Book Review: Streampunks (YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media)

Robert Kyncl is no neutral party here. He is one of the executives at YouTube (YouTube Chief Business Officer) so his title of his book has to be taken with a grain of salt (as catchy as it is). Even so, Streampunks (YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media) is an interesting look behind the curtain, a way to see how the Google YouTube corporate structure is working to find new personalities to anchor video watching as people shift away from network television and other traditional media.

I read with a critical eye, as it is easy to see Google as supporting the development of YouTube only to make money off our eyeballs, but I still appreciated Kyncl’s analysis of the transformation of entertainment that has emerged from the notion of anyone can post and publish video, anytime. More and more, we see YouTube personalities making their way into the mainstream (for good or for ill, and Kyncl is open about both, citing PewDiPie’s problems as just one recent example while also noting how Vlog brothers John and Hank Green have used the platform for good in the world).

One pervading message in Streampunks is that more and more of those entertainers hosting their own YouTube Channels are finding niche audiences around the world, giving rise to massive viewership for such interests as watching other people play video games, doing make-up, unboxing packages, and more. It’s another version of the long tail.

The important points that Kyncl raises here is that many of these YouTubers doing this work would never have found a platform on network television or in the movies or in music because they never would have been given a chance (Kyncl’s story of Justin Beiber’s rise is a good example of this as is the reach of Lilly Singh, aka IISuperwomanII), and that YouTube has created a place for cultural representation and communities of interaction between performer and audience. In fact, success on YouTube relies heavily on the personal touch, which video can provide in a way no other media really can.

Kyncl does write pretty honestly about the challenges of such open spaces, too, of ways that trolls bring negativity and how comments can become places of vitriol (when I ask my students about places they have seen the Internet as a negative experience, the overwhelming response is always YouTube comments). He says YouTube needs to do more to reach an even more diverse talent pool, and notes the efforts by YouTube to highlight diversity of personalities and cultures, and seek out new voices.

What I found most intriguing here is his profiles on some of the talent who are earning a solid living off video, and the work ethic those folks put into what they are doing, feeding the audience with new material, engaging always with comments and questions, and nurturing a vision for their material that fills some sort of gap. Kyncl makes it clear that almost no YouTube video comes out of nowhere, and goes viral. Most of those videos now come from a careful long-term plan by the creators, slowly building audiences until something catches with the general public, and then riding that wave to the next level of stardom.

As a teacher, and as a father of sons who dabble in video production, this insider’s look was valuable, as is trying to understand the YouTube phenomenon from an insider like Kyncl, who does have a long-standing vision for streaming video (he helped lead a project at Netflix as it was transitioning to streaming) and putting more opportunities in the hands of everyone (while making a bundle of money in advertising for Google, of course).

I’ll leave you with Kyncl’s book dedication:

To the kid out there filming a video on a smartphone who will one day become the biggest entertainer in the world

Peace (on the air),
Kevin

Stepping Into Immersive Virtual Reality Art

Wandering in VR Space

I had the day wrong, I realized later. I had read a news item promoting a “Print and Book Festival” in an art space in our city’s downtown, and convinced one of my sons to come with us to see what it was about. It was billed as 30 small press publishers and others, sharing comics and chapbooks and more. It was a rainy Saturday, so why not? (Plus, well, we love books in my family.)

It turns out that event is TODAY. Yesterday’s event in the same space? A showcase of Virtual Reality immersive art and gaming, with about five stations of VR headsets to try out. This VR event was connected to a local film festival going on up the street in the downtown theater. We live in a very art-orientated community.

In one VR station, you walk a plank jutting out from the top window of a skyscraper and then you need jump to the ground (that one freaked out my wife). In another, you play a version of Frogger, running through traffic to get to the other side. That was fun, if a little frenetic.

VR Gallery

One other area had someone printing out local Snaps from Snapchat, using some local tag, and the printed images were then put on one side of a plexiglass wall. Visitors were invited to doodle with markers on top of the image (but on the plexiglass side), using the Snap as the frame for art, and then the original was removed, leaving the doodled art in thin air (on the plexiglass).

Painting in VR

My favorite (and my son’s favorite) was a station in which you can use the Google software called Tilt Brush, which allows you to draw with all sorts of colors and inks and techniques in a virtual landscape of your choosing. It felt as if you were surrounded by ink, and waving the wands brought the pens into motion. I started to draw in space, and then on the desert, and then with bubbles in a pink surrounding.

I have never heard of Tilt Brush, have you?

At the front of the gallery, an artist was hard at work, using Tilt Brush and her own VR set to make some sort of gallery art installation in Virtual Reality, and watching her work in silence was fascinating. She’d wave her wands, as the monitor screen showed her art in progress.

So, a mistake made for an afternoon adventure, and the cool thing is? That original Book and Print Festival is still happening later today, so I have a chance to get “immersive” in good ol’ paper and ink.

Peace (immerses us in reality),
Kevin

Sussing Out Ideas with Crowd Annotation

Annotation: Copenhagen Letter

I followed an invitation by Maha Bali to annotate a document known as the Copenhagen Letter. Maha had her university students in Egypt doing annotations on a digital text, and she put out a call on her blog to others.  The Copenhagen Letter is an open letter to the world by a gathering of technology and social media folks, and other “thinkers” of some kind or another, as a manifesto for change when it comes to technology. (Here is a link to some of the background of the conference and the letter itself).

We used the Hypothesis add-on for crowd annotation, which is such a handy tool for this kind of work. You can read through the nearly 40 annotation observations by following this link: https://via.hypothes.is/https://copenhagenletter.org/ and I suppose Maha would say, Come on in and add your own thoughts, too.

As I dove in to the letter from the margins, I found myself feeling mixed about the content. On one hand, the letter is a call to action as a counter to the negative vibes and corporate for-profit threads that seem to be changing the entire DNA of social media spaces. It’s clearly the voice of frustration in terms of corporate desires overtaking user needs. On the other hand, the content of the letter is so vague and so general that is seems almost meaningless as a call to action.

I noticed, as I read the margin notes of Maha’s students and others, that not only was I not alone in that critique, but others were far more critical, questioning many phrases and intentions behind the letter. Someone even shared out Aaron Swartz’s 2008 Guerilla Open Access Manifesto as an counter example of calls to action.

At the end, where folks can “sign” the Copenhagen Letter, I wondered aloud: Did anyone in the margins ever sign the open letter? No response yet. (I did not sign it.)

An ancillary conversation on Twitter pursued this frame of thought a bit more – about whether such a manifesto does any good or if it only exposes the fuzzy language of how we talk about social media and technology in our lives. I’m still unsure about how I feel about the letter, but I appreciate that folks took the time to come together, to recognize the need for change, and worked to articulate concerns to the world. That’s not easy to do.

I’ll leave us with a comment by my CLMOOC friend, Sheri, who is wise and always has insightful and positive things to say about the world:

Which leads me to share out news that the group behind Marginal Syllabus, in partnership with the National Writing Project, is launching a project called Writing Our Civic Futures, in which various documents will be open for public annotation with Hypothesis over the course of a few months. This project begins this coming week, so now is the time to engage in discussion and discourse.

Learn more about Writing Our Civic Future here. And read the first invitation to annotate a post by Henry Jenkins about youth culture and social media, and change.

And a bit about Hypothesis:

Peace (in the margins),
Kevin

 

Teaching Attribution

This “card” will be helpful for my students to have in from of them when I get into my lessons around digital media and attribution principles, with a focus on how to search for Creative Commons for projects and how to use what other people have made in our own work.

This tutorial image comes from a useful post over at KQED called “Pause Before Downloading” and that article also includes a helpful list of places to look for Creative Common images.

And I don’t want to forget that Alan Levine’s handy attribution tool for images is something to install as a bookmarklet on our school laptop browsers. Alan has created a simple way to make sure you have the language of attribution down. Just drag the bookmarklet into your browser and whenever you find a Creative Commons image, just click on it and it will give you options for attribution. I use it all the time at home. Simple. Powerful. Handy.

Peace (link it),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Ethical Questions of Ease (Who Pays the Price?)

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

We’ve been a Google Apps for Education (or whatever they call it now) classroom for a few years now, using Google Docs and Slides and more on a regular basis with our sixth graders, but I haven’t dipped into the Google Classroom space until this year.

One reason I was holding off is an ongoing concern that everything we do is becoming more and more Google, a company that just loves to bring more young people into its data fold and nurture future Google Search users. Because the business model is pretty transparent: more searches means more money for Google.

So while I recognize and utilize the power of Google Apps with my students for peer editing, collaboration, use of media and words, publishing and more, I am always a bit reluctant to keep telling my students to crawl into the Google hole. (Maybe it’s just me but there’s something odd about the whole Google Superstar Teaching retreats that go on … I can’t quite explain it but it makes me feel icky to think that Google sponsors Professional Development and then has those educators self-identify as Google teachers … It’s also a brilliant marketing move.)

Another reason I haven’t ventured into Google Classroom is that I wasn’t quite ready to try something new. I was learning the management of Docs and Slides and how my curriculum might best use those features. I wanted to get a handle on what we were doing, and why we were doing it, before diving into new terrain.

This summer, I devoured an ebook by Alice Keeler who shared out 50+ ways to use Google Classroom (very helpful, but the Foreward in Keeler’s book by Google Product Management Executive Jonathan Rochelle made me cringe) and I have scanned through some of her videos, also helpful.

I learned enough about Google Classroom to know that I really needed to try out its features this year, if only to make my own life as a teacher tracking 75 students with Google accounts a bit easier and more manageable.

And it does. It really does, from allowing me to assign activities across multiple classes, to tracking who has finished and who has not, to a shared virtual classroom space, to scheduling assignments, to automatically creating student versions of my templates and putting them into a new Google Drive folder … there’s a lot that Google Classroom gets right.

Dang it. I’m sipping the tasty Google juice, and sharing it with my students.

But … I am also regularly talking about tech company’s intentions for gathering data and information about us, as means for making money from advertising and more. I hope that all balances out, and that in my attempt to make my life easier as a teacher I am not putting my students in the crosshairs of a technology behemoth.

Peace (go a little deeper),
Kevin

 

An Infographic Reminds Me of Stability

My teaching stats

Someone in the Slice of Life community had shared out this simple tool to create an infographic of “teacher stats” — you provide it with some data and it spits out a small infographic. Nothing too fancy, but that’s OK.

What I realized as I was doing mine is how stable my teaching career has been over the 15 years I have been in the classroom (after a 10-year career in journalism and a few years as stay-at-home daddy). I know I am lucky in this regard, particularly given the budget situation in my school district (we are among the lowest per-pupil expenditure communities in the entire state of Massachusetts).

And I am grateful for the stability, for it affords me to keep digging deeper into my teaching practice, and so far, I have not hit the boredom button. That’s one of the magical elements of teaching: every day offers something new and every student is a challenge and a celebration.

I am grateful for my first principal — the one who took a chance in late August on me, an inexperienced teacher, and supported me along the first year to become a confident (as much as possible) sixth grade educator, which is where I still am, every single day.

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

Make Panoramic Virtual Reality in Cardboard

Cardboard VR

Thanks to Richard Byrne, over at Free Tech for Teachers, I began exploring Google Cardboard again, but this time, I used the Google Cardboard Camera app to make my own virtual reality. The free app allows you to create a 360 degree panorama, and you can even add audio narration, and then share it out with people. (I did it with my Droid phone but I believe you can do the same with any iOS device.)

I did a trial run in my backyard and then used it when I did a hike up to a fire tower known as Goat’s Peak, which gives you a nice view of the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts from top Mount Tom.

If you have Google Cardboard (or some VR goggles .. I bought my set from Amazon for about 10 bucks) and the Google Cardboard viewer app, the links should open up for you in that app. You can see what I saw and hear me explaining it a bit.

See my backyard

See Pioneer Valley from Goat’s Peak

Here is Richard’s very helpful video tutorial on making and sharing Google Cardboard VR.

It would be pretty cool to have students use the Google Cardboard Camera app to make their own virtual reality shows of special places.

Peace (it’s reality),
Kevin

Checking out SLAM School


Slam flickr photo by delete08 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

SLAM School?

Well, it’s an “assembly” of the National Council of Teachers of English, and SLAM means the ‘Studies in Literacies and Multimedia.’ The “school” (wow, lots of quotes here already) is a series of periodic hangout videos in which folks in education and technology investigate the intersections of writing, multimedia, political action and more.

Check out this sample.

You can follow the SLAM School at the blog and also on YouTube, and the videos are about 30 minutes long, and lots of guests are sharing knowledge about video, social media, advocacy and more.

Peace (slammin’),
Kevin

Visual Literacies and the Emergence of “Picting”


visualliteracy flickr photo by alisonkeller shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

The term “picting” is new to me but it makes sense. In a recent piece at The Journal by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway entitled Picting, Not Wriing, is the Literacy of Today’s Youth, the question of whether the visual nature of literacy in the (literal) hands of youth — mostly via cameras on mobile devices — has overtaken the written literacies.

Maybe. I don’t know.

I look at my own teenage sons, and my own adolescent students, and I pay attention to the ways they use Snapchat and YouTube and who knows what other apps to document their world, but are they telling stories? It’s more like the visual elements of their mobile lives are connector points, or documentation hubs of their identity (or projected identities), than telling whatever we want to call a story. Read the comments at the article, and you’ll see a discussion about “story” unfolding along this query.

The authors cite research that does back up, however, how young people are more apt to “compose” with images  – and use writing only as secondary literacy points — than the other way around. Unless they are in school. Then, the equation flip flops. In school, writing is the key literacy skill and visuals are often add-ons.

I think that is generally true (that we value textual writing over visual composition), and while more of a balance would make sense, I still think the teaching of writing and of composition and of “composing” with media is a key anchor of learning in our schools. Whether young people are taking and sharing images with intentional design and composition strategies can probably be debated.

I believe that young people still need to learn and to use those more traditional skills (ie, writing with text) to inform the way they interact and write into the world, whether that writing be visual or not. Note the image I used at the top of the post. The elements of design are becoming more and more important for all of us, so teaching and learning visual literacy makes sense.

I was reminded of the work that Nick Sousanis is doing around the visual narrative. You can read his piece from Digital Writing Month, in which he explores elements of visual narrative with a unique insight.

from Nick Sousanis: Spin Weave and Cut

 

And I was reminded, too, of the way my friend Kim Douillard, a writing project colleague, sees the world through her camera, and shares out visual themes for others to try across many social media streams, every single week. Kim views what she sees through her camera as narrative points, and understands how a picture can be composed. I try to learn from her.

Image by Kim Douillard

 

Not everything we write is story, although a common definition of ‘story’ is often debated in writing and teaching circles. Still, the idea that narrative does run beneath all that writers do is an interesting concept, for sure. See Minds Made for Stories by Thomas Newkirk for more on this.

I wrote this as a comment response at The Journal’s piece:

Writing with text is important. So is visual literacy. Also, add in the ability to speak and listen. Explaining something with video? Yep. That, too. The best approach for us educators is always to find ways to fuse these elements together when working with young “composers” of media. We should teach students how each (writing, visual, audio) on its own transforms a message (if not tells a story) and how each can work in tandem with the other to make a more powerful statement on the world. It is intriguing how visual the world of young people has become and there are many ways to tap into that (graphic novels, comics, infographics, etc). I still maintain, along with others, that the art of writing is still at the center of all these literacies.

What do you think?

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

 

Transliteracies: Reading and Writing Across Mediums

This post has been sitting in my blog draft bin for some time. I remember thinking, this is a useful slideshow presentation from Bobbie Newman for considering the ways we write and read across various media and mediums. I guess I never brought it out during Digital Writing Month. The show’s a few years old now, but it is still relevant on its focus on storytelling across a wide range of concepts, including the way humans interact with narrative.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin