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Internet Studies/Information/Communication

Internet Studies/Information/Communication

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Benefits and Challenges for Learning and Assessment

Professional and amateur musicians alike use social media as a platform for showcasing and promoting their music. Social media evaluation practices—rating, ranking, voting, “liking,” and “friending” by ordinary users, peers, and critics—have become essential promotional tools for musicians. In this report, H. Cecilia Suhr examines one recent development in online music evaluation: the use of digital badges to aid in assessment and evaluation. Digital badges have emerged in recent years as a potential credentialing method in informal learning environments. Suhr explores online music communities’ use of digital badges as a reward for both casual music evaluators and musicians.

Suhr examines the intersection of evaluation and gamification in Spotify’s “Hit or Not” game, in which players assess a song’s hit potential and receive digital badges as rewards, and considers the implications of turning music evaluation into a game. She then explores in detail the development of peer and professional critics on Indaba Music, a cloud-based collaboration platform where musicians earn badges through participating in contests. Suhr considers the emerging challenges and shortcomings of contest-based virtual communities and the value of badges, as perceived by Indaba musicians. She investigates to what extent digital badges can effectively represent and credit musicians’ accomplishments and merits; describes the challenges, benefits, and shortcomings of digital badges as an evaluation mechanism; and compares the use of digital badges in assessing creativity to their use in learning and credentialing institutions.

Pirates, Protest, and Politics in FM Radio Activism

The United States ushered in a new era of small-scale broadcasting in 2000 when it began issuing low-power FM (LPFM) licenses for noncommercial radio stations around the country. Over the next decade, several hundred of these newly created low-wattage stations took to the airwaves. In Low Power to the People, Christina Dunbar-Hester describes the practices of an activist organization focused on LPFM during this era. Despite its origins as a pirate broadcasting collective, the group eventually shifted toward building and expanding regulatory access to new, licensed stations. These radio activists consciously cast radio as an alternative to digital utopianism, promoting an understanding of electronic media that emphasizes the local community rather than a global audience of Internet users.

Dunbar-Hester focuses on how these radio activists impute emancipatory politics to the “old” medium of radio technology by promoting the idea that “microradio” broadcasting holds the potential to empower ordinary people at the local community level. The group’s methods combine political advocacy with a rare commitment to hands-on technical work with radio hardware, although the activists’ hands-on, inclusive ethos was hampered by persistent issues of race, class, and gender.

Dunbar-Hester’s study of activism around an “old” medium offers broader lessons about how political beliefs are expressed through engagement with specific technologies. It also offers insight into contemporary issues in media policy that is particularly timely as the FCC issues a new round of LPFM licenses.

Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement

For decades, social movements vied for attention from the mainstream mass media—newspapers, radio, and television. Today, some say that social media power social movements, from Iran’s so-called “Twitter revolution” to the supposed beginnings of the Egyptian revolution on a Facebook page. Yet, as Sasha Costanza-Chock reports, activists and organizers agree that social media enhances, rather than replaces, face-to-face organizing. The revolution will be tweeted, but tweets alone do not the revolution make. In Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! Costanza-Chock traces a broader social movement media ecology. Through a richly detailed account of daily media practices in the immigrant rights movement, he argues that social movements engage in transmedia organizing. Despite the current spotlight on digital media, he finds, social movement media practices tend to be cross-platform, participatory, and linked to action. Immigrant rights organizers leverage social media creatively, alongside a range of tools from posters and street theater to Spanish-language radio, print, and television.

Drawing on extensive interviews, workshops, and media organizing projects, Costanza-Chock presents case studies of transmedia organizing in the immigrant rights movement between 2006 and 2012. Chapters focus on the mass protests against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill; coverage of police brutality against peaceful activists; efforts to widen access to digital media tools and skills for low-wage immigrant workers; paths to participation in DREAM activism; and the implications of professionalism for transmedia organizing. These cases show us how transmedia organizing helps strengthen movement identity, win political and economic victories, and transform broader consciousness.

Music Videos and Creative Literacy

Music videos were once something broadcast by MTV and received on our TV screens. Today, music videos are searched for, downloaded, and viewed on our computer screens—or produced in our living rooms and uploaded to social media. In We Used to Wait, Rebecca Kinskey examines this shift. She investigates music video as a form, originally a product created by professionals to be consumed by nonprofessionals; as a practice, increasingly taken up by amateurs; and as a literacy, to be experimented with and mastered.

Kinskey offers a short history of the music video as a communicative, cultural form, describing the rise and fall of MTV’s Total Request Live and the music video’s resurgence on YouTube. She examines recent shifts in viewing and production practice, tracing the trajectory of music video director Hiro Murai from film student and dedicated amateur in the 1990s to music video professional in the 2000s. Investigating music video as a literacy, she looks at OMG! Cameras Everywhere, a nonprofit filmmaking summer camp run by a group of young music video directors. The OMG! campers and counselors provide a case study in how cultural producers across several generations have blurred the line between professional and amateur. Their everyday practices remake the notion of literacy, not only by their collaborative and often informal efforts to impart and achieve literacy but also by expanding the definition of what is considered a valuable activity, worthy of dedicated, pleasurable pursuit.

The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and Data

In this book, Ronald Day offers a critical history of the modern tradition of documentation. Focusing on the documentary index (understood as a mode of social positioning), and drawing on the work of the French documentalist Suzanne Briet, Day explores the understanding and uses of indexicality. He examines the transition as indexes went from being explicit professional structures that mediated users and documents to being implicit infrastructural devices used in everyday information and communication acts. Doing so, he also traces three epistemic eras in the representation of individuals and groups, first in the forms of documents, then information, then data.

Day investigates five cases from the modern tradition of documentation. He considers the socio-technical instrumentalism of Paul Otlet, “the father of European documentation” (contrasting it to the hermeneutic perspective of Martin Heidegger); the shift from documentation to information science and the accompanying transformation of persons and texts into users and information; social media’s use of algorithms, further subsuming persons and texts; attempts to build android robotsto embody human agency within an information system that resembles a human being; and social “big data” as a technique of neoliberal governance that employs indexing and analytics for purposes of surveillance. Finally, Day considers the status of critique and judgment at a time when people and their rights of judgment are increasingly mediated, displaced, and replaced by modern documentary techniques.

The New York Times declared 2012 to be “The Year of the MOOC” as millions of students enrolled in massive open online courses (known as MOOCs), millions of investment dollars flowed to the companies making them, and the media declared MOOCs to be earth-shaking game-changers in higher education. During the inevitable backlash that followed, critics highlighted MOOCs’ high dropout rate, the low chance of earning back initial investments, and the potential for any earth-shaking game change to make things worse instead of better. In this volume in the Essential Knowledge series, Jonathan Haber offers an account of MOOCs that avoids both hype and doomsaying. Instead, he provides an engaging, straightforward explanation of a rare phenomenon: an education innovation that captures the imagination of the public while moving at the speed of an Internet startup.

Haber explains the origins of MOOCs, what they consist of, the controversies surrounding them, and their possible future role in education. He proposes a new definition of MOOCs based on the culture of experimentation from which they emerged, and adds a student perspective—missing in most MOOC discussion. Haber’s unique Degree of Freedom experiment, during which he attempted to learn the equivalent of a four-year liberal arts degree in one year using only MOOCs and other forms of free education, informs his discussion.

Haber urges us to avoid the fallacy of thinking that because MOOCs cannot solve all educational challenges they are not worth pursuing, and he helps us understand what MOOCs—despite their limitations—still offer the world. His book is required reading for anyone trying to sort out the competing claims, aspirations, and accusations that color the MOOC debate.

Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap

Fresh from a party, a teen posts a photo on Facebook of a friend drinking a beer. A college student repurposes an article from Wikipedia for a paper. A group of players in a multiplayer online game routinely cheat new players by selling them worthless virtual accessories for high prices. In Disconnected, Carrie James examines how young people and the adults in their lives think about these sorts of online dilemmas, describing ethical blind spots and disconnects.

Drawing on extensive interviews with young people between the ages of 10 and 25, James describes the nature of their thinking about privacy, property, and participation online. She identifies three ways that young people approach online activities. A teen might practice self-focused thinking, concerned mostly about consequences for herself; moral thinking, concerned about the consequences for people he knows; or ethical thinking, concerned about unknown individuals and larger communities. James finds, among other things, that youth are often blind to moral or ethical concerns about privacy; that attitudes toward property range from “what’s theirs is theirs” to “free for all”; that hostile speech can be met with a belief that online content is “just a joke”; and that adults who are consulted about such dilemmas often emphasize personal safety issues over online ethics and citizenship.

Considering ways to address the digital ethics gap, James offers a vision of conscientious connectivity, which involves ethical thinking skills but, perhaps more important, is marked by sensitivity to the dilemmas posed by online life, a motivation to wrestle with them, and a sense of moral agency that supports socially positive online actions.

Information, E-Government, and Exchange

The computer systems of government agencies are notoriously complex. New technologies are piled on older technologies, creating layers that call to mind an archaeological dig. Obsolete programming languages and closed mainframe designs offer barriers to integration with other agency systems. Worldwide, these unwieldy systems waste billions of dollars, keep citizens from receiving services, and even—as seen in interoperability failures on 9/11 and during Hurricane Katrina—cost lives. In this book, Alon Peled offers a groundbreaking approach for enabling information sharing among public sector agencies: using selective incentives to “nudge” agencies to exchange information assets. Peled proposes the establishment of a Public Sector Information Exchange (PSIE), through which agencies would trade information.

After describing public sector information sharing failures and the advantages of incentivized sharing, Peled examines the U.S. Open Data program, and the gap between its rhetoric and results. He offers examples of creative public sector information sharing in the United States, Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Iceland. Peled argues that information is a contested commodity, and draws lessons from the trade histories of other contested commodities—including cadavers for anatomical dissection in nineteenth-century Britain. He explains how agencies can exchange information as a contested commodity through a PSIE program tailored to an individual country’s needs, and he describes the legal, economic, and technical foundations of such a program. Touching on issues from data ownership to freedom of information, Peled offers pragmatic advice to politicians, bureaucrats, technologists, and citizens for revitalizing critical information flows.

Building the Interactive Web

Adobe Flash began as a simple animation tool and grew into a multimedia platform that offered a generation of creators and innovators an astonishing range of opportunities to develop and distribute new kinds of digital content. For the better part of a decade, Flash was the de facto standard for dynamic online media, empowering amateur and professional developers to shape the future of the interactive Web. In this book, Anastasia Salter and John Murray trace the evolution of Flash into one of the engines of participatory culture.

Salter and Murray investigate Flash as both a fundamental force that shaped perceptions of the web and a key technology that enabled innovative interactive experiences and new forms of gaming. They examine a series of works that exemplify Flash’s role in shaping the experience and expectations of web multimedia. Topics include Flash as a platform for developing animation (and the “Flashimation” aesthetic); its capacities for scripting and interactive design; games and genres enabled by the reconstruction of the browser as a games portal; forms and genres of media art that use Flash; and Flash’s stance on openness and standards--including its platform-defining battle over the ability to participate in Apple’s own proprietary platforms.

Flash’s exit from the mobile environment in 2011 led some to declare that Flash was dead. But, as Salter and Murray show, not only does Flash live, but its role as a definitive cross-platform tool continues to influence web experience.

How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age

Feature films, television shows, homemade videos, tweets, blogs, and breaking news: digital media offer an always-accessible, apparently inexhaustible supply of entertainment and information. Although choices seems endless, public attention is not. How do digital media find the audiences they need in an era of infinite choice? In The Marketplace of Attention, James Webster explains how audiences take shape in the digital age.

Webster describes the factors that create audiences, including the preferences and habits of media users, the role of social networks, the resources and strategies of media providers, and the growing impact of media measures—from ratings to user recommendations. He incorporates these factors into one comprehensive framework: the marketplace of attention. In doing so, he shows that the marketplace works in ways that belie our greatest hopes and fears about digital media.

Some observers claim that digital media empower a new participatory culture; others fear that digital media encourage users to retreat to isolated enclaves. Webster shows that public attention is at once diverse and concentrated—that users move across a variety of outlets, producing high levels of audience overlap. So although audiences are fragmented in ways that would astonish midcentury broadcasting executives, Webster argues that this doesn’t signal polarization. He questions whether our preferences are immune from media influence, and he describes how our encounters with media might change our tastes. In the digital era’s marketplace of attention, Webster claims, we typically encounter ideas that cut across our predispositions. In the process, we will remake the marketplace of ideas and reshape the twenty-first century public sphere.

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