Teaching & Learning Interchange: Pedagogy in Practice Case Studies

by Rachel Smith, NMC: The New Media Consortium


These case studies, crafted for new teachers, are designed to provide a view into classroom practices that effectively integrate both subject matter and teaching standards.

The case studies feature an array of resources presented in several formats – PDF, video clips, text, and animation – packaged in an easy-to-use module that allows for plenty of exploration on the part of the student. Content focuses on teaching strategies, curriculum development, and best practices.

The site is intended for new teachers and students in teacher education programs. Registration is required for access, but a login is provided immediately upon registration.

Discussion Boards in the Seminar Classroom

by John Ottenhoff, Associated Colleges of the Midwest

Instructor Name:

John Ottenhoff

Course Title:

Eng 354: Shakespeare


Alma College

What is the overall aim of the course?:
This is an upper-level Shakespeare seminar that aims to help students “become better readers, thinkers, and writers” as they shape their “own interpretations and encounter a range of critical opinions about Shakespeare’s plays.” I explicity use online discussion boards to emphasize building genuine discussion and understanding that is responsive to Shakespeare’s authorship yet open ended and constructivist.
Course design and scope of the project:
I had 8 students in this semester-long course, most of whom were English majors or minors. We met twice a week (80 minutes per session) for 14 weeks, reading one play per week. All students had taken at least two courses in literature; a few had taken my department’s required course in theory.
Incorporation of Technology:

Before our first Tuesday discussion about the play, students were expected to post to our Blackboard discussion board an initial exploratory comment, “one that poses questions and first reactions.” By the end of the week, students were expected to contribute a “follow-up posting” that commented or reflected on classroom discussion. “Use this posting to continue our in-class discussions, write what you didn’t get to say in class, react to the views of your classmates and professors, offer links to helpful articles and websites.” I periodically reviewed the online discussion and assigned general grades (check, check plus); the online discussion, as outlined in the course syllabus, constituted roughly 15% of the final grade.

Lessons Learned:

Discussion Boards have become ubiquitous and are in some respects a “low-tech” application these days. The scholarly literature has begun to accumulate, but I don’t think we understand very well how they can function in seminar classes, particularly in the ways they shape students’ sense of authority. I have made these conclusions:

  1. My students’ discussion shows a rich pattern of interaction that encompasses a wide variety of interpretive and authoritative modes. At the very least, we should be skeptical about any blanket generalizations about what online discussions cannot do or what kind of writing they make possible.
  2. Excellent postings for the online discussion—at least in terms of the values I created for my class—most of all show a rich variety of discourse modes and patterns of interaction.  The students who showed most flexibility with these forms of discussion were the most successful students in the class in terms of final grades and the degree to which they established strong, authoritative voices in the classroom.
  3. The online discussion helped considerably in changing patterns of authority and developing multiple kinds of authority. Students found a variety of methods for sharing knowledge and shaping discussion; my lack of presence in the online discussion cleared space for their voices and enabled a form of “intellectual play” that is difficult to create in even the most egalitarian classroom. That strength of student voices was, in turn, brought into the classroom through citation and carryover of the online discussion.

Work with colleagues from the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has revealed some consistency of these findings in other disciplines and contexts.

References, links:
You can find a “snapshot” of this work on the CASTL website.
Measured Results:

My work on the CASTL website documents my efforts to code the online discussion threads, and I have followed up on this work elsewhere. In addition, I conducted some focus groups with my class and had them fill out a brief questionnaire. Students also contributed discussion about the course goals and effectiveness through a “meta” thread on the discussion board.

My results at this stage mostly focus on documenting what happens in student discussions online, especially when part of a strong discussion-focused seminar class. I’m interested in further discussion and exploration of such settings.

Ancient Cities in Cyberspace

by Robert M. Royalty, Jr., Wabash College

Instructor Name:

Bob Royalty

Course Title:

The Second Century: Archaeological Remants and Virtual Realities


Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana, www.wabash.edu

What is the overall aim of the course?:
The study of the ancient world and early Christianity has undergone a revolution in one generation.  Scholars who grew up on the Loeb Classics and the Ante-Nicene Fathers now have the Perseus Project and can access the entire biblical and patristic corpus on-line. Digital images are the glosses of a new generation of scholastic commentators. This course was conceived as one way of highlighting these new technologies and social-historical methodologies. The traditional humanities seminar focuses on the “major research paper,” which in the college setting is based on the scholarly article.  What if we changed the model?  After using digital images via PowerPoint in lectures and building course websites for my students, I started to think more about students creating rather than just using these resources. I focused on developing original student research while testing the uses of digital technologies in a travel course.
Course design and scope of the project:
This course was taught in the Spring Semester 2003 at Wabash Collge, an all-male liberal arts college of about 800. There were 16 students; one additional faculty and two staff members traveled with us to Turkey. Cross-listed in Religion and Classics, it included a digital media lab held weekly during a scheduled fourth hour and a ten-day trip to Turkey from March 7th -16th (yes the week before the US attacked Iraq and travel to Turkey was kind of tense!). I had developed the media lab in two previous courses, but we had never traveled beyond the library. The digital photographs and video on these sites were taken onsite. I organized the students into four groups for the trip and the sites: Roman culture, society, imperial power, and religion. I chose this particular organization because it allowed the four groups to study the same object (e.g. a temple) from different perspectives. My concerns were both pedagogical and practical. I wanted students to think about different methodologies in the study of ancient religion and society and I wanted the students to be engaged the entire trip in Turkey rather than having an “off” day when their city or site was not on our schedule. As a result there is overlap in topics between the four subsites, but that is intentional. All travel and lodging costs were covered by Wabash College.  In the second half of the semester, back on campus, the four groups worked on designing and building their websites.
Incorporation of Technology:
The technology covered in the lab was standard applications: Photoshop, Dreamweaver, iMovie, and Flash. We trained in all these technologies in the media lab in the first half of the semester. For the trip, each group of four students had two digital cameras, one digital video camera, and one PC laptop for archiving and editing on the bus or in the hotel. All equipment was provided by the college.
Lessons Learned:

Three features of this experience stand out. First  was the interaction with the students and their interactions with each other. The hands-on instruction in the media labs had already opened up a new dimension in faculty/student interaction. The discourse was more relaxed and engaged on different levels as students and professors found new ways to communicate. This type of informal interaction was greatly magnified on the road.

Second  was the nature of the project itself. As any scholar knows, a week is a limited time for field research. This varies by discipline of course but an immersion learning experience needs to be built around a specific project that is feasible in a week and also integral to the class. In terms of learning and research, library work would  have been  highly beneficial but hardly attractive to students during their Spring Break. The digital media focus of this trip gave the students a very specific task for the visit. Students became more comfortable in their role and more attuned to the features of the sites as they honed their research skills. Many students remarked on the engagement and focus they felt on this trip.

Third was the experience of the culture of modern Turkey itself. Our field work focused on Roman ruins and the archaeology of the cities where early Christianity grew in the Pax Romana of the second century. To do this we negotiated one of the richest and most ancient cultures of the Mediterranean world. The country presents an incredible juxtaposition of ancient Greek and Roman sites with a rich Ottoman context that bridged late antiquity, the middle ages, and the early modern world. We experienced this in a modern secular nation of Muslims on the eve of U.S. aggression against an Arab neighbor of Turkey. The experience of travel to Turkey in March 2003 will, for many of us, be the most lasting and significant learning of the course.

References, links:

This is the final product of the four student groups published in May 2003.

Trekking Through Turkey
This is a link to a series of articles written on the road in Turkey in March 2003 by Justin Lyons, Public Affairs at Wabash, with photographs by Todd Vogel.

“Ancient Cities in Cyberspace: Exploring the Uses of Digital Media in Teaching Early Christianity,” Teaching Theology and Religion 5:1 (2002) 42-48
This article evaluates a prior version of the class in which students contstructed websites on campus without any travel component.

Measured Results:
The websites themselves attest to the value of the experience.  The Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College interviewed the students before and after the trip as part of their ongoing inquiry into off-campus experiences in the liberal arts context.

The Dangers of Just-In-Time Education

by Michelle Glaros, Centenary College of Louisiana


Liberal arts education faces a challenge: the proliferation of digital technologies throughout the disciplines threatens to transform liberal arts education into technical training. Both students and administrators pressure faculty to devote more and more instruction time to teaching the latest software applications so that graduates will immediately be able to respond to the demands of a just-in-time digital labor market, a labor market continually focused on whatever is next. As the value of higher education is increasingly measured by consumers looking at post-graduation work-placement rates, many of us face pressure to demonstrate the success of our programs through these placement rates. Such measures, however, assess only short-term achievement. The pressure to train students for immediate “success” often threatens to overshadow intellectual values such as critical thinking, problem solving, and the development of broad academic interests. The inherently interdisciplinary nature of the liberal arts, its refusal to focus myopically on teaching students one type of thinking or one set of skills, remains its key asset. The true value of a liberal arts education lies in the flexibility and adaptability that cross-disciplinary study affords students, especially those facing a just-in-time labor market. It is somewhat ironic that we find ourselves confronting such challenges in this place at this time, because digital technologies can provide excellent tools for furthering the goals of liberal education if used properly.

The general concerns addressed in this short essay are not new; I have been bothered by the growing tendency to teach software in lieu of critical thinking since my time in graduate school in the mid-’90s. Networked computing was just being introduced to liberal arts disciplines and I was studying and teaching in an English department that began experimenting with teaching writing in computer labs. Since that time, I have been on faculty at small liberal arts schools as well as state universities and have worked as a consultant for programs hoping to integrate digital technology into their liberal arts curricula; I draw my observations from the combination of these experiences. I have found that some institutions focus more intently on short-term successes while others are more concerned with long-term goals for their students.  Recently, I taught a course focused on teaching research and public discourse skills to first-year students. My section chose contemporary labor issues as the focus of their class project, and their investigation of the ways outsourcing and offshoring are transforming the global economy as well as local labor markets heightened my concerns about the relationship between liberal arts education and technical training. Their study clarified for me the important difference between short-term and long-term placement goals and made me acutely aware of the importance of using digital technologies to further the goals of liberal education rather than to produce short-term job placements.1

The just-in-time digital labor market emerged in the 1990s in tandem with dot.com fever. As Terri Kelly suggests in her essay “A Brief History of Outsourcing,” American businesses began outsourcing some divisions in an attempt to offer more efficient services while simultaneously increasing their profits (Kelly). Accounting and communication divisions were easily outsourced because the digital revolution had transformed their media so thoroughly. Bookkeeping, payroll, and promotional campaigns that had once required physical inscription (ledgers, paychecks, card stock, video and audio tape) now required only ephemeral bytes.

The rise of outsourcing in the 1970s was of little concern to liberal arts educators, as manufacturing was the target. In the 1980s we saw the target of outsourcing shift from manufacturing to data processing. And, while such outsourcing did not directly affect our graduates’ abilities to find and keep work, the shift in outsourcing from manufacturing jobs to technology jobs, albeit low-end technology jobs, did not go unnoticed. Critics such as Donna Haraway, Stanley Aronowitz, and Andrew Ross questioned the effects of such temporary, unorganized, low-paid work on the working conditions of digital workers as a whole.

Today’s digital labor market, however, has been almost wholly transformed by outsourcing. The bursting of the “dot com bubble” in the late 1990s only hastened companies’ desires to outsource much of their technical work.2 Why keep a stable of highly-trained, highly-paid workers on staff when just-in-time outsourcing centers can be opened and closed rapidly offshore?  Today, we see white-collar programming and design jobs being outsourced offshore to highly-trained workers who may or may not work in poor working conditions for substandard wages. Vivek Agrawal and Diana Farrell report that software developers who cost $60 an hour in the U.S. cost only $6 an hour in India (Agrawal).

Our students are entering a labor market in which the concept of “career” has changed radically from that of previous generations. Whereas the primary definition of career used to be a job or occupation regarded as a lifelong activity it is now the general path taken by someone, a path that will change course from time to time. This situation leads to the popular notion that today’s workers will have several careers between college and retirement. At present, we know that the early 21st century U.S. labor market rewards workers who are flexible and able to reinvent themselves; we must teach our students how to do so. Researchers like Eric Chabrow note that currently information technology outsourcing does not affect younger workers who possess the latest skills but rather aging workers whose technical skills have become obsolete. By 2003, nearly 6.9% of IT workers in their 50s were unemployed, compared to the industry average of 5.8% (Chabrow). At the same time, while entry-level jobs are not presently targeted for outsourcing, jobs that in the past represented the next rungs on the promotion ladder at many companies have been outsourced, making career advancement out of entry-level positions increasingly hard to negotiate in the traditional manner. Researchers are divided when it comes to predicting the total effect of offshoring on the U.S. economy. Some predict massive job losses; others predict job losses while also predicting that new jobs will be generated so that there may be a net gain of jobs (McKinsey).

As educators, we need to be mindful of such trends and predictions and think carefully about them. Jobs that are presently worked by former students will very likely one day no longer exist and advancement out of such jobs will likely require former students to creatively reinvent themselves.  Responsible educators must account for such changes in labor markets as they arise. We must account for them in our degree, program, and course designs and we must account for them in our pedagogies. If our former students are not flexible enough to redesign themselves to be competitive for whatever these new jobs may be, we will have failed them.

This is a cautionary tale. The core characteristics of liberal arts education — critical thinking, broad academic interests, and creative, interdisciplinary knowledge — provide students with the intellectual flexibility to successfully negotiate shifting career paths. Training students in the latest software applications at the expense of teaching them critical, creative problem-solving skills ill prepares them for long-term success in the just-in-time labor market. While their newly-minted technical skills may be in immediate demand, they will wither in a work world characterized by rapid transformation. Such students will be just-in-time just once. And while they may produce high placement rates immediately after graduation, they will likely struggle to maintain their livelihoods and to develop successful careers beyond those initial entry-level positions.

Digital technology is not the problem; it is neither a bogeyman nor a panacea. We must be mindful how we teach our students technology and we must think carefully about the technical relationships we establish for them. They need the creative and flexible thinking to know how to solve technical problems on their own when they occur, to learn how to use technology in novel ways, to know how to use technology to accomplish things it was not originally designed to do; they need to know how to learn independently so that they can negotiate a labor market we cannot yet envision. Our students also need to be knowledgeable about vagaries of labor markets; they need to be workers who are savvy, critical thinkers able to transform labor markets so that working conditions remain humane, respectful, and fair; and they need to be able to transform themselves so that they can repeatedly be just-in-time. We cannot wholly predict what work-world transformations will take place next, but we can predict the value of a flexible, interdisciplinary liberal arts education to meeting the demands, whatever they may be, of labor markets that continue to morph into new permutations.

  1. I am indebted to Centenary College of Louisiana’s FYE 102 C (2005) for their research on this subject. This class’s investigation of outsourcing and offshoring illuminated for me the dangers of using technology unwisely in the classroom.2. Eric Chabrow of Wall Street & Technology reports that unemployment in the information technology sector hovered around 2% during the dotcom heyday; by 2003, the IT unemployment rate had risen to 5.8%. Chabrow predicts that offshoring and technical obsolescence will continue to make that unemployment rate rise.


Works Cited

Agrawal, Vivek and Farrell, Diana. “Who Wins in Offshoring?” The McKinsey Quarterly , 2003 Special Edition: Global Directions, 2003.
http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_page.aspx?ar=1363&L2=7&L3=10&srid=6&gp=1 accessed June 2. 2005.


Aronowitz, Stanley, Cutler, Jonathan. Post-Work: The Wages of Cybernation. New York: Routledge, 1997.


Chabrow, Eric. “Is Offshoring the Major Reason for IT Unemployment?” Wall Street and Technology, October 23, 2003. http://www.wallstreetandtech.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=15600090 accessed June 2, 2005.


Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.


Kelly, Terri. “A Brief History of Outsourcing,” Global Envision. http://www.globalenvision.org/library/3/702/ accessed June 2, 2005.


McKinsey Global Institute. “Offshoring: Is It a Win-Win Game?” McKinsey Quarterly August 2003.  http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/publications/win_win_game.asp accessed June 24, 2005.


Ross, Andrew. Real Love: In Pursuit of Cultural Justice. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Using Technology in Learning to Speak the Language of Film

by Patricia ONeill and Janet Simons, Hamilton College


As faculty, we often assume that our students have a facility with and understanding of technology because they seem at home with their headphones, cell phones and instant messaging systems.1 In general, students do not perceive technology as being a novel mechanism in their daily lives, and, indeed, it is not. Since early childhood, their everyday routine has included making themselves available as receivers and transmitters for technologically-reproduced information. As familiar or accessible as technology may be to the Net Generation, however, few students exhibit a conscious understanding of technology as a tool for structuring knowledge. We have been slow to realize that achieving proficiency or, even more so, fluency in the focused use of technology is a form of language acquisition that can best be learned in combination with other language structures, (what the structuralists in linguistics, semantics and anthropology have famously termed “codesâ€?). As educators, we are bound to recognize that the arena in which our students will need to operate post-graduation will require of them the abilities to critically analyze multimodal information and to communicate in such formats. Clearly then students must understand why they choose to use particular technical modes and how their choices shape the meanings they convey.

It is our responsibility to create learning environments that make gaining an understanding of the inevitable connections between technological form and ideational content as explicit and extensive as is possible. To do so we must ask ourselves a number of crucial questions about what features of the technology or technologies students are working with intersect with their conceptual objectives:

  • How do different technologies or features within them lend themselves to extending, organizing, or expressing human potential?
  • What types and forms of information are best manipulated by which particular technological tools?
  • What analogies can be constructed between the languages of technology and the vocabularies of various disciplines, whether those disciplines are visual, verbal, kinetic or ideational in emphasis?
  • How can students manipulate content and construct their ideas using technology?

Answering these questions is quite a challenge, but students can grasp these issues if the appropriate technology is integrated with the content of the course.  Understanding how to integrate the appropriate technology into a course is only part of the solution. Students also need to understand the complexity of the relations between the array of technological tools and the particular questions or concepts raised by the discipline or subject to which the tools are being applied. In other words, they need to be trained to think about the content/tool interface critically and creatively if they expect to contribute effectively to the technology-based structures of knowledge and power in the 21st century.

Providing a Context for Discussion: The Specifics of One Course Design

The preceding general discussion does offer a theoretical approach to an area that needs explicit and extensive consideration. The authors would not claim to be able to suggest a sweeping, all-encompassing resolution to the issues raised, but they would like to discuss the way in which such issues were explored and addressed within the format of one experimental course: Art of Cinema, taught at Hamilton College from 2002-05. Patricia O’Neill has been teaching Art of Cinema since 2000. She approached Janet Simons in 2002 for guidance in incorporating a more conscious approach to technological aspects of film into the curriculum. While it is common practice in such courses to require students to either keep a journal or write short analyses of the films they watch, we wanted to develop additional activities that would address students’ different learning abilities and styles, test their presumed familiarity with visual culture and develop their expertise with digital technology.

Unlike programs in large universities or colleges with established film or communications majors, this course has no pre-requisites, does not count toward any other major, and draws students from across the curriculum. Most of the students have no prior experience of film study or video production. In this context, asking students to complete two filmmaking assignments means that they must learn to use digital cameras and iMovie editing software as well as grapple conceptually with how to represent their ideas visually. Technology is thus an integral part of the content of the course as well as an alternative means for students to demonstrate their knowledge of a film’s technique and meaning.

By working through the process of integrating technology with the course content, we have used a series of assignments to help students apply what they have learned in the classroom, deepen their understanding of the course material, and develop confidence in their ability to use technology effectively in presenting their own ideas and understanding. In the following analysis, we discuss the importance of planning in the development of technology-based assignments, of collaboration between faculty and instructional technologists, and of the role of public presentations for enhancing students’ learning. We conclude that by incorporating appropriate technology in the process of learning, students not only engage the materials of the course more enthusiastically, they also feel empowered by the course to use and understand technology more critically and creatively outside the classroom.2

The Workshops: Learning to Put Theory into Practice

To enhance the study of film and to make students critical viewers in the future, the course includes two film assignments: a 50-second silent film that replicates the ideas and experience of early cinematographers such as the Lumière Brothers; and a 3-minute sound film, using original footage to remake or adapt a sequence from a film we have watched in class. Both assignments require that students learn to capture, save, store, compress, and present their films on CDs or DVDs to an audience of their peers and other members of the campus community. Students work alone on the first assignment and in self-selected teams of 2-4 students on the second assignment.

Although the assignments seem simple enough, they require a substantial amount of planning on the part of the faculty. Students must collaborate and coordinate with the audio/visual department staff, who lend students digital cameras, and with instructional technologists, who offer workshops on basic videography (video camera settings, camera angles, audio, lighting), video editing (using iMovie), and various compression methods to deliver their edited footage for exhibition. Working out this schedule of workshops and due dates for each part of each assignment is complicated but necessary to insure that there will be enough cameras for shooting, and so that students can bring their own footage to the video editing workshop.

Since other courses on campus often require equipment and professional support, planning these assignments in advance has allowed us to provide timely support in the computer labs before the projects are due. In our first year of experimentation with developing the technological component of the course, we modeled these assignments ourselves at a conference sponsored by MITC (Midwest Instructional Technology Center of the Mellon Foundation) in the summer of 2003. Since then we have found that having the faculty member attend the workshops offered by ITS staff not only encourages students to be more attentive but also gives them the opportunity to ask questions about the assignment. Our understanding of the difficulties some of them face in learning to use technology encourages the less adept students and makes it less likely that they will simply get their friends to do the assignments for them. In addition, students note the collaborative efforts of the faculty and instructional technologists and are able to see how their questions about the technology are related to the requirements of the assignment. For example, students typically forget that less is more. Technical novices will show all of the footage of a sequence to tell a story and thus exceed the time constraints for the project. Or, they will hand the mouse to a more ambitious student who is eager to add bells and whistles at the expense of the story. In collaboratively taught authoring sessions, the faculty member guides the students by keeping them focused on the goals of the assignment while the instructional technologist helps them to attain their goals in the most efficient manner possible.

The structure and the timing of the workshops in the semester allow students to learn the technology well enough to understand how it functions as a tool for expressing their ideas and also how the special features of digital cameras and editing software can enhance and shape those ideas. While organizing workshops so that students can learn to use technology is time-consuming for faculty, technologists, and students, the results have been consistently positive. At the end of the semester, Simons asks students to fill out a questionnaire about their experience in the workshops and with the assignments. Students say that what they learned in shooting and editing their own work helped them understand better the elements and structure of filmmaking in general. Ninety-eight percent of the students who responded over the past three years have said that the process of making a film added to their understanding of the films surveyed and the concepts discussed in the course (n=45). Many of the students commented that the process of making their own film gave them greater ability to recognize and deconstruct meaning intended by the directors of major films (73%, n=45). They mention a new level of appreciation for both the creative and technical aspects of films (88%, n=45). There are also many references in these comments many references to the “challengesâ€? and “difficultiesâ€? of communicating through this medium while in the same sentence emphasizing how much they enjoyed making their own film.

Student comments have progressed over the three years from almost unanimous agreement that the workshops were useful to increasing requests for more advanced workshops. This past semester students were already asking for an advanced videography workshop (dollies, cranes, additional microphones) and permission to use Final Cut Pro instead of iMovie at the beginning of the course. This request in itself needs careful critical evaluation for, although students believe that Final Cut Pro is the latest in “coolâ€? technology, and that the increasing ubiquity of user-friendly video editing software will make them instantly more “expert,â€? what we have observed is that very few of these students actually use the options that make this software more advanced than iMovie. Here we may have an illustration of the way in which apparent technological sophistication on the part of the students is rather a symptom of advanced, but unreflecting, consumerism; many of them have not yet gained mastery over the technology since the more complex programs take longer to learn, and they often fail as a result of the time expended to create or express effectively the ideas of the course. Meanwhile they often miss the crucial instruction in file management, storage, and multimedia formatting considerations that would allow them to experiment and complete the assignment in time.

On the other hand, students can in one semester easily master iMovie and the associated video technology. As they become proficient with this program, they are able to push the program to its limits in order to express their ideas. Their ideas drive their engagement of the technology rather than allow the technology to drive their engagement of the assignment. This is evident from their paragraph-long survey responses to the question, “Did you encounter any difficulties while creating your film?â€? The students were able to describe audio editing and graphic/video composition problems they encountered and their creative solutions.3

These students are focusing on how they were able to manipulate or construct information, and not on how the technology provided a special effect. As masters of the tool, their creativity and knowledge become a greater part of the process and they were highly invested in the outcome. Because they were able to see the technology as giving form to their ideas through their own self-conscious manipulations, they were able to conceive of the manner and meaning of form in works by their peers and, more importantly, in works by professional filmmakers.

Putting It All Together:  Assignments in Technology

(1) Working alone—The fifty-second silent film: By imitating the techniques of past filmmakers, students not only learn new skills, they see all films differently. In completing this assignment each student is in a sense “insideâ€? the process rather than simply theorizing from his/her reception of the finished work.4From our perspective, this assignment enhances the student’s understanding of the course content. For example, when a student watches the Lumière Brothers’ first film, a shot of people leaving a factory, it looks easy. The student sets a camera on a tripod at a street crossing during a change of class hour. But problems arise when the student realizes that she has to decide which side of the street will give her the widest view and which angle will create the best perspective for lighting and which moment is best for starting and stopping her film. In manipulating the camera and tripod, she is in effect involved in the film in a much deeper way than when she had studied the Lumières’ film or even imagined her project in the abstract. Moreover, once she sees her film juxtaposed to those of other students, new ideas come into play about how light and composition tell the story or allow for multiple interpretations. These lessons are then incorporated into her next assignment and certainly provide a new context for her viewing of subsequent films in class and in the theater. Early cinema no longer appears simplistic, and films in general are no longer judged merely for their entertainment value. The experience of working with technology brings the grammar of visual language to consciousness and allows the student to understand not only the conventions of film genres, but also the multiple possibilities that the discourse of film’s techniques allows.

(2) The cooperative effort—Groups of 2-4 students producing a 3-minute sound film: In the second assignment, intensive viewing of the original work and decisions about how to remake or adapt a 3-minute segment of it reinforce the practice of “close readingâ€? films for their technique and style, and extend students’ understanding of film as a means of communicating with and persuading an audience. In addition, the fundamentally collaborative effort involved in creating a film gets some exercise as students seek to arrive at and execute decisions. This rhetorical dimension of film and digital media is underscored by having students present their films in a public showing. Some examples of students’ projects can be viewed here:http://academics.hamilton.edu/english/poneill/artofcin05/CommonsArtCin.htm

The public presentation of their films creates anticipation and motivation in the students to perform to the best of their abilities. Since their adaptation is shown along with the clip from the original film, the audience can see how the students overcame technical problems and non-professional actors and equipment to capture the essential elements of the original film’s style. Faculty and members of the audio/visual department, the library, and technical services are invited to attend as judges. They are given an evaluation form, which asks them to rate the students’ work for its technical and creative achievement. By inviting members of the community from different departments, O’Neill draws upon their various expertise and sensitivity to the difficulties and potential of the students’ efforts. After the event, we talk with the judges and review their comments. O’Neill then gives each student-team a brief summary of what has been said about the strengths and weaknesses of their work and informs them of their grade.


The increased number of courses in film currently being offered suggests that educators are already acknowledging the fact that film is part of the culture’s discourse and that students need to think, read and write critically about films with the same rigor that they do when they respond to texts. We need to carry that recognition still further by articulating a more systematic theoretical and pedagogical framework for such offerings and make the use of technologies like digitalization a more critically integrated element in that framework. Bruce Douglas Ingraham notes in his article “Scholarly Rhetoric in Digital Mediaâ€? that while educators have developed well-defined strategies for teaching students to analyze data and construct logical arguments within our text-based disciplines, “at this early stage of multimedia scholarship there are as yet no well-developed scholarly models.”5

Our experience with The Art of Cinema suggests that a more conscious and conscientious approach to curriculum enhancement through the use of technology requires careful preliminary planning and scheduling. Connections between the course content and the supporting technology being applied to it also need to be made explicit, discussed fully and physically demonstrated. The use of workshops for such demonstrations—taught as authoring sessions and with faculty participation—is invaluable. In our experimenting with the syllabus for Art of Cinema, we have tried to address the issue of learning about media through film assignments, and we have structured student presentations of these assignments in ways that attempt to give them and us the same sense of context that informs literary study.

From their evaluations of the experience of the course, it would appear that students appreciate the workshops and are thrilled to have their work taken seriously. More important, perhaps, their own feeling of authority to make judgments about films, to articulate why and how a film works for them, indicates that they have managed to demystify, if not master, the technology of film, and have discovered another means of communicating and expressing their ideas as well as reflecting on the ideas of others. This sense of empowerment is similar to that which students experience in any course where they have truly learned the material. The difference here is that students begin to incorporate new methods of communication or expression that seemed unattainable to them before and that the learning process therefore becomes substantially more active.

As an understandable result, students are often inspired to use the active skills developed for the course in other contexts. Simons frequently assists former Art of Cinema students on multimedia projects they have chosen to develop instead of or in addition to their written assignments for other courses. Female students in particular have reported that the course has given them confidence to seek internships and graduate training in film and media. Integrating technology into the process of learning about film becomes more than another tool for teaching and learning the course content; it also emerges as a lens for knowledge, a powerful lens that helps students engage conceptually with the structures that constitute the visual and multimedia dimensions of our contemporary culture.




1. Claus Tully emphasizes this point in his article “Growing Up in Technological Worlds: How Modern Technologies Shape the Everyday Lives of Young Peopleâ€? in Bulletin of Science, Technology, and society. Vol. 23, Issue 6, (2003), 444-456.


  1. Edward Tufte offers valuable insights into the problems that arise when a technology like PowerPoint is inappropriately applied. While we agree with his general concerns, we think our students are learning to apply technology in self-consciously creative ways to construct and externalize their ideas. See Tufte’s “The Cognitive Style of PowerPointâ€? in Journal of the American Statistical Association. Vol. 99, No.466, (June 2004), 569.
  2. For example, in “Whits of the Afternoonâ€? students imitated an iris shot by shooting through a rolled poster board that was illuminated by a high side angle.

Here are some of the other responses to the question “Did you encounter difficulties?”:

1) “There were several difficulties in creating this film. A specific shot with a camera going around a risen hand was difficult but fun. Also synching the music with the scenes was difficult but we managed.â€?

2) “There were some physical limitations in the effects that could be used in the film, e.g. not having a tall enough tripod. Still the difficulties were compromised into creative alternatives.â€?

3)  “Yes – we did not have certain props (a dagger and sheath), we could not position the actors exactly as they appeared in the film, and it was hard to get the exact lighting. On the computer, one problem is that we could not obtain the “star irisâ€? transition to use in the shot where the actress is waking up, so we had to use the “burstâ€? transition which does not create the same effect.â€?

  1. These outcomes were predicted by Jonassen in the analysis, Jonassen, D. H., (1994). “Thinking Technology: Toward a constructivist design model.” Educational Technology, 34(3), 34-37.5. http://www-jime.open.ac.uk/00/ingraham/

Copyright 101

by Richard Lanham, UCLS


Note: This essay began life as a talk delivered at several American campuses during my 2001-02 year as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. I have revised and expanded it for publication here.

I ought to warn you up front that this essay is a one-trick pony: I make only one point. It is not hard to understand but has not been widely understood.

The One Trick

The transfer of information from the printed page to the digital screen has changed the meaning of ownership and authorship in perplexing ways. Our students face these perplexities every day of their learning and working lives—and not only if they use Napster or its epigones to download pop songs. I suggest that we should prepare them, in some formal way, for the intellectual property questions which are now an ordinary part of their lives. A course in copyright—we can call it “Copyright 101â€? —would be a good place to begin. I offer some suggestions about how such a course might develop.

An Establishing Shot

Let me begin with an “establishing shot,â€? as they say in the movies, to explain how an English professor comes to make this suggestion. I have worked for the past 35 years, off and on, as an expert witness in copyright cases. It has been an ideal moonlight job—clean, inside work with no heavy lifting. And it certainly paid better than teaching in Extension.

This work let me glance at how film and TV popular culture is created and forced me to do something I would otherwise never have done—examine closely major monuments of this culture. I would never have seen, much less analyzed, movies like King Kong, Earthquake, Jaws, Shampoo, Star Wars, or Superman. I would never have become the world’s authority, as I surely was for a brief time, on the television soap opera Falcon Crest. Nor would I have come to think about literary illusions as “properties.â€?

This work has opened my eyes to a lot of things I had been missing and made me a less insufferable culture snob than I used to be. It also has brought one other clear benefit. I have spent most of my scholarly life (in one way or another) studying rhetoric. Litigation is rhetoric at the sharp end. Writing a short entry in my Handlist of Rhetorical Terms on dissoi logoi (two-sided argument) is one thing; seeing how it plays out in a courtroom quite another. Litigation has also sharpened my thinking about literary criticism, what it is and what it does. If you think you really know what a literary critic does for a living, you ought to try being cross-examined about it by Melvin Belli & Associates.

I always kept this moonlight job separate from my “seriousâ€? work. I never lectured about it or wrote about it. In the last dozen years, though, moonlight job and day job have come together. I began to see that copyright law—which is based on print—was on a collision course with the electronic texts that I have been trying to understand in my scholarly life. The collision has now occurred; fundamental issues of ownership and authorship are debated daily on the front page. And so I have been trying to unite and reconcile moonlight job and day job. This essay comes from that effort.


Copyright Law was a creation of the age of print. It came into being formally with the Statute of Anne at the beginning of the 18th century to safeguard the intellectual property which inhered in printed books. The property in question—literary text—had a fixed physical substrate. Books were “stuffâ€? and could be made, shipped, stored, bought and sold as such. All our deep-seated feelings about possession and possessions applied to books as well. They contained intellectual property but they were physical property, stuff. The stuffness of books lent a clarity, often specious, to thinking about intellectual property.

When intellectual property expressed in images and sounds came along later, the law, as the law always does, adapted old concepts to new situations. As Justice Holmes says famously at the beginning of The Common Law: “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time…have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.â€?1

But, after working on sixty or so cases involving films and TV shows, I have concluded that the adaptation the law has made as it moved from print to image and sound under “the felt necessities of the timeâ€? has always been a kluge. I do not know what legal theorists have said, outside of the case law I have read about this topic, but in the courtroom, gross misunderstandings still prevail about what intellectual property amounts to. When the time comes to compare a novel with a movie, or a movie with a script from which a movie might have been made, or one soundtrack or set of special effects with another, there is no consistent body of formal critical thinking about how to do it. We still have not gotten beyond Justice Holmes’s thinking in the famous case, Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing: “Personality always contains something unique.â€?2 True, maybe, but not much help. When we transgress the boundaries of print on page, we really do not know what “intellectual propertyâ€? amounts to. We have to work it out, case by case, in the courtroom. Thus, even before the digital revolution, “intellectual propertyâ€? was not a clear and specific opposite to physical property. The formidable body of legal, economic and political thinking about physical property did not easily transfer to intellectual property. And intellectual property in words did not easily compare to intellectual property in images or in sounds.

Now, in the digital expressive space, things have gotten even more confusing. There is no physical object to own, no book on a shelf, only a digital code which can generate words, sounds, or images, or sometimes, and with some fiddling, all three from the same code. Such codes are property only potentially, protein structures which can generate life. They are often interchangeable, that is to say, without having become more comparable. And the digital code is like knowledge itself. You can give it away and still keep it, with both parties to the transaction often the wiser for it. What does “ownershipâ€? mean when you can give away the property and still own it? When there is no physical substrate to return to? When the distribution costs approach zero? When making an exact copy is a trivial and daily undertaking? Digital expression would seem to cut the ground with equal severity from under the Left and the Right. The Left has always followed Prud’hon in thinking that property is theft. But if you can take it from somebody and yet leave them with it, this is clearly not your old Dad’s kind of theft. The Right argues that property is the basis of political freedom, but if this new kind of property is spread around more evenly and speedily than the old kind, does it not enhance freedom rather than detract from it?

The Napster case revealed the deep psychological difference between the two kinds of property, between stuff and electronic information. People just do not feel the same way about “stealingâ€? when the person stolen from still has the “property.â€? Whatever the outraged music-industry lawyers say about how “private property is private property,â€? this distinction runs very deep. But the music and movie lawyers continue to ignore it. A recent Wall Street Journal carried an indignant op-ed piece by an attorney for these interests insisting that intellectual property is identical to physical property and digital expression has made no difference at all.3 No argument that ignores the fundamental differences between the two kinds of property, and between fixed and digital expression, can prevail in the long run. But how long this run will be makes for a fascinating story that will continue to be breaking news for a long time. It would be lots of fun for undergraduates to track such a story. Its social and political implications run deep.

After all, we are taught that the free exchange of information is part of what makes us free. Digital expression seems finally to supply information, intellectual property, with its condign container, one that perfectly suits its nature. Yet the need to protect the products of the human imagination which prompted copyright law in the first place continues in force. It is not just students who are confused by this confrontation. And, to make matters worse, beneath the confusion lies a different kind of economics, one they, and we, need to understand.

The Economics of Attention

This change in property comes as part of a profound change in the kind of economy we live in. We are told we live in an “Information Economyâ€? and that this economy has replaced the “goodsâ€? economy. But economics is the science which studies the allocation of scarce commodities, and information is not in short supply. We are drowning in it. What is in short supply is the human attention needed to make sense of it. We live in an economy of attention and this economy is pulling our thinking about property—certainly about intellectual property—in two opposite directions.

On the one hand, the attention economy, in its pure state, is the Internet, an expressive space that dominated not by ownership but by the medieval concept of usufruct. That ancient concept granted not ownership in a piece of property but its use for a specific purpose, fruit-picking rights in an orchard for example. Part of the concept has lived on into our time as “licensingâ€? and “fair useâ€? but I am talking about something deeper, about some fundamental, perhaps I might be permitted to call it Christian, ethic of human fairness. Digital information really is a miracle which suspends the laws of time, space, and physicality. In more than a manner of speaking, it abolishes scarcity, supplies loaves and fishes at a keystroke. We deeply want it to be a fructifying miracle, to show us a different way to think about how we share what we have with one another.

On the other hand, claims to absolute property are being made where formerly they did not exist, or at least were not contested. Since the information economy is really an economics of attention, value tends to move from the object to the object’s image. The brand name is worth more than the stuff branded. The movie star’s image is worth more than her acting. Broad claims are being laid to “rights of imageâ€? because that is where the “propertyâ€? inheres.

The cultural conversation proceeds by means of these images. Claims are thus being laid to broad areas of the cultural conversation. If value inheres in how people pay attention, and what they pay attention to, then people who own the images which animate that conversation come to think they own the conversation too. If you have tried recently to get permission to quote from, or reproduce an image from, any aspect of popular culture, you may well have found that it was much harder to do than you expected, or much more expensive, or simply—because you could not track down the rights holder— impossible. The cultural conversation is already seriously obstructed and the obstruction will only get worse. Each day’s newspaper brings a new claim of ownership. Recently, a practitioner of yoga has claimed that he owns some of the basic routines of this 2,000-year-old exercise program, and that others will have to license them from him. The claims filed in the name of patent law are even more outrageous and rapacious than those of copyright law, starting with chunks of the human genetic code itself.

This conflict between the need for a more relaxed form of ownership and the drive toward a more intensified form, has been examined in two interesting recent studies which illustrate how widely the conflict extends over the cultural landscape.

My friend David Nimmer has recently written a long study of copyright issues in the Dead Sea Scrolls and their publication. He discusses the struggle for access to these vital religious documents and the lawsuit which resulted when they were published without the authorization of the scholars who had been sitting on them for fifty years. The crux of his argument is a case in which he was himself involved, Qimron v. Shanks. There, a scholar who spent years trying to assemble fragments of a crucial religious text sued the man who finally published the scrolls which a small group of scholars had been keeping to themselves. Nimmer asks first, who is the author of such works, and then whether a small group of scholars had a right to monopolize these texts for so long. Who “ownsâ€? Biblical texts found in a desert cave by an Arab boy, which finally are put in trust to a group of scholars who will not let other scholars see them, much less publish them? Especially if the text exists in fragments and these are assembled by a scholar who then claims ownership in the resulting text? Should any private person or body “ownâ€? scriptural texts and the cultural conversation that flows from them? Suppose another wandering Arab boy found a predecessor to the ten commandments and sold them to someone who claimed ownership of them? Claims equally absurd are being made every day. At what point do we declare a text to be “scripturalâ€? rather than “apocryphal,â€? and what kind of property inheres in them once we so decide?

Joseph Sax, in a book with the wonderful title Playing Darts with a Rembrandt, advances a secular version of this same question. When does a cultural artifact (painting, literary manuscript, sculpture, building) become a cultural icon, so central to our debate about who we are that we feel it to be the common human property of us all? Sax asks these questions across a much broader cultural canvas discussing such topics as “artists’ rights and public rights,â€? public access to historical papers, literary and judicial, and the trade in antiquities. Did Martha Washington, to take a real example, do right in burning the letters of her husband after his death? If not, by what “rightâ€? might she have been forced to publish them? Sax argues for usufruct (though he does not use the term) instead of ownership for such priceless cultural resources, and thus extends the “Internetâ€? kind of ownership across the whole cultural landscape.


The movement from fixed print to the volatile medium of the electronic screen has changed authorship as well as ownership. Let me just enumerate what have become the prevailing clichés. Electronic text undermines authorial authority, since the text is open to reader emendation. It moves much textual communication from formal scholarly publication (journals) to less formal and more first-drafty electronic distribution (blogs). Text on the screen is immersed in a mutational bath of hypertextual reference. And, of course, behind the digital change, literary theory some time ago abolished the author altogether, a serious inconvenience for copyright law, which has to have an author in order to proceed. Popular songs, perhaps we should no longer call them melodies, can be cut up in little bits and the bits rearranged into new agglomerations. Images can be “shopped,â€? that is to say metamorphosed by the popular image-manipulation program “Photoshopâ€? into new sizes, shapes, and colors. At what point, in any of these metamorphoses, does the author’s authorship etiolate into the ether, leaving not a trace behind?

We are not talking, in such magical transformations, about work at a professional level on expensive professional machines, as was true when I bought my first computer in 1981. Now, anyone can do much more than could be done by anyone then, however fancy their equipment.

Intellectual Property as an Undergraduate Study

Until very recently, the only education undergraduates received in authorship and ownership—intellectual property—was an afternoon presentation, usually by a librarian, on “plagiarism.â€? And that, plus a set of rules posted above the copy machine, is still where things are on most campuses. Yet students confront these changes in ownership and authorship every day. Group work is becoming more common for undergraduates. Student work is being “publishedâ€? on course websites. Information of various sorts, words, images and sounds, are there for the taking on the internet. The reliability of such information varies widely, and often the original sources are obscured by linkages. And on practically every campus undergraduates now have access to software which allows them to manipulate sounds and images for use in their own work. The manipulation often changes the original source beyond recognition. What becomes of authorship and ownership in such cases is seldom clear, and how to recognize “prior art,â€? to borrow a term of art from copyright law, often impossible.

And, a great big “of course,â€? words can be manipulated in obvious ways in order to plagiarize. Undergraduate papers have never been easier to find, cheaper to buy, or harder to expose as plagiarism. But plagiarism, widespread and heartbreaking as it is, forms only part of this broader pattern of change and perplexity I have been trying to sketch.

Undergraduates, then, face complex intellectual property issues every day. I think they need a better education than they are getting today about what “intellectual propertyâ€? means. Let me suggest that many interesting questions would be posed, and undergraduate attention effectively engaged, if the issues of ownership and authorship now in public discussion were to find a place somewhere in the humanities curriculum. How might we go about making such a place?

First, I think we should recognize that we made a serious mistake when, about 100 years ago, we reached a tacit agreement in American higher education that the study of law was exclusively a graduate discipline, the property of law schools. This professionalization of legal training, symbolized and largely created by the founding of the Harvard Law School and by its famous dean, Christopher Columbus Langdell, at the end of the 19th century, has removed the subject from a context where it can yield rich meaning: the context of humanistic inquiry broadly defined. Copyright law could provide a challenging and fascinating undergraduate introduction to the law itself which, like copyright law, seeks finally to balance private interests and public benefits.

Second, I think we should stop assuming, as we often do, that only lawyers can make the law back into a humanistic inquiry. There are many arguments against this assumption but let me stick to the ones that bear on my subject—intellectual property and the economics of attention in which it now exists. You do not need to go to law school to master the basics of copyright law. You could do it in a summer to prepare for a course in the fall. Of course you could spend a lifetime in such a study, as copyright lawyers do, but most of us have taught subjects in which we were not trained in graduate school and to which we have not subsequently devoted a lifetime of specialized study. And often we have been the better for it.

To “masterâ€? the clichés in the field, you do not need to read the latest books on the subject, either, of which there are a great and increasing number. For historical background, Lyman Ray Patterson’s Copyright in Historical Perspective can start you off, as can Mark Rose’s more recent Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright, and Joseph Loewenstein’s The Author’s Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright. For an introduction to the basic issues, Benjamin Kaplan’s An Unhurried View of Copyright does just fine. For a discussion of plagiarism, Alexander Lindey’s Plagiarism and Originality offers a good starting point; the reader can have fun reflecting on what changes the computer has wrought since then, and what fundamental truths it has not altered.

The early history of copyright law is not obscure and the basic principles easy to grasp. Copyright begins in England, whence the American tradition comes, with a technological revolution – the invention of printing. The state wanted to control the flow of information for religious and political purposes. In 1557 Queen Mary made a deal with the Stationers’ Company: they would have a monopoly on the printing of books, in return for which they would censor the press as the state wished. A stationer who had the right to print a book was said to possess the “copyâ€? of the book. Hence “copyright.â€? The book did not have to be original and the author had no rights in it. If the book was new, the author sold his right for a lump sum to the printer. In a notorious instance, Milton sold the copyright of Paradise Lost for £10. (No royalties, no paperback rights, no translation deals, no audiobook contracts, no TV documentary offers.) This system expired in 1695 when the last act renewing this system of monopoly failed to be renewed. Authors gained what we would call “copyrightâ€? in 1710, with the famous Statute of Anne. It granted an author copyright for a period of 14 years, with a renewal period of 14 more if he was still alive. The Statute of Anne made possible a career as a professional writer and hence, per ambages, the interpretive bureaucracy which today we call “the humanities.â€?

The copyright story begins in the United States with article I, section 8, clause 8, of the Constitution: “The Congress shall have Power …To promote the Progress of Science and the Useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.â€? This power was embodied in the first national copyright act, one very like the Statute of Anne, which President Washington signed on 31 May 1790.

The basic confrontation has not changed. One the one side, we have the public interest, served by “the progress of science and the useful arts.â€? On the other, we have the need to encourage this progress by rewarding the authors and inventors who create it. In the current scene, at one extreme the piratical digital duplication common in the third world; at the other, the steadily increasing ownership of the cultural conversation in the U.S. One can imagine a course which traces the development of copyright in England and America as an exercise in political, or social, or intellectual history. Or literary history: it would be an interesting voyage to trace the effect of copyright on ownership in England and America; stop with the invention of the rotary press in the 19th century, and the scale would be manageable. All the central issues of intellectual property would emerge from such an inquiry.

Copyright law overflows with interesting stories, stories that undergraduates would have fun pursuing and discussing. For a compendium of modern instances, Thomas Mallon’s Stolen Words: Forays into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism is an easy and amusing read, no law degree required. (Full disclosure requires me to say that I was involved in one of the cases he discusses.) Although encased in a more forbidding legal context, Melville B. Nimmer’s casebook tells some of the basic copyright stories. And more of them turn up every day. The front page of a recent Wall Street Journal recounts the struggle for property rights in a long-lost photograph of the blues singer Robert Johnson.4 The dispute over the photograph forms part of a 15-year struggle for the property rights of this black blues singer who died, penniless and without a will, in 1938. A dramatic trial; the history of a generation of black blues singers; the current revival of that kind of music through new recordings; the question of what restitution, if any, society owes to the families of neglected artists; how neglected music re-enters the cultural conversation (CBS had put a record of Johnson’s music on the shelf for 15 years, fearing legal complications); the complex patterns of consanguinity that such cases often involve, and the “rightsâ€? that the contentious heirs claim—it all adds up to a fascinating story and a wonderful undergraduate research paper. Or, since it is about music and images as well as words, assign a multi-media project. What kinds of permissions would an undergraduate need to create such a project, or “publishâ€? it on the class website? What would the campus lawyers say? All of this would be an education in itself, especially if you plan to be an author. You could choose half a dozen famous copyright cases, if you wanted to be more historical, and examine what the issues were in each. Removed from the forbidding quizzing of legal casebooks, they provide fascinating stories and, in many instances, obvious opportunities to pursue them further.

Often, copyright stories suggest lines of inquiry beyond the limits of the trial. Take, for example, the case of Oscar Wilde’s photograph. When the Gilbert and Sullivan producer Richard D’Oyly Carte brought a production of the G&S opera Patience to New York in 1881, he also imported one of the main targets of the opera’s satire, Oscar Wilde, to do a lecture tour to flak the opera. Wilde was photographed by a New York photographer named Joseph Saxony, and one of those photographs became “theâ€? photograph of Wilde. But soon after it was taken, it was used in an ad for hats by a New York department store. Saxony sued and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The tale is briefly told in a nice piece by Mitch Tuchman which appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine in May, 2004. But think of where the story leads. What kind of parody of the aesthetic movement does Patience really create? How did Wilde, at an early age, become the symbol of the movement? A good topic for a literature course and one in music history. And what about Gilbert and Sullivan’s attempts to open shows simultaneously in England and America to prevent Americans from ripping them off? History students can pursue that story in Gayden Wren’s A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan. It was common practice for American producers to ignore European property rights, in much the same way that today the Chinese copy CDs and DVDs. That is an interesting story in itself, a wonderful term paper topic. What was the subsequent influence of this famous photograph? Where did it appear? What was it used for? And what became of the other less famous photographs of Wilde that were taken that day? And who owned the rights to them until they came into the public domain? These are all interesting questions that undergraduate students could pursue, in a history of photography course perhaps, or one in English or media history.

Saxony was one of the first photographers to see that big money was to be made from celebrity photographs and he paid the celebrities well for outright ownership of them. The history of celebrity photographs and their uses continues to this day, with many beguiling turnings and twistings, not least Andy Warhol’s clever exploitation of the celebrities’ lust for fame. And what of the brisk, and seemingly illegal, trade in such images on the internet? And should celebrity images, so central a part of our common popular culture, be private property and thus denied to the cultural conversation without paying an entrance fee? What neat topics for an undergraduate course in film or popular culture.

I have worked on over sixty copyright cases and there was an interesting story behind each one and sometimes—as in the Barbie case—a whole chapter in intellectual history.5 The repository of “copyright storiesâ€? is enormous, and enormously rich, and —so far as I know— almost totally unexplored as an area of undergraduate teaching and learning. The stories begin in specific arguments but very soon involve fundamental issues. And yet the theoretical issues cannot just float off into the ether because there is a case to decide, a verdict to be rendered… and, subsequently, questioned.

No one, in such adventures as these, should be afraid of the notoriously obscure language of the law. If you are under any illusion that it constitutes a coherent and sensible professional vocabulary, a reading of David Mellinkoff’s classic, The Language of the Law will put that illusion to rest. It will also make you acquainted with one of the great books about professional languages of any kind. If you are suffering under another common illusion, that the law constitutes a coherent and sensible body of principles offering a ready and easy way to adjudicate life’s inevitable differences of opinion, Fred Rodell’s old reliable, Woe Unto You, Lawyers, will alleviate your suffering: “For the Law, as you may have heard before, is entirely made up of abstract general principles. None of those principles has any real or necessary relation to the solid substance of human affairs. All of them are so ambiguous and many of them are so contradictory that it is literally impossible to find a definite and sure solution . . . to the simplest, smallest practical problem anywhere in the mass of principles that compose The Law.â€?6 A useful lesson for undergraduates to learn.

Legal language itself could constitute a fresh approach to prose composition. There are several guides to legal writing, Richard Wydick’s Plain English for Lawyers and David Mellinkoff’s Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense at the head of my personal list. There is no reason why undergraduates could not put one of them in action on a specimen statute or opinion. It would be the kind of prose translation, Latin to English and back, that Elizabethan schoolboys thrived on. David Mellinkoff’s The Language of the Law really began the “plain language movementâ€? in the law, where the government has begun to require that legal writings intended for popular understanding be written so ordinary people can understand them. Plain language law, in all its aspects, stimulates thought in many directions that undergraduates might profitably pursue. One can hardly imagine a better “pre-lawâ€? course than one in legal language. Students learn how to write it in law school; they could learn how to analyze it as a style as undergraduates. This approach would be much more fun. Copyright cases not only offer many instances of legal writing, from dense legal language to Justice Holmes’ magisterial opinions; they also bring up the question of what kind of “propertyâ€? inheres in legal documents to which the public has a right to access and must understand.

When I started working on copyright cases 35 years ago, it was not a popular field for law students and young lawyers. Right now it is red hot. Why the change? To explain it we have to consult, first and most obviously, the history of private property, both real and virtual. Why did the invention of printing lead to copyright laws in England? How did these laws gradually come to create a new kind of property and conception of it? How has that conception changed in the digital world? Why? What changes in an economics of attention? Interesting undergraduate courses could be built around each of these questions.

Copyright lawyers argue that ever-stricter laws are needed to protect intellectual creations, lest the impulse to create them should die out. But art and literature flourished for millennia without copyright protection. How were creators rewarded then? If they were paid in fame rather than money, how has that traditional tradeoff changed over time? Intellectual property in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, as manuscript culture gave way to print, all these would provide protein course themes. They would, as they used to say in show business, “have legs.â€?

And how does the question of intellectual property play out in the underdeveloped world? As Tom Bethell has pointed out in his history of private property, The Noblest Triumph, private property has had surprisingly few defenders in our time. Yet students of third-world economics have agreed that it forms one of the foundation-stones for economic progress. At the same time, it is argued that poor countries cannot afford the products covered by Western copyright and patent law, be they drugs or movies, and should be allowed access to them in the name of the world’s cultural conversation. The other side, the intellectual property owners, argue that digital “piracyâ€? threatens a major segment of world trade. The United States has from its beginnings shown itself willing to confront piracy of the usual shipboard type, and other piratical interferences in its trade, in a most contumacious way. What about digital piracy? It would be interesting to pick an area, or a country, and see how this seeming contradiction is being played out. The questions fairly pour out: for example, might one not argue that all the pirated movies in China are creating a market which, when China joins the world of nations in protecting intellectual property, as surely it will do sooner or later, will prove a rich market indeed?

From popular discussion, student plagiarism seems to have increased in the last decade (I have not come across any numbers which measure the increase, if such it be). It is being widely discussed and it should be, and as part of an undergraduate course. After all, we are talking about how we train students to take part in the cultural conversation. But we are beginning to discuss notable instances of faculty plagiarism as well. Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe’s use in his God Save this Honorable Court of Henry J. Abraham’s Justices and Presidents provides one notorious instance. (Start with the Harvard Plagiarism Archive: http:authorskeptics.blogspot.com, or just Google “Laurence Tribe plagiarismâ€?). The historian Peter Charles Hoffer has written a thoughtful study of the case of Doris Kearns Goodwin and several others, Past Imperfect; it provides a deep background against which to start thinking about these issues. A course which contrasted student plagiarism with faculty plagiarism would prove illuminating for both parties. It would not lack for material.

I cite these stories and themes and books, among very many others I might have, just as instances of ways into the subject. They are intended as tokens of the rich hoard awaiting humanist scholars who take an interest in the venerable, and now vital, field of intellectual property. It is not necessary to be a lawyer to work with students through the fundamental issues of intellectual property. I would myself go further. It is better, for a humanistic approach to the subject, if you are not a lawyer. Don’t be frightened, don’t be nervous, don’t be scared. Just, as always when you are teaching a new course, Be Prepared. (I have just, in my phrasing, echoed lines from a familiar but copyrighted Tom Lehrer song. Does it fall under the “Fair Useâ€? clause? Should it be in quotation marks? Should I have gotten permission nevertheless, and maybe paid a $200 permission fee? Interesting questions for an undergraduate course to rehearse.)

American higher education has, at least since the founding of the land-grant colleges, felt pressured to provide a practical education, one that can lead to gainful employment. Humanists have usually, and to my mind wrongly, resisted this pressure. Whatever one thinks, though, such pressure has never been greater than it is today. How might acquaintance with the law and issues of intellectual property enhance some typical student career paths?

Two general observations:

First the student plagiarism plague is a symptom of a larger problem; how do we train students to take their part in the cultural conversation? If we taught the general rules for joining this conversation— (as well as discussing the difficulties our culture has in sustaining it)—in a methodical way, I think there would be less cheating. A framework would exist within which cheating would be seen for what it is. The internet has provided a publishing channel for students which never existed before. They now can and often do join the conversation, either by posting their work for their student colleagues or by creating websites, joining newsgroups and blogs, etc. Special interest websites (a sixteen-year-old establishing a Harry Potter site, for example) are part of cultural conversation just as much as the New York Review of Books. They do not stand outside the system, as often now they feel they do. They are part of it and should feel responsible for keeping it in good order, which means keeping it, and their contributions to it, honest. I can think of no better way to encourage this than by teaching the history of our culture’s efforts to protect originality and at the same time make it available for the general welfare. Many of our students will earn their living in enterprises which require group work. Learning how to credit the contributions of our co-workers provides fundamental training for such work.

Second, plagiarism is created by our demand for, and value of, originality, and it is originality which copyright seeks to protect. But until the invention of printing, originality was not the god-term (Kenneth Burke’s phrase) which it has become. For classical writers, the basic stories of the gods and goddesses were public property. Medieval writers like Isadore of Seville borrowed wholesale. Manuscripts were more often compilations of previous work than ab ovo creations. Shakespeare, as students learn to their surprise, was a great borrower of plots, almost never making them up himself. Nimmer’s copyright casebook describes the relationship between Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, but we could extend the inquiry further back by examining the relationship of Romeo and Juliet and its source, Arthur Brooke’s 1562 Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet. Comparing Brooke’s endless and tedious poem to Shakespeare’s great play would itself be an illuminating undergraduate exercise. It would illustrate, in the clearest way, the crucial distinction copyright law seeks to draw between Idea (property of the cultural conversation) and Expression (what an individual has added to that conversation. The key goal in a copyright case is to find “substantial similarity.â€? Never was concept woollier; indeed one legal scholar has called it “meaningless.â€? But, whatever it may mean, Shakespeare’s play is certainly substantially similar to Brooke’s poem: characters and their names, plot, theme. Yet if ever originality meant anything, Shakespeare’s play has it. A nice paradox. You could build a paper topic, or a course, around it. Plagiarism, Originality, Idea and Expression, Substantial Similarity; they all part belong in the same discussion. That discussion ought to occur somewhere in the undergraduate curriculum.

Now let us explore how “Copyright 101â€? might benefit students in particular career paths.

Law: No gloss needed here. If the center of gravity of the law is shifting from real property to intellectual property, an understanding of this shift would be the best general preparation for a law career one might well have. And if it included a course in legal language, that would not hurt.

Business. The change from an economy of stuff to an economy of attention stands behind the current fundamental changes in business enterprise. Understanding what that shift is all about, and the law of intellectual property which underlies it, would provide a framework for business enterprises of all sorts.

Accounting. Here, for sure, is a profession in need of general guidelines. One of the problems it faces is how to account for non-physical assets, intellectual property and the advantages which accrue to it. General reflections on intellectual property would seem a good place to begin solving this accounting problem.

Banking. Always the same problem; to whom do you lend money? How bankable are “brand assets,â€? the intellectual properties owned by a business, after the accounting profession figures out how to book them?

Advertising. The ownership of brands, and the protection of them, is at the center of intellectual property thinking. There could not be a stronger connection.

The Physical Sciences. Who will own the knowledge you discover under university or corporate sponsorship? What scholarly journals will you publish in? The ones owned by big media conglomerates who get their material free from scholars, copyright it, and then sell it back at extortionate rates to scholarly libraries? One of the new electronic publications which seek to avoid this kind of learned shakedown? What is implied by the ownership of scientific discoveries? You will face all these issues from the get-go in a scientific career.

Publishing. Publishing is increasingly a business centered in intellectual property rights management, not simply making printed books. The more you know about intellectual property, the more clearly you can see this fundamental fact about the business.

Librarianship/Information Science. Librarians are caught in the middle of all the big conflicts about intellectual property and are the ones who have to make decisions first. A vital discipline; perhaps an undergraduate course in intellectual property could encourage more students to enter the field.

Medicine. Price of drugs; ownership of the human genome; who has rights of “ownershipâ€? in a human fetus? Privacy issues in medical records.

International Relations. The central concerns here are all about global trade, and intellectual property issues form an increasing part of that trade.

Anthropology. Ownership of folkways, folk artifacts, and folk literature in third-world countries. Tourism is now the biggest business in the world and ownership of strange and foreign folkways a growing part of that business.

Design. As a designer, your first business will be to develop an original design “signatureâ€? or style, and your second will be to keep other people from, as it will seem to you, stealing it. A knowledge of “originalityâ€? from a general point of view would be an immense help in understanding your predicament.

Media personality. What every ambitious student wants to be, surely, is a TV anchor person or reporter if not an actor. If you do, you will want to own your personality; it is, after all, your professional stock-in-trade. You will face the same problems designers do.

Well, enough of this. You can perhaps get the idea: the study of a specific body of knowledge can be done in a variety of contexts and as preparation for a variety of careers. Let me close with one more example.

Humanist. An economy of stuff extracts materials from the earth’s crust and makes things out of them. The people who do this stand at the center of the economy. People in the arts and letters stand at the periphery, feeling like ornaments, however tirelessly we insist that we are not. But when the economy becomes an economy of attention, we really do stand at the center of things. Humanists are the economists in an attention economy. I am not at all sure the humanities will be comfortable in this role; they have been marginal, condescending, and self-pitying for too long. But that is where we now are, and no inquiry makes this clearer that copyright. We all need a course in it.


  1. Holmes, The Common Law, in The Collected works of Justice Holmes, p. 115.2. Posner, The Essential Holmes: Selections from the Letters, Speeches, Judicial Opinions, and other Writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., p. 54-55.3.  Theodore B. Olson, “Thou Shalt Not Steal,â€? Editorial, Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2005.4.  Mitchell Pacelle, “Blues Rift: Snapshots of a Music Legend Lead to a Tug of War,â€? Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2005.

    5.  See, for example, Richard A. Lanham, “Barbie and the Teacher of Righteousness,â€? Houston Law Review 38, no. 2 (2001): 499-540.

  2. Fred Rodell, Woe Unto You, Lawyers. Intro. Jerome Frank. Pageant Press, N.Y. 1957 [1939], p. 128-129.

Bethell, Tom. The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Brooke, Arthur. The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet [1562]. Reprinted in Bullough, Geoffrey. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, I: Early Comedies, Poems, Romeo and Juliet. New York, Columbia University Press, 1957
Hoffer, Peter Charles. Past Imperfect. New York: Public Affairs, 2004.

Holmes, Oliver Wendell. Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., 188 U.S. 239 (1903): 87.

Holmes,Oliver Wendell. The Collected Works of Justice Holmes, ed. Sheldon M. Novick, 3 vols. U. of Chicago Press, 1995, v.3, p.109ff.
Kaplan, Benjamin. An Unhurried View of Copyright. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.
Lanham, Richard. “Barbie and the Teacher of Righteousness.â€? Houston Law Review 38, no. 3 (2001): 499-540.


Lanham, Richard. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991.
Lindey, Alexander. Plagiarism and Originality. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974.
Loewenstein, Joseph. The Author’s Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Mallon, Thomas. Stolen Words: Forays into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989.


Mellinkoff, David. The Language of the Law. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963. Reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2004.


Mellinkoff, David. Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982.


Nimmer, David. “Copyright in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Authorship and Originality.â€? Houston Law Review 38, no. 1 (2001): 1-217.


Patterson, Lyman Ray. Copyright in Historical Perspective. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968.


Posner, Richard. The Essential Holmes: Selections from the Letters, Speeches, Judicial Opinions, and other Writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Rodell, Fred. Woe unto you, Lawyers!. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939.

Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Sax, Joseph. Playing Darts with a Rembrandt. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Tuchman, Mitchell. “Supremely Wilde.â€? Smithsonian Magazine, May, 2004.

Wren, Gayden. A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wydick, Richard. Plain English for Lawyers, 2nd ed.: Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1985.

Interspace: Our Commonly Valued Unknowing

by Michael Joyce, Vassar College

Panel remarks for the “Information, Silence, and Sanctuary Conference” at the University of Washington, May 2004.

At the author’s request, we include this link to the conference site where many of the talks, including this one, are streamed: http://www.ischool.washington.edu/iql/conference/

Some years ago, at the height of the previous dot.com bubble, I was invited to take a turn about the filmy reflective surface of one particularly glossy hemisphere of gas on an afternoon in New York City at Razorfish, the then self-styled “global digital solutions provider,” whose tradestyle has in the last two years been sold in a fire sale, its core business having dissolved into the sea of tears which followed the bubble’s bursting.  Razorfish had, in its heady early days, taken to inviting in intellectuals as sort of an afternoon’s entertainment in the way of the Medici’s sponsorship of portraitists, philosophers, and itinerant plasterers and colorists. Like the Medicis (one supposes) the assembled courtiers munched pizzas while the philosopher/plasterer entertained and orated. Coming from a long line of hod-carrying Irishmen myself, I wanted to slap it on thick for the goat-cheese-and-arugula-feeding boys and girls.

I suggested to them that relative space has economic value. First-class airline seats are the obvious instance but so too is the white space of professional design or even the transparency of well-designed interfaces or icons which leave space for more important thought by lowering cognitive overhead.

To this room full of the best and the brightest web designers, flash freaks and director doyennes I suggested a notion of interspace, as an economically viable, i.e., sellable, commodity wherein networked media would increasingly offer users an identity buffer from intrusive and ubiquitous linked information sources.

Room to choose will become a valuable product, I claimed to the yawning Medici kids as in dismay and increasing hunger I watched them grab and gobble up the last scraps of smoked-salmon-and-crimini pizza and gaze off happily into not inter but actual space, doubtlessly tallying the then-burgeoning value of their stock options.

“Software agents and other filtering devices seek to provide at least the perception of buffered choice-points for the busy user,” my jeremiad went on while my stomach grumbled. “What they do not provide, however, is the confirming experience of relative space within which we form our own sense of ourselves as controlling and independent beings.”

That is, I saw interspace as something of a negative interface within which the consumer, participant, audience member, or citizen acts as herself, and where both self and action are confirmed.  While it might be tempting to think of negative interface as the interactive equivalent of ambient environment sounds  or — better still — noise-canceling earphones, for me interspace has less in common with new age environments or sky-mall gadgets than it does with our normal experience of consciousness. Instead of ambient audio or cloaking earphone, a more apt image might be the silent space between stations on a car radio in search mode. Our normal consciousness seems to alternate between periods of calm and action.

We experience the calm as smooth space wherein the world of our senses and our brain activities slide interchangeably in and out of each other.  In most of our lives, however, periodic bursts of externally motivated action have no clear source in the smooth spaces of consciousness and yet clearly seem a part of it and us.

Interspace is a word which has an old history in English; the OED lists a first usage dating to a translation of Palladius’ tract On Husbandrie in 1420. The word continues to be used as both noun and verb meaning to add space, time or other interval between events.  Yet the use closest to my own (although one I was not familiar with at the time I prophesied to the sated young programmers and designers idly pecking crumbs from empty pizza cartons) comes from an essay by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In “Shakespeare as poet” Coleridge describes what we might recognize as cognitive overload in the Greek theatre, in which because “there were no formal divisions into scenes and acts; there were no means, therefore, of allowing for the necessary lapse of time between one part of the dialogue and another.”  Where the modern stage accounted for time by “dropping a curtain,” Coleridge suggests the Greek genius was to supply the audience with “music and measured motion, and with the lyric ode filled up the vacuity.” These odes Coleridge says “fill up the interspace” so that the audience “stretched minutes into hours.”

In the onslaught of event, the lack of a necessary lapse, we, too, feel a vacuity. White iPod earbuds testify how many of us indeed do try to fill the emptiness with our own music and motion; and yet more and more it is the rare moment which stretches into hours.

I am not trying to sell old pizza pie in the sky or to download a new music of the spheres, but I more than ever believe that there is an increasingly compelling value in distance, silence, uncertainty, and deliberation. The shared care of the commonly-valued unknowing — the interspace which constitutes the agenda of an art form, an academic discipline, a spiritual practice, or democratic citizenship — offers not just commodity but comity. The latter, old-fashioned word for an atmosphere of social harmony has in its legal and policy meanings a sense of making space for the decisions and actions of another jurisdiction or nation. In a mediatized and multidisciplinary world, a space of comity, the constant readjustments, accommodations, and affordances, the measured motion among several interests, is invaluable.

We live in a time when a strong feeling that what can be known should be known too easily elides into a blind faith that what can be known not only is known but furthermore is known by those best able to make use of what they know.

One would think we would know better, one would think we could know better, but what one should think we increasingly cannot tell.

The question of “what one would think” is fairly close to the dictionary definition of discipline, i.e., “Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement,” as the American Heritage Dictionary has it.

I would suggest that our disciplines as humanists, scientists, social scientists, librarians, artists, engineers, and technologists consistently call us to draw upon memory and mortality in order to affirm the fragility of our lives and the importance of the moment of human presence in an increasingly mediated world. I do not mean to suggest a back-to-the-future hegira to a mythical golden age of wise and benevolent institutions, canonical disciplines, and noble professions but rather a reinvigoration of our disciplines, institutions, and professions around what we do not know about how we should think.

To be sure it has always been the business of academic disciplines to husband doubt. That we have something to offer beyond mere knowledge is why we invite new students, engage other disciplines, sponsor research, publish our thinking and data, and continually challenge our own perceptions and convictions. Likewise artists offer visions of heretofore unimaginable worlds within the one we inhabit, visions which cause us to doubt our own eyes and ears, confronting us with both our unknowing and the world’s unknown dimensions and sensations. Even commerce and industry have for centuries claimed to be driven by progress, a present-tense doubt, a recognition of what we do not know of the future.

However,  now I think the arts and sciences and commerce alike face an urgency to make space for ordinary uncertainty in the face of the bright successive assurances continually spawned by the mediocracy (to borrow Dominique Lecourt’s term, if perhaps not his argument) of networked and global commodity capitalism drugged by nextness. Our husbanding of doubt offers us hope for our unknowing in the face of increasingly suffocating knowingness.

Despite the ironies of my Razorfish stories, my woulds, shoulds, and coulds, I do not mean an anti-media screed here. We live in a time when even the hermit hears the distant murmur of the highway, when the pilgrim’s journey is tracked by surveillance cameras and satellites, and when even themystic’s dark night is rimmed with the glow of distant cities. It is impossible, even undesirable, to run away from our experience of mediation. Instead, in the interspace of our shared unknowing we are lead to question how we should think from the inadequate perspective of what we would think.

Like Coleridge I believe this question, while not solely one of media, is nonetheless one which media can address or which we at least should address ourselves to, in and through our media.

This, however, requires a dynamic definition of media, one that takes into account constant change, inherent doubt, and transitory outcomes. Media theorist N. Katherine Hayles suggests exactly such a definition, proposing that we consider media “as collective intelligences that explore their conditions of possibility by trying to discover what they are good for.” Hayles sees this process as recursive if not explicitly animist and evolutionary in a radical sense, saying that “these attempts in turn feed back into technological innovation to transform their conditions of possibility.”

To shift our understanding toward this kind of continual transforming of conditions of possibility we need to consider how much we do not, and perhaps cannot, know about each other and about our views of the world and its possibilities.  It seems to me today that this, too, is a goal for our study of media. To survey our own unknowing, to know the impenetrable otherness of others, is a critical function of media.

That said, I know that many of us await and for some time have embraced the promise of changes in our own beings, our disciplines, institutions, and professions as well as changes in our sense and understanding of others’ beings, disciplines, institutions and professions which new media and technologies may bring. I know further that these are promises and hopes which are as yet unmet and which gatherings like this not only renew our longing for, but also strengthen our determination to achieve. Such brightly lit and pulsing hopes, such a multiplicity of visions and voices, perspectives and possibilities, cannot fail to attract our attention, lift our aspirations, and broaden our horizons.

Yet recent history and an uneasiness about too-brightly-lit hopes conspire to raise fears within us of a coming darkness.  It is likely that there might come a time, perhaps it is now, when for a while we will have run rampant, in shock and awe, spreading light all over the darkening plain and trooping thoughtlessly and unconstrained across blurred boundaries. Exhausted by the pulsing lights of promised futures we may no longer recognize the present selves we see reflected in the bright surfaces around us. Then, like weary warriors in a sort of twilight, we might perhaps return home awhile to our paths and huts, the glimmering horizon ambiguous, dawn or dusk or some new presence. We will know finally that it is time then to live awhile in this transformed world and, as we enter within the dark of the room and the night alike, we will take refuge in the dim light offered by its interspace and the care we share for our commonly valued unknowing.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. (2001) [originally published 1893] “Shakspere as a Poet generally” in Lectures and Notes on Shakspere and Other English Poets. Now First Collected by T. Ashe. Elibron Classics, Boston: Adamant Media, pp 218-222.

Hayles, N. Katherine, (2003)  “Deeper into the Machine: The Future of Electronic Literature,” Culture Machine 5, the e-Issue http://culturemachine.tees.ac.uk/Cmach/Backissues/j005/Articles/Hayles/NHayles.htm Accessed 8 May 2005.

Lecourt, Dominique (2001) Gregory Elliott (Translator) The Mediocracy: French Philosophy since the Mid-1970s, New York: Verso Books.

Technology & the Pseudo-Intimacy of the Classroom: an interview with Jerry Graff

by Michael Roy, Middlebury College


Gerald Graff (http://tigger.uic.edu/~ggraff/) is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His recent work has centered on how for most students and members of the general population, academia in general and literary studies in particular are obscure and opaque, a theme taken up in his CLUELESS IN ACADEME: HOW SCHOOLING OBSCURES THE LIFE OF THE MIND(Yale University Press, April 2003).

Academic Commons caught up with Graff to explore his thoughts about technology and the future of liberal education.

Academic Commons: Is our country’s commitment to the ideals of liberal education really in crisis?
Graff: Probably, but one constant seems to survive the crises of every generation: a small percentage of college students “get” the intellectual culture of academia and do well in college while the majority remain more or less oblivious to that culture and pass through it largely unchanged. Changing these conditions, creating a truly democratic higher education system that liberally educates more than a small minority, has always been and still is the main challenge of liberal education.

Much has been made of the neo-Millenials (also known as the Net Generation) who are presently enrolled on our campuses, and how they learn differently than past generations. Do you see this description as accurate or useful when thinking about how educators need to change their teaching strategies?
I have always been skeptical of claims about learning differences between generations. Formerly, it was the ‘60s that purportedly made the adolescent mind non-linear, more visual, and so forth. Now pixels and megabytes supposedly produce a new kind of non-linear consciousness, or one wired into simultaneity, or whatever.

How is technology helping higher education?
Probably only in rather narrowly technical ways, so far, e.g. making registration processes more efficient. Communication across campus has been made much easier, but this benefit may have been negated by the overload problem: we now get information much more readily, but it comes in such excessive volume that the chances of our recognizing the information that is really relevant and useful to us are correspondingly lessened.

How is technology hurting higher education? Aside from the overload problem just mentioned, I think there has been a failure to recognize and exploit the potential that technology offers for improving and transforming day-to-day instruction.

Let me give one example.

I have long thought that there is something infantilizing about the standard classroom situation, where the very face-to-face intimacy that is so valued actually encourages sloppy and imprecise habits of communication. That is, the intimate classroom is very different from–and therefore poor training for–the most powerful kinds of real-world communication, where we are constantly trying to reach and influence audiences we do not know and will probably never meet. We should be using online technologies to go beyond the cozy pseudo-intimacy of the classroom, to put students in situations that force them to communicate at a distance and therefore learn the more demanding rhetorical habits of constructing and reaching an anonymous audience. We have begun to do this to some extent, but our habit of idealizing presence and “being there,” the face-to-face encounter between teachers and students, blinds us to the educational advantages of the very impersonality and distancing of online communication. Indeed, online communication makes it possible for schools and colleges to create real intellectual communities rather than the fragmented and disconnected simulation of such communities that “the classroom” produces.

Can you point to examples of such communities?
I meant possible intellectual communities rather than actually existing ones. I do not know any campus in America that has what I would call a real intellectual community, online or otherwise, in the sense of everyone–or almost everyone–on campus engaged in a continuous conversation about ideas all the time (as occurred for a brief time during the campus protest era in the ‘60s and early ‘70s). I think online technology makes something like such a community of discussion possible even without a crisis like the Vietnam War, but I do not know of any campus that has come close to creating such a potential community. Of course there may be many things going on that I do not know about.

How do you use technology in your own teaching?
I love using e-mail for writing instruction. I can get right inside my students’ sentences and paragraphs, stop them and ask them “can you see a problem with this phrase?” or “can you think of an alternative to this formulation?” or “please improve on this sentence,” with an immediacy and turn-around speed that handing papers back with comments cannot begin to match.

I have also used class listservs, which seem to me to have great potential.The big benefit for me is the creation of a common space of class discussion that everyone can (and in my case must) contribute to, a space that prolongs the in-class discussion and enables us to pursue issues that had gotten short shrift in class. I wish these listserv discussions were more controlled and focused than they have been in my classes, and I think they can be when and if I learn better how to structure them.

One interesting thing I have learned from listservs is that most students see electronic communication as an extension of informal oral discourse, whereas I see it (when used in a class anyway) as properly an extension of formal writing. When I chastised one class for writing sloppy, prolix, and often unreadable blather on the class listserv, they objected that I was trying to shut down the liberating spontaneity and informality that is inherent in electronic media. I think this was a rationalization, but one that has to be anticipated.

In recent years it has become increasingly easy for non-technical people to produce extravagant multimedia productions on their desktop computers. Certain faculty mourn this as the final nail in the coffin of literacy and literature, while others celebrate the possibilities afforded by this new multimedia literacy. Who is right?
Neither group seems worth taking seriously. I do not mean to denigrate multimedia assignments or the way in which they can produce new kinds of learning. I just do not accept the claim that such multimedia creativity is either the final nail in the literacy coffin or a revolutionary breakthrough. If I had to choose, though, I would be more sympathetic to the latter view, or at least be interested in hearing more about multimedia assignments. I am not technologically adept enough to have tried any myself.