Wednesday, December 19, 2007

10/24 Readings: Hypermedia


10/31 Readings: Visual Rhetoric

I love the idea of reading vintage ads online, as we did, but what are other ways in which students can learn to engage with visual rhetoric, as well as hone their own fluency in this area? Here are three of the assignments that I did for 207, along with my specific goals for each focused on visual rhetoric.

One assignment was a rhetorical analysis of a website. In this, I specifically asked them to address not only the written rhetoric of the site, but the visual rhetoric that accompanied it. We spent some time going over the ways that images could be read, and we also spent time in class examining the impact that page layout, font, and other design choices can enhance or undermine the rhetorical effectiveness of a page. This was a fairly successful assignment, but I found that students really had a hard time doing detailed analysis of both visual and written content at the same time. The next time that I do a class like this, I may have them do them in two separate, smaller steps, and then edit the two documents together to finish.

The assignment immediately following this was an iMovie that was originally to be on any topic a group could agree on. However, luckily there was a contest on campus looking for videos about respect; this gave me the perfect opportunity to assign contest entries, giving my students far more motivation than they might normally have had. Clearly, in this assignment, visual rhetoric was key. I felt that the assignment was fairly successful, but I wish that I'd had more time for it, as I would have been able to spend more time on storyboarding. This might have led to more deliberate choices by some groups...however, there were some very good things turned in for this one.

The final assignment in the class was for students to pull together a multimodal document that addressed some issue related to writing. The consideration of visual rhetoric was key for this one as well, obviously...but some students still didn't make the connection between the text and the visual elements. In several cases, the final product was visually attractive but had little substance, or the visual attractiveness was completely unrelated to content. I'm not completely sure how this can be addressed in the future; one thought, however, would be to require all students to work with one specific category of text. If everyone was working on a physical artifact, or on a webpage, it might be easier to discuss ways in which text and visuals could work together in their documents as a class.

This was a major area of focus for this class, and I was pretty pleased with student understanding in this area for the most part...but I really want to refine my teaching techniques and ideas here for the future. The book we used, Picturing Texts, was a great help, but I'd still like to bring in other material. Any ideas, Kris/others?

11/07 Readings: Race Online

Out of this week's readings, what really resonated with me was the first Monroe chapter. I'd love to see updated and expanded versions of some of the studies she talks about here, as I'm sure she would. The issues around computer access keep changing, and they're more complex than what's covered here.

Two examples:

My mother has taught in inner-city high schools for about forty years. She's been in the district she's in now since 1980; it has always had monetary issues, since it's a steel down that has been losing its factories for quite some time. However, the district received an abundance of computers some time back, through corporate assistance. According to most of the studies in the chapter, this would be wonderful. End of story, right?

Nope. First, at those times when students can use computers, this leads to questions of personnel. Since most rooms she's been in have had one or two computers, what do they do when a few people are online, and the rest of the class is doing something else? How do they assist and monitor all students at once? Second, questions of repair are huge. Apparently, there are insufficient district staff to maintain all the computers, so computers often break down and just sit there indefinitely. In neither of these cases are student needs really being met.

The other place that I've seen interesting issues of access are in libraries, particularly in the economically-depressed city where I used to live. I used to live right downtown, and since I couldn't afford home internet access, I often walked to the library, where there were at least 30 computers set up for patron internet use.

Interestingly, though, the demand was FAR higher than the supply (as, apparently, more of those "don't want to"s have gained interest). Therefore, people had to wait, often for quite some time. Often there was even a lengthy wait to sign up to formally wait for a computer in the first place! Once people were on them, there was a time limit for their use. However, that time limit was across the board, regardless of what people were doing, resulting in people waiting hours to try and apply for a job online because someone was playing poker. I'm not saying that both of those aren't important, of course, but is there some better way to ensure that people can apply for jobs and do online schooling? That library district would tell you that either of those things were easy to do at their branches, but that wasn't the case.

Just a few thoughts on this complex issue...have new studies been done that provide new data and reframe this debate further? I'm curious!

11/14 Readings: Online Gender

Through our explorations tonight, the class seemed to come to the same conclusions I did about the exaggerated visual rhetorics of gender in SL. In many cases, the understandings of feminine gender in-world seem to be based on the most sexually exaggerated media images IRL. Many of the easily available clothing options would get you arrested for public obscenity in the real world if you were to move or get hit by a stiff breeze...and they'd only be flattering if you were built like a fashion model. And, although there are many woman-friendly spaces in-world, to call many other spaces "sexist" would be putting it mildly. So why, then, do I think that SL can also be used as an online safe space for women and girls?

The major reason is based upon one word: play.

The great thing about SL--the main reason so many of us love it, I'd say--is that it offers infinite opportunities for play. If someone wants to experiment with appearance, an avi could be a safe outlet for such play. Honestly, looking at some of the things I wore as a teenager, I kind of wish that I'd had the opportunity to work out some issues of gendering myself in-world before taking them IRL, as the photographic proof would surely be less embarrassing in later years. And, yes, there are people in-world who might respond a certain way to a female avi in a provocative outfit...but wouldn't that happen IRL as well? Could that be an easier way to get used to some of the reactions of others to various forms of genderplay?

Further, since this sort of play with appearance--whether it's a ridiculously cut neckline or an endless round of debates over purses--is such a major part of SL, it might offer a space for some people, particularly women and girls, who think that online interaction is a bit intimidating, to play with appearance as a gateway to the more social aspects of the SL experience. I've ventured into SL alongside people of varying genders who were tremendously nervous about going online and meeting people; when they started their experience through, essentially, playing "dress-up" with an eternally changeable avi who's better than *any* doll, they got more comfortable with their separate online identity, and were then more willing to interact with others through it.

Additionally, SL offers the ability to make some physical and non-physical spaces "safe zones" for members of certain groups by requiring membership. People can network selectively outside of those groups and expand their horizons, while returning to those groups to talk about what they've seen and share experiences with members of a select group. Also, as people learn more about SL, they can start creating new things, giving them rhetorical opportunities that may not be possible in their real lives.

In short, I'd love to experiment further with "safe spaces" in SL with a group of women and girls at some point; although the ways to use it would take some experimentation, I think there's real possibility here.