Category: courses

Getting your bearings if you were surprised

In the wake of an election that has chagrined many, I made up a list of 10 films for students in my “Disasters” course. My intent was to help them get a sense of why we are where we are today, in a way that wouldn’t require them to add to the mountains of reading and problem sets they already do for their courses.

The list is below–they’re mostly documentaries. But not the boring kind. I decided to leave it handwritten, rather than type it up, because I think we could all use traces of each other as human beings right now. Plus, that way you can see my “Depress-o-meter” rating for each film (in the margin). I did that so you won’t end up watching something terribly depressing when you’re already crushed, as my students seemed to be this Wednesday  when I saw them in class.

Presentations for STS Final Projects

Post a link to your prezi in a comment here no later than April 28 at 6pm. Make sure that your prezi is set to be publicly viewable.

Comic based on the book Cybernetic Revolutionaries, by Pooja Agarwal, using images from Medina’s book and ComicBook! iPad app.

You will hand in the paper portion of your final project on April 29 in class and give an oral presentation (using your prezi) in class. Remeber that your presentation must be no longer than 6-8 minutes. I will enforce this time limit in order to give everyone time to speak—so be sure to practice your talk before class and stick only to the most important evidence you have to present: your presentation should not just be a sped-up description of what you wrote in your paper. Rather, it should focus on one point that gives us a new insight into your topic.

Global English, Political Speech, and Public Humanities

One of my great pleasures over the course of this semester was being able to introduce undergraduates in my Filming the Past class to the amazing work of graduates in the Humanities Department’s Technical Communication program within the Program in Technology and the Humanities. My class not only teaches students through the medium of oral history and documentary film, but asks them to actively engage the public by creating in these mediums and sharing the products of their intellectual development. In that spirit, I’d like to highlight two “podcast-style” interviews students did with young faculty in the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Humanities Department.

One group of students interviewed recent Ph.D. and current Visiting Assistant Professor, Halcyon Lawrence, who works on speech intelligibility. Specifically, Prof. Lawrence asks the question: why do so many of our new, convenience-enabling technologies make life harder for the majority of English speakers? Speech recognition systems deployed worldwide, from Siri to your credit card’s voice prompts, are modeled on, and take for granted, American English or British accents as “standard English”–despite the fact that most English speakers today do not learn English in America or the UK. As English becomes our economic and technological “lingua franca,” how can we solve problems of speech intelligibility that are increasingly becoming embedded in our global technological infrastructure? Prof. Lawrence’s work offers a window into this fascinating problem and potential solutions:

Direct link to interview

Graduate Student Andrew Roback focuses on a different kind of speech: political speech on twitter. In particular, he asks, how do organizations wield 140 characters and what do they expect to get out of social networking? Though much lauded in the popular press for being a political game changer (cf. the conversations about Twitter in the “Arab Spring”), what exactly do we know about political influence on Twitter and about who has control and who doesn’t?

Direct link to interview

Applying STS theories to contemporary issues

In this course, we’ve talked a lot about how to use qualitative evidence and sociotechnical theories as tools for further intellectual insight into large, complex, systems that span both the technical and the social realm. In order to think about how technical artifacts work with and within political, cultural, economic, and environmental spheres, we’ve tried to systematize ways of looking at power and agency when it comes to technology. No two technological case studies are exactly alike, but there are enough historical similarities for us to apply past evidence to present situations.

In an essay of 400-600 words, discuss one issue or theory that you found most important and useful to your intellectual development over the course of the semester. Apply this knowledge to a contemporary issue in order to show what you’ve learned. (Note: this contemporary issue should not be the same topic that you’re focusing on for your final paper.)

In your essay, make an argument that is new and original–in other words, one that we wouldn’t already agree with before reading your essay and seeing your evidence. If your argument seems like something most people would agree with without seeing your evidence, then you need to go back to the drawing board and revise your argument–we

Amusingly(?) heteronormative 1940 ad for another essential tool for IIT students, from the IIT News digital archive, IIT Archives, Galvin Library

don’t need to prove the obvious. The emphasis in this essay is on showing us something new and backing it up with evidence from the course readings and lectures. Think historically and make comparisons. Try to put things together in an original way that represents your particular take on the course materials.

Due by 5pm on 4/20. Post your essay in a comment and remember to leave an extra line between paragraphs for formatting reasons. As usual, your essays will not show up immediately–I will approve the best ones after the deadline has passed.

Racism, Community, and Healthcare

This week my STS students read Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, by Alondra Nelson. Professor Nelson, who teaches sociology at Columbia University, delves into the history of healthcare reform through the healthcare initiatives of the Black Panther Party–with fascinating results.

Prof. Nelson’s book cover (image from her website)

Below, the students in the class have aimed to summarize the salient points of this important new book, while adding their own insights and questions.

Interview Podcasts

Last week, students in the Filming the Past class read articles written by members of the Illinois Tech Humanities Department. This week, each group of students interviewed a one professor of Humanities in order to create an audio documentary about that person’s work, and its larger impact and importance.

Students: Please post a link to your podcast (host it on Youtube) in a comment, along with a synopsis that briefly describes the subject matter and tells us the larger point or insight your podcast is trying to make. Also feel free to share your work with the rest of the class using #filmpast on twitter.

STS second short essay assignment

What one new thing did you learn about the concept of a cyborg from the readings this past week? (B. Woods & N. Watson, “In Pursuit of standardization: the British ministry of health’s model 8F wheelchair, 1948-1962;” D. Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto;” Selected news articles on cyborg culture on Blackboard.)

And, who (or what) has the power in creating the cyborgs discussed in the Woods and Watson article?

Conclude by discussing how the answers to the two questions above relate to each other, in order to shed new light on our concept of a “cyborg.”

Your essay should be 300 to 500 words. Posts are due by 5pm on February 27th.

Intro to STS: First Essay

For your first short essay, briefly define each of the concepts/theories that we’ve discussed in class so far: heterogeneous engineering; soft and hard technological determinism; technological momentum; the social construction of technology (SCOT); and, actor-network theory (ANT). As you define each one, say which author we’ve read is most closely aligned with each idea. Next, discuss which theory seems the most useful to the way you understand the world. Give one example from the readings or your personal experience that shows how one of these theories can help us understand something deeper and non-obvious about one specific technology’s role in society in the U.S. (or another country) in the 20th or 21st century. Be specific about WHERE and WHEN you are talking about.

Post your essay in a comment below. Skip a line between paragraphs (in other words, leave an extra line of white space). Your response should be no more than 500-600 words, and should be submitted by 10AM on 1/31. Your comments will not show up right away (they need to be approved by me, and I will do this after the deadline). You should use formal academic English for this assignment: compose and save your response in a seperate text editor before pasting it into the comments box for submission.

This is an adventure.

So the spring term is in full swing and I’m excited to be teaching a new course called “Filming the Past” in addition to my usual STS offerings. Here’s the syllabus, if you’re interested. Filming the Past is a history and digital humanities course that tries to help students understand the process by which history is written and then disseminated to wider, “popular” audiences. In addition to talking about traditional historiography, the course asks how certain historical accounts become popularized as the truth or “common knowledge?” What role do visual media, particularly films and documentaries, play in the process of creating and understanding the past? How can film be a force for uncovering and popularizing “hidden” histories that upset our assumptions about the past?

The class podcast rss feed

This course tries to change things up a bit by focusing on less well-known chapters in history, looking at how films and documentaries can be tools for disseminating historical knowledge and how they can also be activist interventions in how we understand the past and its relationship to the society we live in today. Students will learn how to write a short history from primary documents, conduct interviews, and create their own podcasts and short video documentaries on a historical topic.

In today’s class we’re going to be talking about the Magdalene Laundries, and the unusual ways in which their history was kept hidden, and later, the unusual ways in which it started to become common knowledge. We’re going to try to do an in-class audio recording exercise that will hopefully become a class-wide collaborative podcast episode. You can listen to our introductory episode here. It explains why our podcast is called “20/40 vision.” I’m still getting the hang of how to make these audio files–if anyone knows clever ways to amplify Audacity-generated mp3s, I’d love to hear.

If you’re interested in following along with what the class does in real time (or almost real time), check out the class twitter hashtag: #filmpast. We’re using twitter to talk about history since engaging in public conversations about history is part and parcel of this course. Students are setting up their accounts tomorrow and should be tweeting soon thereafter. We also have a list of useful twitter feeds for documentary studies to which we’ll be adding over the course of the semester.