GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

The Problem With EdX

In Bonnie's Posts on 2012/05/16 at 01:05

Bonnie Stewart, writing from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Since it started last fall, I’ve heard the 36-week experimental #change11course referred to – half tongue-in-cheek – as “the Mother of All MOOCs.”

Back when the course started in September, it seemed like a reasonable description. #change11 was designed and run by Massive Open Online Course pioneers George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier, and had 36 separate facilitators lined up to cover everything from soup to nuts in the grand scheme of instructional technologies and 21st century learning.

Apparently, however, George and Dave should have kept the crystal ball from their Edfutures MOOC a few years back.

Because in thinking about the Mother of All MOOCs, it seems none of us in #change11 were thinking big enough.

Today, the New York Times announced that Harvard has paired up with MIT in a new non-profit partnership called EdX, which will offer free online courses from both universities, following the MITx model begun over the winter.

The New York Times called EdX a MOOC.

#change11, I think you’re gonna have to give that “Mother of All MOOCs” tshirt back.


It’s too early to say what EdX is going to mean for higher education in North America. That two of the most prestigious universities in North America, however, have seen fit to join forces to go down this road of free and open online courses means the rush to figure that meaning out? Is on.

And the stakes – in a time when universities & colleges are already struggling with smaller demographics and tightened purse strings – are high.

For a while now, MOOCs have been hailed as “the Great Disruption” in education.

EdX is staking out serious ground in this new model of course delivery, framing itself as a clearinghouse platform on which other institutions can offer their own courses under the EdX brand. It’ll be open source, enabling other institutions to host their own courses if they wish, without having to pay for or license for-profit software. This challenges not only the traditional pay-for-learning model of academia, but the growing encroachment of startup edupreneur-style companies into the territory of higher ed.

EdX is clearly setting out to be the mothership.

And it may well succeed: reputation has always carried a lot of weight in education. When you combine two of the biggest names in academia with unlimited access to courses, you get interest. People want to affiliate themselves with what carries cache: in network theory, this tendency to connect to hubs that are already well-connected is called “preferential attachment.” If EdX turns out to be good at what it does, it will have the potential to take over the market in terms of massive open online courses.

It doesn’t stop there. EdX also has designs on research, not just teaching and learning. Its stated intent, according to today’s press release, is to “research how students learn and how technologies can facilitate effective teaching both on-campus and online. The EdX platform will enable the study of which teaching methods and tools are most successful.”

And this is where I begin to itch.

It’s not that I don’t think free learning is a great idea. Or that I don’t welcome Harvard & MIT’s interest in the enormous and interesting task of researching effective online learning.

We live in a time when frictionless sharing of information makes massive open courses possible. And when learning analytics make massive amounts of data available from any online venture. These things are going to affect academia, make no mistake, and our current institutional models – our business models, our learning models, and our research models – are all going to have to adapt in response.

Until this sudden explosion of major institutional interest in the idea of Massive Open Online Courses, I’d thought the adaptation might actually move in the direction of – gasp – complexity.

The original MOOCs – the connectivist MOOCsa la Siemens & Downes, and the work of David Wiley and Alec Couros and others – have been, for the most part, about harnessing the capacity of participatory media to connect people and ideas. They’ve been built around lateral, distributed structures, encouraging blog posts and extensive peer-to-peer discussion formats. Even in live sessions showcasing facilitator’s expertise, these ur-MOOCs have tended towards lively backchannel chats, exploring participants’ knowledge and experiences and ideas.

They’ve been, in short, actively modelled on the Internet itself. They’ve been experiential and user-driven. Their openness hasn’t stopped at registration capacity, but extended to curricular tangents and participatory contributions and above all, to connections: they’ve given learners not just access to information but to networks.

They’ve been messy, sometimes, but they have definitely not been business as usual.

The problem with EdX is that, scale and cost aside, it IS essentially a traditional learning model revamped for a new business era. It puts decision-making power, agency, and the right to determine what counts as knowledge pretty much straight back into the hands of gatekeeping institutions.

Those who complete the courses will get a certificate of mastery, and a grade. Their data will be harvested to determine what learning methods help them succeed.

I see value in this, and suspect that for many it will open doors. But.

If you want to deliver mass courses to enormous numbers of people, and mastery and measurable, extrinsic success are your aims, you will be inclined to keep your offerings to the concrete and the certain.

Some types of knowledge are privileged in this kind of decision-making climate. Experimental, experiential knowledge tends not to be.

Particularly when the course delivery is itself an experimental undertaking to which sizable reputations – in this case, the good names of Harvard and MIT – have been attached.

Big reputations make careful, strategic changes, not great disruptive ones that go against self-interest. And thus the courses that EdX will offer and the research that EdX will produce are not likely to be modelled at all on the messy, distributed, peer-to-peer versions of knowledge production that the internet and the original MOOCs encouraged.

Words change with usage, of course. And “MOOC” certainly fits the EdX model, perhaps better than it did the original connectivist offerings: EdX will be more massive and far more a traditional course than the originals.

It’s ironic, though: this brand-new Mother of All MOOCs is, in the end, likely to do as much preserving of the traditional structures of education – especially in terms of learning – than it is to disrupt them.

This post was first published at http://theory.cribchronicles.comand was cross-published with permission from the author.

Bonnie Stewart is a Ph.D. student at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. In higher ed since 1997, Bonnie has lived and taught on all three coasts of Canada and in Eastern Europe and Asia. Her research explores social media identity and its implications for higher education. Published at and winner of the 2011 PEI Literary Award for creative non-fiction, Bonnie blogs ideas at  http://theory.cribchronicles.comand identity and parenthood at Find her on Twitter at @bonstewart.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Massive Open Online Courses: How “The Social” Alters the Relationship Between Learners and Facilitators

In Bonnie's Posts on 2012/05/10 at 08:34

Bonnie Stewart, writing from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in Canada.

We’re getting close to the tail end of the 36-week-long experiment called #change11, or “the mother of all MOOCs.”

How can I tell?

First, I’m getting ready to facilitate my week, exploring Digital Identities. I’m second-last in the lineup, so the fact that I’m on deck means the whole undertaking is drawing to a close.

But it’s also clear we’re winding down because the #change11 conversation hubs have begun to resemble, uh, ghost-towns.  Once there were lively debates and intense exchanges. As the winter wore into the spring of the year, though, the tumbleweeds began to tickle.

Note to self: next time you facilitate a MOOC module, pick Week #2, not Week #35.

Any course that runs from September through May requires stamina. When that course is voluntary on the part of both learners and facilitators, and runs as a series of totally separate modules, the drop-off can be fairly significant. Erm, even my own participation as a student has crawled to a stop over the last month or two.

I find myself wondering if the other learners will be keener than I’ve been? Am I going to throw a MOOC and have nobody show up?

I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m a teacher at heart. I’ll put the work into developing my one-week course whether there are going to be 3 students or 300. But as I’m preparing, I’m thinking about what it means to facilitate in a truly social, networked, voluntary environment like #change11.

Or the internet.

As the awareness of the MOOC experiment grows, the term is being increasingly applied to grand-scale enterprises like the Stanford AI course and MITx. While heady, this blurs some very important distinctions.

The MOOC model from which #change11 originates was built on the connectivist learning theory of George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Highly social in format, these courses tend to be experimental, non-linear, and deeply dialogic and participatory. Contributions from participants frequently direct the course of discussion, and the connections and ideas built between learners can be considered as valuable as the knowledge expounded by the facilitator.

On the other hand, the MOOC models offered by the big universities tend towards formalized curricula, content delivery, and verification of completed learning objectives.

Far more embedded in traditional paradigms of knowledge and teaching, these courses only harness the connectivity of social media insofar as they enable masses of people to link themselves to the prestige of a big-name institution. They offer discussion boards, but their purpose is content-focused, not connection-focused.

If I were teaching in an MITx-style course, I’d have a very different module ahead of me, one far more familiar to me as a higher ed instructor.

I’ve been teaching for eighteen years. I profess to be in favour of learner-centered classrooms. But until this MOOC module, every single course I’ve taught has on some level obliged the students to be there. I am accustomed to having the institutional powers of status, credentialism, and grading backing me in the classroom.

In the connectivist MOOC model, I don’t.

There is no bonus for learners who participate in my week of #change11. They won’t get a badge at the end, and there is no certification announcing they completed anything. There’s nothing specific for them to complete, unless I design an exit goal as part of the week’s activities. But that would be MY exit goal: not theirs. They don’t get to put the word MIT on their CV. And while some weeks of the #change11 MOOC have allowed participants to connect with leaders in the learning and technologies field – Howard Rheingold, Pierre Levy – I’m among the less well-known of the 30-plus facilitators in the year’s lineup. They won’t even get the relational perk of engaging with somebody famous.

Nope. But what they will get – in addition to what I hope will be a fascinating exploration of the idea of  Digital Identity – is hands-on practice in what it means to learn and connect and simply be in this networked, distributed age.

And I will get the opportunity to practice what it means to lead in the age of the internet: to share what one knows in a way that invites others to engage, to contribute, to participate.

Both models of the MOOC serve a purpose, but it is the connectivist one – for all it is less massive and far less a traditional course – that teaches both teachers and learners new ways of coming together to explore ideas.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

I Am an Academic’s Computer

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2012/05/05 at 03:11

Itir Toksoz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey

I hate it when she does that.

Why does she have to hit my keys so hard and so fast? It’s as if her brain is running to break the Olympic record in Academic Writing, or as if she would forget her next thought if she waited one more second to write the last one (to be honest from the way she looks so blankly at my screen from time to time, I sometimes think this is the case; she forgets what she’s going to write because obviously her brain is faster than her fingers).

I am an academic’s computer. My job is not easy. You may think that it is fun to accompany the intellectual journey of an academic. From one side, you are right. Although I don’t have direct access to her mind and cannot read minds, I am the closest thing there is to know how her brain works. But I swear that sometimes, I just wish I belonged to some kid who would endlessly use me for playing games. That would be boring, yes, but would be an easier life for a computer!

Normally, as a machine, I am supposed to work in an organized fashion.  Files, folders, categories, tabs, they are all invented to make life easier for my users. But nooooo, she is determined to confuse that system.  She’s interested in too many topics at the same time. She thinks it’s important, as she values interdisciplinary research. Then she creates files here and there, leaves them in unrelated folders, replicates them under different names such as “last version, final version, final-final version”. She uses the desktop as if it is some kind of a staging area where the files have to wait for a certain time until they can be properly (I wish) categorized under sections where they belong to.

Then, when she’s surfing on the internet,  how many tabs can one open on one browser at the same time on average? I am confident that there as well, she is after another Olympic record, this time in Academic Surfing.  Yet her surfing is not always academic; since she wants to keep up with the modern times, social media is also on oftentimes.  Her favourites is a long list. There one can see the variety of things she is interested in which she never has the time for, as she spends most of her time with me!

She often eats and drinks as she works. She’s generally good at keeping the drinks away from me. So far I have not had a flood over my keyboard, but I cannot say the same thing for food crumbs. Although she tries to keep me clean, I could occasionally use a more aggressive cleaning procedure on my keyboard , something like the back scrub you would get if you ever went to a Turkish bath!

Emailing is another issue. She keeps two email accounts: one personal and one professional,  trying to separate these two spheres of her life. But from the amount of emails she forwards from one address to the other, one can see that she’s not very successful at that. The amount of emails she receives from her contacts, groups, listservs, etc. is enormous.  She hardly reads them but she doesn’t delete them either, for who knows why!

As if the people at her university and in her own country are not enough, she’s so enthusiastic about making foreign contacts and being a part of transnational academic networks that her sleeping routine is oftentimes disrupted and along with hers, mine. As she waits online to chat or Skype with a colleague in Sweden, USA, Japan, Australia or Argentina, of course I am working overtime again. And don’t even get me started with all this traveling involved where I must accompany her to countries she goes to and conferences she attends!

The worst is, as she is no businesswoman, nor does she have a rich husband, she cannot always afford to update her technologies. Once you become her computer, you have to stay with her at least for the next 4-5 years. You cannot retire as easily as other computers, your memory becomes insufficient for the new generation programs, your hard-drive is always full, she can only support you with external hard-drives where she copies many documents and then spends hours figuring out which one was the latest.

Actually, she is not all bad. At least she likes technology in general and computers in particular and values the work the we do.  But if I wanted more information about her, I would also consult her cell phone and see what it has to say!

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Do You Manage Technology or Does Technology Manage You?

In Janni's Posts on 2012/04/04 at 00:12

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada

I have prided myself on the early adoption of new technologies in my work and personal life. A good majority of my research has examined women and technology. From a practical point of view technology allows me to connect almost immediately with friends, colleagues, family, and students. This is a mixed blessing.  I know that we all lament how, thanks to email, we have expanded this notion of work and working hours. I thought about managing technology when I read Liana Silva’s blog post about work and guilt. I looked in the mirror and thought that her thoughtful commentary was about me, too. Managing time and technology surely adds to the guilt discussion. Is technology making me a workaholic? I managing technology or is it managing me? Am I saving time by my use of my smart phone and my tablet?

I certainly use my host of technology in the classroom, for office hours, and beyond. But, the weight of this electronic umbilicus is at times more of an electronic manacle. I have taken to scheduling writing or grading time in my Outlook calendar, as this allows me work time, and I manage getting scheduled into meetings. The good news is that I love my job and my career, but I know that it is not everything. I’ve been thinking a lot about Heather Menzies and Janice Newson’s article “No Time to Think” and No Time by Heather Menzies. I know that we have all heard about how academics’ work practices have changed a lot, thanks to technology. The Menzies and Newson article speaks to this and made me uncomfortable as I read it. They were definitely talking about my work life. I have also heard  a colleague or two refer to smart phones as the tool of neoliberalism rebranding the university landscape. Academics are prone to wax poetic, no?

I read work-related emails during the evenings and weekends. I do not want to walk into work to a hundred or more emails. This might surprise many, but I do think it works for me. One issue though, in this smart phone world is that students have gotten to expect this. It is not uncommon for me to get emails an hour or two apart with a student inquiring if I got the previous email. They might know my schedule and assume that since I’m not teaching I can effortlessly reply to their important query immediately. This last holiday I noted that I was getting more advising emails from students on Christmas Eve. I made a point of not responding for a few days—as it was a statutory holiday that I was celebrating.

And, yes, I am known for often responding to emails within minutes or hours. But, it does not always happen. Have I unleashed a beast? Perhaps this explains why my partner is asking me to unplug more. One thing that I started last Fall was not working late on campus 2-3 days, instead I do this 1-2 days a week. The upshot is that I’m home more this school year. This means more family dinners together, which is a great end to the day with my family. The cost is that I often work for a few hours in the evening and like most academics, I still work for a few hours during the weekend.

Gen X scholars remember the good old days of doing research in the library and scouring for books in the stacks, and feeling a sense of discovery when you found a really good book next to the book that you were really looking for initially. What were the good old days of technology? Have we increased the work day with our efficient smart phones? I ask this as my smart phone plays music and my tablet is open with Twitter streaming. I rely too much on either to get rid of them, but maybe I need to willingly unplug more.

Menzies, Heather and Janice Newson. “No Time to Think.” Our Schools, Our Selves, v16, n3 Spring 2007: 99-104.

Menzies, Heather. 2005. No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life. Toronto, Douglas & McIntyre.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Do Less

In Information Minoration on 2011/01/27 at 00:26

Heather Alderfer, writing from New Haven, Connecticut in the USA

My motto for 2011 is simple: do less. By doing less, I’m hoping to accomplish more. No, it’s not an oxymoron. I try to do too much, so by cutting back on what I’m doing, both at work and at home, my goal is to do whatever task I’m working on more thoroughly, more mindfully, and more completely.

I’m a piler. I leave piles of stuff all over my house, much to the annoyance of my partner. I have piles at work, and each pile represents some project that I started, but haven’t quite finished. I have every intention of finishing each task, but then the phone rings, or an email with one of those lovely red exclamation points comes into my inbox, or a Dean needs a report. So I turn to the next task. And the next task.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed (link here)

Putting “Others” in a Box

In Information Minoration on 2010/09/29 at 22:43

Heather Alderfer, writing from New Haven, Connecticut in the USA.

“Even if you’re the whitest writer on the earth, you are writing about race, you just don’t know it,”
– Junot Diaz

New students on campus bring new biographical data. This month I’m wading through piles of student data and new standards on reporting race and ethnicity. Race is not an easy subject on most college campuses, or in most places in the U.S. New classics like Beverly Tatum’s Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting at the Table and numerous news articles on minority retention and graduation rates describe a complex environment in American education where many students are discovering their racial identities and confronting difference, often for the first time in their lives.

As an undergraduate and in my graduate work, I learned to think critically about issues of race and privilege, and have become increasingly sensitive to the nuances of multiple forms of difference. I’m aware that the color of my skin brings me privilege, and conversations about racism have brought my sister, who is adopted from India, and I closer. I like having friends and colleagues who are passionate about diversity and are not afraid to discuss it.

While my academic and personal background is firmly rooted in a multi-faceted and socially constructed view of “otherness” in all its forms, when I turn to my professional life, I’m faced with a much less nuanced reality.

Are You Hispanic? Yes/No

Check one or more:

  • Asian
  • Black/African-American
  • Native American/Alaskan Native
  • Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander
  • White

These are the new race and ethnicity categories for reporting to the federal government, which schools are required to report on for the first-time this fall. Many schools have been re-surveying their students, asking students through their online portals or student information systems to confirm and/or update their racial categories. As with all communication from the administration, I’m sure there is a percentage of students who just ignore what seems a minor request.

So when the administrators (like me) turn to reporting at this time of year, we’re faced with apples and oranges, and some empty check boxes. If a student responded last year that they were Latino, does that mean they are “Hispanic” this year? It’s not that I disagree with the particular labels; rather, the new ones do not translate to the data already collected. International students are often relegated to a “foreign national” category, or worse, “nonresident alien”. Given the opportunity, will students describe themselves as more than just one race? Will this cause the number of minority students to go up or down?

I dislike the feeling that I’m putting students into boxes. I know they are so much more than a category (or more than one category), that they are the collection of experiences and challenges and triumphs that brought them to college. Being able to check more than one box shows a certain level of acceptance of the concept “multi-racial”. While this is progress, it is still a reflection of where we are today. And there is so far to go.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.


I Need a Wife

In Happy Mondays on 2010/08/09 at 13:08

Mary Churchill, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.

My office-mate Jessica spat those words out in exasperation one afternoon as she raced into the office with a pile of papers to grade and I raced out, laptop and lecture notes tucked under my arm. We were teaching, working at administrative jobs, finishing up our dissertations, and also working hard on our marriages/partnerships. At that time, neither of us had children but we both knew that we wanted to find time to add a kid or two to the mix and we also knew that something was going to have to give.

Both of us were immersed in reading, research, and writing – in what Nicholas Carr calls “deep thinking.” We found that we had little time for taking care of our partners, cleaning our houses, and cooking fabulous dinners. We needed a “wife” to help us with the caretaking. We found that we could not do it all.

For many of us, this “wife” no longer exists. As a feminist, I am happy to see the demise of the subservient and self-sacrificing “wife.” Although I have made a wise decision in selecting a partner who does his fair share of the caretaking, he is not a wife and neither am I. Perhaps we are both demi-wives, doing the caretaking as a team.

I recently read Jen Howard’s brilliant critique of Carr’s The Shallows. Like Howard, I was struck by the unspoken assumption of privilege. I see the privileged “deep thinker” that Carr and many others mourn the loss of as an upper-middle class white man with a “wife” or caretaker. This deep-thinking “he” has the luxury of time for self-absorption.

“He” is not me.

He is not me because he is not simultaneously attempting to make grocery lists, read the latest book from Hardt and Negri, write up research, prepare for meetings, finish conference papers, respond to urgent emails, unpack and wash the laundry from vacation, decide what to make for dinner, and have engaging conversations with his son on topics ranging from volcanoes and the rules of chess to the Spanish names of fruit and why we should use our words rather than our fists.

The deep thinker is a solitary figure — sitting in his office, in his leather chair, pulled up to hismahogany desk, and pondering the meaning of life. He reads alone — in silence. He writes alone –in silence. He is a genius who creates original ideas that spring forth from his uniquely qualified mind. He is the protagonist of Said’s Orientalism – sitting in England, contemplating the Orient from afar.

Having the time to devote several uninterrupted hours, days, weeks, months, and years to a single task is a rarity. Perhaps it is a relic of the modern age or perhaps it is a romanticized view of the way we never were.

Perhaps the best ideas are not developed in this way. I like to think that Shakespeare, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo worked as leaders of teams. I like to believe that “a-ha” moments happen under an apple tree, in the bathtub, and during animated coffee-date discussions.

The present requires that we multi-task, collaborate, and above all, communicate. The majority of the people in the world have always had to prioritize and work with others. Women are finding that we excel at social intelligence, organization, and multi-tasking – skills necessary in today’s world. In “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin asks — “What if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?” I ask — What if the economics of the new era are better suited to what Carr erroneously calls “the shallows”? (“Deep thinking” is not necessarily the opposite of shallow thinking and “deep thinking” is not necessarily smarter or better thinking.)

Perhaps it is neither the end of men nor the end of deep thinking. Instead, perhaps it is the end of privileging a narrow masculinist way of acting and thinking. Perhaps the focus has switched from an extremely competitive version of individualism focused on winning at all costs to a multi-tasking collaborative version of teamwork, focused on developing creative solutions.

However, perhaps it is the end of “man and wife.”

Mary Churchill is the Executive Director of University of Venus.

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This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

The Disappearing College Catalog

In Information Minoration on 2010/07/19 at 20:53

Heather Alderfer, writing from New Haven, Connecticut in the USA.

I threw a stack of college catalogs in the recycling bin last week. It was a symbolic as well as a practical move, a step toward the triumph of the electronic over the printed. Will today’s students really come to the Registrar’s Office to browse for cross-campus classes? Or will they find a course schedule online with a few key search terms? I’m betting on the latter.

The dilemma of whether to publish and distribute a printed catalog, which after a brief time of usefulness, lingers in drawers of faculty members and administrators, is one many colleges have had. The cost of printing thousands of catalog copies is an easy line item to redline in a budget and the environmental benefit cannot be ignored.

The decision to stop publishing a hard-copy catalog is surprisingly emotional in the educational community. The dilemma is a quintessential example of the print vs. digital debate that libraries face. When I asked my sister, a college sophomore, if her school had given her a catalog, her response was: “yeah, and it was thick and I never looked at it.”

This is not what Registrars want to hear. We hope students understand that when they enroll, the catalog becomes their field guide to the institution, providing a comprehensive (if lengthy) compendium of the academic regulations and course descriptions, and also a general introduction to student life. At the same time, I see how the catalog can be viewed as an outdated source of information that is readily available on the college web site.

Questioning the value of the printed catalog brings up a range of emotions. As a student, I remember the excitement each semester when the upcoming course book showed up in my mailbox. I would hurry home and read through the exotic new courses, and circle more than I could ever enroll in. Faculty members also pay close attention to the catalog, and many have described the pleasure they get from reading about their colleagues’ courses and programs. It is a unifying artifact – this is our college, it says, in a neatly bound volume.

But the college experience can’t be simply summed up between two covers. The printed catalog lacks the intertextuality of hyperlinks, of seeing the relationship of courses to each other, of being able to click on an instructor’s name and quickly find their bio and the other courses they are teaching. Students today are fluent in browsing and searching electronic documents. I often find myself pulling up a PDF version on a web browser and using the “find” function when it may be just as fast to grab a catalog on my desk and flip to the course description I am looking for. MIT’s online catalog provides both an intuitive and visually pleasing web version with clear instructions on how to get a printed copy.

There will always be those who prefer, and enjoy, reading the catalog in print, savoring the tactile pleasure of the book in printed form. One solution may be to print on demand, so those who do want a catalog can get one and enjoy the feel in their hands of a newly published “book” hot off the press.

What is your institution considering? What will you miss about a printed catalog, and what unexpected benefits do you find in an electronic version?

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

Can the Subaltern Tweet?

In Guest Blogger on 2010/06/28 at 09:00

Guest blogger, Ernesto Priego, writing from London, England in the UK.

I am not sure I could be writing these lines in any other language than English. It is very possible you could not read these words were I writing them in my native language –Spanish–, because there might not be a platform where I could –or perhaps want to– publish it, at least not without me as an author facing the danger of a negative critical backlash. I say this to state my awareness of a relatively privileged position, of me as an author of this text in the present form in which you are reading it as enabled by specific technologies.

The effects of colonialism still disempower individuals, often reducing them to roles of consumption rather than production.

How can we live up to the promise of the Internet and the Web without erasing each other?

I believe a way in which the subaltern can make herself heard/read/seen at a planetary level is through a conscious, often painful process  where individuals learn to see the English language and specific technologies as tools to think with and to do things, not just to consume things passively. This shift is also political: it means to stop seeing oneself as the oppressed of a given hegemonic power.  This shift does not mean abandoning,or even less, repressing national languages or cultural traits. On the contrary, user-generated online content, with metadata in several languages and geo-tagging can be an essential part of this process.

One of the goals would be the inclusion of this content within the network of academic knowledge production. This would work as an act of online self-determination, understood as the freedom of misrepresented individuals and communities to determine their own online content.

In other words, online self-determination is necessary to affect the wider international community of communities by populating the Web with tagged, hyper-linked multilingual content. Online self-determination can also mean one’s technical, and very importantly, financial ability to represent and edit oneself and one’s culture(s) online, and to decide how they will achieve online relevance/visibility/ranking without being overshadowed by more dominant national languages and/or economies.

Perhaps a community of communities may seem idealistic.

Disciplinary, social, geographical, national, linguistic and financial borders are realities that   internet access has not and cannot erase. Deeply rooted cultural traits/practices and beliefs are also obstacles to a practical critique of power dynamics in the language of those who are often perceived as the oppressors.

Computers are not places we live in, but they affect the way we think about ourselves and the planet.

Computers do not make the subaltern or marginalised individual think she can control the “globe”; on the contrary, computers can be windows to an inhospitable world. As means of establishing relations with Others, national languages and online technologies can both create communities and alienate large numbers of individuals. Simultaneously, computers have in fact transformed and continuously transform our ideas of who we are, what we do and how many we are.

A specific politics of planetary online friendship is at stake. Online decolonization and daily exercises of online self-determination are ways of befriending Others by acknowledging them as our contemporaries regardless of the time zone they might be in.

We start by recognizing our current positions.

The hyperlinking will follow.

Ernesto Priego was born in Mexico City and now lives in London. He is a PhD candidate in Information Studies at University College London. He has a background in English, comparative literature and cultural studies. His research sits at the crossroads of comics scholarship, history of the book and digital humanities.


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Three Months Later – Talk of Non-Profit Status, an Advisory Board, and a Summer Leadership Camp

In Conversations on 2010/04/30 at 09:00

MARY:  Wow, I can’t believe it’s been three months! I feel like so much has happened with the University of Venus. When we started this adventure, I knew that we wanted to get our voices out there and that we wanted to be heard – to find a way to break through the very senior (60+), very male, and very white higher education leadership world we operated within.

MEG:  And we also wanted to engage a global voice in our conversations about higher education.  I think we have made a good start.  What next?

MARY:  Good question. We didn’t really know what UVenus was going to look like, how it was going to be received, or who was going to “like” it.

MEG:  One thing that I learned in writing my blog posts is that I wasn’t really sure what story I was going to tell until the post was written.  I think starting University of Venus has been the same way, evolving into what it is.  We didn’t know what to expect.

MARY:  Now, our talk is along the lines of “So now what?” – Great, we have the blog, the writers, the readers, a mission – is this it? Is there more? How do we move to the “change higher education” part? The “empower the next generation of leaders” part? Yesterday, we started talking non-profit status and kind of what does that look like?

MEG: We are women of ACTION.  We want to take the next step and move forward with our blog adventure.

MARY: What should we do? Some thoughts – conference, summer leadership program for women 25-45, and a summer leadership camp for high school girls. We could focus on globalization, technology, activism, networking, empowerment, and collaboration.

MEG:  Our next phase is emerging as becoming more professional, more organized, and offering more to our readers and writers.

MARY: I agree. In talking strategy and next steps, we talked about reaching out to some senior women and men who could act as a sort of Advisory Board – helping us to take our vision to the next level.

MEG:  And we talked about reaching out to some younger women to help us raise our game in the world of social media.  I am very excited about these next steps.

MARY:  There is also the book project – getting our proposal to publishers. The focus on changing higher education through the empowerment of the next generation of global leaders in education.

MEG:  There are so many ways to go, and we want to try them all!

MARY:  Thanks for joining with us on this continued adventure and thanks for your feedback. We will be back on Monday with some minor operational tweaks and more BIG IDEAS!