• 27Aug
    Categories: teaching Comments: 0

    A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d signed up for a Coursera class on gamification. As a result, I’ll probably be sharing a lot of thoughts and comments on the topics of both gamification and MOOC education over the coming weeks.

    The class just started today, and I’ve peeked at a few of the assigned readings and other materials.

    I think this is going to be an enlightening, thought provoking course. The basic notions of gamification aren’t new to me; I’ve been teaching them for a couple of years, and been interested in apps like FourSquare since they first appeared on the scene. But I’m taking this course in recognition of the fact that, a) there’s still a lot I have to learn about the topic, and b) my feelings about gamification are deeply ambivalent.

    I’ve argued both sides of the coin in class, because that’s kind of my job, to get students to think about subjects in ways that feel “weird” or “wrong” to them, entertain different perspectives, and make more informed decisions. Personally, I enjoy FourSquare, although I quit caring about badges and mayorships a while ago. At the same time, I do often pay attention to where I am on the leaderboard of my FourSquare friends, and get annoyed when I realize I’ve forgotten to check into places. Needless wasting of points somehow feels like wasted opportunity. (For what? I couldn’t really say. Some small measure of abstract satisfaction, I guess.)

    But that’s a single app. I confess I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to what a fully “gamified” life might look like. One assigned video forced me into that space, and… I did not like it one bit.

    Sure, it’s nice (I guess) to think that we might leave some kind of legacy of books read, or keep track of our accomplishments and those of our loved ones. There’s a lot of crossover between gamification and personal informatics (also known as the Quantified Self movement), which I find both appealing and a bit scary. I say this as someone who has used the Nike+ running app with great satisfaction (although I ditched it without hesitation for as long as it took me to finish Zombies, Run!)*, is an avid user of Fitocracy and MyFitnessPal, has played around with Epic Win and other personal record keeping/motivational sites and apps. So it’s not as though I’m opposed to gamification, at all, including some of the corporate-sponsored variety.  I’ve even toyed with the idea of developing a points/badge system for classes. I still might.

    But… but… but… the ever deeper penetration of advertising into our daily lives and habits and identities is profoundly disturbing to me.  I’m still working through my thoughts and feelings on this issue. Somehow, I didn’t quite realize that this class was going to force me to confront my biases and closely consider my worldview, but honestly, the fact that it has already done so on the first day tells me that it’s a worthwhile use of my time.

    I’m always telling students that real learning and growth only take place when one steps outside one’s comfort zone. For some reason, though, when it comes to myself, it’s a message I have to be reminded of over and over again. It’s a good lesson in humility, and helps me be more patient with my students, who don’t have nearly as much experience with the benefits of facing their fears or doubts or entrenched convictions head-first as I do. Even I have to wage some internal battles to stay open to new ideas and consider uncomfortable perspectives. A good thing to remember at the start of a new semester, especially.

    Time for some productive discomfort. Bring it on. Maybe I’ll earn a badge for it, in the end.

    *Heh, and as I work my way through the video lectures, the instructor uses Zombies, Run! as an example. He’s a lot more dispassionate than I would be about it, though, since it is absolutely my very favorite mobile app, ever, and a great example of gamification beyond badges and points.

  • 15Aug
    Categories: Conferences Comments: 0

    Last week was the annual AEJMC (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) conference, which was held this year in Chicago to celebrate the association’s 100th anniversary. I love going to conferences: they’re so intellectually stimulating, offering the chance to learn about cutting-edge research long before it’s published, and to discuss the work directly with the researchers. They’re also a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, network with other scholars in the discipline, meet the up-and-coming graduate students who will soon be your peers, and—if you’re lucky—spend a little time exploring a new city. AEJMC was all of those things for me this year.

    I didn’t get to venture into Chicago as much as I would’ve liked. I’ve been there before, but it’s such a great city there’s always more to discover and revisit. I did manage to make it out to the IO theatre and see a performance by the legendary TJ & Dave, an experience I highly recommend. Friends who got into town the night before got to see several performers audition for Saturday Night Live, in the grand tradition of Chicago improv and sketch comedy. Next time, I’ll try to add an extra day to my own travel plans to take in more shows.

    The trip wasn’t without its setbacks. After my first full day there, I completely lost my voice. As you can imagine, this made it rather… challenging to interview candidates for our two tenure-track online media positions. Trying to restore my voice by resting it, I ended up missing the last few interviews we had scheduled, as well as a planned evening out with my grad school friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. I pick my friends well, though: they had sushi and miso soup brought to me in my hotel room. Isn’t that touching? And it clearly helped, since I was able to croak my way through my research presentation with Nina KL Miller late Saturday afternoon. (I’ll be talking about this project more in the future.)

    Despite the untimely attack of laryngitis, I was able to attend some paper sessions and participate in conference life to some degree. I was part of a panel organized by David Mindich (who received the AEJMC Presidential award at the business meeting Saturday morning), on Digital Overload and Digital Fasting. We discussed the difficulty of balancing our need to stay connected with our need to recharge and reflect. Collectively we reflected on agency, boundaries, and identity as they relate to our use of social media. This was not a panel of pat answers; these are tensions that we are all struggling with to varying degrees, still figuring out how to productively incorporate these technologies and the firehose of information into our daily lives, and how to set limits. For example, thanks to Jennifer Rauch of Long Island University, I learned about the “Slow Media” movement (similar in concept to Slow Food), which advocates placing careful limits on one’s media consumption to better savor the benefits.

    My own contribution focused on the tension between individual agency and hard economic realities for those who work in social media production, or whose profession relies to a significant degree on the 24-hour information cycle. But that’s a blog post for another day. In any case, I thought it was an interesting and productive discussion—it’s always a good sign when the panel seems to be over too quickly, and there’s so much more to be said.

    A highlight of AEJMC for me was getting to see my dear friend Sue Robinson, recently tenured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, receive the prestigious Hillier Krieghbaum award for outstanding scholar under 40. Her work exploring the shifting world of journalism as it adapts to technological change has been strongly influential in her field. She is a brilliant researcher and a terrific person, so I can’t imagine a more deserving award recipient. That alone would have been worth the trip to Chicago.

    During my time at AEJMC, I heard colleagues present papers on corporate social responsibility, nonprofit relationship building, the importance of voice in social media, the state of current thinking about image and reputation, how practitioners manage life-work balance, the role of journalists in crisis communication, and many other topics. I had conversations with professors from all over the country about teaching, research, the challenges faced by higher education, and how lucky we are to be able to grapple with these important subjects every day. I love coming away from a conference full of stimulating ideas for my own work. Considering that the semester starts next week, it’s excellent timing!