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Project Write-up in the Chronicle of Higher Education

Harvard's Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, where I worked for most of my time as a Ph.D. student, caters to several audiences: graduate students just learning to teach, junior faculty finding their way in the classroom, and senior faculty who are interested in exploring new pedagogical frontiers or renewing and reinvigorating their teaching. But most of these interventions are focused on undergraduate education; projects related to the actual teaching of graduate students are few and far between.

One notable exception was a project that I worked on in the Spring of 2016. Music professor Emily Dolan came to the Bok Center with a unique challenge: she and McGill professor Jonathan Sterne were teaching a collaborative graduate seminar, which would connect not only students from multiple disciplines, but from multiple universities. While many colleges have undertaken remote lectures or self-paced, internet-based courses, this situation was relatively unique: a discussion-oriented graduate seminar that depended on real-time communication, and which combined both in-person and online conversations. Emily worked with my colleagues and I throughout the semester to test various experiments with what we came to refer to as the "Digital Bridge."

She and Jonathan Sterne recently wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education detailing their experiences. Here's a quick passage about the problems, and the lessons learned:

It is certainly poignant that — with all the advanced technology and resources at our disposal, and all the money our universities have been spending on it — the biggest challenge in the end was facilitating a comprehendable conversation among our students. If our universities could achieve the stability and speech quality of late 20th-century landline telephony with whatever digital platform their tech offices adopt next, we will be delighted.

In the meantime, sound remains one of the greatest barriers to good, networked pedagogy.

To further contextualize the article, I'm posting two of the short videos that I made this past year about the project, featuring reflections from Emily and her graduate students. These segments amplify and deepen some of the lessons that she and Jonathan detail in their column.

LINK: "Two Campuses, Two Countries, One Seminar"

 

Backchannel

Ambient Computing

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Towards a Ludomusicological Canon

It's been a while since I've updated the website in any way, but today I felt like finally releasing something that's been cooking for about a month, and opening it up for collaboration, crowdsourcing, etc.

I wasn't able to attend this year's North American Conference on Video Game Music, but I did follow the tweets it generated. One of them got me thinking:

This touched off a brief conversation on Twitter, in which a few people wondered whether ludomusicologists respond to a canon that's already been established, or if we play a role in building or maintaining that canon, for good or for ill. I'd say that for me personally, my work responds to games that are accessible to me (either Mac/PC, or from older systems that are easily emulated), and games that I have a personal history with or connection to (again...Mac/PC or emulations of childhood games)

But it seems like we can study this problem by examining the kinds of games that receive scholarly attention. Do scholars stick mainly to games that are already well known, already in the 'canon' of video games? Or are we perhaps seeing a certain ludomusicological canon emerge, which may focus on different types of games, different platforms, etc.? Or is it simply too early to tell?

To that end, I started a Google Doc that weekend, which I've slowly added to in idle moments since. I'm trying to collect information about all the games studied by ludomusicologists in formal venues (conferences and publications). This is a pretty monumental task, though, and it seems more efficient to crowdsource it. So, I'm publishing this open link to the Google Doc where I've been collecting the information. So far, it's restricted primarily to conferences: NACVGM, the "Ludo" Conferences, as well as the video-game papers/sessions at SMT the past two years (posters, lightning talks, and the panel). It's got very few print sources in it so far, and only the ones that occurred to me off the top of my head.

So, I'm opening this up to all of you in ludomusicology land to add to as much as you can. Feel free to re-tweet widely!

A word on the organization: right now, things are organized by GAME, with some metadata, and then a list of studies secondarily. My hope is that, with the same data in a slightly different form, it will be easy to turn around and convert this into a bibliography of ludomusicology, which we could then add to the nascent bibliography hosted by the SMT's Film and Multimedia Interest Group. So, please feel free to add studies to this list as well. The order in which studies are listed is completely arbitrary: I have no sense that any given paper or presentation is the take on any game -- they're simply listed in the order that I added them (though I've since sorted the sheet by title of game).

Please feel free to update the existing information as well. Hopefully the metadata I've added are self-explanatory, though I should clarify: I've used the term "modern multi" to indicate the seemingly ubiquitous "PC/XBox_/PS_" label that many games carry. We can certainly be more particular, but this seems to indicate something useful, rather than creating tons of sortable columns for each system. XBox or PS exclusive, however, is a useful piece of information as well, and should be listed separately. Secondly, there are many [unknown] slots, which I use when I don't remember or don't precisely know the game(s) that a given study discusses. Please feel free to fill these slots in, or to move the attached studies accordingly, if you know the answers. I've also begun labelling genres, which seems useful. These are self-explanatory, but note that I've created two labels I haven't seen elsewhere: music game (for things like Guitar Hero) and more importantly "music game - abstract" for games like Otocky, Elektroplankton, etc. Please also feel free to add or correct metadata, invent your own keywords, add studies beyond the five per game for which I've currently created columns. Go wild. Behave yourselves.

I don't have any conclusions from this data yet -- feel free to draw your own, or leave them in the comments on this entry.

Here's the Google Doc, in case you didn't catch the link before: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1kjwBUYLekeGuBuThpgO9cOCsydNlm4dKM27Hebh92T0/edit?usp=sharing

 

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Digital Humanities, Digital Pedagogy, Pt. 1

About two months ago, I guest-taught the music department's seminar for first-year TAs. This was the presentation that produced my blog entry, "10 Tips for Designing Multimedia Assignments," which arose from a handout I made for the session. But the seminar also included a brief presentation designed to get discussion going. It was mostly concerned with my own musings on what role the Digital Humanities might play in the life of graduate students/TAs. In a larger, meta-disciplinary sense, the talk was concerned with the relationship between digital humanities as a scholarly field, and the use of technology in classroom teaching. I'm especially interested in the particular brand of digital pedagogy with which publications like Hybrid Pedagogy are concerned: that is, the critical use of digital tools in the classroom, and the relationship between those tools and the larger forces at play in contemporary higher education.
I delivered my talk off-the-cuff, but I'm going to re-construct a bit of it here online, in the form of a couple of blog posts. Hopefully, taken together, they can also serve as a concise intro to DH in a mostly musical context.

***

Concisely defining the field of "digital humanities" is sort of like trying to define music: everyone has their own ideas and their own pithy little phrases (think of Varese's famous "organized sound"), because the topic at hand is so sprawling, and means different things to different people. The many meanings of DH have even spawned the website whatisdigitalhumanities.com, which lists a new definition on every refresh. I'd like to tackle this definitional challenge very briefly by historicizing it, because, well, old habits die hard.

The discipline we know as digital humanities has a long history. It was known, for most of its existence, as "humanities computing," and it has existed for nearly as long as computing itself. ENIAC was brought online in Philadelphia in 1946, and the Italian Jesuit Roberto Busa began what is commonly considered the first humanities computing project--a massive concordance of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas--in 1949. [2]

We have to jump all the way up to 2001 to find the origins of the current moniker. In his contribution to Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew Kirschenbaum quotes John Unsworth at length:

The real origin of that term [digital humanities] was in conversation with Andrew McNeillie, the original acquiring editor for the Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities. We started talking with him about that book project in 2001, in April, and by the end of November, we'd lined up contributors and were discussing the title, for the contract. Ray [Siemens] wanted "A Companion to Humanities Computing," as that was the term commonly used at that point; the editorial and marketing folks at Blackwell wanted "Companion to Digitized Humanities." I suggested "Companion to Digital Humanities" to shift the emphasis away from simple digitization.

None of this, so far, is all that new; histories and origin stories of Digital Humanities can be found in essays by Kirschenbaum, Meredith Hindley, Matthew Gold, and others. I raise this point because one of the things that I'm interested in is the significance of the label "digital humanities." What work is being accomplished when we call something--or do not call something--DH? There's a lot at stake in how we answer this question -- not only (inter)disciplinary agendas and the (in)visibility of various kinds of work, but also actual grant money and academic positions, which seem increasingly to list "digital humanities" among the preferred areas of interest for potential new faculty members. This blog series represents my attempt to dissect the uneasy feeling I have that, while DH is, in many ways, a "big tent," its re-branding in 2001 by the Blackwell crew, and the recent proliferation of books and articles that define its terms, are both potentially exclusionary and presentist gestures that define only certain, recent forms of research as DH. We thus need to question the work that this label is doing at every turn, and continually ask ourselves about the significance of labelling something--or not labelling something--as a part of the digital humanities.

I'll close this introductory essay by laying out my other thesis--the more positive one, since I'm currently trying to make my academic work reparative rather than paranoid. My favorite definition of the digital humanities comes from Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who calls DH

a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities, or ... ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies.

I like this definition because it draws together two separate aspects of the field in a way that I find compelling: DH, for Fitzpatrick, is both the use of technology, and the study of technology itself. It draws together Franco Moretti's "distant reading" (the former) with MIT's Platform Studies book series (the latter). More importantly, I'd like to suggest that this definition of DH highlights an affinity which I find absolutely essential: the connection between the research practices of the digital humanities, and the critical use of digital technology in the classroom. The thoughtful use of technology in the classroom encompasses both an appreciation of the kinds of teaching moves that certain technologies make possible, and a keen and critical--in other words, humanistic--awareness of the cultural implications of those technologies: the economic forces that made/make them possible, the cultural implications they inevitably carry, the sociological structures they reinforce or deconstruct. In this way, as I'll explore in this series of short blog posts, the two halves of Fitzpatrick's definition come together: digital pedagogy becomes a space in which technologically-aided humanities work meets with humanistic work on technology.

___

[1] Special thanks to @kellyhiser for this link! Her excellent talk at Harvard today inspired me to actually do something with this old draft blog entry.

[2] Notice that the journal linked here, Computers in the Humanities, was already in its 14th issue by 1980.

 

 

 

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10 Tips for Designing Multimedia Assignments

Today, I gave a presentation/workshop in Music 250, the Music department's practicum for first-year teaching fellows, on the intersection between the digital humanities, digital pedagogy, and multimedia assignments. I'll probably post more content from the workshop in the coming days, but for now, here's a handout I'm fairly proud of: a list of 10 pointers to keep in mind when designing a multimedia assignment. It was inspired by several sources, some of which I was involved in creating at the Bok Center; see bottom.

 

10 Tips for Designing Multimedia Assignments

Compiled by William O'Hara, Harvard University Department of Music

It’s debatable precisely what a multimedia assignment is. For the purposes of this list, a multimedia assignment is anything other than a written essay or an in-class oral presentation. While that can certainly mean digital media—video, animation, sound recording—it can just as easily mean analog media—drawing, art, object-making—or social media—blogging, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

1. Don’t use multimedia purely for the sake of multimedia. Begin by asking yourself:

  • What value does this add?
  • Why this format?
  • How does this format help my students to learn and communicate?

Any multimedia assignment should go above and beyond the affordances of a written essay or an oral presentation.

2.Think about all the options available to you – visual, aural, interactive, multimodal. Choose your medium carefully based on the lesson, or think about allowing students to choose the medium (or media) that appeal to them, and that will best express their ideas.

  • This requires you, and your students, to think about what individual media are good at. Writing is well-suited to complex arguments that unfold over several pages, and it’s also good at analysing other writing: close-reading and unpacking an especially dense paragraph, for example. Video, on the other hand, might be good at showing many examples very quickly: you can easily show 20 examples of something in the space of a minute or two, while an academic essay is often structured around only three to five major examples. What other things might individual media accomplish? What does drawing do that video can’t? And how might different forms of media combine to allow students to think and work in new ways?

3.Beware the myth of the “digital native.” Introduce students to new software gradually; don’t assume that all them have a highly technical background, or even that all of them will have access to the hardware and software being used.

  • As a corollary, make sure to ensure that students have open access to all necessary resources through your university

4. Don’t just teach tools; teach critical thinking. Help your students to see multimedia work as academic, not just a creative playground. Emphasize that an academic argument should form the core of their project, not simply aesthetic pursuits. (This reflects back on #2, however – keep in mind that what constitutes an “academic argument” might look different in various formats!)

5. Think about how your multimedia assignment fits into your course as a whole, and how it reflects your teaching philosophy. Does this use of multimedia reflect back on and cohere with other aspects of your teaching, or is this a one-off? (If it’s the latter, start to reflect on the rest of your syllabus, or go back to step 1!)

6. Set clear goals for each assignment; use a rubric if necessary, to help set expectations for students. Communicate your teaching goals to your students, and offer specific guidance about what you want them to get out of their work.

7. Use existing resources and exemplary models of multimedia practices to inspire your students and demonstrate the capacities of a given medium. Direct them to documentaries, artworks, podcasts, etc., that you enjoy and think are especially effective.

8. Helping your students to produce a polished piece of media that they can be proud of is a laudable goal, but keep in mind that a rough prototype or sketch can be just as useful as a thinking tool, and just as valid as an assessment. Throughout your instruction and assignment design, offer your students assistance and opportunities to revise as the project goes on.

9. Value the process as well as the product. Capturing the process of a multimedia assignment can be just as important as evaluating the end product. Think about ways to help students through their work, and ways in which they can demonstrate their mastery to you as they go along (such as submitting multiple drafts, with feedback and the chance to revise). Mistakes can be valuable learning experiences—allow students the room to experiment, to fail, and to learn from their frustrations.

  • This goes for your assignment design as well! Think about breaking a large assignment up into several pieces, re-assessing and updating your own assignment design as the class moves through each phase.

10. Consider the issues of ownership that accompany any online or multimedia work. These issues include copyright and fair use, but also the proprietary or open-source status of the tools themselves. Who owns the tools that you’re asking your students to use (particularly in the case of online services or software-as-a-service), and who owns the content that they produce with those tools? Where is that content hosted? Is it private for your students or your class, or accessible to the public? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each situation?

Inspired by:

This list has been inspired by my work as a media fellow at the Derek Bok Center, my own classroom teaching, and conversations with colleagues including Marlon Kuzmick, Mike Heller, Alex Rehding, and Hayley Fenn. You might like to check out some of the following videos and blog posts, which inspired some of the individual points:

 

The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. “So You Want to Design a Multimedia Assignment?” Vimeo, April 2013. https://vimeo.com/66251873.

The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. “DTF Tip: Mike Heller on Multimedia Assignments.” Vimeo, November 2013. https://vimeo.com/80478338.

Jesse Stommel. “12 Steps for Creating a Digital Assignment or Hybrid Class.” Personal blog, August, 2014. http://jessestommel.com/12-steps-for-creating-a-digital-assignment-or-hybrid-class/.

“Critically Evaluating Digital Tools: Morning Session: Assumptions.” Digital Pedagogy Lab, 2015. http://bit.ly/digpedpraxis.

 

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