Campbell & DS106

I return from a baby hiatus to the blogosphere. Hopefully I didn’t miss too much, and my beloved fellow DHers will welcome me back to the fold.

But of course, as always, I prove to be obstinately prone to dislike my reading assignments – could it be any other way? Gardner Campbell’s Personal Infrastructures were not immune to my disdain. Yes, yes, I use the word disdain.

I don’t know how many students and how many courses Gardner is teaching, or what kind of pressures Baylor University is facing in terms of curricular overload. What I do know is that his idea that we somehow carve out time to teach our students programming is wasteful, backwards-thinking, and misses the whole point of self-expression.

1. General point: Someone who is creating content for the internet does NOT need to know the alphabet soup of website languages. Take for instance the wildly popular (among a certain set) fake blog Suri’s Burn Book by Allie Hagan. Hagan created the site on tumblr using their template just for fun. It became so popular that she got a book deal out of the matter. I’m pretty sure Hagan didn’t need to learn coding to succeed. And she’s not the only ‘template’ site out there that has gathered a following.

2. General point: Learning these languages is time consuming and some people just truly don’t have the aptitude. Much like I don’t have the aptitude for learning biology. Forcing students to learn coding when what they’re trying to do is be creative is pretty much like telling someone they can’t get their driver’s license until they’ve taken apart and reassembled three different car engines. What’s the point? The net result to turn someone away from the pursuit (in the case of driving maybe not the worst thing for the environment, but in the case of promoting humanities, pretty bad).

3. Random point: Quoting McLuhan doesn’t make a point more correct. McLuhan agrees with me.

4. Specific point: Campbell lays out a terrifying scenario of spending basically an entire first year of college learning how to create websites. There’s a field for that, it’s called web design. There are major specifically designed for that. Unless he’s proposing a double major for everyone, this is just nonsense, there simply isn’t room in the curriculum for this sort of intervention. And again, I don’t see why there should be. Not everyone needs to be a mechanic, it’s why we pay some people to fix our cars for us.

5. The crux of our disagreement: “Print is not advanced calligraphy. The web is not a more sophisticated telegraph.” Actually, yes they are. And there lies the crux, to me they’re still just tools. Even as it is I just had a former very bright and successful student rumble on facebook about her discontent with modern technology and a desire to return to more dependable modes.

Putting Campbell aside, let me move unto DS106. Let me first state that I really like that this website exists. I could not get through all the proposed projects, but many of them looked like they would be fun just to do for their own sake. I found inspiration in three of the projects I looked at.

The first two would be used in teaching Visual Sociology. The first project, Normal to Extraordinary, is one where people pair up and take pictures of each other, first in regular clothing and then in some way that makes them extraordinary. I would use this assignment in a somewhat altered manner, where the students working in pair or trios would first take pictures of each other in their regular outfits, and then try to find props, environments and poses that would completely change their cultural orientation. For instance, what would happen if a female student who is used to a standard Western outfit adopted to the best of her ability a traditional head covering and long sleeved conservative shirt? What if a male student doffed a backwards baseball cap and found a spot to be photographed with broken glass on concrete?

The second assignment I would use in the course, What’s the Meme?, might or might not build off of the first one. The idea is to take a photo and try to turn it into a meme. In my particular imagination I would provide a few examples of photos that have resulted in many tags – probably the most fascinating to me being Old Economy Steve. The catch would be that they would be using photos from the previous project from other teams.

Finally I found an assignment in the fanfic category that might contribute to my Sociology of Aging course. I particularly liked the title of this one, ‘The Way It Should Have Been.’ The idea is that people take a story, book, movie or television series, (really any sort of narrative), change one basic element in it and rewrite the narrative. In the case of my course, they would have to take one or more of the main characters and add fifty years to their age.

So for instance, I would take the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and make Buffy 65 when she first became the slayer. She would have the same physical strengths, but not the same teenaged emotional baggage and dumb behavior. Also, she would be far more independent in not having to go to high school every day and hide things from her mother (at least for the first two seasons of the show). I think a 65-year-old slayer would actually be far more effective than a 15-year-old one. And she certainly wouldn’t be dumb enough to fall in love with a vampire.

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