It’s been years since my last post and I feel inclined to formally acknowledge the conclusion of it if no other reason than because it’s part of my impulse to close things off neatly. I will leave it up as an archive, because I think there are a few useful things for people to peruse if anyone ends up here. It also serves as a way of communicating with me, for those folks who happen to search for my name — students, academics, curious strangers, estranged family, etc…

I hope that one day I will regain motivation to write in this forum, but to do so I need to think about my audience and my purpose. Blogging has been an instructive exercise, though, and I am happy to have started some strands of thought here.

Until next time,



10 places where anyone can learn to code

TED Blog

blog_learn_to_code_art_revTeens, tweens and kids are often referred to as “digital natives.” Having grown up with the Internet, smartphones and tablets, they’re often extraordinarily adept at interacting with digital technology. But Mitch Resnick, who spoke at TEDxBeaconStreet in November, is skeptical of this descriptor. Sure, young people can text and chat and play games, he says, “but that doesn’t really make you fluent.”

[ted_talkteaser id=1657]Fluency, Resnick proposes in today’s talk, comes not through interacting with new technologies, but through creating them. The former is like reading, while the latter is like writing. He means this figuratively — that creating new technologies, like writing a book, requires creative expression — but also literally: to make new computer programs, you actually must write the code.

The point isn’t to create a generation of programmers, Resnick argues. Rather, it’s that coding is a gateway to broader learning.“When you learn to read, you…

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TOP 10 Blogs/Websites for Education & Technology

Below are the 10 blogs and websites I found useful during this school year. Each offers a unique lens through which educators can not only get apprised on the debates in education and technology, but also access useful resources to improve teaching practice.

  1. The Media Education Foundation

This is my #1 go-to resource when I explicitly teach ‘media’ in my classroom. It’s an excellent source for integrating critical media across disciplines. The board of advisors include: Noam Chomsky, Henry Giroux, Naomi Klein, bell hooks. It also included the late Stuart Hall. Seriously? It doesn’t get better.

  1. Edutopia

Edutopia, funded by The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), is a blog for educators, which focuses on implementing assessment, social and emotional learning and technology, among other areas. I found them useful for the resources they link to, such as their resource roundup on digital learning. There are good articles that provide useful ideas for teaching, learning and assessment.

  1. Education Radio

“Education Radio is committed to exposing the profit driven interests fueling current education policies while addressing issues of true equity and access in public education. ”

This is a blog that focuses on producing podcasts related to education. There are multiple contributors, many of whom are activists. I highly recommend listening to the following: Educational Technology: Tool for Capitalism or Democracy? (Published Saturday, November 26, 2011)

  1. Audrey Watters’ Hack Education

I recommend starting with her post “On ‘Viral” Education Videos” published 13 May, 2013. The video featured exemplifies the most transformative part of teaching. In this instance, the teacher didn’t see the opportunity.

This blog focuses on an interesting concept: Hack Education, which refers to “a technological solution, a technology intrusion, a technological possibility, a technological disaster.” Rather than focusing on how technology and education is affecting systems of education, she focuses more broadly (and much more interestingly) on the implications of technology on our future. The content is substantive and very well written.

  1. The Grassroots Education Movement

This is a blog that is “in defense of public education” and focuses on school-level organizing in the U.S. If you are looking for political strategies to resist the corporatization of public schooling, this is a good source.

  1. Rethinking Schools

Rethinking Schools is a non-profit magazine founded in 1986, which advocates for “common schools.” Common schools refer to spaces where “children from a variety of backgrounds come together and, at least in theory, learn to talk, play, and work together.” Their mission is to address the various inequalities that constitute our society through their magazine. The current issues features an editorial on “Queering Schools” that’s worth a read. LGBT issues are so important and underrepresented in schooling literature.

  1. Media Smarts: Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy

Media Smarts is an organization which promotes digital and media literacy or, rather, digital citizenship. There are some good resources that can supplement the Media Education Foundation. I stress supplement because this is a corporate sponsored organization, which means that they have a stake in promoting only the benefits of digital media. I included it because it is a Canadian source, which is often underrepresented.

  1. Centre for Democracy and Technology

This Centre is a non-profit organization whose goal is to “preserve the user-controlled nature of the Internet and champion freedom of expression.” This is a useful blog to track news about legislation related to privacy. I found this unique in its international focus.

  1. Diane Ravitch’s A site to discuss better education for all

This blog focuses on writing about the corporatization of education in the U.S and delivers thoughtful opinion about education; she draws on anecdotal data and incorporates polemic debates in her posts

10. Valerie Strauss’ “The Answer Sheet” published by the Washington Post

Valerie Strauss is an Educational Reporter for the Washington Post who publishes op-ed pieces that reflect the current debates in education, especially in the U.S. The Canadian educational landscape is quite different from the U.S; however, many here do fear that corporatization and global movements toward a ‘Knowledge-Based Economy’ will privatize public education sectors and undermine employee protection legislation fought for by teacher unions.

Honorable Mention:

EduShyster: Keeping an eye on the corporate education agenda

Jennifer C. Berkshire follows how “Education Reform Inc.” is affecting the educational landscape in the U.S., with focus on its social impacts. It’s quite tongue-and-cheek, which is why I included it. The style of the pieces might offer budding bloggers a more satirical model for their writing.

entrepreneurs can change the world

No, really.

I have always been skeptical of the reductive form of TED, which needs no introduction. Usually under 20 minutes, ‘the expert’ breaks down a complicated concept in an entertaining and engaging way. I am as skeptical of TED as I am of Wikipedia, which, while often being a good starting point, isn’t the source to which one should refer when trying to construct an argument. In this way, TED too is a starting point. More than this, I find TED useful for understanding the ways in which information becomes product and how popularity drives its consumption. For example, while browsing TED talks on technology this one below interestingly appeared:


This talk, titled “Let’s Raise Kids to be Entrepreneurs,” was delivered by Cameron Herold who is making a living as a ‘Business Coach.’ I found his talk to be exemplary of neoliberal discourse, in which  the individual is exalted as a driver of the economy. The whole talk was seeping with irony and, at times, lunacy. I wouldn’t be so concerned were it not for the 1,119,580 views it received, signalling the extent to which our desires have been captured by capital.  What do I mean by this and why is it important to my research?

Herold opens with “I loved money” “I loved business.” Indeed, it is this motivation that was nurtured by his father, who he said groomed him to run a business “rather than waiting for government handouts.” Groom, in fact, was the refrain in this talk. Who is doing this grooming and to what ends? This is what interests me as I look at online education, in which students are groomed to perform the bureaucrat-student. In fact, I would surmise that Herold himself would agree with me, except that he would accuse schools not for training students to critique the systems in which they are embedded, but rather for failing to nurture entrepreneurial traits such as tenacity, leadership, networking, sales, attainment, and boot strapping. Herold would also indite schools for failing to teach them to want to make money, without questioning the symbolic investments in its production; to ask questions, without questioning the system in which ‘business’ is embedded; to lead others, without distinguishing between leadership and exploitation; to be creative, so long as it’s not disrupting flows of capital; and to see solutions, whose limits are the ends of capital. The black death to which consumption will lead us. Until we consume the earth; until we consume ourselves.

He concludes with a video aimed at promising entrepreneurs: one part reads “HELP HEAL THE ECONOMY, MAKE A DIFFERENCE.” This is dangerous discourse. It’s dangerous to suggest that we can make a difference in the lives of others by working in the service of an economy that thrives on economic disparity. This is most vividly illustrated when he lists all of his entrepreneurial adventures as a child and the lessons he learned from each. The most interesting was his lesson in buying low and selling high, which he discovered when buying comic books from “the poor kids” and sold them to the “rich kids” for a sizable profit; another related lesson was to never reveal your source, as he almost got assaulted after a “rich kid” discovered the source of his products. More immediately, what makes Herold’s discourse so unnerving is his suggestion that mania, stress, depression, bi-polar and attention deficit disorder can all be productively redirected into capital. Indeed, bi-polar disorder is cited as a CEO disease. Certainly this warrants some criticism?

My curiosity in light of this talk is the limits of discourse: why is it that consumers (because that’s what we all are now) desire a system in which creativity, innovation and growth presupposes division, inequality and injustice? Why is this rhetoric so powerful? I hope to explore this more fully when considering the geographical shift in education, from physical spaces to virtual spaces — spaces which seem to coincide with some of this discourse in which the autonomous individual is capable of creating opportunities for herself and for whom the sky’s the limit.

I think, kids could change the world not as entrepreneurs, but rather as radicals. They should turn that lemonade stand into a open mic and, rather than buying low and selling high, kids should be connecting geographies between markets, turning markets into commons and consumers into communities. Where creativity isn’t something we can imagine within the limits of imagination, but beyond it. In growth that doesn’t presuppose a growth of advanced liberal state formations. And that we shouldn’t be looking only toward the sky, but, rather, under the earth; across the horizon. Or perhaps we should be feeling our way through the dark, perhaps crawling on the ceilings, connecting smell-taste assemblages. Creativity as unimagined form and expression.

Humanity and the Digital Revolution – Michel Serres at USI

Michel Serres is the author of the well known book The Parasite, in which he uses the model of the parasite/host to draw a link to the ways in which humans can influence public discourse — as a metaphor for human relations. He was invited to Unexpected Sources of Inspiration (USI) to discuss how humanity has changed as a result of the digital revolution.

He begins with a discussion of the word ‘humanely’ which has two definitions in French: an ethical, moral (i.e., dealing with someone humanely) or an anthropological one, which is the definition he takes up in discussing the ‘man’ of today. I found this discussion relevant for my work because it gives substance to the notion that digital technologies are impacting our very being in ways we can’t yet trace. He terms this a ‘transitory period of crisis’ although I don’t think he uses the word crisis to allude to a morality, but rather to an entrenchment in a change — in a newness — which we are not yet able to make sense out of. What do we mean by the word new? Serres provides a quantitative definition of new as being “proportional to the time length that this event is stopping.”  So his argument is that ‘man’ is changing. Here are his supporting points:

1. We are no longer a farming humanity: At the beginning of the last century, farming in Paris comprised a little over 70% of the population, whereas today it is difficult to even see a farmer. This is in large part due to the war, which wiped out a significant number of this population, in addition to introducing new technologies. He marks 1950 as the end of this period.

2. We live largely in cities: in 1830, only 8% of humanity lived in cities; in 2050, we are certain that figure will reach 50-60%. The result is changing housing patterns, in addition to contributing to the marginalization of rural life. This has an affect on history, which has always privileged the city, as well as on our behavior and mindset.

3. Our relationship to our body has changed: Before WWII, the distribution of a physician’s diagnosis were 36%  syphilis, 30% of tuberculosis and 40% as ‘other’ ailments. Today, antibiotics have eradicated infectious diseases (although we know this is also a produces inequities in which the question is really “eradicated for whom?”) and, in the developing world, our relationship to one another is no longer characterized by pain.

4. Increase in demographics and life expectancy: The impact of point #3 is that we are living longer. In 1820, a woman was not expected to live beyond the age of 30, whereas today, 30 is considered her prime. Today’s life expectancy is 84-85 and grows by about 6 months every year, except in the US, where it is decreasing. As a result, our economy – particularly the distribution of wealth along lineage  – is changing.

5. Space is changing: Serres uses the notion of the ‘address’ to illustrate this point by saying that his home address — a metric space — no longer receives mail; however, his mobile devices do. This isn’t to suggest that there is a time-space compression: we have changed space, not address. This requires a new imagining of institutions that have not yet been invented, thus impacting laws which serve to regulate this new space.

6. Language is changing: The rate of change, which he defines as a difference in gradient between words that enter and exit a dictionary on a given year, is extraordinary. In the case of the French language, an average of 2000-3000 words shift from those leaving to those coming in; however, the next publication will have a difference of 37,000 words in a language which has 150,000 words. This shift is taking place across a number of languages, including English, and is largely the result of the fact that most of the trades that existed in the 1950s don’t exist anymore.

7. The West has been living in peace for 65 years, which hasn’t happened since the last Trojan War.

I find his points convincing, but certainly lacking in the sense that he provides observation of major changes ‘mankind’ is undergoing, linking largely to statistical data, but doesn’t seem to touch upon the ways in which the West, by its very definition, is constituted by the exploitation of resources and labour in countries it terms developing. As if our accomplishments were achieved without a cost. Arguably, it is the very advancement of our civilization that will lead to its collapse.

Using the User: Parasites and Hacktivism

On December 5th, 2013, I went to see a talk at the University of Toronto’s iSchool by Anna Watkins Fisher, who is currently an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, teaching in the Department of Performing and Media Arts. Her talk was titled “Playing the Parasite: The Art of Dependence in a Networked Age.” The talks hosted by the iSchool aren’t available to view online; however, I wanted to make mention of her concept of “parasitism,” which she uses to ‘map’ feminist, performative, interventions into digital platforms. In this two-part post, I want to go over some of the salient points in her presentation and then follow up the next week with a review of Michel Serres’ talk on the Digital Revolution, which is what Serres references to describe a transitory period, a period of crisis, in mankind. I follow up with Serres because Fisher draw her work on the ‘parasite,’ which is an analogy that describes the organization of human relations, primarily from him.

Fisher has developed the term ‘parasitism’ to describe the performative anti-strategies of users, who reconfigure dependency upon neoliberal host systems by essentially ‘using the user.’ The most prominent example she used, amazon-noir, was developed by UBERMORGEN.COM (German for “the day after tomorrow” and “super-tomorrow” ) in which artists Paolo Ceriu and Alessiandro Luduovicio conducted an “experiment:”  they broke into the digital library of using the “Search Inside” function, gaining access to about 3000 copyrighted books. You can read their blurb about the technology they used here. Interestingly, I wasn’t able to find any evidence of English media coverage when searching the newspaper archives on the university database. But here it says the story was covered by papers in Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Austria — the press clippings are listed although links aren’t provided.

Amazon, after offering kick-back bribes, which the artists rejected, ultimately ended up buying this technology back from them for an “undisclosed sum,” thus re-integrating the parasite into their host-system. Fisher’s uses the paradigm of hospitality (she traces back the concept of ‘parasite’ to the 17th century) to argue that users, who were once welcome as guests have now been supplanted in the modern period as parasite who takes, but doesn’t give. The state host conceals its hostility until the parasite exposes the host’s limits, revealing the host as ‘inhospitable’ – Fisher points out that the host is “user friendly but can’t be used in return.” This is a very general (and hopefully faithful) recall based on my very sketchy notes. What is really exciting about parasitism as strategy is that it allows for the development of a feminist, performative, politic in which artists/hacktivists can take advantage of increasingly blurred distinctions between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ so as to expose the hypocrisy of host systems. There are many questions, too, that Fisher raises about the feedback-loop in this strategy, in which the parasite (as in the case of Amazon) gets re-integrated back into the host. I’m looking forward to reading her forthcoming book.

For a more thorough account, see her publication in art&education, in which Fisher recounts her own experience at the receiving end of this strategy, when an artist requests to use her original work in an exhibition without attribution. It is here that you get a sense of how dangerous parasitism can be as a strategy upon which to base a feminist politics. She writes, “The parasite is both dangerous and generative precisely because it does away with the subject/object dichotomy and because there are no guarantees against its mechanisms.” Fisher also anticipates criticism of parasite-as-strategy and responds to anxieties by describing the ways in which artists can disrupt the “accumulative force” of performativity. You can decide if you find it a convincing argument.

If you’re interested in exploring “hacktivist” projects by the artists mentioned, see these projects: Google Will Eat Itself and Face to Facebook.

To conclude I leave you with a great inteview with artists Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico about Face to Facebook. There is a great discussion about the vulnerability of data:

Consumer Data Brokers

data brokers

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Data brokers, numbering in the couple thousand, collect data about our most personal information, which include our name, number, level of education, equity, income, interests. Lists of cancer patients and domestic abuse victims, for example, have been found online, allegedly for sale. Oh, and it’s not against the law. They get this information from what you buy online AND offline — especially from surveys filled in online, such as those targeting health. If a website tells you that they are collecting information that they might share with a third-party, that’s the red flag. Data is important to collect, particularly in marketing; however, the problem is the type of data collected isn’t regulated. If you live in Canada, see The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to understand your rights. If you live in the United States, check out About the Data to see the type of data collected about you. Don’t forget to “opt-out.”