Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Blogging and Audience Perception


You're right, I do owe the world another giveaway, and hopefully my grand finale prize will be announced within a week.  I obviously need a secretary, and a revenue stream from which to pay a secretary.

BUT, I wanted to share an interesting model I've stumbled upon while doing my never-ending thesis research.  Social media is such a hot topic in so many academic fields that I'm just drowning in relevant sources, I've cited almost 70 so far in the thesis chapter I'm working on, and had over 50 in my first chapter.  AND I'VE READ MOST OF MOST OF THEM.  Which means my head just spins and swims with theory thoughts when I try to think in a straight line about blogging, microblogging, and such.

But here's a concrete nugget of applicable clarity.  This diagram is from a report by David Russell Brake[1] in the International Journal of Communication. Pardon the subpar resolution, but this is his chart, not mine.

Here's what Brake's study was wondering: Who do bloggers think is reading what they write, and how does it inform what they choose to write about and disclose?  Because blogging can be simultaneously a very intimate and a very public medium, this is complicated.  He found that most bloggers have an "ideal audience" in mind when they write, but very few have a concrete idea of who is reading their blog (based on analytics) and that even with analytics it's impossible to accurately conceptualize one's entire audience.  

But Brake did find the above patterns in how bloggers' perception of their audience affected the way they blogged.  Factors included whether the blogger anticipated a one-way interaction with their audience or whether they were hoping for or expecting meaningful interaction from their audience (via comments or invited action), or if alternately the blogger felt the audience was irrelevant to their motivation for blogging.  With these (horizontal) factors considered, the vertical axis of the chart considers whether bloggers think of their audience as consisting primarily of friends or of strangers (which categories are inherently problematic in a blogosphere where people can consider their relationship one of friendship without having actually met in person.  Bloggers with especially loyal readerships may perceive their audience to be both at the same time.) 

Still, looking at Brake's diagram, it can be helpful for a blogger to determine which form of blogging they are actually engaging (or intending to engage) in, and to consider that in their branding and style guide.  Hopefully I can revisit this and go into more depth on the details and implications of each"type" - you know, after I write another 50 pages or so of thesis. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

2nd Round of Drawing Winners Announced

image by Jeff Sheldon for resplashed.com

Last week’s drawing winner is Rachel Swartley who has a DIY/Project blog at http://www.rachelswartley.com she has won a $100 gift card to Paper Source.
This week our winners are Elizabeth Fein of www.iteratesocial.com, who has won a $100 photojojo gift card, and Cylinda of Arenofamily.com who has won a $50 amazon gift card to spend in the mightygirl.com book club.
One thing I’m neck-deep in this week is the role of linguistics in the way we portray ourselves online.  Most verbal beings use language to construct our own identity even in our own heads.  Many people with autism think in pictures, or visual representations, but most of us think in words. (Hence the “voice” inside our heads.)  So even when we are creating and constructing our selves and the public versions of ourselves, we can only use words that existed before us and outside of us to do it.  (Unless you are a neologist; a word creator).
The structure then that language imposes on our identity can be similar to the way we often have to use commonly understood genres or stereotypes in order to communicate meaning.  These tools help us to convey meaning, but they also restrict the scope of the meaning we can convey, as each word or convention brings with it a lot of baggage.   Here’s an old NYT article about the linguistic problem of naming women who are not working outside of the home, but certainly cannot be said to be “non-working.”  One of the closing thoughts is, “I think we might just have to grin and bear the fact that our language can't always be succinct and meaningful at the same time.” Something to think about as you choose which words and aphorisms you’ll adopt in your writing.

Monday, February 9, 2015

1st Survey Drawing Winners

This is the fun part of being vulnerable and asking people to please spend some time doing something for me and my research: saying 'thank you' with presents!

Each week through February and March I will be drawing 1 or 2 winners and then hand-picking prizes for them, based on their survey responses and spending a few minutes on their blog.  I wish I could buy everyone a pony, or a week in Europe, but I do have a small gift for all of my participants who listed their email address in their surveys - so watch your inboxes for that.

Now, I'm delighted to tell you that I have two winners this week, and here they are:

Vanessa who blogs at 2dorksinlove.com has won:

  • A copy of Ian Bogost's "How to Do Things with Videogames" (Bogost is probably the foremost game and new-media theorist, and his writing is super accessible.  His chapter in here on carpentry was a game changer for me.)
  • A $50 Etsy Gift Card (for something like this)

  • and a $60 gift card to redbubble.com, where I highly recommend the products designed by Hydrogene, whose science and math hero designs I kind of love. 

Amy from thehappyscraps.com has won:

(photo from es.paperblog.com)

  • And a $75 gift card for Atly classes. 

Keep an eye out for next week's winners, and take the survey if you haven't yet! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What is Media Literacy, Anyway?

IMG_7635October 2014demillecapt and device

Explaining my Masters Program has never been easy.  Most people have never heard of Media Literacy Education, and very few can imagine what sort of a career I can make of it.  I admit I am still sorting out the career aspect.  Most of my cohort are school teachers who get an extra teaching credential and a pay raise for completing this program.  There are not a lot of non-entrepreneurial options for me besides pursuing a PhD, and that is not an imminent possibility.  I am perpetually exploring my options for part-time work, since raising 4 young children and running a household keeps me plenty busy.  I know I'm in a position of tremendous privilege; to be able to pursue a degree that does not necessarily increase my employment options or job security, but rather to study things that I care deeply about and then work to find a way to implement them into my career track.

According to the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), the vision of Media Literacy is to "help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world. They have broken that vision down into 6 key principles (with a number of sub-principles) in a document I've spent way too much time with: the Core Principles of Media Literacy Education.   If I can summarize that with any efficacy (below), then I'll have explained what media literacy is.  One hang-up that I've developed is that despite NAMLE's claim to be concerned with individuals of all ages, they spend nearly all of their resources targeting public K-12 education.  I'm of the opinion that informed and engaged parents and teachers ought hopefully to be helping one another in an attempt to prepare children to engage with the world in constructive ways.  I would like to see NAMLE engage with parents as a doubly-valuable target demographic.  Media literate parents are more likely to raise media-literate children.  This is part of my motivation for studying parents (mothers, in particular) in my masters' thesis.

The first principle of media literacy is that it requires an active inquiry and critical thinking about the messages we receive and create.  Similar to how print literacy involves asking questions about authorship and intent, and arriving at thoughtful conclusions about how one chooses to engage with the text and its ideology. Critical thinking does not mean being cynical or unkind, but involves discernment, and asking lots of questions about where a piece of media is coming from and why it was created.  Critical thinking is best taught by example, and is a difficult habit to teach to individuals  who are more set in their ways and defensive about their media habits.

The second principle of media literacy is that it expands the concept of literacy to include all forms of media, rather than reading and writing (print) only. The easiest way I've found to explain what I study is to suggest that we want to take literacy principles usually applied to literature, and apply them to the entire spectrum of mediums and perspectives that individuals are exposed to.  In our current culture, individuals are experiencing media texts at a rate that dwarfs their exposure to literature.  Equipping people to deal with all that information responsibly and intelligently seems like a pretty prudent move. One of the most integral parts of literacy, is the ability to both analyze and create texts, so teaching the skills needed to experience media creation is a valuable part of media literacy.

The third principle of media literacy is that it should build and reinforce skills in learners, and that the process of doing so requires integrated, interactive, and repeated practice.  This is primarily a pedagogical strategy, but if you dig into the full length document, it points out that neither protectionism (telling students to avoid "bad" media") nor a media-effects approach (protecting people from the effects of media exposure) constitute teaching literacy.  Literacy involves developing skills that help an individual "make informed decisions about time spent using media."

The fourth principle of media literacy is that it develops informed, reflective, and engaged participants essential for a democratic society. Here, NAMLE expresses a concern about recognizing issues of representation and access that affect certain demographics' ability to fully participate in their societies.  As we see an increasing percentage of political and civic engagement occurring online, it's important to teach individuals how to participate in meaningful, respectful, thoughtful ways.

The fifth principle of media literacy is that it recognizes media as a part of culture and as agents of socialization.  Hence NAMLE does not take the position that "media are inconsequential, nor that they are (inherently) a problem."  The problems that media literacy are likely to recognize are illiterate consumption of media, or illiterate or irresponsible production of media.  They see no productivity in lamenting the existence of mediums already adapted by a culture. While NAMLE may not necessarily disagree with Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium is the message" (i.e. that texting as a medium has changed the way we communicate and relate with others with far greater scope than any single text has changed anything), NAMLE does not view mediums as having inherent morality.

The sixth principle of media literacy is that people use their individual skills, beliefs, and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages.  This is essentially an extension of the idea of viewer phenomenology, and acknowledges that each individual has a unique experience with a given media text.  Thus we cannot make blanket claims about what a film "means" as though it will mean the same thing to every viewer. Nor can we make easy assumptions about what a text "meant" to its author translating directly into the viewer's interpretation of the text.

That's the gist of it, friends.  Or at least the gist of the goals of it.  Interspersed were loads of theory and pedagogy and production exercises.  But if you want to have a healthier relationship with the media in your life (and especially in the life of your family), I'm a good person to have a conversation with.  (Via any of those social media buttons at the top of the right column.) My personal goal is to help entire families have healthier relationships with the media in their lives.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Onward and Upward

Hey World!

I took my comprehensive exams just a few days before Christmas, and hopefully my days of needing to use this blog to post coursework are over.  (Big sigh of relief). I am still hoping to use it as a tool for completing my thesis though, and so I will be posting information relative to my research, or to my media literacy interests generally.  Aren't you lucky?

My thesis, broadly, is about how mothers construct and perform identities for their family members online, and how this informs the performance of their individual identities online.  There's a lot of feminist theories about intersubjectivities unique to the female experience.  Women's sense of self in relation to their audience and to the principle characters in their lives differs somewhat from the normative (male) autobiographical voice and sense of "self."  I'd like to see how this is manifest in the way women address their families when they blog.

So: lots of autobiographical theory, feminist theory, digital theories, sociological identity theories, etc.
But mostly, I just want to explore, respectfully and thoroughly, the digital landscape of modern motherhood.  It's too easily dismissed for such a riotously complex phenomenon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

TMA 680 - End of Course evaluation.

Evaluation of progress on my goals for this class:

1. To complete a reasonable review of concepts, skills, and roles that I learned as an undergrad (in TMA 185, 285, and others) to help me refresh those items my brain may have misplaced for lack of use.
  • I'm not fully equipped to judge how thorough my review was, but it was certainly effective.  The things that I did revisit were all useful to me and I was very careful to try to integrate them into my skill-set as things I would be able to continue developing my working-knowledge of after this course has ended.
2. To feel reasonably confident undertaking a moderate single-creator video project, from pre-production through post production. 
  • My confidence is still not where I'd like it to be, but my willingness, and even eagerness, to undertake such a project despite my failings is actually much improved.
3. To increase my proficiency in using equipment and software I will continue to have access to after the course ends.
  • This has been a high priority for me in this class, and despite numerous set-backs, I have doggedly stuck to my attempts to shoot on a DSLR, because that is what I will have access to on my own.  Though I am now more anxious than ever to upgrade to a camera with a larger sensor and a headphone jack.  I'm also trying to evaluate my best options for sound equipment.  I'd like to upgrade from the simple cold-shoe mount mic and wired-lavelier I have now, but I don't think I can afford the Sennheiser wireless kit I borrowed from my neighbor for my last two assignments, and I don't think I can, or should, keep borrowing it indefinitely.
4. To increase my pedagogy arsenal for teaching the skills covered in class to others in the future.
  • This was the most uncomfortable part of this course for me, and the part for which I have consistently felt the least qualified.  Because I have so little practical grasp of what might work in a given class environment (because of my lack of a concrete class parameter upon which to base my ideas), I feel less than confident that my lesson plans would pan out to create successful experiences for students.  I expect, however, that they'd be a decent jumping-off point for designing a more focused experience for an actual group of students. So, where I to find myself in a teaching position, they'd still be useful.
5. To create several things that provide me with the benefits of "carpentry" discussed by Ian Bogost.
  • The greatest benefit I found along this line, was how much easier it was to understand a concept than to actually enact it.  I was consistently humbled by my inability to create scenes and footage that followed all of the guidelines I understood and could describe well.  Something about rubber actually hitting the road, and things actually requiring practice to master was a refreshing challenge after having written so many papers describing and critiquing other people's work. 
6. To see a measurable increase in the production value of projects I create over time.
  • I did improve my ability to navigate the controls and options available to me on my camera, and I think this will ultimately lead to the increase in quality I'm hoping for.  However, I rather feel like with every conceivable setting set to "manual" instead of "auto", I'm bound to have a growing-pain period where I screw things up and they turn out worse for a while before they can turn out better.  At least this is the rhetoric I'm working in my head in order that I don't let the perfectionist in me take over and make me quit. 
7. To engage in critical discussion about the decisions that go into the creation of media. 
  • This wasn't a super-high priority in this class, but because of our background in previous courses in our program, I felt like we were able to pretty seamlessly introduce thoughts along this vein during a number of class periods. 
8. To feel/be qualified to instruct an absolute beginner in acquiring basic video production skills. 
  • This, encouragingly, is one goal I can feel was unequivocally met by this course. While my pedagogy may lack polish, I feel confident in my knowledge base and skill set that I'd be able to get the needed information from my own head to a students', through lecture, demonstration, exercise, and reflection.
Final Question is: "Where would I like to see myself in a few years in terms of using production skills for pedagogical purposes? How would I like to incorporate these skills into my classroom/practice?"

  • At the moment my long-term career goals are especially ambiguous, but I do anticipate that they will ultimately utilize everything I have developed in the class.  One possible emphasis would include teaching a class on the use of media in accumulating and organizing biographies and family histories.  The skills and lesson plans developed here and in my previous documentary class would be especially helpful in creating a curriculum.  Regardless of the direction my career ultimately takes, I will be better-equipped to remain engaged in the creation of media, and hope to remain comfortable in it and to not let my skill-set atrophy the way I felt it did the first time around (largely due to lack of access to equipment, software, and opportunities). 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Documentary Assignment: Documenting events and/or processes

The process of composing lesson plans has been unilaterally deflating for me, but, in creating a documentary assignment,  I encountered particular difficulty in coming up with an assignment for students that I could also complete an example of.  (My life and the spaces, events, and people I have access to are rather antithetical to the lived reality of most students mature enough to maneuver a camera and editing software.)  So the parameters of my final lesson plan are ultimately a bit more vague than I’d like.  If I were spending more time in a teaching environment, it’d be more feasible for me to complete a project along the more clearly defined parameters of my first draft of the assignment, so I think they are both useful as alternatives to one another even though they sort of reverse the process of capturing footage.  One exercise gathers interviews about a past event, while the other gathers interviews about an ongoing process, and then captures the field footage of that process afterward.  They both create an opportunity for recognizing the process of trying to match interview sound bites with the footage of the event or process that allows for appropriate contextualization and understanding.

I continue to be humbled by the process of working with equipment I’m not entirely familiar or comfortable with, and the process of filming an interview is still stressful for me.  Two of my interviews were severely compromised by my willingness to rush through setting up the shot because it felt so awkward to ask my subject to wait for me to get it just right.  The first interview I conducted was with my Aunt Heidi, and it was my first time using the Seinheisser wireless mic system with my camera.  I hadn’t had time to be trained on it before that, and I could tell on playback that the levels were too high, but I couldn’t figure out how to adjust them on the transmitter/receiver units and didn’t have a user-manual with me.  Rather than make my subject wait for me to figure it out (she was in a hurry), we just kept moving the mic further from her mouth, and she tried to speak more softly than usual.  All the microphone drama led me to forget to re-set my focus after moving the tripod, and so not only was the sound bad, but the subject was out of focus.  Bad news, and no time to re-do the interview, so I’m forced to use it despite how awful it is.  I also had problems shooting my Aunt Holly, as the light levels (coming from a window) dropped drastically almost immediately after we started shooting.  I did stop her and adjust them once, but the lighting in almost her entire interview is problematic.  I didn’t feel comfortable stopping her to adjust the lighting as often as I’d have needed to to save all the shots, so I’m still working through how I ought to have handled that.  I’m mostly concluding that it would have been better to have dealt with mixed lighting, or less-attractive lighting, and to have had the levels be more consistent than to have been at the mercy of unpredictable cloud cover. (Also, I've conceded I am too stingy with ISO, I need to think rather differently about it in video than in still photography). 
(I’m not altogether happy with the other two interviews, I think they look really blown out, even though the meter in my camera was telling me 0.  All of these things point to: Emily needs more practice. Preferably under less stressful, rushed circumstances.)

Ultimately, I think this could be a really fun unit or lesson to teach.  Especially in a time when more and more youth are actively creating media for the web, I find it exciting to think about equipping them with the skills to create more polished and engaged pieces about their own lives and the lives of those around them.  It seems like a pretty effective way for them to engage in virtual communities and invite investment from their peers and viewers, and thus a really relevant skill set for them to have.