The Attention Monopoly

This article came down my Facebook newsfeed this morning, courtesy of friend and Florida newsman Taylor VinsonIt spawned two ideas in my head: one related to a shift in how social media has adapted as an industry and another about how shifts in this industry may begin influencing how literacy develops. We’ll talk about the first today, and I’ll post about the latter tomorrow.

The article isn’t long, but it does demonstrate that a shift is taking place in social media. Teenagers, those arbiters of excellent taste, have been moving away from Facebook and toward instagram and twitter as their main (or “most important”) social media platform. The graph is the most interesting part of the article, as it demonstrates the shift away from Facebook and toward Instagram. Meanwhile, other social media platforms, like Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterst, have remained relatively stable, in terms of importance.

This is interesting largely as it relates to Richard Lanham’s The Economics of Attention. Here Lanham argues that money is not the limiting factor in 1st world economic environments: attention is. People only have a limited attention span and will spend that attention on whatever is capable of holding it. Lanham does not differentiate between positive and negative attention, which I believe to be a flaw in his argument as we’ll see later. The more attention a commodity is capable of gaining, the more people are going to spend on that commodity. It is now not important to merely gain their money through direct means, you must gain their attention first.

Facebook seems to have adapted to this in ways that its most famous predecessor, MySpace, did not. Perhaps because it was the first social network to attract a truly mammoth audience, MySpace made small changes, but largely gave the users control over their own webpage. As Facebook began to emerge on a non-college scene in 2006, MySpace went the way of the dinosaur as a new social media took its place. The operative word here is “new.” The novelty of Facebook made people curious, which attracted more attention to it and slowly choked out MySpace’s user base. That’s how the attention economy works.

Facebook seems to have learned from MySpace’s cautionary tale. First, it updates its interface and features frequently, much to the chagrin of its users. My first facebook status was, “Thanks Facebook, I’ll never use this worthless feature.” I thought the newsfeed feature was creepy. Now, it is hard to imagine Facebook conversations actually happening on a simple wall posted without the attention gained from the newsfeed. Facebook found a way to manipulate their own attention micro-economy, bringing the most relevant information your friends are posting to you, which has helped to keep people there.

Of course, as the article states, Facebook has become the “Mom and Dad version of Instagram and Twitter.” Wants mom and dad’s attention finds its way to facebook, teens do not have as much interest in it anymore. That is attention they do not want, presumably because they are developing their independence. However, I am sure this is also because they know that mom and dad will see their posts much differently than their peers will.

So, parents aren’t on Twitter and Instagram, which makes it more appealing to teenagers. Teens are leaving facebook for Twitter and Instagram, and Facebook isn’t that worried. Why not? Because Facebook owns Instagram. In one of the biggest social media news events, Facebook bought Instagram, did not integrate it directly into Facebook, but made sharing easier and proprietary. As the title of the article lets on, “Teens Are Leaving Facebook for Facebook.”

This is another lesson Facebook learned from MySpace: you aren’t here forever. You will lose to the newest, shiniest thing. Rather than losing to it, Facebook bought it while it was still relatively young. Facebook has also begun to buy other social media commodities as well, such as Whatsapp?, a mobile chatting client. Facebook is becoming a social media mega corporation that is not only capable of buying the next big thing, but also using its other commodities to direct your attention to the next big thing. In short, Facebook has the potential to become the social media attention monopoly, constantly directing people to their new acquisition and creating the next big thing based on what you are already using.

The Transmedia Marvel Pt. 2

Since my post on Monday, I’ve gotten to see the newest episode of Agents of Shield (AoS or “Agents” from now on) where “Everything Changes,” and yes, quite a lot did. While watching, I made sure to keep an eye out for similarities in the plot and references between the film and movie. I’m not usually a stickler for such things. Usually, I like to just sit back and be entertained, but this time I certainly noticed some great similarities and call backs to the Captain America: The Winter Solder (CAtWS from now on). From here on out be forewarned: these waters are full of spoilers for both the movie and the episode.

There was a lot to like about how AoS handled viewers that might be watching the show without having seen CAtWS yet. The first ten minutes of the show were spent establishing that Shield had been infiltrated by Hydra, no one was trustworthy, and that Agent Fury was dead. Even having seen the film, I didn’t feel like this recap took anything away from the episode; although I was not shocked by some things that were clearly intended to be shocking to those that had not seen the movie, like the seemingly unnecessary action beat at the beginning when Shield drones attacked Coulson and Co. The events were set into context with the film so well, that my guess is that all this was supposed to happen around the time of Cap’s elevator fight, just as Hydra was beginning to take over. However, there will be more discussion on when this episode takes place in the movie’s timeline later.

Smaller callbacks also worked very well, in my mind. There were some small, relatively insignificant references, like Fitz’s cutter, which the team used to escape the airship as it was boarded, was also used by Fury and Hill to escape vehicles in similar situations. This was moment, especially when Fitz laments that it was “never put into wide production” and Agent Garret says, “All the top agents have them.” This was fun once Marvel, but please don’t let this become a lazy “heroes get out of jail free” card any time soon.

Agent Garret also referenced Sitwell’s betrayal and Agent Hand explaining that “If we are too survive, we must learn to strike first,”  was a clear reference to the prevailing attitudes of Shield (at the beginning of CAtWS) and later Hydra, which is one reason I was skeptical of her innocence, not that it seems to matter much now.

While the show did reference and seem to situate itself well in the movie’s timeline, the problems in the show were uniquely AoS level problems. Coulson’s crew was having to deal with getting the team back together, a friend’s betrayal, and whether or not to trust Agent May. Additionally, the show extends much farther than the movie. Crisis break out at the Shield Academy and there are more important areas to defend than the Triscellion, such as the Hub and the Fridge. Additionally, the crew makes it a point to protect information they have gathered that they do not want Hydra to get their hands on. Cap is concerned with higher order villainy, like the three airships, while the Agents are trying to make sure that smaller, less dangerous secrets are kept. Still, it would not surprise me to see that some of these secrets were captured and may even show up in later episodes or films, making this first season of AoS still very important to the transmedia universe Marvel is creating.

Of course, this is still early in their transmedia experiment, and Marvel can learn a lot from what I think are gaffs. Some of these are small. In the first episode, Coulson welcomes Ward to security level 7 and says that the Avengers are not level 7 yet. However, in the film Cap is level 8. This is a small difference, but I know others will have noticed it as well, so I thought to mention it here. It’s easy to explain this away though. Cap is one of the few Avengers that has gone on to work closely with Shield, so his clearance would likely be higher.

While Shield is effectively dissolved at the end of the film, it seems to live on so far in the show. Ward and Hand mention the fact that they might be the highest ranked agents left and make a plan of action for how to contain the disaster that’s taken place. I’m not great at judging timelines in films though, and it’s entirely possible that they haven’t gotten the memo about Shield’s dissolution yet.

Finally, I do have some problems with how the timeline as a whole worked. At the beginning of the first events in AoS were around the time of Cap’s elevator fight, based on when Fury died in the movie, then events that seemed to take weeks in the film took place in the space of an evening in the show. If this evening is while Cap is destroying the airships, which is revealed in the episode, why are we just learning that Fury is dead?

 One possible explanation is that this takes place well after Fury’s death, which Hydra kept secret, and is just now beginning to emerge as information, but that too seems unlikely. Agent May was apparently keeping close tabs on Coulson and crew and reporting to Fury. Certainly, if all this takes place during the chaos at the Triscellion, she would have reported to Fury at some point when he was presumed dead. The end of the episode certainly takes place during the fight at the Triscellion, because we see the airships falling and Hand gives a nod to Cap’s exploits (this may be considered a spoiler, but did anyone planning on going to the movie think Cap was going to lose?). However, if all that fighting is happening, who is going to take the time to answer May’s call to Coulson’s private phone? Wouldn’t it have been more apt to say, “Fury’s dead and oh yeah, we’ve also been infiltrated by Hydra and things are really going south?” Get it together, Shield administrative support staff.

So, what does this tell us about how they are going about transmedia storytelling? Well, we know a few things now. First, they seem to be playing it a little safe. This is a good thing. Transmedia storytelling asks a lot of those trying to keep up with it. Keeping it to a TV show and several films is ambitious enough. I’m glad they are playing it safe.

However, they also don’t seem to be playing this entirely the right way either. At the beginning of the episode, I thought this took place at the start of the film’s second act. However, by the end of the episode, it seemed to be at the end of the film. This isn’t really a discrepancy, but engaged followers of the transmedia universe will want to have these questions answered clearly, and I didn’t think it was clear from the start of the episode. I don’t think that’s a huge quibble though.

Taken as a whole, I’m impressed by what the writers managed to tie together. This a great feat and a good job of showing two different sides of the same story. On a personal note, I’m impressed. While the higher ups have given up on Shield at the end of CAtWS, the agents on the ground are still hard at work mining through the details and dealing with the threat of what Hydra might become and that can only lead to better movies and TV shows.

The Transmedia Marvel

I understand that there were some pretty big events that happened this weekend. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that my facebook profile hasn’t been high jacked by the University of Kentucky to advertise their appearance in the championship game this evening (go Cats!). Despite doing my undergrad in the middle of UK country (and having a tad of Cats fever myself), there was only one “must watch” item on my list this weekend: Captain America.

While I won’t call myself a super-fan, Marvel’s movie universe certainly has captured the side of me that would get up early on Saturdays to watch X-men on Fox Kids. The movies are some of the few that I enjoy enough to watch more than once, even if it is only once in a blue moon, and some of the few spectacles that will make me leave the house and go to a movie theatre. Iron Man is, personally, my favorite, but I may have been more excited for this Captain America movie more than I was even for the superb Iron Man 3 (which I now want to rewatch immediately). And the reason has more to do with Tuesday nights than Saturday mornings.

This season, Disney put their purchase of Marvel to good use with Agents of Shield, which seems to be breaking out of its back and forth between freak-of-the-week serial and police procedural genre confusion. Recent episodes have been linked visually with Captain America, advertisements show the show’s logo  switching from Cap’s shield to the eponymous eagle based Shield logo with the slogan: “After Captain America: The Winter Soldier, everything changes” and “It’s all connected.” In fact, if you’ve followed both the show and the movie, there is a lot of reason for change, and I’m excited to see how this is going to play out Tuesday night.

Even though I’m excited to see how Agent Coulson (his first name is Agent) and crew will deal with the recent developments in Captain America, I’m more excited to see how this plays out as the most obvious form of transmedia storytelling since the Matrix.

For those not familiar with the rhetoric of online groups, “transmedia storytelling” is the name that Henry Jenkins gave to stories being told across a variety of media. Jenkins uses the Matrix series of movies, comics, video games and one-offs to explain why so many people found the sequels off-putting, while others found them engrossing. To summarize a chapter of his book, Convergence Culture, the Matrix movies did not tell the whole story. The whole story was contained in video games such as Enter the Matrix, a smattering of graphic novels, and a series of animated shorts titled The Animatrix. The later films feature characters, with little or no introduction, that first appeared in the video games, referenced events that occurred in the Animatrix shorts, and even alluded to a series of little read comic books about the Matrix universe. Movie viewers were confused, while super-fans that had immersed themselves in the real world culture surrounding the world of the Matrix were elated.

Now, Marvel is playing a similar, dangerous game. The events in Agents of Shield, have been fascinating in their own right up to this point. There is conflict within the team, with the current main baddie “The Clairvoyant,” and even within the Shield organization itself. However, there has been a subtle threat in the recent advertisements I’ve referenced above: “If you don’t go to Captain America: The Winter Soldier this weekend, you are going to be absolutely lost when 8 o’clock roles around on Tuesday.”

Of course, there is the other side of this coin as well. I, usually not a fan of movies, rushed to an opening weekend show. Opening weekend is incredibly important for a movie, often determining just how long as the movie will stay in theaters. I likely would have waited, but… then again… I need to know what’s going on so I can follow Agents of Shield. I’m hopeful that the writers on Agents of Shield will be able to explain the significance of the movie’s events without spoiling too much, because I know that not everyone is going to the movies this weekend. There will be a stand-alone nature to the episode. However, as a marketing gimmick, I have to admit that it worked on me. The nerd in me loves the idea that these movies are linked together and that there are levels of allusion and references to new movies and now a television show. Rumor has it that Marvel has planned their movies (to some, likely vague, degree) up through the next 14 years.

If they are smart, Disney can milk this cash cow for a long time. In my mind, one of the flaws of the Matrix saga is that they tried to do too much and went into too many forms of media. Casual fans were left behind. Not everyone that goes to see a blockbuster is going to also play video games, read comics, or seek out a dvd of supplemental animated material.

Marvel is being much smarter and more intentional about how they plan things out. They’re making it explicit that these films and this show are linked. They are also, so far, sticking to only two genres as they development their cinematic universe.

However, I’m beginning to notice casual fans entering the scene. As the credits rolled, my wife started to get up before I put my hand over hers, “Oh,” she said, “I almost forgot.” While others streamed out of the theatre, we stayed behind, with smany others, because we know that in Marvel films, you have to stay through to the end of the credits for a sneak peak at what’s going to come next. In this case, I learned a little bit more about the plot of the next Avengers film. However, it also means that not all fans are willing to engage on the same level. Even I have my limits; I’m not sure I could sit through 2 hours of Hulk smashing things to bits.

I hope that Marvel has read Jenkins and that the 14 year plan keeps itself modest. I believe that people are far more willing to engage in several different forms of media to follow a single universe now than they were when The Matrix came out, and it is exciting to be engaging with media in a time where they are not just developing movies, but a whole universe of related films. On Tuesday, we’ll all know a little bit more about how well this new transmedia experiment is going to play out.

Grade Anxiety on the Other Side of the Desk

As a student, I was always excited to receive my grades. I was a good student, and I craved the, usually positive, feedback. It affirmed me in my insecurities. The risks I took were usually rewarded. I was able to put my thoughts down on paper and see the results of my original ideas and hard work researching.

When I began teaching, I often looked forward to student assignments for the same reason. They are capable of interesting topics, and, while their research is not always original, I hope that the requirements of the writing assignment lead them to engage with the topic, challenge their way of thinking, and bring about results that give them new reasons to believe what they did originally or change their minds. I’d tell them as such when they pitched a thesis in a workshop, “That sounds interesting; I’m looking forward to reading that.”

A few terms later, I asked them, “Do you believe me when I say I’m looking forward to reading your papers?”

Despite the fact that I believe I was communicating sincerity, warmth, and support for students’ projects and ideas, they silently and collectively shook their heads, some muttering, “No.”

To an extent, they are right. There are things about grading that do not excite me, mainly the stack of papers that destroys what would otherwise be a very relaxing Spring Break, but also the topics that seem so interesting in a thesis workshop become dulled by the reality of the mental labor it takes to actually support an interesting thesis statement.

Worst of all though, are the disappointments. The great students that write well, but didn’t pay attention to the assignment sheet. The student that got lazy and stopped supporting their points well. The student that changed their topic to something less interesting, but easier to research.

It’s hard for teachers to remember that they were not the average student. We are the ones who went on to fall in love with a subject, get advanced degrees, and turn around and try to communicate the joy and importance we see in our field to students, many of whom are simply there to get a degree, or worse, because the class is required.

I wish my students knew how many “A”s I wanted them to earn. The answer is, roughly, all of them. I want to take fantastic risks, mess up, and improve. I’d love to see them attempt to tackle a difficult topic, even if doesn’t altogether work out in the end. I hope that they’ll look back at Eng 101 as a time when they learned how to write and think in college, not as a trial where they got an unjust “C” because the teacher hated them.

What students don’t understand is that, even though I sit on the other side of the desk, I’m still the student that loves getting feedback and doing well, seeing my risks rewarded and my arguments verified. More than I see them in their grades and their effort in the class, I see myself. Their success is mine, as is their failure. If they fail because of a technicality, I didn’t go over the requirements well enough. If they seem unclear on the subject of the paper, I didn’t guide them through enough prewriting. If they make an egregious content error, it’s because I didn’t catch it when I reviewed their rough draft.

Students, you are not the only ones that experience grade anxiety. So, when you get a paper back and hear me say, “You can do better, I want to see it,” know that I’m saying it to myself as well.

On Thug Notes

Knowing that I am an instructor, and a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, a good friend sent me the previous video.

My reactions varied. I was amused at some of the language choices, taking issue at the humor the juxtaposition between African-American vernacular (AAV) and high art, and then intrigued as to how we can use videos such as this one in the classroom.

This video is, at the very least, worth a chuckle. I usually find that such videos are. Furthermore, it has some merit. As a summary of The Hobbit, it leaves out a few key elements that is later discusses, such as Bilbo rescuing the dwarves from the spiders in Mirkwood, but it does a good job for a short video. The analysis at the end, while not deep, does point out two of the major themes in the book.

Of course, there is something problematic with this video. Its humor relies on a “fish out of water” juxtaposition between African-American vernacular of the video’s speaker and the academic content within the video. This is further emphasized by the man’s urban dress and bookish surroundings. The humor of the video implies that those that use this vernacular are out of place with these environments, but also that it is out of place with the thoughts the language is expressing. It perpetuates the stereotype that AAV English is somehow a lesser form of English and those that use it are incapable of such thoughts.

Of course, there is also what literary theorists would call “subversion/containment” at play in this video. In typical subversion containment, an attempt to subvert a stereotype incidentally confirms it. The movie The Help is a good example of this. While, one the surface, it is about a group of black women gaining agency and authority over their own lives, they are only able to gain agency and authority with the aid of a white woman. The title ends up asking who the “help” really is. It’s white people.

While this video seems to support this stereotype, it actually subverts its own support. The humor is still based on its “fish out of water” environment, but while it is a fish out of water, I hope viewers do not get caught up in the humor so much that they lose the fact that the person in the video is doing a quality summary and basic literary criticism on The Hobbit while using AAV English.

Part of this stereotype, and this humor, stems from the academy itself. Typically, the university has strictly enforced the language its students write in. We are familiar with the typical conventions: no 1st person, don’t use “you”, no passive voice, don’t end a sentence in a preposition… the list could go on for several pages. Some of these rules, like “avoid clichés” are useful. However, the majority are esoteric and many are unnecessary entirely.

This is where videos such as this one can be useful in the classroom. On the one hand, it demonstrates the need for such language. There needs to be a common ground through which scholars and community and understand each other. That’s frustrating, but at least it isn’t Latin anymore.

On the other hand, it also shows that academic level thinking is not constrained to academic language. This level of thinking happens in casual conversation, in blog posts, on online forums, and in coffee shops around the world. Such knowledge helps to demystify the language surrounding academic genres and empowers students to boldly put their own thoughts down on paper, rather than chaining themselves to the language and ideas of others.

This is Not About Sweater Vests

Something’s troubled me for a while now,and I think it’s time to let it out.

I don’t wear sweater vests.

I never have.

I likely never will.

I’ve only owned one, and it was an inside joke. For most of the population, this will not seem like a big deal. Fine, don’t wear asweater vest. You’re probably better off for it. But it’s a big deal for me.

Because Mr. Feeny wore sweater vests.

Image

 

If that doesn’t seem like a huge deal to you, then you may have trouble relating to the rest of this post. There are times when it doesn’t seem like a huge deal to me, but, halfway through my syllabus for the upcoming semester of English 101, the sweater vest loomed over my shoulder. There’s a series of two weeks where, for one reason or another, students miss three of the six scheduled classes fairly randomly in the process of preparing their midterm portfolio. I tried reworking those days for about thirty minutes, and I just couldn’t get it right.

A sweater vest can be a very judgmental article of clothing. As it cast a shadow over my laptop, my excitement over the course led to a negative internal monologue, “This is hard because you aren’t cut out for this work. You aren’t a creative class planner. Just quit now.”

Sweater vests can’t talk, and Mr. Feeny would never tell his students to give up just because things became difficult, but that is what imposter syndrome tells us. Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you’ve just managed to fool everyone to get this position and that you actually are not qualified for the position you are in. It creeps its way into jobs, the idea of “adulthood,” and classes or levels of schooling. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve learned two things about Imposter Syndrome as I’ve dealt with it, and knowing these two things gives me some power over it.

1- It’s not you, It’s me.

There’s an old, usually bad, TV and movie trope where the evil twin/clone meets the original and gets into a scuffle. As the fight reaches a stalemate, a third party, the hero’s sidekick comes in and must choose whose side to join. How can it trust either party when both claim to be the good guy? In most cases, you have to wait until the next episode to find out.

The dilemma presented is simple: which one is real? It’s the same question at the root of Imposter Syndrome. I have a sweater vest looming over my head as I plan classes because my view of teaching is shaped by Mr. Feeny, who never missed class, had a wealthy of wisdom to share, was never stymied by a student’s question, and always managed to cleverly solve problems within 23 minutes (unless faced with an evil clone, which took until the next episode to resolve).

The only problem with Mr. Feeny is that he doesn’t exist. Instead, my students (poor souls) are stuck with me, an M.A. with three years experience teaching college comp. I’ve designed classes, I’ve been praised for how I deal with students, I’ve impressed instructors, and I’m well read on current theories and research. When I encounter my imposter, it’s not really me against Feeny. It’s me against my ideal of a teacher. Just like Feeny, an ideal does not exist. I’m up against a caricature created by writers and culture, but those caricatures have never taught a day in their not-life.

If you face imposter syndrome, you have to remember that the caricature is the imposter, not you. You are the one doing the job, growing up, and in school. The people that trust you with those positions are paid to find qualified people they think will succeed. They believe you can do it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be were you are.

2- It lurks in the hard parts.

There are moments of teaching and researching that I truly enjoy. When I come up with a new idea, or spend time conferencing with a student that begins to understand how to think about the assignment, I know I’m where I need to be and that this is what I should be doing.

It’s alone when I am alone, in the office, trying to predict how quickly I should take these students through lessons on argument that the imposter shows up. It’s important to realize that the imposter shows up when things are hard because that’s when we feel the least qualified. Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that achieving excellence didn’t come through hard work, and I began believing that excellence meant you were good at something naturally, as though infants are born with savant level abilities in writing without having seen a pencil, piano without having heard music, and cooking without having tasted anything. Even if it isn’t purely natural, no episode of Boy Meets World focuses on Mr. Feeny lesson planning at midnight on Sunday for the next week of classes because he already spent the rest of his weekend grading. Popular culture only gives us the fun, glamorous, bits of teaching, college, or work.

If you believe this about excellence, what does that mean when you run into a difficult part of life, work, or your education? It means that you must not be gifted that way and are ultimately doomed for existential failure and doubt. If you want to succeed, you have to cherish your successes and learn from failures so you can turn them into successes. Long-term success cannot be measured by how easy something is, but by how well you react to the inevitable first failure.

 So, as the semester begins, if you take anything away from this post, let it be that imposter syndrome rests on two lies that we believe. First, that we have seen the imposter, and it is us. And second, that if we are good at something, it will come easily. Now do whatever it is you need to do not only knowing that the model you have in your head only makes things look easy and every person in your position has to deal with the hard stuff too, but help other people see the hard stuff, so they realize these same truths too.

CitC Part 4: Why am I doing this again?

Any number of reasons, really. I believe in the theme; I think that the first time was a fluke; I believe in myself as a teacher; I know what I did wrong the first time; I think it will fit better with this student population; I have a deep sense of self-loathing….

In truth, the students that did study an issue relating to a fandom discovered some interesting, revelatory things. One particular student, a fan of rap, looked into rap’s treatment of women and children and found information that made him question whether or not he should listen to rap music that clearly degrades women. He specifically researched how rap can influence children. The results of his own research shocked him.

Another student, a hunter, researched how hunting can have positive effects for the environment, as it helps to control animal overpopulation. He also was able to posit interesting ideas, like the fact that hunters are more likely than others to go off the beaten trail, which made them more likely to be able to observe and solve potential environmental problems in the deep woods, that stemmed less from research and more from his own personal knowledge and experience.

Finally, a third student, an avid video gamer, drew from his personal experience and research on childhood development to determine that, since children have a hard time telling the difference between what is acceptable as fantasy and as reality, there should be stricter guidelines on games rated TEEN and MATURE by the Electronic Software Ratings Board.

Overall, this time I am approaching this class knowing how I want to present it and what didn’t work the last time I taught it. This is still in the pre-planning stages for the class; I have yet to fully develop a syllabus or activities.

[The class starts two weeks from Monday. I’m sure none of you can relate. I won’t tell your students if you won’t tell mine.]

I’m going to run down same list that appeared in last week’s blog in reverse order, but rather than explaining what went wrong, I’m going to explain how I plan to ameliorate the situation when I teach this class again in two weeks.

Very Little/No Control

This semester, I’ll be teaching in the fall and at a different university. This university has students from a more middle class background, which means they may have more time to indulge in these endeavors and are more likely to have indulged in them before coming to class. Also, the fall contains fewer distractions, and usually students are still too terrified to push back against the instructor. 

Some Responsibility

The downside that frightens me most this time around is student resistance. I’ve thought about how to deal with this and a few approaches appeal to me: 

  • Expect this resistance and scaffold the beginning of class explaining that, as you develop more knowledge and different views, this knowledge and these views begin to change the way you see the world and even the things you enjoy. We’ll be doing some of that in this class.
  • Expect this resistance and tell students that if they want to retreat to this, to pick a second or third interest to develop. This way they get to keep their retreat while also having a topic for the course that interests them.
  • Ignore it and hope it goes away.
  • Clearly explain a little of WAC curriculum. Tell students that they are already experts in this interest and they are practicing writing as experts in this class. Explain that some of the best curiosity comes from what they already know and that curiosity is the best thing you can have as you begin college. Explain that experts write papers by making connections about what they know or by asking questions that stretch what they know, but that either way this begins with what you know.

I may very well try two different techniques in two different classes and report back and what works best.

Most Responsibility

Two weeks out with only the syllabus from the last time I taught this course, a lack of preparation may seem like it will rear its ugly head again. I’m not sure that will be the case. The experience of teaching the course is some of the best preparation I could ask for. At the very least, I can prepare knowing what doesn’t work. 

The experience of teaching this course should also help to bridge theory and practice. There are some theories that I think are useful that the demands of this course will have to change. I’m all right with that because many of those are the theories that I did not put into place very well. This class was designed to be a purely research writing class. In this iteration, it needs to both introduce students to college writing and rhetoric as well as explain research methods.

This means that two of the papers students write need to change. While students will still write an annotated bib and research paper, they will not have to do a strict ethnography. Instead of the ethnography, they will begin the course by writing a literacy narrative of how they were introduced to the hobby and a rhetorical analysis of a discussion thread on a fan forum or some other discussion surrounding the fandom. They will analyze the piece, observing what counts as evidence, what power relationships seem to arise, as well as how the medium changes what the communicators can add to the discussion. As the course shifts, they will compare this fan discourse to the discourse of an academic article as they prepare to write academic research.

As I’ve begun planning the course, I think that one of the greatest benefits I’ll have this time is teaching in a semester rather than a quarter. The extra five weeks will allow students to engage with the issues in the fan community and develop a research project. I had to rush through much of this in the last class, but I’m looking forward to slowing things down and seeing how students react. I’ll report back during the semester and discuss how the course is going.