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.

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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

Feminist Tech Gift Exchange

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!

Evolution of the MOOCs?

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.

IMG_1158 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.

Bryan Alexander

Bryan Alexander

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

MOOCvsDOCC InfoGraphic April 2013

 

As part of the larger DOCC 2013 effort, I hosted a dialogue between Professors Radhika Gajjala and Sharon Irish—two devoted members of FemTechNet—about their feminist thinking on technology and place. We livestreamed the event from my “Dialogues in Feminism and Technology” classroom at Pitzer College on November 14, 2013. A video of that live event is now available on the FemTechNet Commons.

I hope you will watch this inspiring, interesting, and invaluable conversations between two amazing feminist thinkers (as well as their lively interactions with my amazing students). Here, I hope to provide a more personal frame for your viewing, a few ideas that were raised for me in the doing of this event, in its liveness, and lived-ness; things you can’t know, unless you were there, or I write them here for you online.

  • Our digital engagements take us to places and people we might never meet in person in material space and this is grand (most of the participants in the DOCC 2013, for instance). But when we do have the opportunities of funds, time, and bodily energy to meet face-to-face, new, complimentary, and deeply sustaining opportunities of the flesh arise! It is well worth the effort.
  • My students have loved “meeting” all the professors and artists we have read this semester on video, through the video dialogues. They discuss how this transforms the authors of the complex and empowering texts we read into people. My students say that they come to understand, by seeing diverse feminists’ interactions online, that real people write what students learn from, and they further realize, as real people themselves, they too are authorized to author.
  • And then again, to meet the thinkers in person brings ever more delights and possibilities. A different kind of sense of these scholars’ complex selves passes in a look, a smile, a nod, or even a touch. Given that the personal or affective or bodily is so deeply connected to feminist politics, theory, and practice, it is no wonder that engaging with otherwise distant “experts” has particular resonances that are of use to feminist students. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of the possibilities for intimacy and enlightenment in purely digital encounters! I only want to add to that the particular affordances of the embodied.
PostPanelDiscussionNov15_2013

Several DOCC 2013 students in conversation with Liz Losh, Radhika Gajjala, and President Maria Klawe, of Harvey Mudd College

  • When the official Dialogue concluded, my students ended up sitting in a circle quite close to our guests (something we had never done in class before). We seemed to want to signal that we were close, collaborative, and engaged together in something we all cared about. We signalled with our bodies because we could.

MS 134 pic

  • This is part of the DOCC challenge to the MOOC. The places we live in and learn in, the places where we come together as situated communities are different, with their own cultures of engagement and interaction and their own styles of and needs for learning.

PitzerClassDiscussionNov14_2013

  • This placed difference is as vital to our learning possibilities and needs as are the ways that technology expands this reach, opening us up to new places, as particular as our own. (interestingly these same students also LOVED their class with Professor Sharon Collingwood who generously taught my students last week on Second Life: they sat in a circle there, too.)
  • And that brings me to care, with which Radhika also ends the Place video dialogue. She expresses how hard care is to commodify, or off-shore (try as neoliberalism will to do so). The felt care that these travellers shared with myself and my students is part of our larger DOCC 2013 effort where we model together the many ways of feminist knowing and teaching, that always attempt to acknowledge the needs of humans in their many places, online and off.
Jade Ulrich, Scripps FemTechNet student, and Liz Losh, UCSD FemTechNet Prof who drove to Claremont for the event

Jade Ulrich, Scripps FemTechNet student, and Liz Losh, UCSD FemTechNet Prof who drove to Claremont for the event

 

I am honored to have taken on the leadership of Pitzer College’s Munroe Center for Social Inquiry for the next four years. Each year, I choose a theme, and then get to engage in public programming, as well as a related advanced seminar each Spring (led by distinguished guests). This year, the theme is Technology, and there is an amazing slate of speakers for 2014.

For the Fall, I planned two events. One will occur in November, more on that later, but the first, and my inaugural event was a visit and lecture by Lisa Nakamura, professor in the departments of American Cultures and Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

My friend, and fellow FemTechNetter, gave a provocative set of addresses at the college where she performed media archeologies on both ubiquitous and extraordinary sites of the everyday or “normal racism” that has been “written into the Internet.” She argues that this racism is not exceptional but rather is structural, inevitable, and environmental showing us the constant if varied places online where “socio-technical racism” (and sexism and homophobia) are written into the norms, architecture, and ethics of the Internet: its shameful “racist technicity.” She argues that all that we shutter off as “noise” when we search for information, or add our comments to important conversations, or try to play games is itself the signal of the Internet. In her Atherton Lecture, recorded below, she looks to long and repeating histories of racist iconography—rooted in excess, confusion, arousal, fear, and control—to think about how “the culture of racism is itself memetic.” I hope you’ll take a long look.