Play, Failure, and Challenging Systemic Bias

Noted psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott famously stated, “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self”(Playing and Reality, 1971).

As students and educators, many of us have experienced the power of play in the classroom. Even a 10-minute game of jeopardy to revise concepts before an exam instantly lifts the vibe in the room. Participation increases manifold, as do processes of peer-to-peer learning.

In this week’s blog post I wish to discuss the following:

1.Why play based pedagogies? How is it connected to learning?

2. Critical considerations when using play/game based pedagogies

(Picture Credit: Asap Science,

The use of play in an educational context and for purposes of learning and development is often referred to as play or game-based pedagogy. A related concept, though not entirely synonymous, is experiential learning. What these approaches share in common is a shared belief that games offer scenarios within which users make meaningful choices and explore how these choices have
consequences within a game world (Hanghøj, 2013).

As Salter (2015) has described, there could be various places to start our journey of incorporating games into the classroom, ranging from using preexisting games as a case study for analysis to developing a game together in the classroom. Her examples illustrate innovative ways in which instructors in creative writing, history, and communication have incorporated games in the classroom. This blogpost on the CUNY Games network is another resource that gives us an overview of types of games used in the classroom, and their relative pros and cons.

Playing is closely related to creativity (as is self-evident in the gorgeous NetArt project and Michael Barnson Smith’s GIF).  It fosters imagination and ideation, which in turn can lead to innovative thinking and improved problems solving (Bateson, 2014). Beyond the output, gaming can help foster the creative process itself. Smale’s Game On for Information Literacy is a great example of the same.  

In the previous post, Ming examines the power of games to foster social connections and promote engagement in the classroom. Adding to this list, I wish to describe how games can also teach us how to fail, yes FAIL! Dealing with disappointment, learn from mistakes, and to persevere is a crucial life skill. Games are designed such that for the player failure is always a possibility, although its consequences are not as severe as in real life. Failure in gaming thus creates a constructive learning condition. The player must accept its inevitability and persist till they master the set of tasks necessary to achieve their next goal (Whitton, 2018)

Faculty often discount playing as “childish, frivolous or inauthentic”. As the above discussion and our readings demonstrate, these assumptions are misled. They ignore the ways in which game-based pedagogy promote embodied, social, and creative ways of deep engagement with knowledge. My colleagues in organizing and corporate training spaces are much more appreciative of the value of play in learning. I would love to hear your thoughts on where you think this resistance towards play in higher ed comes from? What does it says about our epistemological assumptions of knowledge? What are existing assumptions of how effective knowledge transmission happens- for whom, under what conditions?

Play based pedagogy: critical considerations.

Previously, we read Bejamin’s (2019) work on systemic bias coded into algorithms and technology. The same can be said of gaming as well. Whether it is motivation driven by extrinsic reward such as collecting money, weapons; survival -of- the- fittest type war games where you must kill your opponent using violent and gory means; or buying your way into extra privileges (and you thought candy crush was innocent, huh?). These are only a few examples of how consciously or unconsciously, gaming replicates neoliberal, patriarchal, White supremacist logics. The upholding of heteronormative assumptions and the sexist representation of female characteristics with extra large breasts or damsels in distress has been quite disturbing for me personally.

The gaming industry itself is fraught with problems. Lack of representation of women, unequal pay, sexual harassment, and toxic work conditions characterized by labor exploitation, layoffs, and poor benefits, are some of the problems facing the industry, according to the Guardian. (Suggested watch – Episode on problems in the gaming industry on The Patriot Act by Hasan Minhaj on Netflix) I would be curious to hear your thoughts on how do we factor in these realities when designing a lesson using games?

Additional Prompts for discussion:

1. In what ways have you encountered “play” in the classroom- both as a student and instructor?

2. Would you like to share any “learning moments” while facilitating play? Moments you felt challenged, awkward, confused, or simple wished you had taken a non-play based route?

3. What are mindful, critical practices of introducing play in the classroom?


Benjamin, R. (2019). Race after technology: Abolitionist tools for the new Jim code. Cambridge: Polity.

Hanghøj, T. (2013). Game-based teaching: Practices, roles, and pedagogies. In New pedagogical approaches in game enhanced learning: Curriculum integration (pp. 81-101). IGI global.

Salter A. (2015). Lessons from Teaching with Games. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed online via

Whitton, N. (2018). Playful learning: tools, techniques, and tactics. Research in Learning Technology26.

Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and reality. London: Tavistock Publications

Making Art and Playing Games as a Community

I want to start my provocation by quoting what Michael Branson Smith mentioned in his “CUNY is You, Me, Everybody”:

“I like to think of the early users of the CUNY Academic Commons as a group not unlike “the band”. And the people that built the Commons as the Blues Brothers. But most importantly the orphanage, they were trying to save was, is CUNY.”

Michael Branson Smith

This piece inspired me to focus on how making artwork and games using digital tools can form strong communities of people who are originally not related in any aspects. Such learning communities can be either online (e.g., the Net-Art course, or DS106), in person (e.g., game-based learning in the classroom, or professional development workshops in the library), or both (e.g., CUNY Games Network). I’ll approach this week’s materials and readings from the following two angles:

  1. The power of digital art to bring people together;
  2. The power of games to engage students in the classroom.

The power of digital art to bring people together

Though the “aura” of the work of art has been lost in the age of mechanical reproduction as claimed by Walter Benjamin, art is deeply embedded in human’s co-constructed memory. It enables boundary-free communication among people who speak different languages and come from various cultural backgrounds, and it also gives them infinite possibilities of self-expression. Emerging as a new artistic form, digital art has its unique attraction to people.

Looking at Michael Smith and Ryan Seslow’s work on animated GIFs, either the nostalgic feelings brought by the Vaporwave style (e.g., “Ufologist was my morning meeting” by Michael) or the philosophical reflection on self-identity brought by the visual metaphor (e.g., “The Accountability of One’s Reflection” by Ryan), the connotations of their artwork crawled into my thoughts quietly without redundant explanations. Needless to say, the power of art gets even stronger now in this digital era, with the assistance of the internet and other digital technology that allows art to persist through time and space.

More importantly, making digital art brings people together. Through forming learning communities online, such as the Net-Art course for digital art and DS106 for digital storytelling, art creation is no longer behind closed doors, but through the process of opening tabs in the browser and making connections with people. Exhibition of artwork doesn’t entail organizing a French art salon anymore but uploading .JPEG, .PNG, or .GIF files to any online forum in seconds. Art education is also accessible to everyone within a “clicking” distance, with hundreds of tutorial videos, work templates, and art assets at hand. Within these online learning communities, students of all levels, faculty members, alumni, community members, and affiliates interact with each other, collaborate in art projects, create personal portfolios, and share artistic pieces. Additionally, these online communities of art host, exhibit, and archive artworks, creating an unstoppable art flow that refreshes itself every day. Given this reality of art creation and pedagogy, I would like you to think about the following questions:

  1. How do you like Michael and Ryan’s animated GIFs? In your opinion, do glitches, looping, and Vaporwave elements incorporated in their GIFs have symbolic meanings? If so, how would you interpret them, and are they related to a common theme in this digital age?
  2. How do the online learning communities like the Net-Art course or DS106 challenge the traditional power structure in the field of art education? Also, comparing the art creation, exhibition, and sharing practices in the Internet era and the time before, what has changed, and what hasn’t?
  3. Can you envision a way or two to bring art creation, exhibition, and/or sharing into your teaching practices or your discipline in general? If so, how would you make that happen?

The power of games to engage students in the classroom

As someone who is very interested in games and their application in the classroom, I am fascinated by the power of games to engage students. Educational games are the chocolate over broccoli, “luring” children into learning something they originally had no interest in. Besides, as stated by Robert Duncan, students can get instant feedback from games which makes “just-in-time learning” possible, and given their entertaining nature, games are also an ideal tool to assess players’ cognitive ability or biomarkers in a natural setting (Mandryk & Birk, 2019), let alone some games have built-in adaptivity mechanic, which boosts measuring precision and efficiency. 

In the fall of 2019, I was lucky enough to participate in a workshop focusing on game-based learning organized by CUNY Games Network (this workshop was an important part of Pedagogy Day that year). During the workshop, Joe Bisz amazed me with his What’s Your Game Plan activity, and in the group work session, our group created an educational game to be used in the undergraduate classroom (unfortunately, I can’t think of the details of that game now) by drawing a card from each of the Lesson, Mechanic, Action, and Game deck.

However, I wasn’t going too deep to explore the numerous possibilities of using this game-brainstorming activity in some other disciplines. Maura’s writing on “professional development for library instruction” reminded me of one charm about games: their innumerable modding possibilities. That’s also why creating a game is so much fun since any changes of any game element(s) (e.g., “mechanic” and “action” as used in Joe’s activity) will change the dynamic of the game substantially. With that being said, I would like to invite you to think about the following prompts:

  1. Have you used any games, either computer games or classroom games, in your teaching practices? If not, which game or what kind of gamified materials would you like to use in your teaching? 
  2. Anastasia Salter’s work on game-based teaching introduced several ways of utilizing games in the classroom creatively, such as asking students to write about games or make ARGs to practice storytelling. What are some other indirect ways of using games or game-relevant materials in the teaching of your discipline?
  3. Maura has demonstrated a way to modify the What’s-Your-Game-Plan activity in a librarian professional development setting. How would you modify this game-brainstorming activity to suit your instructional practices?


Mandryk, R. L., & Birk, M. V. (2019). The Potential of Game-Based Digital Biomarkers for Modeling Mental Health. JMIR Mental Health, 6(4), e13485.

Final Presentation Prompt

What you will need to complete Core II

  • Present your project for 10 minutes (including time for feedback and Q&A) on Zoom answering the following questions: 
    • What is the project?
    • Who is the audience for the project?
    • What open questions do you need to answer to move forward with the project?
    • And including…
      • Some sort of artifact related to your project
        • A site map/wireframe, showing how your project will be laid out on the web (like an org chart showing which pages will be on the site) OR
        • A model for your project (like Wikipedia, but all about cats) OR
        • A design scheme (showing you’re thinking about the aesthetics of your project) OR
        • A module, lesson plan, a prototype…
  • On May 3, we will provide a sign up for you to select May 17 or May 24 for your presentation

You do not need to turn anything in beyond your doing your presentation. Luke and Lisa will be available for feedback via Zoom by request til June 17.

What you will ultimately need to present to IS Advisor (these are guidelines, but not deliverables for ITP 2)

  • A concise description of your project
  • A bibliography of references that place your project in scholarly context
  • A timeline of when you will hit key benchmarks in the project
  • A clear sense of the platform options you have for realizing your project
  • A clear sense of the skills and support needed to complete the project on time

provocation- to search or not to search

Is there an alternative to Google?

This week’s readings provided a spectrum of the different ways we can analyze digital technology and ethics.
When analyzing digital technologies, we need to include the importance the influence of the biases around tech that are being shaped by men who exclude women and non-whites. I appreciate Noble’s take on how the web is an extended arm of white supremacy, capitalism, heteronormative and hegemonic beliefs. Highlighting how we take for granted and ignore the way the normalization of whiteness and maleness in the domain of digital tech influences us and capital motives by elites. Both media and schools are both concerned with the power of ideas, thus “the films, music, magazines, music videos, television shows, and images and produced by the global entertainment, advertising, and news industries present color-blind racism as natural, normal, and inevitable” (Collins 102). Thus, it is important we push and question our relationship to technology. McMillian touched not his in their article “Teaching Technology: Tressie McMillan Cottom on Coding Schools and the Sociology of Social Media, “
our social networks are shaped as much by things like class and gender and race as they are by our personal interests”. I focused a lot on Nobles reading because I think it is important to not take for granted Google as a main search engine that is biased and influenced by powerful elite groups. The web has been embraced by all age groups and as a tool for networking and exchanging knowledge. It is a main source to many for information and knowledge which shapes the way we see the world and choosing what to ignore. The ways Google reinforces hegemonic narratives and how the web is inevitably white and catered to the male gaze is something to consider when we think about how influences our interactions. It is being used as an extension to maintain capitalism and its belief in this neoliberal age we live in.

Is community control technologies the way to go the way the SPARC article suggested?

Digital Ethics: Preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

The title refers to a sentiment made famous by Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park about the dangers of unleashing scientific marvels upon a world not ready for them.  The example dramatizes a point about sought-after scientific wonders and the unintended consequences of their proliferation.  This week’s readings dealt with the ethics of our digital world and the problems society continues to reconcile.   

The key concepts that I will be discussing are:

1. The alien nation felt in the different socio-economic and age strata

2. The unseen bias within the “algorithms” and Surveillance Capitalism

3. Building digitally ethical infrastructure

John B. Horrigan’s Digital Readiness Gaps gets to the heart of a significant problem within the digital landscape: navigating through a society with an increasing digital dependency.  When you examine the pew research center data the divide in age and affluence is striking.  Anecdotally I relate to the lived consequence of the study.  My mother who lost her warehouse worker job of 50 years (before the pandemic) was a woman over 50 who was as analog as they came.  She started looking for jobs and became aware that the world had gone and changed since she last found her job, which was done simply by a personal reference of someone who worked there.  She would call me on her smartphone (one that I set up for her) and ask me to register on job sites. She simply has no ability to understand the digital process, nor was she inclined to learn.  Eventually she obtained a job with a different company in the same warehouse she worked. Every single admin procedure was automated through a digital service.  Again I acted as a liaison between the company and my mother.  This relationship now dominates our interactions.  Trying to teach her how to use the apps and website to navigate her new job’s admin portion proved too difficult.  Ultimately I found myself navigating through all of the digital hurdles while she happily continued her analog existence.  In the end my mother simply could not overcome the fear of pressing a button. The surprising aspect of this example is the slow process in which it occurs.  Currently I find myself in the “cautious clickers” demographic. I find myself looking at technology not fearfully, but exhaustively.  As one the last generation who existed before the digital explosion I find myself at the precipice of knowing the digital fundamentals of antiquated digital technology. As I age  I find myself becoming hesitant and wary of technology.  Slowly a creeping dread of inadequacy and foreignness grips you. The newest app or piece of tech simply becomes more inaccessible not just for lack of ability, but due to lack of time, need, or patience to learn. While there is a sense of inevitability to it, one wonders if one can remain engaged with the ever-quickening pace of digital advancement.

Question Cluster 1: Do you think there is, in general, an age that eventually leads an alien nation to technology that can not be overcome? Will this happen to this first generation born in a wholly digital age?  Is access to digital literacy the answer to preventing the gap in readiness to persist in the future? Or is the eventual alien nation felt about technology an inevitable phase of decline in human adaptability?

Another issue that the readings engaged in was the murky transparency and ownership of ubiquitous digital technologies.  In Google Search: Hyper-visibility as a Means of Rendering Black Women and Girls Invisible by Safiya Umoja Noble examines Google and, more closely, Google search engine to discuss the hidden bias and normalizing effects of search engines.  Google’s search algorithm is the cornerstone of their digital empire.  This highly guarded secret makes it difficult to understand how the Google search algorithm returns the results, but it does give insight into what others are searching. Safiya, to a highly effective degree, uses the example of the search term “Black girls” to show how the Google search engine expresses how “hegemonic discourses about the hypersexualized Black woman, which exist offline in traditional media, are instantiated online as evidenced by [the] discussion of search results in Google.”  The image displaying the highly sexualized results is alarming.  The keyword search results were taken on September 18th, 2011. They returned 140,000,000 results.  For curiosity’s sake, I search the same term on April 23, 2021, and was pleasantly surprised at the change in theme on the result page, as the top result was  Another change was the number of results return. Within approximately ten years, a 2764% growth in the number of results returned, from the previous 140 million to the staggering 3.87 billion.  Does this mean the algorithm has become less misogynistic?  One can only hope because, as the article describes, Google functions “as the dominant ‘symbol system’ of society due to its prominence as the most popular search engine to date, and through its market dominance.”  The problem with trying to answer the question about Google’s algorithm is the lack of transparency associated with it.  Its intrinsic economic value makes it difficult to gain access to its code and the infrastructure that surrounds it.  That infrastructure is 

Question Cluster 2: Given the enormous impact that Tech companies, such as Google, have on society, should their privacy supplant our need for accountability? In other words, given that these search engines monetize their constant observational power of the user, should their tactics be completely transparent?  Is it possible to shift the large mechanisms already moving within these large capitalist structures?  Would complete transparency be enough or have these digital tools become too large to move away from?

The final issue to talk about centers around alternative digital spaces/infrastructure.  In the SPARC Roadmap for Action, one of the most direct points made in the 32-page document is “any movement towards true community control of infrastructure will require institutions to be willing to invest in digital infrastructure with the same commitment as they currently invest in physical infrastructure.”  Another aspect of this statement is the understanding that the current infrastructure is tightly controlled, mirroring society’s inequities and biases that create these digital tools.  Algorithms are particularly harmful to the belief that they are inherently objective and thus safe for usage. Still, the feedback loops that adjust the algorithm behavior are often too fast to control.  The Community Action portion of the document lays out the practical steps in creating infrastructure alternatives to commercial solutions.  From building from scratch to acquiring existing assets, the need for resources is vital.  I wonder if the inherent need for capital resources makes it more challenging to produce alternatives. Like many times before, we are forced to depend on individuals’ charitable side, many of whom have made fortunes within the current infrastructure. It seems contradictory that someone who has compiled the resources to build an alternative would do so. 

The SPARC document lays out the steps needed to generate an alternative infrastructure that embodies the egalitarian ideas that the internet and the digital world were meant to usher in. We have been living in an inflection point of history.  Not since the industrial revolution has society been asked to adopt a new wave of life. Let us end by returning to the sentiment of the post’s title. Are we going to marvel at our technological wonders and not seriously consider whether or not we should continue down this road that improves material existence at the cost of magnifying and multiplying ills that technology is meant to solve?

Question Cluster #3: I have brought individual philanthropy to be a contradictory approach in funding alternatives. Does this mean that we can only rely on the government/or the public sector to create a digital infrastructure that is community-controlled?  Is it possible to completely disregard the financial aspect of infrastructure indefinitely, which may conflict with communitarian ideals of the digital space?  

Down the Rabbit Hole: what are the stakes, sorts, & sites of digital/info literacy? (provocation)

I was excited for this week’s readings on digital/info literacy as a teacher and as someone who works in adult literacy, where the stakes of these questions are very high. Unlike k-12 or undergraduate education, the only baseline our students meet before they enter into our program is taking an exam to assess their reading, writing, and math. This exam is created by the Data Recognition Corp and can either be taken on the computer (which DRC prefers for instant demographic and scoring info shared with them) or on paper. Because of the age range of our adult students, differences of national origin and subsequent schooling, and computer accessibility, we chose paper and these considerations in incoming students digital literacy is reflected in their classes as well. I bring this up because considerations on digital literacy can mean very different things depending on the site of your work and the populations you work with (i.e. digital literacy probably means something different to you if your job is to help people with HRA applications online).

Focusing a bit more on the content of our readings, in the adult literacy classroom’s I’ve been in the last few years, it has been a real challenge to moderate conversations with the heavy dissemination of conspiracy theories, fake news, and pseudoscientific information because of what student’s have engaged with online. “Informational hubris,” is something I often encounter and this over-estimation of our ability to navigate the internet can lead to a lot of struggle over basic premises in the classroom. 

I am a huge advocate for close and critical reading, but agree with many of the pieces we’ve read that these analytic tools cannot be the main training and response for students and non-experts to detect disinformation, as written about in “Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole,” “4 Steps Schools Need to Take to Combat Fake News,” and the challenges stated in “The Black Box Problem.” As an educator, I agree that students are often taught, either explicitly through a digital literacy curriculum or implicitly through modeling from their teachers that, as Michael Caulfield tells Charlie Warzel, “you’ll get imperfect information and then use reasoning to fix that somehow. But in reality, that strategy can completely backfire.” 

I’ve witnessed this strategy background in many of the observations I’ve done in the adult literacy classroom (in writing, science, and social studies classes) where a teacher will be engaging in a meaningful lesson about taking sources critically only to be surprised when students still uphold sources that confirm their ideas at best, or worse, information that is (deeply) factually unfounded. 

A few years ago I went to a series of trainings at Facing History & Ourselves, an organization that does social justice oriented curriculum development, school workshops, and professional development. When I went though, I had some difficulties with the workshop. While many of the historical case studies used were great pieces to bring into classrooms, the facilitator seemed hard-pressed to throw in as many words around information literacy as possible, making slippery comparisons between confirmation bias, implicit bias, biased sources, and bigotry. After the workshop I spoke to her at length, where she explained that the whole organization was struggling with their central mission of creating lessons that address racism, anti-semitism, and prejudice historically, and their financial needs. The schools that hired them for workshops wanted them to talk about “bias”— biased news, biased sources, biased attitudes, and how to combat that, easily in a few hours. The close reading exercises for media literacy were supposed to be about detecting the bad apple of “bias” and what students often came out of the workshop is something along the lines of “everything but Nat Geo is biased one way or another.” With the directive from the schools and the “language” that was both safe and popular for seemingly progressive educators seeking out these trainings, the Facing History staff were still trying to figure out how to shift from conversations about bias to the values embedded in different pieces of media: political values, social values, values around information accessibility and sourcing, etc.. The market the facilitator talked about was one I was reminded of this weekend in the NY State mandated workshop on Dignity for All Students (DASA) for NY state certified teachers. In the 6 hour workshop, every conversation about “difference” was followed by how to cultivate school climates of kindness for bullying, bias, and harassment prevention. 

This treatment of media/information literacy is often about the glitch that Ruha Benjamin articulates for us where, for students, the “glitch” is that they “accidentally” clicked on the fake news, uncredited forum, or biased article. This accident or glitch obscures that tech companies have a financial interest in giving white supremacist, transphobic, sexist, pseudoscientifc, and violent content movement and easy sharability on their platforms and students need transparency on this. And while I agree heavily with the advocacy for lateral reading and Michael Caulfield’s prescription that (for the average person), “Whenever you give your attention to a bad actor, you allow them to steal your attention from better treatments of an issue, and give them the opportunity to warp your perspective,” there is also huge algorithmic risk as the uncredentialed, racist, pseudoscientific, or other sources of disinformation will be increasingly advertised to you. Those risks, of what happens when media literacy doesn’t also focus on the social and infrastructural conditions that information proliferates in, as (Ruha Benjamin highlighted) Christina Sharpe tells voices for us her book In the Wake: On Blackness & Being:

“In the United States, slavery is imagined as a singular event even as it changed over time and even as its duration expands into supposed emancipation and beyond. But slavery was not singular; it was, rather, a singularity—a weather event or phenomenon likely to occur around a particular time, or date, or set of circumstances. Emancipation did not make free Black life free; it continues to hold us in that singularity. The brutality was not singular; it was the singularity of anti-blackness.

Singularity: a point or region of infinite mass density at which space and time are infinitely distorted by gravitational forces and which is held to be the final state of matter falling into a black hole. (Merriam-Webster Online)

In what I am calling the weather, anti-blackness is pervasive as climate. The weather necessitates changeability and improvisation; it is the atmospheric condition of time and place; it produces new ecologies.” (You can read more here).

While I agree heavily with curricular frameworks on lateral reading and SIFT, I wonder about how we as educators navigation attempts at ideological neutrality of information/digital literacy curriculums. Additionally, even these don’t address the complicated ways student’s get information. Here are a few:

  • A friend who is a HS biology teacher has been trying to develop a curriculum around pseudoscience when she realized her students primary Covid and sexual health information has been gained through TikTok. 
  • According to a recent study done by the Anti-Defamation League: “Our data indicate that exposure to videos from extremist or white supremacist channels on YouTube remains disturbingly common. Though some high-profile channels were taken down by YouTube before our study period, approximately one in ten participants viewed at least one video from an extremist channel (9.2%) and approximately two in ten (22.1%) viewed at least one video from an alternative channel.2 Moreover, when participants watch these videos, they are more likely to see and follow recommendations to similar videos.” 
  • For anyone navigating the internet, there are deep issues with both user’s data, privacy, and consent being exploited, and issues of data as a public good, freedom of information, and the need for it to be accessible to oppressed communities as highlighted by Data 4 Black Lives and in their Open Letter.
  • Besides navigating the internet in informed ways, we know especially during remote learning that reliable internet access is not equally distributed and many low income students struggle for access.
  • Accessibility on the internet also means different things depending on the user’s abilities. Digital literacy could also be connected to something like a campaign to make sure all images has alt text, all videos have captioning, etc.. 

I am super excited to see what ya’ll bring to the table re: your own educational and work spaces. Any and all responses are welcome and I am looking forward to seeing whatever stood out for you in the readings.

If you are looking for a question to structure your response, some things I am curious about are:

  • What values and topics need to be central to a digital/information literacy curriculum (For everyone? For you?) This will probably not look the same for each student age-group, or each discipline. What about for yours?
  • If you teach, in what classes do you teach would a module on digital/information literacy be most meaningful?
  • Depending on your institutional teaching home, is there a particular location that should be responsible for digital/info literacy? For example, in an imaginary world where these sites could receive extra funding, would it be your school’s Teaching & Learning Center, the IT department, the library, etc.. 
  • How would you evaluate a good or well-rounded digital/info literacy curriculum? Is it multimedia based, does it culminate in a research project, a quiz or test, and art project, is it group-based, or something else?
  • Do these workshops happen at the schools you’ve taught? What have you witnessed; what do you think of them?
  • Should the standards you’ve suggested be university/school/district wide? Or should departments have control with their digital/info literacy curricular formation and dissemination?

Provocation: Digital literacy and Vulnerability

When I initially sat down to write this provocation, I came up just a little blank. Of course students need to learn internet and information literacy. Of course we’re coming up short. Of course we see inconsistencies among students, implying that people across the socio-economic spectrum have different levels of access to web literacy. To put it bluntly; I struggled to come up with an observation (or a provocation) that wasn’t just reinforcement of the fact that fake news is bad.

So, I arrived here. I want to address a few separate issues here. My hope is to come up with questions as I write down my thoughts.

  1. The issue of human vulnerability
  2. The question of internet literacy, academia, and pedagogy
  3. The unspoken systemic issues at the heart of the disparities in the above

I also want to note that, although I don’t focus on it here, I was deeply interested in the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. I want to draw attention to it despite my lack of direct engagement.

1. These readings overwhelmingly focus on a nexus of problems that the internet presents its users, but don’t substantially unpack why users are so vulnerable to those problems.

In college, I took a course about thinking, judgement, and decision making. This class, ostensibly about psychology, functioned as a crash course in the fallibility of human thought. We call these fallibilities “heuristics,” a term laden with a sort of delightful irony—the word ‘heuristic’ comes from the Greek εὑρίσκω, which means “I discover” or “I find.” It shares a root with “eureka.” At their core, heuristics are cognitive short-cuts developed over millennia of evolution. In a certain way, heuristics are brilliant, incredible facets of the human mind. They allow us to make effective decisions and judgements in as little time as possible. Yet, these heuristics in no way evolved to manage the onslaught of information that we encounter in the contemporary age.

When I think about that class in conjunction with this week’s readings, I first think my professor, Barry Schwartz, who made a name for himself giving a series of TedTalks and lectures about the paradox of choice—the idea that the more choices people get, the more paralyzed they become. I think about the fact that the sheer quantity of information—the sheer volume of sources on the internet—renders our ability to discern between sources inert. There are simply too many options; the human mind must be overwhelmed or paralyzed. So, how do we resolve this paralysis? Unfortunately, I suspect that this is where other heuristics come into play. Confirmation bias and the availability heuristic seem to be the most likely candidates. The former pushes us to choose sources that support our existing beliefs, and the latter pushes us to overestimate the likelihood of certain events or ideas based on our personal attachment or memory of them. Pile on the backfire effect (wherein people react to evidence that undermines their beliefs by clinging more firmly to those beliefs) and the self-relevance effect (wherein information that pertains to ourselves and our beliefs is more easily retained than information that is not immediately relevant), and we have a perfect storm of impossibility.

In other words, even given internet literacy, it is incredibly difficult to overcome the cognitive biases that help us make choices, retain information, and establish beliefs.

2. Given this, I found myself perseverating on the impossibility of teaching effective internet and information literacy; we’re essentially attempting to override cognitive short-cuts that are hard-wired into our brains. On the one hand, we absolutely should be teaching children how to spot problematic sources or sources that exploit cognitive biases. On the other, there’s something so tragically cynical about the fact that we have to teach young children to approach all information with skepticism rather than wonder. Of course we should be using systems like SIFT (effectively a heuristic itself) to simplify the process of identifying legitimate and misleading information.

When I teach my students how to write a paper, I devote two weeks (at least) to source finding and research. I walk them through the differences between an academic source, a news-source, fake news, blogs, opinions, and so on. I expect them to learn the difference between spurious and legitimate sources, but I also find myself cringing a little at the implications. I seem to be placing the onus of truth and truth-finding (and thus, in a way, the act of “constructing authority”) on my students rather than on the world at large.

My immediate response is that I hope to live in a world where people care about the information they absorb. That is, I do think that digital literacy is essential—but I’m not sure what the difference is between digital literacy and critical thinking. In other words, I find myself wondering what the difference is between digital and text-based literacy. I find myself suspecting that when we talk about one, we’re essentially talking about the other. Obviously, the modalities and methodologies are different (a tweet is not a handwritten note, after all, and a painting has a different provenance than a doctored or stolen photo), but the sense of it is the same; applying critical thinking to the information we absorb.

3. Finally, I want to briefly address the fact that, although one of these readings discussed race and socio-economic factors in coding and digital artifacts, none addressed the gap in digital literacy across the socio-economic spectrum. I am not an expert here, but I do want to draw attention to this lacuna.

Across the board, research has found persistent disparities in digital literacy across socio-economic strata. Lower-income students, for example, are limited to less expensive devices that do not enable simultaneous tab examination, leading them to engage deeply with only one source at a time rather than a broad spectrum. Likewise, internet access is inconsistent in lower-income households—a fact that has become aggressively apparent during the pandemic

danah boyd, a researcher at Microsoft and visiting professor at NYU, noted in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review that “The internet is reinforcing already existing structural divides.” That is, new technologies amplify extant problems, especially in situations where parents don’t have the literacy (digital or text) “interpret what’s true and what’s not. They don’t even necessarily have the critical apparatus to ask the right questions about what they see” (reading this quote, I find myself asking what the “right” questions are, anyway).

So, given all these thoughts, I find myself asking a few questions:

  1. What are the heuristics (or mental short-cuts) we use when sifting through the massive amount of information online?
  2. When you think about the way you interact with the internet, do you encounter feelings of abundance? Paralysis? How might digital literacy engage with each of those feelings? (I’m aware this is a “bad question”—a biased one. I still think it’s important.)
  3. Is digital literacy different from text-based literacy? Different from critical thinking?
  4. 4. How much responsibility do we have in generating plans for literacy? How much responsibility do our students have in reproducing or producing information?
  5. How can we close the gap in literacy across the socio-economic spectrum? (This is, I suspect, unanswerable—but if we could dream/dare/etc., how might we BEGIN?)
  6. What are the results we want to see in such a plan?
  7. Finally, who is digital literacy for?

Provocation: Science literacy for all.

Hi all,

I am really excited to help lead our discussion on “science literacy and pedagogy” two broad topics that I am personally very interested in.

In this post I will:

  • Talk generally about why I think today’s topic is important
  • Highlight pieces of each of the assigned materials that stood out to me
  • Provide questions for us all to think about together

Why is science literacy important? 

Science literacy is important. The effects of scientific work are felt by everyone. 

As we have talked about in previous classes, science is not as cut and dry as it is thought to be. Scientists are human beings with internal biases that can not be fully controlled for. The products of scientific studies, even when peer-reviewed, are biased products. But these built-in biases are only dangerous if you do not know they are there. Improved science literacy allows you to see past what is presented to you and start to envision how the authors got to that point. Why did they do what they did? Does this result help them in any way? Is there any way that something else could be true?

We can think of this in terms of something we have all dealt with: superfood health fads. Every so often a new superfood will pop up. Through news feeds, pop articles, and shows like Dr. OZ, we will be fed an idea that this new food can cure all our problems. Drink one glass of ginger water every 3 hours and lose 50 pounds! Blend spinach into your morning smoothie and learn a new language!

What do all of these fads have in common? Why does there seem to be a new one every few months? The common trend is very simple: humans desperately want an easy solution to our problems. Think of how you would feel if there truly was a magic potion that would allow you to instantly accomplish something astounding. Scientists are humans, scientists also want a magic potion. When you really want something to be true, it becomes a lot easier to start to believe that it is.

Scientific results should be thought of as a tool, rather than directions. As a society, we need to get better at questioning what is presented to us in productive ways.

Thoughts on assigned readings:

Next Generation Science Standards

Science affects all of us, even those who do not pursue scientific careers. It is important that we try to instill a basic understanding of scientific methods in everyone. I think it is common to think of science as a stagnant field. What more could there be to learn? When you were first learning about science you may have been shown black and white images of men in lab coats, mixing chemicals. Science is still moving forward. Each field is continuously making their own advances, some of which allow for the creation of improved methods to be used by others.

As science itself grows, it only makes sense for science education to grow to reflect it. Additionally, as science pedagogy evolves, it is imperative that the most beneficial techniques are actually applied.

Engaging Students in Authentic Microbiology Research in an Introductory Biology Laboratory Course is Correlated with Gains in Student Understanding of the Nature of Authentic Research and Critical Thinking

A peer-reviewed article!!!

It is becoming increasingly clear that success in the current-standing format of introductory STEM education is not based on student knowledge. There are many many outside factors that play into the success of junior-level undergraduate students during their first few semesters. Namely, the academic status of a student’s family members. One huge barrier to success in early undergraduate STEM education is the presence of, what we can call, soft skills. Things ranging from “how to email a professor” and “what are office hours/how to use them” to things like “how to manage your own time”. Not all students begin their undergraduate careers with knowledge of the academic world. To some having to learn all of these skills on their own, in addition to taking 4-5 classes, is catastrophic. If we want students to succeed at the beginning of their careers we need to reassess how we approach introductory education.

Racism derails our attempts to save the planet

First, I would like to restate the Toni Morrison quote that was included in this piece by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: “The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.”

This was true in 1975 and it is true today. Like every aspect of society, racism and ignorance have a disheartenedly solid relationship with science. There are countless examples of racist ideologies being used as grounds to either perform (or fail to perform) experiments.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson highlights that with issues like climate change, those who are most affected by climate changes are also the most likely to attempt to make a positive change. But, thinking of Friere, how can we expect the oppressed (those who directly suffer from climatic changes) to dismantle oppressive systems (a society that is not making the decisions necessary to fight against the harm that has already been caused to our ecosystem) while they are being oppressed.

Science Senses

I really enjoyed this video series. As far as accessibility goes, I think that short, clear videos posted online (specifically to youtube) are amazing resources. Considering the shortfalls of a transferred-to-online education, more and more students are looking towards open access educational videos on youtube to supplement their learning (i.e. Crash Course). This opens the door for students to continue to search online for educational materials, potentially leading to watching videos out of curiosity instead of necessity. So, in short, easily-digestible educational resources posted online act as a gateway into openly science-curious people.

Guiding questions to move forward:

Can you think of an example of utilizing “science senses” in your daily life?

How can we tackle common misconceptions about science?

How can we work to improve science literacy for all?

Is science pedagogy different from pedagogical practices in other fields? 

PROVOCATION: What is science and how do we do it?

I have to start this provocation with acknowledging how exciting it was to see resources supporting the ideas I’ve been working with for years. The AAAS’s “Vision and Change” guide on undergraduate biology education is actually something I’ve read back when I was in undergrad when I was working on a project to rewrite lab curriculum. The research paper “Engaging students in Authentic Microbiology Research…” was also a great read because not only was it a format of paper I felt comfortable reading, it was a great example of the research going on in pedagogy. As we’ve talked about many times in class, it’s really hard to get more senior professors on board with new pedagogical techniques. When it comes to scientists, who KNOW research is constantly reviewing, critiquing, and putting forward new theories, having pedagogical research in a research paper format with statistical analysis they’re used to is really important to push these pedagogical techniques forward in the field.

The most accessible parts of this week’s reading were the Science Forward videos and the Washington Post article, so I assume that’s what most of you engaged in and connected with. One of the moments of these videos that made me cringe was hearing about “numbers sense” and how you can’t do science without math because math is “the language of science.” While math is used frequently in science, it’s typically simple math that you repeat a lot, so once you get used to the calculation, you do it all the time. Obviously statistics are a huge part of research, but as a PhD student, I haven’t ever been required to take a statistics course. Everything in science is about collaboration and asking for help from labs who are more experienced. We do that with statistics as well. We show our data to experienced statisticians and ask for help. Considering so many people place themselves in the box of either “math people” or “creative people,” I think opening with the idea that you need to be good at math to do science was odd to throw into this video about public engagement in science.

Science is constantly changing, and the foundation of science is that there are multiple theories, and we’re always working to support our theories. The public perception can sometimes be that we’re just “changing our minds” all the time, but really, we’re updating our ideas. In any other field, like history for example, as we learn through storytelling or finding old primary sources, we start to realize how marginalized groups have made major contributions that have been erased by the majority who write the textbooks. We have to update history. We also have to update science. My research topic specifically focuses on a protein, called APOL1. This protein protects us against infection by a parasite called the African Trypanosome. The trypanosomes have evolved to outsmart our immune system, with a few species that are able to now infect humans (causing African Sleeping Sickness). Humans evolved back, and there are multiple variants of APOL1 that will protect you against these other species. However, this comes at a cost. These specific variants cause you to be more likely to develop end stage kidney failure. African Trypanosomes live mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, meaning people in Africa/people of African descent are more likely to have this variant that protects against more species of parasite, and therefore have the variant that is associated with kidney disease. This all comes with a huge caveat: that this one small variant in this one protein does NOT mean an individual will absolutely have kidney disease, there are many, MANY, other environmental and genetic factors. However, this science has been manipulated, because it hasn’t been communicated properly, and it’s often the foundation of the argument that “black people are more likely to have kidney disease” that is all over the medical field. It’s critical for scientists to continuously update our language and theories to match the current world we live in, in order to build that trust between scientists and the public, and to prevent these biases from continuing to persist. 

Confirmation bias was described in the Science Forward video as how we accept the information that conforms with our world view. Based on this research paper I read last semester, the authors describe how people tend to form ideas based on what they perceive to fit into their group’s belief system. I think this definition is really important because it outlines the requirement of a diverse team of science communicators who can communicate science to their communities with the cultural competency to ensure that the information is passed along in a way to fit their belief system.


What science do you see in your day to day life? Do you ever think of yourself as “doing” science? Based on the definition from the Science Forward videos of “asking questions and making hypotheses and testing them,” do you “do” science? 

How do we strike a balance of encouraging people to be skeptical of science but also to trust scientists? We always say scientists are “peer reviewing”, but is that accessible to the general public?

My PI (principal investigator aka “boss”) always says “we never confirm a hypothesis, we test it.” How do you feel about the way science is designed to always be changing? Does that impact your ability to trust it? Does that make you trust it more? Do you perceive science to have this ability, or do you see it as stagnant? 


Some of my favorite science communicators on social media that you should follow!

Raven the Science Maven, generally awesome content on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, but, here’s a song about antibodies to the tune of Body by Megan Thee Stallion 

KizzyPhD, one of the amazing scientists behind the mRNA COVID vaccine

Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS, an incredible science communicator who frequently posts very thorough explanations of COVID tracking, vaccines, treatments, etc.


I really appreciated learning about the resources and reading the articles on open access education. I had never used Open@CUNY prior to this week and I was amazed at how thorough it is. I will definitely share it with students. While reading and going through this week’s materials, I kept thinking about their relation to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and particularly about how Open Access affects individuals from  different roles within academia and people outside of academia. Certainly for students, Open Access textbooks are a “godsend.” In theory, the same can be said for professors who want their students to read certain books or articles without restriction since OA/OER lifts the financial strain that serves an obstacle to learning. However, as Leslie Chan points out the economic conversation (e.g., cost models, etc.) are overshadowing the conversion about OA’s core principle of free access to knowledge. The costs of production are not something that can be totally ignored even if authors and universities are happy to make their research and books free to access. Chan states that “the irony is that while Open Access was supposed to improve the two-way models of knowledge access and dissemination, what we are seeing is that some models are creating new divides. For instance, these days, many OA models are now requiring that the authors themselves pay the (often exorbitant) fee to make their work openly accessible. The problem with this model is that it is simply re-solidifying the status quo, even more restrictively” Having authors pay exorbitant fees is certainly problematic for the democratic production of knowledge, it is likely to alienate any who cannot afford to share their knowledge. However, according to Peter Suber “most peer-reviewed open access journals charge no fees at all”. There are a few that may charge publication fees but they seem to be in the minority and based on the informative powerpoint from Jill Cirasella, when publication fees are charged by OA journals, they normally are not paid by the authors. Crisella mentions that a benefit of OA is that it is not exploitative. Indeed, if authors have to pay hefty fees this will limit access to and production of knowledge as we do see happening with traditional journal publishers. I was shocked to learn that when a paper is published by a typical well-established journal that the author/s essentially forfeit copyrights. I have published a few things when I did research and my PI never shared this apparent fact which is an apparently common practice. I actually tried to find some of the research I worked on after I ditched research for a career in teaching but I had to pay to access it so those articles were “forever lost”- or so I thought. This week’s readings made me try again and I am happy to report that most of my old research work (i.e., papers I co-authored)  is now OA, freely available probably more so because it’s old than any other reason as my PI was definitely the type that might shy away from OA due to career concerns.  Chan describes the issue that arises of “whose knowledge is considered most “legitimate.”… encouraging a definition of openness as a process rather than a set of conditions that need to be met. It is an adaptive and dynamic process, and one that is always changing…people have their own careers to worry about. And it is often their own careers that take precedence over their principles. And because they do well in their careers, they also advise their students to follow the same trajectories and not to take risks. So, it’s a cycle”. Those that fear change or fear being seen as less rigorous as a result of being published in OA journals rather than traditional journals are misguided in their anxiety. As noted by Suber, “open access journals can be first-rate: the quality of a scholarly journal is a function of its authors, editors, and referees, not its business model or access policy”. Those who worry that their careers will suffer by going OA are simply misinformed and need to get with the times. I suspect they are clinging to the old ways because they came up under the “banking concept” of Education that Paulo Freire criticized for its “attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.” Open Access, in principle, contradicts the banking concept directly by extending control over thinking and action by allowing free publication (action) and free access (thinking) of authors and ultimately encouraging more creativity as views and research are shared freely. However, because we are in a capitalist system- the conversations about OA itself conceptually, socially, academically may get hijacked by conversations about what the business models should be, as Chan criticizes, which they are missing the point of how OA does/should/can invite “diverse stakeholders’ participation in knowledge production processes”. I do believe that the public has a right to view and learn from research and/ or resources that were funded by taxpayer dollars (also private dollars but at least taxpayer dollars); however, as was noted when we covered MOOCs & POOCs, having access does not ensure development of content knowledge or an even an educated public. I think that we need to consider a highly diverse stakeholder group when we think about open access education. Of course thinking about the college student is first on our mind as being able to pay for a textbook may be essential to learning content for a given course but making knowledge accessible to the general public and all of the stakeholder types that that entails has a different value and may need to have different forms of accessibility. Schools (at least every high school I ever worked in) tend to conflate intellectual ability with pursuing college,  and I have at times found myself questioning why we educators tend to push every student to pursue higher ed almost in a way that suggests that professions which don’t require degrees are made up of intellectually inferior/incapable people.  I think that part of Open Access as a movement requires us to delve into this bias which is common among the academically elite (although it may not be openly stated) otherwise we would not have any researchers avoiding OA publication and favoring long established fee-charging journal publishers because of fears about their careers, they would not have to choose their careers over their principles.

What does it mean to make knowledge accessible to the public, not just the academically engaged public of students and professors, but the rest of it? 

Who are the stakeholders that should be considered when implementing OA education?

How do/can we manage the knowledge production process within OA so that it is democratic enough to challenge the banking concept of the student-teacher relationship while at the same time “improving the two-way models of knowledge access and dissemination” that Chan cites?

How can we as educators and students do this while also allowing an open and ongoing “talk about the value — in particular the nonmarket social value — of public higher education” that Robyn DeRosa highlights.

If we do, a DeRosa implies we must, “begin to explore the distinctions between a knowledge commons and a public education system,” what do you think that the distinctions would look like? 

If our goal is an educated (not necessarily credentialed) public capable of digesting information in a way that makes us all (or the majority of citizens) immune to misinformation, how do we establish this using OA/OER for a “knowledge commons” vs public education system?