An interesting (short) interview with Keith Devlin, Mathematics Professor at Stanford University, on the subject of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Devlin recently finished teaching “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking” to more than 62,000 students, aged 16 to 70. Devlin describes the new forms of teaching that the virtual classroom encourages. He does not offer a traditional lecture, for example, but invites students into a kind of intimate proximity with his own writing, thinking, ideas. Students peer over his shoulder as he works through problems. For all of the technology at work in delivering these courses, it is a relatively low-tech approach that approximates a one-to-one encounter with a mentor. It also hints at the field of alternative teaching models that the MOOCs are generating.
These courses have the potential to change our approaches in the non-virtual classroom as well. This will be especially important in Britain, where large lectures remain the norm and fees for this learning environment are on the rise. If our students can enroll in MOOCs free of charge, taught by some of the world’s leading scholars, what justification do we have for continuing to offer such an outdated pedagogical model? And charging extraordinary sums of money for it? MOOCs (I hope) will force us to think more carefully about how we teach. We either need better arguments for lecture-style learning (I’m not convinced that any really exist) or we need to focus on what real-time, on-campus learning can offer that this first generation of MOOCs cannot.
In related (visual culture) news, MOOCS seem to have produced a new video genre: the MOOC trailer, complete with a green screened Stanford campus.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been looking more carefully at the expansive field of recycled cinemas. I am particularly interested in the the places where found and orphan films intersect with the contemporary avant garde, producing works that are torn between past and present tenses, between concepts and material. At the recommendation of a colleague, I have been making my way through the work of Peter Tscherkassky, an Austrian filmmaker whose work combines cinematic scraps with dense layers of sound:
Dream Work (2001)
Tscherkassky’s work also includes several returns to early cinema. His most recent film, Coming Attractions (2010) explores Tom Gunning’s canonical concept across eleven distinct visual “chapters”. I am still trying to get my hands on it for a screening. In the meantime, bits of Tscherkassky’s other works can be found online. Mubi hosts a small, but very good collection (and charges a small fee per film).
A fantastic new resource for researchers and teachers of early cinema has just appeared online. The first twelve years of Moving Picture World have been digitized and added to the Media History Digital Library’s “Early Cinema Collection.” From the MHDL:
Moving Picture World was one of the most influential trade papers of the early motion picture industry and the period film historians call cinema’s “transitional era” (lasting roughly from 1908 to 1917). During this era and inside the paper, you can watch the transition from short film programs to feature films and witness the transition from the dominance of Edison’s Trust to the rise of the “Independent” film companies that ultimately became the Hollywood studios.
The first issue includes some “novel uses for cinema,” instructions for making latern slides, a review of The Teddy Bears (Edison, 1907), and a full-page ad from the Miles Brothers (mentioned just last week): “Conversation gets you nothing. Real Johnny-on-the-spot service is what you want!”
The project was funded, in part, by Domitor and its members. For those who are interested in contributing, MHDL is still raising funds to digitize MPW through 1927, its last year of publication.
Two new open access, e-journals dedicated to film and media studies have appeared over the last two weeks. The first, Necsus, is institutionally affiliated with the European Network for Cinema and Media Studies and, content aside, is just plain beautiful. Its first issue focuses on the theme of “Crisis” and opens with a very timely essay by Jacques Rancière entitled “The Gaps of Cinema.” Here, Rancière explores the irreducibility of cinema’s disparate parts (part material, part experience, part memory, part ideology, part art, part industrial craft, part philosphical concept, part utopia of parts). The essay was first delivered on the occasion of the award ceremony for the Maurizio Grande prize in Reggio de Calabria in January 2004. Upcoming issues of Necsus will organize around the themes of “tangibility,” “green,” and “waste.” These themes invite us to think between the concrete and the conceptual, the material and the experiential. In this way, Rancière’s essay seems to foreground the very gaps that are at stake not just in the concept of “crisis,” but in the thinking of cinema and media that frames this particular journal project.
The second journal, Frames, appeared just two days ago. It is edited by the graduate students at St. Andrews University. The first issue is edited by Catherine Grant, a Senior Lecturer at Sussex and writer-editor of the inimitable Film Studies for Free, and focuses on the intersection between our discipline and the digital. The issue is bursting with forty contributions from scholars, researchers, artists, and archivists. I was lucky enough to be invited to contribute, and even luckier to have my essay selected to open the issue. Frames includes a set of “point of view” pieces that I am just starting to make my way through (and hope to post responses to here). At a first pass, one will immediately notice the multiple experiments at work in the journal. Frames innovates in a number of directions and challenges the boundaries of both the traditional journal and even the formats of e-journaling that have come into view in recent years. Frames is not a digital journal modeling or mimicking an analogue one. Rather, Catherine has taken the opportunity to bring a community together and play with the possibilities of digital forms and the formation of digital knowledge.
I am just catching up with the mess at the University of Virginia. For those who haven’t heard, good summaries and commentaries can be found here, here, and here. The short story: the University’s Board of Visitors fired the University President, Teresa Sullivan, after just two years in office. A string of emails between the Board and Sullivan reveal that she was under pressure to dismantle disciplines that “couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.”
The conflation of academic value and financial solvency is deeply troubling, especially at such a wealthy institution (UVA’s $5 billion endowment is the largest of any public university in the United States). Humanities programs rarely sustain themselves financially. They always rely upon other, more profitable disciplines to survive. Moreover, the humanities have historically been regarded as instrinsically valuable. They do not need to meet any other conditions or criteria to justify their existence. Without them, you no longer have a university.
Kevin Carey’s article in the New Republic makes an important link between the global economic crisis and the corporate culture of (many) university administrations: Continue reading →
I just finished a week of amateur films and home movies for a new course I am co-teaching entitled “Cinema and Revolution.” We screened/discussed key films from the post-war American avant-garde (including Brakhage, Mekas, Levine, Menkin) alongside a set of home movies. I wanted students to think about the differences between these two amateur modes, their different expressions of contingency and history, and (perhaps most interesting) their very different conceptions of “home.”
The lectures were nevertheless overshadowed by an unexpected encounter with my own family history. About two weeks ago, a collection called “The Amateur as Auteur” arrived (ordered way back in January). I took a quick look and decided to add the “Stewart Family Home Movies” to the screening list for the week. The films were made between 1936 and 1939, by a film enthusiast named Archie Stewart. I knew the Stewarts were from upstate New York, but did not know anything else about the family or their provenance. As I prepared for lecture, I caught two names that I had missed during my first screening session: Newburgh and Orange Lake.
(Stewart Family Home Movies, 1936-1939)
It seems that I inadvertently assigned my own home movies. My mother was born and raised in Newburgh, New York. Her childhood home is on the shores of Orange Lake. I spent my summers swimming in that very lake and looking out towards Pine Point, the peninsula just behind the unhappy little girls (who must now be in their eighties).
The discovery forced a slight adjustment to the lecture plan. I spent a good deal of time discussing (via Susan Sontag) the affective “surplus” of home movies and those strange, personal histories inscribed, lost, refound upon their surface. The home movie, like the twilight, elegiac art of photography “testifies to time’s relentless melt.”
Many thanks to Matt Lloyd and the organizers of the Glasgow Short Film Festival for organizing a wonderful day of all-things-archive. The discussion(s) got me thinking in several directions through the archive (financial, physical, digital, conceptual). My contribution to the discussion after the jump:
Adventures on the Upper Nile (American Museum of Natural History, 1927)
This short clip is excerpted from Adventures on the Upper Nile, “a pictorial record of the O’Donnell-Clark African Expedition into the Southern Sudan…for the purpose of securing specimens of the rare giant eland.” The film exemplifies the rhythms of ethnographic cinema: stretches of empty, unproductive duration (waiting, watching, etc.) punctuated by spectacular, but equally unproductive events. In Adventures, these events include animal death/dismemberment, ritual dance, and environmental contingencies. In this particular scene, the boat encounters a series of fires along the shore. But, here, too, the event extends, repeats, stretches out. It is an almost lyrical, meditative encounter, one which brings film material as such to the fore. Here, we are told, birds dive towards the flames for insects. We strain to see this interspecies interaction, but the birds and insects mingle with the deteriorated image, with its burns, scratches, and holes.
Michael Clayton, Vascular bundle of a fern rhizome (2010)
I have decided not to attend the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in March. My reasons are largely financial. My institution has a limited budget for research expenses and I did not receive any funding for the trip. This particular year, I can’t afford to pay entirely out of pocket. The conference has become a major expense since I moved to Scotland in 2009: $200 for the conference, $800 for the plane ticket, $500 for several nights in a hotel in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, etc.
I will miss the SCMS conference. It offers a valuable snapshot of the discipline. I learn what people are working on and what subfields are developing. I meet new colleagues and potential collaborators. And: I catch up with old friends, colleagues, and mentors. It has become a kind of lifeline to an academic and social world outside of Northeast Scotland.
There are other conferences, of course. And some outstanding ones in Film and Media Studies across the UK and continental Europe.
But my decision not to attend the SCMS conference this year has me thinking about academic conferences (esp. the large, multi-day, many-paneled, state-of-the-discipline events) and the more inclusive, accessible, and environmentally sustainable alternatives that (I hope) are on the way.