FemTechNet Beginnings in New York

During the week-long inaugural Feminist Technology Network (FemTechNet, FTN) Summer Workshop in mid-July 2013, the primary activated nodes in the networked feminist collective were located in Los Angeles (at the home of Alex Juhasz) and New York City (at Macaulay Honors College). The workshop was part of a series of ongoing conversations about FemTechNet that had been unfolding on several different platforms — in email threads, as well as through in-person and virtual meetings — over the previous fifteen months. Uniquely this was the collective’s largest experiment in connecting instructors synchronously in time, across geography, to co-work and prepare for the first official semester of FemTechNet’s key project, the DOCC (distributed open collaborative course). In addition to the nodes in Los Angeles and New York City during the 2013 summer workshop, at-large participants joined virtually from their homes, offices, wherever. All joined together for committee meetings throughout the week as committee configurations and location bases emerged by need in sessions. The Commons / Tech and Communication Committees became the focuses for New York participants; while Pedagogy, Video and the White Paper Committees were based in Los Angeles.

While the formation for what is now called SCRAM (Situated Critical Race and Media) did not begin until the 2014 FTN Summer Workshop, the need was already present. Just the weekend before the workshop started on July 15, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Nationwide protests proceeded, but little mention of the incident was made during the FemTechNet workshop itself. The network’s struggle to address pressing contemporary issues relevant to womanism, Black feminism, and intersectional feminism continue to recur.

Also present on this workshop was a platform. In the video screenshot affiliated with this post, CUNY faculty and FemTechNet member Lisa Brundage demonstrates the basics of using FemTechNet’s beta use of the platform Commons in a Box. Commons In A Box is a project of the City University of New York and the Graduate Center, CUNY. It is the platform that FemTechNet used from around FemTechNet’s launch (in summer of 2013) until about October 2014.

 

“Looking California, Feeling Minnesota”*

This is a story about how to find your people.

We are SCRAM, the Situated Critical Race and Media group. This is my part of the story.

During a tenure-track research leave in 2015, I applied to participate in the Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop, hosted by HASTAC. I was working on a grant proposal for my university’s interdisciplinary research center, and wanted some feedback. I’d already been waitlisted for the award once, and wanted to win it the second time around. The award would have allowed me to be at home in Minneapolis full-time, and that was really important to me, then and now.

FSDW’s format included a peer review group, and it’s there that I met Anne Cong-Huyen through the screen. She read my proposal, gave me great feedback, and invited me to FemTechNet’s conference in Los Angeles that same summer. Academically, I was really, really lonely. Anne’s warm invitation was just what I needed.

Because I’d lived in LA before moving to Minneapolis, I was more than happy to return, and I met Anne and others who were working on a Scalar project called the FemTechNet Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Pedagogy Workbook. I joined the project and never looked back, meeting other members of SCRAM in the process.

The following spring, FemTechNet hosted a conference in Ann Arbor called Signal/Noise, and I made the image attached to this post during one of the conference’s maker sessions with Veronica Paredes and Hong-An Wu. I also saw Kristy H.A. Kang present her inspirational “Seoul of LA” project, and had already started thinking about ways to hang out with these amazing people on a regular basis, not just in our screens.

Our CRES (Critical Race and Ethnic Studies) group was now meeting bi-weekly and documenting as many of our thoughts, plans, and processes as possible. We knew we wanted to spend time building together, so the first years of our current configuration were heavily invested in grant-writing and supporting each other along our career and personal journeys. We were meeting up at conferences when we could, sharing the resources that we had, and asking ourselves a lot of questions about what it means to be who we are in academia, while we were busy being who we are in academia.

We were learning by listening to each other, breaking stuff, and watching our peers, fans, and scholarly elders. Alex Agloro coined the term “Hang-based Pedagogy” and we ran with it. In practice, this term has meant that we’ve worked with FemTechNet colleagues to organize a network gathering every year at the Allied Media Conference, where we tell versions of our multiverse origin story at the same time that we’re living it; that we’ve made an art out of screen capping chat sessions, where the most important points are in the gaps between posts; that we’ve hacked funding mechanisms so we can maximize our gifts to each other and our workplaces, where we return, refreshed, after time spent researching together.

My part of this story is certainly about locating people, but also about contextualizing how and why and when you find them. It matters.

*RIP Chris Cornell. Ups to all the CA/MN BIPOC Gen-Xers who know the song by heart.

Our Origin Story at WPI

The very first step in building Media Map was through a Teaching Innovation Grant at Worcester Polytechnic Institute where Alexandrina Agloro was faculty in 2016-2017. One of the grant’s calls was to work on a project related to race and games, which is one of the first themes we developed. SCRAM (then known as CRES: Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Committee) was in discussions about our commitments to Ethnic Studies and our commitments to relevant education in the communities where we lived and worked. First, we wanted to build upon concepts and methods in FemTechNet’s Distributed Online Collaborative Course (DOCC). The DOCC is a feminist alternative to the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) course format, and features collaborative synchronous and asynchronous content delivery through online classroom nodes taught by participating instructors. The DOCC provided a horizontal network for connecting instructors and engaging learners in multiple locations, while a MOOC depends on brand name institutions or third-party companies to implement a one-to-many vertical delivery model.

While the DOCC was a semester-long course that provides a survey of topics more generally related to feminist technology, Media Map focuses on the creation of flexible plug-and-play content packages that can be utilized in a greater variety of class settings. From university courses to community education, these modules will provide easier access to scaled programming. We built this model to be inclusive of educators who teach at universities, community centers, and teen after school/summer programs and who understand the need to create learning modules that could be applied outside a semester system. Additionally, our explicit thematic focus is at the intersections of race and technology, emphasizing the connections between underrepresented groups’ access to technology and relevant content delivery methods that respond to intersectional challenges.

We worked across the 2016-2017 year to figure out the content delivery platform, Media Map’s themes, and bring in relevant comrades and stakeholders into this project.

From The Seoul of Los Angeles to Singapore

In 2017 Kristy H.A. Kang was awarded an EdeX Grant from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.  Adapting the design for her online cultural history on Koreatown in Los Angeles – “The Seoul of Los Angeles: Contested Identities and Transnationalism in Immigrant Space” – this grant was used to  create an online collaborative platform for critical making and mapping in the classroom.  This became the basis for this online platform Media Map.

The aim of this project is to create an online collaborative database and mapping platform for students and faculty that can be used as a pedagogical tool for making and mapping of visual media (video, archival images, historical data, research and text). The outcome of this project would be to enhance course material development – to create a tool that would facilitate the process of sharing and creating research of online resources and to practice in creating audio-visual responses to the materials in a collaborative, interdisciplinary setting.

The platform would be utilized in distributed classrooms to share resources and student works among collaborating faculty who are part of Situated Critical Race and Media (SCRAM) – a D.I.O. (Do It Ourselves) race and social justice network of feminist organizers, educators, artists, activists, and scholars working on technology, justice, transformation, digital media praxis and theory.

 

FemTechNet @ U of Michigan

Femtechnet hosted its first conference April 8-10, 2016 at the University of Michigan “Signal/Noise“.  FemTechNet is an activated network of hundreds of scholars, students, and artists who work on, with, and at the borders of technology, science, and feminism in a variety of fields including Science and Technology Studies (STS), Media and Visual Studies, Art, Women’s, Queer, and Ethnic Studies. Launched in 2012, the network has developed and experimented with collaborative processes to address the educational needs of students interested in feminist science-technology studies. One of the FemTechNet projects is the creation of an alternative to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) called a DOCC: Distributed Open Collaborative Course.

In a workshop on mapping, Karen Keifer-Boyd begins with a discussion of feminist principles and practices of mapping and cartography from interacting with several examples, including FTN DOCC mapping projects. Two researchers, Kristy H.A. Kang at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Almudena Escribá Maroto, Universidad de Valencia, Spain, present how they use mapping to visualize overlooked histories of ethnic communities and how they claim space in the city, the relationships between politics of location and knowledge in terms of accountability/responsibility, the body, and ideological landmarks.

The interest in Kristy H.A. Kang’s presentation of her online cultural history “The Seoul of Los Angeles: Contexted Identities and Transnationalism in Immigrant Space”  became the design inspiration and model for the NTU EdeX Grant awarded to Kang in 2017 to create this current collaoborative platform MediaMap. Co-PI’s on the grant include members of the SCRAM collective.

NTU and TNS: Global Cultures and Difference in Media Art

In 2014, Veronica Paredes and Kristy H.A. Kang designed and taught a course called “Global Cultures and Difference in Media Art” between Singapore and New York. This course explores media art intersectionally situated between nations, languages, cultures, genders, and ethnicities. This multi-nodal course is designed to be an alternative to the conventional university seminar and was taught simultaneously and collaboratively between two locations and schools: NTU-ADM and The New School’s School of Media Studies in New York.

Throughout the term, students from Singapore and New York developed creative dialogues and exercises to collectively create artworks, which became part of an online database and archive of class materials, group projects and discussions which can be viewed here – http://oss2014.adm.ntu.edu.sg/dm2011.1.html.

This course created an opportunity to reflect on how local or regional media artists and collectives in Singapore and New York respond to and challenge theoretical concepts of “difference,” while shaping multiple understandings of place and identity.

“Playing” Minecraft

Module Description

This Minecraft module focuses on dissecting and reimagining the popular video Minecraft. Through prompting players to look closer at the design and mechanisms of the game, the aim of this module is to render the game designers’ assumptions and intentions visible. In doing so, players and participants of this module are encouraged to critique the inherent ideological message of the game and imagine modifications to the original game that could provide alternative gaming trajectories to occur.

Module Objective

  • Students will understand how to play Minecraft.
  • Students will critique the assumptions about players embedded in the design of Minecraft and the exclusive practices that results from this design.
  • Students will modify Minecraft through reimagining the game content that creates alternative gameplay possibilities.

Multimedia Component (podcast, game download, map, etc)

Related Readings

  • Bulut, E. (2013). Seeing and playing as labor: Toward a visual materialist pedagogy of video games through Walter Benjamin. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 35(5), 408-425.
  • Wu, H. (2016). Video game prosumers: Case study of a Minecraft affinity space. Visual Arts Research. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Discussion Questions

 

  • Playing to Understand

 

    • What are the ways that you can interact with the game environment? What kind of controls/commands were you able to discover? And how did you figure out these different ways of interacting with the game? After watching the video, what did you discover in terms of interacting with the game that you did not know/figure out before?
    • What do you think are the goal of Minecraft? If you were the designer of this game, what do you think your intentions were when you created this game? What items, characters, and landscape did you discover? Based on these discovery, what would you say is the “theme” of Minecraft?
    • What did you notice about your emotional and intellectual state during this exploratory play? Were you upset, frustrated, challenged, or curious? And what were the specific in-game situations that led up to these particular responses?

 

  • Playing for Critique

 

    • Were there any differences between you and your co-researchers in learning to play Minecraft? If so, what were those differences? And what are some imaginable causes to those different approaches?
    • What would you say are the prerequisites to being able play Minecraft and play it well? What are some player qualities that would enable a more enjoyable and smooth Minecraft play experience? Who do you think are the intended audience for Minecraft?
    • On the flip side, who do you think Minecraft was NOT designed for? What are some player qualities that may have hindered the process of playing Minecraft? Can you identify any specific instances in Minecraft that proves exclusivity and inaccessibility to a particular demographic population?

 

  • Playing as Modifying

 

    • What kinds of players are perceived to be discouraged or excluded from Minecraft?
    • How does the original intended Minecraft gameplay exclude this kind of player?
    • What are the suggested changes that could remedy this exclusive practice?
    • What have you done to implement these changes? (Optional)

Assignment/Activity

 

  • Playing to Understand

 

First, we will play Minecraft! Go ahead and download Minecraft, log in using our account or use your own if you have one, and play for 30 minutes in both Survival and Creative Mode. Please watch this video DURING or AFTER your exploratory play in Minecraft, especially if you’ve never played Minecraft or any other video games before. The video provides a bit more context for your play, but please try to explore first on your own as your initial reaction is critical in this module for further dissection. In each of the game modes, please interact with the environment to the best of your ability; explore in whichever direction that intrigue you and take notes about any observations you’ve had during this initial interaction.

After an hour of play, please consider the following questions:

  • What are the ways that you can interact with the game environment? What kind of controls/commands were you able to discover? And how did you figure out these different ways of interacting with the game? After watching the video, what did you discover in terms of interacting with the game that you did not know/figure out before?
  • What do you think are the goal of Minecraft? If you were the designer of this game, what do you think your intentions were when you created this game? What items, characters, and landscape did you discover? Based on these discovery, what would you say is the “theme” of Minecraft?
  • What did you notice about your emotional and intellectual state during this exploratory play? Were you upset, frustrated, challenged, or curious? And what were the specific in-game situations that led up to these particular responses?

 

  • Playing for Critique

 

For this activity, you will need to identify 2 co-researchers, may it be friends or family members, that share one or more demographic attributes, such as gender, race, age, class, and national etc., that are different from you and ask them to spend an hour playing and critiquing Minecraft with you. After you’ve identified your co-researchers, provide them with the prompt that was given to you during the first activity. During their play, you may discuss with your co-researchers about any questions or concerns that may have arisen, and you should take notes about any differences that you’ve noticed about their play approach that differed from your own.

After your co-researchers are done with their play exploration, discuss the following questions:

  • Were there any differences between you and your co-researchers in learning to play Minecraft? If so, what were those differences? And what are some imaginable causes to those different approaches?
  • What are some assumptions about the player that Minecraft designers presumed? What would you say are the prerequisites to being able play Minecraft and play it well? What are some player qualities that would enable a more enjoyable and smooth Minecraft play experience? Who do you think are the intended audience for Minecraft?
  • On the flip side, who do you think Minecraft was NOT designed for? What are some player qualities that may have hindered the process of playing Minecraft? Can you identify any specific instances in Minecraft that proves exclusivity and inaccessibility to a particular demographic population?

 

  • Playing as Modifying

 

In this last activity, we will try to embody play through the act of modifying that extends beyond the Minecraft program itself. Given the conclusion that you’ve reached in the last activity, you now should have a concrete critique about the ways that original Minecraft play could exclude or discourage players with certain qualities. Your task now is to imagine and maybe implement some modifications to Minecraft that could make Minecraft play more friendly and hospitable for these specific player populations, and share these modifications with others.

To do so, first identify the specific game content that you would like to reimagine, which includes in-game graphical representations, rules, player reward system, controls and commands etc.. Next, brainstorm what elements about these game content that could be changed to create an alternative play experience that would better support the excluded or discourage player you have identified. Create a list of suggestions that details the critique of the original game in correspondence to your reimagined game content based on this brainstorming session; try to answer these following question in this list of suggestions:

  • What kinds of players are perceived to be discouraged or excluded from Minecraft?
  • How does the original intended Minecraft gameplay exclude this kind of player?
  • What are the suggested changes that could remedy such problem?

Next, proceed to implementing these changes should you have the means to do so. Specifically for those whose critique lies in the graphical representational realm, please consider utilizing Skindex or Nova Skin Resource Pack Editor to create customized avatar skins or edit the texture of every single item seen in the game. However, this step is optional as not all participants of this module would have the time or technological capabilities to execute the imagined changes.

Last, please share your list of suggestions and the optional execution of these suggestions with others. You can consider posting it to r/Minecraft on Reddit, sharing on Facebook, editing the Wikipedia entry on Minecraft, or mailing it to Microsoft, who develops and owns Minecraft nowadays. The purpose of this last step is to share your modification ideas with others in ways that could possibly lead to change in the Minecraft status quo.

DJ Lynnee Denise on Organic Intellectualism

Organic Intellectualism: DJ Scholarship, Black Feminism and Erasure Resistance
Podcast Dialogue between DJ Lynnée Denise and Dr. Marla Jaksch

Produced by Sandra Gabriele, Michelle Macklem, and Marla Jaksch
Transcript of this episode can be found at goo.gl/mlHc7g

Recorded at Signal/Noise: A FemTechNet Conference on Pedagogy, Technology, and Transdisciplinarity
April 8th-10th, 2016
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
femtechnet.org/docc/ftn-docc-2016-conference/

Renina Jarmon Interview by Nicole Brown

David Hyun was a 1.5 generation Korean American architect who is best known for designing the Japanese Village Plaza in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Following the success of this project in the early 1980s, Hyun was approached by members of the Korean community to design a similar redevelopment project in Koreatown to be named “Korea City”. Hyun’s son, David K. Hyun is shown here describing the history of his father’s design of Japanese Village and its legacy.