This blog post serves a second function: it is also my contribution to the Pitzer College publication, The Engaged Faculty Collection, a project spearheaded by my colleague Tessa Hicks Peterson as part of the Celebrate Pitzer at 50 festivities. This collection tracks the College’s forward thinking, active, and ongoing engagement, across its history, to practices and methods known variously as community-based learning, civic engagement, and action research. I am quite proud of my small part in this history, the large part that Pitzer Media Studies has played (with our core commitments to social justice and community-based media education), and the truly inspiring, and often unsung work of my colleagues and college in this regard.

In this short piece, I will frame, and then point/link to five of my most recent research/pedagogy/writing projects within my feminist media studies/practice, one that has always tried to at once understand, inhabit, teach in and about, and work for change within the communities and movements that matter to me. In the recent projects that follow, that “community” has become the Internet, a space both different from and indebted to the many other places with which I have engaged across my career.

1) When I arrived at Pitzer College in 1995, I was embraced as a committed mediamaker/theorist whose work was situated within the AIDS activist and feminist media communities, and the queer (of color) art and activist worlds. My work was, and continues to be about making and theorizing media production as part of social justice movements in which I am a member. When the digital emerged as a powerful place where all media can and often do converge, I moved parts of my practice there, developing a website connected to my Pitzer and sometimes CGU course, Media Praxis (in Ontario), that asked students to think about the 100 year history of activist media practice and theory while making a piece of such media themselves.

(To be clear: to read this article, you need to actually follow the links to things I’ve already made and already written, thus evidencing the new kinds of “Internet, or Multi-Modal writing” (and reading) I’ve been exploring and theorizing as part of my feminist digital practice: shorter, recursive forms, with a different tone that are often for broader audiences and based on the reading logics of the Internet, one of which is our hope for the fast and breezy. To be clear, this contribution is actually really long if you follow and read all the links!)

If you go the Media Praxis site, for example, you will see a great deal of activity, writing, and even more linking by my students, over several semesters. This evening-out of authority, this sharing of voice, has always been part of my media activism, and feminist pedagogy, but is much more easily realized in my “writing” when it occurs on the Internet where norms of “publication” begin to change in line with those of “authoring.”

You can also read more about my move to the digital  here, in an article called “You Get the Picture” for the Frames Cinema Journal #1, a special issue, Film and Moving Image Studies Re-Born Digital?

2) In 2007, I took my Media Praxis to YouTube, and taught a course on and about the site, Learning from YouTube, to much media fanfare. As I explained above, my feminist, community-based practice has always tried to reside in the spaces it hopes to know, change, and better understand, all the while speaking in vernaculars best suited for that place and its community.

I taught the course several more times, and in each iteration, I asked students to think critically about their learning in the lived space of the elite liberal arts classroom as it is pressed into and against the “democratic” spaces of the Internet. How do we learn in these linked spaces? How might we write? What might we demand of corporate space to function more like the learning communities that we inhabit (at great cost)? What do we lose when we “learn” for free in the wilds of the Internet? For the class, my students did all their work as YouTube videos or comments, thereby evidencing the same formal imperative I am demonstrating here: to think and write in the new forms, formats, and platforms that currently shape much of the ever-more linked world of ideas, culture, and commerce in our era.

My students’ brilliant “writing”—like the video above that comments on commenting culture using the vernacular of that very culture—prominently shapes my “video-book” about the course, also called Learning from YouTube (MIT Press, 2011). You can “experience” the video-book to learn more about what my students and I learned about/on YouTube (it’s fun and free! If you are intimidated by its unfamiliar form, take the “tour” called “YouTube Is” by clicking on the left bottom box: it’s a short introduction to the main ideas structuring the project). Or you can read about it here, in an editorial I wrote for Inside Higher Education, “A Truly New Genre.”

And here’s a short interview I did about the class with “design guru” Bill Moggridge, as part of his influential Designing Media Project. There, you’ll find me sandwiched (the nasty cream filling…) between some truly powerful and sometimes great forces within the new media industry. My Pitzer-esque critique of capital and other powerful forces shaping this environment plays a critical role in this very public conversation.

3) While I believe that the critical (and sometime local) community that I produced in the class about YouTube, and our  interventions into corporate media space were successful, the great amount of time I spent inside of this hostile, stupid, and unruly environment led me to want to build my own Internet spaces better aligned with my values as educator, activist, and artist, rather than merely criticizing those that have been handed to us for free. This led to my next large teaching/research/building project, Feminist Online Spaces: a website, course, and set of lecture/performances that asked the question what the Internet might look like if it was more like the lived space of a feminist classroom: safe, principled, activist by definition, open, collaborative, and committed to the co-production of knowledge and community. Built from my writing and research, that of my students over several years, and little feminist objects made by workshop participants from around the world, this site/class asks participants to think about the making and circulating of media fragments as part of/distinct from the larger aims of political communities (online and off). How do we bring the values, norms, methods, and affect of lived and local (feminist) spaces to the Internet and how do we bring the Internet to these spaces?

This line of work led me to three more places:

  • a theoretical and political plea to leave, cede, or link to the Internet (from the lived world) as core to activist media production. I end my piece for The Militant Research Handbook by saying: “Finally, my ‘research’ and teaching on the Internet—in the feminist spaces I build and interact in—have led me to believe that the writing and object-making that happens there, in the name of understanding and enacting feminist expression online, begs us to think past the digital, beyond representation, and back to bodies and lived spaces. This means two things: we need to continue to be critical of the Internet inside of the Internet, and we also need to leave it by linking (or editing or organizing) out to the world and other activists and actions and thereby into realms of behavior, interaction, and feeling that are neither commodifiable nor stuck. Activist digital activities need to create linked projects of secession. It is in the leaving that our feminist digital activism truly begins.”
  • 4) an art show, PerpiTube, about YouTube and community-building, co-curated with Pato Hebert, that lived for a summer in the Pitzer Art Galleries, and in perpetuity on YouTube, and was produced in engagement with several of our local community-based partners, while also connecting these communities to like (virtual) partners around the world.
  • FemTechNet, my most recent, and even more ambitious “x-reality” project (built within the connected fabrics of on and offline community spaces and experiences, the term is Beth Coleman‘s). With co-facilitator, Anne Balsamo, and a network of feminist educators and artists from around the world, we successfully took on the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) with our feminist reevaluation, the DOCC, Distributed Online Collaborative Course. I am proud to admit that I may be one of the few college professors around to have been lambasted twice, for two separate media projects, by Fox News!

5) You can read about FemTechNet’s inception here, or here, or look at its pretty impressive media coverage here. I’ve lately found myself speaking to university administrators, IT leaders, and fellow humanities professors about how digital technology can better on-the-ground learning. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the successful challenge of FemTechNet’s DOCC to the more corporate, top-down, imperialist, unresponsive course offerings modelled by MOOCs is a collective application of many of the feminist principles of pedagogy and community-based learning I’ve been discussing throughout. It’s been invigorating and gratifying to see people who might be unconvinced about “feminism,” become quite impressed by the platforms, structures, methods and outcomes it produces for teaching.

And so, I haven’t come full circle, really. I’ve stayed true to Pitzer, and at home in its communities and values, while entering the Internet to bring Pitzer there and the world (of the Internet) to Pitzer. This is an exciting expansion of community that also stays true to the small and local, that honors and thinks about difference without flattening it, that lives and teaches ethically, that co-creates knowledge while being self-aware of power both in outside the room, all the while staying invested in self- and world-making, and staying true to the community-based practices we’ve developed at the College even as it departs (at times) from lived community to do so.

 

Online Learning Summit

March 14, 2014

FemTechNet, collaborative makers of “the anti-MOOC,” were graciously, no I’d even say studiously received by leaders of the bellies-of-the-beast at last weekend’s Online Learning Summit, hosted by Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford (the great research institutions who put money and a spotlight on what would first be the year, but quickly the boondoggle of, the MOOC.). President Hennessy of Stanford started us off by indicating that the Massive of MOOCs should really be rethought as the moderate; and Open ended up generating a host of problems people hadn’t quite predicted (particularly the great differences of skills, knowledge, and attention of the masses who came; demonstrating “a dynamic range of ability.”)

photo 2


Opening Remarks and Q&A with Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor, U.C. Berkeley
and John Hennessy, President, Stanford University

The speakers at the Summit were interested to name both what MOOCs have proven to be good and not so capable at:

  • not good at generating revenue
  • not good at “human content-enhanced learning” (Ellen Junn, Provost, CSU, Dominguez Hills) or feeling connected to what one learns or the “human touch”
  • not good at much besides content-provision, and isn’t learning more than this?
  • great for book-clubs for life-learners (alumni, people with little access to quality education)
  • great as text-books to be used by working professors in their own classes; in a new world of “more content” teachers will be able to use MOOCs and other open content to choose between and enhance their own teaching
  • great opportunities to learn about learning; educate the educator
  • great at further stratifying an already-stratified higher education system whereby elite institutions (like the ones hosting the event and the one at which I teach) can continue to provide and even improve face-to-face and residential education with the selective, thoughtful use of technology while less-privileged institutions will use technology to try to save costs, educate more “efficiently,” and/or through the noblese oblige of elite institutions who will share their highly produced and exceedingly expensive content for free or at lost cost with the lesser-thans. It appears only 1 million Americans within higher education (1%) currently receive the “Classroom, Quad and Lab” that were once the gold-standard of our liberal education; this 1% will greatly improve through smart uses of digital learning! (Patrick Methvin, Deputy Director of Postsecondary Success, U.S. Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
slide by Patrick Methvin, Deputy Director of Postsecondary Success, U.S. Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

slide by Patrick Methvin

We went on to hear from administrators, professors and technology professionals about better models—and some wacky experiments, too; all agreed that this was the time for innovation, experimentation and even play (for those with the support to do so)—for digitally enhanced learning (including our own DOCC). Such experiments would use technology to help professors be more than content experts, but also expert pedagogues; thereby “amplifying the effectiveness of professors and students”:

  • Learning Management Systems that allowed for live, synchronous classes that are socially networked
  • the building of flexible curricula and pedagogy from “units of learning” or self-contained modules (Eric L. Grimson, Chancellor for Academic Advancement, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • tools to provide more individual and individuated attention

Of course, feminist pedagogy has been making just such claims, and theorizing and practicing from them, for generations (see our white paper), and it’s a thrill, really, to see leaders from across academia listening to our old, successful, and next-gen models!

photo 1

FemTechNetters, Anne Balsamo and Radhika Gajjala will tell it all to you!

 

MOOCing the Prison?

February 20, 2014

My last post, MOOCing the Liberal Arts? concluded with this suggestion: “For those of us in higher education, including our students, our work is to provide MOOC alternatives by using technology, and other means, to improve what we do and to open access to what we have.”

Today, along with four of my students and a visiting scholar, Gabrielle Foreman, we taught our first of seven classes on Technology at the Norco prison. A little background: our class is one of many being offered through the PEP program (Prison Education Program), run through the visionary leadership of Dr. Renford Reese at Cal Poly Pomona. “The overarching philosophy of PEP is to use the resources in the backyard of each of the state’s prisons to make change e.g. university student and faculty volunteers. There is a college within a 15-20 mile radius of each of the state’s 33 prisons. PEP’s goal is to collaborate with these colleges to assist the CDCR in reducing recidivism in the state by 1% by 2015.” Our class “Technology in Prison,” is a seminar connected to the yearly speaker’s series that I run as director of the Munroe Center for Social Inquiry at Pitzer, this year’s theme being Technology. For seven weeks, some of my speakers and students from the seminar will move our inquiry in place to see how our conversations change, and expand, when engaged with a student population denied access to most of the (digital) technologies that those of us on the outside now take for granted.

But back to my opening remarks about MOOCs. Our class today, a conversation at the highest-level with seventeen eager, intelligent, and open inmates had NOT ONE THING of a MOOC in its infrastructure. While we had paper, the pencils had disappeared; there is no access to the Internet in this classroom; and while we did have several photographs of the work of Dave”The Potter” Drake approved for Dr. Foreman’s use, they also had not materialized by class time. While more technologies could have enhanced our opportunities, we did just fine without them (although, our students hastened to remind us that we did have chairs, and lights, and our own bodies, minds, and will as our quite supportive technological infrastructure.)

visarts-pot1detail-04

As Dr. Foreman explained, Dave the Potter used clay, glaze, tools, his hands, his words, and his many intellectual and political desires, within a system of brutal confinement where both his literacy and his relationship to the market economy were both illegal, and successfully engaged in expressive technologies from which we continue to learn today. So, too, did our students, today, knowing as we did technology through our conversations and community with no need for bigger (massive), even as desire for (more) access was uncontainable. As we struggled to define technology in a space where access to much of (modern, digital) technology was prohibited, we expressed that the tools that we might make, and that just as well might make us, are also only as principled as the humans who desire and engage them. And thus, we did not and can and need not MOOC the prison.

MOOCing the Liberal Arts?

February 19, 2014

I had the opportunity to speak this past weekend with my colleague and friend, Liz Losh, about the FemTechNet DOCC2013 as part of the Gaede Institute’s yearly conversation on the Liberal Arts, this one on MOOCs. The Institute’s director, Christian Hoekley, put together a compelling program where both critics and successful practitioners of recent MOOCs joined in conversation with a small, engaged, thoughtful crowd of interlocutors to think, in particular, about the challenges of technologically enhanced/corporate/computer delivered education within the context of a liberal education that might seem diametrically opposed to the aims of most mainstream MOOC‘s: bent as they are to serve many, many, many customers, efficiently, conveniently, for free (or at low cost or via the “noblesse oblige” of the wealthy few [Astin]), leaving in the dust the traditional teacher/professor, brick and mortar classroom, and its well-established norms of community, conversation, and care.

Alexander Austin, described by many in the room as the “guru of higher education research,” reminded us that his lengthy and lauded career of research allowed him to assure us that evidence has established, over decades and across thousands of undergrads at a variety of learning environments, that what students need to succeed is frequent interactions with faculty, student-to-student contact, co-curricular opportunities, writing, independent research opportunities, and a common core, none of which are usually available, or even attended to, in the production, selling, and use of MOOCs. He understands this “course content delivery” view of education as decidedly uninterested in other things that most colleges want to boast about: their institution’s unique purview on teaching young people leadership, citizenship, self-awareness, or critical thinking. Meanwhile, Peter Hadreas named similar qualities left under-attended to in the MOOC his Philosophy colleagues were being forced to teach on Justice (and for which he and he colleagues penned an infamous letter of refusal as a direct appeal to Professor Michael Sandel): education that needs to honor knowledge, good will for the student, and open speech.

What we learned in the meantime, from Owen Youngman who carefully studied his own tens of thousands of students enrolled in his MOOC on new media, “Understanding Media by Understanding Google,” was that the very many students from around the world who were successfully, happily, and gratefully taking his course for free were primarily older students, with undergraduate and even graduate training: people who were already prepared to learn on their own, or with the guidance of other students, students who were augmenting their already completed liberal education with extra stuff available for free on the Internet.

The conference left me no less suspicious about what MOOCs can’t and won’t do, and all the nefarious reasons that necessiate that liberal arts professors and our students should stay impassioned in our refusal of this upstairs/downstairs scenario [Hadreas], what I have liked to think of as a separate-but-equal set up, whereby some people get to take the Harvard class for credit, and the rest take the dumbed-down, paltry, technologized alternative for free. But this conversation did allow me to see how MOOCs can enhance, although never replace, what we strive to do well in college, and can provide a small piece of what people might want or need who are not (or will not get to be) in college. MOOCs can provide a form of adult or remedial education where they add information, access, learning, and knowledge to those with little access to these fine things without them. For those of us in higher education, including our students, our work is to provide MOOC alternatives by using technology, and other means, to improve what we do and to open access to what we have.

Enjoying a much-deserved drink with highly-Twitterate Jesse Daniels after a few days of talk, workshops, and video dialogues in Ann Arbor about Feminist Digital Pedagogy, we were discussing the changing culture of blogging, and other social media forms in relation to our own ever-changing digital metronomes. Which is a fancy way to say here what I said there: “I always used to blog about conferences, but now it feels like it takes T.o..o….l…o…n….g…t..o..b..l..o..g..; the work is t…o…o…h…a…r..d. What’s the deal with this quickening?”

Digital_ScreenNow, I won’t go into the long and short of that conversation held with several other bigwigs of the digerati—Andre Brock, Carrie Rentschler, Laura Wexler—but only begin there (and not at the panel) for two reasons (which were, in fact, big ideas covered at the panel):

  • work in critical, feminist digital studies is about theorizing and practicing our own experience in real time with others (this was one of Rentschler’s points at the Michigan workshop: our feminist digital pedagogy is occurring wherever we meet, online and off, and not just, or perhaps hardly ever, in the classroom) so as to be activist and present and critical together (she mentioned discussion and actions about “Rape Culture” online, and nowhere near “academic feminism,” as one kind of place for professors to look; meanwhile, Laura Wexler reminded us that much of what we need to know, we’ve already done, which is to say the process is also archival and cyclical; see Maria Cotera’s amazing DH project, “Chicana Por Mi Raza: Uncovering the Hidden History of Chicana Feminism (1965-1985), also discussed at the workshop)
  • because, of course, we have long known we had to perform our feminist praxis in sites in and out of the academy, in multiple formats and to different audiences. And now we might all agree that a new part of our feminist digital pedagogy is also to divvy up the temporal spectrum, and each take some responsibility to hold down the short or medium and even, yes, long form, making sure we are present in the immediate, gratifying flows of Twitter as well as guaranteeing that we are lying safe for the long run on paper in a library.

Crank (or should I say crunk) it back a day, and move the (my) body to Rutgers, and similar conversations were happening, under the same title, only in a different room, and to a similar but unique crowd (online and off: see Adeline Koh’s Storify version).

Feminist Digital PedagogiesNow, you might ask, why two conferences, two cities, three days? What is this telling us about this metronome and its unique piano-home? A conference, as you all know, is a kind of medium speed but fully-placed venture: long talks, all day in one room, some need for a coffee and pee break, but the sustaining, necessary gratification of f2f: we must be present to each other … sometimes.

As was true just a year or two ago, when the fembot collective and the femtechnet one found ourselves forming in distinct places, for varied (feminist, digital) ends, but at the same time, and then worked together to divvy up some of that HUGE map-of-affective-labor, this current synchronicity marks a pulse we can all be nourished and energized by across our differences. Rutgers and Michigan held these sister conferences because they want to up their digital games. That’s because over just the past few years a large enough number of us have organized in a lot of places, temporalities, and forms, so as to create visibility, community, and output, so as to make it crystal clear what was always true: that there’s a new and old game in many time-frames and in a world of places; miss it to your own loss.

These are loose ideas to initiate conversation with Julia Lesage and friends from ADA .It will be a live, online conversation on, January 17: Multimodal Editing and the Future (join us)! We”ll start with  On Publishing My YouTube “Book” Online (September 24, 2009) because here I list and demonstrate many of the issues, questions, delights and concerns about this kind of scholarly work and practice. I’ll ask to watch a brief section of this video:

I have three large points about new affordances, traditional rubrics, and their intersections and frustrations that I will make in my brief presentations before we have a conversation .

1) Why would you write online? What are its affordances?

  • Because you are working on Internet culture, databases, or other objects or cultures or practices that (in part) reside online
  • Thereby your access and your readers’ is streamlined
  • You write in the vernacular, community, structure you analyze:
  • You need not describe, you can build (or analyze), from shared interaction with the object you study

A) It allows for multi-modal authorship

  • Creative possibilities including: montage, sound, image, design
  • Expressive possibilities in same vernacular you study
  • Collaborative authoring possibilities:
    • with your “subjects,” “readers,” or “students”

B)  Different writing practices: See FLYT on Writing Practices

  • Iterative
  • Interactive
  • Quick; Short
  • Vernacular
  • Public

C) Different audiences and places for scholarly practice

  • Outside academia
  • Public
  • Your Subject

D) Different reading practices

  • Distracted
  • Quick, short
  • Interactive

E) Different structures of vetting

  • Free
  • Open Source
  • New models for peer review (or not)

E) Different paradigms, practices of Publishing

  • “The Absurdities of Moving from Paper to Digital in Academic Publishing (June 11, 2010),” LFYT

2) Traditional Rubrics for Academic Writing (apologies to Rhetoricians and Scholars of Writing, this is my quick list and I’m ready for your additions and nuances!)

  1. hypothesis and thesis
  2. research: footnotes, bibliography
  3. analysis: clearly expressed, smart, original
  4. proof: facts, data, quotations
  5. detail: relevant, elegant, supportive
  6. coherent structure: 5 pg. paper, 10 pg. paper, dissertation
  7. style: clear, pretty, personal, impersonal
  8. rhetorical paradigm
  9. Awareness of audience

3) Questions for conversation:

  • How do you graft 1) New Affordances to 2) Traditional Rubrics?
    • Thesis is easy! Research is the same.
    • So are footnotes and bibliography, although they could take many forms and sit in many places (i.e. they could be spoken, or written on an image as text)
  • What needs to shift or change entirely?
    • Structures: papers are cumbersome and incorrect
    • Style: different audiences and reading practices

My Visual Research Methods course has ended, and as ever, my grad students in a range of programs at CGU have done inspiring and inventive work to wrap up this class which pushes traditional Humanities grad students to roll up their sleeves, work with their hands, imagine new audiences and formats, and think about academic labor and standards using new rubrics.

This year, our assigned readings—in Nick Mirzoeff’s Visual Culture Reader, the Debates in the Digital Humanities Reader, and two books about the ongoing and ever-widening Center for Digital Storytelling’s project—linked as they were to an ever more frightening and quickly shifting job market for graduate students, seemed to have helped push this batch of students to do some remarkably innovative digital scholarship, for their final work, thinking about the role of digital storytelling as both a subject and method for scholarly output.

I hope you’ll take a peek at these compelling projects:

  • A “nod to Lambert, but in a very deliberate style that was anti-Lambert (no voice-over, no clean or clearly announced thesis) … also an attempt to have this video be a moment of reflection, a meditation of sorts on friendship,” AIDS, place, and memory (from a PhD student in religion)
  • a digital story, made collaboratively with the maker’s high school students to create an “affective space” much like that previously “carved out through the epistle allowing women, a group previously written out of agency to write/right wrongs through new narratives in much the same way that digital storytelling empowers its creator. Telling my story, working delicately against and with the grain of rhetorical confines and the explosively complex element of my students’ personhoods demanded the kind of suturing of disparate intentions so pleasurable to read in the 18thC epistolary novels” (from a PhD student in English, also a High School English teacher)
  • A video focused upon building “community  around and for people dealing with mental illness, who are working to cope with their symptoms in the midst of the exceptional stress of grad school life. My hope is to create a digital story telling circle that will do just that.” (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • An argument for the storytelling power of Instagram (so against the Lambert idea that the Internet produces fragments) (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #ANA on YouTube and Instragram as digital stories (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #Carol Corps in light of Digital Storytelling (by a Master’s Student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of social media and digital storytelling through three voices of a vegan and animal lover (by a Masters student in Cultural Studies)
  • A work on and as digital storytelling about an artist and a friendship (by a PhD student in English)
  • A digital story that draws the story of YouTube drawing stories (by a PhD student in History)
  • An analysis of how the academy is embracing digital storytelling as research method (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A digital story using “a personal narrative of my memories of my aunt’s illness and how I experienced the confusion of coming to terms with her diagnosis as HIV positive. I believe personal narratives such as this are missing from outreach efforts that have aimed to target the Black community in order to bring awareness of the high rates within the community.” (by a Master’s student in Applied Women’s Studies)
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