[-empyre-] FTN, DOCCs, and Networked Pedagogies

Anne Balsamo annebalsamo at gmail.com
Tue Feb 17 09:26:51 AEDT 2015

Thanks Renate for posting the link to the FTN Manifesto.  As you noted, it asserts that: 

"FemTechNet understands that technologies are complex systems with divergent values and cultural assumptions. We work to expand critical literacies about the social and political implications of these systems.

FemTechNet is cyberfeminist praxis: we recognize digital and other technologies can both subvert and reinscribe oppressive relations of power and we work to make these complex relations of power transparent."

To this end, one of the first pedagogical activities we implemented across nodal courses was called “WikiStorming.”  Here we built on previous effort to incorporate wikipedia editing into course activities.  

This activity was designed to write women and feminist scholarship of science and technology back into our web-based cultural archives. The broader impact of this effort is to address and support the interest of women and girls in STE(A)M topics by revisiting the (often forgotten) histories of the engagements among women, technological innovation, scientific practice and knowledge making, and the imagination.  By engaging in the practices of editing and revising Wikipedia pages, we seek to address the gendered division of labor of online encyclopedia authoring and editing which is skewed now toward male participation.  Through the “Storming Wikipedia” activities we also seek to engage a wider group of participants in the effort of writing and maintaining a digital archive of feminist work in science, technology and media so that the histories of the future will be well populated by the ideas and people that took feminism seriously as a source of inspiration and innovation in the creation of new technocultures.

While many other wikipedia based learning activities preceded the efforts of FTN, ours was motivated by a critical feminist assessment of the gendered demographics of wikipedia editors and topics.  In this, we joined the Feminist Wikipedia Project in an effort to address the under-representation of women/girls/feminists in writing wikipedia entries and to include topics that come from the histories of feminist engagement with science, technology and media.  Our wikipedia efforts were NOT well received by certain media outlets.  Fox News, for example, strongly criticized our attempts to “write liberal bias” into wikipedia…and to give college credit to students for doing so.

Other efforts have been more successful in demonstrating some of the potential of networked collaborative learning activities.  During  the DOCC season that ran from Sept - Dec 2014, DOCC instructors held “Open Online Office Hours”—organized by T.L. Cowan at The New School.  Each OOOH focused on a specific topic such as “safety and trust in online spaces,”  “technology and women’s labor,” “Building international collaborations through online networks,” “Open Learning as Feminist Praxis,” etc.

All these efforts were experiments in re-using “off the shelf” technologies to serve feminist objectives.  Lacking any resources to build new platforms from scratch, we had to make do with tools and platforms that were all deeply flawed in one way or another.  Wherever possible we used open-source software; for example, we built the FTN Commons (http://femtechnet.org/ <http://femtechnet.org/>) on the Commons-in-a-Box software (CBOX).  http://commonsinabox.org/ <http://commonsinabox.org/>

But for other purposes, such as distributed meetings and collaborative work sessions, we had to rely on commercial environments — where access was provided by one of the institutional participants.  We tried, many times to make use of more accessible environments such as Skype and G+ hangouts, but these applications were way too limited for our use.  They didn’t allow for enough people to participate in a single session; they would allow for multiple moderators, etc.

Right now we are in the process of modifying the FTN Commons to accommodate our distributed pedagogies and collaborative work modes.  One of the things we seek is a platform that allows for shared moderation (among several participants), and increased flexibility in user-types….where “instructors” and “students” are more fluid identities rather than fixed for the individual or the term of use.  This last point is the one that has the developers most perplexed.  Accommodating fluid identities within a given project space is non-trivial.

The other issue that we’re discussing in depth is what it means to create a space of “safety and trust” for online participants.  When “Gamergate” emerged as a topic of discussion in the media, FTN was already discussing the implications of gendered online harassment.

(Shout out to Ana Valdez….so good to see you on this list!!)

My best,

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