Gaming, digital futures and Curtis Bonk! | Day 2 at #DEANZ14 Conference

Sara Humphreys:

Wonderful overview of a conference I am sure we all wish we could have attended!

Originally posted on Disrupt & Transform:

Last week, I managed to attend a day of the DEANZ conference, a great opportunity to catch up with those involved in research and practice related to e-learning and distance education in the schooling and tertiary sectors.

While one day couldn’t really capture the conference as a whole, there were a few takeaways for me that made me wish I’d managed all three days!

2014-05-01 09.18.58Keynote:  David Gibson – Games and Simulations

Associate Professor at Curtin University, David’s focus is in supporting university departments to further e-learning design as part of their programmes.

His keynote made some exciting (and mentally stretching!) points about the way gaming structures can enhance learning pathways. For example:

  • He…

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Call for Posts!

We are starting the next leg of our project where we will give undergrads more of a voice on this site (and hopefully, in how their classroom and courses are implemented). Please share this poster with your humanities undergrads, share with colleagues, or submit a post! We want to know how undergrads are using digital tech in the classroom or what they think of the tech in the classroom. Are smartboards useful? what about smartphones? Tablets? Laptops? The deadline is August 15th  and this post can be listed as a publication on a resume!

 

Deadline is July 31st - send to studentvoices@trentu.ca

Deadline is August 15th – send to studentvoices@trentu.ca

 

Blackboard Jungle -BW

The #CSUN13 Experience: Social Media and Accessibility

Each year the worlds of disability & technology collide at the International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference hosted by California State Northridge University Centre on Disabilities (@CSUNCOD) at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, California.  This year, I found myself fortunate enough to attend.

Image of my conference name tag lanyard on my Macbook keyboard as I planned out my sessions

Photo: My #CSUN13 badge of honour

I’ve been working in the ‘Accessibility field’ for almost 4 years. Much of my job as as the Adaptive Technologist with Accessibility Services involves the direct technical support of the various assistive and adaptive technologies used by the students registered with our office. Assistive / Adaptive Technologies, or ‘AT’ as it’s commonly known as, can be anything from an ‘off-the-shelf’ device that has been modified or ‘adapted’ for use by someone with a disability, to a device that has been designed specifically with disability in mind to enhance or maintain that person’s abilities.

I became aware of the conference affectionately known as CSUN about a year and a half ago while following a couple of the regular conference-goers on Twitter. After a week of following the hashtag #CSUN12 on Twitter during the conference last year, it was obvious that this was the place where technical ‘accessiblistas’ gather. The conference has developed quite a reputation for showcasing the the latest and greatest improvements, developments and research in web, technical and educational accessibility. I had to go.

My plans came into fruition (a big thank you Trent University) and a simple tweet mid-January of this year announcing that “#CSUN13 was a go”, with #CSUN13 being the hashtag used on Twitter to aggregate all CSUN 2013 related information, immediately connected me to others who were heading to the same event and the networking began. It turns out, there was quite a Canadian contingent represented at the conference, notably many from the GTA who travelled upon the ‘CSUN Express’ on Air Canada Flight 777 direct to San Diego the day before the official start of the conference.

So there I was, sitting at a patio table by the bay in late February less than two hours after my flight landed in sunny San Diego. I was surrounded by a dozen or so individuals, all of whom I had just met in person for the first time. Web developers, project managers in the financial sector, private accessibility consultants and even a federal government employee with authoring expertise on Section 508 (America’s Rehabilitation Act, specifically, how federal agencies make their electronic & information technology accessible to those with disabilities). Companies like Wells Fargo, RBC, Scotia Bank, Paypal, Nuance, CGI, oh, and myself from Trent University, all represented at this table. It was shortly after this photo was taken that things really started to sink in: this whole ‘accessibility thing’ is far bigger and further reaching than I had ever imagined. #CSUN13 was off to a great start.

Photo of CSUN conference attendees on the Patio at Sally's in San Diego.

Photo: Patio in February? Done. via George Zamfir (@good_wally)

The A11Y Community makes this an exciting time to be working in the accessibility field. ‘A11Y’ is the abbreviated numeronym for computer accessibility with the ’11’ in ‘a11y’ representing the number of characters missing in the full word ‘Accessibility’. It should come as no surprise that social media is at the heart of flourishing communities, and the a11y community is no exception. I’d make the argument that if you’re not actively plugged-into or following the current discussions and trends in your profession (be it social networks like Twitter, discussion forums or blogs) you are missing out on some of the best professional development opportunities available. On the social media front, I should mention, searching Twitter for posts tagged with #a11y is a great way to find current trends and hot-topics related to technical & web accessibility for ALL users, regardless of disability or level of impairment.

I was able to attend two separate tweet-up’s while at the conference. The general conference tweet-up that brought together all ‘socially-minded’ conference goers for an informal face-to-face networking opportunity, and a tweet-up hosted by the Make WordPress Accessible community that brought together developers & users aiming to improve the accessibility of Themes used in WordPress. WordPress is a popular content-management system that powers many websites and blogs, such as the Digital Communitas site here. Themes change the ‘look and feel’ of a particular site, much like a design template in Microsoft Office. Most WordPress themes are created by freelance developers, and quite often lack the accessibility features that are required for users of screen reading & assistive technology. The Make WordPress Accessible community was created to promote the awareness of the need for accessible WordPress Themes, and equipping the developers of Themes with the resources needed to create themes with accessibility in mind.

 Picture, shot from the hallway at the WordPress Accessibility tweet-up

Photo: A shot from the back of the room at the WordPress Accessibility Tweet-up at #CSUN13

The reality is, that while the web seeks to be a collaborative and unifying place for all, it still remains inaccessible to many. It’s the tireless and relentless force of a11y community that aims to change this by increasing awareness of the issues and changing the habits of those involved in the creation process. I heard a great deal of discussion during sessions and informally around the topic of ‘Responsible Design’ and holding yourself accountable for not only the quality, but accessibility the end result. Everyone at every level (R&D, developers, project managers, user experience & interface designers, etc.) is a stakeholder in the accessibility of a product, application or website. An excellent analogy I heard was that of baking chocolate chip cookies and thinking of accessibility as the chocolate chips. Adding the chocolate chips in after the cookies have baked is not the same as adding them in during the appropriate mixing step. Accessibility as an afterthought or ‘add-on’ should not (and can not) continue to exist for the betterment and advancement of an inclusive web experience for all.

Technology continues to change and enrich the lives of its users. While this is true regardless of ability, it is especially true for those who as a result of their disability, rely on it for routine activities. Have you ever witnessed, first hand, someone without vision navigate a computer interface using only a keyboard, shortcut commands and screen-reading software? How about using an iPhone with the screen off and utilizing gesture based accessibility navigational shortcuts and using the dictation & text-to-speech abilities of Apple’s digital assistant ‘Siri’ to read and reply to messages and navigate the web? It’s extraordinarily impressive, encouraging, and a testament to the efforts of those in the accessibility industry to create products useful for everyone.

Photo of the vendor trade show (Microsoft booth) at the 2013 CSUN conference.

Photo: The Microsoft booth, one of many vendors represented at the showcase during the CSUN conference.

The CSUN conference also plays host to vendor exhibits in a ‘trade-show’ style setup where companies showcased their latest and greatest assistive technologies and services. It was an impressive setup with many, many vendors and cutting edge assistive technologies, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by not only the vast number of products that seemed similar, but the exorbitant cost associated with many of these technologies. Take, for example, one of the magnification systems commonly used by those with low vision. They can, at best, be described as a ‘digital camera on a stick that attach to an external LCD monitor’ yet some have price-tags upwards of $2500 (!) attached to them. It’s unfortunate that costly AT equipment often adds another layer of ‘inaccessibility’ to many.

When the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was drafted back in 2005, it created the framework for an inclusive province where no matter what a person’s ability, they could fully participate in life within the province of Ontario. Such legislation does not (yet) exist elsewhere in Canada, nor does it exist in the US. While much can be said about our government’s dedication to and  efficacy (or lack thereof) in enforcing the AODA, the spirit of an inclusive province remains. As an Ontarian attending this conference, it was encouraging to hear the AODA brought up on a number of occasions as an example in positive light. Way to go Ontario.

I made a conscious effort when planning my schedule to attend sessions across the multiple conference streams to make sure I got an excellent variety of technical, theoretical and practical take-aways. The hardest part of choosing the sessions was knowing there were other sessions running simultaneously that were just as interesting.  I heard of blind instructors controlling classroom technology via gesture-based commands on touch panels with audio output at NC State University, and saw employees from Google demonstrate latest developments in accessibility across the Google suite of applications including Apps for Education, YouTube captioning and Android. I saw Mozilla demonstrate their brand new mobile operating system, and showcase the accessibility in their Firefox browser. I listened in on expert panels discuss breeding accessibility into the corporate culture, explain some of the fundamentals of accessible rich-internet applications, and how to develop accessibility in IT policies, procedures and practices. What a wealth of information, and in all honesty, complete information overload.

When the sessions came to a close on Friday evening, and things started to wrap up, I found myself struggling to comprehend what all had just transpired those last 3 days. A month later, it’s still somewhat hazy, and I’m still processing the events of #CSUN13. What is clear, is that I departed Toronto not entirely sure what I was heading into, my wildest expectations were completely shattered and I returned home with a new-found appreciation, awareness and desire for promoting the for the world of technical accessibility. Overwhelmingly positive conference experience? I’d say so.

Found in Translation: Multi-Sociality, Disability, and Digital Media

If you were to look at my undergraduate transcript, you’ll quickly and quizzically notice that I’ve ‘multi-tasked’ my educational areas of interest as many times as my browsers on any ether-day.

In my first year at Trent University, I took Spanish 100, with the aim of future work in Latin American countries, and a year abroad. I found the language relatively easy to engage with, given its similarity to French. I did all my homework, participated in the class seminar and lab seminar, though I found the latter surprisingly challenging.

But about three weeks into the course, a curious thing happened; an event that changed my life forever. I received an email, one that I inspected almost too swiftly, considering it to be spam. It appeared as this:

To: Jes sachse
Subject: mama (fss)

Text:
I have a daughter. I live in Peru. I want to chat.

Angela

It was, before almost deleting the message, the letters ‘fss’ that caught my eye. FSS is the acronym for my disability, Freeman Sheldon Sydrome. At this realizing, the wheels began spinning, and I then vaguely recalled registering on a disability community website years prior, where I might have shared my email.

Not a moment before the thought completed itself, this person popped up on my MSN Messenger (yes, I am dating myself here. too bad I didn’t say ICQ). She sent me an instant message saying “Hola”, to which I replied excitedly with the two phrases I knew in Spanish: Hola! Mi llama Jes. Yo soy Canadiense!

My earnest studentship gave the person on the other end of the chat the indication that I spoke Spanish, and she immediately launched into too many questions too fast, which had me scrambling around my student apartment for my beginner textbooks and dictionary.

With a bevy of books on my lap, I realized quickly that this was slowing me down, and not necessarily the best way to chat with this woman and find out why she had contacted me. It was then that I dissevered the free translation website, which allowed me to plug in Spanish sentences, and render them into English, and draft my replies and do the reverse.

In two hours that flew by like two minutes, I learned that Angela lived in Peru with her husband and three children, the youngest of whom was diagnosed with Freeman Sheldon Syndrome. At a year and a half, Esmeralda had grown into a lively little girl, but faced many challenges associated with a disability that is quite rare. The genetic lottery is 1 in 150 million for FSS, and today there are approximately 65 known cases- which means that in certain countries, physicians have little to no experience with FSS.

The culture of disability in Peru is one of shame. Angela confided that the doctors had accused her being an alcoholic, and a a drug addict, to have produced a child like Esmeralda. Children with disabilities often live lives segregated from the rest of society, in care and education institutions.

Angela’s community had raised money for her to buy a computer, which the internet cafe in the neighborhood allowed her to run a line to her home, so that she could research and try and connect with other parents of children with FSS. Which led her to me.

Our relationship was a welcomed addition to my already full course load. We chatted for about two hours every night, with a webcam (minus sound). Angela asked countless questions that had been keeping her up at night. “She snores loudly when she sleeps – is this normal?”

“Her feet are like this. What are your feet like?”

Her other children, Franco and Fiore would be in the room as well, giggling and pushing their faces up to the screen. As the months passed, I used free translation less and less, but not so much the phrase ‘No entiendo’.

When December approached, I stared at the OSAP I had remaining in my bank account, a sum indicative of a shy little recluse, living thriftily and not drinking. Then I had a thought: what if I visit Angela in Peru?

Because of the rarity of FSS, and the genetic mutation involved in its production, I had never met another person with FSS in person before. I suppose I too had turned to the Internet at one point, but Wikipedia’s summary was a little terrifying and diagnosing.

If you Google image searched FSS in December of 2005, four images might have come up; eyes blacked out, medical shots portraying bodies that bear facial similarities. But Angela exchanged photos of Esmy, and we discovered that she looked remarkably like I did (and was affectionately given the nickname ‘Latina Jessikita’).

Arriving in Lima by myself, I was met at the airport by Angela and her husband Raul, who lived a rural village called Huaycan-Vitarte, about a hour from Lima city proper, and speak only a few English words between them. I can recall the challenge of the taxi ride to their house, how much more challenging it was without the facilitation of the Internet, and yet how different a community experience it was to be in person with Angela and her family.

Through the Social Media Project, I was reminded of this adventure when I begun to think about Modern Languages and the Internet. When we talk about the technology of the book, we inject a fear into the apparent ‘scattered’ organization of the Internet, and the loss of ‘print’ and the mastery we have.

In Mark Poster’s book “What’s the Matter with the Internet?”, he discusses an interview with Baudrillard, and his fear and refusal to merge with machine. He sees his typewriter as subject to his process, and the manuscript as a tangible; a product to consume. And that has been a technology to certainly shape the 20th century. But the 21st century has shown digital media to be not simply objects of utility, but an entire shift of cultural process. We have entered an era of pervasive and perpetual production.

“The screen is a permeable, seductive interface that joins computer and person into a synthetic cyborg. [...] And with this disappearance, I argue, so vanishes the citizen of the nation, the subject formed in the bosom of the nation-state in the age of first of print, then of broadcasting.” (114)

Baudrillard declares “Cyberspace is not of great use to me personally,” when asked about the potential that new technologies offer him. He demonstrates the same fear and ignorance that pundits like Mark Bauerlein do- Bauerlein, being more dismissive and insulting the intelligence and educational desire of today’s youth, and pointing to the digitization as culprit. But as we move away from false fears that ‘print is over’, and ‘social networking is a distraction’, we begin to examine the shift into a multi-sociality that is in fact shifting access to texts in much grander sense.

My experience as new student in a Spanish language course, was that it was the constant, consistent exposure to the language that remedied my learning, rather than the grades in the half hour tech lab, or practical quizzes.

Today, I have several Facebook friends who communicate in multiple languages. Recently, the Microsoft Bing browser has developed a new tool. When these languages appear on my news feed, which is set to English, the browser acknowledges that it is foreign to me, and asks in a hyperlink if I would like a translation.

Presently, in print, the English language is staggeringly dominant. However, digital media stands to influence a multi-lingual reality – one which no longer needs to privilege English. Hypertext markup language (HTML) itself is not inherently English, either.

The further development of these language technologies stands to have a remarkable impact on the Digital Humanities. Perhaps, Baudrillard and Bauerlein dystopically would caution that this new language freedom might create temporal communicators. Reading accounts like the personal narrative I shared above, the authenticity of my practice in the Spanish language spanned only one academic year. After returning from Peru, and completing the entry level course, without regular use, I slowly lost the learned use of the language.

However, I would like to link this technophobia to a greater dystopia of this century, that can be connected to narratives of ‘progress’. Is it necessary for human pursuits of language to take on the form of a consumption? Should I have learned ‘Spanish’, so that I always have ‘Spanish’? What about the language practice I learned in chatting with Angela, the language of CTRL+P, of ALT+TAB, of the computer grammar that could not replicate Peruvian Spanish, the influence of Quechuan words that faded under the force of Spain’s terrible colonization? These words were not in my textbooks either.

They were in the large hands laughing, pressed apron pockets of Abuela, who taught me names and sounds, as I taught scar lines and surgeries; and both, a resilient womanhood. The inherent challenge to nationalism that these global networks incite, threatens of course, those in the dominant power groups. If English becomes less solely necessary, as the reality of the framework and participation in the Internet, we will see increases in attempts to control this shift, undoubtedly. But utopically, we have present a newer opportunity of networking ourselves, that grants certain citizenship to anyone connected to one or any variety of portals.

Digital Media and Transformation of the Essay

Digital Technology and Hybrid Essay Format

One of the purposes of this site is to show that there are other ways of learning over and above standardized methods (like an instructor reading from slides or, worse, a textbook. if you do this: stop – stop it now).  The essay format has been a stand-by in the humanities and social sciences.  Professors swear by it and it has been institutionalized as a trustworthy way of accessing writing skills and critical thinking.  From high school on, students write essays every year and continue these habits as they enter into post-secondary school, regardless of the discipline they enter.  This post will focus on how and why the essay format is changing to accommodate the different modes of presenting a thesis and the arguments that support it. Digital communication is changing the way we interpret and argue, not just the way we learn.

The Law of Identity: Challenging Strict Structure

Active Vs. Passive Voice: There is an emoticon for that.

A thesis is a thesis is a thesis.  A thesis argues a point, like this “essay” is currently attempting.  Students are encouraged to support these points with arguments and conclude them very neatly our essays.  Essays are not simple, but they have a simplified format that instructs students to present information in a structured, logical way: topic, thesis, body, conclusion.  The essay structure has been institutionalized – or shall I say, burned into students’ minds – since high school.  It does have many benefits, including the following:

  •  the essay teaches students to make an interpretation of the texts studied
  •  the essay teaches students how to research and present research in a logical manner
  •  by making a solid claim, the student is learning to have a voice and opinion on what they study.
  • grammar and literacy improves

What else?  Actually, the criteria of essays is pretty straightforward.  It can also be very narrow.  The essay does not always encourage students to explore a topic fully because of the strictures placed by format and structure.  Also, due dates force students to adhere to a structure and essay plan.  After completing essay after essay, the structure is bound to weaken.  However, digital media is changing this.  First, let’s brain-storm how:

  •  the essay format is adapting to incorporate digital media into its structure.  For example, online scholarly databases and journals provide excellent sources of information that is both factual and theoretical.
  • the essay format is being presented on different mediums other than print: online essays, including those on blogs, are providing an innovative new way of presenting information
  • the essay format is changing its traditional structure to include different ways of expressing a central argument (example: images, hyperlinks, podcasts, etc)

The essay format is becoming a product of the digital culture.  With more research online nowadays, students are encouraged to include multimedia in their essays.  This allows for a hybrid presentation of knowledge with the addition of web content for extra information and a more in-depth analysis of a particular topic.  The pros of this are many, one of which is that the transformation of the essay has resulted in a far more interesting product.  Scholarly sources become conversations, not merely one-way, or one-dimensional, presentations.  The essay format is becoming multi-mediated from so many sources – the sources of which most people, whether in higher education or not, are familiar with.

So, am I suggesting that the scholarly essay may be available to the many individuals – a widespread allowance into the information of scholarly institutions?  Although the internet enables students access to previously inaccessible content, copyright laws maintain a stronghold over the rights of academic material.  In “An Empirically Grounded Framework To Guide Blogging In Higher Education,” G. Conole, et al. includes an earnest assessment of some of the drawbacks of blogging, such as the difficulty in getting students completing them.  The article looks at how blogs are often stereotyped as a leisure activity. Conole specifically notes that students are more concerned about the purpose of doing a blog: “the ideals of educators can be difficult to put into practice.  From the student’s perspective there are two fundamental questions they ask themselves about blogs: “why would I want one?” . . . “what’s in it for me?” . . students need to develop a purpose for blogging that is clear to benefit them” (Conole An Empirically Grounded Framework To Guide Blogging In Higher Education).  So, unlike essays, which carry an academic authority due to a long-standing tradition within academia, blogs still struggle with legitimacy.  Conole makes an interesting point, when he states that the blog presents a blurring of the private and public.  The blogger is autonomous over their blog and can network with who they wish; however, it also puts them on a public platform.  The student interacts with a more public stage during their assignment, including their peers.  Blogging allows them to construct knowledge for themselves and not just adhere to a format and strict set of requirements.  Conole does recognize that when students do complete blogs, they find that they have gained many skills that writing an essay does not allow them to gain.  The study also admits to some negatives with blogging, including the finding that 7 out of 9 bloggers eventually use a routine format after blogging.

So is a blog just a blog just a blog?  Or is there uniqueness to each one?  Simply put, blogs allow for the exploration of content that does not exclude other forms of communication, including other types of media.

PhD candidate Melonie Fullick of York University states her article, entitled “Becoming Prof 2.0“:

meritocracy, the notion that achievements are determined by individual merit rather than by a complex of factors (some of which are beyond our personal control), is a concept that is crucial to academic culture and the operational logic of academe itself.  Because students internalize the idea that their success is dependent on this narrow notion of merit, they often blame themselves if they “fail” to perform adequately during the PhD.  They might be reluctant to speak out about problems, since usually no one else is doing so, and they might feel they are revealing personal inadequacies, rather than bringing to light systemic flaw.

Fullick upgrades this essay’s argument.  What about graduate-level education and the transformation of the essay format and the use of digital media as a means to transform of the curriculum?  Fullick admits that narrow definitions of success are plaguing the university curriculum and giving students at all levels a false estimation of success.  Estimating success based on merit, which itself is dependent on arbitrary factors determined by individuals or a committee, can often cost students a great deal, not only in terms of the financial implications, but also affect them in more personal ways.  Faculty who wish to change how they learn and how their students learn often hit a brick wall that has been constructed by those outside of the classroom.  So, challenging curriculum and methodology can be dangerous to some extent.

However, how does an institution evolve?  How does anything evolve, really.

The issue of digital media in the classroom cannot be ignored.  Digital media is changing the way we learn and why we learn.  Its implications on the basic learning styles, including the academic essay, are open to interpretation and opinion, but cannot be ignored.

Technofeminism and its Discontents: Rape jokes, Reddit, and the iRevolution

*trigger warning (this article mentions rape and sexual violence)

Since beginning to conceive of a ‘digitizing of the humanities’ within the scope of this social media project, I have developed a hungry curiosity for the relationship that technology has with the construction of gender.

Initially my approach to conceptualizing the place of feminism in social media spheres, was the formulation of the idea that marginalized populations could utilize these digital tools as ones of resistance; that the Internet and it’s technological objects remained a part of an unchartered digital frontier of which feminist ideologies could thrive and populate.

the revolution will be hashtagged

[The image is of a street in Montreal, crowded with protestors, One woman in a red bandana is leaning over the side of a building, waving a red flag.]

While this may be true, reflecting on how we have witnessed these tools used for organizing political protests and massive revolutions in many nations in the past year, from Egypt to Wisconsin, and most recently students in Montreal, as evidence, one of our project’s recent interviews pointed out a glaring gap in how I was approaching thinking about these tools and spaces.

Zizi Papacharassi, scholar and prominent commentator on the social and political consequences of new media technologies, spoke to the inherent masculinity present in the design of technologies that remains largely unrecognized and uncorrected. She pointed me to the work of Judy Wacjman, who is responsible for the term ‘technofeminism‘.

Rather than questioning the science itself, as Wacjman states, we remedy with equal opportunity policies, placing hope in the process of overcoming. In “Feminism Confronts Technology“, work published over two decades ago, she illuminates the force of masculinity in technology with examples that are still effective, much as we speak to this digital age as something quite new and unformed.

Growing up with two younger brothers, I can easily relate to her use of the example of the marketing of toys and video games along gendered lines. Imagery of boys seen playing the video games that are violent conjures a positive and affirming response to video game technology for boys, while creating frustration for girls who may attempt to approach them. Those toys have become iPhones, iPads; sleek, fetishized objects designed with masculinity in mind.

Wacjman goes on to link this cultural production to post-secondary education, pointing out that “at this stage the harassment [of girls] takes the form of obscene computer mail or print-outs of nude women. Women students in computer science at MIT found this problem so pervasive that they organized a special committee to deal with it” (153).

[The image is of an orange kitten in a hooded sweater, with the text 'u gonna get raped' as the caption.]

In 2012 on the Internet today, more prolific than pictures of kittens, are jokes about rape. Message forum handles, memes, webcomics; the use of flash imagery used to communicate violent misogyny is vast – a hyper-evolution of Wacjman’s example of inappropriate email forwards.

The community represented on our pixelated screens is informed by the patriarchal society that produces it. The notion that “the technological enterprise has developed as a distinctly masculine realm may be largely a reflection of the male domination of all powerful public institutions, rather than something specific to the male spirit” (140).

In a recent article on a controversial thread on Reddit concerning rape, the Huffington Post assessed the site as a vast, largely unregulated, decentralized and self-described ‘front page of the Internet’, capable of sheltering perpetrators of actual rape with anonymity.

The topic of sexual violence on the Internet has been in high propensity in recent weeks, after Cookies for Breakfast chose to blog about an incident involving comedian Daniel Tosh, one of many male comedians known to make jokes about rape. Since the surfacing of the original post, many prominent blogs (Jezebel, medea la maga)  have taken up the topic, and debate has proliferated online in various social media spheres.

Tosh says he was joking. Comedians make rape jokes every day, so why is this one getting so much attention? Because Tosh was more than “just kidding.” He was angry. His “joke” was reactive to the so-called heckler who called him out in front of an audience. He used humor to cut her down, to remind her of own vulnerability, to emphasize who was in control. – Elissa Bassist

For years, I have witnessed dialogues online that argue free speech versus hate speech – someone publishes, in whatever capacity, something racist, sexist, homophobic, or a cocktail of many oppressions, and is then called out, only to have the offender defend their right to say what they want. Reddit is one of many such forums, wherein it took less than a minute for me to find a mention of rape:

[The image is a comic depicting a belaboured rape joke, describing violent assault, using the excuse of a woman's clothing as the punch line.]

In a sharp reminder to not get carried away with our transcendent musings while working on the social media project, Sara Humphreys points out the “need to remember that program storage and object technology underpins everything [we] do on the net; this is all encoded and operates in very specific ways that make us think we are making choices.” Perhaps a study into the gendering of HTML and CSS is in order? Or the ways in which Adobe markets its products with “sexy” images of young women?

The digital world has become another site of the ongoing production of, at times violent, gender domination narratives.

Building on the philosophies of sci-fi-minist Donna Haraway, Wacjman defines the term technofeminism as a strategic engagement with technoscience, which, rather than opposing or celebrating it, negotiates the networks of sociotechnology from within, and suggests that it is only by bridging the gap between materiality and metaphor – the dichotomy between the technical and the social – that we can move forward.

Papacharassi and Wacjman both situate a technofeminist deconstruction of digital media at the core of their discursive perspectives on our digital future, promoting not simply a resistance that responds to (take for example, SRS Fempire: a subreddit response to oppressive dialogues online), but looking to the place of production, and engaging a rewriting of.

Educational institutions are indeed as well sites of patriarchally influenced gender construction. However, it is possible to imagine how the changing face of the university to adapt to our digital future could progressively work to challenge and change who it is produced for. The conceptualization of the new humanities is one that can be imagined to infuse critical thinking into a site of cultural production it is presently being deemed as inferior to; the morphing of the disposable humanities to the digital humanities – a necessarily feminist project.

Student 2.0: How Social and Digital Media is Shaping New Types of Learners

“A powerful force to change the university is the students.  And sparks are flying today.  A huge generational clash is emerging in our institutions.  The critiques of the university from fifteen years ago were ideas in waiting – waiting for the new Web and for a new generation of students who could effectively change the old model” (Don Tapsott in Macrowikinomics – see page 156)

The wave of new students has arrived and they have been dubbed “digital natives,”  of which I am apparently one.  This wave of new students use digital technology with ease, but are they actually well-versed in digital technology? Not in my experience.  After all, I am still learning and have a great deal to learn about how the digital “stuff” I use actually works.  I prefer to think of digital natives not as oppositional from digital immigrants ( those not born into digital tech), but as a diverse set of learners who are working with (or sometimes still waiting) for the education system to meet our needs. Let’s move away from simplistic sound bites about teachers being “old-fashioned digital immigrants” students as digital savants. Neither position is entirely true nor entirely off-base.

This is the stereotype but not the reality.

We can say that students who are digital natives are really artists of their own education using the palate of social media technologies and platforms to learn and study, conduct research, and collaborate with professors and other students alike.  Social media is about sharing, while also about individualizing one’s own unique online experiences.  So, as the new student is learning on their own steam, they are also interacting with a community that transcends their classroom.  Thus, they are the global student.  The new student can access lectures from renowned scholars from MIT for free, for instance.  They also can use some free brush-up math or science help from the Khan Academy.  This is unprecedented.  The source of the plethora of information stems from the tools students have, in particular laptops and Smartphones (with their many array of apps), which allow them to manipulate, interact with, and network with the information they learn.  This new wave of students relies on collaborative learning.

Collaborative Learning 101:

Interactive multimedia consists of text, image, audio, and video, which all collaborate to help students learn and create.  The interactivity of these tools is revolutionary, as social media guru, Don Tapscott, prolifically acknowledges in his 2010 best-selling book, MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World: “we need to toss out the old industrial model of pedagogy – how learning is accomplished – and replace it with a new model called collaborative learning” (141). (Read our interview with Don by clicking here for the post and here for the prezi). This new pedagogy ensues all “participants would contribute to an open platform of world-class educational resources that students everywhere can access throughout their lifetime.  We call it a Global Network of Higher Learning” (141).  In schools, students are becoming part of a global network and the value of this is far-reaching, especially in regards to reshaping the global economy for a new century.  Furthermore, students from an early age are not just becoming more marketable, but reaching potentials that move beyond the financial benefits of a good education.  The new student has social media skills that seem inborn, but they have actually been actively trained by their exposure to social technology.  It is the Millennial Generation (1980-1995) and Generation Z (1995-present) of which are now occupying schools and often face educators and curriculum that cannot meet their learning needs.  This applies to all disciplines in education, from the humanities, arts, to the social and natural sciences.  Due to the internet’s hybridization of information, students no longer separate information into categories.  In other words, the average young person’s life is multidisciplinary and requires multi-tasking in order to be part of their demographic.  The Wikipedia effect is an example that Tapscott has pointed out.  Wikis are more than just sites, they are collaborative spaces which are shaped by readers, who enter, edit, and delete information.  Wikis are more than just simple websites because each wiki is a site of interaction between multitudes of readers who are also simultaneously writers.  Due to their exposure to this model of knowledge production, students are used to interacting with what they learn, therefore, the simple teacher/professor – student relationship is changing.  This last point must be recognized.  Collaborative learning, as Tapscott argues, is changing power dynamics on both microcosmic (in the classroom) and macrocosmic (in educational institutions throughout North America) levels.  Instead of a hierarchy, classrooms and institutions will be more like communities, where power is shared and focused on serving the development of many individuals.  Communities value trust over obedience and authority, therefore, students develop a sense of belonging on their own terms that will ultimately serve others.  Ultimately, social media encourages community and communication because it is collaborative.

The Blog as a Unique, Collaborative Learning Tool for Student 2.0:

As pedagogy, social media is inherently experimental.  A blog is a good example of a type of social media which is empowering students to experiment and shape their ideas.  For instance, part of Dr. Sara Humphrey’s teaching methods is to allow students the option of doing a blog for a major assignment.  Many students jump at this opportunity and use it as a new way of exploring a literary text.  Since blogs are a dynamic way to express content, students can write blogs similar to essays and/or use different ways to present their interpretation of the text.  Aside from producing analytical content, students also design the blog, which enables them to unlock creative ways to express an interpretation.  We have provided a link to Dr. Humphrey’s own blog, “The Expendable Citizen,” below.  In this blog, you will find links to student blogs from Dr. Humphrey’s courses.  We are confident that you will be impressed!  The blog as a learning tool provided these students with a unique challenge.  Why is this relevant?  For various reasons.  The university is changing to accommodate social media on all levels.  The challenge faced by universities right now is to incorporate it in the undergraduate classroom, in order to introduce students early on to using it, exploiting it for its value to their studies, and begin to develop an inter-disciplinary communication network with students throughout their academic career.  Blogging as a digital media tool offers an introduction to an array of skills that helps students prepare for the future.  Many students agree that a blog can be a step towards a professional online identity since blogs can be used as an addition to a CV or resume.  Blogs may even function as a CV and such innovation is bound to encourage future employers that their candidate has unique skills ready for a digital world.  Ultimately, blogs and other digital mediums open up a new dimension for educational institutions to explore.  Digital media in the classroom is so promising because it encourages the five principles of digital media that Don Tapscott points out: collaboration, openness, sharing, integrity, and interdependence.

It is a whole new way being a student for a new age. The following resources offer examples of instructor’s embracing digital mediums in their teaching.

Dr. Diane Jakacki’s blog:

Diane Jakacki

Dr. Sara Humphrey’s blog:

The Expendable Citizen

Dr. Constance Crompton is a postdoctoral fellow at the Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory at the University of Victoria. She specializes in digital humanities, Cultural Studies, Victorian periodicals and popular culture, the literatures of transition (1880-1920), and gender studies. We have included her personal teaching philosophy on our site, as it expresses a particular exemplary opinion of digital media in the university setting.

Dr. Constance Crompton’s Teaching Philosophy: Dr. Crompton’s Teaching Philosophy