What I’m Working On
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/.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.