MDSC 304 virtual critique (2009)

As cell phones become increasingly indispensable to global communication networks, educators are constantly telling students to turn them off in class.  In Media and Society classes, however, these exhortations to disconnect ring false.  In this course, students will investigate the cultural impact of mobile communications through provocative deployments of cell phones, surveillance cameras, digital projection, global positioning systems, and data mapping.  Projects designed by collaborative student groups, and assessed by experts in the field, will engage all of campus in investigations of participatory media environments, and will provide the students in the course with provocative material for analyzing communications networks and cultures of interactivity.

MDSC 304, Media and Theory, offers students opportunities to work with interactive technologies while investigating the ideological, historical, and conceptual issues raised by our densely technological social world. Interactivity, surveillance, social networks, data mapping, and flow will be investigated as current global practices that engage crucial intersections between theoretical models and lived experience.  The organization of the course suggests that theory, research, and practice are, themselves, interactive forms that are best understood when engaged as both content and context.

goals and objectives:

*Engaging theoretical study through interactive media experiences.

*Constructing participatory environments for exploration and evaluation.

*Raising consciousness about issues of surveillance and privacy in digital worlds.

*Gaining real world experience and insight by interacting with new media practitioners.

For this project, students in MDSC 304: Media and Theory studied examples of multi-media performance pieces about interactivity; worked collaboratively to create proposals for their own multi-media performance pieces; assessed each others’ proposals in a multi-step process; presented their proposals to media professionals in a virtual critique; used consensus and discussion to choose one project to mount as a class; and, successfully mounted a campus-wide, interactive multi-media performance piece.

The project grew out of my interest in critically and creatively engaging students in theoretical discussions about the social and cultural effects of their preoccupation with text messaging. Further, I was inspired by the way that innovative multi-media performance work engages complex ideas about interactivity through simple and witty participatory events.  I believed that the gap between theory and lived experience could be thoughtfully bridged if students were given the space to investigate the ways that communications technologies affect their interactions in campus environments.  Finally, I wanted to connect the students with professionals working in new media fields and to provide them with an opportunity to use cutting-edge multi-media presentation tools in a quasi-professional format.

modeling the project:

Much of the course was focused around preparation for and responses to a virtual critique in which students used an online meeting space to present their ideas and work and to engage in a robust question and answer session with new media professionals.  The preparation for the virtual critique began with the study of representative examples of multi-media performance work.  This project was designed to engage the students in what Tim O’Reilly calls “the architecture of participation”.  Models for the project were provided by areas of inquiry that we established in class at the start of the semester.  We defined these areas through the study and analysis of representative examples of multi-media performance pieces, including:

* Paul Notzold’s Txtual Healing’s SMS-projection exhibits, recently used as part of a cross-country Obama campaign promotion, where viewers are invited to send text responses to questions projected on a wall.

* Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz’s Hole-in-Space project (1980) a live event featuring large-scale projections of crowds in NYC and L.A. which allowed viewers to communicate across space and time for two-hour periods over three days.

* The Surveillance Camera Players, a group of guerilla theatre activists who highlight issues of public and private spaces by inviting spectators to watch them perform rehearsed scenes in front of surveillance cameras.

project and assignment breakdown

For each of these examples, the students discussed the works in small groups.  Each group was responsible for coming up with a set of key terms that described the works’ intervention into questions of interactivity.  Then, the students used these key terms as associative introductions to the concepts discussed in our readings for that week.  By compiling these lists, the students were able to create, throughout the semester, an overview of the major theoretical concepts covered in the course.

After studying the examples, the students formed groups and worked together to come up with a preliminary proposal for their project, which was workshopped in front of the class.  The project, for which the students were given a proposed $50 budget, was meant to The students then had a week to come up with a formal presentation. In preparation for the virtual critique, I used a small portion of the grant funds to attend a virtual meeting about best practices for holding virtual meetings.  It was with this guidance in hand that I devised the format for the students’ virtual critique, which consisted of five minute PowerPoint presentations followed by ten minute Q & A sessions.  Additionally, the students all received a handout on presentation skills from the Center for Teaching and Learning.  The students followed a standard format: they began by presenting which theoretical issues their project hoped to address, they outlined their proposed multi-media peformance piece, and then they described the pragmatic details needed to make their piece happen.  During these presentations, each student filled out an assessment sheet for each presentation.  I then scanned all of the assessments and sent them to the groups following their presentation.  The groups met outside of class to discuss the assessments and make changes in their presentations that implemented their peers’ suggestions.

Throughout the semester, I worked closely with the office of Instructional & Research Technology in order to prepare for the virtual critique.  We determined that we would use a program called Adobe Acrobat Connect, which allowed us to see and hear all the participants and provided interactive access to the PowerPoint presentations for both the students and the professionals.  We were able to stage the virtual critique in the Library’s Learn Lab, which has three large projection screens and connected laptop stations, so the students could see the critique on both large and small screens as they participated.

For our final rehearsal, we set up the web camera, microphone, and Adobe Acrobat Connect site so the students could get a feel for the technology before they gave their presentation to the professionals.  Ruth Shields, from the Center for Teaching and Learning was able to attend several of these rehearsals, and gave the students feedback about their presentation style and the look of their slides.

I was able to recruit Bob Andriesciewicz, an award-winning independent television producer, and Paul Notzold, the media artist behind txtual healing, to respond to the students’ work.  Bob and Paul had access to drafts of the students’ presentations in the online meeting space for two days before the event.  The students had studied Paul’s work, and were given Bob’s bio and Paul’s resume to read in preparation for the critique.  Both Bob and Paul provided thoughtful, friendly, and challenging comments and questions to the students during the virtual critique.  At the end of the presentations, the students chose one project, “Going Ape,” to perform on campus.  Paul encouraged those students whose projects were not chosen to continue working on them.  After the presentation portion of the event was over, the students filled out assessments of the project as a whole.

The project “Going Ape” involved a simple but effective combination of live and virtual events.  The students created an “Event Page” on Facebook stating that there was going to be a Gorilla on campus and that people should try to get their photo taken with the Gorilla and then text the photo to the Facebook event page.  They invited people to sign up for the event virtually and promised a $50 reward for the best photo uploaded to the site.  Over 250 people signed up as participants in the event.  After the event was posted, a student in a Gorilla suit roamed campus for two days.  Approximately 30 photos were eventually posted on the event page.  For the final assessment of the project, the students engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about the successes and failures of the “Going Ape” event as it engaged cell phone use, interactivity, and virtuality.

 The goals of the project were to engage theoretical study through interactive media experiences; to construct participatory environments for exploration and evaluation; to raise consciousness about surveillance and privacy in digital worlds; and, to gain real world experience and insight by interacting with new media.

About the Performance Piece

 If we choose your performance piece, you will be in charge of working with the rest of the class to make sure that all sites, technology, marketing, event management, and follow up are staffed.  Everyone will work on the event. Your event does not need to take place at only one day and time.  A week long project with several related events may be preferable.

Proposal (10 minute powerpoint proposal)

*inspirations & theoretical issues engaged

  1. use example of asynchronous class assignment to curate a collection of images and text that engage your idea
  2. use the list of themes from txtual healing as a guide, and state which theme or themes you’re exploring

*kind of event

  1. visualize and define all elements of your proposed event
  2. describe ideal outcomes

*where, when, who

  1. note time, place, personnel needed
  2. make chart of responsibilities

*space and technology required

  1. determine need for permissions and equipment
  2. make chart of needs, responsible persons, timeline

*recording and assessing event

  1. how will event be publicized?
  2. how will event be recorded?
  3. how will event will be assessed?
  4. how will you measure your ideal outcomes?
  5. how will recoding and assessment be published on website?


  1. Pre-Critique Meetings with Prof. Shafer/Instructional Technology

today: outline of proposal, including preliminary ideas for each of the proposal categories

next week: noon: draft of powerpoint posted to Blackboard

next week: feasibility meeting with Instructional Technology

next week : group meetings with Prof. Shafer

Tuesday, Nov. 3, noon: final proposal posted to Blackboard


III. Critique and Consensus

Thursday, Nov. 5: Virtual Critique with Paul Notzold and Bob Andruszkiewicz

  1. Event, Recording, Assessment

Event needs to be staged before Thanksgiving Break

Assessment should be finished by end of first week of December

  1. Website

Posting materials to the website needs to be completed by  Tuesday, Dec. 8



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