DH and Social Justice

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Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter and Facebook:

Do you know of a ‪#‎DH‬ project or tool that addresses a social justice issue? I know this is a broad request, but I’m looking to compile a list of interesting projects for students to analyze. Plz share links, resources, or references and I’ll share the list we come up with.

In less than 24 hours, I’ve received dozens of links and suggestions, and also many requests to share the list. To make sharing and contributions simpler, I’ve created an open Diigo Outline, which you can access here, or see below.

First–thanks to everyone who has sent links and resources. Please keep adding–this is a huge area, and the more work we collect the better for our students/scholars/activists.

Michelle Moravec asked a crucial question about the method and scope of my request:

Are you looking for just contemporary social justice or historical?

As you see from the list below, I’ve included both and tried to tag and categorize to make finding easier.

The inspiration for my request comes from a class titled “Just Hacking” I will be team-teaching with my colleague Bill Kronholm in Fall 2015. Here’s the catalog description:

“Hacking” is often viewed as a criminal endeavor; however, at its core it is the art of creative problem solving. In this course students will hack the information flow of new media to conceptualize, design, and implement responses to real-world social justice issues. As a class, we will identify a specific issue and then learn data visualization, basic programming, and/or design skills as needed to build a project to address it. No prior programming experience is assumed. 4 credits. CON2

The course is designed for people with no prior programming experience who share a conviction that we are all responsible for improving our world. Students will learn efficient problem-solving and basic coding (especially Python) using an applied project-based learning approach in which they will collectively identify a social problem, design potential projects to address it, select an approach, learn the skills they need to implement their choice, and then collaboratively implement their solution. The course will teach basic programming skills as a literacy that can help address social problems, while also exploring ways technological solutionism can obscure or exacerbate existing social problems.

I’d love your feedback and thoughts about our concept. We are developing the course modules this summer, and the projects on this list will be both inspirations and opportunities for students to analyze existing projects in order to imagine what is possible, what can be improved, and what works.

Diigo DH and Social Justice Outliner:

DH and Social Justice

Learning Subjectives: Joining #rhizo15

I have been looking forward to #rhizo15 for a few months now. I was traveling during the last round of #rhizo, but I keep seeing people I enjoy using the hashtag, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to join in! Despite that enthusiasm, though, I am coming to the party a week (or three) late, since April truly is the cruelest (grading) month when you teach on a north american semester schedule.

So I am DELIGHTED to see the first prompt: learning subjectives.

Okay, honesty gut check moment: delighted is the second thing I felt. The first was confused. Was “learning subjective” a term I should be familiar with? Was I about to be exposed as a fraud, a dabbler in pedagogical theory rather than an expert? That kid in class who didn’t do the homework? Someone who doesn’t know the terminology?!

Then–after reading Dave Cormier’s introduction–then I was delighted. “Learning Subjectives.” Of course! What a great term/idea/reversal/introduction!

Learning subjectives encapsulates my reason for joining the #rhizo15 party: it’s where the cool people are. My goal in joining #rhizo15 had always been to get to know more people, to share ideas, to widen my learning network, to benefit from others and to articulate my own ideas about teaching, and thereby to learn from and for myself, as well. In other words, my motivation to participate has been about the “subjects” rather than the “objects” of learning.

And this realization has caused me to reflect on a formerly unexamined assumption I had about students at my liberal arts college. Students choose classes because of the classmembers all the time. Sometimes they choose based on the professor. Sometimes it’s based on a friend who is taking the same section. Sometimes their choice is based on what other students have said about past versions of the class. Bottom line: student class choice is heavily shaped by a network effect. (This may not be true of larger institutions; but at my 1,700 student college, everyone really does know everyone, at least by reputation.)

So, a new learning subjective for me: how do I line up my learning subjectives with my students’?

Making Jane Austen: 3d Printing, Digital Commonplace books, and Reading Realism

Fall semester has just ended, my desk is piled with papers to mark, and I find myself procrasti-planning future courses. I’ve been re-reading Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen, a biography written through traces of material culture extant from Austen’s life and featured in her novels. As others have written, Byrne’s biography is an innovative approach to understanding Austen, and reads like a “delightful rummage through a Regency chest of drawers” (Looser). Such an approach offers a sense of intimate access to the writer’s lived experience, an achievement that makes reading the biography both satisfying and self-aware of biography’s generic voyeurism.

Byrne (writing for a generalist audience) reads Austen’s life through material objects–such as an Indian shawl, her famous writing desk, her topaz cross– from her life and her books. Eschewing the traditional chronological approach, Byrne offers new insights into Austen’s experience by historicizing and contextualizing the objects that Austen interacted with, often by connecting Austen’s personal experience to world events through materialist history. Byrne’s approach is fascinating, though at times a bit too quick to draw conclusions from limited evidence.

I’ve been thinking since first reading the biography that it would be the perfect choice for an undergraduate course in Austen, since the biographical chapters would sync up beautifully with the novels, and offer arguments and insights to test out through close reading and research. And this morning, I just had a realization: what about adding in a making component to the course? If realism is the attempt to represent common experience by remaking it in fiction, then what better way to study Austen’s realism than by reversing her fictionalization, and making solid the objects from her fictional and historical worlds?

In my previous version of my upper-division Jane Austen seminar, I taught students to “dance like Jane Austen,” following the guidance of Cheryl Wilson’s article on dance in the classroom. Students loved it so much that we transformed our final into a ball–literally. Students created period-appropriate invitations, reserved a ballroom on campus, secured funding through student government, researched, created, and hosted card games for non-dancers, performed  their “accomplishments” for guests (including playing violin, reading an Austen-inspired story, and teaching us all to how dress appropriately), and, of course, danced like Jane Austen. They also made food (from white soup to bread pudding) and generally exhibited their learning by inviting faculty and other students from across campus to learn about Austen by dancing, eating, listening, and playing like it was the eighteenth century.

That was the funnest course I’ve ever taught. The project–student-inspired and student-organized–brought the class together with a common mission and goal, and turned reading and studying into a joyful celebration. I hope future classes will want to do the same!

That experience–in which students’ final projects became their research and writing about their material contributions to the ball–motivates my interest in teaching Austen through her material traces. The next course could include:

1. 3d printing or handcrafting objects from Austen’s world: Byrne’s chapter on the ivory miniature suggests likely objects for printing, and we could also potentially make miniatures of the Barouche, the writing desk, the bathing machine, etc. Additionally, we could hand craft silhouettes or vellum notebooks.

1a. I might even ask ALL students to make a silhouette of a loved one in class as a way to begin the semester?

2. Make and play games: 18th century card games, baseball, even other childhood games.

3. Dance and dress: Dancing we can do; students are always fascinated by the clothes, and I’d need to think more about that. Costumes are not easy; for our ball we offered gloves for dancers who wished to be woman-identified, and cravats for man-identifying guests.

4. Materiality of the book segment of the course: last time fabulous Whittier College librarians Mike Garabedian and Becky Ruud brought an early edition Johnson Dictionary along with many 18th century texts to class, for students to handle and explore in order to understand the material experience of reading in Austen’s time. The class also did a “reading and writing by candlelight” exercise which was fantastic; I’d like to develop this segment more. (Whittier has a first? edition of Cowper’s poem The Task, which is too long to read, but which would be useful in thinking about home decor (sofa) and modes of thinking/living.)

5. Digital commonplace books: last time, students created and constantly updated digital commonplace books on Tumblr. This assignment met with varying levels of success. Some were brilliant, some were largely reblogs of images and gifs from Austen films. Very few completed the close reading portion of the commonplace book assignment.

6. To essay or not to essay? That is the big question. Maybe a multimodal essay instead, where students could include images, hyperlinks, text, and film clips alongside their research into their chosen object of interest.

6a. Another option for a project would be to turn the tables, and ask students to choose an article from their own lives that embodies a surprising conjunction of ideas, and then write their own personal (digital) essay about how that object represents an aspect of their character. That would be an interesting way to begin to defamiliarize the concept of “character.”

7. Object of Student’s Affection: final project could be for students to select an object from Austen’s novels or letters (or films? hm…), “make” it (digitally or handcraft or 3d print), and write a research paper about how its material history opens new insight into one or more novels.

8. I need to think through how I’d integrate Austen on film into the class. This is ALWAYS a big deal when teaching Austen, as the films can be such powerful filters that reading the novels pails in comparison to their interpretive power.

8a. Maybe focus on the LBD (Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and the creation of character in the staged reenactments by a single, carefully chosen article of dress (the hat, the bowtie, etc.) This would get to both FID as a style in the written novels (I see LBD’s reenactments as a theatrical version of FID) and also the costume question and the film issue…

Well, I have too many ideas and only a year to plan them! Note that I don’t yet have access to a 3d printer, so that would be a first step if I pursue this course concept. So, friends and readers, what do you think? Suggestions please!

Teaching in the wake of the Ferguson non-indictment

Yesterday, it was announced that there would be no indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Fersugon, MO on August 9, 2014. Demonstrations around the US took place last night, and continue as I type these words. Images of demonstrations and words of both anger and hope from thousands of people around the country fill my Twitter feed and invade my dreams.

Today, I teach my last class class before Thanksgiving, a national holiday that celebrates the founding, or initial colonization, of the United States. As Thanksgiving draws near, I always point students’ attention to the fact that our national mythology of Thanksgiving makes invisible the perspective of the people who are native to this continent, whose lands and rights and, in many cases, lives have been taken from them to enable the founding of a nation built on a dream of equality. I will do so again today. And today, I must also acknowledge yet another example of the ways that my beloved country fails to live up to its values.

The contrast between what I believe in as an American citizen and what I see happening in my country has rarely been so stark.

My identity as a citizen of the US is built on a belief that we share values equality and fairness and hope. I believe in those values; they have formed me and they guide me. And therefore, I cannot walk into my class full of smart, articulate, interested students, many of them people of color, without acknowledging the injustices so apparent in the news today.

Learning–creating meaningful knowledge–does not happen in a vacuum. The events around us shape our lives and our thoughts and our motivations. Being able to think about and discuss the difficult realities around us is the goal of a college education. Becoming confident that our perspective matters, and our voices are important, is a key outcome of a successful liberal arts education. Learning to think through important ideas and issues in the light of historical perspective and varying points of view, that is a purpose of college. I hope that students graduate from college more likely to initiate difficult conversations, more likely to broach topics of national or local or personal importance, more likely to risk the danger of expressing an unpopular opinion. And I hope that they are also more likely to listen to others’ viewpoints, to offer their attention and sympathetic imagination to their discussion partners. In short, I hope that all class members–students and myself–can learn to be both more courageous and more kind by practicing mindful discussion in the classroom.

I have been following the Twitter hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus, and it gives me both hope and guidance. So today, though it is “off the lesson plan,” I will initiate a discussion about the Ferguson decision. I want my students to know that they are safe in my classroom to express their thoughts and emotions, to ask questions about things they (and I, often) don’t understand. Our class is a space to think and discuss the topics that matter to us in the world because all learning is connected. I don’t know where this discussion will take us, but it is my job, I believe, to initiate the conversation.

Since I am a literature professor, and my best ideas come to me by reading, today I will offer my students this poem by the great African-American poet Langston Hughes. It encapsulates my anger and frustration with our delayed and inequal but oh-so-important American Dream. And it encapsulates my personal investment in the urgent importance of coming closer to realizing that dream. Here’s a short section of Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again.” The entire poem is available here:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Playing Together to Experience Belonging

#TvsZ 6.0 Starts Friday 11/14 Noon EDT – Sunday 11/16 6pm EDT

This weekend a group of faculty and friends I met on Twitter will be hosting a new edition of Pete Rorabaugh’s epic Twitter literacy game, #TvsZ (new website coming soon). Our version, 6.0, is a significant hack of the original game. We’ve changed the underlying narrative premise, and therefore rewritten the game actions to work within the new paradigm. We are in the process of updating and building the new game components. (Sign up and join in!)

I am incredibly excited about participating as a host in this game that I have enjoyed as a player. Here’s @Bali_Maha’s great, simple explanation of how the game will work and why it’s useful for students. Here are some slides that explain the basic structure of game play, brilliantly updated by @JRDingwall.

Playing the game last summer led me seamlessly into hosting the game this fall. The sense of community and solidarity and mutual support I feel with my fellow player/hosts is a really new phenomenon for me. A new kind of belonging, a networked belonging. The very fact that collectively we cannot actually remember how we all came together to work on this (via Google hangouts, blog posts, shared documents and lots of email, because we are spread across many time zones) attests to the community-building effects of #TvsZ as Pete has designed it. Coming together through the game, our group has been working to reimagine the game. We decided to build a new underlying structure with the goal of bringing our students together to play with each other and potentially find their own new way of belonging.

Why did we decide to reimagine the game premise? We had many long intellectual discussions about this, and we had some good reasons: wanting to avoid a violent premise, wanting to find a broader narrative with more global appeal, etc. But as I think of it now, I believe we wanted to redesign the game because reimagining the game is part of PLAYING the game. The feature we all agreed instantly that we want to keep–and foreground–is the crowd-sourced creation of new rules during game play. The emergent nature of the game invites players to become more than “users”; players become “builders”. And that leads naturally into wanting to build more deeply, to wanting to host an instance of the game, and to reimagine it each time to embody the network that plays it.

What’s new in #TvsZ 6.0?

So what’s the new structure? Zombies, the basis of the original narrative, are a narrative menace with a cultural context. They do not resonate the same way in different parts of the world, and we wanted to make the game as internationally appealing as possible. In the past, #TvsZ began with a Twitter account “PatientZero” who would #bite other players and turn them into Zombies. This metaphor brilliantly concretizes the “virality” that the game seeks to achieve: “going viral” is one of the highest forms of internet success. But it turns out that, as we prepare to play #TvsZ 6.0, a terrible epidemic is taking the lives of many people in West Africa, particularly in Liberia. In light of this, it seems disrespectful to turn a viral epidemic into a game at this historical moment.

In contrast, #TvsZ 6.0 will begin with “Scouts” who will #recruit new members to their teams to work together to survive an unspecified global disaster. The (initial) teams will be Technology and Zen, a binary that I hope the players will hack as they play. Teams might undertake missions, or collectively write their own histories and legends, or create their own team manifestos.

Will this new version “work”? Will it still be as fun? Zombies–with all their cultural baggage–are such a popular trope right now that a game version had built in appeal for many (but not for all!). Will a game based on team-building and collective action be as fun? I don’t know. I HOPE so. Only our students–and you, if you choose to play–will be able to answer that question.

So here’s to a weekend of Twitter Fun. I hope you’ll join us. Let me know if you plan to play–and what you think of it when you do! Above all, this game is an opportunity for players to meet new folks online who share common interests in net literacy, connected learning, mindful social media use, critical pedagogy, and/or in living playfully.

Attention Mindfulness Journal

A friend recently asked for the “attention journal” assignment I am using in my introduction to digital scholarship course (WSP101 on this blog). I’ve pasted the assignment in below. This post is a description of what I want to accomplish by the assignment and how I am conceptualizing it. I’d love your feedback and comments!

I got the idea for this assignment from reading Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart. He discusses David Levy’s (University of Washington) mindfulness assignments:

Levy created a college course called “Information and Contemplation.” In addition to teaching breath awareness to his students, Levy asked them to keep a log of their email behavior for a week, noting how their body and emotions felt, and how they were breathing while they were online.

(Rheingold, Net Smart, 73)

Here’s a brief feature on David Levy (I’d love to learn from him!) And here’s a Google Tech Talk by David Levy. While Levy is an expert on teaching technology and awareness, this semester is my first foray into this field. I backed into deciding to teach awareness after deciding to have my students use Twitter and Medium.com to blog and share all their coursework for a class this semester. I knew that I would need to confront many issues: screen fatigue, differential device access, social media concerns, identity and FERPA questions, etc. And I’d also need to explain to my students WHY I was trying to get them to spend MORE time on social media–Twitter and Medium. Most messages students receive about social media is that it is a waste of time, a threat to their future (drunken posts, etc.), merely a platform for marketing (true enough sometimes), etc. Here I was arguing against all of that.

So I wanted to begin the semester by asking students to really think about their own engagement with technology. What do they do? What do they like and dislike? How conscious are they of their own body and breathing when scrolling through a social media feed? How aware are they of their own technology practices?

I also want to put students in the driver’s seat. What are their interests in relation to their own technology use? The course will be both investigating these questions and also practicing skills related to developing personal learning networks. It is crucial, then, that students come up with their own questions about these topics. I want them to learn something useful, to find a reason that this class will help them in their own learning goals.

Here is the assignment I developed. It is largely borrowed from an assignment in a course titled “Contempletive Practice” taught by David Ambuel and Angela Pitts at University of Mary Washington. I left the terms of the assignment deliberatedly vague: what counts as “technology use,” for example. Phones? Laptops? Video games? Students asked these questions in class, and I turned the questions back to them to answer. They also asked “am I doing it right?” in various ways and I consistently told them that there is no right and wrong in this observation of themselves. They also asked “what am I trying to find out?” (which is a great question, really), and I bounced that back to them as well–“what do you want to learn about your own attention/technology combination?”

I haven’t yet seen their blog posts, but I’m excited to discover what they made of this assignment.

Here’s the assignment:

Attention Log

Throughout Week 2 of the course, you should keep a regular “attention journal” to notice how your attention moves while you are online. This exercise is to help you become more aware of how your mind–in combination with the Web–works. There is no right or wrong way to place your attention for this exercise. My hope is that you will simply observe your own attentional practice.

In order to do so, please keep a log of your engagement with online media for one week. Each session should be a minimum of 15 minutes, and you should observe at least 5 sessions.

As you surf, or do homework online, or scroll through social media, remind yourself to notice what you are thinking, how you are breathing, what position your body is in, if you are feeling anything (emotionally or otherwise). Again, there is no right or wrong answer to any of this–just mindfulness of what you do. In making entries to your journal, you want to strive for brevity, accuracy, and precision.

Make a separate entry for each session.  Use the entries to describe your practice in detail, but you do not need to be repetitive, i.e., you may combine similar traits.

For each session, respond to the following questions:

1. Date,
2. Physical Space and means of access to Web
3. Duration of session,
4. What occurred,
5. How you noted it,
6. What happened to it,
7. What worked,
8. What did not work,
9. Other comments.

This assignment is gratefully adapted from a meditation journal assignment: http://meditation.umwblogs.org/meditation-journal/

Blog Post & Tweet

After students complete the journal itself, they then are asked to write their first blog post of the semester (week 2.5) summarizing and narrating what they learned from the journal. They then tweet the link to the post to the class hashtag, so everyone can read it.

A little help from my friends

The semester is about to begin again, and my teaching skills feel rusty. It’s been nearly 10 months since I taught a course. And while I loved every moment of my precious sabbatical and all the new research I got done started, I’m nervous that I’ve forgotten how to teach. 

As usual, at this time of year, I am both massively over-prepared (I’ve been redecorating my course websites for a week) and woefully underprepared (where are those course rosters, anyway?)

But today I was reminded that the joy of teaching/learning at a liberal arts college is that classes are really just rooms full of people who get together to help each other out. All the worry about “being prepared” goes away the minute I step into the room and meet the students. Then, it’s all about learning to connect with them. Helping them over their fear of me (will I be an ogre professor, bent on failing everyone? They don’t know.) Helping them understand why this course might be valuable to them, how it might fit into or, better still, transform their understanding of the world. Helping them (sometimes) understand why this course may not be the best choice for them right now.


Why do I hear this word so rarely in relation to teaching? 

And I hear it even more rarely in relation to students. Because the real truth is that the students help me as much as I help them. They help me discover what matters, and how to teach it to them. Concepts that I labor for hours to get into prose emerge from seminar discussions in minutes sometimes. Learning happens in the room because–if I listen closely–the students teach me to teach.

They teach me to teach. 

And sometimes, in the best of all moments, they teach each other, and skip me–the unnecessary middle man. 

So, here’s to another semester, beginning againing. And here’s to relearning how to teach a whole new group of folks, so we can all unlearn our fears of each other and discover how to help each other open ourselves to the possibility of new learning.

Gosh, I love my job.




Connecting to “Connected Courses”

By Silver Spoon (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I am happy to participate in this fall’s Connected Courses cMOOC. As a recent member of FemTechNet, I am an advocate and believer in opening my courses to the world. This fall, I will be teaching an introductory course for potential future “Whittier Scholars.” Whittier Scholars are students who design their own majors, building intentionally interdisciplinary study programs by putting together courses from across Whittier’s divisional offerings, enriching their experience with study abroad and/or off campus experiences, and all leading to/driven by their own research project.

Whittier Scholars was initially developed in 1977, and has steadily served about 10% of the annual graduating class from Whittier College. See the program descriptions and guidelines here. This semester, our class will be meeting the Wardman Hall A, a newly updated seminar room with a Smartboard, and a local area wireless system to allow all our devices to share screen space (thanks Shezad B!). Hopefully the technology will work effortlessly…although I keep trying to remind myself that learning to deal with technological frustrations is itself a skill well worth sharing as a group.


Whittier Scholars 101, fall 2014

I have posted my draft syllabus for WSP 101, the introductory course for the Whittier Scholars program, here. This syllabus will evolve over the semester in response to student interests. We also will be connecting with other courses and the web throughout the course: students will be blogging on Medium.com, into the collection Whittier Scholars 101. We will be tweeting links to blog posts, and tweeting questions and thoughts about the shared readings. In October, students will meet Howard Rheingold, who is visiting our campus and giving a talk. In November, we will all participate, along with folks from Canada and Egypt as well as Georgia and New York, in a remix of Pete Rorabaugh’s TvsZ game. Finally, the final unit of the course is currently blank, as students themselves will be writing the syllabus based on their own evolving interests and questions.

“Teaching” a course with so much unscripted and open content is both exciting and a bit scary. I have long taught courses which emphasize discussion over lecture, but ceding control over the syllabus–that last bastion of professorial perogative–is new for me. (In fact, I imagine students will be doing much of the “grading” themselves, as we will collectively building evaluative rubrics for assignments, and they will be devising some of the assignments themselves.) I am looking forward to meeting my students next week, and learning with them what we will all be learning this semester.