3D Research Writing

On November 15, 2012, as part of “The Seminar on Innovative Teaching” series, the Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute hosted a talk by Tim Owens titled “3D Printing and Making Across the Curriculum.” Owens, Instructional Technology Specialist at the University of Mary Washington, invited us to join him in an exploration of how the ability to use 3D printers to create real physical objects impacts the way students (of any level in many disciplines) come to understand their own agency, particularly the agency of producing. I was particularly interested in Owens’ Makerbots and Mashups course, a freshman seminar style course where students were immersed in the process of “making” (on a number of levels), and even more interested in the self-reflective blog his class kept chronicling their collaborations, experiments, and valuable missteps.


I left that seminar feeling particularly charged about the possibilities that 3D printing presents for the first year writing class. I kept thinking about the way that Owens spoke about using the process of 3D printing as a way to “problem solve”—to enable students to explore what it might mean (and look like) to actually create something that could “represent a solution.”


For the past few years I’ve assigned a “digital essay” project that parallels the 7-10 page research paper students in Composition I and II write. My logic behind adding in the mysteriously vague digital component was that I was curious if student writing would noticeably change when the somewhat traditional research/argument driven paper joined hands with something visual and much more abstract. And, student writing did change—thesis statements were articulated through the process of creating the digital project and overall, the research papers were/are noticeably better. Students were/are excited by and invested in their own work in a way they hadn’t been before, or at least I hadn’t seen this level of enthusiasm in previous papers.


I can’t say that I was surprised by these results. I expected student work to change, and I keep working on this project because I love watching how writing grows and changes. Cynthia Selfe discusses the “use-value” of the “digital story” as “we’re not going to teach students to be Spielbergs or anyone like that. We’re going to teach them to be good rhetoricians who can deploy any number of modes of expression and media to make meaning. We’re going to teach them to use all available means to accomplish responsible rhetorical ends.” And, by encouraging students to be proficient in these multiple modes of expression, we are also opening up a space for the digital to speak to the written and vice versa.


Much of the writing about pedagogy and 3D printing focuses either on engineering majors or art/design students, although it is clear that the process of creating, designing, editing, and actually making an object mirrors many of the talents we want to foster in first year writing courses. As Angela Chen points out, “nearly every discipline could benefit from the ability to easily create objects from customized designs.”

So, when I learned that there was a Makerbot on campus, I felt certain that even if I didn’t fully understand what 3D printing meant, it would present students with another tool that might change their relationship to writing. And, after Tim Owens’ talk, I felt even more sure that 3D printing should be a crucial part of Composition I because the creation of an object seemed to parallel the research paper composing process in a way that I’m still not sure I can fully articulate.

My research paper assignments are always quite scaffolded, with the idea that the assignment can be hugely broad and that students can discover their own research questions along the way. I was curious to see if the process of drafting a physical object would influence the discovery and development of the research focus, or vice versa.

Some Student Work:


The above is a student’s “first draft” of his project. Once he realized that he needed to “scrap” this idea, he also realized a number of things about his paper (and thesis statement)–mainly that his argument could be more specific and that he actually wanted to take some more risks with his analysis of the relationship between cognition and physical identity.


This image is a snapshot of this student’s process presentation–he decided to teach himself how to really “sculpt” and alter the original brain model he was working with. The process of carving symbols into a brain ended up mirroring his writing process–he had a solid first draft, and ended up realizing that he needed to really explode that draft–carve into it more specific analysis, focus on one case study related to his larger topic, etc.


The above is a series of images of another student project, which he describes as: “Iron Man’s arc reactor is a symbol of his life and ability to stay alive. I wanted to take the arc reactor and see what would happen if I built a virus that envelopes it. What originally happened was I got something that looked like a globe. So, I flattened out the virus and now you can look through the virus and see the center of the arc reactor…” This student’s paper began as an extremely vague meditation on technology and evolution. But, he was also very interested in learning the software to create his own 3D designs. What happened was that this student became very interested in creating his own original virus–which then led to the realization that his paper might really specifically focus on the current influenza situation–the way the virus overcomes the vaccine and the implications of that.


This post is meant to just be a snapshot of what happened last semester, as I begin to prepare for the coming semester’s classes, where I want to do more with 3D printing and am trying to figure out how to revise my approach. Any ideas, experiences, suggestions would be helpful and appreciated!

The Politics of Specialized Knowledge

What are the possible relations between knowledge and power?

On the one hand, it is obvious how specialized knowledges frequently become intertwined with social hierarchies and used to prop up unjust divisions of class, race, and gender, among others. On the other hand, as someone dedicated to the preservation and development of certain fields of knowledge both academic and artistic, I cannot accept any simple equation between power and knowledge.

The idea that power and knowledge are two sides of the same coin has been powerfully articulated by Michel Foucault. Another way to say this, using the language of Pierre Bourdieu, would be that specialized knowledge is a kind of cultural capital, a form of power distinct from but analogous to money. Many of the contributors of Hacking the Academy seem to subscribe to this idea: Understand the political uses of knowledge, and you’ve understood knowledge itself.

Cartoon by Mark Stivers

I don’t agree with this.

[Read more…]

Occupying the Brooklyn Bridge

Normally, after I teach a four-hour class on Staten Island, which takes me two hours to get to and two hours to get back from, I go straight home and take a nap. But there’s no denying that something special is in the air these days, and since the Express Bus passes by Wall Street in any case, I thought I would go and have a look at the most exciting potential social movement since the 2003 anti-war protests.

The iconic image of Seattle ’99. All other photos (below) were taken today with my little phone camera.

[Read more…]

Talons: A Case Study in DIY Educational Technology

On June 9, 2011, students in the music program at Gleneagle Secondary School, a high school in Vancouver suburb Coquitam, BC, played its spring concert to a packed house in a 450 seat auditorium. A first in Gleneagle history, the performance was broadcast live over Internet radio to listeners all over the world. And while  that might sound like a huge undertaking requiring serious AV and IT infrastructure, it was not. Not at all. In a brilliant feat of do-it-yourself EdTech (or what some folks might have once called edupunk), the concert was streamed live by Bryan Jackson, a Music and English teacher in the school’s TALONS program, and graduating senior Olga Belikov, with a Macbook, some free software and a USB microphone. That’s it. That’s all it took to broadcast the spring concert to anyone anywhere who wanted to hear it. And it sounded great.

Gleneagle’s Principal was aware of what was going on but wasn’t entirely clear on the details. During one point in the concert, he  walked backstage where Bryan explained all the moving parts: the unremarkable laptop and microphone, the free software, the web radio station (DS106Radio — read about it in my last post and herehere, here, herehereherehere, and here), how he and Olga used Twitter to build a live audience of listeners from from all over the US and Canada, and  that the broadcast was being recorded and would be posted for posterity to Soundcloud, a free audio sharing site, so that anyone in the Gleneagle community or anyone else anywhere could listen to and respond to any part of the performance. Bryan also explained how he had been using various other social media tools at Gleneagle including YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, blogs, and web radio to enhance lessons, to share performances, and to communicate with students and colleagues. His Principal was duly impressed. The administration had been aware of and supported Bryan’s and other teachers’ use of social media but had never up to this point fully engaged their potential to increase engagement, promote programs, and share and interact with parents, teachers, students, and district administrators or anyone else. While they had an inkling of what teachers were doing with free web tools, this broadcast, its recording, and the new interest at the school in webcasting were, according to Bryan, probably the first tangible outcomes of Gleneagle teachers’ experiments with creating and sharing on the web. Here is a one minute audio clip of Bryan describing the Principal’s visit backstage:

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I love the irony here: Bryan tells us that he was able to experiment with various social media and web publishing tools and explore how their use might benefit his program and school only because one of the school’s IT people gave him his computer’s administrative password, which he really wasn’t supposed to have. It’s fairly common practice for IT departments in companies and educational institutions to withhold admin access to computers from end users for fear that they will go messing where they shouldn’t and damage the computer, contract a virus, install unauthorized software, or do things on their machines of which the IT department or the institution does not approve. This also ensures that end users have to rely upon IT personnel to perform simple maintenance tasks, modify configurations, and to update or install software. This is the traditional model where IT is in control of who has access and who does not while the end users are disempowered and must rely upon IT to make any changes to their machines. Here’s a wonderful example of a teacher who was trusted with full access to his computer and was able to use it to break new ground without hinderances imposed from above. When creative teachers have the latitude to experiment with the technology that’s readily available to them, wonderful things can happen. If there was ever an argument in favor of rethinking the model of how and to whom administrative access is granted at educational institutions, this is it.

I don’t know much about the general feeling at Gleneagle toward the privacy and security implications of web publishing and social media in instruction and for promotional purposes so I can’t speak to that. But it seems to me that, generally, there’s still quite a bit of trepidation about such things among educators. That trepidation, I’ll argue, tends to grow out of 20th Century notions of public exposure and our relationship with mass media and their roles in our lives. Privacy and security are certainly real concerns (FERPA exists for a reason), but it does appear that the discourse around them is often animated by outdated ideas about the production and consumption of media. It used to be that if you appeared on TV or radio, or in print, you had done or were involved in something a small group of editors and producers felt it was their imperative to broadcast. It had to be fairly remarkable, for good or for ill, to make the papers. Having your image or story broadcast to the world via a mass medium like radio or television, was special — something fairly unusual in the “look, Mom, I’m on TV!” sort of a way, unless you were among the relatively few who made a living in front of a camera or microphone.

Now, when anyone can shoot a video on a mobile phone and upload it immediately to YouTube, where it can potentially be seen by thousands, if not millions of people within just a few days, there’s a real banality to this sort of exposure. Most of our students share their lives on the internet in some way  every day. More and more of them live their lives in both physical and virtual space — this is something that those of us in their 30s and 40s who teach and administer programs are just now getting our heads around. Whats more, the means of media production, it has been said again and again by new media thinkers like Jay Rosen, Clay Shirky and a host of others, are now in the hands of everyday people, no longer just media professionals. With relatively little effort and technical expertise, anyone can publish to the web. Anyone can broadcast audio or video to the internet on a mobile phone and an application that costs almost nothing. Heck, a bunch of us edtechhers built an open community radio station out of nothing more than a $25/mo server and a desire to play radio DJ.

Bryan Jackson and his colleagues at Gleneagle understand this well and are making amazing use of it. Thanks to a leadership that seems to appreciate the possibility the new media order offers educators, they have been empowered to use a combination of social media to do on their own what once was the province of AV professionals and marketing departments and required substantial infrastructure. While we’re by now used to seeing inklings of this sort of thing on the post-secondary level, it is encouraging and inspiring to see in happen in K-12. Bravo, Gleneagle Music! Bravo!

[This post is cross posted at my personal blog, thisevilempire.com]

The Qydz are alright

I suppose after Linell’s, John’s, and David’s timely and thoughtful responses to Grant McCracken’s Symposium keynote talk, it might be overkill or overdue to pitch in my inflation-adjusted 

But seeing as some of my BLSCI colleagues might be awaiting something from one who could talk some smack but still state facts, get down to brass tacks, not exactly attack but risk a lack of tact, and maybe attract fellow hacks to take a crack at McCracken. Wise-cracks and shellackings, maybe followed by retractions and being sent home packing.

Or maybe a pact. But not exactly to shack up intellectually with this jack of all trades and his tract on value-extraction.

Alack, what to make of McCracken?

I started calling myself an anthropologist not too long ago, and since Dr. McCracken does as well, I suppose we have something in common. I suppose our differences are an invitation for me to police the boundaries of our discipline. The stakes seem to be broader than just defining what a proper understanding of anthropology or ‘culture’ can or should be. In any case, for all their propensity to deploy opaque jargon, anthropologists don’t maintain a monopoly on the concepts and methodologies of their field. Ethnography is increasingly popular in business, law, design, as well as other academic disciplines. The right to talk about culture belongs to everyone. I don’t think many anthropologists would object to that sentiment.

That said, McCracken’s take-away message was that successful companies need to be hip to culture and its vagaries, especially of a certain category of people he referred to repeatedly as the ‘Qydz.’

The Qydz are, as I understood McCracken, a rather large and underexamined tribe. They actually live among us, rather than in some faraway rainforest or mountainous highland. (At least, we aren’t so interested in the Qydz residing in such remote lands.)

These Qydz are the lifeblood of contemporary capitalism. Any business worth its salt should devote its energies toward studying the values and aesthetic tastes of this people. For the Qydz are nothing else if not consumers. And oh, the stuff they consume! Baggy jeans! Flip-out keyboard texting gizmos! Snapple!

Apparently, the Qydz are not born or raised. They have no provenance, no parentage, no institutions that foster their development. They simply appear in their present form (or ‘respawn’ as they might say in their own video-game parlance), as autonomous beings arranged into ‘generations’ we can only designate as ‘X’ or ‘Y’ (no word yet on any Generation Z sightings). Qydz culture prizes individualism, but their collective will is mighty and a thing to be feared only if business does not have the products to appease them.

Three female Qydz foraging for sustenance (not such a rare sighting, actually)

McCracken is right to suggest that capitalism has been increasingly dependent on the desires of consumers as a resource to mine and extract value. (Actually, he never said this outright, but it seems central to his research agenda.) Is this a fair assessment of capitalism, Linell seems to ask in the previous post? I would add, is this a fair assessment of desire?

For McCracken, the wants of the Qydz are limited only to their own imaginations, which, he contends, are limitless. Business can only hope to track the Qydz desires by means of increasingly sophisticated trend-tracking technology and–gasp!–ethnographic methods. Yes, really getting to ‘hang’ with some Qydz is a thrilling and potentially dangerous experience.

Academics spend oodles of time with Qydz, but McCracken may lament the time professors waste speaking to them, teaching them of our ways of life, rather than listening to and observing them. Pity.

It is increasingly clear that the Qydz are a natural resource we must safeguard carefully, lest they begin to imagine and wish for things business cannot manufacture and sell to them.

Great former tribesman Qydz referred to as Qurt Qobayn (center). He is still revered on t-shirts and other sacred memorabilia as an unsatisfied customer.

Horror-Movie Capitalism?

As Tina’s post earlier this week attests, the ideas of Karl Marx live on, in ever clever guises. Her anonymous student vociferously wished to avoid intellectual contact with the thinker/giant bronze head (eww, commodity fetishism!), but once he got to know Uncle Karl a bit better, he could, at least for present purposes, better satisfy the stern critical eye of his anthropology professor. But wait, there’s more, so listen up:

Kids of the world, you have nothing to lose but your student debt, dire job prospects, and terribly overpriced cell phone plans!

Karl Marx would be a huge Twilight fan, at least if we consider the following quip:

Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.

Greenspan hunnngrrry for morrrtgages rrrrawwwrrr

Yes, I believe that is as close as we get to actually claiming that Marx said, effectively, “Capitalism sucks.” But what draws my attention is the personification move. Marx was always making this rhetorical maneuver, giving Capital its own agency so that he could identify how it behaves and thinks. Many times, actual human capitalists are rendered “capital embodied.” It walks among us… Beware!

I won’t deny that I am pointing to a hint of paranoia, even behind the (attempt at) humor here. I think that is one of the main modes of popular resistance to Marxism today. McCarthyism and red-baiting as an American Tradition™ may have not completely faded as effective ideological tools, but in classroom and colloquial settings there is a common reliance on articles of faith still associated with our dominant economic system: “Capital is no vampire; just look at how He fosters creativity, drives innovation, defines property and individual identity, acts as a fair arbiter of the value of goods and labor,” one might argue. Well, if you put it that way, Capital sounds like a whole different kind of bloke.

Let’s concede that Marx was paranoid. As Marx also said: “If things appeared exactly as they are, there would be no need for science.” Marx considered himself a scientist, interested in getting past the surface appearances of the world toward an underlying reality. That is the mentality of a paranoiac, to be sure, but it is the foundation of any critical enterprise to doubt things are as they seem. Freud did the same with human behavior, for example, by positing that we must be at least partially governed by something we can’t see or touch, an unconscious. That idea is now commonsense and lies at the heart of, say, all advertising and politics in consumer societies, if you follow the argument in this documentary, “The Century of the Self” (below is just Part 3: “There is Policeman Inside all our Heads, He Must Be Destroyed”):

One recent attempt, by actual comedian and voice of animated rodent gourmet Remy, to define the world through dominant social figures is Patton Oswalt. But he doesn’t see vampires. The eponymous chapter of his new book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland seems an attempt at popular sociology. It’s kind of beautiful in its daring but laid-back tone. The essay is part bong-hit musing, part exercise in bringing clarifying order to a confusing human universe. In Oswalt’s formulation, if we can call it that, everyone from adolescence on conforms to one of three social types: you’re either a Zombie, a Spaceship, or a Wasteland. Let’s let Patton summarize these figures:

“Zombies simplify… Every zombie story is fundamentally about a breakdown of order, with the infrastructure intact… Zombies can’t believe the energy we waste on nonfood pursuits.” (pp. 96-98)

“Spaceships leave. No surviving infrastructure for them. No Earth, period… Spaceships figure it’s easier for them to build a world and know its history or, better yet, choose the limited customs and rituals that fit the story.” (p. 98)

“Wastelands destroy. They’re confused but fascinated by the world. The wasteland is inhabited by people or, for variety, mutants… Variations of the human species grown amok–isn’t that how some teenage outcasts already feel? Mutants bring comfort.” (p. 100)

Behind the archetypes, however, is a more interesting insight. The world of zombies, spaceships, and wastelands is something created, somehow. He locates these categories’ origins “as aspects of a shared teen experience,” but, in a typical academic move, I want to make a bigger, lamer deal out of something that was meant mainly as a joke and a memoir of a science-fiction nerdom upbringing.

For Oswalt, until misfit teens grow into adults, “anything we create has to involve simplifying, leaving, or destroying the world we’re living in.”

The more I look at these musings, the more they sound like Raymond Williams’ concept of structures of feeling. What I enjoy about Oswalt’s way of writing here is that these social types are not altogether models fabricated in any conscious kind of way. They are skins people inhabit but can’t quite get out of. They are not only found in movie tropes and protagonists (“Darth Vader is, essentially, a Zombie, born in a Wasteland, who works on a Spaceship,” p. 99) but are also spaces and ways of being. They are inside and outside of us, in living practices and landscapes.

All I would do here is to expand Oswalt’s concepts with the question, “what kind of world produces Zombies, Spaceships, and Wastelands, makes those imaginable, workable worlds?” What is it that makes practices of simplifying, leaving, or destroying viable and even creative? In Oswalt’s examples you can discern all kinds of things and people: suburbia, punk rock, hipsters, Star Wars, excess, fast food, college. It’s as if he’s trying to think, on the widest possible level, how all these things come together. All three are alienated types, to be sure, and this is what may connect them to Marx.

What Uncle Karl would have to say about zombies, spaceships, and wastelands might be a way of defining what most of contemporary critical theory is grappling with today. The villains, the scenes have changed, and we don’t yet have a language to understand it–critically, at least. These days it might not be only about sucking dry the blood of the laborer, but also about after-lives of the dead, utopian launches, and broken ruins?

Oswalt, to close: “Weirdly, Wastelands are the most hopeful and sentimental of the bunch. Because even though they’ve destroyed the world as we know it, they conceive of stories in which the core of humanity–either in actual numbers of survivors or in the conscience of a lone hero–survives and endures. Wastelands, in college, love Beckett.” (p. 101)

Patton is apparently guarded about his writing

How Should the University Evolve?: Debate at Baruch, 11/18/2010

Last Thursday, we at the Schwartz Institute hosted a debate between authors Anya Kamenetz and Siva Vaidyanathan, two of the most relevant and engaging thinkers about the current and future state of higher education. The discussion (billed by some as a “smackdown”) was moderated by Dean David S. Birdsell of Baruch’s School of Public Affairs. The video of the event is below in two parts: first the structured debate, and then the lively and at times confrontational Q&A:

How Should the University Evolve?, part 1 of 2 from BLSCI on Vimeo.

How Should the University Evolve?, part 2 of 2 from BLSCI on Vimeo.

The idea for this conversation emerged organically, from Anya and Siva themselves with a little help from the Twitterverse. (I tell the story of how the event came to be at the beginning of the first video, but it’s worth a quick mention here as a testament to the way public discussion on the Internet, this case in Twitter, can easily move to meat space and lead to something remarkable that will resonate in many ways for some time to come.)

In his keynote at the Digital University conference at the CUNY Grad Center in April of this year, Siva critiqued Jeff Jarvis’ and Anya’s arguments about what higher ed ought to look like. (The video of the entire keynote is here.) Several of us tweeting at the conference noted Siva’s critique. Anya, who saw that her twitterstream was now chock full of people talking about Siva’s dressing down of her argument, remarked that she wanted to know more and was up for a debate. I suggested having the debate at CUNY and both agreed (SIva publicly and Anya in a DM later).

Given everyone’s ridiculously busy schedules, it took a while to happen, but it finally did. We hope you find Anya and Siva’s conversation as stimulating and provocative as we did. Enjoy. Please feel free to comment.

Our Course Blog Will Eat Your Brains

One of our goals in supporting Blogs@Baruch is to generate new models for online and hybrid instruction. We encourage the faculty we work with to confront the challenging question of what’s made pedagogically possible by using an online publishing platform.

The potential answers are vast. They include, but are not limited to, extending the classroom by tying together face-to-face meetings; creating opportunities for the social consideration of course material; imagining a range of audiences; staging larger assignments; inviting and providing a platform for students to easily create and share work that is visual and/or aural in nature; providing a tool for nurturing, reinforcing, and tapping into the sense of community in a course; and, of course, easily sharing course materials with students.

Faculty who are relatively new to teaching with technology usually design course sites that take advantage of one or maybe two of the possibilities above. So, I have to give it up for Mikhail Gershovich and his students, who are absolutely killing it on the course blog for “Topics in Film: Fear, Anxiety, and Paranoia.” I’ve tried not to blog about this course blog because I don’t want to be seen as buttering up the boss. But when students showed up this week for a presentation dressed as zombies and attacked one of their classmates, I simply had to bite the bullet and write about this awesomeness.

They’re using their blog for a variety of purposes:

First, Mikhail uses it to share information with his students so that they can easily access course readings and find their way to a wide range of required and recommended films, compiled from disparate locations.

Second, the students are posting in a rotation to very specific prompts that he spent much time designing, and which mix an emphasis on close readings of text and film, allow students to write to reflect, and encourage students to find visual representations of their ideas.

Third, Mikhail has very much constructed the blog as a kind of social glue, tying students together by encouraging all to get Gravatars (though only some have… I’m surprised Dr. G hasn’t docked their grades), to comment regularly, and to write freely.

Fourth, the students will be using the blog to develop and present remixes or re-enactments of short sections of films they’ve engaged this semester, and will write to reflect upon how going inside the productive process impacts their perspectives on both the themes of the course, and the art of film overall.

So, kudos to this group: this is a ton of work they’ve taken on, and they’ve done so openly, creatively, and collaboratively. Mikhail has taken advantage of various support services in the most productive way, from the library’s subscription to the film repository Swank.com, to his Twitter network (where he crowd sourced ideas for films, readings, and discussion), to his awesome educational technologist — me — who he’s consulted on both technology and assignment design. We’re lucky to have their model to build upon.

I encourage you all to check out the site, and to scare the students by leaving some spooky comments.

*note: Jim Groom posted about this course blog simultaneously.

Blogs@Baruch Semester in Review: Part Three, Course Blogging

Blogs@Baruch was used in approximately two dozen courses this semester, in disciplines that included Fine and Performing Arts, English, Sociology/Anthropology, Journalism, Library Information Systems, Communication, History, and Management.

Screen shot 2009-12-16 at 4.43.13 PM

WPMu continues to provide a flexible platform for our faculty members to structure and explore online communication and composition in their courses. Course blogs this semester have been used to aggregate individual student portfolios in a Do-It-Yourself Publishing course, for students to share and comment upon Shakespeare Scene Studies, to blog about journalism internships (password protected), to write about food and sustainable agriculture, and to show off their multi-media reporting. Students have debated current events on a blog devoted to reading and discussing the New York Times (password protected), blogged about blogging as journalists, and added stories to Writing New York. Some faculty members have been using Blogs@Baruch as their course management system, while others have used it to try to create public writing opportunities for their students.

For a full listing of course blogs, see our “projects” page.

One project in particular embodied the excitement some faculty members and students bring to their work on Blogs@Baruch. Professor Shelly Eversley, in the English Department, had her American Literature students produce pod and vodcasts that analyzed texts they had encountered over the course of the semester. Buoyed by Cogdog’s “The Fifty Tools”, I did an hour in class on free digital story telling tools (including Voice Thread, Yodio, Gabcast, and Podcast People), and also gave some advice on how to construct a story that balanced narrative, analysis, and style. The students produced amazing work, which they collected here in advance of their voting for the initial American Literature Podcast Awards (the ALPs). They ended the semester with an awards ceremony, and have continued to post their thoughts about the class to the blog in the week since.

Here’s two of my favorite videos from the class:


Prof. Eversley’s project exemplifies the useful energy that multimedia tools can help students invest in their coursework. These projects are not substitutes for the critical engagement with a text or a canon that some might argue can only be attained through writing an essay; rather, they are additional paths towards that engagement. These students were excited about showing off their work, used the city as a laboratory and an archive, helped each other master the technology, and showed deep engagement with their chosen texts. This is good teaching and learning, and we’re happy to support any faculty member who challenges herself and her students to use a variety of tools and literacies in their effort to produce knowledge.

Kudos to all of our intrepid faculty and their students for providing us with yet more examples of innovative pedagogy on Blogs@Baruch. We look forward to Spring 2010, and in particular two film courses that will be taught on the system. Blogfessors, come on down!

Blackboard, This Song is Not About You: More on CUNY WordCampEd

It has been two weeks since the first ever CUNY WordCampEd, an event co-sponsored by us at the Schwartz Institute, New York City College of Technology, and the Macaulay Honors College. I have been meaning to reflect on this remarkable conference in this space but, seeing as how way leads on to way, I haven’t been able to get around to it. Plus, the need for yet another reflection seemed to diminish as the days passed since several smart and insightful people have already blogged the event. NYCCT’s Matt Gold, York College’s Michael Cripps, and Dave Lester of George Mason University have posted excellent recaps of the conference. Jim Groom, our inimitable keynote speaker, wrote a powerful, very personal reflection on the day’s conversations and why they matter to CUNY, and our own Luke Waltzer recently posted to this blog a terrifically engaging and forward looking exploration of some of the ideas that animated the events of that day and, most importantly, what they mean to the future of instructional technology at CUNY.

This week, though, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece by Jeff Young on CUNY WordCampEd. Since the picture the Chronicle paints of CUNY WordCampEd doesn’t fully jibe with my experience of the event, I figured this was reason enough to enter the fray.

What’s especially striking about the Chronicle piece is that it presents CUNY WordCampEd as motivated by the flight of a cadre of CUNY professors from Blackboard to blogging software as an ad-hoc alternative. “The meeting’s focus,” writes Jeff Young, “was an idea that is catching on at a handful of colleges and universities around the country: Instead of using a course-management system to distribute materials and run class discussions, why not use free blogging software — the same kind that popular gadflies use for entertainment sites?”

I take issue with this description on a number of levels, not the least of which is that it trivializes the tremendous pedagogical power and content management capabilities of a fully-realized, highly extensible, open source web publishing platform like WordPress and characterizes the event as animated by a simple opposition: blogs vs. Blackboard. In fact, CUNY WordCampEd was driven by something much much bigger and far less simple: a collective recognition that 1) the open, social web offers rich possibilities for transforming teaching, learning and the sharing of knowledge and creative work that we are only beginning to tap in a meaningful way here at CUNY and 2) that proprietary, closed learning management systems (LMS), in addition to their various other deficiencies, cannot keep up with the ways in which the social web is continually changing.

A good deal of the conversation at CUNY WordCampEd revolved around three very different yet exemplary projects, all of which are either built on or incorporate WordPress Multi User (WPMu), the “blogging software” to which the Chronicle refers. These are the CUNY Academic Commons, a multi-faceted online community space for CUNY faculty and students that seamlessly integrates WPMu as well as several other open source tools; our own Blogs@Baruch, a publishing platform for Baruch College intended initially to enable faculty to facilitate additional occasions for student writing and founded on the principle that that any opportunity to write is potentially an opportunity to grow as a writer; and Eportfolios@Macaulay, an adaptation of WPMu that allows Honors College students to collect their work, reflect upon it, share it with others if they choose to, and keep it for posterity — it likewise allows faculty to holistically assess student work. None of these important projects were mentioned in the Chronicle piece. Neither was ScholarPress, a set of impressive course management tools for WordPress developed by Dave Lester and his team at George Mason University (the same folks that gave us Zotero and Omeka), which Dave demonstrated at the opening of the event. (If there was a true, similarly capable alternative to Blackboard as LMS discussed at the conference, this was it, gradebook and all.) By excluding any discussion (or even a mention) of these projects, the article reduces and simplifies the thrust of day’s discussion of open source tools so that it ultimately comes off as merely speculative and not rooted in actual, substantive work already underway here at CUNY (excepting, of course, of the recognition of the wonderful work Zoë Sheehan Saldaña is doing here at Baruch).

Though the themes of Blackboard as 1) replicating an outdated pedagogical model and 2) and barely working recurred throughout the day, the conference was much more about experimenting with open source web tools based on their own merit than as any kind of real alternative to Blackboard that could or should be adopted centrally. As we have seen in the Clarion article which Luke cites, CUNY’s flirtations with alternatives to Blackboard in the wake of repeated outages seem to be more about showing Blackboard Inc. that CUNY means business and is not to be taken for granted than they are about finding a real, viable, working alternative that enhances both teaching and learning. Jim’s cry to “Open up CUNY!” did not mean “let’s all dump Blackboard and start blogging.” Rather, it was a call to breathe into our use of technology for teaching, learning, and sharing the spirit of free access and openness on which CUNY was built. CUNY WordCampEd was not an occasion to think through ways blogs could displace Blackboard in the classroom, but, in his words,

to imagine the possibilities of an open source CUNY, a CUNY that is not only re-investing in people rather than corporations to steer the future of education for this space, but a vision of imagining the technology as a way to make visible and accessible the work happening at the most diverse collection of urban campuses in the nation: a vision of open education that trumps courseware or videos or blog posts, a vision that brings 22 disparate campuses into some real communication with one another fueled by a community that believes in the irrefutable value of open, affordable, and relevant education in the 21st Century.

CUNY WordCampEd was not about blogs. It was not about Blackboard. It was about CUNY. This may not be of interest to those readers of the Chronicle who do not yet care about what is happening at The City University of New York, but it matters to me and to all of us who learned so much from the presentations and the conversations at CUNY WordCampEd.