In early 2012, Anne Balsamo and Alexandra Juhasz co-founded a network of feminist technology scholars to participate in a “cyberlearning experiment” to reimagine MOOCs—a newly emergent genre of online learning—from a feminist perspective. The network, now called FemTechNet, initiated this experiment by designing a new genre of online education that we call a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC). The first iteration of the DOCC, held from Sept – Dec 2013 was built around the topic of “Dialogues in Feminism and Technology.”
In 2007, the term “MOOC (massive open online course)” was coined to name a type of online educational experience that builds on the participation conventions of a specific genre of game (MOOG—massively open online game), and extends the logic of “massively open” to the structure of online learning experiences. With the emphasis on the term “massive,” MOOCs are an attempt to scale-up the online learning experience such that it is available to extremely large numbers of learners. In November 2011, the idea of a MOOC spread wildly when two professors at Stanford University reported their success in attracting thousands of web-enabled students to their “Introduction to AI” online course. The Stanford MOOC codified certain conventions such that MOOCs now are generally understood to be organized in the following way:
- Expertise is located in one digital place (the online site of the brand-name university that is populated by expert faculty/avatars);
- this digital place channels expertise from teachers to students;
- students are end nodes of distributed branches off the main branch of expertise.
In the best cases, networked connections among students are encouraged, but for the most part the branching of the network isn’t the main point of the course, rather, the objective remains the reproduction of a centralized and institutionally-sanctioned source of expertise that can be delivered more efficiently to greater numbers of learners by exploding the typical instructor-to-student ratios.
In contrast to this now conventionalized approach to the organization of a MOOC, the DOCC 2013: “Dialogues in Feminism and Technology”was the built on the understanding that expertise is distributed THROUGHOUT a network, among participants situated in diverse institutional contexts, within diverse material, geographic, and national settings, and who embody and perform diverse identities (as teachers, as students, as media-makers, as activists, as trainers, as members of various publics, for example). Moreover, it recognizes and builds on the horizontal nature of knowledge formation in a digital age: where peers learn from peers, and where knowledge creation happens through engagement with a community, not simply through “transmission” from expert to novice.
The DOCC 2013 involve participants North America who each taught a “NODAL” course configured within a particular educational institutional setting. During September – December 2013, a total of 25 instructors at fifteen universities and colleges participated in the DOCC 2013. There was no SINGLE credit granting institution. Credit as conferred on students through mechanisms that already established within particular institutions. Each instructor of a NODAL course created a course that was best suited to her or his students, institution, locale, and discipline.
Anne Balsamo taught a NODAL course in the Culture and Media Department in the Eugene Lang New School for the Liberal Arts. She also served as one of the main facilitators of the DOCC 2013 to provide support for other instructors of NODAL courses and to maintain a web-based course site where learning materials were be uploaded, shared, and archived. Participants were encouraged to share materials, assignments, activities, comments, and observations so as to link learners across disciplines, institutions and national boundaries.
The DOCC 2013: “Dialogues in Feminism and Technology” addressed both the histories and cutting edge scholarship on feminism and technology produced through art, science, and visual studies. An online space called the “FemTechNet Commons” served as the site for key elements and activities:
1) A 10-week series of online “Video Dialogues” that feature prominent feminist scholars of science and technology in paired discussions on a specific topic.
2) An asynchronous online discussion forum for cross-network exchange and dialogue.
3) Instructions and prompts for a shared pedagogical exercise called “Storming Wikipedia” that can be tailored for different learning levels.
4) Instructions for creating and disseminating “Keyword Videos” on topics relating to feminism and technology.
The “Video Dialogues” online series now includes 15 recorded conversations between experts in feminist science and technology studies. For each of ten weeks, one Video Dialogue was uploaded for public viewing and discussion. The Video Dialogue participants include prominent feminist scholars and artists having conversations on a select list of themes. The themes were developed in conversation among FemTechNet participants to address key topics in the histories of feminism, science, and technology: archive, bodies, differences, discipline, ethics, labor, machine, place, race, sexualities, systems.
The shared pedagogical activity called “Storming Wikipedia” was created by Anne Balsamo in collaboration with several FemTechNet colleagues. It is designed to write women (and the feminist scholarship of science and technology) back into our web-based cultural archives. The broader impact of this effort is to address and support the interest of women and girls in STE(A)M topics by revisiting the (often forgotten) histories of the engagements among women, technological innovation, scientific practice and knowledge making, and the imagination. By teaching and engaging in the practices of editing and revising Wikipedia pages, the DOCC instructors seek to redress the gendered division of labor of online encyclopedia authoring and editing which is skewed now toward male participation. Through the “Storming Wikipedia” activities we engaged a wide group of participants in the effort of writing and maintaining a digital archive of feminist work in science, technology and media. The ultimate aim is that the histories of the future will be well populated by the ideas and people that took feminism seriously as a source of inspiration and innovation in the creation of new technocultures.