Monday, November 16, 2009

The Web as a Community of Scholars

The "Connected Student" video presents an overview of the web tools a student might use in a school setting where students are encouraged to find things out for themselves, to be creative and self-starters. Students can not only use the Web to read the most information on their topic, but can personally connect with others, including experts in the field, who might easily be persuaded to talk to the student’s class via video conference. Finally, students can contribute to building knowledge by social bookmarking, writing blogs, or creating wikis or videos.

But it is not only students who need to learn information management skills and how to develop networks. The web tools and approaches presented in this video are equally useful for professors trying to keep up with developments in their field or for any learner/scholar.

I am considering assigning this video to students and asking them to write comments and discussion questions. I am particularly interested to hear their reaction to this self-organized mode of learning (as contrasted with the traditional teacher structured mode).

Thanks to the Clio and Me blogger for calling this video to my attention and for providing an excellent example of blogging as a tool for sharing knowledge about what works & what doesn’t, about useful tools & techniques for college teachers of history.

About WS445 Women and Computers Class

I just completed a short slideshow designed to recruit students to the Women and Computers class I teach for Women's Studies. Only 20 slides long, it presents a few snippets of the issues we explore in 3 major aspects of the course:
Gender, Race, and Class Perspectives on the Web and computers
How Feminists and Social Justice Activists use the Web
Hands-on Training with free software and online Web tools
I am using the slideshow to give short speeches in several classes to inspire (I hope) students to enroll. If interested, you can view the show at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

YouTube Video - Politics of Class Online

Just discovered the YouTube video "danah boyd - PdF 2009 - The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online" with an excellent discussion of how Facebook users differ from MySpace users. The main point of danah boyd’s speech is that we really need to think about how online networks are perpetuating class and race divisions. And that as activists, if we only appear on Facebook, we are really limiting our audience. A rough draft of the text of her talk can be found at

Are NonProfits Perpetuating Class Divisions Online?

Interesting piece at a New Organizing Institute blog post of 9/30/09 which opens with quote from Sarah Perez blogging at ReadWriteWeb “about a new Nielsen Claritas study finding that Facebook users tend to be better off financially, while MySpace users’ income is generally lower. She opened saying:

Oh how the mighty have fallen. The one time king of social networks, MySpace, now has the honor of being the site where the less affluent members of the online population stake their claims by way of bedazzled profiles overrun with auto-playing videos and songs. Meanwhile, the upscale, financially solvent users have moved on – and by moved on, we mean to Facebook, of course.

After criticizing the condescending attitude of Sarah Perez, the New Organizing blogger goes on to say "As a movement, we need to ensure that we aren’t tricked into ignoring online tools that reach large and important segments of the population -- regardless of whether you like the design of one site over another. All too often, online organizing efforts have Facebook pages, but fail to reach out to MySpace users at all. According to a study released earlier this summer by Anderson Analytics , roughly 32 million MySpace users do not have a Facebook page. That is an awful lot of millions to ignore." (emphasis added)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Causes (fund raising app) Abandons MySpace

Beth Kanter, in her excellent blog devoted to How Nonprofits can Use Social Media, reports on 11/6/09 that

"Amy Sample Ward reported that Causes notified 184,725 users that its MySpace app will be removed from MySpace as of today. The email encouraged MySpace users of Causes to join the cause on Facebook.

"One wonders what the motivation was? Amy's post spoke about the implications for individuals and communities, raising the question - "In abandoning MySpace, is Causes abandoning nonprofit groups organizing online with poorer users and people of color?" Justin Mass went as far as to say that the move was "social network redlining."

In class we discussed research by danah boyd showing that the users of MySpace and of Facebook were quite different - with Facebook users being a more college oriented group (who looked down on MySpace users). MySpace users tended to be more low-income and liked MySpace because that's where there friends were and because MySpace enabled people to customize their templates more in terms of color and layout.

Hence if Causes abandons MySpace, it likely makes it more difficult for nonprofits to do fundraising among working class people. Beth Kantor goes on to note that the Causes application can be criticized for failing to really involve people and so its loss might not be so dreadful - perhaps nonprofits should develop their own ways of more effectively interacting with users of MySpace.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Embed Video: Angela Davis

Students commented on how neat it was to find videos in several of the blogs by women of color that they visited. They wondered if they could embed videos in their own blogs. Since most of them blog at, so we did a demo in class using the YouTube video you see below. Titled "Tribute to Angela Davis," the video provides basic info about her life in a graphically pleasing manner.

  1. After typing something about the video in your Compose window, hit Enter 4 times and move your cursor so it is on the 2nd empty line (you want to leave room afterwards for more typing).
  2. Click the "Edit Html" button at top right of Blogger's compose window. Open the YouTube video you want in a separate window.
  3. Click on the Embed code to highlight it, then righ-click and choose Copy.
  4. Return to your post in Blogger and click Paste.
  5. Click Preview and/or Publish and you should see your video.
Note can use a very similar process for slide shows at Zoho Show, videos on Blip.TV, or Voicethreads.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Women Blogging - Why? How?

For the assignment on digital divide / digital diversity, one student chose to find articles about women's use of the Internet and located very informative piece by Maura Welch about women bloggers. Although written in 2006, this article in the Boston Globe is still relevant today. A good variety of women bloggers are discussed - ranging from the founders of Blogher (a platform for many women bloggers) to 80 year young Millie Garfield (who blogs at The Ageless Project) to Tish Gier (a full time blogger on several topics) to Beth Kanter (well-known blogger on nonprofits and technology).

The article "Women Tap the Power of the Blog" is well worth reading for it's insights into how these women got started blogging, why they keep blogging, and how their blogging has sometimes led to earned income.

Steve Garfield has kindly posted the links to all the blogs discussed in Welch's article.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Digital Diversity - Whose Contributions are Recognized?

As part of our unit on the Digital Divide, we are also exploring Digital Diversity. How are women using the Web? What are communities of color contributing to the Web? To what extent are the contributions of women, of people of color, and of other marginalized groups recognized?

We are starting by studying the slide show below and will be exploring the web to assess its accuracy and to see if there are more examples that should be added.

Digital Divide

This week we will be studying the Digital Divide. In the past, the digital divide has been viewed mostly as a matter of access to computers and/or the Internet. Today, however, many argue that physical access is not sufficient; we must focus on the "gap between those who benefit from digital technology and those who do not." [] In the U.S, almost everyone has access to a computer - if not at home or workplace, then in a public library. But many are not in a position to benefit from this access:

  • Information may not be presented in a way that is easily understood by those with limited formal education - text written at college level, too much text and not enough audio & visual material.
  • The Internet affords access to vast stores of information, but if people don't know how to use search engines, they are unlikely to benefit from the information.
  • Every school may have a computer lab, but are the students encouraged to create content for the web or are they limited to spelling and arithmetic drills?

The slide show below addresses some of these issues. Our class will be trying to update the statistics and find additional examples so we can improve the slide show.

Women Porn Site Operators: Liberation for Sex Workers?

Much has been written about how the Internet has been a boon for women trying to start small businesses (selling online much cheaper than running a brick & mortar store). In her article "Mistresses of Their Domain: How Female Entrepreneurs in Cyberporn Are Initiating a Gender Power Shift," CyberPsyschology & Behavior, Vol. 3, No. 5, 2000, Kimberlianne Podlas raises the question of whether the opportunity to run one’s own porn site on the web provides women sex workers with similar advantages. Women owners of cybersex web sites interviewed by Podlas reported that their earnings had increased, they had greater control over their hours of work, and their conditions of work were much safer and more pleasant.

Regardless of increased earnings and safety, not all feminists would see the growth of women operating sex sites as liberating. As one student noted, activists like Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin would see all web sites where women perform sexually for the gratification of men as inherently oppressive, whether owned by women or men.

We also looked at an article describing the perspectives of African-American women porn site owners. The women interviewed felt that an important advantage of owning their own web site was the ability to control the images of themselves – to decide exactly how they would be photographed (in contrast to how Black women and other women of color are often portrayed on the most visited cybersex web sites). Like the women in Podlas’ study, these Black women also appreciated the opportunity to work in safe, indoor conditions and the possibility of better earnings. However, the article pointed out that women of color acting in porn films are generally paid half to three-quarters of what their white counterparts earn and that the Black women porn site owners were not necessarily getting rich because there is stiff competition in this industry.

For a more in-depth look at how one woman became involved in running her own cybersex web site – how she got started, her developing technological skills, what her customers pay to view, and the growth in her earnings to an estimated $90,000 per year - we can read a lengthy interview with Becca of Kentucky. I was interested to note that the link to her web site, provided in this 1999 article, still works in 2009 – indicative of a long and financially rewarding career.

The Internet and Sexual Exploitation of Women

We had a good discussion in class of Donna Hughes’ article "Use of the Internet for Global Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children" (1998) in which she describes very clearly how the web is used to perpetuate prostitution and sexual trafficking of women.

  • Web sites where men can exchange info about “desirable” prostitutes and where to find them
  • The promotion of sex tourism
  • Mail order bride web sites (cheaper on web than old fashioned print catalogs) and concomitant “X-Rated Escorted Tours”
  • Live sex shows via video conferencing

A student raised a concern that Hughes’ seemed overly focused on regulating the Internet, ignoring the dangers that over-regulation might bring (like filtering software that prevents students from doing research on breast cancer or possible censorship of sites run by human rights advocates attempting to stop international trafficking). I was pleased to see the student related her concern to Patricia Hill Collin’s concept that we must analyze both the oppressive and the liberatory aspects of an institution. While the Internet can certainly be used to oppress women via forced prostitution, it can also be a powerful tool to resist the sexual exploitation of women.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Is the Banner Sexist

We had quite a spirited debate in class about the banner or logo atop the home page at (a great feminist blog) is sexist. Some students thought this logo really objectified women and just reinforced all the stereotypes about how women must be thin and curvaceous to be real women. One student even argued that this logo would turn off stocky women from visiting the site.

Other students supported the use of these images in the banner, arguing that the effect is to reclaim the stereotyped "sexy airhead" for feminism.

We related these differing viewpoints to Patricia Hill Collins' discussion of standpoint epistemology - how a person's worldview is influenced by their own life experience, the groups (by race, class or gender) that they are part of, etc. We noted that a person's reaction to this logo might be strongly influenced by their own personal experiences - a woman teased for being overweight might have a different reaction than a woman who focuses on graphic design and frequently writes satirical articles.

The authors of explain the logo in their FAQ "The Feministing logo is meant to be ironic. We wanted to take a traditionally sexist image - the mudflap girl - and subvert her. Hence, the middle finger. We like to think of her as saying "fuck you" to the sexist beauty standard she is supposed to represent."

E-cards as Educational Outreach

While studying this week's assignment re Online Activism, I was struck by the blurb I saw at the WWF website in its online activism section. One of the suggestions is "Help spread the word about WWF by sending a free e-card to your friends and family."

Of course many web sites offer free e-cards, but I had never seen one with this explicit suggestion of how to use the e-card to spread the word about your environmental (or other cause) interests. Such a good idea and so easy to implement.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cloud Computing Problems - Demise of Google Notebooks

Much of the computer skills section of the course is devoted to online web services - composing Word docs online, creating PowerPoint like slideshows online, editing photos online, etc. As I point out to students, there are several advantages to using these online services (also known as cloud computing).

  • You don't have to buy expensive software to install on your computer.
  • You can work on your slideshow, essay, etc. from any computer - whether sitting in the library, in an Internet cafe, your home or your desk at work.

But when you keep all your work in the clouds on someone else's Web server, you run the risk of losing it all. I first became aware of this when my friend was horrified to learn that the photo sharing service she used was closing down - what would happen to her photos?

But it really struck home as I was preparing to teach this course. Last semester, I began using Google Notebook to store a lot of my notes online and had my students practice using it - I thought it might prove useful to them in other courses as well.

But this year, just after I had distributed my syllabus with a unit in using Google Notebook, I learned that the service was closing down. While previous users could still access and add notes to their notebooks, no new users would be accepted. So in addition to having to revise my syllabus, I have to worry about how long my own notebooks will be available - if Google is stopping all further development and not enrolling new users, how long will my old notebooks still work?

Serendipitously, researching for more information about the shutdown of Google Notebook led me to a petition someone had started pleading with Google to maintain the Notebook. So I learned about a wonderful free site iPetitions where anyone can start a petition.

If you are interested in signing the petition to Google to maintain Notebook, go here.

Beginnings - Blogging for Women and Computers course

This is part of an experiment in my Women and Computers course where each student is required to keep a blog to record what they are learning, queries and speculations, commentary on assigned readings, notes about serendipitous discoveries on the Web relevant to this course or to Women's Studies/feminism in general, etc.

To join with my students in this experiment, I am beginning this blog to record somewhat similar musings, but from a teacher's perspective.