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. 😉

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.

writing into being

I read a phrase in an article today, cited to Sunden cited to boyd 2007, that in digital networks, with the absence of a body, users are required to “write themselves into being”. I’m not sure of the applicability of this in avatar-based worlds, where one can “be” with just an avatar (even if it’s kind of weird if you never interact), but in non-avatar settings, absolutely.

Whether it’s commenting on YouTube videos, blogging, authoring fanfiction, tweeting, or any other of the infinite ways to write online, most of our expression of “self” involves writing. I think about this primarily in relation to fandom – by writing essays, reviews, fiction, guides, or whatever, a fan creates their presence online in the assemblage of other fans.

We do this in academia too, though. In fact, graduate school is arguably about writing ourselves into being. I’m writing my dissertation now so that I have a manuscript out there in the world that begins the definition of who I am in the academic world. (I am lucky in that I have a few other published pieces already out there that have preceded my dissertation, so I’m already on the way of writing myself into existence.)

Is this an outdated model? We always hear “publish or perish”, but we do other things as academics – we record lectures, we have interviews, we create Powerpoints and Prezis, we display posters. We are not just writing ourselves into being, we are teaching, we are designing, we are creating – we are a multimodal society of scholars. I heard a story from Professor Sara Kajder, one of my dissertation committee members, about a graduate student that submitted a YouTube video of his journey learning to dance as one of his writing samples. She reported that many members of the admissions committee did not know what to do with such a submission – they recognized its value but weren’t sure if it counted as writing.

It’s the same thing in fandom. If you are a fanartist, surely you are part of fandom, but that community existed separately from the writing community for a long time. (Interestingly, many challenges in fan communities now pair up a fanartist with a fanauthor, connecting the two in interesting ways.) Many fans make videos of their subjects, or manipulate image stills from movies or games into attractive desktop wallpapers or user icons. Fandom is an assemblage of all of these people who all contribute to the fan culture by “existing” through different mediums – by posting their fanart, fanartists are creating their presence in an online community.

Hopefully, academia is following more and more in the footsteps of fandom in this way. I have a feeling that the new generation of academics (following many members of the current generation, too!) is going to be much more inclined to embrace this multimodal existence, and include things like video biographies as samples of work.