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30 January, 1996
Sorry for the late posting. Technical delays and a fucked up sleep schedule kept me from timely posting today.

Here's some raw interview outtakes about my student run web ethics class I finished at 5.30 this morning. Some of this will be turned into a finished piece - you get this serving first.

Date: Wed, 31 Jan 1996 05:24:29 -0500 (EST) From: Justin Hall <>
Subject: Re: Phoenix Article on Student-Run Courses

Jessica -

Thanks for your interest. E-mail or call if you have any other questions.

at the end of this is the unfinished, unfinished, draft, unfinished, thing I'd like to turn into the phoenix editorial. there's probably some juicy tidbits for your piece in there.

it ain't the biggest deal if I can't run my editorial this week, sometime'd be nice. I just figured our pieces would complement each other nicely.

> 1. When did you decide to put together a student-run course?  Who is 
> helping you, if anyone?

I conduct seminars for students to learn how to make web pages. Two hours, bang boom, you're publishing. After week after week of page making tutorials, I wanted to study publishing over the course of a semester.

Ken Gergen is my faculty advisor. If I don't incorporate enough psychology into my course, I won't have to ask him to read over the materials to judge their academic worth with regard to the psychology department (of all disciplines).

basically, he's banged on the syllabus with me a bit, and advised me a little on how to proceed with academic credit. he's quite a busy guy though, so I have gone it primarily alone.

If if is not a credited course, our relationship will be completely informal, based on how much interest he takes, and how much free time he has. If it is credited, he will arbitrate at the end of the semester.

Also Howard Rheingold, an author Ken uses in his class, that I have known for two and some years now. We have a close friendship that involves writing and discussion of these issues, a few of his texts have been incorporated in the syllabus, and he looked it over the prose over chrismas break.

> 2. Briefly describe the objectives of your course.

I find myself between departments, between academics and real world application. Something akin to media studies (evidently difficult at this small a school), with an intensive workshop format; I want students to develop their own online voice in specific focii; informed by existing texts, but formed in their creative crucible.

look on the syllabus for better writing on this question.

> 3. How many students have enrolled for your course?  When does it meet, 
> and where?

Eleven students. Dupont 138, Tuesday, Thursday 8.30am. I picked a bitch of a time on purpose, I want folks who are dedicated, and I want them to be fresh. Yeah you gotta wake up early, yeah you might not get credit. Now that we have that out of the way, you must care about what you're learning. Let's go.

please tell folks they can still get in the course, talk to me, or show up.

> 4. Are the students who sign up getting credit for your course?

(see below)

It has not yet been determined. Ken Gergen is the only prof who has gotten excited about the course. Of course he's psychology, an unlikely department. I believe the Provost needs to put the course in a specific department in order to grant credit. Of course what's exciting about the course is that is transcends, or crisscrosses departments. There's not really an allowance for that

. With Ken, we were talking of incorporating more psych into the class, to have it endorsed for credit by the department, but then he injured himself fairly seriously, and been hard to get ahold of.

I went ahead and started, figuring that folks who were interested would take it whether they were getting credit or not.

I am asking them to do a sizeable amount of work however, a two to three page paper a week, and a few hours of reading for each class, so I would like them to be rewarded officially for their efforts.

But I won't let it stop me from sharing.

Besides, the work they generate, and the quality of discussion I imagine will be its own reward. Judging just by the first day, it will be quite rewarding at that.

It's nice in a way to have the freedom independent of the institution. At the same time, there is simply too much work involved to ask students to do a good job in light of their other course committments.

> 5. If they are, what steps did you have to take to ensure this?  If not, 
> why not?

I found the college stodgy.

To begin with, I could not be trusted to lead a course alone, I had to take on a faculty advisor.

None of the departments I approached immediately became very enthused. I understand my approach is unorthodox, but I recieved little direct feedback on my failings.

I felt as though I was not to be trusted with authority on a subject for which there is no faculty authority here. How could a 20 year old student weild the same power as a PhD holding faculty member?

It seemed ultimately like an ego concern - no one in the computer science department or the english department felt like taking on experimental material, where a student had more experience than faculty.

Thinking of the high quality faculty members in those departments, I hesistate to say that. Perhaps they were too busy.

But isn't a seriously composed student run course a terribly exciting thing? I was astonished at the resistance I met. I was made to feel like I was wasting people's time.

Go get a PhD, and come back to us.

The point is that I want to teach on a subject that doesn't have PhDs. Experientially speaking, I am highly qualified to conduct a course on online expression.

I came up with the course as a way to extend myself to the school as a resource. I have been asked to speak around the country, and write articles for national magazines about publishing on the Internet. I felt like I should be sharing that knowledge with swatties while I'm here.

Heck, I look forward to having my ideas banged on by such intense minds.

(you could cut the above up to make me sound like quite an asshole. Please be generous.)

> 6. What channels did you have to go through to set up your course?  Was 
> the school helpful, or did you have to jump through hoops?

yeah, I think you got it.

I wish there was a way for students to teach courses. Oberlin has a system where you can have up to two transcript credits from student run courses. It encourages a healthy sharing of ideas. Often those subjects on the cutting edge are not yet tenured.

I sense a great resistance to the notion that you could get the same effect from a studied impassioned youth that you could from a wizened faculty member making salary.

I hope they encourage other folks more than they did me. Faculty members said stuff like "this just isn't done. There isn't a system for handling this. I've never had to deal with this. Why do you want to teach a class? Why a full semester? Why do you want to give credit?"

as though the ability to draw up a cojant syllabus and assign meaningful work requires post graduate work. After sitting through five semesters of Swarthmore, I feel pretty qualified to teach a class. The feedback I've gotten to date sez I've done a pretty good job.

I'm glad I'm persistent. I hope my students are too (glad and persistent).

> 7. Why do you feel your course is necessary?

cuz this is fascinating, cuz the liberal arts have to be applied to technology in order to make something human of it all

check the last few paragraphs of below

> 8. Would you encourage other students to set up their own courses?

yes. be perseverant. believe in yourself, in your expertise. defer those areas you do not know, that's what books are for. but have faith in your ability to conduct group thought. Being a student is excellent training for being a teacher.

> 9. If you could, give me the phone extensions or email addresses of a 
> couple students in your course so I could talk to them.

for links to their homepages. (it'd be nice to see that URL in the piece)

Computers are no longer solely the domain of geeks.

I spoke recently to a freshwoman who is just finishing CS10, Great Ideas in Computer Science. Inspired by the cool stuff she found she could do with computers, she wanted to do more work in computer science. The course that sounded fun was Computer Graphics, but prerequisite is knowledge of the C programming language, and she was not prepared to learn a foreign language intermediary to digital visual expression.

The personal computer and graphical user interface revolution means that she doesn't! You don't have to apprentice to the lingolovers, masters of arcane computer dialect, to digitally express yourself.

Folks want to take computer classes that are not so technical; a computers based curriculum that incorporates more of the humanities and social sciences. Studying what we can do with the tool, and what the tool does to us, as opposed to how the tool works.

The course catalog description of Computer Science at Swarthmore begins: "CS is the study of algorithms and the issues involved in implementing them." The Oxford English Dictionary describes algorithms as "A process, or set of rules, usually one expressed in algebraic notation, now used esp. in computing, machine translation and linguistics."

In the Computer Science department at Swarthmore, advanced work in issues is predicated on a deep marinating in increasingly obscure computer vocabulary.

While that may be the basis upon which they function, today, computers involve more than the application of rules. Rich means for personal expression, tools for teaching, systems for socializing that you don't need to speak C++ in order to understand.

Not to disrespect the course offerings of the department, flipping through the catalog promises a fascinating exploration into the way computers have been designed to think.

But if I can publish a daily newsletter to thousands over the Internet, it seems I should be able to discuss the social implications of what I do without having to be able to rewrite the computer software that does it for me.

I proposed to the department that I lead a student study into the ethics of online expression; how the computer communcations medium impacts individual and institutional publishing.

The Computer Science department said it was willing to sponsor my course for half credit if I got another department to go along. More like an english course than a computer science class, they said. The English department turned it down outright - to them, it was largely a computer science class.

Neither saw it fitting within their department, neither had a faculty member willing to extend themselves to endorse my study, to work with me to increase academic viability.

Fortunately I found Ken Gergen, Psychology professor, and coordinator of the Interpretation Theory concentration. His course, Reading Culture, and mine share a few of the same resources, and a similar conviction of the profound impact of computers on ideas of culture, self, and identity.

It is critical that liberal arts schools like Swarthmore take the lead in exploring technology. We have a lot to learn from, and teach about technology. The same questions apply whether you're using a keyboard or a pen; you're still learning to think, and learning to learn. How will we lead a technologically enhanced 21st century life in pursuit of the just and the real in the realm of the virtual?

Consideration of the unspoken voices, the pursuit of the ideal, the exacting intellectual mind of academia will come to the fertile field of CyberSpace after it has been colonized as DisneySpace(tm).

Digital culture and communication will soon come under academic scrutiny. In five or ten years, courses akin to my web ethics class will be the underpining of a concentration in something like humanist technology - preparing students for full, balanced lives as individuals and as responsible citizens in a world vitally infused with technology.

Me, I'm teaching my class regardless. Eleven students showed up the first day, and already folks seem to grasp the rich potential for study we have in this short semester. Even if they don't get credit, if I don't get credit or otherwise recompense myself, we stand to begin mapping a terribly fascinating, and largely uncharted territory.

Computers are changing the world around us. If we hold to rigid technical notions of computer study and science, we won't integrate folks who could have something to add. Computers will continue to appear arcane and inaccessable.

This is certainly the impression of most folks outside of the computer science department. They may take CS10, and find it enlightening, but beyond that is heavy duty geek stuff.

The e-mail and physical presence response to my seminars and class tells me there's a sizeable contingent of nonTechie swatties interested in this stuff.

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