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Uselessness – Being Offline

I got into work today and my computer would not turn on.

I called our IT department who informed me that a number of people were experiencing the same problem. In other words, don’t expect to turn the computer on any time before noon.

I pulled up an email on my blackberry and sent the following email to my team:

“Computer’s dead. I’m useless. Will let you know when back online.”

The anticipated responses of “oh man that sucks” and the queries of “can IT help?” floated in. The red light flashed on my blackberry alerting me to the messages I was receiving. But what good were message I couldn’t respond to?

I could hit reply. But without access to my files and data and documents, I couldn’t respond in a meaningful way.

One colleague emailed me: “Guess you’re the coffee bitch today.”

Because really, without my computer, all I could do was go get the coffee.

I’m a writer and editor on a marketing team for a law firm. In theory, my job does not require the computer. I have documents that I can read in paper form and that I can have at with a pen to give feedback and proofreading marks.

If inspiration for a paper or blog post or brochure text strikes, why, I can just pick up the same pen and a clean sheet of paper and start writing.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t pick up the pen because I couldn’t get passed one question: What’s the point?

If I couldn’t share the writing quickly and easily with my team then what would the point in writing it?

It made me laugh actually, how crippled I was by my loss of a computer.

I wanted to write this post before class, but of course, sans computer, I couldn’t write it and I couldn’t share it with you all.

But this experience and the discussion in class tonight got me thinking about how interconnected life (work included as a part of life) has become with technology. I think my word choice, looking back on my email, was quite telling.

Useless. Without the computer I felt useless, but also to my coworkers, I was kind of useless. I couldn’t contribute to the tasks at hand.

All I could do was get the coffee. One soy latte, one caramel frappucino, one iced coffee…


Students are Not the Audience

Gearing up for the Digital Praxis Seminar, I want to raise questions about the complexities involved in videotaping and posting class sessions online. As digital humanist Kenneth Price has said, “Because scholars who collaborate in digital undertakings are more fully involved in questions of how their work will be created, presented, distributed, and maintained, they must master—or at least thoughtfully engage with—both the subject matter of their specialty and the practices of digital scholarship.” Along those lines, I will attempt to tease out some of the issues around posting the entirety of the class on the Internet.

The course requires that students establish a social media presence on the CUNY Academic Commons, Twitter, Zotero and a blog. The syllabus suggests that people concerned about creating a “permanently searchable identity trail” on the Internet might want to use a handle instead of their names.

How is having video of class discussions posted on the Internet different from students posting their own text? Tweeters can post under a handle; and blog posts can be private or public. Anonymity isn’t an option during videotaped class discussions. Depending on the set-up of the room, students will usually be on camera. Not speaking isn’t realistic when participation is a requirement constituting half of the grade. Bloggers and tweeters can polish their posts. Class discussion is fluid and off-the-cuff.

The instructors aren’t coercing anyone into being videotaped, but have asked students to sign an audience release. The release gives CUNY the right to “exploit” the material in any form, to use the name, likeness and “biographical material” of students, and says that students forgo the right to sue CUNY. The release doesn’t restrict CUNY’s rights only to noncommercial or educational use; and there is no prohibition on resale (although the instructors have negotiated a Creative Commons license which might inhibit that).

I think the language of the release is too broad and won’t sign it. If CUNY lawyers want students to sign a release, they should craft one that is much narrower.

To be clear, I am not objecting to the videotaping of class discussions per se. I am objecting to becoming an asset to be exploited by CUNY.

It is completely inappropriate for students to be asked to sign an audience release. If you attend an event as an audience member, you have the option to titrate your participation. You might decide to stay out of the frame of the camera, or choose not to speak during questions-and-answers. But students are not audience members. They are participants in an educational process that they are paying for. Because it is graded, their participation is compulsory, and, for successful learning, desirable. Writing about MOOCs, which are also “televised” on the Internet, James Porter says “The value of many college courses is not simply “the content” per se. Rather, the real value added lies in the performance: the social exchange, the enactment, the interaction that happens between content, instructor, and students, and that results, ideally, in learning.”

Speaking as a film and video archivist, I am in favor of documenting the classroom experience in Digital Humanities at a time when the field, set of methods, or whatever you want to call it, is actively being formed. I just want us to think through the issues around the public performance of our work together.

Works cited

Porter, James E. “MOOCs, ‘Courses,’ and the Question of Faculty and Student Copyrights.” Conference on College Composition and Communication – The CCCC-IP Annual: Top Intellectual Property Developments of 2012

Price, Kenneth M. “Collaborative Work and the Conditions for American Literary Scholarship in a Digital Age.” The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Web. 15 Sept. 2013