Professorship

My students just gave their final presentations. Their projects are the most important part of this entry, but because of narrative arcs, come last. If you read only one section of this, please read that.

Last summer, I was looking for more paid work. A job posted to some list I’m on, for a Digital Storytelling position at Brown. It didn’t require a degree, surprisingly, and I thought I’d take a shot. I sent some of the digital animation and community work I’m proudest of, and crossed my fingers. They wrote back to tell me it wasn’t exactly digital storytelling, but it was something, and we should chat.

And so I embarked on the rather bizarre adventure of creating a syllabus (so many thanks and props to Jo, Debbie, and Susan in this especially), and of planning my life around being in Providence every Thursday. At least. I do, in theory, live t/here. Each week, I would stay until the last second of the Civic lunch talk, endure the anxiety of attempting to catch a very exact train to Providence (and sometimes pay the cost for the Acela which departed slightly later), walk or cab to the Nightingale Brown House, and teach a class.

Here’s a poor audio & visual recording of my intro on the first day of class.

The students’ voices don’t appear in this, just as the hackpad has been made private, based on the privacy preferences of the students.

There were 12 students, 3 of whom were graduate, 1 of which is a Brown employee, and the rest were undergrads. For a significant portion, this was their final semester of school. We engaged with 4 community partners, and the students were tasked with working on a digital initiative to build community with their partner. In class, we did project checkins and covered readings about aspects of online culture, concerns, and communities such that they could make informed choices in how they built their projects. I primarily stayed away from the lecture format, instead working to facilitate dialogue and interaction skills.

For me, the main challenge was that of power dynamics. In all interactions I have, I attempt to get everyone onto equal footing. This includes not disclosing my affiliations (holy shit, I had to write a bio recently, and apparently I Do Some Things, occasionally with Important Groups) unless I have no other path to legitimacy, enacting skillshares so everyone sees they have something to teach and something to learn, focusing more on group discussion than talking heads, etc. Often, I’m devising ways for technologists to see the life experience their potential end users have as even more important than their technical skills. But as a Professor of Practice, my goal was to impart the skills I have gained in life to a set of students with little to no practical experience in that field (possibly in any field other than academia). As someone who has never taught a course on my own, I also had no practical experience. I set my internal framing to that of continued co-equal space, where we would be learning to teach and learn about this topic together. The students were incredibly gracious in granting me the same respect I showed them, while we all remained pretty humble, figuring it out together.

Our readings tended to have a strong bent toward the internet freedom sector, and a level of distrust in most things corporate and governmental. Because this is the world I inhabit, having this pointed out to me, only weeks into class, was a moment of having a mirror raised. Huh. Also, to meet people who don’t think the internet is both the most potentially amazing thing while also believing it to be covered in spiders was refreshing. Don’t worry, I think I indoctrinated the students with that viewpoint by the end. Muhuhahaha, I can see why teaching is addictive.

The students presented a couple weeks ago, and it honestly made me absurdly proud of them, and of what we had done together. Their presentations needed to include a summary of the partner, the teammates, the project, something that didn’t work, and a handoff plan. Here are their projects:

Museo Areo Solar

Remember that awesome project I loved so much from Lima? Well. One group worked with Tomas and Helga in order to create a cohesive online space for a rather disparate online set of domains. They incorporated automation, so it doesn’t require any upkeep from an individual, and a joining function to induce a sense of ownership.

I’m proudest of this group for venturing into extremely non-traditional space, embracing the chaos with humor and intent, and coming to a cohesive vision. Their handoff plan doesn’t require intervention, and guides people through the nebulousness of participating with MAS.

Providence Athenaeum

A local museum, the Athenaeum holds regular salons. Attendance is solid, but of an admittedly aging crew, and there is a lack of continuence between salons. One group worked with the lead of the museum to craft a space for ongoing conversation across and beyond these events. To bridge between an audience uninterested in adding to an online space, but excited to view, they used a trick of imaged index cards.

I’m proudest of this group for listening so intently to what the audience wanted… and still trying some things out despite dead ends. Their handoff plan includes a person already coming on with Athenaeum.

Urban Pond Procession

Mashapaug Pond has been contaminated for a long time, and UPP started with the recreation of signs warning residents to not swim in or fish from the pond. It continues to be an arts and education group, but had fragmented and unused resources spread across the web. One group focused on creating a curriculum repository for middle school teachers.

I’m proudest of this group for synthesizing such a wide variety of resources, and for their dedication to usability and accessibility. Their handoff plan includes tutorial videos and permeable storage.

John Carter Brown Library

The JCB is a prestigious (and some what stodgy) library with a collection focused on the exploration of the “New” World. Like many libraries, they’re thinking about what it means to be a repository of knowledge and rare books in a digital age, and one team helped them tell stories in online formats.

I’m proudest of this group for the complete and professional product they created. Their handoff plan includes scaling through provided templates. Watch the JCB Facebook group for this content as it is released.