MLA 17 // Boundary Play

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Feminism in Augmented Reality, Videogames and Electronic Literature

Thursday, 5 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 401-403, Philadelphia Marriott
#s151 #MLA17

KI Berens, Caitlin Fisher, Jessica Pressman. Not pictured: Anastasia Salter. Photo by Leonardo Flores.

Speakers: Profs. Jessica Pressman, Kathi Inman Berens, Anastasia Salter
Respondent: Prof. Caitlin Fisher

Our panel presents research about the role of feminism in contested borders of printed books, electronic literature and videogames. We will keep to strict time allotments to permit a robust and vigorous QA.

San Diego State University
Oculus Rift virtual reality headgear is usually donned to kill dragons or multitudes of soldiers, to explore far off places and feel superhuman. But Pressman argues that the VR and augment reality [AR} work of Canadian digital artist Caitlin Fisher confronts expectations about digital media, games, and electronic literature by employing such technology to tell women’s stories and to pursue feminist storytelling. Pressman examines how Fisher’s AR work Circle (2012) embeds multimodal vignettes about three generations of women onto little domestic objects, which Pressman designates “feminism in action,” specifically in the aesthetic enactment of its female-centered subject matter and its formal glitch aesthetics. More specifically, Pressman aims to show how Circle performs the central concerns of Material Feminism: an investment in illuminating how materiality and context-based relationality are central elements of experience and meaning-making. This short work about women and things insists on the relationality of animate and inanimate objects and, in so doing, it provides an opportunity to critique such philosophical movements as Object-Oriented Ontology. Moreover, the ways in which Circle achieves this critique promotes investigation into the larger and more central intersections between the technologies of AR, VR and feminism.

Me reading an AR poem, and being read as an object AR poetry is projected onto. Photo by Jeremy Douglass.

Portland State University
“Moveable books” predate the printing press. Such experiments, including popular pop-up books of the nineteenth century, pushed against the boundaries of two-dimensional storytelling by crafting ways paper can mechanically foster motion and depth. iPad artists and game designers experiment with device-specific expressive capacities. I call moveable books designed for iPad “playable books” to invoke their ergodic filiation with videogames. In this presentation, I analyze one playable book, 80 Days (2014) by Inkle Studios, which won Time Magazine’s best game of the year and was named by The Telegraph a best novel of the year. Crossing the “border” between literature and videogames, 80 Days invites us to consider how popular modes of human/computer interaction in games shape new forms of reading in device-specific ways. I discuss how 80 Days’ gameful attributes adapt and contest Jules Verne’s 1873 novella Around the World in Eighty Days. The game gives the reader a physical experience of the original story’s chief mechanic, racing to beat the clock. Interactions with NPCs [non-player characters] in 80 Days unlock information essential to win; respect and cultural sensitivity are procedurally rewarded. This resists the original novella’s racist depiction of nonwhite “others.” My paper suggests how 80 Days‘ emergent game attributes interrupt our readerly drive to “master” a text.

University of Central Florida
Electronic literature exists at the intersection of the humanities, arts, and STEM: an acronym that itself defines a contested battleground of technical skills. The lack of diversity in STEM has received considerable scrutiny, and computer-related fields particularly suffer from a lack of diversity. Salter notes that this has contributed to the rise of “brogrammer” culture in disciplines with strong computer science components, and with it a rhetorical collision of programming and hypermasculine machismo. Brogrammer culture is self-replicating: in technical disciplines, the association of code with masculinity and men’s only spaces plays a pivotal role in reinforcing the status quo. Given this dramatic under-representation of women in computer science disciplines, the privileging of code-driven and procedural works within the discourse of electronic literature is inherently gendered. The emergence of platforms friendly to non-coders (such as Twine) broadens participation in electronic literature and gaming space, but often such works are treated and labeled differently (and less favorably) from code-driven and procedural works that occupy the same space. Salter argues that electronic literature communities must be aware of the gendered rhetoric and socialization surrounding code, and be vigilant against the tendency to value code (and, by extension, male-coded labor) over content when evaluating works in this form.

York University
Dr. Caitlin Fisher, co-founder of York University’s Future Cinema Lab and founder and Director of its Augmented Reality Lab, will respond to the papers as both scholar and artist. Since Pressman is analyzing one of Fisher’s AR works, the intersection between critical making and scholarship will be a key vantage in Fisher’s response. She will also facilitate questions from the audience.

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Playable Books on iPad

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Slides for my talk at the 2016 Digital Humanities Conference in Kraców, Poland 14 July 2016.

Creative Commons License
Playable Books on the iPad by Kathi Inman Berens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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My Hololens 1-Day Training

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FOUR Hololens headsets. That’s how many devices are in-house at Oregon Story Board, the nonprofit story-and-technology accelerator in Portland, Oregon’s mobile-dev-rich Pearl district. This is a coup for Portland-area tech innovators. Microsoft might have released as little at two thousand units globally, though Microsoft isn’t publicly releasing numbers. Even if that number is a great as ten thousand, we’re still talking about a technology that’s very new. It may not to be in the hands of consumers for another three-five years.

You’ve definitely seen a hologram. The most famous is Princess Leia beaming out of R2D2: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

Everyone has seen a hologram.  This is the most famous one.

Everyone has seen a hologram. This is the most famous one.

Hololens is an elegant, lightweight headset that allows viewers to see holograms, that is, 3D images, and hear “spatialized” sound. By 3D, I mean the holograms are pinned to a particular location, and you can walk around them and see them from all sides. Unlike virtual reality (VR), holograms and sounds are overlaid over the real world. Microsoft is getting behind the term “mixed reality” to capture the way holograms and real life mesh into one. The other term you’ll hear to describe it is “augmented reality.”

Personally, I like MR (AR) better than VR. I like being able to talk with other people around me as I’m playing with holograms. The social dimensions of MR make it alluring. What’s “reality” after all? Isn’t it wherever your friends are?

I HAD A BLAST playing with Hololens. Here’s what I did:

    I selected and placed a still, animated hologram that looked liked Saturn. I walked around it and looked from all angles.
    I placed on a table a live action ballerina pirouetting to the Nutcracker, and walked around her.
    I explored the galaxy using Galaxy Explorer, an interactive map. Anything I selected was animated, and a voice explained facts. The sun was a little buggy and wouldn’t deselect.
    I talked with someone using Skype. Hololens wrote a Skype plugin, which basically gives people the ability to draw on the screen display. This could be useful if you were reviewing documents. The pen function is still pretty primitive, like a kindergartner holding a crayon in her fist.
You open the menu by blooming your hand open, and select by pinching thumb and forefinger.

You open the menu by blooming your hand open, and select by pinching thumb and forefinger. Image: Cora Wigen.

What uses do people have for holograms popping into and out of the ordinary world?

Plenty, if you ask me.

Yesterday, OSB Director Shelley Midthun invited me and ten other Portland designers, business people, and story experts into OSB to pilot their one-day Hololens Training. Our goal? To play with the gear and then figure out applications pertinent to our organizations.

Led by Thomas Wester and Ben Fischler, this training gave us a clear technical overview of how Hololens works, what kinds of programming and assets it requires, and how images and other objects are stitched together. We then reviewed four test cases of potential use, including automotive (Volvo), interior design and collaboration (Skype), building construction and architecture (Trimble) and education (Case Western Reserver University). Then we brainstormed and formed into into small, project-specific groups and prototyped a use case. We came up with very cool stuff! Not sure if I’m allowed to share them, but suffice to say that I’m convinced this technology will be as important a shift in how we do business as mobile has been.

And that’s saying a lot, because I think mobile is the most relevant shift in computing since the invention of the personal computer!

I could envision several educational uses. Medical and other kinds of technical training are obvious wins, but even the humanities would benefit from MR. Imagine an art history class where you’re not watching 2D slides in a dark room, but walking around a sculpture, even an enormous kinetic Calder. Or a literature class where the spatialized sound recreates the Dylan Thomas reading in a cathedral. In short, education can become more experiential and embodied as we move forward into technologic creations that shrink the distance between us and the historical objects we study. Museums and cultural heritage organizations could do a tremendous amount with this technology, delivering a walk around the Roman Colossesum, for example.

Microsoft Hololens is funding experiments in commercial and public service uses for Hololens. Oregon Story Board won, along with its partners Intel and Clackamas Community College, a $100K grant to develop an application for teaching transmission gearing in CCC’s automotive department. Led by Thomas and Ben, they are building Hololens app that will let students play with a 3D model of a transmission. Because these digital objects are scalable, even tiny valves can be made large for further examination. (The other four winners of the Microsoft Research Grant were U.C. Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Dartmouth and Virginia Tech. Way to punch above your weight class, CCC!)

Microsoft is offers a hologram design academy for developers to start making cool stuff. I believe it’s now possible to develop for play with holograms using all kinds of devices, including Kinect. Hololens devices cost about $2000 or $3000 (I’ve seen documentation for both figures). Developers can load emulators for free.

If you’re in the Portland area (or you’re not, but you want to visit PDX and touch the hologram future), consider registering for Oregon Storyboard’s one-day Hololens training, which will be available starting next week (June 13) for $995.

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Review of Virtual Reality Film Festival

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Kaleidoscope Virtual Reality Film Festival Portland, Oregon 22 August 2015.

Kaleidoscope Virtual Reality Film Festival Portland, Oregon 22 August 2015.

Yesterday I attended the one-day Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival [KVRFF], which kicked off its 10-stop North American tour in Portland, Oregon. It presented 20 featured “films” or experiences, plus some business applications such as “social VR”–which entailed meeting in a virtual room with a guy in Redwood City–and branded experiences by Nike and Chrysler. I played the Nike experience, which put me on a professional soccer field, guys coming at me with powerful kicks, the players speaking rapid Spanish or Italian and the fuzz of the stadium noise all around me. It was exciting. A little glitch when I was adjusting the volume popped a menu screen onto my gameplay that wouldn’t go away. It broke the illusion. Such things happen. But the volunteers were generally great about getting everybody oriented and seeing stuff. I viewed most works through Samsung goggles, which allow a phone to slide into the headset and run the experience off of that. The Oculus is more technologically responsive because it uses a camera and a computer to track one’s physical movements and adjusts the illusion based on those movements.

About 200 or 250 people, racially mixed and mostly in their twenties, tested out new experiences and talked as we waited in the longish lines.

VR is made by stitching together 360-degree film frames, so it makes sense to call this a “film festival” at a technical level. But it’s also a PR gesture too. Réné, the Director of the KVRFF, said in his opening remarks that cinema was the dominant entertainment platform of the 20th century, and predicted VR will be the the signal entertainment platform of the 21st. Calling KVRFF a “film festival” legitimizes VR as the next big thing. Palmer Luckey, inventor of the Oculus Rift system being featured on the cover of Time Magazine attests to the mainstream media’s belief in VR’s potential for broad appeal. Facebook is betting on this. It bought Oculus for gigantic wads of cash (2 billion dollars, was it?) and aims to roll out Oculus to consumers in time for the 2015 Xmas buying frenzy. Whether that deadline is even a little bit reasonable remains to be seen. Even if the devices are market ready (a big “if”), what kinds of story and empathy experiences will get people to stay in virtual reality? That’s what the rest of my post is about.

Almost all of the experiences at KVRFF were less than ten minutes, most in the 2-3 minute range. In several of the works, I needed a minute or so to grok the entire experience. I had hopes that the “Documentary” group might be different because the works would aim to build an argument. The one I viewed (“Welcome to Aleppo” about the Syrian Civil War, 2:45 minutes) was a fairly predictable testimony about a city destroyed by war, with images of its former vibrancy interspersed onto 360-degree images of a street of chaotic rubble. “Being there” in the Samsung goggles didn’t really deepen my feelings about the despondency caused by that war. My hopes for narrative and empathy — for the unique build that VR might offer — wasn’t answered by this experience.

By contrast, the four experiences put together by Condition 1 moved me, probably because they were less ambitious and could deliver on the premise which was simply: be here now, look at this. I watched a SW Native American woman weave and hum to herself in what I take to be a traditional room; a blonde American looking directly into the camera to guide meditation on the beach (I looked away from her and checked out the waves instead, which were mesmerizing); three SW Native American women and one little girl, all in native dress, dancing on a plateau high up in red rocks. I spun my head and saw the three Native men in ordinary street clothes who were banging the drum and chanting the music to which they danced. That was rewarding, the contrast in their dress, and the fact that I got something “extra” for moving my gaze away from the “main event.” Finally, I watched a white cowboy, also in the SW, lead three horses along a trail. It was just a tiny moment in time, but it was satisfying to be there, watching the small dot become the man and horses, watching them pass away outside my sight.

Brad Berens, above, views an experience. He’s @bradberens on Twitter.

The best “cool toy” experience was Tana Pura, an experimental film by Mike Tucker with music by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. It was fantastic, a synaesthete’s fantasia of spare piano/violin music moving through a light show animated like schools of fish. It was great, really hard for me not to dance. I probably stuck my arms in the air.

There was one really great moment when the VR demonstrated a story capacity that winked out beyond the “what a cool toy!” feeling. Tyler Hurd, a longtime game developer, made a silly piece called “Butts.” He showed the 2D version of it during a brief artist’s talk, and it left me neutral. But in VR, there was one moment where I burst out laughing: the VR surprised me (even though I knew what was coming!) and delivered something the 2D couldn’t. When the animated men fly into the air propelled by the confetti coming out of their butts, and it rains down upon the viewer: it was magical. I felt connected to the characters. Their joy spread to me. All the other elements (vibrant colors, facial expressions, cartoon classical music soundtrack, Gershwin-inspired soaring) felt earned and appropriate.

If storytellers can use the VR to impart feelings that can’t be delivered otherwise in our crowded mediascape, then people will be incentivized to buy the devices and hang out in these experiences. There are only so many times the thrill of a roller coaster or the excitement of world exploration will keep people coming back.

Books and electronic literature moreso than film might be the tech analog for VR artists to check out. In books and e-lit, we wander. Those freeform imaginative experiences could aid artists who come from a film background and think primary through the camera’s gaze. In Butts, Hurd did a good job of triggering the gaze where he wanted people to look, but I took real pleasure in peering around the animated men’s bodies to get a different angle, to subvert what I was being told to look at. Hurd’s background as a game dev seems apt here.

There was no beginning/middle/end to several of the experiences. This was true of Bright Shadows (which didn’t move me), The Night Cafe and Der Grosse Gottlieb. The Night Cafe was a mashup of Van Gogh paintings one could wander. “But don’t go into the basement,” the KVRFF volunteer told me. “I mean, you could go there. Everybody wants to go there. But there’s nothing in the basement.” I spent my time in a bathroom just outside of Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles trying to open a locked blue door. I was stuck on the door frame of the adjacent green room, and I couldn’t quite back out of it enough to use my gaze to trigger the blue door. This was the only experience in the entire KVRFF where I experienced nausea. For the most part, the Oculus and Samsung goggles systems were very responsive and not laggy. Nausea is caused by a mismatch between input from your inner ear (physical balance) and your eyes. Later, in line for a different experience, I met a guy who’d also got stuck in the bathroom. The blue door had tantalized us.

Der Grosse Gottlieb solved the “where are you” problem inventively. In the experience, you’re perched atop a gigantic ladder of chairs in what looks like the Alps. You’re higher than the other mountains in the distance, and snowy wind and clouds blow by you. Peer down, and a chair from the ladder dislodges and falls into the abyss. To your right, a Vitrola plays opera music, a half-drunk glass of wine awaits you, an unlit match teeters in the wind atop a box of matches. Handwritten letters written on fine paper, most of them sealed with a red wax stamp, blow down into the abyss. The trick of implacement? A steel fan blows cool air on the back of your neck when you’re in the experience. The wind all around you is felt by your skin and moves small hairs on your neck and arms. Because the viewer was not meant to go anywhere in the piece, there was no mismatch between where I was perched and where I wanted to go. It was lovely: a mood, an atmosphere. No story but what you projected onto it.

I left the KVRFF exhausted. I’d been looking at works and chatting with people in line for three hours. Though it was still open for one more hour (til 8PM) the room had cleared out by 2/3, I’d estimate. It was cognitively demanding. And exciting. As I said to some friends on Facebook, I felt when viewing my first experience of the day (Condition 1) that I was experiencing a threshold moment in a new medium, like the people sitting in the darkened movie theater 100 years ago, screaming as the train in the tunnel thundered toward them.

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My Digital Eco-Poem Installed in Bergen, Norway

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“RestOration: Kalfarlien 18” Installed in Bergen, Norway at “Ends of Electronic Literature” Media Arts Show August 5-28 2015

E-waste sculpture made of decommissioned university computer screens and peripherals.  Guests interact with it by lifting the iPad and seeing themselves reflected in the waste.

E-waste sculpture made of decommissioned university computer screens and peripherals. Guests interact with it by lifting the iPad and seeing themselves reflected in the waste.

What does an e-waste sculpture have to do with a 100 year old villa on Bergen’s Kalfarlien street on the slope of the mountain Fløien?

See our description on the “End(s) of Electronic Literature” Festival site.

Read the hypertext poem and view the documentation site here.

“RestOration: Kalfarlien 18” is a digital art installation in four parts: an interactive e-waste sculpture, a soundscape, a tablet game and a hypertext poem. All are inspired by the villa Kalfarlien 18, where the four women artists met.

Guests enter the installation. Sound from Eva Pfitzenmaier’s haunting soundscape emanates from the library shelves and the LP turntable playing sounds of wind and rain. A web kiosk features the ecopoem “RestOration,” which features the poems of Alicia Cohen and the prose of Kathi Inman Berens. Kathi built the hypertext, which allows readers to navigate branching paths. An audio track of the poets reading is “Echo” to the “Narcissus” guests become as we see ourselves in the pool of e-waste. The sculpture makes visible what we throw away.

Hypertext is a branching platform of reader choice.  In this poem, readers can choose one of four paths from any given lexia.

Hypertext is a branching platform of reader choice. In this poem, readers can choose one of four paths from any given lexia.

We artists juxtapose the “remodel” culture of quickly “obsolescent” technology against the “repair” culture of the gently decayinig Kalfarlien 18. We in the global north throw away machines and literally “remodel” — buy the next iteration of the device. Those discarded devices and peripherals are dumped at gigantic e-waste sites in the global south, 80% of the time illegally. Children melt the precious metals from the machines and incinerate the west. Photographer and activist Valentine Bellini [] has called it a “toxic inferno.”

Anastasia Salter featured “RestOration: Kalfarlien 18” in her “Ends of Electronic: A Report from ELO 2015” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Kalfarlien 18 villa design by Einar Oscar Schou, one of Bergen's eminent early 20th century architects.

Kalfarlien 18 villa design by Einar Oscar Schou, one of Bergen’s eminent early 20th century architects.

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Medieval Post-Secret

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The intensity & depth of the etching on this rune from 1170 struck me. I found the translation: "I love that man's wife so much that fire seems cold! And I am that woman's lover." Early mobile writing. Medieval post secret.

The intensity & depth of the etching on this rune from 1170 struck me. I found the translation: “I love that man’s wife so much that fire seems cold! And I am that woman’s lover.” Early mobile writing. Medieval post secret.

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Want to “Save the Humanities”? Pay Adjuncts to Learn Digital Tools

Posted by admin in Digital Pedagogy, MLA, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Image: Morgan Stone Grether.  Used with permission.

Image: Morgan Stone Grether. Used with permission.

Higher education is experiencing its Napster moment, its Amazon moment, and administrators are implementing online learning modules to compete. Disintermediation: what iTunes did to record stores and Amazon did to bookstores, textbook companies are beginning to do to residential university classrooms. University of Southern California Annenberg journalism professor Gabriel Kahn reported in Slate last September that universities’ rapid uptake of online classroom modules is a plug-and-play solution for entire courses that universities used to design and implement themselves. Kahn notes:

Companies such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Wiley—the heavies of the college textbook market—have produced bundles that are basically a turnkey solution for basic chemistry or econ 101 and dozens of other classes, most at the introductory level. These courses feature content vetted by experts, slickly produced videos, and a load of interactive tests and quizzes. Some are so advanced that they can simulate a physics experiment, engage a student in a developmental psychology exercise, or even run software that grades an 800-word essay. They provide pretty much the entire course experience, without much interaction with a professor and without the hassle of showing up to class on time—or, for some instructors, the hassle of teaching.

Having taught for three years predominantly in an experimental classroom that’s both live and virtual, I know that on-demand interactive modules don’t yet approximate a seminar’s communal, improvisational dynamic. Synchronous classroom meeting software (I used Elluminate and then Adobe Connect) is still in its Ed Sullivan days. Software is good at facilitating standardized data collection of learning outcomes across the disciplines. Such affordances might look alluring as more instruction moves online.

Online learning modules are the opposite of what the digital humanities seek to foster. Julia Flanders notes that digital humanities should generate “productive unease,” the “irritation that prompts further thought and engagement. . . . [W]here that sense of friction is absent — where a digital object sits blandly and unobjectionably before us, putting up no resistance and posing no questions for us — humanities computing, in the meaningful sense, is also absent” (paragraph 12).

Interfaces are not neutral. They are sufficiently nuanced and political that the Terms of Service can be dozens of pages long. People usually notice interfaces only when they stop working– when an app shuts down, or loses connection to the Internet, or the phone drops a call. Interfaces are designed to be “frictionless,” to adapt Flanders’ term. Software updates make computational processes more invisible, more “intuitive,” as Apple calls it. Algorithmic anticipation might be nice for turning up a furnace. It might even be great for working through engineering problem sets. But it’s stupefying as a critical learning environment.

Digital humanists make many of their resources open, public and freely available. DHers’ moral commitment to public good is also an efficient way to diversify the field. Generosity is evolutionarily advantageous.

But how many teaching-only faculty can afford to take up DHers’ offer of free tools and training?

What if “time” and most faculty members’ inability to defend against its appropriation prevents teaching-only faculty–the majority of the professoriate–from integrating digital tools into their work?

Free tools might be a necessary but insufficient condition to provide access.

Digital humanities extends “our oldest inherited pedagogical belief as humanists. We don’t teach answers,” Paul Fyfe observes. “We teach students how to ask better questions.” The forthcoming Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities book, to be published by MLA in 2016 both open access and in print, curates the best 500-550 teaching resources focused on fifty keywords. (I curated the “Interface” entry.) Universities are charged to increase student digital literacy. But how to ensure the digital literacy of teaching-only faculty who have little to no support for professional development?

Here’s my provocation: Don’t just make tools freely available. Pay adjuncts and other teaching-only faculty for their *time* to learn them.

Academics accept overwork as a condition of our lives. We work weekends, defer sleep and rest, “catch up” on grading during spring break, make “vacations” out of conference travel. But it’s a mistake to universalize the culture of overwork. Overwork on the tenure line is an investment in professional promotion. Overwork among adjuncts is just the condition of keeping one’s job(s).

Feudal appropriation of adjuncts’ time is a DH issue. Last month Arizona State University decided to increase the teaching load of its first-year comp instructors by 25% without any increase in pay. Arizona State mandated that these instructors, many of whom are Ph.D. alumni of Arizona State, add a fifth class to their teaching load, putting their teaching load at 5/5, 125 students per term. Tenured and tenure-line faculty retain a 2/2.

It’s quite possible that as digital humanities shifts the disciplinary landscape not just of research but also of the teaching of writing, writing faculty may be expected to integrate digital tools even if they have no paid support for doing so.

Who will pay adjuncts to learn the digital tools that DHers make available?

Financial commitments from the Modern Language Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, the American Historical Association, the Allied Digital Humanities Organizations and other professional bodies should pay adjuncts and other teaching-only faculty to get digital training. Such organizations are mostly run by tenured faculty who have historically not seen alignment between adjuncts’ needs and their own.

But there’s a self-interested motive in fortifying adjuncts with digital tools. Harvard Business School professor and “disruption” expert Clay Christensen, who keynoted the prestigious EDUCAUSE conference September 2014, predicts that tenured faculty might find less demand for their services as adjunctification creeps inexorably up the food chain.

“Since 2005,” Gabriel Kahn reports, “universities have hired part-time faculty at nearly twice the rate as full-time faculty.” The Modern Language Association’s Report from the Task Force on Doctoral Study (2014) acknowledges that depressed hiring conditions since 2008, not candidates’ lack of preparation or aptitude, are responsible for the downturn in tenure-line hiring.

What would “paying” an adjunct to learn digital tools look like? Buy a contingent faculty member out of one class for one term and stipulate that the time be spent in DIY, on-demand digital tools training. Pay adjuncts to attend in-person training institutes like Digital Humanities Summer Institute or the Digital Pedagogy Lab. Follow up to see how such training changes classroom practice, whether or not it creates conditions of increased job security and even job satisfaction.

Maybe you’re thinking: there is no way anybody will fund this.

“What do we have left if we shouldn’t settle for just being ‘nice’ or ‘respectful’?” asks Elizabeth Losh of the digital humanities in her scholarly blog Virtualpolitik.

“Even in fields in which sole authorship is the norm, [scholarship] has always been collaborative” Kathleen Fitzpatrick declares (12). Similarly, teaching has always been collaborative. Most students graduating from English departments today are taught by a mix of faculty at all ranks.

Paying adjuncts to learn digital tools might look like generosity.

In hindsight, it may just look like survival.


I will deliver this talk as part of a roundtable discussion at the Modern Language Association Convention in Vancouver, BC, Saturday 11 January in the Vancouver Convention Center East, Room 16, at 8:30AM. The panel is called “Disrupting the Digital Humanities.” Join the conversation in real time or whenever: #MLA15, #s448, @kathiiberens.

Works Cited

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy. New York: NYU Press. 2011.

Flaherty, Colleen. “One Course Without Pay.” Inside Higher Education. Accessed 2 January 2015.

Flanders, Julia. “The Productive Unease of 21st-century Digital Scholarship.” Digital Humanities Quarterly. 3.3 (2009). Accesssed 2 January 2015.

Frost-Davis, Rebecca, Matthew Gold, Katherine Harris and Jentery Sayers. Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities. New York: Modern Language Association, 2016. Print and online open access. Accessed 2 January 2015.

Fyfe, Paul. “How to Not Read a Victorian Novel.” Journal of Victorian Culture 16.1 (Spring 2011): 102-106.

Kahn, Gabriel. “College In a Box: Textbook Giants Are Now Teaching Classes.” Slate. Accessed 2 January 2015.

Losh, Elizabeth. “Respect, Niceness and Generosity.” Virtualpolitik. Accessed 2 January 2015.

Modern Language Association. Report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study (2014). Accessed 2 January 2015.

Smith, D. Frank. “EDUCAUSE 2014: Online Learning Could Fundamentally Change Role of Universities.” EdTech Magazine. Accessed 2 January 2015.

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What I’m Doing As a Fulbright Scholar

Posted by admin in curation, Digital Pedagogy, Electronic Literature, MLA, Teaching | Leave a comment

I’m the 2014-2015 U.S. Fulbright Scholar of Digital Culture at the University in Bergen.
Here’s what I’ve been up to.

In Kraków, I presented "Trends in Digital Poetry" at Festiwal Literacki Hawangarda. I also led a curation workshop and delivered a talk at the Jagellonian University about my book project, "Algorithmic Subjects"

In Kraków, I presented “Trends in Digital Poetry” at Festiwal Literacki Ha!wangarda. I also led an e-literature curation workshop and gave a talk about my book project “Algorithmic Subjects” at the Jagiellonian University.

Essays published or submitted fall 2014

–“Judy Malloy’s seat at the (database) table: a feminist reception history of early hypertext.” Literary and Linguistic Computing: Journal of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations. (2014) 29 (3): 340-348. Online and print. Open access online thru November 2014.
–“Interface” chapter. Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities. New York: MLA Press. 2016. Open access online and print.
–“Live/Archive: Occupy MLA.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures. In press. Open access online.
–“Touch & Decay: Adapting Steve Tomasula’s TOC for iOS.” The Art and Science of Steve Tomasula’s New Media Fiction. Ed. David Banash. New York: Bloomsbury. May 2015. Print.
–“Lori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces“. Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures. In press. Open access online.

Invited Talks

–Jagiellonian University and Festiwal Literacki Ha!wangarda. Kraków, Poland. October 3-5.
–Äarhus University. Digital Humanities Lab of Denmark. December 11-12.
–University of Rostock. Fulbright lecture series. “Why Teach Video Games?” 15 May 2015.

Service to the Profession

–Nominated to the Modern Language Association Executive Committee.
–Executive Committee of the proposed MLA Creative Writing Forum “Rhetoric Composition Writing Studies: Creative Writing.”


–Two MLA 15 presentations in Vancouver:
—-“Want to ‘Save the Humanities’? Pay Adjuncts to Learn Digital Tools” on the “Disrupting the Digital Humanities” panel;
—-“Occupy MLA: Protest Fiction in Networked Environments” on the Literary Twitter panel.
–Two “Paratext in Digital Culture” Workshops:
—-“Street Paratexts: Paratext as Agent of Political Action.” 8 December. Bergen.
—-“Taroko Gorge: a Theory of Networked Paratext.” 30 August. Bergen.
–Bergen Public Library. “Stories Beneath Your Feet and Fingertips: Playing Locative Stories.” 4 November.


This spring I’m teaching DIKULT 103 Digital Genres and co-teaching with Scott Rettberg DIKULT 303, a master’s class in Digital Aesthetics. Last fall I taught DIKULT 203 Electronic Literature, and one third of the DIKULT 106 Online Identities course. My fourteen e-literature students come from Slovenia, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Norway and Spain. Digital Culture at UiB is an English-language major, so we have a common tongue. My curriculum blends media analysis, literary criticism, and making art. Students author art and criticism individually and collaboratively. They have made short videos, memes, generated poems (adapting M.I.T. professor Nick Montfort’s elegant javascript poem “Taroko Gorge“), several analytical oral presentations and, at the end of the term, a location-based Netprov, OUTSOURCE MY STUDY ABROAD, a collaboration between my students and those of Rob Wittig, Visual Arts professor at University of Minnesota Duluth.

Here are two particularly canny Tarokos–though really, many of the students did inventive and beautiful work.

Silje Fossdal dramatized the late, tense years of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s marriage by staging quotations from The Great Gatsby and Save Me the Waltz as an accusatory dialogue. This is a savvy use of the generator, because the dialogue rarely (if ever) repeats, which imparts the feeling of not being able to escape. The watercolor art in background is Zelda’s. When Silje’s friends told her the poem was beautiful, she added a jarring audio track to evoke the distance between the Fitzgeralds’ beautiful appearance and shattered marriage.

Patrick Durdel, who had never worked with javascript before this class, eliminated lines of code to see how the output would render. Playing around, Patrick reduced Scott Rettberg’s Tokyo Garage to one outputted line and tinkered with it to exaggerate its overlap: brilliant of Patrick to see in the bold yellow letters a visual poem of Tokyo’s skyline.

Hiking Lyderhorn, one of the 7 mountains ringing Bergen.

Hiking Lyderhorn, one of the 7 mountains ringing Bergen.

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Electronic Literature at UiB!

Posted by admin in Electronic Literature, Teaching | Leave a comment

This post conveys information for DIKULT 203, Electronic Literature. You’ll find here a course description, our reading schedule, assignments, grading rubrics, and links to electronic literature collections and coding resources.

Screen shot of Jim Andrews' "Aleph Null," a work of visual poetry.

Screen shot of Jim Andrews’ “Aleph Null,” a work of visual poetry.

I’m Professor Kathi Inman Berens, a Fulbright Scholar visiting UiB from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. I earned my Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. You can learn more about me here. My office hours will be Thursdays 9-10AM in HF Building 235a. I am also available at other times; email me at kathiberens at gmail dot com to set up an appointment. I’d like to meet with each of you at least once this term. Our class meets Tuesdays in Datalab 124, Thursdays Group Room O.

The University of Bergen is home to the ELMCIP Knowledge Base, an ambitious database archive of seven thousand cross-referenced records of electronic literature. We will each contribute one entry to the ELMCIP knowledge base. You’ll also write a “close reading” analysis of a work of e-lit, make your own adaptation of the poetry generator Taroko Gorge, collaborate on a “locative” story that we’ll set here in Bergen near campus. Together we’ll conceptualize that story, build it, play it using our mobile devices, then write about it.

This is UiB’s official description of DIKULT203’s requirements and guidelines.

Reading Schedule

Here is the Reading Schedule.

UiB mandates about 1000 pages of reading. We should measure our time in hours rather than print pages. Longer works of e-lit on this syllabus might take 3 hours to read and 2 more hours to write notes and compare to other works. Shorter works will vary in duration. The criticism will aid you in contextualizing the e-lit and will deepen your knowledge of e-literature’s medial fragility and the challenge of preserving access to it, and e-lit’s emerging role in the canon of literature.

I am a good teacher of writing. We’ll approach e-literature texts as objects for you to emulate, remix, rip off and analyze.

Emerson, Lori. 2013. Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. Minnesota University Press.

Pressman, Jessica. 2014. Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ryan, Marie-Laure, Lori Emerson and Benjamin Robertson: The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media. 2014. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Strickland, Stephanie. 2014. V: WaveTercets/Losing L’Una (second edition). Denver: Spring Gun Press.

Online Archives
Electronic Literature Collection, Vol. 1
Electronic Literature Collection, Vol. 2
ELMCIP Knowledge Base
I Love E-Poetry
Electronic Poetry Center
Eastgate Systems
Authoring Software

Course Description: What is Electronic Literature?

At the simplest level, it’s a collaborative experience you initiate between yourself, a computer, software, and the artist’s designed concept. Often but not always, these experiences convey a story; sometimes words do different kinds of expressive work than the semantic work we’re accustomed to in print-based media, where the materiality of words is usually invisible. Sometimes, as in Jim Andrews’ visual poetry I’ve captured above in this post’s thumbnail image, there are no words or letters at all.

In print media, words are the vessels of “ideas,” but in electronic literature the medium (animation, text, image, sound, touch) is as much an expressive part of the art as the “ideas.” Ideas are never unaffected by the medium in which they are conveyed. E-lit works “perform on request” (Ted Nelson, cited in Scott Rettberg (“Electronic Literature,” The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media, 2014), and YOU the reader convey that “request” by touching the computer through keyboard, touchpad, screen or mouse. We’ll investigate “the literary” as a type of experience that may or may not involve words, but which is one way or another about “writing,” even if the writing we examine is source code and its outputs.

E-books are not electronic literature. E-books are printed stories converted to digital display for convenience, so they can be stored and read on portable digital devices. Electronic literature requires an algorithm to run. It “performs,” and so do you, actively shaping your experience of the story, or understanding the limits of your agency as a reader to intervene in that particular story’s machinic process. I’ll teach you how to classify electronic literature according to platform, interactivity and genre; but as you read entries in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media, you’ll see that even the same work can be classified differently depending on how readers engage it. (See, for example, Roberto Simanowski’s short illustration of this dilemma on p. 135, “The Double Life of Texts.”)

Learning Outcomes

After successfully completing this course, students will have:

    an overview of the history and genres of electronic literature
    familiarity with key works of hypertext fiction, digital poetry, and interactive fiction.
    an understanding of how visual, kinetic, temporal and interactive features work in narrative and poetry in electronic literature, and how they complicate our understandings of the reader and of the literary in general
    an understanding of the basic principle within the programming.

After successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

    apply theories about electronic literature in their own interpretations of specific works
    reflect upon their own creative practice and use feedback to improve their work
    write specifically for digital environments
    grasp elementary principles of programming
    understand coding and design as elements of writing practice.


Course Work
There are two compulsory activities leading up to the assessed final project.

1) Students will participate in a collaborative practical project
2) Each student will choose a work of electronic literature to they present orally to the class and write a critical description of at least 400 words

In order to take the exam it is required that the student has participated in at least 75 percent of the teaching and classroom activities. Course participation is approved by the course leader.

More detailed presentations of compulsory and semester assignments will be presented on the student portal.

Final Projects
Students can choose between two alternative assignment types:

1) Create a work of electronic literature and write an introduction to the work of 1,500 words that sets it in a critical context.

2) Write a comparative analysis of two works of electronic literature, 4000 words in length.

Teaching Methods

There are sixteen lectures and eight sessions in the lab over thirteen weeks. In addition, each student will have one supervision meeting with the lecturer in connection with semester thesis.

Because we are collaboratively building a locative work of e-lit, sometimes our “lab” will be outside on the sites testing our project. You will also be expected to attend Prof. Inman Berens’ lecture at the Bergen Public Library Thursday, Nov. 4th at 7PM.

In our instructor-led labs, some of them co-conducted with Professor Scott Rettberg, we will creatively blend experimental conceptual work and practical digital techniques.

Each student will have one supervision meeting with the lecturer in connection with semester thesis.

Assessment Methods

Students can choose between two alternative assignment types:
1) Create a work of electronic literature and write an introduction to the work of 1,500 words that sets it in a critical context.
2) Write a comparative analysis of two works of electronic literature, 4000 words in length.

Grading Scale
Grade scale A-F.

I look forward to working with you!

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Vote Kathi Inman Berens for MLA Executive Council

Posted by admin in curation, Digital Pedagogy, Electronic Literature, MLA, Teaching | 1 Comment

In 2011, I rejoined the MLA after a twelve-year hiatus.

Erin Templeton, Jason Jones, Brian Croxall, Matt Gold, George Williams and Stephen Ramsay at Cork, a bar in downtown L.A. at MLA11.

Erin Templeton, Jason Jones, Brian Croxall, Matt Gold, George Williams and Stephen Ramsay at Cork, a bar in downtown L.A. at MLA11.

I was working full time as an Associate Professor (Teaching) of Writing at the University of Southern California (which means: NTT, 3/3, 3-yr renewable contract, stable employment, no sabbatical or paid support for research), but I let my MLA membership lapse because I didn’t feel that it was relevant to my daily professional life.

To be honest, I was also still bruised by what MLA had meant to my generation of Ph.Ds seeking work in the late 90s when the employment crisis that’s acute now was just being felt by grad students. Senior faculty didn’t regard the multi-year searches and backlog of talent as a structural problem. About half of my friends from Berkeley left the profession, some with the degree, some not.

In 2011 I rediscovered MLA through Mark Sample’s annual list of digital humanities panels. Via Facebook I asked my friends if anybody was going. “You’re going to MLA for fun?” one asked incredulously. “Too much stress,” another posted.

It was better than fun. It was exhilarating. Part of me that had been somnolent for years woke up. And she wanted to research, and write, and dive back in. This MLA was transformed: it was friendly. Instead of hauteur, I heard genuine sympathy and activism from senior faculty and MLA leadership, such as Marilee Lindemann’s expert stewardship of the “New Tools” panel, which featured Marc Bousquet, Chris Newfield and Rosemary Feal (see my assessment of it here “3. New Tools Panel”). There was a lot of excitement around digital humanities, and yet DH was still intimate enough that a #dhmeetup hashtag pulled about twenty people (some of whom pictured above) to the Cork wine bar. I met face-to-face people I read daily in my Twitter feed, and whose scholarship I’d sought out. Tom Scheinfeldt speculates that the digital humanities stay “nice” because debates focus on method: “If anyone takes an argument too far afield, the community of practitioners can always put the argument to rest by asking to see some working code, a useable standard, or some other tangible result.” One can imagine that #transformdh and #dhpoco [post-colonial] scholars might suggest this view is too instrumentalist, that it skirts the hard layers of power and ideology that humanistic inquiry is uniquely good at peeling back. But still, “nice” does suggest that mutual interdependence in collaborative projects gives people a stake in collegiality.

DH “niceness” impacted me in some very personal ways. Previously I’d been a full time NTT; but now, at MLA 2011, I was part-time, an adjunct. Shockingly, it didn’t matter. The question wasn’t “what is your status?” — eyes flicking down to the badge. The question was, “what can you do?” Turns out I can do a lot, as can other adjuncts I know. We need an MLA that operationalizes support for adjuncts in professional development, helping adjuncts to find paying work for their skills outside of academia and paying for digital training that would increase adjuncts’ options and mobility (and by paying, I mean actually paying for their time). Labor organization is one piece of adjunct activism, but it is not the full story. MLA’s mission and the need for reform are broader than that.

Fulbright Scholar

I stand for Executive Council because I’m living what I call “the new” MLA, where successful careers can be protean and mobile. The question “what can you do?” concretizes potential in ways that rank and institutional prestige can only conjure. As a part-timer, I won a Fulbright: I’m the 2014-15 U.S. Fulbright Scholar of Digital Culture at the University in Bergen, Norway. I’m not unusual in being an adjunct quite capable of strong research; but I am very unusual in being given the opportunity.

In this “new MLA,” it’s not a stretch to imagine that MLA members could, like other professionals outside the academy, be able to relocate with our partners/families — or just because we want to — without being subject to permanent un- or under-employment.

My career isn’t unified in one institution or even one field. I’m a scholar and curator of electronic literature. I’m a teacher of rhet/comm. I’m a digital technologist coaching faculty and students in new tools and course development. I’m a researcher working in virtual classroom software. I’m a consultant exploring emergent story platforms and connecting talent to potential funders and other interested parties.

I joined my husband on a relo in 2009 and left my full-time NTT job. I am incredibly fortunate that leaders I knew at USC trusted me enough to permit an unusual arrangement: I resumed teaching at USC part time from Portland, Oregon, pioneering experimental classes in virtual classroom software and flying down to L.A. one week monthly to lead the same class face-to-face. Because I’m part-time, I’ve branched out to teach at other places: a university that grants mostly baccalaureate degrees, and a small liberal arts college. Working in those environments gave me a small taste of the diverse missions that MLA members serve at their home institutions. MLA members are united in our drive to educate students superbly, but our institutions live by different notions of what exactly that means, and how best to do it.

In the MLA of the 90s, it would have been highly unlikely for a part-timer to convene panels as I did at three consecutive MLAs: “Building Digital Humanities in the Undergraduate Classroom” with Brian Croxall in 2012, “The Classroom as Interface” in 2013, and “E-Literature Translations: Platform, Database, Language” in 2014. I co-curated the first exhibit of electronic literature at MLA, and the next year, the first e-lit showcase at the Library of Congress. Reviews of my exhibits have been published in the Huffington Post and academic journals. I am working on a book project called “Algorithmic Subjects”; Literary and Linguistic Computing published part of one chapter, a feminist reception history of early hypertext.

In terms of service to MLA, I’ve been working to get approved a new MLA Forum for creative writers and scholars of creative writing. I’m on the executive committee for RCWS: Creative Writing. I strongly believe that writing pedagogies across disciplines (CW, rhet/comm, literary studies, digital humanities) expand opportunities and the scholarly imagination of MLA members.

What I Propose To Do on the MLA Executive Council

I’m standing for MLA Executive Council because I know how to implement some of the concrete recommendations for reform specified in the Task Force on Doctoral Study. Specifically, I advocate and propose to work toward:

    Expanding professionalization opportunities
    Training all cohorts of MLA members how to engage more deeply with technology and integrate it meaningfully in curricula and in extracurricular professional activities
    Identifying non-course based activities that are essential in today’s work environment, and creating procedures by which the full range of higher education institutions might offer them

As a person who trained for scholarly research at Berkeley, then worked exclusively in teaching jobs, and now is again researching and publishing scholarship, I affirm the Task Force’s first objective to “Pursue and maintain academic excellence.” While I agree with the Task Force’s recommendation to augment doctoral preparation in pedagogy and teaching, our research differentiates us from experts in other fields (like teaching). I would like to see folded into the pursuit and maintenance of “academic excellence” a reward for young scholars who track what’s happening in literary arts right now. Transmedia, games and mobile stories developed as apps are defining the story experience today. Scholars of literature equipped to think about developments in those fields will experience increased demand for their services.

My scholarship and public presentations in electronic literature and experience teaching faculty and students in virtual environments primes me to aid in this work. One of my projects at the Annenberg Innovation Lab (where I’m on the Research Council) addresses “Liveness and Emergent Story Platforms.” I’ve written about the aesthetic of mobile and locative electronic literature. I curate exhibits that show the history of these emerging trends and present new work.

What other discipline prepares Ph.Ds only for academic jobs in higher education? Why wouldn’t we take our skills into the marketplace at a time when mobile computing has led to an explosion in demand for stories, games and transmedia experiences? Story skills I’ve honed in the academy landed me a consulting gig with the Oregon Storyboard judging a transmedia competition. I advised a Portland design firm that wanted to create a curriculum for training executives and project managers in “mobile, connected thinking.” I give talks about how storytelling affects Portland’s local startup community. (See video above.)

I’m a bridge-builder. I stand for “high intellectual standards maintained through creative flexibility” and join the authors of the Task Force Report in “validat[ing] diverse career outcomes.”

Where’s the ballot, you ask? Right here! Please vote me onto the Executive Council!

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