Reflection on PUB802

** To organize this post I will be referring to PUB802’s learning objectives. After each main idea, I write [in square brackets] what learning objective it’s related to **
  1. To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume
  2. To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends
  3. To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work
  4. Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (Hypothes.is)
  5. Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology.

For the past few years, I’ve become hyper-aware of how much technology influences my life. I see myself and people around me dealing with phone addictions, going on social media detoxes, using tech for entertainment, for learning, for connecting, buying the latest Alexa, learning to code, etc, etc.  At least once a day I see an article or a TED Talk on my newsfeed about how technology is changing our mental and physical behavior. How it’s destroying humanity. How it’s empowering humanity. When a new feature is introduced on our gadgets, the immediate reaction seems to be “Woah! that’s magic!”.  It’s part of our everyday life, we wake up to it and go to bed with it, and yet it shocks me how little I understand it.
Therefore, I was pretty excited about PUB802 because I wanted to have tech demystified for me. To be totally honest, I wanted to learn all the nitty gritty details about how everything worked and some basic coding skills…this is probably because I enjoy learning how things work in a technical sense. But the course was more realistic in scope, and was more about thinking about tech in a  philosophical way and about the social and political implications of tech. I can now admit that this is probably more important to think about as we enter into our own publishing careers. However, some of the top highlights from the course for me was Juan’s brief mini-lessons on how the internet worked (Week 2), how data encryption worked (Week 8), and what XML and Pandoc are (Week 5). The technical aspects interest me and the course has spiked my interest more and allowed me to go do more reading on how things work and to teach myself some code.
[Learning Objective 1, 3]
**

The in-class discussions were my favorite part of the course. It always felt very conversational. I was able to listen to different opinions, develop my own ideas and share them in a coherent manner. It forced me to reflect and also dig deeper into my opinions. Some weeks were more challenging for me than others in terms of discussing topics as I felt a lot of points were brought up on Hypothes.is nonetheless, in-class discussions were always fruitful. I also learned that I don’t always have to hold one opinion or the other. The biggest takeaway from the discussions was that these topics such as copyright and data privacy are very complicated and there is no right or wrong answer. Which leads me to my favourite weektopics were:

  • Week 6: Copyright and Fair Use
    • learning about remix culture and the copyright implications of it and net neutrality were two very new topics I never knew about. I think as future publishers it’s super important to understand this
    • the blog prompt for this week was challenging but rewarding. Wrapping my head around fair use factors and applying it to a case study was a great exercise
  • Week 4 and 5: Internet Business Models
    • I’m grouping these two weeks together because for me they were less about the particular business models we talked about (Medium, Patreon, etc) but about thinking of the internet and the web as a business in general. I’ve always thought about the web as this place for free knowledge and entertainment, but this week shaped a more realistic picture.
    • I enjoyed writing my blog post for week 5 because I looked into how many different types of business models there were for the web (a lot!) and how different people and businesses utilize these strategies to make a living. As someone who wants to help creators showcase their work in a digital space, the ideas from these two weeks were valuable!
    • This week also felt the most optimistic in terms of how people use the web because we learned about peer-to-peer networks and platform cooperatives.

Though these two weeks were the most novel to me, I learned something new every single week such as Facebook’s shadow profiles, what data is being collected from us (answer: EVERYTHING), thinking about the web as a space, the switch from open web to platform based, AI’s role in publishing, and pros and cons of digital reading. This list can go on and on. The readings and discussions were engaging and I would even bring home certain ideas and discuss them with my housemates! I am now comfortable talking about metadata, ebooks, data privacy, etc.

Hypothes.is also played a huge role in allowing me to think critically about the readings and spend time digging deeper into the topics. For example, due to the comments, I was able to learn about things like Web 3.0  and watch a TED Talk about new trends in dealing with data (I can’t link to it because that Hypothes.is comment by Melody disappeared).
[Learning Objective 1, 2, 3, 5]

**
In terms of using publishing tools and formats, I believe the Wikipedia assignment was the most beneficial. I agree with the cohort that writing a Wikipedia article was challenging, however, learning how to do it and running through the modules was very inspiring! I noticed around the city that there are Wikipedia edit-a-thons (Art+ Feminism, Indigenous Writers). Now that I know how to do it, I’d love to attend future events such as these. I think it’s a really important thing to do and I want to contribute more to public knowledge. I’ve also noticed that now I’m a more critical reader of Wikipedia articles and have caught quite a few missing citations and biased information.
 [Learning Objective 4]
**

Future learning and course recommendations

Overall I think this course has allowed me to gain foundational knowledge on technology and how it relates to publishing. It has also taught me how to read articles, blog posts, and various other content about tech – it doesn’t seem so scary or mystical anymore. Even within our cohort, I can see that we’ve all developed interest in the topics in the course and when we find links about tech and publishing we share them with each other. For example, last week Charlotte shared Apple’s announcement about starting a magazine publication and Steph shared a link about Medium looking for partners to launch new publications.
In terms of course recommendations, I (and many others in the cohort) found that writing a blog post every week to be challenging. It required a lot more research and effort than what we expected. I agree that in some weeks it led to many interesting insights and deepened my knowledge of the topics, however in other weeks I felt the blog posts to be repetitive to the in-class discussion and I didn’t feel like I added anything new to the conversation. My recommendation would be to allow students to perhaps choose three or four topics that they’d be interested in and write blog posts about that.
Another recommendation is that I think basic coding knowledge would be invaluable and very practical for us as we enter into publishing. Having some weeks that are workshop days, where we learn HTML, CSS, and perhaps basic Javascript would have been very beneficial.
Other than that, it was a very enjoyable course and it’s definitely changed the way I think about technology. It’s made it less ‘magical’. There are real humans behind the technology we use, making real decisions that can impact how we use it. Understanding this is important because now I can critique it, fight against it, or support it.

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