an update – dissertation and job

Greetings, devoted blog readers! You may be wondering why you haven’t heard from me in a while. Well, that’s because the following things have happened:

I defended my dissertation successfully on March 8th! Yay! You can now call me Doctor.

I did livestream my defense, but the videos are in pieces and I need to put them together; if you’re interested, my presentation is available as a Prezi here. I’m thinking about recording a narration of my defense to put with my Prezi, since that’s a new capability of the tool. Thoughts?

In addition to that, I have been doing revisions on the manuscript and will be submitting it soon. Once it’s available, I’ll get you all the link.

The other thing is that I have obtained employment! In February I started work as an Electronic Publications Associate with the University Library System at the University of Pittsburgh. The many reasons for this move to a staff-type position are for another blog post, but let me tell you that basically I am making a commitment to a cause that is very important to me: freedom of information and access to scholarly work. For this position, I work in the Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing, learning all about online journal publication and open access. I have learned a lot about licensing, copyright, ethics, and administration. This is a whole  new world for me, and there’s a LOT more to learn. Fortunately, I am surrounded by intelligent and experienced people in this office who take the time to explain things to me when I don’t understand.

Report on OER-101 and awesome things I’ve learned

So a little more than a week ago, I revealed that I was taking a MOOC on Open Educational Resources. Well, I’ve finished with the course in just nine days!



First thing’s first: I really learned very little that was new to me in this course that I couldn’t have learned from reading a bunch of websites and blogs. However, the great thing was that the information was consolidated in one place. Perhaps the most useful thing was a list of resources that I’ve compiled for things like Open Access Textbooks and repositories of teaching materials. I also learned a few things about using and remixing Creative Commons licenses that I didn’t know before: Share-Alike licenses do not mix well with Non-Commercial licenses, and there’s a way to search for licensed content via the Creative Commons website. Some of the material included in the course was not exactly in the best format — fifty minute long videos of Google hangouts with no outline or accompanying notes or visuals were pretty difficult to handle. Those bored me quite quickly, especially since most of them were just videos of conversations — conversations that I was not part of and could not interact with. That was mildly frustrating, and I hope the developers of the course find a better way to display the information contained in those long videos.

Now, one of my favorite things from the course: the OER Commons. This is not only a repository for educational resources, separated by discipline and level, but also a platform for creation of these resources. This is where I put together a version of an assignment I gave in one of my classes last year to share — I embedded a YouTube video and put in some homework or in-class discussion questions right next to the video. I also had the option of including images and other videos in the same place. Finally, I was able to include metadata — appropriate topic sections, grade level, type of resource, and accessibility concerns. After submitting it, suddenly my homework assignment was deposited and available to be used by other instructors. I kind of wish I were still teaching so I could use some of the things found here!

One of the aspects of the course that interested me the most was the badge system. Each time I completed a section of the course, I took a short survey and received a badge through the Open Badge system. You can see my badge backpack here. I admit, it felt nice to “get” something for completing part of the course besides my own satisfaction. Instead of some kind of “certificate of completion” at the end, I received a full badge made up of all the ones I had received along the way (it’s the one shown in the image above). It’s an innovative way to show progression and achievement, and I hope that it will be adopted more widely.

(Small caveat: I did notice that it would be easy to game the badge system – the criteria was that the final module needed to have a button clicked that said “Mark Reviewed”. As far as I could tell, it did not really check to make sure you had completed all of the sections or done all of the activities. After clicking the button, you could access the survey to get your badge. Of course, I am interested in the content so I went back to complete it, but, I thought I might as well put this out there.)

In all, I found OER-101 to be a lot of information that I already knew, but a nice collection of resources that I had a chance to explore. It was my first encounter with the badge system, and I found it to have a positive impact on my experience. I would recommend this course for instructors who have little to no experience with open access or open educational tools; even for those with experience, it may still be informative even if a bit repetitive.

a MOOC on Open Educational Resources

I recently signed up to take a MOOC — Massively Open Online Course — from Open SUNY called “Locating, Creating, Licensing, and Utilizing Open Educational Resources“. This will be my first experience with a MOOC, and one I hope to document on this blog.

MOOCs seem to be the newest and most novel thing in higher education these days, and I (for one) am extremely interested to find out where this movement goes. I can start by experiencing one myself and seeing where that experience takes me.

At the very first glance, registering for this course was extremely simple. I gave them some basic information — not even as much as it takes to sign up for a free e-mail address — and logged in, and suddenly I had access to the course. You can even log in with Facebook if you want, although I chose not to.

The course promises to reward badges that can be tracked and used as credentials. The badge system (explained by Mozilla) is intended to be a sort of digital CV, where your learning and development activities online can be tracked in a Badge Backpack. (This is a more elegant solution to documenting one’s digital training and learning experiences than, say, printing out certificates of completion.) Badges are awarded by institutions (e.g. SUNY) or people with particular power, and badges are intended to be a sort of visual showcase of your abilities. I heard about this type of system at a couple of conferences recently (most notably Meaningful Play 2012), where the reaction to it was mixed. (Hopefully more on that in a future blog post!)

If you want to read more about Open SUNY’s course, I recommend my colleague Bill’s post here. (Bill’s blog is brand new and will be of interest to technologically-minded linguistics types, so definitely check it out!)

Stay tuned for more on my experiences with the MOOC, and a few more content posts than I’ve been making lately. 😉

News: I’m a contributor to Motivate. Play.!

Hey faithful readers — I have some news that I am belatedly sharing with readers of my blog, most of whom know about this already. I’ve been added to the staff of regular contributors at Motivate. Play., where I’ll be writing about games, game design, and motivation from an ethnographer’s standpoint.

I’m really excited about this blog and this opportunity to work with these writers from different disciplines than myself. Go on over and check out the blog, and if you’re interested in my contributions so far, you can read my short primer on ethnography and gaming, or my most recent post on game design features of World of Warcraft that help players cope with repetitive failure. 

Upcoming posts will include such fascinating topics as “what was the purpose of mailbox dancers anyway?” and “why do I keep playing the Dragon Age games over and over again?” Stay tuned!

Open Access Linguistics

One of the things I’ve become increasingly interested in over time is Open Access scholarship. Open Access is, according to Peter Suber,

Open Access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder.
Open Access is compatible with copyright, peer review, revenue (even profit), print, preservation, prestige, quality, career-advancement, indexing, and other features and supportive services associated with conventional scholarly literature.

Basically, OA means that anyone should be able to view the products of scholarly research. So much of academic work is dependent on people outside of academia — grants supported by taxpayer funds, or salaries paid for by student tuition and government subsidies, or individual donations — and yet most of these people will have to pay outrageous fees just to read a single article.

I hadn’t really thought about OA until I attended a few events held at my university, and until a relative told me how much one of my papers cost to read ($19.95 for an 8-page squib in the Journal of Pragmatics).  I had a lot of commonly-held misbeliefs about OA publications — for instance, that OA means no peer review (this is absolutely not true, most OA journals I’ve come across have as rigorous a peer review process as other journals).

I’ve been reading about Open Access in Anthropology via the Savage Minds blog, which has gotten me to thinking about the state of OA in Linguistics. As such, I’ve started to poke around to see what I can learn.

The Linguistic Society of America has the eLanguage program, a series of journals that are open access and online-only. They currently have nine journals available and a set of archives and conference proceedings. I think this is a great thing for OA Linguistics, especially since individuals can propose their own journals to be hosted in the eLanguage system. I am particularly interested in Dialogue and Discourse, myself.

Beyond the LSA, the Directory of Open Access Journals has listings for 196 journals in the Linguistics field that are Open Access. Many of these are quite specific fields, and a substantial portion are from outside the United States and in languages other than English. There are a whole bunch of journals here that I’ve actually heard of, but particularly notable ones for me are Language@Internet and Signs – International Journal of Semiotics.

Following the development of OA scholarship is interesting, as I believe this is one of the biggest changes that will happen in the academy in the coming years. I’d be interested in hearing others’ experiences with OA, and how OA scholarship is viewed in your department.

Meaningful Play 2012

I got home from Meaningful Play 2012 two and a half weeks ago, and it’s taken me this long to parse the experience I had at that conference. This was not the first time that I’ve gone to a non-linguistics conference (I went to the Popular Culture Association conference in 2008), but it was definitely the most… meaningful. (See what I did there?)

The experience of working with Travis Ross, the co-author of the paper we presented, has been enlightening the whole way. Travis comes from a very different academic background than I do, and finding a meeting point in between our disciplines to do our work has been enjoyable (if intellectually rigorous… keeping up with his analyses is a mental workout for me!). In all, I think we had a very good presentation, even if the video recording of it turned out kind of terrible. We got a lot of awesome comments and questions. And our collaboration isn’t even over yet — there’s still a paper to write!

Meeting everybody at the conference… where do I even start? I met so many people from so many different disciplines that, looking back on it, I almost can’t believe it. I met programmers and computer scientists and digital artists and board game designers and law students and health specialists. I got my picture taken being silly. I played so many games. I have never played so many games in three days as I did at this conference — every time some new presenter talked about a game, if I could, I loaded it on my laptop and played through it. It was not just for play, but to understand.

I feel like the conference schooled me. This is what people love so much about conferences! Not that I didn’t enjoy my time at NWAV or GURT (very cool linguistics conferences with amazing people), but to sit at a round table playing Layoff and analyzing game mechanics and social messages with a group of interdisciplinary scholars? This is my bag, man.

And so now, post-conference, is the time of catching up with those I met at the conference and sifting through my notes. Oh, and maybe looking up a few job opportunities too.

Running of the Gnomes 2012

Tomorrow night, at 9PM EST, join us for the third annual Running of the Gnomes!



My World of Warcraft guild hosts this event every year. It’s easy — create a gnome character with pink hair, show up at the specified date and time, and come with the group to run together through the world. Hundreds of people showed up last year, and we’re expecting a thousand this year (maybe more??).

The point of this is, of course, to raise awareness about breast cancer. We also have a donation page set up with the Cleveland Clinic for their Tuohy Vaccine, which is almost to human trials. This vaccine can help prevent breast cancer. Click here to check out the donation page. 

This event is really important to me, and to the guild, not only because we’re doing something positive for the world, but also because it shows that virtual worlds can be a great tool for organizing events like this. If you’re reading this, consider joining us! You don’t have to have a current subscription to play — WoW is free to download and play up until level 20, and if you have a lapsed subscription we can get you a 7-day pass for free.

InfoSocial 2012

First thing’s first — wow! What an experience at InfoSocial 2012, a graduate student conference hosted by the Media, Technology, and Society program and Northwestern University. Even though I missed the first part of the conference due to travel delays, I feel like I learned so much by listening to papers and projects from all the interdisciplinary scholars at this conference. From a historical view of the erasure of GeoCities to parent-child usage of Facebook to an analysis of social factors in usage of the Wii Fit system, and even our poster on authorship and attribution in retweeting, it was a whirlwind of different approaches and methods. The students who put on the conference did a wonderful job of feeding us and arranging the whole event, and everybody was remarkably friendly. 

I think the highlight for me, personally, was the chance to play with Omnipedia. Omnipedia is a tool that searches Wikipedia in all languages based around a search term, and shows keywords and concepts related to that search term. The cool thing is that it shows you concepts that appear in each language, including those that only appear in one particular language, and those that happen in language clusters. It also translates this for you! For example, we searched for “beauty”, and the concept “facial symmetry” appeared only in the English version and not in any other languages. For the search term “conspiracy theory”, the keyword “Microsoft Windows” appears in the Hebrew version of Wikipedia. We had a lot of fun putting in the names of our hometowns, famous people in the field, and other culture-based words like “masculinity”. Omnipedia seems like a really fascinating tool for doing analyses, and makes the language barrier much less of an issue. I can’t wait to see what comes out of this tool at the Collablab at Northwestern. 

did I really…?

I just submitted my last “content” chapter of my dissertation — Chapter 8: Deception and Multimodality. I have a feeling this is the chapter I’ll get the most mileage out of, since everybody loves a good story about deception on the Internet.

Now I just have to write a conclusion. How do you conclude an 8-chapter manifesto about the beauties and nuances of multimodality? Can I just write “Hope you liked it, goodbye!”? Or how about “I hope this gets you all nervous about using voice chat in online games”?

And where, oh where, do I put the “giving back” part of the ethnography? Usually this is the section where one talks about what they’ve given back to their community in return for the data that allowed them to write this document. Mine is, pretty much, “my love, and a safe space to play”. So where does it go? In the conclusion? As a post-script? Nowhere?

Eight months ago, I was worried about how to begin this thing. Now I’m worried about how to end it. It’s true what they say, that the writing is really the easiest part; the start and the finish are the hardest.