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.)
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.
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.
January 27, 2014
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?”
Now, 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).
Now, 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.
January 17, 2014
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
- Quick; Short
C) Different audiences and places for scholarly practice
- Outside academia
- Your Subject
D) Different reading practices
- Quick, short
E) Different structures of vetting
- 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!)
- hypothesis and thesis
- research: footnotes, bibliography
- analysis: clearly expressed, smart, original
- proof: facts, data, quotations
- detail: relevant, elegant, supportive
- coherent structure: 5 pg. paper, 10 pg. paper, dissertation
- style: clear, pretty, personal, impersonal
- rhetorical paradigm
- 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
January 14, 2014
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)
December 19, 2013
The final for my Pitzer node of FemTechNet’s DOCC 2013 was a craftmaking/gift exchange project where my 12 students had to make something that expressed a feminist interpretation or use of technology by making something to hold and cherish and then give away.
Objectives (developed by Anca Birzescu and Radhika Gajjala):
- Experiment with hands-on, applied skills outside of traditional academic writing
- Make feminist theoretical terms, ideas, and arguments approachable, accessible, and/or available in other formats, vernaculars, and to new audiences
- Connect theories and practices of feminism along key themes
- Materially and then also virtually present your ideas, interpretations, critiques to others involved in the DOCC2013
- Understand “value” outside present day post-industrial capitalistic frameworks
- Create community through gift giving
My students’ beautiful and smart objects are now open for your bids: you simply need to email the maker(s) with a description of the object’s value. The highest bid wins the object!
- The Wire Queen Emerging Sexualities is a handmade laptop that gorges upon body parts and disgorges chaotic disruptions of freedom and pleasure, like any good cyberfeminist should!
- A Heel Planter transforms “an effeminate machine, which is predominantly used by women to enhance their femininity into a planter and therefore a technology because it actively creates and grows life.”
- Gendered Toys—real labor involved to change—but well worth the effort…
- An Hourglass Nebula Compost Box with Compostable Jewelry countering technologies of death with “technologies of fertility, or technologies of life” inspired by the life and work of Beatriz Da Costa
- A Humanoid Figure that transforms old electronics “to symbolize the ways which we are constructed by technology, and how ultimately the archive of what we leave behind of our lives is based in technological ways of capturing meaning.”
- Labor Under the Net of Capitalism, an art project capturing paper pigeons in a delicate net that “shows that our labor underneath the capitalist white supremacist system is distorted into a form of behavior that does not benefit us” (video pending)
- A Digital Corruption and Compression Reflection that “transforms code to a physical medium, then makes that medium inaccessible” as a method to protect against the simplification and shaming of gender online
- A Plae Time Cloth that intersects language, computers, and textiles through a traditional Thai craft that sometimes serves as a baby cradle, but in this rendition stays hard and soft, old and new for cyberfeminist use
Let the use-value begin!
November 26, 2013
I am recently returned from the 9th Annual Policy Summit, Rise of the MOOCs: Foreshadowing the Coming Transformation of Higher Education? held by the Mid-West Higher Education Compact. While I have become a frequent public speaker, most recently asked to explain my several innovative projects within technology and education, I have never had the opportunity to speak and listen to this particular, and highly engaged audience.
I was pleased, albeit a bit intimidated, to be speaking on behalf of FemTechNet and our DOCC2013, a collaborative feminist rethinking of the MOOC, in this decidedly red-state environment, and to a large number of powerful people who are seriously considering the many ramifications of Open, Free, and otherwise digital education initiatives in relation to policy and Higher Education. Yes, people in this audience in a great many ways have more power than do I over what will happen to MOOCs evolution, rise, or decline in that they are in control of purse strings, policy, and large institutions.
I was placed on an elegantly curated panel of fellow professors (Bryan Alexander, from NITLE, Ronald Rogers, San Jose State, who has authored two really interesting MOOCs, and Ray Schroeder, a specialist on online learning) who are each thinking critically, seriously, and actively about the huge ramifications of these many technological changes.
While I learned a great deal at the Summit, let me briefly point to a few of the most important things that I heard several times over which all point to why I titled this post Evolution of the MOOCs: they are being challenged from many angles; they are being changed and modified by many of us; and, whether our concern is cost, access, ownership, content, structure, or completion rates, people want MOOCs to develop past this first consolidation. It is my sense from this and some other recent conversations that a great many of us who are wanting to use technology to improve Higher Education share concern about:
- the current MOOC-osphere, where for-profit or other highly-funded models are dominating the landscape
- and leading to top-down, static, one-way delivery flows that are surprisingly ill-suited for their web 2.o home
- teachers not driving teaching and learning and teachers not retaining control of their intellectual property (even if this is to let it be free through a Creative Commons license)
- learning systems that subscribe to the limiting terms behind the MOOC. What would digital class delivery look like that was Local, Closed, Hybrid, and/or Modular (this is from Stacey Clawson from the Gates Foundation).
- The quick loss of the cMOOC (which was Open) for our current xMOOC (“broadcast, amplified, online learning”; this is from Bill Meinke from Creative Commons)
- that like anything else on the Internet, expanding access to courses or free education is only a first step; students and professors need support structures not just (free) platforms (Mark Johnson, Educational Policy Studies, U WI)
- that professors will always be needed to create (new) content (knowledge); why are we handing delivery (profit and ownership) over to someone else?
- that MOOCs not be only huge, expensive, and fancy things but rather that little pieces of MOOCs, as modules, might allow for all kinds of usability within any particular (for-credit) class; that pieces of (free) MOOCs can also be well-used to flip traditional classrooms