Updates: comics doc, Whedonesque, Vimeo

Some updates about my online work elsewhere:

  • I started an album of production stills from my comics documentary. You can link to that album from here.
  • In addition, Charles Heying, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at PSU and a featured subject in the film, has kindly noted the completion of the documentary on the Artisan Economy Initiative blog that he co-authors with a group doing research on Portland’s “artisan economy”.
  • I recently took an opportunity to join the community at Whedonesque, a collectively authored blog dedicated to gathering discussion and references to work by and about Joss Whedon and his collaborators. It’s an unique space where academics, critics, and fans mingle and intersect. Content ranges from pointers to films and TV episodes featuring actors from Whedon shows to links to articles about the Jossverse. I blog there as “sph“.
  • A few months ago I started building a video page at Vimeo, where I plan to have my new video home. I had been using bliptv for that purpose, but in the past year or so that service made a strong turn towards looking and feeling like a TV network and that does not seem like the right context for my work, where content is provided on an irregular basis and without much commercial aspiration. My Vimeo page now has a variety of content on it, including previews for the comics documentary and films from the International Documentary Challenge and 48 Hour Film Project.

Recommended daily reading – 15 March (got links edition)

End of the term, so the link compiling has been slow, but here are some good pointers:

On her Reassigned Time 2.0 blog, Dr, Crazy has an entry on what it means to teach a 4/4 load. She notes that most graduate school experiences prepare people for the R1 research track, and its corresponding 2/2 or lighter teaching. From that perspective, teaching 4/4 seems like an impossible burden on “one’s own” work. Crazy argues that this is a particularly blinkered way of seeing the kind of work that most PhDs are likely to find themselves doing, and lists a number of teaching and research strategies she has developed to be satisfied in her position, however far removed it might be from the grad school ideal.

In my comment to her post, I note that Western is on quarters, which turns 4/4 into 3/3/3, but in either case, I think her reflection is valuable for what it says about what working at a small, undergraduate teaching focused public university is not, and keeping the relationship between teaching and research in perspective. (I should note that her post is in response to this short piece by Notorious PhD).

Two entries on Guy Davis leaving as the regular artist on B.P.R.D. One, by Sean Collins on Robot 6, looks at seven of the best moments from Davis’ work on the title (the choice of seven is explained in the post, but should be easy to figure out if you read Hellboy and B.P.R.D.). The other is by Andy Khouri at ComicsAlliance and looks ahead to new artist Tyler Crook, about whom I know little.

From The Mary Sue, two items about art created by young girls. Jamie Frevele points to a hand drawn “video game”, and includes a link to an audio file where the kid explains her design. And, also from Frevele, is a series of photos showing some neat little hand painted rocks inspired by Exit through the Gift Shop.

Via Inside Higher Ed is this short item quoting Steve Jobs on Apple and the integration of technology with the liberal arts and humanities. No comment, just find this thought interesting.

Finally, I have been looking at the work at Moviebarcode for a couple of weeks now, and I am still not sure what to make of this art. This piece, which is Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, one of the three films I will cite as my favorite, is what moved me to post about the project.

On the one hand, I can see where these images could make lovely prints, blown up and framed. On the other hand, they are given the same title as the films they concentrate. What of In the Mood for Love is in the image? Would I know that this is that film without being told? Sometimes when I look at it, I see colors and partial figures that evoke the movie. At other times, I see little connection, leading me to think that this is an interesting formal exercise, but it is, fundamentally, separate from cinema.

Recommended daily reading – 2 March (yes, I still do this edition)

I finally compiled enough links to post a new round-up.

In the area of teaching and learning:

  • At Inside Higher Ed, Robert Eisinger writes about the importance of “teaching ambiguity”. This is one of my great challenges. Cultural geographers deal with subjects that are ambiguous in their meaning and significance, and one thing I try to do is to help students develop tools and perspectives that enable them to effectively address topics where answers can be open-ended and much depends on the questions asked and in what context.
  • Curiosity Counts provides this quick hit about teens and geo-location services.

Turning to geography-related matters:

  • Jake Tobin Garrett has a defense of “messiness” in Toronto, and in cities in general. While one way to look at telephone polls plastered with fliers is as eyesores, Garrett points to them as indicators of a city’s creativity and energy.
  • SightLine has an interesting look at traffic volume in the Pacific Northwest, and how it has fallen short of expectations, suggesting that transportation planning need not be as car-oriented as it has been.

Renee French posted this image of a woman with a closed eye that I can’t quite shake. I think there is something compelling in the contract between the enclosed eye and the open one.

This, via ComicsAlliance, is awesome news, even if it is speculative.

Finally, I found The Mary Sue, a new blog devoted to girl geek culture, via GeekGirlCon on Twitter. And at The Mary Sue, Susana Polo has an interesting post arguing for women, and sexual minorities, to strategically gender or “out” themselves online as a way to break down the idea that the internet is a male/masculine space. The discussion in comments is well worth reading, too. While you are there, read Polo’s introduction/mission statement for the site.

Meaningful assessment & avoiding black holes

Working off of a couple of other blog posts, notably this one by Historiann, Dr. Crazy argues for a view of assessment in higher education that gets out from under the usual pitched battles between those who see a need for “accountability” and those who want faculty to retain/reclaim control over curriculum. Both sides agree that students are not learning as well as they should be, but disagree over the nature of the problem and the role that external constituencies should have in shaping the direction of higher education and how you assess or determine whether learning is happening or not. For the former group, appeasing external constituencies, boards, legislators, accreditors, taxpayers is paramount, and for the latter, it is an unwanted interference, at least at the level of determining what students should be learning.

Historiann counters in the first comment to Crazy’s piece that assessment in many places is already happening, but that the data is generally ignored, especially when it is inconvenient, i.e., when it suggests that students would be better served by additional faculty hires, smaller class sizes, etc., or when the only function it serves is to show external constituencies that an institution is “serious” about holding faculty accountable. In that case, all you really need is a file cabinet, in an office or on a server, that you can point to when someone starts asking questions. With so many institutions understaffed, and looking at increasing enrollments, there are more serious things to worry about than “accountability” and “assessment”.

While I admire Dr. Crazy’s will to find ways to make assessment work for faculty, and most importantly, students, I am more in agreement with Historiann, at least in the sense that I think that, in too many cases, the whole process has been corrupted by having been associated with satisfying external constituencies, and from a faculty perspective, administrative imperatives tied to those constituencies, and not with actually improving student learning.

That point, that assessment needs to be about students, both in the sense of seeing them as active agents in their own learning and in making their learning the point of the process, is Dr. Crazy’s strongest argument for faculty taking a constructive role in crafting assessment regimes, and not just chafing under the pressure to take part so that administrators can look shiny for boards, accreditors, legislators, and the public.

As far as I can tell, in situations where faculty have initiated programs to assess study learning within their courses, majors, and minors, there is value for students in terms of curriculum reforms that help to address deficiencies and student needs in relationship to what faculty think students should be learning in their fields. I’ve seen this on my own campus where certain departments, for whatever reason, were out in front of the current mania for assessment.

The problem is that for other departments the assessment discussion has been started not as a faculty-student issue, but as a administration to faculty matter. What you end up with in terms of instruments, ends, and what counts as data looks very different when the conversation begins that way. Even more problematic are those circumstances where a faculty have tools for assessment in place, but is dismissed because it doesn’t fit into the right kinds of boxes for administrative review. In our last round of accreditation, every department in Social Science, even those with theses and senior capstones, and where faculty could document how those experiences had been used to improve curriculum for students, was told that they lacked adequate mechanisms for assessing student learning.

This is where Historiann is right: many faculty already do assessments of student learning. Where assessment becomes “makework” is where we have to turn that into some kind of report or document that serves administrative goals related to “accountability”. I have my own experiences with the Black Hole of Information, sometimes never even getting to the point of reporting the results of an assessment activity, but simply submitting the instrument used without ever being asked for the data.

(And one side issue here is how the terms of assessment are constantly changing. I can look at my syllabi and track the shift from “objectives” to “outcomes” and now accreditors in our region want every institution to have “core themes”, and have changed both the accrediting standards and the schedule for visits. As a consequence, as faculty, we get an ever evolving, and not entirely rational, set of requests from our Dean for this or that kind of assessment using this or that kind of form, most frequently, with great desperation near the end Spring term.

Which just goes to Crazy’s point that this should be about students, and it isn’t).

I was thinking the other day how my class blogs, especially the one I have for my intro classes, are treasure troves for assessment of student learning. I mine a lot of information out of those discussions regarding what my students are and are not getting out of the course, what is working for them and what is not, and combined with in-class assessment I do on a weekly basis, I am continually generating notes on how to change or improve the course.

To the best of my knowledge, though, I cannot satisfy administrative requests for data by pointing them to the blogs. And I don’t have the time or energy to digest the useful stuff for others, let alone in some kind of format or medium that is bureaucratically useful. Does my university have a person or department who could or would do that kind of work? Of course not.

What we do have is a software service that will pull together all manner of standardized and quantitative data for interested constituencies to peer at. The extent to which assessment has become an industry also plays a role in the corruption that has infected this issue, perhaps irreparably, at least when it comes to getting us to where Crazy would like everyone to be.

One of the other commenters at Reassigned Time 2.0, Susan, remarks that one area where formalized assessment activities of the kind currently required of faculty has been useful is in thinking about curriculum in a programmatic way – what do we want our students to be learning and what role do different courses play in achieving those outcomes? That’s a useful conversation to have.

But I also agree with Earnest English that, while statements of learning outcomes, the usual first step towards assessment in the current parlance, is useful on a macro level for programs, and for individual courses, on a day-to-day, student-to-student basis, I don’t know how much this process matters, or the extent to which it obscures more than it reveals. As this commenter notes, what any individual “gets” out of a class is going to be highly variable, maybe it corresponds neatly with the predetermined outcome and maybe it does not. What I do know is that I rarely think about these outcomes after I’ve finished writing a syallbus, and am in the thick of actually teaching actual students.

Of course, I can always take what happens in the course of actual teaching and make it conform to statements of outcomes if I want or need to. I can make this easier by seeding my assignments and class materials with keywords taken from the outcomes, but, at a basic level, what does that provide evidence of except my ability to manipulate language? I think what Earnest English is getting at is that it is very difficult to account for what kinds of knowledge students will take and make from their classes, and, however useful it might be to set a few marks to meet as far as what we think our students ought to be learning, it would be a mistake to treat learning as a simple matter of hitting those marks. More to the point, it is a mistake for faculty to give into a system of assessment that rests on holding faculty “accountable” to the kinds of simple statements of outcomes with which we litter our catalogs and syllabi.

In the spirit of Dr. Crazy’s appeal to get out of the morass of faculty vs. admin vs. everyone else, to me the only helpful thing would be for a time out on all official demands for assessment so that faculty, who need to catch up to bureaucratic curve, can do so in a way where we get to think about students first and admin and everyone else second, or even as afterthoughts. And then admin and everyone else can come up with the means by which that work is translated into something that meets their needs.

My university is in the same situation as Historiann’s right now. We have skyrocketing enrollment, but with a tenure track faculty that hasn’t grown significantly in a decade or more. In my division, at least, adjunct hires have contracted over time, even to replace faculty on sabbatical or with course releases. We have administrators scrutinizing registration for low enrolling upper division courses to cancel so that faculty can be reassigned to teach higher enrolling lower division offerings. This is how we are trying to deal with our increased enrollments instead of hiring new faculty, a solution that undercuts one of the university’s other goals, which is to have students complete their degrees in four years.

That software service I mentioned costs money. Doing all of the “makework” to fulfill system and accreditor demands for data costs money or faculty time that, as above, we don’t have. Like Historiann, I think that most faculty have more to worry about than doing assessment in the properly bureaucratic manner, or to generate data and instruments that simply disappear into a black hole in the Dean’s office.

Recommended daily reading – 13 January

A few items of note from the past few days:

On Comics Alliance, David Brothers analyzes data on digital comics sales. He finds that, in contrast to the direct market, digital comics sales are dominated by independent and smaller publishers and creator-owned works. What this means for comics, or what this tells us about who is buying what, are still open questions, but these results are interesting for how dramatic the contrast is between the two sides of the market.

In matters related to environment, creativity, and urban spaces, Juxtapoz explains how to make graffiti from moss, and Inhabitat points to a New York restaurant that is using the rooftop of its building to grow fruits and vegetables.

Two short, funny, though still dismaying, takes on Sarah Palin and the state of political discourse in the U.S.: one from cartoonist Matt Bors and the other via Crooked Timber.

Finally, ComicCritics has a perceptive strip on a particular expression of comics fandom.