Create a Social Media Newspaper

Recently in my Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Core II course at the Graduate Center, the class showed off their many gadgets – including many microphones and video cameras – but also new-to-me tech such as Jack Power’s fly pen and my Jennifer Jacob’s arduino. My professors, Chris Stein and Joe Ugoretz, also demonstrated the capabilities of their iPads. I was instantly fascinated by an app that aggregates information from your social media networks into a daily newspaper. While an iPad is still on my wish list, I was determined to find a similar product for PC users. Luckily something came through my Goggle Reader that linked to . Essentially, the program searches for twitter hastags or facebook mentions and organizes the results into the familiar aesthetic of an online newspaper. My first experiment, albeit unoriginal, was to create a newspaper for #edtech via my twitter account. Here it is:

I consider this to be very successful. The information is relevant, interesting, and easy to read. In fact, the first issue led me to this article on “The Future of Higher Ed” that is relevant to at least two projects I am currently working on in my courses.  However, even though it is free to use, it is ad supported, and the ads are less-than-desirable.  For a student like myself who is interested in a topic that is very current, this is an excellent research tool. It is similar to using Google Alerts or RSS feeds, but streamlined with a greater readability. I am wondering how this could be used in a my English and composition classrooms, or as a feature of an LMS/VLE…? If  you have some ideas or are already using a similar application please share your thoughts!


Androids as False Gods

This is the first in a series of movie reviews I would like to add to this blog. This was originially posted on the ITP Core I – Fall 2010 blog:

In his article “The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Christopher A. Sims argues that Dick’s representation of androids “registers its protest against the dehumanizing effects of individualism and demonstrates how technology can be used as a means to reclaim the essence of humanity” (67). Sims is standing directly against the work of Kevin McNamara, and also entering into a dialogue with the seminal work of Martin Heidegger “The Question Concerning Technology” written in 1954. While I disagree that the androids in Dick’s post-apocalyptic world re-enforce the strengths of human nature, I find the paradox itself to be a rewarding pursuit, especially in terms of Heidegger’s text. I also find the representation of androids in the novel to be significantly different than in the movie Blade Runner, and wonder if these differences encourage opposing conclusions.

Is the representation of the androids in Blade Runner, and the text on which it was based,  humanizing or dehumanizing?

This question is not only at the center of the criticism surrounding Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but it also identifies the anxiety that fuels fear of technology in science fiction. The question demands that both humanity and technology are defined as individual, separate and fixed terms. However, paradoxically demands they are defined in relationship to each other. The inevitable stalemate occurs when the audience accepts that both humanity and technology advance and evolve too rapidly and too unpredictably to contain in the confines of contemporary language. Heidegger’s answer to “what is technology” is a perfect explanation of this conundrum. We cannot define technology because we cannot experience the essence of technology – or technology that can be encountered among all technology – because we are “unfree and chained to technology whether we passionately affirm or deny it” (1). While Heidegger claims that technology is a human activity, Sims explores the idea that the use of technology is not exclusively human. Both authors agree that is it a means to an end. So, if technology can be defined as a means of control, then it necessarily CAN BE CONTROLLED. Clearly, this is not true when dealing with androids.

This is why the androids in both the film and the book generate fear. They cannot be controlled. This existence beyond human control is manifested in very different ways in the film than in the book. In the film, the androids that hold the most power are villainous. The super slick, stylized Rutger Hauer as Roy Baty  in Blade Runner is the embodiment of 1980′s economic, sexual and physical power. His mechanics make him super human. The existence of this android highlights what is lacking in humanity physically. He is better because he lacks the weaknesses derived from the natural human body . And he can be improved. What he lacks, which is the same in the book version, is emotion. However, in the movie emotion makes Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard a weak, awkward, average joe in last year’s trench coat. Throughout most of the movie Ford looks like a deer caught in the headlights of the future. He is pitiful, even when considering Deckard’s final triumph over Baty in the bizarre roof battle that is very inconsistent with the moral landscape of Dick’s book. I would argue that Ridley Scott’s androids are objects of desire because they lack emotion. Emotion is shown as weakness, almost a tragic flaw for the protagonist. This is dehumanizing, but in a shallow world of Hollywood values where heroism traditionally must exist outside the world of emotional attachments.

Dick’s book does not focus on Baty as villain. Instead, the direct counterpoint to Deckard in the text is Phil Resch, an android version of himself. In fact the book is filled with mechanical twins, a strange trope that exists in many of Dick’s works, most likely because his biological twin died in infancy. These doppelgangers are particularly significant when comparing Deckard to Resch and Iran to Rachel. Much like the movie version the androids reveal the physical inadequacies of humanity. Resch is a better bounty hunter, and Rachel is a better sexual partner. However, more disturbingly, the book version concentrates on the emotional development of these androids, and the emotional deterioration of the humans. In many ways the androids are more in touch with their emotional state than the humans. Deckard, Iran, and seemingly the rest of Dick’s society, must dial in their emotional state on their empathy box while the androids organically form attachments to humans and animals. At the conclusion of the book the reader really does not know what separates the machines from the humans. Ultimately, the androids are superior emotionally and physically.

Both the movie and the book are successful in creating fear based on loss of control. The humans cannot control the machines. The machines are no longer tools that humans use to control their environment. In the movie, this problem is solved through planned obsolescence. The androids will “die” in four years. However, in the book, the question of control is more complex. The colony of Mars where androids are a slave race serving humanity is a distant and unfamiliar place for the audience. In the limited view of the narrative the humans are controlled by machines, specifically the celebrity cult figures Buster Friendly and Wilbur Mercer. In my opinion,  the epicenter of fear in Dick’s work is his deconstruction of religion….and the truth is terrifying.

Academic Integrity 2.0

On Thursday, November 18th, I attended “How Should the University Evolve?: A Conversation About the Future of Higher Education” at Baruch College. Anya Kamenetz and Siva Vaidhyanathan debated the deterioration of higher education, and the conversation centered around economics. The inflated cost of both private and public universities, along with the emergence of for-profit colleges and online programs, sends students a strong message: You must pay for your education.  The economic structure of higher education leaves faculty members in a tenuous position. We are the gatekeepers of this prize, and we implement rigorous obstacles that our students must conquer to attain their goal. However, society rewards the result, not the process. This leads students to seek out ways to surmount these obstacles without meeting the demands of the coursework. They cheat. The digitization of the university has increased access to new modes of academic dishonesty, yet, as John Purdy discusses in “Calling Off the Hounds: Technology and the Visibility of Plagiarism,” it also provides faculty members with tools to detect plagiarism. However, academic dishonestly is not a result of technology, nor can technology solve the problem of plagiarism. It is our responsibility as teachers to foster an appreciation for the hard work it takes to attain knowledge, and to advocate for the widespread change that needs to take place at all levels of education to ensure that the next generation values learning.

Kamenetz and Vaidhyanathan argued over whether the digitization of the university is alleviating or inflaming the economic pressures facing both students and institutions of higher education. Kamenetz, the author of Generation Debt and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, was quick to suggest that online collaborative learning decenters the role of the instructor, eliminates the need for the institution, and eradicates the need for formal assessment, potentially fostering the desire to learn for the sake of knowledge, instead of a degree. Conversely, Vaidhyanathan, author of The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System, and The Googlization of Everything — And Why We Should Worry, rightfully defended the “sacred ground” of the university and praised its effectiveness throughout history. Both authors agreed that the cost of education in this country has changed the politics of matriculation and accreditation in our society. Everyone in the audience agreed that problems arise when students become consumers in the system of higher education. While many questions were posed by audience members, no one addressed issues of academic integrity in the new consumer driven education marketplace.  In my experience, it is clear that both students and their parents feel entitled to get what they paid for, and administrators are blithely facilitating the transactions even in cases where acts of academic dishonesty have occurred.

I have used both and Blackboard’s SafeAssign to intimidate students who may be inclined to engage in acts of plagiarism. In support of Purdy’s conclusions, I have found that these programs palliate potential plagiarism, but they do not prevent it. More importantly however, these programs can be a powerful pedagogical tool. First of all, they elicit a reaction and as a result, a conversation about cheating in the classroom. When I explain how these programs work, I am met with faces full of shock, disappointment, and sometimes anger. Unlike the example of Jesse Rosenfeld in Purdy’s article (309), my students do not consider the retention of their work to be a threat to their privacy (a subject of continued debate among faculties).  Instead, my students worry about getting caught for something the majority of them freely admit to doing on a regular basis; cheat. I have my composition students write exemplification essays addressing the need to restrict teenage technology use, and suggest using “cheating” as a topic to narrow their focus. In these essays student reveal stunning acts of academic dishonesty, and many of them admit to cheating at every level of education. One student described a group of fifth graders who cheated by writing answers in invisible ink and shining black lights on their notes during the test, while another divulged that they knew precisely how many words to change when cutting and pasting from Internet sources so that his essay would could not be detected by a Google search. Many students mention the use of cell phones to exchange answers, and most claim teachers do not care enough to monitor these actions. The most shocking example comes from this recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students’ papers” tells his story. In this article Ed Dante, the author’s pseudonym, reveals his extensive experience writing academic essays for “dispirit” students willing to pay thousands of dollars for a custom made paper. This harsh reality makes me sick to my stomach. I honestly believe that some students feel that by purchasing papers, they can claim ownership of that work. After all, they did pay for it, and as the author of this article claims, he provides more guidance and reassurance than their instructors. The three groups Dante mentions in his article, “the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid,” are the marginalized members of higher education. If what he says is true, and I cannot deny his validity, teachers do need to accept responsibility for the desperation of these students.

No detection program will ever be able to combat this type of academic dishonesty.  The only way to recognize that a student has not turned in original work is to get to know the student personally. This was my main argument against Anya Kamenetz’s online learning communities. I need to see my students physically putting words on the page. I not only ask them to write revealing narratives, but I request that they discuss their personal lives with me on a regular basis. I demand that all of my students learn each other’s names, engage in collaborative projects and peer review, and they read aloud in class. Some of these activities can be administered through the use of new social media sites and educational technology, but nothing can replace the power of human interaction These activities help me assess their communication skills, so that when a Whitman-esque musing on the fleeting beauty of a leaf in fall graces my Blackboard assignment dropbox, I know without a doubt the name attached did not compose those metaphors.

It is a combination of knowing my students on a personal level, and mastering modern technology that has enabled me to address academic dishonesty in my three years of teaching at the college level. For example, I had a transfer student in my 300-level Early American literature course at a private, four-year university turn in a paper on a philosopher we did not cover in our coursework. Because I insist that all students turn in electronic versions of their work, I was able to look up the ownership information on his Microsoft Word document, and found that the paper had last been modified by a female with the same last name. I also happened to know that he had a sister who was close in age, and through a simple Facebook search found that she was a philosophy major at a nearby university. (Thank you Mark Zuckerberg!) It is a mistake to blame technology for the rise in plagiarism. This student would have stolen his sister’s paper regardless of its physical form, and Ed Dante’s clients would find someone to write their papers even without access to online paper mills and e-mail. The important lesson here is to understand how and why students misuse technology, and to understand as teachers how to use the technology in order to teach students how to use these resources responsibly.

Yet, even that is not enough. In an online conversation concerning Ed Dante’s article, my fellow graduate student, who is in his first year of teaching composition, wrote:

Our big problem in the academy, it seems to me, is that we reprimand the students for responding quite reasonably to the economic pressures of society. We tell them to work hard according to our beliefs, and they will be rewarded. They look around and see this not to be true. So we punish them for trying to get around our process. As a result, they get better at fooling us, and we get better at fooling ourselves into believing our goals align with society’s goals. But, of course, they don’t. And students know that as well as we do. So do we change our goals and stop caring about the value of critical thought and education, or do we change society’s thoughtless valuing of quantifiable achievements? Or do we just try our best to affect the small sphere we personally influence and say everyone else–those who cheat, the world that demands cheating, so on–can fuck themselves? I’m not sure. The last option seems easiest. (Andrew Lucchesi)

To which I replied, “The last option seems to be the only attainable goal.”

Works Cited

Dante, Ed. “The Shadow Scholar.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 12 Nov. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2010.

Purdy, James P. “Calling Off the Hounds: Technology and the Visibility of Plagiarism.” Teaching Writing, ed. T. R. Johnson. 3 (2008). 305-324. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. Print.


This past weekend, November 12th-14th, I attended THATcamp New England . THATcamp is a humanities and technology unconference attempting to subvert the traditional academic conference model in remarkably rebellious ways. THATcamp is free. Free of keynote speakers, free of formal sessions, free of hierarchal labels, and free to attend. THATcamps take place in many cities all over the world, with the expectation that those interested in attending may do so with minimal travel and lodging costs.  THATcamp is extremely participant driven. Every participant is expected to propose a topic to tackle during their particular THATcamp. Some camps have a set schedule and some have a narrow focus, and yet others are extremely free form.  The 2010 THATcamp New England set up a blog where participants posted their session proposals in advance, and those proposals were then printed and voted on during breakfast the first morning.  The schedule was then created in a Google Doc that everyone accessed via their laptops, tablets, or cell phones, and edits were made until everyone was content.  This is another way THATcamp is able to keep overhead costs low; everyone brings their own technology, and they do not print out snazzy pamphlets or paper abstracts. However, participants do still get a nametag and t-shirt, along with breakfast, lunch, and snacks. These perks are orchestrated by the local organizers, who are usually students such as Lincoln Mullen and Stephanie Cheney, and are funded through grants from the Mellon Foundation and NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities). THATcamp New England took place at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, but the THATcamp headquarters is The Center for New Media at George Mason University  (the fine folks who brought us Zotero) and Amanda French is the coordinator (and my THATcampNE roomie).

The only pre-scheduled events at THATcampNE were the BootCamps.  BootCamps are essentially training seminars for humanists interested in learning technological tools. Fortunately, I received a $500 micro-fellowship to participate in these BootCamps (THANK YOU). This allowed me to attend a THATcamp outside my region, which was very rewarding because I was able to reconnect with people I met at dh09, as well as meeting new scholars who represent some of the most prestigious schools in the country (after all, this is Boston).  Also, I was able to hitch a ride with Lauren Klein, a student at the dissertation level of my program at CUNY. Our conversations in the car were extremely enlightening for me, and I thank Lauren for her guidance. One disappointing aspect of THATcampNE that was pointed out over Vietnamese food Sunday afternoon, was the lack of prominent senior faculty members from the Boston area. However, the participants did represent faculty, graduate students, archivists, librarians, instructional technologists, administrations, and many other alternative academic careers. The BootCamp instructors were extremely knowledgeable and well known in the digital humanities community. CUNY’s own Boone Gorges lead a BootCamp on Anthologize , his one-week, one-tool WordPress application. I attended a BootCamp session on “Introduction to Programming” led by Dr. Julie Meloni, a post-doc at the University of Victoria, who I know from the dh09 conference, and because of her prolific presence on twitter. I own @jcmeloni’s book on html and css , because I was one of the first five followers to tweet her one day.  Although reading papers or presenting PowerPoints is completely forbidden at THATcamp, Julie did use a slideshow to keep the pace of her 75 minute class.  The true genius of Julie’s BootCamp was her ability to approach programming from the perspective of a humanist. As Julie said in her session, “Humanities scholars are uniquely poised to ask the right questions on technology.” She explained the need for programming as a way of creating tools that “do things that take a long time or are difficult for humans to do,” and the need to learn programming language as a way to communicate with programmers who can help us create the tools we “need and desire.” Even as someone who has done some basic programming, understanding programming language in terms of semantics and syntax gave me a new vocabulary in which to present my ideas. Julie said to “ask the computer to act in a call and response way,” which for a professor of Harlem Renaissance literature was crystal clear. I also learned that in the ever changing world of programming, PHP and Ruby are currently the languages preferred in the digital humanities community. Julie’s concluding remarks: “What do we want to do? Figure it out, ask a programmer, then ask NEH for funding and chocolate.”

The next BootCamp session was Text Encoding led by Dr. Vika Zafrin, aka @veek, who happened to be my roommate at dh09.  As Vika clarified at the beginning, XML is not a language, it is a framework. The most important concept conveyed by Vika is that you can communicate any information you want through text encoding. Previously, I imagined the primary function of text encoding, such as OCR or TEI, to be searchability. If you have the word “madness” in a text, encoding that word would allow a user to find every text in a database or archive that contains that word. However, encoding text with empirical information opens up a world of theoretical possibilities. My example was to encode Jerome McGann’s A Rationale for Hypertext and code the name Tannselle with terms such as “author,” “male,” “textual scholar,” but also as “opposition” which would infer I as the encoder align myself with McGann’s side of this theoretical debate. This would enable a literary scholar to not only create critical editions of texts that are easily accessible and affordable, but also are annotated in a new space. There is quite literally a new layer to the text.

The Semantic Web was a thread that ran through all of my THATcamp sessions. As Wikipedia explains “Tim Berners-Lee defined the Semantic Web as ‘a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines.’ The key element is that the application in context will try to determine the meaning of the text or other data and then create connections for the user.” For me this holds the potential of connecting human-directed semantic tags, with image recognizing, and machine-driven tools. As scholars, this capability holds the possibility for real collaboration across barriers of geography, discipline, and profession. For example, in the first session of my THATcamp experience, we explored how best to support DH research. This session was driven by archivists hoping to crowdsource ideas on how to make their collections not only accessible to the scholars who need them, but also to connect their information to other archives and databases so that archivists and researchers do not unnecessarily duplicate the same work. The discussion turned to RDF, or the Research Descriptive Framework as well as OWL, or Web Ontology Language . Two campers took the stage, plugged a personal MacBook into the projector and began explaining how RDF works and possible applications for this technology in terms of archives and academic research. This is the perfect example of why the THATcamp model works so well. When a term or tool needs to be explained, someone steps in to demonstrate without insulting the audience or a presenter. However, significant questions were raised about programmatically discovering connections versus taxonomies and ontologies created by humans. What is trustworthy? How we do assess authenticity?  For instance, academic databases that have relevancy ranks and “find articles like these” buttons, create “fuzzy” connections between material, but novice academic researchers trust these connections. These results can lead the researcher to certain conclusions. However, as one camper pointed out, this is not just a technical problem; historians always have to question the authenticity of a source, examining its bias, trustworthiness, etc. This group then began to break into smaller groups interested in different aspects of this debate, another positive aspect of the unconference model.

THATcamp Sessions tend to follow a pattern:  first participants present ideas, then questions are raised about the role of technology or the limitations of technological tools and the access users have to the technology, which is followed by brainstorming solutions or sharing anecdotal success and failure stories relevant to the topic. I attended sessions on “The Book and Monograph Re-mixed,” “The Paperless Professor,” and “Information Overload.” You can follow the entire conversation on twitter here: . Twitter is an essential part of THATcamp. Most participants tweet key ideas and questions throughout every session so that those who are attending other sessions can stay informed, and so that the greater twitterverse can participate in THATcamp. As I am writing this blog post I am contributing to a conversation on composition and computation generating from the twitterstream of THATcamp Chicago.

I would like to wrap up by posting some of the questions raised in the session I attended at THATcampNE:

What can E-books do for us in the classroom?

Is having a paperless class punitive in institutions where students do not have equal access to technology?

How can we assess digital literacy in our students? How can we best address the needs of students who have never had access to information technology?

How do we address the needs of transfer students, continuing education students, and older faculty who do not have experience working with the digital tools that are increasingly becoming an integral part of higher education?

Do hypertext or multimedia research papers take away from writing and academic research skills?

What are the best tools for peer review?

How do we get other faculty members to accept and implement educational technology?

What is the future of the monograph? Will the monograph change in response to online scholarly journals and the creation of new digital tools? How will this affect the dissertation and tenure application process?

These are not new questions, nor are they easy to answer. However, I have a new perspective on these topics after participating in THATcamp. Thank you to everyone who was involved in making my first THATcamp experience a memorable one.