Reflections on Pub 802, Spring 2019


Upon looking at the lineup of classes this semester, I must admit I was a little apprehensive to be taking what looked like a tech-heavy course load.  Despite being someone whose work is heavily based on digital technologies, I consider myself to be a bit of a Luddite. However, my original fears that Pub 802 was going to be “techy”, dry, and beyond my comprehension were quickly proven wrong. Instead, I found the reading material and subsequent class discussions to be generally exciting as they didn’t focus so much on the digital technologies per se but the social, political, and economic implications these technologies have. Overall, I feel like I have learned a lot from this class as well as met, and in some cases exceeded, the learning objectives set forth in September.

Learning Objective 1—To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume


Prior to taking this class, I read very little on digital technologies and only kept up to date with the latest news through second-hand reports from friends. In part, I’d say my lack of interest was based on being outside of academia for nearly ten years and falling into the same old rut of uninspired day to day life. The weekly readings for this class jarred me out of my state of digital apathy and sparked a keen interest in research that had laid dormant. Specifically, topics like “Platform Co-operism” [ from week 4, Internet Business Models] and “Facebook’s Focus on Encryption”  [from week 7, Data Privacy] were the most interesting to me, leading me down a rabbit hole of my own self-guided research. I found the topic of platforms so interesting in that I ended up spending a good 8 hours one Friday reading papers outside of the curriculum. The class’ focus on the democratization of information and alternative methodologies was refreshing and got my inner sociologist and socialist eager to learn more.

Learning Objective 2—To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends

Throughout the masters program, I have always felt a little out of place, perhaps with a touch of imposter syndrome. My background in critical research strategies and political economy have yet to be useful in the programmes’ other class work, but Pub 802 allowed me to really apply my analytical skills. Having this space to engage critically with texts once again was welcome. While I feel like I already had a pretty good understanding of the larger implications behind the global economy, the immense use of data surveillance, and the general ways digital tech enables and constrains us,  I feel like this class helped fill in some gaps and exposed me to topics which I wouldn’t have explored (like Chimero’s “The Good Room” or how AI is used in publishing) on my own accord. Furthermore, I now feel more inclined to keep up to date with digital technology news that I might have otherwise ignored.

Learning Objective 3—To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work

Despite the fact I missed an exorbitant amount class this semester, I found the mini-lessons I managed to see to be most interesting. The first lesson given on the internet was particularly fascinating (for all of us!) as it is something we undoubtedly take for granted and fail to realize its historical and social implications, let alone how it operates on a fundamental level. I believe if we are to engage with something critically, we first and foremost must understand how and why it came into being, so the historical context and study of its evolution were great. Furthermore, I found the discussion on meta-data and XML to be long overdue as it has constantly been discussed throughout the programme as being “essential”, yet somehow never described until the very end. The in-class lesson provided a general understanding of what it is and how it operates, and I would have loved for it to maybe go farther—maybe try it for ourselves.

Learning Objective 4—Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (Hypothes.is)

Coming into this class I already felt very comfortable with digital publishing on platforms such as WordPress. It is a platform I use almost daily, so having it as part of the classroom requirement was seamless. Hypothes.is was a bit of a different story. We all used the programme last year, and are fairly well versed in it, although perhaps not in love with it. For me Hypothes.is has both its benefits and downsides. I sometimes found that I had little to say about certain articles and felt like I had to grasp at straws for a comment in order to prove I did the readings. For me, this was sometimes a bit stressful, but that is simply a flaw of my own character. On the positive side, I found the annotations of Hypothes.is to fill in for what I think an ideal grad seminar to be—in depth dissection of each reading line by line. While I’d prefer for this type of analysis to occur face to face with my peers I understand that time, resources, and perhaps student engagement renders this difficult and therefore I can see the benefit of extending the classroom digitally. Hypothes.is filled this niche perfectly and provided space where readings could exist as living documents and public spheres were we as a class could interact. Lastly, the Wikipedia assignment, which has proved somehow more difficult to engage with than I’m sure many of us had imagined. While I managed to complete most of the assignment (and will hopefully complete it all!), I felt that it often got pushed to the wayside—a victim of this semester’s crunch. The modules I did complete have given me a fundamental understanding of Wiki’s operations, as well as confidence in my ability to actively engage with text creation and moderation (and to spot errors on pages). I hope to join an ‘edit-a-thon’ facilitated by my librarian friends in the future and fill gaps where I see voices missing.

Learning Objective 5—Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology.

The blog posts and annotations of articles gave me ample space to articulate my thoughts on everything from data ethics, to copywrite, and co-ops. The class-suggested blog prompts were often equivocal enough for me to focus in on specific areas of the topics that I found most interesting, allowing for some Montessori-like self-directed exploration—a technique that I personally find essential in facilitating my preferred style of learning. Initially, I felt a little vulnerable sharing blog posts that my peers could read (as well as having professor’s constructive comments visible), but over time I became more and more comfortable having my writing easily accessed by my peers. I even came to believe that having access to these platforms is useful in creating a space for an open dialogue, particularly for those who do not wish to speak on the spot in a classroom setting.

Overall I found the class to be engaging and illuminating, and entirely different than my preconceived idea of what it would be about.  Above all else, I can say it has reinvigorated my love of critically engaging with text, which I think is the best thing a student could ask for.

 

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