Podcast #46

Jon McKenzie is a visiting professor in Cornell University’s English Department and a Dean’s Fellow for Media and Design. He is a teacher, an artist, and a teacher of artists. Jon and his students refuse to be constrained by the traditional academic media of articles and books, and instead work together to communicate ideas using alternative media such as audio, video, zines, and virtual reality environments. Jon has also developed his own pedagogical method which he calls StudioLab. During our conversation, we talk about how he combines elements of seminar classes, lecture classes, studio classes, and computer labs into single action-packed three hour class periods.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 Welcoming Jon McKenzie. What is smart media? “Critical” media? Looking for the creative moment in working with concepts.

4:43 “Skills” as a dirty word. Using the CAT framework: Conceptual, Aesthetic, Technical. Logocentrism: getting away from a certain idea of words and writing.

9:36 Jon’s TED talk about a student re-mediating or transmediating a prose seminar paper into various media using Photoshop and InDesign. “The visual track brings in a different evidence track.” Reaching different audiences: beyond specialists. New media is not beholden to the concept of originality.

15:39 What actually goes on in Jon’s classroom? Mixing the formats of the seminar, the computer lab, the and studio class. There’s critical discussion, learning software, then making some things: a trans-disciplinary approach.

  • One of the show’s mottos: “An innovation in teaching is using another discipline’s method.” Teaching benefitting from other models of what a class meeting is.
  • Trying to get beyond disciplines, expertise, and even ‘thought’ as the formation of ideas.
  • A fourth space: the field. Getting outside the university.

21:14 Moving from UW Madison to Cornell. Working to Engage Cornell. Working with professors from disparate media. Combining service learning with learning to use media.

25:54 Jon’s approach to student collaboration and teams. Using critical design organized by projects and skills: rock bands and guilds. All the Photoshoppers practice together and bring their skills to the band. Creatives, engineers, and suits.

27:57 What is a tutor text? From graphic zines to McLuhan and Fiore (The Medium Is the Massage) to hacktivism. Thinking about social organization and the affirmative power of organizing.

32:00 Evaluating multimedia writing: “as far from the multiple choice test as you can get.” Using the CAT framework as a rubric. the aesthetic part is the hardest: each discipline and aesthetic medium has its own formal language. Most humanists know a good bit about writing and its aesthetics, and you can draw upon professors’ existing media skills. Teaching students experience design, information architecture, information design.

40:05 Post-doc’s as candidates for aesthetic/transmedia trainers and evaluators. Ways of training students in multiple media and skills–including collaboration. Finding simple patterns that work across media: stories, arguments, and patterns. McLuhan said that in an era of information overload, pattern-recognition is king. Gestalt psychology on perceptual patterns and the philosophies of differences.

45:53 Getting back to grading. Doug loves grading (jk). Using the CAT frame and adding O for “organization.” Asking students to write, create multimedia presentations, video trailers, and web sites. Students choose their own roles and evaluate each other and themselves. Students re-design a service on campus.

52:43 Experimental pedagogy means making mistakes. Collaboration is the hard part. And the conflicts are very real-world: gender, for instance. Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were both organizational disasters.

58:10 Signing off.