Category Archives: Uncategorized

RMIT won’t negotiate

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.58.23 AMLiam Ward and I whipped together these vids about the forthcoming NTEU strike action:

Short compilation

Caroline Norma on casuals

Liam Ward on casuals

Melissa Slee “Why we’re striking” [short]

Ruth Barton on academic workloads

Liam Ward on academic workloads

Bruno Doring “Why I’m striking”

Melissa Slee “Why we’re striking”

Bruno Doring on professional staff development

Ruth Barton on casuals

More info on the NTEU’s position at RMIT.

Magic meets fantasy

Giving a nod to the work of the seminal figures in a discipline is just as important as paying heed to new developments, so here’s one of the founding fathers of animation and former magician, George MélièsTrip to the moon (1902). Méliès was recently given reverential treatment in Hugo (2011), directed by Martin Scorsese.

Contemporary directors and cinematographers should remember and respect the magic of the moving image, its-real-but-not-real status. If you’re not trading on that conundrum, it seems to me that you’re not embracing the medium. Animators might routinely do this, but often their work is derivative, or not particularly innovative. We should all remember the whimsical innovations of Méliès, and try to emulate him in spirit.

Victoria Kallsen argues that we are Destroying the magic of cinema, one gadget at a time by introducing add-on media that splits our attention – media that we access on our phone or tablet, allowing us to engage in conversations with other fans while we are watching the show. Thus we fail to completely immerse ourselves in the magic of the cinematic experience.

But if we are immersed, we wouldn’t bother with the add-ons, so I think the threat is spurious. Being distracted by devices during a movie is probably only going to occur if the movie is flawed. In other words, we are already distracted or bored, and so we allow our gadgets to gobble the bit of our brain that is not engaged. I don’t think gadgets and add-on media is a threat, unless the product itself is poor – and then, ultimately, nothing can save it.

creativity and the w’s

After watching a variety of presentations, I’m going to try to piece together how creativity can be harnessed or enhanced using the internet.

Janet Echelman describes her process over fourteen years and living life in between – it’s one of worrying away at problems, solving them incrementally but never letting them entirely drop; finding inspiration in the everyday and the industrial. She seeks collaborators when she needs them, and doesn’t shirk at a challenge. She says she wants to ‘share the discovery of wonder’, and in this presentation, she does.

Steve Johnson asks ‘what environments lead to good ideas? He thinks (and Echelman’s practice suggests), that good ideas are more often born of the ‘slow hunch’. When you analyse that, it will be a collision between smaller hunches, perhaps built up over many years. You can get some traction on these hunches if you access the hunches in other people’s minds. So hunches need a space where they can mingle …

… and that space might be the internet. Social media, argues Clay Shirky, creates social capital. Its when the tools becomes technologically boring – ie, everyone knows how to use them without having to think – that interesting behaviours emerge – be they political or creative. What’s been occurring since Web 2.0 became mainstream is a transformation of media ecosystems. In other words, the mice can leverage it, and they can make up their own reasons for doing so.

[post written for Networked Media, a course at RMIT University]

the event is the film

fly on the wall
From whence comes the source of the verite in verite or fly-on-the-wall documentary? Fetveit argues that it is technologically-driven: the emphasis on the evidential became stronger with new light-weight and therefore portable technology of the 1950′s, which led to an aesthetic

…strongly based on observation and interviews, often documenting events as they unfold through an ‘objective’, ‘fly on the wall’ technique. (Fetveit, p. 791)

The essential relationship remained the same, however: a director and crew capturing something other than their own existence and behaviour, ‘out there’. Since the 1950′s, the evident complicity of director and crew in the creation of image and document steadily eroded documentary’s alleged evidential integrity. Now it is commonplace to argue, as Fetviet does, that:

…inherent in the very fabric of photographical images seems to lie an unresolvable tension between the illustrative and the evidential, the iconic and the indexical — (Fetveit, p 792)

It is a conundrum that Dai Vaughan explores so eloquently:

…it is documentary which is the paradoxical, even aberrant, form. True, the first films were of a ‘factual’ nature; but the medium was not out of its immobile, one-shot infancy when someone saw the possibility that it might be employed to signify something other than that which it recorded–this step being taken by Melies, a prestidigitator. From now on, it was nonfiction films which were to be distinguished by a special name: actualities.

The problems latent in the idea of actuality become compounded at precisely the point where this name becomes inadequate and must be replaced by the more evasive one, “documentary”: the point at which the primordial image becomes articulated as language. (Vaughan, p60)

Can social media meet our desire for evidential media? And if it can, what sort of evidence does it provide? Vaughan wants a way to ‘structure material so that whatever it may become as experieneced language may in some sense keep faith with its character as pro-filmic fact…’ (Vaughan, p66). He envisages something that resembles a gigantic database, in which

…the various strands of discourse – the referential nature of the images, their demonstrative disposition, the construction of narrative continuities in time and space, the filmic and extrafilmic codings – may be denied elision and offered as separable to the viewer’s scrutiny. (Vaughan, p75)

Can social media function in this way? The sum total of Youtube is not quite what Vaughan had in mind, perhaps: it is a random collection of videos with every possible intent, genre and production value, and most of it is designed to stand alone. Even if there are ‘series’, few of them are the fragmented takes that Vaughan wants the careful viewer to be able to sift and evaluate. Such individual takes that are on Youtube are generally dilettante work, or short pieces of remarkable footage of the ‘there’s a puma in the Australian bush’ genre. But there is a type of verite offered on Youtube and other social media: that of the confessional voice; mediated individuals offering up their own ‘truths’ to the internet.

Putting aside how we can evaluate the integrity of such material (which I touch on here), what profilmic event do such texts represent? In social media, the subject never overcomes self-consiousness, the text s/he creates is always with publication in mind. We can never forget the camera is rolling, for we ourselves are both director and camera-person (as well as talent). Vaughan (p 56) cites an early public ‘performance’ of this ilk, the Nazi Party Conference of 1934, staged so Leni Reifenstahl could get good shots. It was an event that would never have been held but for the needs of the camera. Social media, no matter how confessional, is staged, scripted and performed. And if the author doesn’t like the result, it can be redone/edited/unpublished/removed. In social media, there is no profilmic event. The event is the film. There is nothing for the camera to capture in an off-guard moment; there are no off-guard moments. The performance is the reality.

Fetveit (p797) argues that the credibility of images is discourse-specific. That may be true, and the credibility of confessional social media may be contextual and consensual. Does all the social media from personX add up?

Our desire for the evidential is, perhaps, a naive one, and Vaughan’s desire to hunt down a strategy to attain it doomed. Perspectives, rather than evidence, is what media offers us, and what we use to form our own judgements, and perhaps that should be enough. Unless you live in a completely solipsistic bubble such evidence as we gain from our always-partial senses and the always-perspectival media is what seems to serve us well, most days of the week.

Fetveit,A., (1999) ‘Reality TV in the digital era: a paradox in visual culture?’ Media Culture Society 21.
Renov, M (2004). The subject of documentary. Minneapolis: Univ. Minnesota Press.
Vaughan, Dai (1999) ‘The Aesthetics of ambiguity’ in For Documentary: twelve essays. Berkeley: Univ. california Press, pp. 54-83

[Image: ‘Fly on the wall’ by Rakka:

gamification, the solution for the hyper-attentive set?

So do we really need new approaches to educational media for the current generation? Kate Hayles in On hyper and deep attention argues:

The shift in cognitive styles can be seen in the contrast between deep attention and hyper attention.  Deep attention, the cognitive style traditionally associated with the humanities, is characterized by concentrating on a single object for long periods (say, a novel by Dickens), ignoring outside stimuli while so engaged, preferring a single information stream, and having a high tolerance for long focus times.  Hyper attention, by contrast, is characterized by switching focus rapidly between different tasks, preferring multiple information streams, seeking a high level of stimulation, and having a low tolerance for boredom.

Ideally, I think, we want adults that can use both forms of attentiveness when they are appropriate. But the lament is that we’re losing the ‘deep’ to the ‘hyper’. Gamification is an approach to learning that supposedly privileges the ‘hyper’. What are the core features of a game? According to Gamification: Motivation and Engagement by ANDRZEJ:

  • it has rules
  • it has tasks
  • it has rewards
  • the tasks are fun – the fun of the challenge, the satisfaction of completing a level and being rewarded

I think, just maybe, a really good game will be rewarded with the user’s deep attention as well as her hyper-attention. Maybe there aren’t many good educational games about about, but there are definitely some. Simulations that replicate real-world scenarios, for example.

At the end of the day this all boils down to one thing. Motivation. If a person is motivated, they will be more productive. Most motivation is negative. You are motivated to do your job because you need the money and don’t want to get fired. Gamification gives you the opportunity to motivate people in a much more positive way. Imagine a group of workers who are competing to be the best at even the most mundane of tasks, just because at the end of the month they may get to put a trophy on their desk. Happy workers leads to increased productivity and retention.

Look, I don’t know about trophies and prizes; I think becoming the ‘mayor’ etcetera has got to lose it’s appeal if you’re older than about 16. But we do like to get instant feedback on how good we are at something. We also like to know where we are (both in terms of how far through and how good we are) in any learning situation. It’s the instant feedback part of gamification that makes me think it works. If you can tie the instant feedback to assessment, you’ve got yourself a really transparent system.

Some argue that you can’t do explorative, project-based, student-centered learning in a gamified assessment structure. Of course you can. It’s just a matter of how you set up the tasks. One of the strengths of this way of setting up learning environments is that its so easy to have ‘levels’ in which student sophistication can be increasingly challenged.

{The gamification of education by Knewton and Column Five Media, and derived from MIT’s paper “Moving Learning Games Forward“]

recalling the surreal

The trial (1963), a movie directed by Orson Welles and starring Anthony Perkins is based on Franz kafka’s novel of the same name. I recently watched a very badly compressed version of this movie which reduced a lot of the audio to near-incomprehensibility, but even extreme compression could not detroy the power of some of its surreal scenery. Notably, the zombie concentration camp-esque survivors inhabiting some of the dreamscape-iest streets of a ‘Paris’ reminiscent more of de Chirico than Eiffel or Pompidou.

I wish we had more surreality in film. Beautiful, devastating, and available on a Youtube near you: