Class blags and Power

I’m sitting in class and we’re currently discussing how to use Jarah’s class blog and its uses in helping us in class. I recognize the value of having a common aggregator to compile all the WMST488a class posts, but I do wonder about the clunky nature of moderation. The way that things go now, Jarah is in charge of moderating features of the blog while we have the ability to make posts and not much else. We cannot create pages for the blog, nor can we create our own categories.

I wonder why Jarah and Katie (?) decided to use this form instead of only acting as a class aggregator. Before continuing the discussion, I want to point out that I don’t see anything insidious in what Jarah and Katie are doing, nor do I think there is any malicious intent in their moderating practices. To some extent, they are just taking the roles they play in the classroom as discussion leaders and content moderators and recreating it online. Instead, I want to look at the power dynamics that exist between content provider and content moderator.

Moderators, like facilitators, play a central function in group settings. They keep a discussion on topic, enforce community standards, and decide what content is allowed within the community. The moderator is usually supervised by a supermoderator, whom is supervised by the administrator or site creator. The community has no real checks on the power of mods, smods, and admins aside from being able to report the bad behavior of an underling to their superiors. Of course, the community can simply ask the mod to change their behavior and a mod will do so if she is affable. The other options the community has is to dissipate and rebuild itself in another form elsewhere (i.e. SomethingAwful > 4chan > 7chan) or to launch an attack on a site to pressure to change its policies.

In the context of our class, I wonder why exactly Jarah chooses to have smod privileges. To some extent, the blog is hers and she has a right to do what she wants with it, but I also wonder about the possibilities of smod privileges in our education.

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Twitter Fatigue and Rejuvenation

I’ve live Tweeted my class notes twice and have experienced both Twitter Fatigue and Rejuvenation. I notice that after about 30 minutes of chronicling everything that everyone says in 140 characters, I become exhausted and bored. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a stenographer, but my fatigue does illuminate some things about Twitter.

First and foremost, Twitter is more fun when you post about stuff that interests you rather than trying to chronicle everything that is said in a conversation. Second, Twitter is more fun when used in a community setting. Making an anonymous comment on Katie’s blog and being called out on it by Jarah through Twitter was more fun than doing that task in isolation. Additionally, having others chronicle the class greatly relieved the pressure I felt to write down everything. Perhaps experiences are better archived when multiple perspectives are acknowledged and put together.

This leaves me with a question: what purpose can Twitter have within the overall project of knowledge sharing in this blog? Certain tools like HootCourse can definitely aid in class participation, but I don’t really see how this brings our class outside the halls of academia. Maybe my outlook on Twitter and social media is wrong. Why build an archive when I can foster a polis?

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The Road So Far

This blog was created a week after the first day of class and I won’t even attempt to recollect everything that we learned about. The reading for the week was Zandt’s Share This and Jarah led us in an activity in which we pretended that we were search engines. A few of my reflections on Zandt’s Share This that we were asked to write by Katie are after the jump.

Continue reading

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Reflection on ebooks

Last class, we spent a lot of time mulling over the ways in which we can now read books. We can read them in the traditional form, on a Kindle, nook, or iPad, and on the computer. I think our interaction with books, while important, is not the most exciting thing about ebooks. I have yet to see any discussion of their potential to function as both a free good and a well of knowledge.

Take your typical online transaction.
The Amazon page for Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks

The paper book costs between $9 and $12 when you include shipping, while the Kindle edition costs $8. The ebook is slightly cheaper and, given that you have a way to read it and are not averse to the prospect of reading on new media, it makes the most sense to buy it.

The ebook transactional framework leaves out key options that paper book buyers have available to them. DRM makes sharing an ebook harder. It also makes stumbling on cheaper copies of your book almost impossible.  I looked over several online retailers for the Fanon book and each gave roughly the same price. I could easily buy the Fanon book from a friend for much But I didn’t. I found my copy of Black Skin, White Masks lying in a big box of unwanted books outside the Philosophy Library.

This acquisition made me wonder about the potential of free ebooks. Several online distribution spots for free ebooks exist already, but the use of free ebooks is not widespread. People seem to prefer paying for their ebooks and shun the free variants.  I can think of several reasons for this. Ebook users may want to support the author by paying for the book or they may see the free variants as somehow inferior, unfamiliar, or dangerous. Maybe if free ebooks were thought of as more like library books and less like dangerous knock offs, they would be more readily adopted by the general public.

Free ebooks as library books still face some conceptual challenges. Who would distribute these books? How would we compensate the distributors for the server and bandwidth expenditures? These are all very important questions to ask, but I think a viable alternative to the e-library system already exists. Suppose we do to books, what we did to music. We digitize them entirely and make them  available to rip, burn, and share without any DRM restrictions. Inevitably, worldwide book piracy would spring up and we could easily share thousands of books within minutes.

The potential of a global book piracy is exciting because it could directly impact millions of disadvantaged people ravaged by  unequal access to education. The widespread availability of new technologies and high Internet penetration rates makes learning through digital mediums much easier for some countries (see the case of cell phone learning in South Africa).  Those who do not live in countries with a similar infrastructure could benefit  from cheap and durable technology loaded with educational material. The One Laptop per Child project provides a model for how this technology could be developed and distributed.

Of course, there are legal and copyright problems with the piracy model but it shows the potential that ebooks have to be something other than just another way of looking at the same old text.

EDIT: Think giving laptops to kids is a bad idea? Check out this Colbert clip to see just how durable laptops can be.

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Hello Internet v. 01101010 01101011

We live in an information saturated environment. We only pretend that information is free flowing and unstoppable. Acknowledging physical limitations is not enough. We must look at our hands and see the blood that drips from them. Every notebook gathering dust, every unrecorded lecture, every file tucked away into the recess of our hard drives is an act of involuntary manslaughter. We are engaged in the negligent destruction of boundless knowledge.

This blog is an attempt to move beyond the traditional hand wringing over the privilege of a higher-level education and the inability of others to get access to it. This is an attempt to share what I learn in WMST488A by using social media to catalog my class experiences. In the humanities, it is criminal to neglect the potential of social media in pedagogy. Most texts are available for free online anyway and the only thing that changes about classes is the collection of bodies paying tuition. We do a disservice by not letting people access this information, thereby denying them the chance to get some variant of a college education.

This blog is an experiment in chronicling and sharing one’s experiences so that others may benefit from them. It is probably doomed to fail, but I must at least try to scream before I give up to silence.

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