Category Archives: Uncategorized

Public key

Inspired by the paranoia of this week’s readings, I’ve created my first public key using GNU Privacy Guard, which uses PGP. Feel free to sign and return. (Though not until you’ve verified that this post was created by me. Some malefactor could have taken over my computer!)

Version: GnuPG v1


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.

Jeff Binder’s Project Proposals: Language Models and Clichés

#1: The Distance Machine

Over the past year, I have been working on a program called the Distance Machine, the primary function of which is to identify words in a text that were uncommon at a given point of time according to a statistical model of Google’s Ngrams data. At present, though, this program doesn’t quite accomplish what I ultimately want to do in this project, which is to look at how the statistical approach to studying the English Language relates to earlier forms such as the dictionary. In the current version, the user is required to select a corpus upon entering a text, and there is no way to change the selection short of re-entering it. As such, although it provides an easy way of finding exceptions to the patterns that appear in one particular corpus, it also makes it far too easy to take a single model as a ground truth about how the language has changed over time. I would like to rework the program so that it is easier to compare different representations.


Dr. Casaubon is a scholar of 19th-century American literature. He is working on a critical edition of Charles Brockden Brown’s political writings, for which he is trying to understand the implications of certain political terms at the time when Brown was writing.

Annie Cratylus is an undergraduate English major. She has taken an interest in the ways in which language can uphold hierarchical systems. She is currently working on a paper about how the language of radical feminist writings from the 20th century deviates from the ordinary usage of the time.

Prof. Trotsky is a Marxist literary critic doing a project on working-class British poetry from the early 19th century. She is interested in investigating the class aspects of language standardization efforts in that time period, especially in regard to the choices of vocabulary used in the poetry of John Clare.

Use case:

After hearing her project idea, Annie Cratylus’s professor tells her she might want to look into the idea of a corpus. In researching the concept, she comes across the Distance Machine. She pastes a copy of a chapter from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble into the program and clicks “Go.” The program shows a number of instances where Butler’s language deviates from the expectations set up by the Google Books corpus. Using some of these examples to illustrate her point, Jenny writes a paper arguing that radical writing has to confound the expectations created by attempts to contain language within the bounds of the statistical.

Ideal version:

A full-fledged version would expand the program so that it can work with language models that incorporate information about word order in addition to word frequency. One way of doing this would be to incorporate the full Ngrams data set, rather than just the frequencies for single words. Based on this, the tool could highlight phrases of up to five words. Processing the full data set would require supercomputing resources, and the program would have to be transferred to a server with at least a few terabytes of storage capacity. I would also have to change the interface so that it could highlight overlapping units of the text, rather than discrete words. A somewhat less computationally intensive way of experimenting with more complex language models would be to generate a model based on a smaller corpus, which would present somewhat less of a challenge in terms of data management.

Dealing with a data set this large would require some skills that I don’t have at present. The scripts that I wrote to process the data would have to be changed so that they could run in parallel. There is also a chance that MySQL wouldn’t be up to the task of storing that much data, so I might have to learn another database system; and I might also have to change my PHP code to be more efficient so that the program is not excessively slow. This is a project that I would be unable to do without getting a major grant.

Simple version:

In this version, I would stick with simple word-frequency models, but add a number of different corpora, covering various time periods and genres of literature. One corpus that would be particularly useful is Phase I of the EEBO-TCP (Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership) corpus, which includes over 25,000 books published between 1500 and 1700. Another one would be the English Fiction version of the Google Ngrams corpus. I am also interested in creating corpora based on the full text of long-running periodicals like the New England Quarterly or The Atlantic. After preparing the corpora, I would have to change the PHP code so that it produces annotations for all corpora rather than just one and add a user interface for switching between them.

I don’t think this will require any major skills that I don’t already have, apart from learning the quirks of the various data sets that I will be using and possibly figuring out how to get the texts I need from a database. It would likely take a few months to get this done, since some of the data processing scripts could take days to run and, being realistic, I will likely have to try them multiple times before I get them to work right.


#2: Reading Clichés

Even in its most radical forms, literary criticism has generally centered its analysis on the text, tending to refer back to the original even when its authority is under suspicion. But one of the ways in which literary works can resonate most strongly in a culture is through modes of transmission other than the reproduction of a text. This project will attempt to provide a way of “reading” a very different cultural form from the text: the cliché. It will provide visualizations representing the history of particular clichés, including graphs showing trends in what sorts of books used them over the past few hundred years and markers indicating significant events (prominent usages, relevant historical events, shifts in usage or meaning). It will also include some text explaining the project and providing a theoretical context for the project.


Dr. Casaubon is working on a book about the reception history of Herman Melville’s work. He wants to include a section about process by which people adopted the “White Whale” as a general way of referring to an object of obsession.

Prof. Trotsky is investigating the spread of political slogans. She wants to understand the ways in which phrases that originally had a political charge can come to be drained of it through repetition, and she is curious whether the numbing effect that repetition can have is dependent on a particular set of social conditions.

Mr. Shandy is a college-educated administrative assistant with an enthusiasm for language trivia. He is fascinated by the history of phrases, and is interested in finding out how the most famous quotations from his favorite books came to be widely known.

Use case:

Mr. Shandy comes across the site while searching for information about the phrase “time is money.” Looking at the visualization for this phrase, he learns that, although the phrase is often thought to have originated in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, it appeared decades earlier in a periodical called The Free-Thinker. He is also able to see some of the other books that used the phrase, such as Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby and get a sense the way in which the phrase came into increasing prominence in the late 20th century.

Ideal version:

A full-fledged version of this project would consist of a large database of clichés, either taken from a curated list or identified automatically, with information about the usage history of each. If the size of the database is to be large, it would be necessary either to produce the data for the timelines automatically or crowdsource it. For each cliché, the user would be able to open a page with a visualization showing the usage over time in a number of broad genres of books (Fiction, Biography, Biology, etc.), along with markers showing prominent and representative usages. I also might be able to include information about which clichés tend to co-occur together in the same books.

If this project is feasible at all, it would probably be doable in about 6 months. The major difficulties would be in procuring the necessary data and defining the bounds of what counts as a cliché. Assuming I could figure out a way of doing that, I should be able to get together what I need using scripting tools I am already familiar with. I could make the visualizations I am envisioning using JavaScript and D3. I would also need some sort of content management system for the site; which one would be best for this project I am not really sure, so I would need to do some research into this and maybe learn a new system.

Simple version:

A simpler way of going about this would be to pick a small number of clichés (about 12) and semi-manually gather the information I need. For each cliché, I would present a graph showing its usage in various types of books, along with some indications of prominent and representative usages. The prominent usages could be identified manually or on the basis of some data about the popularity of books (although this could potentially become problematic, so I would have to think hard about my choices). I could identify representative usages by taking random samples from various time periods and manually going through them.

It should be possible to get this mostly done in a few months. I believe I could get all the data I need using HathiTrust’s Solr API, although I ought to get in touch with them before I run large queries. Once I have access, I could easily write a script that downloads bibliographic data about all books that match a particular phrase. I could build the visualization using tools I already know, and the simple version would not be too demanding on the content management system.

Genevieve’s Project Proposals

Proposal #1:  Comparing Standard, Charter and Progressive Schools

One quarter of the public schools in NYC are failing and educational opportunities that are found in progressive schools are not offered at these schools.  These schools do not situate students for social or collaborative learning and children essentially are not experiencing making or building as part of their course curriculum so that they are unlikely to be interested in careers in technical fields such as robotics or stem technologies.  Also, children who are underperformers or who have behavioral issues are sometimes pushed through school or may become dropouts.

The NYC Dept. of Education’s website has an interactive map that allows parents to locate schools within their zone, but the map does not identify charter, charter-progressive or progressive schools.  Although information is available on the site for how to apply to charter schools, the site does not make plain that charter schools can be strictly traditional or whether they have elements of progressive methodologies.

I am very interested in creating a website that compares information for students from preschool through high school using data visualizations, geospatial mapping, a blog-space and forum to provide useful information to parents to help them make well informed decisions around where and how their children will receive their educations.  Parents will be able to compare various types of methodologies as well as assess school performance and funding.  Parents will also be able to determine what schools have assimilated progressive learning into their curriculum, as well as each school’s mission statement or rules of governance.

Personas: Anthony and Carol are parents to two sons.  Mason, who is 10 years old likes science.  8 years old Justin is a math guru.  Both parents would like their sons to attend schools that will enhance their interests but neither parent understands how charter schools might be different from standard schools.  They are also unaware of how progressive methodologies could positively affect their children’s educational experiences.  Both parents are afraid to send their children to the neighborhood school.

Christian and Jon are concerned there is an academic disadvantage for children who do not achieve higher education and they want their child to have many experiences in his formative years.  Their child will attend pre-school in one year and these parents are very committed to finding a good environment that will allow their child to play and explore.  In terms of methodologies and curriculum, both Christian and Jon believe they would be able to make a more informed choice if they knew how public schools offering standard, charter and progressive educations compare to each other, but they do not know how to access that information.

Use Case Scenario: Parents will be able to explore datasets through data visualizations, discover methodologies and pedagogical practices through the blog and will be able to gather additional information through participation in the websites forum by discussing topics of importance with other concerned and knowledgeable individuals.  A geospatial map will be created so that parents will be able to see the location of all schools which will be differentiated by methodology.

I would propose that a link to the website be available on the CUNY Academic Commons, and that the site would be popularized through social media.  The site would also be easily searchable through taglines that will be used in blogpost to increase the sites visibility and through search engine optimization.

Full Version: Parents will be able to interact with different datasets using data visualizations and geospatial maps to access information to help guide their decisions including:

  • Where different schools are located locally and nationally;
  • Whether the schools are standard, charter, charter-progressive or progressive;
  • Student grades;
  • Types and amounts of funding received including for Title 1, non-Title 1 and private schools;
  • Links to rules of governing and mission statements for each school;
  • Links to digital tools that have been integrated into classwork; and
  • Information around whether blended learning is implemented.
  • Teachers will be invited to write blogpost to share their methodologies and pedagogical practices on the blog-space.

Datasets for public and charter schools are available online, and I will need to contact institutional researchers of progressive schools to request comparable data for this research project.

All of the tools that will be used to build this project except Excel and WordPress are free and open source.  The forum space will be created using phpBB, and I will create data visualizations using Gephi and Excel, and a geospatial maps using ArcGIS.

The only concerns that I have are that the Gephi file will need to be embedded into WordPress and the phpBB and ArcGIS files will require a plugin.

Timeline: Excel is the only tool which I am already using.  There will be a learning curve for each of the other tools.  I will need to spend the most time learning Gephi and ArcGIS and I plan to spend the summer digging deeper into both programs.  There are resources available online to help through that process.

I believe I can complete this project within one semester.  It should only take a month to compile all datasets including those from progressive schools.  I estimate it will take two months to create the geospatial map and data visualizations.  Once a domain name is purchased, I will setup WordPress, and upload phpBB immediately to make sure it is installed correctly.

Short Version: The bare bones minimally viable version of this project will utilize information from traditional and charter schools in one NYC urban area and if a progressive school is not located within that same area, I will compare information from the nearest NYC progressive school to produce a Gephi data visualization.

The stripped down version would show the school’s locations, amounts and types of funding received, links to rules of governance or mission statements and resources if any used for blended learning.  The blog-space will also be created in this version, and I will also upload the forum page.

Short Version Timeline: This short version can be completed within the next two months.

Proposal #Two:  A Space for Student Collaboration

Children who attend failing schools can experience frustration with their school work.  It may be that these students need to engage their work socially rather than traditionally which may help to develop interests in assignments.  Additionally, if they were sharing the same learning experience digitally with their peers, they might look forward to successfully completing assignments.

Personas: Tyler is 13 years old and has not learned how to focus on task.  Tyler would rather doodle and talk in class and sees his teachers as an authority figure which he would rather strike out against.

Sophia who is fifteen years old tries to get her work done but often feels dejected because she really doesn’t understand what she is reading.  Sophia complains bitterly that she tries but her teacher just wants to punish her by giving her more work to do.

Use Case Scenario: I would propose creating a mobile app that can be downloaded onto tablets or phones.  Having posed a question around a reading, students would begin working to find solutions to problems by compiling a list of keywords they have created, and would upload pictures onto one line of a grid as a visual reference to the keyword.  A writing space would be available next to the picture so that students could answer 5W/1H questions relating to the keyword.

After the student has worked through all of the keywords and themes, they will be able to place all of the pictures that were used in the workspace side by side to create a completed visual storyline of the reading.  Having experienced the app, students should be better situated to complete writing assignments about the topic.

A backchannel would also be available for other students to discuss events that are similar to the posed question.  Participants in the backchannel could be challenged to add similar events to the event on the main page, and to explain those similarities.

When the work on the main page is completed and challenge questions in the backchannel have been answered, students in the back channel will be able to join the student on the main page to compare similarities between all topics.  This could help create interest in literature and historical events.

Students would be able to use the app while commuting since it would be available on tablets and phones.

Full Version: I would use Ruby on Rails to develop a grid with space to include sections for keywords, comments and photos.  The open source tools I would use include:

  • Padlet which would sit within the grid and its wall can be populated with photos (via pasting the url of the photo into a template). Although Padlet does offer backchannel technology, I want to keep the backchannel conversation separate from the action that is happening on the Padlet wall.  This would allow the student in the main section to work alone within the environment to clarify their ideas around the topic.
  • TodaysMeet (also an open source tool) would be used to create a private backchannel space where a group conversation can develop.
  • Factlink uses an invisible layer approach to allow users to see the contents of a webpage and write directly on the invisible layer. Factlink can be customized if a website requires it.

Ruby on Rails will support each of these tools.  Padlet, TodaysMeet and Factlink should all have a very small learning curve.

Timeline: It should take 2 -3 months to learn Ruby on Rails.  None of the other tools present a learning curve.

Short Version: There is only one area that would be changed on the short version, and that would be to not use “TodaysMeet” since both it and Padlet offer backchannel discussion capability.  Otherwise, the short version of the app is identical to the longer version.


Wikipedia Edits Traced to 1 Police Plaza

With all the talk we have been having about Wikipedia editing…A friend tweeted this article about anonymous edits originating from 1 Police Plaza IP addresses, made to Wikipedia pages about stop and frisk, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Alexian Lien (the man who was accosted by motorcyclists—some off duty NYPD while on the West Side Highway with his wife and child in the car). What do you all think? Harmless or trying to rewrite history?

Here is the link to the article. It’s been reposted on other sites as well.