Monday, December 21, 2009

gifts for the blogger in your life

In case you're looking for some last-minute gifts for the bloggers you know, I offer the following products designed to show how much you love and value their work in that nebulous place we call the blogosphere.

T-Shirts, stickers, and mugs

I actually don't know many bloggers who would wear T-shirts advertising their blogging practices. I'd probably be more likely to wear a T-shirt that advertises my blog's URL than I would to wear any of the shirts below, but on the other hand, I'm a big fan of the last two designs.

These are, respectively, from One Horse Shy, North Shore Shirts,, and teezeria.

Mugs for bloggers, by At the risk of stereotyping: If there's one thing bloggers use, it's mugs.

Cafe Press gifts: T-shirts, stickers, and mugs. These are fairly clip art-looking, but there are some gems in the pile. There are also some clunkers, exemplified by this kid's hoodie encouraging caffeine addiction and antisocial behavior, if the imprinted message is to be believed:

Happiness is...
Your favorite pen
a great plot line,
a hot cup of coffee,
and an entire day alone.

Gift Lists from Elsewhere

Ten Great Gifts for Bloggers and New Media Moguls, by Catherine-Gail Reinhard ( I offer this link even though I think only eight of the ten gift ideas proposed in this article are actually useful for your typical blogger / new media mogul. Idea #2, a laptop hideaway, is basically a $50 paperweight since no blogger worth her salt actually chooses to or even wants to stow her laptop out of sight. Suggestion #8, typewriter jewelry, is perhaps useful for some bloggers, but others of us spend so much time stuck to a laptop that we don't have time for things like personal adornment and / or hygiene.

50 Perfect Gifts for Webophiles, Bloggers, and Internet Marketers, by SEOmozBlog. This list is fairly gadget-heavy, with several desktop toy-type items (including the Cranium Poindexter doll at right). In my experience, bloggers tend to lose / drop / break things with a fair amount of frequency, so exercise your good sense here. I do like the emphasis throughout this list on gadgets that can clean / feed / organize the typical webophile.

Gadgets for Geeks, from Skimbaco Lifestyle. This list is exactly what the title suggests: a short list of a variety of geeky gadgets, including clocks, quirky USB drives, and the Kindle.

HoMedics Shiatsu Back Massager This is a must-have for any blogger. Well, okay, it's a must-have for this blogger. I tried one of these at a local pharmacy the other day and I almost slid out of the chair. I was JUST THAT RELAXED.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

why I don't return your phone calls

First off, I don't know if this will make you feel any better, but it's not personal: I don't return anybody's phone calls.

I hate talking on the phone. Hate it. Hate it. I like you tons, and I wish we lived closer so I could see you more often. And even though I know that my unwillingness to answer the phone when you call or to return your phone calls in any reasonable space of time is a constant strain on our relationship, I can't make myself get any better at it.

Please understand that it's not personal: I don't answer anybody's phone calls. I don't return anybody's calls in a reasonable space of time.

Teh social phobia: I haz it.

I've worked hard on tackling my anxieties, and I like to think I've done fairly well for myself in this respect. If you've wondered why I'm so obsessed with social media technologies, part of the answer is that I've used them to cobble together a series of workarounds: I've developed strategies for engaging in the types of conversations I like to have while avoiding the tools and encounters that cause me the most anxiety. Among which the phone conversation is numero uno.

It was bad enough when you had a land line, and I had a land line, and everybody had a land line. But then we all got cellphones, and every aspect of voice communication got that much harder for poor little rich girls like me. I can't tell when I'm interrupting you. I can't hear or rely upon the subtle cues: variation in the tone of your voice, pauses, or breath. The social connection, so essential and so difficult for someone like me to establish in the first place, becomes even more elusive.

There are new technologies whose designs make remote social connections easier to establish (cf. Skype, Google Video). I hope that some day these technologies will become the norm for all of us, overtaking the cellphone (my guardian, my executioner.) I also harbor a secret hope that if cellphones really are here to stay, I'll eventually cultivate the type of persona that makes people say, Oh, well, that's just Jenna--brilliant but eccentric. She refuses to talk on the phone! So we use other technologies to communicate with her. (It hasn't happened yet, but here's hoping for success in the new decade.) Until then, I hope you can understand that I love you but hate the technology.

Oh, and I sent you a package. It should arrive in the next day or two. You can text or email or tweet me when you get it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

on lurkers, geeks, and pasty white men

I'm reading a fascinating new piece by Kate Crawford called "Following you: disciplines of listening in social media." Crawford, an Associate Professor in the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, suggests that we rethink our discourse around lurkers and less active participants in online affinity spaces; actually, she suggests we get away from that term "lurking," since "this term has hampered our understanding of online spaces, and...the concept of listening offers more open and critically productive ground."

Crawford points to a glorification of "voice" as the highest form of online participation. She is gently critical of "this privileging of voice, and particularly voice-as-democratic-participation," which dominates research and writing about online activity. She explains:
In Henry Jenkins and David Thorburn's Democracy and New Media, the authors argue that the Internet 'is politically important because it expands the range of voices that can be heard in a national debate, ensuring that no one voice can speak with unquestioned authority.' This 'speaking truth to power' model is a prominent feature of much media and cultural studies analysis, but it has limited the recognition of the variety and reach of the practices of listening online. Listening has not been given sufficient consideration as a significant practice of intimacy, connection, obligation and participation online; instead, it has often been considered as contributing little value to online communities, if not acting as an active drain on their growth.

By my lights, Crawford is both right and a little bit wrong. There is a strange trend among new media researchers to privilege those who speak loudest and carry the biggest sticks; we often hold up "geeking out," as Mimi Ito and her colleagues describe it in their recent book on youth and new media, as the gold standard of online participation. But geeking out is characterized by single-minded obsession, deep immersion into a hobby or pastime, often at the expense of other pursuits. The archetypal "geek" is often the pasty white man toiling in the dead of night in front of some terminal or circuit board or technology. In a recent post on animals' use of tools, HASTAC co-founded Cathy Davidson remarks on the recent discovery that certain types of octopus use coconut shells as tools. The post is called "Only Humans Use Tools (O, and Octopi Too)," and Davidson explains that the title is intentionally ironic:
Many, many animals--maybe even all of them, in fact--use tools if only humans could "see" that they do. We see tools very anthrocentrically in the same way that we hear animal "language." Unless the animals translate it for us, we don't believe it exists.

I think the same is true when it comes to talking about "geeking out." Because pasty white men have traditionally dominated geek culture, at least in America, their practices became the standard by which we measure all geeks. If it doesn't look like a geek, walk like a geek, or quack like a geek, then we argue that it's not a geek--unless geeks who don't fit the geek stereotype translate for us, we don't believe they exist either.

In this sense, Crawford's effort to re-position the lurker as a listener whose participation in online spaces is essential to the success of those spaces is both important and useful. (And by the way, this paper identifies three categories of listening: background listening, delegated listening, and reciprocal listening; and the work she does to discuss these categories offers nice strategies for reframing different approaches to listening.) But on the other hand...if you spend your entire life listening and never 'speaking truth to power,' then what's the point of listening at all?

The work of making cultural meaning, after all, depends on collaboration. It depends on the power of speech, the power of communication, and the willingness to take a stand when it matters. It may be perfectly legitimate to be a Twitter user who listens in but never tweets, but the hope is that this sort of Twitter user will feel empowered to speak up in another space somewhere else. Henry Jenkins says this about participatory culture:

Not all members must contribute, but all must feel free to contribute when ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued.
Lurking--or, if you prefer, listening--is certainly a legitimate form of participation. But if a person never moves beyond listening and begins to 'speak' (and keep in mind that 'speaking' may take a variety of forms in this strange and wacky era we call The New Media Age), then that person isn't engaging fully with the affordances of the technologies she is engaged with. Often, of course, the geeks--the ones that we readily recognize, and readily cede the floor to--drown out the voices of other types of participants. This is a problem we need to set about solving. But the solution is not to argue that listening is valid in the same ways and to the same power as is making your ideas heard.

Crawford's piece, along with others she references in her article, helps us to rethink how we describe listeners as participants in online spaces. The next step, in my opinion, is to find a way to empower them to speak when they feel they have something to say. Alongside this goal is the deep imperative to find ways of recognizing speech acts and other forms of communication that don't fit the archetypes and stereotypes that too often direct our thinking about these sorts of issues.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

response from Mark Bauerlein: on The Dumbest Generation

I recently received an email communication from Mark Bauerlein in response to my recent critique of his book, the Dumbest Generation.

I asked, and Bauerlein gave me permission, to post his response to my blog. Here it is, in its entirety:

Astonishing, Jenna, that you quote Liz Losh, who actually takes one disgruntled student's comments on RateMyProfessors as evidence from which to generalize about my teaching.

If you have found any factual or logical errors in Dumbest Generation, I'll be happy to concede them. After all, we want every harsh judgment in the book to be proven wrong.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

you heard it there first: the best reviews of Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation

If you've read even a post or two from this blog, you know that I'm going to fiercely oppose the main theories guiding Bauerlein's 2008 book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.

In a precise exercise in ridiculousness, Bauerlein's book is loaded up with sweeping claims like the following:
[M]ost young Americans possess little of the knowledge that makes for an informed citizen, and too few of them master the skills needed to negotiate an information-heavyt, communication-based society and economy. Furthermore, they avoid the resources and media that might enlighten them and boost their talents....
[Y]oung people do not understand the ideals of citizenship, they are disengaged from the political process, they lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government, and their appreciation and support of American democracy is limited.

If that's what Bauerlein's selling, I don't want any.

I am, thanks be to god, not alone in my disgust at Bauerlein's dance of intellectual superiority. Many others have attacked his book and its tenets with grace, aplomb, and gusto. I give you a list of Reviews That Have Me Nodding My Head In Vigorous Agreement.

I begin with a smart and sassy Newsweek review by Sharon Begley and Jeneen Interlandi, who accuse Bauerlein of coming late to the party:
Really, don't we all know by now that finding examples of teens' and twentysomethings' ignorance is like shooting fish in a barrel?... From evidence such as a decline in adult literacy (40 percent of high-school grads had it in 1992; only 31 percent did in 2003) and a rise in geographic cluelessness (47 percent of the grads in 1950 could name the largest lake in North America, compared with 38 percent in 2002), for instance, Bauerlein concludes that "no cohort in human history has opened such a fissure between its material conditions and its intellectual attainments."

He is a little late to this party, of course. The old have been wringing their hands about the young's cultural wastelands and ignorance of history at least since admirers of Sophocles and Aeschylus bemoaned the popularity of Aristophanes ("The Frogs," for Zeussakes?!) as leading to the end of (Greek) civilization as they knew it. The Civil War generation was aghast at the lurid dime novels of the late 1800s. Victorian scholars considered Dickens, that plot-loving, sentimental ("A Christmas Carol") favorite, a lightweight compared with other authors of the time. Civilization, and culture high and low, survived it all. Can it survive a generation's ignorance of history? For those born from 1980 to 1997, Bauerlein lamented to us, "there is no memory of the past, just like when the Khmer Rouge said 'this is day zero.' Historical memory is essential to a free people. If you don't know which rights are protected in the First Amendment, how can you think critically about rights in the U.S.?" Fair enough, but we suspect that if young people don't know the Bill of Rights or the import of old COLORED ENTRANCE signs—and they absolutely should—it reflects not stupidity but a failure of the school system and of society (which is run by grown-ups) to require them to know it. Drawing on our own historical memory also compels us to note that philosopher George Santayana, too, despaired of a generation's historical ignorance, warning that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That was in 1905.
Liz Losh, in a review titled Dumbest and Dumber, agrees with the above assertion that though Bauerlein would have us believe otherwise, the complaints of an emerging unprecedented era of ignorance are not new or particularly well founded; and besides, she adds,
how can you hate people under thirty with this much dripping bile and still work as a competent and professional faculty member? How would it be possible to teach your classes with this much misanthropy aimed at people of your students' ages? With this much contempt taking place in inner monologues that are so well-rehearsed, how can you not communicate it to the student seeking help on the other side of your desk? Well, based on his ratemyprofessor standings, it looks like he's an easier instructor than I am, ironically. So much for defending high standards of achievement for students.
Over at BlogCritics, Kevin Eagan acknowledges that some of the trends identified by Bauerlein are "disturbing" but wonders about the extent to which The Dumbest Generation offers only the evidence that fits the thesis. "Bauerlein seems to think things are different because the Internet has only given teens one more way to escape adult life," Eagen writes.
And to a certain extent, he's right; the Internet is not used by teens to further their intellectual pursuits, at least, not in the way educators would like. But as with all new technologies, the Internet is currently going through a teething stage, and it's too early to say if our new digital lives will mean the next generation will forever ignore civil discourse and become apathetic toward art and history as adults.... Bauerlein's approach reveals a one-sided argument, one that forgets that art is created on the fringes of society and that young people rarely get involved in these pursuits since, after all, they're too busy trying to impress their friends.

This last point, by the way, is also a lynchphin of Losh's position with respect to Bauerlein's argument. She finishes her post with this video, which she identifies as a "dizzying spectacle of racial and sexual stereotypes, romantic melodrama, consumerism, instant gratification, and commodity fetishism emptied of its destructive social directives and turned into a clever musical soup that is danceable and evocative of guilty nostalgias and heterogeneous pleasures that Bauerlein would have us condemn."

Writing in the LA Times, Lee Drutman agrees that Bauerlein is an alarmist whose call to arms against the rising tide of ignorant youth "seems at once overblown...and also yesterday's news"; but Drutman also offers that "amid the sometimes annoyingly frantic warning bells that ding throughout 'The Dumbest Generation,' there are also some keen insights into how the new digital world really is changing the way young people engage with information and the obstacles they face in integrating any of it meaningfully. These are insights that educators, parents and other adults ignore at their peril."

Is Drutman right to find some kernel of useful information in the collection of histrionics that Bauerlein calls a "book"? Well, sure. It's probably not exactly good that young people don't like to read books. At the same time, however, we would do well to approach the gathering data from a somewhat more nuanced approach. Young people aren't spending their free time reading books; so what are they doing? They're not spending their free time learning about historical events; so what kind of history piques their interest? They don't know a whole lot about Constitutional law, the Supreme Court, or local politics; so how do you explain youth turnout in the 2008 Presidential election?

While I disagree with just about every argument Bauerlein makes,  I do agree--in principle, anyway--with Bauerlein's assertion that awareness of history and involvement in traditional political models are down, way way down. But unlike Bauerlein, I see no reason to cry into my imported beer over this. I believe that a new model of civic engagement is emerging, one that our current tests, surveys, and evaluative measures cannot yet identify or account for. The new civics is an everyday civics, one that may or may not include involvement in local, or state, or national politics; it's a kind of just-in-time civic engagement that emerges out of an immediate need. In the just-in-time model, knowing what (names, dates, definitions) is far less important than knowing how (how to access names, dates, definitions, when that type of information becomes relevant and necessary). Who cares if you can name every sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice if you're able to locate and verify a list of current Justices in ten seconds flat?

If you want to justify a conviction that young people are stupid, boring, and lazy, then you look to tests that measure knowing what. If you believe, as I do, that today's young people are as smart, fascinating, and engaged as any previous generation, then you start figuring out ways to measure knowing how.

Edublog Awards 2009: and the nominees are...

Below are my nominations for the 2009 Edublog Awards. If you're interested in submitting your own nominations for this year's awards, you'll need to act fast. The deadlines start rolling in this week:
  • Nominations: Close Tuesday 8 December
  • Voting: Ends Wednesday 16 December
  • Award Ceremony: Friday 18 December
Click here for more information about the awards and nomination process.

...and the nominees are:
First, “open” is a continuous, not binary, construct. A door can be wide open, completely shut, or open part way. So can a window. So can a faucet. So can your eyes. Our commonsense, every day experience teaches us that “open” is continuous. Anyone who will argue that “open” is a binary construct is forced to admit that a door cracked open one centimeter is just as open as a door standing wide open, because their conception of the term has no nuance. Alternately, they may adopt an artificial definition, in which a door opened 20 cm or more is considered open, while a door opened 19 cm is not considered open. But this is unsatisfactory as well.
Wiley has since addressed the question of openness in a systematic, deliberate, and useful way; but I consider this post more influential than even the ideas it gave rise to because it so clearly delineated the problem and so clearly demonstrated (in the tone of the post and in the comments below) the emotional tension underlying this issue.
  • Best teacher blog: Kevin's Meandering Mind, a blog maintained by Kevin Hodgson, a 6th grade teacher, National Writing Project teacher-consutant, creative writer, and author. It's absolutely essential reading for anybody interested in questions about how we might teach the "new" writing.
  • Best educational use of video / visual: viz.: Visual Rhetoric -- visual culture -- pedagogy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

the Bloomington Herald-Times doesn't get this 'social networking' thing.

I'm pretty sure the Herald-Times of Bloomington, IN, is a sub-par paper with a short-sighted business model.

I say I'm "pretty sure" because the Herald-Times has developed two strategies that prevent me from knowing for certain: a paywall that keeps me from looking into whether the quality and content merit the paywall; and an apparent "no comment" policy with respect to the paywall, circulation numbers, and long-term subscription strategies.

How do they ignore people? Let me count the ways.

I learned about the "no comment" strategy after several weeks of seeking response from the paper. I went about seeking this response in a deliberate way: First, I challenged the paper through Twitter, by posting links to reports and articles about other papers' efforts to make newspapers available for cheap or free to Bloomington college students; by linking to free versions of the walled-off stories posted via the paper's Twitter account; and by stating my case, 140 characters at a time, for the paywall to be dropped. I ended each tweet with this challenge:
what say you, @theheraldtimes?

Next, I published a blog post about the issue in which I argued that not only was the paywall a short-sighted business model, but also that the paper was misusing Twitter by linking followers to content for which they would be required to pay. I wrote:

[M]y first request to the Herald-Times is this: Be nice or leave. Either stop spamming us, or lock your Twitter account to all but paid subscribers to the paper. Twitter is not the place to hustle subscriptions.

My second request is this: Tear down the goddamned paywall. The Herald-Times is, for all intents and purposes, the only local newsdaily (though I'll offer alternative news sources below). This means it certainly can but absolutely should not erect a paywall for web content. The need to make local news available for free becomes more urgent when you consider the demographics of Bloomington. It's the home of Indiana University, a college town whose median age is 23 (.pdf).

I ended the post with this:
what say you, @theheraldtimes?


I circulated a link to the post on Twitter. "what say you, @theheraldtimes?" I asked each time I linked to it. @theheraldtimes had nothing to say.

So I emailed the managing editor, Andrea Murray, and the publisher, Mayer Maloney, requesting comment. My request was forwarded to another member of the Herald-Times staff, who ultimately informed me that the only person who would serve as the official spokesperson on this issue was Maloney himself. Clearly, then, Maloney's approach to his role as the official spokesperson is silence.

I sent a final request, informing the paper that I wanted to publish a follow-up post exploring approaches to gaining readership in a college town where, presumably, the future readers of newspapers are gaining their sea legs (or not, depending on the approach to gaining readers). You can guess, I bet, what kind of response I received to my request for comment.

Why ignoring angry social media users is a really bad idea
Since my multiple requests for comment have been met with stony silence, I can only guess at the paper's reasoning based on context clues. First, Maloney has made it clear on numerous occasions (presumably in interviews with people he considers "real" journalists) that he sees the paper's paywall as a roaring success (here, here). I don't see it that way--as I wrote in my previous post on this issue, I see paywalls as a short-term solution to a deeper, longer term problem that's actually worsened by paywalls. It's like dealing with burst plumbing by putting down paper towels to clean up the water.

I suspect, too, that Maloney doesn't see me as a big enough fish to waste his time on. After all, I'm just an obnoxious pup with a strangely titled blog that reaches maybe a few hundred people a day.

It's true: I am an obnoxious pup with a strangely titled blog that reaches maybe a few hundred people a day. I am also a member of a key demographic for the future of the Herald-Times: 12-99-year-olds who are comfortable broadcasting their opinions, supporting those opinions with evidence, and circulating those opinions to several hundred to several thousand people. (My blog had just over 2,000 unique visitors in November.) As we know, after all, opinions are made through loose association and vague understanding of issues. All it takes, sometimes, is a handful of angry tweets, maybe a quick skim of a blogpost, for a small group of people to decide how they feel about an issue or product. This is word-of-mouth marketing on steroids; only this time, it's the consumers, not the marketers, who decide what the message will be.

I'll use my experience as an example. Though my tweets and blog post never garnered a response from the Herald-Times, it did generate responses from several other members of my social networks, all of whom offered some version of this:
the H-T is a terrible paper with pretty shoddy business practices. Here's a list of some alternative news sources.

It shouldn't be news to anybody that with print media in its precarious state, the last thing a newspaper needs is for the above message to circulate across social networks. But this is exactly what's happening with respect to the Herald-Times. It doesn't help that the paper uses its Twitter feed not to contribute to the larger knowledge-building work of that platform but to direct people to content they have to pay for to access. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: This is against the very spirit of Twitter. It is unethical, inappropriate and unwanted.

The Herald-Times is building a bad name for itself for many reasons, which would be bad enough if it could counter this reputation by making it clear that the paper offered really solid local news reporting. But here's the thing about erecting a paywall around your content: People have to be given a good reason to pay. I imagine (I can't know for sure, since I'm swimming in this sea of silence) that publisher Maloney takes his subscription numbers and continued ad revenue as proof that people value what his paper has to offer. I counter that his subscription numbers and ad revenues, whatever they are, are only the product of a single key fact: that the Herald-Times is for all intents and purposes the only game in town.

But the game is changing. Yesterday, newspapers could assume they filled an important community function; today, newspapers have to prove (to readers and advertisers) that they fill an important community function. There is still a sizable chunk of the population who will continue to subscribe to print media outlets, but young people--especially those who have grown up surrounded by free information and take for granted that they shouldn't have to pay for what they can get for free--young people have to be given a reason to subscribe. They have to be shown the value of local reporting, of community newspapers. They have to be shown that their local paper fits into their understanding of what "community" means.

In sum:
  • The paywall will contribute to the demise of the local newspaper, because it will produce a generation of young adults who have no interest in following local news. 
  • Misuse of online social networks such as Twitter only makes the problem worse, because it turns off entire groups of potential readers.
  • Ignoring angry social media users is a really bad idea because they have the tools to articulate their opinions, the platform for circulating their opinions and, often, the wherewithal to use the tools and platforms to do exactly this.
  • The old model--that one unhappy customer tells ten people--is out the window. The average Twitter user has 126 followers. The average Facebook user has 130 friends, and MySpace users average around 180.

What say you, @theheraldtimes?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

can we defend danah boyd while also wondering if there could have been a better response?

file under: just about the hardest blogpost I've written to date

I just spent a good few hours catching up on the Web 2.0 Expo / danah boyd debacle. You know the one I'm talking about (and if you don't, you can read about it here, here, and here).

As a quick reminder, boyd gave a keynote at the event last week and by all accounts failed fairly resoundingly, especially given her renown for fantastic presentation style. According to all in attendance (including boyd herself), she spoke too quickly, read from her notes, and struggled to get her points across. If you weren't in attendance, a video of her presentation is below.

Issues of ethics, good behavior, and bullying aside, I'm most interested in boyd's response to the event. On her blog, she published a reflection on the event, which alternated between clear-headed analysis of her mistakes and a resentful self-defense.

Now bear with me for a second, because I stand here in absolute defense of boyd against her critics. But I also, because as a young female academic myself I cannot afford not to, want to offer a reflection on boyd's reflection, which to me felt somewhat overly defensive.

boyd admits that her delivery was fairly bad, but she defends herself with a host of excuses, including the following (all emphases, to highlight points of self-defense, are mine):
Because of the high profile nature of Web2.0 Expo, I decided to write a brand new talk. Personally, I love the challenge and I get bored of giving the same talk over and over and over again. Of course, the stump speech is much more fluid, much more guaranteed. But new talks force folks to think differently and guarantee that I target those who hear me talk often and those who have never seen me talk before.

A week before the conference, I received word from the organizers that I was not going to have my laptop on stage with me. The dirty secret is that I actually read a lot of my talks but the audience doesn't actually realize this because scanning between my computer and the audience is usually pretty easy. So it doesn't look like I'm reading. But without a laptop on stage, I have to rely on paper. I pushed back, asked to get my notes on the screen in front of me, but was told that this wasn't going to be possible. I was told that I was going to have a podium. So I resigned to having a podium. Again, as an academic, I've learned to read from podiums without folks fully realizing that I am reading.

When I showed up at the conference, I realized that the setup was different than I imagined. The podium was not angled, meaning that the paper would lie flat, making it harder to read and get away with it. Not good. But I figured that I knew the talk well enough to not sweat it.

I only learned about the Twitter feed shortly before my talk. I didn't know whether or not it was filtered. I also didn't get to see the talks by the previous speakers so I didn't know anything about what was going up on the screen.

When I walked out on stage, I was also in for a new shock: the lights were painfully bright. The only person I could see in the "audience" was James Duncan Davidson who was taking photographs. Otherwise, it was complete white-out. Taken aback by this, my talk started out rough.

Now, normally, I get into a flow with my talks after about 2 minutes. The first two minutes are usually painfully rushed and have no rhythm as I work out my nerves, but then I start to flow. I've adjusted to this over the years by giving myself 2 minutes of fluff text to begin with, content that sets the stage but can be ignored. And then once I'm into a talk, I gel with the audience. But this assumes one critical thing: that I can see the audience. I'm used to audiences who are staring at their laptops, but I'm not used to being completely blinded.

All of the above points are undoubtedly true but obscure a crucial point: that even the most stellar academics just sometimes have bad days. This was a bad presentation from a stellar academic, and it should be enough to leave it at that.

The audience should have left it at that, but did not. They treated boyd's struggle with glee, with an evil, hysterical schadenfreude. So instead of defending herself by explaining how the cards were stacked against her, boyd should have spent her time reviling the spectacularly bad behavior of the keynote audience. This behavior is exemplified through the following tweets, which were broadcast on a screen behind the podium, out of boyd's range of vision:

This guy, whose profile names him as Doug V, was one of boyd's most active hecklers. Other chunks of the twitter stream, in which @dugwork was a regular and active participant, included this:

and this:

Then, when the twitter feed was apparently taken off the screen by conference moderators, this:

In her blog reflection, boyd expressed anger and frustration, and rightfully so: this was bullying at its most despicable.

There's also, as boyd herself points out, a gender dynamic to this kind of bullying. She refers to the hecklers as the tech version of 12-year-old boys with whiteboards. She asks:
what's with the folks who think it's cool to objectify speakers and talk about them as sexual objects? The worst part of backchannels for me is being forced to remember that there are always guys out there who simply see me as a fuckable object. Sure, writing crass crap on public whiteboards is funny... if you're 12. But why why why spend thousands of dollars to publicly objectify women just because you can? This is the part that makes me angry.

I parsed the archived twitter stream, tweet by tweet, and didn't find anything in there that suggested the audience saw or was trying to treat her as a sex object, though I don't doubt she felt completely objectified. Let me reiterate: I do not doubt that she experienced this bullying as objectifying, possibly terrifying, definitely absolutely demoralizing. I don't doubt that I would feel exactly the same way. In fact, isn't that the point? It didn't even take an outright sexual comment for boyd to feel objectified, sexualized, and treated like a "fuckable object." That's what the best hecklers can do to even the most capable female speakers. 

And here's the part where I start to feel incredibly torn, because a huge piece of me wants to leave it at that, to stand up and start swinging at boyd's bullies. They rose up en masse against her, in a public, cruel, and mean-spirited way. I have deep suspicions, just as boyd does, that gender played a significant role in helping the steam to build: We (us smartypantses in audiences filled with other smartypantses) are more likely to want to undermine women, especially when they dare to speak with authority, especially when they dare to present themselves as confident, competent, and infallible, especially when they dare to also seem in any way vulnerable. Seriously, you guys, stop being such enormous assholes. Stop using your misogyny as an excuse to be cruel. I'm so effing tired of you effers.

I also struggle with boyd's blogged response to the heckling, because I worry that it plays into the very weaknesses that so many of the hecklers (and techies and academics and so on) suspect smart, confident, brash women harbor. Women are overly emotional. We whine when things don't go our way. If people don't play by our rules, we pick up our toys and go home.

Now, I don't mind being critiqued," boyd writes;
I think that being a public figure automatically involves that. I've developed a pretty thick skin over the years, but there are still things that get to me. And the situation at Web2.0 Expo was one of those. Part of the problem for me is that, as a speaker, I work hard to try to create a conversation with the audience. When it's not possible or when I do a poor job, it sucks. But it also really sucks to just be the talking head as everyone else is having a conversation literally behind your back. It makes you feel like a marionette. And frankly, if that's what public speaking is going to be like, I'm out.
So I have a favor to ask... I am going to be giving a bunch of public speaking performances at web conferences in the next couple of months: Supernova and Le Web in December, SXSW in March, WWW in April. I will do my darndest to give new, thought-provoking talks that will leave your brain buzzing. I will try really really hard to speak slowly. But in return, please come with some respect. Please treat me like a person, not an object. Come to talk with me, not about me. I'm ready and willing to listen, but I need you to be as well. And if you don't want to listen, fine, don't. But please don't distract your neighbors with crude remarks. Let's make public speaking and public listening an art form. Maybe that's too much to ask for, but really, I need to feel like it's worth it again.

It's not fair, it's not right, and it's not defensible that female intellectuals are held to a different standard than male intellectuals are. It's abominable how the audience treated boyd during her keynote. And not having ever been subjected to the kind of public bullying boyd was subjected to, I don't know how I would react given the same situation: probably with the same rage, resentment, and abject pain that boyd expresses in her post.

But the solution is not to plead to the audience to be nicer next time. The solution is to come out swinging, to come out with both barrels smoking, to storm the audience with righteous indignation, to stand up and say yes, I screwed up, and fuck you all because I'll be back up here next year (or next month, or next week) and you'll still be sitting down there in the audience watching me shine. Good luck with your puny little attempt at twitter fame.

boyd and I are approximately the same age, and I look to her as one model of female academic. I believe that those of us who are strong enough to take it (and early evidence suggests that boyd is indeed strong enough) have a responsibility--an ethical duty--to stand in scrappy, defiant, unapologetic opposition to the stupid, ignorant, misogynistic, did I mention ignorant?--ignorant theories about how women should act and how to take them down if they get too presumptuous, too arrogant, too cocky to fit their preconceptions.

Here's what you say in response: not Can you please be nicer next time? but Fuck you. 

Here's what you say: Fuck you. I'll see you next year.

to the Bloomington Herald-Times: drop the paywall. now.

My local paper, the Bloomington Herald-Times, has, if you can believe it, instituted a paywall.

This news is not particularly new, as the paywall was erected back in 2003. In a recent interview with the Guardian (which is, by the way, committed to keeping its web content available for free), the Herald-Times' publisher, Mayer Maloney, said this:

"When we changed to a pay website, in what might be called the dark days of the paid content debate, I kind of expected the earth to open up and the fires of hell to consume us.... We had some complaints, we still do, but by and large, I think folks expect to pay for stuff they want to consume and I don't see why papers have been giving away their journalism for free."

I'll get to why papers have been giving away their journalism for free in a second. First, though, I want to point to an enormous gaffe by Herald-Times staff: using the official Herald-Times Twitter account to link to content that only subscribers can access. Here's a recent snippet from the paper's Twitter feed:

If you want to find out more about the alleged sexual assault, if you want to learn about the robbery of the dead man's house, if you want to learn about the bank robbery--in other words, if you're interested in engaging with your local news--you can head over to the Herald Times website, where you'll see a page like this:

Using Twitter--a platform whose existence relies on members' goodwill toward each other, on their willingness to serve as intelligent filters for each other--to link to content people have to pay for is what we like to call "spam." It's not appropriate. It's not appreciated. And it's not okay. The decision not to link directly to news stories is presumably the Herald-Times' strategy for making it look like they're not spamming their followers, but it doesn't work. "Woman reports sexual assault after separating from her family at the Red Lot to attend IU/PU game"? You bet I'm going to try to find out more. The very effort to offer 140-character mini-headlines is an attempt to make Twitter users try to find out more. And when they do, they smack up against the paywall.

So my first request to the Herald-Times is this: Be nice or leave. Either stop spamming us, or lock your Twitter account to all but paid subscribers to the paper. Twitter is not the place to hustle subscriptions.

My second request is this: Tear down the goddamned paywall. The Herald-Times is, for all intents and purposes, the only local newsdaily (though I'll offer alternative news sources below). This means it certainly can but absolutely should not erect a paywall for web content. The need to make local news available for free becomes more urgent when you consider the demographics of Bloomington. It's the home of Indiana University, a college town whose median age is 23 (.pdf). Publisher Maloney considers the paywall a roaring success, adding in the abovementioned Guardian article that
"The simple question is whether you're selling something that people want to buy. I think it's foolish to give away to one group what you're charging another group for."

You know what else is foolish? Substituting long-term survival with short-term cash. Sure, the paywall has worked for the last five years. And in that time, how many young people, potential lifelong subscribers to local newspapers, have been denied the chance to see the value of connecting with community events? How many people have formed a notion of civic engagement that completely excludes the role of local news?

Sure, the cost of subscription is fairly low--just $5.95 a month. But I won't pay it, and thousands of young people won't pay it either. What they may do is pick up one of the free newspapers made available on campus: The New York Times or USA Today, both of which also offer free online content. (In case you missed it, USA Today recently announced a pilot program in which an e-edition of the paper will be made available for free to university populations, and Indiana University is one participant in this pilot.) Though students don't pay each time they grab a 'free' paper, the service is not free. To cover the cost of the NYTimes, all students have a small fee tacked on to their bill--as near as I can tell, it's somewhere around $1.25 per semester, though I'll double-check on that and get back to you. The USA Today program is free for now, with future conversations about pay structures planned after the pilot ends.

Just for the record, I don't consider this fee structure to be analogous to a paywall. The cost is low, largely invisible, and distributed across all members of the university community. In my view this would be, if the Herald-Times wanted to know, a legitimate way to approach circulating their content to university students.

But look: we need to think, and think hard, about strategies for maintaining cultural interest in high-quality reporting, at the local, state, national, and international level. We want--we need--to cultivate in our young people a deep investment in news so that the news, in whatever form it ends up adopting once newspapers die off, carries and is carried by its community. This means dropping down anything that acts as a barrier between the community and its news, and this means making web content--which is, let's face it, the content that young people are more likely to access--available for free. Paywalls solve the problem for now, but they don't solve the problem for later.

What say you, @theheraldtimes?

coda: some Bloomington news alternatives
The Bloomington Alternative:
The Indiana Daily Student (Indiana University's student-run newspaper):
WFIU, Bloomington's Public Radio station:
Indiana Public Media news:

Monday, November 23, 2009

some things I made that are about art

all of which I shamelessly lifted from elsewhere


Thursday, November 19, 2009

let's all agree to pretend it's not ironic that we ask experts to weigh in on the changing nature of expertise

An astounding phenomenon of participatory culture is this: If you toss yourself around in it enough, and you bang hard enough on everything you think might be a door, and you try to do your very best to toss yourself around and bang on doors in articulate, responsible, and interesting ways, sometimes you get lucky and someone opens the door to figure out what all the ruckus is about.

I got lucky this week, when CBC Radio called to interview me about new media literacy. The resulting interview, posted to the CBC program Spark, was my chance to try to say something reasonably articulate and unembarrassing about strategies for navigating the new credibility issues that emerge out of a cultural moment in which, as National Writing Project Co-Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl put it in a recent panel on digital writing, we have the technologies and the potential to foster universal authorship in tandem with universal literacy.

The interview, with Spark host Nora Young, has been posted in full online (here and here). A shorter version will air on CBC Radio soon. Try not to pay attention to the eye-crossing, jaw-dropping irony of the argument I make that the very nature of expertise and credibility have changed, all the while acting as if I were an expert on the issue of expertise.

Another interesting feature of participatory culture is that there are still plenty of opportunities for people to act as the Sage on the Stage, despite the fact that the wisdom they impart often comes through deep collaboration and interaction with many people. In this case, the ideas I brought to this interview came through conversation with my buddies Rafi Santo, Katie Clinton, Michelle Honeyford and Becky Rupert. It's strange to me sometimes that the person who makes the most noise so often ends up being the one who gets handed the bullhorn and an audience to address.

By the way, the example I give of the stakes in finding out the year Mickey Mantle was born came directly from Rafi Santo. I stole it and he deserves all the credit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

tips on liveblogging a conference

I'm packing up for a whirlwind tour of Philadelphia as I hang out with the National Writing Project, the MacArthur Foundation, and NCTE. (In case you're into backchanneling or can't attend, Twitter hashtags for NWP and NCTE appear to have settled on #NWPAM09 and #NCTE--I'll see you there.)

I'll be co-presenting on two panels, and the rest of the time I'll be liveblogging the conference. You can liveblog too! It's a lot of work but the payoff is big; most significantly, you get to start the reflecting on panels--what we always say we're going to do, once the conference is over, but end up shunting off to the side because we came home to so much work that needs to be taken care of immediately and the cats need to be fed and the water pipes busted and there's a huge spider in the bathtub and brb freaking out

ok back

Liveblogging takes some focus, and it takes some planning. Below, I've included some resources to get you started if this is your first time, or to refresh you with some good tips if you've liveblogged before.

  • The indispensable "Tips for Live Bloggers," by Bruno Giussani and Ethan Zuckerman. Read this one first; it offers big tips (don't transcribe an entire talk; just grab the main points and think about what people who weren't there would want to know and could understand without being there) and small (get there early, sit in the back so your typing doesn't distract)

That's a good starter list. I'll over a few tips of my own, from my experiences live blogging a handful of events:

  • Do your homework before the event starts. If you plan to liveblog a keynote, find out the speaker's background, grab a bio and a picture, and paste it into a blogpost. This will save you tons of time, give you a graphic for your post, and help inform your understanding of the talk.
  • Add a "my thoughts" section at the end of every post. This can be as short as a few sentences, written immediately after the event, panel, or keynote. Readers came to your blog either because you're the only one liveblogging the event or because they want to know your opinion on the event. Either way, this is a key aspect of the live blogger's vocation: synthesizing the event for others.
  • If you're bored by or don't understand a panel, give up. If it can't hold your attention, it's probably not going to make much of a post anyway, and your time is better spent planning for the next session you plan to liveblog.
  • Direct traffic to your blog using Twitter or other backchannel tools. This one's obvious--you want to generate a community, both among attendees and non-attendees, around the events. You get to provide a useful service, too: Describing the events that many attendees won't have been able to attend.

That's all. See you at NWP and NCTE! I'll be here:

Session: D.44 - 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm 11/20/2009
Format: Panel
Room: Convention Center/Room 105B, Street Level
Topic: 21st-Century Literacy
Level(s): Secondary (9-12)
Title: Reading in a Participatory Culture: New Media Literacy Practices and Discursive Assessment Strategies for Critical and Creative Engagement with Classic Texts
Web 2.0 practices are expanding our definitions of literacy, providing new tools for teaching classic texts, and transforming educational assessment. This panel examines these profound shifts towards participatory approaches, while also addressing concerns with traditional literacies and test-based accountability. 

Michelle Honeyford, Indiana University, Bloomington


Jenna McWilliams, Indiana University, Bloomington, Rebecca Rupert, Aurora Alternative High School, Bloomington, Indiana, Lynn Sykes, Wareham High School, Wareham, MA

Monday, November 16, 2009

join this conversation: the role of assessment in the digital age

Over at the HASTAC forum, a conversation has begun around the role of assessment in 21st-century classrooms.

The hosts of this discussion, HASTAC scholars John Jones, Dixie Ching, and Matt Straus, explain the impetus for this conversation as follows:
As the educational and cultural climate changes in response to new technologies for creating and sharing information, educators have begun to ask if the current framework for assessing student work, standardized testing, and grading is incompatible with the way these students should be learning and the skills they need to acquire to compete in the information age. Many would agree that its time to expand the current notion of assessment and create new metrics, rubrics, and methods of measurement in order to ensure that all elements of the learning process are keeping pace with the ever-evolving world in which we live. This new framework for assessment might build off of currently accepted strategies and pedagogy, but also take into account new ideas about what learners should know to be successful and confident in all of their endeavors.

Topics within this forum conversation include:
  • Technology & Assessment ("How can educators leverage the affordances of digital media to create more time-efficient, intelligent, and effective assessment models?");
  • Assignments & Pedagogy ("How can we develop assignments, projects, classroom experiences, and syllabi that reflect these changes in technology and skills?");
  • Can everything be graded? ("How important is creativity, and how do we deal with subjective concepts in an objective way, in evaluation?"); and
  • Assessing the assessment strategies ("How do we evaluate the new assessment models that we create?").

The conversation has only just started, but it's already generated hundreds of visits and a dozen or so solid, interesting comments. If you're into technology, assessment and participatory culture, you should take a look. It's worth the gander.

Here's the link again: Grading 2.0: Assessment in the Digital Age.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

i haz a mad.

Just 3 months into my graduate school career, I'm already tired of admiring the problem.

What is cognition? How do we measure learning? What can sociocultural theorists learn from cognitivists, and vice versa? What role should assessment play in supporting learning? Which methodologies are most useful for which purposes?
I'm not saying I'm not interested in these and similar types of questions. I love my classes; I love my classmates; I love my professors and I love the ideas I'm immersed in.

"you don't just give up / you don't just let things happen / you make a stand / you say no // you have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away and"

Recently, in a conversation about Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Joshua Danish talked about the struggles of implementing critical literacy programs in underserved areas. The challenge, he said, was that a program that can arm young people with righteous anger about their living conditions can also fail to prepare those learners for the fallout of that anger: how go to on living in a society where the odds are stacked so heavily in favor of some at the expense of others. How do we, he wondered, equip kids with the tools to manage their growing awareness of the power structures that hem them in?

I've been wondering the same thing about angry young graduate students like me. The more I learn, the madder I get; and the madder I get, the harder I look for something to fucking do.

But there's nothing to do. It feels like there's nothing to do.

The problem is lovely from all angles. But my feet are falling asleep from all this sitting. I'm ready to stand up. I'm ready to start moving.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

the pedagogy of the oppressed in action, via Dr. Who & the BBC

"you don't just give up / you don't just let things happen / you make a stand / you say no//"

Here's what a pedagogy of the oppressed can do for us all, starring Rose Tyler as my new hero:

tattooed academics signal the decline of western civilization!

file under: time for the old guard to die out

I am alarmed by the elitism exhibited in a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on scholars, tattoos, and piercings. The article, "The Candidate and His Earring" by Dennis M. Barden, frets over the future of academia--not because of a decline in access to or quality of post-graduate education, but because kids these days are getting their ears pierced.

Barden tells the story of a presidential search in which he participated. He writes:

I had interviewed a terrific candidate via videoconference and touted him to the search committee—successfully, as it turned out, because they agreed to interview him in person. That conversation went exceptionally well. The candidate truly was outstanding in comportment and credentials, and he was recognized as such by the search committee.

I, on the other hand, was taken aback. The institution I was serving had a reputation for being a fairly conservative place—Midwestern, faith-based, dedicated to its traditions. As soon as the candidate left the room, I stood to address the search committee with what might only be described as a frightening combination of bemusement and real concern. "I want you all to know that on video I could not see the earring!" Happily, the room erupted in laughter. My candidate had the tiniest little diamond stud in his ear. I truly hadn't noticed it at all until he sat down next to me; some committee members at the other end of the table couldn't even see it. It was there, though, and it was discussed.

The candidate was hired, Barden tells us, and "the earring is no longer an issue now that my onetime candidate is well ensconced in that presidency."

What's alarming about this story is that the earring was ever an issue in the first place. Barden also frets over tattoos (far more damaging, he suggests, to one's career than the less 'permanent' earring) and The Decline of Proper English as evidenced by young people's fluency with text messaging language and slang. "Never before," Barden writes,
have we been so bombarded by images and sounds, so instant, so clear, so pervasive, so permanent. People can change their words, but some of their personal expressions are there forever. Tattoos are only one example; pictures on social-networking sites are even more pernicious, potentially.

Twenty years from now, will search committees be deciding how seriously to take that picture from the '10s with the then-underage presidential candidate brandishing a joint and displaying his posterior to the admiring throng? Or will there be so much of that out there that it is just expected? And how will that presidential candidate be conducting himself on the day that decision is made? Will he be speaking anything that we recognize today as standard English?

Barden is not, thank god, an academic. His online profile explains that he spent 20 years in academic administration before joining Witt/Kieffer, "an executive-search firm that specializes in searches for academic and administrative leaders in academe, health care, and nonprofit organizations." While he cannot be forgiven for this outdated and prejudiced take on the role of personal appearance on academic hiring decisions, he can be largely dismissed.

And that's exactly what anybody who cares about gathering up the best scholarly minds in any field should do. The notion that "respectable" academics should be free of adornments like tattoos and excess piercings (presumably he thinks ear piercings for women is just fine, though he worries when his daughter pierces her nose) is an outdated relic of the days when intellectual prowess was assumed to be the exclusive province of the middle and upper class.

We can look at the cultural history of tattoos as one nice example. Because of tattoos' association with tribal rites, Christianity had to smoosh down tattooing practices along with pagan religious practices in order to complete their conquest of non-Christian peoples. When tattoos made their comeback in America, they were filtered 'up' through working class or minority groups. Tattoos, associated with convicts, bikers, and gang members, were increasingly embraced by middle and upper class adolescents and young adults as forms of rebellion against the values of their home communities. Increasingly, tattoos, piercings, and other forms of body adornment have been accepted as legitimate forms of personal expression.

But a significant subset of the population continues to adhere to the notion that the increasing popularity of tattoos and piercings signal the Decline of Civilization As We Know It. They're quick to link tattoos to broken English--evidenced in Barden's concern that in future decades candidates may speak in something we no longer recognize as "standard English."

A couple-three things about this attitude:

1. The anti-body adornment stance is an attempt at gatekeeping. Academia has historically been very good at ensuring its survival as an institution populated by richwhiteguys and scholars who embrace the richwhiteguy ethos. Rejecting a qualified candidate because her appearance sets her apart from this ethos is loathsome at best and, at worst, a direct violation of anti-discrimination policies.

2. Lots of powerful academics have tattoos and / or piercings. At least two male faculty members in my program (Learning Sciences @ Indiana University) bear the mark of a formerly pierced ear, and here's Sasha Barab, who comes complete with no less than two pierced ears:

At least one of these guys also has a tattoo. Also:

Need I go on? Because I could. But instead, I guess I'll move on to point 3:

3. I'm getting a tattoo. On my wrist. Where Barden and the entire world--including faculty hiring committees--will be able to see it. I decided on the tattoo, and the location, months ago, and now I'm just working on gathering up the money and the courage to get it done. And here's the thing: Any school that would reject me based on body adornment is a school I wouldn't want to affiliate myself with anyway.

Besides, with any luck, the Dennis Bardens of the world are on their way out of positions of authority. It's time we replaced them with people who can see clearly the underlying power structures whose existence depends on making value judgments based on physical appearance, and whose power relies on excluding people who might challenge the very existence of those underlying structures.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lawrence Lessig's Educause 2009 keynote

If you are an educator, new media activitist, or copyright law hobbyist and you plan to watch only one video this month, I've found the video for you. This is video from Lawrence Lessig's keynote presentation at the Educause conference this month.

Lessig, a Harvard law professor and a founder of the Creative Commons Project, wonders why citizens treat the law with such reverence when even lawyers approach the law with deep skepticism. He argues that it's time for citizens--especially citizens working in education and science--to approach copyright law with skepticism. He does acknowledge that for much of our cultural history copyright law was a "necessary evil," but that:
The thing to remember about necessary evils? They're still evil.

Here's Lessig's talk. You're going to love it. (If you want to watch a version that lines up, across multiple panels, footage of Lessig giving the talk alongside the slides he's showing the audience, you can click here [requires Silverlight download].

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

adventures in hacking: processing 1.0

I've been reading some lately about Processing, a simple programming language designed for visual and creative designers. Here's how the website describes Processing 1.0:

Processing is a simple programming environment that was created to make it easier to develop visually oriented applications with an emphasis on animation and providing users with instant feedback through interaction. The developers wanted a means to “sketch” ideas in code. As its capabilities have expanded over the past six years, Processing has come to be used for more advanced production-level work in addition to its sketching role. Originally built as a domain-specific extension to Java targeted towards artists and designers, Processing has evolved into a full-blown design and prototyping tool used for large-scale installation work, motion graphics, and complex data visualization.

The site offers a full set of beginners' tutorials and a gallery of what's possible with Processing. It turns out that a great deal is possible with Processing, due in large part to the simplicity of the language paired with an open source approach that makes all code available to all programmers. Here's one example that I've used elsewhere, an interactive design that becomes increasingly cool the more you mess with it:

My first project is the steam iron to Claudio Gonzales' combustion engine, but the designers themselves offer this advice: don't start by trying to build a cathedral. They explain that within the Processing project,
the ability to try things out quickly is a far higher priority than sophisticated code structure. Usually you don't know what the outcome will be, so you might build something one week to try an initial hypothesis, and build something new the next based on what was learned in the first week.

For my first project, then, I worked with an existing sketch, this guy who shows up in the most basic Processing tutorials:

I grabbed the code, modified it, and created the project below:

with the code below:

I call it "birthday boy."

on the decline of print media

The career counselors thought physician’s assistant or forester but I was born to this job like sturgeon.
My mechanic says cars are like people:
the oil’s always trying to find a way out—he beats off
twice a day in the utility sink.
The berry pickers heading home at dusk agree but it’s not oil, they say,
picking red clots from their feet,
it’s something else. It’s easy enough for them,
moving slowly in discolored robes, but I could never wait
so long for anything. At this speed shapes are baffled and missiles hover warily.

My composition coach treads in fear of modifiers but that’s
how they do it, I swear, warily. The architects guffaw.
That’s all we do is modify, they grin, turning back to their tables. Each night
they make love to someone who likes them less and less.
The journalists, my friends, have stopped taking notes. They are drawing their lions again; it’s impossible now
to get them to stop. We meet for drinks on Thursday nights
and an aproned man slaps an egg beater into his palm at the door. My friend,
says the editor, the earth doesn’t speak to us. We speak to each other and pretend it was the earth.
Then there isn’t much time, the berry pickers cry, squirting juice across the page.

Monday, November 9, 2009

a note on critical computational literacy

In Changing Minds: Computers, Learning, and Literacy, Andrea DiSessa sets forth a definition of literacy that emphasizes the socially constructed nature of the term. He writes:

Literacy is a socially widespread patterned deployment of skills and capabilities in a context of material support (that is, an exercise of material intelligence) to achieve valued intellectual ends....

Although I wring just a bit more specificity out of our preliminary definition in a moment, there is a fundamental lesson here. We must recognize an inescapable diversity in the phenomenon of literacy. There is no essential, common basis of literacy along any of the dimensions listed or along any other similar ones. There are no fixed basic human skills on which it builds.

DiSessa's point, quite simply, is that we should never forget that the skills we gather under the umbrella term "literacy" are neither firm nor fixed, neither intrinsic nor fundamental to human discourse.

This approach aligns nicely with the critical literacy approach forged by social justice-focused thinkers like Paulo Freire, Howard Zinn, Henry Giroux, Michael Apple, and others. Now, with an increased focus on a new category of literacy that DiSessa Mitchel Resnick, and others have labeled 'computational literacy,' we get to think of the social dimensions and equity issues linked to this new (enhanced?) set of social practices. We get to consider what it might mean to develop critical computational literacy.

And a visualization: Check out this page and this page for my take on a few key readings on computational literacy. And one more, here, that I feel is the best of the bunch.

And below, you can scan my very first custom gadget EVAR. Am I a programmer? Am I now? Now?


Sunday, November 8, 2009

boys can wear skirts, girls can wear tuxes: let's rethink school dress codes

"The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever worn heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H–G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides."

Because it helped to shape my earliest understanding of gender and rebellions, I remember with great clarity the day my high school classmate Justin C. wore a skirt to school.

Actually, I never saw the skirt; I only heard about it from my friends (my high school, after all, had thousands of students spread over three buildings). I don't know if Justin was sent home to change. I can't remember if he got in trouble--this was what I now think of as the freewheeling early '90s, a relative utopia compared to the post-Columbine, post-family values, post-culture wars high school of the 'new' century. It's entirely possible Justin pulled the whole thing off without a suspension.

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that somebody would wear such an obviously off-limits item of clothing. Then, suddenly, because someone had simply crossed what I thought was an inviolable border, I could believe it. And a boy wearing a skirt no longer seemed quite so off-limits.

Fifteen years later, opposition to sex-based dress codes has hit the big time with today's New York Times article, "Can a boy wear a skirt to school?" By all rights, of course, the answer to that question should be of course. But there are real, significant reasons to approach this issue more thoughtfully, to answer that question with a resounding of course...except that....

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