On Friday, January 31, 2014, Susie Ferrell and I attended “High Impact Practices: Interdisciplinary collaborations and creative connections,” an experiential learning conference at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). We presented on a panel entitled “DOCCs: The Dialogues on Feminism and Technology Project” along with Professor Liz Losh (UCSD) and graduate students Monika Sengul-Jones and Erika Cheng (both UCSD). This was Susie and my third time representing FemTechNet at academic conferences; and this conference certainly didn’t disappoint.
Participants in UCSD conference; photo by Jade Ulrich
This week Professor Alex Juhasz’s Feminist Dialogues on Technology class at Pitzer College and Professor Sharon Collingwood’s Gender, Sex and Power class at Ohio State University (OSU) attended class with OSU students, digitally…in Second Life (SL). Professor Collingwood teaches class every week in Second Life, but SL was new for the majority of students in Professor Juhasz’s class.
To prepare for this class, the students went through an independent orientation using Virtual Ability Island, an island on SL that is designed by people with disabilities for people with disabilities. There they familiarized themselves with SL, getting acquainted with how to navigate and interact with the space. They were asked to answer questions such as, A virtual exhibit has many ways of communicating its message. For example, it could put up big signs to tell you why you are there. That’s a pretty obvious way to do it, but there are also subtle ways of having an effect on the viewer. It could be something that you see out of the corner of your eye, it could be something that moves, it could even be something that you trip over. Has the creator included anything like this in the exhibit? What effect did it have on you? Following this orientation, Pitzer students began preparing for Professor Collingwood’s class by doing her assigned reading.
This week’s topic was Reproductive Justice. We read articles that included “Do Pregnant Women Have the Right to Refuse Surgery?” and “The Only Good Abortion Is My Abortion”. We also took a quiz offered by the Guttmacher Institute that tested our knowledge of sexual and reproductive health. When all of this work was done, the plan was that we would be able to participate in OSU’s digital class, along with the rest of Professor Collingwood’s students.
Sure enough, there were Pitzer students and OSU students, all sitting around a presenter screen with Professor Collingwood’s avatar front and center. On this research and teaching center within SL, known as Minerva Island, we were given the lesson plan for the class and eagerly awaited the field trip that we had been told we would be going on (to a women’s clinic in SL).
Professor Collingwood led a quick voice check, and eventually, most students got their microphones in order and were able to participate both visually and aurally. She began with a short lecture about the confrontation of women’s biology with traditional social structures. Then one of her students gave a fascinating presentation on cesarean births. This jumpstarted the Pitzer students’ involvement, and soon students from both classes were interacting with each other about the subject matter.
An hour flew by, and before we realized it, we were teleporting to the Slenz Midwifery Project, a birthing center that is inspired by the real life natural birth centers that are currently being built by the New Zealand government. Our students were in awe of the clinic and how much they learned about Reproductive Justice through this digital medium. I have already received enthusiastic responses from Pitzer students about their time within SL. FemTechNet seeks to bring students together, in dialogue, both physically and digitally, and this specific joining of two very different classroom setups speaks a great deal to the work that FemTechNet is doing to make its mission a reality, virtual and otherwise.
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.