Category Archives: media_studies

MediaCommons 2: renewed publics, revised pedagogies

What a week it has been since Kathleen first posted about the MediaCommons project we are developing at the Institute for the Future of the Book. The responses we’ve received so far have mostly been both exciting and constructive and they clearly point to a community out there hungry for a digital scholarly network providing new opportunities for interaction and new modes of scholarship, pedagogy and community building.
As a co-creator with Christopher Lucas of Flow: A critical forum on television and media culture, an online journal intended to foster accessible and relevant conversations amongst media scholars and non-academic communities, I have seen first-hand the positive impact that more fluid exchanges of ideas can have on media studies scholarship. Flow’s mission is to provide a space where researchers, teachers, students, and the public can read about and discuss the changing landscape of contemporary media at the speed that media moves. Flow is organized around short, topical columns written by respected media scholars on a bi-weekly schedule. These columns invite response from the critical community by asking provocative questions that are significant to the study and experience of media.
The journal has been put to use in various classroom environments as well, with students either responding to pieces online or the inclusion of various columns in course packets, though this aspect of Flow’s mission has never achieved it’s fullest potential. Moreover, while the journal has been a phenomenal success amongst media studies scholars, it has largely failed to attract other constituencies on a consistent basis or engage them in critical conversations about media. My involvement with MediaCommons emerges out of a desire to make these scholarly conversations relevant to other constituencies — whether they be media producers, legislators, lobbyists, activists, students, or informed consumers — re-establishing the role of the academic as public intellectual and steward or critical conversations.
Today, I am going to write a little bit more about the pedagogical and community outreach goals of the site. These ideas are still being developed and we are hopeful that readers will chime in with other possibilities and suggestions as well. While I will discuss each of these subjects separately, one of the exciting opportunities with MediaCommons would be the integration of scholarly discourse, pedagogy, and community outreach in symbiotic ways.

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initial responses to MediaCommons

…have been quite encouraging. In addition to a very active and thought-provoking thread here on if:book, much has been blogged around the web over the past 48 hours. I’m glad to see that most of the responses around the web have zeroed in on the most crucial elements of our proposal, namely the reconfiguration of scholarly publishing into an open, process-oriented model, a fundamental re-thinking of peer review, and the goal of forging stronger communication between the academy and the publics it claims to serve. To a great extent, this can be credited to Kathleen’s elegant and lucid presentation the various pieces of this complex network we hope to create (several of which will be fleshed out in a post by Avi Santo this coming Monday). Following are selections from some of the particularly thoughtful and/or challenging posts.
Many are excited/intrigued by how MediaCommons will challenge what is traditionally accepted as scholarship:
In Ars Technica, “Breaking paper’s stranglehold on the academy“:

…what’s interesting about MediaCommons is the creators’ plan to make the site “count” among other academics. Peer review will be incorporated into most of the projects with the goal of giving the site the same cachet that print journals currently enjoy.
While many MediaCommons projects replicate existing academic models, others break new ground. Will contributing to a wiki someday secure a lifetime Harvard professorship? Stranger things have happened. The humanities has been wedded to an individualist research model for centuries; even working on collaborative projects often means going off and working alone on particular sections. Giving credit for collaboratively-constructed wikis, no matter how good they are, might be tricky when there are hundreds of authors. How would a tenure committee judge a person’s contributions?

And here’s librarian blogger Kris Grice, “Blogging for tenure?“:

…the more interesting thrust of the article, in my opinion, is the quite excellent point that open access systems won’t work unless the people who might be contributing have some sort of motivation to spend vast amounts of time and energy on publishing to the Web. To this end, the author suggests pushing to have participation in wikis, blogs, and forums count for tenure.
If you’re out there writing a blog or adding to a library wiki or doing volunteer reference through IRC or chat or IM, I’d strongly suggest you note URLs and take screenshots of your work. I am of the firm opinion that these activities count as “service to the profession” as much as attending conferences do– especially if you blog the conferences!

A bunch of articles characterize MediaCommons as a scholarly take on Wikipedia, which is interesting/cool/a little scary:
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus Blog, “Academics Start Their Own Wikipedia For Media Studies“:

MediaCommons will try a variety of new ideas to shake up scholarly publishing. One of them is essentially a mini-Wikipedia about aspects of the discipline.

And in ZD Net Education:

The model is somewhat like a Wikipedia for scholars. The hope is that contributions would be made by members which would eventually lead to tenure and promotion lending the project solid academic scholarship.

Now here’s Chuck Tryon, at The Chutry Experiment, on connecting scholars to a broader public:

I think I’m most enthusiastic about this project…because it focuses on the possibilities of allowing academics to write for audiences of non-academics and strives to use the network model to connect scholars who might otherwise read each other in isolation.
My initial enthusiasm for blogging grew out of a desire to write for audiences wider than my academic colleagues, and I think this is one of many arenas where MediaCommons can provide a valuable service. In addition to writing for this wider audience, I have met a number of media studies scholars, filmmakers, and other friends, and my thinking about film and media has been shaped by our conversations.

(As I’ve mentioned before, MediaCommons grew out of an initial inquiry into academic blogging as an emergent form of public intellectualism.)
A little more jaded, but still enthusiastic, is Anne Galloway at purse lip square jaw:

I think this is a great idea, although I confess to wishing we were finally beyond the point where we feel compelled to place the burden on academics to prove our worthiness. Don’t get me wrong – I believe that academic elitism is problematic and I think that traditional academic publishing is crippled by all sorts of internal and external constraints. I also think that something like MediaCommons offers a brilliant complement and challenge to both these practices. But if we are truly committed to greater reciprocity, then we also need to pay close attention to what is being given and taken. I started blogging in 2001 so that I could participate in exactly these kinds of scholarly/non-scholarly networks, and one of the things I’ve learned is that the give-and-take has never been equal, and only sometimes has it been equitable. I doubt that this or any other technologically-mediated network will put an end to anti-intellectualism from the right or the left, but I’m all for seeing what kinds of new connections we can forge together.

A few warn of the difficulties of building intellectual communities on the web:
Noah Wardrip-Fruin at Grand Text Auto (and also in a comment here on if:book):

I think the real trick here is going to be how they build the network. I suspect a dedicated community needs to be built before the first ambitious new project starts, and that this community is probably best constructed out of people who already have online scholarly lives to which they’re dedicated. Such people are less likely to flake, it seems to me, if they commit. But will they want to experiment with MediaCommons, given they’re already happy with their current activity? Or, can their current activity, aggregated, become the foundation of MediaCommons in a way that’s both relatively painless and clearly shows benefit? It’s an exciting and daunting road the Institute folks have mapped out for themselves, and I’m rooting for their success.

And Charlie Lowe at Kairosnews:

From a theoretical standpoint, this is an exciting collection of ideas for a new scholarly community, and I wish if:book the best in building and promoting MediaCommons.
From a pragmatic standpoint, however, I would offer the following advice…. The “If We Build It, They Will Come” strategy of web community development is laudable, but often doomed to failure. There are many projects around the web which are inspired by great ideas, yet they fail. Installing and configuring a content management system website is the easy part. Creating content for the site and building a community of people who use it is much harder. I feel it is typically better to limit the scope of a project early on and create a smaller community space in which the project can grow, then add more to serve the community’s needs over time.

My personal favorite. Jeff Rice (of Wayne State) just posted a lovely little meditation on reading Richard Lanham’s The Economics of Attention, which weaves in MediaCommons toward the end. This makes me ask myself: are we trying to bring about a revolution in publishing, or are we trying to catalyze what Lanham calls “a revolution in expressive logic”?

My reading attention, indeed, has been drifting: through blogs and websites, through current events, through ideas for dinner, through reading: through Lanham, Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis, through Wood’s The Power of Maps, through Clark’s Natural Born Cyborgs, and now even through a novel, Perdido Street Station. I move in and out of these places with ease (hmmmm….interesting) and with difficulty (am I obligated to finish this book??). I move through the texts.
Which is how I am imagining my new project on Detroit – a movement through spaces. Which also could stand for a type of writing model akin to the MediaCommons idea (or within such an idea); a need for something other (not in place of) stand alone writings among academics (i.e. uploaded papers). I’m not attracted to the idea of another clearing house of papers put online – or put online faster than a print publication would allow for. I’d like a space to drift within, adding, reading, thinking about, commenting on as I move through the writings, as I read some and not others, as I sample and frament my way along. “We have been thinking about human communication in an incomplete and inadequate way,” Lanham writes. The question is not that we should replicate already existing apparatuses, but invent (or try to invent) new structures based on new logics.

There are also some indications that the MediaCommons concept could prove contagious in other humanities disciplines, specifically history:
Manan Ahmed in Cliopatria:

I cannot, of course, hide my enthusiasm for such a project but I would really urge those who care about academic futures to stop by if:book, read the post, the comments and share your thoughts. Don’t be alarmed by the media studies label – it will work just as well for historians.

And this brilliant comment to the above-linked Chronicle blog from Adrian Lopez Denis, a PhD candidate in Latin American history at UCLA, who outlines a highly innovative strategy for student essay-writing assignments, serving up much food for thought w/r/t the pedagogical elements of MediaCommons:

Small teams of students should be the main producers of course material and every class should operate as a workshop for the collective assemblage of copyright-free instructional tools. […] Each assignment would generate a handful of multimedia modular units that could be used as building blocks to assemble larger teaching resources. Under this principle, each cohort of students would inherit some course material from their predecessors and contribute to it by adding new units or perfecting what is already there. Courses could evolve, expand, or even branch out. Although centered on the modular production of textbooks and anthologies, this concept could be extended to the creation of syllabi, handouts, slideshows, quizzes, webcasts, and much more. Educators would be involved in helping students to improve their writing rather than simply using the essays to gauge their individual performance. Students would be encouraged to collaborate rather than to compete, and could learn valuable lessons regarding the real nature and ultimate purpose of academic writing and scholarly research.

(Networked pedagogies are only briefly alluded to in Kathleen’s introductory essay. This, and community outreach, will be the focus of Avi’s post on Monday. Stay tuned.)
Other nice mentions from Teleread, Galleycat and I Am Dan.

introducing MediaCommons

UPDATE: Avi Santo’s follow-up post, “Renewed Publics, Revised Pedagogies”, is now up.
I’ve got the somewhat daunting pleasure of introducing the readers of if:book to one of the Institute’s projects-in-progress, MediaCommons.
As has been mentioned several times here, the Institute for the Future of the Book has spent much of 2006 exploring the future of electronic scholarly publishing and its many implications, including the development of alternate modes of peer-review and the possibilities for networked interaction amongst authors and texts. Over the course of the spring, we brainstormed, wrote a bunch of manifestos, and planned a meeting at which a group of primarily humanities-based scholars discussed the possibilities for a new model of academic publishing. Since that meeting, we’ve been working on a draft proposal for what we’re now thinking of as a wide-ranging scholarly network — an ecosystem, if you can bear that metaphor — in which folks working in media studies can write, publish, review, and discuss, in forms ranging from the blog to the monograph, from the purely textual to the multi-mediated, with all manner of degrees inbetween.
We decided to focus our efforts on the field of media studies for a number of reasons, some intellectual and some structural. On the intellectual side, scholars in media studies explore the very tools that a network such as the one we’re proposing will use, thus allowing for a productive self-reflexivity, leaving the network itself open to continual analysis and critique. Moreover, publishing within such a network seems increasingly crucial to media scholars, who need the ability to quote from the multi-mediated materials they write about, and for whom form needs to be able to follow content, allowing not just for writing about mediation but writing in a mediated environment. This connects to one of the key structural reasons for our choice: we’re convinced that media studies scholars will need to lead the way in convincing tenure and promotion committees that new modes of publishing like this network are not simply valid but important. As media scholars can make the “form must follow content” argument convincingly, and as tenure qualifications in media studies often include work done in media other than print already, we hope that media studies will provide a key point of entry for a broader reshaping of publishing in the humanities.
Our shift from thinking about an “electronic press” to thinking about a “scholarly network” came about gradually; the more we thought about the purposes behind electronic scholarly publishing, the more we became focused on the need not simply to provide better access to discrete scholarly texts but rather to reinvigorate intellectual discourse, and thus connections, amongst peers (and, not incidentally, discourse between the academy and the wider intellectual public). This need has grown for any number of systemic reasons, including the substantive and often debilitating time-lags between the completion of a piece of scholarly writing and its publication, as well as the subsequent delays between publication of the primary text and publication of any reviews or responses to that text. These time-lags have been worsened by the increasing economic difficulties threatening many university presses and libraries, which each year face new administrative and financial obstacles to producing, distributing, and making available the full range of publishable texts and ideas in development in any given field. The combination of such structural problems in academic publishing has resulted in an increasing disconnection among scholars, whose work requires a give-and-take with peers, and yet is produced in greater and greater isolation.
Such isolation is highlighted, of course, in thinking about the relationship between the academy and the rest of contemporary society. The financial crisis in scholarly publishing is of course not unrelated to the failure of most academic writing to find any audience outside the academy. While we wouldn’t want to suggest that all scholarly production ought to be accessible to non-specialists — there’s certainly a need for the kinds of communication amongst peers that wouldn’t be of interest to most mainstream readers — we do nonetheless believe that the lack of communication between the academy and the wider reading public points to a need to rethink the role of the academic in public intellectual life.
Most universities provide fairly structured definitions of the academic’s role, both as part of the institution’s mission and as informing the criteria under which faculty are hired and reviewed: the academic’s function is to conduct and communicate the products of research through publication, to disseminate knowledge through teaching, and to perform various kinds of service to communities ranging from the institution to the professional society to the wider public. Traditional modes of scholarly life tend to make these goals appear discrete, and they often take place in three very different discursive registers. Despite often being defined as a public good, in fact, much academic discourse remains inaccessible and impenetrable to the publics it seeks to serve.
We believe, however, that the goals of scholarship, teaching, and service are deeply intertwined, and that a reimagining of the scholarly press through the affordances of contemporary network technologies will enable us not simply to build a better publishing process but also to forge better relationships among colleagues, and between the academy and the public. The move from the discrete, proprietary, market-driven press to an open access scholarly network became in our conversations both a logical way of meeting the multiple mandates that academics operate within and a necessary intervention for the academy, allowing it to forge a more inclusive community of scholars who challenge opaque forms of traditional scholarship by foregrounding process and emphasizing critical dialogue. Such dialogue will foster new scholarship that operates in modes that are collaborative, interactive, multimediated, networked, nonlinear, and multi-accented. In the process, an open access scholarly network will also build bridges with diverse non-academic communities, allowing the academy to regain its credibility with these constituencies who have come to equate scholarly critical discourse with ivory tower elitism.
With that as preamble, let me attempt to describe what we’re currently imagining. Much of what follows is speculative; no doubt we’ll get into the development process and discover that some of our desires can’t immediately be met. We’ll also no doubt be inspired to add new resources that we can’t currently imagine. This indeterminacy is not a drawback, however, but instead one of the most tangible benefits of working within a digitally networked environment, which allows for a malleability and growth that makes such evolution not just possible but desirable.
At the moment, we imagine MediaCommons as a wide-ranging network with a relatively static point of entry that brings the participant into the MediaCommons community and makes apparent the wealth of different resources at his or her disposal. On this front page will be different modules highlighting what’s happening in various nodes (“today in the blogs”; active forum topics; “just posted” texts from journals; featured projects). One module on this front page might be made customizable (“My MediaCommons”), such that participants can in some fashion design their own interfaces with the network, tracking the conversations and texts in which they are most interested.
The various nodes in this network will support the publication and discussion of a wide variety of forms of scholarly writing. Those nodes may include:
— electronic “monographs” (Mackenzie Wark’s GAM3R 7H30RY is a key model here), which will allow editors and authors to work together in the development of ideas that surface in blogs and other discussions, as well as in the design, production, publicizing, and review of individual and collaborative projects;
— electronic “casebooks,” which will bring together writing by many authors on a single subject — a single television program, for instance — along with pedagogical and other materials, allowing the casebooks to serve as continually evolving textbooks;
— electronic “journals,” in which editors bring together article-length texts on a range of subjects that are somehow interrelated;
— electronic reference works, in which a community collectively produces, in a mode analogous to current wiki projects, authoritative resources for research in the field;
— electronic forums, including both threaded discussions and a wealth of blogs, through which a wide range of media scholars, practitioners, policy makers, and users are able to discuss media events and texts can be discussed in real time. These nodes will promote ongoing discourse and interconnection among readers and writers, and will allow for the germination and exploration of the ideas and arguments of more sustained pieces of scholarly writing.
Many other such possibilities are imaginable. The key elements that they share, made possible by digital technologies, are their interconnections and their openness for discussion and revision. These potentials will help scholars energize their lives as writers, as teachers, and as public intellectuals.
Such openness and interconnection will also allow us to make the process of scholarly work just as visible and valuable as its product; readers will be able to follow the development of an idea from its germination in a blog, though its drafting as an article, to its revisions, and authors will be able to work in dialogue with those readers, generating discussion and obtaining feedback on work-in-progress at many different stages. Because such discussions will take place in the open, and because the enormous time lags of the current modes of academic publishing will be greatly lessened, this ongoing discourse among authors and readers will no doubt result in the generation of many new ideas, leading to more exciting new work.
Moreover, because participants in the network will come from many different perspectives — not just faculty, but also students, independent scholars, media makers, journalists, critics, activists, and interested members of the broader public — MediaCommons will promote the integration of research, teaching, and service. The network will contain nodes that are specifically designed for the development of pedagogical materials, and for the interactions of faculty and students; the network will also promote community engagement by inviting the participation of grass-roots media activists and by fostering dialogue among authors and readers from many different constituencies. We’ll be posting in more depth about these pedagogical and community-outreach functions very soon.
We’re of course still in the process of designing how MediaCommons will function on a day-to-day basis. MediaCommons will be a membership-driven network; membership will be open to anyone interested, including writers and readers both within and outside the academy, and that membership have a great deal of influence over the directions in which the network develops. At the moment, we imagine that the network’s operations will be led by an editorial board composed of two senior/coordinating editors, who will have oversight over the network as a whole, and a number of area editors, who will have oversight over different nodes on the network (such as long-form projects, community-building, design, etc), helping to shepherd discussion and develop projects. The editorial board will have the responsibility for setting and implementing network policy, but will do so in dialogue with the general membership.
In addition to the editorial board, MediaCommons will also recruit a range of on-the-ground editors, who will for relatively brief periods of time take charge of various aspects of or projects on the network, doing work such as copyediting and design, fostering conversation, and participating actively in the network’s many discussion spaces.
MediaCommons will also, crucially, serve as a profound intervention into the processes of scholarly peer review, processes which (as I’ve gone on at length about on other occasions) are of enormous importance to the warranting and credentialing needs of the contemporary academy but which are, we feel, of only marginal value to scholars themselves. Our plan is to develop and employ a process of “peer-to-peer review,” in which texts are discussed and, in some sense, “ranked” by a committed community of readers. This new process will shift the purpose of such review from a gatekeeping function, determining whether or not a manuscript should be published, to one that instead determines how a text should be received. Peer-to-peer review will also focus on the development of authors and the deepening of ideas, rather than simply an up-or-down vote on any particular text.
How exactly this peer-to-peer review process will work is open to some discussion, as yet. The editorial board will develop a set of guidelines for determining which readers will be designated “peers,” and within which nodes of MediaCommons; these “peers” will then have the ability to review the texts posted in their nodes. The authors of those texts undergoing review will be encouraged to respond to the comments and criticisms of their peers, transforming a one-way process of critique into a multi-dimensional conversation.
Because this process will take place in public, we feel that certain rules of engagement will be important, including that authors must take the first step in requesting review of their work, such that the fear of a potentially damaging critique being levied at a text-in-process can be ameliorated; that peers must comment publicly, and must take responsibility for their critiques by attaching their names to them, creating an atmosphere of honest, thoughtful debate; that authors should have the ability to request review from particular member constituencies whose readings may be of most help to them; that authors must have the ability to withdraw texts that have received negative reviews from the network, in order that they might revise and resubmit; and that authors and peers alike must commit themselves to regular participation in the processes of peer-to-peer review. Peers need not necessarily be authors, but authors should always be peers, invested in the discussion of the work of others on the network.
There’s obviously much more to be written about this project; we’ll no doubt be elaborating on many of the points briefly sketched out here in the days to come. We’d love some feedback on our thoughts thus far; in order for this network to take off, we’ll need broad buy-in right from the outset. Please let us know what you like here, what you don’t, what other features you’d like us to consider, and any other thoughts you might have about how we might really forge the scholarly discourse network of the future.
UPDATE: Avi Santo’s follow-up post, “Renewed Publics, Revised Pedagogies”, is now up.

toward the establishment of an electronic press

A few months ago, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a tenured professor of English and Media Studies at Pomona College, published an important statement at The Valve: On the Future of Academic Publishing, Peer Review, and Tenure Requirements. Not just another lament about the sorry state of scholarly publishing, Fitzpatrick’s piece is a manifesto calling for the creation of an electronic press whose goal is nothing less than establishing born-digital electronic scholarship as an equal to print.
A meeting we held in november with a group of leading academic bloggers raised many of the problems that people face trying to gain respect for online scholarship. Since that meeting we’ve been trying to understand what role the institute might play in changing the landscape. Reading and discussing Fitzpatrick’s manifesto catalyzed our thoughts.
We invited Kathleen to visit us in NY and proposed working with her to establish an electronic press that would be hosted by the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC (which is also the home of the Institute for the Future of the Book). Based on our preliminary discussions we think that the press should concentrate at first on work in the area of media studies. The projects themselves will take many different electronic forms – long, short; media-rich, text-only; linear, non-linear; etc. These projects will be subjected to strong peer-review, but we hope to develop a process that is tailored to the rhythms and structures of online publishing.
How might our conception of a press be updated for the networked age? How do we create a publishing ecology that supports discourse at all levels — from blog to working paper to monograph — focusing less on the products of scholarship and more on the process? In practical terms, how might this process make use of the linking, commenting, and versioning technologies developed by blogs and wikis in order to enrich the discrete and fixed scholarly text with an evolving, interactive network of discourse that encourages conversation, debate, reflection, and revision? How might peer review be reinvented as peer-to-peer review?
We’ve assembled a fantastic roster of over a dozen professors in english, media studies, film and the information sciences to gather for an ambitious one-day meeting in Los Angeles in late April at USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication to begin answering these questions. The goal is to survey the current landscape of scholarly publishing, to evaluate and learn from existing innovative efforts, and to begin talking seriously about the establishment in the very near future of a groundbreaking electronic press. Since this is quite a lot to cover in a single day, we’ve set up a blog to get the conversation going in advance. Kathleen currently has a terrific post laying out some of the first-order questions, which we expect to evolve through feedback into a concrete meeting agenda. Her original Valve essay is also there.
There’s still more than a month till folks gather in L.A., so in the meantime we’d like to invite anyone who’s interested to take part in the discussion on the blog and to help lay the groundwork for what we hope will be a very important meeting.