The Viral Virus

Graph of word "test*" over time
Relative Frequency of word “test*” over time

Analyzing the Twitter Conversation Surrounding COVID-19

From Twitter I found out about this excellent visual essay on The Viral Virus by Kate Appel from May 6, 2020. Appel used Voyant to study highly retweeted tweets from January 20th to April 23rd. She divided the tweets into weeks and then used the distinctive words (tf-idf) tool to tell a story about the changing discussion about Covid-19. As you scroll down you see lists of distinctive words and supporting images. At the end she shows some of the topics gained from topic modelling. It is a remarkably simple, but effective use of Voyant.

The reason Zoom calls drain your energy

Video chat is helping us stay employed and connected. But what makes it so tiring – and how can we reduce ‘Zoom fatigue’?

Many of us have suspected that videoconferencing is stressful. I tend to blame the stress of poor audio as my hearing isn’t what it used to be. His a story from the BBC on The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. There are a number of factors:

  • The newness of this way of interacting
  • The heightened focus needed to deal with missing non-verbal cues.
  • Heightened focus needed to deal with poor audio.
  • Need to moderate larger groups so people don’t try to talk at the same time
  • Audio delays change responsiveness
  • Stress and time around technical problems.
  • Silences don’t work the way they do in f2f. They can indicate malfunction.
  • Being on camera and having to be performative
  • Lack of separation of home and work
  • Lack of transition times between meetings (no time to even get up and meet your next appointment at the door)

I hadn’t thought of the role of silence in regular conversations and how we can’t depend on that rhetorically any longer. No dramatic silences any more.

The tech ‘solutions’ for coronavirus take the surveillance state to the next level

Neoliberalism shrinks public budgets; solutionism shrinks public imagination.

Evgeny Morozov has crisp essay in The Guardina on how The tech ‘solutions’ for coronavirus take the surveillance state to the next level. He argues that neoliberalist austerity cut our public services back in ways that now we see are endangering lives, but it is solutionism that constraining our ideas about what we can do to deal with situations. If we look for a technical solution we give up on questioning the underlying defunding of the commons.

There is nice interview between Natasha Dow Shüll Morozov on The Folly of Technological Solutionism: An Interview with Evgeny Morozov in which they talk about his book To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism and gamification.

Back in The Guardian, he ends his essay warning that we should focus on picking between apps – between solutions. We should get beyond solutions like apps to thinking politically.

The feast of solutionism unleashed by Covid-19 reveals the extreme dependence of the actually existing democracies on the undemocratic exercise of private power by technology platforms. Our first order of business should be to chart a post-solutionist path – one that gives the public sovereignty over digital platforms.

Embedded Voyant panel

This post is a demonstration of how a Voyant panel or hermeneutica can be embedded in a WordPress post. See our Voyant tutorials at dialogi.ca.

To embed the panel I created a custom HTML block. In it I pasted the <iframe> element exported from the Voyant panel I wanted. While editing I see the HTML code, when I Preview (either the block or the whole post) or publish then I see the Voyant panel in place. Try playing with it!

Welcome to Dialogica: Thinking-Through Voyant!

Do you need online teaching ideas and materials? Dialogica was supposed to be a text book, but instead we are adapting it for use in online learning and self-study. It is shared here under a CC BY 4.0 license so you can adapt as needed.

Stéfan Sinclair and I have put up a web site with tutorial materials for learning Voyant. See Dialogi.ca: Thinking-Through Voyant!.

Dialogica (http://dialogi.ca) plays with the idea of learning through a dialogue. A dialogue with the text; a dialogue mediated by the tool; and a dialogue with instructors like us.

Dialogica is made up of a set of tutorials that students should be able to alone or with minimal support. These are Word documents that you (instructors) can edit to suit your teaching and we are adding to them. We have added a gloss of teaching notes. Later we plan to add Spyral notebooks that go into greater detail on technical subjects, including how to program in Spyral.

Dialogica is made available with a CC BY 4.0 license so you can do what you want with it as long as you give us some sort of credit.

Endgame for the Humanities?

The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it. Preliminary data suggest that hiring is at an all-time low. Entire subfields (modernism, Victorian poetry) have essentially ceased to exist. In some years, top-tier departments are failing to place a single student in a tenure-track job.

The Chronicle Review has released a free collection on Endgame: Can Literary Studies Survive (PDF) Endgame is a collection of short essays about the collapse of literary studies in the US. The same is probably true of the other fields in the interpretative humanities and social sciences. This collection gives a human face to the important (and depressing) article Benjamin Schmidt wrote in The Atlantic about the decline in humanities majors since 2008, The Humanities Are In Crisis.

Continue reading Endgame for the Humanities?

Codecademy vs. The BBC Micro

The Computer Literacy Project, on the other hand, is what a bunch of producers and civil servants at the BBC thought would be the best way to educate the nation about computing. I admit that it is a bit elitist to suggest we should laud this group of people for teaching the masses what they were incapable of seeking out on their own. But I can’t help but think they got it right. Lots of people first learned about computing using a BBC Micro, and many of these people went on to become successful software developers or game designers.

I’ve just discovered Two-Bit History (0b10), a series of long and thorough blog essays on the history of computing by Sinclair Target. One essay is on Codecademy vs. The BBC Micro. The essay gives the background of the BBC Computer Literacy Project that led the BBC to commission as suitable microcomputer, the BBC Micro. He uses this history to then compare the way the BBC literacy project taught a nation (the UK) computing to the way the Codeacademy does now. The BBC project comes out better as it doesn’t drop immediately into drop into programming without explaining, something the Codecademy does.

I should add that the early 1980s was a period when many constituencies developed their own computer systems, not just the BBC. In Ontario the Ministry of Education launched a process that led to the ICON which was used in Ontario schools in the mid to late 1980s.

The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade

With the end of the year there are some great articles showing up reflecting on debacles of the decade. One of my favorites is The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the DecadeEd-Tech is one of those fields where over and over techies think they know better. Some of the debacles Watters discusses:

  • 3D Printing
  • The “Flipped Classroom” (Full disclosure: I sat on a committee that funded these.)
  • Op-Eds to ban laptops
  • Clickers
  • Stories about the end of the library
  • Interactive whiteboards
  • The K-12 Cyber Incident Map (Check it out here)
  • IBM Watson
  • The Year of the MOOC

This collection of 100 terrible ideas in instructional technology should be mandatory reading for all of us who have been keen on ed-tech. (And I am one who has develop ed-tech and oversold it.) Each item is a mini essay with links worth following.

Engaged Humanities Partnerships Between Academia And Tribal Communities

Last week the Oregon Humanities Center put on a great two-day conference on Engaged Humanities Partnerships Between Academia And Tribal Communities that I attended. (See my conference notes here.) The conference looked at ways that the humanities can partner with indigenous communities.

One of the highlights was Jennifer O’Neal’s talk about the importance of decolonizing the archives and work she is doing towards that. You can see a paper by her on the subject titled “The Right to Know”: Decolonizing Native American Archives.

I talked about the situation in Canada in general, and the University of Alberta in particular, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Schools Are Deploying Massive Digital Surveillance Systems. The Results Are Alarming

“every move you make…, every word you say, every game you play…, I’ll be watching you.” (The Police – Every Breath You Take)

Education Week has an alarming story about how schools are using surveillance, Schools Are Deploying Massive Digital Surveillance Systems. The Results Are Alarming. The story is by Benjamin Harold and dates from May 30, 2019. It talks not only about the deployment of cameras, but the use of companies like Social Sentinel, Securly, and Gaggle that monitor social media or school computers.

Every day, Gaggle monitors the digital content created by nearly 5 million U.S. K-12 students. That includes all their files, messages, and class assignments created and stored using school-issued devices and accounts.

The company’s machine-learning algorithms automatically scan all that information, looking for keywords and other clues that might indicate something bad is about to happen. Human employees at Gaggle review the most serious alerts before deciding whether to notify school district officials responsible for some combination of safety, technology, and student services. Typically, those administrators then decide on a case-by-case basis whether to inform principals or other building-level staff members.

The story provides details that run from the serious to the absurd. It mentions concerns by the ACLU that such surveillance can desensitize children to surveillance and make it normal. The ACLU story makes a connection with laws that forbid federal agencies from studying or sharing data that could make the case for gun control. This creates a situation where the obvious ways to stop gun violence in schools aren’t studied so surveillance companies step in with solutions.

Needless to say, surveillance has its own potential harms beyond desensitization. The ACLU story lists the following potential harms:

  • Suppression of students’ intellectual freedom, because students will not want to investigate unpopular or verboten subjects if the focus of their research might be revealed.
  • Suppression of students’ freedom of speech, because students will not feel at ease engaging in private conversations they do not want revealed to the world at large.
  • Suppression of students’ freedom of association, because surveillance can reveal a students’ social contacts and the groups a student engages with, including groups a student might wish to keep private, like LGBTQ organizations or those promoting locally unpopular political views or candidates.
  • Undermining students’ expectation of privacy, which occurs when they know their movements, communications, and associations are being watched and scrutinized.
  • False identification of students as safety threats, which exposes them to a range of physical, emotional, and psychological harms.

As with the massive investment in surveillance for national security and counter terrorism purposes, we need to ask whether the cost of these systems, both financial and other, is worth it. Unfortunately, protecting children, like protecting from terrorism is hard to put a price on which makes it hard to argue against such investments.