Krause's 2012 CCCC Presentation

Here is a video version of my 2012 CCCC Presentation,  "Amateur Auteurs:  The Problems of Teaching and Assessing Multimedia in Writing Classes Amateur Auteurs: The Challenge of Producing and Publishing Multimedia Scholarship in Writing Studies."

YouTube Video


Also, here's the "script" of my talk:

            Amateur Auteurs:  The Problems of Teaching and Assessing Multimedia in Writing Classes Amateur Auteurs: The Challenge of Producing and Publishing Multimedia Scholarship in Writing Studies

 

 

When I proposed this presentation last year, I intended to discuss the problems of taking student produced videos in our writing classes as seriously as the words in a row writing we all know so well.  For while I think most contemporary writing teachers think that including multimedia in writing classes at a variety of levels is a good idea (and I think it’s a good idea too), multimedia projects tend to be secondary to the quote unquote real writing, they are usually jokes, and they are very frequently not very good.  Thus the alliteration-heavy “Amateur Auteur.”  

But a couple things happened shortly after I had my proposal accepted.  First, it occurred to me that what I was intending to present was impossible, or at least unethical.  How do I stand up here and show a bunch of student work, pointing out how bad and ridiculous it is in different ways?  Not something that would get approved by my institution’s IRB process, I hope.  Second, I had my own experiences last year trying to publish a scholarly video project that I thought would be more interesting to talk about, and in a way, it’s at least as fitting.  Like our students, I think the great majority of us in composition studies are amateur auteurs at best when it comes to video projects, and, as is the case with our teaching, we’re still trying to figure out how this stuff is going to work in our scholarship.  So, a slightly new title and focus, “Amateur Auteurs: The Challenge of Producing and Publishing Multimedia Scholarship in Writing Studies.”  I do still think this reflects on teaching too, as we’ll see.

In brief, I am arguing that despite the theoretical arguments about multimedia, that it too is writing, and despite the increased desire to see multimedia as a part of the scholarship in writing— and by multimedia, I mean generally writing that incorporates images, sound, interaction, moving pictures, and so forth, though for the purposes of my presentation, I really mean video— despite the quest for work in digital humanities and despite the new journals and projects publishing multimedia scholarship, despite all this, I don’t think we’re there yet, and I doubt we really will get there or should get there.  In contrast to our abilities as writing professionals, we are all multimedia amateurs, dabblers and improvisers borrowing from a few web sites for advice and throwing our work against walls to see if it will stick.  And because we’re first and foremost words in a row writers, maybe that’s the way it should be.

The movie I made with three graduate student collaborators was called “Video in [Re]View:  Teaching/Learning Writing through Multimodal Performance in an Online Graduate Seminar,” and we made it in response to the call for the first issue of the CCCOnline, which is a special issue on performance in writing.  The movie was about an assignment I give in a graduate level class at EMU where I ask students to make 10 minute or so videos where they review a book relevant to the class.  My idea is that this both introduces students to independently reading and reviewing scholarly material and it forces them to learn the basics of making a simple video with iMovie or Movie Maker and uploading it to YouTube.

To make our documentary, my graduate student collaborators joined me in interview discussions where we talked about their videos individually and then collectively— in effect, it was an attempt at a documentary-styled performance about performance.  The whole thing is about 20 minutes long and is still available to the curious on this web site, but just to give a sense of what I’m talking about here, let me show a clip that samples some different aspects of the movie.  I think it is actually a more unified story than the choppiness of this might suggest, but I wanted to share some footage that gives you a sense of the whole piece.  It starts out with some parts of the student videos and our conversations about their performance; there is a brief section that is an example of many sections throughout the video where one student is reflecting on her process; there is a discussion between all of us in a brewpub; and I finish with another kind of segment that ran throughout the video, a sort of dialog between myself and my student collaborators.

Watch some movie

Our goal was to make a movie that stood in and of itself:  that is, this movie was not intended to be a part of some submission we made to the CCCOnline, but rather, it was the whole thing.

Now, my collaborators and I ultimately withdrew our submission to the CCCOnline because of concerns we had about the logistics of hosting the project and creative commons licensing, some issues that are not at all the fault of Bump Halibreter, Jenn Fishman, and the fine folks who have had their work featured in this rebirth of the CCCOnline.  These problems make visible what I see as the NCTE’s (and let me underscore again not Bump and Jenn) less than charitable view on open source publishing practices and less than enlightened ideas about how to sustain internet-based publications.  But these issues aren’t my topic for today.  The anonymous reviewers from the CCCOnline were split on our piece, one saying revise and resubmit, and another saying reject.  After our CCCOnline experience, I submitted the movie as is to another online journal for their consideration, and they too declined publishing.

So, the process with this project—along with those of my students who make videos and such—has prompted me to start rethinking and reconsidering some of the dilemmas and limitations of multimedia as scholarship in composition and rhetoric.  For example, one of the criticisms I received for our video is that it is too much “talking heads.”  This is true, but this is in line with the genre of the documentary, and besides, the subject-matter of our field—writing and rhetoric—does not exactly lend itself to a lot of action sequences.  Another problem we bumped up against was the call for some sort of textual framing of the piece—in other words, one of the revision suggestions was we need some words to explain our movie, even though our intention from the beginning was to do the exactly opposite of that, make a movie that could stand on its own as a movie.  But the more I thought about it, the more problems I saw with our intentions.  For starters, just about all of the video work in writing studies I know well is actually a lot of words.  For example, think of Daniel Anderson and colleague’s work in “This is what We Did in Our Class:”  interesting and smart stuff for sure that is presented as video and audio, but what is videoed here is in fact mostly words.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Walter Ong probably had it right all along when he argued that one of the powers of literacy is its ability to make scholarship itself possible.  Disciplines like music, dance, and film produce their scholarly texts with words in a row; why would scholarship about writing be any different?

If I turn this talk into a full-blown essay, I’ll definitely want to go more deeply into those issues.  But for the rest of my talk, I want to return to this idea of the “amateur auteur” and how our amateur filmmaking fits with our professionalism with our words in a row writing.

The reason this is worth talking about at all is anyone can make a movie nowadays, as is evident with our students’ productions, our productions, as is evident with most of YouTube.   However— and this is also evident with our students’ productions and with YouTube, not to mention my own movie— this does not mean we are automatically capable of making movies that actually look like movies— that is, real and honest-to-goodness, professional, corporate movies with the quote unquote production values of quality images, sounds, pacing, and effects that distinguish the amateur from the professional— or is it the other way around? 

The dichotomy between professional and amateur is at the heart of the problem Alexandra Juhasz has with YouTube as she has written about it in a number of contexts, including the video book Learning From YouTube.  Juhasz is a professional filmmaker and a professor of media studies at Pitzer College who gained national attention for teaching a class about YouTube within the confines of YouTube.

In brief, she argues there are two kinds of video on YouTube:  first there is “bad video,” which is made by amateurs about mundane life events.  Bad video is “unedited and reliant on word or spectacle, and they accrue value through the suffering, talent, or humor of the individual.”  In contrast, there’s “corporate video,” which is made by professionals in the name of making money.  “These videos express ideas about the products of dominant culture, in the music-driven, quickly-edited, glossy, slogan-like vernacular of music videos, commercials, and comics. They consolidate ideas into icons; meaning is lost to feeling.”  For Juhasz, these two kinds of video play off of each other and they make YouTube into a kind of cultural hegemonic rarifying machine.  She argues “YouTube could be a radical development in media history because the video production of real people holds down half of the medium's vernacular. However, by reifying the distinctions between the amateur and the professional, the personal and the social, in both form and content, YouTube maintains (not democratizes) operating distinctions about who owns culture seriously. YouTube is thought of as a joke: a place for jokes, a place for regular people whose role and interests must also be a joke.”

I have several problems Juhasz’s arguments.  For starters, it has a curious form of elitism that is sometimes the unintended byproduct of leftist, progressive critiques.  Second, her distinction of the amateur and the professional starts to collapse pretty rapidly when we consider the number of movies that have been professionally made in recent years with the intent of looking amateurish, and the number of amateur productions on YouTube and elsewhere that have become professional.  The hilarious and infamous “David after dentist” has reportedly earned David’s father and family around $100,000 in ad revenue from YouTube and who knows how much from his web based store.

But even though she fails in my view to make a clear case between the amateur/bad and professional/corporate video, I see her point, and I think it is analogous to the problem our field has with defining what it wants in its multimedia scholarship.

In the case of my video, both reviewers for the CCC Online issue got the general point of our “performance about performance” and thought we made a good and fitting argument for the issue.  One reviewer said “do not publish” and the other said “revise and resubmit,” and both suggested revisions that ranged from easy (such as changing the speed of the text rolling by) to impossible (such as reshooting scenes from the movie).  And both flagged as problematic the bad production qualities, such as the scene where all of us are sitting around and talking in a local brewpub.

But I think this call for better, professional-quality video is problematic in a number of ways.  First, while “revise and resubmit” is a reasonable enough request on authors when that means fleshing out an idea with a bit more research, adding a paragraph here and taking one away there, that isn’t easy with video in general and not possible with live interview footage.  Second and probably more important, none of the venues publishing video work as scholarship have any meaningful guidelines on the production standards for producing video in the first place.  The CCC Online’s “Online Submission Guidelines” only say “audio-visual webtexts do not have typical word counts or page lengths,” and then they go on to give great detail about words-in-a-row webtext submissions. Enculturation offers instructions on how to submit word files or “media,” but that’s about it.  Kairos describes “What We’re Looking For” and “What We’re Not Looking For,” and they do offer some examples.  But ultimately, their examples break down to “good stuff” versus “bad stuff,” which is not a particularly useful guidance for planning and composing a video.

Now, I’m not going to argue that the movie my collaborators and I made should have been warmly received and published as it was delivered.  I honestly don’t know if it’s any good myself, which is the first mark of the amateur versus the professional: as an academic and professional writer, I know when I think a piece of words in a row writing is good or not and, based on professional experiences and reputation, I’m willing and able to make a claim.   I have experience, knowledge, and ethos.  As video making amateur, I have neither of these things.  I enthusiastically dabble and I admire or scorn specific elements of my results, but I very specifically do not know what I’m doing and I do not have the right to take my work here too seriously.

So along with the problems of multimedia scholarship I mentioned earlier—that of the subject matter doesn’t easily lend itself to exciting video representation and the necessity of words to take priority over audio-video representations in order to make scholarship in the first place—I think this professional/amateur dichotomy presents a challenge to those of us who want to take multimedia work in writing studies seriously.  On the one hand, it would make sense for journals interested in publishing multimedia work to lay out clear and professional guidelines for audio and video submissions.  On the other hand, if the guidelines were more specific and professionally demanding— that is asking for multi-camera shoots with video only shot with high definition equipment, appropriate lighting, clean sound, etc.— then there would certainly be a lot fewer multimedia submissions.  And again, along with all this, I think we need to be more serious and realistic about the role of video, audio, and the like in relation to our more traditional sense of writing. I didn’t think this was the case when I started my project, but it seems very clear to me now that our scholarly work on writing can be supplemented and enhanced by images and sounds, but these things cannot replace our words in rows. I don’t have an answer to this, but I’m interested in thinking and talking more about it; in the meantime, when it comes to my own work and my students’ work, I think I will do my best to celebrate and enjoy my amateur standing.