That may be true of many rituals certainly. However, this is not true of all ritual. I would certainly not want to ignore a topic because of this definition. So, let me explain what I mean by rituals. There are, of course, many and disputed definitions. However, what I am most interested in here and think are most useful for consideration are activities that are repeated with intent to achieve other purposes than only their practical value. That’s my definition because I don’t think religion and ceremony is crucial to what I or many of you want to be talking about here. Is this an adequate definition (if you are willing to engage positively with the idea of ritual)? If not, how would you adjust it?
Accepting that my definition is…acceptable. What kinds of rituals do you perform?
What do you do I wonder? These are just some quick ideas I’ve typed up. I’m sure you have a much broader and more interesting range of things you do than this.
The things students have around exams or essay writing are obvious places, ritual is enacted at universities in January. How we make social contact and then help these transition into friendships and then maintain them are often other kinds of rituals we develop. These are all crucial to sustaining our working and learning lives I think you would all agree - which is why I mention them here.
However, back specifically to teaching and learning. Here is something a little more directed in terms of ritual. One of the things that made me think about this was a conversation I had with my colleague Tom Rhodes. He works with and so gets to visit City College. Yes, that City College. The one that is part of our International Faculty in Thessaloniki, Greece. It sounds especially nice on days like this.
He mentioned to me how Petros Kefalas (a VP at City College who some of you may have met at last week’s LTE conference) had talked about a ritual they have there to deal with feedback. It seems to have been effective as I believe their feedback scores improved with the introduction of this ritual. Let me tell you it as I understand the ritual (this is always the interesting part about these repeated experiences: how rituals get understood and then get relayed quite often - perhaps almost reliably - are not exactly as they were, as an article yesterday pointed out).
The City College ritual is quite simple. They now have a specific class called a “Feedback Session” for modules. They did this so that students would know exactly when they were getting feedback. At the beginning of the session, all tutors were asked to introduce it literally with the words, “Welcome to the Feedback Session.”
Then they explain what feedback is. Part of the reason for doing this, is that different students (particularly when English is not their first language, but even when they think they understand) have different expectations of what feedback is and what is reasonable.
Finally, at the end of the session, tutors are asked to end it with, “I have now given you feedback. This has been your Feedback Session.”
Ideally, I guess they are hoping that when students are asked in questionnaires if they have had face-to-face feedback, they will answer “yes” because of these repetitions that are being set up. Hopefully, connections are genuinely made and students will be able to honestly and happily say, “Yes, I was given feedback and here is what I thought…”.
A couple of articles of interest on ritual in the classroom:
This link is worth going to mainly because of its extensive bibliography on ritual in the classroom (most of these references are for books and have an elementary/secondary focus so this is for those of you with a wish to look into this subject more in-depth).
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
I enjoyed it. I went in “civvies” and clapped and cheered from the audience supporting people I knew graduating. That might have been inappropriate from the stage. What became clear to me is how many people I knew graduating and on stage that I hadn’t necessarily expected to see, but it was nice to be there with them as well.
It was a pleasure to be there with strangers as well. It felt almost like gatecrashing a wedding (not that I actually know what that feels like I should point out): seeing the proud faces of families, the anticipation and the joy. I was surrounded by the sense that I was sharing an important moment in their lives.
Marie Kinsey from Journalism was reading names out with ever-perfect pronunciation and dulcet voice and PVC Paul White was officiating with just the right tone and speech. If I was inclined to that sort of thing, it would have brought a tear to the eye. As I am, it made me bounce up at the end and clap very enthusiastically (and dedicatedly) for each and every student as they left the hall.
For some, many even, music or smells are an important aspect of ritual. These appeal to non-verbal parts of the brain. I would appreciate someone with actual expertise in this area making a point here as my knowledge is limited. I saw a fascinating “Arts and Science Encounters” evening last year about Birdsong (What do nightingales, Messiaen, and brain science have in common?) that still echoes in my mind.
Professor Tim Birkhead (Animal and Plant Sciences), Professor Peter Hill (Music), and Professor Lawrence Parsons (Psychology) talked about their different research into the area of birdsong. Parsons in particular showed the effect of birdsong on the brain (and different parts of the brain), and how different people with different training and sensitivities could “sense” and respond to birdsong differently. This was very graphically shown by recording brain activity when they heard birdsong: it literally activated more parts of some people’s brains. I wonder perhaps if ritual activates more parts of some people’s brains?
Regardless, England’s own Elgar and his “Pomp and Circumstance” is certainly a favourite with many at or when thinking about graduations. If you’ve never listened to the whole thing (perhaps it is required listening in the UK, I suspect it is, but must admit it is not where I come from and think that I’ve only largely heard the “best bits” excerpts over and over again) there is a vaguely disconcerting YouTube video with photo montage and brief overview of his life here. Very average sound on that link though with some tricks obviously being performed that we can’t see (just imagine what robed scholars could be getting up to onstage). So if you care about sound, maybe avoid this version and find something better.
Going with my birdsong theory (I have one, stick with me), if - as indeed I now shall theorise here and now for you based on conjecture and not much else - “Pomp and Circumstance” has more cultural and personal connections for people (than say me): listening to it would activate more parts of their brain and perhaps make any event at which it was played somehow more meaningful to them if it fit in with their expectations of how and why it should be used (if it was incongruously played perhaps this might be different, but then they might get more upset than I would as well). Thus, using certain sounds and smells can stimulate certain people into feeling certain ways and make them more open perhaps to its significance. That’s it. That’s my birdsong theory.
I can see just how important it was to the people in the audience that the academics be there on stage. Birdsong-theory-wise, this activates all sorts of connections in their mind. Not the least of which is that universities contain academics and that academics are not only connected with teaching them but do and signify all sorts of other things. Learning in general, possibility and achievement perhaps are just a few of some positive associations that many would make at events like this with the people representing the University on stage.
Thus, simply by sitting there in robes the academics contributed meaning. There are a number of important stages we go through in life and yet very few formal ceremonies that we have that actually mark these transitions. Mark Smith from Education Department at the University of Strathclyde talks here about criticisms that the formality of these rituals make them elitist and talks more generally about the purpose he thinks rituals serve (he studies ritual).
What is important about the graduation ritual specifically? This article from the U.S. about high school graduation ceremonies makes the key point: it’s not the speech it’s the people gathering together that matters. Certain things are on display - and when peopple react to ritual and tradition this is often what they object to - but this above article makes the point that those are superficial in some ways. It is the moment and gathering together that marks one point of a life ending and another beginning in a very tangible way. Rituals can mark all sorts of things (small rituals that signify “now we are beginning class in a positive way” and so on).
So, why have I bothered to write about this? Two reasons.
First, rituals make things (that otherwise might be lost) become significant. How can/do you use ritual in your teaching or learning to make things significant that might otherwise be lost?
Second, remember my own special birdsong theory. Why? Okay, admittedly my hypothesis may not be directly based in fact. But there is a point: you can activate and make things meaningful to people through more things than words. In fact (yes, a fact from Nadine but I’m not going to source it, I don’t want to blow your minds or anything): only 7% of what we communicate is verbal in face-to-face encounters. Yes, 7%. A full 38% is communicated through tone and the remaining 55% (over half, that needs exclamation marks!!!!) is communicated through body language. In some ways, that’s not surprising to me. But, the idea that words are only 7% important is. So how you communicate is crucial and just talking is not enough. Consider other methods to communicate your messages as well. I guess I should stop writing now since words do not seem to be as important as I like to think.
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
I was talking about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I can spell that without looking now and think I can pronounce it - at least in my own special way) and flow “yesterday”. Click here if you want to read that post.
I should point out that I started reading the book “Finding Flow” because of a couple of fascinating conversations I had National Teaching Fellow at Sheffield Hallam Colin Beard whose area of expertise is experiential Learning.
Beard references Csikszentmihalyi in his book in some very interesting ways and so I followed it up. Before I go on though, this brings me to the idea of becoming “expert” (which I think is an important underlying concept to Csikszentmihalyi’s theories). If you want to be “good” at something, then you have to practice it. Deliberately practice it over and over again.
“In 1993, a researcher named K. Anders Ericsson published a paper called “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” (you can click the link to download the original full paper) were he developed a general theoretical framework for the development of expertise by examining the development of expertise across a variety of different domains to see what commonalities arose.
There is also a time constraint with Ericsson assuming that improvement was related in a monotonic fashion to the amount of practice time put in. This idea had actually been stated before in terms of the 10-year rule. That is, on average, from beginning an activity to the development of expertise, it takes roughly 10 years of proper practice or so (in some domains, it may take longer than that). Others put this in terms of hours with approximately 10,000 hours of practice being required to develop expertise.
In that vein, one commonality among expert performers (compared to non-expert performers) is that they engage in deliberate practice for longer periods than non-expert performers. And over years, this adds up enormously. That is, consider someone engaging in 3 hours of practice per day vs. 1 hour of practice per day and this is done 4 days per week (208 day/year) and how that adds up over years of practice.” For more on becoming an expert and these ideas, click here.
So it seems that perseverance and determination are the deciding factors over the long-term in truly mastering (please no comments about the sexist terminology here, I know, I know) something. What do you spend your time becoming an expert at? We often see ourselves as specialists in various subjects…but what do we actually spend the various 10,000 hours of our lives doing? Is it what we think? This very powerfully suggests that the things we do over and over again are the things that we become expert at.
Csikszentmihalyi goes further to talk about the quality of attention and intent (our motivation) that we bring to these repeated tasks that make them significant and then have some sort of accumulative effect.
He talks about transforming energy and creative solutions (from a position of psychic entrophy which is most destructive: the moments when we lack motivation and yet are still obliged to do various things). There is no one answer, for some people this may mean learning to do boring tasks while waiting in queues. For others, it means learning to relax and let go. However, he warns about becoming too focussed.
Hyper-productivity is not the goal as it does not produce balanced or truly successful people (if success is seen holistically where attention and time given to work and relationships and leisure are all taken into account).
“A group of people is kept together by two kinds of energy: material energy provided by food, warmth, physical care, and money; and the psychic energy of people investing attention in each other’s goals.” (Csikszentmihalyi 110) This is as important at work as it is for families and friendships and other types of communities.
Thus, according to Csikszentmihalyi achieving “flow” (and thus that ecstactic feeling of creativity, harmony, spontanteity and reward) with your work, friends, partners or colleagues is a process that takes investment: of time, practice, discipline, attention and investment (caring for both material and psychic aspects).
He goes further to say, “It is not enough to be happy to have an excellent life. The point is to be happy while doing things that stretch our skills, that help us grow and fulfill our potential. This is especially true in the early years: A teenager who feels happy doing nothing is unlikely to grow into a happy adult.” (Csikszentmihalyi 122)
Instead, it seems an attitude of curiosity is the greatest gift that can be nurtured in a child and what predicts “true happiness”. Creative individuals often “achieve breakthroughs because they have surplus psychic energy to invest in apparently trivial objects. The neuropsychologist Brenda Milner describes the attitude she has toward work, which is shared by other scientists or artists at the frontiers of their field: ‘I would say I am impartial about what is important or great, because every new little discovery, even a tiny one, is exciting at the moment of discovery.” (Csikszentmihalyi 124)
If you want to find out about the book “Finding Flow” go/click here.
In that vein, I wish you a 2010 full of a multitude of discoveries large and small.
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
You may recognise this name because yesterday I was briefly mentioned his name in a post about Zorba the Greek and his book Finding Flow. Click here to read that first post.
How do people feel really happy and what makes people’s lives meaningful? This is what Csikszentmihalyi’s research is about. He talks about an ecstactic state that people achieve when doing activities and work and then explains how and why they achieve this: the connected ideas of flow, discipline and creativity.
It is this state of flow and how to live a life that achieves these kind of experiences that is the focus of Csikszentmihalyi’s book Finding Flow.
He points out in the video above that you need training, discipline and skill (at least 10 years) to achieve that “higher level” of those moments of effortless creativity and flow. This is, of course, a good thing for higher education.
So, higher states come from practice and skill. Csikszentmihalyi, rather importantly in thinking about the concept of assessment and how students learn to learn here in HE I think, starts off his discussion with motivation. How do the reasons for why people do things and the motivations behind motivations actually affect satisfaction?
He goes on to look at work experiences in terms of class and gender and its intrinsic rewards. Conversely then, he looks at leisure. Neither, makes a life complete. In fact, while many of us longfor an increased amount of spare time, research shows that it does not improve the quality of our lives unless it is used in very particular ways (which he does go onto explain).
I’ll talk a little more about some of the way his ideas can be applied in work situations tomorrow.
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
For example, colleague Paul Wigfield clued me into Odiogo (which produces the “Listen Now” logo box that you can click on underneath the title of this post and then listen to this post instead of reading it as an MP3 file or via iTunes). Now, very few people use this option and sometimes the server is down and it does not work (I have no control over this as it is an external provider, sorry). But if you have a visual impairment - or like me - at times spend all day at a computer and can’t be bothered to spend another minute staring at a screen but quite like to be read to…well then, it was a simple option to add to this website so that you can have all these posts read to you. I find the automated voice not too annoying. It works at least much of the time (I think) and opens up the accessibility. Paul’s the man.
But I’m coming back here before flowing onto flow as promised because I’ve been playing with visual deficits and it’s fun online. You can finally really see how and why you do need to change things. I know, for example, that light green and yellow are hard for some people to see. But this hasn’t really helped me in knowing which colours to choose then when designing something complicated (and if you know me, I always be choosing the complicated :-), some of us can’t help it).
This may seem a bit silly, but if you have to prepare any handouts or write any online content it is something you should be aware of. It took me a long time to figure out some of the basics. And I’m still trying to get there.
Of course many of you are trying to do the same from all sorts of different angles, disciplines and purposes. There are people all over the university supporting and giving advice on how to do this as well. Some more links: there is the Inclusive Curricula project which has short tips pages and suggestions (many given by students): here are possibly their most relevant page of tips (one page .pdfs) click here for tips on “designing/preparing for individual needs” and click here for a second page of tips on “presentations that work”.
But, the real reason I’m posting is because of Vischeck Image. Here is a website that actually shows you how people with colourblindness see the world…all you do is upload a picture file or website and they visually compare/show you how people with and without visual impairments would view it. Cool. Let me show you an example:
One more website that is worth checking out: the AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability) Design Resources website. Check it out. A comprehensive resource list of all sorts of things to do with regards to disability and design.
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
Kazantzakis’ Zorba is an interesting mix of Buddhist, Nietzschean, Communist and Christian philosophies told through the eyes of a self-confessed bookworm who spends times with the ever-lusty and passionate Zorba. In some ways, the book makes some very simplistic distinctions between living in the body and the mind. Ah, the sexist and sexy Zorba. This is a book that explores joie de vivre in a very masculine way. It is no wonder that the Beat writers were so impressed by it and Kazantzakis. However, at his best, Kazantzakis makes me think about the purpose of life and how one should live and work towards these goals through the extremes of his characters and their actions. To extend this to where we are and work: why universities? What is the purpose of higher education (HE)? What motivates you and your learning and/or teaching here within these structures and more generally within your life? Large questions, some answers are obvious and others are not.
The character Zorba always reminds me of Picasso…for some reason I can’t separate the two in my mind. I’ve just finished reading Chaim Potok’s book My Name is Asher Lev and a couple lines from there keep repeating in my head. In it, a famous sculptor is explaining something about art history to his prodigy pupil Asher Lev.
The sculptor says, ”there are two ways of painting the world. In the whole history of art, there are only these two ways. One is the way of Greece and Africa, which sees the world as geometric design. The other is the way of Persia and India and China, which sees the world as a flower. Ingres, Cézanne, Picasso paint the world as geometry. Van Gogh, Renoir, Kandinsky, Chagall paint the world as a flower.” Here the sculptor is separating the world into people who reduce the world - at it’s most basic - to either: form (Picasso) or colour/light (Matisse).
It seems to me that there is something of this in literature as well. If so, Kazantzakis and Csikszentmihalyi are geometrists I think. Is Zorba himself though? How does this help us understand the world and our own motivations and, more to the point, learning and teaching? Well, I think it helps to understand that people come from different traditions and motivations and see the world in different ways. The way that people see and understand the world also motivates them, affects their approach and achievements in furthering their learning and engagement and even what they believe is possible.
In Zorba, the main question/possibility is whether one can be free. In My Name is Asher Lev it asks how one can truly express yourself and your creativity in the context of the structures and traditions that both support and constrict you. Could we consider these questions for HE (rather than as an expression of masculinity as in Zorba or of individualism as in Asher Lev)?
Many people have argued that - in opposition to helping people to think - the structures of HE can be restrictive. Even Peter Williams, “former chief executive of the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency, told the World Innovation Summit for Education that too many accreditation systems were stifling innovation.” How do we avoid this at least personally in our own approach and motivations? How can we be “free” to create and produce? Csikszentmihalyi, in his book Finding Flow, offers some very specific answers that I will discuss tomorrow.
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
I suppose, at their best, that’s what blogs can do: they can inspire and excite you. Some people think that blogs are like diaries, others argue for them more as being a way to convey news (I pretty much divide the world into emotion and fact people - rightly or wrongly - and think this also reveals their own biases as to which utility they think it is best suited for). At most basic, they can show you new perspectives in an informal and casual way regardless of the end result. Or they can give you an insight into how other people think and feel. They can take you on a journey in a way that you would never be otherwise able to travel with them.
I wanted to focus on a different “type” of blogs that are interesting and easy to maintain as that seems to be the falldown with blogs for most people. They start off with all sorts of enthusiasm…and then stop because they simply can be a lot of work or people run out of things to say. So, how do you avoid this in terms of documenting research progress or teaching/classroom applications?
Some are sort of visual literary reviews of a sort (you may not agree with the rather superficial example I’m about to show you) but they certainly could be used that way. For example, there is a whole world of fashion blogs (hey, everyone says you should write about what you know and I am a Fashion Doctor sort of literally). One of the major divides in these blogs is between their focus on either high and street fashions (appreciating the “art” and consumer status etc. in the high fashion blogs, while appreciating the creativity or authorship of often anonymous people on the street in the street fashion ones). However, at their best, they often are witty and interesting and even political.
For example, Trend de la creme blog takes trends and themes in fashions and compares how different designers are using them each season. And then, there are just some fun connections where they look at possible similarities and inspirations (such as dna patterns for a collection) or here: comparing runway fashions with fairy(cup)cakes. Getting students to make visual comparisons and connections like this is certainly a possibility and one that does not have to be limited to sweet sweetnesses.
Another take on the fashion blog is the “people in the street” version. These often have a particular focus/obsession. For example, there are an increasing number of Cycle Chic blogs which show cool photos of people riding bikes. Yup, that’s it. But it is strangely mesmerising. Go here for the Danish design version and then compare it here with our very own Sheffield version. Some argue that the point with these blogs is to get people used to riding bikes in all sorts of clothes, weather, shapes, places, situations etc. and that by simply providing more and more images that show this, then it becomes more of a possibility for people. Seeing is believing.
An obvious one that might have some use-ability is the “photo-a-day” blog. Some people do this in glorious style and tell fascinating stories about themselves, or places, or …. The idea is simple. You commit to a basic concept (self-portrait, documenting a project or experience or simply a place-over-time, or sometimes this is all about an obsession such as images of trains - some are more specific like trees you have climbed - or really good food you have eaten…not that this would have any relevance to me in any way, ha ha ha ha…that’s, um, funny and completely irrelevant…I’m changing the subject now but I’ve done/looked at these on Flickr which sort of cuts out the whole blog and purely focuses on the pics) and then do it regularly.
I remember reading and liking the Julie/Julia blog (about a woman trying all the Julia Childs cookbook recipes over a year), but it was word-based. This was at the beginning of the blog-boom I should point out (it started around 2002 I think). Unless, someone actually wants to become a writer or really loves the writing of the blogger, who has the time (ha, ha, ha…completely irrelevant and I’m changing the subject now)?
What many people have noted about blogs is that they take a lot of thought…and writing to keep up. Hence the infiltration of easier and quicker ways to document…well, whatever really. The point here in setting a task for students would be to get them to focus and do something achievable. How fascinating if students were asked to collect data on snails every day for a semester? To interpret that in any and every way possible could lead to all sorts of creative and fascinating connections. I might even do it myself. The restrictions of things like Twitter (which limit your words) and YouTube (which limit how much video you can upload) actually work in their favour I think. They somehow become less overwhelming when you have less choice. I think with students, yourself etc. the idea here is limiting what your tasks and goals are.
So for these blogs, the key to their success is focus, focus, focus and niche audiences.
Blogs have become much more visual since Julie/Julia as well (notice the complete lack of photso in this post, ha ha ha…changing the subject again). Here are some posts that explain the idea:
Does this give you any ideas? Wondering how could you apply this concept? Well, it doesn’t have to have consistent and regular postings (although there is something quite nice about intense and short posts that only last a certain period with specific intent and then end) certainly. What would it have to have to make it work/achievable for you and your students? How have you done this already? Let me and the rest of us know.
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
For example, are you colour blind? Here is an online quiz that will test you. I cannot take responsibility for their accuracy, this is - literally - quack science to have a computer quiz diagnose you, but may suggest or confirm if you think you see colours differently than other people.
The best book I have read about colour blindness is by Oliver Sacks.
This book describes his own travels to a series of Pacific islands (and his love of ferns which obsessive readers of his like myself already know about) to study populations with a high incidence of colourblindness and the concomitant effects.
I sent around an email to my colleagues asking for information about accessibility and the use of colours in handouts, developing graphics, websites, overheads etc.
Through the University of Sheffield, we have a very good website called the Skills for Access site which I am sure many of you have used. Here is the section on colour deficit with helpful links etc.
Another website which has many resources (specifically targeted at technology) is the JISC service Techdis. Trish Murray even points out that you can view your website/graphic as someone who is red/green colourblind might see it. Go here for their resources on visual impairment.
Why post this about colourblindness? There are, and this is of course just an estimate: 783,519 people in the UK that view the world in this way. This is only one issue related to colour or visual aids. So, something to consider. Of course, The Daily Mail did post an article in September announcing that there had been a “cure” found for monkeys so maybe this will sort itself out shortly.
Are there any other links I should put up here?
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
A very simple way of pop cultural quotation is something that combines one image with an unexpected sound. See this Star Wars montage with the television show MacGyver music. It’s not very witty, but you get the idea and it does convey and immediate idea just through me describing it if you know the show and film (Stanley Kubrick was one of the “high art” original masters of this doing this quite famously in a number of his films - classical music and mushroom cloud - and this is the same sort of idea…in a much more basic kind of way).
But, this is probably not the kinds of mash-ups that you will be encountering or thinking about using. However, this is possibly important to understand anyway (even if you do not care about it frankly for personal use) because the majority of your students most certainly do. If you watch the television show Glee (a friend just sent me the first 7 episodes - brilliant!), they talk about mash-ups a fair bit there. How and what do they do it? The kids blend two completely different songs into one. Sounds a bit basic, but if you like pop music and “jazz hands” (oh, I do!) then it is a bit brilliant. Here is a song on the teaching theme combining two different songs: “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Young Girl”.
There is a certain type of quotation that has developed over the past 20 years (some might say 30 years pointing to rap and other kinds of sampling) at least in popular culture. In popular culture (as opposed to high culture), who has created something is becoming less important than how it is used and what it is contrasted with. Thus, originality is not what makes you of interest to other people. Your cultural literacy and ability to “quote”, remix and “remake” cultural material is.
These entertain and make people think just as art always has. What they make people think about is perhaps what is open for debate as is the word entertain. People certainly use that word derisively when they say, “Well, I want to teach my students, not just entertain them.” I’ve always wondered what is wrong with entertaining people if you help them learn as well. Do the two have to be opposed? Why does learning have to be boring or serious as the above statement suggests? There, I’ve said it.
In mash-ups and its associated products, the whole idea is entertainment. These are not streamlined or slick long-term products. They are short-term, and rather fun, fluff. Yet, to be able to understand them, you do have to be “educated” and have a background (often in specific sub-cultures) in the first place or figure it out/do research yourself. There are various levels of “unpacking” or analysis that go on by the people who use or “receive” the mash-ups. This is actually an interesting point where much independent and inquiry-based learning can take place in my opinion. Mash-ups can be like puzzles. Interesting and entertaining ones at that.
For example, how many types of mixing and matching can you identify in this Pogues video of Cole Porter’s 1934 “Miss Otis Regrets” featuring Kirsty MacColl below? Is this even a mash-up? Why am I starting with this? To give you an idea about the limits and boundaries of what might and might not count. Some would argue “yes” and others “no”.
Decide for yourself. This is artist-produced but still does emphasise “slick” (this even seems an aesthetic choice), has some emphasis on DIY (making references to punk if only via clothing and demeanour) and importantly spontaneity. The choreography is mixing all different types of dance (mixing it up is important). Costumes change as does song style, tempo, rhythm and voices. So, what do you think? Is it one and how much mising did you find? I want numbers!
Most people are initially concerned with their creation so let’s go back to that. Is this plagiarism? Well, it certainly is coming from a very different mindset and culture. The people who are offering them are often “fans” not “artists” (although this crosses over more and more just as reality tv show participants become “stars” however briefly).
They engage with the things they love and with each other via mash-ups. I’ll explore this a little today because I have a background as a Film and Cultural Studies lecturer with a particular interest in things like music videos and fan culture. So mash me baby one more time!
Did you get that (admittedly) sort of lame quote I’m, um, trying to quote at you? Mashing Britney Spears and mashing. Mash-tastic! If you did, then you are ready to play the mash-up game. If you did not, then you are missing some basic pop culture literacy skills and not understanding the whole point of cultural quotation which may be for a couple of reasons.
I’ve just made these up as I go along this morning so I could be missing some. Feel free to add or suggest more or shout me down.
What is important here I think is that this is a popular form of quotation and not limited to high art/avant garde artists. One might argue that this kind of more exclusive creation of art depends upon a development and personal cultivation of a vocabulary of quotation. And it is by this making it personal (this stamping it with authorship - this is commonly called “Auteur Theory”, developed by French theorists like Andre Bazin after World War 2, and lead to the specific researching of, admiration and focus on a wide variety of directors such as Jean Luc Godard, Mike Leigh, and Sally Potter ) that their quotation of culture and other people becomes art.
When the rest of us try to make other people’s words our own, it is simply entertainment or even plagiarism. Perhaps it has something to do wtih skill and practice and talent. It almost certainly does. Is this right or fair that a personal quotation vocabulary is limited to artists though? Why does the label “artist” or even “academic” are allowed and ascribed certain types of quotation and certain types of knoweldge and while someone else - e.g. a fan or student - who does not claim this title for themselves are not?
I think mash-ups make people often feel uncomfortable because they challenge and cross these boundaries and question who has the “right” to use and quote and make material and art and entertainment and knowledge and learning in our society and where and how that happens. I am certainly not suggesting that there are not much broader issues currounding plagiarism within and without the University. However, they run alongside a popular culture artform which is fascinates me in its very different purpose, strategies and intent than in academic writing and culture.
Something to think about. I’ll continue in the next post about actual applications in HE.
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
People are talking about Web 3.0 already I know. But for most of us, I know that we’ve barely begun to come to terms with what Web 2.0 really means and how it means working and interacting differently with each other. And, it does have radical implications. It is a completely different mode of communication. So those of you who are suspicious of all this new technology are perhaps right to question it because it will take a lot of understanding (it has taken me years of working in this area now to truly begin to figure out what and how it can work best for me and my needs) and adaptation. However, this does seem increasingly to be the way that the world is moving so it does need to be engaged with I think.
Two main things I like about it are its 1) ephemera-factor and 2) geek-ability.
1) By the ephemera-factor I mean those tiny, local moments that are usually only able to be shared by the few and the privileged who are there. They happen in-between what we think are the important bits of our lives, but when we look back it’s those tiny moments that often matter the most or that it’s precisely then that somehow things change for us or click somehow. At least that is how it is for me. Maybe it’s because those moments are the moments that I don’t expect anything from and they sneak up on me.
Needless to say, tiny moments are thus often unreflected upon and forgotten as well until at some point in the future at least for me when I am looking back or - for a project like the teachingcommons - trying to think about how to capture tiny moments or tracing the casual interactions that actually change things.
With Web tools, you are now, better than ever before, able to find people who share similar interests or who know what you need to know and who want (or care) to help you. Or to capture tiny moments. Is it worthwhile? Sometimes it is I suppose. Sometimes it is not. We all have limited time and energy and other priorities. Working this way means trying to become aware of tiny or ephemeral moments and feeling that they are worth capturing in the first place and that is a significant paradigm shift. It means opening yourself up to a new kind of community and communication and pace of life. Truly taking on the Web 2.0 ethos means a different way of sensing and capturing and interacting with the world. At a more basic level, it could simply mean exploring or pursuing an interest with and through other people rather than by yourself.
One example: I love Christmas music. It is an interest that I keep mostly hidden and stuffed away in my Christmas boxes for most of the year. I share/inflict this on my nearest and dearest only 4-6 weeks of the year (as even I cannot sustain this passion for any longer but I do listen to this music as much as possible during November and December).
However, I must admit, this has pretty much always been a single-sided love. I have searched out the Christmas music (mainly online or in libraries) and then made connections etc in my mind and enthused and danced and sung along by myself. This is something I am generally happy to do. I don’t need to share all my interests with people so I don’t play them all 6 versions I have of “In the Bleak Midwinter.” That would make most people give up the will to live.
People who love me allow me to play my music for a certain amount of time and sometimes react with surprise that it “was not as bad as I expected”. They even have requests but then begin to look pained after an hour…maybe two if they really adore me. My tolerance would begin to wear thin in January. So I have never actually shared this with anyone who actually cares for Christmas music in the way I do.
I should clarify that for me I believe that I am a discerning Christmas music lover (many would disagree although they are - of course - mistaken). The more obscure or unusual the Christmas music the better. I like jazz and blues variations on variations and alternative/punk B-sides and so on but they also have to be “good” not just obscure for obscurity’s sake. So, using Web tools, I could go use something like social bookmarking (on sites like Digg or delicious, here’s a link that talks about uses for social bookmarking) to let other people know what my definition of “good” is and which are the best places for them to go to watch the best Christmas songs etc.
2) I could write a blog about Christmas carols all year long and become an expert on the topic…. Wait, I’m sure there already is someone who does. Oh yes, there is. And they are cool too (oh course they are, it’s such a cool hobby). The Christmas A Go Go! Blog. Very much fun and all at your fingertips, click here. This is what I mean by the geek-ability factor but it goes beyond this because it can actually help you connect with people (either here in the university - you can use all these concepts I am talking about in uSpace - or elsewhere).
If I want to start talking to them and develop relationships with people that I can actually start sharing this passion with, all I have to do is comment on blog posts for example (cough), and they will probably respond (yes they would, speaking from experience)…and voila!
After awhile of doing this, you might share more information privately via email. Some people eventually develop “real” friendships and even see each other. Others maintain more sort penpal types of acquaintances with each other, but it is a way to trade information or talk about interests that no one in your immediate/local circle may share. What might happen from there is that we follow each other on Twitter or become friends on Facebook if you’re into those kinds of things. Or you might just decide to limit your interactions online (Web 2.0 can take up an increasing amount of time) and keep simply post questions in discussions/chats every once in awhile.
This is a disturbing hobby to some, but unbeknownst to me originally, I moved to one of the best places in the world to indulge this love: Sheffield! Oh Hail! Smiling Morn! The Sheffield carols. Although many don’t know what I am talking about, you can find out more if you click here.
For example, I learned about “Sweet Bells” via a colleague telling about his 3 year old’s current obsession for putting Kate Rusby’s CD on repeat. I then went to YouTube and watched a couple different versions of it (7). I learned a live version of it the next week and so things began to build and virtual and real life began to build upon one another. I then looked up the history of it on Wikipedia (and looked at who had contributed to it from the area and so on).
Many of you don’t seem to understand how and why people might share information via social networking and Web tools. Specifically with social netowrking, what you share is up to you, however, it is usually those little tidbits of information that let people feel that they know a little bit of your life: you are sharing tiny moments I suppose or the bits of your life that would be lost if you don’t post them. If these are people you meet irregularly and they ask you how you’ve been, these are probably not things you are going to mention.
So your daughter singing “Sweet Bells” over and over and over again is exactly the sort of thing someone might post on Twitter or a Facebook Status update: “Daughter has Kate Rusby on repeat, over and over and over again…oh sweet chiming bells!” Others post questions, others post where they’ve been or are going, and still others post videos (not me though, I wouldn’t dare post Christmas carols or anything…um, noooo).
I hear that Dungworth is especially worth going to Sunday lunch sometime because it is sweet carol singing perfection. busy of course. You can visit yourself, or watch a rousing local version of “The Holly and the Ivy” sung there last year:
This is where Web 2.0 excels I think. Someone obviously posted this after they had been there (obviously). It captures the feeling and the sense of being there and is a moment that would otherwise only exist in those people’s memories. And, it captures local and niche cultures that are increasingly proliferating and developing thanks to the Internet and social networking sites and forums etc that support people contacting each other and sharing their interests and experiences.
I’m glad that Davidburbidge - whomever he is - the YouTube user that took this video actually posted it. This video has made me smile all morning. I’ve listened to it at least 20 times. We have nothing to do with each other, not really. Do we even have a shared interest in carols? Possibly not. He might be posting the carols for another reason. However, I’ve found this video and am watching it for this purpose and so it has brought us together for this moment in an interesting way that can only be facilitated through and by the way that Web 2.0 does. Think about the things you experience that seem small but that other people might like to share. They don’t have to be perfect partially because you don’t know what and how other people will want out of or use them for…quoting, mash-ups and sourcing: is this plagiarism? Web 2.0 is based on a pop culture aesthetic that is steeped in an idea of sharing and showing. This is almost the anti-thesis to the quotation and sourcing culture of universities. What does this mean in and for HE? Something for the next post.
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>
What was interesting about that movement and what has stayed with me, which had a lot in common and drew upon some very similar ideologies to punk, is a commitment the DIY ethic. DIY stands for do-it-yourself: do not give your power away. This was the idea that things do not have to look “fancy” or “slick” to have an important message. In fact, it was a recognition that often a focus on form gets in the way of content.
And this is where judgements about high vs low culture often come in. Skill and discipline versus spontaneity and freedom of expression. This is why The Sex Pistols or The Clash, for example, were so radical in their way. Yes, their musical skills were questionable, but they expressed which - for example - many felt more skilled performers at the time did not.
The DIY approach emphasises equality, ease, sharing and opinions. So, I suppose one could suggest that the teachingcommons was based upon a punk aesthetic. Someone on the Board suggested that we do a remake of “London Calling” by The Clash (with Sheffield in the title and appropriate lyrics references obviously) to represent what was going on in terms of learning and teaching here at the University of Sheffield.
Possibly, not what you would expect from an University project. But we were consciously going for a lowtech approach. The idea “lowtech” sums up all my points really. I could end my entire post there. But if any of you know my writing you know I never could or would. So let me just unpack that a little…or a lot.
What is lowtech?
It possibly also suggests something that is not commissioned, where people are free to express whatever they truly feel needs to be said and to reflect what is actually happening in their day-to-day experiences.
More specifically, the teachingcommons did not want to reproduce research culture where people prepare papers to present to colleagues at the face-to-face events we held. This was something we discussed at length at the teachingcommons Board. The final question someone asked was “Who has the time when there are so many demands on time? This needs to be easy.”
More formal presentations would also severely limit the people who could or would contribute to the project and we wanted a wide variety of people to speak and write and go on camera talking about how they feel and what they do. The teachingcommons was also not just a once or twice a year thing. Certainly people dipped in and out when it suited them, but it needed to be easy because it was running all throughout the academic year.
We know that teaching and learning can be generally similar regardless of your area but the specifics can be very different. Thus, short introductions to what people were interested in or doing seemed to make sense so that people could follow up themselves to find out more information and talk about what could be transferable in private. Yes…the teachingcommons was based on the idea that if you wanted to know more, you would have to do the further research yourself perhaps by contacting a colleague and talking to them.
It was an interesting way to develop a broader sense of community outside departments which is something the teachingcommons helped achieved. One of the ways was from people following up people they met through the teachingcommons to continue conversations…and really who doesn’t want to talk about what they do?
This decision was made upon research that shows that people do not read or do major research on the Internet. If there are really interested in something, most will still print it out or download it. So after some initial experimentation with variations on this, it was decided that effort should not be placed into putting lots of information up onto the internet sites in formal ways like case studies. People were increasingly responding to and coming to things like the blog and the face-to-face events. Besides, there are very few people who don’t find it flattering to be asked to tell you more about themselves. Thus, we simply needed to point people in the right direction and start conversations and trust that colleagues could finish them.
One of the most fundamental points behind the teachingcommons was this idea of trust. Trusting that you (staff and students) were doing interesting things and that we didn’t actually need to be telling you what to do in the first place but that you needed to be telling us what you were doing. So, we tried to find a variety of different formats for you to do that in that were not already available.
And that’s it. The lowtech approach of the teachingcommons and another reason we (the Board chose this name as part of the recognition of the re-orientation towards this aesthetic/approach) renamed and re-launched the project last year.
And, I suppose, just as some people prefer opera to blues, while others like a bit of both, we’ve had a similar scale of reactions (possibly in line with these taste preferences if you’re following my argument here). In general though, it has been an experiment that has pushed some boundaries and expanded others and we’ve been very lucky for the support and participation and welcome we’ve reception we’ve had for this approach. Who knew so many people liked to rock out at the University of Sheffield :-)?
Nadine Wills, LeTS/CILASS]]>