As this semester’s iteration of ds106 ends—-yesterday marked my final meetings with all the UMW students—I’m pretty much done with grading and ready to reflect more intensely on the whole process. What struck after the final exam is how much ds106, EDUPUNK, and my own sense of self have become conflated. it was a weird moment for me to see all the final exam projects—which was purely a for-fun exercise—become effigies of me. Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily complaining—I love the whole thing—and I absolutely understand this is done in the spirit of making fun of me, which gets at the subversion of power that I think is essential to ds106. As Jordan Kroll notes: “I think what I will miss the most about ds106 is having an excuse to make fun of Jim Groom.” And that impulse has been responsible for a lot of fun stuff. I mean how cool are these movie posters by Patrick, Chris, and Jacob? (Update: not so cool given they are gone and the image links are broken and have been removed 😉 )
And you can see much more awesome stuff here. Fact is, almost from day 1 there has been an impulse to a kind of Jim Groom /ds106 fandom that is flattering, and suggests one way towards creating community is letting people have fun around a general icon of affectionate mockery.
That said, I have been thinking a lot about Videodrome recently, in particular those long, beautiful, TV-framed monologues by Dr. Brian Oblivion in which he talks about the idea of television as realer than reality and the basis of raw experience. What’s more, David Cronenberg is framing Dr. Oblivion (and the film more generally) around the idea of technology as part and parcel of the human body—a kind of flesh that is not simply external to our being, but rather integral to it’s very transformation—even if that transformation is monstrous. Dr. Oblivion is kind of the apocalyptic alter-ego of Marshall McLuhan. And this vision is very much in keeping with the idea of ds106 wherein the media and medium of storytelling is the focus, not the content. ds106 is not necessarily about creating great art—though I think it happens pretty regularly—but rather about consciously becoming mediated. Allowing oneself to operate through a variety of media to consider the larger, deeper questions of representation in a mediated cultural landscape. A moment in which the influence the media has on the way people define and represent themselves has never been more apparent and readily available—and during this explosion of possibilities the mediated environment for teaching and learning largely remains limited to the alienating, disconnected domain of the controlled space of the LMS. ds106 has shown me another way—and given I have an entirely online, five week Summer version of ds106 starting June 20th I am planning another experiment inspired by both McLuhan and Cronenberg. I plan to teach this class not as Jim Groom, but as Dr. Brian Oblivion. Check out this video to get a taste of what it will be like:
Everyday I will film a video/TV show explaining the theory, exercise, and work for that day in the persona of Dr. Oblivion. This will give me the ability to think long and hard through McLuhan’s work as a frame for what exactly we are doing at any given point in the class. Oblivion will frame the assignments, exercises, and ideas for a particular section of the course via ds106.tv (which will be live and allow for call-ins, back and forth discussions, etc.). This class will be an experiment in the idea of mediated learning and the theoretics that have brought us to where we are today, at the same time I hope they inspire a sense of thinking long and hard about representation, identity, the mediated landscape we live in. Increasingly we need to problematize and deconstruct the idea of identity we are currently operating under because I don’t think the ways we frame identity online more generally even begins to deal with the complexity of the medium we find ourselves everywhere consumed by. It seems the best we have done thus far is a kind of vision of “online branding” which is a shallow, capital-driven cultural cosmetic for all the deep, unsettling questions about what is happening to identity as our social interaction becoming increasingly more mediated through the virtual. I think this iteration is going to be kinda of insane. I am not sure anyone has taught a class entirely as a character from a film, but I’m gonna give it a go. What’s more, I am thinking this class might be a bit more theoretical in its approach. We will still have all the awesome assignments and complete freedom to create whatever you link based on a particular format of expression, but I’m going to use the Dr. Oblivion videos as a way to get at some of the particular issues of representation and identity within the digital milieu. I am going to try and compose a script for each and every class that gets at some issue, polemic, or vision of this mediated landscape we find ourselves in—seems a great excuse to read McLuhan more closely and frame him as the guide/muse for this iteration of ds106.
I am really excited about this, I am not sure how it will be received by the students (who will be getting their first Dr. Brian Oblivion intro video shortly) but I think it really begins to push this class even deeper into the medium that it attempts to wrestle with. For me that is the whole point of ds106, it is not about thinking about the medium as a detached spectator from afar, but rather about going more deeply into that very medium as an experiential vision of of the transformation that our world is currently undergoing. A performance in and of the media.