Category Archives: Digital Communication

Facebookless

IMG_6448I spent the last week without logging into Facebook. To be fair, I kept the Facebook Messenger app on my phone, and messaged with a few people that way. But I removed the Facebook app from my phone, and didn’t log on via computer. Why did I do this, you might wonder? #becausetime

I will always remember the 2015-2016 academic school year as a time when I started missing emails consistently. It’s not for any lack of caring: anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve always been a fast responder. I care very deeply that people know that I’ve heard what they have to say! There are two differences that have created this problem for me this year: 1) I get more emails now than I ever did before, and 2) I have less time than I ever have before.

Thanks to some brilliant friends (who, in truth, I rely on for staying up to date with the latest gadgets and apps), I discovered unroll.me for automating and managing my gmail inbox. But I don’t feel that I can do the same for my work email. Perhaps I should look into it. Because I can’t keep up. It’s just too much!

So what did I discover during this week sans Facebook?

  1. It is possible to avoid thinking in Facebook updates. Earlier this semester, I revealed to a class of graduate students that I sometimes type out Facebook status updates in my head as I travel throughout the day. Sure that this (somewhat embarrassing) revelation would garner some laughs, I was surprised when the room remained quiet. Did I sound whacky for saying I typed things out in my head? Did I sound lame for admitting that I think about my Facebook updates as items worthy of composition? Did I just take a step backward on the respect spectrum for revealing something personal and unsolicited? Either way, I noticed the other day that I had long periods of silence in my head for the first time in a long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last time.
  2. I create false narratives about my friends. I admit that normally, I walk around thinking that everyone’s life is a billion times better than mine, based on Facebook feeds. I know this is slightly ridiculous. I also know I’m not the only one who does it. But in the absence of the constant barrage of information that is my Facebook feed, I felt a sense of calm.
  3. I still had contact with friendsIn the last week, I’ve touched base and/or seen a few of my favorite people, and we’ve shared information via text, phone, or email. Without relying on Facebook for information about my friends, I was forced to be in touch with them — actually be in touch with them. I missed out on a bunch of news without my feed, I’m sure, and I didn’t speak to everyone I wanted to, but I also had some long phone and in-person conversations.
  4. I was focused. Usually when I’m at work, I keep a tab open for Facebook on my computer. I don’t look at it constantly, but when I take breaks, I look at my feed. This week when I took breaks from writing or grading, I did some of the back-logged office stuff I’ve been putting off: I filed a bunch of things, organized my documents, and labeled the book bins on my book shelves. I also read a book and wrote a book review. All in between the normal stuff I have to do.
  5. I started missing a stream in my life. Over the weekend, I attended a two-day conference hosted by SUNY New Paltz and Bard College, the Digital Spaces Unconference. We live-tweeted throughout, which got me looking at Twitter a bunch. A week since I started my Facebook diet, and I’m looking at my Twitter feed several times a day. It doesn’t feel the same, though. There’s something less personal about it. Maybe because I don’t know about half of the people I follow — they’re just people I’ve heard about or I met once and are doing cool #edtech stuff. I’ve been looking at Instagram more, too. But neither Twitter nor Instagram hold my interest like Facebook does. What is it about Facebook??

So the verdict is in: I can get a lot more done when I don’t look at Facebook. But is it worth missing what happens in people’s lives? I hope I can find a better balance, because I don’t want to be a total Facebook hermit — not to mention the academic things that I learn from my brilliant friends when plugged into my feed! But I can’t deny that I’ve enjoyed having a few extra minutes in my days lately. What’s your secret? How do you strike a healthy balance between the stream and real life?

Gendering the Policy-Practice Gap

I gave a guest lecture today in a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Course, “Women: Images and Realities.” What a neat experience. Although my work as a professor is always infused in some way by thinking about gender, it is not the main focus of my practice as a scholar. This talk gave me the opportunity to really think through how my research has the possibility to consider themes of equity around gender, too.

In order to prepare for this talk, I revisited my research blog for my dissertation. What a wonderfully reminiscent (and geeky) experience that was! I haven’t stood (at least digitally) in that data space for quite some time now. I was reminded of how much time and effort I put into building the site, thinking through the architecture, and designing the method by which I would import, code, and organize my data. And, of course, it made me think of all of the incredible people who helped me along the way. It was a true learning-by-doing experience.

So revisiting those posts through a gender lens led me to locate some more thoughts on the ways in which teachers who write about their daily lives in blogs educate us about their lived realities. Following is a tiny glimpse of what I found.

Teacher bloggers write about the ways in which dress bolsters the gendered binary that often exists within school spaces. The image of ‘suit’ surfaces here and there, always as connected to administrators. Miss Rim writes, “4 men in suits; 2 in business casual. During a quality review check. They entered. I extended my hand, ‘Hi, I’m Miss Rim.’ They gave me a blank look. No one said anything. I had no idea who they were. They came in to the room, stared at the students’ coat cubby, calculated how many hooks were there, had a debate over whether or not students could or should have a hook for a coat AND a bookbag, or what. They opened closets. They turned the water in the sink on and off. They muttered and whispered. Then someone said, ‘Well, we can always add another row of coat hooks. Or probably 2 more.'”

They also write about ways in which bodies, and their needs, are disregarded. Miss Brave writes, “…one of our staff toilets broke, and our janitor informed us that that’s it, no new toilet part this year. Which means that we have one bathroom on our floor for about thirty people, most of them women, two of whom were pregnant…”

As I went back through my data, and my theoretical frames, I also considered how I might present the theory I used to help me make sense of my data in a more digestible way. So I used political cartoons. I think this one sums up the way I use the theory of political spectacle well. Mary Wright Edelman explains, “words and numbers appear precise and rational; yet depend entirely on context and interpretation” (2004, p. 13):

numbers don't lie

I’m moving in a slightly different direction now with my research — I’m looking at funding streams for technology in schools in New York State, as well as considering how to make sense of both teacher educators’ and teacher candidates’ use of technology, and the impact it has on their pedagogy.

Till next time…

 

 

 

 

Privacy, Footprints, and Cyberbullying

I went dark for a few days earlier this summer — unsure of whether or not that was the right thing to do. Here was my dilemma:

It had come to my attention that my digital identity had been reworked and redistributed for an audience of people I barely know via manipulated screenshots, spliced email correspondences, and false representations of my words, politics, and intentions. As a colleague put it, I had officially been cyberbullied.

This isn’t the first time my identity has been stolen or manipulated, nor is it the first time it has caused unnecessary waves in my personal life. (And something tells me it won’t be the last.) But after considering my options (most of which would include drastically reducing my digital footprint), I concluded that I shouldn’t change anything about how I tweet, blog, or communicate. As an instructional technology educator, academic researcher of blogs, and fiber artist who relies heavily on digital media and communication to share my ideas and work, I can’t — and more importantly, shouldn’t — hide from cyberbullies/stalkers/harassers.

Alhough people who have been the target of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, or cyberharassment have little legal recourse (it turns out that very few states have laws in effect to address digital forms of harassment), I was glad to hear of landmark legislation that went into effect on July 1st. The Dignity for All Students Act addresses bullying and harassment at the K-12 level on school grounds in New York State, and is an important step in acknowledging the fact that bullying, stalking, harassment, and violations of privacy — whether digitally or in real-time — are not to be tolerated in any form.

Power Ball Ads: Hope Vs. Reality?

snapshot taken on a downtown Q train on 3/27/12

If you watch TV (online or otherwise), or ride the subway in New York, you’ve likely seen the recent Power Ball ads like this one, that implies if you win, you’ll have enough funds to do anything, anytime, anywhere.

I should first say that my relationship to the Lotto is not a familiar one — it’s one of those things that my grandmother participated in once a week for at least the latter part of her adult life, but I never really understood (because she never won). And looking at ads like this, or the Power Ball commercial where a woman reclines on a couch in her spacious living room and uses a remote to control what a live Cindy Lauper plays, makes a person wonder.

So why post about this on a blog that focuses on education and technology? At a time when tension in the country is only mounting around the economy (among other things), it’s not hard to explain to students at any instructional level that there are few circumstances that would ever allow for one car to travel, alone, through one of the busiest arteries in New York City while traffic builds up in the other tunnel — or, that hiring an ultra-famous band for personal use in one’s apartment is highly unlikely under most circumstances, but such logic goes agains the grain of images like these. I’ve obviously not researched this from an empirical standpoint, but as a New Yorker for more than 10 years, I can attest to being delayed on the subway, in traffic, or on foot, by closed streets for a variety of important-people-related reasons, but very few people actually have the funds to stop traffic as suggested by this ad — fewer, even, than the 1%.

So I guess that’s what is most significant to me about this image — that it harnesses, in some clever-yet-completely-false manner, the rhetoric of the Occupy movement (i.e., the 99% vs. the 1%). I’m sure it’s not the first time an ad for the Lotto has lied, but it’s the first time one has made me pause and wonder about how it’s playing off the current, public narrative around money (and by extension, class). Indeed, the very idea of ads is to sell, but where do we draw the line on hope vs. reality in a city where there are schools that don’t have the materials they need for basic instruction?

Twitter, et. al.

I had lunch with a friend today who was is one of those people whose brain you want to pick: she’s brilliant, especially about the internet. She’s been on Twitter for almost as long as it’s been around, and our conversation at lunch got me thinking about my own history with the medium.

When it was initiated, I remember thinking Twitter was just another Facebook update, and that I certainly didn’t need another place to say more (I say plenty already). I remember wondering if there would ever be an end to updating. Clearly, no! Some networks will endure and others won’t, but for now, ‘updating’ those around you with your most recent thoughts, discoveries, questions, requests, etc., seems here to stay.

My relationship to Twitter today is not a consistent one. I tend to use it for knitting more than anything else, and I have two separate accounts to help me keep track of who I’m saying what to. My personal account is mostly used for questions and statements about education, and I used it a lot at demonstrations earlier this school year; I often look at it for updates and information, but tweet sporadically. I have a hard enough time keeping up with just email that there’s no chance of me becoming a regular on Twitter in the near future, but I’m fascinated by how it’s shifted the way we communicate and seek new knowledge.

I remember doing a mental list of all the social networking sites I was a part of a few years ago, and it wasn’t many: Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and I think that might have been it. Then, before too long, sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Google became networked for ‘updating’ via ratings, messages, likes, and comments, and I was suddenly a part of far more virtual networks than I ever thought possible. And then there’s Academia.edu, Reddit, Instagram, the CUNY Academic Commons, and so on. News is all interactive now — you can comment endlessly on just about any post or article. Even if we don’t participate in conversations online, people around us do, and we are a part of that dialogue whether we participate actively or not. It’s so different from how it used to be(!). I remember my mom would come home every day after school and read the newspaper. That’s never been part of my daily ritual (or at least not for a really long time). Is it awful that I get most of my news from links on Facebook and Twitter?

I think about the impact this has on education, considering that the internet promotes (both in concept and reality) collectivity, democracy, and symbiosis. Doesn’t that seem to go against the grain of the practice of striving to ‘be the best’ that so many of our classrooms foster? Hasn’t the internet taught us that we rely on each other, and therefore have to work together? There’s something about the idea of networking and how it’s transformed our society that’s got me thinking today, and wondering about what comes next.

iPad Plunge

My journals from my first years of teaching will have to wait again, because I took the plunge and bought an iPad. I’m eager to write about it. Aside from there being something about touchscreen technology that makes me feel like I just stepped off of the Star Trek set (in a, you know, modern, hip kind of way), having an iPad has already changed my relationship to books. It’s too early to tell just how, but I’ve got my finger on the pulse.

The purchase was precipitated by several things: 1) the few friends and colleagues who have them talk about them non-stop, 2) as an educator, it’s about time I figure out how to use an e-reader, 3) there’s something very exciting happening with Apple technology right now that I don’t want to miss out on, and 4) I want to play around with making my own books, something that iBooks Author lets you do. The latter was, for now, the biggest pull — I wrote a post about digital dissertations earlier in the life of this blog, and have been thinking about my question ever since — is there a format that allows for a creative, digital way of displaying a dissertation? iBooks Author says yes. There are plenty of proprietary issues that I don’t want to get into in this post, but in the short-term, I’m intrigued.

But my initial question about the iPad was, what’s the best method for digital annotation? So I did a little ‘research,’ asked around, and ended up downloading a few apps to test out — PDFReaderLite, iAnnotate, and GoodReader. Here’s what I found out.

iBooks: Although you can annotate e-books in this app, annotating PDFs is impossible. To quote a friend, “avoid iBooks like the plague except for pleasure reading.”

PDFReaderLite: I don’t recommend this app for research purposes, as it mirrors how PDFs work in iBooks — you can only read them.

iAnnotate: I can see why people like this app: it allows a number of functions that come digitally close to simulating what it’s like to sit down with a highlighter or pencil and some reading — something I was in search of. You can make notes, highlight, type on top of the text (a function I was hoping to find in my search), and annotations are automatically saved.

GoodReader: this app is pretty similar to iAnnotate — the only major thing I found that distinguishes it is the option to save an annotated copy before you start marking up the original. As a researcher working with dynamic content, I really appreciate this. And in tandem with Dropbox, I think GoodReader might be the answer to my annotation woes. (Note: Not to be confused with Goodreads!).

What Is It About Stories?

I went to a story telling workshop yesterday at the CUNY Graduate Center (GC) with Wendy Luttrell and David Chapin, and it was a lovely departure from business as usual. The gathering was set up with minimal guidance, with a purpose: to see what would evolve. About fifteen (give or take) people came, and we sat around a table for two hours sharing stories, swept up in the tales of other people’s lives. Personal and professional stories alike were shared, and unintentionally, a theme of seeing-but-not-seeing could (loosely) be strung through each of the narratives. One of the facilitators started out by explaining that so often at the GC we pass by one another without seeing each other; I found this to be very powerful, and related to my daily work as a researcher and educator.

The workshop made me want to really think about why story has such important meaning for me. So this post is a brief history to that end.

My grandmother was the queen of story telling in my family — she would string many stories together in one evening, often without taking a breath (or so it seemed). During these sessions I learned about her first love, who died on a U-boat; her journey to America from ‘the other side of the ocean’; how money was always a struggle; and so on. As she was getting sick (about two years ago now), we would spend time on the phone every morning, clucking like hens about the past, present, and future while we knitted. Storytelling and yarn (the wool kind) formed a hybrid language that we shared.

In college, I was required to write a senior thesis, and having lost a close family friend to AIDS in the mid-80s, was determined to do research somehow related to the disease. I ended up spending the summer before my senior year in college in San Francisco, interning at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and their HIV Prevention Program, a needle-exchange program. I interviewed HIV+ intravenous drug users, and spent a lot of time feeling angry about the fact that their voices were rarely heard. This experience would shape my interest in and method of conducting research for years to come.

The summer after my senior year in college, I interned at the New York City AIDS Housing Network. During my time there, the executive director of the organization initiated an oral history project, and part of my work was to interview homeless or formerly homeless, HIV+ individuals about obstacles to housing and health care. During both summer internships, I routinely cried. I couldn’t fathom why a society would so actively silence the voices of people whose needs were so dire.

Then I became a public school teacher in New York City. I was (initially) required to supply my own library; little of what I learned in my masters program was applicable in my classroom; contradiction and inconsistency were the only constants. I found my own voice being silenced, and that of my students and their parents. So I turned to the internet and the emerging blogosphere for hope. And also a megaphone of some kind.

I think that’s why my fascination with blogs is what it is: there is something about blogging that offers a space to be heard and connect. Even if no one reads a post, it’s still there, in a public space, discoverable if you look hard enough. And of course timing is context: I’ve come of age at a time when digital communication has changed everything. I’m sure blogging will take on a different meaning as time marches on, and it will no longer seem so unique. But for now, it is a way to hold stories in a public-yet-private way — something that wasn’t possible before.

For my next post, I’m going to return to my journals from my first years of teaching again. There are many more stories to be told.

Metamediated

Why meta? I am currently blogging about talking about blogging.

I was in Montreal for a few days and had the opportunity to speak in my colleague’s Qualitative Methods and Educational Psychology class at McGill University. I presented something similar to what I shared at the CUNY IT Conference this past fall, but I really tried to connect my thoughts on why I’ve developed this blog to my research via my methodology. The class has been discussing various qualitative research methods, such as photo voice and ethnography, and one of the readings they did for class focused on blogs as both a field for and method of data collection.

It’s so exciting to see more and more researchers take on the genre, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to chat with students in Montreal doing important research around education, counseling, health and sports psychology, medicine, etc.–some with big questions about digital data collection. Their feedback was insightful and thought-provoking, and I’m already thinking about how to further address some of what came up for discussion:

  • What about access to blogging? This question keeps coming up as I talk to people about my research, and understandably so. What am I saying (and not) by giving weight to what’s written in blogs, despite the fact that not everyone has regular access to the internet?
  • How do I negotiate being a part of the community I am researching? Where does autoethnography begin and end? Can you be too me-search-y?
  • How do I plan to code my data (both logistically [i.e., in hard-copy or digital] and methodologically)?

Here is a slightly edited version of the slides I used for my presentation. Some of it’s unclear without context, but:

Timeline / Handmade Books

Facebook continues to fascinate me as a researcher. I know I need to stay the course, and I will (in other words, I won’t be adding another arm to my dissertation project that involves researching Facebook in addition to blogs — I love grad school, but I do want to finish), but I can’t stop thinking about what it’ll be like to look back on our timelines twenty years from now. Of course that depends on whether or not Facebook endures, but everyone who participates on the site is currently building some version of a digital scrapbook of their life.

Speaking of books, I’ve been making them for as long as I can remember — scrapbooks, photo books, address books, journals — you name it, I’ve made it. I’ve even got an awl, boning tool, and screw posts, and cut my own binder’s board for hardcover albums. But as digital communication has accelerated, I’ve found myself sending iPhoto books off to be printed by Apple instead. I still occasionally make little notebooks like this one, out of old academic journal covers and the remains of old articles I’ve read or manuscripts I’ve written and discarded. I like carrying them around with me to jot my thoughts when something with a screen isn’t available. I recently ran out of paper to use though — all the printing at the Graduate Center is double-sided now (which is a good thing), but! A few weekends ago, I acquired a huge stack of beautiful waste paper from the Bushwick Print Lab (thanks Ray!). I’ll be making small books again soon.

But I digress. I wonder how our digital memories will make our interactions as we grow older different than generations that have come before us. We’ll have the ability to remember things in far more detail than ever before. Even if people documented their lives extremely well with photographs before the internet existed, the captions and comments and interactive content on Facebook creates a living, breathing narrative in a way that pictures alone cannot.

So what does/could this mean for research? How does the capacity to know and understand each other grow as our digital footprints expand, and how does that capacity impact the process of collecting data?

ASDF ;LKJ

If I took typewriting as a class in high school, it didn’t stick. I remember spending hours in front of my Commodore 64 at home, waiting for the blinking cursor to appear, indicating it was time to start typing what appeared on the screen. It was a fun game, but I lost interest quickly. I guess learning to type is kind of like learning a language–if you don’t use it, you lose it. Since I had little cause to type outside of final papers for English class in high school, I  still used the hunt-and-peck method on my mother’s typewriter until I got to college, at which point it was clear that learning how to type would be a necessity. Computers–not Commodores–seemed to appear everywhere I looked on campus, and I refused to be that girl in the computer lab. Everyone seemed to have learned how to type in high school, so I just stopped looking at the keyboard. It took a few months, but I eventually learned how to type. What did other people do? What do people do today? Are skills taught for typing on cell phones? Will there be instruction for iPads and other touch-screen devices?

When I started teaching elementary school in 2001, there was a lot of talk about handwriting and how it wasn’t being taught anymore. Indeed, I remember spending hours carefully tracing the cursive alphabet over and over again in the first grade. But we didn’t have enough time in the day to teach something that was clearly becoming obsolete with the surge in digital communication that began with the start of the internet. At the time, the authorization of No Child Left Behind ignited a nationwide panic about test scores, and every extra minute in the day was devoted to test-taking. Neither keyboard skills nor handwriting were taught as part of the curriculum in our school. Now that computers are part of everyday life for so many people, I wonder if keyboard/typing skills are taught, and if so, at what grade level. Are there national standards attached to these skills?

I recently purchased a typewriter (made by Packard, before they were joined by Hewlett), and took it out this morning in an attempt to figure out what to get from Staples to make it work again (I was told, hopefully accurately, that there are really only a few types of typewriter ribbons). I was struck by how beautiful it is, and how odd, set on the table next to a MacBook. There’s a story to be told about these machines that isn’t finished yet, and I wonder how touch screens will continue to catalyze whatever iteration of the keyboard comes next.