Playing for change

To start this week, watch the short video “Playing for change: A better place” to see how technology can bring people together to speak out against inequality and fight for social justice.

The human experience of interaction has changed with the exponential growth of technology. Consider the reach of the Internet. People from all over the world are sharing space online. That has provided collaboration opportunities between medical teams, authors, musicians, and researchers that were not possible before email and file sharing software. The human experience in virtual space is in its infancy, and as online learners, you are pioneers into a new way of gaining knowledge and sharing information. By choosing to learn in a virtual space, you will process and communicate with your academic colleagues and Instructor in an emerging and changing virtual classroom. How comfortable are you in communicating in this environment?

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A technologically advanced world provides us with new capabilities but there are a number of important limitations. This course focuses on the way we process and communicate our human experience through technology. As with any human advancement, this new virtual environment is full of potential pit falls. Credit card fraud, spam, Trojan viruses, and security breaches cause individuals to distrust and even fear aspects of the online environment. The news is filled with stories of online predators, cyber bullying, and virtual robbers hoping to steal identities and more. For adults to really learn and be transformed, we need to create a safe oasis where trust flourishes. How can each of us contribute to a healthy classroom culture?

Photo Credit:Microsoft Corporation. (Producer). MP900390552 [photo of online shopping cart]. Retrieved February 6, 2014 from 

Since the creation of language, oral and written traditions have emerged. Today, social media including Facebook, Tumbler, and Twitter provide platforms for exchanging ideas. Texting has brought with it linguistic short cuts such as “brb” and “ttyl”; we are frequently reminded that “yolo”. Because technology impacts how we communicate, it also creates opportunities for our private communications to others to be distributed across great distances, with incredible speed. Every message crafted on a keyboard is retrievable.

Graphic Credit: Microsoft Corporation. (Producer). MC900441766 [Graphic of LOL in speech bubble]. Retrieved February 6, 2014 from|#ai:MC900441766

This week you will evaluate your experiences with various technologies and the experiences of others presented in the Week 4 Notes and Readings. You will also learn how to communicate effectively in each of these mediums.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

· Analyze the role of technology used in your profession

· Assess technology and Mathematics competency

· Apply self-assessment results to future learning

· Explore capabilities and limitations of technologically advanced worlds

Week 4: Notes and Readings

Over the last couple of weeks, we have looked at how technology and virtual worlds influence how we understand ourselves and the society in which we live.

It is also important to remember that technology is made by humans. Some of you are looking at a career in information technology, and you could be the person who creates a new technology. The person who makes a technology influences it. For a long time, technology was a male dominated field. In the same way that a novel is influenced by the author, the groups that craft technology directly influence the people who use these spaces to learn.

In her speech to the United Nations/NGO Forum “On Women in 1995”, Robin Abrams talked about the different ways that men and women use computers. Although she speaks in general terms, reflect on how your gender might affect how you relate to computer technology. What other characteristics might influence our relationship to technology, such as ethnicity, age, or location?

Looking At Technology Through Women’s Eyes by Robin Abrams Former Vice President, Apple Computer Corporation

Delivered at the United Nations/NGO Forum On Women, Beijing, China: August 31, 1995

It’s a great honor to be here in Beijing on the occasion of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

I’d like to thank Irene Santiago, Executive of the NGO Forum on Women and Supatra Masdit, Convenor of the Forum, for giving Apple Computer the opportunity to participate. We are thrilled to able to put our technology into the hands of individuals who are promoting one of the greatest causes of this — or any other — time: improving the status of women around the world.

As a woman in the computer industry, I’d like to talk about the unique origins of this industry, the status of women in technology today, as well as some of the ways in which I believe that women have — and will continue to have– a significant impact in this field.

In other words, in keeping with the theme of this conference — “Looking at the World Through Women’s Eyes” — I’d like to take a look at the world of technology through women’s eyes.

During the next hour or so, I will invite a couple women to join me on stage to share their experiences and perspectives.

In so doing, we’ll explore some of the successes and opportunities for women in computing in three key areas: as industry leaders, as engineering talent, and as day-to-day users.

Looking at Technology Through Women’s Eyes

Like many other scientific and industrial fields, technology-based industries have essentially been defined and dominated by men.

Of course, women have played significant roles in the development of science and technology, but for the most part, they are some of history’s best kept secrets, often even among women themselves.

For example, how many of you knew that the very first real computer programmer was a woman? Ada Byron King, the Countess of Lovelace and daughter of poet Lord Byron, was a prominent mathematician in the mid-1800s. She worked along side her better-known male colleague, Charles Babbage, on the first mechanical computing machines.

Before her, there were a magnificent array of even lesser-known women scientists and technologists from around the world: there was Hypatia, an Egyptian mathematician in the 400s; Maria Gaetana Agnesi, known for her work in differential calculus in the 1700s; and Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya, a Russian mathematician and astronomer in the 1800s.

In this century, there’s the incomparable Grace Hopper, a PhD in mathematics who was a key leader in the field of software development, contributing to the transition from primitive programming techniques to the use of sophisticated compilers, and working with the first large-scale electronic digital computers.

A true visionary, Dr. Hopper received many awards for her work, including — ironically — the Data Processing Management Association’s “Man-of-the-Year” award!

Dr. Hopper’s work is particularly inspirational as she was among the first to conceptualize how a much wider audience could use the computer if it were made more “user-friendly.”

As you may know, this idea of making computers easy-to-use, and of putting the power of technology into the hands of individuals, is at the heart of the philosophy of Apple Computer.

Personal computing as we know it today had its roots in the mid-1970s, when three ideas converged and led to what is now known as “the computer revolution.”

First and fundamentally, was the fact that microprocessor technology had become affordable for ordinary purposes. Engineers at Intel miniaturized the electronic circuitry; in the process, they made it much less expensive.

The small size, and relatively low cost of this technology meant that computing power previously found only in mainframe computers in the air-conditioned back rooms of large corporations, could be brought home.

This was hot stuff if you were an engineer or a programmer. But for most people, it didn’t really have much meaning. That is, until the second vision — pioneered by Grace Hopper — was realized: If you could make computing technology easy to use, more people would use it.

Not just enthusiasts and engineers. But students, teachers, people in business and the arts… people who would use computers for what they could accomplish, not because they had any interest in the underlying technology.

The third insight was that if you could put this incredible computing power into the hands of thousands — even millions of people — it would trigger a revolution in the way that people think, work, learn and play, create a common ground for communication, and open a vast array of information resources to people around the world.

The convergence of these three elements really marked the beginning of the personal computing industry as we know it today.

I mention this as more than just historical reference. I mention it in the context of this conference on women because these are ideas which are quite relevant to understanding the status of women in regard to technology today.

In the United States about 35 percent of American families now have computers, and more than 80 percent of these have been purchased and primarily used by males, perhaps because they are the ones more likely to have the money. In other countries, the statistics show an even larger gap.

Most of the studies and examples I’ll site today, are drawn from women’s experiences in the United States, because that’s where we have the most research and can see most clearly the gender differences in technology access and usage. For other countries, the US trends can serve as both a warning, and as a way to identify the challenges and opportunities for women and technology.

In fact, as technology reaches into emerging markets in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Central and South America, we can may benefit from the experiences of women more developed technology markets. We’ve already seen examples of where women and men in these countries have been able to take advantage of the early experiences of others to avoid patterns of discrimination as well as to leap-frog to new and better technologies and solutions.

There have been a number of studies in the US on the different ways in which women and men tend to view computing technologies.

Recent research has found that men are seduced by the technology itself. They tend to get into the faster-race-car syndrome, bragging about the size of their ‘discs’ or the speed of their microprocessors.

Women tend to take a more practical approach. They generally think that machines are meant to be used, and don’t really care about what’s inside the box. They just want it to work, and to get things done.

In another intriguing study by the Center for Children and Technology, men and women in technical fields were asked to dream up machines of the future. Men typically imagined devices that could help them “conquer the universe,” whereas women created machines that “meet people’s needs.”

The study concluded that “most women, even those who are technologically sophisticated, think of machines as a means to an end,” whereas men think of the machines as an extension of their own power, as a way to “transcend physical limitations.”

Moreover, research has found that these patterns — these different ways of looking at technology — kick in at a very early age. In the US, boys and girls tend to be equally interested in computers until they are about 10 years old. At that point, boys’ use rises significantly and girls’ use drops.

Looking behind the statistics, we see that most children are first introduced to computers in their homes and at school through games, and that the vast majority of games software is developed by men.

The predominant themes of recreational computer games are war, battles, crimes, destruction, and traditionally male-oriented sports and hobbies. As girls tend to prefer nonlinear games, where there’s more than one direction to take, where you can work in groups, and where no one “dies” on screen, it’s really no surprise that computers have greater appeal to young men than young women.

As Time Magazine said in an article last year, “Why do you think they call it “Game Boy?”

The alarming thing about all this is that experience in computer use, and the resulting comfort with and affinity for computing, can have a strong impact on subsequent decisions to enter technology businesses, to study computer and related sciences, and even on the ability to use technology for one’s own benefit.

The good news is that the future growth of computing companies — in both hardware and software — is in reaching more people with an ever-wider range of interests. As the early market has been predominantly males, the next wave of computer purchasers and users must necessarily be more and more female.

This means that the practicality of computers is becoming as valued as their speed and power. Software content is as important — if not more important — as hardware innovation. In short, we’re at a cultural turning point. There’s an opportunity to remake the culture around people’s needs, instead of the machine.

So, somewhat ironically, gender differences of the past could help the girls and women of today and tomorrow. If the computer industry wants to put more and more machines in the hands of the masses, that means appealing to women — along with the great many men who have no interest in hot-rod computing — with practical, accessible technology tools.

Women in the Business of Technology

But for the present, women are vastly underrepresented in all aspects of the computer industry.

On the business side, a recent US Department of Labor study reports that women are not successfully moving beyond mid-management boundaries in this industry– in fact, there’s been only a 3% gain in the past 10 years.

There are no women CEOs running major computer manufacturing companies around the world, and only a few at the helm of software companies.

As you might expect, many of the problems encountered by women in entering and achieving leadership roles in technology professions are the same ones we’ve seen in other fields. They are many of the same issues that are being addressed at this conference… issues like gender bias, lack of role models, and difficulty in balancing personal and professional responsibilities. I’ll talk a bit more about these factors later.

The reality is, that although it may be new technology, the old rules still apply.

In addition, there are unique characteristics of this discipline that pose unusual problems for women. The culture — or more accurately, the “cult” — of technology is distinguished by an elite “hacker” system. People who are successful in this system are expected to have certain characteristics. You may be familiar with the stereotype: obsessive allegiance to technology involving all night hacking sessions, obscene amounts of caffeine and chocolate, a vocabulary of acronyms, and a total disregard for personal hygiene.

Of course, these traits may be as distasteful to males as females, but the situation is likely to be more pronounced for females who, because of the differences in early experiences are less likely to want to participate in a culture of this kind.

The good news here is that this is a relatively new industry, and there’s opportunity to change it before behaviors and expectations become too entrenched.

The other good news is that there’s a strong trend in businesses of all kinds to reach new markets with custom products, services and support. For technology companies this means that diversity among its employees — in gender, race, social, political and educational background — is a great advantage.

As computing solutions expand beyond the traditionally male dominated markets, success will be more and more dependent upon understanding the needs of specific groups of customers, and will necessarily involve the knowledge and insights of an increasingly diverse workforce.

As this trend takes root and grows, I think we’ll see more and more women with increasingly diverse backgrounds taking strategic business roles within technology companies.

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t want to be promoted or held back in technology businesses, or any other field, because we are women. We want to be accepted, challenged and rewarded on our own merit.

We know from many experiences in the past, that asking for, depending on, or expecting someone else — especially someone comfortably situated within the male-dominated power structure — to make our lives better or easier, doesn’t work. It’s why we are all gathered here. We have chosen to take responsibility and to do something about it ourselves.

As a group, women must be dedicated to improving the status of women in technology and to helping women advance to the highest levels of responsibility.

Individually, we must be committed to growth and self-improvement. We must consider ourselves principled, effective and capable of assuming great leadership roles. We must believe we can contribute to solving world problems and making things better in very small and very big ways. Because we can… and do.

Despite the odds against it, there are some extraordinary women in the business of technology.

At Apple Computer, our key communications vice president is Barbara Krause, and we have two outstanding women vice presidents, Jeanne Seeley and Maryann Cusenza, in key finance roles. In addition, an extraordinary businesswoman sits on our Board of Directors, Ms. Kathryn Hudson.

Women are making great inroads in challenging assumptions and creating visions for technology. Two key leaders in this area are technology writer, New York Times columnist and pundit Denise Caruso, and Esther Dyson, the editor of a leading industry newsletter called Release 1.0.

As I mentioned, although there are no CEOs of computer manufacturing firms, there are a number of women who lead software development companies. These include: Heidi Roisen, President & CEO, T-Maker; Judith Estrin, President & CEO, Precept Software, Inc.; Sally Narodick, CEO, Edmark; and, Carol Bartz, CEO of AutoDesk.

Women and Education

So progress is being made in the business of technology. What about in education, and in technical and engineering fields?

On of the great untold story in this area is the dramatic increase in the educational attainment of women in the past 20 years.

Some researchers hold that although gender bias may exist in schools — in the form lack of compelling software, or of teachers calling more often on boys than on girls, for example — the same researchers conclude that it is not clear that this helps boys at all.

Consider this: In the US, while boys get higher scores in mathematics and science on average, girls get higher scores in reading and writing. At the same time, boys in the eighth grade are 50 percent more likely than girls to be held back a grade, and boys in high school constitute 68 percent of the “special education” population.

Twenty years ago more boys went on to college than girls; today the reverse is true. 67 percent of female high school graduates go to colleges, compared with 58 percent of male high school graduates.

Today women receive 54 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and 53 percent of all masters degrees. In 1970, only 14 percent of all doctoral degrees went to women, and today that figure is up to 39 percent.

Women and Engineering

But if we examine the kinds of degrees represented within these numbers, we start to see great discrepancies among men and women.

The Association for Computing Machinery, or ACM, notes that while women represent 45% of employed workers in the United States, they represent only 30% of computer programmers, and only 10% of employed doctoral level computer scientists.

The fact is that women in engineering and computer science programs terminate their training much earlier than men do. This pattern of decreasing representation at successively higher educational levels has been described as “pipeline shrinkage”.

At the high school level, we see almost equal numbers of young men and young women enrolled in computer science and engineering courses. By the time they get to college the ratio changes to 31 percent women and 69 percent men in bachelor’s degree programs, and then to 28 percent and 72 percent, respectively, for master’s degrees.

At the doctoral level the split is even more dramatic with 89 percent of PhDs in computer and engineering degrees awarded to men, and a mere 11 percent to women.

The discrepancy between the numbers of men and women continues to increase when we look at the people who are training the future computer scientists: Women currently hold only 13 percent of assistant professorships at North American colleges and universities, 8 percent of associate professorships, and a mere 4 percent are fully-tenured professors. In fact, a third of the departments at the colleges and universities surveyed in this particular study have no female faculty members at all.

Clearly, to increase the number of women in industrial computer science, we need to consider why women stop their training earlier than men. There are a number of aspects of the scientific and engineering culture that act against women in this regard, and there are a few obvious things that can be done.

For example, more education software appealing to girls should be developed and educators must make a concerted effort to ensure equal access to computers for boys and girls.

More far reaching solutions are less tangible. What seems to be needed is increased sensitivity on the part of male computer scientists and engineers to their female students and colleagues, increased awareness by women so that they will not be easily discouraged, and, quite simply, an increased number of women in the field.

Here again, despite the odds, there are a number of extraordinary female contributors in the field.

There’s Dr. Frances Allen, a Fellow at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Dr. Anita Borg, a Consultant Engineer associated with the DEC Network Systems Laboratory (and the founder of “Systers” an online service for women), Dr. Joan Feigenbaum, a Member of the Technical Staff at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, Dr. Adele Goldberg, the Chair of parcplace Systems and former scientist and laboratory manager of Xerox PARC, and Dr. Irene Grief, Director of Workgroup Technologies for Lotus and a former faculty member at the University of Washington and MIT.

At Apple, we are seeing women moving into key engineering roles. One is Jackie Streeter who is our Senior Director of Engineering Interface and Design.

Another, who is with us today, is Sheila Brady. A true Apple star, Sheila is the Director of the Macintosh Operating Systems Team. She’s been with Apple for nearly ten years driving many software development projects leading teams of mostly male engineers. She says she vacillates wildly between taking everything too seriously, and taking nothing seriously enough. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Please welcome… Sheila Brady.

(Sheila Brady demonstrated new Apple technologies and described her experiences as a women leading a team of predominately male engineers.)

Women, Education and Technology

As I mentioned before, the earliest encounters that children have with computing technologies are far from gender neutral. The recreational software programs young people first see tend to reflect the gender biases and stereotypes of their makers. That means most games are designed with boys in mind.

This pattern appears to carry over into educational software as well. In fact, in one experimental setting, when teachers of both genders were asked to design software for students, they tended to build programs that have characteristics that boys prefer, and few of the characteristics that girls prefer, even when the teachers are aware of these differences.

So what we find is that the vast majority of educational software carries themes of power, sports and dominance, and therefore does little to compel young women to use computers.

Fortunately, there are a new generation of software developers who understand this phenomenon quite well, and who are designing programs that are making enthusiasts out of unsuspecting young women.

I happen to know a couple of these unsuspecting young women quite well, who have agreed to show us some of their favorite education applications.

Please welcome my daughters, Libby and Sarah.

(Libby and Sarah Abrams, ages 6 and 11 respectively, showed a number of educational software programs.)

As you can see, despite the current imbalance in educational software, there are some extraordinary people making some extraordinary new products for extraordinary young women with extraordinary results.

Thanks to Sheila, Libby and Sarah!

What Can We Do?

What can we do to expand the pipeline for women, bring more girls into the mainstream of technology and provide compelling reasons for them to pursue careers, and to use technology for their benefit?

There are at least three things we can focus on:

1) We must combat gender bias and discrimination in every situation and every way we can.

Ideally, the representation of women in the power structure of a community or organization should reflect their numbers in that community or organization.

Patronizing behavior and assumptions that women are less qualified or committed than men, regardless of whether the assumptions are conscious or unconscious, must stop.

We must also support the growing trend to create software and applications that compel children and adults of both genders to use and benefit from technology tools.

2) We must address head-on the lack of mentoring programs for women and girls and make sure that role models are more numerous and highly visible.

Mentors and role models play a crucial, though usually informal, role in personal growth, and in training for all professions, and it’s clear that role models are important at all stages in personal and professional life.

This is particularly important in technology businesses and computer sciences because the number of available female mentors and role models shrinks as one progresses through the pipeline.

While young women can benefit from mentors of either gender, it is desirable for women to be exposed to females in higher level positions. A role model can serve as evidence that a successful career in computer science, for example, is not only a possibility, but a normal and even unremarkable option for women.

Role models and mentors are perhaps even more important to younger women and girls. Without them, girls may lose interest or end studies in technology fields prematurely, and for the wrong reasons.

3) We must make sure that the difficulties in balancing career and family responsibilities are overcome.

Concern with this problem has led some young women to abandon the possibility of such a career at a very early stage in their training.

Women considering careers in computer science are not very different from women in a wide range of other careers… or, for that matter, from many men in those careers. Last April, a New York Times article noted that, “Fathers, too, are seeking a balance between their families and careers.”

It must be possible for both men and women to work hard and well at a career, without neglecting their personal lives. No one should have to choose one at the expense of the other. Both men and women should have the right, and often have the obligation, to have careers.

There are a variety of ways to support this. We need find ways to provide quality childcare, to improve maternity and paternity leave policies in the workplace, to look into job sharing possibilities, and to allow those who must, to work from home.

Ultimately, a lot hinges on increasing the number of women in the field. We must make sure that increased representation of women is not stalled, but rather accelerated, by of the policies and practices of educators and employers, of congresses and corporations.


In short, looking at technology through women’s eyes doesn’t mean rose-colored glasses and pink computers.

It means concerted action to involve women in leadership positions in engineering and the business of technology.

It means special attention in the development of software, ensuring that it is relevant, even inspiring, to both young men and young women.

It means creating machines that are accessible, that meet people’s needs, and help them get things done.

Because computers in and of themselves aren’t revolutionary. It’s what people can do with them that’s truly remarkable.

One of the very best examples of this is the development and management of the technology infrastructure for running this conference. I am extremely proud of the team of Apple people and volunteers, predominantly women, who worked with the offices of the NGO committee and UN Secretariat to conceive and implement the computer services for this extraordinary event.

Led by Bev Valdez, this team of more than 80 talented young people has designed, implemented and is now running the technology infrastructure for the business centers which are scheduling more than 5,000 meetings and other activities, and registering more than 35,000 attendees.

They have also put together and are supporting the Press Center enabling the almost 3,000 members of the media to write and file stories about the actions and activities here.

They are supporting the NGO team which is writing, designing and publishing the daily newspaper that you have seen here.

They have put together the “Exploring Your Potentials” training center, where you can experience first-hand how Apple technology can enhance the way you work, learn and communicate. I urge you to take a look at this center which is located in Building 17.

In addition, they have integrated some HP systems with our Macintosh computers, and worked with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) enabling us to transmit documents to the UN negotiations in Beijing, and to NGOs around the world via the Internet.

I haven’t mentioned much about the Internet today, but it’s not because it’s not tremendously important. Many of the NGOs have been using the Internet for research and electronic mail for a number of years, and others are just coming online. But the impact, particularly in planning for this conference has been tremendous.

For example, women in the former Yugoslavia have been exchanging ideas for workshops and funding for this forum via email. In Africa, email use for the Beijing process has just begun to be used with information received via one of the few Internet connections available there being repackaged and sent out by fax or snail mail.

In short, women from around the women are “getting the net.” We need to make sure that this trend continues and that we are linked up everyday via digital communications, not just every few years.

At this time, I offer to take your questions about Apple, women in technology and the computing industry today.

(Question & Answer Period)

Final Words

At the beginning of this session, I talked about the three fundamental elements that formed the personal computing industry we know today.

Looking at those again, we can see a clear path to making technology a beneficial part of our everyday lives.

First of all, reducing costs of technology and making it accessible to people of from all countries and of both genders is a first and fundamental step.

Second, making technology tools that are easy-to-use to accomplish practical tasks, is key to involving more people — including women and girls — in using computers.

And third, putting the power of technology in the hands of many, many people — giving them access to information and to each other — will provide opportunities for interaction and discussion and build communities of interest. The resulting group efforts can and will lead to solutions to social, political and economic concerns and improve the quality of life for everyone.

At Apple, we recognize the importance of this technology and our responsibility to help shape it. Our vision is based and built on our founding philosophy: to give people like you and me tools which inspire us to achieve great things that will help us change our world for the better.

Today, more than 20 million users of Apple computers are changing the world, whether it’s in the classroom, the boardroom, the living room — or in NGO organizations, the UN Secretariat, or the highest levels of government and industry.

Our goal is to design products and provide tools that elicit the best in people — a spirit of creativity, exploration, courage, confidence, and enthusiasm.

We want to make the power of high technology accessible to the individual, create tools for the mind, and change the world one person at a time.

I’m proud to have had the opportunity to participate in the personal computer revolution, and especially today, in this conference.

This event is truly a celebration of people who are making a difference — in their own lives and in the lives of others.

It’s a festival of the human spirit — of the passion and the power that lies within each one of us.

It’s testament to the impact of individuals — in this case, exceptional women from around the world — working together and showing how they can overcome challenges to really change the world.

Thank you.

Sources: Speech came from a page at the United Nations website which no longer exists.

Copyright 1995 by Robin Abrams. All rights reserved.

Tweeting Toward Freedom?


Wilson Quarterly. Spring2011, Vol. 35 Issue 2, p64-66. 3p. 1 Black and White Photograph.

Document Type:


Subject Terms:

*SOCIAL media *ACTIVISM *ONLINE social networks *REVOLUTIONS EGYPTIAN revolution, Egypt, 2011- SOCIAL aspects

Geographic Terms:




NAICS/Industry Codes:

519130 Internet Publishing and Broadcasting and Web Search Portals


The article discusses the role of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter in political revolutions and movements such as the Egyptian uprising in 2011 which eventually led to the resignation of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The author discusses differences between political and social activism through the use of Internet tools with physical social activism. The perspectives of various experts are presented, including those of journalist Malcolm Gladwell and professor Clay Shirky.

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The video’s product placements, prison scenes and boyfriend killings are the point of this St. Catherine University course, titled The Music and Image Monster: A few years ago, Hamlin and Adrian paired up their academic specialties to teach a course called “Music, the Visual Arts and Politics in the Twentieth Century,” and were struck by how often students brought up Lady Gaga in class discussions.

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In a music classroom on the quiet Catholic college campus, a group of students scribbled notes in the dark, their eyes intent on a 10-minute video.

“Take 30 seconds to collect your thoughts,” Prof. Amy Hamlin told the class as the video concluded. They then launched into a discussion of postmodernism, film and religious symbolism.

On the screen? Lady Gaga’s music video for “Telephone,” featuring Beyonce.

The video’s product placements, prison scenes and boyfriend killings are the point of this St. Catherine University course, titled “The Music and Image Monster: Lady Gaga in Context.”

The class is one example of courses with a specific pop-culture focus that are increasingly populating academia. Another offering at the St. Paul school: “Six Degrees of Harry Potter.” Two University of St. Thomas professors teach an honors seminar on the TV series “The Wire.” Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., held one on Jay-Z.

The courses sound light, and the professors behind them are sometimes questioned about their seriousness. But like the pop-culture icons who inspired them, the classes illuminate knotty issues about life today and place the “fine art” that came before them in a new context.

“Think of classes that have a pop-culture ‘hook’ as that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down,” said Prof. Edward Schiappa, chair of the Communications Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

When Schiappa taught a course on the TV series “Six Feet Under,” students got to watch HBO in class. But they also digested media theories like cultivation analysis, social learning, parasocial interaction and thanatology. Texts for the Harry Potter class include “Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature.” The first thing students read in the seminar on “The Wire” is a chapter titled “The Construction of Ethical Codes in the Discourse and Criticism of Popular Culture.”

“I like such classes because if they are done right, the students not only learn about theories and research, but have a very lively example of how to apply such theories and ideas to the real world,” Schiappa said.

Message of Gaga

None livelier than Lady Gaga. Amy Hamlin, an assistant professor of art and art history, said that her view of the pop superstar moved from “Who is this charlatan?” to “Whoa, what is she doing here?” once she saw the video “Bad Romance.” In it, Gaga performs as a white-and-diamond-clad plaything pushed into dancing for a group of drinking men. Mid-song, she sets fire to a bed and the man in it. The costumes turn from white to red and black. Crying turns to smiling.

“She was really pushing some buttons,” Hamlin said. “That video touches on things like conceptions of gender, our commodity culture, power in relationships.”

“You wouldn’t know it just by listening to the music,” said Allison Adrian, an assistant professor of music and Hamlin’s partner in teaching the course.

“Really?” Hamlin asked. “Even in ‘Bad Romance’?”

“It’s a dance pop tune,” Adrian said. “You need the hint the video gives you to make sense of the lyrics.”

A few years ago, Hamlin and Adrian paired up their academic specialties to teach a course called “Music, the Visual Arts and Politics in the Twentieth Century,” and were struck by how often students brought up Lady Gaga in class discussions. They decided she’d make a powerful focus for a course but worried that students and faculty members might not take it seriously.

“We’ve gotten asked plenty of times by skeptics, ‘What are you going to do? Are you just listening to her music in class?’ ” Adrian said.

St. Kate’s Prof. Cecilia Konchar Farr got similar “blowback” when she began her class on Harry Potter. Why not teach Shakespeare? F. Scott Fitzgerald? Despite the novels’ target audience, her class, which has proven so popular that she has had to raise the cap on enrollment, deals with serious analysis, “not just playful dancing with the text.”

In a sense, Harry Potter beats Jay Gatsby at helping students see how literary theory applies to the texts they read each day, Konchar Farr argues. “I’m not just thinking critically and analytically when I open my volume of James Joyce,” Konchar Farr said. “I’m doing it when watching ‘The Office.'”

Making it relevant

She suspects that the current crop of pop-culture courses is the result of a movement in the 1960s and ’70s, when students demanded more relevant course work. Some of those students went on to earn doctorates and are now the ones teaching.

When University of St. Thomas Prof. Wendy Wyatt paired up with a sociology professor to teach a course on the TV series “The Wire,” “we thought we were being so unique,” she laughed. Turns out four or five universities across the country had the same idea.

St. Thomas’ seminar asks two key questions about the series, which depicts the police, drug culture and politics of Baltimore: “Is it accurate? Is it fair?” Students review criminal justice research to help them answer those questions. Pairing the show with the research is more effective than “handing somebody a textbook or a research article about drug legalization,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt, who researches media literacy, argues against the idea that “entertainment doesn’t matter,” and believes the United States is behind on teaching students how to think critically about what’s on TV. “If you are willing to engage with pop-culture in serious ways, you will see all the ways it does matter.”

Sophomore Kristina Poss majors in chemistry at St. Catherine and plans to go to medical school. Her schedule is “very structured, with a lot of science-based curriculum.” The class on Lady Gaga, she said, is “not at all like that.”

Gaga was just another pop star to Poss — until she took this spring’s seminar to fulfill an honors credit. “The videos, in combination with the class discussion and the articles, really shed light on the deeper meaning of her work,” she said. Last week, she turned in a paper analyzing Gaga’s commentary on stardom in the video “Paparazzi,” pointing out the “split-second images of seemingly dead women lying on the ground with blank stares,” one way Gaga links fame with death.

Poss, a distance runner, said her teammates always ask about Lady Gaga at practice.

“Everyone wants to hear about our class.”

Jenna Ross – 612-673-7168


Word count: 1067

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(Copyright 2012 Minneapolis Star Tribune)

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Digital Atonement

Face it: You’re going to screw up eventually. Here’s how to make amends.

SIN: You waste people’s time by tweeting about your lunch.

PENANCE: You must eat a meal composed of ingredients so bizarre that someone might actually want to hear about them. Think calf brains, sheep hearts, fried grasshopper, and Rocky Mountain oysters.

SIN: You delete a TV episode from the DVR before everyone in your household has had a chance to see it.

PENANCE: Purchase the episode on iTunes or from Amazon Video on Demand. Also, all housemates get to make one pick from the Netflix queue before you get another turn.

SIN: You give away a plot point without saying “spoiler alert” beforehand.

PENANCE: Turn your friend on to an underhyped movie or TV show that they never knew existed, like The Prisoner (original), Moon, Jericho, Primer, or Green Acres (seriously, it’s a surrealist masterpiece!).

SIN: You open an email attachment called Megan-FoxBoobs.exe, thereby infecting your employer’s network with the software equivalent of syphilis.

PENANCE: Buy the IT department a case of beer–preferably an overpriced micro-brew. Then drive to your great-aunt’s retirement home and install Norton Antivirus on everyone’s PC.

SIN: You monopolize a neighbor’s open Wi-Fi to download a 1.3-gig hi-def copy of Iron Man 2.

PENANCE: Pay their next broadband bill to make it up to them. Then purchase a copy of the DVD to make it up to the copyright holder. Then use a modem connection for a week to remind yourself how much it sucks to have low bandwidth.

SIN: You choose a “hilarious” ringtone, like a Justin Bieber song, then leave your phone unattended on your desk.

PENANCE: Send 99-cent gift emails from Amazon’s MP3 Store to everyone within a five-cubicle radius, so that they may purge themselves of your over-developed sense of irony with a tune of their choice.

SIN: You haven’t tweaked your Facebook settings, and you’re clogging your friends’ walls with Farmville updates.

PENANCE: Go to an actual farm and then stick both of your hands into a thresher so that you can never click over to a social-networking game again. Some things are just plain unforgivable.

Credit: Marcos Chin;TEXT Mathew HonanILLUSTRATION Marcos Chin

Word count: 371



Week 4 Journal Entry

The objective of this Assignment is to provide you with a private place to think on the page; “thinking on the page” is a phrase used to describe writing as a form of thinking. Some of us process our thoughts out loud as we describe them to others. In an academic environment, you will be asked to record your ideas in writing or “thinking on the page” to show the new knowledge that you’ve acquired through reading and listening to the resources and completing the assignments. The journal is not a formal type of writing and only you and your Instructor will see the journal entry.

The weekly journals will be used to develop a personalized academic writing plan that will fit into the Week 6 Personal Success Plan Assignment.

Each journal must be at least three paragraphs long, but you are allowed to write as much as you would like. These entries are meant to be free writing, but you should revise before submitting. Your journal entries will be graded on participation and do not have rubrics.

To prepare for writing your Journal entry:

Review the Montante article in the Week 3 Learning Resources Review the Academic Writing Expectations Checklist to guide your writing Review sample journal entries posted in an Announcement.

Assignment Instructions:

Think about the material you encountered in the course this week, and describe one aspect of the classroom resources (Assignments, Discussions, or assigned readings) that surprised you. Make sure to describe why the material interested you as a thinker.

Set a timer (on the stove, a clock or on your phone) and write for ten minutes without stopping. The prompts will remain the same each week, but you will reflect about a different aspect of each week’s resources.

Observe. Describe the week’s content and resources to a person who has not seen/heard or observed it.

Process. Answer the question: “What does this content/topic mean?”

Reflect. Answer the question: “What is the value in understanding this?”

Thinking on Paper.


Montante, Sarah


Literary Cavalcade. Nov/Dec2004, Vol. 57 Issue 3, p36-37. 2p. 3 Cartoon or Caricatures.

Document Type:


Subject Terms:

*ESSAYS *PROSE literature *REFLECTION (Philosophy) in literature *LITERATURE *AUTHORS *WRITING

NAICS/Industry Codes:

711513 Independent writers and authors 711510 Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers


The article presents information on writing reflective essays. Every reflective essay begins with an occasion for reflection, an event or experience that makes you stop and think. It could be something as dramatic as a political protest or as mundane as a sunrise. The essay describes the occasion for reflection and then explores a question about it. The purpose of the essay is to share a provocative experience, allowing the reader to follow the meanderings of one’s mind. An essay should present a provocative event to readers and make writers thought process clear. INSET: HOW TO REFLECT.

Full Text Word Count:




Accession Number:


Thinking on Paper 




Full Text



THE PERFECT PAPER: Writing the Reflective Essay


The reflective essay is the luxury assignment of papers. It gives you the opportunity to explore an event or a topic in any way that interests you, without having to prove anything to your reader. It’s easier to write than a personal essay because you don’t have to analyze yourself, and it’s often more fun because you get to incorporate other people’s thoughts and ideas.

So what is a reflective essay? Simply put, it’s thinking on paper. Every reflective essay begins with an occasion for reflection, an event or experience that makes you stop and think. It could be something as dramatic as a political protest or as mundane as a sunrise — as long as it sparks a question in your mind.

The essay describes the occasion for reflection and then explores a question about it. The purpose of the essay is to share a provocative experience, allowing the reader to follow the meanderings of your mind.

Let’s say that you went to the beach one morning and saw cigarette butts and soda bottles that the tide had washed in, and a pair of fish that had been caught and left on the sand. Let’s say that the sight of those freshly caught fish abandoned on the beach made you think about how much people waste. This would be a great topic for a reflective essay.


To write it, you would first want to describe the occasion itself — the smell in the air, perhaps the usual saltiness mixed with the sweet but noxious odor of something rotting. You would want to make the litter visible by describing the faded labels on the plastic soda bottles, the way that the paper has long dissolved from the outside of the cigarettes, leaving nothing but the gray, frayed filters. And then you would show your reader the fish, their scales still shiny, their bodies firm and plump. The fresh blood implies that they were caught just this morning. They are a good catch — a little small but still edible — and you wonder why anyone would catch them with no intention of eating them. And so you come to a question: Are human beings taking more than their fair share from the earth? Now that you have thrown the doors wide open to reflection, you can incorporate ideas and information that take you beyond your own experience. You might include a quote from an ancient philosopher that talks about the place of human beings in the food chain, or reports from modern-day environmental scientists who are worried about the rate of consumption of the rain forests.


At the end of the reflective essay, you will want to draw some conclusions about your experience or about the general topic. Since you aren’t writing a formal argument or a persuasive essay, you don’t have to worry about hammering home your point the way you would in a formal conclusion. All you want to do is close the loop on your thoughts. How have you been changed by the experience of examining this topic? Maybe there is some change in your own life that you can demonstrate to tie the essay together — perhaps you have decided to be a part of a local beach clean-up crew, or maybe you have decided to recycle more in your house. Maybe not. The change you’ve experienced may be purely abstract; you might be newly aware of the fragility of the environment and feel a greater respect for the other organisms that inhabit it. Your reflective essay will reflect your thoughts and ideas.





By Sarah Montante



· Choose an occasion. Think back on the significant events in your life that changed you or helped you form your opinions. Write down all the moments that come to mind and then choose the one that feels most vivid to you.

· Make it real. Your first task is to make this event come alive for the reader. Use sensory language and plenty of concrete details. Try to make the experience thought-provoking for your reader.

· Pose a question. Tell your reader exactly why this experience made you stop and think and what it made you curious about. Be sure that your question is broad enough that you can explore it in an essay and that it is about the topic, not about you.

· Explore. Do a little research to find out what other people have to say about your topic. Do you agree with them? Do you find their perspectives interesting? Incorporate two to three other ideas into your essay.

· Draw a conclusion. The reflective essay should demonstrate a thought process that begins with a question and ends up somewhere else. You don’t necessarily have to answer the question, but you should show development in your thinking about the topic, even if it means coming to a new question at the end.


Next month, LC shows you how to write the perfect introduction.

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