Scalar Journal-Interface

Today, another aspect of my project surfaced that I had not previously considered. In reading student reflections and looking more at the Scalar projects and comments, I’m noticing how much they seemed to appreciate and take part in the feed backing opportunities the project afforded. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that they may be more comfortable interacting in the interface in which they are composing and operating for the project. In many ways, face to face peer review falls short. It wasn’t a complete success when on the screen,  but students did seem to prefer it. Perhaps there is more potential for future editing and engagement if students can use the same interface to comment and feedback that they use to compose in. At the same time, I am reminded of how important it is for projects in DH to have face to face and non-digital/technologically mediated interaction… So, I’m sure in future classes I’ll attempt more of the screen feed backing but not let it replace what happens in the classroom. . . more could be said on this, I’m sure.

Final Scalar Reflection… Looking Forward

“Looking back, Project Two was not only the hardest piece I had to write, but also the most beneficial…Empowering is the word that comes to mind when thinking of the type of impact a paper like this could really have on the world. Maybe, it hurt to write the first time around, but it got easier as I moved past that initial burn, and as the feedback kept rolling in, the smoother it became.”

Reflection from the author of “8 Stages of Coping with Sexual Assault”


This quote exemplified one huge success from the project design. I attempted to  decenter the role of the teacher in how I designed my Scalar project. My class dealt with issues around gender and sexuality many times, and I thought I could offer my students something from the feminist theories I have studied. While many students created powerful projects that invigorated their peers, the comments on this project and the reflection of this student tells me that my attempts to decenter the teacher and reframe the learning environment succeeded in some ways. During the second section of the class, when students composed the first iteration of their project, this author was absent a lot, and didn’t come to peer review. She told me it was too sensitive. I’m so pleased that my reframing mentality created the space not only for her to share her work, but for the validation it gave her and the opportunity for other commenters to interact with each other about the difficult issues that my best efforts and the most informed theory could not adequately address. In many ways, this upended my previously held notions towards teaching and how technology could be leveraged.

I’m pleasantly surprised with several aspects of my Scalar project, though I think, in many ways, it didn’t accomplish what it set out to… at least, not yet. Beginning the building/doing section of the course was seriously uncomfortable for me, since I think I am more yack than hack. The binary thinking, though, is probably what I’ve tried to change the most over the course of this semester. This course and the theories and theorists we engaged pushed that, hard. The first instance was Jones’ discussion of the network “everting,” and the class discussions that followed. McPherson picked up where Jones left off by emphasizing humanity ahead of a supposedly separate, other technological or immaterial. I understood the digital as apart from material, as binary as can be. Further, I saw the digital and technology as antithetical to humanity, as I mentioned over and over at the beginning of the course: people so often use technology as markers of progress or panaceas to all the world’s problems. I suggested this fetishization obscures that technology is perhaps part of those problems to begin with. It’s a bit more clear to me, now, that part of this technophobia was a result of seeing technology and the digital as separate from humanity. Building on this, I can see why I have been so against letting students use technology in the classroom.

In addressing this technophobia and the false hack/yack binary I mentioned before, I created the Scalar project to dive head first into a project I did not feel equipped or comfortable with. I’m afraid of tools and prefer face to face interaction in almost every case. At the beginning of teaching 101 writing courses, I made it clear I had a zero technology policy—no laptops in class! My course was themed around social issues in society, particular related to race, gender, and class. So, for my Scalar project, I decided to practice breaking my binary thinking and challenge my technophobia by moving a major assignment onto Scalar. I hoped to decenter the teacher’s power and, basically, observe how students networked and interacted with one another when dealing with controversial and challenging topics that they are seldom encouraged to consider, let alone speak to. Many DH theories motivated this project: the absence of failure, the importance of iterative practices and production, interest in ideas of interface and digital literacies, collaborative methods, and the importance for DH to break with the lenticular logics and epistemological certainties that lead towards most of the social issues around race, gender, and class about which my course was already themed. In this way, my project was informed by Risam’s charge for a Black Feminist approach to DH in which technologies and universalities were challenged and exposed. Also, McPherson’s methods of breaking with modularity was central as the project design took students’ writing processes away from a one-on-one conversation with a knowing-grading-expert and put them side by side with perspectives of their classmates from multiple sections. My method was to create a more complete environment where perspectives, rhetorical strategies, genres of writing, and subject matter were seen in conversation with one another rather than a solitary assignment written for a grade, detached from everything outside the classroom.

In these and other ways, the network theory and method I tried most to emulate in my project comes from Duarte’s reframing methodology in Network Sovereignty. Duarte reframes commonly held views of American Indian communities as essentially anti or un-technological to provide a “whole picture” that shows just the opposite. She reframes ideas and ways of knowing that Western science accepts as natural, neutral, and objective to show that there are many epistemologies with their own ways of knowing, being, and operating in the world. At the end, she shows how American Indians are more technologically adept than many of the colonizing Westerners who continue to deny the sovereignty of American Indians. In my Scalar project, I attempted reframing many aspects of my epistemology as well as the role of students and the classroom space. By combining my courses and extending the project to primarily a “digital” space, students and I were able to experience a learning environment that was more effective while in the classroom but existed after we left. The logics of power in the classroom were reframed as students worked primarily off of comments and feedback that came from their peers. The new space allowed students to both share their work and to collaborate on improving their own and each other’s projects. In Duarte, indigenous epistemologies are not in competition with Western epistemologies, but they carefully fight for their sovereignty using the very tools used against them. In my project, reframing the power relations and the space for the project created the need for students to have anonymity. In many ways, this runs against DH in that the students did not receive credit for their work, at least not to the public. This method proved to be philosophically challenging and interesting to me in how it impacted people’s networking practices on the project. Some students, often racially and economically privileged students,  took advantage of the anonymity by being harsh and critical of people’s arguments if they represented an identity they perceived as threatening to their own. However, the anonymity allowed the recipients of those comments to use them productively, and even expressed appreciation for the honest feedback. In this way, underprivileged people used the tools of their oppressor to improve their arguments, which were ultimately for more social justice and equity in much the same way as American Indian communities leverage technologies that Westerners use against American Indian sovereignty.

I am perplexed that this resulted from anonymity. I can’t quite wrap my mind around what this suggests, to be honest. It seems so different from many concepts from the first section in the course. I am eager to investigate the dynamics between anonymity, neutrality, objectivity, and technology. Another aspect that surprised me was how often people mentioned that despite being anonymous, they were very motivated to adjust their work because others would see it. To me, these observations need to be hashed out more and analyzed further. I can’t say eloquently where this is heading, but I think in most ways, the project was a complete success in how it has impacted my thinking and conceptualizing of binaries and the epistemology that I’m engrained in that espouses them. Even though my project design could have been far better, my use of Scalar was amateur at best, and I can’t say with certainty where this project will go, I am thrilled with how much more active and engaged my mind is in questioning the role of structures, power, and authority on people’s activity and identity.


Scalar Journal Pre Showcase

I was fairly certain I’d get booted off the island after everyone previewed their projects on Tuesday. Everyone’s project is so much more developed visually and I think intellectually, too. That said, I’m enjoying my project and the questions it has raised for me. I knew going into it that Scalar is not usually used the way I was using it, and it does lend itself more to the types of work my classmates did. I think the adventure and risk was worth it.

Still, I did want to present my work and ideas a lot better than I did in the preview. I’ve spent a lot of time the last two days getting something more readable and clear put together. I still don’t have the project nearly as visually appealing as my peers, but I think it is so interesting. It is interesting looking at the students’ work and comments, seeing how they’re adjusting their pieces, and comparing all of it to their perceptions of how they engaged which I collected from the survey. One challenge with this project is that students really have, for the most part, procrastinated the editing/revision. They’ve done well with commenting, but I can’t tell, yet, how many of them changed their projects significantly based off their peers’ comments. So, after the 27th when the projects are due and their reflections on the Scalar project are turned in, I’m looking forward to getting more data and to be able to see what has changed.

One thing that remains a challenge or issue for me is that while I feel I am engaging well with DH theories and methods, how I’m presenting or articulating the project doesn’t necessarily reflect the engagement as well. Part of this difficulty comes from my discomfort and dislike for Scalar, which comes, in part, from being exhausted this semester. I’m not particularly strong with most technologies, so portraying my research in an innovating, non-linear but more appropriate way would have been a challenge for me no matter what. But also, part of this challenge is because I have so much data with the student projects. Between comparing their first drafts with my feedback to the drafts they first put on Scalar to the final drafts that came after student comments is already a vast amount of data to understand and synthesize. Then, I need to compare those changes and observations with how other projects were edited and revised- the ones that weren’t networked with their peers. Students indicate they are doing more work on Scalar, but I am not sure they are, and I’ll have to compare their final Scalar projects to the other final projects to be sure.

The aspect of anonymity has become more interesting to me as well. I’ve been thinking about how it helps and hinders involvement, interaction, and authority. In many ways, the anonymous design is helpful and necessary to make this project possible, however I think the idea of anonymity is problematic. We can’t really separate people’s content from the bodies and experiences behind them. By being anonymous, does this project maintain or even strengthen power relations that I’m interested in challenging? While anonymity favors those already in positions of power, overall, I also wonder how much it allows others to speak and others to hear. For example, the piece “8 Stages of Coping with Sexual Assault” that I’ve referenced previously wouldn’t have been seen by anyone if anonymity weren’t the route we took. And in some ways, while I don’t love the comments from white dudes asking for more ethos or sources and support from authors writing about issues of racism or sexism, I also could see how some engagement would simply be impossible in face-to-face settings. So, I suppose, it’s both/and yet again? I’m curious what discussions DH had about the internet and network abilities to be an equalizer… In a class setting where it is largely controlled, could it be more leveling or equitable than networks are on a global scale? Another interesting question I’ll look to investigate next week is how much students actually revise the project. I wonder if there is some sense that they are working more on their projects because they are commenting on others and thinking about their revisions, but I really am not seeing a ton of revisions yet. I wonder if the digital and networked nature of the piece makes students less inclined to change it than the other projects that are only seen between them and me. Are they beholden to the comments and to the iteration of the project they published initially, for some reason? I’ll see what the final projects look like, and if they say they edited their P2 on Scalar more than others but it’s clear that most didn’t, I’ll be curious about why.

One other observation: some students are concerned because they aren’t getting comments. Since the tagging didn’t work to create networks, most of them have happened via comments. However, what of when students don’t get comments? Strictly speaking, for this project, it doesn’t matter. It is an indicator of the tags or title the author used, probably, and doesn’t suggest anything about how networks are created, does it? Perhaps it does. Because the students are required to comment, some feel that they need to revise based on those comments as well, and if they don’t have comments, they can’t revise. I have emphasized that isn’t the case, but it has been interesting to observe students go and change their title or add tags because they are, essentially, outside the network. It has no impact on their final grade for the class, but it still seems to be a significant source of stress for many students.

Scalar Journal Entry

Tonight I was looking at my Scalar project and observing what authors were choosing to comment on. I found some very interesting comments and relationships emerging. I suppose interesting may not be the right word.

One author, a female, wrote on her experience being sexually assaulted. Her piece is, in my view, one of the strongest and she is my best writer by a long shot. What I’m troubled, surprised by, or… something, is that she has only had women comment on her work. She’s got 7 comments, which is more than most (and no duplicate comments…), and no men. I thought some men would comment, if only to address the mechanics of her writing, her use of genre, her formatting since her piece is more aesthetically appealing than any other. But only women. And the comments range from complimenting her writing to thanking her and joining with her in their own experiences.

It is interesting seeing pieces like hers come before or after a while male counterpart’s piece, which was on society being too sensitive. It was more troubling when I noticed that he commented on two other projects about racism by asking the authors to provide more evidence. I sound very judgmental. But it’s not of the student. I only wish there was a way to let all of the class see more of what I’m seeing. The anonymity opens up some doors while closing others. I see it enabling people in different ways- some becoming vulnerable in the safety of anonymity and others becoming emboldened.

It is a challenge to look at the data objectively. I suppose I already know that that can’t be done. I think in my analysis, I will draw on Duarte in this respect. I am a bit nervous of piecing together the project and having it take a final form, especially since the Scalar book is one thing to my students and another to me. I wonder if I should make another Scalar book particularly for the final project for the class and leave the one for the class as is. I wonder if they’ll care if I add my analysis and change the format or shape of the book. What happens to the meanings as the shape changes.

Dear Scalar Journal,

Yesterday, my classes met in the CDSC and attempted putting their projects into Scalar. Many of the projects have taken shape already, taking advantage of the affordances of public-facing and multimodal publishing with hyperlinks, images, tags, and more. Others, not as much. But, it is a work in progress. I’m curious how to encourage and help people who have created their page 4 times, edited the Index page (that happened more than a few times) or forgotten to remove identifying material etc. One thing I’m realizing is how much I could have used genre pedagogies in my approaches to teaching, since one of the main issues remains students’ ability to adjust the grammar and rhetoric according to the genre they’re composing in. Included in the genre ecology is the platform or medium of writing. In other words, I don’t love seeing bibliographies where hypertext is available. . . But, again, this is on me more than them.

Another aspect I have been thinking about is how I can make the navigation process on the page more meaningful. It is interesting striking a balance between taking control and deciding readers/authors’ paths based on how I see them, especially as the instructor in the class and author of this project, and allowing the authors of the pages to construct the connections and be involved in the structuring process themselves. Also, the networking question remains… I’m realizing that providing “subject” and “genre” tags is one way of making connections, but in many ways, it limits students’ agency. What could be more interesting, though, would be if I were to allow them to tag other people’s pages by themselves, free of subject or genre tags all together. However, without tagging pieces initially, finding them is more difficult, and the technological demands on students are already high, and I don’t want to add more and more work. Further, they would likely need to read far more of their peers work and that risks them not really doing it or just tagging things willy nilly. With this in mind, the network question is evolving. Instead of wondering what networks the students will create with tagging, I think it will be more interesting to note what students choose to interact with. That was among my original research questions, but I had in mind networks based on tagging as well. I was tempted, for a moment, to add some tags that were controversial or contentious, like “Politically conservative” or “Progressive” or something… That could have been interesting.

For this week, I’m trying to get all the students work on the platform and have them begin to read their peers’ projects. As they do so, I’ll look at setting up the book differently so that it speaks more to the project requirements, acknowledges the work and help of others, and lays out the questions I’m investigating throughout this process. Good times ahead!

The Neutral, Objective, Factual Algorithm Myth

Yesterday morning, on the second day of spring, I opened Google and typed in a few words based on recent events. In her book “Algorithms of Oppression,” Nobel shows how search engines and algorithms are not neutral, factual, or object, despite popular opinions that they are. In the end of her text, she acknowledges that there have been improvements in the algorithms Google uses since she began the book, so I was interested in seeing what my few words would bring up. Here are a few on the recent bombings in Austin (perpetrated by a young white Christian male, his first several victims were black):

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I find it troubling that the “tragedy” search yielded more results on the perpetrator and it took scrolling to find any victims. Further, the language used in the results reflects ideology and profit interests more than accuracy, objectivity, or truth.

Here are a few from the Sacramento tragedy, in which a young unarmed black man was shot 20 times in his backyard by police.

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In these examples, it’s clear that protecting the status quo, the society’s confidence in law enforcement, and obscuring the lines between criminality, terrorism, violence, and more. The lack of objectivity, truth, accuracy and neutrality is especially clear when compared with what comes from the following search on, simply, “terror”:

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