Peasant Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrillas in the Midst

This post originally was published at my personal blog, Bloviate. If you wish to comment, click on the title and add to the discussion there!

One of the secret missions behind my work with Mikhail Gershovich in developing an open source publishing platform at Baruch College is to gradually integrate into the school’s general education curriculum the deep, critical examination of how digital tools are changing the way we think and live. This curricular purpose is not currently present on any kind of scale at our college. Because of political realities at the school, we’ve very much built Blogs@Baruch in a haphazard, take-what-we-can-get kind of way, and we haven’t had the luxury of being systematic about the thing. But we’re now two years into our experiment, and we’re widely established enough throughout the college that we’re confident we will continue to operate. We’re now able to theorize what we’ve done and to strengthen our case for more attention to the types of curricular innovation we’d like to see.

Creative Commons License photo credit: jectre

Of course, we’re far from the only ones considering these questions, and we’re certainly not the only ones who’ve borrowed the terminology of revolution to cheekily make our case. Matt Gold has already done a fantastic job creating a hit-and-run guide to guerrilla pedagogy that delineates the tools, philosophy, and connective processes requisite at its core. Gardner Campbell has argued for a trajectory in liberal education towards the development of media fluency and in favor of a shift from both “signature pedagogies” to “pedagogies of signature” and from general education to generalizable education. Gardner has also spoken passionately about the role of movements around the integration of digital tools into the work of higher education in destabilizing the institutions at our center. Joss Winn and Mike Neary have written of “The Student as Producer,” connecting pedagogies that place the student squarely in the role of knowledge-maker within broader efforts to combat the corporatization of higher education and to reimagine a university that for once might be fully committed to the development of humanistic thinkers. Jeff McClurken has argued smartly that digital literacy is something that should be developed within the disciplines and shown how, though I’d guess he’d agree that such an approach does not preclude a broader college-wide addressing of these questions. And besides being actively involved in building the tools from the ground up, Boone Gorges has brilliantly theorized the structural similarities between the types of communication and personalized connections that happen within social media and the specific goals of a college’s general education program.

There are others, many others, who’ve been doing this type of work and thinking, and their models and theories are very much the fuel that propels us along our path.

Che Groom

Creative Commons License photo credit: 5tein

Blogs@Baruch has evolved along three broad publishing contours in its first two years, and each can be seen as a step towards developing a foundation upon which those in power at the College might do some tough thinking about how the general education could be reimagined. This said, I have no idea whether or not they might do this, or even when the gen ed was last revisited. But if they call, we’ll be ready to contribute what we’re learning.

Non-Course Publishing

We’ve become the go-to shop for folks at the College who want to get stuff online. Student publications, online magazines, faculty development sites, exhibits, extra-curricular project journals, document reviews using CommentPress, grant competitions and committee sites… we host them all.

Members of our community now recognize that they no longer need HTML skills to be able to publish to the web or CSS skills to control how what they publish looks. On the flip side, each of the individuals and groups involved in these projects has been forced to confront questions of audience, tone, purpose, tools, design, and connectedness. This has spurred conversations that otherwise might have been offloaded to a contracted web group, or might not have happened at all. The Schwartz Institute, through our nurturing of these conversations, has joined the staff of the Newman Library at the center of thinking on campus about the role of digital tools in the varied work of the college. This broad “culture of self-publishing” is raising the overall digital literacy of staff, faculty, and administrators at the College by creating and sustaining unavoidable engagement with the implications of doing professional and intellectual work on the open web. This engagement has been more incidental than systematic, but it’s been ongoing and persistent, and more and more people are taking part.

Course-based Publishing

Our most exciting work is taking place inside of courses. We’ve supported more than a hundred course sections over the last two years, and they are inspiring faculty members towards more experimental and experiential pedagogy. We’ve featured much of this work at Cac.ophony.org. Some courses are using Blogs@Baruch as little more than an open CMS, taking advantage of a flexible aesthetic to create a more intimate relationship between students and their engagement with course materials online. Others have used the system to explode students’ prevailing understandings of audience by creating and capturing collaborative writing through the integration of wikis, scaffolding research papers in public groups, or bringing in the voices of outside authorities. Many have used the power of writing for classmates’ consumption (and beyond) to raise the stakes of an assignment. Some have staged engagement with a difficult text through a dialogic close reading that evolves into performed knowledge about the themes of the work. Many have taken advantage of lowered barriers of entry to the production of multi-media work to create opportunities for students to engage with course themes and texts through video and other media, and then to write about how the process impacts their understanding of the genres engaged in the course. Most have embraced the connectedness of the web to integrate additional resources into their teaching and expose students to critical research methods.

These courses have done three types of work. First, they’ve produced models that are replicable within this college and beyond, and fueled a buzz and interest in teaching with digital tools that hadn’t been very present on campus until recently. Second, they’re helping us develop a local “community of practice” committed to dialogue around the implications of digital pedagogy, which has filtered into the faculty development initiatives already afoot at the Schwartz Institute. And, third and most importantly, these courses have worked to instill in students a critical sense of how to exist intellectually and professionally on the Web by spurring dozens of small conversations about online ethics, linking, sharing, identity, performance, knowledge building, collaboration, mashing, hacking, looking, listening, and learning. These conversations have not been systematized, but they’re most definitely happening.

Social Publishing

The third contour in which we’ve been working is social publishing. This is an infant compared to the two toddlers described above, and is based primarily in our work supporting Freshman Seminar, which draws all incoming students into conversations on Blogs@Baruch. I’ll spare you the details of how the project has evolved, which you can read up on by following this tag on Cac.ophony.org. We hope that our pending integration of BuddyPress will both challenge some of the alienation that happens on a purely commuter campus, and enable what Matt Gold has called “serendipitous connections” around shared interests that otherwise might not happen. Matt and George Otte’s framing and stewardship of the CUNY Academic Commons is very much our model for structuring and naming such a possibility. This coming Fall our first year students will be writing creative blog posts that integrate freely-available digital tools to examine their own processes of identity formation. In doing so, they will be sharing and connecting their experiences to others at the school and beyond, and also reflecting upon the choices they make and tools they use. This is non-credit bearing work, but we hope that it will provide for our students a critical base from which to use the web to engage and learn that they will carry through their four years at the College.

All of the above work intersects only incidentally with the formal general education curriculum at the College. And, yet, I think we can safely say that what we’ve built with Blogs@Baruch has impacted the generalizable education that our students are getting. What’s needed, however, is some kind of systematization, which will create more points of reflection and articulation, more staging towards digital and media fluency, and more buy-in across the curriculum. As guerrillas, we’ve made and built our critique while modeling an alternative approach to supporting educational technology that saves the College money and raises its profile. If we are indeed in the midst of the revolution that will remake higher education, then we stand with our colleagues at the vanguard, arguing that universities must embrace the core values of the open web, and work them systematically into curricula.

20 thoughts on “Guerrillas in the Midst”

  1. Che Groom FTW, and what the hell is umwblogs.com?

    These are the very posts I was hoping this blog would lead to, and as usual, you didn;t let me down. Awesome stuff, a brilliant narrative of the brilliant stuff happening up and CUNY.

  2. Just anticipating the for-profit turn you’re going to take. And, what, you don’t like soccer blogging? Stupid American pig.

  3. Two things.

    1) I wish everyone would adopt your language and sense of purpose regarding the integration of digital tools in the undergraduate curriculum. So many technologists are either whiz-bang about the gadgets, or gung-ho in the overarching politics, that the value for (and of) the students gets lost. I might be biased because of the fact that your development as an instructional tech has largely paralleled mine, but I find your discussion pitch perfect.

    2) The point about moving from guerilla methodology (“generalizable” education) to curricular policy is really powerful and important. There’s a lot of cachet in operating outside the system, being an edupunk, what have you. I feel some of this myself. Moreover, there is actually some independent value in operating outside the system. I wonder just how far this value goes, though. If Blogs@Baruch goes from being outside the system to being The Man itself, is something important lost? Does institutionalizing a set of pedagogies have the inevitable effect of watering them down or of making them less urgent? Frankly I am confused by the whole thing, but I do think it’s an important thing to explore. I look forward to seeing how you folks at BLSCI navigate these waters in the semesters to come.

  4. Luke,
    How are the three comments above tracking back here? That is pretty cool if there is something we can use like this to track back comments from an orginal post to a syndicated posts, and vice versa. Hmmm.

  5. This is so awesome, it is exactl what I wish FeedWordpress could do, you may be on to something here, great advances are usually accidents 🙂

  6. Just changed the Backtype Connect settings… the function probably needs more granular control over what content is displayed where. Because you so generously linked to several of my posts on yours, the conversation at the Bava was replicated on every one of those posts here. It was like an invasice juvenile pissing match with a wicked echo effect. 🙂

    But, I agree… this is the closest thing to the magic comment mirroring for FWP that we’ve been looking for.

  7. Seems like you should be able to modify Backtype so that it doesn’t pull in comments from posts that only *mention* yours, but instead just posts that *are copies of* yours. I’d take on that project but I’m booked for a while 😀

  8. “integrate into the school’s general education curriculum the deep, critical examination of how digital tools are changing the way we think and live”

    Incredibly well put… and the post just gets juicier as the examples pile up.

  9. @Boone: Really good questions about the cost of going “mainstream.” To a certain extent, CUNY’s continued (and no doubt continuing) dependence on BlackBoard and client-services model of supporting ed tech will likely keep us on the outside critiquing these questions rather than on the inside institutionalizing answers for the foreseeable future. Unsaid in what I posted is that a lot of gen ed courses at Baruch (and elsewhere I’m sure) are taught by folks who don’t even know they’re teaching in a gen ed. This obviously points to an overarching issue with faculty labor and the organization of instruction at the University that, if it ever changes, will do so only quite slowly. Those realities, imo, ossify some of the practices that Us Guerrillas work against, so it’s really hard for me to anticipate that things are going to all of a sudden look the way progressive educators want them to, whatever success we’ve had with our little foothold. That said, you’re underlying point about maintaining perspective and holding onto urgency even when being drawn into the inside and becoming Official is crucial.

    @Brian: thanks a bunch; happy to have you checking in here.

  10. I agree with other commentators on the brilliance of this post. It is rich food for an active mind. For that I am grateful.

    Maybe I’m a bit too concerned about too small of a thing, but I thought I was going to a post in cac.ophony.org from my feeds in Bloglines, but ended up going directly to the post here in Bloviate. Is that how you intended this to operate? If so, isn’t this a bit of a bait-and-switch?

    Jim

  11. Thanks, James. I syndicated this post from my blog (where it originally appeared) into Cacophony to reach a broader audience, and redirected comments here so that all discussion might take place in one space. I understand your concern, though I did note at the top of the Cacophony post that comments would happen here, not there, so you were switched, but not baited. 🙂

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  12. Right-o; I think James didn’t understand why when he clicked on the Cacophony version of his post in his reader he was redirected here rather than to the comment field there, and the question was asked innocently.

    I have to say, Google’s relentless refusal to relinquish original urls when I access Reader on my iPhone is really pissing me off. I need take the time to find another RSS reader…

  13. That’s not google’s fault, Feed WordPress rewrites the url of the original post, so that all syndicated posts point back to original. And I like the way you are preventing a blowup on Bloviate, I am just gonna have to try harder 🙂

  14. Yeah, I know re: Google/FWP… that’s a separate issue, probably should be a blog post. There’s a constant tug-of-war between GReader and the sites I feed through it (the ones who only send a tease) over who’s going to get my eyes. Freaking annoying.

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