[F] is for a [F]inal Assignment – Reflecting on what I learned in my Advanced Media Theory seminar

The final requirement for my special topics doctoral seminar is to write a blog post which asks – and answers – the question: “What have I learned in my Advanced Media Theory seminar?”

From a technology perspective

First and foremost, I learned that the amount of time that it takes to manage and regularly – frequently! – update a blog is significant. At the beginning of the semester, I intended to update this blog on a weekly basis. While I have tons of ideas for content, actually sitting down and writing a post proved to be more difficult – and this is in spite of having access to WordPress on my iPhone. Thus, although I have had the possibility of being consistently and constantly connected to my blog, creating high-qualityinteresting content was more onerous than I originally anticipated.

Second, I (re)learned that using Twitter is as onerous as I remember it being. The effective use of Twitter, like with any social media platform, requires frequent, ongoing engagement with the larger community. It’s about creating a conversation between groups of users centered around various topics – #hashtags. This means not only pushing content (‘tweets’) into the Twitterverse, but actively engaging with others on the platform. For this reason, I continue to question the utility of Twitter as a note-taking tool in an education/classroom context.  I think that, from a pedagogical perspective, clearer more explicit guidelines centering around a common language (and consisting of more than one hashtag) might help to focus the online conversation, and would allow for the easy grouping of similar concepts. For example, it might have been useful to have guidelines which

  • Created / identified multiple hashtags for students to use
  • Developed rules for
    • Identifying Tweets related to in-class discussion vs readings
    • Citing authors
    • Citing colleagues
    • Posting pictures

Last, but not least, as epitomized by this assignment which was capped at 5,000 characters, I was reminded about the importance of and difficulty in being succinct. In law school and throughout my employment experience with the federal government, the importance of point-first writing was hammered home. Judges and Ministers, we’re told, don’t want to waste their time having to guess at what you’re getting at – they’re too busy. Be simple, be straightforward and be clear. Being concise while doing these things is another ballgame.

When you’re limited to 140 characters and 10 of them (at a minimum) are used up by identifying your Tweet with the course code and tagging your professor or classmate, how do you convey your message with brevity? Further complicating this challenge is the requirement to Tweet quickly when in class, to keep up with the presentation or in-class discussion at a real-time pace when things are moving quickly. Spend too much editing your Tweet and it’s no longer relevant; spend too little time and you risk running out of space (or potentially Tweeting a message identical to one of your classmates).

From an epistemological perspective

During the second last class of the semester I think that the purpose of this seminar finally clicked in my mind. Originally, I thought that the focus of the course was on the evolution of technology, with an emphasis on the social, cultural and economic impact of digital technologies, and on algorithms in particular. TBH, although the readings were interesting and relevant to my files at the office, I struggled to see how they were relevant to either my doctoral research project or my future as an academic. I’m going to be studying vampires, werewolves, zombies and the law – who’s going to be Tweeting about that?!

As the semester progressed, as we worked our way through Professor Levy’s forthcoming book on algorithms and our in-class presentations from the course bibliography, I started to see how all of the material was connected. The course wasn’t just about the evolution of technology, nor was it about how that evolution impacted the social, cultural and economic aspects of contemporary Western society. Rather (to me anyway) it was about how those impacts, in turn, affected the creation, accessibility, interaction and internalization of knowledge. In particular, I think that the course focused on how technology, digitization and now algorithms impact knowledge acquisition and creation in the context of education. We looked at this from both a risk and an opportunities perspective – the risks of failing to utilize such mediums in general and effectively, and the opportunities for collaboration and growth when used intentionally with a purpose.

With that said, while data curation is (likely) the next/current phase of information/knowledge management, I’m not certain that using social media to do so is the right tracking system for me. I’m not a pen and paper girl, but I prefer to keep the control of my data in my own hands.

Character count (with spaces): 4,901 *Revised 30 March 2017 – 4,904*

 

[C] is for Classes… because I swear I have some!

The requirements of a Ph.D program vary based on your area of study, your post-secondary institution and your geographical location. Some like mine require courses, others are more research-based.

The Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Ottawa has course requirements, a comprehensive exam, a research proposal defence and then a dissertation. Four courses are taken in the first year of study (two per semester), followed by the comp and then two more classes. After that it’s all proposal and dissertation.

I really struggled to become engaged in my classes first semester. I enjoyed doing the readings on my own (something I became proficient at during law school), but found that the material didn’t translate and/or wasn’t covered sufficiently in class. For someone with a very busy schedule – something that I acknowledge is entirely my choice – this made class feel like a waste of time.

After the first week of my second term, I am beyond happy to report that my experience is completely different (and I’m not just saying that because this blog is a requirement in one of the classes!). I feel as though the readings will be engaging and practical, that the workload is reasonable yet challenging, that the topics covered will be useful, and that the hand-on experience that we’ll gain from using social media platforms in one class and quantitative and qualitative analysis software in the other will be invaluable. In addition, the courses are conducted in French – although I’ll be submitting assignments in English – which means that I’ll have an opportunity to practice my oral comprehension in terms both of listening and speaking in my second language.

I know that it’s early days into the second semester, but if this week is any indication of how the rest of the semester will go, it’s gonna be a gooder!

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[M] is for Motivation

In September of last year (2016), when I started my Ph.D at the University of Ottawa (OttawaU / UOttawa), I registered for what feels like my millionth blog. I’ve been blogging off and on since the Internet was invented – okay, that’s a bit of stretch, but my first blog was a tribute to Buffy the Vampire Slayer on GeoCities back in the mid-1990s. I intended to start blogging about my experience as a Ph.D student in September, but as with most things in life, well, you know what they say about #goodintentions.

With the beginning of my second semester of the Ph.D and a new course taught by Professor Pierre Levy, the opportunity has arisen to FINALLY pull together the blog. And by opportunity, I mean course requirement. But, to quote a new person in my life, #worksmart. Or to quote a long time favourite:

“Two birds, one stone, and boom. You have yummy dead birds.” 

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– Glory, “Blood Ties”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer