I admit: I missed every single live Zoom session gathering for the ETMOOC exploration of Artificial Intelligence. After teaching all day, the last thing I needed in my brain was a a Zoom session overload (so I engaged in other ways, mostly early in the mornings, and it was constructive for me).
But I wanted to find a way to watch the sessions later, and maybe have an annotation conversation from the side. Unfortunately, Vialogues — a site we used a lot for CLMOOC — bit the dust, but VideoAnt seems like a possible replacement.
Join us if you want — you will need a VideoAnt account to comment and be part of the conversations. (One thing that VideoAnt does NOT have that Vialogues did is an email notification when someone responds to your comment. Which is too bad.)
As I read, I annotated off to the side, thinking of words, lines, and theme. Then I noticed the poem spilled over to another page, which I didn’t have in front of me, which seems like an appropriate way to end my annotation, and craft a poem.
I tinkered a bit with some of the words from my annotations, but mostly, I kept it intact, moving from an observation of a single word to discovering the last section of the poem is lost (to me, in the moment).
(This is the third in a series of posts about writing a song. Read the first post and the second post, if interested)
For years now, I have valued many annotation adventures, either on my own or with friends. With tools like Hypothesis, NowComment, Vialogues and more, it’s never been easier to engage in a text, whether your own or someone else’s. Adding layers of questions, comments or just reflective observations over text and images and other media makes the act of reading more engaging and more interesting, I think.
Here, in this third post about songwriting, I wanted to annotate my own lyrics, for a song I have been writing and blogging about in this series entitled A Million Miles Away (From Finding Me). The lyric sheet is still somewhat under construction — in that, I may still tinker with the phrasings — but for the most part, this is where I am at with the writing of the words of the song and its story of a narrator grappling with some confusion about life.
The annotations – which I did in a text editor — allow me to speak from the margins about intentions, and techniques, and struggles, too, with finding the best way forward with a new song.
(Note: I was one of those people who took up an early invitation by the writers to add some thoughts via crowd annotation to an early version of this book)
Annotation and Curation seem to be critical skills and processes that might help us all thread together our disparate and often confusing online information flow in this modern age. When we annotate, we leave a trail of thoughts and discourse. When we curate, we pull those trails together in meaningful ways.
In the new book, Annotation, researcher/educators Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia (two people I know well from through the National Writing Project) explore the power of social annotation of texts through a variety of lens and make the case for a future in which our comments and conversations across platforms and texts could connect, and transform the way we think, learn, read and communicate with others.
Comics made as annotation to Annotation
This small book from MIT Press has both historical references (the way annotations helped readers make sense or talk back to books in the margins of those books, that were then passed around communities) to the Talmud (religious text annotations across time) to the way annotation helps learners with reading comprehension and text questioning, through solo annotation (for oneself) and crowd annotation (writing in the margins along with others).
As someone who has used platforms like Hypothesis, Vialogues and NowComment and others to annotate with others on a variety of texts and media, and found the experience empowering and enlightening, I appreciated the many angles that Kalir and Garcia bring to the table in their book.
They raise critical and ethical questions of content ownership (does the writer of the text need to grant permission for online annotation?); whether platforms are texts and writing on those platforms, annotation (Is Twitter a text and tweets, annotations to that text?); how marginal voices might find a way to be heard amid so much noise of the world and power imbalance; and so much more.
Annotation will provide you with a deep look into how annotation has evolved into the digital age and leave you with the hopeful ideas that annotation has the possibility of pushing back against disinformation as well as becoming part of a larger quilt to reconnect our disparate online selves and words together, whatever the platform. And in doing so, Garcia and Kalir argue, the world might become a more interesting and more positive place to engage in with others, while solidifying your own presence.
In January 2019, some of us in the CLMOOC Community decided to read the book Affinity Online by Mimi Ito and company to better understand how young people were engaging with each other and with media in online settings.
We had lots of reading and conversations, and one of the places where we gathered was in NowComment, to annotate Chapter 5 together (putting the ideas of the book into practice through shared learning in a shared space). The chapter annotation was spearheaded by Terry Elliott.
Nearly two years later, I am still getting email updates, inviting me back into new conversations in NowComment that are being built on the original ones. While I suspect these new annotators are probably in some graduate level class, I find it encouraging how annotations can live on and beyond (Hypothesis does the same thing — sending an email note when someone has commented on an annotation you have left). More than two dozen people have engaged in the chapter.
Now I am going back in, responding to new comments and perhaps engaging the conversation that started two years ago with my CLMOOC friends in new directions with others.
I shared a new song entitled With You With Me the other day and wanted to use the draft lyric sheet (this is often what my notebook paper look like as I am writing songs — messy, with crossed-out words and phrases, and crammed things all over the place) to annotate what I was thinking as I was writing the song.
I did this annotation in Thinglink (which allows for audio embeds and layered notes) for myself but maybe you will find it interesting, too.
The theme of this strand — Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions — seems to be resonating everywhere in education circles and that’s as it should be. Given that much of the US teacher population is white and middle class, but that much of the student population in 0ur classrooms is diverse and getting more diverse as the population shifts, we educators need to do more to think about bias, and identity, and cultural crossroads for communication practices with our students.
Look at these questions posed in this part of the definition:
Do learners have opportunities to raise questions about bias and privilege when consuming, curating, and creating texts?
Do learners have strategies for interrupting discourse that marginalizes people based on race, culture, sexuality, language, gender, and ability?
Do learners have opportunities to identify and discuss how to detect and report fake news/deliberately misleading and false information or information that promotes hate speech and violence?
Do learners create texts across modalities for a variety of audiences and consider how diverse groups would respond?
Do learners have opportunities to collaborate with people/learners from communities that hold different views/ideas/values/beliefs, life experiences, racial, ethnic, and cultural identities, and economic security to address social issues that impact all of our lives?
These are important queries, and difficult at times to make happen. It really requires educators to work with others, to gather the right resources, to know what questions need to be asked (of themselves, of their students, of their communities), to push back on norms.
We grapple and work with variations of these questions quite a bit in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. All of our projects and initiatives are viewed through the lens of culture, access, equity and social justice, and one of our leadership committees is dedicated to these very topics, helping facilitators think through workshops and seminars and teaching practice.
I find it interesting that the Media Literacy/Fake News element was put into here — at first, it felt rather forced, as if the topic was an orphan looking for a home. But then, as I pondered it, I began to see the rationale, of how fake news and text distortion plays a role in how we view “others” and how it can break down the bridge between cultures and language and diverse thought.
Further, I was thinking about the concepts of connecting multiple modalities and multiple ways of writing to cultural representations and literacies — to help learners be aware of how culture impacts our ways and access of literacies, and how that might play out in digital spaces. This concept intrigues me, and I don’t think I know enough about this to comment much further. For example, the reference to “sign systems” is not clear to me right now.
But the language of the definition has planted a seed of inquiry in my mind:
How do digital platforms both limit cultural expressions through technological design and how do users find workarounds to use platforms for cultural and linguistic, and modality, interactions anyway?
This month, the focus is on a piece about using the novel of Miles Morales, the black Spiderman, to talk about race and education, and varying the kinds of stories and texts that we bring into our classroom. (Come join in)
The first time I heard the term — Feldgang — I scratched my head. I had no clue to what it was, and it was Terry Elliott who used it to as he captured a walk on his farm.
Since then, I have seen Terry use the term quite a bit, from the wandering and noticing and documenting of the world via #smallstories and CLMOOC (and its various offshoots, like a community annotation read of The Art of Is happening now) to the way he plunges into books and texts with artistic annotations and doodling to surface ideas that might otherwise have been lost or unnoticed. It encompasses writing, reading, annotation, art and remix.
Way back in a piece from 2013 still archived via NWP’s The Current, he wrote about the art of the Feldgang, citing Otto Scharmer’s work on leadership, Theory U. Scharmer uses “feldgang” in this analysis, stretching the original meaning of the word from “field walk” to something larger and smaller, all at the same time.
Terry’s Original via The Art of Is
Kevin’s Remix of Terry
Scharmer, in a 2003 piece called The Blind Spot, notes, too, his childhood days on his family farm and the walks he and his father took to notice nature, and changes underfoot on the farm, and he writes of extending this Feldgang approach as a social observation concept that forces a pause in the world:
Very much in the same spirit, this study is a about a field walk across the social fields of our contemporary society. And just as we did during the Feldgang, once in a while we will stop and pick up a little piece of data that we want to pay closer attention to in order to better understand the subtle textures, structures, and principles that are involved in the evolutionary dynamics of social fields.
So, go on: plunge in with the world, and record your observations. Notice the fields. Surface the ideas. Step back and see. A Feldgang is a moment where observation and reflection come together, the quiet, a pause in the noise of the day. We all need more of that, and less of the other.
Then, I started to think about how to find a poem inside the text generated by another poem. Could I surface something from inside of something else, inspired by something else altogether? Another nested poem? I’d find out.
Here’s what I did (in case you want to ever do your own):
I went into Google Slides (but any slideshow program would work because when you move across slides, it looks like animation) and began to cross out words (blackout poem style).
Then I removed the excess words (I cheated, by turning the font color the same color as background, so white text against white background is no longer visible; otherwise, it would have a long formatting exercise of adding spaces where words had been).
Finally, I pulled the remaining, revealed text into another poem. I used transitions and animations to make the process more visible in the slides (the whole thing is as visual hoax, really, using different slides layered on each other to seem like the text is being animated).
Sort of odd. I like that kind of weird writing and weird writing processes.
Here is a convergence of two texts in a feldgang — first, a shared reading of The Art of Is with other CLMOOC friends and then, an article in this week’s The New Yorker by Hua Hsu entitled “Machine Yearning.” In The Art of Is, I am in a place in the text where writer Stephen Nachmanovitch is exploring improvisation and mistakes, and how one (mistakes) often lead to the other (improvisation) to make art. In The New Yorker piece, Hsu focuses in on artist Holly Herndon’s work to create music through a computer-generated voice program she calls Spawn, training it to sing to Herndon’s music on her new album, PROTO.
Hsu then connects Herndon’s work with computers and algorithms to some other movements on the music landscape, including rapper Lil Nas X’s successful maneuver to manipulate the algorithms of pop music charts to create “Old Town Road” (an analysis of top charted songs led the making of this song) and it, of course, has reached the top of the charts.
Further, Hsu notes that a company called Endel is now developing music created only by algorithms to “personalize” a space or environment that, according to Hsu, take ” … into account everything from their (listener) heart rate to the weather and thje time of day.” Endel got signed to Warner.
And Hsu notes that jazz pianist Dan Tepfer is releasing a new album soon called “Natural Machines” in which he plays duets with computer algorithms, in which the algorithms, according to Hsu, are “… designed to respond to his improvisations, producing a more dynamic range of sound than his two hands could make on their own.”
Huh. So, now connecting what I have been reading in the magazine piece to what I have been reading in The Art of Is, a question that keeps popping up into my head is this:
Can algorithms improvise? Will they be able to improvise? What will that mean?
Or is this one of those fault lines between human and machine, where improvisation is an art form that is truly and only human — something that draws from the heart, soul and mind? Or is that statement my own naive thinking, and machines will, if not now then soon enough, come to to learn how to be improvisational machines, creating art in the moment with no pre-programmed instructions? And if so, will we be able to tell the difference?
I’d like to think the first is true — that improvisation is a skill only humans have — and that we will be able to hear and recognize an improvisational solo by machine (Computer vs Coltrane? Saxophonist wins every time … right?) but I am less and less confident on that declaration as the years progress and I see projects like these unfolding.