[-empyre-] Introduction to FemTechNet and DOCCs

Anne Balsamo annebalsamo at gmail.com
Tue Feb 17 05:28:49 AEDT 2015

I want to thank Renate for inviting me to talk about the formation of FemTechNet and our experiences in developing new pedagogical practices using network applications.

In early 2012, Alexandra Juhasz—a feminist professor of media art at Pitzer College—and I convened a small group of colleagues who are all accomplished scholars and artists working on topics of feminism and technology. That initial gathering inaugurated a process of what I refer to as feminist technocultural innovation focused on the activation of a global network of feminist technology scholars and media practitioners that is now called FemTechNet.  One of the issues that we were collectively interested in was how to use network technologies to develop conversations about feminism and technology that would reach across disciplinary domains and groups of scholars, activists, and artists.

From the beginning, and in my role as a founding agitator for the activation of the network, I asserted the need to develop a digital archive of material on the history of women and technology and on the contribution of feminist STS scholarship to the histories of science and technology. 

 Moreover, having been long involved in STEM projects, I imagined that this activated network would have a wealth of experience in ways to engender a set of digital practices among women and girls.  I was particularly interested in “fanning the flames of feminist fandom” that would encourage women and girls to participate in writing the technocultural histories of the future by becoming active participants in the creation of global digital archives.

 Based on my work developed in my transmedia project called Designing Culture, designingculture.net, I asserted that a project of feminist technocultural innovation would seek not simply to critique current technocultural formations, but also to take on the project of designing culture differently.  The design project would be rooted in feminist criticism, but would seek not simply to disseminate critique through print / digital texts, but also would manifest the critique in the creation of an alternative approach. 

The focus of our collaborative design project was rethinking MOOCS from a feminist perspective.   By the time we turned our attention to designing a new genre of networked distance learning (2012), the conventions of typical MOOCS had been established to enact a centralized “tree” structure of participation.  Expertise is located in one digital place (that takes the form of the brand-name university and its faculty avatars).  In the best cases, networked connections among students are encouraged, but for the most part the branching of the network isn’t the main point of the course, rather, the objective remains the reproduction of a centralized and institutionally-sanctioned source of expertise that can be delivered more efficiently to greater numbers of learners by exploding the typical instructor-to-student ratios.

The FemTechNet participants began to create an alternative model called a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC) that sought (from the beginning) to engage a wide network of feminist teachers, scholars and practitioners to provide distributed and participatory access to educational materials and learning activities.  The topic of the first FTN DOCC was “Dialogues in Feminism and Technology.”

 The fundamental difference between a MOOC and a DOCC is that a DOCC recognizes and is built on the understanding that expertise is distributed throughout a network, among participants situated in diverse institutional contexts, within diverse material, geographic, and national settings, and who embody and perform and move among diverse identities (as teachers, as students, as media-makers, as activists).

Our mantra became:  “WHO you learn with is as important as what you learn.”
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