Posts Tagged ‘SCMS’

Distanced Learning: SCMS as MOOC (massively open online conference)?


The Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ annual conference is an academic ritual, a rite of passage, a key site of professional advancement, and the social event of the season if you’re a media scholar.  This year, it’s in Chicago, and in media res as I sit here typing this blog post from my desk at Occidental College’s Center for Digital Learning + Research in Los Angeles.  But, I feel like I’m virtually there. Or, perhaps more to the point, I am virtually there.

Visualization of networked knowledge communities, tweets from #SCMS12.

Numerically, at least, I was one of the “top tweeters” at SCMS last year, and it’s been both fascinating and frustrating to function exclusively as a virtual participant this year.  And, given my current position as a Mellon Digital Scholarship postdoc, I can’t help but process this experience through contemporary debates around distanced learning and MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), and consider what it means to experience and/or conceptualize SCMS as a MOOC (Massively Open Online Conference).  SCMS has had the “massive” part down for years now, and just this year it has begun to venture into creating “open” moments (notably the two workshops livestreamed this year, which I’ll discuss below) to accompany its recent commitment to developing online content (Cinema Journal’s new Aca-Media podcast, the SCMS blog and official twitter feeds that launched over the  past few years, etc.).  But, it’s still a conference, with all of the traditional affordances and limitations of a conference.

I have begun to document my virtual, social media(ted) experience of #SCMS13 on Storify, and I’ll continue to edit that over the weekend as the conference continues and eventually link it out in this post. For now, here are some initial takeaways on how my distanced learning experience with SCMS this year aligns with my ambivalence about MOOCs, and how we might actually make SCMS an incredibly productive MOOC:

  • All SCMS workshops should be livestreamed (on an opt-in basis)

I can imagine some pushback on why panels shouldn’t be streamed, arguments in the vein of the conference being a relatively “safe” and intimate space to test ideas at various stages in the writing process.  But I can’t think of any reason why we shouldn’t be livestreaming SCMS workshops.  If the rousing success of the Teaching Media Facebook group indicates anything, it’s that media studies needs more collective intelligence spaces, especially as pedagogies and paradigms adapt to emergent technologies.

This year, the SCMS IT Committee livestreamed the workshop “Scholarly Social Media: Successes, Failures, and Future.”  The experiment led to the impromptu decision to livestream a workshop on the following day, “Digital Humanities and Film and Media Studies: Staging an Encounter.”  While I have been following myriad panels/workshops on twitter (including one on “Gender, Networking, Social Media, and Collegiality” that I was absolutely gutted to miss, and was counter-programmed against the livestreamed social media workshop), I only experience their limited digital residues, often filtered through disciplinary lenses or with an intertextual frame I don’t have direct access to.

When Jason Mittell tweeted me to ask if I was remotely attending his Digital Humanities workshop this morning, a fortuitous typo occurred, and was quickly corrected:

In some sense, these two instances of livestreaming have been more akin to “lifestreaming” for me.  They’ve animated the conference proceedings for me in a way that Twitter alone cannot.  They’ve offered the closest approximations of my life experiences as an attendee at SCMS.  And, perhaps most vitally, they have the capacity to give the conference’s proceedings a life beyond the conference.  As I write this, it’s unclear if there are any archival plans for these two workshops, but to adapt a point made by Eric Hoyt during this morning’s workshop about the importance of shifting the Digital Humanities debate to consider best practices of consumption, not just production, we need to develop a sustainable way to spread, cite, and archive these resources.

Importantly, I think the optimal way to ensure that we’re advancing conversations from conference to conference, year to year, is to ensure that prior workshops on similar issues are openly accessible.  The best way to avoid rehashing old material, and actually push for substantive change (whether the debate is around social media in the classroom or tenure and promotion concerns for digital projects), is to take ownership over collectively creating a space where these conversations and live and evolve.  SCMS is a space to test our new ideas, and learn from old ones, and it makes sense to develop a corresponding digital space that evokes those same principles that we embrace for 5 days a year in perpetuity.

This isn’t just for people like me, who are occasionally unable to attend the conference, but also for those who are sitting down the hall in another panel.  We have the technological capacity to never again say “Oh, that sounds like such an interesting workshop, I wish I could have been there, but I had to see X present on Y.”  We have the technological capacity to expand conversations about pedagogy and process that we can all benefit from beyond a hotel room that seats 25 people to a global audience of not just scholars, but students as well.  And, I would contend that we have the obligation, as critical media scholars, to do so.

During the Social Media panel, I was able to engage directly and instantaneously with comments from the panel and the audience.  I was able to do what I normally do at conferences, which is livetweet, both to mark key points and archive my response to those points, favorite any relevant links and ideas being shared, and push back on points that I  found problematic:

While I was not physically present to pose questions, there was a platform available to do so and, in many cases, just like when physically attending, my questions were asked before I had an opportunity to (in this case, responding before I had a chance to follow up the above tweet with another about Storify and other datamining/curation tools):

Workshops are (at their best) designed to provoke and promote conversation, and I’m happy to see that these “conversations” are now being conceptualized in more open, accessible terms.  At their best, MOOCs make a compelling case for a learning process that is both widely accessible and participatory, and as the most openly “participatory” programatic element of SCMS, it is simple common sense to me to make them open as well.

  • The virtual SCMS experience has performatively solidified my ambivalence about MOOCs

I don’t really want to get into the great MOOC debate here, but never have I been more conscious of the experiential pros and cons that are being bandied about on myriad blogs on this topic than over the last few days.  Here are just two examples…

1.  It’s been really nice and rewarding  to have a strong, tangible sense of my presence and impact on the conference space, especially because I can’t experience it as a physical space:

There are a couple more good citational examples like this, but I’ll save them for the Storify, lest I come off like an egomaniac.  If anything, I think because people know I’m not there, they’ve been more attentive to mark the moments in which my presence (or structuring absence) is acknowledged.  In MOOCs, participants might be similarly conceived as “disembodied” presences, but the evidence of their haunting/learning are made visible in ways that they can’t always been made tangible in a physical classroom.

2. Conversations can be limited by digital spaces and literacies just as frequently as they can be enabled by them.  I’m lucky that my fields of interest (fan culture, television studies, the digital humanities, etc.) align neatly with the most active SCMS and media studies twitterati.  MOOCs function only if the participants are digitally literate (in the Lessig read/write culture sense), and there is a serious, discplinary participation gap that exists at SCMS when it come to digital presence of the organization, and media studies broadly.  Another frustration with my distanced learning experience this week is that I am unable to organically continue conversations with people. Take the conversation below: I would have loved to snag Liz after the panel, or maybe in the hotel bar later tonight, to tell her more about my project and get her feedback, but that’s not going to happen.  This is not to place a value judgement on in-person vs. virtual interaction, as I’m often an advocate for the power of the latter.  A MOOC will inevitably take on it’s own trajectory that can’t be entirely planned, and while that’s a potential strength it can also derail productive conversations mid-stream.


  • Conferences may function as MOOCs, but they also function as  conventions

Last year, I wrote a somewhat cheeky blog post about the striking similarities between media studies conferences like SCMS and pop culture conventions like SDCC (San Diego Comic Con).  Already, some have been noting the convergence of cons that will be taking place in 2014, when the SCMS conference will be taking place in Seattle immediately after Emerald City Comic Con:

In addition to the similarities I noticed last year, I’m experiencing another con-specific phenomenon this year (and one I just went through with ECCC), namely that reading all of the tweets and blog posts only make me want to be there more.  Because, though I am eternally grateful to those of social media who give me a sense of the key events and ideas presented, the (often intangible) benefits of presence are lost.  Experiential learning can be lost, when you don’t get to see you “con friends” (or, for the less geek-inclined of you, your “camp friends”) and stumble upon and synthesize important ideas over the course of casual conversation.

One of my primary concerns about MOOCs is that they can never fully replicate the social experience of a class, or the social dynamics of a class cohort.  I may be wrong about this, and certainly there are networked learning benefits to moving beyond a meatspace vision of a “classroom,” or I wouldn’t routinely have my students blog and tweet for class credit.  But as my twitter feed dwindles down to a (relative) trickle as the panels for the day come to a close, and friends head off to try the local cuisine and coalesce in watering holes and karaoke bars, I’m incredibly aware of where this experience ends for me as a remote learner, and what I’m missing.  I am posting this at 4:45pm PST, 6:45pm local time for everyone at SCMS.  Many won’t see my tweet announcing that this post is up, because they’ll be in the hotel bar or at dinner, and rightly so.

These thoughts are still evolving, so I’d encourage you to comment (if you’ve stuck with me this far) to help work through or nuance this analogy!  I’m especially interested to hear from others who are experiencing #scms13 this way.


SCMS 2012 Workshops


This year, I participated at two teaching workshops at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference (still catching up from the week away, but wanted to share my prezis and some quick reflections):

– The Undergraduate Television Paper [Wednesday, 3/21 from 2-3:45pm]

Participants: Ethan Thompson, Suzanne Scott, Daniel Marcus, Derek Kompare, and Ben Aslinger

The wonderful Christine Becker was nice enough to write up this workshop, along with other teaching workshops she attended (which, one among many who constantly complains about programming conflicts, I was grateful for, along with the other coverage by SCMS bloggers this year!).  It was a small group, due to last minute room changes, losing a few panelists, and general Wednesday-ness, but a lively conversation.  In particular, I appreciated the emphasis from Derek Kompare and others about the benefits of autobiographical assignments.  We also had an interesting exchange (I believe at Heather Hendershot’s prompting) about which essays we assign students that model good writing.  Notably, in many cases this wasn’t academic/scholarly writing, and my own 2 cents on this is that I frequently create thematic pairs of thoughtful blog posts/magazine articles and scholarly journal articles to have students reflect on both forum and form, and how effective each is in conveying their argument.

My sample assignment that I shared with the group was the take-home midterm from my freshman writing class at Occidental this past fall (themed around fandom and participatory culture).  Though it wasn’t explicitly assigned as a “flow” assignment, I would certainly assign something similar in an introductory television studies class.  I wanted to pick a show we hadn’t watched in class, procedural series with an network of ancillary content surrounding it, and settled on Castle (ABC).  I had made a decision at the beginning of the semester to design the paper assignment around an episode that aired within a week of students beginning to write, both in terms of accessibility (available on Hulu and network website), and so that they would be engaging with the rhythms and temporalities of broadcasting and the release of ancillary web content alongside other fans of the show.

For those not familiar with the show, Castle is a police procedural focused on a male mystery writer shadowing a female detective, and this particular episode was focused on a masked vigilante who had taken on the identity of a comic book hero, Lone Vengeance.  There were two primary approaches to take with this assignment, which broadly asked them to analyze the intertextual intersections between the episode and various examples of ancillary web content, and then consider fan engagement, or what this ancillary content offered fans:

  • First, they could examine what this content said about shifts within the television industry, in terms of transmedia branding and horizontal integration.  Most of my students framed this analysis around the Derrick Storm Graphic Novel (Disney/ABC/Marvel ownership), and its not-so-subtle appearance in the episode.  Also, timed to the release of the episode, selections of the graphic novel were released on the official Castle site, and the full graphic novel was released 2 days after this episode aired.
  •  Second approach to this assignment was to consider how television text and paratext inform each other, and what function this relationship serves for audiences through an examination of the blog written by the series’ title character

Though it appears that this is veering into a paper about webcomics, or transmedia storytelling more broadly and abandoning a discussion of television as a result, I think it’s useful to consider the slippages between series and serialized television, and consider what these ancillary texts have to tell us about the valuation of television fans within convergence culture.  These digital extensions also tell us a great deal about shifts within the television industry.

My presentation/provocation was meant to suggest how we might incorporate these new forms of multiplatform flow into our conversations with students about television form history, industry, and audiences.

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– Teaching Comics Studies [Friday, 3/23 from 12:15-2pm]

Participants: Drew Morton, Scott Bukatman, Suzanne Scott, Greg Smith, James Thompson, and Matt Yockey

I have to say, I was thrilled with how this workshop went, and honored to be part of such a rich panel.  Having met with the newly-formed Comic Studies SIG the night before, I was thrilled to see a packed house for this panel.  Clearly, comics are being taught across disciplines, and with different emphases, and I thoroughly enjoyed swapping experiences with both the panelists and participants from the audience.

My own contribution to this conversation was to suggest theory/praxis assignments for students, offering some impressive examples created by students in my Comic Book Culture class at UC Santa Cruz (including a comic created to accompany a term paper focusing on the representation of women in comics, and a short film attempting to replicate with comic book aesthetics), sample assignments by other scholars that I would incorporate into future comic classes (with attribution, naturally!), and tools that might help students create their own comics with limited artistic experience.

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So, enjoy, and feel free to ask me more detailed questions about either of these workshops, or the ideas contained in these prezi presentations.