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Dusting off the Classics

Hello UMWBlogs Users! You might be surprised to see a new post pop-up on the frontpage. We admit it has been a long time since we posted anything here, but that hasn’t stopped you all from continuing to use UMWBlogs as a place to create and share your work. We in Digital Learning Support think it is time for UMWBlogs to receive a little attention over the coming weeks and months. Here are some of the changes that will be coming your way:

* A new homepage for UMWBlogs. Nothing radical, just moving us in to the last decade.

* Integrating single-sign on. That way you can use your NetID and password like you do in other UMW systems.

* Updated themes and plugins. We plan to improve the options for individual blogs as well as improve the functionality of the site overall.

Before any of this work gets done we will e-mail users of UMWBlogs to notify them with specifics for when to expect to see changes and how to reach out to us if they experience issues with the changes.

We are excited to give UMWBlogs a tune-up and we are glad you are still here with us after all these years. We think UMWBlogs can continue to provide an easy and reliable place to do thoughtful and creative work. Our hope is that with a bit of sprucing up we’ll be able to continue the legacy of good work that has occurred on this platform for over a decade.

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This image is a remix of a photo, “Grandma’s cookbook: inside the cover”. Photo taken by litlnemo. Verbiage on the page inspired by the original.

Hitchcock Motifs

UMW Art History professor JeanAnn Dabb is teaching a Freshman Seminar on Alfred Hitchcock. Few subjects in this world are more compelling than Hitchcock’s films, and it’s hard to think of a better excuse to run a course blog. So, that’s exactly what JeanAnn did, and you can find it here: http://hitchcock.umwblogs.org. That’s right, a little bit of old school UMW Blogs to temper all this Domain of One’s Own rah rah rah 🙂

Hitchcock in the Simpsons

What I like about how JeanAnn ran this course blog is she had students write about different elements of Hitchcock’s films over the course of the semester. They captured the various motifs Hitchcock employed across his films and the innumerable homages to Hitchcock’s work by other filmmakers and in pop culture. They also wrote about his ongoing legacy (is Vertigo (1958) his/the greatest film of his career/all time?), as well as his impact on contemporary art. I love the various lenses she provides her class to think through the Master’s work.

Stan Douglas’s recreation of the set of Marnie is a loop of a scene in which Marnie robs the office where she works. It’s reshot in a modern setting, with computers instead of typewriters, though it is in black and white rather than color. Read more by clicking on the image.

It’s really compelling stuff, and I have spent way too much time reading through the posts. My personal favorites are from the motif category in which students trace various recurring themes through his films. Various students’ posted about the ways in which Hitchcock subtly and brilliantly manipulates the viewer in his films. One can often find themselves in a compromised position as a result, which is illustrated brilliantly in this post about the “GunCam”— or the first person shooter perspective in Spellbound (1945).

GunCam: First Person Shooter from Hitchcock’s Spellbound

The post by Mrs. Atwater, “The Audience and the Film,” does an excellent job sharing some of the particular moments in which Hitchcock is breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging the audience’s role in the action.

In Strangers on Train, Bruno engages the audience head-on as the other audience is seduced by the action.

Joseph Cotton breaking the fourth wall in Shadow of a Doubt

Grace Kelly in Rear Window communicating with the audience

The motif of criss-cross in Strangers on a Train is the focus of another post, which uses screenshots and GIFs (a staple for film blogs now) to capture the various ways Hitchcock communicated his themes and motifs though this visual medium. As an aside, I love that one of the GIFs they grabbed from the web for their post was from my own blog 🙂

Criss-crossed traintracks in Strangers on a Train

Criss-crossed feet

Criss-crossed audience (a GIF furnished by the bava :))

And that’s not all, there are posts covering the motifs of stairs, tense drivers, and falls from high places, and the various posts really make for some compelling discussions about Hitchcock’s work. What’s even better is the web is an endless supply of inspiration and resources when it comes to film, and the students have not been shy at all about using them liberally when it comes to screenshots, GIFs, and videos.

Read the full version of this post here.

GIFs, Chinese History Style

The students in Sue Fernsebner‘s Chinese History through Film course have been hard at work creating GIFs as part of their film analyses. There are a bunch of excellent GIFs that try and capture a particularly significant moment within the film they’re analyzing. For example, the GIF analysis for the film Not One Less (1999) effectively focuses on the film’s recurring use of chalk to frame the underfunding of rural elementary schools in China. I really like how the student uses the GIFs to capture the chalk moments, the only thing is they are far too big and need to be optimized so they’ll load in the browser.

Another analysis I really loved is the sequence taken from the 1994 film Ermo. This film follows one woman’s obsession with purchasing a television, and the following multi-shot GIF sequence, alongside the student’s analysis, really captures the emergence of consumerism and the rols of capitalism in 1990s China—something we’ve witnessed the apotheosis of in the 21st century.

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There is also this four-part giffing of the highly politicized sex scene with Gong Li in Ju Dou (1990). Brilliant stuff, it is similar to the GIFs I experiemnted with from Red Surghum last year for this class, and how cool to see the students this year going well beyond that!

JuDou1JuDou2Judou3 JuDou4

Finally, another GIF I really enjoyed but is too heavy to link to in this post is this sweeping shot from the 1950s propanganda film The Red Detachment of Women. I love how the GIF captures the way in which masculine and feminine roles in the revolution are framed, as well as the sexual innuendo of the scene.

And that’s just a few of the nineteen examples of students playing with GIFs to analyze Chinese history through films.  Now that’s EDUCATIONAL!

Rosie the Riveter dot umw dot edu

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 3.10.49 PMSo, it’s been over a year since UMW has had it’s main .edu website running on WordPress. DTLT has been experimenting with the possibilities of aggregating posts from UMW Blogs into umw.edu (in fact, this post will aggregate into DTLT’s site on umw.edu). But the cooler part is to start experimenting with bringing the work students and faculty are doing in the classroom to the university’s website, and to that end Jess Rigelhaupt’s Oral History class last semester has done some really cool things.

Every semester I come and talk to this particular class about the possibilities for creating an open, online space to share the documentary histories they create over the course of the semester. We look at a ton of sites, and imagine what’s possible for them. The final project/product for the entire class is to build a site and populate it with all the documentary media on the assigned topic they create, collect, and curate for the world to access—public education writ large!

So, this past Fall semester they were working on Rosie the Riveter (very few topics could be cooler) and they decided they wanted to design the site to look like a umw.edu site—I imagine because they thought the school’s website looks pretty damned good, which it does! So midway through the semester we copied the theme used for umw.edu sites to UMW Blogs so they could have at it for their Rosie the Riveter project on UMW Blogs—which was at rosietheriveter.umwblogs.org. However, soon after we got the theme up the idea of “wouldn’t it be cool if this site was using umw.edu versus umwblogs.org” arose. And, as usual, we have the technology! All we had to do in this case is map the domain rosietheriveter.umw.edu onto umwblogs—and voila the resource site is using the umw.edu domain seamlessly!

The Rosie the Riveter Song as found here on Rosie the Riveter dot umw dot edu

Now, eventually I would love to see courses logging into umw.edu to create these kinds of resource sites, or having a seamless ways to syndicate and clone their work from umwblogs to umw.edu. But in the interim, I love this site as an example of what’s possible. Moreover, and more importantly, the students’ work is amazing. They have compelling oral history documentaries, a section that curates the pop culture films of the era (with everything from Woody Woodpecker to Hemp farming to a Syphillis PSA—now that’s educational!), as well as numerous interviews with local folks who share their experiences of living through that era.This is another example of undergraduate research at UMW finding its way into the public domain for the sake of sharing and making the world that much cooler. UMW has not forgotten the struggle, and we have not forgotten the streets 😉

500 Open Courses on UMW Blogs


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At the beginning of every semester I get a hankering to post something about UMW Blogs. I don’t know why, it has arrived to the point that it’s more like air than technology around campus at this point. We regularly have more than 50 faculty using this platform any given semester as a space to share their teaching out in the open, and after five and a half years of UMW Blogs now  have more than 500 courses on the system (and this doesn’t include courses from the 2007/2008 academic year—we didn’t start tracking them until Fall 08). What’s more, since we started tracking traffic on UMW Blogs in the Fall of 2009 we have had more than five million unique visitors and almost twelve million page views—two million of which came last semester alone.

Five hundred open educational experiences laid bare to the world at large, each one a love letter to the ideal of thinking, sharing, and creating on the open web as part of a public institution. To be clear absolutely clear, a number of those courses have been taught several times, and the courses are uneven to say the least. But that’s part of the experience—it must remain a space for experimentation, and with that comes false starts, mid-stream re-thinking, and, sometimes, abandonment of an experiment gone awry in order to re-group for the next one. Not failure but learning. I want to take a moment to recognize all the awesome faculty, students, and staff at UMW that make this kind of sharing of the work we do possible on a regular basis, you all rock!