Education, Dark Reboot

While we laud the promise and possibility of digital technologies to smash boundaries preventing access, equity, and ease, we often forget that some boundaries became boundaries for good reason. In addition to providing greater access to cultural archives and texts, creating a greater potential for equity amongst historically disadvantaged peoples, and offering new ease of engagement for student learning, digital processes also exacerbate problems including racism, privacy, expertise, and corporate structures that threaten the core goals of education and established expertise. This panel will look to the dark side of digital humanities (broadly construed) to engage in a critical digital pedagogy. In turn, the panelists will examine discussions around digital education in ways that both highlight sacred boundaries that may be threatened or identify boundaries–even those we may value–that are slated for demolition.

“I Learned it by Watching You”: The (Rhetorical) Education of Tay AI

Writing practices of imitation and repetition are a staples of Western rhetorical education, and their significance continues within digital education. Drawing connections between rhetorical exercises and machine learning, Jim Brown argues that “rhetoric is a collection of machines for generating and interpreting arguments. . . . It is mechanical, operating by certain logics, taking inputs and generating outputs.” If rhetorical education is a series of algorithms, then an exemplary case of machinic, rhetorical learning is Microsoft’s Tay--an artificial intelligence chatbot. On March 23, 2016, Tay was introduced on Twitter and learned through a series responsive interactions with other users, most notably trolls. Within hours Tay was taken offline for producing a deluge of abusive tweets. Rather than deem Tay as an anomaly, this presentation considers her as the model student who foregrounds the ethical challenges of rhetorical practice and education through social media. Taken as exemplar, Tay asks us to reconsider how the student writes and is written in our current digital culture.

Matt Breece (University of Texas at Austin)

Resisting the Permanent Record: Blockchain Technology in Education

The blockchain-- famous for its use as the underlying database for bitcoin--has been posed as a solution for everything from secure banking to supply chain management to, now, online education. Game designer Jane McGonigal’s education project--Learning is Earning 2026--proposes a concept where education is accumulated on a ledger. Enabled by the blockchain, this educational model would host a complete record of everything you’ve ever learned, everyone you’ve learned from, and everyone who’s learned from you. But while the blockchain is increasingly heralded as a catch-all solution for security via decentralization, it does not garner enough scrutiny as it should. When it comes to education, what are some of the benefits and limitations of remembering “everything”? Could the forward-thinking problems that proponents suggest blockchain would solve only begin to create larger issues? One such issue might be a complete overhaul of FERPA legislation, which already neglects to address systems of technology that store records. Conceptual arguments about the use of blockchain technology in education should address these larger questions concerning privacy, authority, expertise, and ethics.

Sarah Welsh (University of Texas at Austin)

Tweeting Zebras: Social Media as Public Education for Rarely-Diagnosed Conditions

Much rhetorical attention to medicine and patient care has come in the form of investigating who designates, diagnoses and gives substance to the idea of illness and disease, and how those diagnoses and treatments come to be within the current medical system. Often, these studies reveal the way diagnostic processes reflect and magnify disenfranchisement for patients from otherwise-marginalized groups. Allied scholars in disability studies have further noted the way that patients from marginalized groups and advocacy organizations have used social media to educate themselves and the general public. Yet, patients whose conditions themselves are marginal—self identified “zebras”—have utilized social media to educating the public, others who share their conditions or diagnoses, and even physicians about their conditions deserve more attention. My presentation will look at the interaction of four social media accounts--three individuals and one organization--who have, through communicating with and promoting one another, worked to educate themselves and their readers about their diagnoses, while simultaneously making arguing their conditions are related.

Tristin Hooker (University of Texas at Austin)

Just-In-Time Curricula: Credit-Hours, Competencies, and/or Care?

In 2013, The U.S. Department of Education stipulated that federal student financial aid can be spent not only on “credit hours”, the standard measurement of achievement in higher education, but on “competencies.” These moves away from “seat-time” (as well as traditional instructors) intensify concerns about education in a digital age, many of which Bernard Stiegler identified in Taking Care of Youth and the Generations (2010). For Stiegler, digital networks/entertainment industries circumvent long-established material networks of education. The changes demonstrate that higher education is adopting more corporation logic for a “just-in-time” production model that leverages digital networks to solve assumed “brick-and-mortar” problems. Rather than uphold the boundaries and resist these changes, in what ways might higher education institutions leverage the tensions enacted by competing physical networks alongside emerging practices of instant digital education? In response, my presentation attempts to affirmatively engage our “problem” by examining the contours of an emerging “just-in-time curricula” whose goal would not be to smash boundaries but to work with/against them through a new approach to digital education.

Casey Boyle (University of Texas at Austin)