Who’s Speaking, Please?

According to Patricia Roberts-Miller, “just about any political viewpoint can be put forward in a demagogic way–it isn’t restricted to one position on the political spectrum.” This, according to Roberts-Miller, blocks progress. A clear example of this is seen in the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump used social media to his advantage; rather than truly addressing critical issues that affected the American people, he accumulated votes by farting in a room. The people who left the room were people who were disturbed by his unsophisticated behavior and people who were on the receiving end of his bullying. His campaign closely resembled a racist, mysogynistic, and xenophobic collection of Facebook and Twitter posts. America’s decision to elect Donald Trump is directly related to the decision made by social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to ignore posts spouting hate speech because of the fear of taking on the first amendment.

I understand that it is easier to blame social media, but in reality, we cannot ignore the user’s role in the story’s trending. Facebook, like other social media sites, makes use of an algorithm to report which news articles, whether true or flat out false, are trending. And since it is Facebook who is using the algorithm, we want to blame them for the story’s popularity. But if we stop for a moment to think about it, Facebook is not sitting at our computers liking and sharing completely false stories. Even if we are not the ones clicking the story, our Facebook friends are helping to move fake news stories to the top of the pile. Facebook simply allows it to happen. Andrew Stafford of the The Sydney Morning Herald, that “There’s some evidence the astroturfers, in particular, are on the march. British writer George Monbiot recently told of being contacted by a whistleblower that worked as part of a PR team paid to infiltrate comment threads and forums, doing the bidding of their corporate clients. The whistleblower worked under 70 different usernames.” If all it takes is to flood the system with a particular kind of response, then how will any company or consumer get a true picture of what the public likes (pun intended). According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook dominated the election because a remarkable number of users do not actively access real news. Instead, they get their daily dose of gossip disguised as news via their Facebook news feed. But there is enough blame to go around; Google is being blamed for part of this debacle.

According to the Wall Street Journal, false news stories generated and shared via Facebook and the 2016 election was affected by Google searches which provided false and misleading stories as the top results. Better late than never, right? Because someone or a few someones flooded Google with propaganda meant to sway the election in their favor. This is not unusual. Unfortunately, this propaganda, along with a barrage of hate speech, is protected by our constitutional right to speak freely. This double-edged sword is the root of the issue of internet anonymity.

Who knows where people truly stand on any issue? The reality is that many people avoid invoking their freedom of speech because they  are afraid of a backlash. Unfortunately, there are people who do not understand that two people do not have to agree on everything to be friends. On the other hand, there appears to be far more people who could care less about a backlash and even less about fact. Some of the people in this group quickly share stores that have no factual evidence to support it. Stafford writes in his article, “The sad truth is that controversy outrates reason every time.” So it it’s not Facebook who pushes the false stories to the top of our feeds, it’s the people sharing the garbage on their timeslines, liking the posts, and even commenting on it. Facebook, like Google and other media sites, use an algorithm to determine what’s trending.

Thankfully, some of the social media companies are beginning to take this control back. Despite Facebook’s claim that they “want people to feel safe when using Facebook,” the company found no wrong doing on the part of the user who posted memes about Michelle Obama being a monkey after the meme was reported. Racists, sexists, and xenophoics happily shared numerous tweets bashing and disrespecting innocent people. The public has been speaking out against the hate and it seems that social media and news outlets are listening. According to USAToday.com, for example, Twitter has begun to “suspend alt-right accounts” in response to their hate speech. Google is reconsidering how ads appear on their sites and the media is pushing hard to combat false news. There is hope. #SocialJusticeChallenge #DoSomething

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Project One Proposal

As an aspiring pedagog, I think it is important to make knowledge accessible for as many students as possible with little regard to geographical  position. As an example, I met a brilliant physics student early in my academic career who was unfortunate enough to be sentenced to a few years in prison. I, and others, worried that academia was to become a dream for him because of his misfortune. Thankfully, he was able to continue his studies via distance learning. After serving his time, he was able to physically be present in the classroom. I also met a student who was sometimes unable to physically be in class because she was serving in the military, so at any given moment, she had to be out of the country while she was pursuing her BA. Another student is a single mom, so childcare is sometimes an issue, especially when it comes to accessing tutoring. Some students want to make use of tutoring and professor’s office hours but often times cannot for various reasons. But thanks to the unlimited reach of the internet, more students are able to get the education they need and desire. More students are able to engage with learning environments and continue the learning process despite whatever circumstances they face. With the broadening of the information highway, comes more opportunities for learning. Limited access and extended access platforms that are made available by way of the web allow students and educators to move academia beyond the boundaries of classroom.

With the advent of social media, the internet has become a source of entertainment. This powerful tool has become educational; maybe harnessing and refocusing that power can make the tool that it was was intended to be—a learning network. Alison Seaman responds to Shelly Turkle’s argument that technology leads to isolation with a rebutal from an educator about personal learning networks (PLN): “Shelly Terrell, a connected educator and co-founder of the Twitter stream #edchat describes a PLN as “the people you choose to connect with and learn from” (Seaman 3). I would like to examine this idea further. According to Small Business Trends, there are “20 Popular Social Media Sites Right Now”: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit, Snapchat, WhatsAp, Quora, Vine, Periscope, BizSugar, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg, and Viber (smallbiztrends.com). Each of these sites cater to particular crowds for specific reasons. However, some users have found ways to use some of these sites to get help with their homework. It would be interesting to consider the pros and cons of using these extended access platforms as a way for students to collaborate on assignments and projects. I suspect the issue of privacy will be a major concern for both students and educators. However, the ease of using sites such as Facebook to pitch ideas for a research project and possibly get like-minded “friends” to discuss the project should be celebrated, but the fact that such sites are easily and often hacked causes it to be ranked pretty low on the educational tools scale.

When the call came for a tool that would allow educators and students to communicate, share documents, and perform a number of other tasks, Blackboard won the bid. It’s motto: “At Blackboard, we’re shaping the future of education with big ideas that are transforming the face of education” (blackboard.com). However, the system’s intended use places restrictions on its users. And according to some of them, the system also has unintended limitations. Nonetheless, the power of the web provides opportunities make the platform more user friendly and more effective. Part of that is the introduction of the virtual white board.

The English Center at San Diego City College uses the World Wide Whiteboard, a platform embedded into Blackboard, to tutor students in essay writing. Students are able to upload their essays for feedback, view worksheets, participate in virtual tutoring sessions, or review archived tutoring sessions. I would like to examine this platform using Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better along with other texts. I think it would be interesting to consider questions like: what do students think about the platform, are there limitations, what are the limitations, how does the response to these questions change as the student’s skill level changes, and how does Thompson’s claim about public thinking apply.

Also of interest is the use of wiki pages and blogs as an extended access platform in the classroom. I am from the generation that recalls digging through volumes of encyclopedias and other reference books for material. Some of my generation, to include myself, could not bring themselves to trust a website that allowed allowed just anyone to create pages and deliver information. Furthermore, I personally had never blogged ever in my life. It seemed to me that anyone who blogs has something of particular interest to one or more groups of people in cyberspace. But after participating in a digital rhetorics class, I have realized that the tool could be the answer to questions posed by educators and students alike. I hope that I will be able to include this platform in my research as either a limited or an extended access educational tool.

My project is three fold. First, I will conduct a survey of the top social media sites in order to determine which of those would empower a student to “think publicly.” Next, I will juxtapose my findings on the the extended access platforms (social media) with my analysis of the most popular limited access platform, Blackboard, along with an analysis of  the World Wide Whiteboard. I hope to extend the conversation about the impact of technology in the classroom. But more importantly, I hope to synthesize the findings of others before me on the subject in order to clarify the progress that technology has allowed educators to make or the lack thereof. I would also like to provide my own experiences with technology and the tutoring process as an education professional. I think this work could be especially useful since the push for technology in the classroom is more prominent in discussions about reaching the students where they are along with the a push to professionalize tutoring, another intricate part of the education process. I also plan to include the firsthand experiences of a few of my colleagues in order to increase the credibility of my work.

Annotated Bibliography

Blackboard. “About Blackboard.” 2016. 30 Oct. 2016, http://www.blackboard.com/about-us/index.aspx.

This site will provide me with background and contact information about the company and its product that I will need in my discussion of how Blackboard has and will continue to serve the academic world.

Blackboard. “Kiedra Taylor” 2010. https://sdccd.blackboard.com/webapps/portal/execute/tabs/tabAction?tab_tab_group_id=_1_1, 24 Oct. 2016.

This is my personal Blackboard page. I will use my access to the platform to provide an analysis of the system from both a student’s and an educational professional’s perspective. Hopefully, the fact that I have worked with the program for  will give my paper some credibility.

Boyd, Danah. “Literacy: are today’s youth digital natives?” Sept 2008.

This chapter of the book will provide the language needed to help provide context for my own argument and analysis. Boyd discuss the issue of access to the internet for young people and their digital illiteracy. She explains that even though young people are able to access the internet via mobile devices, we cannot assume that they know how to use the applications beyond basic use. This suggests that technology in the classroom could be frustrating for students who do not have access to an actual computer or laptop which could unintentionally spread the digital divide even more.

Kassorla, Michelle. “A Primer for Edtech: Tools for K-12 and Higher Ed. Teachers.” Digital Network Lab. 26 Nov 2013.

This article is one in a series of articles about technology in the classroom and as study tools. It provides testimonies from educators about how to harness the power of technology for the advancement of academia. The testimonies also explain how educators can slowly incorporate technology in their current curriculum.

Thompson, Clive. “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy.” 2013.

I will use this article to provide context for earlier arguments about technology and “awareness.” The author discusses the philosophical implications of being plugged into social media. I would like to suggest that this act of constantly checking Facebook and snapchat statuses could possibly be used to academia’s advantage.

Seaman, Alison. “Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy.” Digital Pedagogy Lab. 2 Jan 2013. http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/personal-learning-networks-knowledge-sharing-democracy/, 24 Oct. 2016.

This article discusses the loss of human connection with the advent of technology. It also introduces the idea of personal learning networks (PLN). The author claims that not fully understanding how to use the technology is what cause users to be cut off from human connection and not the technology itself.

Watters, Audry. “The Future of Education: Programmed or Programmable.” Digital Pedagogy Lab. 4 Nov 2014. http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/a-primer-for-edtech-tools-for-k-12-and-higher-ed-teachers/, 24 Oct. 2016.

This article attempts to clarify where we are as far as making education accessible via the web. She talks about how the educational paradigm has shifted, for what reasons, and to whose benefit.

World Wide Whiteboard. 2016. https://www.worldwidewhiteboard.com/, 24 Oct. 2016.

This site along with information gathered from a conference session lead by whiteboard developers will explain how educators and students will be able to move the learning process beyond the classroom. The platform allows both teachers and tutors to host session via the web and even share documents for feedback.

Mania, Anthony. “20 Popular Social Media Sites Right Now.” Small Business Trends. 4 May 2016. https://smallbiztrends.com/2016/05/popular-social-media-sites.html, 10 Oct. 2016.

This article tells us which social media sites are the most popular. The article also provides information about the role of social media in the technological world.