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: http://www.bloomingtonalternative.com/
The Indiana Daily Student (Indiana University's student-run newspaper): http://www.idsnews.com/news/headline.aspx
WFIU, Bloomington's Public Radio station: http://indianapublicmedia.org/radio/
Indiana Public Media news: http://indianapublicmedia.org/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....

Thursday, November 5, 2009

the 'news wants to be free' schadenfreude: rupert murdoch edition

Pity poor Rupert Murdoch, who recently ate a small bite of crow when he admitted that his plans to toss up a paywall for accessing News Corp's online content by June 2010 may have to be...postponed.

Murdoch apparently didn't offer any explanation for the delay, but this article suggests it's because it's becoming clear that not all news outlets will get on board. The Guardian, one of News Corp's biggest competitors, has committed itself to keeping things free, and the article also offers this:

Media commentator Jeff Jarvis has previously said that the only effect of Murdoch's papers charging online would be to clear the path for competitors. Some specialist papers can charge, he wrote in the Guardian, but "for most, pinning hopes for the survival of news on charging for it is not only futile but possibly suicidal."

I have previously made this argument:

It would be passing strange to assert that "news wants to be free." It's less strange to assert that people want their news to be free. Less strange still to assert that democracy wants news to be free, despite the capitalist tendency to charge. Even less strange to assert that in a free, democratic society dedicated to democratic ideals, more news, made more freely available to a broader public, is better than the alternative.

Additionally, it turns out that I have deep faith for the journalists, editors, and media chiefs who commit themselves to a dying profession out of a deep commitment to democracy, free speech, and interest in arming citizens with information they need to resist, decide, embrace and challenge cultural movements, laws, and norms. I just don't happen to trust folks like Rupert Murdoch, who by all appearances does what he does because it got him filthy rich and kept him there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm a PC, and I'm not very good at marketing.

Does anyone else think it's weird that a key selling point of Windows 7 appears to be that it doesn't crash all the time like the last version did?

I'm a PC, Windows 7 my idea! from Spaksu on Vimeo.

I worry that the internet will kill everything I love.

I am, I feel, often a couple of steps behind mass culture.

Actually, this appears to be true only about a subgroup of TV shows that we might label THE MOST AWESOME TV SHOWS EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

Among the TV shows I got around to watching after they'd finished their first time around: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly / Serenity, Jericho, Battlestar Galactica. And now: Dr. Who. I'm only five episodes in to the first season and I'm head over heels. (the special effects! the character development! the joy with which Rose and the Doctor thrust themselves toward adventure! those radiant, radiant smiles!)

But enough about me. Let's talk about Hulu.

More specifically, let's talk about the cheap and free media-streaming services that offer a kind of on-demand programming experience--movies, TV shows, digital shorts--to anyone with a computer and a moderately reliable internet connection. Hulu, a joint venture funded by NBC and Fox, is the second most popular video viewing site on the web. (YouTube was tops, but then again it's hard to beat the king.) It's not hard to figure out why. Hulu features a deep vault of new shows and older classics, and it offers links to streams of shows not hosted on Hulu. (Because it's affiliated with its parent networks, the Hulu-hosted offerings stick mainly to those owned by NBC, Fox and Hulu-affiliated networks.)

I still watch a few shows on TV so I can have that old-time "community of fans, in this together" experience (SAMCRO FTW), and I subscribe to Netflix, through which I receive about 2 DVDs a month and watch up to a dozen shows and movies online. But the rest--the rest comes for free, mainly through Hulu and other franchise-sponsored media sites.

Which is why I was so sad to hear that Hulu is considering a switch to a paid format for at least some of its content, at least according to News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey (News Corp. is a part-owner of Hulu).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

crying Giants fan gets a web redemption (with a cameo by a Lions fan)

This one goes out to all my Detroit-based football fan buddies. Keep the faith alive, you guys.

Here's the crying Giants fan, followed by his web redemption on Tosh.0.

Tosh.0Thursdays at 10pm / 9c
Web Redemption - Crying Giants Fan
Web Redemption2 Girls, 1 Cup ReactionDemi Moore Picture

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