Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Space for Developing Historical Interests and Comprehension

As many of you already know, I am very interested in working on the subject of passive to active learning.  I overheard a young lady voice frustration around not understanding a class reading and bemoaning the idea of having to produce a lengthy writing around it.  I have since spent time reflecting on how to produce a tool that would visually aid students  to understand what they have read and potentially increase their desire to know more about historical events and human strife.

This exercise requires students to have read assignments before attempting to complete the exercise.  They should leave the exercise space prepared to begin writing around themes in the reading.

Utilizing a web app, students would be able to pose a question around a reading, construct keywords, and then recreate visually what they perceive is going on within a passage by placing  contemporary images in a grid that represents the action within the text.  Students would have the ability to rearrange the images in the grid.

For example, if the reading was about the French Revolution, students could focus their responses around other themes besides the main theme and use the keywords to help form contextual questions to help them populate the grid.  The option to add more rows to the grid would be available if students wanted to work in a larger space.

For instance, to answer the question why did the peasants revolt, students would be able to visually answer that question with the use of contemporary images to describe conditions around human hunger, greed, female suffrage or any of the other factors that figured in the politics of the day.  Having created the visual grid, students should be positioned to write with a better understanding of the various themes within the text.

A backchannel could also be made available that would allow other students to comment on the question posed in the main space.  Their discussions could be around other historical events that are similar to the topic in the main space.  This comparison is meant to help develop interest in and understanding of other historical events, either past or present.

Teachers could introduce this tool to students at the beginning of the semester, so that students gain familiarity before using the tool in their personal spaces.

Aren’t ‘we’ already constructing a ‘feminist data future’?

Creating (feminist) data in a Quantified Self (QS) type of world

Amelia Abreu shares her dream for a feminist data future—one where women (and other marginalized groups) have control of data collection, usage, and access; one where we all are compensated for our labor; one where “users can control their own narratives.”

Abreu points out some of the issues with data collection and digital technology. Like science, data is always fraught with subjectivity. As a sociologist, how I collect data, the types of questions I choose to ask, the variables I plug into my regression analysis, etc.—all these choices impact the type of data points I collect (and the results I will present/publish).

Abreu introduces us to the Quantified Self (QS) movement, point out that most QSer are males with capital who are voluntarily creating digital tools (read: self-tracking devices) with an aim of helping “people get meaning out of their personal data.” This self-control of our personal data is not as rosy as it seems—as not all of us have the ability/time/funds/etc. to use our personal data for “good.” I chuckled when I read this, thinking about how much of our personal data is already surveilled, used by the governments and corporations to track who we are and what we are doing. The QS movement could not better reflect the current neoliberal governmentality—the organization “proposes that if you, a consumer, submit to an untested battery of somewhat proprietary metrics, you yourself can have an all-around better life.”

But the problem is that not all of us can play the neoliberal role of entrepreneurs who pursue our own interest as governable subjects–who can use calculation and choice to make ourselves the best beings we can be.

Abreu points out some of QS’s flaws, focusing on its (mostly) white-male-centered method of data collection that has always seems to rule the roost–not without being challenged–and is now, hopefully, shifting, at least a bit. But back to Abreu’s discussion of the controversy. She tell us that tracking health data (very QS; very masculine) versus tracking human-relationship data (women’s work; not taken as serious data collection). She critiques the QS movement as, in its search for universal data points and scores, it does not take into account those populations its goals exclude.

This next point may seem really off topic, but I’m going to try to make it work. I’ve written about Whole Foods Market (WFM) being this ideal neoliberal institution—providing customers with opportunities to dutifully complete their neoliberal checklists: choice, self-mastery, and biological citizenship. However, I also point out what I call WFM’s paradox: it regularized a population of mostly white and elite consumer while its predominately non-white workforce cannot fill these same neoliberal checklists (they may not even be able to afford to shop in the stores in which they work).

I get QS is different–from what I understand, QSers design products for people like them. But where I see the parallel is in those who are excluded. Like QS, WFM’s corporate team also builds stores for people like them. I don’t know if there are workers, like WFM team members, on QS projects, but there are definitely potential users who are discounted (or not even thought about when these self-tracking tools are built)–and therefore, for various reasons, cannot use the technology (just like many WFM customers cannot shop in their stores).

Abreu writes: “I want Quantified Self to be a messy space, one where users willingly choose the aspects of their lives they are proudest of, and most troubled by, and allow them to track, and engage with their narratives over time on their own terms.”

But can QS, in this incarnation, be messy? I don’t think so.

QS is QS (and that’s ok for QSers but not for those of use who don’t align with the QS movement). We need our own messy spaces–created by us. These spaces must have different roots that QS, even if they have similar purposes: the collection and transmission of digital data. And it’s happening. Maybe I’m wrong? (I’m thinking of Sonia’s ITP project here, which I don’t know much about, but seems to fit as a non-QS, but QS-like project).

Perhaps we can find some of this messiness (potential) in the hashtag feminists’ work?

Can hashtag feminism bridge the virtual and the face-to-face?

Hashtag feminists are creating their own data points—perhaps they are fulfilling Abreu’s “dream of a feminist data future.” But where will those points ‘live’ in the future (other than in Twitter’s API that is not accessible).

And maybe we’re not looking towards a feminist data future but instead we are already thinking & creating in a feminist data reality? This seems probable, especially after reading Susana Loza’s article; I’d say this feminist data reality is imperfect, but it is occurring. Even Loza points out that hashtag feminism is imperfect, is in progress, and is very messy. But it’s also generating rich conversations. Educating (some) people. Making issues, rifts, inadequacies visible. Pushing for a more intersectional way not only of thinking, but also of being.

But I can’t help to worry: Are the divisions within the feminist movement (not to talk about the feminist and transgender women movement rifts) are impeding the advent of a non-white-male-centered data-logical turn?

Loza’s piece highlights an important part of hashtag feminism’s work (for me, maybe not for all hashtag feminists): the ability to connect online and offline activism. This interconnectedness seems like a natural extension of hashtag feminist’s work; taking digital conversations and translating them into face-to-face work. I found this piece (on my Twitter feed) about the importance of net neutrality for black online spaces. The piece cemented these ideas about how what happens online creeps into our face-to-face spaces.

In a Digital Age, (Black) Feminism Demands an Open Internet, Malkia Cyril quotes a section of Alicia Garza’s speech at NetGain, a conference focused on building partnerships for a stronger digital society. During her presentation, Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, shared this: “Black Lives Matter is much more than a hashtag—it is an organizing principle. It’s more than a moment, it’s a movement for Black lives.” Garza also shares: “We’ll know that Black Lives Matter when we all have access to digital spaces that create open spaces, work for all of us, and do not criminalize us.”

Notably, Garza points to the interconnectedness of our online and offline lives. How who we are online/what conversations we start and are a part of/the hashtags we produce and reproduce–that they matter in real life too. And this is not only important for #blacklivesmatter. It’s also key for #girlslikeus, #translivesmatter, and other conversations that may not have specific hashtags associated with them.

It’s worth noting that Jessie Daniels has been writing a series of blog posts that critique white feminism’s response to inequality or what Daniels calls “the trouble with white feminism.” While this series is not solely focused on cyber-racism or digital identities, Daniels writing is closely related as it illuminates the power of the media/images/discourse and how ideas that seem natural (white feminism) need to be unpacked, challenged, and reworked. Daniel’s work (not just in this series) is a strong example of the intricacies of digital identities. Her work, and that of others (like Loza, Lee, and Abreu) demonstrate how conversations about feminism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia that take place online are serious and can have serious implications for what is happening offline.

Maybe it’s because I follow many of these activists in my (constructed) Twitter feed. Or maybe I’m an idealist. But I see value/productive power in these virtual conversations; even the messy ones, the ones where I want to scream: Are you kidding me, you’re actually writing this (potentially ignorant stuff) for all to see?!?!?!? I believe that digital conversations can move off the screen and into our face-to-face conversations.

It’s also important to remember that not everyone can or is taking part in these online/hashtag conversations (hashtag feminism is not for everyone).  Janet Mock brings up a similar point in a recent blog post about the violence affecting the trans women of color community. While some trans women of color, including Mock, have become visible via the media, many others are still invisible–and transphobia, racism, violence, and hatred persist.  Mock writes: “What we can’t expect this visibility to do is cure our society of its longstanding prejudice, miseducation and myths surrounding trans women.” As such, conversations that are happening in digital spaces also needs to occur in-person. And they must include a wider audience–in attempts to continue to counter prejudice and miseducation.

‘Choosing’ to own my labor

When Ofek, Blog Editor of asks Danielle Lee to commit to a non-paying guest blogging spot—she says NO–as she does not want to work for free. In response, Ofek calls Lee a ‘whore.’ The idea that this editor (a man) would call her a ‘whore’ because she values her labor (and wants to control how she uses it) is disgusting. This interaction reflects how the labor of some people (who are often women, queer, trans, low-income, brown or black) continues to be taken for granted/under- or devalued/appropriated—by those who sit in the inner circle (this is a reference to Dorothy’s Smith’s work who critiques sociology’s white/male inner circle and its power to make decisions on what types of knowledge is taught/published/learned).

I can’t help but to think about Marx and his idea that the excess (surplus) labor of the proletariat results in profit for the bourgeoisie. In choosing not to work for free, Lee is (perhaps) preventing Ofek (and his site) from making money off of her education/insight/expertise–the ‘bourgeoisie’ who benefit in this concept of surplus labor. While Lee has a ‘choice’ here, she and many other people with marginalized identities do not always (often?) have this choice. An by choosing not to give away her labor for free, Lee is taking a risk (which we can clearly see in

It’s ironic that this conversation is taking place online–so perhaps to connect back to Loza’s article and Garza’s points above, she is helping make visible the invisible and connecting online and offline issues of sexism, racism, exploitation….and many more.

American Women Wikipedians: Categorygate and Working for Free

Amanda Filipacchi’s article Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists shows that sexism in categorizing information is alive and well. The category “American Women Novelists” is especially depresssing/ironic/unsurprising (take your pick) for librarians, editors and other knowledge workers because we thought we fought and won this battle years ago (circa 1975). Not many users of Wikipedia are old enough to remember library subject headings such as “Women as Poets” or “Poetesses,” but sexist ways of organizing information were standard operating procedure in the bad old days. Changing times and the active efforts of a largely female paid workforce made some real differences in how information was presented in libraries, textbooks, encyclopedias, and educational resources of all kinds.

Now that the internet has ‘disrupted’ the production of educational information, much of the largely female paid workforce has been displaced by volunteers working in a system of peer production and sharing. Wikipedia is a wonderful resource, not least because it is free and immediately available to anyone with an internet connection. Yet as we all know, “nine out of ten Wikipedians continue to be men.” Many possible explanations have been offered for the gender gap, but I think it is a labor issue.  As a librarian, I couldn’t agree more with DNLee’s statement that “This is work. I am a professional. Professionals get paid. However, even if my ‘old economy’ view of encyclopedia publishing seems sadly out of date, asking women to contribute unpaid work raises some complicated issues. As Adrianne Wadewitz pointed out, “In actively recruiting women to Wikipedia, we have to be aware of the systemic inequities in the amount of time women have available for unpaid labor.”

If women miraculously had more free time to devote to Wikipedia, would the “add more women and stir” approach really solve the sexism problem? Wadewitz notes that activism around the gender gap rests on some rather questionable assumptions (It is the responsibility of women to fix sexism on Wikipedia. Women do not further patriarchal knowledge and power structures. Women will edit underrepresented topics. Women will make Wikipedia a nicer place.) The drive to get more women to contribute is well-intentioned and admirable, but perhaps it runs the risk of repeating old patterns? Women are not a single entity and perhaps some of them would prefer not to be in the “American Women Wikipedians” category.

On the bi-literate brain

Our conversation yesterday about exigencies for both print and digital texts, and pressures that both we and our students feel to choose one over the other, reminded me of this article from New Tech City on WNYC on digital literacy and print literacy, and the different ways our brain engages with each medium. I am going to try to embed it below, too.  can’t embed it but have included a link to the page below again, just in case.


Wikipedia Workshop for ITP Students | WEDNESDAY 2/25, 4:15 to 6:15pm | Computer Lab C196.03 | Michael Mandiberg

Dear ITP Core II Students,

The Wikipedia-edit-a-thon event this coming Wednesday (2/25) is being held at the same time as your class (description below) . To ensure you have the opportunity to receive this training, you should report to C196.03 at 4:15 and then go to your classroom at its normally scheduled time.

As ITP students, you have priority to register for this workshop. Tuesday I will release the number of remaining seats to the broader GC Community. Please register here as soon as possible. I do realize the short notice, but hope you can make every effort to attend this workshop.

Also, we have a nearly finalized roster of workshops being offered this semester listed on the eventbrite page, including some workshops now being offered on Fridays. Please take a look and register as your availability allows.

Many thanks,


Wikipedia Workshop for ITP Students | Friday, March 6, 4:15 to 6:15pm | Computer Lab C196.03 | Michael Mandiberg

Art+Feminism is pleased to announce Train the Trainer, a series of workshops in advance of the second annual international Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. We will provide tutorials for both the beginner Wikipedian and the more experienced editor. Learn the best practices on writing entries that stick and how to facilitate the empowerment of your community. For more information:


Thinking Beyond The Digital Divide

Commuter Students Using Technology was an extensive project that surveyed what types of computer equipment students used to access the internet, and how and where the equipment was being used.  The survey also discussed availability and obstacles to access students might have in using equipment, and sought to understand the scholarly habits of students.

Information Computer Technology is the central theme that surrounds the 5W/1H of the survey which was years in the making and although ICT is embedded in and throughout our lives, the survey revealed how students might experience pressure in utilizing ICT for their work if they have access for a short time only or not at all.  The survey also discussed ways in which the CUNY system attempts to solve the problem through access in labs, libraries and classrooms, but is this enough?  Some teachers would tell students if they did not have access at home then come to school to get their work done – fair enough.

The survey also discussed student preference for using Google Books over academic databases for library research, relying on whatever information they can find without confirming accuracy of facts.  Some students honestly revealed they were more comfortable using Google Books, felt frustrated using CUNY’s website and did not know how to cite correctly.  Should workshops be made available during the freshman year to ensure accuracy of research work and citations so that students produce quality work throughout their years as students?  Given the likelihood of enjoying quality immersive experiences through ICT, students should raise the bar in their own work and privilege the use of authors rather than settling for whatever writings they can find online.  As we know searching for supportive information that helps build a writing is part of what creates a sense of pride in having completed a work beyond the student’s satisfaction.  This is an easy fix.

So, what creates the digital divide?  We think of children who were born during the rapid advance in ICT as digital natives.  This study shows the shortfall that is inherent in the term especially when these digital natives do not fully utilize ICT as tools for academic growth but rather as tools for pleasure, just barely scratching the surface around what can be accomplished with ICT, rather than using these tools as assets and resources for knowledge.  Although the study indicated that students used ICT to study while commuting, is this the blended experience educators are hoping their students have?  Are students using available tools to collaborate around their work, to further research to increase their knowledge base, to gain interest in the work of others, or to use other available resources offered by the City to increase or enhance their curiosity around some subject?  Educators could ensure that students experience a fully blended experience by developing specific requirements around the use of ICT and digital tools outside the classroom.

It would be an interesting survey if teachers were to reveal the ways in which they incorporate ICT into their curriculums or for administrators to share ideas around how to increase the levels of success throughout their schools through the use of ICT.  What expectations would educators have if they taught children that more can happen beyond the scope of Microsoft’s products?  As Hsieh points out, being able to work with digital tools (as well as to think outside the box) is part of what students need to enjoy fuller “life chances”.  The student in the study who used “Bit Torrent” was thinking outside the box.  I actually said to myself “bravo” this student is figuring out how to get what he needs in the way that is most comfortable for him.  Imagine if that was a typical experience amongst Digital Natives (I am not advocating illegal activity just making the point that we need to get beyond typical usage) – now we are on the path to raising the bar as students, and with the guidance of teachers, finding new ways to experience immersive educations.  That should be part of the challenge for educators and administrators – teach students how to use digital tools to solve problems, to create, to think outside the box.

All of this requires a sea change if we are to address the digital divide.  We know that Wi-Fi will be integrated into schools within the next two years.  As the survey indicated, more students are currently using tablets, and for those who do not have their own equipment, I think it is a good idea to implement loan programs.  But what about administrators and teachers?  How ICT and digital tools are utilized will determine if we can raise the bar in education, if we can use these tools to help students become creators, makers, builders, problem solvers.  Teachers and administrators, are you up for teaching students how to realize the breadth of material available to support imaginative challenges?  Then let’s use digital tools to make education fun.  Let’s put certain rules in place though and then let’s recreate expectations – freshman year, teach the basics through workshops where students must present a working knowledge around how to research.  Sophomore year take a dive into immersive academia and don’t come back up until seniors have earned their diplomas.

We can do it.

Design sprints, fake apps, and figuring out what you need

I’m so sorry I can’t join you in class tonight, and that it’s take me a while to get over here to post this for you. I’ve been away from my computer more in the past week than any time I can remember since I had a newborn almost 8 years ago. I’m usually more readily available. When we were together last week, we tried to watch the brief video of the Gimlet Media design sprint they did with Google Ventures. I’m putting it here for discussion. Gimlet is the company whose inception and launch have been chronicled in the Start Up podcast, which is a worthwhile listen if you have the time. If you don’t have the time for the whole series, I would recommend listening to Episode 13, “Fake It Til You Make It”. The whole series is an interesting look at how you go from having a big but amorphous idea and shaping that into reality. Of course in their case, pitches and investors are involved, but many of the questions they struggle with–what kind of a company are we? do we do tech or content or both? do I know enough to do this? how do I fix my mistakes?–are about far more than profits.

Have fun further defining your ideas and getting real, as it were. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner for this class.

Ayanna’s Project Ideas: Active Learning in Large Lectures

Hello All!

I’m late in posting, 1. because I missed our first class, and 2. I’m posting right before class so that no one feels that they have to write responses—it’s been great, a week with just reading! I hate to take that away from everyone.

I teach large format Biology courses, my main course is Anatomy and Physiology. In a good semester, I will have 230 students in my class, in a bad semester, 350+. We meet in lecture halls which seat 150 students at a time.

A challenge is to encourage active learning and class discussion in such a large course. Some students tend to dominate in class, others are shy and intimidated to speak up when responding to questions. Having class discussion groups is a nightmare due to stadium seating, and the noise level in a class of 150 can be intolerable.

We currently have “clicker” type software, using the students’ smartphones to respond to questions, but we can only use multiple choice questions. I would like to have the students complete clinical critical thinking problems instead, and to brainstorm with other members of the class, in a time efficient way, that would not require them to leave their seats.

Idea 1: Create a texting platform, similar to YikYak, which would allow the students within the lecture hall to create online discussions to the questions. The instructor would be able to see the contents of the chat as it is occurring. If the instructor presents multiple questions, we could find a method to divide the students into groups, and they would discuss their problems over the chat. The instructor could decide if the students would present their findings, or there could be a class-wide discussion following each chat session to talk about some of the comments. Unlike YikYak, the entire session would be captured for the instructor to later review if they like.

Idea 2: This is a fun little idea for my high school outreach summer program students. I will admit I got this idea in part from my husband, as Google visited his office the other day and brought goodies. Our department has a green initiative to reduce the amount of hazardous waste produced by our large format classes, so we have moved from dissections to virtual cadaver model programs–which requires students to purchase a code from a publisher to use. In our summer high-school outreach programs, they have an option to take a general bio or anatomy prep course, and it would be nice to provide students with this software option, but it is not cost-effective. If we could create a cadaver dissection app for these students, and add (this was my husband’s idea) Google Cardboard, to make it a virtual reality cadaver app, I think this would be a lot of fun and be a good learning tool for students at this level.

Zen and the Art of Not Being Microsoft

The 37 Signals manifesto was definitely written to get individuals and small teams fired up and ready to get to work. The book is an interesting artifact. It reminds me a bit of Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. The short chapters give it a meditative aesthetic that is surprisingly persuasive when combined with a strong vision,

People have sometimes objected to the term “maker” because of its generality. A maker could be a cryptographer or a whittler, a writer or an artist. But Getting Real suggests a holistic approach to…well, making, one that embraces a unified approach to product design, prototyping, customer interaction, copywriting, internal communication, and community engagement. They’re a small group of specialized generalists, difficult to peg to traditional roles but comfortably at home in their own design niche.

My sense was that Microsoft lurked between the pages of this book like some ghastly haunt from the past (i.e., 1992). While 37 Signals mentions Google by name, Redmond is simply the unnamed opposite of everything they recommend. Microsoft is bloat. Microsoft is Silicon Valley. Microsoft is the gold-mastered CDs in shrink wrap. Microsoft is the dark side of Metcalf’s Law. It’s an appealingly stark dichotomy, and a persuasive reason to ditch the waterfall and go agile.


If I had to take away only two concepts from Getting Real, they would be:

  1. Start with the minimum.
  2. Build the frontend first.

There’s an inherent appeal to simplicity. Google used to know that. (And still kind of does.) It’s actually surprisingly difficult to stick to a simple vision of a thing, especially when you’re working with content management systems and frameworks that automatically tack on timestamps, metadata, and poll widgets. More is not necessarily better.

Building the frontend first forces another kind of discipline: it makes you look at your product from the perspective of your customers. (Or, to be more academy, the project from the perspective of its users.) This fits in with the concept of persona we discussed last week. As far as your users are concerned, the UI is the app, so don’t make it an afterthought. So I’ll put together the front steps before I work on the back parlor.

Shameless plug

I’ll conclude with a plug for the responsive design workshop on Wednesday. We’ll be using Bootstrap to create designs that change based on the width of the screen. (It’s actually pretty cool when you see it in action.)

See you all Wednesday!