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

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.

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.

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.

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.

#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.