tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:/posts gz's assemblage 2015-12-03T08:55:43Z Gregory Zobel tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/935069 2015-11-17T22:00:00Z 2015-12-03T08:55:43Z Some Additional Thoughts on Illich: Responsibly Limited Tools [ #captions]

On the Path to Convivial #Captioning

When considering #captioning as a convivial tool—or at leas potentially as a tool to help foster, if only temporarily, a more convivial society or culture, it’s useful to fill in some other pieces of Illich’s view.

For Illich, a convivial society also places technology with a specific role:

“modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers” (1973, xii).

The emphasis is clearly on individuals and citizens communicating and connecting with each other as opposed to giving supervisory or surveillance powers to the bosses. Placing #captions in this frame would then have people captioning text for each other—as service, for pleasure, for fun, for critical thinking and engagement—as opposed to captioning as product or control.

Illich does not allow technology anything close to free reign—certainly not the way technology is currently allowed to drive cultures and government. Instead, he uses convivial to “Label a culture of responsibly limited tools” (1973, xii-xiii). Keywords: responsibly limited tools. How might captioning fit here? Are there ways in which captioning could be used irresponsibly—so much so that people are actually harmed or damaged from the process? It’s hard for me to conceive of right now, but perhaps if captions were intentionally created that misrepresented what was said in the piece? Or? Can you think of a reason why captions **should** be limited?

Illich makes it pretty clear that in a convivial society, every citizen has free and ready access to the community’s tools. This access and use is limited only when it might impinge on another’s freedom. One way to interpret this within the frame of captioning is that the tools used for caption creation, rendering, and viewing should be free and/or open source. [This is another discussion entirely, free vs. open source, but either solution might work for convivial captions.]

What do you think?
Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/935060 2015-11-17T17:34:57Z 2015-11-17T17:50:45Z Conviviality & #Captions: A Wandering for #digiwrimo

Opening & Background

#Captions are on my mind, and I’m working to integrate captions and different approaches to captions within the larger frame and work I have engaged in and researched. Connecting the content to what I’m involved with, with what I care about, is a basic approach that relates to constructivist learning. A part of constructivism, as well, is connecting with others and learning with them. I watch, read, review, and consider others’ work on captioning—a form of social learning. End goal, on top of all of this, is to move into constructionism and engage in intelligent, theory-driven practice. 

a light caveat

[I realize this might seem in part, like a surface or shallow discussion, but one of the roles of a blog is to reflect, discuss, and explore lines of flight instead of always trying to remain deep and focused. Those have their value, too, but my use of this blog is to explore, connect, reflect.]

Now Back to Illich

I’ve been reading about conviviality slowly and surely, thinking about it as well, since I first learned of it in 2005. A clear definition of conviviality comes from Illich’s Tools for Conviviality reads:

"autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment" (1973, p. 10).

That leaves a lot of room for interpretation and adaptation. Key ideas here are that interactions are not moderated or controlled by hierarchy or external authority. Instead, people communicate directly with and among themselves. Similarly, their is no moderator between people and the environment around them.

a second caveat

It’s important to note here that I am probably veering away from Illich’s compelling and holistic vision for a society. Illich was not writing for short-term solutions or “fixing” capitalism or industrial society. No. He wanted to control technology, to make sure that the health of people and the planet’s welfare came first; any technology that would disrupt, destroy, or challenge that would, and should, be banned or stopped by an intelligent culture. Why, after all, would you allow the development of tools that destroy and hurt the planet or other human beings?

A short version of Illich’s vision can be found in his description of a convivial society:

“A postindustrial society must and can be so constructed that no one person’s ability to express him- or herself in work will require as a condition the enforced labor or the enforced learning or the enforced consumption of another” (1973, p. 13).

In this work, in my thinking, I am thinking about how captions might be a *convivial technology*. I don’t claim, by any stretch, that the captions could remake society or other such delusions.

However, if we frame or consider captions and captioning as a convivial technology, what does that do to captions? How might that reframe practice and application? What might evolve out of this? Is it possible that a small community of captioners might be able to create a Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ)?

Remembering the Context; Captioning as Literacy

This may seem far afield from how we traditionally see and use captions, and I’m fine with that. I’m not attempting to overthrow the traditional use, application, or framework of captions. That would be silly. Captions, as they currently exist, do fulfill a role—although they often do it to a limited extent.

Currently, it appears as though captioning is very limited in its approach and application. Multiple scholars and practitioners have pointed this out (I can name drop later when the literature review is more thorough, but trust me on this). You could also frame captioning as a form of literacy. Wish this idea was mine, but from what I can tell it emerged in the work of Brueggemann and Karl Fredal in their “Captioning CODA” portion of [Articulating Betweenity].

One metaphor is that captioning is a brush. So far that brush has only been used to write letters. Calligraphy can be beautiful, no question:

However, the experiences of reading calligraphic text, and learning to create it, are very different from reading illuminated text, and learning to create them. 

Illuminated texts rely upon, and need, the alphabet, the brushes, etc. Illuminated texts are built upon the basic, pragmatic communication tools. Why should we remain with those basic communication tools? 

Back to Conviviality

As captioning is currently practiced, there is usually only one captioned track—the track paid and/or provided for by the media creator. Maybe this is the master narrative, but captions often lack in emotional and connotative aspects (see Zdenek and Snell—more details in a future article).

Captioning convivially could have a very different approach, an approach where the captioning is not “paid” for by the media company or government, by some top-down authority, but instead horizontally. Sure, yes, I might want to take the original “master” narrative from the media company—but then modify the captions, indicate sounds that I know are important (like the sound of a click on the phone in an early “X-Files” episode—the sound that indicates a phone tap but which is not captioned) in my viewing and reading of a show or series. If I had friends, local or global, who liked the same shows, they might create their own captions that center on the sounds and content which interest them—and maybe add some animated captions here and avatars for speaker identification.

In many cases, many of our captions might have the same core body of text—especially in terms of dialogue—but there would be variations, iterations, and versions. The captions are created for each other—for other fans and viewers—as opposed to being a product that is bought, sold, and consumed.

Illich’s Environment

Given Illich’s critique of technology and its manifold abuses, I think he would disagree with the following discussion. Perhaps. 

Let’s return, briefly, to Illich’s definition of conviviality:

“autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment (1973, p. 10).“ 

What if this environment is not just the physical environment but the mediascape in which we interact and live? Is that a potential reading of Illich’s discussion? 

What do you think? Am I stretching things a bit too far? Do you want more evidence or proof? What directions might things go?

Calligraphy image

Calligraphy - calligraphie

Illuminated Mansuscript

Illuminated Manuscript, Duke Albrecht's Table of Christian Faith (Winter Part), The Veil of Veronica, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.171, fol. 1v

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/934764 2015-11-17T02:24:08Z 2015-11-17T02:24:08Z Serious Tech Frustrations on the Captioning Research Path

First Fun: Windows on VMware

For the past ninety minutes, I have had some serious technology frustrations. First, when I try to grab some software to use on my VMware (running on my Mac), it says that almost all 60 gigs of the memory are taken up.

Taken up with what? Considering I’ve used the VM, oh, 10 times, I have not brought in SIXTY GIGS OF FILES. So, yeah, pretty much any thoughts I was having about the convenience of working with VMware on my Mac are now dying a quick death. Why?

I don’t want to waste time, and this has been irritating.

So I used WinDirStat from WinDirStat.info and found that nearly 27 Gig was being up by Windows 7. That seemed a bit nuts. Another 20 Gig eaten up by Dropbox—even though I was pretty sure I had removed DropBox.

And then I discovered that I could reconfigure the virtual disk—so I’m doing that—and adding about 240 more Gig of memory. Sure hope that works. Fortunately, the iMac has 1T of drive.

Second Fun: 2009 HP Laptop 

In order to work with some video decryption for caption analysis, I thought I could break out my HP—the laptop that served me during my dissertation years. Well, I should have known better.

First, it crashed with blue screens I could not read in time—twice. Then there were multiple window uploads. Then there were failures to connect to the internet. Then there’s the reality of working with a 3GB processor machine when I’m used to 8 or 32… I feel your pity. So any errors it makes are slow in the happening.

Third Fun: Working with DVD decryption

In the midst of all this, I’m attempting to understand the DVD decryption process so that I can grab the captions and run analyses on the content. All of this work that I have been doing has been about one basic problem: making sure a machine is capable of downloading and handling the decryption software. Thus far, it has not happened.

It’s incredibly difficult to explain the irony, and frustration, that comes from having multiple machines—machines with different OS’s and from different periods—and yet I can’t seem to get from point A to B.

Oh, yes, and in the midst of all this, I’ve kind of lost track of why I was doing all this work: to access and write about captions. But now, now it just feels entirely and incredibly frustrating with the tech.

The rich irony is that this process should be nearly dead simple. But it’s not—not for me at least.


So I’m stepping away, going to go exercise, and then I’m going to write and read about captions. I’m done messing about with the hardware, software, and downloads. After over two hours of mucking about, I’m done.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/933947 2015-11-15T04:38:57Z 2015-11-15T04:43:43Z Missing Heartbeat: Non Speech Information or Mood Creator?

While researching captions and captioning, I came across the work of Brenda Jo Brueggemann. I then found her video, Why I Mind, on YouTube. Short, intense, focused, and engaging. However, I encountered a component that interested me: from minute 2:00 to 2:30 in the background a heartbeat can be heard in the soundtrack while describing a tense situation. The heartbeat works to increase the feeling of tension, anxiety--especially because it ends when she describes the death of a D/deaf student.

However, there is no indication of the heartbeat in the captions.

The heartbeat does not seem to be non-speech information, from what I can tell, as Zdenek describes it: NSI "includes sound descriptions, speaker IDs, manners of speaking, music lyrics, and any other information that might be needed to convey a full understanding of the sound track." The heartbeat has nothing to do directly with anything depicted in the images or the speech on the video. However, the heartbeat is there and it directly impacts the viewer and potentially their experience of the text. Perhaps it could be considered akin to a musical soundtrack? If we look at Snell (2012), this omission is important:

“Closed captioning’s success ... lies in its ability to assist the viewer in not only understanding the denotative meaning being expressed in the spoken dialogue of a captioned piece, but also more importantly by captioning’s proficiency in facilitating in its users emotional experiences that coincide with those suggested by and made available through the mix of spoken dialogue, music, and the visual action of the captioned media.” 

“Such an understanding of closed captioning departs from general conceptions and studies of it that define its effectiveness and efficiency as being nearly exclusively contingent upon logo-centric variables. That is, the previous conception of it as not only assisting the viewer in understanding the denotative meaning being expressed in the spoken dialogue via its textual translation but also as enabling emotional experiences, departs from the traditional view of captioning’s success as being dependent on language –based variables that enable denotative comprehension alone” (emphasis added; Snell, 3 2012).

If we want captions to connect with the viewer, the reader, and to fully convey a level of connection that Hearing viewers have, if one of captioning's key goals is to provide equivalent experiences--at least so far as possible--for those hearing the soundtrack to videos and those who are D/deaf (and Snell asserts this reading of U.S. Public Law (PL) 85- 905 and PL 87-715 on pages 5-6 in her dissertation), then something seems to be missing. When considering the ethos and pathos that Brueggeman builds in the piece, the heartbeats clearly add on value and weight to the text.

This is situation is interesting, important, and compelling. It is exactly this type of situation that could benefit from additional or new approaches to captioning. Perhaps a caption could have read, "sound of heart beat" or "heart beating in background." Perhaps the screen could have pulsed along in time with the heart beat. Perhaps the captioned text could have pulsed. Or perhaps something not mentioned here.

My purpose is not to be difficult or to pick on an independently produced video. Well-captioned videos are hard enough to find, much less an indie video with good captions. However, I wonder if it is not with these smaller videos, with the independent producers and creators, that we can test out new approaches to captioning, that we can experiment with new technologies or try out innovations. 

A final note: I literally just stumbled across this video, and it happened to have a gap that I've been reading, writing, and thinking a lot about lately. This piece was selected for no other reason than that.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/930898 2015-11-14T18:40:00Z 2015-11-13T08:08:32Z Course Evaluations: Online vs Face-to-Face

On Sunday, I completed by tenure binder for year four of five on the tenure track! Hooray! Yes, it felt good. Even handed that two inch binder in. And yes, it is all hard copy. How exciting is that?

The section I saved for last was 2H: Demonstrating Teacher Efficacy. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? In other terms, it's pretty much where we take the university-wide course evaluation results, analyze them, and then discuss them. Sadly, there are an array of issues with this approach and using this specific data. I pointed this out in my introduction to the section:

The Problem with WOU’s Online Course Evaluation System
Before I discuss the “data driven” findings, I want to make it clear that these findings are troubled and problematic at best for a variety of reasons.

First, response rates are incredibly low for some courses. I’ve indicated that and ignored the individual results for those classes; however, that data still impacts my overall review by term. 

Second, as Tunks and Hibberts (2013) indicate, evaluations for online instruction should not be the same as evaluations for face-to-face teaching—and adding a few items that related just to online instruction is not enough. While Berk (2013) does not agree with Tunks and Hibberts (2013) that online courses should have a different evaluation that recognizes the differences, challenges, and unique teaching and learning components for working and teaching online, Berk does indicate that that existing instruments for face-to-face evaluations need to be modified in order to address the unique characteristics of online courses and online learning. Currently, we don’t do this at WOU.

Third, as Young and Duncan (2014) indicate in their study, multiple sections (eleven) of the same courses taught face-to-face were consistently given better evaluations by students than online courses. Lowenthal, Bauer, and Chen (2015) have similar results in their analysis of seven years of student evaluations: students rate online courses lower than face-to-face. 

I have included copies of the articles mentioned should you be interested in reviewing some of the literature.

That's what I wrote, and I stand by it. But that's not the only issue I see.

Next issue: the course evaluations are only offered with Likert-style responses. That's right, no qualitative comments are possible. Naturally, there may be good reasons for this. For example, one snarky comment could derail or influence readers and help them overlook an abundance of strong results. I get that, and I appreciate that. However, as faculty, not having anything other than general Likert-scale responses is, well, relatively useless for my teaching or improving my teaching.

Naturally, if I'm scored very low or very high in an area, that will show strength or weakness. But that's a very general area that is scored, like "use of time during class." If you are scored poorly, what does that mean? Without the specific student feedback and comments, you might actually undo what is working well and reinforce less useful practices. General categories and feedback are of little actual use for improving our teaching.

This may also demonstrate, though, my complete misunderstanding of the teaching evaluations. Instead of just being scored, I want to actually improve. If I'm going to improve, I need decent information to do that. Currently, Likert-scale scores don't do that. Then again, maybe those course evaluations are not meant to help me improve my teaching.
Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/933112 2015-11-13T19:22:00Z 2015-11-13T08:02:18Z Research: No Really, It IS a Research Project (#captions)

Tired of Fail Focus

As several of my earlier posts indicate, I'm pretty focused on #captions at the moment. Nice to be back in the fold caring about something that is interesting. I'm still working through potential topics. I definitely like the close reading approach: examining patterns in captioning. In contrast, I don't feel that just identifying captioning fails is really the way to go. Not for me. I can see the value, sure, but it feels like an approach that does not work well in teaching writing or composition: only identifying patterns of error.

Writing Analogy

When teaching writing, when learning writing, you don't want to just know where things stink. Of course it helps a bit, but if all you hear is, "Fail. Fail. Fail," that gets old pretty quick. Yes, you might want to change it, but it's all negative. All stick, no carrot. No direction is given on which way to go or how to roll. Of course we can do the "Here are three strengths; here are three areas for improvement approach." That worked pretty well--it balances things out, at least in terms of writing.

Wealthy Conglomerates are Cheap

When looking at captioning, though, I'm not sure that offering this kind of suggestion or feedback is going to have much, if any, impact on the captioning industry itself. Come on, if HBO is not willing to pay to have their scrolling captions changed to decent captions--much less get the timing consistent--then I'm not sure that any arguments about aesthetics or best practices is going to change the economic approach to captioning by the entertainment industry. Let me correct myself: I believe that the professional captioners who do the captioning would LOVE to do proper captioning, timing, etc., and have the most effective captions possible. That, however, costs money. From what I can tell, the entertainment industry as well as the entertainment delivery system, pay as little as possible--in most cases--to deliver the minimal legal requirement.

Example 1: Just look at this mess.

Oliver is brilliant, funny, and engaging. Yet HBOnow is presenting this show's captions if it is live. It's not live--it's a recording! You have the transcripts! Can it be that hard to go through and actually caption this properly? It won't cost that much money--for real.

So, considering that the entertainment industry and its deliverers seem to have little interest in doing more than the least possible (if you know otherwise, I'd love to hear about exemplary groups that support top notch captioning--truly!), suggestions about best practices and ways to innovate need not be directed towards industry.

Innovate Where It Matters

Suggestions about innovation, change, best practices, and so forth should be directed towards the captioning community--people who love and care about captioning--as well as citizens and artists who are interested in the interplay of text with image, who like working with pop culture materials, and who might want to try something different. Doubt there's anything new or revolutionary stated here, but I still feel like it needs to be written.

In order to offer meaningful suggestions and feedback, you have to care. You have to be invested. It's hard to be really upset about something like captions in a show if you don't care about the show. Why would you watch a program if you don't want to be informed, entertained, or somehow emotionally connected--even if that emotion is escapism or numbing? To do those things, you need clear messages from the captions; you need captions that not only provide an equivalent experience--you should have captions that expand experience beyond what the show is without captions.

That is ideal captioning. Facilitating that is the challenge. Support and drive for that is rarely going to come from big industry.

What we can do, though, as individuals, as people who like captions and pop culture media, we can run close analyses on texts, we can generate alternatives, we can speculate and build alternative caption models--and all of this falls under the protection of scholarship and Fair Use (assuming you actually transform the work, and why else would you bother investing that much time unless it was transformative?).

But we still have to care.

I know what I care about. I care about, and become invested in, several types of shows. First, the Inspector Morse trilogy: Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavour. There are plenty of similar shows that are great, too, like Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

A second genre are conspiracy thrillers, often with female leads. Alias, Orphan Black, and Dollhouse. Put in a dystopian theme, and I'm all over that.

I used to get into more police shows, but there's too much violence in them. Before my tolerance for violence dropped through the floor, I really enjoyed Rome and The Wire. I still like The Wire, but I can only watch so much before I have to turn it off. I'm at the point where I go looking for specific episodes or specific scenes with characters. I've watched all five seasons twice, and I'm on my third time through. So, yes, I like to watch Bunk at his finest and Omar ripping dealers.

As a person who lives in his small world a bit too much, I was at a bit of a loss as to what other shows fall in related genres. Yes, I can trust Amazon and Netflix; however, past couple months, I spend time looking for shows only to end up watching shows I know for the third time. Maybe I just need something comforting? Or maybe I just don't know what to watch.

Now, though, getting back into captions has me thinking: what body of shows can I analyze? What themes am I going to look for? What types of content do I want to explore?

"Heck ya," said I to myself, "this is the perfect way to be entertained and do scholarship." So I posted a request on Facebook to my peeps. "Peeps," I said, "Hook me up."

Actually, here's what I said:

The responses were great! Here they are:

  • Fringe
  • Buffy
  • X-Files
  • Prime Suspect
  • Covert Affairs
  • Agent Carter
  • Damages
  • The 100
  • Battlestar Galactica (reboot)
  • Dark Angel
  • Sense8

What this means is that I now get to go spend some quality time looking into shows--checking them out--and seeing which ones I end up caring about and being invested in. If I'm going to watch and read the shows, and focus some serious engagement and analysis--not to mention reading the dialogue between two to five times for each show that I look at (if not more times), the show better be good. There had better be something there.

While it might sound strange, one lens I have on this approach is akin to fan fiction. By engaging and investing in the show, the character, the narrative, you get a strong sense of the story, setting, and context. Having this experience, perspective, and understanding--authentic engagement--helps frame where, how, why, and when captions could be tweaked or changed or improved in order to support the overall story and experience.

Obviously my thinking is still developing, and clearly my experience is still pretty limited. However, after years of watching captions and thinking about what I'm watching, this field just seems so exciting, ripe, and engaging--ideas are going in all directions. It will be interesting to watch and track where things settle.

In the mean time, while some of this settles, I plan to keep focused on my Orphan Black analysis, reading of related scholarship, and working with After Effects.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/933311 2015-11-13T17:26:02Z 2015-11-13T19:01:51Z Waiting for Sentencing: The final hour

There is an update to the post at the bottom. 

It's just after 9:15 am. Somehow I managed to sleep in longer today even though the sentencing of Demian's murderer takes place at 10 am our time. 

It's rather hard to explain how I feel. I am incredibly calm; there's not much rage or anger at the moment. There is much peace, and I am grateful for all the kind thoughts, prayers, juju, and goodness coming from folks. I know it helps because I can feel it. And I am grateful for the support and love.

There's no way to predict the outcome, and it may be minutes or even a couple hours before we learn the verdict. I know what I am going to do in the mean time.

I'm going to exercise, because that's healthy and it's part of what I do daily.

I'm going to continue writing today--after this--because it offers a way to share, communicate, process, and engage.

I'm going to keep working on captions and portfolios, for a while at least, because doing so make me smile--they bring me a kind of satisfaction that has been missing for years.

And I am grateful for my lover, my Creator, family, friends, students, job, colleagues, house, and all the winged critters and lovely blooming flowers, shrubs, and trees.

Right now it is sunny and breezy after a rain.

Time to get to it.

Update: 90 Minutes Later

Relatively great news with ironic timing:

The sentencing was supposed to take place today, in Kenai instead of Homer. We just received notification that, based on our collective request, the sentencing/hearing has been moved back to Homer--where the trial took place & where Demian lived and where his mother now lives.

However, the sentencing has been delayed until 12/28.

Glad it's back in Homer, but sad it's going to take another month.

Thanks for all the juju & good thoughts!

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/932392 2015-11-13T17:00:01Z 2015-11-13T17:00:01Z Voice Driven Type Design: Useful for #Captions?

Fascinating article by Woelfel, Schlippe, and Stitz. If I understood it properly, different qualities of a an audio file or spoken voice could be interpreted and impact how the words spoken would be represented typographically. In other words, volume might impact size of the type, font used, leading, if the type was ragged, or what have you.

In terms of captioning, I thought this might be interesting in terms of potentially providing an algorithmic approach for caption generation. Might be a good way to show anger, calm, seduction, etc. Then again, this might also require viewers to learn an entirely new vocabulary or develop an additional literacy to interpret what specific things, like size, font, or color, might mean.

Then there's are a few potential problems: would each company potentially have its own algorithm and thus have no consistent standard? Would the standard be free and given away? Would there be a charge for it? Could this only appear in videos or films that could afford it?

One approach that I think might work is, of course, inspired by the epic and experimental captioning done inNight Watch and the new Sherlock Holmes. Rather than trying to do these kinds of effects on all text, perhaps these could be used for such things like representing NSI (non-speech information) on screen and single word utterances, such as profanities and exclamations. Thus they would be visually different from the normal presentation of utterance and sounds, and yet they could also embody certain components of the utterances in their type design.

Plenty to think about from this piece. Hope that we see more of this type of work--and maybe some of it will enter the realm of captions. Yes!

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/933071 2015-11-13T04:44:41Z 2015-11-13T04:50:04Z Considering #Captions in Orphan Black: Some ideas and sources flowing towards speculative captioning

The Personal

I love Orphan Black. I am invested viewer, and I've watched all three seasons twice already. I'm now on my third run through the series. Why? Because it has all the components I enjoy: conspiracy, dystopian near-future, strong characters, an interesting gay male (Fe), a strong female lead (multiple leads, in my view, all played by the same actress). During each viewing, I've watched with the captions on. Most of the time I'm reading and watching the action. It's not just passive viewing; there's active reading as well. Just feels right.

The Trigger

Now that I'm back to working and thinking about #captions--it's been non-stop the past 36 hours--I've been thinking a lot about Orphan Black. I was just watching "Nature Under Constraint and Vexed," (Season 2, Episode 1) and had a sudden revelation--or delusion--about how identity was not clear when Sarah or Alison were impersonating each other. These impersonations are often only clear by hearing the alternation between voices--something that is not clear in the captions [I'm working on a longer piece about this, actually, so I don't want to develop everything here]. That got me thinking.

A lot.

The Action

This morning, then, I decided to track down some scholarship on OB. [Tangent: Am I the only one that finds the initials of the show ironic, especially considering the strong themes about fertility, biopower, birth, fertilization, fertility, and women controlling their bodies? Hmmm.] Anyhow, I found a great dissertation (completed in in 2015): Renegotiating the Heroine: Postfeminism on the Speculative Screen. Opening chapter is pretty clear work on the purpose, etc. Nice work on post-feminism--certainly helped remind me of how little I know in that area and where I need to read. However, somehow I retained focus. Skimmed much dissertating and ended up in the chapter I wanted most: "Just One, I'm a Few": Cyborgs, Reproductive Rights, and Difference inOrphan Black. If you're hoping for some Deleuze, he's not here. Foucault and Biopower are, though. There is, however, plenty of Haraway along with de Laurentis and a bit of Greer.

As I approached this text, my core goal was to uncover other critical perspectives and views of OB. I found that. A bit of discussion on multiplicity--hooray--with Haraway and some connections with realist dystopian fiction. Also cool. Helped me look at the series from a different angle. These angles are important to me because, based on my conversations with Sean, I want to explore what emerged as "speculative captioning" in our conversation. I'm sure that one or both of us, if not others, will work on developing this idea more fully, but the short gist of it (for now at least) is: how we can explore captions' use and applications to open up new perspectives, to try new approaches, to fully employ current technologies and explore captions' aesthetic, political, and social potentials and use? What are some ways that we can test out captions?

Speculative Captioning--Briefly

Some models can be seen in the captions in Night Watch (see Sean's discussion of Night Watch here) and Sherlock (the new series). You can see one example of alternative or speculative captions by Sean in a brief modified clip from Avatar. As Sean points out, the idea is not to replace traditional captions; rather, one of the purposes is to speculate, to come up with ideas about ways that captions could be presented or used, and then to test them out. 

Another influence for me is Walida Imarisha's article about the role of speculative fiction within her larger social justice and prison abolition work. While Imarisha's piece focuses largely on Octavia Butler and prison abolition, one of her opening points is vital:

We [the Left] often forget to envision what could be. We forget to mine the past for solutions that show us how we can exist in other forms in the future. 

That is why I believe our justice movements desperately need science fiction. 

Just as speculative fiction and science fiction can help us see alternate futures, to see past hegemony and imagine alternatives, speculative captioning might help us re-see how we caption, what we caption, what perspectives shape captions, and much more. Frankly, the idea was voiced less than 36 hours ago, so I'm sure there's some evolution coming. I'm not sure if Sean is thinking of SC in way I am. Pretty sure he's going to develop and share what he sees/thinks about SC too.  What I do know, though, is that I'm now seeing captions as much larger than just text on the screen. So much more is there and is possible--I can't undo how I'm thinking of captions now.

Back to the Dissertation

Having all these ideas and thoughts about speculative captioning had me in a good place--a space open to multiple ways that captioning might be able to be used. As I read Heatwole's dissertation, walking through her multiple analyses on identity, fertility, power, and control, I suddenly started asking myself:

  • What if Helena was captioning the video? Would Sarah be "Sestra," Kira as Kira, and Alison and Cosima be "things"--at least until later episodes?
  • If Dyad were running the captions, as a global corporation is likely to do, would the clones be listed as Subject 1, Subject 2, and so forth?
  • What if the captions were only created after the series had ended and was created by a fan who could include short and relevant commentaries?
  • Do these alternative captions represent alternative narratives, or are they simple different angles on the same master narrative generated by the writer and producer?
  • Could these caption tracks be additional, optional tracks available for viewers to watch after they had seen the original, "master" version?
  • In other words, is it possible--or even useful--to remove the voice of objective authority within the captioned narrative and shift that over to a character's voice?
  • What kinds of impacts would such adjustments have on D/deaf viewers and Hearing viewers? How might these impacts differ?
  • What if the alternative caption tracks, i.e. the ones embodying characters' perspectives--like Rachel or Helena--provided additional, supplemental information that expanded and built out the narrative from the traditional captions? Might this be one way to encourage broader use of captions among Hearing folks: supplemental content and material?
  • Could some of these tracks use alternative methods? For example, since Helena clearly sees the world in a very different way--religious, hyper-violent at times, and driven--maybe her captions should be animated and swirly, like inNight Watch, whereas Rachel's captions would be traditional, formal, and proper: embodying the aesthetics of corporate control. Given Alison's character and bubbly, babbling personality, her captions might appear as the scroll up captions so often used in live events [I hate that format, but perhaps the aesthetics express part of her personality?]

End point here: reading scholarship about the primary text (OB) helped me see it in new ways. Just like speculative fiction can help us see through the artificialities of our culture and identify the components which matter, just as speculative captioning will, hopefully, help us envision new ways to caption, feminist and continental theories can help us re-see texts in new ways and thereby crack windows and doors for new perspectives and, most importantly, new modes of action and creation.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/932893 2015-11-13T03:22:54Z 2015-11-13T10:31:41Z Why I #clMOOC: #DigiWriMo, emotions, and belonging

I work with and participate in #clMOOCs for a couple reasons. First, I like this approach to learning. It's learning and community on demand. Demand's not really the right word, but it's close: you show up, participate, and people are generally pretty kind and welcoming. Do some stuff, engage, share, interact, and there's nearly instant community. For someone like me, who values pretty instant reward and feedback, this is great! I can see and experience immediately some of what MOOCs are about. So that's the first solid: a supportive community. If you buy into constructivist educational theory, if only a bit, a #clMOOC's appeal is pretty clear.

The second reason I like #clMOOCs are, frankly, they are easy to integrate with some of the courses that I teach. Rather than requiring students to learn a specific content area, say math, art, or Ruby, my students--educators of all types--can focus on the professional development, networking, meeting other educators, and developing their own skills with technology, software, digital writing, and social media. It's as much about enculturation and participation with some different digital cultures and communities as it is about learning the actual content and skills. If you draw value or invest in social learning and/or Papert's constructionism, #clMOOCS will meet many criteria. You get to build, create, and share things that you want to build, that have meaning to you and others, and that support your learning and others' learning.

Third, the rapid uptake and membership in community, the quick sense of belonging, the positive feedback, the ability to read and learn from others--and watch them learn, too--is powerful. There's an emotional value to seeing others' successes--to seeing how everything is not perfect polish generated by companies with immense capital behind them. Yes, sure, we make work with tools enabled by investor angels, but that does not mean that we have been assimilated, that we have given them money, or that we need to be subject to their aesthetics or rules. Our value can from what and how we share with each other, how we seek to engage, learn, grow, give to, and grow from each other. Our value does not need to be if we got on a TED talk, if our article runs in a paid journal, if we get invited to speak at a conference, or if the absurd Stanford-Pearson-EdTech-Industrial-InfoTainment industry likes us or wants to use our ideas to somehow manipulate public education or extract tax dollars from local governments for extremist privatization moves.

We can be real and authentic with and for each other.

In "When in the future they look back on us," Doris Lessing writes:

"This is a time when it is very frightening to be alive, when it is hard to think of human beings as rational creatures. Everywhere we look we see brutality, stupidity, until it seems that there is nothing else to be seen but that—a descent into barbarism, everywhere, which we are unable to check. But I think that while it is true there is a general worsening, it is precisely because things are so frightening we become hypnotized, and do not notice—or if we notice, belittle—equally strong forces on the other side, the forces, in short, of reason, sanity, and civilization” (3-4).

Lessing's argument is too important and sophisticated to overlook, and I'll seek to address it in a later piece. For now, though, I'd just like to add that her point about the "equally strong forces" we often belittle. To reason, sanity, and civilization I would add kindness, compassion, and the simple act of welcoming strangers. Such things are easy to ignore, but they create environments where learning can thrive. At the core, that's why I like #clMOOCs.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/930894 2015-11-12T23:51:03Z 2015-11-12T23:52:30Z Non-digital Writing on the Tenure Track

Over the past ten days or so, I have been doing a lot of writing, curation, and artifact gathering. While I wished the emphasis would have been, could have been, centered in #DigiWriMo, sadly it has not. All of this writing has, in fact, been focused on document editing and creation for my tenure binder. From there it is submitted and reviewed by colleagues, bosses, and administration. Sounds fun, right? 

The process is not very fun, actually. There's relatively little pleasure involved. Of course there are some points that are useful and educational, especially in terms of reflection. For example, working to collect all the different documents helps me remember all the different assignments and activities, the different pedagogies and approaches, as well as just how much many of my students have accomplished. Collecting all those documents reminds me of just how paperwork centered this approach to tenure is--and that kind of bothers me, actually.

While tenure varies from school to school, where I work it is a five year process. I'm in my fourth year, so I go up for tenure next year. What does this have to do with digital writing? It has a lot to do with it. I'd rather be creating and writing up a digital portfolio for my tenure than assembling endless PDFs and word documents in a two inch binder. But I'm not going to do that. 

To my knowledge, perhaps one other professor on campus has submitted an electronic portfolio--and that was in a different division. I know of nobody else who has attempted to submit a digital portfolio. Frankly, I do not want to be the guinea pig, not when tenure is at risk. I feel like I should take that risk because #edtech is my field and because of what I teach on a daily basis; however, the economic realities of educational debt, mortgage, and health care keep me traditional. I'm not going to take that kind of risk.

There are additional mitigating factors. First, my Division and my Dean have been pretty supportive of my work, interests, and research. However, being supportive and encouraging of research and activities is very different from accepting an entirely new format for tenure binders. That's like being willing to eat Thai for lunch, but just because you enjoyed the meal does not suddenly mean that you are going to switch over to only eating Thai food. I realize that's pushing the comparison, but that's certainly how it feels. So while my people are supportive, I just don't know how well this would go over.

Outside of our college is administration, and they seem more traditionally minded about tenure than my college does in the sense of tenure expectations and portfolio. 

So, going back to basic economic realities, innovation is set down for safety and security.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/932870 2015-11-12T20:31:11Z 2015-11-13T07:00:56Z Digital Writing I'm Not Doing: #DigiWriMo

Today's a hard day. Tomorrow my step son's murderer either gets a new trial, the judge still has not issued her response to a motion for a new trial, or he gets sentenced for second degree murder. He could get from five to eighty years--and he's served a couple years incarcerated already (in jail, not prison). Oh, did I mention the trial was delayed for nearly three years and that sentencing has been moved about four times?

So today is a day. It's a tense day. It's a day exploding with love and rage. A day where I'm grateful for my life, my lover, and my experience. It's a day when I truly, sincerely, dedicate "Die MF Die" to the killer. While I'd prefer he atone in a sincere, authentic manner, I would not shed a tear if he just up and died.

Moving between these emotional polarities is intense. And I don't necessarily feel objective. Truth told, I give a fig about objectivity right now. So the digital writing I'm not doing today is grading. I won't be grading tomorrow, either. I probably won't grade this weekend, either--at least if I'm not feeling well or the killer gets a light sentence.

So I'm writing about not writing, not working on others' texts, not evaluating or assessing because I'm just not able to do so fairly. 

Note: I am still writing--digitally--and composing, adding music here. Maybe captions there. I've not been able to find an image appropriate for me emotional state. How does one depict Love and Rage?

This will pass. But, for now, I just can't do it. I can't grade. So I'm going to do other digital writing, digital creation; I'm going to engage with things I care about--with things that matter to me. I'll try to help make the world a better place.

That rage hasn't left. That rage is still so angry that it knows that I have no choice left but to do something, to be productive, and to challenge paternalistic and oligarchical power. Doing it out of love and the rage born of bearing witness to violence, cruelty, and abuse.

I may love and rage, but my students shouldn't have to feel impacts because some 20 year kid murdered my son because the killer felt disrespected.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/932370 2015-11-12T19:00:04Z 2015-11-12T19:00:04Z Optimal Caption Placement: Ouzts, Snell, Maini, Duchowski

Excited I was to find this conference paper! "Yes," I thought! This will be fascinating. And then, after I finished reading all two pages, I felt disappointed. Is this the authors' fault? A bit. Is it my fault? A bit. You see, I sadly lack the necessary statistical literacy, or my statistical chops are seriously gummed up, to fully make sense of the results section. So, there's that.

Their conclusion, however, reads thus:

"An eye tracking study was presented in which several different captioning styles were examined. Significant differences were found between eye movement metrics depending on the captioning style used, suggesting that captioning styles play an important role in viewing strategies. Participants underwent large amounts of saccadic crossovers and spent much less time reading the captions when captions changed position frequently. Future work is needed to fully examine the implications of these differences" (emphasis added, p. 190).

This makes quite a bit of sense, especially when you consider that they tried four approaches to presenting the captions. (Read the article, heh!) Most notably they tried the traditional captioning positions as well as placing captions above the speakers when present on screen. If not on screen, the captions would be at the bottom. This left me wondering a couple things.

While it may be useful for comprehension to avoid lots of extra or overlapping eye movement, might it not be possible to have the caption placement near speakers occur during intense dialogue and conversation and then shift to traditional (at the bottom) placement when conversation off-screen alternates with significant NSIs (non-speech information)? That might be an interesting approach to captions to test out--especially in dialogue heavy video or film.

As to the article, I am grateful that the authors conducted and shared the research. I just wish the findings would have been more explicitly stated. Then again, there might not have been enough information, or data, to support broader generalizations or suggestions for practice. I respect that. However, in the interest of testing out other approaches to captioning, it would be nice to have some research-driven data from which to launch.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/932356 2015-11-12T05:02:22Z 2015-11-12T11:10:34Z Bringing in the Connotative in #Captions: Nicole Snell's Dissertation on Captions

That title can't sum up Nicole Snell's dissertation, but it does emphasize one of the key points she makes in her work. I'm about twenty pages in and quite enjoying it. It's a dissertation, not an academic article, so that make the reading flow differently; however, the content and focus are quite refreshing.

Particularly love this part:

"This goal [of the dissertation] is undergirded by the hypothesis: since closed captioning changes the passive viewing experience into an active reading one, it can be predicted that users of closed captioning construct connotative and emotional meaning through viewing and meaning making strategies that are different than the strategies individuals who have access to the audio soundtrack and scene action do" (p. 12).

Over the past couple days, I have been trying to think and better understand why I like captions. I seem to have some kind of fixation or attachment to them--something akin to my former obsession with punk rock or specific bands when I was sixteen or eighteen. It's like an itch or fixation or something. Snell's quote, though, helps me better understand my focus on captions though--if only a little bit. Watching the telly, well, just does not do it for me. Boring. I want the captions, and the captions serve and work as a kind of validator of what I'm seeing and hearing. 

Captions also provide additional information. Sometimes it's song lyrics--not always easy to discern if you are just listening; other times, it's background muttering by another character--not always clear in the actual spoken dialogue. If memory serves me right, this happens a fair amount in Orphan Black and similar conspiracy-esque series. Back to Snell's point, though: I'm not just watching, I am also reading.

When I read captions, though, it's not a passive activity. I read and see if all the dialogue is there. I look for specific sounds. I wonder about the presentation of accents--or not. I wonder what non-speech information (NSI) [using a descriptor developed, as far as I know, by Sean Zdenek] is presented and why. I am entertained by the narrative but engage with one form of its representation.

I know that this post's focus is on what and why I like captions--at least part of the reason. The affective is another emphasis Snell cover's in her diss--not just the connotative. If you want more details, please check out her work. Really. This is some exciting thinking!

And yes, this is a processing and working through post.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/932263 2015-11-12T00:48:43Z 2015-11-12T00:48:43Z Digital Writing Month: Captions

Digital Writing Month has been bothering me--but in a good way. I want to write, but I've not really felt like I knew where or how. In my research life, I've had a bit of that same struggle. While I'm solid about screen casting, there are some other loose threads. But, somehow, I've managed to come back to captions. Fortunately, much of this was solidified today with a long conversation with Sean Zdenek today. Sean's the author of Reading Sounds, a book on captions that is coming out in about a week. Sean was also a dissertation committee member, and he's the one who first turned me on to captions. So it was pretty fitting to talk about captioning with him!

I've been trying to find a way to connect research to my normal life. I watch a lot of series, and I watch some of them repeatedly. I know the shows and characters. Captions are always on when I watch, and I feel like I get more from the show than when only audio is running. Always want to read the screen while watching, and a show without captions is, well, just missing something. So I've decided to get back to something I really like.

Then it hit me, #DigiWriMo also explores multiple texts and media. It's about process, expression, and exploration. What better way to combine two ongoing projects or paths than to work on my captioning during #DigiWriMo. Only I'm not interested in standard captioning. I want to play, explore, and push captioning to places that it rarely goes. In order to do this, I need to up my tech game. This means grappling with After Effects and Premier Pro. Already on my computer they are, so that's good.

This afternoon I've spent literally hours learning AE and PP. I'm not very good, no. Not at all. However, I was able to take one of my favorite scenes from The Wire and do a brief experiment. I wanted to see if I could do some basic animated text effects. 

This is my rough draft. I'm not tight. I'm not awesome. However, I am motivated--and I've spent about four hours getting here, and I liked it. So, yeah.

Glad to be back in #CaptionLand.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/925570 2015-11-01T00:54:26Z 2015-11-01T00:54:58Z My Un-CV

An exciting opening prompt for some of the first #digiwrimo activities:

What if we could write a CV that was based not on degrees and position and peer-reviewed publications, but on what we think is most important about who we are and what we are genuinely most proud to have accomplished?

This is remarkably easy for me to do, and my #altcv is short. Very short.


I'm dedicated and loyal. 

Nothing matters more than these traits.
Nothing compares* in importance.


22+ years with my partner (I'm 44, so that's literally half of my life)

25+ years focused on my spiritual path, ontology (that's literally more than half of my life)

*The music is not meant to be ironic or sarcastic; rather, it is an apt emotional portrayal of my total emotional commitment to these two parts of my life.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/925557 2015-11-01T00:35:26Z 2015-11-01T00:35:26Z #DigiWriMo 2015

Digital Writing Month is starting in a few hours... Apparently it's already started in parts of the world, though, where today's already November 1, 2015. This is a good thing. Yes!

I'm involved with #digiwrimo for a couple reasons. I've stated a few of these on Twitter, but I'll restate here:

  • Some of the same people, like Maha, @nomadwarmachine, and @dogtrax are involved with the project. When I experienced the #clmooc with them last June, it was awesome. So I'm here based on how great the last experience was. Yep, that's it pretty much.
  • I'm teaching a grad class that focuses on social media and web 2.0 tools. Last go around, they were engaged with a lot of the #clmooc activities, and it was pretty darned productive from what I saw. Lots of engagement, confusion (normal in a MOOC), learning, and so forth. Exactly what students need to be doing: experiencing collaborative online learning that is free form enough for them to adapt to their own learning contexts. Knowing that the core folks behind #digiwrimo are great educators, I'm excited that my students can join in.
  • Relationships. I am not looking for love ... I'm looking for community and meeting a couple more good people. And that's about it.

I currently have no other goals aside from generally improving my ability to blend texts and images.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/921781 2015-10-24T23:21:18Z 2015-10-25T16:00:02Z Missing My Exit

Missing My Exit: More thoughts on #rubrics

Driving home from Olympia to Salem last night, I was in an intense but jolly mood. After all, I was listening to my favorite tracks and the weather was decent for driving. After I eventually made it out of the Portland area, I made a mental note: don’t miss the Salem Parkway Exit.

No worries, bro, I told myself. Not only did I think of this reminder, but I also had a GPS device loaned to me by a colleague (no, I don't have a smart phone with GPS--that's another story). You guessed it: I missed that turn off. Then, when I tried to follow the GPS instructions, the direction to turn came too late. So I missed the turn. Four miles later, I turned onto a series of roads that I knew would take me home—this was not the first time I’d missed my exit—while the machine urging u-turns.

As I have already blogged, @jessifer’s presentation got me thinking about #rubrics, but what occurred with rubrics’ naturalization in my thinking and teaching can occur with almost anything. One example is treats. Having a chocolate mocha shake to celebrate an event is a treat; having it twice a week for pleasure, that may be a treat--or not; getting that frozen mocha every day or every other day, it's moved from being a treat, or something different, in to being a habit or pattern. Often this transformation happens with great ease and we barely notice. In another realm, teaching for example, by focusing on having a smooth teaching and learning experience with students, by working to minimize conflict, and by agreeing with the master narratives about rubrics’ value—regardless of their accuracy—I had multiple things in focus. Similarly, when I drive, I can only concentrate on a few things—so I was watching my lanes, traffic around me, listening to music, and reflecting on the keynotes. I was in a zone, driving safely, but totally oblivious to my location. It’s clear that my teaching has allowed such things as rubrics to become a habit, to be naturalized.

Caveat: I’m Not Born-Again

I will continue to use rubrics, and I don’t see them as a plague, but I do regard them as flawed tools that should be used with a mixture of strategies. The larger flaw, however, is in my own heavy reliance upon the #rubric. Solution: don't toss out rubrics but adjust my use of them.

To continue with the analogy, once I realized that I missed my normal exit—my normal approach to teaching—I tried to obey the machine to save time. This resulted in multiple failures. In my working experience, completely trusting BlackBoard or Moodle-created evaluations—and relying on their structures—has not worked out well. At all. So, to be clear, pure reliance on machines rarely turns out well.

How did I get home once my habits and machinery failed me? I drove parts of a path I knew from my past, I trusted my instincts that I could get home, I was curious about how it would work out, and I did not get mad. Driving often frustrates me in unique ways, ways that only come from driving. This usually blinds me to thinking very clearly, and it’s irrational. As you can imagine, this rarely has good results. This time, though, I did not get mad. I was just frustrated, but I wanted a good solution. What would that be?

In the past, I’ve looked at grading contracts—but they’ve made me nervous. Now, whether or not I use them, I know I need to at least explore them a bit more. Since I know there’s a gap in my pedagogy, assessment, and evaluation process, I actively want to correct the gap and find a working amalgam to fill it. There’s no rush; I want the choice to be effective and smart. 

The GPS suggested one off-ramp, but that was just to make a u-turn. I took the suggestion, and then I continued on my way and ignored the prompt to u-turn. After ten minutes, territory was familiar, and I arrived home at the time expected.

In terms of the future of my evaluative and assessment work, I know what’s expected of me from the academic machine, and I know what feels right to me. This would hopefully make the analogy described work. But what makes the evaluation and assessment portion more hopeful, and more interesting than a drive home, is that there are the voices and experiences of others around me, of colleagues and researchers, whom I can hear, share, and learn from through the process. I don't need to make the drive all by myself.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/921722 2015-10-24T19:22:53Z 2015-10-24T19:22:53Z NWeLearn Reflection & Rubric Addiction

NWeLearn 2015 Conference Reflection

One of the most important components of attending NWeLearn was being able to talk to people outside of my context—outside of my program, division, college, and university about my classes, teaching approach, pedagogy, expectations, politics, etc. This ability to speak clearly and openly, without fear of being judged or evaluated, or having people know of or get lost in the details of my work, is important to my ability to develop as a professional, teacher, and member of the community.

Jesse Stommel's presentation on the LMS Grade Book was vital as well. My only real use of LMS grade books is like an online Excel sheet that shows students how they are doing in class. I rarely move beyond that. However, Jesse's critique of simply and automatically integrating the LMS grade book and rubrics without questioning them got me thinking and reflecting. It was also a bit uncomfortable--which is good. While I have integrated rubrics throughout my assignments and classes, I had largely forgotten what drove that use of rubrics, what caused the initial use of those rubrics. The presentation and talking about rubrics afterward helped spark thinking. Those initial causes were sourced from several sites.

First, there were the initial grading rubrics provided by the first institutions where I taught. Some of the assignments were standardized across all the writing courses and the rubrics were provided to help guide new faculty in their grading and evaluation as well as to make sure that students knew how they would be graded and evaluated.

The second source of rubric reliance or dependence was my desire to avoid or reduce the number of difficult conversations and discussions with students. These conversations were often about the grades the students earned and their dissatisfaction with them. When I did not have a rubric to explain the evaluation, and I did not clearly lay out how many points there were for specific portions, students would often argue about the grading distribution or that some areas were not fair or balanced. That grading was purely subjective--as if faculty were not trained to properly evaluate student work (and in some cases, sadly, some are not). As a new instructor, in some cases students were accurate; in many other cases, students were not. By developing and deploying different rubrics, the rubrics acted as rules of engagement, frames for us to interact with, and it reduced the number of hard conversations because I could point to the rubric. Rather than owning the grading process, it could be externalized to the rubric.

A third source of rubric reliance was that students felt angst or disconnect when they did not have a rubric. At the time, when I taught in composition, many students were worried—rightly so in many cases—about being graded at the whim of the instructor without have a clear sense of exactly what they were being graded on or how they were going to be evaluated. The entire system was black box. Whether I teach undergraduate or graduate students, when a rubric is not presented for grading, many students have angst or worry. This makes me wonder about the overall level of rubric addiction or dependence in education.

More recently, working in a College of Education means faculty are subjected to Accreditation and State teaching licensure rules. This means that we have to produce demonstrable instruments that quantitatively measure whatever it is the accreditors or state council seek. The list is epic long, so I'm avoiding the details. Net result: I must have a grading rubric for the assignment that breaks down along the lines of accreditation expectations so as to perform and give them what they want and need.

Talking to Patrick, Audrey, and Rolin about this after Jesse's presentation--more talking through it--helped me realize just how naturalized rubrics have become in my teaching. They weren't really a decision that I thought too much about: I just included them because, of course!, every assignment in every course needs a rubric. So, yes, there's that. 

The discussion also helped me re-see that while I felt that creating rubrics for most, if not all, of my assignments and grading was making the process transparent to my students, what is also happening, in part at least, is that I was also deflecting responsibility for the grading process on the rubric instead of owning that part of the process in my own work.

What Other Options are There?

More recently, I have sought to empower more student self-evaluations of their own work, but they still those use rubrics that I have developed for the assignments. The student grading and responses are overall pretty solid, and they grade themselves, largely, as well as I do. And this is good. In most cases, if there are issues, it is with students marking themselves lower than the grade that they have earned. As Jesse indicated during his keynote, this is usually a specific gender where this happens--and it's rarely men. That's been my experience as well. I’m happy to give them a higher grade if earned.

Audrey raised the example of Dave Cormier and the negotiated grading contract with students. I'm reluctant for several reasons: I teach completely online, I teach in quarters not semesters, and I've never tried it out face-to-face. So, while an interesting idea, I'm shying away from it for now. Perhaps, though, working this out on different projects, or larger projects in the class, where we create a contract around it and the grading.

When asked, Patrick described how for some of his classes he describes an important component, professionalism, and then indicates how much it is worth. He also describes what professionalism is, and then issues a grade for it at the end. End of story. This sounds interesting, but I'm not sure how well it would work with MS students--and I'd want to tease this out a bit more. Good idea, though.

Still Addicted to Rubrics

I don't plan to drop rubrics, and I'm not sure that I could do so completely, either. I also don't know that I fully want to quit--especially since they are so integral in education for admins, faculty, and students. What I do see as valuable, my real take away from this presentation, is that I need to diversify my approach to grading and evaluation for my classes. Hopefully this can provide me, and more importantly my students, with multiple ways to think about and practice evaluation. This means that they will have more options on how to grade and evaluate their students, and hopefully how to offer them productive and useful feedback, in the future.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/921718 2015-10-24T18:48:25Z 2015-10-28T17:47:18Z Productivity Paradox: NWeLearn 2015

I was fortunate enough to co-present at NWeLearn with Elayne Kuletz again. Last year we presented technology tips. This years we presented on the "Productivity Paradox" and tools to assist with sorting that out.

Our presentation was during the first session on the first day, and it was a pretty full room. I was pretty pleased with the results, especially the last 20 minutes or so where folks shared resources.

Here are our slides.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/921608 2015-10-24T04:08:43Z 2015-10-24T04:08:43Z Introducing Jesse Stommel at #NWeLearn 2015

I had the pleasure of introducing Jesse Stommel before his presentation at NWeLearn today.

Here's the text. It was meant to be a bit performative.

The introduction was shaped and influenced by several anonymous folks who gave me ideas, feedback, and helped shape my understanding of Jesse's work on a larger scale so that I could get the feel and ethos right. 



“Life is a mystery, 

Everyone must stand alone

I hear you call my name

And it feels like home”*

Jesse Stommel is Executive Director, Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at University of Mary Washington. 

He researches, teaches, writes, and creates MOOCs.

He’s helping redefine online academic publishing and peer review.

A Twitter colleague describes Jesse as: 

“A discomforting humanities everyman who keeps making everyone think critically about academia and scholarship.”

A few points of contact for the Jesse assemblage:

  • Digital Humanities
  • Zombies
  • Dry English Cider
  • Shakespeare
  • bell hooks
  • Freire
  • A young puppy named Emily
  • Collaborative editing
  • Visual rhetoric

Jesse’s work embodies care and builds productively from rage and frustration with social injustice.

And to the LMS grade book we can shout lyrics from Oi Polloi:

“We’re gonna boot

gonna boot

gonna boot down the door

smash their oppression, smash their law.”^

Don’t offer Jesse dessert, but he’ll probably take you up on the yogurt pretzels

Please join me in welcoming Jesse Stommmel! 

* Madonna’s “Like a Prayer

* ^ Oi Polloi’s “Boot Down the Door"

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/911088 2015-09-30T16:00:05Z 2015-09-30T16:00:05Z Working with Boom 2! Great sound but not with external devices

I've been using Boom 2 for nearly six months now. I bought it for about $10 for my work MacBook Pro for a simple reason: the volume could just not get loud enough. At the time, I was watching movies at home by connecting the MacBook to my 26" HP screen. With many shows, the volume was just weak. It got old. Then I got hit by some offer via email, looked at Boom, and bought it. I've been pretty happy with Boom ever since. Yes, it cranks the volume notably--especially on the MacBook Pro.

I've been upgrading my work computers. Moved to an iMac 5K. It's speakers crush in terms of quality and volume compared to any other Mac I'v heard, so it did not need Boom. Didn't even try. However, the MacBook Air I have is, well, thin on sound like it's thin on body. Transferred Boom 2 over to the Air. Yes! The quality did improve as did the potential volume increase.

Important point with Boom: you select your Mac model and it adjust the sounds accordingly. This is important to know, especially if you connect your laptop to external devices. For example this past week I came in to my office and plugged my Air into a 26" Mac monitor. The sound was AWFUL. Tinny, hollow--just utter trash. Same result when I plugged in some Bose USB speakers. WTH I asked.

Then I remembered Boom: it adjusts the sound for the specific computer and not speakers. I turned of Boom! and things were great again. Clear, good sound from the speakers, from the monitor. 

The app is definitely worth the money: completely improves listening quality and potential volume.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/911067 2015-09-29T18:25:05Z 2015-09-29T18:25:05Z Fall Term 2015

Fall Term: Week 1

So far things are off to a great start. Online classes all set up, several hours of research writing accomplished, and revising my web presence. Naturally I needed to come back here, too. Can't seem to post here very regularly--at least up to now.

This term my emphases are on teaching better and getting more research done.

Research is on screencasting and online portfolio use by paraprofessionals (Deaf-Blind Interveners, specifically).

My courses are Internet for Educators, Web 2.0/Social Media, and Cultural, Social, and Political Issues in Educational Technology. For the first time in my life, all the courses I am teaching I have taught before. So that feels good. Good!

Doing more work trying to promote learning autonomy in my courses. Doing this by bringing in more self-evaluations and holistic review of activities and less of specific assignment grading. It worked well this summer is the Social Media course, so I'm looking to expand it. So that's good.

Trying to step back in to blogging with smaller tidbits rather than trying to post multiple pieces of brilliance.

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/889290 2015-08-04T16:00:03Z 2015-08-04T16:00:03Z Summer Term 15: Overview

This past term, Summer 15, has gone by very quickly. Although there is much to report, I don't think I can do it all in one post. Frankly, there is too much distracting me. There have been too many things distracting me, and it's rather a lot to bring in in a single post. So I'm not even going to try. Instead, I'd like to identify some pieces of the assemblage that have been making up my world lately.

Using Facebook for class: for one of my classes, we had Facebook as the site for interaction, questions, posting, etc. It worked pretty well, except when it came to locating individual students' work. That was a bear. And as many students indicated, it was at first confusing or disorienting to use FB for a CMS when it was not intended that way. I do plan to use FB for classes in the future, but I need to modify how it is used. Overall, though, I was quite surprised how well it went. I do like how more interaction seemed fostered there, on FB, than in forums.

Using Tumblr for class: in this same class we used Tumblr. I'm not sure I did a very articulate or good job in framing how we could or use Tumblr, so it seemed like an add on. Perhaps this was due to my limited experience working with Tumblr; perhaps it had to do with the rush in shaping the course. Either way, I need to revisit how I frame using Tumblr as a site for students to gather their artifacts and share them.

Using Twitter for class: this went pretty well, and most students gathered; speed quickly enough. Next time, though, I plan to push more on them picking up and using a Twitter client, like TweetDeck, earlier. These clients make it easier to track conversations, search, following hashtags, etc. Need to put that near the start of class.

Self-evaluations: I have never relied as heavily, or given as much weight to, the self-evaluations as I did for one class this term. Honestly, I was expecting a few potential problems with students grading themselves too highly. That did not happen. There were a few people who marked themselves too low, and I boosted their grades up. But overall, they scored themselves as I would have scored them--including the people who scored themselves lower for their work (or lack of work). I have to say that I was pretty stunned.

Given this experience, I'm looking at trying out grading contracts, potentially, next term as well as moving the self-evaluation piece into more of my classes. This one class has not only given me the confidence to do it, but it's also really helped frame other grading approaches for me. So I am very excited about that.

Reading what I want when I want: I'm not feeling as guilty about what I read, or don't read, these days. As long as I am reading and not watching movies or TV, then things are fine. I'm also getting more used to being okay with reading a chapter or chunk of pages and leaving the rest of the text. I don't have to complete things any more. And I'm better with that than I used to be.

Not fronting: Like a lot of folks, when I feel bothered or insecure, when someone I perceive as a dolt or pest bothers me, it can get my ire up. And, of course, feeling righteous, I'd like to put them in their place. Or at least enforce my being perceived as superior. Not nice or proper I know, but I'm being honest here. And when that happens, it's easy to shift from staying on solid ground to fronting. And I'm tired of fronting because, the moment I do it, it enhances my insecurity and feeds fear. What if they find out?

So I'm working on not fronting as much.

Hand in hand with not fronting is not being a tool. I'm not really sure how to say that in academic language, but I feel quite sure that the embodied caveatness of academic writing does not allow for such forward statements. I may well be wrong. If you have suggestions for better phrasing, do let me know in the comments. Sadly, I can only think of more coarse versions of not being a tool. I'm guessing that it's a blend of my limited imagination and my really wanting to echo and have the tone which that phrase carries with it.

This goal, this process, has been central in my experience for a number of years now. And yet, in spite of all my efforts, I still find myself doing and being a tool when, in all honesty, I'd rather not be. Most times. I can think of a handful of incidents when I probably should have been more of a tool. That said, I don't see this as limited to work or being this summer. Instead, given all the other stuff that was going on, it's been on my mind.

Central to my world was the closure of the trial of my step-son's murderer. The man was found guilty of murder, second degree. Sentencing happens in late August. After three years of waiting, we're finally there. The trial, the after effects, and the waiting of dredged up a maelstrom of emotions--much of which I've written about elsewhere and may post here eventually. This series of events, and the impact that it's had on my life, has permanently and irrevocably altered who and what I am, how I perceive teaching, and how I respond to others. It's permanently shifted my priorities. Hopefully you are thinking, "Well, of course it would."

And again, I will respond, intellectually it is easy to frame and understand such things. In terms of living and experiencing it, feeling it, it can seem like quite a shock. A shock because no matter where we are, it almost always seems as if we are right at home. And to shift, well, often feels unnatural even though intellectually it makes sense.

My final factor, for here at least, is FYC. I've been thinking a lot about first-year composition and how I miss teaching it. Not sure what will happen, but part of me would love to get back to teaching that. Yes!

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/889292 2015-08-03T15:24:29Z 2015-08-03T15:24:29Z Academe, Emotions, Feelings, and Posting

I've largely used this blog, when I post, as a place to mostly work, think, and reflect about technology, teaching, education, and some of the related tools. However, I'm just not able to do that anymore. A series of interesting events experiences wrangled my life, interesting in the sense of intense events, and I'm still processing them.

If you're friends with me on Facebook, then you're already familiar with this. If you're not, then this is largely new.

The long story short is that I've wearied of attempting to pretend that emotions and feelings do not exist, that they do not impact our teaching, learning, scholarship, research, etc. I refuse to pretend any longer that these things do not impact our work, that our intellect and/or reason often serve our emotions and feelings, only we cover it up with intellectual games, scams, and/or justifications. On a surface level, this should be a no brainer--this should make a great deal of sense. We make up narratives that appear to be rational so that we can conform with our culture's overall narrative that all decision making should be based on rationality and sensibility.

Well, folks, just read a bit of Marcuse or Schumacher and it becomes clear quickly that our rationality is bringing us to the brink of destruction more rapidly than we can even measure. But we don't need Marcuse or Schumacher to see and know this: just examine our lives, our alienation, our planet, and the list goes on. I'm not pessimistic about the future of the world, just like I'm not interested in wallowing in sadness or throwing eggs at the oligarchs. They do little after the first five minutes.

Over the past couple years, because of my circumstances, I've attempted to do work that was largely only of intellectual interest; there was little emotional involvement. My emotional investment was limited because I was coping--or not--with my step-son's murder and some surrounding trauma and drama. I've not completed one of those projects that was solely of intellectual interest. There are a variety of reasons why, but I've written--and will write more--about that in other places. 

My take away from all this is that rather than attempting to segregate and keep my emotional investments and feeling invested, largely, in my personal life and my intellect controlling my academic work, I need to have academic work and research that connects directly and deeply with my emotional life. How that is going to manifest, I do not know. I don't really care to worry about that at the moment.

In the meantime, though, it is comforting to know that I'll be integrating different parts of me that have each struggled for control. Why fight for one to dominate when they can harness their energy and work together? Also, why should I pretend or act as if a key part of me is not relevant.

I have little doubt that this is a no-brainer for most folks. Back when I was doing the intellectual/emotional segregation it was also a no-brainer. However, intellectually understanding something and possessing the capacity, will, or ability to actually do and embody it is another thing entirely.

Net result: my work here, and in my other research and writing, is shifting. We'll see where it goes.

Intense Dog image from Wikimedia commons

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/862293 2015-05-28T18:25:30Z 2015-05-28T18:25:31Z Embed test for Spotify playlist

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/860938 2015-05-26T01:58:05Z 2015-05-28T16:07:38Z Dream Achieved: Citing Conflict in an academic-related piece

Dream achieved! Never did I think I'd be able to connect Conflict to my academic work, teaching, or current life. I finally have that does published at EdContexts

Conflict was incredibly important during my late teens and early twenties; they shaped much of who and what I was and how I see the world. To this day I can't help having strong responses to some of their tracks. "From Protest to Resistance" was the first time I really "heard" Conflict intentionally and closely. It happened at World Of Music (WOM) in Frankfurt, Germany, in September or October of 1989. I stood at the listening booth and listened to the entire first side of the record. And then I bought the record.

Now, over 25 years later, I'm still listening to Conflict and I still identify with much in their music and lyrics.

Only now, instead of just listening to a band, I was able to articulate and share how that band and its music shapes and inspires me as an educator.

Being able to do this was really cool. Aside from being cool, was how affirming it felt. I've known that a number of punk-influenced folks work or teach in education, it's been rare, though, for me to connect with them. Then, in the midst of the #hpj101 event, I met several punk-driven women in education. Knowing and hearing what they do, and seeing that they still care about the music and messages, was the water this african violet of an essay needed.

So yes, I'm very happy right now. In the midst of everything else, a wonderful part of my past is rethreaded into my present and nurtured by acquaintance with cool people doing cool things.

African Violet from Wikimedia
Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/860494 2015-05-25T16:00:07Z 2015-05-25T16:00:07Z Marcuse's quotes of Bridgman: To think about

I'm posting quotes and notes from texts I'm reading. These are things I'm still thinking about. If you have ideas, please share!

Operations and concepts

In his first chapter of One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse cites Bridgman from The Logic of Modern Physics from 1928. Nearly a century old, this text (or at least Marcuse's quotes) offers us a lot to think about in terms of education and how we are teaching

“We evidently know what we mean by length if we can tell what the length of any and every object is, and for the physicist nothing more is required. To find the length of an object, we have to perform certain physical operations. The concept of length is therefore fixed when the operations by which length is measured are fixed: that is, the concept of length involves as much and nothing more than the set of operations by which length is determined. In general, we mean by any concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations" (italics in the original; quoted in Marcuse, 1991, p. 13; from p. 5 in Bridgman).

Connections to Teacher Ed

1. How are we defining the concept of education? Are we limiting it to a number of specific operations?

2. Regarding the rubrics for evaluation and assessment of teacher education programs, as well as pre-license teachers, these evaluations appear to more more closely to reducing teaching to a series of actions, a series of moves made in the class. This is reducing teaching to a set of operations.

3. This could clearly link to scripted teaching.

4. Encroachment of physical science’s approach into behaviorist-approach of social sciences & education.

Implications of operations in teaching

The implications of such thought, according to Bridgman, are also briefly quoted by Marcuse: 

“To adopt the operational point of view involves much more than a mere restriction of the sense in which we understand ‘concept,’ but means a far-reaching change in all our habits of thought, in that we shall no longer permit ourselves to use as tools in our thinking concepts of which we cannot give an adequate account in terms of operations” (p. 13 in Marcuse, 1991, from p. 31 in Bridgman, 1928).

Connections to teaching

1. When we are analyzed and reviewed on a specific set of rubrics, do these rubrics record joy, engagement, passion—from the teacher or the student? No, they don’t. These things cannot be measured or gauged directly. They are also not included as part of the operations because they cannot be adequately described.

2. The endless gathering of data is almost exclusively about what can be defined or what is easily defined. By focusing our attention on the data, we are allowing and enabling the narrowing of what teaching and education mean.

Connections to EdTech

1. How can we use EdTech to combat this operationalization of learning? Are there ways that we can use technology in the classroom to promote and encourage students to do things that are fun, educational, and that are not measurable or able to be quantified?  

2. Is it possible for us to encourage using tech to help students explore the learning spaces that are outside of assessment?

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/860629 2015-05-25T06:17:25Z 2015-05-25T06:17:25Z Occupy, Reading, Twitter Journal Club, and TAZ

Recently I learned about the Twitter Journal Club (#tjc15)from Maha Bali. I met Maha during the #hpj101 training (I write a bit about the #hpj101 experience here). The #hpj101 conversations were so excellent that, at some point, Maha pointed out #tjc15. I thought, "Hey, this looks cool." Indeed, it is cool. Several other folks from #hpj101 seemed to think it was cool as well. Feel free to check out some of their Storified events to see how cool things can be.

Time passes.

Earlier today I learn about the upcoming article: Occupy: A new pedagogy of space and time? The title is short. What are these people doing? It's an academic article title! They've always got to be long. Well, at least they still use the colon!

Seriously, I scanned the article and it looks quite interesting. I was a bit confused or amazed: there was no mention of Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone. (You can read the full text here, but I suggest focusing on Part 3.)

Maybe the authors did not know about TAZ? Or perhaps the earlier parts of TAZ put off some readers? Regardless, TAZ came out over 20 years ago and had a notable impact on some anarchist/autonomous thinking. 

If you're one for following connections, the band Praxis released an album that has some TAZ-related content in it. You can listen to that here if you like. Buckethead plays on it among a number of other interesting musicians.

Clock image source

Gregory Zobel
tag:zobelg.posthaven.com,2013:Post/860485 2015-05-24T20:00:06Z 2015-05-24T20:00:06Z Grieving with Social Media

How social media has helped me cope with grief. I thought it important to record while working through some of the emotions and processes. Perhaps this can help folks understand why public expressions of grief in social media are useful for coping.

1. Social Media (SM) allows communication with multiple people who I know care and are interested without having to tell/speak the same story each time to every individual. This saves emotional energy while allowing people to stay informed.

2. Social media provides distance. I can check in when I want to, and respond when I want to, without feeling pressured to respond. In face-to-face, if someone asks an awkward or bumpy question, it's more difficult to stall or ignore. If you do so, people may think you're rude when, instead, you're just not ready to deal with them on that topic. And this can complicate things. So, instead, some of these conversations can take place virtually and allow some time/distance to comment back.

3. With SM I'm able to rapidly share, and often receive, how I'm feeling or handling things with multiple folks at once. While a virtual "thinking of you" is not the same as a hug, in many ways it accomplishes the same goal: assurance of others' care and reaffirming that their concerned and that they are invested in our well being.

4. Having a different site or location, online or Facebook, allows me to situate or place a lot of the emotional work. While the emotions obviously swell into other parts of my life, I can focus my expression of it--outside of family at least--in one area. That allows me to do my work, do my job, and to have some sense (perhaps delusional) that the emotions are compartmentalized in a productive manner. In other words, I don't fall apart randomly during the day because I know I can do that kind of expression or work elsewhere--whenever I want.

5. Semi-gated social networks, like Facebook, strike me as the most useful because I'm not sharing the emotions with the whole world, like Twitter has the potential to do. As such, I can avoid being trolled by folks who have nothing better to do than inflict pain for its own sake.

Gregory Zobel