For some time now I’ve used “Is a liminal space” as my tagline and it has always intrigued me how people latch on to the word “liminal” in that little phrase. Asking me what it means and why I identify with it. Fewer folks point out that people are not spaces and that spaces, though they may indeed influence people, are not people. Still, I go on using it because I like to make people think and wonder – what the heck does that mean.
Environments do indeed shape us and it has been on my mind more than usual lately. Someone recently asked me that question that seems to circle our field over and over about the differences between “designers” and “technologists” and what is the “right” term for the work. I’ve gotten to the place where those terms mean nothing to me. To understand what you do, in this strange world of edtech/instructional design/faculty development/teaching/administrating/// tell me where you work. That is the only way I will get some idea about what you do. And if what you do doesn’t fit the identity of the space you are working in… just wait. In my experience, you’ll either leave or change.
Digital environments have been one of my bags for some time now and yes they shape us too. Especially if you share through them and make connections there. But no environment is static and when Twitter was sold to Elon Musk a few months ago I think everyone knew things would change.
I didn’t leave, technically. I’lllikely share this post there. Technically, I’ve been on Mastodon since 2016 but “technically” I’m in a lot of places. It’s messy. I’m messy.
But when they started selling checkmarks… yeah I had to go. I’venever had a checkmark, but the idea of buying one. It is all just so sad and strange. To see so much wide spread top-down abuse there. To scroll my feed there and see all these reports of banned accounts and blocking links from competing platforms and then sprinkled in someone promoting their latest article or webinar. I understand some people have invested years and have tens of thousands of followers and that is hard to let go of. I don’t want to throw shade. It is just weird.
I also don’t want to tell anyone what to do but I will say it makes me happy to see familiar folks in other spaces.
I’m pretty privileged there and by privileged I mean invisible. Of course that is not completely true but it is not completely untrue either. I mean it has been a long time since I’ve been an egg but randos in my DMs still seem impressed that Barack Obama follows me. I’m somewhere in-between and not quite loud enough to make a fuss but not translucent enough to feel comfortable existing in a space that just continues to increase in toxicity. But that is strange of me to say too – I can’t say it hasn’t always been toxic – I know that would be a lie. But now it just feels like the call is coming from inside the house more than ever. And to continue to post just feelslike a statement of support for things I can’tagree with.
Also, it just feels like a time to try something new. Maybe it won’t be as big or as notable (is Barack even on Masto?) but that has never stoped me before. Starting again, and again, and again. That is kind of my thing. Perhaps that is why I’m perpetually on the threshold. It is sad but it is where I’m at.
I can’t help but think of the starling murmurations. You know these, yes? Starlings are strange and wonderful for lots of reasons (equal reasons why they are pests but I’m trying to end on an upbeat here) but one is because of the murmurations that they perform in the sky at sunset. Here in Michigan I see them while driving in the country. How they pull this off is a bit of magic no one really understands the details of – maybe something similar is happening now.
Note: On December 7th I expanded my thinking on the concept of the Zoom Gaze into a full-length article with Real Life Magazine which you can find here https://reallifemag.com/the-zoom-gaze/
I’ve been doing video conferencing pretty intently since 2016 in connection with my Virtually Connecting work. This work has been technical, social, and critical. It has compelled me to ask questions around power, voice, and visibility. As the whole world distances from one another physically in fear of a sickness which could be nothing or could be death, those who have the means use this technology as a way to simulate normality. But all of this is anything but normal.
I’ve been thinking about the power of looking, seeing, and being seen – of speaking, listening, and being heard – of touching, feeling, and being felt. That last one is tricky and the one in which the physicality is problematic but as an act of emotion seems to come through from time to time in this virtual space – or perhaps we just yearn for it so much that the approximation is close enough.
There has been a lot of talk about not forcing students to turn cameras on and I advocate for this. I advocate for this out of an attempt to create equitable spaces as I know that not everyone can show their face/space. That video takes more bandwidth and so there is a technical inequity that privileges those with speedy internet and fancy equipment. Also, it is cultural in that we don’t just show our faces but we show our places and sometimes that is problematic for a variety of reasons.
Even with this, as we begin the fall term I cannot help but think about the power dynamics at play in all of this. Gaze has a history and has been evaluated from multiple angles including the gaze as pure power such as in surveillance with Foucault’s panopticon and as racism in hooks’ the oppositional gaze; gendered analysis in the male gaze comes from Mulvey and the feminine gaze from Butler, and nationalized in the imperial gaze of Kaplan.
My understanding of Gaze is limited but it seems to me that in all of the constructs of it above that the viewed is greatly impacted by the seer. The one who is being looked upon changes their behaviour, as well as their sense of self, because of the viewer. In our current time, in the “age of COVID-19”, what does it mean for so many of us to be under the Zoom Gaze? What does it mean for a teacher to see some of their students and to not see others?
It is wonderful to give students the option of turning their cameras on or not but are there underlying power dynamics (unconscious, implicit, and unintended) of being seen that still create inequities in these environments? Are teachers unconsciously tuned in to faces, expressions, body language in such a way that privileges students who are privileged to have fast bandwidth, nice cameras, and good microphones? My gut tells me yes.
And so “allowing” students to not have their camera on in our class session may seem like the super nice thing to do and a way to make your classes equitable but I’m coming to feel like it is actually the least that you can do.
Here are my questions (which I don’t have answers to):
What is Zoom Gaze and what does it look like given different pedagogies and functions of technology?
How do we recognize the power structures within the Zoom Gaze?
How do we challenge the Zoom Gaze power structures to not perpetuate inequities?
This post is around the #DigPINS Pedagome “Identity” week. I want to just sort of riff on my own about some personal experience so forgive me for not doing a map or otherwise following the prompt. I’ve long been interested in the impact of environment on identity but I recently took on a little personal project that made me think harder about the intersection of physical environments and digital identities. I’ve been wanting to write about it and this seemed the time to get it out.
I’ve been interested in data privacy and surveillance for some time now. About a year ago I started paying more attention to the signage that indicates that my physicality is under surveillance and started snapping pics of them. This was very much an aside and I wasn’t doing much more than snapping the pics. I did find some use for them in tweets and headers for blog posts about data privacy and surveillance but most of the time they just lived on my camera roll. I did find them interesting and noted some nuances to myself such as subilities in iconography and rhetoric but this was all just sort of in my head.
A few months ago I started wanting to do more with these pics and I had the idea that a social media presence could give them a home, help me be more intentional about looking for signage, and help me in noticing those nuances and chronicling them. Since they were pics I tried to establish an Instagram account but I’m not much of an Instagram user and the account never got off the ground. I’m not sure I ever even got one follower and then a few weeks later Instagram actually shut the account down – I think because I missed a verification email. Still, I wanted to do something and considering that I’m more of a Twitter user I decided to reestablish there. After being two days old on twitter @SurveillanceSam/Surveillance Signage had a few hundred followers – so something to be said about having an established network on a particular tool and even just knowing the tool.
For me, @SurveillanceSam is an establishment of a digital identity to scaffold a new kind of awareness and a way of being for myself. Right away several folks pointed out similar projects that were more robust or suggested that this project could be or do more. Suggestions included creating intricate maps, attaching levels of metadata, or scraping data of where surveillance equipment might be deployed and displaying it. All of these are fascinating and ideas I may want to evolve @SurveillanceSam to do at some point but right now it is just an outlet for me to be more aware of my surroundings. It is an outlet for a part of my brain and an expression of my current living experience right now. As great as all of those other ideas are that is not what I’m interested in doing with it right now.
Then something interesting happened – a few people started wanting to do this with me. They started tagging @SurveillanceSam in tweets that had pics of surveillance signage that they had come across and I started using the account to retweet. Some even backchanneled them to me and I would use the account directly to post them.
I have mixed feelings about this phenomenon – on one hand I it is really fun to have other people doing this same kind of thing that I’m doing: paying attention to their surroundings, capturing these signs, sharing them with me to curate in one place. On the other I worry a bit about encouraging folks to follow along. I sometimes worry about snapping these photos even myself. I used to just carry a camera with me everywhere and snap pics of everything around me – I was a bit of a photo nerd. One day I was shooting a large outdoor fountain and some kind of angry enforcement officer (I can’t even remember if it was a proper cop – it was many years ago) wanted to know why I was taking pictures of the bank. I had not even noticed there was a bank in the background of the fountain. You sort of have to assume that you are under surveillance when you are taking these photos and that could look somewhat shady to whoever is watching. If you are not a middle-class looking white lady and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time I can see how this could perhaps not be the best practice for you. So I hesitate to promote people joining me on this journey. But it is a journey that I am on and for those who find it possible to capture signs that their identity is being captured I’m happy to amplify.
So, what have I learnt?
It has been an interesting few months with @SurveillanceSam. Since creating the account I have become much more aware of signage and where I might find it. It feels a bit like geocaching in a way but with instinct rather than a GPS. One of the first things that I noticed was being more aware of where I would find surveillance but what was really interesting was how often there was no signage. I drew a line with the account that it was not a place for pics of surveillance equipment but rather just signage. I’m interested in how surveillance is communicated, why it is communicated, and who it is communicated to – and my experience so far has found that most often it is happening without communication. More often than not I find equipment without any signage.
And about the signage and my questions of how, why, and who?
“How” surveillance is being communicated is an interesting question which bleeds into “why” and “for who”. Iconography stands out to me: eyes, shields, and cameras permeate. I made note that often the cameras are mounted – though usually they are mounted to nothing. There is often a mount on the icon and sometimes a wire but it just hangs there in a void. This is a common kind of camera I suppose but it is interesting to me that so many of the cameras are old school – the newer cameras are dome ones but you never see those in the icons.
The “why” and the “who” questions are even more interesting. Especially in light of my experience that most surveillance is not communicated. If not then when it is being communicated why is it being communicated. A favorite way of mine to question this is to put images indicating that you are for sure being surveilled next to one’s that say you may be being surveilled. What exactly is the point of a sign that says you “may be” under surveillance?
“Who” is a sobering question as in my experience I’ve seen signs of surveillance more often in poor neighborhoods and in communities of color. But also digging into the signs themselves. Who are they directed at? Many are directed at the criminal stating in all caps WARNING or ATTENTION you are on camera, microphone, closed circuit TV, etc. but for others the audience for the sign is the person who is doing nothing wrong and states that the surveillance is for their benefit for protection or will even save them money by stopping theft at the store.
In conclusion, I’m two months into @SurveillanceSam and it is an interesting overlay of a digital identity and how it can impact a “real life”. If you are familiar with some of my past thinking you know that those scare quotes are because I have issues with the term “real life”. I think this creates a false dichotomy. Unless we are talking about your dreams, imaginagings, psychedelic hallucinations, spiritual encounters, or the like we are talking about “real life”. @SurveillanceSam is not a “real person” but I am and it is an extension of my attention and current thinking. I’m sure that there are folks out there who have taken a deeper look at these things but I’m just starting to explore them and this is where I’m at for now.
I’ve made it to Open Ed 2018 and I’m excited to present a lightning talk on Friday at 3:30 – 3:45 with Sundi Richard and Joe Murphy on our collaborations with #DigPINS. If you are at the conference please consider coming by and if you are not I’m hoping this blog post will give you a glimpse.
If you don’t know, DigPINS is a faculty development experience, much of which happens in the open, where we collaborate with small cohorts of faculty in a fully online experience to discuss issues of Digital (the Dig) Pedagogy, Identity, Networks, and Scholarship (the PINS) over anywhere from 3-5 weeks.
We have released a template of the curriculum as a model that can be found at https://digpins.org so that is one place to get started but that is just content… #DigPINS is really an opportunity for collaboration and community as we will discuss in the talk.
It basically works from a position of someone at an institution deciding that they are going to run #DigPINS with a cohort of faculty – this could be an instructional designer, a librarian, a technologist… but someone interested in faculty development around how we learn in online spaces. This person needs to pick dates, register people, promote it and ultimately design the thing. Like I said a template is available at https://digpins.org but, again, that is just content. One of the big design decisions is about choosing the open digital environments and the backchannel (This is the ‘closed space’ that we are calling out in the title of this talk).
We have found that the backchannel is important for faculty who are just getting started. They have to have a safe space to communicate and collaborate outside of the public eye while considering and challenging themselves with these heavy notions and the very idea of ‘going open’.
The facilitator should have experience with each of the themes (the PINS) in theory and in practice.
This past summer Joe and I ran the first DigPINS cohorts in conjunction with one another creating the first inter-institutional cohorts. We had a total of 17 participants and we had to be flexible with one another. We had our own backchannels and our own open hubs.
There are lots of ways to join – the big one is to run your own iteration at your own school with your own cohort but people can also dip in as individuals with any of the open activities and of course on the #DigPINS tag on Twitter. This January there are plans for all three of us to run it with cohorts from January 2nd till the 28th.
I’m embedding our slides below – if you need more info don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.
The thinking for this post comes on the tail end of Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL) where, despite not being enrolled in any of the data or privacy offerings, concerns of student data and privacy rang loud in my ears. This came from various conversations but I think it really took off after Jade Davis’ keynote and after Chris G and Bill Fitzgerald visited us in Amy Collier’s Design track to talk about designing for privacy. After the Lab I also came across Matthew Cheney’s recent blog post How Public? Why Public? where he advocates for public work that is meaningful because it is done so in conjunction with private work and where students use both public and private as options depending on what meets the needs of varying circumstances.
A big part of what attracts me to Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) is this possibility of increased ownership and agency over technology and a somewhat romantic idea I have that this can transfer to inspire ownership and agency over learning. In considering ideas around privacy in DoOO it occurred to me that one of the most powerful things about DoOO is that is it has the capability of being radically publicly open but that being coerced into the open or even going open without careful thought is the exact opposite of ownership and agency.
In a recent twitter conversation with Kris Schaffer he referred to openness and privacy as two manifestations of agency. This struck me as sort of beautiful and also made me think harder about what we mean by agency, especially in learning and particularly in DoOO. I think that the real possibility of agency in DoOO starts from teaching students what is possible around the capabilities and constraints in digital environments. If we are really concerned about ownership and agency in DoOO then we have to consider how we will design for privacy when using it.
DoOO does allow for various forms and levels of privacy which are affected by deployment choices, technical settings, and pedagogical choices. I hear people talk about these possibilities and even throw out different mixes of these configurations from time to time but I have never seen those listed out as a technical document anywhere.
So, this is my design challenge. How can I look at the possibilities of privacy for DoOO, refine those possibilities for specific audiences (faculty and students), and then maybe make something that is not horribly boring (as technical documents can be) to convey the message. I do want to be clear that this post is not that – this post is my process in trying to build that and a public call for reflections on what it could look like or resources that may already exist. What I have so far is really just a first draft after doing some brainstorming with Tim C during some downtime at DPL.
Setting Some Boundaries This could go in a lot of different directions so I’m setting some boundaries up front to keep a scope on things. I’d love to grow this idea but right now I’m starting small to get my head around it. I’m looking to create something digestible that outlines the different levels of privacy around a WordPress install on DoOO. DoOO is so much bigger than just WordPress, I know that but I’m not trying to consider Omeka or other applications – yet. Also, I’m specifically thinking about this in terms of a class or other teaching/learning environment. A personal domain that someone is doing on their own outside of a teaching/learning environment is another matter with different, more personal, concerns.
Designing for Privacy with DoOO Right now I’m dividing things up into two broad categories that interact with one another. I need better titles for them but what I’m calling Privacy Options are stand alone settings or approaches that can be implemented across any of the Deployments which are design and pedagogical choices that are made at the onset. Each of these also afford for and require different levels of digital skills and I’m also figuring out how to factor that into the mix. I will start with Deployments because I think that is where this starts in practice.
Deployments: Deployment 1 – Instructor controlled blog: With this deployment an instructor has their own domain where they install WordPress and give the students author accounts (or whatever level privileges make sense for the course). Digital Skills: Instructor needs to be comfortable acting as a WordPress administrator including: theming and account creation. Students gain experience as WordPress authors and collaborating in a single digital space.
Deployment 2 – Instructor controlled multisite: With this deployment an instructor installs a WordPress multisite on their own domain and each student gets their own WordPress site. Digital Skills: Running a multisite is different from running a single install and will require a bit more in the way of a digital skill set including: enabling themes and plugins, setting up subdomains and/or directories. Students can gain the experience of being WordPress administrators rather than just authors but depending on the options chosen this can be diminished.
Deployment 3 – Student owned domains: This is what we often think of as DoOO. Each student does not just get a WordPress account or a WordPress site but their own domain. They can install any number of tools but of course the scope of this document (for now) is just WordPress. Digital Skills: One fear I have is that this kind of deployment can be instituted without the instructor having any digital skills. Support for digital skills will have to come from somewhere but if this is being provided for from some other area then the instructor does not need to have the skills themselves. Students will gain skills in c-panel, installing WordPress, deleting WordPress
Privacy Options Privacy Options looks at approaches, settings, or plugins that can be used across any of the Deployments:
1 – Visibility settings: WordPress Posts and Pages have visibility settings for public, password protected, and private. These can be used by any author on any post and by admins on posts and pages.
2 – Private site plugin: Though I have not personally used a private site plugin I know that they exist and can be used to make a whole WordPress site private. Tim mentioned that he has used Hide My Site in the past with success.
3 – Pseudonyms: There is no reason that a full legal name needs to be used. How do we convey the importance of naming to students. I took a stab at this for my day job but I’m wondering what else can be done.
4 – Search engine visibility setting: This little tick box is located in WordPress under the reading settings and “discourages search engines from indexing the site” though it does say that it is up to the search engines to honor this request.
5 – Privacy protection at the domain level to obscure your name and address from a WhoIs lookup. Maybe not a concern if your institution is doing subdomains?
6 – An understanding of how posts and sites get promoted. Self promotion and promotion from others. How different audiences might get directed to your post or site.
Some Final Thoughts There is one approach that I’d actually been leaning toward prior to Digital Pedagogy Lab that raises questions about how to introduce this. I do worry about the technical barrier that comes with learning about these privacy options. All of the privacy options come with some level of digital skill and/or literacy that needs to be in place or acquired. In addition, I think that often the deployments are made before the privacy options are considered; yes yes I know that is not ideal but it is a reality. Because of this, is it maybe just better to tell faculty and students, in the beginning at least, to think of their DoOO or their WordPress as a public space? Mistakes happen and are we muddying the waters by thinking of DoOO or WordPress as private spaces where a simple technical mistake could easily make things public? Most people have so many options for private reflection and drafting; from Google Docs to the LMS, email to private messaging we have so many tools that are not so radically publicly open. Is there something to be said for thinking of the domain space as public space and using it for that – at least while building the skills necessary to make it more private?
I don’t have the answers but I wanted to open the conversation and see what others are thinking. Are there resources that I’m missing and how can this be created in a way that will be easy to understand and digestible? I’m thinking and writing and booking some folks for conversations to keep thinking in this way. Stay tuned and I’ll keep learning transparently.
Big thanks to Tim C and Chris G for giving feedback on a draft of this post.
In the beginning of 2017 I first discovered Cambridge Analytica (CA) through a series of videos that included a Sky News report, some of their own advertising, as well as a presentation by their CEO Alexander Nix. I found myself fascinated by the notion that big data firms, focused on political advertising, were behind those little facebook quizzes; that these data firms were creating profiles on people through harvesting their data from these quizzes and combining it with other information about them like basic demographics, voter and districting information, and who knows what else to create a product for advertisers. I was in the process of refining a syllabus for a class and creating an online community around digital citizenship so this was of particular interest to me.
My broad interest in digital citizenship is around our rights and responsibilities online and I was compelled by the thought that we could be persuaded to take some dumb quiz and then through taking that quiz our data would be taken and used in other ways that we never expected; in ways that would be outside of our best interests.
I had questions about what we were agreeing to: how much data firms could know about us, what kind of metrics they were running on us, how the data could be shared, and what those messages of influence might look like. I started asking questions but when the answers started coming in I found myself paralyzed under the sheer weight of how much work it took to keep up with all of it not to mention the threats of financial blowback. This paralisis made me wonder about the feasibility of an everyday person to challenge this data collection, request their own data to better understand how they were being marketed to, and of course the security and privacy of the data.
However, much of this conversation is happening from the perspective of advertising technology (adtech), politics, and law. I’m interested in it from the perspective of education so I’d like to intersect the two.
A few weeks after I found those videos, featured by and featuring Cambridge Analytica, I came across a Motherboard article that gave some history of how the company was founded and how they were hired by several high profile political campaigns. Around this time I also found Paul-Olivier Dehaye of personaldata.io who was offering to help people understand how to apply to get a copy of their data from Cambridge Analytica based on the Data Protection Act (DPA), as the data was being processed in the UK.
My interests in digital citizenship and information/media/digital literacy had me wondering just how much data CA was collecting and what they were doing with it. Their own advertising made them sound pretty powerful but I was curious about what they had, how much of it I’d potentially given to them through taking stupid online quizzes, and what was possible if combined with other data and powerful algorithms.
The original request was not to Cambridge Analytica but rather to their parent company SCL Elections. There was a form that I had to fill out and a few days later I got another email stating that I had to submit even more information and GPB £10 payable in these very specific ways.
[/caption]Out of all of this, I actually found the hardest part to be paying the £10. My bank would only wire transfer a minimum of £50 and SCL told me that my $USD check would have to match £10 exactly after factoring in the exchange rate the day they recieved it. I approached friends in the UK to see if they would write a check for me and I could pay them back. I had a trip to London planned and I considered dropping by their offices to give them cash, even though that was not one of the options listed. It seemed like silly barrier, that a large and powerful data firm could not accept a PayPal payment or something and would instead force me into overpayment or deny my request due to changes in the exchange rate. In the end, PersonalData.io paid for my request and I sent along the other information that SCL wanted.
After I got the £10 worked out with Paul I heard from SCL pretty quickly saying that they were processing my request and then a few days later I got a letter and an excel spreadsheet from Cambridge Analytica that listed some of the data that they had on me.
It was not a lot of data, but I have administered several small learning platforms and one of the things that you learn after running a platform for awhile is that you don’t really need a lot of data on someone to make certain inferences about them. I also found the last tab of the spreadsheet to be disconcerting as this was the breakdown of my political beliefs. This ranking showed how important on a scale of 1-10 various political issues were to me but there was nothing that told me how that ranking was obtained.
Are these results on the last tab from a quiz that I took; when I just wanted to know my personality type or what Harry Potter Character I most resemble? Is this a ranking based on a collection and analysis of my own Facebook reactions (thumbs up, love, wow, sad, or anger) on my friend’s postings? Is this a collection and analysis of my own postings? I really have no way of knowing. According to the communication from CA it is these mysterious “third parties” who must be protected more than my data.
[/caption]In looking to find answers to these questions Paul put me in touch with a Ravi Naik of ITN Solicitors who helped me to issue a response to CA asking for the rest of my data and more information about how these results were garnered about me. We never got a response that I can share and in considering my options and the potential for huge costs I could face it was just too overwhelming.
Is it okay to say I got scared here? Is it okay to say I chickened out and stepped away? Cause that is what I did. There are others who are more brave than me and I commend them. David Carroll, who I mentioned earlier just filed legal papers against CA, followed the same process that I did is still trying to crowdfund resources. I just didn’t have it in me. Sorry democracy.
It kills me. I hope to find another way to contribute.
Platform Literacy and Gaslighting
So now it is a year later and the Cambridge Analytica story has hit and everyone is talking about it. I backed away from this case and asked Ravi to not file anything under my name months ago and yet here I am now releasing a bunch of it on my blog. What gives? Basically, I don’t have it in me to take on the financial risk but I still think that there is something to be learned from the process that I went through in terms of education. This story is huge right now but the dominant narrative is approaching it from the point of view of advertising, politics, and the law. I’m interested in this from the perspective of what I do – educational technology.
The part of boyd’s talk (and her response) that I find particularly compelling in terms of overlap with this Cambridge Analytica story is in the construct of gaslighting in media literacy. boyd is not the first to use the term gaslighting in relation to our current situation with media but, again, often I see this presented from the perspective of adtech, law, or politics and not so much from the perspective of education.
If you don’t know what gaslighting is you can take a moment to look into it but basically it is a form of psychological abuse between people who are in close relationships or friendships. It involves an abuser who twists facts and manipulates another person by drawing on that close proximity and the knowledge that they hold about the victim’s personality and other intimate details. The abuser uses the personal knowledge that they have of the person to manipulate them by playing on their fears, wants, and attractions.
One of the criticisms of boyd’s talk, one that I’m sympathetic to, is around the lack of blame that she places on platforms. Often people underestimate what platforms are capable of and I don’t think that most people understand the potential of platforms to track, extract, collect, and report on your behaviour.
In her rebuttal to these criticisms, to which I am equally sympathetic, boyd states that she is well aware of the part that platforms play in this problem and that she has addressed that elsewhere. She states that is not the focus of this particular talk to address platforms and I’m okay with that – to a point. Too often we attack a critic (for some reason more often critics of technology) who is talking about a complex problem for not addressing every facet of that problem all at once. It is often just not possible to address every angle at the same time and sometimes we need to break it up into more digestible parts. I can give this one to boyd – that is until we start talking about gaslighting.
It is exactly this principle of platforms employing this idea of personalization, or intimate knowledge of who a person is, which makes the gaslighting metaphor work. We are taking this thing that is a description of a very personal kind of abuse and using it to describe a problem at mass scale. It is the idea that the platform has data which tells it bits about who you are and that there are customers (most often advertisers) out there who will pay for that knowledge. If we are going to bring gaslighting into the conversation then we have to address the ability of a platform to know what makes you like, love, laugh, wow, sad, and angry and use that knowledge against you.
We don’t give enough weight to what platforms take from us and how they often hide or own data from us and then sell it to third parties (users don’t want to see all that messy metadata…. Right?). I’m not sure you even glimpse the possibilities if you are not in the admin position – and who gets that kind of opportunity?
It would be a stretch to call me a data scientist but I’ve built some kind of “platform literacy” after a little more than a decade of overseeing learning management systems (LMS) at small colleges but most people interact with platforms as a user not as an admin so they never get that. I’m not sure how to quantify my level of platform literacy but please understand that I’m no wiz kid – an LMS is no Facebook and in my case we are only talking about a few thousand users. I’m more concerned with making the thing work for professors and students than anything, however, in doing even a small amount of admin work you get a feel for what it means to consider and care about things on a different level: how accounts are created, how they interact with content and with other accounts, the way accounts leave traces through the content they contribute but also through their metadata, and how the platform is always monitoring this and how as an administrator you have access to that monitoring when the user (person) often does not.
I don’t think that most LMS admins (at least as LMSs are currently configured) at small colleges are incentivised to go digging for nuanced details in that monitoring unprompted. I do think that platform owners who have customers willing to pay large sums for advertising contracts have more of a motivation to analyze such things.
Educational researchers are incentivised to show greater returns on learning outcomes and the drum beat of personalized learning is ever present. But I gotta ask if can we pause for a second and think… is there something to be learned from all this Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, personalization, microtargeting, of advertising story for education? Look at everything that I went through to try to better understand the data trails that I’m leaving behind and I still don’t have the answers. Look at the consequences that we are now seeing from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The platforms that we use in education for learning are not exempt from this issue.
My mind goes back to all the times I’ve heard utopian dreams about making a learning system that is like a social media platform. All the times I’ve seen students who were told to use Facebook itself as a learning tool. So many times I’ve sat through vendor presentations around learning analytics and then during Q&A asked “where is the student interface – you know, so the student can see all of this for themselves” only to be told that was not a feature. All the times I’ve brainstormed the “next generation digital learning environment” only to hear someone say “can we build something like Facebook?” or “I use this other system because it is so much like Facebook”. I get it. Facebook gives you what you want and it feels good – and oh how powerful learning would be if it felt good. But I’m not sure that is learning is the thing.
In her rebuttal boyd says that one of the outstanding questions that she has after listening to the critics (and thanking them for their input) is how to teach across gaslighting. So, it is here where I will suggest that we have to bring platforms back into the conversation. I’m not sure how we talk about gaslighting in media without looking at how platforms manipulate the frequency and context with which media are presented to us – especially when that frequency and context is “personalized” and based on intimate knowledge of what makes us like, love, wow, sad, grrrr.
Teaching and learning around this is not about validating the truthfulness of a source or considering bias in the story. Teaching and learning around this is about understanding the how and why of the thing, the platform, that brings you the message. The how and why it is bringing it to you right now. The how and why of the message looking the way that it does. The how and why of a different message that might be coming to someone else at the same time. It is about the medium more than the message.
And if we are going to talk about how platforms can manipulate us through media we need to talk about how platforms can manipulate us and how some will call it learning. Because there is a lot of overlap here and personalization is attractive – no really, I mean it is really really pretty and it makes you want more. I have had people tell me that they want personalization because they want to see advertising for the things that they “need”. I tried to make the case that if they really needed it then advertising would not be necessary, but this fell flat.
Personalization in learning and advertising is enabled by platforms. Just as there are deep problems with personalization of advertising, we will find it is multiplied by tens of thousands when we apply it to learning. Utopian views that ignore the problems of platforms and personalization are only going to end up looking like what we are seeing now with Facebook and CA. The thing that I can’t shake is this feeling that the platform itself is the thing that we need more people to understand.
What if instead of building platforms that personalized pathways or personalized content we found a way to teach platform’s themselves so that students really understood what platforms were capable of collecting, producing, and contextualizing? What if we could find a way to build platform literacy within our learning systems so that students understood what platforms are capable of doing? Perhaps then when inside of social platforms people would not so easily give away their data and when they did they would have a better understanding of the scope. What if we were really transparent with the data that learning systems have about students and focused on making the student aware of the existence of their data and emphasised their ownership over their data? What if we taught data literacy to the student with their own data? If decades ago we would have focused on student agency and ownership over platforms and analytics I wonder if Cambridge Analytica would have even had a product to sell to political campaigns let alone ever been a big news story.
I’m not saying this would be a fail safe solution – solutions come with their own set of problems – but I think it could be a start. It would mean a change in the interfaces and structures of these systems but it would mean other things too. Changes in the way we make business decisions when choosing systems and changes in the way we design learning would have to be there too. But we have to start thinking and talking about platforms to even get started – because the way they are currently configured has consequences.
I’m excited to be presenting a poster at ELI2018 with Sundi Richard on DigPINS – a participatory faculty development experience. Sundi designed DigPINS around the same time that I was designing my first year seminar in digital citizenship – of course we co-founded #DigCiz and digciz.org together so there has been a lot of talk between us about all of these projects.
DigPINS looks at Digital Pedagogy, Identity, Networks, and Scholarship as an online faculty development experience in a cohort model over a set time period. It sort of reminds me of a cMOOC except the focus is not on massive numbers and there is a part of the experience that does not happen in the open – the cohort at the school that is running the course has a backchannel and really they are often closer in physical proximity to one another so they can sometimes just talk to each other on campus.
For our poster we have given a description of each of the defining concepts (the PINS: Pedagogy, Identity, Networks, and Scholarship) on one half and then an interactive description of examples of the activities on the other half. The activities are dynamic and complex – they are not easily put into a box – hence making the poster interactive. How do we make a poster interactive? Well each activity will be printed separately so that during explination they can be placed along two intersecting continuums: Private/Public and Synchronous/Asynchronous. The far extremes of each of these are hard to get at and I’m not sure that anything in DigPINS belongs there but we are hopeful that having these as moveable elements that we will be able to better demonstrate their complexity.
A digital version of the poster is embedded below – it is three slides long as Slide 1 is the poster, Slide 2 are the moveable activities, and on Slide 3 we put a description.
Some of you know I just took a position at St. Norbert and one of the big reasons was because I knew they were not just open to but encouraging really exciting approaches to faculty development like DigPINS. I just finished up running my first implementation of DigPINS at St. Norbert. I had a great group of faculty, staff, and librarians who were really thoughtful about their approaches. We had some serious conversations about the good and bad of technology, social media, mobile access and their effects on pedagogy, scholarship, and ourselves.
I’m excited to be able to present with Sundi on DigPINS – our next move is to open the curriculum so that others can take the skeleton of the defining concepts and activities and make it their own at their institution. That is coming soon so stay tuned!!!
I was informally running Twitter stats in the background and we consistently had between 200-400 people for any given week. Not massive by any means but growing. Though it was bigger than before and though it was online I’m still adamant that it was not a MOOC – it’s a conversation. A conversation mediated by technology, sure, but a conversation, and not a course, nonetheless.
A #DigPed Workshop
Still, we learned a lot and as part of the continual processing and dissemination of that learning, I’m excited to point out (I’m not really announcing – the site has been up for awhile) that Sundi Richard and I will be collaborating in the flesh with participants for a 75 minute workshop during the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute. The workshop is broad so even if you did not follow along with #DigCiz, but are interested in digital citizenship in higher education and society at large it will be valuable.
If you are attending the Institute consider coming to our workshop! If you are not attending there is still time because registration is still open (as of the time of this posting anyway).
I realize trying to ask people to attend a whole institute for a 75 min workshop is a little crazy but there is so much to be learned at the Institute as a whole! It looks like there is still room in Data, Networks, and Domains tracks! These are led by some of the smartest people in the room (and by room I mean the internet) Kris Shaffer (Data), Maha Bali and Kate Bowles (Networks), and Martha Burtis (Domains).
Mostly what I really want in hashtag #DigCiz, is to have a broad conversation about “digital citizenship” that takes a critical look at both “digital” and “citizenship” and that moves beyond things like netiquette and cyberbullying. I think those things are important but I want them to be part of the conversation not the whole conversation.
I think that we have been pretty successful in creating conversation that does that but it also seems that a bit of a community is growing.
This last round of #DigCiz spurred a bit of a branching out…. meaning that there are all of these little side things that keep popping up even though our planned burst ended weeks ago.
Ever since Audrey Watters blocked annotation from her site I’ve been rethinking my use of hypothesis. I don’t think that Audrey is wrong (it is her site people) but I also see great benefit from annotating the web. Annotating privacy policies and TOS as a way to better understand them does not feel like I am impinging on anyone’s creative work. We are still doing some work to refine how we do this but I think it has promise.
A big part of why I can’t call DigCiz a MOOC is because I don’t feel like a teacher in DigCiz – I feel more like a learner.
However, I do turn around what I learn in DigCiz and teach it. I am planning a first year seminar in Digital Identities, Environments, and Citizenship to be taught in the fall and now I have this exciting opportunity to do the workshop at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute with Sundi.
If you are going to be at DPLI consider coming to our workshop. Sundi and I will be presenting together and we will be talking about many of the things that we have learned through these DigCiz conversations. We plan to present different scenarios that encompass facets of digital citizenship and ask participants to think about how we can present these to students for a deeper consideration of digital citizenship.
Also keep an eye on digciz.org cause you never know when a DigCiz blast could pop up.
Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt just finished a round of facilitation in the #DigCiz conversation where they challenged us to think about moving away from a personal responsibility model of digital citizenship. In a joint blog post they spend time distinguishing digital citizenship from cybersaftey and present Jole Westheimer’s work identifying three different types of citizens to ultimately ask “What kind of (digital) citizen” are we talking about.
Additionally, this week, outside of our #DigCiz hashtag, Josie Fraser blogged about some views around digital citizenship. Here we see Josie, reminiscent of Katia and Alec, making a distinction between digital citizenship and what she identifies as e-safety but also setting it apart from digital literacy. Josie presents a venn diagram where digital citizenship is one part of a larger interaction overlapping with e-safety and digital literacy.
But I want to get back to Katia and Alec’s call to move the conversation beyond personal responsibility. Often, digital citizenship is lumped in with things like digital/information literacy, nettiquette, online safety, and a whole host of other concepts. Often these are just variations of issues that existed way before the “digital” but are complicated by the digital.
I’m considering Katia and Alec’s call, reflecting on all of these posts and articles as well as the last year and several months of thinking and conversing about this topic on #DigCiz and I can’t help but feel like we are in the weeds on this concept.
So here it is – my foundational, basic, details ripped away, 10,000 foot view at digital citizenship where things like safety and literacy are part of the model but not the whole thing.
I’ve thought about digital citizenship like this for some time and Josie’s post reminded me the idea of representing it as a venn diagram and though some of the overlaps are messy I think that is normal.
I really want to focus and drill down on digital citizenship so I put it in the middle and zoom out from there. The factors that I see at play around digital citizenship are environments and people. In terms of people there is the individual and then others. Since this is “digital” citizenship they are digital environments and identities. The items in the overlaps are messy part. This is draft one.
This is a really broad model but I think that digital citizenship is a really broad concept and that a narrow model would not do. I think part of the problem that we get into with confusing digital citizenship with digital literacy, cybersafety, netiquette or any other number of similar ideas has to do with narrowly defined models that do not allow for liminality or overlap.
In theory that is… but that brings me to the second half of this post.
I hope that the web still can exist as a place for community building, artistic expression, and civic discourse but I fear that use for it is shrinking under the pressures of its uses as an advertising and surveillance tool.
I worry that as we are used and targeted by systems that we have been normalized to the experience of being used and targeted. Resulting in us feeling that using and targeting others does not seem like such a big deal.
I rather like the idea of performance art. Making an artistic statement not through polished practice but rather through the practice of a lived moment.
In Rhythm 0, Abramovic wanted to experiment with giving the public pure access to engage with her actual in-the-flesh self.
She stood for six hours in front of a table with all manner of objects for pleasure and pain with a statement that told the public that they could engage with her however they saw fit.
She was a type of living doll.
Quickly the public forgot that she was a person. She had told them that she was an object after all. So fast they moved from tickling her with the feathers or kissing her on the cheek to cutting her with the razors. She said she was ready to die for this experiment. She said she took full responsibility. One of the objects was a loaded gun. Someone went as far as to put it in her own hand and hold it to her head and see if they could make her pull the trigger.
But why? Why when given the chance to engage with her would people choose to harm her of all the choices of things that they could do to her?
What happens when we interact with people? Is it about us or is it about them? Are we seeing people with lives and needs and wants and fears and all the messy that is human? Or are we seeing an object that we want to interaction with… for our sense of good or bad or pain or pleasure?
I’m not sure much has changed since 1974 when Marina Abramovic first performed this piece. I’m not sure if given the choice between tools of violence and tools of peace that the public will choose peace even today.
I’m not Marina Abramovic
#DigCiz is not Rythem 0
I think we need to look at ourselves and our communities and ask why we are engaging with each other. Is it out of a selfish need for engagement? Is there a hope for beneficial reciprocation? Is there a concept of consent being considered?
I think we need to look at our tools and wonder why we are engaging with them and the companies behind them. As they say if you are not paying you are probably the product.
Environment shapes identity. Identity shapes other’s identities. I fear that we are shaping each other mindlessly. I fear that we are not just shaping each other but that the predatory environments we use are additionally shaping us.
I think we start to change by knowing ourselves first and then engaging where we think we will find recripciotaton, and by recripciotation I don’t mean comments and I don’t mean reply. I mean really trying to listen to one another and getting to know one another. Caring about how we think the other may want to engage and not just satisfying some hunger for engagement.
#DigCiz continues next week and I’m hopeful that we will start to explore these nuances of engagement even deeper as Maha Bali and Kate Bowles take the wheel. Keep an eye on #DigCiz on key social media outlets and digciz.org
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be virtual?
Over the last year I spent a lot of time expanding my virtual self. Now, I had a virtual self before last year but there is no denying that, for me, during #rhizo15, and then after, as I started getting more involved with Virtually Connecting, that I really started to do more and more and just Be online. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and this post is just me doing a little reflecting.
A common thread that I have sensed in the undercurrent of it all is this sense of being “Real” as in “In Real Life”. When we talk about meeting in-person vs meeting virtually we often refer to the face to face experience as “Real”, and I’m not sure I agree with that. This is not the first time I’ve thought about this. I worked through this a few months ago with some folks online and started to prefer the term “in the flesh” rather than “in real life” for my own interactions that happen face to face. One of the things that I like about life in general is the ability to work through my ideas in conjunction with others. Online allows me to extend the reach. Does it allow me more diverse voices to interact with? Jury is still out on that one. I’m thankful for the voices that are counter to my own and for the challenges that they bring. I encounter challenging voices online but I encounter them face to face too. I’m thankful for them all. Online transverses space and time better – I’ll give it that.
Over this past year I learned about and how to use a bunch of new technologies. I connected with and learned from people all over the globe. I fell in love and got my heart broken. I made a ton of new friends. I got (and continue to get) called out on some stuff that I was getting wrong… and that stung (stings) but I’m better for it. I traveled and I got to meet some of those people that I was connecting with online at #dLRN15 and #AACUgened16 and some other conferences. I have to say that it has been a pretty rich experience overall.
Did it hurt? Sometimes.
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become.
I started my journey in edtech as a non-traditional student, tech assistant in an office of academic technology at a community college. I did a lot of grunt work and I really wasn’t really sure to what end (It is not that it was not being pointed out to me just that I was greener than most). I just knew that I liked people and I liked technology and that edtech was paying attention to the mixture of the two where many other fields were just being pushed or pulled by them.
I was kind of lost for a long time and not sure what I was going to do with myself. I got another degree. I put myself out there. I landed a gig. It was in an IT department. It was at a university.
And then there is this idea of ontological design. This idea that our environment shapes us. Which seems pretty common sense and I’m not sure that we really need a fancy name like “ontological design” to describe it. But I’ve come to find affinity with fancy names and long titles just as I once had an affinity for disclaimers – I may still I’ve just decided for some reason not to use one here. But in the meantime I got another degree.
And after all of that – after all of that! I now feel kind of like a baby and that my eyes are just now starting to open. It is almost enough to give up, and I would… if it were not that I’m just beginning.
It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’
~ All quotes from: The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be real? What does it mean to be virtual? What does it mean to create something of beauty – something that might inspire others?
I’m not sure about the answers to these big questions. I’m pretty sure that no matter if we are living online or if we are living face to face that they are still important big questions that are not going anywhere anytime soon.
I started reading this book the other day that is all about how our virtual lives are stealing away our face to face lives. I’m considering exploring this in community because seems, to me, more of a problem of environment in general than a matter of “face to face vs online” or “Real vs. virtual”. But still, I think this book makes some good points about presence and focus – it just blames technology instead.
But who knows if I’ll have time. After all #rhizo16 starts on May 10th… that’s the rumor I heard anyway… you never know with those rhizomes.