New Literacies

This past Spring quarter, I took a class called Big Thinkers in Ed Tech in which we read texts from Neil Postman, Maggie Jackson, and Aldous Huxley. These books explored dark themes of dehumanization and the deleterious consequences that changing technology and information systems can have on society and individuals. When searching for resources to contribute for my final essay for that class I picked up Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, and found it to be an excellent resource to investigate the relationship between attention, distraction, empowerment, and how humans can “plug-in” to the internet in both beneficial and harmful ways.

When learning about media literacy, I found good cause to pick Net Smart back upas the final few chapters deal with questions about the delta of new media to the traditional media that we spent most of our time studying. As Rheingold puts it:

The critical uncertainty today is whether the radical democratization of access to the means of information production and distribution will change the vectors of influence. Can many-to-many media effectively counter the well-funded disinformation apparatuses of powerful political and economic interests?

In my opinion, the study of media literacy extends beyond “mass media” like television, movies, magazines, and commercials. We need to fold in the way participatory, social media networks have come into the mix – bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, trolls, “influencers” – we must turn a critical and interrogative eye towards these non-professionalized  sources of information and ask good questions about who they are, what they want, who if anyone is paying them to become a new, invisible part of the “disinformation apparatus.”

Featured Image

In the Fake News by Bosc D’Anjou on Flickr via CC 2.0

Sources

Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press) (p. 241). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

Representation

 

It was a somewhat heavy day in Media Literacy class today as we spent several hours exploring the compositional nature of media messages. Representation of non-dominant groups, who are typically portrayed in ways that conform to easy-to-digest stereotypes, cause real harm to minorities.

I often see the phrase “Representation matters” regarding the media. In the past, I had thought about this mainly in terms of quantity – we see primarily white faces in movies & magazines; but as it turns out, quantity is only one aspect of the issue of representation.

Quantity

Here are quantity representation numbers for some of the top 700 grossing films of from 2007-2014 (excluding 2011) courtesy of PBS Newshour:

Comparing that with census data from Infoplease we can get a general idea of how well people are represented in movies:

table - race and media representation

There is a clear bias towards featuring more whites in mainstream films, and an even larger bias against Latinos, who are massively underrepresented. Some possible explanations for these numbers (in addition to the bias to feature whites as the “default” in any media presentation):

  • most media produced in Spanish would not be included in this analysis of top-grossing films
  • the media has not yet adapted to the increased diversity since 2000, which as a percentage of the whole population has seen whites decline by nearly 9% while Latinos increased by about 4% and those falling into the “Some other race” category by about 5%.

Quality

Much more disturbing to me is the “quality” aspect of representation in the media. As whiteness is dominant in our culture, we cast any non-whites as “the other.” When we see a non-white face, we understand that person as representing their ethnicity rather than as a unique person. In contrast, whites are freer to comprise a range of personalities, roles, and archetypes.

As US Berkley Professor put it in his hilarious, insightful, and pretty inappropriate Medium essay Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For:

am an individual. I can choose to not be offended, not to be affiliated with any group and rest assured in my sense of self.

Non-whites, in contrast, are often stuck in roles that signal cultural shortcuts. If we see a  black man in loose pants and a bandana, we understand that he’s a gangster. A young Asian woman? She must be a student, and a good one. If we see a Southeast Asian man (which seems unlikely, given the quantity data discussed above) he’s probably a taxi driver or an IT guy. And on and on and on. Seeing people represented in these narrow ways over and over again influences our subconscious thoughts and reinforces stereotypes.

I am hopeful that representation will continue to get better. One helping hand? Technology and the de-coupling of entertainment streaming media from direct demographic advertising of broadcast and cable TV. Programming featuring diverse casts can be produced and watched in new ways. One great example is Aziz Ansari’s show, Master of None, which has been a hit as an original Netflix program.

The show has addressed the problem of representation head on, particularly in the episode Indians on TV.

I’m hopeful for more remediation, conversation, and progress on this issue and will happily do my part by binge watching Master of None season 2 when my Summer term ends.

Featured Image

“Movies” by Terry on Flickr via Creative Commons License. Image digitally altered.

References

Santhanam, Laura, and Megan Crigger. “Out of 30,000 Hollywood Film Characters, Here’s How Many Weren’t White.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 06 July 2017.

Population of the United States by Race and Hispanic/Latino Origin, Census 2000 and 2010. Infoplease.
© 2000-2017 Sandbox Networks, Inc., publishing as Infoplease.
6 Jul. 2017.

Cohen, Michael Mark. “Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For.”Medium. Secret History of America, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 July 2017.

Who profits from your foodie blog?

Do you ever stop and appreciate how much effort goes into making food look and sound appealing in advertising? In class today, we watched videos of professionals who’s entire job is to prep food products for commercial shoots. We saw food as diverse as fast food burgers and salads poked, prodded, pinned, painted and coated with oil to achieve the perfect look.

The careful staging and preparation of fast food photography often lead to a striking disconnect when the actual food is contrasted with advertising:

Taco Bell tacos, ads vs reality via Bored Panda

Large companies in the restaurant and fast food business are now seeking to improve perception and capitalize on the army of Instagram food photographers: the parent company of Chili’s restaurants launched an initiative to improve the look of its food in amateur photos posted online, changing the way food is prepared and presented at an estimated cost of $750,000 USD per year. Starbucks developed a limited time drink – the Unicorn Frappucino – that experts suggest was created specifically to drive Instagram posts. (Roy, 2017) That sounds like a lot of money and effort catering to social media behavior, but by doing so, companies are reaping valuable advertising and engagement from the most coveted consumers: 18 to 34-year-olds with disposable income who spend time on social media sites.

So the next time you go to post your brunch on Instagram or use a corporate sanctioned hashtag, ask yourself: do you really want to become a part of a meta-advertisement?

References

Roy, Jessica. “Unicorn Frappuccinos Are Just the Latest Food Designed with Instagram in Mind.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 June 2017. <http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-unicorn-frappuccino-instagram-food-trends-20170427-htmlstory.html>.

Featured Image

 “Tachos in the Boise Airport” by Ben Kahn

 

Pictures Don’t Lie

Today in Media Literacy we spent time looking at and thinking about multimedia. As with writing, maps, and other forms of communication, there is more than meets the eye (or ear) when consuming images, videos, music, and sound effects. Choices made by content authors, whether intentionally or not, alter perceptions of media. Making small changes to media can significantly distort the meaning of the message.

As an example, we looked at two magazine covers featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although both magazines are from the same year, they hardly seem to feature the same person. In each, Arnold is framed, lit, dressed, and posed differently, and he is surrounded by suggestive colors, fonts, and words. (I just want to know how those “20 INCH ARMS” fit into a nicely tailored, slim fitting suit.)

arnold.png

To explore and play with these ideas, we had a small assignment in which we partnered with a classmate and took two photos of our subject: one in which they appear “mean” and one in which they seem “nice.” I got these shots of my classmate Craig:

craig.png

I took the photos with my iPhone 7 Plus, which has a cool DLSR-like bokeh photo effect.(I’m trying not to gush about my Apple gadgets, but they don’t make it easy sometimes!)

I didn’t think it would be too difficult to get a “nice” photo of Craig (since he’s a nice guy), so I just had him stand in front of a clean-looking section of brick wall with good lighting and smile wide. He looks like a clean-cut, happy grad student to me!

For the “angry” version of the image, we scouted a bit more. I wanted to frame Craig through a chain-link fence, but we ended up finding a walkway with thick, menacing bars. This also put the position of the camera a bit below him so that the viewer is at a lower vantage point looking up. I focused on his clenched hand, so his face is just a bit out of focus and in shadow. To complete the effect, I adjusted the contrast and color temperature a bit to add shadows to Craig’s face and increase the amount of red in the photo.

Featured Image

“Woodsy Dream Lanterns” by me on Flickr. Available for others via CC license.

Draw Me a Map

Today in CSE-612 we explored maps as message transmitting tools. We often think of maps as literal, one-to-one artifacts that represent the real world without bias. But in fact, like any communications medium, maps are inherently a product of subjective humans with their own perceptions, and agendas, and they reflect a variety of decisions, compromises, or misconceptions of their creators.

*Image hosted on Wellington’s Map Blog on Tumblr

The same could be said of any artifact that is meant to convey a message or a lesson. When designing a course, creating an inforgraphic, composing a Tweet, or authoring a blog post, we all make decisions about what information we will acknowledge and address, and how we will choose to represent that message to our audience. In a way every time we communicate we are drawing a map for someone to follow; to arrive at an idea, concept, or point-of-view.

What it comes to maps, what features make the cut and the ways they are represented can say as much about the author as the terrain.

*Feature Image: World Map, 1689, Amsterdam. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Facing My Apple Addiction

As I dive into media literacy studies, I have been asked to critically engage with the marketing and advertising of a brand I consider myself loyal to. Now, I am the type of person that would prefer not to think of myself as loyal to any corporate brand. Aside from the desire to believe that I can maintain objectivity in my decision making, I also feel conflicted about the materialism and conspicuous consumption of rampant consumerism. However, realistically I know that I’m not any more immune from the persuasive powers of advertising than the next person, and while I don’t think of myself as a brand loyalist, I will “stick with what works” in many purchasing instances. Shoes, jeans, red wine, eyeglasses, comic book publishers – I have a favorite brand of each. I’m only human after all.
After considering what to write about for a few moments, I settled on what has easily been my most personal, complete, and expensive relationship to a specific brand in recent years. I am of course, talking about Apple.

Apple has a long and rich history of advertising and has been recognized for the innovation and cleverness of many of their campaigns. While watching a playlist of Apple’s most well known ads I saw three main aspirational themes (I am sure that others will identify different messages):

  • People who use Apple computers are different, special, and creative, cool
  • Apple products help you connect with what’s important (loved ones, passions)
  • Apple products are simple, easy to use, empowering

Think Different

There are many Apple ads that exemplify the first message – “you want to use Apple because you’re special or talented or creative.” I was most familiar with the “I’m a PC, and I’m a Mac” commercials starring John Hodgman and Justin Long and the “1984” Orwellian parody. Yet when reviewing several other examples this “Think Different” ad stuck out to me. It’s hard to imagine many companies getting away with hitching their brands to Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, and Martin Luther King Jr. (and that’s just in the first 10 seconds of this piece) but that’s exactly what they do here.

Once More With Emotion

In the post-Jobs era, Apple has introduced more emotional appeal into their advertising. People do get emotionally attached to their phones and laptops, but these ads focus on showing how these devices supposedly help to foster the human connections that sustain us. In my survey I saw videos focused on a young couple using the iPhone camera to create memories of a shared afternoon in the city, an energetic video of friends messaging stickers to each other, and romantic partners navigating their relationship with a little help from their Apple Watches. I chose this short video that has the most effect on me:

Keep It Simple, Stupid

The last theme I saw several times was one of simplicity and ease-of-use. Apple rarely features celebrities talking about how great their products are, but they often will provide brief demonstrations, mini-tutorials, or standout examples of photography, video, or other creative work created with their devices.

Although I personally became an Apple user after being exposed to Macs and iPads at work rather than by shopping around or from watching commercials , I acknowledge that their marketing is very effective and continuously works to sell me on the idea of entrenching myself further and further into a technology ecosystem that I would have a great deal of difficulty leaving at this point. For now, I will continue to use and enjoy my MacBook, iPhone, and other Apple gadgets. But I will strive to keep reminding myself of the following :

  • Gadgets don’t make you special or cool (that requires personality and authenticity)
  • Gadgets don’t make your loved ones love you more (that requires attention and communication)
  • Most technology is getting pretty user friendly and effective (Android phones and Windows computers can be as good, perhaps better for many people)

(Confession: this post was written on an iPad Pro)

First Day of Class

I’m excited to start this course on media literacy with Dr. Mary Bucy. Media has such a profound impact on how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. I get the sense that many people I know would like to understand and adjust their relationship to media, but don’t  know what where to start.

In our class, we started by watching a commercial ( video below) and applying our nascent critical media analysis skills to it.

I definitely picked up on strong themes in the commercial – it plays on stereotypes about gender and class on its nose – but I will be interested to see if my perspective changes or is deepened by the end of the course.

We also did some research into the corporate ownership of media giants like Disney, Newscorp, and Comcast. Some of the information we started out with in class was a few years old, and as Mary pointed out, the landscape had already shifted. The global media is in a steady state of flux as companies are acquired, spun off, sold, or shuttered, although the general trend is one of consolidation.  To be honest, this wasn’t new to me – I remember being an angry teenager and listening to this Fugazi song in the late 90s (warning: the song has a swear)

Fugazi – Five Corporations

Grows so smoothly
Moves so slowly
Takes completely
It’s as if they
Belong and they’ve
Been here all along

Buy them up and
Shut them down
Then repeat
In every town

Every town will
Be the same

This one’s ours
Lets take another

Full lyrics at Genius

I worry about the corporate takeover of the world. Slowly spreading, gaining influence, buying off politicians, and getting better and better at convincing us that this is all normal. The media plays a big part in that, from advertising to newspaper and TV coverage of politics and economics to embedding messages and products into entertainment.

Fugazi has a point!

* Featured Image: Fugazi live photo by Sumlin on Flickr via Creative Commons license

Tech Reflection: How I Use OneNote for Grad School

In this post, I wanted to share a quick reflection on how I am using technology to help keep myself on track as I pursue a graduate degree, in the same vein as my recent post on Grammarly. I thought this one would be easier as a video, so I made a quick screen recording using QuickTime and uploaded to my WOU Youtube account. Hope you enjoy the video. If you use OneNote or a different digital notetaking system, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

 

Featured Image: By Marcus Pe via Unsplash

Where Can Tech Take Your Students?

I provide professional development on technology to teachers who are at varying levels of comfort engaging with technology. For some, it can be a struggle to wrap their minds around new tools and processes. One trick I always find helpful is to frame a new technology in terms of its analog ancestor. A digital version of something that’s already well-understood.

 Most of an LMS is just some classroom activity abstracted into the digital realm. Handouts? PDFs can be posted online. Discussions? Those can happen in a forum. Writing essays? They can be created in a word processor and uploaded to a digital dropbox or shared through the cloud. Multiple choice tests? No need to change the formula. Just put them online, and the grading happens even more automatically than when using a Scantron! Today I helped a nursing instructor set-up a Quizlet so her students could practice with digital flashcards. A huge time-saver and money-saver and students are just as happy using their iPhones and laptops as they would be with index cards.

Using technology to create efficiencies is great. Teachers have more on their plates now than ever before and offloading some of that demand on time and concentration can be a huge help in allowing teachers to be more present, and to find some balance with work and home life. But I’ve had this feeling lately that we’re not doing enough to explore the new possibilities afforded by technology, rather than just finding quicker or easier ways to do what we’ve always done.

Lee Skallerup Bessette’s recent post on Hybrid Pedagogy, “Are Apps Becoming the New Worksheets?,” set my thoughts back into motion. In the post, Lee remembers making stuff in school; developing photographs, printing newspapers, learning to write HTML and CSS code; even making paper at one point. In the new age of drag and drop authoring tools that handhold or in some cases literally won’t let you make a mistake, she worries that students are missing out on the authentic experience of making.

“We have students “make” PowerPoint presentations, websites, videos, GIFs, and other digital baubles, but are we really teaching them to make, or are we just teaching them to drag and drop or to effectively follow a set of rigid instructions in order to achieve a static goal? Are we providing too inflexible a template to have their “building” be anything more than the illusion of choice, the illusion of making?” – Lee Skallerup Bessette

I can certainly see Lee’s point. She goes on to suggest that teachers ask their students to get their hands a bit dirtier in creating the “stuff” of the internet age – make something out of a Raspberry Pi, learn to manipulate the HTML and CSS that hides behind every beautiful website. “How do we break from this?”, he asks, “teachers and students and parents and principals alike treating new ed tech like shinier, electronic versions of lectures and worksheets”?

Here’s my small idea: Let’s think about things that we could never have students make in the past, that were too expensive, too time-consuming; that just seemed plain impossible before and are trivially obtainable now. Here’s a short list of the top of my head:

Then: When I was in high school, I was one of the few who got to travel across town one period per day and participate in my districts radio program. We had a 10-watt transmitter (yup, you read that right) that broadcast our signal upwards of a ½ mile on a clear day.\

Now: There are many tools that can be used to start a podcast for a class or for individual students. You can publish online using an RSS feed, and even use popular platforms like SoundCloud and iTunes for free to reach anyone in the world. That would take a lot of gigawatts using terrestrial radio! Students can be creative and make a program relevant to class topics, or it can be a more open-ended opportunity for expression.

Then: I never knew how to make a video in school. Computers that could process video were expensive and video editing applications byzantine and complex.

Now: Video can be captured and edited entirely on mobile devices or Chromebooks. If you have the resources, you can step up the production value and use digital camcorders and Mac/PC based video editing tools, but it’s not necessary. Why focus on the tools used when so much of the making is in the production process? It’s all about students coming up with a message or narrative, storyboarding, scouting locations, directing actors, capturing and editing.

Then: I never left the U.S., other than a few trips across the Canadian border, until I was an adult.

Now: Any classroom teacher can sign-up for Mystery Skype and connect with others from anywhere else in the world with an internet connection.

Featured Image by Andrey Larin via Unsplash

 

Teachers & Digital Citizenship

Reference.com defines a good citizen as “ a person who obeys the laws of his country, contributes to society and participates in public affairs with wisdom.” In other words, a good citizen makes an effort to be informed, to act with consideration and care for others and for society, and to leave the world better than they found it.

While the lines between learning in the classroom and learning in digital spaces continue to blur, digital citizenship and digital literacy are becoming important topics for teachers to be aware of. This is a daunting problem given the complexity and rapid rate of change, and I understand why many teachers might feel overwhelmed if they try to tackle it all at once. It’s all about becoming informed and making good decisions, which is always a learning process. So, there are two things I want the reader of this post to keep in mind:

  • Understanding the digital world is a journey, not a destination
  • You aren’t alone! Your institution likely has someone whose job it is to support you in your integration of technology into the curriculum. If not, there are many folks on Twitter and elsewhere on the web who can provide information and support. These people may be knowledgeable or even subject matter experts, but please remember they are always learning too!

With that in mind, I’m going to focus in on just a few areas I personally find most relevant to the discussion on digital citizenship.

Accessibility

Just as the physical world can be made accessible to those with a disability, so to can the digital world. The good news is that it’s much easier and cheaper to make a webpage accessible than it is to retrofit an old building – it just means getting into a few good habits.

What Can You Do?

If you’re new to the idea of accessibility, the main idea is to make sure those who are relying on assistive technology can get the same information from your digital materials as everyone else does. In most cases, learning to use the formatting options such as Heading Styles in your authoring tool will get you most of the way towards creating accessible digital materials. For digital documents (PDFs, PowerPoints, etc.) and webpages, I like to use the acronym SPLAT to remind myself to use these tools.

SPLAT stands for Styles, Paragraphs, Lists, Alternative Text, & Tables, and you can find out more at the Teaching and Learning blog at my home institution, University of Portland.

Another important area to consider is the captioning of any video you want to use. If you have a deaf/hard-of-hearing student or just want to make your content accessible to a larger audience, you might want to learn how to curate accessible Youtube videos or even how to start captioning your own content.

As you start to get into the habit of thinking about accessibility, you’ll find that most steps you take towards accessibility add usability and value for all – for example, using headings is crucial for screen readers but also helps to visually and logically order long sections of text, and adding captions can help ESL students understand to read English in a new way. Accessible design is good Universal Design!

Remember, it’s OK and encouraged to ask for help! Your school most likely has accessibility and technology specialists who can provide guidance.

Copyright and Fair Use

This is a sticky issue but an important one to be brought up. I know of many teachers who hold their students to high standards regarding academic honesty, who might then turn around and grab an image from Google search without a second thought to copyright or attribution. In some cases, that may be acceptable under fair use, especially if the graphic is being taught to specifically. However, if the image is supplementary or decorative, fair use most likely doesn’t apply, and it’s also important to understand that fair use is a legal defense of copyright violation, not a law in and of itself.

What Can You Do?

Understand that just because you can find material on the internet, doesn’t mean it always fair game to use. There are lots of resources and ways to find free to use content if you know where to look. A digital rights check can also be an opportunity to ask “Do I really need this graphic in my instructional materials? Is there information I want students to learn here?”

 It can be frustrating to practice restraint in this area, and realistically you aren’t likely to ever be punished for re-using images or other resources without permission in the classroom. It’s not glamorous to take the extra time to attribute a photo, but this is an area where it’s important for teachers to be modeling behavior for their students!

Featured Image: David Teniers the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons