Instructional Technology

This page links to many of the course sites and innovative assignments I constructed as an Instructional Technology Fellow (ITF) at Macaulay Honors College. All of this material was developed in collaboration with the professors and students in each course, and with the brilliant support of Joe Ugoretz and the ITF team.

Seminar 1: Arts and New York City

Seminar 2: The People of New York City

Seminar 3: Science and Technology in New York City

Gardiner and Musto on The Electronic Book

Gardiner, Eileen and Ronald G. Musto. “The Electronic Book.” The Oxford Companion to the Book. Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H. R. Woudhusyen, eds. Vol. 1. Oxford UP. Web.

In defining the e-book, Gardiner and Musto write “The e-book is a young medium and its definition is a work in progress, emerging from the history of the print book and evolving technology. In this context it is less useful to consider the book as object-particularly as commercial object-than to view it as cultural practice, with the e-book as one manifestation of this practice” (164). I appreciate this distinction, because it directs the reader away from the now tired arguments about the e-book “killing” the print book. I continue to hope it is clear that digital publication formats are not replacing printed texts, however this fallacy seems to live on in both popular and scholarly debates. Gardiner and Musto’s definition highlights the effects of digital publication on the act of reading, rather than the physical objects (be in paper and ink or PDAs).

That said, this article also provides a history of electronic publish that while reliant on discussions of  medium, serves as a useful reminder that the digital book has been evolving for almost 50 years now. In fact the history begins with Vannevar Bush’s prophetic description of the Memex in 1945, and Ted Holms introduction of the term “hypertext” in 1965. An important date to remember is the “ Mother of All Demos” during which Douglas Engelbart demonstrated e-mail, tele-conferencing, videoconferencing, and the mouse. Gardiner and Musto note “[m]ost importantly for the future of the book, it demonstrated hypertext and introduced the ‘paper paradigm’, which embodied the current standard experience of a computer: windows, black text on white background, files, folders, and a desktop” (165). A convenient timeline of the history of hypertext can be found here: One interesting project on this timeline is the If Monks Had Macs: The choices in If Monks Had Macs … were prophetic: its metaphors of pre-print MS, early print, and marginal publishing not only introduced a new medium, but also set the intellectual and cultural paradoxes within which the e-book still operates: an essentially nonlinear, multiple medium that most readers and producers approach with the cultural apparatus developed for the *codex. It was also both retrospective and prescient in terms of production and distribution: like early print, it was produced and distributed outside the mainstream of academic and large business institutions (Gardiner and Musto 165).

Initially this project was on CD-ROM and is now housed here: (although many of the links are broken). Although there are a few significant projects designed for CD-ROM – including, but not mentioned – the American History Project by Steve Brier, Director of the ITP program at the Graduate Center, the invention of the World Wide Web vastly increased the prevalence of e-books.

With the growth of personal computers and the Internet came libraries of electronic texts. One of my favorite resources, Project Gutenberg, was the forerunner in this pursuit. It began with students typing in texts by hand (can you imagine typing a Victorian novel!!!???), but now uses OCR and currently offers 36000 free online texts in multiple formats. By 2003 almost all texts were born digital, even if printed for distribution and consumption. This shift led to the rise of dedicated e-readers (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader) and e-reading applications for PDA and mobile devices. Unfortunately, “[t]o accomplish this conversion, most enterprises relied either on automated digitization or on the low wages and long working hours of thousands of centres in the Global South (primarily in India), where an enormous new workforce could produce encoded text, images, and links. This raised ethical and economic issues that were virtually nonexistent for the print book” (Gardiner and Musto 166).

The potential of the e-book lies in what makes it different from the print book: hyperlinking and coding. As Robert Darnton described in 1999, the e-book is multilayered, giving the reader access to potentially infinite information as they interact with the text. I believe these capabilities should be the focus on scholarly debate at this point. Not if ebooks should be used for academic purposes, but how to improve digital texts to maximize their usefulness in scholarly pursuits. For examples, one of the drawbacks to e-books as I see it is inconsistent or non-existent pagination – mainly for the purpose of formal citation, although I question the relevancy of these antiquated models anyway. But this problem also affects the readers’ ability to navigate the text – it is difficult to go to a specific page or direct other readers to a specific passage when discussing the text in a group. Also, as famously proven in the ironic case of Orwell’s 1984, I have serious concerns about the ownership of purchased digital material through proprietary vendors such as Amazon, which can be rescinded without the permission of the consumer. But with these concerns come conveniences. More people have access to more texts. This is a point that should not be undervalued. And, the portability and adaptability of e-reading platforms means more people are reading more often. For use in academia, this gives students access to texts for all of their classes in multiple places (e-readers, cell phones, laptops, cloud storage) and all of their notes and marks are synced across platforms. One interesting development that I consider to have great potential is that these marks and notes can be shared – like picking up a used book and seeing what everyone else who has read that book highlighted and scribbled in the margin. In my Kindle version of John Dewey’s Experience and Education, one sentence is marked as “highlighted by 46 users” in the text. This helps novice readers and researchers understand the annotation process and presents reading a communal, albeit asynchronous, activity. These developments should not be viewed as a threat to the traditional book, they should be heralded as progress toward a more literate public.

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.