Continuing Ed in Social Work

My project will be an online platform for on-demand learning/training for those who work in human services. My main goal is to build a learning management system to house short 30-45 minute courses (on racial equity and trauma-informed practice for starters). This will serve as a proof of concept. I intend to use a pre-existing WordPress template such as one of these. I think the most intensive part of this project will be developing and producing the course since I plan to record short videos. The WP site seems like the easier part. This is also a personal passion project of mine that I hope to launch as a business with nonprofits, companies, or individuals. I haven’t decided yet who the best audience will be long-term. In the short-term, I intend to test it out with those in my social work, non-profit colleagues to get a sense of the user experience, the teaching methods, and relevance of the topics.

Project Idea

Inspired by Paulo Freire’s popular education philosophy, I would like to curate a series of cybersecurity workshops for immigrant and refugee communities. Many of our immigrant and refugee community members are not aware of the power that Big Tech has.

Specifically, Big Tech has proven to favor the side of the oppressors, or institutions that have the economic power to invest thousands to millions of dollars in creating more sophisticated infrastructures and tools to oppress. For example, Palantir and Amazon have actively contributed to Homeland Security’s deportation machine by creating better communication and surveillance systems for Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and even the police. So, how can undocumented immigrants, refugees, and even immigration justice activists and organizers do to protect themselves from cyber-surveillance? What information, skills, and tools do we need to become cybersecurity literate? And how can we resist cyber-surveillance?

Ultimately, the purpose of this workshop series is to inform impacted communities about the risks and pitfalls of living in digital societies while taking into account their (imposed) identities as racialized, gendered, and classed people.

In terms of the technicality of this work, I’d like to create a few videos explaining key concepts. I’d also have to find a digital platform that can house these videos since I don’t (yet) know how to create websites… but learning WordPress could also be a skill I pick up along the way. We’ll see.

Ideas in practice

My ideas for the ITP project started in 2018! (I didn’t suspect at that moment). In April 2018 I attended a conference in CUNY. At the event, I met Ernesto Cuba and we became friends because of our academic interests in language, gender, and sexuality. I told him I wanted to enter the LAILAC PhD Program after my master’s. He invited me to come for lunch to The Graduate Center…

We kept a vivid conversation on the subject as we continued to learn about it. Our main concern has been the scarce bibliography for Spanish-language feminist linguistics and the lack of organized networks and events on the subject. Our first impulse was to create an annotated bibliography and tried to work on it, but it was slow and still lonely…

Then Covid conditions came to us with an idea: we could be a digital community. This is how we created indisciplinadxs: círculo de lingüística feminista in June 2020. By Feb 2021, we have 16 sessions of reading discussions with people from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, United States, Spain, and Germany (see quiénes somos). 

Now we are learning about what has been written in Spanish-language, putting attention to discover authors from Latin America, and learning what our colleagues are doing. We are an intellectual and affective community articulated around a political and reflexive project.

ITP specific project

My ITP project will be a contribution to indisciplinadxs. The idea is to create an open library (repository?) about feminist linguistics. I would like to create it in such a way that everyone in the community will help to make it bigger over time. Some starting ideas:

-Emphasis on Spanish-language literature

-Open option for the community to include new materials.

-Open access materials (available), but also the chance of including the name of other materials (to keep track of the production in our area).

-First phase consisting of a systematic review on a specific topic.

I was amazed at the confidence and certainty so many of y’all had when presenting your project idea…amazed, and a bit intimidated: I have a lot of catching up to do!

Truthfully, all of my ideas for a final ITP project are nascent, defined as much but my thoughts on usefulness and work load as by a particular vision of a final object. Some of those thoughts:

a) I’d like the project to have a clear, utilitarian value, whether by teachers or researchers

b) I’d like the project to present data surrounding theatre and performance, less overt claims or theses, more organized information with which interested people could develop their own claims or feelings

c) I’d like the project to be technologically focused; I expect I’ll need to learn some new tools, and I want depth rather than breadth here (i.e. 1-2 technologies at most), for the sake of both my sanity and the final product

I have three main ideas I’ll present below, though in all honesty, these are simply two of my several floating concepts that I’m going to develop here for the sake of the assignment.

ONE: From the pedagogical side, I’m wondering about trying to create a resource where teachers, students and researchers could visualize canonical theatre events (plays/performances/performative events, which could include mass gatherings, political rallies, etc.) in terms of quantitative data. That would probably involve determining a few metrics—how much money the event cost or made; how many people it served in its live incarnation; amount of time it persisted—and then perhaps organizing them onto a map of some sort. I imagine that starting to do this, and then allowing some tagging of the event by theme or type, might allow for some intriguing overlaps or correlations that could suggest room for understanding or argument.

TWO: This is as much a history as theatre idea, but I have an idea of an interactive map that tracks places where riots occurred in New York City. Using ArcGIS, I would collect data on violence and tag both the cause of the violence and/or the “cause” that it was pursuing. As a resource that might hopefully suggest overlaps in how the city has become commercialized space that interacts with its surroundings, this could be something really valuable. In some ways, if I could choose one of these and will it into existence, it would be this one. In entirely different ways, I worry about the extent of data collection for a project that might only tangentially relate to my larger dissertation research.

THREE: I have only the tiniest inkling about doing a podcast about selected acts of performative or theatrical violence (riots/coups/etc. as well as notably disturbing or violent theatre pieces), and discussing them from a theatrical vantage. While there’s arguable use here, the truth is that this would be something akin to developing chapters of a disssertation and I quite frankly will be nowhere near that place next fall…

I’m still thinking and hoping one idea comes to me that will present itself as the definitive right way to go, but until then, friends, I leave you with a blog post.

Motivated by the Answer

I was motivated to join this program by my love-hate relationship with instructional technology. I love the potential that ed tech offers but I have yet to find a software tool that can teach students with significant learning impairments in the way that they need to be taught (i.e., with the sensitivity to students’ cognitive and emotional needs that an experienced teacher might have). I hope to create a game-based learning project, ideally an actually usable and enjoyable game that would encourage kids to learn something (I am leaning toward math or physical science in my head). I honestly do not play a lot of games but I used a lot of games when I taught kids (mostly games that I made up or that the kids, with some guidance, came up with themselves). Games work, better than any other method of instruction in my opinion (assuming that the the game is well designed & simple enough for kids to play while still learning stuff) but I am nervous about my journey into this project because 1) I am not a gamer and 2) I do not enjoy coding (unlike solving a difficult physics problem, editing a script and seeing it run as intended just is not very cathartic, I hope to bypass any need to code if possible). However, I do love teaching and I am confident in my ability to teach and scaffold instruction. I aspire to come up with a perfect scaffolding algorithm but I do not have a ton of faith in machine learning for instructing kids. When I taught “cognitively impaired” students, the software would typically punish them for not knowing how to accomplish certain tasks, and would not allow them to move forward into content unless they “proved themselves” by accomplishing single tasks. For instance, this one math software was supposedly designed to teach kids who were behind and so it tested skills that students should have mastered while at the same time attempting to catch them up to their actual grade level (i.e., imagine a middle to hs school level but with a lot elementary questions in it at the start). It did not work out in my opinion. If you messed up subtraction, you would never make it to fractions. A few of my students struggled (and maybe will always struggle) with subtraction problem that require a lot “borrowing and carrying of the one” but these same exact students were able to solve higher level problems. Subtracting large numbers is a skill that should be mastered between 2nd to 3rd grade while being able to create & manipulate equivalent fractions is a middle school skill. I wish that a computer could figure out when its time to “let it go”. Many students get trapped in a “loop of not getting the correct answer” and the system does not know when to just let it be and move on to the next lesson. A teacher would know when they have hit an instructional wall and be able to let it go and come back to it later (i.e., another day in the week). For example, the teacher would know that a student who struggles with subtracting large numbers should not be prevented from learning other material in the content area; that the student can still learn how to cross multiply in order to create equivalent fractions or solve other math problems that do not require subtraction. The “wrong answer loop” that kids sometimes find themselves in when working with educational software can be painful and can destroy their confidence. I witnessed it with my former students. This is also where game-based learning (and by this I actually mean gamified instructional software which most of it is, rather than a pure game) fails to motivate struggling students. Repeatedly getting the wrong answer (i.e., failing to pass a level) is a good reason to not want to play (it is why I quit. Teachers, unlike algorithms, can make decisions that take into account the full reality of the instructional experience. Teachers can see where a child is struggling to the point that it is best to stop teaching and teachers can assess when a good time is to have the student try again. I am not convinced that we can train algorithms to make these sorts of decisions but maybe in the future by way of complex AI, this may happen. I wish that I could take all of my teaching experience and upload it into a super computer that would be able to teach for me and would be able to give the proper amount of guidance, motivation, and mini study-breaks, needed to encourage struggling students to keep trying and eventually learn. Yet, I doubt that a machine learning algorithm (no matter how much data is used to teach it about a student’s learning behavior) could discern the cognitive and emotional needs of students who are struggling with content. I have not figured out the steps that are needed to make my great game idea into a reality yet but I am expecting that my “great idea” will have to be broken down into an “okay idea” in order to ensure that I finish this program on time (and because I do not think robots are quite ready to fully take over all of our jobs). I do believe that instructional tech can be highly effective at “teaching content” but I think it strongly favors the self-motivated student who has not struggled too much and therefore does not need much more than a “ding ding ding you got the correct answer” to remain motivated to try. I would like for my project to focus on the other type of student but I realize this is a tall order so we shall see what happens as I progress through the ITP program.