Last weekend, Susie Ferrell and I represented FemTechNet at the Reclaim Open Learning Symposium at the University of California – Irvine.
The Reclaim Open Learning contest invited innovators whose work embodied the principles of connected learning to submit their work. We applied for this Innovation Contest over the summer, and we were thrilled to hear that FemTechNet was one of five winners selected from around the world.
We are proud that FemTechNet is working from a place that aligns with these connected learning principles, makes use of open-access and open-license technologies and business models, and involves students as leaders and partners in innovative learning (such as learner-created projects). Our application stood out in the way that FemTechNet incorporates digital resources and practices in novel ways, presents an alternative to the MOOC, and most importantly, is a work in progress that is adapting to the emergent practices of our learners as we go.
Jade Ulrich (L) and Susie Ferrell (R) by the poster announcing their winning proposal to support their FemTechNet projects.
The two-day event really kicked off with a bang. The keynote speaker dialogue included scientist, artist and strategist, John Seely Brown, and Amin Saberi, a professor of management science, computational and mathematical engineering at Stanford, and now CEO of NovoEd (a MOOC startup). They discussed questions such as: where are we in the MOOC hype cycle, and does it matter? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of online and offline interaction for learning?
That evening, Susie and I had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with the rest of the winners. This informal space allowed us to hear more about the amazing projects of the other winners. Fellow winners included DigiLit Leicester, Digital Storytelling 106, Jaaga Study (based in India), and Photography BA Hons and Phonar-Ed (based in the UK). It was a great experience to get to network with these educators who are doing work so different from FemTechNet, but within the same frame.
Of particular interest to me was the Digital Storytelling course. It is based on the notion, “a domain of one’s own.” It connects registered students and open participants (like our Self-Directed Learners!) in an ever-evolving online community where they submit, complete, and collaborate on assignments in writing, mash-ups, design, video, audio, and other media. The course lives online as a live-streaming radio station, a sub-reddit, a G+ group, and Twitter feed. There are many parallels to the pedagogy of FemTechNet here, but with a vastly different academic focus. Reclaim Open Learning managed to pull together a highly diverse group of projects, which nevertheless share similar principles of connected learning.
It was particularly exciting to see that FemTechNet is not just talking the talk, but walking the walk: Susie and I were the only student winners. I think this fact speaks very highly of FemTechNet’s efforts to encourage strong leadership amongst its students. I would like to think that despite the fact that Susie and I are both still undergrad students, we represented FemTechNet in the best possible way.
If you are interested in seeing the panel that Susie and I were on, here is the link.
by Anca Birzescu, Doctoral Candidate in the School of Media and Communication, Bowling Green State University and volunteer working with Femtechnet/DOCC2013
After reading several articles that introduce the DOCC project, students at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Ohio posted on Canvas their answers to the question “So what is a DOCC and why are we in it?”
The student postings reveal the diversity of lenses through which they look at the DOCC concept, their views on technology, feminism and education, and at the same time the sheer excitement with which they embark on this novel learning journey. It is of utmost importance to bring into discussion the feedback provided by students enrolled in the current DOCC, since they are the main stakeholders in this feminist enterprise. Their readings of what the DOCC stands for stressed a range of interests and expectations with regard to the goals and objectives of the DOCC.
Being aware of the different systems of inequality/identity markers that obstruct knowledge acquisition and discriminate among different types and levels of knowledge in such process, students highlighted the value of information access and information sharing provided by a DOCC environment:
“What an unfortunate truth that gender, economic status, or geographic location have such an impact on the level of options available to retrieve historic/current event information.[…] The benefits of this type of format is the vast bank of knowledge through instructors, students, and libraries, and the ease of sharing this information. This format encourages the sharing of information and ideas while still focusing on local relationships.”
Students also emphasized the patriarchal ideology circumscribing the Internet and the possibilities for resistance and challenge to this status quo that may arise in a DOCC context. One of the students thus wrote:
“Patriarchal views of the internet and how it is used have hindered discussion and dialogue on feminism, sexuality, race, and gender. In this DOCC, technology will be viewed through a feminist lens. I am also excited about the “Wikipedia Storming” that will take place. Being able to effectively improve the accuracy and increase the prevalence of feminist works will further expand peoples’ knowledge and awareness.”
Collaboration—as a challenge to the top-bottom approach to education perpetuated currently by the MOOCS, inter-disciplinarity, and active learning, were other recurrent features/qualities mentioned by students in regard to the nature and goal of the DOCC educational project. In this sense, one student wrote that
“DOCC also allows the use of technology to our advantage to collaborate with other individuals from different institutions, unlike MOOCS, which are primarily created for individual institutions.”
Another post explained that:
“DOCC allows numerous institutions, instructors, and students to gather and collaborate on a specific topic, while also allowing the course to be individualized by each instructor at each institution. Each week, there will be a highlight topic across the entire DOCC and then each unit of the DOCC will focus on the topic at hand through a separate syllabus. This type of course offers an incredible wealth of knowledge, as it is taught and discussed by a broad range of individuals.”
Always emphasizing collaboration, students showed thus their interest in a feminist approach to education:
“The DOCC is a free flowing collaboration of support and knowledge that is working to open people’s eyes to feminism in a technology focused world. We are in a DOCC to help spread knowledge that others have been shielded from or have ignored. When you work alone, your message is never usually as strong as when you are working in a collaboration.”
Likewise, one post pointed that:
“The goal of the collaborative course is to get input and feedback from many different users and institutions. Why is this beneficial? This makes the course much more diverse than it would be with just one institution or the course being under just one instructor. DOCC’s are the new alternative to MOOC’s which were massive online courses. The problem with these is that they were branded by just one single institution. With using just one main institution it could be a bit more bias in a certain direction or could only attract a certain type of user which could eliminate the diversity that is needed in a collaborative course.”
Yet another student emphasized the learners’ responsibility in the act of learning:
“These courses allow for a broader area and sense of interaction. The students share the responsibility of addressing and supplying material and discussion in this class. With the technology and ability to mass communicate it allows perspectives and participation an essential part of this course. A mass audience (students) brings people together to focus on the similarities rather than their differences.”
Students showed excitement about the new possibilities offered by DOCC:
“In this course we will interact with many different Universities and we will have the opportunity to work with a student from a different university on our artifact project. We are “in it” in order to broaden the possibilities of the thoughts that will be provoked, and also to break away from the typical layout of an online course that lies just within one university.”
Their answers also revealed students’ appreciation of diversity of viewpoints in the act of knowledge acquisition implicit in a DOCC context:
“While the course specifics vary from the different instructors from each university, the overall collaboration abilities of this course allows you to tap into different viewpoints and information from a number of different people. I think that with that in mind the ability to take in a multitude of viewpoints from different areas of the country allows us to gain a better understanding of the topic at hand. This broader view is the main reason why we are participating in this style of learning.”
The customizing potential of the DOCC—not possible in a MOOC environment— was also highlighted by students:
“We are also going to use skype as a source to have one on one times with the instructor, which is greatly going to help keeping up relations with the students.”
Another student similarly wrote that
“The goal is to collaborate and educate on a particular topic as a whole yet also allowing the instructor the flexibility to structure their virtual classroom syllabus.”
Last but not least, the collaboration versus top-bottom approach to education was clearly emphasized in several posts, which also revealed students’ articulate perspective and awareness of the challenge represented by the DOCC in the current context of neoliberal education politics:
“One of the goals is to allow an environment of learning, training and information exchange to a broader group of underrepresented, including women and economically struggling communities worldwide, while maintaining a more personalized and collaborative approach to teaching and learning. It is an honor that BGSU is one of the few universities participating in this groundbreaking method.”
“[DOCC] allows for students and teachers from various schools to create a course where they all can contribute to the topic of Dialogues on Feminism and Technology. DOCC is different from MOOC (massive open online course) due to the fact that DOCC is not branded by an elite institution. It involves many institutions and the work is distributed through participants from various networks, which causes more diversity.”
“There are multiple reasons why the MOOC was not seen as a suitable option, one of which being that MOOC’s are generally for profit at some point down the line. The size of the courses within a DOCC are also much smaller so that there is more discussion between a smaller group of people at multiple universities.”
On Thursday morning, September 19, Professor Alexandra Juhasz’s Feminist Dialogues on Technology class held its first Wiki-a-thon. As the Teaching Assistant for the class, I coordinated the event. Coming together at 9am, the class of ten organized themselves across the room. For three hours, we diligently worked on a diverse array of Wikipedia pages.
One student, who was working on professional female athlete’s pages, remarked that she was surprised how much of the information on some of the pages was inaccurate. She promptly got started on correcting these errors. The students quickly learned how to add citations to pages, and how to reference their sources. In only a few hours, students made dozens of corrections, drafted pages for women without Wikipedia pages in their sandboxes, and, most importantly, people were enthusiastic about the Wikipedia editing process.
Partway through the Wiki-a-thon, students began collaborating amongst a bounty of Trader Joe’s snacks. People started pairing or teaming up, as they were working on similar projects. One student recommended an archive of women’s history to a small group that was searching for sources, and many helped each other out with the technical questions that arose from editing Wikipedia. This organic collaboration and teamwork reminded me a lot of FemTechNet’s purpose.
FemTechNet’s feminist pedagogy supports connected learning that effectively links different areas of knowledge and ways of learning. I observed this Wiki party in a different way as a TA than when I participated as a student new to the project last spring, I was happy to see connected learning principles come to life. The atmosphere of the room was open and curious, while at the same time, rigorous and focused.
When noon rolled around, students were reluctant to leave, apologizing that they had to get to their next class. A few students stayed well into their lunch period, excitedly planning how they would move forward with their Wiki work. Thanks to this Wiki-a-thon, a young, fierce Seattle-based female rapper will soon have a Wikipedia page that showcases her career and work. Thanks to the work of one of our students, the Miss Saigon page will have a more balanced representation of the political controversy that is quickly gaining notice. In a relatively short amount of time, ten students got serious work done.
The students will continue their Wikipedia work for a couple more months, choosing to focus their efforts in areas that specifically interest them personally. When it comes time for each student to submit a reflection on their work (these will be posted on the FTN Commons, by the way), I have no doubt that their contributions will be hugely inspiring.
In a recent grant application that I wrote on behalf of FemTechNet, I noted: “FemTechNet involves students as leaders, offering them the unique opportunity to help shape the direction this project takes (they are given the option to serve on designated planning boards, alongside faculty), be creative in their coursework (by way of open-ended projects), as well as incorporate their work into widely utilized resources (i.e. Wikipedia).” I can proudly say that FemTechNet continues to stand by these inclusive and welcoming values, as a student TA who witnesses young undergrad students integrating their scholarship into huge repositories of knowledge such as Wikipedia.
The Distributed Open Collaborative Courses and their learning projects, especially the activities around editing Wikipedia, have received a fair amount of coverage over the last month, in online news, blogs, and video.We have collected the Media Mentions that we know about here.
To ensure that all of us involved with FemTechNet provide consistent and thoughtful responses to inquiries about our work, the Steering Committee wrote these talking points over the weekend of September 7-8.
On Wikipedia editing, collaboratively or collectively creating knowledge, and “Storming Wikipedia”
All Wikipedia editors are guided by the “neutral point of view” policy, one of Wikipedia’s three core content policies.
*Neutrality in editing entails understanding and communicating the full range of a debate or discussion on a topic.
*As the Wikipedia page on “neutral point of view” notes – “Wikipedia aims to describe disputes, but not engage in them…As such, the neutral point of view does not mean exclusion of certain points of view” – this means that responsible editing includes representing feminist perspectives.
All Wikipedia editors are similarly bound by the other two core content policies “verifiability” and “no original research” *Consequently, the editing that is part of the FemTechNet effort is not an “injection” of individual opinion or bias, but an effort to more fully represent existing knowledge on a range of topics, including, but not limited to the lives and works of women.
The Wikipedia community itself recognizes their problem of system-wide bias, both in terms of contributors and content. They note: The Wikipedia project strives for a neutral point of view in its coverage of subjects, but it is inhibited by systemic bias that discriminates against underrepresented cultures and topics. The systemic bias is created by the shared social and cultural characteristics of most editors, and it results in an imbalanced coverage of subjects on Wikipedia.
The FemTechNet community takes seriously the need to learn about and engage with the Wikipedia community *We worked with well-established Wikipedians during the pilot phase in Spring 2013.
*Now in the official launch phase, we’ve had the good fortune to have Wikipedians create training videos for the group and lead a summer workshop for all of the instructors.
*We are actively engaging with the Project Feminism Wikipedia community, as well as with others. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Feminism
The FemTechNet effort to help transform Wikipedia content, culture, and community is not about publicity. It is about engaging in the creation of knowledge in ways that are responsible and governed by feminist principles, including equal representation of all cultural and social groups.
*One of five key learning projects, the Wikipedia activity is a concerted effort by a critical mass of feminist thinkers to improve the scope of Wikipedia.
*The Wikipedia activity aims to teach critical media literacy to our students, useful for everyone who engages with the Internet and other information sources, independent of political persuasion.
On feminist pedagogy in institutions of higher education:
Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) as an academic field in higher education in the US has been in existence, and engaged in substantive intellectual pursuits, for 45 years. *While there is disagreement about the role of feminism(s) in GWS, as in any area of inquiry, these debates are often productive for new scholarship.
*In the US, there are over 700 departments/programs in GWS; ~50 master’s degree programs and 15 doctoral programs. See https://www.nwsa.org/
Feminist scholarship is interdisciplinary, intersectional, global and comparative, deriving methods and ideas from many fields and movements. *The scope of feminist studies is broad, including scholars in many other disciplinary areas. In other words, GWS approaches are used in STEM fields, history, sociology, etc. Comparisons across disciplines also enrich the field.
*Saying that feminist scholarship is intersectional means that social systems (like educational institutions, for example) as well as personal interactions are complex; any analyses of them must include issues of race, class, sexualities, and gender, among other identities, to approach understanding of past and present conditions.
*Feminists have been actively engaged in settings all over the world, from the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, to the Asian Women’s Studies Congress, to the Federation of South African Women, to name only a few efforts.
Feminist teaching and learning—which, of course, is related to scholarship—connect with lengthy traditions of intellectual freedom and educational alternatives: taking a stand, respecting diversity, democratic processes, expanding possibilities.
*Online, face-to-face or “hybrid” courses are in the news as methods of content “delivery” are in development, along with the means to fund/support them.
*The Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC) being offered in Fall 2013 at 16 institutions is a feminist rethinking of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). We intend to contribute to the larger conversation about educational equity and excellence.
*We are thinking about and developing strategies to work within, across, and with attention to difference, place, and privilege.
*Whether our students are feminist or not, and regardless of the different ways we professors are feminists, or teach feminism, we are introducing our students to a lively, thoughtful, complex, lengthy, and self-critical body of knowledge about technology that asks them to think about their own role in its history, production, and analysis.
FemTechNet’s first Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC), “Dialogues on Feminism and Technology,” will launch in fall 2013 as a result of experimentation and BETA course implementation in spring 2013 at University of California, San Diego, Bowling Green State University, and Pitzer College. From January to June, 2013, several feminist scholars ran BETA courses, “Dialogues on Feminism and Technology.” Each course helped work through key elements of the DOCC 2013.
Alex Juhasz offered a course at Pitzer College which was taught in tandem with Radhika Gajjala’s course at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). “Feminist Dialogues in Technology” was a Women’s and American Culture Studies course offered by Radhika Gajjala of BGSU in Ohio and Alex Juhasz of Pitzer College in California during spring 2013.
The BETA course offered students and faculty the opportunity to participate in collaborative university learning by taking advantage of various digital platforms, including the Sakai student portal at Pitzer, Facebook, Vimeo, and Google+ Hangouts. This course emphasized key issues in Feminism and Technology within the context of American culture, Globalization, and Media Studies. Students explored gender and technology through 11 themes including: TechnoFeminism, machine, body, archive, labor, difference, systems, place, race, sexualities, and transformation. As part of each theme, students collaborated by writing responses, producing keyword videos, contributing to Wikipedia, and creating crafts representative of the 11 themes for further connection and conversation. Christina Gayheart, a BGSU undergraduate student, said “the course was exciting because, though each school had a separate classroom, we worked collaboratively to further our understanding of Feminism and Technology; furthermore, the course explored a wide array of teaching mechanisms to offer variety. In many ways, I think the professors learned as much as the students did in this course.”