Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why this class is not just for future Journalism & Mass Communication majors

The tools and concepts of "media fluency" are not just for prospective majors in Journalism & Mass Communication, or Communication Arts, or English.  They're critically important to environmental, economic, and political issues of all sorts, as described in a brief New York Times blog post by Nick Bilton today:
When I set out to report at the World Economic Forum, I imagined it might be difficult to find technology-related stories. It turns out, I was a tad wrong. I would have had more luck finding a snowless Alpine mountain in the winter than finding people discussing a topic that did not involve technology.
After a year that has included the social media-fueled protests of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, global Internet privacy legislation and billions of dollars in technology stock offerings, tech and social media have not only entered the building, they are the walls holding it up.
Even the 102-page program guide for the World Economic Forum, where business, political and intellectual leaders gather each year to talk and frolic, has more references to technology and social media than any of the nerdiest Silicon Valley blogs I read daily.
 Do any of you discuss new media in non-media courses here at UW-Madison?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Choosing your reading for this week

A couple of students have asked me, "If we haven't yet been assigned a letter in our group, how do we know which reading to write our one-page response paper on for this week?"  Good question.  Just pick one.  (Maybe that's an easier way of organizing this anyway -- everyone always does both the readings, but pick one of them to write on, and we'll see how it organically unfolds?  I'll ask you about this alternative method, which would be easier on the recordkeeping, on Monday.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Syllabus fully updated

Just in time for discussion sections today: I've added all the individual and collaborative assignments to the Syllabus page, so you can have a detailed view of what's due when.  You'll notice a slew of other pages listed on the right-hand side of the blog as well, with other course resources for you.  

Remember, each Sunday I'll update the This week in J 176 page to remind you what's due in section that week, and what your blog group should be focusing on next.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Example of a one-page article summary/critique

You don't need to write any one-page article summary/critique papers this week (we'll start that with next week's readings), but I figured I'd better give you an example of what I'm asking for.

One of your reader articles this week is by philosopher of technology Langdon Winner.  I've written up my own one-page summary/critique paper on Winner's piece, as well as an example of my own highlighted notes on the article itself, and placed them both in a new Handouts folder on the right.  There are also a few general writing-skills handouts in there.  Enjoy!

Former Harvard University president on media fluency

One of the "most emailed" articles in the New York Times this morning is an opinion piece by former Harvard University president Lawrence H. Summers in which he asks, "Suppose the educational system is drastically altered to reflect the structure of society and what we now understand about how people learn. How will what universities teach be different?"  Several of his answers seem to connect to our media fluency course:
Education will be more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it. This is a consequence of both the proliferation of knowledge — and how much of it any student can truly absorb — and changes in technology.  
An inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion is that tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration.
New technologies will profoundly alter the way knowledge is conveyed.
 If you're interested, check out the whole piece and tell us what you think below.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Some notes on that slide I skipped over today

Today in lecture I quickly skipped over a slide discussing the eight characteristics of new media as analyzed by MIT professor Henry Jenkins:

Here are some notes from that lecture to describe these eight new media characteristics:

1. Innovative.  “the introduction of new media technologies sparks social and aesthetic experimentation.”
2. Convergent.  “convergence is being shaped top-down by the decisions being made by massive media conglomerates who have controlling interest across all possible media systems and who enjoy the power to insure that their content circulates globally.”  And “convergence is being shaped bottom-up by the participatory impulses of consumers, who want the ability to control and shape the flow of media in their lives; they want the media they want when they want it and where they want it.”
3. Everyday.  “Media technologies are fully integrated into our everyday social interactions.”  And “we can now take our media with us wherever we go.”
4. Appropriative.  “We can now quote and recontextualize recorded sounds and images (both still and moving) almost as easily as we can quote and recontextualize words.”
5. Networked.  “Young people become adept at calculating the advantages and disadvantages of deploying different communications systems for different purposes -- trying to decide how to communicate their ideas only to those people they want to see them while maintaining privacy from unwanted observation.”
6. Global.  “Some have argued that this expanded communication will bring about greater understanding; others see the return to fundamentalism as a reaction against the threat posed by these global exchanges.”
7. Generational.  “young people adopted cultural styles and values radically different and often fundamentally at odds with their parent's generation. Recent research suggests that young people and adults live in fundamentally different media environments, using communications technologies in different ways and forming contradictory interpretations of their experiences.”
8. Unequal.  “In so far as participation within them represents a new source of power, wealth, and knowledge, it also represents a new site of privilege and inequality. Participating may be elective for those who have the resources needed to belong in the first place but no such option can be exercised by those who are being left behind.”
[All quotes from Jenkins H 2006 » Eight traits of the new media landscape]

What do you think?  Do you agree with this characterization of new media?

Syllabus page created

In Blogger, like in most contemporary blogging utilities, besides posting news to the main page of your blog, you can also create stand-alone pages.  This morning I've created a "Syllabus" page which currently only contains the weekly readings, but will soon contain all of the assignments as well.  (No matter where you are in the blog, you can always access the syllabus through the link on the right.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

First lecture tomorrow!

[Here's an updated version of the email I sent to the whole class on Sunday before the semestser began.]

Hi folks. Welcome to this brand-new course in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, "Media Fluency for the Digital Age." (This first time around, in Spring 2012, we're teaching the course under our J 176 "topics" number, but we hope to make it a permanent course under the J 101 number in the future.) For those of you interested in the new Digital Studies Certificate Program, this course is intended to serve as a gateway to that credential.

I'm your professor, Greg Downey. I'm a faculty member in both the School of Journalism & Mass Communication (where I currently serve as the Director) and the School of Library & Information Studies. In the past I've taught other introductory lecture courses like "Introduction to Mass Communication" and "The Information Society." This new course takes elements from both of those, but focuses much more closely on the new media tools and industries that increasingly demand your "fluency" in our digital, networked age.

We have one TA for this course, a senior Ph.D. student in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication named Davita Veselenak. She's got a load of teaching experience already, and I am delighted that she is going to be helping me design and deliver this new course. (Those of you in sections 302 and 303 will have her as your TA, and those of you in section 301 will have to make do with me.)

Our first lecture is tomorrow, Monday, January 23, in 4028 Vilas at 8:50am. You'll find out all the details of the class then. I'll also be building a course web site, sort of in realtime, at (there's not much there now, but I'll fill it up tomorrow). The only required reading for the course is a $35 xeroxed reader available now at ASM Student Print, just next door to Vilas Hall in the student services tower on the third floor. (Probably a good idea to pick it up after lecture tomorrow, because there are a few readings I will want you to do for section this week.)

This will be a fun semester, and I think we'll all learn a lot. See you tomorrow,


Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Welcome to the course website for J 176, "Media Fluency for the Digital Age," a production of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I'm your instructor, Professor Greg Downey, and I'll be fleshing out this blog very soon.  Even if you're not registered for the course, feel free to follow along with our progress through this important topic.