Twitter and Feminist Pedagogy

Note: The following is a sample class discussion on feminist pedagogy, digital literacy and twitter. The purpose of this discussion is to generate a feminist curiosity about feminist digital literacy and twitter and to get students thinking critically about social media in the classroom.

To tweet or not to tweet…that is not the question.

Consider the following passage from Academic Hack in their entry, “On What it Would Mean to Really Teach ‘Naked”:

Teaching without digital technology is an irresponsible pedagogy. Why? The future is digital, love it or hate it. We can argue later about whether or not this is a good or a bad thing. (Hint: the answer is both.) But to educate students, or to attempt to educate students without developing their digital literacy is to leave them ill prepared for their futures. Eliminating technology produces not the affect [sic] of a more engaged literate student populous, rather it produces the reverse, an ill informed, uncritical, unengaged student populous who will become at the very best passive consumers of the technology being resisted, and at the worst its willing victims.

I want to take AcademicHack’s claim seriously (not necessarily to agree, but to take it seriously by critically engaging with it) and think about the importance of digital literacy in terms of feminist pedagogy and practicing and theorizing about twitter. How can/should feminist educators discuss digital literacy in relation to twitter? What sorts of conversations should we/they have and what practices should we/they engage in order to develop feminist digital literacy?

Twitter Basics

Before moving into a discussion of twitter and feminist digital literacy, I want to offer up some twitter basics.

1. What is twitter? According to the official about twitter site:

Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting. Simply find the public streams you find most compelling and follow the conversations.

At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called Tweets. Each Tweet is 140 characters in length, but don’t let the small size fool you—you can share a lot with a little space. Connected to each Tweet is a rich details pane that provides additional information, deeper context and embedded media. You can tell your story within your Tweet, or you can think of a Tweet as the headline, and use the details pane to tell the rest with photos, videos and other media content. See it in action.

2. How does twitter work? Here are just a few basics. If you want more, check out: twitter basics, How to Start Tweeting (and Why You Might Want To), and this twitter cheat sheet

disclaimer: People/organizations are using twitter in all sorts of ways that I haven’t even begun to imagine–especially since I just started experimenting on twitter this past August. My discussion merely touches upon some basic ways that twitter logic works.

  • Brief posts (called tweets) are limited to 140 characters or less
  • Post updates about what you’re doing, thinking, reading
  • Share others’ ideas by retweeting (RT) their posts
  • Create lists of people on twitter, organized under a topic (e.g.: class list)
  • Use hashtags (#) to tag post as related to a particular topic (e.g.: #fp2010)
  • Reply directly to other twitter accounts (tweeps/tweeple?) or mention them in your tweets by including @ + their twitter name in your tweet.
  • Tweets are posted in “real time” with most recent tweets at the top–the twitter timeline
  • Tweets often include links to blog posts or pictures (twitpics).
  • Other people can find you and follow your twitter timeline. You can also follow them.

3. How is twitter different from facebook?

  • Twitter is a public site. There is not an expectation of privacy.
  • People who read your tweets are your followers, not friends.
  • Twitter has a 140 character limit.
  • Twitter relies on crowdsourcing and how it is used is driven more by how people are using it and experimenting with it. Example: hashtags

Here’s a helpful youtube video that explains a key purpose of twitter: “real life happens between blog posts and emails. And now there’s a way to share”

Uses of twitter in the classroom

If we have time, we can return to this discussion. For now, here’s just a few ways I’m using it for research and teaching:

  • live-tweeting class (tweeting comments/summaries of what is being said in class as it is being said)
  • live-tweeting class readings (tweeting passages from and questions about the text as I read it)
  • answering questions tweeted by class members
  • posting announcements
  • posting questions/queries to the class
  • sharing links to relevant sources
  • live-tweeting extra office hours (haven’t tried this one yet)
  • experimenting with different accounts (tweet as class administrator + tweet as myself: undisciplined)

Here are some more ideas from AcademicHack. Also, some reflections on the art of the tweet. Also, check out my three twitter accounts: qued2010, femped2010, undisciplined

Discussion: Twitter, authenticity, lived experience, and daily habits

We could talk about the limits and possibilities of twitter in many different ways in relation to feminism and feminist pedagogies. For example, how does twitter work for (and/or against) activism? Lots of folks are critically reflecting on this question. Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s article about twitter and “Why the Revolution Will not be Tweeted.” Over at DigiActive, they put together a guide to Twitter for Activism. And Ronak Ghorbani offers up a series of podcasts + analysis on tweeting feminists.

We could also talk about how twitter works in encouraging back channel conversations in classrooms (during lectures and discussions) and in conferences. We could discuss this in relation to class distractions and the need for paying and shifting attention. Check out “Designing Choreographies for Attention” for more. Sample Reality offers up an interesting take on the value of “snark” (or, sarcastic, irreverent comments about the readings or the instructor’s teaching). In terms of using twitter for conference conversations, check out how it was used in the 2010 NWSA conference (they had the live feed on their website).

While these are all great conversations to have (and ones we could continue on this blog), I want to focus on one other way in which to discuss twitter and feminist digital literacy: authenticity, lived experience, and daily habits.

My focus on authenticity, lived experience and daily habits is partly inspired by Berenice Malka Fisher and her claim, in No Angel in the Classroom, that we “try to bring our most authentic [read: complicated, uncertain, multiple, honest] selves” into the classroom (51).  Can we achieve authenticity through the documenting of our lived experience? Through the repeated archiving and sharing of our daily habits? Can we “authentically” connect with others through our engagement with their tweets? What are the limits and possibilities of this archiving/documentation/sharing/engagement?

The following represent two different “moments” related to twitter and the above questions:

Moment One: I tweet, therefore I am, but if I don’t tweet it, did it happen?

Two related events:

a. Peggy Orenstein is sitting with her daughter in her front yard, enjoying the beautiful weather and listening to a download of E.B. White reading “The Trumpet of the Swan.” Instead of “being fully present in the moment,” she reflects on how best to capture the experience with a tweet. She wonders: “when every thought is externalized, what becomes of insight? When we reflexively post each feeling, what becomes of reflection? When friends become fans, what happens to intimacy?” And concludes: “The risk of the performance culture, of the packaged self, is that it erodes the very relationships it purports to create, and alienates us from our own humanity.”

  • Does tweeting “alienate us from our own humanity”?
  • What sort of authentic expressions are possible via twitter?
  • Is authenticity counter to/in conflict with performativity/performance?
  • How does twitter work differently for different bodies and different expressions?
  • Can we use twitter to express (and value) our lived experiences?
  • What are the problems and possibilities of expressing/relying on/invoking lived experiences?
  • In a youtube video about twitter it is suggested that twitter is concerned with documenting “the real life that happens between blog posts and emails.” What value do you see in expressing and documenting these aspects of real life?

b. BIll Nye (the Science guy) is giving a lecture at USC. Suddenly he falls to the floor. Instead of rushing to his aid, it appears that students quickly whip out their smart phones and begin tweeting about the event. The Lookout, a Yahoo news blog, describes it as an example of “civic indifference” and “youthful digital passivity.” The Lookout article links this event with what it describes as “an even more disturbing” example of civic indifference: the posting of images online, in real time, of the shooting and death of “Messy Mya,” a New Orleans comedian and youtube sensation. The Lookout article makes the rounds on facebook, possibly serving as further evidence of the evils of social media.

  • Do social media like twitter encourage “civic indifference” and “youthful digital passivity”? How?
  • Are there other ways than “youthful digital passivity” to read what was happening with the posting of the image of Messy Mya’s death? How do the events (and the bodies of the “victims”) differ in these two cases? Are these differences important in thinking critically about how twitter works and what it does (or what we can do with it)?
  • (How) does tweeting an event make it more “real”? Does this type of “realness” = authenticity and truth?

Moment Two: Following others’ tweets and the limits of sharing

Joel Johnson writes a blog entry entitled, “Why I Stalk a Sexy Black Woman on Twitter (and why you should too)” for gizmodo. He encourages readers to follow someone on twitter that they wouldn’t encounter in everyday life. In a follow-up post, largely written to respond to intensely negative reaction to his initial post, Johnson writes:

You’ve been on Twitter, haven’t you, @shani_o? It’s a website where people post things they choose to display to the public, including—unless one has a perfect follower-to-follows ratio or a private account—several people you don’t know at all who choose to pay attention to your life, your thoughts, and whatever else you choose to share. Rather than worry that I might be viewed as a sociopath for using Twitter exactly in the way for which it was designed, I choose to instead be excited about all the new people and perspectives that are right at my eyeballs’ fingertips. But that doesn’t mean I want—or am even capable of—becoming fast friends with every single person I observe (or read, or watch, or whatever) on the internet. No one really wants that—except for creepy people.

  • How are the expressions of our lived experiences valued and/or devalued when presented in twitter-logic (with 140 characters + random followers + the impulse to be witty and “cute” and quick)?
  • What happens when our authentic/crafted/performed tweets are taken up by others?
  • What are the dangers and limits of tweeting?
  • Is Twitter designed in order to “other” people? Does it encourage us to pay attention to each other in ways that are objectifying and oppressive? Can we imagine sharing and expression of self in ways outside of this model? Does twitter allow for that?

A few final questions: Is twitter fundamentally flawed? Is it possible to use it subversively and disobediently (in ways that it was never intended) in order to further our feminist goals? How might we use it in tandem with other methods (a both/and instead of either/or model)? What important conversations about twitter should we have inside and outside of our feminist classrooms?

Resources Round-up

I am always using this blog as a space for experimenting with new ways to archive my research (and to document who I am as a scholar, thinker, teacher, troublemaker). Sometimes these experiments work and sometimes they don’t. Here’s another one to add to the pile: Resources round-up. In this (type of) entry, I want to archive some resources (mostly articles, but some blogs) that I found and started reading this week. Hopefully, I can return to these resources later for future syllabi, articles, and/or blog entries. Perhaps if I become disciplined about it (ha ha! Even though I embrace being undisciplined, I still see value in developing specific sets of repeated practices–habits–on the blog. In fact, habitual writing is one thing that I really like about blogging.), I could do one of these resources round-ups every (other?) week? Possibly. But before I get ahead of myself, I need to write the first of these round-ups.

1. The Ethics of Waste
by Gay Hawkins

I have already started writing about this book on Unchained, a diablog that I started with my partner this summer (and haven’t written in since the beginning of August when the s**t hit the fan and I had to start working on multiple syllabi and finish up an article on feminist pedagogy and blogging). Originally I picked up this book in late August; I briefly thought about using it in my queering desire class in tandem with other sources on the abject. I imagine (but I can’t remember) that I was also intrigued by the author’s reading of waste through/in relation to ethics and daily practices. Now that I have read the introduction and first chapter, I am considering using it in my queer ethics class. Still not sure.

2.Developing a corporeal cyberfeminism: beyond cyberutopia
by Jessica E. Brophy

I haven’t read any of this article yet. Here’s the abstract:

This article discusses – and rejects – cyberutopia, an idealized theory of internet use that requires users to leave their bodies behind when online.The author instead calls for a cyberfeminist perspective in relation to studying the internet and other new media, centrally locating corporeality and embodiment. The underutilized concept of intra-agency is then employed to develop liminality in relation to the experience of going online.The author then outlines different versions of cyberfeminism and endorses that which addresses the relationships between the lived experiences of users and the technology itself.The article concludes with a call for theorists to expand and enrich the concepts used to study new media.

After a quick glance at the bibliography (which looks really helpful) and a skim through the article, I am convinced that this essay is a good one to revisit. The author hits on a lot of my areas of interest (including agency, Butler, performativity, liminality) and offers a good overview of cyberfeminism in relation to cybertopia.

3.DIGITAL WHITENESS, PRIMITIVE BLACKNESS: Racializing the “digital divide” in film and new media
by Janell Hobson

I am excited about this essay because of the author’s approach to thinking about the digital divide. While I recognize that access to technology (who has computers/who can get online) is a very important issue that needs to be addressed repeatedly, I worry about how “the digital divide” can be used to shut down any discussion about the transgressive and transformative potential of social media and Web 2.0 technology. I also worry about how discourses surrounding this divide work to reinforce certain binaries and ignore/erase experiences that don’t fit the binary–Hobson talks about this in relation to whiteness as progress/technological advancement and blackness as primitive. Here’s the abstract:

This essay argues that cultural scripts, such as popular films and other forms of visual culture, have constructed a racial ideology about technology, especially in conceptualizations of the “digital divide.” By associating whiteness with “progress,” “technology,” and “civilization,” while situating blackness within a discourse of “nature,” “primitivism,” and pre-modernity, the digital divide amasses cultural and racial weight and highlights hostile interactions with digital technology among marginal groups. However, a growing corpus of work by digital artists of color and web 2.0 participants has exposed these mythic constructions by re-imagining blackness and womanhood beyond technological exclusion and surveillance.

Here’s another excerpt in which Hobson provides a concrete overview of the essay:

In what remains, I first delve into the history of the technological divide between whiteness and blackness, as reflected in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century world fairs and mid-twentieth-century films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, prior to assessing contemporary themes of race and technological surveillance in the late-twentieth century science fiction films The Matrix and Strange Days. I then connect these cinematic representations to the work of black artists, such as Keith Piper, Julie Dash, and Damali Ayo, who underscore the black presence in the realm of digital technology. Finally, I conclude by ruminating on whether or not social “revolutions” for racial equality and inclusion can, in fact, be “digitized” (114).

I’m excited to read this essay; I imagine it will provide me with some useful ways for thinking beyond/outside of a narrow vision of the “digital divide.” Here’s one more passage that seems helpful in complicating the “digital divide”:

As these artistic models suggest, the “digital divide” is less about “access” and more about the technological dominance of a privileged few with global repercussions that threaten all of us, especially now that we have become so closely connected in the information superhighway. Marginalized groups, in particular, feel the impact of the high-tech age in profoundly personal and political ways. However, they are not just acted upon by technology; they have a creative and dynamic role in shaping our digital culture (122).

I really appreciate how Hobson envision agency here: marginalized groups are acted on by technology, but they also negotiate/resist/transform it.

Okay, these aren’t the only sources that I found this week. Because I am running out of energy and time, I will list a few more sources that I reviewed this week without any commentary:

4. Commentary and Criticism on Social Media and Intimacy

This commentary on Feminist Media Studies provides a series of mini-essays, including: “The New Architectures of Intimacy? Social networking sites and genders” by Usha Zacharias and Jane Arthurs and “This is not a Blog: Gender, intimacy, and community” by Catherine Driscoll.

5. The Digi-active Guide to Activism for Twitter and The Digi-active Guide to Activism for Facebook

In addition to these two guides, the Digi-active website is filled with information about digital activism, including this youtube video:

Also, check out their mission statement. I might use this in future classes. Maybe a class on digital activism–the possibilities and limits of thinking, acting and reflecting online (and, in tandem with offline)?

Roundtable at MMLA: Using Blogs in the Feminist Classroom

This blog entry serves as a virtual handout for my contribution to a roundtable at the Midwest Modern Language Association Conference in Chicago on November 5th. I also plan to distribute hard copies of the handout at the actual event.

Sara L. Puotinen (University of Minnesota,
Using Blogs in the Feminist Classroom

Some Links:

My personal research/writing blog: (making/being in/staying in) TROUBLE
Feminist pedagogy diablog with Kandace Creel Falcón: It’s Diablogical!
List of my course blogs at the U of Minnesota: An Introduction
My blog workshop (2/2010): Teaching with Blogs and Blogging While Teaching

Why blogging is useful for feminist pedagogy:

  • Shifting/reworking/disrupting who counts as an authority or who can produce/share knowledge
  • Providing students with more ways to engage and express that engagement
  • Enabling students to learn from each other, enabling instructor to learn from students
  • Requiring students to claim more responsibility for the class and how it works/doesn’t work
  • Training students in an important form of technology
  • Giving the instructor more opportunities to engage with students/material and to share their own research/knowledge in creative ways
  • Disrupting the rigid boundaries of the classroom in space and time
  • Encouraging the instructor to experiment with new techniques and strategies
  • Cultivating a space for public scholarship and for connecting with a wide range of people/communities inside and outside of the class and the university

Some Tips:

  • Successful blogs require assignments that are more than just offline assignments posted online.
  • Think about the blog as a location for reading and writing and reflect that in your assignments.
  • Bring blog entries, comments, and discussions into your offline class sessions.
  • In order to get students to use the blog, you must make it worth their while.
  • Spend some time at the beginning of the semester training students on how to use the blog.
  • Spend a lot of time really thinking through all of the details of your blog assignments.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques on the blog.
  • Don’t just assign weekly blog posts to your students that involve responding to your questions.
  • If you want students to be excited about the blog and take it seriously, you need to too.
  • Complete at least some of the assignments that you require your students to do.
  • Blogs work better in the classroom when we read and think more about what kind of teaching/learning practice blogging is (and/or could be).

A few examples of how I use blogs:

An Assignment:
My explanation  Example One: This is a Feminist Issue Because…
The entries This is a Feminist Issue Because…

The entry Day 8: October 27

Interactive Lecture:
My explanation Example Two: Organizing Class Discussion
The entry A Feminist Response to the Arizona Immigration Bill (SB1070)