start a community node

How to Start A Community-Based FemTechNet DOCC Node in 10 Easy Steps

By Penny Boyer penelopeATpenelopeboyerDOTcom
August 2014

Community-based components are essential ingredients to the full FemTechNet ecology. These are activities and events that are preferably not based in academic settings; that are bound to a community or communities defined by geography, by interest(s), by any common denominator that binds them—even if that commonality is only a fuzzy understanding of what FemTechNet is.

¡Taller! gathering in September 2013, San Antonio, Texas, USA

¡Taller! gathering in September 2013, San Antonio, Texas, USA

Starting a node, or semester-long class session, of the FemTechNet DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course), is one of the best ways to really get your feet wet with FemTechNet. It’s easy to start a community-based FemTechNet DOCC node: It just takes a little courage, a little community and a small space with wi-fi.

Here’s how:

1) Come up with a clever name, use FemTechNet in it. Let it be representative of where you are geographically (e.g., in 2013, Mass FemTechNet was held in Northampton, MA, and FemTechNet ¡Taller! was held in San Antonio, TX).

2) Decide on a day and time to meet. Select a day and time to meet that works best for you and your community—one that is as free from consistent conflicts as possible. Consider evenings and weekends to fit with the workaday world. Most FemTechNet Videos are about 40 minutes in length, though some are longer. You should plan to meet for sessions no shorter than an hour and a half to allow for constructive conversation.

3) Find a place to meet. It should be free. It should be central. It should be fully-accessible. It must have reliable wi-fi. It would be great if it had an a/v set-up (screen and projector connected to pc hook-up). It should be free because you don’t want to have to charge your DOCC participants to attend the node. Following the FemTechNet community-based best practices, no one should expect to be paid or have to pay to participate in a community-based FemTechNet opportunity; it’s a plus if you can figure out a stipend for facilitators, including yourself, but please don’t be deterred if you can’t find such funding—just put yourself on equal level with your participants who aren’t paying for this experience/experiment. If you’re having trouble identifying finding a free site in your community, look harder—there’s one out there: Check out the library, schools (elementary through colleges), tech start-ups, artist spaces/galleries. Explain what you want it for, describe the institutions in the FemTechNet network (provide link); they are, after all, your national partners in this project. Be resourceful. Ask, and you may receive.

4) Set your schedule: [This is somewhat dated, as the “spine” has been discontinued. –Ed.]
Using the FemTechNet Video schedule as your spine, you have 10-weeks of pre-planned programming prepared for you. Just follow the video release schedule, one video per week—plan to screen and discuss the video each week just as all the other DOCCs are doing.

5) Consider finding a co-facilitator: You don’t have to do this alone. Find a feminist friend or a faculty member at a local school whom you admire. Make a prioritized list of such possible people and invite them one by one to take this adventure with you. If they say no, ask them instead if they could join you on this journey by being a co-facilitator for one session only and match them up with an appropriate weekly theme (Labor, Wikistorming, Sexualities, Race, Bodies, Difference, Place, Systems, Games, Archive, Transformations). Hopefully by doing this you will not only have identified a partner-in-crime for the full 10-week DOCC, but also you will also have some invited guests to help lead specific, themed sessions—if you’ve really done your job right, some of these guest co-facilitators will be true local authorities on given themes.

6) Gather your group: Use your social media skills to round up a diverse group of participants. Start a website for your node—Facebook works fine for these purposes, but you could build your own. Use the website to entice folks to your meetings and to disseminate details about each week’s suggested readings and upcoming video dialogues. The website should also be used to explain the FemTechNet Learning Tools; at least provide this link to them. It can also serve as a repository for general interest FemTechNet-themed postings you think might be of interest to your group: FemTechNet Content (see the FemTechNet Digest on Flipboard for ideas).

7) Publicize to reach a broader public. Write a simple press release. Send it to any media contacts you may have. Who knows, you might land a cover story in the local free paper like San Antonio did http://sacurrent.com/news/femtechnet-hopes-to-revolutionize-sa-s-higher-education-possibilities-1.1553684. Great way to get a more diverse group.

8) Share FemTechNet’s weekly reading lists with your community on your website; they are found here. Many of these are open source materials, available online for free, with additional information in this list. [These lists have not been updated since the amazing Penny Boyer did this work in 2014. –Ed.]

9) [Also discontinued. –Ed.] Each week, a FemTechNet nodal instructor from one of the colleges and universities presenting the DOCC will hold Open Online Office Hours (OOOH!) Anyone participating in any DOCC anywhere may attend. Encourage your participants to take part in this portion of the DOCC; instructions are online here. During the course of the semester, FemTechNet may hold special Town Hall meetings online for the entire FemTechNet community; encourage your node to participate in these events.

10) Become familiar with the FemTechNet Key Learning Projects found on this website. These are projects you will want to share with your participants throughout the course of the DOCC. All have easy to follow instructions and can morph into personalized projects or group exercises. Intersperse these throughout the course of the DOOC. Be sure to keep the last one, “Gift Exchange” for the last session, but remember to start that project earlier because participants need to make their gifts for giving.

Lastly, do little things for your node: Consider bringing snacks or having participants share snack-bringing; have a pizza night perhaps.

Following these ten steps, you should be set to have a wonderful FemTechNet node underway.

Following are some insights about how the 2013 FemTechNet community-based DOCCs worked.

As mentioned, FemTechNet took place outside the academy at two locations in 2013: at FemTechNet ¡Taller! in San Antonio, TX and at Mass FemTechNet in Northampton, MA. There, the DOCC was based inside communities, not on college campuses, not on computers, not even in coffeehouses. They met in community spaces with free Wi-Fi and shared all the DOCC tools—same syllabi, same video dialogues, same activities, same online community. Participants were not matriculated students; instructors were not salaried faculty. Finally, there were no formal obligations to the project as there were no grades or responsibilities to the project.

For FemTechNet ¡Taller!, some thirty women (and men) met at Geekdom, a digitech startup space in downtown San Antonio, over the course of twelve weeks. Participants ranged from stay-at-home and working moms, to PhDs working at cultural nonprofits or in academia, to practicing artists and undergrads from community colleges or local universities. They were a mix of Latinas and Anglos.

A Feminist Mapping Project about female public art parity in San Antonio was collaboratively conceived and conducted by Taller [workshop] participants. Another successful tactic was the invitation of local co-facilitators including theme-related artists, community leaders, and professors for about half the sessions. Disappointingly, these guests generally did not attend any of the Taller sessions except the night that they co-facilitated, but many took their night seriously by preparing a presentation that went beyond FemTechNet’s “suggested syllabi” and connecting it closer to the San Antonio community. Particularly memorable sessions included Dr. Merla Watson’s presentation on “Place” and Dr. Cortez Walden presenting Gloria Anzaldua’s theory of transformation during the final DOCC session.

Mass FemTechNet, held in Northampton, MA in the heart of the Pioneer Valley’s Five College area, met weekly with a core group of six participants ranging in age from 22-45. Of the two recent college graduates, three current PhD students, and one PhD, four worked as teachers, researchers, or librarians, five identified as women, one as trans, at least two identified as women of color, and at least five identified as queer. Everyone had significant experience with feminist theory, and interests in technologies including Tumblr, online surveillance and security, access and accessibility, library practice, film and media art, and sociological methods.

According to a report by Stephanie Rosen, the Mass FemTechNet facilitator:

“We had very productive conversations about Wikipedia-editing and feminist mapping…and one member of our group became interested in mapping the access barriers to FTN readings. For the final object-making project, we ended up creating a zine together.”

Rosen noted that Mass FemTechNet formed a solid intellectual community as well as several friendships that have carried beyond the course, including involvement in post-DOCC FemTechNet committee work based on their own experiences. For example, they have spearheaded a push for greater accessibility of the FemTechNet videos and readings for all participants, world-wide, by advocating the use of open access publications and audio/visual accessibility tools.

Not all community engagements were held face to face: One community-based version of the 2013 DOCC happened in Second Life on the Ohio State University virtual campus. It was led by avatar Ellie Brewster (aka Dr. Sharon Collingwood) at the Ada Lovelace Library in a place called Minerva.

Finally, self-directed learners who tuned in globally during DOCC 2013 could follow FemTechNet’s video dialogue release schedule and syllabi from participating institutions from a designated sector of the FemTechNet Commons website, or respond to content on an interactive FemTechNet Google+ site.

These engagements continue to be central to FemTechNet. The DOCC’s online and open to the public Town Hall meetings, Speaker’s Bureau, Open Online Office Hours (OOOH), and FemTechNet Digest on Flipboard are all community engagement components now underway with pathways for self-directed learners provided on FemTechNet.org.

Have fun FemTechNet-ing!

 

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