What Would Pfaffenberger/Selber See in Coursera?

Today on NPR a story about free online courses from four major universities, put together by Coursera.

Coursera’s Founders (AI experts) and Funders (venture capitalists)

Coursera says, We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

Really? Why? How?

Thinking about the Center for Media Literacy’s Five Core Concepts (see my previous post):
1. All media messages are constructed.
2. Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
3. Different people experience the same media message differently.
4. Media have embedded values and points of view.
5. Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.

The NPR story is a media message; it provides publicity for Coursera, and it was a totally non-critical happy-happy piece about how the courses provide a beneficent free service to the economically disadvantaged all over the world. Maybe they do, but is there no cost associated with this service?

“Free” high-quality education sounds wonderful (I may take free class myself), but there is no credit for these classes. Also, what will happen with the data generated by these classes (for example, statistics on users and how well they learn)? Are there economic interests that will benefit from moving most education online and are they related to Coursera? Why, specifically, are the two venture capitalists investing $15 million? Why was NPR’s report such fluff? Are the philosophical/economic/political assumptions of the professors and their institutions explicitly expressed?

Reminding us that there is no such thing as neutral technology, Selber wants us to apply Pfaffenberger’s theory to communications technology and its business/educational matrix. Here is Pfaffenberger’s Technological Dramas that provides historical context for Selber’s charts and explanations.

Agenda of a recent Innovation in Education conference at ASU. Surely, Selber/Pfaffenberger’s regularization concepts of segregation, centralization and standardization come into play when innovation=corporate control. This agenda is astonishing!


Resources from Because Digital Writing Matters

I am putting resources for future reference here in this post. They are provided in the National Writing Project’s Digital Writing Matters by DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks, 2010. Highly recommended.

Center for Media Literacy and their very important Five Key Questions and Five Key Concepts for critical understanding of media

America University’s Center for Social Media and their excellent teaching resources on Fair Use

University of Rhode Island’s Digital Media Lab (tons of teaching resources, including fair use)

Open Educational Resources at Creative Commons (awesome generosity by creators)

NCTE’s  Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education (long; hope to find time to read it soon!)

The Digital Writing Wiki

Digital Writing Workshop Wiki

EdTechLive (interviews about K-12 Web 2.0)

Educause (amazing resources on IT in higher ed)

Digitalis from the National Writing Project

Pew Internet and American Life Project

Public Domain Sherpa

Teachers Teaching Teachers



Rules to Remember for Techno-Literacy

In 2010, Kevin Kelly wrote a piece for the NY Times about homeschooling his children for a year and what he tried to impart about technology, specifically about “proficiency with the larger system of our invented world.”In “Achieving Techno-Literacy,” he lists some critical stances to keep in mind in using technology. I find these very useful, and I think they would be good for students in a writing class to read over (once copyright permission is secured!):

• Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.

• Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything you need until the last second. Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete.

• Before you can master a device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be a beginner. Get good at it.

• Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.

• The proper response to a stupid technology is to make a better one, just as the proper response to a stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it with a better idea.

• Every technology is biased by its embedded defaults: what does it assume?

• Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is, what happens when everyone has one?

• The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful.

• Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.

Blogs and Blog Posts about Open Access Publishing

The Scholarly Kitchen

Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog (Great Post on Open Access Publishing and Scholarly Values)

Transforming Scholarly Communication (Current Issues)

Directory of Open Access Journals (Worldwide)

First Monday: Reinventing Academic Publishing Online (“Academia should reinvent academic publishing as a democratic open knowledge exchange system.‘)

There is a growing body of literature in the blogosphere about the pros and cons of putting one’s thesis or dissertation online for open access so that it will be read by more people than your committee members. Here’s one with a few statistics. It’s happening in every discipline.

Living the Digitized Life in Graduate School



“How to Focus in The Age of Distraction” copyright Learning Fundamentals

“The widespread digitization of our writing lives means that our most important relationships, tools, resources, projects, and activities are often represented
in and bound closely by screens” (Leon and Pigg 3).

These authors have a fascinating proposition. Using the work of Michel de Certeau, they studied the actual writing practices of two graduate students to propose that “digital multitasking allows graduate students to write against the proper space of institutionally sanctioned professionalization practices by combining their own interests into discrete work moments” (8). The authors didn’t endorse the online procrastination that these students (and most of us) engaged in, but they don’t see it as all bad. They found a profound blurring of personal and professional lives in the study, and this makes sense.

One thing that really struck me about this article was the ways the students used the online writing environment to (almost addictively) affirm their personal identities in the midst of doing academic work. Leon and Pigg tie this to an idea of working against the system, and at first I thought this was way off-base, but the more I think about it, the more possible it seems. I can remember getting assignments all the way through school that I felt made no connection to my life, my needs, my identity in any way, and I sometimes found them almost impossible to complete. I think the use of the “non-sanctioned digital writing acts” by these students was an active way of expressing a similar feeling (12). It’s almost like an unconscious rebellion that says, Hey, I’m still me no matter what the rest of my brain happens to be forced into doing.

I also empathized strongly with Alyssa in her use of Facebook as a proxy for face-to-face communication because direct contact can be difficult for her. I haven’t really thought much about how Facebook can actually help people who have social anxiety in their professional lives, but this is one clear example.

The authors list the things this “off-task behavior” helps accomplish (12). By connecting these interruptions to productive accomplishments, their analysis does help me soften my attitude toward students who must stay in touch while doing academic work. This truly is the age of distraction. We might as well see how it operates.

Kendall, Leon, and Stacey Pigg. “Graduate Students Professionalizing in Digital Time/Space” A View from ‘Down Below.’” Computers and Composition 28 (2011): 3-13. Science Direct. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

Why Reading the Leon/Pigg Article Was So Important for Me*



“Graduate Students Professionalizing in Digital Time/Space”: A View from ‘Down Below'” by Kendall Leon and Stacey Pigg really helped bring this course together for me. After reading it, I have a much better understanding of what we are doing in this class. Not only have we been exposed to social media tools and their use in teaching/learning, we also have the real opportunity to apply them to our own professional development.

I just want to make two points about the article. First, the act of reading it marks a turning point for me in moving from paper to digitized reading. For years, and I mean years, I have printed out articles to read and annotate because I needed to have them in hand to understand and sort of remember their contents. Finally, because of this unit’s assignments, I tried a technology new to me that allows highlighting, underlining, commenting, and a host of other commentary tools, to be used directly in the PDF file onscreen. I used Foxit Reader, a free download for reading PDF files, that I got the basics of on my own in one frustrating but productive half-hour. I learned about it here, from a tip on Deltina Hay’s website. (I’m always looking for free tools.)

I’m not saying that this technology doesn’t have unknown costs or that I will never again print out sources to hold and annotate while I’m taking a bath. But now I do have an alternative to consuming massive amounts of paper and ink to produce hard copies that I need a small storage unit to house. The reading process online is a little different for me: I read more slowly and carefully because I am thinking about how to make note of what I want to remember about a particular passage. (This may change as I become more proficient with the technology, which also has nifty advanced features I hope to find time to explore.) Using Foxit also geographically limits my reading to my desktop currently because it’s installed on my primary computer’s hard drive. No doubt, I will also install it on my laptop, and when I break down and buy a tablet, there, too.

Finally, I will need to investigate storing my annotated PDF files because I’d like them to be in the cloud, rather than on a device I own. I can hardly believe I just wrote that, but the fact is that personally and professionally, I need and want to lighten up. Like the climate, the times, they are a’changin’. Lugging around the physical artifacts of my history is something neither the planet nor I can any longer afford.

Okay, I’m out of time. Second point later.

* So how would you capitalize my title? I want to insert a simple survey here with choices for readers to select, but I don’t have time to research how to do it! Here are the choices I would include for you to check:

Why Reading the Leon/Pigg Article was so Important for me

Why Reading the Leon/Pigg Article Was so Important for Me

Why Reading the Leon/Pigg Article Was So Important for Me

Y Rdg the Leon/Pigg art. was so 🙂 4 me

None of the above

Like this article on Facebook

(just kidding except to say that the finer points of capitalization remain a mystery to me)

Kendall, Leon, and Stacey Pigg. “Graduate Students Professionalizing in Digital Time/Space” A View from ‘Down Below.'” Computers and Composition 28 (2011): 3-13. Science Direct. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.



(tweeted by Dr. R.)

A blog post from Jeffrey Young on “Wired Campus” from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Sent by Dr. Reynolds. This is fascinating. Note that Professor Terry asks students to disconnect from Facebook so that they can begin to fathom its impact on their lives. THIS POST IS PROBABLY A COPYRIGHT VIOLATION, AND I WILL TAKE IT DOWN SHORTLY.

Professor’s ‘Enemies’ Plug-In for Facebook Goes Viral

March 30, 2012, 4:34 pm

By Jeffrey R. Young

A Texas professor asked for enemies on Facebook, and he got them.

Earlier this week, The Chronicle broke the story of a Facebook app called EnemyGraph, which lets users of the popular network declare enemies. The word is intended to be meant loosely, according to its creator, Dean Terry, who is director of the emerging-media program at the University of Texas at Dallas. He says he intended to spark discussion about how Facebook shapes social interactions, and it seems to have worked.

That discussion raged this week, as the story got picked up in dozens of blogs and newspapers across the globe. A week ago, only about 300 people had installed the app, but today that number stands at more than 20,000, said Mr. Terry in an e-mail interview. “The rapid growth of the user base has also been somewhat surprising, but we are excited about it,” he said.

The organizers had to move the service to more robust servers, and even then they could not keep up with traffic at some points. At times the service is still slow.

Some posts and comments have been critical of the service as a potentially dangerous tool for cyberbullies.

Mr. Terry argues that the app is not designed for personal attacks. “It’s much less about individuals than it is about expressing dislike for cultural objects,” he said. “Our aim was to see what happens when people were given an opportunity to express collective dissonance on a platform that normally only tolerates it, and we’ve learned a ton.”

One of Mr. Terry’s colleagues, Dave Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas, argued on his blog that the effort succeeded in making people rethink their use of social media. He called it: “Part art project, part performance, part critique, part technical object, part critique of technology, part network exploit, part strategic operation.” He said he tries to encourage the same kinds of discussions about Facebook in courses he teaches, in which he asks students to disconnect from the service to better reflect on the role it generally plays in their lives.

“This isn’t to say that professors ought to adopt the ‘stir [expletive] up’ model that Dean and I both prefer, or even that it is appropriate for every class, but certainly there is a pedagogical advantage to having students actively critique and create media objects that exist beyond the classroom,” Mr. Parry wrote.

Facebook does not appeared to have pulled the plug on the app, as both the professors had feared. The company has refused to comment on it.

We’ve asked Mr. Terry how many people have declared him an enemy on the system, but we’re still waiting to hear back from him with that detail. Update: So far Mr. Terry has 18 enemies through his app, most of which are people who he is also “friends” with on Facebook.