Author: kjaxon

Trust, KoolAid, and 1000 Papercuts

This has been a provocative and challenging week for the hopes and dreams of an open and meaningful web. And while the provocations raised are by no means new, there is something in the air that feels more urgent, more in need of our attention. How timely that our Connected Courses work is focused on trust and network fluency in light of the very real, powerful, and material stories that have emerged in the past several weeks. The stories of Kathy Sierra, Anita Sarkeesian, and Julie Pagano have collided and created an opportunity to ask ourselves: what kind of world (virtual or analog) do we want to live in? And how do we protect these worlds and the people in them?

In case you have not been following these stories, all of the women have been harassed, threatened, and ridiculed. Sometimes they are not believed. Sometimes they have actual death threats levied against them. The powerful (and upsetting) stories from Kathy, Julie, and Anita (among countless others) in tech raise a hundred questions for me: How do we protect an open web and protect people who are vulnerable in an open web? Are the very “fixes” we might imagine for solving the human element of the open web antithetical to an open web? How do we move from this adolescent stage of the web to a grown up and healthy version of this space and of ourselves? And how will we ever get better at creating environments of trust and respect if the comment sections of our blogs and twitter accounts and other virtual spaces are the most vulnerable to attack? How do we honor dialogue when it has the potential to do such harm?

I have always been an advocate for open: open teaching, open web, open open open. I share resources, freely, ask my students to blog and tweet without fear, and ultimately gain even more from the generous sharing from colleagues. I’ve also carefully followed SOPA, PIPA, Net Neutrality debates, Aaron Swartz’ story, and tried to do my part to support causes dear to the open web movement. These things matter. Most of us truly believe that you must change structures and systems (institutional, platform or otherwise) if you want to effect real change. As Rafi Santo has argued, ideologies are built in to systems and we must hack them for the better.

But how do we make systems safer while still valuing an open web? How have we ever been able to account for the worst of human nature? How do we help people grow up with the web?

These issues have resonated with me even more than usual for a variety of reasons, both personally and professionally. Professionally, as I open up my classrooms to more vulnerable populations–like the amazing 8th graders my students and I are blogging with–I am hyper aware of the need to protect our students and colleagues and still create a space where their ideas matter and can be heard. I am carefully reading through the resources Mimi Ito recently shared in her blog post and considering the stories and ideas being shared by others in our Connected Course; recent posts by Kevin Hodgson and Jenny Mackness are incredibly insightful. And I am grateful to Kira and Jonathan for raising such important ideas in our work together.

I hope to take all these powerful cases and use them to imagine a world where trust and openness thrive on the web. As Sarkeesian asks at the end of her talk, when we tell our stories “trust and believe.”

Let’s discuss. And act. And be better humans.


 Anita Sarkeesian’s talk from the recent XOXO Festival

Overview of the Gamer Gate controversy here

Kathy Sierra’s powerful post from Tuesday: Trouble at the Koolaid Point

Julie Pagano’s original post: Death by 1000 Paper Cuts (she has since updated here with a series of posts about the Life and Times of a Tech Feminist Killjoy)

And Kevin Hodgson’s post from last week and all the great comments that follow: “When Trust Gets Breached…”


Connected Courses: ALL THE WHY’S! o/

I am realizing how brilliant a thing it is to start with “why” in this Connected Courses kick off week. And many thanks to Mike Wesch, Mimi Ito, and Helen Keegan for getting us started. In a way, starting with “why” means we must start with reflection, something we typically reserve until the end of a project or a course. What a fabulous way to “bring the end forward” as my (now happily retired) colleague Judith Rodby was known to say. “Bringing the end forward” is actually quite challenging in a course (or in life for that matter): you must imagine an end goal while still allowing for emerging ideas and digressions. Knowing the why can support us as we participate in challenging ideas and projects, but too often in school, the why is simply because I need to finish school.

I spent the last couple of weeks thinking a lot about my whys in education. Why do I teach? I certainly started my own higher ed journey with both a less sophisticated (“I just need to finish school”) but also a high stakes why: I had a hope that a college degree would help me out of a terrible marriage and allow me to support myself and two toddlers. “I just need to finish school” can actually turn out to be a profound why. Almost twenty years ago now, my journey started as a sad tale: I was sitting on the floor in the tiny house in Gridley, CA sobbing because my then spouse had not been home in three days, the phone was turned off, I had no gas money—felt completely closed off from the rest of the world. I had these two sleeping toddlers in the other room, content underneath their 101 Dalmatians comforters. I went to my bedroom and pulled out a box of old school stuff, dug through until I found my transcripts and my outdated Chico State catalog, and sat down on the floor. Through tears I flipped through the pages, matching disciplines with coursework I had already completed years before. When I was done, I decided that I could get a degree in English the fastest and believed that somehow with that college degree I’d have a better chance to support myself and these sleeping babies; I never wanted to feel this stuck ever again in my life. The next week, I found a place in Chico we could afford and moved back so I could be closer to my family and their support. When my daughter, Ashley, started Kindergarten that fall, I started Chico State–fall of 1995–and never looked back. A BA, an MA, a PhD, a tenure-track job in my hometown, a new marriage, and happily grown children twenty years later, affords me the gift of time…to think about new “whys.” This gift of time–time to think, time to reflect–is such a privilege.

So, why do I teach? I teach because day after day I get to see the generous work students do for us. They take our (often) confusing assignments and our attempts to create a space for learning, and they generously try them on–write, talk, play, and even forgive us for our failed efforts at this thing we call higher education. And in the moments when they stop doing the work of higher ed for me and do the work for their own goals for learning, they always blow me away. I get to learn from these amazing humans every day and I am so grateful that students are willing to produce and share their creations with us. How could you NOT want to teach, when you get to witness work like this:

Amanda Haydon’s vlog synthesis after a couple of weeks reading about open access:

Sheila’s blog post, wrestling with the “why” of Connected Courses and digital platforms.

My freshman, Matt Mulholland, has an amazing blog this week about gaming.

The films freshmen have created about digital culture:

Stormie’s film looks at the “production” of our persona/identity.

This film from Larly Lee and his team asks how you will use this powerful platform known as the web:

Anthony Miranda’s film gives us a hopeful view of education and some fabulous educators:

Why do I teach? See examples above. ^  Students. They rule.


Resource Starter Kit


Hi everyone,

I took the plans you shared last night and created a first stab at a resource list HERE.

I think we should form some reading groups. I know one group will be working with the Jenkin’s book (reading and participatory culture). Perhaps others of you want to jump into some game theory and read a similar text together? Maybe start with James Gee or Jane McGonigal? Maybe another group start in digital humanities or open web?

Let’s use this Google Doc as a way to sign up to read together: you could put your name next to texts or areas you want to read in over the next two weeks and find partners/groups to read with you.

E.T.! It’s Working! #ConnectedCourses

 I am thrilled about the upcoming launch of the Connected Course September 15. Our hope for the course is that we will be able to network and support each other as we imagine and take advantage of the potential of the open web. While I promise a longer (and more thoughtful) blog post soon addressing the reasons I will be participating, I wanted to quickly post the course link and share the resources available for those of you interested in joining us. Check out the great pre-course blogging support provided by Alan Levine, Jim Groom, and Howard Rheingold:

More soon! And thank you to the colleagues working on this endeavor!

Support Materials & Next Steps

Here’s the link to create a WordPress blog: 

Here’s a great FAQ on Connected Learning (you should read this).

Here’s a link to my main site with a bunch of digital resources you could poke around in.

A book some of you might like by Henry Jenkins about literature and participatory culture

I would also look through the readings on this course site (Readings tab) AND in the Connected Courses weekly lists

If you’ve never seen Mike Wesch’s Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, I would watch it this week as well. Lots of issues related to digital culture in his talk/video.

Next steps:

Write a few paragraphs about your interests in relation to this course. What questions do you have? Try to make a reading plan for the next few weeks for yourself…what paths might you follow? Or if you’re ready, what’s your calendar/plan for the semester? What help do you need from me and each other? This will be the “artifact” you bring for next week.

Thanks again Nathan for the concept map from The Internet’s Own Boy!