Archive for September, 2009

Help!

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I tend to feel very disinclined to write about my own academic frustrations, because such things are very sensitive topics, but I feel as if my current issues, and hopefully possible solutions, can be of help to other students.  The problem?  I cannot seem to take good notes while reading.  I have been working at this for a few days and literally have found no good way of reading and notetaking.  The closest I come to doing such is underlining what I feel are key passages and making notes in the margin.  What this doesn’t work for is books that are supposed to be library only.  These are texts that I won’t always be able to gain access to, so how do I address this issue?  I need my notes to not only explain what a reading says, but also be able to handle explicit quotes.  My note taking process as it exists now takes up way too much time for me to spare.  I can’t let a reading take me half a day to digest, ponder, and then summarize into notes.  What I’ve also noticed is that the notes are themselves a text that I allow to grow too long.  I used to think that taking notes in full sentences would ease the process of writing about a text later.  What I’ve come to realize is that it takes up far more time to create these full sentences.

This semester of too many credit hours forces me to find a new method to move through material quickly but most importantly effectively.  What point is there to doing all this work if it amounts to nothing?  I will give an example of a book that I am really struggling with:  Man Awakened From Dreams.  The book is divided into chapters which should potentially make my life easier, yet I find it difficult to divide the chapter it meaningful subsections as each portion of the chapter tends to be one long overarching discussion of a topic.  For instance right now I am re-reading a chapter on filial piety…the whole piece is threaded together in such a way as to make it difficult to put or cut into meaningful chunks.  How do you handle a monograph?  How do you divide up portions of a story?  The next problem I encounter is how to actually write while reading.  As I talked with a student about it, she mentioned “Well you can only do one thing at a time.”  That’s what is keeping me in this mess.  If I wait till after I finish a chapter, I have already lost the specific break down of the chapter.  Sure I could probably summarize it, just not be able to pull the info from my head into a nice paper and certainly not without the use of the book.

And if you are wondering…this problem has also been crossing over into lectures.  Lectures, unlike books, tend to be in shorter segments, giving it a sense of urgency, purpose and direction.  Professors only have 50 minutes or so to deliver a talk, so their talks carry a very strong thread, for the most part.  I know for instance my history professor specifically shows an outline of her talk before even beginning.  This not only sets the stage for the talk but also gives students a framework to take their notes.  They will know how the talk is divided and this really helps to organize notes.  But what about professors that take tangents?  What about a complicated talk that does not have a solid outline.  Even worse, what do you do with a discussion based class?  So far my answer to this has been to start using the Cornell system.  I used to just bring my computer and essentially write down every word.  That process is not notetaking, that is transcribing, they aren’t the same.  Frankly, writing every single world is just laziness.  It’s easy to take down everything said and not be critical about the material.  When you are forced to create a series of keywords about the lecture, you have no choice but to think critically.  What is important?  Tangential?  These are judgment calls which ultimately make the information more important.  Cornell, in my mind, through the use of keywords on the left side of the page encourages a student to categorize information.  However, I still haven’t settled on it.

Penn State University put out a helpful guide dealing with a wide range of note taking strategies depending on the style of the lecture and how content heavy any given talk is.  Many of these options boils down to experimenting and seeing what works for you.  Most people assume that they know how to take notes, but I would hazard to say that it is a skill most people do not have fully developed just yet.  Why?  I believe that note taking is actually a challenging task that requires very thoughtful musings in creating categories, keywords and key phrases.  Maybe note taking relies on the same structural method of a blog?  This is the end of the road, I have discovered a problem in my study skills, and now I reach out to you, fellow scholars, avid readers, and beyond, because you all might have information and thoughts that I have not stumbled across yet.  This semester’s work requires new methods, new ways of tackling and processing information.  As it stands, I do not process it fast enough.

So if you get any thoughts or ideas, particularly about reading and notetaking, leave me a comment or send a message @bahktinjali on twitter.   I greatly appreciate any help!

The Panda has requested!

From the New Media Studies Class

Monday, September 28th, 2009

In consideration to the projects most of the members of the New Media Studies class are finishing up, I wanted to touch on what I thought about the different mediums available, process of world building, and my own interests in the art of world building. Although the primary purpose of the world building leans towards a game like environment, I question that lean as the sole objective to world building. Virtual worlds can have so much more than the game quality, and I believe that if we look at what virtual worlds should be, we will find that virtual worlds truly are more than a supped up version of pacman.

Our projects come right off the heels of reading a number of short stories/articles about virtual realities, watching tron, and going through Snow Crash. Each item we studies presented, sometimes in vastly different ways, the virtual realm. We saw in an article about LambdaMOO the powerful affects of being attached to an online space. Strange enough, the New Media Studies class conducted a few talks about this subject within our very own maryMOO. This added a certain bizarre factor that can only be experienced and never fully, nor accurately, described. For Dr. Whalen the process of discussing and exploring a virtual world does not encapsulate the understanding of a virtual world. You won’t understand the thinking that takes place behind a world until you actually begin building it yourself. As a subscriber to the idea of Edupunk, I am down with the approach and loved our virtual world assignment. It was straight forward, build a world and then talk about it, yet we had a number of tools introduced to us.

During the course we have seen or at least talked about five different ways of world building: MOO, Metaplace, Inform, Second Life, and There. From what I saw of the classes’ worlds, everyone stuck to the first three options, where as Second Life and There (which mind you is not even accessible to Macs) were not used.

My weapon of choice for working on the virtual world was the good old MOO. I love the absolute freedom that you can find by using text rather than images. The MOO comes with its own set of limitations, namely the necessary knowledge of certain code phrases to create objects. However, once you have a feel for how that system works, it becomes a breeze to “dig” new areas of exploration. The MOO, while it can have obstacles for a player to overcome, lacks the options of winning or losing the game. Most of the oldercrowd will recognize MOOs by their earlier variant the MUD (you see a door to the north, go north? Y/N) Any one can access a MOO by downloading tkmoo or for mac users a program called MUDwalker. Remember that “@exits” is probably about your greatest ally, otherwise you may have a hard time finding your way around the world.

Inform acts a lot like the MOO, so you might wonder why you would want to make use of it. The difference between MOO and inform are two key differences in how you approach world building. A MOO encourages development of an interactive world, a place to socialize, hang out; however, inform has its hands in the realm of interactive fiction. You craft a story that has a definitive beginning and end, which a user will play through until he either wins or loses. The win/lose scenario makes inform stand out from all the other mediums possible to world building. That being said, one you win the game starts over, as if whatever you did never truly happened at all. This mentality also makes inform, as Dr. Whalen said in an earlier post, a single player experience. It’s just you, maybe some NPCs, and the world moving along with the waves of a gripping plot. One of the reviews I did over this weekend focused on an inform world that I thought was beautifully crafted. The second advantage to the inform option, you don’t have to know code! Each action, item, and place can be built with plain English sentences. I’m not personally aware of how that process works, but it seems very straight forward. I would download inform 7 and give it a testdrive.

I noticed that many of my classmates used a special, cozy spot called Metaplace. Immediately, and very frankly, the one major up it has on MOO is its use of visuals. Not only does this significantly help out the user (that would be you!) but it also streamlines the building process for us wanna-be wizards. I noticed that people using Metaplace definitely built their respective worlds much faster than the students crafting in MOO or even in inform. Nothing can compare to the ease of drag and drop building. It’s a far less intimidating experience than building in a MOO which leaves you literally digging out empty space. You can easily access Metaplace online, which means that going from world to world or stumbling across something interesting is a lot easier here. If you don’t know that a particular MOO or inform exists, you probably won’t happen upon it. That is hardly the case at Metaplace, all the separate worlds funnel into the Metaplace central, and the game…excuse me world, encourages you to explore other places. Although I love the idea of Metaplace as a superior medium, it does not come without its limitations. A world within Metaplace can easily lack any direction or purpose, where as a MOO or inform, by being limited creations with limited actions available, already have a very “defined” feel to it.

The world building process…well okay that’s just different for everyone. I took my inspiration form a radio show I did about last week, which mind you can be heard at http://wmwc.umw.edu if you click the first link on the page! I started exploring some electronic music and came across the genre known as “Darkstep” which just had this great cyber punk feel to it. Before I knew it, the idea of building a club jumped into my mind. I started work like a mad man. The world itself needs some fleshing out, but it’s a great source of inspiration and an interesting departure from the sword and sorcery model of most MOOs.

So, I am a hater of Metaplace to a certain extent, the MOO way of life is just who I am, however I got struck by one particular world I came across in Metaplace. The user crafted a world that had all sorts of arcade machines. These machines were not just for a look, the user could actually interact by clicking on the game. A second window pops up displaying a flash version of the game. It’s impressive how metaplace can pull in outside websites into the world. It got me thinking about my own personal interests in Chinese studies and building a personal library of language tools and videos. Even closer to what I am looking to do, I just found a user who has created a world for some of his different communication classes. http://www.metaplace.com/play2learn2play/play I would love to see a coopoerative project using this virtual space. Although I don’t subscribe to the Second Life as a classroom theory, I think that a space which can centralized online information would be very handy.

Interested in world building? Give it a test try and check out the range of options. If you are particularly brave, why not try Second Life? However if all you want is a cool place to walk around, come check out maryMOO (moo.elsweb.org:7777)

Reflections on CW

Monday, September 21st, 2009

The CW is in reference to Colonial Williamsburg, which granted I have not visited in many years, but I can still hold opinions!  Especially after reading Richard Handler and Eric Gable’s book entitled The New History in an Old Museum.  Over the course of this semester I have worked in conjunction with Professor Eric Gable, anthropology professor at UMW, for an Anthropology 491 (independent study) course focusing on the nature of museums.  This course doesn’t, however, touch on the same range of topics that say a historic preservation class would.  We aren’t so much interested in how to create an exhibit, but rather what are the effects of the created exhibit, what does it say about the world around it?  Every week I work through a book, typically with a question in mind given to me by Prof. Gable.  As I already mentioned, I was actually reading a book that he wrote and working, toying really, with the question “How ethnography works in studying museums, what does an ethnography offer?”  Here’s the thing, the authors I have read so far on Museology (Tony Bennett and Carol Duncan) do not take a strictly ethnographic approach (which needs some defining in a moment here), but rather these authors study the texts a museum already produced.  These are generalized messages and ignore the everyday status of a museum space.  First we have to ask why studying that museum space is important.  Is it not possible to just study the artifacts and plaques around the museum?  My answer to that is no, of course not.  Right, why?  The Museum exists as more than the pure collection of text written by and about it.  Gable’s choice of a detailed ethnography of Colonial Williamsburg (CW) produces a wealth of details that bring many of the conflicts and questions which both Bennett and Duncan seek answers.  The central question posed by Gable and Handler is whether or not the “social history” CW promotes so heavily is truly being carried out.  The ethnography, as a main technique for anthropology, grants the researcher a flexibility that pure library research lacks, the ability to interview and look at an exceedingly broad picture.  Gable in his opening to this work neatly draws out the initial stages of thinking as well as methods for his ethnographic research.  During the entire book, the authors make extensive use of actual quotes, as opposed to purely paraphrasing.  Quotes recorded from multiple interviews with employees add additional layers of details to the anthropological analysis of what occurs at CW.

In addressing how the ethnography works in studying museums, field research steps away from just studying the plaques, pamphlets and other works produced by the museum, and turns to the people within the museum itself, both workers and visitors.  Rather than focus mainly on architectural concerns, an ethnography seeks to understand how the people themselves make sense of the contradictory messages of commercialism and genuine desire to educate all visitors to CW.  Through the collection of interviews, the anthropologists start to use recurring thoughts or conflicts to create new questions dealing with the museum.  An ethnography, unlikely many forms of study, attempts to approach the research subject without bias or previous judgments.  Here is where ethnography tends to be problematic for those unfamiliar with the idea of fieldwork, ethnography’s questions are generally produced as you go, narrowing as you gain a strong understanding of the important details.  Gable is very open that they started with broad ideas about what they wanted to study.  The second question I need to address is what an ethnography brings to the table.  One of the final chapters of this book, “The Picket Fence” deals with a strike between a union and upper management that occurs during Handler and Gable’s two year period of field research.  The ethnographic line of thinking decides to take advantage of any shift in the field, because field research actively seeks out what matters to the research subjects.

The New History in an Old Museum covers a broad range of topics within the world of CW, but again its main interest lies in uncovering whether the rhetoric of the new social history truly exists within this museum or is it another “Republican Disneyland”?  The narrative fluidly moves from topic to topic, building upon the foundations of the organization that attempts to constantly deal with potential views held by the public towards the CW foundation.

But it’s four in the morning go check it out yourself!