Digital Media Conference (DML 2012)

The first day at DML: it was such an engaging conference and a lot of the presentations so pertinent to my personal interests and feelings about education. For one, it was refreshing to see people so excited about teaching, different types of pedagogy, and about motivating students. I think it is somewhat stupid to teach college-level students knowledge; rather we should be teaching them how to learn and make them want to learn. I find that the institutional constraints, however, prevent me from fully diverting to alternative methods aside from the standard lecture. However, I’ve been thinking of incorporating more “doing” than “listening” into my summer course this year; it will be interesting to see how that pans out.

Much of the research at the conference is based on case studies and qualitative research than the rigidly quantitative research that I am used to at MSU. Although I know some Communication professors would be horrified at the idea of drawing conclusions that are not result of a tightly-controlled experiment, such experiments are not as feasible in “real life” settings and I really appreciate the fact that those doing work in education try to assess the success of their interventions without control groups or without knowing what other external variables are affecting their interventions. I feel the things that people are doing in education are closer to the interdisciplinary work we do in the Telecommunications department; at least we both value external validity!

The conference started off with a keynote by John Seely Brown (JSB), who talked about curiosity, institutional roadblocks, and the increasing importance of transfer of knowledge. It was very similar to the talk he gave at HICSS last year but predictably awesome. He also used the same knobbly font (you can also see it on his website), one that I am unfamiliar with, a mix of Candara and Papyrus and very whimsical. The interesting thing was that he talked of concepts such as co-presence, which he said may be very important in creasing shared imagination. I immediately thought of all the research that we do in our field related to presence that could totally apply to educational contexts and thought what a shame it is that different disciplines live in academic silos and literature from one field rarely crosses over to another field despite the fact that Google Scholar now enables us to easily search across borders. All during the keynote, attendees furiously tweeted with the hashtag #dml2012, and this backchannel was streamed to two monitors the flanked the “stage”.

The day wound up with 5-minute “Ignite” Talks were extremely interesting and entertaining. Kea Anderson emphasized the opportunity for large-scale data analysis. Although I think large-scale analysis is best when triangulated with other methods, I definitely agree that identifying patterns in massive datasets is certainly something to consider when doing research. Perhaps the lack of large-scale data analysis is due to the conservative peer-review process; the recurring critique that I have received on one of my papers that did large-scale data analysis was that I did not have any information about the perception of the users… stubborn reviewers stifling innovation!

Tessa Joseph-Nicholas managed to gain the most laughs on her talk of “why zombies matter,” where she compared zombies (who are “driven by appetites they don’t understand”) to the typical undergraduate student. She suggested topics such as science fiction, racial anxiety, mind control, and hybridity as topics that could potentially de-zombie-fy bored undergraduate students.

There were also a several presentations on game-based learning, hacking, and remix. Chad Sensing said that school is basically “asking SIMS fans to play Dark Souls” and Rafi Santo said that kids need to know how to hack because we should position them as designers and makers of technology. David Cooper Moore said that students have such rich experiences, we shouldn’t use hypothetical scenarios in our classrooms but make them talk about reality. Nighart Shah claimed that remix is a “return” to the original form of knowledge or cultural production, but that we should stop thinking of remix as content so we can remix technology.

One thing that the speakers had in common was humor- people were laughing during the presentation and certainly no one was asleep. It is certainly not easy to be a funny person, and when incorporating humor into the classroom, how can you use it so that the students continue to be attentive but are able to process the information in a meaningful way? At the same time, 5-min, or even 20-minute presentations are easy to be humorous, but 3-hour lectures are much more difficult. When it comes to presentation time, I always think of Jon Zittrain and Charlie Nesson, who are starkly different in terms of how they present. JZ is the fast-paced, witty speaker with a thousand slides, continuously presenting visual and verbal stimulation through jokes. Charlie is slow, he pauses between his sentences, leaving you waiting, sometimes hanging for his next thought. Instead of answers, he provides questions. JZ leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. Charlie leaves you more curious. Both exhilirating, but so different. What would be better for my audience, the typical undergraduate student at a large Midwestern state institution?

I was able to meet several people whom I’d only seen on paper (by citing them) or through conference calls. Now when I cite someone I can conjure an image of their face. (Some senior scholars are so amiable and some so arrogant, I must continue to remind myself to not become the snobby, disagreeable scholar.) It’s always nice to see people in the flesh, which is interesting because video conference calls also allow synchronous visual communication. It makes me wonder whether there is more to co-presence than audio/visual. Does breathing the same air make a difference?

I ran over to SFMOMA to catch the 1/2-price Thursday evening deal. They had a large special exhibition of Mark Bradford’s work; the last time I saw him was at ICA in Boston a few years ago, and he has become so much more famous since then. I think I prefer his early-2000s work though compared to the newer ones. There was also a exhibition called Descriptive Acts where there was a woman with a Macbook sitting in the corner, writing in real-time about the people who came in to see the exhibition and projecting it on the wall. It was descriptive but not objective, nor very creative. She was not a very good writer in terms of descriptive writing. I stood across the room from her waiting for her to write about me, wanting to see how she would describe me, but she would not, so I was unable to make my way “into” the exhibition. I passive aggressively tweeted about her not writing about me.

My favorite was the selection of 20th century art, starting off with a beautiful Matisse and culminating with a gigantic Rothko. I rarely take any docent tours but I was lucky enough to listen to the description about Rothko and learned that he used unprimed canvases, which creates the translucent quality.

There was also an amazing installation by Jim Campbell. From underneath, the lights just look like blinking lights, but from a side-view, you can see people walking. Very cool use of computer programming for art!




One response to “Digital Media Conference (DML 2012)

  1. Pingback: » A New Crop of Digital Science Books Will Change the Way Students Learn·

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