Tag Archives: cac

Finding #ds106radio

I really dug the DIY Radio for Teaching and Learning session that Mikhail Gershovich organized last night at Baruch College. I’ve been following the evolution of the community that’s emerged around the digital storytelling courses (named ds106) begun at University of Mary Washington and joined by folks all over the world, and have watched with interest as that community has explored the integration of web radio over the past year. But I’ve refrained from jumping in for a number of reasons. First, I’m not much of a joiner. Second, I saw that ds106 radio seemed to have taken over the lives of many of the folks involved, and I simply don’t have time. Third, as a self-diagnosed enthusiasthmatic, I didn’t feel I have the stamina to participate in a movement whose mood generally puts the good vibes in the digital humanities community to shame. Fourth, when confronted with evangelism, which I often find boring, my instinct is to turn the other way. And fifth and by far the most important, I don’t particularly like punk, and ds106radio plays a lot of punk.

These reservations aside, I did know from the get that ds106 was on to something interesting and that radio is just a part of that, and last night’s presentation gave me a firmer sense of just what that is. I was reminded last night of the emergence of Found Magazine, which was created by Davy Rothbart, who I attended college (and played a lot of hoop) with. Found collects “found stuff: love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, doodles– anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life. Anything goes.” Found’s finds reveal the poetry and humanity in the quotidian detritus of every day life. When my wife and I got our first issue of Found, it immediately changed the way we related to our lived environment. Random pieces of paper blowing across the sidewalk had real stories and real life behind them. Binding them into a collection made a space for readers to creatively explore and imagine the voids left by the individual artifact’s isolation and abandonment.

I was similarly struck by the way ds106radio has altered the way that Grant Potter, GNA Garcia, Jim Groom, Michael Branson Smith and Mikhail as well as several others have integrated the possibilities of web radio into their interactions with the spaces around them. They seem absorbed by the experience of ds106radio, always imagining how to make use of it, constantly thinking of ways to bring what’s around them to the network, and doing so in deeply personalized ways. Grant is focused on creating, expanding, and simplifying the technical capabilities of the experience, drawing upon his ability as a technologist interested in telephony. GNA is an educational psychologist, and her interest in the space seems to revolve around mindfulness and nurturing a sense of community. Mikhail has embraced the role of deejay for its own sake, but has also shown the promise of the medium for capturing oral history and begun to imagine curricular integration around a set of tools like these. Michael has taken the first difficult stab at bringing the ds106 world into the curriculum of a CUNY college over at York, and while he’s made amazing artistic contributions (and to the ds106 ecosystem, he’s also made use of his connections to expand the set of tools ds106ers can draw upon in their audio production and brought #ows on air. And Jim, whose work with ds106 inspired this whole thing, has started to imagine the range of ways that a web radio station might be integrated across the curriculum at UMW.

As much as Jim might recoil in horror at the term, he’s an “academic” through and through, and in and only in the best sense of the word. After his presentation with Mike Neary and Joss Winn last week, I felt that the MOOCification of ds106 and the attention to the community beyond UWM embedded an implicit critique of the institutional limitations of the university. While I think these awesome projects suggest a dynamic about the nature of change and innovation within higher ed that we would benefit from teasing out a better understanding about, Jim’s presentations these past two weeks have reiterated to me yet again that more than anything he’s deeply committed to the idea of curricular innovation and evolution using free, open, powerful tools in a way that specifically and systematically fosters digital and networked literacies. Jim wants you to think he’s crazy and unpredictable and unbound, so he references heroin and porn in his presentations. But his work can’t help but reveal that he is in fact something much more radical and profound: an intensely committed educator. (Not that I ever doubted that. But I don’t think I’ve ever written it, and it’s only fair given the millions of keys he’s struck professing his love for me).

Rock on #ds106radio. I’ll likely call mic check at some point. And much more importantly, I’ll be rolling the possibilites of web radio into my thinking about ways educators can stretch, invigorate, and revolutionize the classroom.

If you missed it, here’s the presentation, which lays out with much more passion and clarity than I can what ds106 and ds106radio are:

DIY Web Radio, Part 1 of 2

DIY Web Radio, Part 2 of 2


Where are the students?


Creative Commons License photo credit: ShuttrKing|KT

Boone’s post about Blackboard as an impetus behind his turn to open source software development got a lot of attention on Monday, and for good reason. He struck a fine balance between deep knowledge, a moral center, and a progressive stridency that many of us who are doing work at the intersection of technology and higher ed aspire to but rarely achieve. It’s ideological, for sure, but its ideology is a simple one: Blackboard is ripping off students by locking the institutions responsible for nurturing their development as thinkers and makers into an expensive relationship with a software whose design is hostile to thinking and making. That’s troubling enough. But, as Boone notes, it’s doubly troubling at a place like CUNY, where the vast majority of students have few choices when it comes to higher education.

Boone’s piece resonated with educators and developers who like to think deeply about this stuff, and kicked off a series of exchanges on Twitter about how we might translate broad anger against Blackboard into some kind of transformative action. And yet, a significant piece is absent from the puzzle: there seems to be little student outrage over the fact that Blackboard is the default option for teaching and learning with technology at CUNY and so many other places.

Is it important that undergraduates know the details on this stuff? Or is this situation more akin to a faculty member choosing texts for a class, an act of tuition and fees paid along with faith that the “experts” will act in the best interests of the students?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I find it more concerning that I’m not sure students care to know. CUNY undergraduates have barely made a whimper since their tuition was raised 15% in 2009, and 7% this academic year, with promises of additional hikes each of the next four years. There were some scattered student protests: an internationalist group and marxist social workers at Hunter organized a rally. I heard a rumor, unconfirmed, that A group of anarchists at Queens College stopped traffic on the L.I.E. to protest the hikes. But there’s been nothing across campuses, nothing sustained, and the loudest protestors, as always, are CUNY Grad Center students, who are often steeped in the history of protest (especially at CUNY) but who only make up a sliver of the student population. Compared with students in Europe, American students show few signs of organizing and making demands.

If CUNY’s undergrads aren’t motivated to oppose such steep tuition hikes, it’s hard to imagine that they’d deeply engage with the types of ed tech decisions made by the University. Would CUNY actually jettison a relationship with a corporation to which it has outsourced so much of its thinking about teaching and learning with technology without students demanding it? CUNY is a huge bureaucracy, and getting it to change direction is a monumental task.

I’m fortunate enough to have carved out a niche with other like-minded educational technologists and digital humanists at the University where we can think deeply about and create alternative structures for the exploration of the way that technology is changing teaching, learning, and scholarship. My project is funded directly by the student technology fee, a fact that I’m proud of. Our campus puts its plan for the tech fee online for all to review, and it’s a symbol of enlightened leadership that we’ve been given the space to experiment. Still, there’s little evidence to assume that most CUNY students know or care about the substantial fees paid by CUNY to Blackboard, or the much more exorbitant costs of the CUNY First ERP transition, or (despite our recognition) how much bang for the buck projects like Blogs@Baruch, The CUNY Academic Commons, and ePortfolios@Macaulay deliver.

Our innovations remain on the edges of the University. In some ways, to be honest, that’s preferable — we don’t have as much pressure to scale and as a result we have both less scrutiny and greater ability to respond nimbly to changes on the ground. If we had more resources and a bigger mandate, our work would change significantly. But at the end of the day, CUNY students are still sending a significant chunk of money to Blackboard without any say, and the overwhelming majority of faculty members aren’t thinking through the pedagogical implications of a continued client-service model of educational technology.

So we can be proud of the critique we’ve waged and the alternatives we’ve constructed. But Boone’s post reminds us in the starkest terms that we’ve not accomplished nearly enough. We have more to do. But so do our students. They can start by asking some questions, and hopefully, down the road, making some demands.

Update, November 30, 2011:
I originally published this post just after Occupy Wall Street began…. since then, CUNY students have made pretty clear their feelings about the tuition hike in a series of protests (with more to come)… I don’t think I missed the anger when I wrote this post, because it simply wasn’t visible.

Girard IL - BTW, has anyone seen the computer?

On EdTech and the Digital Humanities

Girard IL - BTW, has anyone seen the computer?

Creative Commons License photo credit: myoldpostcards

Last Wednesday Matt Gold and Charlie Edwards invited me and a few of my favorite CUNYs to come speak to the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative, a new group at the University “aimed at building connections and community among those at CUNY who are applying digital technologies to scholarship and pedagogy in the humanities.” Matt and Charlie were especially interested in bringing CUNY educational technologists to this meeting because the relationship between edtech and the digital humanities is something that’s been assumed more than theorized: we all focus on the intersection of technology and academic work in the humanities, ergo we must be doing similar and somewhat simpatico things.

With a field that’s been as nebulous in its boundaries and definitions as the digital humanities, this stance hasn’t been particularly problematic. There has, however, been significant energy within the digital humanities over the past year devoted to self-definition. At the same time, the loose, distributed community of educational technologists working with open source publishing platforms of which I consider myself a part has congealed around a certain set of ideas. I intended my contributions to the CUNY DHI to draw some points of difference between these twined trajectories, to look upon the digital humanities through the lens of my recent experience becoming an educational technologist after completing a graduate degree in history, and ultimately to raise some questions about the tensions I see between the two realms of academic life.

In advance of the visit, we were asked to circulate some readings, and I chose Mike Neary and Joss Winn’s “The Student as Producer.” This piece contextualizes the work that I and several of my colleagues have been engaged in over these past few years. Our work as educational technologists has emerged to meet a particular nefarious challenge that Neary and Winn powerfully delineate: over the past two generations, the function of the university has been increasingly shaped in response to the forces of capital. “Since the 1980s, universities, in response to government pressure, have become more business-like and enterprising to take advantage of the ‘opportunities’ presented by the so-called global ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘information society.’” At the risk of overdrawing the picture somewhat, we see the impact of such pressures in pretty much every nook and cranny of the university: in how resources are sought and allocated, in the corporatization and professionalization of athletics, in the anxiety over assessment and accreditation, in the structure and vicissitudes of the academic labor market, in the predatory student loan and credit card industry and, not least of all, in the classroom, where structures of instruction commonly lead to students being treated as vessels into which information should be dumped en route to the job market.

Blogs@Baruch and its sister projects emerged in direct response to these conditions. Our original focus was on nurturing student-centered learning by merging WAC and WID principles with the possibilities opened up by online publishing, in making more visible the pedagogy (both successful and not) at work in our classrooms, and at supporting an alternative to the proprietary course management system that still predominates across CUNY. Blackboard is itself an embodiment of the university culture that Neary and Winn rightly find so troubling: students cycle through a system that structurally, aesthetically and rhetorically reinforces the notions that education is consumption, the faculty member is a content provider, the classroom is hierarchical, and learning is closed. Less and less though do we have to convince listeners that open source publishing platforms and the many flowers they’ve allowed to bloom can create exciting possibilities in and beyond the classroom; we can show them link after model after link after model after link.

And yet our argument has quickly expanded beyond the classroom to engage broader questions about curricula, the social life of the University, the very way that our community members think about their experiences. Our engagement is a humanistic one in that it insistently constructs the university first and foremost as a site of inquiry and exploration, resists and complicates the concepts of deliverables and education as consumption, challenges staid structures of power, and seeks to constructively question motives and goals at every opportunity. Technology and the open web have empowered us in this endeavor, leveling the playing field in ways that give those who might imagine other trajectories within the university the means to counteract power.

I could say much more about the work we’ve been doing, where it’s succeeded, where it’s failed, and how it’s been a struggle. But the point here has been to situate our work, to historicize it in a way that brings to the fore its politics. This is something that I think the progressive edtech movement has done quite clearly, but that the digital humanities have not.

In many ways, the digital humanities is not really new. Or, that is to say, the methods and questions and processes that constitute its core are not new. Just drawing upon my own disciplinary (and professional) past, the folks at the American Social History Project have been exploring the implications of new technologies on scholarship and pedagogy for nearly thirty years, challenging orthodoxies and valorizing collaboration and innovative approaches to engaging with the past since the Kaypro II. The Center for History and New Media was founded in 1994 and together these two organizations built the first large scale efforts to digitally reimagine the past in the classroom and beyond. Randy Bass’s work out of Georgetown — which I first encountered as an undergraduate participant in the “Crossroads Project” at the University of Michigan in the mid-90s — has done much to promote the use of digital tools to remake the classroom and curricula. Additional examples in “humanities computing” are many.

What is new about the digital humanities, though, is the legitimacy, funding, and visibility that it’s found over the past few years, and those are the components that have sparked recent efforts to set some boundaries and define the field. Frankly, this process has sometimes bordered on the absurd. The recurrent presence of phrases like “big tent,” “expansive,” and “broadly conceived” give speakers a rhetorical tool set for drawing just about any academic work done with technology into the field. It gives graduate students who use technology in their research a language for demarcating their work from those who do not. This slipperiness makes formulating a critique a significant challenge, since the digital humanities resists being reduced to a single or even a handful of things. In trying to write this I’ve had a difficult time boiling my critique down to an unhedged essence. But, here goes.

The (un)structure of the digital humanities has led to a careerism and opportunism that, to the outsider, often obfuscates the genuinely pathbreaking work that’s happening around the field. It’s here where I see the biggest point of difference between educational technology and the digital humanities. Edtech is necessarily implicated in constructing the university of the future, and one of the many reasons that battle is so important is that its outcome will in fact go a long way towards determining the future of the humanities. While there is significant political content within the digital humanities — the valuing of openness, the emphasis on sharing, the location within technology of particular tools and methods for empowerment — one gets the sense that ideology is not the main thing. In other disciplines (history and educational technology being the two I’m most familiar with) political debates abound, often times propelling ideas forward. In the digital humanities you tend to see much more agreement than disagreement. While it’s well and good to be agreeable, and I far prefer people who are, we are in high-stakes times. The humanities have been and continue to be in crisis. Budgets are burning, departments are being axed, and in many places the very value of a humanistic education is not only being questioned, but boldly denied.

And yet, a tone predominates in the discourse around the digital humanities that often seems to sidestep this crisis, or miss it altogether. Part of this is no doubt attributable to the fact that the digital humanities has become so dependent upon Twitter and is thus subject to the distorting echo of the hive mind. Part of it is also attributable to the new sense of community and connectedness within the field, which has also spurred a significant amount of navel-gazing and those efforts to self-define. I admittedly suffer from enthusiasthma, but the “I’m okay, you’re okay” “RT congrats!” cliquishness that flows across my screen and predominates at DH gatherings seem to me to be a bit misaligned with the current trajectory of the humanities in higher education. DH jobs, funding, and departments are becoming more widely available while the broader humanistic project — to which universities are central — crumbles around us. Are new tenure track positions, attempts at building a canon and establishing authority, and a dozen new conferences representative of progress, or are they reentrenching and reinscribing power along traditional paths? (Yes, I realize the answer can be “both.”) And why do digital humanists seem to celebrate scholarship much more deeply and publicly than teaching and learning? These questions are at the core of my discomfort with aligning my work with the digital humanities, as much as I’ve learned and benefited from scholars at its center.

Some might ask, “well, what about #alt-ac?” I appreciate the extent to which that phrase articulates, illuminates and validates the variety of labor paths and modes that make the university function and evolve (including what I do). Yet I can’t help but feel that something might be lost by, as Jim Groom has said, “naming and reifying my alterity.” Adapting for myself the pressure to publish, travel to conferences, keep up with the canon, to constantly produce and present new research — all of the things that seem necessary to establish one’s self within the digital humanities, even as an “alt-ac” person — doesn’t really seem “alt” at all. It’s seems about exactly what I expected from a career in academia.

I realize this argument is deeply personal, perspectival and located mostly within my own struggles to navigate professional terrain. I’m not trying to shit on anyone’s work. Some of my best friends are digital humanists, I swear. But I know that I’m not the only person to feel some of the things I’ve written above. At the end of my brief, wholly unpolished presentation to the CUNY DHI last week, @mkgold tweeted “@lwaltzer argues for a more muscular, progressive version of the Digital Humanities that questions/critiques power.” I initially wasn’t comfortable with that conclusion being drawn from what I had said because I don’t feel myself enough of a DH insider to make any arguments for what its future should hold. And yet upon more reflection I do feel nurturing that ethos is and must be central to the humanities. It’s simply too important to be absent from or even unclear in any future vision of the university.

I guess that, thanks to Matt and Charlie’s invite and the struggle to write this post that ensued I’ve learned that I’m interested in the digital humanities only to the extent to which it helps me use technology to do the work as a humanist I’d try to do even if we had no computers. So does that mean I’m in, or out?

Peasant Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrillas in the Midst

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.

Peasant Guerrilla Warfare

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 - EdTech Revolutionary
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 studied in the course. Most have embraced the connectedness of the web to integrate additional resources into their teaching and expose students to a range of 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 more systematization, 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.