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Lauren and Filipa’s Collaborative Assignment

Assignment Overview:

This upper-level undergraduate course will examine gender representations in media and digital culture. Throughout the semester, students will explore the way gender is constructed, represented, and expressed within the context of traditional media, online media, and especially within social media representation in the 21st century.  Students will study gender ideologies, feminist theory, and communication theory and practices, in order to gain a thorough understanding of critical approaches to gender representation across various media. The goal for the course is to transform students from media readers (consumers) to writers (producers) with the ability to critically contribute to conversations by using various media producing platforms and technologies.   

The final assignment will give the students the ability to demonstrate how the theories and readings from the course have been understood by them. They will show how they have transformed from consumers to producers by creating/curating a series of Instagram posts that share a common thread of gender representation.  Each image will also have to be accompanied with a minimum 100 word annotation. Students will finally have to defend their decisions and annotations of the images by presenting to their classmates on the final meeting day (5-7 minute presentation).

In completing the assignment, students will engage with a variety of technologies. First, they will become proficient in creating and producing to Instagram accounts, which is a popular social media tool.  Additionally, students will need to use image capturing devices and other applications to edit their photos such as smartphones or digital cameras (devices) and Flickr or Snapspeed (applications). Furthermore, since a main requirement for the final assignment is to include one external course reading, i.e. articles from a library database, students will need to become familiar with optimal searching strategies in the library’s databases.  During the middle of the term (before the final assignment is given) students will be brought to the library to work with a librarian on search techniques and strategies. Lastly, students will need to present their work to their class, so presentation software such as Prezi, PowerPoint, or Slides will be used.

The following criteria will be used to evaluate the assignment:

  • 10-20 posts on Instagram, containing at least 1,500 words of text (for 15 posts, that’s 100 words per post).  Creativity will be highly valued, so use varying images and annotate them well!
  • Project draws from at least two major sources from the course readings (and one beyond) in a significant way.  Students visited the library to receive an overview of searching tips and techniques, as well as receiving guidance on the best databases/resources available for this project.  Choosing an external reading that demonstrates mastery of library searching is ideal.
  • Project takes up major subjects from at least three different fields (entertainment, pop culture, politics, sports, public intellectuals, etc).
  • Project coheres into a larger understanding on the function of gender in the media.  This will be clearly stated in the presentation as a thesis statement.
  • Project presentation is engaging and informative.

Assignment Draft (addressed to students):

For the final project of this course, you will not be writing a traditional research paper, but will create a series of annotated Instagram posts that demonstrate your critical understanding of gender representations through a media platform.  The images you use should be created by you (photos of yourself or things you see) AND should also include images pulled from other sources, i.e. an image of a Cyborg referring to the Donna Haraway reading (proper citation within the annotation is required).  A mixture of self created and borrowed images is ideal. For each image, you will write an annotation that deconstructs its representation of gender and addresses the theories and critical discussions we’ve had throughout the semester.

To accomplish this, you will:

  • Create a series of 15-20 posts on Instagram, containing at least 1,500 words of text (for 15 posts, that’s 100 words per post).
  • The series will draw from at least two major sources from the course readings, and one beyond that was found during/after the library research session, in a significant way.  For example, this could be accomplished by quoting from a reading in the post or by incorporating images that represent course readings. Please note, you can use more than three readings, but to receive full credit for this part of the assignment you need to refer to TWO course readings and ONE external reading.    
  • Series takes up major subjects from at least three different fields (entertainment, pop culture, politics, sports, public intellectuals, etc).  
  • Finally, you will prepare a 5-7 minute presentation that introduces your thesis, ties the chosen & taken images together into an argument justifying your choices and your annotations.  Your presentation should be engaging and informative. Presentations will be on the last day of class.  
  • Your presentation must include a thesis statement that indicates your  larger understanding on the function of gender in the media.  What ties all the images together? What representations are being depicted? You should be able to clearly articulate this thesis statement in your presentation.

Measuring Student Work

My provocation builds off one of the many questions from last week’s class–how can we teach “off the template” in a way that still teaches technique? In other words, how can we teach our students to engage critically with the course material without employing convenient but stale “templates”? In teaching writing, for example, are we bound to teaching the five-paragraph essay or paragraph structure, in order to understand the function of claims, evidence, and analysis in written work? Isn’t that template the easiest way?

After this week’s readings, it seems to me that the problem goes deeper than this question of method. It goes to the very assumptions of the course itself, which is tied to specific learning objectives. These learning objectives assume that “learning” occurs when the student can demonstrate her skills for “critical thinking” and “analysis”. For example, I’m including the learning objectives from the English 220 course I teach at Hunter college.

  1. Write thesis-driven analytical essays on all three genres (Poetry, fiction, drama) that incorporate evidence from the literary texts and demonstrates close reading skills.
  2. Write an analytical research paper of at least 6-8 pages that demonstrates close reading skills and the appropriate use of evidence from literary texts; the ability to create a clear thesis statement; and the ability to incorporate and engage scholarly critical sources as part of a well-organized, thesis-driven argument.
  3. Discuss fiction, poetry, and Shakespearean drama verbally through the use of close reading skills and, where appropriate, basic literary terminology.
  4. Demonstrate some familiarity with literary criticism in class discussion or writing, or both.
  5. Demonstrate the ability to compare and/or contrast literary works.

All of these objectives boil down to some basic requirements: demonstrating “close reading skills”, the “appropriate use of evidence”, argumentation, “familiarity with literary criticism” and ‘basic literary terminology”, in the form of “thesis-driven analytical essays” and class discussion. Reading over these requirements, it seems to me that the course is not so much encouraging students to think critically as it is teaching them to mimic a process that has been time-tested in teaching literary analysis. If the student can demonstrate familiarity with literary terms, criticism, and close reading skills, and the proper use of evidence and argumentation, all within thesis-driven essays, then she will have passed the course. But none of these requirements address the student’s personal response to the text, what she brings to the table, and her grappling with the text.

The problem, it seems to me, is that we are measuring students on performance, on the final product, rather than on process. Amelia Abreau writes about the difficulty of quantifying moments of struggle and emotional toil, which often occurs in caregiving. She begins her article by saying that, currently, there is no way to quantify caregiving (such as the work of caring for a young, dependant child), and suggests that we ought to imagine data gathering in ways that empower caregivers and other low-wage laborers, rather than aim for “near-perfect, near-universal metrics”. Abreau questions: “Rather than seeking to perfect measures and standards of that work through statistical working-over, can we envision workers taking their own data to management to improve working conditions?” Abreau’s article encourages us to apply quantification in new ways, in order to measure what has previously been overlooked or has been unmeasurable.

My provocation, then, takes this example from caregiving into the classroom: How can we assess students on their moments of difficulty and struggle, rather than on the final product? What specific ideas do you have for “measuring” student’s challenges with the course material?

And, to take this in another direction—how can we employ the “connectivist” nature of learning with digital tools (a topic touched on by many of our readings) in order to enhance the way that we measure moments of difficulty and struggle? I’m thinking specifically of the opportunities opened up by collaboration and group work across networks. The Femtechnet Manifesto, for example, asserts that “Collaboration is a feminist technology”. How can we make the struggle that students undergo when grappling with new concepts more visible by assigning collaborative work?

Filipa’s Project Brief: Social Annotation

As any English teacher knows, a student’s personal engagement with literature is very difficult to track. In higher education especially, students are expected to complete the reading by themselves and come to class prepared to discuss the texts. But how can teachers gauge the student’s reading experience? And how can they encourage active reading strategies at home? The fact is that reading consists of largely isolated and invisible work, which remains inaccessible to teachers and other students. Furthermore, the habit of responding to text requires thoughtful cultivation through practice and modeling. Many students do not know how to close-read a text, much less to think critically about their responses and questions. How can teachers stimulate the student’s reading process, the moments of insight and questioning that occurs during the act of reading? Building the skills of active and critical reading calls for extensive dialogue between teachers and students, which is difficult to facilitate outside the face-to-face interaction of the classroom.

This proposal explores digital annotation as a solution to making solitary reading practices more visible, and accordingly, social. I aim to modify an existing annotation tool to use in my English 220: Introduction to Writing about Literature class at Hunter College. In general, annotation tools allow students to comment directly on the reading by highlighting the text and typing in their own response. The comments are then indicated to other users by highlighted text, to which they can respond. This tool will be implemented with careful consideration to the intended user, who is a CUNY student in an English class. Living in New York City, this student must make the most of the work spaces available to her, from the library to the subway car. The tool will function on all devices, especially cell phones, to allow accessibility for students on the move. Besides being used to guide independent reading, the tool will also facilitate less vocal students’ responses to texts in the classroom. Overall, the tool will maximize participation from CUNY students, fostering a social reading environment inside and outside the classroom. It will be deployed online, as a plugin for WordPress so that students can use it across all devices (without having to download or configure it) anywhere they have wifi service. Additionally, I hope to make it compatible with the CUNY Academic Commons, which I currently use to teach my English course at Hunter. To build this tool, I will borrow from the existing, open source annotation tools, Annotator.js and Hypothes.is. Though they look slightly different, both tools allow users to comment directly on digital text and to read each others’ comments. The complete code for both projects is on Github, and both Annotator.js and Hypothes.is encourage extension of their work, showcasing how others have customized the tool.

My project will build on either Annotator.js or Hypothes.is, modifying their tool for more flexibility and visibility. Annotator.js is a javascript library that can be added to virtually any webpage. To use the tool, users highlight the desired text and type their response in a simple text box that appears. After saving the response, the original text now appears highlighted, and users may view the annotation by hovering the mouse over the highlighted text. By clicking on this text, users then can add their own annotations, which will appear below the previous annotation. Annotator.js is made to be easily extensible, and Hypothes.is is one of its more popular developments, which is also extensible. Hypothes.is works similarly to Annotator.js, but it includes options for different reading modes and group reading. Users can control the visibility of their annotations by working in “public”,  “private” or “group” mode, as well as making all annotations temporarily invisible, to display a clean interface. Additionally, rather than rendering or “floating” the annotations over the text, Hypothes.is stores them in a sidebar, which can be expanded or minimized by the user. The sidebar allows for threaded conversations, where users can respond to specific comments. Hypothes.is, unlike Annotator.js, is also integrated as a wordpress plugin on the CUNY Academic Commons, and I am currently using Hypothes.is in my English 220 class at Hunter. Using this tool in my classroom has opened my eyes to its drawbacks and potential. My ideal version of the tool would make annotations more visible and interactive. In this version, the only formatting options are for bold or italicized text. My implementation would offer more extensive formatting options, allowing for different sizes and colors, so that students can read the annotations from a projected screen (in a classroom) and use color-coding to indicate different kinds of responses. Also, I would include more social features, such as voting or “liking” buttons, to encourage students to respond to their classmates’ comments.

To build this tool, I will have to familiarize myself with the existing codebase for Annotator.js and/or Hypothes.is, and be comfortable enough with several coding languages to make changes. Though I have implemented both Hypothes.is and Annotator.js in my past teaching and research, I have never built or customized anything with this level of complexity, and I’ve certainly never written code from scratch. From browsing the documentation and Github repositories for these tools, I sense that I would need proficiency in (at least) HTML, CSS, Javascript, and perhaps Python. I feel comfortable enough with HTML and CSS, and have a working knowledge of Javascript and Python. At this point, I anticipate that I would need to focus on strengthening my CSS and Javascript ability in order to carry out this project. I also anticipate that I will be borrowing from existing open source projects and implementations of Annotator.js. In that case, much of my preparation will also be spent researching other annotation tools, and familiarizing myself with the open annotation community.

Filipa’s Project Idea

My aim in designing a project is to explore the potential of reading literature in the digital age. While there are many amazing projects centered around literary works and tools, there is still so much work to be done. I came into my studies at the GC thinking that I was going to build a digital edition of a literary work as part of my dissertation. Since then, I’ve gone back and forth on the idea, mostly thinking through questions of scope and feasibility. Do I want to make my entire dissertation a digital project, like Amanda Visconti did with her “participatory edition” of Ulysses? Or should I work with material that is less complex, like poems or short stories (for example, “Comparing Marks: A Versioning Edition of Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’”), which can be incorporated as a digital component (or chapter) of my dissertation? More recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of making some kind of text analysis tool, like the ones used for Voyant Tools (here’s a comprehensive list of them).

Overall, my goal is to make a digital tool or edition that changes the way students engage with literature. I want to create something that encourages and facilitates critical responses to reading, whether that be through a social reading component (like annotation) or through a tool that deforms a familiar text into new instatiations. There are several open source plugins and programs that facilitate annotation, such as Annotator and Hypothesis, which can be incorporated into the reading interface of virtually any website. One possibility would be to use this open software to create something more personalized for my purposes, like including alternate readings for a single line or text, maybe an up-voting system (like the one used on Rap Genius), or to create a more expansive space for online debates about textual meaning. Another idea would be to embed the annotation tool with text analysis tools, or have them running side by side (though I’m not sure what that would look like).

As I make my project, I have a broad set of questions that will guide my thinking and implementation. First and foremost, which I’ve already mentioned, is how social reading or text analysis tools enhance reading as an inherently critical act. In other words, how is transforming the text into digital formats, and commenting on it, an act of criticism? Second, how does reading online engage the embodiment of the reader, or the materiality of the text? Here, I’m interested in the visual and haptic experience of reading, where the user swipes, clicks, or otherwise navigates her way through a text, as well as what happens to a text’s physical materiality when we put it online. Finally, I’m interested in questions about online freedom and control. How do issues of copyright, intellectual property, and the public domain stifle and prevent our use and experience of the digital? I realize that these questions are wide-ranging, but one of my goals for building a digital project is to see how they might intersect and engage.

Filipa Calado

Hello! I’m Filipa, a PhD student in the English program here at the Graduate Center. I work in the fields of British Modernism and Digital/Visual Studies. My interests in these fields range widely, but I’m mostly concerned with questions about materiality, embodiment, and form between different media (especially digital versus print media) and how that may have a bearing on queer representation, presence, and erasure. Besides high modernist literature written by women or queer authors (particularly Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde), you can find me reading comic books (especially Batman!) and science fiction novels (the latest being “Galatea 2.2”, which I highly recommend).

When I’m not doing academic work, I enjoy exercising, sleeping, meditating, or trying new kinds of beer. Since a foot injury put me on a looong break from running last semester, I have been really into swimming, and I find it to be an unexpected blend of calming and invigorating activity. Exercise is absolutely crucial for maintaining work/life balance in graduate school, and I will often schedule my days around it, making it an absolute priority. Finally, when I have extra extra time, I also like to see galleries and museums, and just spend some hours looking at pretty pictures.