You are here: home > archives > teaching

March 3, 2010

mid-week report

Posted by dogpossum on March 3, 2010 10:05 AM | Comments (1)

This is just going to be an account of things I've done lately, as I'm trying to get my brain in gear for doing readings and some writing.

Today I did the third run of week five of c25k. That was 5 minutes walking, 20 minutes running, 5 minutes walking. I ran for twenty whole minutes without having to stop. I haven't been able to do that since I was in an athletics squad at thirteen. It's pretty bloody amazing. And it wasn't as hard as I thought. My knees did get a bit sore from the impact, and I really felt the limited range of movement in my right ankle, but otherwise it was ok. I'm pretty tired now, and I don't have that massive, crazy adrenaline-charged energy I usually have on days I run, but I don't feel terrible at all. In fact, I am tough.

Tomorrow I'm off to Melbourne for Blues Before Sunrise, a blues dancing exchange. I'm not doing workshops. I never do any more - I'd much rather spend the daylight hours being a tourist and socialising. I'm not interested in any of the teachers either, which is usually the deciding factor. I'd really like it if Damon Stone came back so I could do some historically informed blues dancing classes.
I'm doing some DJing there (as I mentioned earlier), and I'm interested in seeing how Melbourne's social dancing is going these days. I'll probably play the sort of set I do at Roxbury these days, as Melbourne used to have slightly higher tempos than the Sydney SP gigs, but I'll also keep an eye on the lower tempo range as it's an after-class gig.

I'm also looking forward to buying a good sports bra. I've lost a bit of weight since I started running and this has meant that most of my clothes no longer fit the same way. Most of my wardrobe is cope-with-able, but I'm finding that I really need to get a smaller bra. I've got three super awesome Berlei ones that are actually still in good shape, even though they're about two or three years old. Apparently the elastic goes in bras after a few zillion washes, so you should replace them. But I like these and they were fricking expensive ($70 each). They're not, though, really fitting properly, and I'm getting some bad bounce which actually gives me a bit of a stitch. Egads. So I'm going to go in and get fitted at Myer and then have a look at the outlet store in Brunswick to see if they have what I'm after. I really do have to buy at least one good one for running in.

The semester has started and I've been to two of my three classes. There's an option of getting credit for one subject because of my previous study, but I'm not sure I'll take it. I should, because it'll save me heaps of money and make the workload easier, but I'm actually interested in the content. It's really just basic semiotics and critical thinking, but it's applied to information systems and data management, which is interesting. I really could just do the readings and guide myself through the content on my own (seeing as how I've spent a couple of higher degrees learning just how to do that), but I think the discussions in class could be interesting. At any rate, I have until week four to make up my mind and then withdraw without academic penalty. I should withdraw - it'll save me 1.5 thousand dollars.
Classes have been interesting. The one I'm thinking of dropping was a little frustrating. It really was like being in a first year semiotics/intro to cultural studies subject, but in a very light weight way. It felt as though the discussion was going really. really. really. slowly. Partly because the group doesn't have the sort of discussion skills you get from an arts degree, but also because the tutor/lecturer is kind of adversarial, and this shut down the contributions. It's also because it seems as though information management people are only just discovering concepts like cultural diversity, active readership, meaning as a product of reader + text not inherent in text, etc etc.
The literature is equally slow - it's very tentative about its claims about audiences and users and the status of texts, which is very ANNOYING. These things are so standardly basic in cultural studies, it feels as though we are reinventing the wheel, but without actually using any round shapes. It's a bit interesting because it also makes clear the fact that info management really does rely on the idea that texts do have innate or essential value and meaning. If they didn't, you wouldn't collect and catalogue them and libraries wouldn't exist. The very nature of cataloguing is that texts and items carry meaning within them.
I think this is why the field is having such difficulty accommodating the idea of users as a diverse bunch with different needs and interests. If your text is the important bit, you really have to assume that readers have a shared value system and shared approaches to text. I'd like to see how the literature ultimately deals with this stuff, but right now articles published in the 1990s are all 'you know what - anything can be information! Even a building!' and I'm all 'oh fuck, didn't we talk about this thirty years ago?' So it's very frustrating, but also reveals a whole lot about the way museums and libraries and things work.
It's super frustrating because I'm used to teaching these things to undergrads, and I'm not particularly enjoying the way the tutor in our classes is handling discussion. This stuff really requires a lot of talk and testing from students; they really have to actually do the whole 'meaning is made not innate to texts' thing in class through their own discussions and exploration of readings. But this can't happen if your (white, male, hetero, alpha-male...) tutor can't let the discussion move away from him-as-focus. It's really emphasising the way patriarchy relies on masculinist ways of communicating and engaging in public talk and the negotiation of ideas to maintain the status quo. And while this tutor is all about 'multiple approaches to texts' and so on, he can't see that his own discursive style is enforcing boring old hierarchies and status and modes of engagement that marginalise women and not-patriarchy-types. This is way poop when your group is 90% middle aged women with badass careers behind them. I mean, you've gotta be doing something wrong if you manage to reduce a loud, enthusiastic, cooperative group of mature aged women students to silence. Self-reflexivity, please.

But I am really really really enjoying being back in a class again, as a student not a teacher. I did have to fight my instinct to manage the discussion in the first tutorial (especially when I could see the tutor squashing the discussion). It is hard to change the way I work in such a familiar setting. Tutorials are so clearly hierarchical. The tutor really is the alpha, or at least the guiding, structuring entity. And while I don't mind being in the beta position (yahoo! no lesson planning!), I'm finding it hard not to act on my instincts to lubricate discussion. I think in part it's because I'm also used to being in academic discussions where everyone knows how to talk - you know how to keep things rolling along.
I also think it's a part of being a woman in talk - women tend to do more affirming, active listening and general social lubrication. I've noticed that women tend to respond to alphas in a particular way - affirming, listening, agreeing rather than volunteering ideas, disagreeing or asserting themselves. In a group setting, when faced with an alpha, I tend to square up, to assert myself. And I'm trying not to do that in this class because it then encourages a sort of competition between me and other alphas, but it also provokes a particular response from the women in the group - agreeing, nodding, etc. And while that's all very nice, it also shuts you off from the sort of serious, hardcore communicating women do in all-female groups. Sure, there are particular hierarchies and power dynamics at work there, but they're not such blunt objects. So I need to chill and step back because a) I'm not responsible for the smooth and productive running of the tute, and b) these are my peers, not my students and I'll gain a lot from remembering that.
Basically, this has reminded me of how challenging being a university student is, and of how academia is - despite all this talk about discourse and collegiality - absolutely all about competitive, masculinised interaction. While it was professionally a good idea to learn how to do this type of behaviour when I was teaching, it's actually a fairly shitty way to be in a cooperative, collaborative class setting. So I'm trying to - once again - stop talking and to listen more. To not be the first one to answer questions, and to not 'take control' of the discussion or social setting, even by doing things like massaging conversation or discussion, or heading off at the pass disruptive influences.
It's also a real change to be a student within the university. I'm used to the status and privilege of teaching and researching. But as a student, no one will provide my reader, no one will tell me where to be at any one time, no one will organise rooms for me. Staff deal with me in a different way (I'm definitely lower status). It's super-nice to have other students treat me as peers, though. It's strange because though I've always tried not to be a 'we are gods' type academic, I've still benefited from the higher status of being staff. But I just haven't noticed it. So that shift in status is kind of destabilising.
I noticed it most yesterday when I couldn't find my lecture room. When you're doing the teaching, everyone has to wait for you to find the room. But when you're a student, things just continue whether you're there or not. I found this a bit daunting because it was the first class of the semester for a new subject. So coming in late, I found it tricky to catch up.
This class was discussing stuff I really know nothing about - the internal architecture of information systems like google or databases or search engines. It's taught by a computer science dood (who's really a very good teacher and a lovely guy) and it's run a bit like a computer science subject - practical lab work and lots of contact hours, but NO READINGS (that blows my brain). So I'm going to have to learn how to learn in this new type of setting.
I'm kind of lucky that I do do dance classes regularly - I have ongoing experience learning how to learn in a class, and being comfortable with not knowing things. I think that dancers in the lindy world are very much about learning and knowledge... well, most of them are. The ones who are interested in historical dance forms tend to be very interested in learning. Learning new steps, routines, etc. But there's a great deal of difference between learning a routine from an archival clip or being in a dance class, and learning how to construct databases in a computer lab.

So being a student again is challenging. But it's also very exciting. I really love being in a group again, rather than working independently as you do during a PhD. I love hearing other people talk about their ideas, and having my own brain fired up by their saying things I'd never have come up with. I love this part of teaching, but when you're part of the group it's as though you have permission to just let your brain go, and follow ideas much further. When I'm teaching, I have to stay on track and keep the discussion within some sort of structure, as you have some goals and definite things to achieve. But when you're a stood, you can just let your brain run on and on and on. It's fabulous, and I love it SO MUCH.

Meanwhile, less fabulously, the bathroom renovation continues. The tiling is going on as I type, insulated by my headphones. The floor will go in today (hopefully), and then it will be tiled tomorrow. The vanity should be in by the end of the week, and the plumber in and doing the bits and pieces that make water work and the toilet exist. Next week they put in the fittings and shower screen. So, really, it won't possibly be done by next Wednesday, unless we're really lucky. But it should be done by Friday.
I haven't had a shower since Friday, and though I'm doing a good job with buckets, I'm looking forward to showering in Melbourne. Especially as I'll be dancing so much. But the bathroom will look good, and I think I did a good job choosing the tiles. It's all white, but the shade of white matches the old tub. The shiny (rather than matte) tiles mean it's already far brighter in there, and the whiteness is really good for light. There're no external windows, just a skylight, but the new downlights have also made a big difference. I'm not entirely happy about the vanity, as it will just eat up room, but we just couldn't afford a custom-made one, which is what would be required. Well, we could have afforded it, but it's not a good investment in a flat we won't spend the rest of our lives in.

And that's just about it, I think. I have some readings to do now. :D

"mid-week report" was posted in the category academia and c25k and domesticity and learning and lindy hop and other dances and melbourne and teaching

October 19, 2009

adventures with badass sistahs in outer space: olivia dunham

Posted by dogpossum on October 19, 2009 9:43 PM | Comments (1)

I love SF telly. I love it. I watch every SF program, just in case. I also like supernatural, fantasy and general make believe stuff.
But I tend to have less patience with programs that do not have good female characters. I make exceptions for programs like Supernatural which explore male characters and masculinity in new ways.
I love all trashy vampire telly. I can't help it. It's a sickness.

I did my honours thesis on female violence in action film, and I'm still interested in the way women and violence and, more importantly, women's violence are depicted in mainstream film and television. While I was doing this honours project I came across an article which basically argued that straight-to-video releases (ie B films) were often more transgressive in terms of representations of gender than mainstream or A films. I am really interested in this idea. This is partly how I justify my passion for B telly. Partly. But I also think it's true. Telly that doesn't gain broadcast telly release, doesn't make it to prime time, or even make it to Australian television tends to be where I find the most interesting gender stuff. It's as though being B gives you a little freedom to explore different types of characters.

I gain access to these programs through the internet, and through video shops. Video shops are actually very important. DVD releases of even the most B programs has given me access to some of the most wonderfully un-top-shelf television. Accessing these programs this way (rather than via broadcast telly) means that I tend to watch them in a block, rather than one episode-per-week. I binge view. This changes the way that I read these programs. It makes me more likely to read the meta-arc, the larger story. I tend to regard individual episode stories as pieces of a whole, rather than as discrete texts. Even when the program is very 'monster of the week' (as most SF is, particularly in its first season).

I find out about these programs via websites like io9. I use wikipedia extensively to clear up plot points I haven't understood or to follow up characters and add-on texts like comics. I also use imdb for details about directors, actors and so on. I like to talk about these programs with other people, but I don't particularly want to sit down and dissect them for hours. This was something I used to do with Buffy when I was at school. These days I quite like to share programs and to mention them, or to share add-on texts, but I'm really only interested in watching them. I do talk about them with my partner when we're watching. But only the programs he's also interested in.

My PhD dissertation involved a lot of research into fan studies and methodologies and theories involved in researching fan cultures. I am self-reflexive about most of my talk about these SF telly shows. I am interested in issues of gender and class and sexuality and race and ethnicity.... and all that good identity stuff. But I am also interested in questions about technology and machinery, wider questions about humanity. But, really, gender is where it's at; all that other shit is inflected by this. And, as somebody clever said once, I'll be a post-feminist when we live in a post-patriarchy. Gender issues are so central to SF culture and texts, it's ridiculously self-deceiving to try to ignore them.

This is just one post about one character (mostly) that I like. I'll try to write other posts about other characters. And perhaps about this program in more detail. But don't count on it; I'm slack.
Because I tend to watch a number of programs at one time, and am also reading SF all the time, I tend to read intertextually. Well, of course I do. We all do. But this is one of my particular pleasures; I like to imagine characters from different programs meeting. I like exploring the industrial connections between programs - how could the director of Veronica Mars move to Moonlight and what happens when Mark Mothersbaugh does the music for Big Love. Oh - I also read and watch across genres. I'm reading lots of dodgy supernatural romances most of the time, and always reading Tanya Huff; I'm watching programs like Vampire Diaries and, of course, Blood Ties.
So when I'm watching these programs I'm not only reading the text in front of me, I'm also thinking intertextually, I'm thinking about modes and industries of production, and I'm paying attention to audiences and modes of reception. And the communities which tie them all together.

And I re-watch and re-read on a massive scale.

I also do some sessional teaching at various universities. I exploit this role by pushing the television I love on young, vulnerable middle class kiddies. I do, unapologetically and with great verve, present these programs in a feminist light. I have no - as in zero - tolerance for anti-feminist arguments from my classes. I will listen to them and then dismiss them as they deserve. I aim to indoctrinate a generation of students. They will be feminist and they will value SF.

They can just suck it up or fail.

So here's some stuff about Olivia Dunham. Main character of Fringe. All-round badass sistah. Mos def.

First, watch this:

That's a Fringe promo. The blonde is Olivia Dunham.

I'm really liking the character Olivia Dunham in Fringe. I especially liked her in the first season of the program. Why?

She's a crack shot. She is really, really good with a gun.
She's a good fighter. She wins most fights, and when she doesn't win, it's only because her opponent is, I dunno - a car or something.
She's super clever and figures things out. There are lots of things to figure out in Fringe.
She's a good explainer. Because she's a good figure-er-outer, she often has to explain things to other characters. Usually her male partner Charlie, but also quite often her boss.
She listens and thinks and listens again. She's not always flapping her lips, yapping. She's listening.
She's a good runner and jumper.
She's very gentle and patient with Walter, who's not only a habitual drug user (and abuser) but a mentally unwell older man who's been quite seriously damaged by his time in an institution. She listens to him and pays attention to him; she doesn't patronise him. She protects him when he needs it (and when he asks), but she is also willing to let him take care of himself.
She used to be a prosecutor in the military. She investigated and then prosecuted a middle aged white man who later became her boss. He was charged with sexually assaulting a number of women. When he became her boss, he sought revenge on her through systematic harassment. She didn't take that crap; she kept on being a badass agent. She didn't martyr herself; she called him on his bullshit. Her usual boss was this bad boss's friend. At first he didn't want to like Olivia because of this. Eventually he figured out Olivia was a gun, and that his friend was crap. Then he became a better boss. Olivia kept on being a gun, regardless.
She's willing to tell bosses off if they need it. She's also prepared to listen and to admit she was wrong.
She really likes her sister and her little niece.
She had good, solid, platonic relationships with her male coworkers. There is never even the intimation of sexual tension between her and (the awesome) Charlie. They are partners in the truest sense. He has a wife he loves and Olivia is busy being... Olivia.
She operates in an all-male world - the FBI (or is it CIA? Whatevs - some institution) - but she is aware of gender issues and articulates them. Most especially in her dealings with the bad boss. But she also makes comments about men in positions of power who can't handle assertive women. She has one great line in the first season about how the men around her (especially her male boss) aren't listening to her because she's 'getting emotional, just like a woman'. And then she says something, very sternly, about how she is getting emotional, because this is emotional stuff, and that this emotion is making her a better agent. Olivia is not only calling the men around her on their mysogynist bullshit, she's also reworking the role of 'great agent' to incorporate a range of characteristics not traditionally located in the male arse.
And she is a fully sick agent.

Throughout season one she is the main character. She is the centre of stories, and as the agent in charge, she is also boss of the cases they work. She's the one to call the lab and tell them to get their gear and come investigate something gross. This changes a little in season two, and she is set up as something of a victim (recovering from a 'car accident'), but this is changing. We are at about episode four, and she's already back on her feet and kicking arse. Peter has taken on a more managerial role in the group, and the 'Fringe division' has officially been disbanded. Charlie has [SPOILER] died [/SPOILER], which sucks arse, but I'm dealing. So Olivia's status has shifted. But this is ok, as Peter's character has only slowly been working away from 'carer' for Walter and 'general slacker' towards some sort of three dimensional personhood. He's also finally realising his abilities as an investigator type person. In other words, his character is gradually being fleshed out. I worry that he'll become Olivia's partner (in the sense of FBI ness and in the romantic sense), but I don't see this happening any time soon.

I really like Olivia because I don't worry about her. She's kind of superhuman, but only in the way we expect our SF protagonists to be. She gets scraped and banged and shot occasionally, but it doesn't stop her winning. Sure, she's kind of a paragon of all things awesome, but this is as it should be in SF. She is, however, flawed. And [SPOILER] probably partly psychic and awesome because she was experimented on as a kid. But she has begun dealing with this history and is assimilating and coming to terms with its effects in a phenomenally healthy way. Which in itself is a bit worrying.

Olivia is an impossible woman. An impossible character. But this is as it should be in SF. This is how SF protagonists are: they are strong and brave and clever. Cleverness is important. She is conventionally attractive, but she doesn't wear booby shirts or stupid shoes. She can run like a badass mofo and she likes suits. Just like the male agents around her. She wears her hair tied back in a piggy tail, or she wears a sensible black beanie. She doesn't wear much make up. She is conventionally attractive. But so are most protagonists.

I <3 Olivia.


Olivia isn't the only woman character in Fringe worth loving. I also love Astrid, who's the agent assigned to working with Walter in his lab.

Astrid is also awesome.
She has a degree in cryptography, another in computer stuff (or is that a double major) and she's got some sort of medical training (well, she does now). She loves cryptography. As in, she's a nerd for it. And she loves computers.
She's also an agent.
She calls Walter on his bullshit, including his inability to remember her name (which we suspect is a ploy on Walter's part). She won't let him (or anyone else) forget that she is actually a badass agent as well.
She deals with Walter's gross dissections and experiments very matter of factly.
She runs errands and also has some badass ninja agent skills.
She veers into 'servant territory' every now and then, which is particularly worrying as she's African American. But these little deviations are usually addressed: Astrid will call bullshit on Walter's behaviour and regularly refuses tasks she feels cross the boundary from professional assistance to nurse maiding.
She is super smart.
She and Olivia talk regularly about things other than men. They often figure out puzzles together.
She is fond of Walter and also deals with his mental illness and fragile personality gently, yet without patronising him. She does not take on a carer role; she is, if nothing else, Walter's lab assistant.

Nina Sharp is another important female character in Fringe. She's the CEO of Massive Dynamic, a sort of super-corporation specialising in technology. A bit like Skynet Cyberdyne Systems, but awesomer. She admires Olivia greatly and has tried to recruit her to Massive Dynamic a number of times. She and Olivia have a refreshingly realistic relationship; they deal with each other as professionals. They do not have the sort of antagonistic rivalry alpha women are usually given in SF... in telly.They talk to each other about plenty of things besides men. They often talk about technology together. And science.
Nina Sharp is middle aged.
Nina Sharp has a bionic arm and a clear glass ipod thingy. She is way cool with technology generally. This is one middle aged woman who is not relegated to earth mother status; she is technology, economic and industrial power and smarts.

I love Olivia the most, though. I love the way she stops and thinks about things. I love the way she can fighty fight. I love it that though she might, one day be interested in Peter romantically, that day is waaaaaay off in the future, and for now she's busy being a badass. He thinks she's neat. He might think she's neat in a romantic way, but for now he just thinks she's a badass and he wants to be her partner, I think.

So I love Olivia Dunham. And this is why I can watch Fringe.

PS: I'll try to add some more pics to this later, when I can figure out how to do it in this new version of MT without opening a new stupid window every time.

EDIT: I had to add this link to a drawing Jasika Nicole (the actor who plays Astrid) drew of herself.

"adventures with badass sistahs in outer space: olivia dunham" was posted in the category academia and buffy and angel and digging and fringe and teaching and television and veronica mars

February 27, 2009

what an interesting kindergarten design

Posted by dogpossum on February 27, 2009 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

Fuji Kindergarten

"what an interesting kindergarten design" was posted in the category teaching

December 31, 2008

oh no

Posted by dogpossum on December 31, 2008 11:53 AM

Faceplant and twitter are killing my blog. Or, more accurately, my blogging skills. I haven't written a longer and thought-out entry in ages. I was never one for hardcore planning and editing (I just write straight into MT here, then do a bit of cursary editing once it's published), but the one-line update has killed of what little stamina I had. But I do update regularly.
I do quite like the short, one-line update. I like experimenting with content and style. I like using lines from songs I'm listening to (most of which are oooold and fairly dirty), and I've just started adding sections from books I'm reading (for review). Yesterday, while adding a few bits from a book I'm reading about censorship, I was suddenly struck by the potential of one-line updates. If you have a group of friends, either on faceplant or twitter, you have a group of 'listeners'. If you write something provocative, you'll get responses (and the interesting bit is seeing which things turn out to be provocative - it's difficult to plan these things, I think). The really nice bit is, of course, the replies. What short answers does a one-line comment from you, on your 'profile' (showing up in their feeds on their pages) stimulate in your group of 'friends'? And then, what answers do their answers stimulate?
I'm a little frustrated by the short answer option, sometimes - I want to read a longer, thought-out comment in response to an update. But then, I think the shorter answers keep us reading. It's more of a conversation and less of a series of lectures or conference papers.
This all made me think: couldn't you use this feature to encourage learning? I mean, I don't think it's going to work if you announce a teaching mission, or even if you demand your students use faceplant or twitter or whatever (I prefer faceplant for the way it threads responses - though twitter might have the option, I'm not sure). But it could work if you were sneaky. And if your group of friends has 'naturally' formed around a shared interest or even just a shared relationship.

I've also been interested in the way a 'high status' poster/personality/friend, who has a larger group of friends stimulates discussion. If they post just one comment (on a photo, an update, a note), the hits for that comment (and that page) leap. This isn't anything new - this sort of thing is played out in more familiar public spheres, when a TV star (celebrity) comments, when an MP visits, when a famous scientist opines. But I'm interested in the way these statuses play out on a smaller scale, within peer groups.
A 'high profile' personality might simply be an agreeable sort - someone you like to talk with in person, someone whose comments entertain you. In the dancing world, the 'high profile' person is almost always a 'famous' dancer. But on faceplant, the highest 'high profile' personality always has a large group of friends (a large audience), offers something to these friends (interesting comments, funny jokes, and so on) and posts regularly. They have a high profile. There are, of course, gender correlations (at least within the online world of swing dancers).

I have a friend whose comments (on both faceplant and twitter) are not only very clever and funny, but also kind and socially gentle. She doesn't score points with cheap jibes. But she is assertive and 'present' as a speaker as well as a listener. In my mind, I'm equating lurking with listening. On facebook - as with discussion boards and blogs - the number of listeners always far outweighs the speakers. Which of course lets us think about the way speakers gain social status but listeners do not, and yet listeners are essential for the success of any speech or comment.

At any rate, though these things are boiling away in the back of my brain, I'm not writing long posts any more. Nor am I writing any academic posts. I found that I was at my most prolific academically when I was also writing masses online, whether on my blog or on discussion boards. I was also reading a whole lot. These days I'd say my feelings about writing and reading aren't so good. In fact, I'm not happy. I'm very unhappy with my inability to get full time work. I guess it's your typical overachieving academic crisis: so many years depending on educational institutions for a sense of self worth, and then suddenly I'm outside that system and there's no more affirmation. It doesn't help that I can't do any serious exercise (but I'm off to yoga next week, so things will improve there I hope). No lovely endorphines. None of that interpersonal interaction you get dancing. There's nothing quite as wonderful as partner dancing - two people working together, communicating without talking to make something lovely and creative - and there's no partner dancing like lindy hop. Jazz, sweet jazz - you make me happy.
But I'm struck by the way my satisfaction and inspiration in writing and reading is so necessarily social. Can't I just enjoy my own company? I think it's more that while I am very good company and terribly interesting ( :D ), I actually really enjoy listening to other people's ideas. And there's nothing so stimulating and exciting as having your brain stretched by someone else's great ideas. I mean, you'd never have come across that thought without their inspiration - how wonderful is that?

All of this post was inspired by Lisa Gunder's excellent post about teaching over on Memes of Production. I was struck by her comments about the relationship between casualised communication and students' _not_ doing the [opposite to casualised] sort of learning we expect from them. I also liked her comment (and do read through the article to the comments):

Most young people do, in my experience, care about issues and have opinions on politics. Sometimes you get glimpses of this in class, but inside or outside of class this frequently seems to be the bit of their lives that they keep private even if the rest of it is lived out online or on mobiles.

I think this is a fascinating point, that students (in a world where they broadcast all sorts of things about themselves online and via their mobiles) keep their politics and feelings about issues private. I think I agree with this. And I think I'd also add that these students don't often seem to have confidence in their ideas - they're reluctant to explain how they feel about something in class because they're afraid they'll look stupid or say the wrong thing. I wonder if this is because there's such great pressure to pass their subjects and get their degree. They don't seem to have the time or space to sort of mosey along, taking intellectual risks and generally playing with ideas. When I enrolled in my BA in 1993 I had no idea where I wanted to go with my study. I just chose subjects (from the absolute wealth on offer at UQ in those days) that interested me. And I really enjoyed tutorials and writing assignments - I liked talking and writing and sharing ideas. I was also very, very lucky to have tutors who were - for the most part - interested in my ideas. And they weren't massively overworked. And they were - quite often - staff members, not sessional teachers or postgraduates.
It makes me sad to think of my students not feeling brave enough or having enough time or even the interest to explore ideas. I think perhaps that this reluctance is encouraged by the way we structure assessment. I once taught a subject that had fabulous cumulative assessment. The first assignment was a literature review for a project. The second required them to plan out the project (but not actually complete it - which most of them found frustrating!). I had also taken great pains to develop tutorials (which ran for two hours, not the ridiculous one we had last semester) as places for discussing these projects. It was so wonderful to see them introducing their projects in the earlier part of the class (where we'd all just chat about the media we'd been getting into in the last week - and which we all enjoyed) and then commenting on each other's projects and offering suggestions. As their knowledge about research techniques and theory improved, so did the depth of their discussion. It was wonderful. Perhaps the best bit was seeing their confidence in their own knowledge increase, and their sense of 'ownership' of their project deepen. These guys really felt that their work was interesting, their ideas were important, and that they were doing something no one else could, simply because of who they were. I also made it clear that it was ok (if not preferable) to work on stuff that interested them - to choose topics or media that they were really interested in (I have written about this teaching stuff here).

So I guess I'm going to sum all this up by saying that I really enjoyed Lisa's post - it's as lovely and nice as she is in person. I am also definite that I need intellectual stimulation, and that self-stimulation isn't enough. I will endeavour to write and read more and to try to be more creative with the way I use faceplant and twitter updates (did you see I had my twitter feed up the top of that left column now?) and will have a bigger think about teaching tools.

Also, happy new year, homies. :D

"oh no" was posted in the category academia and clicky and teaching

October 30, 2008

teaching, dancing and making place space

Posted by dogpossum on October 30, 2008 1:57 PM

Only half way through an article on taste (G. Hawkins ‘TV Rules’ UTS Review 4.1 May 1998, pp 123-139), I'm struck by the discussion of the ways in which 'place becomes space'. How does a room become a 'living room', or a house become a 'home'? Specifically, Hawkins is discussing (in the quote below) the ways in which children living in our homes force us to articulate the 'rules' of living in shared space. Or, in line with the discussion she presents, the ways in which articulating these rules gives us the chance to become reflexive about the way place is made into space by use. This isn't exactly new stuff (this article alone was published ten years ago, and develops Barthes' even earlier discussion of the cinema as place), but it suddenly seems important to me. Here's the section that made me think:

Rules, then, are systems of order - they allow us to project ourselves into the world and project the world back to us. Rules are guides for how to act, how to be in t his space. Rules discipline in a productive sense: they produce meaning, they organise, they are creative, they make inhabitation possible. Rules are embodied in things and actions, they communicate. Rules are also specific, they take place in situ, each room is a unique system of rules and a unique network of power because rules and regulatory practices are provisional, they constitute objects for their own practice. And children elicit rules, for Wood and Beck they are the ultimate barbarians, they have to be domesticated and in the process of prescribing rules, adult values and meanings become manifest. Adult order is constituted and so too is the never ending struggle to establish it as dominant (Hawkins 128).

The thing that struck me, here, is the way in which pedagogy - teaching - makes us articulate and become aware of our assumptions about space/place. Teaching in universities forces me to think about the ways the material I am teaching 'work' in a broader social and cultural context. The most difficult parts of teaching cultural studies (for me) lie in teaching 'class' or 'power' or culture as articulation of/space for the negotiation of identity, class, power, etc etc etc.

The part I have trouble with is teaching this stuff in the context of the old school neo-Marxist cultural studies tradition. In that context, this discussion is, ultimately, geared towards social change. Teaching or study or research is not (and should not, it is implied), be neutral. It should be a part of a broader social project. Or, more plainly, activism. For me, one of the ways I justify what I do is by framing it as activism. Women's studies doesn't make sense, for me, without feminism.

I am excited by the idea of this stuff as having value or usefulness. It's not simply ideas or theory in space - it has a job to do. It is a tool. It's something we can use. Being raised by the sort of people who didn't tolerate cruelty or injustice (social worker, decent person, animal activist...) has made me particularly aware of my responsibilities as a person. Simply, if I'm going to live here, I have to play nice. I have to do what I can to make things better for other people (and for myself as well). More clearly, I have a responsibility to play nice and be useful and helpful. I am sure there's some scary gender stuff in there (isn't that the way little girls are raised? To care, to be useful, to be helpful, to assist? Perhaps I should think more about leading or inspiring caring or begin project which require help?). But I find it makes me feel good to give a shit, and it also gives me purpose; it gives me reason for doing the things I do.

At any rate, teaching cultural studies has been difficult when I've been teaching wealthy kids at big, rich unis. I have found myself articulating this stuff in terms of 'responsibilities'. When I was teaching this stuff to less privileged kids, I found that that approach was just plain bullshit. It became a matter of 'rights'. This is one of the stickiest sticking places for me, teaching this stuff. And teaching - the breaking down and remaking and exploration of ideas - forces me to become aware of and to engage with my ideas and the ideas of authors at hand.

In another, connected point (where ideas must have practical applications), I'm absolutely struck by the way teaching works (in this context) in dance. I wrote quite a bit in my thesis about institutionalised pedagogy as a way of shaping ideology, or making ideology flesh. I placed it in opposition to vernacular dance practice - or learning on the social dance floor through more osmotic modes. Both are ideologically shaped and shaping practices. But I have trouble with pedagogy as capitalist practice - dance classes as product to be sold and bought... well, when it happens within a broader institutional context. Mostly because 'selling dance' on a larger, organised level demands homogeneity, and demands the disavowel of heterogeneity. In other words, it's difficult to teach dance (in this context) without creating right/wrong binaries. The right way is, of course, the product you are buying. Everything else is wrong, and hence undesirable; you wouldn't want to waste your money on it. Brand loyalty thus achieved.

But, continuing with this, I'm interested in the way dancers make 'dance floors' out of ordinary places. Hawkins refers to the role of emodiment (or bodies) in this process, largely via Barthes and his discussion of the bodily experience of the cinema (and at one point there was a reference to Frith** and taste, and there is of course reference to de Certeau). With dancers, this sense of embodiment is explicit.
The whole notion of 'floor craft', for example, where dancers learn (or choose not to demonstrate) the ability to dance 'safely' on the floor, not kicking or bumping into other dancers. Floor craft is a story of sociability and communitas, but it is also a story of social power. Which couples have the greatest liberty to ignore these rules? The most advanced. When is the idea of 'sharing the floor' set aside? In jam circles, where dancers display their abilities and status.
There are countless other examples. Lindy bombing involves groups of dancers descending on a 'non dance space' with music and dancing spontaneously (and often illictly). DJing functions as a way of making a place 'space'. DJs often speak of the 'feel' or 'vibe' or 'energy' in a room - a palpable, physical emotion and sensation - and the ways in which they manipulate that experience. The very act of dancing, therefore, not only creates space, but - far more importantly - creates an emotional, social space as well. Sharing a dance floor is about engaging in a non-verbal social discourse which is all about the body. In fact, without the body, the space collapses back into place. It might carry echoes, but it is, essentially, nothing without the dancers.
I'm suddenly reminded of way I think about DJing the first set of the night: I imagine it as 'warming' the room. Sometimes this is a physical warming, but most of the time it's a social, ideological, emotional, cultural, creative warming. I need to build the vibe or energy before I can manipulate it.

And to bring all this back to rules and articulating rules and teaching... dance classes are one step in the process of socialising dancers and teaching them how to make space out of place. I could argue that formal dance classes are in fact directly contributing to the breaking down of space - busting the vibe - because they insist on hierarchies and formalised, articulated modes of communication, but I'm not sure it's that simple. I do know, though, that the discourse of formal, institutional, commodified pedagogy is an impediment to the process of making dance places spaces. This is because teaching is about verbalising dance and about shifting the way we 'think' dance from the body to the brain and language. And any dancer will tell you that the sweetest, most satisfying moment of dancing comes when you stop thinking or articulating and become thoroughly and completely in your body.

Roland Barthes 1989 “Leaving the Movie Theatre” The Rustle of Language Uni of California Press, Berkeley, pp 345-249.

Michel de Certeau 1984 The practice of everyday life University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. xi-xxiv.

Simon Frith 1996 Performing Rites Oxford UP, London.

Gay Hawkins ‘TV Rules’ UTS Review 4.1 May 1998, pp 123-139

"teaching, dancing and making place space" was posted in the category academia and djing and lindy hop and other dances and teaching

October 29, 2008

i'm not saying that we should all be mad-crazy-mr-chips hippy teachers

Posted by dogpossum on October 29, 2008 2:15 PM

So I've been thinking a lot about sessional teaching and it's advantages/disadvantages. On one hand, I'm utterly convinced that it's exploitative - it is the grape picking, the piece-working of the education industry. Working conditions are not good. The pay-per-hour rate seems good, but isn't really a return due the vast amounts of time tutors spend preparing for classes. While there's the argument that repeat-teaching is more cost-effective for tutors, in practical career terms, there is no reason beyond professional networking to teach a subject more than once - it's not going to look terribly good on your resume. Most tutors don't have an office on campus - they usually share space with other tutors. I use a conference room. This has some serious drawbacks: students are less likely to drop in for assistance (an advantage for full time staff, but no good for students). Staff are unlikely to drop in for a chat, to foster collaborative relationships (a topic of great issue to employers) or to provide a little incidental mentoring. Most sessional tutors, though they may take the time to peruse and pilfer the departmental stationary cupboard (I wish I knew where mine was), are more likely to spend their money on printer toner, photocopying paper, pens and bandwidth on teaching. We shall not even begin to discuss the computer facilities available to sessional teaching staff. And let's not even approach the difficulties of working in an industry with mentors and employers and full time colleagues who are increasingly depressed, frustrated and angry with their own working conditions (I have a theory: sessional staff are mentored in dissatisfaction as much as teaching techniques, particularly as most out-sourced tutors are hired by the most desperate and overworked staff).

So sessional teaching is not a particularly excellent position for the tutors. I'm not even sure it's a good deal for employers: casual staff who may at whim depart for sunnier climes, casual staff who, while experienced in sessional teaching may not have the research skills, interests or CV of more permanent teachers.

I have heard a number of arguments for sessional teaching - casualised teaching.
1. One can depart for sunnier climes on a whim. Hm. I think that I would trade secure employment for the suspect advantages of uprooting and repositioning.

2. One can pick and choose staff members to teach with, thus securing some sort of professional network which extends beyond one's supervisor or even one university. Again, I'm not convinced. Most of the 'early career academics' in my position teach - or have taught - at more than one campus, in one city or more. This does give you the opportunity to meat more staff, but it also usually means that the staff you're meeting are incredibly stressed and have little time or energy for mentoring or ... whatever else it is you're supposed to get out of networking. Teaching across universities also prevents you digging in at one institution - making a little nest, really cultivating proper, working mentoring relationships and contacts and perhaps setting yourself up for collaborative research projects or even - gold of golds - research funds.

I can't really think of any other reasons which are even half as convincing.
I have been trying to convince myself that there are avenues for some sort of tactical exploitation of my own exploitation. I'm not really buying it, I'm afraid. But what have been the advantages of teaching across so many universities and departments?

1. I've been able meet and work with some amazing staff. All of these, but 2 (in the four universities I've taught at) have been middle aged woman who I have admired, respected and ultimately wanted to be. But I've also seen how gender works in university heirarchies. It is women (and the odd reconstructed bloke) who end up with the stooge's share of heavy-teaching loads. And while they've been wonderful to meet and work with (and certainly fabulous in terms of the old girls' network), I often wonder if it might be a good idea to attach myself to the types of academics whose ambition and general cutthroatedness have helped them avoid the need for sessional assistants. But then, would I want to work with that type of person?

2. I've learnt an awful lot. I've taught pretty much the same topics and readings and ideas, and had taught the same stuff across the five universities I've been involved with. But each department has had a different name: English department; Cultural studies program within an English department; Media Studies program; Communications program; Media within an English, Media and Performing Arts program. It's been fascinating to see how each of these programs borrow from the same pool of ideas to produce and construct a 'program' - an ivory tower, a network of ideas, an ideology (both research and pedagogic) - which is quite unique. And reflects the professional, personal and intellectual interests and needs of the staff involved.
I am utterly unconvinced that all that institutional positioning and course restructuring makes any difference. People like me are still teaching the same things to young people, no matter what the name of the subject/course/degree, the CVs of the convening staff or the publishing profiles of the departmental heads. While the course convenors might intend a new and interesting and cutting edge subject, in practice their financial and employment restrictions necessitate using the same sessional stooges. And it is these stooges who actually do most of the teaching in universities. And course convenors beware: we are constantly negotiating our relationships to what you're teaching, and there's a very, very, very good (as in 100%) chance we're adjusting and tailoring your subject to meet our own intellectual, personal and political goals*.
And it is these stooges who are steadily acquiring mad teaching skills (well, hopefully, but certainly not definitely. Or even possibly), but who ultimately regard sessional teaching as a step to somewhere else, a momentary aberration from a 'professional' career in academia. One which does not involve teaching.

But I have learnt a lot. I've seen some very good teaching in action, and I've seen some very bad. I've done my share of each (though I'd hope for a little more of the former, it's impossible to gauge my own professional development in such an impermanent and constantly-shifting context). I've used some excellent readers (most of which could simply be reproduced as some sort of 'cultural studies in Australia bible', with a few addenda for localised interests or nods to administrative reshuffles and demands for 'more digital content' or 'more practical applications'). I've also managed to keep up with current research - filtered down through the staff I've worked with, and occasionally stimulated by a particularly interesting lecture or 'optional reading'.

3. I've had the chance to work with hundreds and hundreds of really bright, really motivated and interested students. Just when I think I hate teaching and never want to do it again, I have a class where someone says something so interesting it's on my mind for days. Students bring fresh minds to familiar readings, they bring fresh ideas to familiar discourses, and they bring - in many cases - young approaches to increasingly older institutions. Many of the assumptions staff make about viewing habits or media consumption practices or just plain everyday activities are critiqued and challenged by students simply describing what it is they watch on television, where it is they go to eat and how it is they communicate with their friends, families and teachers. I love them.
I'm also struck by just how much many of the overworked staff I deal with love them. They just plain love their stoods. And they take their teaching responsibilities very seriously. Perhaps the hardest thing to see is a staff member bitching about their work load on one hand, and revealing committed, passionate caring for their students and delight in the teaching process on the other. I think that many of these people feel, quite profoundly, that teaching is important, an idea which is particularly unpopular in academia these days.

I would, quite happily, commit myself to a couple of years of doing nothing but teaching undergrads. I'd like to be set up in an office with a computer and a library and a bunch of stationary, and told to teach a bunch of subjects. It'd kick my arse, but I'd really like the opportunity. Even though - as a friend said half in jest the other day - [expressing that desire] 'is career suicide'. I think that this is perhaps the saddest part of sessional teaching - seeing people who love teaching, who love sharing ideas and listening to students develop an interest in - and passionate attachment to - ideas feel guilt about or some sort of reticence to admit this. I'm not saying that we should all be mad-crazy-Mr-Chips hippy teachers. But I am saying that it seems the worst thing about sessional teaching is that you are faced with learning that teaching is a waste of time, is frustrating, is miserable and just plain bad news. Not terribly encouraging when you're trying to bust on into this industry.

4. My teaching has inspired new ideas and new plans for papers and research projects which other forms of academic engagement (of which I have precious few) do not. I'm simply inspired by the process of reading and re-reading canonical texts, and then having to find ways of letting students find their own ways to fall in love or in fascination with these ideas. It's challenging to find class activities or interesting learning and teaching games which make these ideas a) relevant, and b) just plain fun.
I think that the most important part of teaching media and cultural and communications and gender studies is to help students find a way to make this material relevant to their own everyday lives, and to find ways to just plain enjoy playing with it. I mean, de Certeau is fun. He's dodgy, and his stuff falls, down, but it's fun to find ways to explore and apply his ideas. And it's also really, really fun to see students then test out the use-value of this stuff, and to begin to articulate their reservations about concepts. I think this stuff should have some sort of use-value, even if that use is only as an intellectual game, just for the sake of playing.

... but, anyway, I have to end by saying that I'm not terribly hopeful about my future in academia. There aren't enough jobs. I can't publish a book (I amn't really convinced it's actually all that useful a process anyway). No one gives a crap about dance. Working in universities is generally pretty shit. Perhaps it is better just to stick with sessional teaching, rather than committing myself - so emotionally and so finally - to a full time career in it?

* Some of us are not ready to be postfeminists just yet. Nor are we convinced that newspapers, television, magazines and radio are 'heritage' media.

"i'm not saying that we should all be mad-crazy-mr-chips hippy teachers" was posted in the category teaching

October 10, 2008

the 9am start was especially difficult today

Posted by dogpossum on October 10, 2008 5:50 PM

...but one of my students was wearing this: wwjd.jpg so it was a little easier. It made me giggle a whole lot.

I am really tired. I haven't had a full, proper night's sleep in a very, very long time. It's funny how you get used to broken sleep. I don't like it, I'm not a nice person, but I'm used to it.
Did I mention that I didn't like it?
Thank god the tutes are only an hour. I honestly can't figure out how I'm managing to teach when I'm this tired.

I'm going to blog the SLX soon. I promise. But, really, there's not much to say beyond 'I danced a lot' and 'I did some DJing' and 'I stayed up all night a lot'. This year I didn't do any stunts, but I did go in a dance competition. Ten years lindy hopping, first comp.
Basically, competition nights are terribly, tediously boring, even when you're in them. Social dancing is better.
But getting to the finals of a Jack and Jill as a lead where I was expected to lead >240bpm was a bit much.

"the 9am start was especially difficult today" was posted in the category teaching

September 23, 2008

goodness me

Posted by dogpossum on September 23, 2008 6:51 PM

This past week I was teaching psychoanalysis. Or more specifically, a bit of Freud and then a bit of other people using and abusing Freud. This may entertain a few of you who know my feelings about psychoanalysis and Freud. We're not friends. But the reading for the subject was from this neat text by Cranny Francis et al and I liked it - I've even bought the book because it gave such a useful overview of this stuff, especially in reference to gender, and I'm collecting useful resources. For The Future.

Any how, we ended up saying p3nis, vag1na, shit, poo and a few other things quite a lot of times. I was all 'blah blah blah' and 'let's see what the difference between the phallus and the p3nis is' and forgot to remember that firsties are afraid of naked body words. I mean, each semester I realise they're also afraid of body hair on women (not having seen any, ever), and get a bit freaked out when I wear a sleeveless shirt as we move into summer. Any how, it took them a while, but eventually they eased up and could manage to use The Words. Not with much comfort, but use them they did. Eventually.

This is actually a more complicated issue than you might realise, especially in the context of teaching a class that's 80% international or first gen Australian students, many of whom come from families or cultures where it's totally not on to talk about this stuff in public, especially not in mixed-sex settings, across generations and across heirarchies. Part of me was all 'oh come on, when I was a lass and doing gender studies we had to use the c word in my feministah classes'. And sure, we were bad ass (though I have to say, it was a bit rough on some of the private school kiddies who hadn't gone to a rough outer suburbs public high school), but it was a bit challenging at first. I remember being amazed by the thought of 'reclaiming' the word. I was used to it being yelled at me out of bus windows as I rode my bike home. I didn't much care for it, personally, and wasn't really ready to use it, let alone reclaim it.

But I was surprised by the shyness of my stoods. I guess it's an age thing - when you're a teenager sex is all new and weird and freaky. You're busy testing out your preferences (in terms of gender and relationships and what you do in bed and what you wear and ... hell, everything) and you're a bit unsure of most things, and, well, you didn't make it to the end of the reading, so you're not actually sure what everyone's talking about anyway.

And there were moments when I thought 'ok, am I demonstrating sufficient cultural sensitivity?' I can be a blunt object, but I think that this stuff needs to be dealt with just as we would any other topic - clearly, in detail, with discussion and - if possible - looking at google maps. Well, not so much with the google maps. But I was careful to be 'appropriate' in my approach. And I was. Except for that one moment when I noticed that my usually-very-big hand gestures had suddenly taken a turn for the explicit when we discussed the difference between p3nis and phallus. But that was just funny. And, as I said at the time "a little ambitious, even for Freud's neuroses."

So anyway, this bunch of relatively outspoken Young People were quite shy and at first reluctant to talk. But then they relaxed and really got into it. I couldn't believe how many people'd done the reading - numbers'd jumped massively from the week before. And it was a long reading with some quite challenging bits. I mean, Lacan + Freud + Saussere + Cixous and lots of other people, all in one reading? I know it took me a while to get through it all, and I've read this stuff before.
But they were all really into this, they were just interested and excited about the ideas. Freud always polarises students, and it was neat to see them get in their 3-people groups and hack into the Oedipal complex. Who would've thought?

"goodness me" was posted in the category teaching

June 5, 2008

low level anxiety

Posted by dogpossum on June 5, 2008 1:37 PM

I have to write some lectures RIGHT NOW. Stop procrastinating, you! Stop thinking about pop ups!

I have to DJ tonight, but haven't even thought about my music in the two weeks since I last DJed. I'm also doing a blues set on Sunday night, and I certainly haven't thought enough about that lately. So I have to spend some time with my laptop, listening to music.

I have to go to the library to (hopefully, fingers crossed) find a nice reading on advertising, from a cultural studies or media studies perspective, which involves or at least refers to semiotics and 'ideology', as a sort of follow-on from the previous two weeks ('intro textual analysis/semiotics' and 'ideology'). There's a full sick chapter by Johnathon Bignall from Media Semiotics, but I'm using him elsewhere (week on news values, to be precise). Goddamn copryight, goddamn it.
I have a short list of other stuff, but the library is kind of bare this time of year, particularly in Melbourne, where the libraries are full of computers and stoods facebooking on them and decidedly bare of books. Ordinarily, that's fine by me - bring on the ebooks (Goddess bless them). But some of the Olden Days books (as in, the ones from before the 90s) aren't on the internet. So I need the paper ones.
I had to trek all over the universe last week (three universities, 4 libraries) looking for a copy of Thwaites, Davis, et al's Tools for Cultural Studies (in whichever editorial incarnation). I'm not a dumbarse, so I'm pretty sure I didn't stuff up the whole 'using the catalogue' thing, but I'm pretty sure one copy's not enough for a giant university. I ended up buying the latest edition (to replace my collection of photocopies from a very early edition) and it cost me FAR TOO FREAKIN' MUCH. But I know it will be useful, as I've managed to use it nearly every year since I first did my undergraduate degree with messirs Thwaites, Davis et al.

--a short, impassioned digression---
But I did manage to find a copy of Cohen and Young's The Manufacture of News: social problems, deviance and the mass media, which was an absolute nostalgia-thon. Oh, news values, how I love you. How I loved Stuart Hall when we first met. It was love at first skim-read. How I adored that book. I miss those days. When I was all about newspapers and developed mad microfilm skills. When Galtung and Ruge were fully sick and cultural studies was first listed in my wicked kewl book. Sigh. Then they made the internet and it all changed. Goodbye microfilm reader headaches, hello monitor headaches.

I have to buy some groceries. Milk. Bread.

I have to catch up with about half a dozen people I haven't seen lately.

I HAVE TO MAKE POPS! Last night I had pop up dreams. It's just like when I was going through a lol-making frenzy. Disturbed sleep. Decline in existing communication skills, incline in new 'skills'...

Yoga still rocks. I am half moon queen. Not so much with the down dog. I just don't think my arms will ever be straight. I think it's congenital, and no amount of moving my shoulders up my back body and broadening and flattening of my collar bone will work.

And I have a few DVDs out that I need to watch.

So I have a little low level anxiety, and am dealing with it through the time honoured and much maligned process of procrastination. And there is no better source for that than blogging.

"low level anxiety" was posted in the category djing and teaching

June 4, 2008

big, long round up

Posted by dogpossum on June 4, 2008 12:22 PM

To celebrate a return to blogdom....

That's some mighty fine balboa right there. Bal is the 'tighty whitey' member of the swing dance family. Seriously popular, seriously cool and absolutely fabulous for really sweet leading and following. There's less 'room' for the follow to improvise (though a decent follow can make it work), but that's really the appeal - the lead has to not only listen to the music and make it work musically for both partners, they also have to be a really good lead to make the whole thing work. 'Pure bal' often refers to the stuff in 'closed' position - no open position here. But 'bal-swing' is often a term used to include all the other stuff going on in a dance like the one above. These terms are (of course) as contentious as you might expect.
I like it, though I rarely dance it. I can lead very little of it, though I really like the challenge. The bal crowd here are really friendly and fun, so it's always nice to hang out. And because bal is a lot less physically intense than lindy hop (though the tempos are frequently super fast) you can wear nice clothes and avoid looking like a drowned rat at the end of the night. Having said that, I sweat like a fool when I'm leading anything so perhaps that comment is misleading.

In other news, I'm busily preparing for another semester of lecturing and tutoring (casual basis of course :( ) and work has long since begun on MLX8: the Exchange of the Living Dead. It's big, it's bold, it'll be beautiful. If you like to dance de lindy hop (or blues or bal or whatever) you'll like this year's MLX. Winter has pretty much arrived here in the 'wick, though it's oscillating between heinous autumn and proper winter, really. Not much rain, over all, which is kind of crap, though it's very misty and foggy and has been pretty bloody cold.

This past weekend I made a nice suit for interviews. It's blue, made of some sort of stretch and has a sort of pale grey cross-hatch type pattern (very small and discrete). The suit itself includes a nice pencil skirt (tres chic, apparently) with a nice buttoned flap feature thing at the front. The skirt was originally just making use of some left over remnants, so it's actually made of six panels - two large front and back pieces and a smaller, narrower rectangular strip down the centre front and back. The feature flap thing was also remnants. The buttons cost about $17 for both skirt and jacket, which is mad as the fabric itself was less than $10 a metre. The jacket is really quite pretty - Simplicity 4412 (pattern B, the green jacket in the bottom right hand corner):
I haven't used contrasting fabric or buttons (just plain blue buttons) and I've folded up the wide sleeves to make three quarter sleeves (which looks a lot better than the big sacky ones in the photo. It's not lined and there aren't any shoulder pads, though the interfacing is quite stiff and the shoulders do fit quite nicely. I've also cut it a bit closer so it fits quite snugly. Overall, it's very 1930s secretary and gives me the right type of curves. I'm very happy with it. I guess I'm going to have to match it with some sort of heel, as the skirt is over the knee and I want to avoid the frump. But I don't think I'll wear it with a shirt under neath as it doesn't really need it. But perhaps a slip would be a good idea for the skirt.

I also returned to yoga a few weeks ago, after a year's break. It was like being a complete bubb all over again. The hardest thing was relearning how to lie still and quiet for 10 minutes. But now I'm back to twice a week and I LOVE IT.

"big, long round up" was posted in the category old sew and sew and teaching and yoga

February 5, 2008

teaching tools

Posted by dogpossum on February 5, 2008 4:01 PM

So I'm all lined up to do some serious teaching next semester. The bit that I'm most interested in is coordinating the subject I did last semester. I'll be able to put together a reader that suits what I'm teaching, I'll get to rework some of my weaker lectures and tutorials, and I'll be able to redo the assessment. There's lots of admin work involved, but I'm actually not too bad at that stuff - MLX has made me strong. Plus I quite like the ob-con-ness of sorting and organising and making lists.
One of my first jobs will be getting some feedback from the sessional staff who taught with me on that subject last year. I want to know what worked, what didn't, what they'd like to see on the subject (or ditched).
The next job will be working through the lectures and reworking the weeks - dumping the dumb stuff, strengthening the good stuff, adding in some useful stuff that was missing last year. I'm aiming for your basic intro to media studies/communications/cultural studies subject, including some really safe, useful 'textual analysis tools' (this is something the department really wants), some stuff about media industries and some stuff about audiences. I'm (mentally) dividing the subject up into those three parts (n those that order), and hoping to have three manageable (and hopefully cumulative rather than discrete) pieces of assessment to go with each (though that's something that needs to be discussed).

I'd like a reader that had a greater emphasis on Australian cultural/media studies (especially in reference to the industry stuff... for obvious reasons), and including some more up-to-date readings (ie not stuff from the 80s... unless it's something particularly important or awesome).

I'm also keen on strengthening the weekly tutorial exercises. I'm ordinarily not the hugest fan of this stuff, but this type of weekly mini self-assessment is important and can be really useful. Putting together a comprehensive weekly exercise (which isn't too long) is also a nice way of making sure I structure my lectures properly (which I'm kind of anal about anyway), make the readings really relevant and giving the students an idea of the most important points in that week's topic.

All this is for a first year subject, so I have to keep it pretty simple. It also has to work as a 'teaser' for later subjects - it has to convince these guys in the general arts degree that media studies/cultural studies/communications is fun and interesting and useful.

I'm a big fan of multimedia components in the teaching and learning tools, but I was very unhappy with webct last year. I'm not sure it's a good idea to get into moodle or another hardcore online teaching tool. But I do think it's important to have some sort of online component, particularly for teaching across campuses, and teaching students who don't spend much time on campus.
I am thinking about just using a plain, simple blog. Something like this one (but obviously not this one) which is super easy to navigate, allows me to embed youtube clips, add in useful links, upload lecture notes, etc. I do have reservations about uploading lecture notes to a public forum, though. This is where it's actually a good idea to have a site where you must log in to get the good stuff.
I have considered other options like druple (bllurgh) and plone, but if I'm going that way, I really think I should use something designed for teaching - like moodle or webct. But I don't think it's a good idea to have students learn how to use a whole new system/site, just for one subject. And I'm not keen on learning myself - it's not really worth the effort.

I also think it's a good idea to use sites that students are already comfortable with. For obvious reasons. This of course leads us straight to faceplant and myspace. But I'm not happy with faceplant. I don't want to encourage students to use such a massive data-gathering business tool.

There is, however, the google option. Google docs is something we're considering using for MLX this year - a central collection point for files and discussions and email and things. But once again, it does require students learning a new system, signing up for new accounts and so on.

So my questions are:
- is it ok to use a blog where the lecture notes are public? My feeling is no.
- should I use something like plone which can have a public 'face' yet also requires students to log in to access notes?
- should I just suck it up and use webct?

All of this is very interesting and quite exciting. I'm looking forward to teaching with confidence material I know well, and to being able to strengthen what I've already done without starting from scratch. It'll also be nice to not be working to such a full-on, heinous schedule, writing lectures as I go through the semester.

"teaching tools" was posted in the category teaching

January 12, 2008


Posted by dogpossum on January 12, 2008 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

Following some neat teaching ideas, I came across the Dymaxion map of the earth. Supercool.

...and I recommend following all the links from the world simulation entries - there are films on YouTube and everything. That looks like FUN teaching!

"supercool" was posted in the category clicky and teaching

October 18, 2007

cyber teaching

Posted by dogpossum on October 18, 2007 10:55 AM

I've been using a combinatin of online teaching tools this semester, and I'm not really happy with most of them.
We use WebCT as a standard, university-wide tool. It is very clunky and, quite frankly, pretty dang crap. It's windows based in its logic, and it's counterintuitive, which means that it's often pretty difficult to figure out how to do basic tasks. Even when you've been trained to use it (as I was). It's also super-slow in uploading and managing files. I don't know enough about it to know why, I just know that I don't have that trouble when I'm uploading files to other sites using other tools. It also looks horrible. Not the most important point ever, but when you're working with stoods who aren't exactly keen to start off with... And it's not a very 'friendly' site. It doesn't make me want to explore. It also favours a particular visual logic which is very culturally specific. This is a big deal for me working with students from multicultural backgrounds and who may not have ever used a computer before (this is true of a fair chunk of my students).

Using it has been pretty shitty, and I'm a keen computer nerd. The internet, she is my friend.

We've also been using the e-reserve bit of our library website. That seems the most popular option, especially for students who aren't terribly computer savvy. It helps that it's within the library universe, so they're only using one visual interface, rather than having to learn a whole new environment - they know where all the buttons are. It's also the simplest tool - we just upload basic files to the site and they log in and download them. No fancy teaching modules or whatever. It's a bit like going to the library to borrow a book - simple and functional.

These expereinces remind me of how we developed an online networking tool for the committee running MLX. We started with druple, but we all found it incredibly difficult to use. Most of the team had only very basic experience with complex online environments, and druple was just difficult to use. So we ditched it. I'd been reading about plone and liked the colour scheme. But the more I fiddled with it, the more I liked its usefulness. That's the software we use now. And it's been very useful and successful. We certainly don't use it to its fullest capability - we really just upload files and then comment on them, or email the links from within the site. But that's all we've needed. And it's been neat.

So now I'm thinking about our experieces with webCT this semester, and I'm not satisfied.

I keep thinking 'Most of these guys use faceplant and myface and are really proficient internet kids. How can I steal the best bits of those sites and make a course site that really rocks?' These guys love that stuff, so how can I get them to love a course-related site?

This is what I want:

  • somewhere to put each week's lecture notes and various media files (films, images, sound files, etc)
  • somewhere to put all the assessment documents (assignment tasks, style guide, etc)
  • somewhere to put general notices where all the students can see them

That's the very basic list. It's really just a course reader online, where everyone can see it and access it whenever they want.

I have students who work a lot and have very busy lives. They need something easy to use and navigate, something useful and something that will make their study easier, not harder. So it has to be easy to learn to use. And fun. And actually valuable (not technology for the sake of technology).

I want the site to encourage their interest in the subject. I've been doing some stunt lecturing this semester, trying to capture their interest in the subject. For me, this is the most wonderful, interesting stuff in the whole world. And I want them to find a way into the subject that works for them, and really captures their interest. So I've been looking for interesting little films (thank you, thank you, Chaser, I owe you big time), sound files, pictures and so on. It's been surprisingly successful. I squeeze these into my lectures and then make the urls available. YouTube has been an essential part of this.
I've also figured 'if I'm interested in all this stuff - this whole range of stuff - surely they will find at least one thing that captures their interest?' And if I set an example of 'media is super fun', and a real acquisitive, hunter-gatherer approach to learning, where I 'bring home' the interesting things I've found, perhaps it'll rub off.
Partnered with my 'talk about media you're into' strategy (I talked about it a bit here), it's been reasonably successful. Students have taken the opportunity to talk about the things they've seen in the media that have caught their interest. They've been a bit hesitant and scaredy about revealing an interest in nerdy stuff, but have generally worked up to more confidence. Even the quieter students.

Ok, so other things I want from an online package:

  • somewhere for students to add their 'interesting finds' - images, news stories, AV clips, sound files, TV shows, etc etc
  • something that will encourage discussion, but will work as a complement to the face to face (I do not want this to become a substitute for tutorial chatting - that is still the absolutely central part of any subject)
  • something that's not too time consuming. This is important for my students with kids and lots of responsibilities. So it has to be easy to learn and use.

I've also been thinking about new ways of structuring course. Pretty ambitious stuff, but still. At the moment we have:

  • lectures (1 hour is preferable, but our uni tends to 2 hours with 1 hour tutes - it's a funding thing)
  • tutorials (2 hours preferably)
  • written assignments (my preference is for cumulative, not discrete 'blobs' of essay)
  • readings (delivered in a big wad of reader (Glen has made some really interesting observations about readers here)
  • and perhaps in-class exercises or random quizzes

Here's something I'd like to try:

  • lectures. Large groups of students together in a room listening to someone talk about interesting stuff. One hour is maximum attention span time. Lecturers preferably some big gun in the department (for all these reasons), including some illustration by way of snippets of film or images - whatever best illustrates the points being made
  • tutorials. Small groups (12-15) of students working for 2 hours. Emphasis on discussion and learning to talk about the readings/lectures/ideas. Emphasis on socialising the stoods (eg learning to listen and work collaboratively on developing ideas). Some practical exercises to test theories/methods. I like the 'talking about media' tool to encourage students to talk about their media experiences and workshop/develop their assessment ideas
  • assessment. Two pieces of cumulative assessment (essays to develop writing skills) and a not-too-hard in-class exam. Short answers. Drawing explicitly on weekly quizzes. This will help students who haven't quite gotten the hang of extended written tasks and encourages students to study all the weeks' work, not just the ones relevant to their projects
  • weekly quizzes. Not necessarily for marks, but covering the essential elements of each week's topic. A good way to keep lecturers on-track and give students a clear idea of the main areas of discussion. An excellent revision tool. Also a useful de-stresser for students who feel like they're drowning in a formless mass of details. These could be made available online quite easily.
  • readings. Key readings in the field are absolutely essential. Students do need a guide to key readings in the literature. Discussion of readings should emphasise not only what's in the reading, but also the structure and form of the reading. How is it written? What sources does it use and cite? How does it develop arguments? How does it illustrate key ideas? How influential has it then been on the field? How did it shape opinion? Is it representative of a particular approach? This body of readings should give them a broad overview of important ideas and writing in the field, and serve as a jumping off point for student's further research. Encouraging students to follow up the articles and books which cite these key readings is a useful way of developing research tools and getting them to think about how ideas develop discursively in disciplines
  • possibly some sort of interactive film/slide show/AV. Combining interesting images and audio-visual clips to illustrate points and provide an always-available interactive, multi-media discussion of the issues. This could be available on CD, to be watched in the library, online via a website to be streamed or downloaded.
    This is one I'm not entirely sure of. But I have students with such a range of learning styles and skills, I really like the idea of forcing information into them in a range of forms. I am, though, still wrestling with my instinct to encourage diversity in terms of learning styles within a university context where the one thing we want to do is force them to learn to learn and 'make discourse' by reading and writing (it's ridiculous: I was lecturing this week about the advantages of radio in developing countries - it doesn't require literacy so it's more inclusive!)

So when I talk about a useful online teaching tool, I want something that would complement all this stuff.
If I'm encouraging students to work on cumulative assessment, developing their own 'projects' over 2 essays during the semester and using tutes to discuss and workshop their ideas, then why not use the site to encourage and support that? It would be really nice to make it possible for students to upload their project notes and files to the site, and to then download them and work on them in multiple locations, uploading their additions when they finish a session. That would allow them to share their work with other students, get feedback from staff (egads - the extra work!), discuss ideas, etc. Importantly, it would provide backup for all their data.

I'd also like to have a glossary or lexicon of terms on the site which they can add to. I've had requests for something like this from my students, but haven't had time to develop it.

I'd like the usual email/discussion board/chat options, but I'm not sure just how successful they'd be. They'd be nice for public questions, eg "how many ads should I use for this assignment?" but could be a big fat time sink. Moderating them could suck.

I'm also wondering about whether to put recordings of the lectures online. As with lots of other people, I've been fascinated by Berkeley's YouTube channel and want to take advantage of this idea. On the one hand, we have resisted making full versions of our lectures available for students because it drops the number in lectures. But the number of students who come to lectures drops off as the semester progresses anyway. Partly because students drop out (especially in first year), but also because the pressure towards the end of the semester thins them out. Which makes me think about alternative ways of structuring the semester, too.
I find, though, that I still get a core group at each lecture (mostly students from my tutes, incidentally), and as the classes have shrunk, their willingness to ask questions during the sessions have grown. This isn't like a tutorial - I am still declaiming the Good Oil from the pulpit - but it's an interactive lecture. The students are quite aware of the distinction between the two, and its been interesting seeing how they've developed different modes of interaction for each. They realise that tutes are times for them to talk as much as they like while I listen and monitor, but that lectures are time for me to talk with room for requests for clarifications.

While I had trouble with people chatting in lectures earlier in the semester (and man was it satisfying to kick those arses!), I now get a few whispered to-and-fros. When I say "if you've got a question or comment, share it" (and it doesn't sound as facetious as that reads - they know I really do mean it), they usually reply "oh, I was just asking what that last word was - I didn't hear". So it's just a bit of peer-clarification. Which is all good and nice.

That's actually interesting, because in tutes I encourage students to answer each other's questions and to work collaboratively towards figuring out answers or ideas. But in a lecture we actively discourage that. It's a really weird conflict between student-centred/participatory learning and declaratory, lecturer-centred learning.

I'm still not sure where I stand on in-class presentations by students. On the one hand I don't think it's a good idea because it freaks them out. I also feel that I can better judge their learning if they're participating activley in class, than I could by listen to them stumble through a formal presentation. Shit-scarey and tedious for everyone. But on the other hand, sometimes it's nice to have a chance to actually have the floor to yourself for a while to present a properly worked-through idea.
Maybe a presentation of their research projects? But again, a less formal, more participatory in-group model would be better.

So anyway, to sum it all up, I've been having a look at moodle, another online teaching tool. Will let you know what I think. Will you let me know what you think? I'm interested in feedback from people who teach in other fields especially.

"cyber teaching" was posted in the category teaching

September 28, 2007

more rocking on

Posted by dogpossum on September 28, 2007 4:08 PM


It's no secret that I think the F-bomb is the fushiz, and browsing the internet today (mostly looking for answers for students who've asked me "are there any other easy things we can read about media?" - they're sick of hearing me talk about the Media Report and so am I) I came across this article "Literature, Culture, Mirrors:John Frow responds to Simon During" in the Australian Humanities Review by the Man.

I've been thinking about the role of literature - or books - in cultural studies lately. Mostly, I try not to think about the 'boundaries' between media studies, cultural studies, book studies and (now) communications studies. They seem to be set down, for the most part, by the funding structures and course requirements of university departments and faculties and otherwise really don't seem very useful for most of us who are actually in there getting jiggy with kultchah.
But I'd been wondering how to talk about books in a cultural studies context. One of the clearest differences in the way I think about books when I'm wearing my cultural/media studies hat(s) as opposed to the way I thought about books when I was enrolled in an English department doing 'literature' subjects,* is to do with audiences. I know there've probably been some changes in English departments since I got all into the Screen Studies (that's what we called it in the olden days), but I've noticed that I think about books in terms of the relationship between audiences and textual structure rather than thinking about books as little boxes of words, standing alone there between their covers on the shelf. So while I can get all "oh, I just love blahblah author", I'm actually far more interested in what people do with blahblah author's work once they get ahold of the words.

So, for example, I've been thinking about writing a paper for a symposium being held as part of swancon. I'd like to write about watching HBO's Big Love's representation of patriarchal polygamy while reading about Karen Traviss's matriarchal polygamies in the City of Pearl books. For me, it's interesting to think about the way we SF fans aren't just consuming a solid diet of SF - we read across the genre lines. And the way I think about polygamy, humanity, gender and society have been inflected by both these texts while I'm reading them both....which of course makes me want to talk about TV programming, book publishing seasons and structures of consumption, but that would be (yet another example of) digression...

This point was brought home to me the other day listening to a colleague's very interesting paper on She noted that there'd been some resentment from hardcore SF fan audiences about the introduction of 'un-SF' in the programming. Apparently they weren't impressed by the wrestling shows**. Now, I'm interested in the gender implications at work there (particularly as a fair old swag - if not the vast bulk - of SF telly involves fighting, violence, warfare and plain old fisticuffs), but I'm more interested in the insistence that hardcore SF fans want only to watch SF on telly. Of course, if I were paying for an SF channel, I think I'd be after a fulfilment of my expectations - SF 24/7 YES! - but at the same time...

So I was wondering how I would go about thinking and writing about literature in a cultural studies context. I don't particularly want to go down the fan studies track again. Yes, yes, we all know SF fans read SF books, watch SF films and telly, play SF games and party in online SF communities. But what happens when we talk about women reading those interesting romance/SF hybrid books? That's my other pet interest at the moment - is anyone else writing about these books at the moment (not counting my posts)? And I'm definitely not interested in getting bogged down in discussions about 'quality' lit - if it's a book, it's literature to me, mate.

But anyway, back to JF. My interest was caught by this bit:

Let me offer two reasons why cultural studies has the potential to change departments of literary studies for the better. The first is that it forces students to come to terms with different regimes of value, different and perhaps incommensurate valuing processes and their relation to social forces and social positions. It shifts the interpretive gaze from a self-contained text to its discursive and social framings, within which students are themselves implicated; while at the same time it opens a potentially fruitful methodological exchange between the distinct protocols of interpretation that apply in the social sciences and the textual disciplines. The second reason has to do with process. Cultural studies supposes a pedagogy in which students are at least as fully in control of much of the subject matter as are the teachers. This isn't the end of teacherly authority, but it does transform the learning process by challenging teachers to redefine what it is that they do in a classroom, and by involving students - in a quite orthodox Socratic manner - in the understanding and analysis of what they already know. In neither of these respects is cultural studies the enemy of literary studies; the two perhaps work best when they coexist in tension and exchange; but literary studies will not survive if it is taught as a form of religion.

That second bit is the bit I'm most interested in:

Cultural studies supposes a pedagogy in which students are at least as fully in control of much of the subject matter as are the teachers.

It's the sort of argument that makes a great deal of sense to me when I think about teaching magazines/tabloids this semester. I never read magazines, but for the occasional copy of Nature (the glossy one), or the odd gardening or cooking mag. I don't watch enough commercial telly to recognise the TV stars and I have absolutely no idea about mainstream, popular music. I was largely teaching this unit in reference to academic reading and a few weeks' panicky hunter-gathering online and at the supermarket checkout (the latter proving most challenging for a hippy who likes indy grocery shops).
So while I could present the ideas to the students as academic concepts, drawing largely on my own enthusiasm for news values and news papers (hell, it's all print media to me), we were largely relying on their specialist knowledge of and familiarity with magazines. This offered interesting moments in the tutorials, which are (of course) ten quarters female. Female students who hadn't said a word all semester were suddenly contributing with enthusiasm. And these chicks really are magazine gurus - they read anywhere from one a week to a dozen a week. And they're intimately familiar with the complex relationship networks which are the stock in trade of these publications.
At first we had to deal with the (mostly male) students' disparagement of 'trash media'. I made the point that reading these things - and making any sense of them whatsoever - required an intimate and extensive knowledge of the personalities, events and mode of discourse. We'd already talked about why tabloids are more popular than broadsheet media the week before, and they'd mentioned that 'it's too hard to understand what they're talking about - the middle east is too complicated for just half an hour of news'. And I pointed out that while they mightn't be prepared to unravel the middle east, they were prepared to wade into Britney's social network - equally complex and foreign. Which of course led us them to the idea that personalisation is a really effective way of creating news value - making a story marketable for a wide audience.

But it was mostly an interesting exercise in the sort of stuff JF is talking about in that bit of the essay. For me, as a bub teacher, it can be both absolutely thrilling and exciting, but also terrifying. I spend most of my time worrying that I'm telling the stoods a big line of bullshit - one day someone's going to figure out that I'm full of shit. I learnt in the very first tutorial that if you lie and pretend you know the answer to something - if you really do try and make up a bullshit answer - they'll figure it out and you'll look like a dickhead. So I'm all for admitting ignorance: "I dunno. I haven't read that stuff. I'm into blahblah. But I do know blahblah writes about it. What do you guys know? What do you think?" I've found they're actually far more willing to speculate and expore ideas when they've heard me admitting complete ignorance, but still being prepared to have a bash at figuring out an answer.

But I really like this approach to teaching - the postioning of students as specialists. And then working with them to apply the ideas from readings or lectures to explore (as JF puts it) "involving students the understanding and analysis of what they already know". This was a truly fabulous approach in a media audiences subject I taught last year.

The first piece of assessment was a lit review, where the stoods chose a media audience (ie an audience of a particular media text or form) and then figured out who'd already written about it, or which bits of research could help them research their audience. The second bit of assessment involved planning a media audience research project (each week of lectures explored a different research method). It was fabulous to teach because the assessment worked cumulatively - you were building on their knowledge. The stoods dug it because they began to feel like proper media researchers - specialists with a body of knowledge and skills under their belt.

I also used tutorials to discuss media and their media interests. I encouraged them to think about the media they were into, and then as we began working on the assessment, to talk through their ideas about the research. Because we were all reading the same literature and most of us knew the media they were discussing, we could all comment and discuss the topic knowledgeably. I've found that this is the most important part of teaching stoods - encouraging a confidence in their own skills and knowledge. Encouraging them to trust their ideas and instincts. I mean, why not? They really, truly know things that we old sticks don't - they haven't read the academic literature, but they're hard core media consumers. And they are engaged in really complex and interesting media - cross-media - consumption and use. So why not get them using those skills and ideas?

But this approach was really nice for the students - they really felt a sense of 'ownership' of their projects (and I used that term - our projects) and a confidence in their ideas. And they did produce some really interesting work. And man, it rocked to teach because they gave a shit and actually got excited about the assessment and readings.

I'm not sure how I got to this point, and I know this is a confusing post, but I guess this is meant to be a story about disciplinarity, about teaching practices, about methodology cross-discipline, and just another fan-atic post about your hero and mine, the Frowstah:

*I'm really sorry about this terrible sentence. I have been marking essays full of this rubbish and really can't remember how to write any more. Perhaps I need to read more bewks?
** Frankly, it makes perfect sense to me - what could be more fantasy, speculative ficationesque than WWF?

"more rocking on" was posted in the category teaching

September 20, 2007

what about this one?

Posted by dogpossum on September 20, 2007 4:49 PM

canadajudgesyou.gifDoes it make a difference that Canada's wielding a sword and not flashing her boobs?

I kind of have trouble with the whole judging people for grammar thing.
Yes, I like the joke, but I often think of grammar in the same way I think of manners - a class thing. So it's really not all that cool to judge people for either...

"what about this one?" was posted in the category teaching

September 14, 2007

is this wrong?

Posted by dogpossum on September 14, 2007 1:20 PM


"is this wrong?" was posted in the category teaching

September 6, 2007

ladies making stuff: keynote=go

Posted by dogpossum on September 6, 2007 11:23 AM

poster.Cda.StrongArmsOfCanada.woman.WWI.jpg DFE logged this story about pecha kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) on faceplant this week and it's caught my attention in a massive way. I think I want to do it. I've been thinking about making keynotes into little films (there's a neat export option which automatically makes them into quicktime files) and to think that there are other nerds out there, just like me, who're into this action... how wonderful! But of course, part of my thinking is centered on the fact that that is one hot teaching tool.

I'm already a really big fan of Keynote. I just LOVE the way I can combine pictures, little bits of text, little movies, music or sound files (oh yes, please - jazz up the wazoo), 'slides' which change automatically, or use basic animated transitions (like a page turning or one slide being pushed aside by another) and me strutting about talking crap in front of a captive audience.

I am just obsessed with the opportunities for visual puns and bad jokes - I'm still thinking I'm the queen of lecturing for my joke about laundry trucks and Roland Barthes (which I can't really tell here because it takes some setting up).
Writing that lecture about the media and war, I was also struck by the possibilities of keynote for making quite full on emotional points.

RosieTheRiveter.jpg I really enjoy making these things (even though they're a lot of work), and I think they're a really effective way of teaching - the stoods like them and stay interested, and I find they slow me down and stop me talking a zillion miles a minutes (which I tend to do otherwise). Not to mention the fact that when you're teaching media it actually helps to show some.

I also like the 'found object' approach to keynotes that I've been taking. Basically, I write my lectures in a word file, including all the necessary information, then I break it down into 'slides' (which usually means one major point per slide, so I'm looking at about 70-90 slides for an hour and a half lecture), then I go looking for images and clips. Hello google, my fine friend. And hello youtube. Once I've found clips, I download them and then insert them into my keynotes. Because I'm using a mac, it's all a matter of click-and-drag: easy peasy.

watson.jpg I'm also a fan of sound files - I've found some truly fabulous audio files from the site. There's one I especially like called 'Loyalty and German-Americans', which is a speech by the American James W. Gerard speaking in 1917. It's a neat example of wartime racism, making quite clear the idea that the media is a useful place for developing anti-enemy emotions, including dehumanising the enemy. And it's particularly effective when you match it with a series of posters like this one from WWII.
I've just dropped that sound file of that speech into my keynote so the stoods can hear exactly how people talked about this stuff. The fact that most of them are first or second generation Australians (if that!) makes Gerard's anti-German immigrant talk extra pertinent. Talking about WWI is interesting because we don't have cinema or TV or radio working in the same way as it was in WWII and then later wars - we're looking at a culture dominated by visual print media and public speaking.

And of course, when it comes to WWII, I just have to play songs like Ellington's A Slip of the lip (can sink a ship), because it illustrates so perfectly the sentiment in posters like this one and this one.

And then, of course, I show them pictures of the current war-time, racism-inciting, 'anti-terrorist' posters like this one*.
A slightly different message: talk more about the things you see, rather than talk less, but still inciting a sense of paranoia and mistrust of the people around you. Or more specifically, mistrust of the people who are 'unusual' or 'not like us' around you.

Looking at all these amazing posters, and watching the doco Hype yesterday (which I picked up for a few dollars in the recent JB sale - ah, serendipity!), I'm suddenly all inspired to print my own posters. I'm not sure whether I'll be promoting kick-ass chicks in sensible clothing or punk-ass indy rock, but I can be sure it will be wonderful. Though I'll probably have to get ducky to tell me how.... when I get time, of course.

*My favourite line on that poster is this one: "I know this person who has downloaded a lot of documents from suspicious websites". I'm just waiting for one of my stoods to ring up our Fearless Leader and dob me in.

"ladies making stuff: keynote=go" was posted in the category teaching

September 5, 2007


Posted by dogpossum on September 5, 2007 7:11 PM

ozzyosbourne.jpgFirstly, here's a picture from this week's lecture. We are all about celebrity this week.

I have about a million emails in my inbox from panicky students, all asking me if their ads are ok for the assignment. The assignment is due next week. I also have a bunch asking for extensions, for reasons ranging from 'I just haven't had time' to 'I'm sick'.

I'm not sure what to do about them all, so I'm ignoring them.

The "can I have an extension because I haven't had time" excuse is a tricky one. One of the challenges of working with students who are supporting themselves financially with shitty jobs while they study, or who have families they're supporting, is that they're not on campus terribly often, and they work shitty jobs for the other 4 days a week they're not at uni. What do I do in this situation? On the one hand, part of the assessment task is being able to manage your workload. On the other, these guys really are working shitty jobs that leave them zero wiggle room - they really can't ditch a shift just to do an assignment. And it's not like they're slacking - I've noticed more and more students are having to work crappy jobs to fund their university study. And as I move down the food chain, away from the sandstones and down to the concrete slab unis, I find more and more students have less and less time for wandering around the library making friends with librarians or just popping in to see me to talk about assignments.
I think about the university of Melbourne's new 'American model' uni, where degrees are reworked to become postgraduate degrees, and I shudder. It's hard enough for students like mine to support themselves on bullshit jobs for the three years of an undergraduate degree. But to then put themselves through a postgraduate degree that doesn't offer a nice, fat scholarship... it's really a matter of access and equity.

Oh well. I'll answer their emails tomorrow.

"responsibles" was posted in the category teaching

August 31, 2007

did i say unbelievable teaching tool already?

Posted by dogpossum on August 31, 2007 5:55 PM

So I'm doing a lecture on the media in war time.
I start with WWI, then WWII, then Vietnam, then the Gulf War and finally the 'war on terror'.
It's been heavy going, to say the least.

I've collected a lot of images from the intertubes, and also some absolutely amazing footage.
I've found some really great sites like, which has some truly awesome AV and sound files, which I've just been popping into my keynote presentations. Keynote rocks, by the way - a truly fabulous alternative to powerpoint. So much easier to use. So much prettier.

I've also been playing on YouTube. Search for 'second world war propaganda', and you get fascinating archival footage - news reels, animations, etc.
Do a search for 'vietnam war footage' in YouTube and you get a stack of archival footage. And some truly freakin's scary red neck racist commentary.

I've just started into the bit on the Gulf War and the 'war on terror', and that's scary. It's really upsetting. The Gulf War is easier to deal with because I'm discussing the way it was sanitised by CNN - lots of talk about technology, lots of computery stuff. Not a lot of bodies.

But the stuff on Afghanistan is really breaking my heart. One of the points I'm making is about the way the internet has suddenly allowed anyone to upload footage of the conflict - US soldiers, local citizens, politicians. I'm also writing about blogs and the US army sites, but the stuff that's really caught my attention is the way ordinary people are using youtube to make little films.
It really reminds me of the stuff I've read about community media and the role of media in developing countries... if you have a camera phone, you can make a movie. And if you can get access to the internet, you can put it online.
I know that getting online isn't easy, and that supplies of electricity are difficult, but still. This is really a massive, massive change in the way wars are represented in the media. And more importantly, the way people in occupied or invaded countries represent themselves.

One thing I have come across is Alive in Baghdad. I've only just stumbled over it, but it's interesting. I know nothing about it, and part of me wonders about anti-US propaganda. But I suspect it's on the level. Does anyone know?

"did i say unbelievable teaching tool already?" was posted in the category teaching

August 26, 2007

pimping out cultural studies rock stars

Posted by dogpossum on August 26, 2007 11:14 AM


Writing these lectures this semester, I keep coming back to a couple of questions.
Should an undergraduate course present an 'unbiased' overview of a particular area of research? In other words, if you're teaching an introductory media or cultural studies (or gender studies or political science or whatever) subject, should you present an overview of the highest profile thinkers in the field - even if they contradict each other?

Or should you present a subjective overview of the literature and thinking which you find most convincing, which presents a cohesive overview of a particular group or genealogy within the literature or which best represents the theoretical approach of your particular university?*

If only it was that simple, though. I've been also been wondering if an intro subject should present an overview of key thinking within a specific national context - Australian media studies, British media studies, American media studies...?
If you answer yes, then, of course you're also left asking "well, shouldn't I include some of the American (or Australian or British) stuff just as an example of how we don't do things here?" Or perhaps you're wondering if it mightn't be kinda neat to include some work from Indian or Asian scholars...

On the CSAA list recently some of the contributors argued that we have a responsibility as scholars to raise our students' awareness of the various ideological assumptions at work in John Howard's intrusion into rural indigenous Australians' affairs. On the one hand, I agree entirely, in part because it seems the 'right thing to do', but also because it seems the sort of thing that Stuart Hall would approve of. In other words, cultural studies has its roots in social activism (sort of), and issues of class and ethnicity and gender and sexuality have always been at its heart (well, for some people. Some cultural studies kids have decided that that stuff's so last millenium). In this approach, then, you not only outline the various thinking at work in cultural studies, you present it as it if was 'true' or at least workable or something to aim for.
So, for example, when I outline concepts like 'patriarchy' (in a discussion of feminist textual analysis), I don't present it as an abstract concept, but as a real context and ingredient in the texts we're reading and in our lives.

Don't get me wrong - I do agree with these concepts. I do firmly agree that patriarchy needs discussion (and dismantling?), that we should be getting very angry (or at least very active) about Howard's policies, that we should be thinking critically.
It's just that I wonder whether I should be teaching these things as if they were all 'true' (ie from a 'biased' perspective), or 'objectively', as if they are ideologies we should engage with and discuss, but not necessarily believe.

Part of me also worries if this is an entirely arbitrary and bullshit line of thinking. I wonder if it's even possible to do a decent job teaching cultural studies (and gender studies and so on) if you don't present them subjectively. I mean, that's kind of what they're about.
If I do attempt an 'unbiased' approach, am I not simply obscuring or ignoring my own personal beliefs about the world and politics and preconceptions? And if that's the case, what the fuck am I doing calling myself a feminist, if I'm prepared to pretend that an objective approach is possible anyway? I spend three quarters of my time telling students that objective approaches aren't possible - that we're steeped in culture and that to really do 'fair' analyses we should begin by addressing (and stating) our own ideas about the world and how they affect how we read and write and think and talk about culture.

I wonder if this is part of the problem of tertiary education.

Teaching first years basic concepts like active readership, I say things like "Meaning isn't an inherent and static quality of a text, but made through readers' interaction with it" and "There is no single ideology or idea about the world, but multiple and competing ideologies" and adopting an approach in the classroom which explicitly emphasises the idea that 'every reading (or opinion) is important and valuable' so that students feel comfortable speaking up.
With this in mind, it seems logical to rework assessment to make it more achievable for students with 'special needs' (which is all of them - whether they have reading problems, aren't comfortable with English, have to work two jobs to feed their families, care for elderly relatives or whatever), and to use a range of teaching tools and approaches in lectures and tutorials to meet the needs of such a vast range of learning styles and students' needs.
But at the end of the day, the arbitrary marking system necessarily involves being unfair and making it very clear that not every reading style and every ideology and every mode of self expression is valuable or worthy. In fact, the entire marking system, the tutorial/lecture/assignment structure is constructed to encourage and valorise a particular approach to knowledge, a particular way of learning and teaching.
Teaching 'inclusively' (ie practicing what I'm preaching in a cultural studies subject) seems like holding back the tide. Fairly fruitless at best, self-deception at worst.

To this point I've been taking a mixed approach. I present particular ideas as if they were 'true': "patriarchy is..." rather than "some believe that patriarchy is...", and, when the students ask, I clearly state my own ideas and beliefs. I don't think it's possible to canvas every ideology in just twelve weeks, so I present the 'good ones'. I don't think first years are really up to being presented with competing ideas (they're still learning how to learn - getting over that 'just memorise what I tell you' thing and moving towards 'what do you think about what I've told you? Do you agree? Why not? Why?'), so it's best to present a more consistent approach. I also think we should be teaching Australian cultural studies - using Australian readings and ideas. With exceptions for obvious people (like Stuart Hall, who had such an impact in Australia)... but is that just cherry picking?

I wonder if perhaps we should think of the people teaching these subjects as resources in themselves. Not just a pair of legs for walking ideas past the students. We should regard their ideas and work as resources, and expect them to teach those ideas - to bring that** - when they're in the classroom (whether they're in front of 200 or 10 students). Which is really why I think that the very best and most experienced teachers should be teaching first years. ...and why I think we should have the very best teachers teaching beginner dancers too, btw.
But in both dance and acadamia, teaching beginners or first years is seen as grunt work, the lowest status, least important teaching. Crowd control. The stuff we can farm out to pgrads for guest lectures or get in sessional staff to teach, rather than getting the most experienced, highest profile staff involved.
Which is a very great shame, because it's a great opportunity to reach a very large number of students all at once, to fire their enthusiasm for the area, and to - if we're thinking like those CSAA doods - actually encourage critical discussion of the culture we're actually living in.

I also think it's a shame that experienced staff take the least interest in these large introductory subjects. I know I'm only new to this, and probably don't have a clue, and will change my mind as I get more experience, but aren't these the most important students in the university? They're harder to teach because they aren't familiar with universities, and they don't know any of the basic stuff that eventually brings them to more complex research of their own. But they are the people who have new ideas and fresh and unjaded. They don't know what media studies is like. So if you come in swinging, using enthusiastic teachers who have mad teaching skills, really love what they do (and what they're reasearching), surely that will spill over and infect the students (to mix a metaphor)?

And if the people teaching these subjects are also doing their own research, teaching first years will keep them in touch with the basic, fundamental work in their field. If the people doing this teaching are also the big names in publishing and research, won't their enthusiasm for their work also be infective?

This semester, half the readings on the course are by people who taught me in my first year subjects at UQ - Tony Thwaites, Lloyd Davis, Graeme Turner, Frances Bonner, John Frow, etc etc etc. They'd teach subjects in their special areas, but they'd also be our tutors in first year, and they'd do one-off lectures in their speciality area. So we saw and heard and worked with these guys up close.
Now, when I'm teaching these first years, crapping on about how great Graybags is, I realise that these guys are just names to the students. They have no idea why Graybags is neat as a person as well as as a researcher. So they don't really care.
I try to make these guys more than just names for the students - I always use photos of them in my slides, and I try to add in interesting details to keep their attention (I love the story of Roland Barthes for this sort of talk). If I'm talking about uber scholars like the Frankfurt School doods, I describe their social context as well, and how that might have influenced their work. I make sure I show a picture of Stuart Hall and tell them that he wasn't born in Britain.
And I hope that helps them be interested in these people. But really, it would be far easier if Stuart Hall was standing in front of them telling them the story of how he got into talking about media.

This is an introductory subject, so half the job*** is selling media studies to them, making them want to learn more. So it has to be interesting. They have to care. They have to see how they could contribute to the area, how their ideas and experiences are important and worth talking about. And if that means pimping out cultural studies rock stars, so be it.

*Which is, of course, one of the reasons why it's important to be researching while you're teaching, and to have decent collegiality happening in your department.
**The Squeeze suggested the students might laugh less in my lectures if I lay off the ghetto talk. I reject the idea: I am totally street.
***The other half is skilling them up with some basic methodological and theoretical tools.
Textual analysis? √
Feminism? √
Cowboys? √

"pimping out cultural studies rock stars" was posted in the category teaching

August 18, 2007

you know you're in the right job when...

Posted by dogpossum on August 18, 2007 6:22 PM


You get to say things like this:

"There has been no final and conclusive research to support this particular idea of ‘media effects’ – there are no definitive studies showing that watching violence on TV does turn you into a serial killer (which is kind of unfortunate because I like the idea that watching Alien and Terminator 2 will make me a superhero)."
Accompanied by these two lovely Ladeez on a giant screen.LindyHamilton.jpg

I guess the interesting part of this particular segue involves some sort of discussion about the point of diversity in representation - if effects theory is crap (and that's a bit of a long bow I know, but I'm making a dramatic point here), what's the point of agitating for, well, female action heroes?

Teaching this semester I noticed (putting together a lecture on cowboys) that there really haven't been any seriously arse kicking mainstream action film chicks since the 1990s. Where are the Linda Hamiltons, the Sigourney Weavers of the 21st century?


Are we, like totally over that now?

Please don't tell me that all we're left with are (literally) Invisible Women who really only seem up for defensive tactics and getting really really upset.
And hey, why the fuck isn't Sue Storm the boss of the F4 anyway? She has the best name, she has the most versatile superpowers, she's totally the boss of annoying people like her brother Johnny... Maybe if she had some sort of serious responsibilities she'd quit obsessing about her wedding and actually have something challenging to occupy her (supposed) super-scientist brain.

Do I need to talk about superhero costumes? I'm as much a fan of the hawt body action as the next red blooded sistah, but I'd kind of like to see some overalls like Siggy's or perhaps some mucho extremo body armour c/o Aliens.

[deep breath] But, as I was saying, it is way neat to be able to actually talk about this stuff with students. And preparing all this lecture material is really reminding me of the pretty radical roots of media and cultural studies. I've been hanging out with swing dancers so long I've forgotten that it's actually way uncool to just accept bullshit gender stereotypes and perpetuate that whole 'boys look after girls, girls look pretty and shut their mouths' crap.

Today I choose to wear full body armour and decimate the patriarchy.


(Hand over that phallus to someone who knows how to use it, motherfucker - the sistah has some multi-tasking to do).

"you know you're in the right job when..." was posted in the category teaching

June 18, 2007

recent movements in my academic 'career'

Posted by dogpossum on June 18, 2007 5:53 PM

I've just had an article published in a special journal issue on music. It's not the greatest article I've ever written, and reading it is kind of cringe-worthy. But that's not the interesting bit about this issue. The thing that caught my eye (once I stopped cringing) is the fact that I'm the only woman author in the issue.
This is probably just a coincidence, but I was suprised. I'd just assumed that music was one of those 'everyone does it' topics. I certainly didn't think I'd see a reenactment of the whole garage band/music industry scene happening in this issue. I was sure I'd see at least one article on female DJs or something by a woman on something to do with music...

Nah. So I'm the sistah Representing there. Which really is surprising. I'm not actually doing anything terribly feministah - I make a few comments about gender, but not much more than some of the other articles. It made me think, though: surely this bit of cultural studies isn't a boys-own? Surely?

This kind of ties into some thoughts I've had preparing for this course I'm teaching next semester. I'm the lecturer/tutor for a massive introductory media studies subject, on a team of 5 ladies teaching across three campuses and doing about 15 tutes between us (argh!). I don't have to write the lectures - just present the ones that have already been written. But I'm finding it a bit difficult. I really only have the lecture notes to work from, and the first one in particular was really difficult to work with. It used a few concepts I've never come across in 15 years and three universities worth of tertiary education (I'm thinking they're bullshit, but I could just be misinformed), and I've noticed a few assumptions about culture.

The first one is the emphasis on visual culture (well, of course), but this line really jumped out at me:

Images are the most powerful form of representation.
which followed on the heels of
All cultures produce images as forms of communication.
I guess I'm just sensitised to this stuff because I write about it, but I've recently spent a bit of time writing things like:
For a people denied the discursive power of mass media, particularly those dependent on the written word, dance became a valuable discursive space. I would argue that access the mainstream public sphere, to mainstream media discourse or the ‘official’ public sphere is a privilege accorded the most powerful members of a community (Fraser 1997). Media power, the ability to contribute to the production and dissemination of media texts and see your own interests and ideology represented in these texts and discourses, is a marker of social power and influence. This social power was not available to African Americans in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Though they were active contributors to music, dance and other creative practices, these contributions were often curtailed by their social position. Black record companies were frequently out-competed or bullied out of existence (a point David Suisman addresses in his discussion of the Black Swan label). In the 1920s black radio stations, though common in the early days of radio in the United States were eventually marginalised by the introduction of broadcasting legislation (Vaillant 2002). Black musicians were neglected by mainstream record companies in the earlier days of recording and what few recordings they did make in the earliest American radio programs were ‘limited to comedy or novelty styles, which established “coon songs” and minstrelsy… Coon songs were a popular style of comic songs based on caricatures of Negro life, usually sung in “dialect”’ (Suisman 2004, pp. 1296). Black men and women who simply spoke out in public were so routinely subjected to violence and murder in the south of America until the 1960s – with legislative protection for their attackers (Gussow 2002, pp.14) – that to speak of mediated power is highly problematic. For many black actors and dancers, the ability to control their filmed image was also beyond their reach, and it is these audio-visual media that texts became the source of revivalists in the contemporary swing community.
(from a forthcoming article in Convergence, references below).

I have reservations about the claim that 'all cultures use visual images' and that these visual images are the 'most powerful form of representation'. In fact, later in the lecture notes I'm reworking, there's a reference to Aboriginal identity, where one of the functions of images as communication is:

To store the memory of a culture, of a people so it can be communicated/transmitted in the present and future (paintings of indigenous Australians)

I'm not sure what that bit's meant to mean. It seems to imply that visual images are a) a way of preserving Aboriginal culture, or b) a way in which Aboriginal Australians hare or are going about preserving their culture.

This stuff doesn't sit right with me, particularly because dance, song and story telling - oral culture - was and is such an important part of Aboriginal culture. Far more important than 'visual images'. Particularly for semi-nomadic people.
I know I don't know much about this (and I'd hate to suggest that there is/was no indigenous Australian visual art prior to Invasion), but I do have real problems with the prioritising of material visual culture in this way.

I'm a bit busy about this right now, so I can't write anything more, but something about all this 'visual images = most important!' really gets up my bum. There are so many clear examples of the power and importance of things like oral story, music, dance, etc as really powerful and important cultural practices. It's just that they're not as appealing to researchers from such a material, privileged culture.

Fraser, Nancy. (1997). ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,’ in Nancy Fraser (ed) Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the "Postsocialist" Condition, pp. 69-98. New York and London: Routledge, 1997.

Gussow, Adam. (2002). ‘”Shoot myself a cop” Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” as a Social Text’ Callaloo 25 (1): 8-44.

Suisman, David. (2004). ‘Co-workers in the Kingdom of Culture: Black Swan Records and the Political Economy of African American Music’ The Journal of American History 90 (4): 1295-1324.

Vaillant, Derek W. (2002). ‘Sounds of Whiteness: Local Radio, Racial Formation, and Public Culture in Chicago, 1921-1935’ American Quarterly 54 (1): 25-66.

"recent movements in my academic 'career'" was posted in the category teaching

February 12, 2007

teaching ideas

Posted by dogpossum on February 12, 2007 1:20 PM

Here is an interesting teaching post.

"teaching ideas" was posted in the category teaching

November 16, 2006

just in case you're wondering...

Posted by dogpossum on November 16, 2006 6:09 PM

I take a minute out to dash off a post in between papers. Or numbers-of-papers. I am typing my comments into my lappy here at the dining table, rather than writing them by hand as my handwriting is embarassingly poor. And I have to stop every half hour or so to think of something else for a couple of minutes or I end up just skim reading the essays, thinking 'yeah, I get the point'. And having to go back to re-read, because this isn't like reading journal articles or academic books - you're not reading to 'get the point', you're reading to see if they understand what they're writing about, and to see if they're actually capable of writing about it with any coherency.

I guess one advantage to my using the dining table to mark is that I can't just nick off for a spot of sewing - it's difficult to cut fabric when your cutting table is covered in papers.

"just in case you're wondering..." was posted in the category teaching

November 9, 2006


Posted by dogpossum on November 9, 2006 3:30 PM

Feeling a little tired, finding it difficult to concentrate?
Sounds like you have
Marking fatigue

Take one of these and call me in the morning.

Coming in at 275bpm (or thereabouts), this fast finals of the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown comp for 2006 is fricking fast. At one point one couple dances in half-time, then shifts back to full-time (French wunderkind Max and Alice - in black shirt and jeans/black dress), and they look like a film speeded up when they make that shift.
To give you an idea of how fast 275bpm is (if you can't be arsed going and looking and listening), we're talking about 5 steps a second. FIVE STEPS A SECOND. Can you even run that fast, let alone dance that fast?
When Max and his partner dance half time, they're dancing at about 137bpm. 140 is an average tempo in Melbourne atm (though it should be 160 at least).
I guess I don't need to explain why I needed to get back in shape for MLX6, huh?

The first couple in that clip are Frida and Todd Yanacocmamancobi (?). He's about 12 and she's about 16. Well, actually, she's about 22 and he's about 20. He gets better and better and better each time I see him dance. Frida still blows my brain - I have yet to see a young lindy hopper who's better. We have no dancers in Australia who can dance at the standard of these guys.

If you're interested, the winners are Ria and Nick (she's wearing a short, shiny red skirt and he's wearing a red shirt), second place was taken by Frida and Todd and third by Max and Alice.

"FIVE STEPS A SECOND" was posted in the category lindy hop and other dances and teaching

October 16, 2006

round up

Posted by dogpossum on October 16, 2006 9:35 AM

I have about 45 minutes before I have to leave for apppointment #2 with the dentist, and I'm surprisingly unscared. I slept like a baby, weighted down by a million blankets because we've gone from 30-odd degrees during the day to having to wear fleecy pajamas at night in the space of 24 hours. Ah, Melbourne. But if I continue to write about it, I'm sure I'll start getting scared.

I spent a very productive weekend, after a week of incredibly poor teaching on my part. Having the surprise root canal on Monday made for interesting lecturing on Tuesday, what with my numb lips and tongue and post traumatic stress syndrome. Tutoring Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was equally ordinary, though Wednesday was spectacularly bad. Thursday was ok, and by Friday I was back to being tired and an ordinary teacher. A run in with a particularly difficult student did not help (thank you for those public, in-class accusations of incompetency. And enjoy your future marks*).

This week, though, I did ride into the university, using a combination of bike (15minutes on a terrifying road to Northcote station), train (10 minutes in blessed airconditioning), 20minutes riding the terrifying streets of Reservoir (say 'res-ev-or' not 'res-ev-oir') and then a delicious 5 minutes swoop downhill through the uni. I tried riding back that way, but was frightened by the traffic (dang, those suburban types are completely un-bike-aware. And terrifying).
I also tried riding through the university to the next train line over, to Macleod station, which was a very lovely ride. Except for the bit where I got lost about 5 times and had to ask for directions at least 3 times. But even that wasn't so bad - it was a lovely day, I love my bike, and I was having a lovely time in our quite lovely campus (which is very bushy and has lots of wild life, including some bulllying magpies). But I got to zoom down a very very steep hill, through very lovely tree-ey suburban streets (they have GIANT eucalypts out there). And then I caught the train in to the city. It was zone 2, but I dealt with that.
So, riding to work: great fun. But good for sweat-making, which isn't so cool when you forget to bring a change of clothes and have to squash into an overcrowded tutorial room with a bunch of fairly prissy teenagers (unlike dancers, who really don't mind about sweat at all).
It's also a nice option because I've discovered that catching the Macleod line train to Westgarth rocks, because the Westgarth cinema (here is a link to the site, but because it uses frames you'll have to click away til you find the Westgarth, but you can read about it on wikipedia as well) has reopened. Admittedly, now owned by a megacinema group (oh, how I miss the insane amount of independent cinemas in Brisvegas), but still quite stunningly beautiful inside and out. So I will be dropping in there to see fillums quite regularly I think (especially as it's about a 15/20 minute bike ride from our house (about the same on the bus), where you ride along the Merri Creek bike path, which winds along the Merri Creek**. Could there be a more perfect way to spend an afternoon?

On a like note, we saw A Prairie Home Companion last week at the Kino, and we LOVED IT. It's just like the Muppets, but with bluegrass/country music. Same sight gags, though.

MLX6 planning continues, and I finally had a chance to get all caught up and up to date with my responsibilities this weekend (I do long for a whole 2 days in a row where I can just sit about and do nothing, or do things like ride to the Westgarth for a fillum). It is looking scarily huge, with a crazy amount of internationals and interstaters booked in. I hope our venues are big enough.
Brian has continued with another podcast (Fat Lotta Radio, fyi), to which you can subscribe by popping this url: into your itunes or podcast reader. This is the sort of thing that makes MLX so much fun.

...ok, I have to ping ding, chicken wings - got some stuff to do. Think of me at about 11am, will you?

*That was a joke. I have of course handed over this student's marking to course coordinator.
**Which locals think is great, but if you are from one of those lovely cities with lots of stunning parks and greenery (eg the Brisvegas river-side rides), this will look kind of lame. But you know, when you live in concrete-land, you don't sniff at a bit of green.

"round up" was posted in the category bikes and fillums and melbourne and teaching

September 29, 2006

Australian-Melbourne-Irish-Global media?

Posted by dogpossum on September 29, 2006 1:22 PM

As some of you know, I'm booked in to give a paper at the annual CSAA conference in Canberra in December. I wrote about my abstract here and moaned about not scoring a bursary here.

Well, things have actually turned around a bit since then. I have actually scored a smallish grant from the nice people at the CSAA, which will cover my conference registration and part of my airfare. Yay.

So, come December, I'm flying up to the Can to talk theoretical turkey with acadackas, hang out with my old school friend Kate (no, not 'old skewl', nor is she particularly 'old' - she is a friend I have had for a long time) and possibly see some local dancers.

This was all very nice to hear - I'm quite proud of having scored a competitive grant from an organisation which will look good on my CV. I'm also happy to be funded for my trip to the Can - I need to get a job some time soon, and these things are good networking activities... though I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging about with old UQ buddies. And as you can see from this entry, I seemed to spend more time thinking about jazz than any professional business at the last CSAA conference.

So anyways, I'm off to do a paper.
Here is the abstract again:

Swing Talk and Swing Dance: online and embodied networks in the ‘Australian’ swing dance community.
Since its revival in the 1980s, lindy hop and other swing dances have become increasingly popular with middle class youth throughout the developed world.
There are vibrant local swing dance communities in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for whom dancing - an embodied cultural practice – is the most important form of social interaction. Swing dancers will travel vast distances and spend large amounts of money solely to attend dance events in other cities. The success and appeal of these events lies in their promotion as unique and showcasing their local dance ‘scene’.
In travel itineraries which criss-cross the country, swing dancers develop networks between local communities that are not only cemented by their embodied interpersonal interaction, but also by their uses of digital media. In this paper, I examine the ways in which the online Swing Talk discussion board is utilised by Australian swing dancers to develop personal relationships with dancers in other cities, which in turn serve to develop relationships between local communities. This insistence of local community identity in swing dance culture in Australia defies a definition of a ‘national’ swing dance community. I describe the ways in which ‘Australian’ swing dance is an ‘unAustralia’ - not a homogenous ‘whole’ but a network of embodied and mediated relationships between diverse local communities and individuals.

Right now I'm having trouble remembering what I wanted to write about. I suspect there wasn't actually a lot of planning in there. But I have started to have some ideas. Of course stimulated by my impending trip to SLX (I'll be off to the tram stop in a few hours - nursing this horrid cold that's sprung up), but also prompted by planning for MLX6 planning.

Have a listen to this:

powered by ODEO

(which you can find here on the MLX6 music page).

Now, if that's not an advertisement for glocal community, I don't know what is. I mean, before we even get to the dance/exchange stuff, we're listening to an Irish guy pimping Australian jazz for a Melbourne exchange to an international audience. Neat stuff, huh?
This is the stuff about lindy hoppers that I really love: the way they go nuts and do all sorts of creative things - off as well as on the dance floor. And much of this creative work is centered on big dance events like exchanges and camps. There are lots of film clips, mini-films, websites, DVDs, etc etc - and a couple of special official CDs produced - but I'm beginning to get interested in the way swing dancers use radio and audio technology. Specifically, digital audio technology. I mean, there is all that stuff about DJing, but swing dancers do other really interesting things as well: Yehoodi radio is streaming music chosen by swing dancing DJs from all over the world, the Yehoodi Talk Show is really just a chance for a couple of engaging dance/music nerds to have a chat online and Hey Mr Jess is even nerdier - a particularly lovely DJ chatting about swing music and DJing with another dance/music nerd.

Hello podcasts.

This promotional podcast by one of our MLX6 crew is interesting for the way it combines samples from local musicians' albums (these are all bands we're hosting for MLX6, from Melbourne and Sydney) - they're all still living, all contemporary artists - with pimpage for our event.
I do need to sit down and do a bit of analysis of the content, but this is some interesting stuff. Radio has proved a particularly effective medium for connecting dancers in different countries - a natural complement to discussion boards. And this is one of (if not the) first Australian contribution to the international lindy hop radio world (excluding contributions by local DJs to the Yehoodi radio show) - this is the first locally produced Australian swing dance radio 'bit'. And it's narrated by an Irishman!

I do need to sit down and think about how this works: the way 'Melbourne' is presented, the way 'Australia' is presented, and how different audiences within and without Australia (and Melbourne) might receive/interpret/read this text, but it's a starting point - a bit of motivation - for my paper. At the very least, I can add that to my usual list of clips and photos for the presentation - always fun to do.


--edit: you know, part of my brain is also a bit interested in the way I've used that odeo plugin, there: most times you see those sorts of things they're 'invisible', in the way my sidebar over there is largely 'invisible' from the main body of the page over here. But I've actually framed that odeo thingy as something to use and listen to, rather than just stuffing it into my sidebar or at the bottom of this post. It's an interesting contrast to the livefm thingy over there in the sidebar (which is still stuffed and giving me the shits). I am, of course, delighted and fascinated by all this convergence action - my blog as combining audio and visual as well as written? Let's see a newspaper try that then! Of course, this issue is one I've been plaguing my students with lately in tutes - as I heard in a Media Report story about cross-media ownership and digital technology, the cross-media ownership legislation kind of collapses when faced with the internet and the fancy things newspapers have been doing online: they combine av with traditional 'static' text... and bloggage, and audio, and... lots of other lovely stuff.

This is such a great time to be a media studies stooge! How could you not love the internet?!

"Australian-Melbourne-Irish-Global media?" was posted in the category academia and conferences and lindy hop and other dances and melbourne and teaching

September 11, 2006

ask me how I feel about marking

Posted by dogpossum on September 11, 2006 9:32 PM

Half an hour per paper, 70 papers. Yes please.

Ask me how many days til MLX6.
73. Am I worried about it? Nope.

Ask me about the papers I have to write., actually, don't.

Ask me about my application for funding goodness for the CSAA conference.
Yeah, it'll be cool. I'm all over it.
The paper for the conference that's getting me there and getting me the dosh?
Oh, look, something to do with the internet. It'll be neat.

Ask me about the shitful job I did DJing last week.
Why ask. I'm sure you've already heard.

...there's not so much going on in my life beyond work at the moment. This is about as exciting as it gets:
We are going lo-fi with the whole camera thing. We're saying no to lots of pixels and yes to emoting. We are all about emoting.

We are going to SLX on the 29th September, mostly because we need a holiday, and this kind of gets us off our arses. That'll be fun - we're looking forward to stooging it up at the Manly Jazz Festival, eating, napping, talking shit and possibly drinking (though I will drink only softees). It'll be just like an American road trip movie. But with more jazz. And fewer mooses (meese? baby meese?). Though I'm not sure about the boob part. There could be boobs. Or possibly moobs. Either way, somebody scores. And I'm not sure about the road part. I think there'll mostly be trains, the odd bus and definitely a ferry. And a plane or two. This post isn't going terribly well. Looks like teaching is sucking my creativity right out through my... well, I'm not sure how it's getting out of me, or where it's going. Just imagine that I was a bit cleverer and that this post was a bit more interesting. Remember the days when I was posting posts that actually covered more than jazz and had the prose thing going on, rather than the list thing.

But meanwhile, the thesis is at the printer and will be submitted tomorrow! Yay!

"ask me how I feel about marking" was posted in the category teaching

September 6, 2006

let's leave telly behind for a while

Posted by dogpossum on September 6, 2006 1:01 PM

I spend quite a few hours each week talking to young people about media. I begin every class asking them what sorts of media they've consumed this week (and that's how I say it, because I like the thought of these fierce 20 somethings leaping onto BB or Women's Weekly and devouring it - critically or no).
There's much enthusiasm (this has been a surprisingly - satisfyingly - effective teaching tool), but all I can ever think to talk about is Smallville.I think it's because I'm somehow still stuck at that point where the television = media. It's certainly not the center of my media world.
I do watch a lot of [i]Smallville[/i], but I also watch broadcast telly. And other DVDs.
I listen to the radio online - the ABC almost exclusively, and Radio National specifically. I do listen to some lindy hop talk shows and music shows, but the ABC always scores the greater portion of my time.
I read the news online, through various websites.
I read blogs, academic and otherwise.
I read, voraciously, insatiably - I read over breakfast (half an hour at least), on the bus (an hour each way), in breaks, and at bedtime (at least an hour or two). I am a reading machine. And I only read science fiction or fantasy.
I do work reading - I read articles, books, magazines, journals, websites.
I haven't seen a film in a while, but I do love the cinema. When I'm not so busy...

And I listen to music every day. I've just discovered The Squeeze's ipod, and that's neat. Though I mostly listen to the ABC, I have found it a neat tool for previewing my music for DJing. I don't have time to sit on the couch and mull over my laptop any more - I have to listen to music on the bus. This isn't an ideal arrangement for DJ preparation, as the sound quality on the ipod is very different to a night club system. And different to the stereo at home. When you're dealing with old music, quality is all. But it's also a matter of intimacy - it might sound neat on my ipod, locked away in that little sound bubble on the bus, but it mightn't really work in a crowded room full of manic dancers.

But I don't talk about this with my students. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I'm trying to keep this part of my everyday private. Maybe I'm self conscious. Or perhaps I've bought that DJ bullshit where 'only DJs understand', or rather, where we assume DJs listen to music in a unique way. Poppycock.
But I do know that it's difficul to explain the pleasures of swinging jazz to 20 something media students. It's difficult to articulate to non-dancers, to non-jazz dancers, the absolute delight we find in the jumpy, fun, wickedly naughty humour 1920s and 30s pop music. It's certainly difficult to explain why the saucy innuendo is such a source of delight, and I wonder if that is because young people today (bah humbug) are more conservative, more prudish than the young of the 20s and 30s? It makes me wonder if that's why I like nannas so much - they're far naughtier than these youngsters.

This week I'll test it out. We might talk about music this week, and leave telly behind for a while. I'll try to tune in and let you know how it goes.

"let's leave telly behind for a while" was posted in the category teaching

August 18, 2006

battle by literature review

Posted by dogpossum on August 18, 2006 5:58 PM

"So when you've done all this excellent reading, when you really know what you're talking about, you've got to really make it work for you in your essay - you've got to BRING IT!"

You have to ask yourself, what sort of literature review would Frida do?

"battle by literature review" was posted in the category teaching


About dogpossum

i live in melbourne sydney, australia, like jazz music and dance, swear too much, sew, drink a lot of tea and adore puns. ask me about my phd.