A Collection of Thoughts

Designing Value & Space

The 4-day course that I participated in at Digital Pedagogy Lab was Amy Collier’s Design for Change course, and I chose it with the hope that it would help me find flexibility in the fairly strict course structures that I work with (and, in doing so, help me help others find that same flexibility). Amy’s course seemed like the perfect melding of my interests, work, and what I hoped to gain:

Participants in this course will explore and experiment with ways to bring positive change to educational institutions and to our world by engaging critically with digital tools, spaces, and practices.

We would also come out of the course with a toolkit to help us makes these positive changes, and I particularly liked the idea of having a toolkit as a concrete takeaway from the week. What I gained from the course, however, ended up being so much more than flexibility and a toolkit.

First I want to backtrack, though, and give a brief overview of the course structures in which my faculty and I operate. Part of my job involves working as the administrative assistant for UMW’s FSEM (first-year seminar) program. Our FSEM is tied to our Quality Enhancement Plan (a plan that we have to have and execute in order to be reaccredited), so with that comes all of the requirements of the QEP: learning outcomes, learning modules in Canvas, and the sacrifice of content to make room for skills development. The FSEM has a fairly limiting structure, especially for faculty who see the FSEM more as an opportunity to teach interesting content to students (which, at its inception back in the mid-2000s, was actually what the FSEM was for). Due to the demands of the QEP, many of our FSEM faculty now feel severely limited in what they can teach, and they suffer from FSEM burnout.

The other curricular program that I’m involved in is COPLACDigital. In many ways, it is much freer than the FSEM—it isn’t confined to our LMS, there aren’t modules that students have to complete, and we provide a fairly open space (WordPress multisite) for students and faculty to work in. However, COPLACDigital is grant-funded with very specific parameters, which means there are certain components that every single course must cover—meaning our COPLACDigital faculty also have to make some content sacrifices. Morever, as open as WordPress is (especially compared to an LMS), it still has its limitations. Some of those limitations are inherent, but many of them are ones that we (COPLACDigital) have placed upon it, whether practical, for security, or due to past precedent. So, while our COPLACDigital courses are much less restrictive than UMW’s FSEMs, they still come with limitations that can be difficult for our faculty and students to navigate.

In addition to FSEMs and COPLACDigital courses being restrictive to faculty and students, I myself feel limited by these structures, especially when someone comes to me with an idea that doesn’t fit with the predetermined format. For all of these reasons, I hoped that Amy’s course would help me, my faculty, and our students find freedom and flexibility in what we do.

Looking back, I can definitively say that I found the flexibility I was looking for. More than anything, Amy gave us all space. Space in which to think, to critically reflect, to appreciate (ourselves, our faculty, our students, and each other), to learn, and to develop. We all finally had time—four whole days—to think about how we approach design, and I think this time allowed us to free ourselves from the thought channels that we typically travel. And with that time and reflective space Amy gave us, we found our own space—and for me, with that space came flexibility and freedom.

In these new channels, we found questions and values to guide our design. The ones that resonated with me the most are:

  1. Design as if everyone is indispensable.

This notion of indispensability really struck me in a way that I can’t adequately put words to. In a small group with Lindsay and Cathie, we discussed the notion of indispensability and how it can help break the mold that our institutions and courses are stuck in. It injects an intimate, human element into our curriculum that so often seems missing, and it does away with the monotone buzzwords that we all hear: “student-centered,” “accessible,” etc. In forcing us to see all our of students as indispensable, this notions asks a central question:

2. For whom are we designing?

This question is ongoing, and thus must be constantly addressed. And the answer is always evolving—it is not simply, “our students.” The answer is really a set of more specific questions: Who are our students—who are they really? Are they working moms? First-generation college students? Veterans? Full-time students? What is their race? Religion? Ethnicity? Gender? Sexual orientation? What challenges does each of them face, day in and day out? What makes them who they are? What do they need?

Thinking about the indispensability of whomever we are designing for, whatever they need, seemed to grant everyone (designer, faculty member, student) agency—if we think about what each individual person needs as we design, we can give them so many more opportunities than if we just designed for a generic person or group. And with this recognition of indispensability and the granting of agency, we suddenly empower ourselves and our faculty members and our students. We’re suddenly designing and working in spaces where everyone matters and everyone is valued. Where if one person is taken out of the equation, no matter who that person is, then our space and learning experience is drastically altered.

At the end of Amy’s course, I felt connected to and valued by everyone else in my track—but more importantly, I felt value in myself. Seeing everyone else as indispensable meant that I could see myself that way as well—an invaluable part of the design process, and someone with the power and ability to help faculty and students find their own agency. Looking back, I think Amy wonderfully modeled what she was hoping we could all do after DPL. She was our leader, and she asked difficult questions of us. She gave us general guidelines, a flexible structure within which to work, and here and there she shared her own operating principles with us. But overall, she let us guide the track and determine what would be most useful for us. She treated each of us as if we were indispensable, and in so doing, she gave us the ability to see ourselves, our faculty, and our students that way as well.

Tools & Critical Examination

This past week I had the wonderful privilege of being part of Digital Pedagogy Lab at UMW. It was an amazing experience, and in this post I hope to capture some of what I experienced during my first day at DPL.

I chose Tools & Tool Hacking as my 1-day course to begin DPL, and I went in with hopes of being introduced to new digital tools that could be used for a variety of projects and/or purposes. The course began with a virtual “tool parade,” during which Jesse and Chris threw dozens of tools at us in about 1.5 (or so) hours. To my pleasant surprise, I was familiar with almost all of the tools that Jesse and Chris introduced, with the exception of a couple Mac-only applications. It was a humbling moment, to say the least, and it made me realize how my education at UMW and my current job have allowed me to stay abreast of many different digital tools (though I am by no means an expert at using a majority of them).

The second part of the course was by far the most useful for me, and it’s led me to think much more deeply about the tools that I use and the tools that I endorse for COPLACDigital. During this part of the course, Jesse and Chris grouped us together and gave us tools to compare, along with a list of critical questions to help us evaluate and compare the two tools. The questions that Jesse and Chris gave us prompted me to truly pause and think about each tool—and with that pause and consideration came deep exploration, as well as connections to other areas of my professional life.

These are the questions that Jesse and Chris asked us to think about as we compared tools:

  1. What assumptions does the tool make about its users? What kind of relationships does it set up between teachers / students? School / the world? Humans / technology?
  2. What assumptions does the tool make about learning and education? Does the tool attempt to dictate how our learning and teaching happen? How is this reflected in specific design and/or marketing choices?
  3. What data must we provide in order to use the tool (login, e-mail, birthdate, etc.)? What flexibility do we have to be anonymous? Who owns the data? Will others be able to use/copy/own our work there?
  4. In an educational context, how could the tool be used in a way that puts the learning into student’s hands? Does the tool leave students agency or choice in how they use it? Does the tool offer a way that “learning can most deeply and intimately begin”?

Out of all of these questions, the first one stuck with me the most: What assumptions does the tool make about its users? Which then led me to wonder: What assumptions does the tool make about the internet? The nature of interaction online? Ownership online, especially of content that we ourselves have created?

The tools that my group addressed were Medium and WordPress, but here I’d like to explore a different tool: It’s a tool that allows users to annotate textual content online, and one that I myself love using and love to see “in action.” It’s also one that we frequently recommend to UMW and COPLACDigital faculty—but I’ve always made these recommendations without peeling back layers and asking probing questions. offers interesting, and at times problematic, answers to the above questions.

What assumptions does the tool make about its users? — First and foremost, assumes that its users want to annotate content online, in a digital space. It assumes that for the most part, users want to make their annotations public (the default setting), but it does recognize that users may want to annotate semi-privately (in closed groups) or privately (“only me”). The default setting could be problematic, especially for users who don’t fully understand what it means to be making a public annotation or that that’s what was created for. It can also present barriers to students who don’t feel comfortable or confident in making public annotations, especially if those annotations are meant to be part of a graded assignment.

What assumptions does the tool make about the internet and the nature of interaction online? — This question stemmed from my first answer: assumes that its users want to annotate content online, in a digital space—and that this kind of space and interaction was previously missing from the internet. To me, it’s assuming that the internet was lacking a collaborative spirit, lacking a place where users, and in particular the general public, could offer their own comments and feedback on things. It was, instead, a place for the consumption of content, but not for the critical processing of it. It was, in essence, walled off, devoid of meaningful contact, and undemocratic. I’ve been lucky (and no doubt, much of that “luck” is due to my white, heteronormative privilege) in that I’ve rarely experienced a space like that online (with the exception of journal databases). Most places I’ve been, particularly in the past (before existed) have been full of meaningful interaction, open to thoughts and critique, and welcoming to seemingly everyone.1 It was not, admittedly, as open as makes things, where you can annotate any text that you want, but it still felt like a place where at least I was always free and welcome to participate.

What assumptions does the tool make about the nature of content and ownership online? — This question draws the most problematic answers out of because the tool makes, in my opinion, extremely inaccurate assumptions. It assumes that any publicly accessible textual content on the internet is there for anyone to annotate freely, and it assumes that anything published online is there for public, digital deconstruction and annotation. It blows open the ownership and control of content online because suddenly, owners cannot dictate how or who interacts with their content. This situation may not always be problematic or undesirable, but not everyone publishing online is putting their work out in order for it to be publicly and digitally annotated. assumes consent without ever asking for (or even considering) it.2 While it gives users agency to engage with content in a new, digital, and highly collaborative way (which can be very valuable for students), it detracts from the owners’ agency and can potentially put them at risk. It can add labor for the content owners, and it’s likely that the more underprivileged owners will face more of the added labor. I’ll speak from my position of relative privilege, but as a woman—what if I suddenly discovered sexist, misogynistic, and/or inappropriate annotations on my blog posts? Do I then need to spend time and effort to moderate these comments? Even if I don’t myself have to moderate, I will have to spend the time and energy flagging each of the comments for the moderators. And then, of course, there’s the emotional labor involved with this situation, too.

In this light, is not the “neutral” tool that I originally thought it was. While I will still use it and suggest it as a tool to use, I hope to use these opportunities as entry points to discussing ownership of content online and permissions to use content. I also see this as a potential opportunity to discuss the risks that we can be opening our students up to by having them work and publish in public spaces online—even more so if we are asking them to do this work without giving them options to protect their identities online, especially for our students of minority populations.

Asking these questions of digital tools also got me thinking about other “tools” in my current and desired career fields, especially those that are commonly assumed to be neutral. In this section of my post, the tool I’ll be considering is general: Archives.

While not something that we might immediately think of as a tool, archives are invaluable tools for research and the preservation of history and memory. But as with digital tools, archives are far from neutral. Most of my students (I say this loosely since I’m not actually a professor) are always very surprised when I tell them that archives aren’t neutral—they think archives are just dusty places where people, organizations, etc. store records and artifacts. To most of my students, archives somehow seem detached from the people and organizations that run (and influence) them, and they seem to exist in a present, anachronistic space that history could not and still cannot penetrate.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to have deeper conversations with students about archives (for several different reasons), but I see the above tool questions as a great entry point into shaping students’ views of archives. Even just the initial question in a shortened version: What assumptions does the archive make?

First and foremost, the particular archive assumes that whatever it is preserving needs to be preserved. What they are holding is not merely ephemeral, but it is important, and it is important enough to save. That someone, someday, for some reason, will want to use the archive.

This simple answer—that something is important enough to be preserved—prompts so many more questions that I think would help students see archives as anything but neutral, and to critically evaluate them.

  • Who began the archive (or particular archival collection)? If an organization began it, who within the organization?
    • What more do we know about them? Sex? Gender? Orientation? Race? Religion? Political activism and alignment?
    • Why did they think that  these items, or the subject, event, time period, etc. that these items share, were so important as to save and preserve them?
  • Who runs the archive now? How has leadership changed since the archive’s inception?
    • How are these people different from (and similar to) the people who created the archive? How have those similarities and differences shaped the archive and its collections?
  • What kinds of items does the archive accept?
    • What items does it not accept?
    • What does this selectivity reveal about the archive?
  • What are some of the archive’s newest collections or acquisitions?
    • How do these fit with the rest of the archive’s collections?
    • Do these new items seem to reflect the sentiments of any current sociopolitical movements or otherwise current attitudes?
  • Does the archive have any exhibits?
    • If so, what have they selected to exhibit? What does this selection reveal about the archive?
  • What historical and contemporary events and movements surround the archive’s existence?
    • How could these events and movements have influenced the archive, from inception to current day?
  • What is the stated mission of the archive (or the mission of the organization of which the archive is part)?
  • Are the archives open to researchers?
  • What (or who) is the main funding source for the archive?
    • How might this funding source shape the archive and its collections?

I’m sure there are many more questions that could be added to this list; if you have ideas, feel free to drop them in the Comments section.


† Please note that I’m answering this question through my eyes, which are limited by my own experiences, and even more so by my white, heternormative privilege (even though at the time, I wasn’t aware that I had that privilege). By this I mean that until a few years ago, I never felt prohibited from participating in anything online that I wanted to participate in. Doors were always open for me (or they seemed ajar enough), so I entered.

  1. I say “seemingly” everyone because in the past, I was not nearly as aware of all of the diversity of people and what kind of systemic, encoded barriers to entry they faced, especially online.
  2. You have my permission to annotate this post using However, I do not plan to check the annotations.

Toxic Value(s)

DISCLAIMER: I do not mean this piece to be a critique of my direct supervisors, all of whom are absolutely wonderful and are helping me work through the systemic problems related to working as support staff in a state institution. I work with amazing individuals. I write this piece as an emotional, raw critique of systemic inequalities and issues that result from the policies in place in public, state institutions of higher education that continually disadvantage me and others in a position similar to mine. The fact that I even feel obligated to include this disclaimer shows the truly bifurcated nature of higher education—freedom to speak out is reserved only for the few. Nevertheless, this issue is too important to remain silent about, and I am working in avenues other than my blog to address these problems. To change the system, we must first critique the system.

“It must be such a privelege to work at your alma mater.”

I get this a lot. It used to feel like a privlege, but more frequently now it feels like poison.

What is value? According to Google’s dictionary function, value is:

  1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
    • the material or monetary worth of something
    • the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it.

Value sounds important—it sounds good. How can values be toxic? Or how can the value of a person, or what you hold to be valuable, be toxic?

It’s toxic to work in a place where you need to “prove” your value. To work in a place where you are not valued, where you cannot be properly and fairly compensated due to the short-term nature of your work—where short-term work is not valued.

It’s toxic to work in place where you are constantly told just how valuable you are, yet the simple “price” that you ask for—a living salary—cannot and will not be honored. It’s toxic to work in a place where, without debt, and with only rent and a credit card to pay every month, you still cannot afford to live where your job demands that you work.

It’s toxic to work in a place where the people who shoulder the burdens of the institution, who do all of the leg work, and who are not properly compensated for it are required to manually log their hours, day in and day out. Where they are not trusted to do they work they are being (poorly) paid to do. Where they are told that if they improperly log their hours, they are stealing money from the institution. It’s even more toxic to work in a place where the administrators are overcompensated for having big ideas that they then delegate to (read: shove upon) their peons so they can then spend most of the work day—if they come to work—only pondering what frivolous items they are going to spend a limited state budget on.

It’s toxic to work in a place where you are overworked and underpaid—where you are not valued. To work in a place that seems to value people who do not work. People who consistently come to work at least two hours late and leave at the same time as (or even before) everyone else. The privileged people who have no real appreciation for the luxury of earning a living salary. It’s toxic to work in a place where not working—and spending work time seeking other jobs—is rewarded with counteroffers. Where you can be paid, and receive a raise, for not working. Where the people who do work day in and day out, who are overloaded with work, with no time or mental space to seek other jobs, cannot receive a raise. Because apparently it is more valuable to not work and spend your work time searching for the perfect counteroffer.

It’s toxic to work in a place that doesn’t value mental and emotional work and capital. Because it takes mental and emotional capital to apply for new jobs, but when you are already overworked, you don’t have any extra to put toward the job-search-for-counteroffer effort. It’s toxic to work in a place where the people who do have the mental and emotional capital for job searches—who, coincidentally, are the people who are not overworked and already earn more than a living salary, thus freeing up mental space—are rewarded with counteroffers and less work.

It’s toxic to work in a place where your regular workload can double, triple, quadruple, but you aren’t valuable enough to be compensated for it because you are just doing more of the “same” work. It’s not enough to do more. It’s toxic to work in a place where to prove your value, you have to take on different, “higher-order duties,” only to find that even after taking on these duties, you aren’t valuable enough to be properly compensated for the extra, different work.

It’s toxic to work in a place where you are so valued that new tasks, new duties are shoved onto your plate because you can handle it, but when you point out this is more work, different work, higher-order work, you are met with silence. You are met with false equivalencies. It’s toxic to work in a place where, after asking for a raise for this extra work, you come to find that the administration has re-written the duties of your supervisor so that your new, higher-order duties are no longer that. They are no longer outside of your responsibility. They are now your responsibility, and you can no longer justify asking for a raise.

It’s toxic to work in a place where the answer is: “That’s just how it is. It’s a shitty system.”

I know my value, my importance. I am not toxic. My employer, however, is a different story.

ADDENDUM: I want to add that I do really like most parts of my job on most days, which is one of the many contributing factors as to why I haven’t left.

Deconstructing Freedom

Land of the free, because of the brave.

I see this quote going aroud all day on July 4th. So, on this Independence Day, as we get drunk at cookouts, wear American flag clothing items, watch fireworks, and loudly bellow “patriotic” things at each other, I’d like us to more carefully consider what we say and what we celebrate, starting with this quote.

“Land of the Free”

For so many Americans, this land is not free. When you can’t legally marry the person you love, when you can’t go out in public without fear of being killed because of your skin color or your religion, when you can’t be paid equal salary or wages as a male counterpart, when you can’t speak about sexual abuse because you will be blamed, and so many other scenarios, we cannot consider America a “land of the free.” This land is not free for so many people: LGBTQIA+ people, African Americans, Muslims (or people who “look” Muslim, whatever that means), immigrants, women, sexual abuse and rape survivors, Latin Americans, homeless people, people living in poverty, and so many other minorities and underprivileged groups of people. This land is not free for them.

“Because of the Brave”

We are certainly “free” thanks to the many Americans who fight for our freedom–and I in no way mean to belittle the sacrifices that so many Americans have made throughout the decades–but the “brave” are by no means limited to the military and are by no means the only people who have made America a “free” land. Our “freedom” has been built on the backs of enslaved, underprivileged, and minority peoples who are underpaid (or simply not paid, in the case of slaves), undervalued, and underrepresented (to name a few).

For those of us who are lucky enough to confidently say America is a “Land of the free, because of the brave,” think about who you are excluding. How your freedom impacts others and has been built upon disadvantaging others. Be grateful, but think about how you can leverage your freedom and your privilege to help the millions who are not as fortunate as you.

A Day Without A Woman: Power and Choice

Today, International Women’s Day, was also “A Day Without A Woman” for many across the US. Organized by the same group that orchestrated the Women’s March on Washington, the idea of A Day Without A Woman is that this general strike would highlight the significant contributions women make at work and in society and provide another day when women could rally for their rights. I loved the idea of this strike–if we actually had a day without women and every single woman was a no-show, a significant number of people would struggle. So if even a fraction of the female population went on strike, at least another fraction would get a better glimpse at the contributions we make every day to life and to the world.

But in talking with my friends and coworkers, some pieces of the choice to not work, to strike, didn’t sit as well with me as they originally had. The one thing that by far bothers me the most about the strike is that it is, at its core, however unintentional it may be, a classist movement. Some of us, myself included, are privileged enough to work somewhere where we can accrue leave and make the choice to use this leave for A Day Without A Woman (or come to work anyways, as I chose to do). But what about the women who are not so privileged? What about the women who don’t have a choice, and they have to continue going to work so they can support themselves and their families? Being able to take leave–to take a day off of work to strike–is a privilege that not every woman has. And what happens when the women who choose to strike, do? Whose shoulders does that work then fall on? Some of the work may fall on men, but it will also fall on women and non-binary individuals–the more vulnerable minorities. How are we to think of ourselves if, when we strike, we force our burdens onto people less fortunate, less privileged, than ourselves? If a school district closes, as some did, what burden are we then putting on mothers who may or may not be able to take off work or find child care? What work are we making invisible, rather than visible, by striking? By saying that taking off work and staying home (as some women chose to do, rather than go to rallies), are we not making invisible the work of stay-at-home moms? Are we not conflating what they do every with “not working”?

It’s heartening and inspiring to see other women think deeply about these issues, recognizing their privilege and leveraging it to help fight for others who could not strike. To see women recognize the faults of this strike but take leave, knowing that their actions will spark a conversation somewhere. We–women, men, everyone–should absoutely fight and protest against an economic system that has long exploited women’s work and neglected us. But in choosing to fight via strike, we should be careful in thinking about how our actions will affect other women who may not be able to fight in the same way and women who may not be in the traditional workforce. Having privilege and choice is a powerful thing, but we must constantly be thinking about how the choices we make because of our privilege can put undue burdens upon the people for whom we are fighting.

Thank You / Here

Thank you
For assuming the worst of me
For making false accusations

Thank you
For claiming we’re adults but not speaking to me, for shunning me instead,
For being condescending and patronizing

Thank you
For [not] giving me the same chance you gave everyone else
For lying to those who lent you a sympathetic ear

Thank you
For not admitting your own mistakes
For not taking any responsibility for the mess you have helped create
For continually playing the victim while scapegoating me

Thank you
For showing me what our friendship really means to you
For showing me your true colors

So here
You won’t find sympathy or forgiveness–

You will find a smile plastered onto a fragile, cold veneer
With cracks running deep below the surface.

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