The digital tools I do not use

Over the course of the past few months I have shared many of the digital tools I use to create community in my courses beyond the twice weekly meetings of my courses, to help students with research and discovery, and to place my teaching firmly in the twenty-first century.

There are more, but I’ll keep these for a second series, which I plan to start next semester.

I think a good topic for the final post of season 1 is the tools I purposefully do not use. They’re mostly concerned with surveillance and data collecting, or in the words of Jeffrey Moro: cop-shit. (If I wanted to do any of that, I would have become a prison guard. But I’m an educator.)

Table of contents

1. “Inclusive access” textbooks

I have to give credit where it’s due: our college’s “higher ups” are good at listening to the wisdom from the digital learning folks about concerns they raise. When inclusive access was first floated as an idea a few years back in the campus bookstore, that was cut short very quickly. As this article in the Chronicle explains, the devil is in the detail and fortunately we were able to excommunicate the whole bloody lot of devils and details altogether. Instead, Muhlenberg is working hard on developing awareness of OER as alternatives. I hope to bring you more on our OER revolution in one of next season’s blog posts!

2. Zoom

When I went online for the tail end of the Fall ‘21 semester and the first part of the Spring ‘22 semester (long story), I opted for Discord instead of Zoom. This was thanks to sara madoka currie’s Twitter thread and generous sharing of her knowledge and experience. Here’s the onboarding document I modified to get set-up. Sharing is caring!

Turns out Discord is more accessible, and I am not entirely sure about Zoom’s privacy policy: they seem to be another very data-hungry caterpillar; their track-record follows the well-established pattern of collecting everything until it gets noticed, then changing things. I’m also no fan of companies that follow directives from Beijing because of $$$ concerns.

Again: I may tell you more about my experience in the next season if I can figure out how to turn it into a useful blog post.

3. Proctoring software

Shoutout to whoever set up a geofence or other forcefield around the college so it’s been successfully kept off campus! Long may it continue! Online proctoring software is XXXXXX –> {edited to keep things publishable and family-friendly}

For anybody who wonders what on earth I refer to, please check out

  • the story of Ian Linkletter who’s fighting an endless courtcase with Proctorio, and Erik Johnson, whose twitter thread of criticism the company couldn’t handle (both mentioned in the one linked article)
  • @procteario, the twitter account which collects and retweets students’ encounters with Proctorio. Clearly the software makes you feel less than human. (I’m sure the same goes for other online live proctoring software).
  • if you think the students are exaggerating, please check out Dr. Katie Linder’s description of her having to use proctoring software, in Episode 216 of You’ve Got This (or listen to the episode) She’s a very successful academic and administrator and rightly confident in her abilities, and yet she came to the conclusion: “After this experience, I will never give students a live proctored exam experience.” ‘nuff said.

I hope I never have to bring you more on this in a future blog post because proctoring software has been burned to the ground (figuratively, of course).

Elmo stands with his hands raised, triumphantly, in front of big fiery flames.
The story goes that dad as a five-year old kept saying “school should burn down” and now I think he was a visionary.

4. The LMS

I only just wrote about this last week, and if you prefer a short version with GIFs, check out my twitter presentation for #PressEdConf22. Concerns about what happens to our students’ data collected through Canvas drove me to write a blog post already in 2019 about big data in higher ed from my view in the trenches (whence all my blog posts come).

I’m happy to write more next season about other aspects how to move toward an “#elemess-free” or “low-#elemess” lifestyle, if you find that useful.

5. Plagiarism-detection software

Honestly. I can spot that something is copied from another text in freaking classical Chinese (from 1300 years ago) because that’s what I am trained to do. They don’t hand out those Ph.D.s for nothing.

In other words: no need to pay for this kind of software, feed it our students’ labour (essays we upload) so it will actually work, and then pay for the new and improved version their/our labour made possible. It also coped badly with rewrites, when I used it in a long and distant past at a different institution and decided to ditch it there and then: it did not solve my problems.

Since moving to more creative assignments, students tell me they wouldn’t know how to plagiarize those in the first place, and they don’t feel the need either. The research process with all its pitfalls and dead ends is something they can write about in their weekly updates: we need to normalize non-results as OK (“that book didn’t help”; “I can’t find anything on this topic”; “Everything I look for leads me to Chinese sources I can’t read” is all useful to a future student who may want to go down the same path!)

People to follow!

Because I am fighting in the trenches as an assistant prof with a 3-3 teaching load, I don’t have much time to read in depth on privacy, surveillance and big data and tech in higher ed. Bless the folks with higher teaching load and a more precarious position who are in a worse time crunch yet still fighting the good fight!

I rely on a few people who continously warn us about these issues, and have over the years made these issues their beat, or somehow magically found the time to keep up to date and sound the alarm.

The three aliens from toy story walk up to Mr Potato Head and present him with a gift, while they bow. Mr Potato Head looks a bit embarrassed. Text "You have saved our lives. We are eternally grateful"
Thanks for all you do, folks!

Here are a few good folks to follow if you’re new on this journey, and whom I want to thank publicly for their service to the cause:

  • Jade Davis, my instructor for the Digital Literacies Track at Digital Pedagogy Lab 2018 who first brought my attention the implications of privacy and data collection in education, and taught some of the basics to protect me and my students.
  • Chris Gilliard and Bill Fitzgerald, who led the Privacy Track and took over our track one day and made me never want to use the internet ever again. (Hey, still here! Still on twitter!)
  • Laura Gibbs, who tirelessly shared updates on Instructure/Canvas and whose reading notes on Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism now have me reading the book myself.
  • Lora Taub, our very own Dean of Digital Learning here at Muhlenberg, who never stops advocating for our students’ right to explore without the fear of being turned into another datapoint
  • Audrey Watters, self-professed Cassandra of higher-ed. Remember: Cassandra was right.

There are many more, but if you follow the work of these fine people you’ll plug into the network of educators and researchers who want students to be free from surveillance harm. And that sounds just about right to me!

About this blog series

This post is part of a series explaining the digital tools I use for teaching courses online, face-to-face, and mask-to-mask.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you did, please explore the others in the series. The series will return after the summer with new content, so sign up for new post alerts in the sidebar, under the Growth Mindset Cats 😀, or add the blog to your RSS reader, so you don’t miss the first post of the next season!

Leave a comment with questions and requests for other similar content. Thank you! 😽

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