Category Archives: background

Age doesn’t matter. Except when it does.

“Those rules aren’t real.”
(from Regina George, in sweatpants on a Monday, commenting on the Plastics’ rule that you can’t wear sweatpants on Monday. She was not allowed to sit with the Plastics.)

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls. And Regina George’s comment about rules is right on. “Rules” are often social constructions, agreed-upon guidelines, used to help people make decisions and belong to a community with shared values and clear expectations. Yada yada yada.

And then, on days when the rules don’t work because the sweatpants are the only things that fit, you say, “Those rules aren’t real.” Because they aren’t real. They’re made up.

But then the other members of the community won’t let you sit at the lunch table with them, and you wonder: “Are the rules real after all?”

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***

The other day, I was talking with a science teacher friend of mine and he was talking about race not being real. It’s a construction, and we pretend that there are these hard and fast lines between one race and another, but really any particular trait (skin color, hair texture, and so forth) exists on a continuum. We just go along placing people in categories as if the categories are real, even though they’re not.

And that’s how places work, too. I travel from Pennsylvania to New York to Connecticut, and it’s arbitrary where one state is divided from another. Sometimes a river or other landmark is used as the dividing point, but often the highway moves from one state to the next, and the only way I know I’ve changed states is by the sign on the side of the road. It’s an artificial division, not a real one.

But, of course, all of these divisions are real. They are real in the sense that they have real effects. Divisions and rules that are more-or-less agreed upon in a community may sometimes be overlooked, may sometimes be negligible in their effects, may sometimes be blurred so regularly as to be meaningless.

More often, however, divisions and rules affect us. And they often come to seem natural rather than artificial because we are so used to the divisions and rules and their effects.

It only makes sense that we don’t wear sweatpants on Monday! And we wear pink on Wednesdays. That’s how it has always been!
(isn’t it??)

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***

I’ve been trying to find recent stats about the ages of audiences on YouTube. I found that 80% of YouTube traffic is from outside the U.S. I found that 18-34 year olds spend more time on YouTube than on any cable channel.

Aaargh, I thought. What am I doing playing on YouTube??? And why won’t my students or kids take on the job when it would be so much easier for them to build an audience?? Why am I trying to show them what’s possible?? I am  TOO OLD.

And then I stumbled upon this site. Well, actually I googled “YouTube age demographics” and found it. And it shows that YouTube is also for older people. Like me!

Okay, so that solves one age problem. YouTube viewers are people of all ages, so people who are my age may like seeing someone from their generation act like a goofball online.

The next problem? My behavior may not seem appropriate for a 45-year old. Especially when I’m pretending to be a young girl like Katniss Everdeen or Ophelia from Hamlet (that latter vid will be released soon!).

In the scripts for these vids, we added lines that directly acknowledge age issues. Katniss has had a hard life. And Ophelia has done a lot of drugs. Forgive them for looking 45!

But I’m sure it will still annoy people. In my How To channel, I sometimes dressed in ways that matched the theme. When I danced like Peanuts characters, I dressed sorta like a Peanuts character. When I did a bubble-gum bubble-blowing lesson, I dressed like a kid. I did kid-like things with my hair for both of those videos. And those choices annoyed several people enough that they decided to comment on it. (Sometimes in the past I deleted mean comments that were posted to my vids, so you may have to trust me that several people made such comments. I wouldn’t make it up. Really. I promise.)

My point? My point is that many of us regularly go around saying that age doesn’t matter. But we act like age matters on a regular basis, whether by making choices about what we will or will not do because it’s easier to follow the “rules,” or by judging people who don’t follow the “rules”—even if the rules are stupid and tell us that we can’t wear sweat pants on Monday.

The unspoken rules about YouTube and age that are regularly policed through viewer comments?
1) You have less right to be on YouTube if you are a female older than iJustine. (I’m less familiar with the male guidelines, but John Green may be the cut-off.)
2) If you are going to be on YouTube, you’d better behave in age-appropriate ways. (And somehow we are all supposed to agree about what is age-appropriate, right?)

But somehow, I’m channeling my Regina George—the Regina George who is too fat to wear anything but sweatpants. Because that is my favorite Regina George! And I’m not acting my age, and I’m risking rude comments, and I’m probably embarrassing my kids.

But I’m hoping that in defying the rules, we reveal their artificiality. And maybe we stretch the rules in ways that include and open instead of excluding and closing. And maybe we end the day with Captain Jack Sparrow who insists that the Pirates’ Code is more of a guideline, really.

Captain-Jack-Sparrow-3-captain-jack-sparrow-5720622-700-348

stage FRIGHT…and beyond ;)

At the end of kindergarten, I was supposed to go on stage in the cafeteria/auditorium with the rest of the kindergarten kids and perform for the whole elementary school. I cried that morning. My mom asked me why, and I told her I didn’t want to do it, and she didn’t make me. I stayed home, relieved.

Part of me wondered what I missed on that day, but I did not regret missing that stage performance. I still don’t.

When I was a little older, maybe in third grade, I performed for the rest of the school on that same stage. This time, I danced the hora with my class. I think I was wearing green corduroys. I was good at the hora, but I hated the fact that everyone was watching me as I circled around, facing away from the crowd so that they could see my backside but I couldn’t see them. Afterward, a neighbor girl who was a grade above me told me that her classmate said I looked fat. Or something like that. I thought a lot about the remark at the time, but the particulars have faded now.

I was in a talent show in sixth grade. I did a terrible job, and I knew it. Let’s not revisit that.

In between, I was probably on stage a handful of times with the whole class, playing a flutophone or singing holiday songs or whatever, and it was all good. I blended in, which was my goal.

In high school, I did make-up for the theater kids. I loved doing make-up—using thick creamy sticks of foundation, knowing where to apply the rouge, drawing lines to make teenagers look old. But I was never on stage.

I was a rather shy person, and I still am, sometimes. Everyone knew I was shy back then. Now, hardly anyone would guess it.

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I was actually just talking about shyness at a conference I attended. I didn’t have a go-to person with me, a person who knew me well, so in order to be at all sociable, I had to reach out. And people are generally friendly, so it all worked out well. I spent a lot of time laughing and a good bit of time learning, which both seem important at a conference.

But the things I’ve been doing with WinkyFace videos go way beyond reaching out to other scholars. I actually have no idea who will end up seeing some of our footage, though I know it’s likely that many viewers will be less friendly than my conference community.  And the things I’ve been doing have no room for shyness.

But, you know what? Acting crazy on camera has been fun.

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At this point, I have been in several WinkyFace vids as parodied versions of myself. And I’ve played fictional characters in three WinkyFace videos: Katniss, Dracula, and Ophelia. It’s been pretty goofy.

After editing one of the parody vids, Lindsey said, “I think we should act even more over the top in future shoots.” Okay! Good times!

For the fictional characters: I love dressing up in costumes and doing my make-up with the character’s style in mind. I love thinking about how the characters might talk and behave if they were to come to life. I love saying outrageous, ridiculous, and even slightly offensive things…with none of it being from me at all.

The only thing I have been paranoid about is my age, especially when portraying teen girls. I’m familiar with the expectation that women of a certain age should, well, act that certain age. And it’s not easy to change that expectation, so, instead, we made sure Katniss and Ophelia had a chance to comment on their aged appearance. (I won’t give away their rationales for looking a bit older, but I think they’re pretty good!)

Yup, I’m 45. And I’m acting 15. But with way less shyness than when I was actually 15!

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Novice, learner, expert—oh my!

I’ve been reading about expertise.

Let me back up a moment. Lindsey and I began brainstorming to write an article about teachers (us!) who model lifelong learning. In a shift away from the MOOC culture of putting the Sage on the (computer screen) Stage to share wisdom with the masses, we’re interested in teachers who are not sages but who instead model self-directed learning for their students.

What happens when students see teachers not as experts but as novices?

We are hoping good things happen!

And, so far, my reading about expertise has shown that we may be onto something. It turns out that experts are often so good at what they do that a lot of the process they use when applying their knowledge becomes automatic and intuitive, so the experts have difficulty explaining their process to others. Experts may even misrepresent their actual processes so that the students get all mixed-up and misled. Yikes.

Here’s an example. When I was about 19 or 20, I had never cooked chicken, and I never paid attention when anyone else was cooking it. One evening I was babysitting and was told to sauté some chicken in olive oil in a frying pan. I had no idea how to follow these simple instructions.

I ended up putting too much oil in the pan, and when I realized it was too much, I drained some into the sink. Unfortunately, the oil was piping hot at the time, and it spattered everywhere. I had burns from the spattering, and the oil sprayed onto the window screen behind the sink in a way that was unbelievably messy. (It stayed like that for several weeks, until I was babysitting again and had the presence of mind to clean up that messy screen, no matter what it took.)

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My point? If I had seen a cook with just a bit more experience than me sauté that chicken, I would’ve been privy to all the steps as that cook applied previous experience to the task: “I’ve never cooked chicken this way, but I know that the word sauté means…” “When oil is hot, it spatters…” etc.

Instead, I received directions from a cook who was so used to sautéing chicken that explicit directions…well, they were never even considered until things went awry. Sautéing chicken was an automatic task for a 40-year old. Not so much for me. (And Google and YouTube didn’t exist back then in case  you’re wondering why I didn’t just take out my phone to look up how to sauté chicken.)

I don’t have burn scars, in case you’re feeling worried about me or about the potential negative effects experts can have on learners. So let’s not get extreme or melodramatic or anything.

Furthermore, I don’t think Lindsey and I are complete novices in any way. However, we are definitely in the process of learning, and because we are collaborating and we hail from different disciplines, we regularly make our thinking explicit. And that part of being non-expert is important and awesome. I’ve already learned a lot from Lindsey, and I know I have a long way to go.

In the upcoming weeks, we are going to be working with two students, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping they, like Lindsey, bring their past experiences into conversation with these new situations in ways that I can learn from. Really, I hope that all four us end up learning and growing in conversation with one another.

Then, in the future, as Lindsey and I gain more experience, we will end up teaching courses that guide students through their own projects. That’s the most typical model for classroom teaching in higher ed right now, I’d say. Or it should be. Lecture halls have their place, but I don’t think they should be the main attraction.

sage on the stage model

sage-on-the-stage model

guide on the side model

guide-on-the-side model

It’s weird to think about expertise as something that can cripple rather than enable a teacher. I don’t think that is always or is necessarily the case, actually. But, at the same time, it’s helpful to know that undergoing the process of learning with students is nothing to be afraid of. Learning may ultimately be the best thing a teacher can do.

Maybe that is cliche or overly simplistic, but there’s something to it, yes? What’s your opinion? How much expertise does a good teacher need to have? And how is that expertise translated to students?

Looking forward to thinking more about it!

–Laurie 😉

Brainstorming set design

Lindsey and I met a few days ago and figured out staging for the first 8 (eight!) videos we’ll be shooting. I’m not giving away any secrets! 

But I will share some of the inspirations we considered for four of the videos–the ones titled Between the Lines, which are interviews with literary/fictional characters.  We actually had lots of styles to choose from because celebrity interviews are a mainstay of talk shows and comedy sketches….

Style #1
The host-at-the-elevated-desk-and-guest-in-a-chair-with-coffee-mug-accent:

AND a snazzy backdrop

AND a snazzy backdrop

This one is classic late-night. Not only Dave, but also Johnny, Jay, Conan, Pat (Sajak! from Wheel of Fortune. Yes, he did have a late-nigth talk show back in the day. Crazy.), Jimmy, Jimmy (I completely get those two mixed up. Brown hair. Similar names. Completely confusing), etc.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s also classic male? classic white male? Yup. Because Chelsea and Arsenio have used the Ellen-style (see below) for their late-night talk shows, and neither one is a white man. Will Lindsey and I break the gender barrier? or will we leave the white men to their elevated desks?

Style #2
The tall-bar-chairs-and-again-with-the-coffee-mug-and-the-snazzy-backdrop style:

The mug is next to Michael in case you're having trouble spotting it.

The mug is next to Michael in case you’re having trouble spotting it.

Kelly and Michael may be unique in using this style. I love that they’ve brought bar stools into the morning talk show, though it would’ve really been something if they were drinking from beer mugs and shot glasses.

*Spoiler alert* We will not be using this set-up. It seems too dangerous. Such a long way to fall! And very difficult to reach the beverage without losing balance.

Style #3
The comfy-chairs-because-we’re-just-friends-hanging-out-and-chatting-with-nature-in-the-background style:

Isn't it weird that the hosts are on the right side in all of these styles???

Isn’t it weird that the hosts are on the right side in all of these styles???

This is the style Arsenio and Chelsea use, too, but with slightly different looks in each case. And I don’t know if Chelsea or Arsenio use mugs. I don’t actually watch TV. But I used to. Maybe you could tell that already?

Will Lindsey and I follow some contemporary look that is completely unfamiliar to me? Will I ever have abs that look like Justin Bieber’s? 

Style #4
The host-sits-on-the-left style:

Pretty risky. Looks like it's also crazy in going beyond the traditional coffee mug. And what's up with the lack of backdrop? Super-edgy. Whoa.

Pretty risky. Looks like it’s also crazy in going beyond the traditional coffee mug. And what’s up with the lack of backdrop? Super-edgy. Whoa.

This style is similar to the let’s-pretend-this-celebrity-interview-is-serious-news approach used regularly by Barbara Walters and morning talk show hosts like Matt Lauer. No flash or flare or glitter! This interview is all business! But we can still all share a warm chuckle, or we may just wipe a tear if that emotional chord is struck.

Will the interviewer (aka Lindsey) sit on the left or the right? We actually didn’t discuss this factor yet. We might just sit suddenly and end up where we end up. That seems simpler than figuring out pros and cons, though sitting suddenly could lead to us crashing into each other and getting hurt.

Style #5
And, last but not least, the inimitable Chris-Farley style:

No words.

No words.

You’ll have to wait and see what Linds and I have decided to do. In the meantime, tell us your ideas. If you were to do mock interviews to put a fun spin on book characters, how would you design the set?

Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

–Laurie 😉

YouTubing while female

Two people recently shared this video with me featuring Emily from “thebrainscoop.” She explains what a drag it is for women to deal with sexism and a focus on their bodies when they appear in YouTube videos, no matter how professional the content of the videos may be.  (Thank you for that link, Amanda and Noelle!).

And here’s a bit of my experience with comments posted on my “How To” vids, with a sense of what we lose when behavior is sucky.

I can’t tackle all the ins and outs of free speech and internet civility (and lack thereof) in one post, so I’m gonna focus on women because I am one and because I’ve done a bit of research (with Lindsey!) on gender dynamics on YouTube.

(Note: My focus here is not meant to discount the MANY non-gendered negative experiences people have had on YouTube and other online spaces. Bullying is not fun for anyone of any gender.)

And I’m gonna say this from experience:

There is no good way for a female vlogger
to handle YouTube comments.

Here are the options.

1) Disallow comments. That way no one can say anything mean or sexist or inappropriate!

The problem:
No one can say anything at all with this approach. If viewers cannot post comments to vids, the “social” part of social networking is severely inhibited, and it is way tougher to build an audience. We want to hear from viewers!

2) Screen comments.That way the mean or sexist or inappropriate comments are not public!

The problem:
a) Time. I currently do this option for some of the vids on my Laurie-Mac’s-How-To channel ; it’s an extra step, and it would be impossible if I received a great number of comments.
b) I still need to view the mean or sexist or inappropriate comments, which is usually NOT a good time.

3) Allow comments & delete anything offensive as you happen to notice it. See #2. (Yeah, that’s right: #2 = a poopy option! and so is this one.)

4) Respond to offensive comments. Talk back! Teach people how to behave. Everyone wins.

I tried this. Once. In response to a comment that was rather mild, so I thought I’d be dealing with a rational human being. Here’s how it went.

COMMENT from STEVEN METZGER on one of my How To vids: “I bet she was hot like 20 years ago!”

PERSONAL MESSAGE from ME to steven metzger: “You left a comment on my ‘How to do the Sprinkler Dance’ video that was rude and inappropriate. YouTube Community Guidelines explain that if you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face in real life, you shouldn’t be posting it on the YouTube site. I’m sure you wouldn’t tell me (or anyone) in person that I was probably hot when I was younger. It is just as cruel when you post it on my video page.”

REPLY from STEVEN METZGER to me: “I only made a comment saying I bet you were hot like 20 years ago. That is not rude or cruel. If that in your mind as rude or cruel you shouldn’t be on a computer if things easily offend you. I would take it as a compliment, you were probably very hot 20 years ago.”

[The conversation ended there because “steven metzger” blocked me from messaging him. Ha!]

The problem:
a) A lot of work…
b) that is probably not very effective,
c) with disappointing results that make me want to cry. (Really? I should stop using computers because I don’t appreciate your rude behavior? Maybe you should stop using computers if you don’t know how to behave, steven metzger. <–What I would’ve written to him if he hadn’t blocked me. 😉 )

5) Ignore offensive comments. Other people can’t bother you unless you let them bother you.

The problem:
a) Can we say, “Blame the victim”?
b) It’s not just about me. It’s also about my kids and my students. They end up with all kinds of worrisome messages about gender and my role as a parent and teacher as they read mean or sexist or inappropriate comments about me in a public space.
c) It’s not just about me or my kids or my students. The more people read mean and sexist and inappropriate comments geared towards women (or anyone), the more it seems like a normal and okay way of communicating. Furthermore, such norms discourage other people from contributing to online conversations. Who wants to risk it?

6) Ignore all comments. Just let people post and do not read the comments. Again, you can avoid being upset!

The problem:
a) Like option #1, this approach takes the “social” out of social media. We want to hear from viewers and respond to them!
b) Like option #5, it’s not just about me….

It’s not like me to focus on problems rather than solutions. But YouTube comments are a sucky thing for women. Sure, we can cope and talk back and support each other and blah blah blah. But I don’t have a real solution. Not one that I can implement, at any rate.

So. Lindsey and I haven’t decided how to handle WinkyFace comments yet. Your thoughts / experiences / coping mechanisms / words of hope? Leave a comment! or several!

–Laurie 😉

Goofiness in a time of natural disaster

A typhoon has ravaged the Philippines, leaving thousands dead, and thousands more injured, hungry and homeless, vulnerable to diseases like cholera and hepatitis.

The word “thousands” means nothing to me. The individual stories, on the other hand, slay me, one at a time.

When asked how she and her four children endured three days of
waiting in searing heat and torrential downpours, Marivic Badilla, 41,
held up a small battered umbrella. “We have been sheltering under this,”
she said, tears streaming down her face. –from Reuters.com

This excerpt is a small piece of one story. The actual story plays out, over excruciatingly long days, through many people, in many places. To take it in, even in small doses like this—well, it renders me speechless.

Yet, if my social media presence over the past week were to be evaluated, analysts would likely conclude:
a) Laurie is ignorant. She is oblivious to anything happening outside her little bubble of a world.
b) Laurie doesn’t care. If it doesn’t happen to her or someone she knows, it doesn’t matter to her.

I’m going to respond to these criticisms (or at least a version of these criticisms) because I find myself voicing them internally, questioning my own motivations and wondering:

What is the place of WinkyFace in a world filled with pain?

Many people have analyzed humor as a coping mechanism during dark times, as a tool for addressing social and political problems, as a panacea that numbs us to harsh realities.

I don’t know how lofty the goals are that Lindsey and I share. I know that we don’t expect to prevent hunger and homelessness or cure diseases with our goofy YouTube channel. But we do have some sense of social justice that informs what we do.

1. To the degree that we can develop proficiency in using social media to communicate publicly, we will be able to share tools and insights with students. Empowering students—helping them learn to use their voices to participate in civic and professional communities—is at the heart of our work. I’m hoping student participation will be visible even in the immediate process of producing vids. We’re working on getting students involved already!

2. Parodies of college faculty life will help us to question what our roles are and what they ought to be. As female professionals in a world that was dominated by men for a long time (and where top leadership is still dominated by men in many institutions), questions of faculty life are particularly important to us.

3. Humorous interviews with fictional and literary characters are designed to engage viewers more fully with fictional and literary texts, comparing our (ridiculous?) characterizations with their own analyses. I hope teachers, students, and people reading for pleasure all find their way to these vids and share their own reading insights with us.

4. Lindsey and I have plans to make money with our YouTube channel. While the first profits will be used to reimburse us for supplies that we would not have bought if it weren’t for doing the channel, the rest of the profits will be donated to a good cause: perhaps Global Girl Media. This organization aligns with our teaching roles  because it is intent on:

Empowering young women from under-served communities
around the world through new media leadership training,
bringing their powerful perspectives to the global media stage. 

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WinkyFace isn’t an answer to a typhoon or to corrupt politics or to oppressive practices. But Lindsey and I hope that it contributes, in its own small ways, to the good being done in the world.

What are your thoughts? How can our social media activities be meaningful? Is it problematic to spend time being goofy instead of more directly and seriously trying to make a difference?

inspirations, pt 2.

Last spring, Laurie and I were sitting together at an Honor’s Program reception, and we got to talking with other faculty members about our research on Jenna Marbles, who is one of the most successful women on YouTube. Suddenly, Laurie turned to me with That Look in her eyes. Having worked with Laurie on projects now for the past three years, I knew That Look.

“I have a crazy idea.”

That’s what That Look said. What came out of her mouth was, “We should start our own YouTube channel!”

After thinking about it for a solid 10 seconds, I said, “OK.”

And so, WinkyFace was set in motion. We met several times over the summer to begin brainstorming what kind of channel we wanted to have, what kind of videos could we make, and whether pursuing this project was even a good idea.

After several cups of Zummo’s coffee on a not-too-warm early summer day, we had in front of us a list of video ideas and a timeline. Our channel would include vids that served as parodies on prof and college life, as well as parodies of interviews with literary characters. In both cases, we agreed that playing with stereotypes using parody and humor could be both fun and thought-provoking, even if goofy.

Our channel still didn’t have a name, so we went our separate ways with a singular task: brainstorm as many names as possible, share the ideas, and see if something stuck.

Nothing stuck.

Until Laurie suggested WinkyFace.

Rewind.  A few semesters earlier, I was telling Laurie a story about a conversation I had with students in my Communication Theory class. We were discussing Social Information Processing Theory–a theory that deals with the way people develop relationships both on and offline.The students and I got to talking, tangentially, about communicating via text messages. We were talking specifically about the use of emoticons. One of the students said, “Well, it’s never appropriate to use The WinkyFace. That’s way too suggestive.”

“Really??” I thought to myself? Standing there in front of the class, I started to sweat as I  almost immediately rethought every text message I’d ever sent, no doubt the 100s that included The Winky Face. Was it possible that people were mistaking my sarcastic or jokingly-intended Winky Faces for flirting? Could the students be right??

I did what any academic would do. I decided to research it.  I turned to one of the most trusted and credible sources on the Internets–The Urban Dictionary. Here’s just a sampling of the “definitions” I found there:

1. The secret code that means a girl wants your BLANK inside her, used mainly in text messages and Facebook chat.

2. Dirty dirty things.

3. Specific flirting mechanism never to be used by: family, old people, clergy members, uggos, etc. (Uggos?? I need a definition for my definition!)

Holy crap! Was this thing written by my students?

I needed a second, more credible source.

Laurie.

She agreed that when used in a rhetorical context, including texting, The Winky Face didn’t necessarily mean flirting, though it could.

That’s what I thought.

Phew.

Clearly, The Winky Face is polysemic. But, the nature of this simple emoticon, the semi-colon + close parens, remained both intriguing and concerning.

Fast forward a couple of years, to our search for a YouTube channel name. What better way to sum up our goal–provoking thought about “professor life”  and popular literature using humor, sarcasm, and parody–than the very polysemic Winky Face. Like Monty Python’s “Nudge nudge, wink wink,” you know? We’re winking at you, the readers and viewers, giving you that elbow nudge and hoping that you’re in on the joke with us.

And, the name really sums us up as a duo. We’re doing this project to learn more about what it takes to launch a successful YouTube channel, but we intend to have a good time while doing it. So, The Winky Face is as much about our content as it is about us. The “X2” that we’ve added on our various addresses has made us distinct from other WinkyFace labels, and it reflects the collaboration that has been part of our project from the start.

Tell us what you think about The Winky Face in the comments below. How do you use it? Has it ever gotten you in trouble? Keep it clean, please!

Lindsey 😉

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