Final project posts: 12/4 and 12/11

Dear all,

As part of your process towards final projects, two further process posts:

Project proposal, due 12/4. In 300-500 words, describe your final project: your topic, your questions, your method, your primary sources, and the themes and readings and aesthetic objects from the course you plan to engage. You may wish to structure this as a brief story: how did you discover your topic, how did you refine the topic, why is it interesting to you.

Secondary source, due 12/11. In not fewer than 500 words (although probably at greater length than that), write a critical and analytical summary of a single secondary source—i.e., a scholarly article, essay, or book chapter—that is not on the class syllabus that you plan on using in your final project. Please address what it is you have learned from this essay/article/chapter, and what critical or analytical leverage on your topic and question it offers.

Neuromancer Topics

Today we’re going to break into discussion groups for the class. I’ll lecture just a little bit on historicity and the novel form, and why that matters. Gibson: “The future’s already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” But, here’s a list of topics/questions drawn from your blog posts for us to really dig into:

Directionality and/or reciprocity of connection (e.g., simstim). (Piper, James and Matt)

Labor and alienation. (James and Nicole and Connor)

Confusions (spatial and otherwise) between meatspace and cyberspace. (Connor and Mike and Matt)

Hallucinations and drugs. (Connor and Matt)

Final Projects: Next Post: Topic > Question > Problem

For your next final project post, you should pose a research question. It will be due on Friday, November 13. This is in advance of your (required) meeting with me the following weeks.

The following exercise is cribbed from Wayne Booth (et al.)’s The Craft of Research. There are two relevant chapters: “From Topics to Questions” and “From Questions to Problems.”

Your “Problem” posts should step through each of these steps in an explicit way, documenting your revisions and how you’re thinking about them. Show your work. This may seem tedious, but it won’t take very long, and I suspect it will help you get to a good question quickly and clearly. The goal in this exercise is a really pointed, very specific agenda to get you started on your research.

First: Good Topics

Let’s get a clearly, concisely specified topic. Booth tells us that if the topic can be stated in four or five words, it’s not specific enough (39). You’ve got to add some form of elaboration and specification. Their types are: conflictdescriptioncontribution, and developing.

So let’s say I’ve decided my topic is “sexuality in network games” (I think I’m not duplicating anybody’s research project). Note that we can restate this as a claim: “There is sexuality in network games.” That’s not very interesting.

To elaborate this, we should add language of conflict, description, etc. from above. To which I will add, also specify some actual sites of research. Here’s a better topic: “The development of sexuality in network games from text-based MUDs to 3D worlds like Second Life.”

A few things are good about this. First, you can state it as a claim: “Sexuality in network games has developed from text-based MUDs to 3D worlds like Second Life.” Notice, too, that there’s a subsidiary claim there, which is that a game’s interface affects the way sexuality is a problem for, or in, it. Second, it’s got a few obvious points of reference in our course: Neveldine + Taylor, Dibbel, Bersani, Cooper, Hodge.

Second: Topic/Question/Significance

We’re not done. Booth gives us a three-step sentence that will help enormously in figuring out what you’re working on and why. It goes like this: topic, question, significance.

Topic: “I am studying…,”

Question: “because I want to find out why/how/whether…,”

Significance: “in order to help my reader understand…”

A few notes:

Notice that there is a genuine question! This is not the same thing as a topic.

Notice also that the significance is about teaching the reader something. Presumably you’ll learn something, too, but it’s important to understand that all this work is targeted at readers—in this case: your classmates, me, your very dedicated friends and relatives, and the internet at large.

In the above example, we could parse this out a couple of ways:

Perhaps the most straightforward way is to keep the topic very specifically focused, and then to add layers of generalization from there: “I am working on sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life, because I want to find out how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, in order to help my reader understand how game design can have effects on networked sexuality.”

But you could also run this a bit more theoretico-historically (and more specifically): “I am working on changes in how sexuality works between early MUDs and Second Life, because I want to find out what online sexuality and fantasy teach about sexuality in general, in order to help my reader understand how differing mediations of virtual and physical involve transformations in sexuality.

In each case, notice that there are implicit questions that get us places: How do game interfaces affect sexuality in games? How does game design influence networked sexuality? What do online sexuality and fantasy teach us about sexuality in general? How do different mediations of virtual and physical life involve transformations in sexuality?

Each of these is, of course, also a claim—”Different mediations of virtual and physical life involve transformations in sexuality.” So you might think that your thesis is baked in, and that’s the thesis. But actually, that’s just the starting point, the communicative context, for your research. You’ll discover your thesis in the elaboration of the how question.

Third: Research Problem

This is a fairly radical redaction of what Booth (et al.) have to say, but it will help.

First, we’re dealing with conceptual problems: what we do or do not understand. So let’s get explicit with one of these topic/question/significance sentences. Neither of them is done yet.

Let’s make explicit the conceptual consequences embedded in one of these two sentences by specifying the entailments between these levels—in reverse.

“In order to understand how game design can have effects on networked sexuality, I have to (it helps to) understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games.” That’s not bad! And “In order to understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, I have to (it helps to) understand sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life.” This isn’t quite right. The scope of the problems doesn’t fit—and your intuition is probably exactly wrong. You could make the topic broader, but that’s exactly the wrong direction.

This is where we loop this back into specifying the topic even further. What you’re studying is not, then, sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life, but rather the consequences of textual vs. visual interfaces for sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life. “In order to understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, I have to (it helps to) understand the consequences of textual vs. visual interfaces for sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life.” That’s better, the scope matches.

We could get more specific than this, and will learn how to as our research progresses. But now we actually have some real agendas to start working on reading and research: textual mediations of sexuality in early MUDs, visual mediations of sexuality in Second Life. What we discover there will help us figure out how to connect the dots. And what we’ve arrived at is our goal: a really specific agenda as you start your research.


Final Projects, Part Two of Many: Nuts and Bolts

Here is the first batch of final project nuts and bolts:

  1. The final project must represent the same amount of work as a 12–15pp. paper. At minimum, it should comprise 4,000 words of writing. These 4,000 words need to belong to the same project, but they do not need to be a single piece of writing (i.e. eight 500 word posts will do).
  2. The final project must be complete by 8am on Tuesday, December 22nd.
  3. The final project must involve research of some kind. I expect both primary and secondary sources that are not on the class syllabus to be of some significance for you in your writing.
  4. You must have a clearly articulated research agenda—a question that orients your exploration. Your first attempts at this will almost certainly be too broad. I will help you narrow questions.
  5. In addition to the project itself, there will be a series of scaffolded blog posts that will guide you through a research process. (These will also be in addition to weekly blog posts.) These will be helpful, rather than busywork. I promise.
  6. The project itself can take many forms; this is part of what your project formulation will entail. The default format will be a blog: not the regular, weekly blog you’ve been posting on, but a second one, dedicated to the project itself.
  7. I hope you will consider group blogs among people who are working on resonant research projects. We can talk about methods of forming groups.
  8. Notionally, I was hoping to have people also present their final projects to the class. This, however, is not actually feasible with the number of students we have in the class. We will talk about alternative formats for talking and thinking together about other folks’ research.

Final Projects, Part One of Many: Meeting with Scott

As part of the final project process, you will all need to meet with me. Please sign up for a time using our little signup app. In this case, please do provide your phone number, just in case I am delayed, late, unable to be there, whatever. I will only use a phone as a last resort; otherwise I will use email. Please stay tuned for more final project details.

UPDATE: Please do not sign up for a slot less than 2 hours before it will take place. I would like to be able to schedule my life in a reasonable way.

Work for tomorrow

To my beloved students—

I said this in class, but for those of you who weren’t there (OMG, come to class!), I am cancelling all material due for tomorrow (Speculation and the commentary on it). I have overprogrammed this week, and we still need to get through Bogost, Jagoda, and Journey. Blog posts should be about that material.

Thanks for bearing with and keeping up.

Significant Post Guidelines

As people begin their significant posts (thanks to Hassan for going first), and pursuant to our class discussion on Tuesday (before the Woodward Ave. construction people so rudely ruined our day by causing a gas leak), here are the quasi-democratic significant post guidelines:

Unlike regular weekly blog posts, significant posts will be graded on the 10-point scale described on our grading page.

As always, I reserve a point for brilliance, to reward truly exceptional work. (This extra point take you from an A to an A+, a grade I cannot in fact give you for the semester. Do not trust fans of American football; extra points are not foregone conclusions.)

The remaining 9 points break down as follows, with 3 points to be assessed in each category not according to a specific tallying of sub-points, but rather in an overall assessment of performance, responding to the following criteria:

• Writing, style, and argument. Is the piece grammatically written? Is the punctuation correct? Are the mechanics working? Is the diction clear? Is the jargon substantially correct? Does the writer develop a humane voice? Is it enjoyable to read? Is the prose stylish? Does it pursue a clear agenda? Does it make points in a manner that is easy to follow? Does it make its points concisely? Does the writing have purpose beyond course requirements?

• Engagement and analysis. Does the piece explain the text (or selected parts of it) well? Is the scope of explanation narrow or specific enough? Does it develop a largely correct summary account of the piece (or selected parts of it)? Does the piece address questions, lacunae, problems, or failures to understand? Does it engage conversations that have been playing out on the blogs? Are the pingbacks substantial? Does it address the specifics of the texts and conversations? Does the piece pursue analysis of the text?

• Sophistication and creativity. Are the stakes clearly articulated? Does the post teach its readers something new? Are there surprises? Do the examples or anecdotes lead to new discoveries? Or, does the post lead us to new questions we didn’t know how to ask before? Is there an argument? Is it unexpected? Does it put the texts into new contexts? Does it transform our understanding of those contexts? Does the analysis lead to novel arguments about the text, or to new ways of reading it?

You’ll get a grade and comments on significant posts within 1-2 weeks of the post. I will offer comments along the above lines, according to these three categories. I will also give you a cumulative grade whenever I deliver such comments.

Reminder: Sign up for “Significant” Posts

This will serve as a reminder that you must sign up for “significant posts” by class time tomorrow. You may do so here. Undergraduates must sign up for two; MA students must sign up for three, one of which must be recommended for undergrads/required for MA students—the starred texts in the list.

As a brief reminder, significant posts will be no less than 1,000 words (approximately 3 pages), and are due by 1:30pm on the day the reading is due. Unlike regular weekly posts, I will accept late significant blog posts. (See more: Significant PostsGrades and Grading, and Missing & Late Work.)

As we discussed in class on Thursday, good blog posts are two things in particular: they address other students and anonymous other humans on the internet as a part of an ongoing conversation; and they are specific. (Remember: good bullshit is specific bullshit.) The most successful posts we have seen so far do one of a few different things: (1) they summarize, in a critical and clear manner, one or more points from the reading; (2) they ask good questions, often about things the author genuinely does not understand, that arise from close, careful reading of the text; or (3) they spin out some ideas from the reading in a different, highly specific, context.

And next week, we will get to the part where we design a rubric for ourselves.

Signing Up for “Significant” Posts

Please sign up for your two or three (undergrad/MA) “significant” posts by class time on Tuesday, September 22nd.

I have devised a wonderfully simple technological system for managing such signups here (by “devised,” I actually mean, “I downloaded and installed a WordPress plugin designed by somebody else to do exactly the thing we need; let’s hope it works).

Please review the entire schedule for the semester, and make your selections. They begin the week of affect, or on 9/29. Please be sure to refer to the significant post description. We will discuss, work out, and write down what constitutes good “significant posts” (and, well, blog posts in general) in class today and on Tuesday. (Although I already have some ideas.)

Questions for “What are Networks?: Matter”

Today in class, for the first time we will be using the “circles” technique for discussion. This entails splitting the class in half—half sitting in an inside circle, half sitting in an outside one—and conducting two different discussions. In each discussion, the inside circle addresses itself to a set of questions, and the outside circle listens to the discussion attentively. Halfway through the exercise, the groups switch.

To get us started today, I want to propose a few questions that the first inside circle might take up; it is up to them to determine. In the context of the reading:

• How are networks infrastructure? For whom are they infrastructure?
• How do networks transform relationships of space, time, and power?
• What is a network? What is the material basis of that network?
• What happens to cities when the networks they rely on, and often simply are, transform technologically? (We might begin by thinking with Noah about bus trackers.)