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In our most recent symposium, Paul Graham’s ‘The Age of the Essay‘ came up for discussion.

What intrigued me most about this piece is Graham’s proposition that the disciplines of English literature and writing may not be synonymous. To be honest, prior to Graham’s Essay the thought had hardly crossed my mind. In high school, anything to do with, or concerns regarding writing, are matters for the English teacher.

Graham argues that the reason so many young people have become disinterested in writing (and subsequently produce poor quality or incoherent essays), is that instead of writing…

…about how a baseball team with a small budget might compete with the Yankees, or the role of color in fashion, or what constitutes a good dessert, [students are writing] about symbolism in Dickens.

No disrespect to Dickens, but I think Graham’s on to something.

I know very little about the International Baccalaureate® (IB) education philosophy or system, but I do know all students who take on the IB have the opportunity to research and write about an area that particularly interests them. As I’ve mentioned in a number of recent posts, education is so much more interesting when we are actively engaged, when it’s targeted towards our personal needs and passions, and when it is future-driven – namely, we can see how we’ll be able to apply what we’re learning in our future careers and to achieve life goals.

I’m lucky. As this blog makes pretty clear, I enjoy reading, writing, and interpreting. English was one of my favourite subjects at school and on the whole, I was pleased with the texts we were given to study. However, my pleasure in the subject certainly wained when we studied what to me was, a less-appealing text, and my interest in writing a chemistry report was verging on non-existent.

This holds true to Graham’s proposition that one’s ability to engage with, enjoy and actively develop their writing skill and discipline is fundamentally caught up with their interest in the(ir) subject.

Graham says:

The seeds of our miserable high school experiences were sown in 1892, when the National Education Association [of America] “formally recommended that literature and composition be unified in the high school course.”

To my knowledge, this proposition is globally transferable, and is certainly something I can relate to. If you want your students to look forward to writing, give them a choice of texts to study. Some kids might really enjoy watching and reflecting on action movies, others might enjoy drawing up and constructing analytical reports on climate change. Maybe you’ve got a student who is utterly obsessed with dogs, and wants to be a vet when he or she grows up. Why not work with this child to compose a task that satisfies the curriculum, and engages them, motivates them, and works with their personal curiosities? Surely this would only result in higher student attention, retention and participation. Ultimately, isn’t that what we want from and for our students?

As I’ve somewhat alluded to, as we progress through the education system, opportunities for such self-selected or self-directed tasks do increase. Not many people complete a PhD in an area of little personal interest. We are more likely to dedicate our time and efforts towards something we want to invest in. Right now, Christopher Pyne is striving – and striding – towards rewriting and (re)establishing a more uniform, national curriculum. Yet, isn’t this ‘one size fits all’ approach to education only going to lead to greater disengagement, sketchier attendance rates, and consequently (and what is surely one of two primary motivators for Pyne – the other being re-Westernising an increasingly multicultural society), poorer results?

Mr Pyne, teachers and educational leaders, take a leaf out of Logan LaPlante’s hackschooling ‘book’. Learn to work with your students rather than for a system. If they want to compose an audiovisual response to a Mahler symphony, instead of the standard intro-paras-one-two-three-conclusion essay to some politically-identified set text – and it just feels right – then I say, let them.

We need to keep personalising education, and writing, if we are to achieve better results.

Those who want to write about English literature will continue to write about English literature. And, the others? Well, you’ve got a much greater chance of students writing about something they’re interested in and handing that in, than you’ll ever have of them submitting an inspired essay about English literature, too.

I found the most recent readings for Networked Media quite tedious. They felt unnecessarily explanatory, providing me with information, rather than providing me with a springboard for further investigation. They seemed laborious and their ‘age’ was evident by way of the innovative technologies they were praising now themselves outdated or outdated. To me, the texts felt inferior to the much richer discussions we’ve been having in class.

But, I’ve realised our discussion is richer because we’ve each done the assigned readings, and have interpreted them in different ways. We are subsequently able to reflect upon them through our own personal lens, and develop individual perspectives, both of which are inherently linked to our own experiences, prior knowledge, and interests.

Despite having felt these recent readings to be mentally taxing, the notes I’ve taken from them are far from bland.

George Landow describes blogs as sets of networked documents, ‘created either to stand alone, as it largely is, or to take part in a larger web’. Furthermore, the networked nature of a blog enables an author ‘wanting to conceive of an argument in terms of networked documents can write a concise essay and link a wide range of supportive evidence’, from which readers can choose what to investigate further, with ‘auxiliary materials becom[ing] paratexts’.

I know this really just describes a blog’s foundational characteristics and its nature, but I found Landow’s concept about a blog being of equal value on its own, ‘as it largely is’, or as a ‘part in a larger web’ oddly reassuring.

He also refers to blogging as ‘the first widely available means on the Web of allowing the active reader-author envisaged by Nelson‘ and other ‘pioneers’. Landow suggests hypertexts encourage an active reader who has the opportunity to both consume and create text, ‘assum[ing] an authorial role and either attack links or add text to the text being read’. Because of this, ‘current terminology does not suffice – hypermedia technology requires more appropriate vocabulary, beyond reader and author’.

As consumers, creators of, and participants in hypermedia, ‘the object one reads [is an] entrance into the docuverse’ of hypermedia documents. With hypermedia we are able to make our mark, or ‘intrude’ on the text itself, rather than making a superficial annotation in say, pen or pencil, that we might to a page of a printed book. The boundaries of the text are wide open, and the (hyper)text is forced ‘to exist as part of a complex dialogue’. However, it is still up to the receiver of this text to engage with the other ‘speakers’ or participants in this conversation. The world wide web has ensured that no stone goes unturned, and that if you’re seeking more information, yearning for more knowledge, or another explanation, all you have to do is follow a link, or perhaps, go back a few steps and follow an alternate route, as Nelson explores.

Most importantly, Landow says that hypertexts emphasise that ‘the marginal ha[ve] as much to offer as the central, in part because it refuses to grant centrality to anything’. It is a ‘democratic’ text, alike a society that values all points of view, ideologies and conversations. Landow says hypertexts edify Richard Rorty’s philosophy of ‘keep[ing] the conversation going rather than [finding an] objective truth’, which I feel is a key component of this course.

Learning is about exploring, taking opportunities and creating possibilities. Education shouldn’t be about shutting down doors and slamming them in people’s faces when you don’t like their point of view. Yes, I like certainty and definitive resolutions, but I value deep discussion, reflection, and considering others’ perspectives just as much.

And, this is what is so great about the internet. As Paul Graham says, the beauty of the online community is that ‘Anyone can publish an essay on the Web, and it gets judged, as any writing should, by what it says, not who wrote it’.

I’d much rather you challenge me on my ideas than my appearance, but remember, everything is constantly evolving.

While I am far from a blogging expert, I found myself relatively comfortable with today’s Networked Media workshop. Our class discussed aspects of blogging we’d like to become familiar with such as how to upload and embed images and videos into our posts, manage widgets, change fonts and the process of creating hyperlinks in our text.

As you may have noticed, I’ve added a Links widget to my righthand-sidebar and a pretty self-explanatory category, ‘Networked Media Blogs’. Here, you’ll find links to other members of my class’ blogs as they too, discover what the blogosphere can offer our personal and professional lives.

To do so, I simply used the WordPress support page focused on Links. While trying to refrain from becoming too wordy, the little line below that word ‘Links’ in the previous sentence indicates I’ve added a hyperlink to the text, so when you hover your cursor over the word and click, it will open in another tab on your computer. From here, you will be able to follow the very simple instructions on how to add a Blogroll of your own.

Developing a basic blog is fairly simple thanks to WordPress tutorials, help pages and the supportive blogging community. Since launching countingletters (and having previously dabbled in other CMS blogging platforms), it’s become evident that the wider blogging community is both welcoming and encouraging.

Particularly insightful are Miscellaneous Mum, Karen Andrews, MediaShift, and The Media Pod, Ross Monaghan, amongst others. I’d recommended actively using your (possibly dormant) Twitter account, and following media personalities as a way of learning and becoming aware of what is going on in the mediasphere.

As a closing point, I also just came across a post by Stuart Bruce (via The Media Pod himself), about the value of blogging in the PR industry. Interestingly, Bruce contends that my new Blogroll is in fact ‘out of fashion’, as he too, prefers to connect with others via Twitter and other social networks. Bruce also lists notable, trustworthy blogs he recommends those in the industry follow.

Starting a blog is as easy as creating an account with a host platform. All you need is an email address, and the world’s your oyster.

Today marks the first day of Summer Semester 2014, which for me, is the beginning of the end – the end of my (first) undergraduate degree, at least. In this accelerated semester I’ll be taking two intensive subjects over the course of six weeks, thus amalgamating to the equivalent of two full time subjects taken across a standard university semester. For the purpose of one of these subjects, I’ll be updating countingletters regularly with my reflections on the course content, tangential thinking regarding issues discussed, and offering perspectives on class readings and other related material.

Consequently, countingletters may appear to have a temporary shift in theme for this period of time. I generally try to (defy the first rule of blogging and) steer clear of one specific theme or niche on my blog, but decided instead of activating a new portal for my Networked Media reflections, to instead integrate them into countingletters and build up my online presence, portfolio and thinking, from here.

I may also be slightly altering the layout and formatting of countingletters for this purpose, but I feel a little sprucing up for the new year is far from detrimental, in any case. You’ll notice I’ve added a Blogroll to countingletters linking you to other Networked Media student’s blogs. Feel free to check them out to gain an alternative perspective on the course. To start you off, here’s a link to Mishell Hernandez’s blog.

I’m aware that the nature of this content may be less appealing to some of you, and so please, feel free to disregard many of the coming posts over the next six weeks. However, as was discussed in today’s workshop, networked media is inherently about navigating between, and integrating platforms, media content and social spheres. Therefore, if you’d stick with me, I hope to be able to provide you with some interesting and possibly new (dare I say, innovative) knowledge with which you can nourish and nurture your own minds. We can learn together, if you like.

A key idea on which this Networked Media course is founded is that of the constructivist model of learning. In brief, the model proposes that all knowledge is built, rather than existing free of context. New knowledge is understood through the personal lens (influenced of course by an individual’s social sphere), and is made useful through integration with already existing knowledge.

Upon learning of the name of this philosophy today, I was taken back to my year 11 psychology class, where we studied systems of memory and learning. Paralleling this constructivist notion, I remembered (forgive the extended pun), that memories are recalled through a series of associations based on a network of nodes. These nodes are structured according to concepts, where the application of existing knowledge makes it easier for us to engage with new concepts. This structural layout and its associated process is known as Semantic memory.

You may be wondering why I referenced Wikipedia in the above paragraph, to provide you with further information about the concepts introduced. I’ve long thought Wikipedia to be an unreliable, sketchy source – something never to be referenced in academic coursework – and have huffed at nameless politicians who have referenced it in public discourse. However, I learned today that Wikipedia is in fact probably the world’s most accurate encyclopaedia, and thus, its faults aside, determined it to be the most appropriate resource in this context.

I hope you will continue to follow my documenting of Networked Media and take the opportunity to receive a full semester’s learning – at no cost to you! – through my personal understandings and speculations as we navigate our way through the fundamentals of ‘networked structures, protocols, and… internet communications’.

I’m up against 1122 other blogs

So am asking you, your parents and dogs

To vote for me and my little space

On the inter web, a kind of place

For me to write and you to read

About life and stuff and hence I plead

You please click on the button down south

And spread it round by word of mouth

‘Cause if I win I’ll be a happy gal

And happy gals are better pals 😉

Counting Letters is my name

So vote for me to win this game

www.surveymonkey.com/s/BAB2013