October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
Last week I went to Google’s London offices for the second year in a row to attend the "Google Forum." This is an impressive name for a bunch of social science scholars from Glasgow, LSE, Oxford, Leicester, Cambridge and a few other places (mostly close to London, as travel costs are not yet available) to discuss with Google ways of using their data in our research and teaching. This year, we got a presentation from Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian (author of Information Rules amongst other books).
I don’t know what I expect from these forums but I find myself vaguely disappointed. The pitch is that Google has great data that they want the scientific community to be able to use; and we of course wish to use the data. So far so good. but the reality is more like this:
Google: Here is our wonderful program Google Insights. Please use it to make great science!
Us: Thank you but we’d actually like to use some different data in a slightly different format. And we want to know more about the data. And more about you, actually. Can we have some preferential access?
Google: Here is our wonderful program Google Insights! Our "Information for Webmasters" page will tell you everything else you need to know!
The sad part is that everyone is quite sincere and friendly. I suppose we will try again next year?
October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
Teaching starts next week for me with three relatively unconnected lectures: the relationship between theory and method in research; sampling design; and the role of the tabloid press in the production of celebrity (all for different courses, you’ll be pleased to know). One thing I find curious about my new post is that I have not yet got a course of my own, in which I design the whole syllabus and the whole story which I think will be helpful to students. Instead, I am teaching a smattering of lectures on a range of courses, primarily research methods courses geared to different groups of students on different degree programmes. This makes for a slightly schizophrenic preparation of lectures.
I am enjoying preparing the "celebrity" lectures since the topic reflects in an interesting way on my primary research interest of the digital economy. I am still working it out, but the relation has to do with the idea that the core resource of celebrity is not deeds, fame, or esteem (all of which are optional for today’s celebrities, who may have done only small things, or nothing, to earn their status, and may as easily be reviled as celebrated) but presence. Why should this be a scarce or valuable resource? That’s the interesting question and paradox of the study, but to me it reflects a sideways light on the sale of traffic somehow. As I said, I don’t quite know how as yet. Readers with clever perspectives are invited to join in…
Meanwhile I have a range of publications in preparation: a revised encyclopedia article on Internet ratings systems; a revised Wiki article on search engines; and an update to a paper on search engine production as a cultural practice, to be published in an edited collection This collection is from the Technocultures Symposium held in Stockholm last year, organised by Södertörn University College and the Nobel Museum. I’m looking forward to seeing the final papers particularly from William Uricchio, discussing the "algorithmic media" and Peter Jakobsson and Fredrick Stiernstedt who look at data archives as potential sites of capital accumulation.
Nor is this all! I am also preparing a book proposal based, in part, on my thesis. I’ve used Evangelia Berdou’s proposal for her new book on Open Source communities as my model. Dr Berdou is one of the cleverest people I know, so if it’s good enough for her….
October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment
The other day I got in my email the following baffling text from an unknown EU department:
The Call 7 of the FP7 ICT Work Programme 2011-12 is expected to be published on 28 September 2010. In this context, research project proposals addressing the Objective ICT-2011.1.5 Networked Media and Search Systems may be submitted until 17h00 on Tuesday, 18 January 2011.
Information on the ICT Work Programme 2011-12, Call 7 is available from:
The Commission services will organise an InfoDay specifically focused on the Objective 1.5 Networked Media and Search Systems to be held in Brussels on Monday, 25 October 2010.
I have registered and shall be attending said InfoDay, since "Networked Media and Search Systems" are my thing. Although I am not much wiser as to the purpose, apart from there is some related money. Which, given that UK research funding being chopped as we speak, is probably a good thing.
October 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
As part of my postgraduate certificate in higher education, I have had to produce a “teaching philosophy”. I cribbed shamelessly from my job application, of course, which also requires these things. Yesterday in class we had to share these, and I found it rather embarrassing. Lofty sentiments, etc, but can you actually TEACH? My students of course must be the judge. Anyway here it is in all its cringeworthy glory.
The excellent teachers of my own experience had in common a love of their subject that was plain to see. They involved me and my fellow students in a journey to a foreign land of knowledge and accustomed us to its ways of thinking. My goal is to be that kind of a teacher – a great teacher, the kind people talk about, come back to, take all the classes from whether they thought they were interested or not; the kind that you really remember.
It can be difficult for students, owing to a range of pressures and prior experiences, to want to go beyond surface learning – the desire to get “the facts” in a well-organised and easily digestible manner so as to pass their courses with the desired marks. It’s my job as a teacher to lead them into learning more than that (although actually learning the facts is also a big part of it). Based on my own experiences and also on my reading into the literature of pedagogy in higher education, I strive to put into practice the following principles in my own teaching:
Be both knowledgeable and selective: teach things I know and furthermore that I know to be interesting. When I have been a TA teaching seminars to go along with a lecture, it has been much more difficult for me to engage students in material that I myself would not have chosen or don’t find particularly interesting. On the other hand in my methods courses, guest lectures, and in the course I designed, I was able to pick and choose materials knowing exactly WHY they were the most interesting; and in the cases where I thought I “should” put something in that I found dull, I regretted it as the resulting classes fell flat. If I had to pick between knowing the material and knowing that it was interesting, I would pick the latter – some of my most fascinating courses have been in subjects where teachers involved the class in ongoing research problems in which they were not sure of the answers.
Engage the senses. The poor teachers that I have had showed me that simply lecturing is possibly the worst way to teach that there is. I try to add non-listening activities to classes. For example, in teaching students how to analyse logfile data, I have prepared slips of paper with different quantitative statements, which the students had to arrange in logical order. In my participant observation classes where I taught note-taking, one group of students observes another engaged in a task and both reflect on the their notes and on the way the two groups interacted. Students have said to me that these aspects of the classes were the ones they most appreciated. I would like to add other methods to my repertoire. There is much evidence to suggest that students learn in different ways, and further that the heavily verbal ways familiar to most academics are the difficult for many students.
Be respectful of the students’ intellects. For me this means more than active listening in class (although that is obviously important). It means being demanding and challenging, setting good questions and encouraging good discussion. As a part of this principle, I support the practice of self-assessment, or encouraging students to grade themselves. Many studies show that students are nearly as effective as faculty in judging good and bad answers and essays, if they are given the opportunity to read a variety of material. In one of my classes I asked students to read a poor essay and an excellent essay on the same topic (from the previous year’s answers) and tell me which was which and why. Students reported to other professors that this was extremely helpful in their own essay writing and requested similar sessions for their other classes. I have also given test questions to a class and asked them to mark each others’ answers and evaluate the criteria for a good answer.
Be properly critical. Respect for students’ intellects means a lack of tolerance for poor work. In my critiques I strive to combine a specific analysis of the flaw while encouraging them to do better. These two must go hand in hand: a critique without a specific counter-example is difficult to learn from. Critiques given without confidence in the student’s ability are simply discouragement.
September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
Oh dear, I have been sadly neglecting this blog. But it’s becasue I’ve been writing!
I’m happy to report that I’ve finished the draft chapter I’ve been working on for insertion into the new book called Media Political Economies: Hierarchies, Finance and (New) Strategies of Accumulation in the Global Media Industries edited by Dwayne Winseck and Dal Yong Jin, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2011. I’ve uploaded it to the publications section, here.
This chapter was very interesting to write. I’ve extended some of the work I did in my thesis into thinking about social networking and even online retail sites, and it has given me enough food for thought, I think, to revise it as an even more theoretical article.
Meanwhile I have also been getting to grips with the new job – I’ve had my first staff meeting; first class in my higher education teaching module; first time getting stuck in the lift (my office is on the 16th floor), etc.
I need to write a draft "teaching philosophy" document for the higher education teaching course. Interestingly during class the readings stressed all the good practices necessary for good teaching (repetition, staging, signposting, applying and pacing, but in the online discussion forum (hidden away on Blackboard) the consensus seemed to be that cakes were the chief indicator of a good teacher. I suspect, as my thesis supervisor used to often say, it is not a case of either/or but of both/and.
September 10, 2010 § 1 Comment
I’m back on the bus, going the other way. I fully intended to blog during the conference, but there were so many thought-provoking things that my brain got quite full. Also, the organisers set up a running blog, so I relied on them for capturing the detail of the presentations.
The theme of the conference was more or less what has come to be known as the “attention economy,” and what that might mean. One of my very favourite presentations was one of the first, by Taziana Terranova, who showed how the “attention economy” discourse had developed as an alternative to the “information economy” discourse as information became more abundant and economics looked for the scarce commodity. She also discussed an alternate discourse in neuroscience and the way in which this is situating attention as a much more ambiguous commodity. The conference organisers did a good job of capturing this talk, at least according to my notes.
Dr Terranova told me afterwards in conversation that she had been very influenced by Foucault, in reading (or possibly she said transcribing?) notes of his lectures. Here I am going from recollection, but I think she said she particularly valued his methods and the way he approached a problem by contextualising its discourse within a historical frame, which leaves open the possibility for the frame to be changed. She also said she learned to play poker when she was 10, but I think that might be less relevant to my academic practice.
The other presentation that I found particularly thought-provoking was another keynote, Michel Bauwens. Bauwens directs the P2P foundation in Brussels, and his presentation set out how he believes that peer-to-peer organisational efforts are the nascent forms of a business model which will transform capitalism. This is a heady claim and I must confess I did not expect to like Mr Bauwens’s talk, skeptical as I am of the all-goodness-comes-from-technology school. But although I disagreed with his historical argument, which was, how shall I put it, sketchy, many of the ideas and solutions he presented were thought-provoking and made me feel quite optimistic. An example that stuck with me was the idea of open design, which seeks to create physical services where the R&D infrastructure is outsourced to the network but production is local, such as the eCars effort to create blueprints so that any local garage can turn any ordinary car into a hybrid car (I mean, how cool is that?). Mr Bauwens was particuarly interesting when it comes to how P2P models are actually functioning and competing with non P2P or proprietary models, where his expertise shows. His other claims, like the “transformation of consciousness,” I am still skeptical of. Time will tell. Worth going to his foundation though and having a nose around the projects.
I won’t go through all three days, but if you are at all interested in Youth Culture you should look at Nadia Arancio’s video. I tried to embed the video here and failed, so you’ll have to look at it here.
I had many ideas during this conference, so here is your chance to steak one of them and make a (metaphorical) killing in the academic world.
First: Although p2p is pretty clearly an exception, much of the internet infrastructure – search, social networking, etc, is built on advertising. That’s not new, but as I’ve argued earlier, the type of advertising IS new, and so must be the way in which it is strategised, created, planned, bought, and evaluated. And all these may also be being carried out by a range of new individuals and new institutions. I’d like to find out what is being written about this, and if nothing, then I suspect I will have a research project on my hands.
Second: We spent some time talking about trust, thanks to Aphra Kerr’s excellent keynote about what is now happening at the European policy level where research money and policy are being allocated. We had a lot of fun discussing the idea of cheating as a way to approach trust.
Third: Activism and the academic sphere. Many participants shared the ways in which they felt that they also were being constrained and surveilled by the a variety of technical tools used to supposedly enable, but many felt instead to control and to surveil their academic practice. There was some discussion about how this should be handled, particularly with reference to journals and also electronic courseware. I think this is a rich vein for both research and activism.
Other notes: Food at the Scandic was great! Kudos to Jamie Oliver, who apparently (according to the branding all over the hotel) had been working with them. Lovely fresh healthy food and far too many luscious desserts combined.
Oh: my own presentation? Captured as follows “There is a new kind of media logic developing online, due to the abundance of information and scarcity of attention: produce the platform not the content, allow access to pools of content, create the method, allow content pool to access the platform – the metadata about the producers and the users is the saleable asset.” Um. No. I didn’t really say that. Search engines would go broke selling metadata. I said traffic (clicks) are the core asset. But whatever. I’ll do another post on that.
September 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
I am writing this post on the bus, courtesy of the mobile broadband wonderfulness that is Sweden.
It is one of the pleasures of academic life that things are quite flexible, outside of term time. Since all of my previous salaried jobs pretty much involved showing up every morning and working in teams of people all day, it is somewhat of a novel experience to more or less go on as I had before, reading, writing, and doing stuff mostly at home. Still, it feels strange to be heading out to a conference when I’ve really only just arrived at Leicester, so to speak.
The conference is called Paying Attention: Digital Media Cultures and Generational Responsibility. I don’t know much about the generational responsibility aspect but I will be talking about the paying and the attention part. I have been working recently on how to understand the trade in traffic between search engines and other large websites, such as social media networks and even large retailers. So I am going to present some of that work. It’s also the subject of a paper I’m going to publish as a book chapter, so you will see it here and on the publications page in a more finished form.
I’m at the conference until Friday, so I will be writing it up as we go. When I say we, I mean I and my lone reader, wherever you are.