Provocation: What can OER do?

(A bit of stream of consciousness here, so I apologize for the length and any scattered thoughts…)

I really enjoyed the readings this week and am excited to talk with everyone about a topic that is on my mind all the time. In particular, I appreciated the reflection and critique in Chan’s “Confessions of an OA Advocate,” and would like to continue to think about a few other issues present in the open landscape, with an emphasis on Open Educational Resources.

As an OER librarian, I find OER and the open “movement” in general to be valuable. Every day I see and hear about the ways that OER positively impact students’ learning experiences and lead teaching faculty members to redesign their courses with an eye towards greater equity. That being said, we ask OER to do a lot. I often question whether OER really do all that OER advocates claim, and whether OER content and labor practices in OER work reflect the purported values of openness. I want to move away from the assumption that all things “open” are inherently good. 

Let’s start with some claims about OER. OER (and openness/“universal access to information” in general) is said to “contribute to peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue,” (UNESCO) advance social justice, be a “social equalizer and pedagogical disruptor,” (Almeida 2017), and to somehow solve the systemic issues in higher education and knowledge production and dissemination. But does OER (or OA, open data, etc.) actually accomplish these things? 

I am not totally convinced that OER represent a meaningful challenge to the status quo in education. OER do not remove the significant barriers to learning and wellbeing that exist in many of our students’ (and our) lives. I wonder if, by using OER as a marketing tool, higher education administrators benefit from OER just as much (if not more than?) students. OER can be a wonderful enhancement to learning, but they are not a replacement for a well-funded (tuition free!!) system. 

I sometimes feel that the open “movement” has placed too much emphasis on access, with the assumption that with the right information, there is nothing holding us back improving the quality of our learning and the quality of our lives. But greater access to information does not equal liberation. 

At CUNY, the vast majority of OER initiatives, including faculty course redesign initiatives, are funded by a New York state grant that is renewed yearly. While this funding has a meaningful impact on CUNY faculty members’ ability to develop and curate open resources, the funding structure and relatively short timeframe limits what faculty members are able to do. Typically faculty members are paid to redesign individual courses with open materials, but are  not given the time or money to develop original open content in their field of expertise. This leaves significant gaps in OER content. 

Content-wise, OER are not necessarily more likely to include more diverse voices than commercial textbooks. In my experience, many open textbooks in fields like history uphold the status quo and often provide a whitewashed, colonial version of history. I can probably count on one hand the number of open textbooks about topics like LGBTQ+ history. Of course, OER give faculty the flexibility to add these perspectives to their courses, but there is already a lot of labor involved in redesigning courses with open materials, so in practice I see very few teaching faculty members adapting or remixing open resources. 

All of this leads me to the next issue in the CUNY OER world… labor (surprise!)! I’ll preface this by saying that, as far as I know, all of the OER programs run out of CUNY libraries do pay both FT and PT teaching faculty to redesign their courses with open materials and (sometimes – see above) to create open materials. Still, finding open materials, updating courses, adapting and remixing materials, and especially creating materials is a LOT of work. Given that the labor required to create OER is largely not valued in tenure and promotion process, it’s not sustainable for faculty to invest time and energy on OER. 

In addition to faculty labor, there is of course the labor of training and maintenance, which is largely done by individuals working in libraries and teaching and learning centers across CUNY. At CUNY, *adjunct* librarians do a lot of this labor! These adjuncts are paid through the aforementioned state grant, so we can also have a conversation about the undervaluing of OER and openness by New York state and CUNY, and, by extension, the sustainability of OER programming. 

Further complicating matters, there is also the issue of unseen and uncompensated student labor in the case of student-created OER.     

I’ll end this provocation by encouraging us to think about what OER and other open materials can and do actually accomplish, and how we can make the whole system of openness more equitable locally and globally. What other issues and inequities might come up when information (/knowledge) is free (as in beer or as in speech)? 

Almeida, Nora. “Open Educational Resources and Rhetorical Paradox in the Neoliberal Univers(ity).” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1 (2017).

Provocation: On More Modest Grief

“The most successful students we spoke with saw themselves as active constructors of and participants in their own academic taskscapes.”

Smale and Regalado, Digital Technology as Affordance and Barrier in Higher Education

The work of Smale and Regalado predates COVID. Yet, in this week that marks a year since life moved online, their work feels relevant as a spark for reflecting on how we teachers did, and what we do next. What’s our takeaway a year into this confrontation of an urgent, terrifying crisis? What have we learned over the course of a yearlong series of heartbreaking tradeoffs?

The relevance of last week’s quote to this week’s reading is clear enough to me: Institutions and their educational technologies of choice rarely imagine students as “participants” or “constructors” of taskscapes, but consumers.

Once or twice in the last twelve months, I suspect you’ve encountered (or embodied) this through the figure of a less-than-agile participant in “emergency remote teaching” (Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust, Bond). Those of us teaching in those early days recognized quickly—and hopefully reminded ourselves, kindly and often—that the “triage” nature of this shift “exclude[d] the possibility of excellence” (Young). As we might discuss in class, educational technology sometimes had a role in that exclusion, too.

So that’s a hot take on a thread connecting these readings to our last set. One thread within the readings I’d like to underscore is about grief. COVID, for its ghastly death toll, has also created countless “missing” everyday moments, more modest griefs: a professor missing the way physical heads nodding along (or not) to a lesson shaped her teaching for the better (McMurtrie); a student who has realized how “[b]asketball really helped my depression, and I can’t play it now” (Ferlazzo); the City College campus counselor forced to fit into one, weekly 30-minute Zoom call the essential check-ins with colleagues that happened between appointments over five days in 90-second increments (Ayisire). Those losses are real—”minor feelings” are feelings nonetheless—and grieving the fact that certain experiences may never come back will take the candid work of a whole campus, and the meaningful participation of the communities beyond its gates. 

Taskscapes; trauma; care; equity. Throw in “uncertainty” and that gives us about the range of topics that any talk about teaching in this time entails. Below are some questions along those lines, which draw on these readings to process what has been, to recall what was before, to think about what could be—and to start articulating what we might use this new wisdom to fight to achieve. 

  • How can instructors (and, by extension, departments and institutions) fairly assess and equitably ameliorate “learning loss”? What’s a way to balance what really didn’t get learned  with honest recognition of the deep trauma of our COVID year (Ciep, Ellis, Gluckman)? 
  • Related: What structures and practices can center student experiences and voices (c.f. Ferzallo) in determining the balance of intellectual and emotional loss in the administrative process of assessment and the pedagogical process of its (partial) amelioration? And how can instructors using care-based, trauma-informed methods also make space for students who, legitimately, just want to move on, catch up, and get on with things?
  • What’s the role of technology, particularly “enterprise” solutions, in short-term or even one-time fixes (ie: access to course content via a smartphone, or holding an office hour over Zoom)? How do/did/will individual instructors, departments, and institutions balance the benefit of these convenient but corporate tools (looking at you, Google Drive) in supporting “valuable human relationships—relationships necessary for child development” (Watters)? 
  • Related: In your field, what tools are less focused on “watching, monitoring, and controlling” and more focused on deepening those relationships and extending the relational into a content area–an intellectual tradition and its ways of making knowledge or a professional field and its ethics and practices? 
  • Many, many P-12 students will arrive at CUNY campuses with existing digital literacy around “enterprise technology.” To what extent is an explicit conversation about data privacy, affordances, design, and epistemology appropriate to be part of the college students’ general digital literacy education? How can this be done without discounting the value of that literacy?
  • What are the “affordances” of the extended look into P-12 classrooms that families, especially Black families, have gotten into the minute-by-minute pedagogy of their children’s lives? If the cinder block buildings with un-opening windows that typify public school construction felt unsafe physically (as Farah Despeignes suggests) and if “many Black parents still see the education system as punitive” (Shapiro, Green, Kim, emphasis mine), then how can the thoughtful critiques of engaged, observant parents reshape that learning in a participatory way? (I emphasize her ‘still’ to note that inequities go way back in the NYC schools; see Nice White Parents, etc). What are the mechanisms for communities to be involved in such technology centered school reforms, and what role might colleges like CUNY have in supporting it?
    • Related, but speculative: Speaking recently with the Times’ Ezra Klein, the surgeon general of California Dr. Nadine Burke Harris noted that COVID has caused directly or indirectly  level of childhood trauma difficult to quantify but certain to impact this generation for years to come: shaping social interaction, affecting long-term, health, shortening life spans. Given that: How do college instructors consider this interruption on childhood development in the adults these children become? 
  • Bonus: The “heir conditioner” (B. F. Skinner Qtd in Watters). No question here, just…discuss. 

Note/Nudge/Poke/Plea: I really like blogs as conversation starters so I purposely kept this as short as I could. (I know, it’s not that short. Short for an English doctoral student though?)  I also posted it as soon as I felt like it was ready to go. (Paul Hollywood might still call it underbaked). Anyway, I’d love to hear short replies back from people any time on Sunday. Even 200 of your lovely words will feel to me like I am basking in warm sunshine! A paragraph? Didn’t Strunk & White call the paragraph is the basic unit of composition? (Spoiler: They did). Seriously, I’m excited to see y’all (hey Texas!) respond to literally whatever in this you find, uh, provocative.

Midterm Assignment

Part 1: Revised Narrative and Short Proposal

For your midterm assignment, create a revised 500 word project narrative abstract, along with a proposal of no more than 2000 additional words including:

  1. A concise problem statement or thesis that communicates the purpose of your project
  2. An environmental scan that relays key history, scholarship, software, products etc. that give context to the work you are doing
  3. A needs assessment that explains what unmet need your project will fulfill (this section should also explain the primary audience(s) of your work)
  4. The key skills that are necessary for completion of your project, whether or not you have them, and how you will acquire those you don’t have
  5. A project timeline that covers the remainder of this semester, the summer, and your independent study semester

Please answer these questions one at a time. You should not write them into a single answer. You can use the 2000 words in any way you choose across the five questions.

The revised narrative and project proposal are due on THURSDAY March 25 via the assignment form.

Part 2: In-class Elevator Pitches

In class on March 22, you will give a 3 minute elevator pitch covering some of what is in your updated project brief. The problem statement and needs assessment might be the best places to focus, but you should also use your best judgement. Because of our class size and time constraints, we will be very strict about time limits and cut mics if necessary to make sure each member of the class has time to speak. Please practice your 3 minutes!

You are allowed but not required to use slides. If you want to use slides, remember not to divide the audience’s attention between your spoken pitch and text on the slide. Use the slides to reinforce your performance.

A provocation: Are DT the cure-all in order to bring forward sub-altern identities in education and politics?

I found Bailey’s “All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave”, Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas, and Jackson’s Hashtag Activism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice very intimately related since the three bring forward the power of Digital Technologies to unsettle the until now centered hegemonies of education’s male white identity politics according to Bailey, abusive governments as described by Tufekci, and mainstream media following the work of Jackson, Bailey and Welles.
Q1: Are DT the cure-all in order to bring forward sub-altern identities to the cultural debate? (Ricardo) how does it work with the rise connectivism in the teaching experience? (Lidia)
I strongly agree with Tufekci and Bailey and the fact that one must be cautious since DT is just a tool and us as educators or actvists are ultimately “the square pegs that expose the unacknowledged round holes”, namely, us as political agents within the realm of education or activism are ultimately in charge of using the methods and making the room for this until now obscured identities to come forward and develop their own center of the conversation.
Likewise, I found interesting Tufekci’s argument regarding the threats of DT when used by perpetrators. Ultimately, proponents of those hegemonic white centers of power are not going to keep using camels as in the case of Tahir square but will engage in more savvy ways of using DT to fight back any decentering of this hegemonic identities such as demonizing online mediums, and mobilizing armies of supporters or paid employees who muddy the online waters with misinformation, information glut, doubt, confusion, harrasment, and distraction and making it hard for ordinary people to navigate the networked public sphere.
Q2: What specific new methods should we follow as educators in our own fields under this new set of rules to generate equity in education?
Moreover, Tofekci also mentions the fact that these DT’s are always mediated by Ad-supported searching engines that will re-center once again power to anyone who is still in possesion of capital. In this sense I beliebe this is not the end of mono-centric or nation-state sanctioned identities but an opportunity to distabilize these that one must handle with caution under a different set of rules applied to a relatively similar context.
Q3: Are there other paths beyond the use of free software that we as educator should be embracing in order to keep hegemonic subjects from acquiring full control in this Digital Technology based era?
Regarding this matter I found Bailey’s mention of reaching girls of color in elementary and middle school with opportunities to engage STEM before they are tracked away from it, or the work of #transformDH or the promise of THATCamp Theory very inspiring. Follwing the work of these scholars I strongly believe the use of free software that is not mediated by corporations (Adobe, Google, TurnItIn, Microsoft) is one of the keys in order to “make room at the table” and provide the necessary frameworks and skills for our students to develop their own spaces. In sum, and following Tofekci’s work, Digital Technologies or open participation afforded by social media does not always mean equal participation, and it certainly does not mean a smooth process.
Q4: Is the digital realm the only perspective that should be interrogated within Digital Humanities regarding the rise of Digital Technologies?
I wanted to quickly mention Bailey’s statement on the fact that the study of DT as a field does not neccesarily mean exclusively interrogating digital realities. Since DT’s are producing a myriad of inequities in real life such as  the exploitation of indigenous women’s labor in the construction of digital devices, the alienated labor of people of color in the production of technology or structures that impede women from connecting to digital humanities. I wonder if as scholars this perspective can teach us a useful lesson ir order to look at some until now blindspots regarding problems in real life that our students must be suffering following the rise of DT.
Q5: Are there other inequities in real life generated by the rise of Digital Technologies that we as educators should be paying attention?

A provocation: From information-based teaching to community-oriented learning

“The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe.” (Quote from George Siemens, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, 2004, and image taken from Stephen Downes’s presentation: The Elements of Connectivism, 2011).

Today’s readings made me think about an issue I personally grappled with since I started teaching in the Fall semester of 2020: the notion that a lot of my/our success as educators depends on my/our ability to facilitate student’s engagement. This has been particularly challenging for me because I had never taught before, and also because I had to learn on the go not only how to be a teacher, but also how to teach online when most of my own experience as a student had taken place in person.

But my situation is far from unique. In “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age,” George Siemens outlines how educational institutions and workplaces, students, teachers and workers alike, have had to transform the way they learn, teach and prepare for the workforce in a world where people’s ability to learn new skills is more important than the skills they already possess. If what we teach students might be irrelevant or outdated in just a few years, Siemens suggests, it is our capacity to teach them how to learn what will help them thrive, more than the pieces of information we can provide them.

The question here turns from what we teach, what content we tell our students to memorize and critically engage with, to how we present that information in a way that empowers students to actively participate rather than passively receive data and information. This shift from the “what” to the “how” also entails a big question about how we intentionally incorporate technology into our classrooms, especially now that we are teaching online. How can we use Zoom, Blackboard, emails, search engines, online translators, Google forms, social media networks, computers, mobile devices, screens, microphones, to empower our students to use their voices and minds in liberating ways rather than oppressive ones? I think this is particularly important for the student population we work with, the CUNY students who for example feel more comfortable not turning their cameras or microphones on while in class, and therefore cannot participate in small group activities or in class discussions, because they live with elder relatives or small children that require their attention or make noise while they are in class.

One of the game-changing decisions I have made in my class this semester was to open up breakout rooms for students to work together in every session, as opposed to what I used to do last semester when I would assign activities for them to work individually. I now let them talk and interact with each other for at least 5 minutes three times per class, before we check the answers for grammar or sentence formation exercises. And I am happy to provide them with that online space for them to engage and talk, even if they are not necessarily talking about my class content exclusively. In the midst of a global pandemic and socially distanced life, I bet they appreciate that space. If they are not learning Spanish grammar, at least they will practice how to be social.

According to Siemens (2004), “Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.” I did not know the meaning of “connectivism” as stated by Siemens before reading his texts, and certainly not when I made the decision to prioritize student collaboration, but this semester my students’ engagement has increased. Some of them have even asked for additional homework assignments.

I’d like to end my provocation by inviting you all to think of what you can do to transition from traditional (online) teaching/learning models, those that have largely shaped us as students, to other models that foster engagement and personal network formations as goals rather than tools. What pedagogical opportunities and what challenges emerge while trying to use the technologies our institutions have provided us? How can we effectively transition from information-based teaching to more experiential and community-oriented learning?


(I want to apologize for making this post extremely long, I really loved this week’s readings, and they all tugged at my “teacher heart strings”, as I went through them, feelings of hope and despair popped up and excessive self-reflection took place. I decided in keeping with Joseph Ugoretz’s implied philosophy on the use of discussion boards, that it would still be ok to post it, but again, sorry about the length, I will try to keep it short the next time)

I especially appreciated Warner’s piece, “The Problem of Technology Hype” and Waters’s piece, “Hippocratic Oath for Ed Tech”. Often in the excitement about technological solutions for learning, the problems (e.g., the failures of adaptive instruction, the need for compassion, etc.) identified by these authors are ignored although they are very real to instructors who attempt to carry out these tech-infused learning processes.

What pedagogical opportunities does the integration of technology into the classroom make possible?

I have an ongoing and very real love-hate relationship with ed-tech. I love it enough to say that it I would rather not teach without the used of technology (I have done so but I’d rather not). Technology gives educators huge opportunities for developing and implementing differentiation and scaffolding strategies (assuming there are enough components that the teacher can customize). That said, it does not necessarily make this process more efficient since not every teacher or every student may be able to figure out how to use specific more technologies more quickly than the time it may take to learn a given skill without the aid of tech tools ; however, it certainly offers robust opportunities to implement these strategies, potentially at scale. Technology can offer more opportunities for scholars, students and teachers to share and collaborate across vast distances and this would not be feasible without technology.

The first time I gained access to smartboards and later ipads as a teacher, I was teaching all core subjects to students classified as “intellectually disabled” in a self-contained special education class. Prior to that I was working with a blackboard and chalk and very old textbooks that were way beyond the reading level of the students they were meant to be used by. The majority of my students were functioning at a pre-k to 3rd grade reading level, while only 2 students functioned at 5th to 6th grade levels. Technology allowed me to make stories/books from higher grade levels more accessible to students functioning at lower grade levels. For instance I used a software that allowed me utilize text to speech features as well as automatically highlighting words or phrases as they were read aloud by the software, and adjusting the reading speeds of the computer. All of this made it easier for me to teach literacy to struggling readers and improved engagement and retention of students’ word recognition and sequencing skills but this was due to my understanding of my students’ needs more than it was due to the features themselves. Technology can help us help students by allowing teachers to tailor instruction through the use of various software features. This helps to encourage student participation/motivation but the key here is that the technology should make it easier for the teacher to tailor the instruction because the software itself cannot effectively tailor anything because algorithms cannot get to know a student but can only memorize responses and plug them into another formula to pop out whatever was programmed into the function. A given X will always yield Y because Y depends on X but the fact is that learning is not so simple. Student understanding cannot be elucidated by a pre-programmed formula. An algorithm cannot customize learning, only a human teacher can do that.

What challenges does technology create for the student, the instructor, the institution?

Software cannot replace teachers, at least not for typical students (perhaps for the few self-motivated autodidacts who actually finish MOOC courses). Warner points out: ” Is repeating the same presentation over and over again to confused students a pedagogical practice we would accept in human instructors? …What is it we think students may ‘learn’ in theses systems?” (Warner, p. 92). While many technologies can be customized or attempt to customize instruction, individualizing instruction and reaching different types of learners is not something a computer program is capable of in my opinion. At best, an “adaptive learning algorithms” can reach a certain type of student, typically not students that would qualify as “outliers” on the normal curve that the algorithm is likely aimed to instruct at; regardless of how much data is collected and fed into a machine learning system, the outlier data points are unlikely to be used to connect with a lesson tailored to outlier students. For a student who has misunderstood, repeating the same lesson word for word until they get the right answer is not helpful in general. As any human teacher knows, when a student fails to understand the lesson, you do not feed the student the lesson in the same exact way on your next iteration. If we consider the student who is an English Language Learner, a simple phrase can throw off the understanding by so much and there is no way that the system can know that what the student misunderstood was based on English language fluency or vocabulary that may be unrelated to the specific lesson. Technology can be a very valuable tool but it is nothing more than a tool, it cannot sit in for a teacher. Treating “adaptive learning software” which aims to use algorithms to individualize instruction, as if it were equal to a teacher who is capable of learning about their students as individual humans, is highly problematic.

Optimizing learning sounds very appealing at first glance because often there is not always time to learn or teach all of the tech skills when one is following a strict curriculum. While technology is meant to optimize everything and may indeed make it more possible for teachers to individualize learning for a certain type of student, all of this takes time. It takes time to tailor assignments for different students, it takes time to teach students how to work with new technologies, and it takes teachers time to learn new technologies as well that a school might suddenly require teachers to use. Generally, true individualization of instruction is not reflected in the “adaptive software”. For instance, there is usually no room to digress in a productive way. Any digression is considered a mistake by an algorithm but teachers can use mistakes and digressions as teachable moments to promote depth of learning as noted in the “Two Roads Diverged in a Wood” article giving space for tangents in a lesson have learning value, “by allowing or even encouraging digression—by permitting students to take the “road not taken”—instructors facilitate a process whereby students may make new and original connections arising from their own thinking and discovery processes” (Ugoretz, p.2). These “teachable moments” are not recognize by algorithms and yet they have great value in student motivation as well as the ability to encourage students to make connections that lead to deeper understanding of content. The asynchronous discussion board can offer much more “personalization” than an “adaptive software” can because it is open and allows mental wandering that is often part of the learning process, especially when students encounter new topics.

What is reflected in adaptive learning software is the “oops you did it wrong again, a now try learning it again in exactly the same way”. This process is painful for students who need real instruction and have a low frustration threshold. For students who have disabilities or traumas, the algorithm can be downright abusive. I have been forced to use math software when I taught middle students students with learning disabilities that had this effect. After about 5 iterations of the “oops your wrong, watch this same video again and try again” the student would put their head down and cry or act out. What is eve more sad is that the student knew another way to get the math correct but the system would only accept its one defined way of demonstrating a skill based aligned with soon to be entirely phased out core standards (in my opinion it was a less useful way of doing fractions and division). What is worse is that this “math lab class” was meant for students with learning impairments and I was not supposed to teach it, I was supposed to just supervise the student interacting with the system (i.e., make sure they stay on the program that the school has spent its money on rather than going online to play video games, etc.).

Another issue with these formulaic attempts at instruction is that the systems can also be hacked. For instance, recently my step-son who is in HS Algebra shared with me that he had figured out a way to interact with one of the math softwares he has to use where he was able trick the system into believing he completed all of the assignments and therefore giving him all of the correct answers which he then used to get a perfect score. He then shared this trick with other students. The possibility to hack came from “repeated attempts” after “failing the first few times”. I am not sure how he did it but he exploited something in the part of the system that aims to “adapt instruction” by simply repeating the same exact lesson.

A district-mandated instructional software that is definitely not designed with your actual students’ in mind can be a major waste of money and class time and can even have detrimental effects on students’ motivation.

I think that schools will need to develop more diverse positions focused on instructional technology- having a computer teacher or an IT person is insufficient to keep up how quickly educational software is developing and how customizable some of it has to become. Generally, it is not teachers who decide what software a district should purchase. The people making those decisions are usually admins that are not currently teaching any classes (at least in k12). If core content teachers are allowed to take the lead in identifying resources and training each other, I think it would make for a better institutional outcomes. I emphasize core content teachers because they are the ones whose students will be tested most and whose data will be most utilized.

How do we understand the politics of educational technology that is both a field of inquiry and an industry?

The ever-intimate relationship between tech companies and political players increasingly leaves out the values of actual instruction.

The IT industry is focused on optimization and profit far more than effective instruction. The politicians are focused on having the numbers make them look good (i.e., consider how effective Bloomberg was at increasing passing rates by decreasing the minimum score to qualify as passing). There is a difference between learning and teaching that one cannot appreciate unless one has significant experience in both. It is very easy to feel that you understand “teaching” just because you are good at learning (particularly if you are a capable & self-motivated learner) but it is another story to actually teach others who are not so great at this and require significant guidance. Just because you are good at learning yourself it does not mean that you understand what schools or students need (hence the failure of initiatives by Bill Gates to fix education in NYC for instance ). One thing that seems to be overlooked where educational politics meets technological solutions to complex problems, despite it being obvious is that, as that “computers, no matter how powerful their algorithms, can only count” (Warner, p. 97). I think that this fact is often ignored perhaps because the idea of “optimization” is so alluring.

Generally, the politics associated with educational technology pulls us away from the depth of learning and teaching and toward the a sort of misguided efficiency or optimization relying on technological solutions which are not aligned with how students actually learn. I do not understand why wealthy IT moguls are treated as educational experts; they are not. They are simply people with money to spend who happen to be good at learning for their own purposes. Even if their intentions are pure, what qualifies Zuckerberg or Gates as education experts?

There are also costs to taking the time to teach technology skills not explicitly considered a part of the curriculum. Ensuring access to and accessibility of technology is also very challenging. I do not think that the technology companies appreciate that there are students that may struggle to use basic technologies (e.g., I once had to teach a “normal kid” who was HS senior how to use email in 2015!). Even when websites try to be accessible, they are not accessible to all people. Even the guidelines for accessibility themselves are not really accessible to everyone ( It’s hard (maybe impossible) to have a set of guides that work for all students because multiple things affect how we interact with technology based on who were are and how we perceive and interpret information.

How do we locate our own values within all of this? As teachers we value learning and as technofiles we appreciate what technology has the potential to do but we must ask ourselves “is it necessary” and “is it customizable for the teacher?” and just as importantly “is there time?” . I do not think that educator values are used as much as financial values when decisions are made about which software a school must use. Everyone wants the fastest way to show the best numbers even when the desired numbers may not be accurate representations of learning.

We want to use technology to make learning “bigger, faster, stronger” but the reality of the human mind is not this way. There are too many differences and learning itself is not linear. If the tech industry could appreciate the “non-linear” nature of the learning experience and be less motivated by profit and more motivated by making learning a positive experience for students (rather than using data aggregation to make correlations and treat them as causations), perhaps better software could come of it but optimization must be treated as less important than the experience of learning itself. I think that teachers value technology but understand its limits in instruction and it will take experienced teachers, not experienced IT moguls, to make software that reflects the values of learning and teaching.

Audrey Waters considers a Hippocratic Oath for ed tech ethics might ” insist that students be recognized as humans, not as data points. It would demand a respect for student privacy… recognize that ‘the tools’ are less important than compassion… It could call for more professional transparency perhaps …open disclosure about relationships with industry”. I love this idea but I do not think that it is considered much when technologies are developed. I hope that such an oath would be required of developers/ IT companies pushing their software onto schools and not just educators as teachers themselves have limited power when it comes to decisions that the district or institution makes about what tools must be used.

Provocation: Academic Taskscapes, Learning Ecologies, and the Pandemic

I’d like to begin my provocation by framing the material conditions of digital technology against the backdrop of remote learning during the pandemic, specifically in reference to Smale’s and Regalado’s Digital Technology as Affordance and Barrier in Higher Education. In particular, I think it’s important for us to consider how the shutdown of CUNY’s physical infrastructure has forced students to create new “taskscapes” for themselves as part of their remote learning, presumably repurposing domestic spaces into sites of technological access and academic coursework. Since these challenges are heightened for CUNY students, who must frequently navigate the close quarters and socioeconomic conditions of NYC living, I’d urge us to unpack the complexities of domestic taskscapes in terms of how “multiple actors may be simultaneously engaged in creating different kinds of meaningful spaces in the same place, creating the possibility of conflict over who can define how space in particular locations is used” (15). What’s especially striking to me about this perspective involves how students must juggle their academic and domestic identities in ways that restrict not only their technological access and sense of focus but also their authentic means of participating in academic coursework.

I wonder, for instance, about students who might feel disincentivized from bringing their full selves to in-class work for fear of how their contributions might overlap with their domestic relationships. These concerns come to a head when students hesitate to air sensitive content in class discussion due to their close proximity with surrounding homelife. I encountered precisely this issue when tasking my students with a literacy narrative assignment in which they were to narrate their experience acclimating to the conventions of a given discourse community; and one of my students expressed interest in writing about their encounters with the LGBTQ+ community despite having yet to come out to their parents. Knowing that others were also planning on discussing sensitive content in their literacy narratives, I tried to better support student discretion by altering the peer-review context for the assignment from small-group discussion to asynchronous writing. But this experience was a wake-up call for me – one that I try to bear in mind each time I sit down to design lesson plans and homework assignments that might hypothetically invite delicate lines of inquiry and/or self-reflection from my students.

Given the constraints of remote learning in how students navigate domestic spaces to create academic taskscapes for themselves, I’d also like to highlight the value of using digital technology to foster multiple points of entry for class participation, often in ways that expand beyond large-group verbal discussion. On the one hand, as John Warner discusses, the so-called customized learning of adaptive software clearly stands at odds with this move to agile learning ecologies, serving instead to enclose students within a banking model of education bent on standardized modes of trial-and-error memorization. On the other hand, as Ugoretz writes, productive digression in discussion forums (and surely elsewhere) may “facilitate a process whereby students may make new and original connections arising from their own thinking and discovery processes” (2). Importantly, productive digression also invigorates the sort of interest-driven learning that runs parallel to responsive teaching, enabling a fluid mode of instruction that accords itself with the emergent needs and preferences of our students throughout the semester.

I feel strongly about the prospect of designing agile learning ecologies with the digital technology of our remote classes, if only because the domestic barriers of taskscapes are largely unknown to us as instructors, yet greatly encroach upon the academic coursework of our students. I would therefore encourage each of us to negotiate this discussion so as to better understand the current taskscapes of students during the pandemic, while also imagining new pathways to knowledge and participation in how we facilitate learning in both online and in-person contexts. For the most part, the technological barriers of remote education do not spring forth entirely novel obstacles in our teaching and learning practices; rather, these barriers intensify our awareness of preexisting difficulties in how we as educators afford our students meaningful learning experiences via digital technology. Accordingly, I feel as though we might devote discussion time to determining which ways the pandemic may bring to light otherwise invisible barriers related to our students’ use of technology as part of their newly formed taskscapes.

A PROVOCATION: When is class too much?

I really appreciated the conversation that was either implicitly or explicitly taking place between this week’s readings.  I’m a big believer in the potentials fo Digital Pedagogy, even outside of our Zoom-centered COVID classrooms.  I need not list the values, as they’re so well detailed throughout these readings: removing individuals from their “silos” (Rosen/Smale), increasing the buy-in for students, allowing “productive digressions” (Ugoretz), and so on.

But I have to say that I was really struck by the comment that a student made to Luke: “I don’t like [the blog pedagogy] because it keeps the class always on my mind.”  I feel that this potential downfall of digital pedagogies is not sufficiently explored in these readings, and hardly in the work we read last semester.  (I don’t doubt those arguments are out there, so apologies if someone reading this is like “dude, like 7 scholars have already said all this.”)

My provocation, then, is to really insist we worry as educators about the type of epistemology that we’re expecting of students when we implement technologies like blogs or social media.  This “digital epistemology”—by which I mean a way of thinking and learning where the work might never end, where you can always click in and see what’s new and add to it, and so on—has potential dangerous implications for both individuals and education overall both.  The argument I’m making is similar to one I made when we discussed Slack in ITP1: I think it’s totally efficacious, but I don’t like it because I suddenly feel like I’m always expected to be aware of the class dialogue.  About one semester later, let me say: it’s happened.  I check the ITP Slack along with my other mindless social media scrolling.  Now, my own situation is certainly a reflection of my own ongoing struggle with screen time and time management (read: phone addiction), but I also believe I’m hardly alone in this.  And while this particular issue (ITP in Slack) doesn’t carry dangerous implications for me, it does reflect what could be a real problem.   After all, there is no expectation that I constantly check it.  That was made clear by Lisa and Carlos last semester.  And yet it nevertheless became part of my lifestyle in this way.

Luckily, I like ITP and we’re all respectful of each other.  But let’s for a moment expand my experience to consider how it could affect an undergrad.  Someone who may already need positive, reinforcing epistemologies of education, who in their potential insecurity about their talent/commitment/intellegence/social standing/whatever already needs educators to help them understand that what we learn is part of our lives and not a burden, that knowledge is supposed to serve and empower us.  This feeling, that the class is “always on our mind,” has the real potential to underline the toxic competition that education can engender, the sense of a master/student binary where the latter is always expected to please the former by assessing the master’s expectations and then meet them.  In a pedagogy where you could always sign in and respond to more blog posts, where you might log in to see that other students are doing that and you don’t want to fall behind, where we are so many of us already struggling with the all-encompassing Skynet of a digital world, this “always on my mind” quality of digital education, particularly if it was happening in several classes at once, could totally negate the democratizing potential that digital pedagogy promises to bring.

And of course I’m being a bit doom-saying here.  I neither want to dismiss that digital pedagogy does have democratizing potential—it’s largely why I’m a fan of it—nor presume that making students do blog posts is going to stress them out beyond believe and then there goes the neighborhood.  However, I do think we need to be aware as educators that many students do see expectations in our assignments, and so the relatively formless assignments that could never end are something we have a responsibility to navigate so that the knowledge serves the student rather than becoming a burden adding more stress to lives already overburdened with the digital demands of late capitalism.

Two paths diverged in the woods…

There are two projects that I am potentially exploring to develop into my ITP project. Sharing a brief overview of both below:

Project I: A crowd sourced guide to Mental Health and Well Being in India

Young people in India, like their counterparts across the world, face many stressors in their everyday lives. While some are able to navigate them with relative ease, supported by crucial internal and external resources, others are not so lucky. According to WHO estimates, as many 40 % young people could be dealing with depression and anxiety in India. Another worrisome statistic is the increasing rates of death by suicide among those between 16-29 years in India. Unfortunately, even as young people face varying degrees of emotional distress, conversations around mental health remain a taboo in India. Traditionally people have sought recourse through religious collectives during such times of distress, however these may not be adequate or sufficient to address the complex challenges young people face. In my own life, I have found it difficult to find a therapist for myself relying on informal referral networks to guide my decision. Given this lacuna, I would like to work on a website that can be a “go-to” for young people experiencing emotional distress. The website will collate existing resources that are available, usually in a fragmented manner on different Instagram handles/ social media accounts, informal peer networks, nonprofit organizations.  The website will draw from an intersectional approach to healing that is humanistic, underscoring the ways in which mental health is impacted by social and political structures. The design of the website will be interactive, offering users multiple pathways through which to direct their healing journey. Possible architecture of the website



OPTION II: An archive of Feminist Carceral resistance

New York has a rich legacy of feminist organizing and prison abolition and reform. One such event was the hearings on Domestic Violence and Criminal Justice that had been held for an audience of legislators and policy makers at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 1985. This crucial moment in feminist history, birthed out of the collective carceral wisdom of criminalized survivors at Bedford, working in coalition with feminist activists in the Governor’s office, had been swept out of history.  The hearings held 35 years earlier, and the subsequent organizing by women inside and outside the prison, have been crucial for the passage of the Domestic Violence Survivor’s Justice Act (2019).

As part of the Survivor Justice Voice Project, a group of scholars/ activists have been working to chronicle, through oral histories, the 1985 hearings to unpack the courage, complex solidarities and political commitments galvanized then, resonating today.  To date we have conducted interviews with four formerly incarcerated women who testified at the hearings, four high level administrators/lawyers in the Governor’s Office and at the prison, and three advocates/activists who worked with the women to craft narratives for the Hearings. As part of the ITP project, I would probably help in developing some sections of this online Archive. At present, I am developing a timeline that documents events prior to the 1985 hearings and subsequent initiatives that were mobilized as a consequence of it, leading upto the 2019 passage of the DVSJA act.

(Apologies for the delay in posting this!)

Preliminary Project Brief

Preliminary Project Brief

In a narrative of no more than five hundred words, do the following: 

  • describe the problem that you wish to address with your ITP project; 
  • address at least 3 of the 5 Ws and H in Chris Stein’s Contexts and Practicalities
  • Identify the audience that your project is targeting and state how a member of the audience would engage with your project;
  • present a model for your project (first step in a broader environmental scan), describing how yours is different;
  • state what skills you have that will enable you to do your project as well as what skills you need to develop  
  • Identify the technologies you will need to engage to complete your project.

Upload as PDF to the assignment submission form by 10 am on February 22.

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