Feedback loops

The original focus of University of Washington’s Professor Kate Starbird’s research was Crisis Informatics, “the study of how information-communication technologies are used during crisis events, including natural disasters (like earthquakes and hurricanes) and man-made disasters (such as shooting events and acts of terrorism). … Initially, [her] research focused on the pro-social activities that social media platforms facilitate — for example, how people come together after crisis events to help themselves, their neighbors, and even people halfway around the world.”

More recently Starbird has studied the NOT-pro-social consequences “perpetrated by increasingly dense and often oddly connected networks of accounts.” It is important and scary work.

The infographic above is part of an illuminating slideshow Starbird put together “to help explain the dynamics of ‘participatory disinformation’ and how that motivated the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol.” Click on the image to see the whole thing.

Credit: Kate Starbird, University of Washington, Human Centered & Design Program and Center for an Informed Public

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Our Work Is Everywhere

Portland, Oregon artist Syan Rose’s book ‘Our Work is Everywhere: An Illustrated Oral History of Queer & Trans Resistance,’ is breath-taking and profound. I went through it slowly over the course of three days, letting these voices and insights try to sink in. It was delightful and very very humbling experience, so much to learn and reflect on.

From the publisher:

In their own words, queer and trans organizers, artists, healers, comrades, and leaders speak honestly and authentically about their own experiences with power, love, pain, and magic to create a textured and nuanced portrait of queer and trans realities in America. The many themes include Black femme mental health, Pacific Islander authorship, fat queer performance art, disability and health care practice, sex worker activism, and much more. Accompanying the narratives are Rose’s startling and sinuous images that brings these leaders’ words to visual life.

This is a full-colour, oversized book of art and language that is beautifully bound and printed. As an editor and publisher myself, I appreciate the tremendous care and love that went into the work Syan Rose and the people at Arsenal Pulp Press did together. Artists and writers dream of being a part of a publishing team like that.

You can download a generous excerpt of the book from the publisher’s webpage.

Syan Rose
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I wish I had written this.

Back in the day a journalist for the Norfolk Pilot newspaper got his copy back from his editor with this note:

“Sorry it’s so short but a certain amount of muck, spleen, libel, hogwash, garbage, neologism, prurience, presumption, assumption, half-assumption, bobbers, quackery and jackassery to be excised. Well, maybe not HAD to be, but was.”

This is from my friend John Glionna’s terrific blog. John and I have been friends for 42 years, starting on the day the editor of our college newspaper, Jay Rosen, assigned John to be my Assistant Features Editor. Within an hour I realized that Glionna could generate more story ideas in a minute than I could in a semester and that he wrote at top speed and beautifully. I gave him my position shortly thereafter.

John has had a very successful career as a reporter, both in the United States and in Asia. His blog is something else. His posts are frequent and full-story length (and dazzlingly vivid) – not bite-size hot-takes. You should subscribe.

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design + ways

My Kwantlen colleague Arley Cruther‘s essay “An Incomplete History of My Teaching Body” is breathtaking, beautiful and profound. Just published in a collection called “Voices of Practice: Narrative Scholarship from the Margin,” Arley’s piece starts this way:

My summer pandemic semester was very successful, except that I lost feeling in the left side of my face. Tingling spread from my temple, down across my cheekbones, across to my jawline. A static in the message. But though it didn’t get better it also didn’t get worse; I could still smile and raise my arm above my head, so my doctor chalked it up to stress.

The semester had been a flurry of parenting and grading and lesson planning and playing “Johnny, Johnny, Yes Papa” for the millionth time because I just needed to get one more paper graded and webinars and conferences and committees and extra projects and why did I say yes to that and how did I think I had time for that and iced coffee. I spent my teaching life saying words like ‘grace’ and ‘patience’ and ‘community’ and ‘care.’ I typed those words at 5:30 am alone in my living room: the side of my face tingling, distracting me as I tried to tell a student that I was sorry to hear they weren’t feeling well, and of course, take the time you need with the assignment.

Me: I pared down my course to emphasize slowness and reflection and care. I designed it to ensure that all students had access and choice and agency.

Also me: And I didn’t take a day off in 5 months to do it.

Since Arley joined our department, she has deepened our discussion and our understanding of pedagogy, of the classroom. It was been an enlightening experience for me. And humbling, and challenging, as I had not really rethought my teaching practice in a number of years; it was becoming ossified around fundamentals I had stopped reassessing.

My colleague recalls lessons learned as a paralympian, takes them into the classroom, and flips them on their head:

Academia and Paralympic sport had combined to teach me that success was about conforming to a standard that had been set in advance. In most parasports, athletes are ranked by a classification system, which seeks to ‘level the playing field’ by assigning a number to each athlete based on the impact their disability has on their ability to compete. In wheelchair basketball, athletes are ranked from 1 (for most impairment) to 4.5 (for able-bodied or ‘minimally disabled’) and a team can only play 14 points at one time.

I had seen the problems with trying to sort people with wildly different disabilities and experiences with disability into static numerical categories, but it took an introduction to critical pedagogy to apply this logic to grading. I began to imagine a class where students could show their learning in multiple ways, where they could play a role in designing assignments and shaping the direction of the class, where the hierarchy between student and teacher was not to be reified, but reimagined.

For most of my teaching career, I’d puzzled over why my students’ writing lost its vitality when they wrote reports and essays. But when I began designing with students, I learned that they were trying to leave their own voice behind and leap into the language of reports and memos. They could not imagine themselves being enough, so they had to put on a suit of business-ese. Now, I can design assignments that say your experience is welcome, your voice is welcome, your perspective is needed, you are enough.

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It will be so good to get back in the classroom.

I will not be able to hide my tears.

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When in doubt …

… draw a distinction, says Jay Rosen.

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J. Hillis Miller

Professor Miller was a genial man whose ardent advocacy of the “deconstruction” movement in literary and cultural criticism was notable for his uncommonly graceful prose style. His early book “Poets of Reality” was a revelation to me my first year in grad school at Stanford. In my first scholarly publication, an essay on William Carlos Williams, I awkwardly attempted to imitate his methods. RIP.

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You got to dance with who brung you

A year or two ago a colleague who teaches business classes at my university suggested allowing students – whose term projects focused on opportunities in nations where English was not the predominant tongue – prepare their final reports/portfolios/presentations in Cantonese, Punjabi, Farsi, whatever the case may be. That is, students would create work in the language their intended recipients actually speak (a really good idea!).

I was thinking of these students the other day after reading a CBC article which noted that, starting this fall, “students studying traditional Chinese medicine in B.C., will no longer have the option to take their exams in the Chinese language.” Why? It costs too much to translate these exams into Chinese.

John Yang, chair of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, has criticized this development.

The change is a problem for students who are proficient in Chinese, according to Yang, because the practice is so old and was originally recorded in traditional Chinese. Some nuances have been lost in translation so anyone who can read and understand the original text has an advantage, he said.  

“In the English dictionary, there is no one-to-one translation for every concept,” he told The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn. “When there is a question or debate arising, we will always go to the origin of Chinese doctrine or textbook to find an answer, so that’s why it is important to keep the Chinese language in the traditional Chinese medicine profession,” Yang said.

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The mess of thinking

Inaccurate interpretations of a particular data-point can nonetheless provide metaphors that describe a lot.

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Picturing the news

Peter Maass of The Intercept asks a really good question: “Why have Americans seen relatively little imagery of people suffering from Covid-19? While there is a long-running debate over the influence of disturbing images of death and dying — whether they actually move public opinion — the relative paucity of videos and photographs of the pandemic’s victims might help explain why Covid-19 skepticism has thrived as the death toll in America reaches the level of a 9/11 every day.”

The quick answer to Maass’ question is that the Trump administration has been enforcing a very strict interpretation of America’s HIPAA regulations, originally put in place to protect medical patient privacy.

Before letting journalists inside Covid-19 wards, hospitals needed prior permission from not only the specific patients the journalists would interview, but also other patients whose names or identities would be accessible. … The guidelines made it extremely difficult for hospitals to give photographers the opportunity to collect visual evidence of the pandemic’s severity. By tightening the circulation of disturbing images, the guidelines fulfilled, intentionally or not, a key Trump administration goal: keeping public attention away from the death toll, which has surpassed 300,000 souls.

Takeaway quote from a nurse in Seattle: “We’re all experiencing the most difficult working conditions we’ve ever faced. And everybody who is speaking out is doing so to advocate for patients, ultimately. It looks like hospital administrations tend to run to HIPAA for their protection, not so much patient protection.”

The Intercept’s entire discussion is really good.

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