Tag Archives: digital communication

From Journal to Blog 2: Enter James C. Scott

Looking at some of my teaching journals stacked up, I can’t help but think about how the chronicling of time, events, and thoughts has shifted. I’m also thinking about how the value/power/purpose of these thoughts changes if they remain hidden or become public. I no longer keep a journal in the traditional sense; instead, electronic conversations help me keep track. But there was something methodical about keeping a personal, private, handwritten journal, and as I mentioned in this earlier post, I intend to periodically revisit entries about teaching, since so much of my research is inspired by what’s contained in these well-worn tomes.

This entry from a few years back, when I was a new-ish graduate student and adjuncting at the Hunter College School of Education, led me to consider using James C. Scott’s theory of the hidden transcript as part of the theoretical framework for my dissertation. Something shifted for me that afternoon while sitting on the floor of a Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn and gazing up at the stacks of books. There was (and still is) something wrong with this picture.

March 11, 2008

I found myself at a Barnes & Noble in downtown Brooklyn today, and wandered toward the education section, per usual.  I sat down amid the stacks, and looked up at the books.  These titles stared back at me: Discipline Survival Kit, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, Classroom Teacher’s Survival Guide, Whatever It Takes, Not In My Classroom, How to Handle Difficult Parents, Failure is Not an Option, and Fires in the Bathroom.  My jaw literally dropped – how had I missed this before?

Almost every book title suggests how to survive in the classroom. They point the finger at unruly children, hard-to-handle parents, unreasonable administrators, unknowing policy makers, or teachers themselves (these were my particular favorites, suggesting hot baths and essential oils, eating out a few times a week, and seeking grants to defray the unbelievably high cost of teaching materials).

So maybe it’s not that teachers’ experiences need to be inserted into the public transcript – it’s not a secret that teaching in urban schools can be a challenge, and movies, books, and articles paint a vivid picture – rather, we need a new paradigm for looking at why.

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.

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?

Inboxes and Hashtags

Up early(ish) on the first day since August that I’ve had to really breathe for a minute, and I can’t stop thinking about finding a better way to categorize my email. Gmail makes it relatively easy to organize messages like you might papers in a file cabinet, but I’m suddenly 200 unread messages in, and find myself unable to keep up. I realize everyone will meet (or already has met) their email saturation point differently, but I will always remember the Fall 2011 semester as the time when two things happened when it comes to digital communication: 1) I couldn’t keep up with my email for the first time, and 2) hashtags became commonspeak.

INBOXES: When it comes to email, I’ve always been an immediate responder. This habit has its plusses and minuses, but it’s just the way I operate: someone asks something of me, and I respond. In contrast, I never could understand, until very recently, how people could leave correspondences unanswered. I finally get it, and find myself missing emails from friends and colleagues. I fear the problem is only going to get worse if I don’t find a better way of getting to every correspondence that needs getting to.

I don’t think I’m an expert organizer in any way shape or form, but I am pretty anal retentive and love organizing and reorganizing things — if I’m at a loss for what to do to combat this problem, what are other people doing? Is it one of those things that’s happening to everyone but no one really talks about? Am I just relegated to a future of not being able to fully read every email that comes through my inbox? I don’t like that.

I’ll report back if I figure something out, but for now I want to talk about hashtags for a second.

HASHTAGS: There was a point roughly a year ago when the word hashtag wasn’t yet part of my vocabulary. I haven’t done any extensive reading or empirical data gathering about how my experience measures up to that of the general population, but until I joined Twitter (a little less than a year ago), the # symbol was something I used when proofreading to note that a space needed to be inserted, or while navigating an automated phone messaging system. It was not on my radar as a categorizer, and I hadn’t yet seen it used in titles, subject lines, or emails. In an attempt to further understand what was then an elusive phenomenon, I asked the Twitter community for help in my third-ever tweet on February 20, 2011:

Needless to say, I got no response about my confusion, and quickly realized that the hashtag is one of those neat reference tools that has a limited shelf life. It’s not something that you send out to the universe and get an answer from immediately; rather, it can be used in a fleeting moment to connect people around a specific subject/idea/question/concept, but it might not always work as you intend it.

As I see it, the # sign has become something that’s going to continue to evolve as more people become fluent in how to use it. We’re getting closer to that tipping point, but it seems that many individuals still see Twitter as a revolving door of narcissistic Facebook updates, and thus the new(ish) usage of the # as an extension of that. I couldn’t disagree more. While I don’t tweet on a daily basis, Twitter has been a useful tool for me when trying to stay up-to-date on events, protests, gatherings, teaching techniques, etc., in real time. And speaking of protests, the Occupy movement is part of what normalized hashtags for me.

While I was pulling my hair out over my overflowing inbox this semester, my colleagues and I started using #OWS and other hashtags as normally as we might other words in emails. Slowly but surely, the # symbol is making its way into our daily language.

So while I’m considering how to categorize and code my growing pile of data for my dissertation, and simultaneously trying to get a handle on my inbox, I can’t help but wonder about where digital communication will take us. What symbol will enter our language next? Will we eventually have an alphabet comprised of letters, numbers, and symbols? I’m curious….