What’s in It for Companies? Talking Assessment and Tech

This week’s blog prompt for EC&I 833 from Tyson, Jen, Nathalieand Nicole is a great one on assessment but… not too doable for me since I’m not teaching a class myself. So, instead, I got some inspiration from Launel who mentioned that she was tempted to talk about the politics of assessment but instead talked about assessment strategies she finds to be “underused and undervalued.” I agree both that the politics are incredibly important and that many great assessment strategies are underused and undervalued.


flickr photo shared by William M Ferriter under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Note that I said assessment strategies. When I work with an instructor to help them put together a class, I am much more interested in what they want to assess than in what tool they think they want to use. I can always come up with a variety of ways of assessing something but I want to know what they are getting at. What value does it have for students? Does it have any value for the instructor? What’s the context (is there one? has the instructor even thought about a context for the assessment?)? But sometimes it is easy to get caught up in tools and talking about the tool itself, choosing for reasons other than student learning. It’s cool, it’s fun, students love it. All reasons instructors adopt tools. It makes marking easier, it makes communication easier. Great. But Alec raised some concerns with Class Dojo last week in terms of it influencing the teaching and the uses rather than teachers making more conscious decisions.


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Tech is not neutral. Someone designed it. Someone programmed it. Someone made assumptions about how you would and should use it. We are not talking about the Force which just is and only the use determines if it is good or bad. Sometimes the tech itself is problematic. And sometimes the tech itself is amazing. Sometimes it can be shifted to good through effort. Sometimes it can be used poorly and be detrimental to students. I know I’ve used things poorly (hi, PowerPoint!). Anyone got a great example of redirecting a tool that might be a bit questionable?

What muddies all this up is the fact that most of our assessment tech tools are created/coded/written/sold/designed by a company somewhere. Sometimes it is pretty obvious what the company gets out of it: Money. I’ll be coming back to these types of products because it isn’t always that straightforward.


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Sometimes we can use them for free. I’m cynical and this sends up some red flags for me that get me investigating. And sometimes, things really are free and there are no apparent ulterior motives. Other times the company is getting something else out of student use: data.

That’s right. “Data is the new oil.” The video was about AI but the same goes for learning analytics which, to a certain extent, are sort of in the same field. The intent is to learn how students learn, to build a better guide to learning, to help the machine think like a teacher who can guide students along the learning path.

As the video says, nothing is for free and if you get a service for free in exchange for your data, your data is valuable. And even if you paid, you might still be giving your data. Well, so what? So you’re giving your data? Wait… no, you’re giving your students’ data. And you may have access to some of it in the form of reports and logs and analytics. Okay, cool! You (the teacher) can track your student. We have been conditioned to think this is the way it should be. But what about students having access? Audrey Watters has written a whole lot about student data: Student Data, Algorithms, Ideology, and Identity-less-ness, Student Data, Algorithms, Ideology, and Context-less-ness, Student Data and Privacy for just a few related ones). Just what are these companies learning from our students? And are our students learning from their own data?

I very much think that students should know what we are tracking and be able to see it. It is, after all, their data. It is their work and they didn’t sign a release saying that because they are our students, we own their work (unlike some contracts signed by teachers, content experts, developers, etc, but that’s another matter). But since they haven’t signed it, isn’t it theirs?

It’s something to think about every time we use tech for assessment. It can be fantastic and can make life easier, but sometimes there are other costs to think about.

Privacy Act and Third Party Software Revisited


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During our class this week for EC&I 833, the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (Privacy Act) came up in regard to using “third party” (not hosted/run by the institution itself) software in schools. Since this is one of the things I’ve researched before and paid attention to, I promised Angus and Alec I would post about it and share what I know, especially as it relates to the University of Regina. The information below is based on previous research and on information provided to me by Glenys Sylvestre, the Executive Director, University Governance and University Secretary, from her inquiries to legal counsel on the topic. *This is not intended as legal advice nor is it a verbatim copy of the communication. This information is intended as my personal recommendations for how to proceed responsibly, so please ensure that you consult the appropriate people for your institution*

First of all, there are no specific legislations in Saskatchewan that restrict what technologies can be used for education or where student information can be stored. Other provinces in Canada do have those legislations (specifically British Columbia and Nova Scotia). So technically, any public body (like a school) in another province could use a service that stores data outside Canada. Those bodies are, however, required to ensure that the security and protection of that data is comparable to what would be received here (aka the data should be properly protected, not publicly posted, and every effort should be made to ensure it isn’t released, stolen, or sold).

With that in mind, however, that doesn’t let instructors or the institution off the hook entirely to use whatever websites or apps or software they want. The Privacy Act does say that information cannot be used for anything other than the purpose for which it was collected without consent. That means that no employee at the University of Regina can release student (or other employee) data or even use or access it except for the purpose for which it was collected without consent. Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this. The Privacy Act specifically states

Personal information about an identifiable individual is protected under the Act and will not be used or disclosed except for the specific purpose for which it is collected or in accordance with one of the exceptions in the Act or the Regulations.

All the information the university has can easily add up to being enough to identify someone (e.g. a name plus an email address suddenly makes that person much more identifiable, let alone if you add in a birthdate, an address, a gender, etc). Now think about what information most sites request you provide. Yup, most sites, to register, require you to provide at least a name and an email address. By providing that information, the user is no longer anonymous, especially if that information is their U of R email address which includes their username for the U of R system.

From there, it is an easy step to see how requiring students to use third party software is considered a risk. At least if it is done without consent. Technically, the use of the software or website is viewed as consent, so often students are left uninformed about their rights which is not a great way to operate. Even with consent, however, how informed is that consent? Has the instructor actually read the terms of service? Do they know what could happen to the data students are being asked to give away (and that includes a lot more than just name and email address – usually it includes performance on tests, papers, blogs, answers to questions, navigational behaviour, photos, etc)? So what that means is that instructors (or staff) are best served by suggesting that students can use a pseudonym to register for third party websites or software to prevent releasing their information (this is what McMaster instructs students to do after being sued over the use of Turnitin specifically). Moreover, students have every right to request an alternative for any third party website or software and instructors are required to provide one.

Best of all would be for instructors to have frank conversations with their students about the whole issue but often that is left out in the name of expediency. The assumption, all too often, is that if a student doesn’t want to do something they can and should drop the class. Don’t like Turnitin? Drop the class. Don’t want to use the publisher website? Drop the class. Not a fan of public blogging? Drop the class. That is no longer a viable option. The use of third party software/websites is becoming too ubiquitous, even “required” in some departments and faculties.

To sum up, an instructor can request students use third party software (e.g. publisher’s website, Google Docs, WordPress, Facebook). They should give students the option of using a pseudonym to avoid releasing identifying personal information (better is to just recommend students use a pseudonym unless there is a very good reason for not doing so). And students must always be able to decline using the software/website and be provided with an alternative.


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It’s a sticky situation. There are so many fantastic Web 2.0 options out there and so often we both take privacy for granted AND take for granted that it doesn’t exist. Yet as employees of public institutions and as educators, it is our job to protect students, giving them tools and knowledge to protect themselves. Options like “Domain of One’s Own” are a start in educating students about their rights and giving them more control of their own data (but it would be nice if there were a comparable Canadian option).

When you get down to it, the entire point is that data is important and we should all treat it as such, even in a world where we agree to Terms of Service without reading them*, uploading without thought, and assuming we live in a modern version of the Panopticon. Data is worth something, though (not the least of which is money). We should really stop treating it as meaningless and start making informed decisions as well as teaching our students to do the same.

* If you are looking to understand Terms of Service, you can always check out Terms of Service; Didn’t Read to get an evaluation of the terms for many existing sites. They even have a browser extension now. Also, it looks like they are looking for help. That might be a fantastic digital citizenship project!

EC&I 832 Summary of Learning!

It’s been a great semester with a whole lot jam-packed into what felt like a short time.

I decided to hop on the bandwagon and try VideoScribe for my learning summary so it became a learning adventure as much as a summary. Great way to test out a tool although it would have been better if I had been able to take a little more time to play with the tool before jumping right into using it. Definitely something that is worth looking at more for work though! For the record, once I got my script and the timing ironed out, I got the voice recording done in less than 20 minutes. That is super speedy for me! I didn’t do 6 full takes, for once (and very little cursing during recording, none of it in the final take).

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys my summary of my learning in this course! Thanks so much to Alec and Katia for all their work.

Also, just because I still can’t resist (and for Alec’s education)

Major Project Summary

Well, it’s been a long road but I am really happy with my project: Digital Citizenship for Instructors Resource.

I think it’s an important thing that we not assume digital citizenship stop with K-12 students, teachers, and parents. The digital world is having a big impact on higher education and being informed can make a huge difference. Check out my Cautionary Tales page if you want to see some examples.

I sent my resource to a couple friends of mine who are both instructors, one newly finished her PhD, the other in the midst of it, to get some feedback from a target audience. They both offered me some great suggestions but overall, they felt like it gave them a great place to start so I’m hoping that others will find it useful too.

In all my searching, I was pretty astounded that a resource like this did not seem to exist. There were bits and pieces here and there, mostly single blog posts, so I am hoping that my resource (which, like all my materials, is CC BY-NC-SA.
CC BY-NC-SA

I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of this in my head for a while since I tend to read a lot of articles about this kind of thing so it has been nice to pull it all together into one place but add framing information, illustrations, suggestions. It’s something that I think could be adapted for K-12 teachers with some different cautionary tales and some tweaks to professional identity. Probably less need for the research identity but not necessarily.

All in all, it’s been a long haul but I’m happy with it and I hope others find it to be useful!

Digital Citizenship as an Instructional Designer


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Not being a teacher or instructor with students and a classroom (virtual or not), it might seem like digital citizenship has very little to do with my job as an instructional designer. I view it very much as the opposite, however. For me, digital citizenship is incredibly important. I work with subject matter experts who are developing courses or teaching them. They may or may not have much pedagogical training. They usually know what they would do in a face-to-face classroom but that may or may not include any thought to the impact that their choices have on a student’s digital life. My role is to support these instructors and developers with the intent of giving students (and instructors) the best possible experience. That means thinking hard about what could negatively impact students and talking with instructors about those issues and digital citizenship is usually on my mind.

One aspect of my role is ensuring that the course material is presented properly. For me, that includes modelling good behaviour like properly sourcing images and obeying copyright. Sure, many of our courses are behind a login and are considered to be slightly closer to a physical classroom than an open website like ECI832.ca, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard copyright compliance. I very much believe that if we expect it of students, then in creating the course it should also be demonstrated. For me, that is part of digital citizenship, to not pass off responsibility to someone else for behaving appropriately. I don’t accept that kind of excuse from a student so why would I accept it from an instructor? Moreover, much of the work of actually putting images and copyright sensitive material into a course falls on me as an instructional designer. I need to model that behaviour to show instructors what they should be doing all the time and what they can and should expect of students.


flickr photo shared by storem under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

It is also part of my job to push instructors to consider ways of teaching they might not have thought of previously. For me, that includes thinking about things like NCTE’s 21st Century Framework to consider what skills students could be learning or demonstrating in a course beyond the field-specific objectives. Encouraging instructors to consider remixing as an acceptable form of assessment would be something I could do. Why shouldn’t a student demonstrate knowledge in a less traditional format? The inclusion of creativity and student choice can have a huge impact. After all, I would think that part of the reason that Henry Jenkins finds participatory culture is not currently leaning toward political or social activism is because students have had their interests dismissed as not relevant. If the things you love and are interested in are not connected to what and how you learn formally, then it can be more difficult to recognize that the same skills can be used for social change. This ability to transfer skills and knowledge from one area to another is sometimes tied in to assumptions around digital natives (which do not exist). Too many assume that students will just obviously see how they could use skills in one area for learning in another area. Unless someone helps them develop that knowledge, however, students have learned that their knowledge and skills are in silos.

This is really the source of my final project. You can find resources for students like Define the Line or the Digital Citizenship Project but all too often the assumption is that digital citizenship is just not the problem of universities. It might come up in a professional course (e.g., Education will talk about it, Business might in terms of marketing, Nursing may talk about confidentiality) but it somehow is not important in more general terms for instructors and students unless it directly relates to the content of the course.

That is where I come in. Because I believe that modelling is incredibly important both in terms of Social Learning Theory and Illich’s learning webs, I feel like instructors need to be aware of their own choices. They need to think about how they perform being in a discipline but also think about how they ask students to perform the same thing. Ross has discussed some of the dangers of having students perform publicly and reflect on their position while being in an unprotected situation. While we caution students to think carefully about what they post that could hurt them, do we always think about what we ask them to do and the impact that could have? To me that is also part of digital citizenship but it can be all too easy for instructors to forget that a paper assignment handed solely to the instructor or even a class discussion now held in an online forum is no longer the same in digital environment. While authentic assessments are fantastic, there are risks. I am taking some of those risks right now as a student who is also an employee of the university (and not covered by academic freedom).

My role becomes that of doing the legwork to know the issues and bring them up in a context that may be new to instructors. So I check sites like Keep Learning to see what other faculty and those who support them are struggling with, I read work by Audrey Watters to think about the way that the technology industry and education combine or should combine. I am responsible for finding ways to express issues to instructors and think through implications of their pedagogical choices to ensure that they are aware. They still have final decision but I need to ensure they make informed decisions whenever possible.


flickr photo shared by tsevis under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

And so I also try to model behaviour. I try to show instructors what is possible, what they could be, what they could choose. Because at the end of the day, I want us all to have a good experience and for me, digital citizenship is a big part of that.

Final project progress: on to the students!


flickr photo shared by mt 23 under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I’ve been working the opposite way of most people. I started out with the instructors, figuring out how to deal with their issues with digital citizenship and now I am digging into the students. I already had a lot of resources gathered but I’ve managed to write out the information that goes with. I have a few more pages to go still and I’m sorting out how to organize my thoughts, what I should link to and what should be a full new page (e.g. I did work previously on privacy so I realized I probably don’t need a separate page for privacy but does it fit under assessment or elsewhere?).

So I’ve finally opened up my first page on digital citizenship in the classroom. For this page I pulled on existing materials, like Ribble’s 9 elements of digital citizenship but I wanted to put them in context of a university classroom. Still a tiny bit of tidying up to do on that page but it’s there. I plan to put together some wording that can be used for a syllabus or assignment, some things to consider when evaluating a tool for use, some ideas for assessments that are positive and some cautions about ways digital assessment could negatively impact students.

I’ll probably end up with one more lingering resources page.

I’m also still finishing up a page on cautionary tales of ways digital citizenship has been used against instructors (really need a better title).

Images are also on the list. I definitely need to fix up the look of the pages. Actually, as much as I love my theme for my site as a blog, I’m not loving it as much for my resources. For simplicity, I may just add a new WordPress install and use a different theme that works better for this sort of material. That will be much faster than me messing around with this theme to play with layout on different pages. But it’s coming along!

The Internet Is not the Answer… or Is It?

Today we are dealing with a world that emphasizes being social and criticizes us for not being social enough. (Yes, this is the world extroverts dream about. Introverts not so much.) When we spend too much time being social using digital tools, we are told that we are not actually being social because there is a tool in the way. Whether or not we agree with it, our concept of what it means to be social has changed.

To me, being social includes texting or messaging friends to catch up, posting on Facebook, Tweeting, joining a discussion I intend to follow, playing video games with my husband, talking with my parents on the phone, and seeing people face-to-face. I’m an introvert so let me tell you, some days I just don’t have energy even for the digital options after a day at work which almost always includes some social interaction face-to-face on top of the emails and occasional phone call or video meeting. But being social is something that we are told is integral to all of us. And it’s true, if I go too long completely isolated I feel it and I need to get out and see someone, talk to someone.

That isn’t the only meaning of social, especially when it is tied in with learning.


flickr photo shared by Ken Whytock under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Albert Bandura developed a theory of social learning back in the 1960s to explain that people learn through watching and interacting with others. Children model themselves on parents and others they “see” (and that includes television, film, internet, etc.). The same holds true as we get older. Brittany Bandur brought this up with some less-than-lovely internet chat behaviour that has become normal because when it is treated as acceptable, it gets copied by others who think that is how people should behave.

When it comes to being influenced by others, Ivan Illich wrote about “learning webs” which to him were much more like fluid mentor/mentee relationships. If someone has something they want to learn, they should be able to connect to someone who wants to teach. Those who are willing to teach should be findable by those who wish to learn. To be honest, I don’t think MOOCs have necessarily become this. In so many MOOCs (especially xMOOCs which are different than cMOOCs), there is no community and no connection to the instructor. Actually, that is kind of the point of so many of those MOOCs. The instructor cans their content, creates robo-graded assignments, then sits and waits for questions. Maybe. Depending on the course. Obviously not all MOOCs are like that. Not all of them are actually massive. Also, there have been questions about how well MOOCs function. Sebastian Thrun actually changed his tune about Udacity. A cMOOC is different, based on community creation, which is much more the sort of thing David Cormier talks about when he talks of MOOCs.


flickr photo shared by Sean MacEntee under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

There is a whole lot of crap happening on the internet, especially on social media. It sucks. There are bad things. Some days it is tempting to throw our hands up and just say that in today’s world, people suck. The internet has ruined everything.

Twitter is more likely to have that instant connection that Illich talked about, assuming that you can find someone who has the skills you are seeking or can connect through. I’ve been pretty lucky over the years, having a presenter at a conference answer my question about his presentation even though I was not even closely following the conference, and been put in touch with people doing a conference in Canada on flipped learning when I mentioned I couldn’t attend an American conference.

The thing that Illich’s idea (and even Cormier’s suggestions about surviving MOOCs) relies on is altruism. Probably not the first thing you think of when you think of the internet, right? Definitely not after the Digital Harassment of Adult Australians report. But at the same time, it’s there. There are people who give of themselves to others for a variety of reasons but most of them are good. (I’m not talking about the “do what you love” philosophy that has been critiqued for setting people up to take low or no pay for skilled work.) Wikipedia exists. People donated to save “success kid’s” dad. A girl who was bullied got responses from all over the internet AND was given her own Stormtrooper armor. And then she passed it on, giving the armor to another girl who got bullied.

All these things really tie into altruism. Being kind, giving of yourself for no obvious reward, other than maybe hoping someone will return the favour. Or maybe because someone was kind to you. That is the kind of world I want to live in and one of the best things about the internet. People do amazing things all the time. But can that drown out the other things on the internet? Can it overcome all the parts that are not so great?

I’d like to hope so. I’d like to hope we can keep finding and making spaces to share, to talk, to exchange. I found one going on with #facdevchat. There are others looking to build not-for-profit academic networks. There are things happening out there that the internet has facilitated. But we have to keep trudging through the bad stuff, through all the “normal” and socialized behaviours that we really do not want to keep. We have to keep being the internet we want to see. We must be the people who set the example in Bandura’s social learning rather than just condemning the behaviours we don’t want, wishing for Illich’s learning webs. (Exhausting, sometimes, for us introverts but things like writing this help me renew for the fight.)

It may be a little trite but…


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Can Our (Digital) Identity Really Be Captured By Checking Boxes and Filling In Blanks?

We humans really like to categorize things. We like to put labels on things. We pretend that the world can be classified according to neat little boxes. We want the world to be quantifiable. Quantitative research is so nice and neat because everything fits in an easy box. All too often, we want to treat identity like that. Please check all that apply.


flickr photo shared by Mr. Ducke under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

We have talked before about the ways that Facebook influences how others understand our identity. But what about how we ourselves understand it? Susan Cox wrote about Facebook’s impact on identity and it is something worth considering. While the prod for the article was Facebook’s decision to only use legal names (and the need to provide government ID if Facebook decided your name was not a real one), and the subsequent acceptance that “real” identity may not be a legal identity, that there are people who would be harmed by that, the author goes further. Cox brings up the fact that Facebook has reduced our identity to something to be checked off, filled in. The information options that Facebook provides (read: expects you to fill out) are actually pretty invasive.

Facebook has redefined the standard of what information should be immediately known about you as a person. It was a slow process, where it gradually increased the “About” fields, but now when I meet someone, it is somehow appropriate for me to see their exact age, residential history and entire résumé of work experience and education. (No, Facebook, I don’t want to display where I went to high school. Stop trying to guess at it!) Facebook can even reduce your personal journey on this earth to a chronological list of “Life Events.” It knows the true measure of what’s important in this crazy world and can tell you everything noteworthy that’s happened to you in this one helpful list. Facebook has turned our lives inside out to the point where all of this very specific information now seems to be what constitutes a social identity.

Our identity is mediated through the fields that a company has decided are relevant, with the options that they have chosen as valid. Even before our chosen posts are filtered by algorithms to determine what others see, we must categorize and classify ourselves so others can easily scan through all the apparently important information about us.

This isn’t totally new. Quantitative gathering of information is easier. You can sort, search, and compare. The Canadian census (and pretty much every census) does the same thing. Most surveys ask for some basic personal information, even if it is anonymous. How many times have we seen ourselves or someone else represented by check boxes and short blanks? We just worked on an instructor survey at work and we used Qualtrics (a survey software that U of R currently holds a license for) to build it, trying to rely mostly on checkboxes to make it faster. We even originally had a question about gender, at least until I started questioning why there were only 2 options, and then we asked whether we really needed to know that. But if we’d had it, we could have sorted based on that, tried to see if there were patterns based on that one facet of identity. Not only one facet, but a really limited view of that facet. Gender could (and should, I would argue) be understood as a continuum. That doesn’t work all that well with check boxes, though (although Facebook has tried).

But here is the other side that this article got me thinking of: How often have we wanted to say more (or less)? How often have we found that the available options don’t fit? How often have we really thought about whether we want to provide that information or set restrictions on who can view what aspects of our profile?

As Cox said, the digital age was supposed to be one that was freeing, that opened up more options for identity rather than reifying those few options currently accepted. The familiarity with sites like Facebook, Myspace, or online dating sites, have seemingly made us more willing to check off boxes and just accept the boxes that are there.

I am all of this
I am all of this but more

Our identities are not as neat and tidy as a venn diagram. It can change over time or even day by day. It may be difficult to put a label on (for example, we are seeing new labels like “heteroromantic bisexual” because the existing identity boxes don’t work).

Maybe the prevalence of check boxes in social media have helped force us to go back to questioning, to pushing, to fighting. Now that we are being asked to quantify ourselves over and over, maybe it will help us to push back and start using rich language descriptors. I am more than the sum of my parts because I am contradiction and blending and confusion. I want to explain my answers, give the exceptions. I am a grad student. I am also employed full time. Anyone else ever struggled with the assumption that “student” and “full-time employment” seem to be viewed as mutually exclusive? And those are things I am willing to openly identify as. What about the pieces of my identity that I may not tell everyone? Is there space for me to be those things too in a world of checkboxes that ssume you now know everything important about me?

Anyone else feel like their identity is as complicated as this song?

So how do we challenge this? Should we really fill in all the blanks? How do you create a more nuanced identity for yourself?

Duck and Cover: It isn’t always safe even being a cis-gendered, white, heterosexual female online


flickr photo shared by jiva under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

This might seem like an odd post title. Duck and cover? I’m pretty public in my online participation, I’m in favour of social media and public tweets. So what the heck? And what does it have to do with being cis-gendered, heterosexual, or female? Well, mostly it has to do with identifying as female.

Last week for EC&I 832 we were asked to read Young Canadians in a Wired World. Reading the executive summary, I came across a section on online safety:

  • The majority of students, especially girls, are aware of the risks of talking to strangers online. However, almost all students are confident in their ability to protect themselves online and a majority feel that the Internet is a safe place for them.”
  • Girls are both more likely than boys to agree with the statement that they could be hurt by online strangers (82% compared to 63% of boys) and less likely to see the internet as a safe place (51% compared to 61% of boys).

That definitely highlights something that has become more and more apparent in the past year. If you are female, you should be way more careful on the internet.


flickr photo shared by wheat_in_your_hair under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

To unpack my privilege, being cis-gendered, white, and heterosexual means I am coming from at least three places of privilege. I do not need to fear being harassed about the choice to identify as female, and I don’t need to fear being harassed for my sexual orientation. Even more, I’m middle class. I’m pretty well protected, pretty safe in my bubble. So when I say that I understand being afraid on the internet, know that I mean that I have a tiny little understanding about it and I know for so many people it is so much worse.

After a few comments with Ashley Dew last night about the gendered experience of online, today I read Jenn StewartMichell’s blog post about online friends being real. I agree with the article she brought up, that online relationship can be completely real, and then she mentioned a particular YouTuber and shared what she’d learned of him (including a really moving video). But she also mentioned GamerGate because he did and had posted about it. I immediately zeroed in and also internally got ready to duck and cover.

If you don’t know about GamerGate, then there is a whole lot of catching up to do. The beginnings are important. The Wikipedia entry on the Gamergate Conspiracy includes a whole lot of material (and I am fairly certain that it has been a contested space over the course of the past year with one side or the other making changes). In the beginning, there was a guy who decided to make allegations online that his ex-girlfriend, Zoe Quinn (no longer having an online space because of what happened), had slept with a video game journalist, resulting in positive reviews of the game she was developing and about to release. This became a call to arms. Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon. Others spoke out about what was happening. GamerGate was said to be about journalistic integrity about video games and there was a call to arms that there be changes made around how journalists reviewing video games handled that. Okay, that’s great. I don’t have a problem with it. (Except that as it turns out, Zoe Quinn was not sleeping with the video game journalist in question at that time – they dated later – and he never reviewed her game.) It got ugly. There were some critiques of her behaviour or the game itself that could be totally valid (my husband saw more of that side than I did and had some issues). Regardless, she ended up receiving death and rape threats. She had to leave her house. She was not the only one. Lots of other women, both known and not, received major online harassment. Some, like Quinn, were doxxed. Anita Sarkeesian, known for critiquing sexism in video games, had to cancel an appearance due to threats of violence that Utah State University said they could not protect against.

Anita Sarkeesian on the Colbert Report talking about GamerGate

The long and the short of it is that I have never tweeted using the hashtag #gamergate. Why? Because I’m afraid. I know that if I ever did, it would be quick work to recognize that I identify as female. And that would make me a target. There were people combing Twitter for a long time, seeking anyone who spoke out against GamerGate. And there were women who agreed with the publicized premise of wanting journalistic integrity. There were people who were moderates. But there were a lot of really horrid things done and the horrid things came from the origin of Gamer Gate and they were all around targeting women.

How can I support that? Former Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe posted a rant about GamerGate (Warning: strong language ahead). And he didn’t get doxxed, he didn’t receive rape threats. Actually, he was pretty much left alone.

(Quinn did create some good, building Crash Override to help other victims of online harassment.)

This is the online world for women. Now imagine the online world for those who also experience racism, classism, ableism, religious persecution, discrimination based on sexual orientation or chosen gender.

The identity we choose to take matters. While Katia mentioned during last night’s class that choosing identity online can be freeing, that there can be positives out of it for people who struggle in person, there are also a lot of reasons some of us may choose to hide. If you play a video game and are female, you may or may not reveal you are female. It can result in very different treatment, both good and bad. I was open about being female when I played World of Warcraft and I had people offer me (in game) money, help, etc much more easily than if I had been male but I also dealt with sexual harassment and awkward situations.

I have an issue with online being scarier for girls than boys, for women than men. I hope you do too. And this is our mess to clean up. We make choices when we are online. All of us are responsible for those choices, for being good digital citizens. We need to not just teach girls to be careful, to fear the strangers, to be careful what they say or do, but also teach boys not to be the harassers, to stand up against others they see being harassers.

So have you experienced online issues because of a part of your identity? What did you do? Have you seen it happening? Have you been the one who joined in? Or been the one to stand up against it?

Why does digital citizenship matter for instructors?

In thinking about my major project for EC&I 832, one of the things that needs explaining is why I think it is important to have a resource on digital citizenship for instructors.

Most discussions about digital citizenship center around children and teens. After all, those are the people in the process of learning about citizenship in general, forming who they will be (and Jason Ohler discusses that treating digital and non-digital as one single person is the best approach). Instructors are adults, they already have this all figured out. Right?


We all expect our instructors to be not just digital citizens but digital leaders, right?flickr photo shared by sylviaduckworth under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Sure, some do. Or maybe even that is a bit of a fallacy. With the speed at which technology changes, do any of us truly have our personal digital citizenship policies and procedures in place, never to change again? I would argue this course is reminding us that no, that probably is not so. As much as I critique Sherry Turkle, she has a point that we need to think carefully about how we use technology and whether what we are doing now actually works. Laura Hunter blogged about her own concerns with constant connections. She asks, “…do they help us be the best we can be? Is being constantly connected a good thing?” Sounds like I’m not alone in still trying to figure this all out.

When it comes to instructors, there is a big mix. Some are sessionals and have multiple pulls on their time as they may have a full time job on top of teaching university courses or be teaching more courses than a traditional faculty member, or they may be graduate students taking courses themselves. They could be a variety of levels of faculty, some with research demands, the pressures of trying to attain tenure, numerous committees or projects that require time. This is all on top of staying caught up in their field of expertise (we assume), making revisions to courses they teach, and perhaps somewhere in there thinking about their teaching and how they use technology. Busy would be a good definition of any of them.

As an instructional designer, my job is to provide pedagogical coaching to help instructors build the best possible courses so they and their students have a great experience. But there is more than that at stake. Who talks to instructors about their own digital citizenship? Not just how to set up their course in UR Courses, how to make it engaging, how to facilitate discussions, the value of videos or images in humanizing their content. What about how that fits together into a wider picture?

There usually isn’t enough time to talk about everything I want to share or bring up. But again, who will bring it up if I don’t?

My first thought was that a Centre for Teaching and Learning might be just the place to have resources on this. I know the U of R CTL doesn’t (I used to work there and the staffing is quite limited, they’ve had specific projects they are busy with). But other schools? So far, I haven’t found any resources although my hunt continues.

What about social media guidelines? U of R has some social media resources but the guidelines are primarily for accounts used by units, departments, faculties, or official persons. Nobody wants to go anywhere near academic freedom and produce guidelines for instructors. This is understandable but… then where would guidance be?

There are a few people on campus who have blogs or sites. I have found others through poking around and recognizing names who are on other social media. But there is no real guidance or information available through our campus. Most other sites I’ve checked so far also provide guidance only for official accounts rather than accounts of instructors.


flickr photo shared by clogsilk under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

There is a gap. Sure, if an instructor is already interested, they could come across a post about digital identity or a Digital Identity Health Check for Academics pdf. Maybe they decide to read a paper on Exploring Digital Identity: Beyond the Private Public Paradox. Still, none of this goes into all the little pieces that tie together to become digital citizenship.

So we want to worry about K-12 students. We worry about how our units present themselves. UVic provides a page for distance students on managing their digital identity. I suppose we hope that departments will discuss this, that faculty and instructors will talk about it as professional development amongst themselves. Maybe they attend a conference panel.

There is a gap here. These are people teaching students, choosing media and software and sites that students might need to use. These are people setting classroom policies. These are people demonstrating what it means to be a professional in a field. If the future landscape is changing, these are the people who will resist or support the change.

That is why my project matters.

Does anyone have questions they would want answered about their professional digital citizenship? What about how your instructors have (or have not) conducted themselves? Or questions about things that are assigned or provided as options like using Twitter, Prezi, VoiceThread, SlideShare, blogging, etc? What do you wish instructors had told you or wish they knew?