Monthly Archives: March 2015

Knowledge costs: the business of creating lifelong learners…

“All that time we lavish on convincing students that scholarship matters is wasted if we can’t be bothered to make it accessible to graduates for something less than, say, $45.00 per article.” – Barbara Fister

Barbara Fister’s statement (Fister, an MVP in academic library land) hits the nail on the head for me. Why do students citizens relinquish the right to access information once they leave the academy? Why trouble with teaching at all if knowledge access is reserved for a privileged few years in college only?

Ashley Dawson sums up the teetering system of scholarly production and dissemination as follows:

“The upshot is an increasingly Darwinian world of frenetic competition and commodification in which scholars illogically hand over their hard-won knowledge virtually for free to presses that then limit the circulation of that knowledge through various forms of copyright in order to maintain the precarious revenue stream that keeps them in business.”

Open access is an ethical issue, a money/labor issue, and a political issue.

While the open access movement (led voraciously by librarians) soldiers on for free/unrestricted access to scholarship, academic capitalism and the traditional academic tableau (scholar hermit gifts esoteric work in print monograph or gold standard journal article) continues to snake through the system of tenure and promotion. The result is that a majority of academics are held hostage at a time of great shifts in knowledge production, increased collaboration, digital transformation, and new modes of information dissemination. The traditional formula for measuring scholarly accomplishments no longer fits and it is difficult to measure scholarly work when notions of authorship and knowledge production are changing- this is mainly because the system is incredibly inflexible and has relied far too much on unpaid, immaterial labor. It’s not like scholars have ever been paid to do peer review.

Open Access comes at a cost
Creating, editing, presenting, and preserving the work is not free and we’re at a difficult moment where a lot of this labor risks going virtually unnoticed and unremunerated. In the case of several new open access initiatives at CUNY, Academic Works, the University’s institutional repository, and the development of open educational resources (OERs) as alternative course materials at various CUNY campuses, much of the support and administration is planned to be absorbed by CUNY’s 28 or so academic libraries but it remains to be seen how exactly libraries will find the resources to do this.

As a participant in an OER pilot at my CUNY campus, I am also concerned about the amount of awareness and marketing that still needs to be done around open access issues. It’s also a delicate matter depending on who you talk to. Librarians tend to be among the most invested in the movement, and so it’s important to grasp the different concerns around this major shift in scholarly communication. Throw in intellectual property, copyright, and licensing, and you’ve got one complicated discussion.

A Question about Elements in our Final Projects

I need some clarification on the following: If I develop a study to evaluate the app, that study (research design and methodology) would be the proof of concept, yes?   Also, is the proposal for this course a business proposal or a research proposal?  They have different templates.  Biz = sections like company services, products & services, market analysis, and strategy/ implementation, while a research proposal = a lit review, study rationale, research design and methodology and analysis.  It would seem that my project is a better fit for a research proposal, but then where does an environmental scan come in?  Is the lit review and environmental scan essentially the same thing?

Genevieve’s Project Proposal Update

Reviewing available datasets for public schools shows different ways I could approach working with data regarding student achievement.  For instance, not only does the data provide a full range of performance grades, for students who are doing just great to those who are failing miserably, it also provides proficiency scores in math and English.  I initially thought I would put emphasis on charter schools to find those offering progressive methodologies, but the truth is progressive schools could also be located within the standard public school system so that I could miss important information looking solely within charter schools.

If I am to work with this data successfully, I have to define an exact question as dealing with all of the variables offered in various reports could make this project quite unwieldy.  That means whether I want to know if technology is being used in inner city schools, or if I want to look at how to create engaged active learners, the data can lead viewers to consider these topics.  My job is to approach the data pragmatically.

I am revising my project to determine how different types of funding can effect student learning using datasets from schools in two districts, that receive various types of funding including from donations to schools that are established as non-profit organizations, to those who are designated Title I or non-Title I schools.  Approaching the project this way could reveal how parents who are actively engaged with their schools have a say in their children’s school experience as opposed to those where parents are not involved.

I am hopeful this work will prompt discussions around why some schools are failing students, what must happen to cause positive changes at failing schools and lead to conversations around school privatization, parental involvement, pedagogy and methodology.

Final Project: Proposal and Proof of Concept

Your final work for Core 2 is to produce a project proposal that includes a proof of concept. Yes, we will be reading it for a grade, but your true audience for this proposal are the gatekeepers who hold institutional purse strings, allocate resources and space, approve curriculum, or administer technology resources. Your job is to convince this hypothetical reader that your project is intellectually and/or pedagogically vital, builds on but doesn’t duplicate existing work, is done in the most effective and efficient way possible, uses the right tech, and most importantly: that you can pull it off in the time frame that you have available to you.

This project proposal does not have a fixed length requirement. You are welcome to follow the guidelines for the NEH Digital Humanities grants, or another discipline specific set of requirements. This proposal can as also double as a first draft of your ITP Independent Study proposal. Generally, it needs to include an abstract or summary with a clear problem statement, a project narrative that gives the practical, historical, theoretical, and technical contexts for the project proposed, a clear work plan or project timeline, and proof that you can complete the project. Proposals typically include a budget; you may choose to include this, but it is not required. You will likely find it useful to include your personnas and your use case scenarios. Some disciplines may have other, discipline specific requirements; please include those.

The proof that you can complete the project sometimes comes in the form of your biography, or a description of how the proposed project builds on your previous and related work, but in this instance, you need to complete a proof of concept for the project. This will be different for each of you, but it needs to demonstrate that you have learned enough about the task at hand that you will be able to complete it. Most of this learning is technical, but it might not be exclusively technical. Some examples of past proofs of concept:

  • When proposing a group wiki assignment, one person created a simulation of one assignment at the halfway state, with the text edited in character by the user accounts for each of the 4 personas described.
  • When proposing a mobile app, one person found an open source quiz app they could build on, changed the text of one of questions, and recompiled the app.
  • When proposing a student assignment to create multimedia historical maps of NYC neighborhoods, one student created a sample map with the Google Maps API that contained a map point for each type of media expected to be used (video, audio, photograph, text).

You will be turning in a text, and giving a presentation. The presentation will take place on one of the last three weeks of class May 6, 13, or 20. These will be 15 minute presentations, with 10-15 minutes of discussion/feedback afterwards, depending on how many schedule per day. We will invite all ITP faculty to join us, though we don’t expect all will be able to make it for all of the days. One advantage of presenting early: you can incorporate your feedback into the text you turn in. The text as a .doc/.odt will be due May 21st. Sign up for a time slot in the presentation doc in our course group.

The Future of Learning

Spurred by the readings for this week, I continue to think about the shifts in learning that are taking place because of technology.  What I experienced in school bears little resemblance to what lies ahead, and I continue to pause when confronting the current trends in learning.

One thing that is certainly different today is that books are no longer the principle content source in education.  Faculty and students alike are now turning to online sources of information that can be used as teaching tools.  YouTube offers thousands of videos teaching everything from knitting to statistics.  Moreover, books have been turned into YouTube videos, as have sites from museums and institutions such as NASA and the Smithsonian.  The result is thousands of available online educational resources have come to represent a primary source for learning and curriculum development.  Additionally, the open source movement extends online content to include the creation of new content.  In this course, for example, we are creating coursework out of editing Wikipedia pages.  In the larger picture, what this means is that open-source sites are making up part of the curriculum by providing new avenues for students to generate information around their particular interests.

All of which leads me to wonder how formal education will be impacted in the future by the expected proliferation of a learner-centered curriculum.  The idea behind using technology to enhance individualized learning is that we achieve more when we are passionate about what we are learning.  And while it’s true that I tend to retain pretty much forever what I learn when in the throes of inspiration, unfortunately I do not live in an inspired state most of the time.  What will education look like if (or when) students become the primary content-creators of their own learning? How can an integrated, connected, comprehensive body of course material be developed based on individualized passions?

Certainly there is an argument to be made for learning from others with whom we share a passion, but I am less clear about an actual curriculum that is focused around navigating through one’s interests in a digital, networked world.  In his opening paragraph, Halavais says that the “essential element of the scholarly endeavor is engaging in texts and discussing them,” and he believes that if technology helps the engagement/discussion process then it absolutely should be used.  No doubt, but is there a difference between discussing texts online, learning procedures and skills from YouTube, and tweeting out an idea?  Does one fit the definition of curriculum better than another, or nowadays is a curriculum incomplete without all three?

Answers to these questions would seem to depend on how we define curriculum, which relates to the larger question of what it means to be well-educated these days.  Are individuals considered educated if they know how to engage with texts by using technology to access and manage course material over the Internet?  Or can one only be considered well-educated when s/he is able to contribute meaningfully to the collective wisdom of the global community?  And in either case, is the focus of formal curricula primarily on the academic or technological side of education?  Are students considered well-educated if they understand global communication skills and learn algebra from YouTube?

In essence, I am asking whether anything of my old education can be salvaged, or have we reached the end of our abstract, classical notions of what it means to be well-educated, which also brings us to the end of our 19th century notions about classical curricula.  Maybe the direction of future learning is actually a demand to begin anew with updated ideas and subjects aligned with what students will need to technologically know and do in the upcoming decades.  Creativity, collaboration and global connections did not really play much of a role in education during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  Shakespeare may have been a little off – all the world is not a stage, it’s a classroom, and life is the real education.

Course Blogs and the Effects of Exposure

I am teaching with a blog for the first time this semester, and I found the Davis and Halavais articles both useful and resonant with my experiences. The blog helps, first of all, to make sure that the students do the readings carefully, but it also has the potential to improve the quality of in-class discussions. I have found it useful to tailor my lesson plans based on what students write in their posts, making sure to cover things that they have shown an interest in or seem to be having trouble with. Finally, I am using the blog as a part of the scaffolding for the major paper assignments, giving the students opportunities to try things out and get feedback on their writing and ideas before they begin writing their papers.

One reservation I have, though, is that opening students’ work to a wider audience could have a negative effect on some students. Halavais notes that having students read each others’ writing puts more pressure on them—many students feel more embarrassed when they share bad work with their peers than when they share it with their instructors only. My own experience confirms this. But I worry that this sort of exposure could have a chilling effect on students who feel marginalized within the university community or within a particular class. Imagine a queer student who is only partially out in their university. They might be interested in writing a paper about queer themes, but discouraged from it because they don’t want to reveal their identity to their peers. Of course, in most classes they would have he option to write about something unrelated to sexuality—but this situation would encourage a sort of self-censorship that is eerily reminiscent of the panopticon.

I don’t have a particular solution to this problem in mind. One idea that occurs to me would be to have the students write pseudonymously, so that they don’t know who is writing what—but is would only partially solve the problem (people still might fear rejection in the online space), and it would also make it more difficult to transfer discussions between the blog and the classroom. I am also not sure whether this potential drawback outweighs the benefits of exposing students to each others’ writing—which seem, in my as-yet limited experience, significant.

I’m wondering what the rest of you think about this—and I’d love to hear about your experiences incorporating blogging into a class.

Ayanna’a Midterm Project

Hi All! Sorry I missed out on the class today…I’m toiling away at the lab, and I also forgot to publish my draft. I welcome any and all suggestions on how to flesh this out!


I teach large lecture format classes, of 110-160 students per section. We have auditorium style seating, and my class has been condensed from a two-session per week, 1.5 hour lecture, to a single 3 hour session. In order to make these lecture courses more interactive, we have introduced clickers—which the students did not like, because it was yet another piece of equipment that they must purchase in addition to their textbook. We had another alternative, Learning Catalytics, which was an option from our textbook publisher, using student’s cell phones, tablets or laptops to respond to questions. The limitations of this system: we may only use the program if we have a book contract with this publisher, and this platform does not allow the instructor to choose questions to present to the class, questions are random from a large pool. Another road block was CUNY-made: we realized when we attempted to have the entire class log in to wireless at the same time, that the lecture hall could not support more than 30 people at one time (ridiculous for a class that seats 160). Apparently this issue has been fixed, but we haven’t tested this out yet.

We are incorporating more peer led learning in the sciences, and I want to find a way to incorporate this in a class with my restrictive seating layout and limited class time. I would like to create a platform which will allow instructors to post either open ended or multiple choice questions to the class, and for students to have the ability to respond or engage in an interactive chat with other students and the instructor.

My Personas:

1. Professor PowerPoint: These instructors teach large format lecture courses, but desire a way to make students more engaged in the course, and want to encourage critical thinking . The instructor would like a web app which would not be linked with any particular textbook/publisher, can be customized with content from any text, or original content, and will allow the instructor to create quiz sessions catered to the needs of the class.

2. Sleepy students: Students will be able to answer quiz questions, chat and brainstorm with the Professor and peers, all from their own seat, and on their own device. No purchase codes from publishers or additional accessories will be required to use this app.

Use Case Scenario:

Classroom use, this will be created for large lecture hall courses, but may also be useful for small courses or labs.

The tool will allow for students to use their personal devices to answer quiz questions provided by the instructor during a lecture class.

Full-Fledged Version:

In my full version of this app, it would work on both Mac and Windows, students would be able to access the fully functional app on a phone or tablet as well.

The instructor would have the ability to begin a quiz session with the full class, or direct the students to break out into group discussion sections.

The app would record students’ attendance and participation. The instructor will also have the ability to capture the content of the chat.

The app should be able to work with exam creation software (like Wimba Diploma) to create quizzes.

How much time? 

If I can build upon an existing app (example: Converse—thank you Prof. for the find!) it may be a much easier build. I would need to learn how to make the changes to configure the app to my specs. I approximate that with a dedication of at least one full work day per week, I may finish within a year to one and a half year’s time. If I am able to obtain a grant to hire a consultant, which the Converse inventor does, this process should be completed much faster.

Stripped-Down Version:

We could move forward with the functionality of question/answer and chat. The group function could be added at a later time.

How much time? 

I estimate that the timeline will still be at least 8 months for a stripped down version of this web app.

Sissi’s Projects (Midterm)

PROPOSAL #1:   Broadway Musicals as Cartography of Changes in US Sociocultural Values


Musical theatre as a legitimate scholarly field only came to the fore in the 1990s, in a large part due to musical theatre’s status as popular entertainments and the prejudice against popular forms in the academic culture. However, the modern hierarchy of taste that dismisses the musicals has not prevented the form from being the most beloved legitimate form of all theatre.  From the 1920s to the 60s, Broadway musicals in its so-called “Golden Age” contributed largely to the formation of US culture.  Contemporary Broadway musicals are still consumed every year by millions of people who travel to New York from all around the world, and performed and appreciated by endless fans all over the world.  Broadway musical theatre continues to be the most distinctive form of US theatre.

This project is my attempt to create a digital pedagogical tool to help people understand the gap between the popular and scholarly perceptions of musical theatre—why certain musicals are applauded by general audience but despised by scholars, and why certain critically acclaimed musicals are never popular—through quantifying “taste” in the context of Broadway’s production of desire, consumption of pleasure, and creation of national identity.


Xanadu is a published scholar in Broadway musical theatre.  He is trained in musicology and is an expert in late 19th century and early 20th century European music, especially operetta and opera comique.  In his musical theatre class, however, he always disagrees with his students.  What his students love (eg. Phantom of the Opera), he hates; the pieces he admires (eg. A Little Night Music), his students roll their eyes at.  He is frustrated by this seemingly unbridgeable gap of perception and taste.  Plus, he has a cousin, Yawper, who he finds annoying and would never go out to musicals with.

Yawper is a working-class man in New York, and an enthusiastic goer to Broadway musicals.  To him, Broadway musical theatre is his sanctuary; a world that’s more real than his mundane trivial daily life—the emotions are more authentic, the people are more genuine, and he is able to be his true self in that world.  In that world, he doesn’t want to think that much or analyze that much.  H he can focus on how he FEELS.  His cousin Xanadu thinks he is coarse and unrefined.  He, however, thinks Xanadu is pretentious, snobbish, and boring.  He would much rather hang out with his niece Zuhanna.

Zuhanna is a student of musical theatre.  She has read the 20-some canonical scholarly books that are most important in the field (mostly musicological works), and realizes that there is still a lot to be done.  She finds that popular works are under researched academically, and there is a lack of online archives, or scholarship that address overall trends of the development of Broadway musicals.  She wishes there are better online resources to study Broadway musicals.

Use Case Scenario

This tool will tentatively be in the form of a website/ online archive, accessible via computers, tablets, and mobile devices.

By clicking the name of a musical, the user sees the basic information of the musical (creators, cast, length of performance, whether it is exported abroad and for how long, etc), its placement in the “popular” and “critical” spectra, its overall theatrical structure, a chart of the sum of its song forms and key musical elements, the key issues this musical explores in comparison to those explored in the same decade, and where it falls in the entire historical span.

By clicking into a decade, the user sees a chart of the contextualization of the musicals in that decade in terms of theatrical structure, key issues, and musical forms.  The user could choose to compare any two decades (by clicking, say, 50s and 70s), to explore the changes that have taken place.

By clicking into a cultural key word (eg “the Vietnam War,” or “strong female character”), the user sees a list of musicals with their key issues and representative song forms listed.

By clicking into a specific song form/ harmonic pattern, the user have access to a list of songs that share the same/ similar structural pattern.

By clicking into a cultural affect, the user is given a list of songs that share that certain cultural affect.

Full Version and Timeline

The Broadway musicals of each decade (from 1920s to the present) are grouped into three ranking lists: 1) the longest running, or the most popular; 2) the most critically acclaimed; 3) the most frequently exported.  Theatrical structure, musical form, and textual topics are the three foci  of data analysis.  Based on that, below I list a series of tentative indicators within the musicals that reflect the changes in the mode of consumption, the style of production, audience taste, and ultimately, the changes in sociocultural values:

Textual Indicators:

  • Large sociocultural themes the musical addresses;
  • Trendy topics the musical addresses;
  • References to popular culture;
  • The affect generated through the textual aspect of the musical (described using key words);

Musical Indicators:

  • Musical genres and styles, and song forms;
  • Musical references;
  • The original use of musical idioms, chord progression, voice leading, etc.;
  • The affect generated through the musical aspect of the piece;

Socio-economical Indicators:

  • The cost of production of the musical domestically;
  • The cost of production of the musical outside of the US;
  • The revenue of the musical throughout its domestic run;
  • The revenue of the musical throughout its international run;
  • Ticket price of the musical;

Theatrical/Performative Indicators:

  • The theatrical structure of the piece;
  • Casting choices and other performance elements (choreography, vocality, setting design, costume design, etc.)

Topic modeling and data visualization will be the two most prominent skills required of this project.  I have intermediate knowledge of mallet and gephi, and am currently learning python, R, and D3.  I expect the project will take approximately a year and a half to complete.  The  data collection and the musical data processing will take the most time—approximately 9 months to a year.

Brief Version and Timeline

The musical form analysis is what I regard to be the most unique aspect of this project.  It is therefore what I have decided to work on first.  Much work has been done in terms of MIR (musical information retrieval), and I’m currently doing research on what existent models would  be most beneficial to take onto this project.  The Million Song Project and Hooktheory might serve as good precursor examples.  I am currently collaborating with a few students from the Computer Science Department on. The music part of this project should take us approximately two semesters (Spring and Fall 2015).


Proposal #2:  Calligraphy Design / Linguistic Pedagogical Gaming Tool


As one of the oldest forms of art in human history, calligraphy is on the verge of slowly dying out, especially as the digital age has “freed” human beings from taking up a pen and resorting to handwriting.  This tool/app is designed to digitally preserve the performative nature of practicing calligraphy, and more over, to serve as a pedagogical tool for learning new (especially non-alphabetic) languages and writing systems.


Amil, 6-year-old brother who is learning hand-writing.

Bailee, 19-year-old sister who is learning about symbols and characters in her design class.

Cad, 45-year-old parent who is interested in learning a new language.

Doe, 70-year-old grandparent who is looking for physical and intellectual exercise.

Use Case Scenario:

This tool is available on mobile devices, tablets, computers with touch screens, and large home use devices (eg. similar to Wii video games and devices).

Beginner Level: To Learn the structure of a character / how to write a character;

Intermediate Level: To play with fonts, script styles;

Advanced Level: To design your own fonts and script styles; to use pen-and-board controllers creatively.

Full Version and Timeline:

For the Beginner’s level, To Learn the structure of a character / how to write a character, when the user enters one stroke, the app will ask the user to choose from a list of strokes (the order of strokes are very important in, for instance, Eastern Asian countries.)  This requires the programming of the stroke order in each single character in multiple languages.  It is reasonable for me to start with the Chinese language, as not only did I grow up with this language, I was also trained in Chinese calligraphy since an early age.

For the Intermediate Level, To play with fonts, script styles, each character will appear hollow (with stroke order indicated), and the user will fill each one in by either handwriting on the screen, or using specially designed pen-and-board-shaped controllers that come in different shapes, styles and sizes. After the user finish writing, for instance, an Indian proverb (7 characters) or a Tang poem (20-28 characters), the app will generate the calligraphy piece the user has created in an interactive platform which allows one to make further changes, save, and share online.  Inspirations can be drawn from the iPad Calligraphy App’s tracing system.

For the Advanced Level, the user may invent one’s own distinctive script styles, name them, save them, and share them online.  This has similar function to online drawing apps such as Sketchpad and AWW (A Web Whiteboard).   The user may also use pen-and-board controllers creatively, the way devices are used in Wii. The largest pen controller should be as large as 4 feet long, and one can practice wall calligraphy or ground calligraphy (dishu), the results of which will be projected and saved on file for further use.

The skills required to make this tool are mostly ones I do not yet possess in my digital tool pool.   It will therefore take me at least two years to accomplish this project.

Brief Version and Timeline

The Beginner’s Level could be the brief version of the project.  This requires character pool and an efficient tracing-operating system.  If I have the right collaborators, this version could take 9 months to a year to complete.