A lot of elements of our culture are becoming immediate and shallow and we could use English majors in this world to help us create more meaning. This doesn't mean I'm going to find Christ analogies in everything like my high school English teachers seemed to want, but it does help me appreciate how my professors are trying to teach me to think and what this could do for me outside the classroom.

Photo taken from Sister Act 2. Used for illustrative purposes as fair use.