Two thoughts this time out:  First, are creator’s assuming a consumer’s participation in a transmedia environment?   Second, how do the products of participatory culture fit into the research process.

The first issue is triggered by both Cory Doctorow and Jason Mittell.  In the panel discussion that prompted me to start reading Spreadable Media, Doctorow made a comment that he now assumes that a Google search bar is within reach when anyone reads his books.  No longer does he feel the need to rely on an assumed body of knowledge on the part of his readership nor does he feel a need to necessarily “fill in the blanks.”  This concept is echoed in Spreadable Media in the discussion of the concept of “drillable” media.  Jason Mittell is quoted as saying,

Perhaps we need a different metaphor to describe viewer engagement with narrative complexity. We might think of such programs as drillable rather than spreadable. They encourage a mode of forensic fandom that spurs viewers to dig deeper, probing beneath the surface to understand the complexity of a story and its telling. [. . .] Such programs create magnets for engagement, drawing viewers into story worlds and urging them to drill down to discover more.

While there is something enticing about being able to “drill” down into a text that you truly enjoy.  The further exploration of complex worlds presented in a book or movie is a way to deepen and extend the engagement with the story.  But I wonder about taking this idea too far; assuming that the reader knows or is willing to access too much information.  When is the need to know more to be able to understand the text distracting to the enjoyment of the text?  There are many texts that draw heavily on cultural reference.  Much of the Science Fiction genre relies on a certain level of understanding of science and technology.  Aren’t these texts more effective with one who comes to the text with the requisite background than with one who is constantly reaching for the search engine?  I guess that there must be a balance point between wanting to drill and needing to drill.  If an extenral resource is required for the enjoyment of the text, that is something very different than creating opportunities to drill as an additional experience to the text.

The second concept relates to that of user generated content in the school research process.  In the school library and classroom, we are often reminding students to go to the primary source as much as possible and develop one’s own ideas and opinions.  This is what learning is all about.  In the world of participatory culture and user created interpretations of the material, where do these new texts fit into the research process?  Clearly, those creating the new material have to have an understanding of the primary source to develop an effective and credible interpretation of that material.  But at some point, the distance from the original source starts to blur.  How credible are these new interpretations of these source documents?  What place do they serve, if any in the research process? I love the idea of generating school-based Wikipedia-like resources of student generated content.  But what purpose do they serve?  Are they useful for other students in their research in any way or do they simply serve as examples of student work?  As an example, I have had many unknowing students cite ThinkQuest as a source in their research papers.  Many of the documents within this site are outstanding, but they are all generated by K12 students.  They are not examples of what we traditionally would have defined as a “credible” document.  They are not written by known experts in the field.  The authors have no real “qualifications.”  Yet many of them offer great explanations of a topic or build wonderful context for a commonly studied novel.  By telling our students that they are not to use this resource, we are also telling them that there own work is not credible and worth sharing.  This flies directly in the face of developing a participatory culture.  Where is the line between encouraging students to create and publish by giving them spaces to do this and developing physical and digital collections of material that offer “credible” material for students to use in their research?

2 thoughts on “Spreadable Media – An Interaction – Part 3

  1. I think these are wonderful questions, Marc, and I would offer that these are wonderful distinctions that we have to ask students to be able to make…In that case, rather than banning these sources, it allows us great opportunities to teach students how to vet sources and think about the concept of expertise, and the difference between a culture of only a few experts and this concept of expertise, which would imply degrees rather than “is” and “is not.”

  2. I like your thinking, Sam. Credibility is a continuum. Even at the extreme ends of that continuum there is no black and white. The challenge is getting students to think this through and recognize the difference between this and ease of access.

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