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Weeks in Review: 5/4-5/19

I missed a couple posts. Here’s what I was reading and working on in the first part of the month.

What I’m Working On

OU Creaties

We awarded the Creaties this week. These annual awards honor the best new web sites and blog posts in the OU Create Domain of One’s Own project. To announce the winners, Andy Vaughn, our graphic designer, produced this wonderful video:

In addition to the video, I also started a series of blog posts about the winners:

Goblin 2.0

I’m still working with Keegan Long-Wheeler and Maddie Shellgren on a big project for this summer. Unfortunately, I still need to write up introduction to the project. I’m so excited about it and think it’s such a big deal that I’m having a hard time finding ways to even describe what it is. Hopefully, I’ll get that up this week.

What I’m Reading

I’m trying to read a book every week this year. By my counting, these were the 19th and 20th weeks of the year, and I’ve read 26 books. In the past two weeks I finished reading:

  • Andrew Sean Greer’s Less
  • Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion
  • and Michael Eric Dyson’s What Truth Sounds Like

Less

Less by Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer in 2018 for fiction. Normally, I associate these big prestige prizes with deep, philosophical tomes that challenge the reader. Less on the other hand was much closer to a summer beach read.

The book focuses on Arthur Less, a gay minor-novelist who is about to turn 50. On learning that his former lover is about to get married, Less decides to accept every invitation he has received as an academic and author and sets out on a world tour to find himself.

Book cover for Less

Less is extremely like-able, both for the characters he meets within the novel and for the reader. He is self-aware enough to recognize his privilege and relatable for academics and writers who feel like lesser lights compared to their genius friends and colleagues. His adventures provide both comic relief and an excuse for him to reflect on his relationships and his own desires. This was the most enjoyable and easily recommendable novel that I’ve read so far this year.

The Female Persuasion

Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion hits a lot of the same notes at Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Conversations with Friends, but with a much more like-able protagonist. I read this right after Less, while also reading a little bit of Pride and Prejudice to my daughter, which helped me to realize how much I like novels to have a relatively friendly protagonist and a happy ending.

As with Rooney’s books, The Female Persuasion is a coming of age story for a millenial woman. We follow Greer Kadetsky and her boyfriend, Cory Pinto, as they transition from high school to college and then their first jobs. Meg Wolitzer is less explicit in her focus on class than Rooney, but she covers similar ground as Greer and Cory struggle to balance chasing money, purpose, and familial obligations in their early careers. While Greer goes through ups and downs in each of her relationships, the twists and turns feel less contrived and easily avoidable than those of Rooney’s protagonists.

While Rooney is explicit in her exploration of class, Wolitzer is more interested in the history and current state of feminism. In the book, Greer admires a second wave feminist leader modeled on Gloria Steinem. However, Greer grows to recognize the datedness and failures in relation to inclusivity/exclusivity in her mentor’s work. She also struggles with the ways that money can both support and control the work. At the interpersonal scale, all of the relationships in the book also ask questions about how women are treated and how they treat each other.

Structurally, I had a few qualms with how the book was written. Some of the chapters are told from the perspective of other characters, which felt both jarring and slightly clumsy. One of the big turns in the book also felt a bit tacked on. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book and suggest adding it to your summer reading list.

What Truth Sounds Like

Michael Eric Dyson’s latest book, What Truth Sounds Like, uses the 1963 meetings between Bobby Kennedy and James Baldwin as a focal lens for studying black intellectualism and the struggle for racial equality in the last 50 years.

Here at OU, Jim Ziegler organized a guided reading centering on James Baldwin last year. Through those readings of Baldwin, his contemporaries, and his influence on modern writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, we covered some of the same topics that Dyson studies in this book. Dyson’s book would be a great central text in similar reading groups in that he presents a sort of annotated guide to the black intellectuals in Baldwin’s networks.

Michael Eric Dyson provides a series of little biographies on the people who accompanied Baldwin in his meeting with Kennedy. I learned a lot about Harry Belafonte, Kenneth Clark, Lorraine Hansberry, Lena Horne, and Jerome Smith.

Surprisingly for a book on intellectualism, I found this book really accessible. It’s very short and well written, so it serves as a great primer on black intellectualism. While reading this, I was making a lot of notes on what I want to read, watch, and listen to next.

Week in Review: 4/29-5/3

What I’m Working On

OU Creaties

We awarded the Creaties this week. These annual awards honor the best new web sites and blog posts in the OU Create Domain of One’s Own project. To announce the winners, Andy Vaughn, our graphic designer, produced this wonderful video:

In addition to the video, I also started a series of blog posts about the winners. You can see the first post, which feature’s Alice Calmon’s wonderful student portfolio at the Office of Digital Learning’s blog: http://digitallearning.oucreate.com/creaties/ou-creaties-best-student-portfolio/.

DiSH

Over the past year or so, I’ve been working with the OU Libraries and OU IT to try to create a portal that would help people find resources for expanding their digital skills. The Digital Skills Hub provides a calendar of all of the workshops and events offered across the OU campus that have something to do with digital skills, digital literacy, media literacy, etc. We are also building in a contact form where people can ask for help and we’ll direct the request to whoever works in that space. We’re hoping that this site will bypass confusion over who to go to for help on VR/AR, web development, LMS support, multi-modal writing, critical understandings of technology, data collection, data analysis, data viz, and all the other stuff.

This week we discussed the idea of a certification in digital skills. Beyond just attending several workshops, what would we want a student to know or do to earn that certification? What value would a certification have for the student? How would we track such a thing in order to grant the certification? We’re still at the early stages of the conversation, but we got everyone thinking about it this week.

I also talked to Jenae Cohn at Stanford about digital literacy this week. Jenae is doing a ton of interesting work with their writing program on multi-modal composition and also studying reading during the digital age. I’m still working through a lot of links she sent. I’m hoping that we’ll get a chance to collaborate on some media and digital literacy initiatives in the coming months.

Goblin 2.0

I’m still working with Keegan Long-Wheeler and Maddie Shellgren on a big project for this summer. Unfortunately, I still need to write up introduction to the project. I’m so excited about it and think it’s such a big deal that I’m having a hard time finding ways to even describe what it is. Hopefully, I’ll get that up this week.

What I’m Reading

I’m trying to read a book every week this year. By my counting, this is the 18th week of the year, and I’ve read 23 books. This week I finished reading:

  • Sally Rooney’s Normal People
  • Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
  • and Sitting in a Tree, a collection of Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen comics written by Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, Jason Latour, & Robbi Rodriguez

Normal People

Over the weekend, I finished Normal People by Sally Rooney. I had read her first novel, Conversations with Friends, earlier in April, and I find her work really interesting.

Book cover for Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The faces of the male and female protagonists are depicted in line drawings against a green and blue color-block background.

Many of the reviews of Rooney’s novels focus on how her Irish millenial characters are coming of age in the recession that hit Dublin hard in 2008. Rooney is 28 and a self-avowed Marxist, and the protagonists for both novels have been read as Rooney’s self-insertions.

I think Rooney may be using her protagonists as critiques of the generation now coming of age. The protagonists’ claims not to care about money or jobs are are undermined by the generous stipends and accommodations provided by their families. Their relationships are marred by the miscommunications and assumptions made possible when you can’t read the tone of the other person’s texts. At the very least, I read these characters with the same ambivalence that I feel towards Holden Caulfield. It’s easy to see them as disaffected and cool, but equally easy to criticize them as modern phonies.

I’ll try to write up a more coherent critique that actually quotes the books when I get time. Both have been short-listed for lots of prizes, and I think they’ll be on lots of lists over the next couple of years. I’m looking forward to hearing what others think of Rooney’s characters.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

I’m also torn as to how I feel about Shoshana Zuboff’s new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. I think this will also be on a lot of reading lists over the next few years. I’ve heard it compared to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, and I think my colleagues in both history of technology and digital pedagogy will find a lot to think about in the book.

Book cover for Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

I found myself agreeing with almost all of Zuboff’s observations. Google and Facebook have built some of the largest businesses in the world by sucking up as much of our data as they can and creating the most detailed and searchable advertising profiles that they can. Zuboff details how they have worn down our individual and societal defenses against this surveillance capitalism with a very convincing framework.

However, I disagree with her characterization of both the motivations of the companies and her argument that what they are doing is completely novel in the history of capitalism. In the final section of the book, Zuboff defends what she sees as a traditional, corporatist capitalism that flourished in America in the first two thirds of the 20th century. I see that period as deeply problematic, with the systematic consolidation of money and political power in the hand of capitalists at the expense of the working-classes. Zuboff praises General Motors and the other big companies of the period because they provided benefits to their employees, while minimizing the importance of the unions and the ecological and economic degradations of big business in the 20th century. As with Sally Rooney’s books, I hope people read Zuboff, but mainly so I can talk through her problematic conclusions.

Sitting in a Tree

Easily the easiest read of the week for me was Sitting in a Tree, a collection of Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen comics. This crossover narrative focused on inter-dimensional shenanigans going on between Miles Morales’ earth and Gwen Stacy’s earth. The two spider-people meet a couple of other spider-folk while trying to stop the evil forces of S.I.L.K. from gaining access to trans-dimensional travel.

Cover for the Spider-Man/Spider-Gwen collection, Sitting in a Tree. Both characters hang upside down and kiss, reminiscent of the scene from the Toby McGwire Spider-Man movie.

The main plot is pretty thin, but there’s some good bits about father and son relationships with Miles and his dad Jefferson. The best part of the comics though is Miles narrating the whole adventure to his friends in his high school dorm room. While one of his friends is trying to follow along with the story, the other just wants to hear about Miles getting to kiss Gwen. I recommend all of the Spider-Gwen comics, because she’s a badass. I enjoyed the animated Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse movie more than the Miles Morales Spider-Man comics, but I like the characters and animation style enough to keep going with them.

Week in Review: 4/20-4/26

What I’m Working On

I’ve spent most of the week thinking about the four projects listed out below. I also migrated a couple of websites into and around OU Create. For one of these migrations, I manually copied over both the file structure and the SQL DB from an external server, and then I changed the domain by rewriting more than 1200 SQL cell values. I don’t know if that’s actually impressive, but I was kind of surprised that it went so well. Here’s the instruction set I followed.

Creaties

This week, we reviewed over 100 nominees for the 2019 Creaties, decided on the winners, and started producing a video to recognize the winners. I’ve been working with my colleague, Andy Vaughn, and we’re hoping to have the video out at the beginning of next week.

Architecture College Website

The Gibbs College of Architecture here at OU has a really nice WordPress-based web site: architecture.ou.edu. My colleague Angela Person has done a great job building out the site and assembling a team of undergraduates to maintain a blog that I helped them build last semester.

This week, I sat in as they went through the process of creating site backups and updating the theme and plugins. Like any big WP site, there are a lot of plugins, so we wanted to be extra careful about compatibility during the upgrade. I had told them that I was at least 90% confident that nothing would break, and, for the most part, that held. The GUI that we’re using in place of WP’s default classic or Gutenberg editors didn’t update properly, but nothing broke from the user perspective. We’re working on contacting the GUI plugin’s maker to get that update completed.

Italian Website

I’m still working on the Italian program’s website. In fact, I should be working on that right now, but I wanted to write this post instead. I’m optimistic both will be finished by the end of the work day.

GOBLIN 2.0

Last week I started talking to Keegan about rethinking one of our favorite faculty development programs, GOBLIN. The first version of this program centered on having faculty play a Dungeons and Dragons themed game as a way of exploring what games have to teach us about onboarding, scaffolding, overcoming failure, assessment, group building, storytelling, etc.

Keegan and I had been talking to a couple of different schools about the program, and I started thinking about what if each school played a different storyline, with all of the storylines being intertwined somehow. This might have been spurred in part by the new Avengers moving coming out and the Marvel Universe’s model of 21 films all intertwining and leading to one culminating event.

This week, Keegan and I met with Maddie Shellgren from Michigan State to see if she would help us think through the game design. Maddie did a fantastic job designing escape rooms for the recent OLC Innovate 19 conference. Those escape rooms required multiple groups to work together in separate locations, then come together and work as a team to ultimately escape. Maddie thinks a lot about games and pedagogy, and she’s a badass, so we’re really excited that she wants to work with us on this.

I’m going to try to write up a separate post more fully explaining Goblin 2.0, and I’ll link it here when it’s done.

What I’m Reading

I’m trying to read a book every week this year. This week I read:



Tressie McMillan Cottom, Thick

At OLC Innovate 19, we were lucky enough to have Tressie McMillan Cottom give one of the keynote presentations.

I’ve been reading Prof. McMillan Cottom’s articles for a few years, so I was happy to hear she had a new book of essays. I read the entire book over the weekend and really appreciated Tressie’s candor. The epigraph for the opening essay includes a quote from Lucille Clifton, and her strong, affective voice was a clear influence throughout the book. Tressie’s essays are both intellectual and personal, an embodied take on race in modern American society.

I’ve already recommended this book to several people. I was in a panel on media literacy on Thursday and brought up one of the essays in which Tressie calls for a woman of color to write op-eds for the NYT. Her point, which I was reiterating, was that we’ve read plenty of David Brooks’ inane takes on life. If we make space for a woman of color to write, and give her the same latitude to over extend metaphors about modern society, we will have taken a small step towards racial and gender equality.

I’m reading several other books, but haven’t finished any of them. I did read my first article by Ellen Meiksins Wood and loved it. It typifies a broader set of readings that critique modernity. I am integrating all of this reading into my own writing right now, and I hope I will have more to share on that in the coming weeks and months.

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