New Job, New Teaching

The beginning of term is just around the corner and I am really excited to begin my new job at Fordham where I am starting as Associate Professor in Digital Technology and Emerging Media. My teaching this semester is one of the reasons for my excitement as I will be offering two courses: One is the Introduction to the Digital Technology and Emerging Media major (syllabus here) and the other is the endlessly thrilling Digital Cultures (syllabus here)


Aside from this cool teaching I get to work at Fordham, a university that is ridiculously gorgeous with open spaces and classical buildings in New York.

New Hate Speech & Propaganda Course

Next semester I shall be teaching a course that I find very fascinating and I hope will be very exciting. It’s going to be on Hate Speech & Propaganda (syllabus) and will cover a bunch of interesting areas.

The history of propaganda is fascinating and I would like to have expanded this area to include more but cuts had to be made somewhere. For this section I took inspiration from Jessica Nitschke‘s course “Power, Image, and Propaganda in the Ancient World and Philip Taylor’s book Munitions of the Mind.

There will be a section on the role of superhero’s in propaganda. Not only the ways in which caped crusaders have been used in war but also the ways in which they are used in peacetime to convey ideological messages. For this I recommend Marc DiPaolo‘s book War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film. Naturally there will be a section on the role of wider culture in propaganda and the focus of this may vary depending on what is popular in the media at the time of the course.

Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter

Additionally the course will address the rise of marketing and its connections to propaganda. I wanted to show the fantastic Bernay’s documentary The Century of the Self but at over 4 hours this may have been a stretch for the students. Following this I want to look more closely at the marketing of unhealthy products and lifestyles. In this cigarettes are a given but so is the (minimally) less well know issues of tobacco and sugar. For this section I will be relying heavily on the excellent The Cigarette Century by Allan Brandt.

This will be followed by a look at language and propaganda (naturally Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language will be included) which should hopefully lead the course seamlessly into a discussion on free speech and then look into the areas of hate speech. There is a lot to chose from but the focus this time will be on the Danish Cartoons, Charlie Hebdo & Anti-Immigration. Followed by a look at holocaust denial, homophobia (and related topics) and the limits of hate speech.

The main book will be Jason Stanley‘s How Propaganda Works and I will be adding material to provide other perspectives and to cover hate speech. The syllabus is available and if you do have any comments feel free to contact me or comment.

Privacy and Media Power Teaching

This is my second term at the Communication Department at UMass Boston and this term I am teaching a capstone course called Privacy: Communication, Technology, Society (early syllabus here) and News Media and Political Power (early syllabus here). The courses are lots of fun and the students seem to be responding well.

In the privacy course we have already had lectures and discussions on the history of the toilet and bedroom just to get things started. In Media Power we have discussed Postman, the causes of the Iraq war and the purpose of war.

Its going to be a busy and exciting term.

What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know

Teaching starts tomorrow. This is a timely reminder to ask the class participants how they identify instead of making assumption based on class rosters.
‘Ask Me’: What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know

Simple beginning for identity identification. Ask preferred name, preferred pronoun.

New Job & Teaching Fall 2015

Fall 2015 marks the beginning of my academic career in the states. I have begun as an Associate Professor in Political Communication and Social Media at the Communication Department at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

Aside from my research I am very excited be teaching a course in Political Communication (syllabus here) and a course in Communication and Mobilization (syllabus here).

For Political Comms I shall be using Graber & Dunaway Mass Media in American Politics. While in Communication and Mobilization I shall be using Goodwin & Jasper The Social Movements Reader. In both courses I also be using Joyce Digital Activism Decoded: The New Mechanics of Change.

These two classes are very exciting to me and I hope that I will be able to transmit my enthusiasm to my students. Don’t we all wish this?

In both courses I am requiring that the students research and write biographies and do documentary film reviews as part of the work. I will let you all know how that works.

Thus far at UMass everyone has been very welcoming and friendly. But wow, the environment is pretty bleak as the buildings are constructed in a form of brick brutalism that would make any dystopian film maker lyrical. All the online pictures are taken from a distance and include the water which does tend to mellow out the architecture.

Draft Privacy Syllabus

This term I have been given free hands to design a privacy course for the Communication Department at UMass Boston – And I am VERY excited about it. Here is a first draft of the syllabus. If you are student at UMass and interested in taking the course please contact me.

WEEK 1: Privacy as Human Right Legislating Privacy (law & convention)

Wed, 9 Sep     Introduction

Fri, 11 Sep      Read Warren & Brandeis, ‘The Right to Privacy’, Harvard Law Review 1890-4(1), pp. 193-220.

Watch Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters (2014) TED Talk

Watch Alessandro Acquisti: Why privacy matters (2013) TED Talk

Write: Considering our technology use: Are W&B relevant today?

WEEK 2: Privacy vs Security

Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, said “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”

Mon, 14 Sep   Discussion Why Privacy Matters

Wed, 16 Sep The Nothing to Hide Argument

Fri, 18 Sep      Watch The Hidden History of Privacy – Jill Lepore The New Yorker Festival 2013.

Watch Daniel Solove: Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?

Read: Solove, D. (2005) “The Digital Person and the Future of Privacy” in Privacy and Identity: The Promise and Perils of a Technological Age (Strandburg, ed.)

Read: Schneier, B. (2009) “Is aviation security mostly for show?” CNN, December 29.

WEEK 3: Spatial Privacy

Mon, 21 Sep   Discussion Privacy & Security: Bentham, Foucault and theatre of the absurd.

Wed, 23 Sep Panopticon: Is surveillance a deterrent?

Fri, 25 Sep      Read: Who’s Watching? Video Camera Surveillance in New York City and the need for Public Oversight. A Special Report by the New York Civil Liberties Union FALL 2006

Write: There have been calls for police officers to carry body cameras. Discuss any privacy issues that could arise from this technology.

WEEK 4: Individual Rights and the Police

Mon, 28 Sep   Discussion: police surveillance

Wed, 30 Sep  Privacy and the 1st 4th & 5th amendments

Fri, 2 Oct         Read: Center for Constitutional Rights, Stop and Frisk – The Human Impact Report July 2012.

Read: Lippman, M. (2014) “Searches and Seizures”, Criminal Procedure 2nd ed.

Read: You Have the Right to Remain Silent National Lawyer Guild

Week 5: Surveillance Technologies in the wild

Ryan Calo “Robot-Sized gaps in surveillance law” in Rotenberg

Mon, 5 Oct      —

Wed, 7 Oct     From CCTV to Drones: Private Surveillance & Function creep

Fri, 9 Oct         Read: McNeal, G. Drones and Aerial Surveillance: Considerations For Legislators. November 2014.

Read: Thompson, R. M. (2013) Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses CRS Report for Congress April 3.


Week 6: Tracking Devices “its only metadata”

 Mon, 12 Oct   CLOSED

Wed, 14 Oct   End of Culture? What your library says about you. Smartphones & Tablets: Did you read the license?

Fri, 16 Oct      CLOSED

Watch: Malte Spitz “Your Phone Company is Watching” TED Talk

Week 7: The Internet, Web & Social Media

Mon, 19 Oct   Does the Internet Spell End of Privacy?

Wed, 21 Oct   Watch: Citizenfour (Poitras, 2014)

Fri, 23 Oct      Watch: “The NSA, Snowden, and Surveillance” (CRCS Lunch Seminar) – Bruce Schneier talk


Week 8: The Internet, Web & Social Media continued

Mon, 26 Oct   Watch: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver – Edward Snowden Interview

Watch: Terms and Conditions May Apply (Hoback, 2013)

Wed, 28 Oct   Sleepwalking, Convenience and Terms of Service

Fri, 30 Oct      Watch Do Not Track is a personalized documentary series about privacy and the web economy.

Week 9: The Right to Hide?

Mon, 2 Nov     Discussion: Social Media Privacy

Wed, 4 Nov    Anonymity & Pseudonymity: Encryption & Masked protest.

Fri, 6 Nov        Read: Coleman, G. (2013) Anonymous in Context: The Politics and Power behind the Mask CIGI Internet Governance Papers.


Week 10: Identity, Privacy & the right to be forgotten?

 Mon, 9 Nov     Google vs Europe & the right to be forgotten

Wed, 11 Nov CLOSED

Fri, 13 Nov     Read: European Commission: Factsheet on the “Right to be Forgotten” ruling (C-131/12)

Read: European Commission: Myth-Busting The Court of Justice of the EU and the “Right to be Forgotten”

Watch: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Right To Be Forgotten (HBO)

Watch: Viktor Mayer-Schönberger presents “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age Berkman Center

Week 11: The Private Body: From fingerprints to DNA

Mon, 16 Nov Genetics and law enforcement

Wed, 18 Nov Is genetic privacy possible?

Fri, 20 Nov     Read: Stewart, J. & Thy Tran, D. (2007) “The Ethics of Genetic Screening” in The ethical imperative in the context of evolving technologies (Bassick ed)

Read: Rothstein, M. “Keeping Your Genes Private”, Scientific American. September 2008.

Read: Oscapella, E. (2012) Genetic Privacy and Discrimination: An Overview of Selected Major Issues. BC Civil Liberties Association

Read: Prabhakar, S. et al (2003) “Biometric Recognition: Security and Privacy Concerns”, IEEE Security & Privacy

Watch: Whose DNA is it anyway? Wendy Bonython at TEDxCanberraWomen


Week 12: Bodies of technology

 Mon, 23 Nov  Selfies, Sexting, & Nonconsensual pornography (Revenge Porn)

Wed, 25 Nov  Gamification, Health apps, & User Data

Fri, 27 Nov     EXERCISE?

Week 13: Big data, algorithms & identity

 Mon, 30 Nov  Defining your identity: data or choice?

Wed, 2 Dec     Watch: Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, “BIG DATA: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think”

Fri, 4 Dec        Watch: Eli Pariser “The Filter Bubble” TED Talk

Listen: Joseph Turow “How Companies Are ‘Defining Your Worth’ Online” Fresh Air.

 Week 14: Looking elsewhere for solutions

Mon, 7 Dec     Subversion: Sousveillance, body cams, and masked demonstrators

Wed, 9 Dec     Privacy through Copyright

Fri, 11 Dec      Write: Are body cams a solution? Strengths & Weaknesses.

Week 15: The Future of Privacy

Mon, 14 Dec   Discussion – Where is privacy going?

Read Lee Rainie and Janna Anderson The Future of Privacy” Pew Research Center

Stop bashing the Lecture

When did the anti-lecture trend begin? It seems to have been around for a long time. I’m sure the internal discussion has been around for an even longer time but the outwardly loud anti-lecture discussion has at least been going on for the last two decades (this is just my feeling and experience).

So its hardly surprising then to read yet another article joining in the lecture-bashing trend and Science writes Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds.

Interestingly, the article included the quote

“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the work. “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis—an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”

When I tweeted out the link a colleague sent me this link to a quote in Paul Ramsden Learning to Teach in Higher Education “Despite the firmness of the lecture’s foothold, the best general advice to the teacher who wants to improve his or her lecturing is still ‘Don’t lecture’ (Eble, 1988, p. 68).” So almost two decades later, a world of new technology has evolved and the best thing we can do is still to say don’t lecture?

From my perspective there are two problems with the whole lecture-bashing argument. The primary flaw is the way in which the argument generalizes all lectures and lecturers. While I hate the comparison with actors, or even worse, stand up comedians it is important to remember a lecturers delivery style varies as much as these professions do. I am aware of the studies that exist (and we should all be able to recognize their strengths and flaws) but I find the statement “all lectures are bad” is similar to “all sport is boring”. This is a statement of taste not of fact.

communication age by Dom Dada cc by nc nd

communication age by Dom Dada cc by nc nd

The reason why I consider this taste as opposed to fact is connected to the second problem in the lecture-bashing argument. And this is that it ignores the responsibility of the learners (as opposed to the teachers). If a student is working full time on a topic then the amount of time they are spending is 40 hours a week. This is obviously not happening but lets be nice and say that they “should” spend at least half their time on a full time course.

This still means four hours a day, five days a week. Seriously not a lot. Then the question is how many lectures is the student “enduring”? Supposing there are three two-hour lectures a week. This means 6 hours a week. And it still means that their are 14 hours a week the student should be working. Again this is only working with the idea of a half time job.

The lecture is not reading the book for the students, the lecture is not teaching everything the student needs, the lecture is not the message (sorry really bad pun). From my experience lectures work well when they highlight the important issues for an audience that cares (or at the very least knows) about the topic. But this means that the students cannot just crawl out of bed and attend a lecture on a topic they know nothing about and then expect to be enriched by it. They need to do their part.

The problem is that the lecture-bashing argument is letting the students off the hook. If the students are not learning from, or being bored by, the lecture then obviously the lecture is the problem. I find that this perspective demeans and infantalizes the student.


From Words to Wordfeud: notes on a lecture

There is a strange idea that we are living in the information age and that this age is something bright, shiny and new. Now I don’t mean that we are not in the information age but my concern is the idea that information is something new and exciting.

When talking economics it may be true that we have been in the information age since the 1960s or 70s but this is not what people seem to mean when they use the term as an everyday concept.

“The idea is linked to the concept of a digital age or digital revolution, and carries the ramifications of a shift from traditional industry that the industrial revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on the manipulation of information, i.e., an information society.” Wikipedia

We have always been immersed in information. Information about which mushrooms are edible can be life or death knowledge but for most of us today its just trivia. However, we do not raise ourselves by trivializing their vital knowledge.

The lecture opened with a discussion of language and writing. Despite our interest and focus on writing it is relevant to remember that writing is “only” 6000 years old (Wikipedia). Which means we spent 190 000 years without writing. This means that we have evolved in speechless and oral environments. On that topic, check out the Gutenberg Parenthesis lecture by Thomas Pettitt where he explains:

… the way in which he uses the term the Gutenberg Parenthesis: the idea that oral culture was in a way interrupted by Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and the roughly 500 years of print dominance; a dominance now being challenged in many ways by digital culture and the orality it embraces.

And in the same way as we have, through evolution, an interest in finding energy rich foods (high fat, high sugar) we have evolved to view stored information as scarce, important and valuable. Therefore, on an evolutionary scale, things like the Gutenberg press, telegraphs, telephones, fax machines, computers and the Internet are all recent history.

Therefore recent changes like the book and the Internet are still impacting the ways in which we act and react socially. Technology is both an agent and effect of change.

This was followed by an introduction to social media and a discussion to why it is seen as social. The argument here is that we now have an infrastructure to allow us to enact basic communication rights established 300 years ago. With the platforms available to us theoretical rights become inevitable practice. The technology is also challenging many of our legal, ethical, social, economic, political (etc) norms.

One aspect of social media is pretty obvious: Now that we have an endless supply of valuable and important information – we mainly focus on trivial stuff. Facts are a given. The comparison I make is that since we have evolved in information scarce environments we seem to be instinctively drawn to energy rich information. Entertainment and trivia is the fatty and sugary, calorie rich, version of information – the question is what do we do when we are moving towards information obesity?

I offered an example from my schooldays where the focus was on fact knowing. Questions like what is the capital of Burkina Faso (which when I went to school was called Upper Volta)? But is this useful knowledge when everyone has access to the source of information? Schools have been successful since they offered the promise of jobs once the students were done. Now the jobs are not guaranteed anymore and we have come to realize that the factory vision of schools were probably never successful.

On this theme I highly recommend the brilliant (and funny) Ted Talk by Ken Robinson called Do schools kill creativity?

He argues that we have no idea about what the future will bring and yet we are attempting to educate children to meet that future. One thing we should take home is that creating specialists is less than useful when we have no idea if that specialty is useful in the future. Another argument for the so-called “useless” humanities!

I closed with four problems. (1) are we all stupid? Actually this should be that we are unaware of what is happening around us and this is happening to our detriment. Problem (2): we don’t know what we don’t know. This is important because earlier we may have relied on teachers and librarians to tell us what we should know. But this is not going to happen with the gatekeepers online as they have no interest in social enlightenment. Problem (3): There is a difference between who I want to be and who I am… Since online gatekeepers are interested in keeping us happy through personalization they will feed us with what we want (information obesity) rather than with what we may need. Problem (4): the gatekeepers are aware of this! Their advantage lies in our ignorance and/or interest in their abilities. There have always been gatekeepers but we usually knew their motives (good or evil)

An important role for educators is to enlighten us of the gatekeeper’s desires and motives of gatekeepers. I ended up with a depressing note: You don’t have to be unconscious to be without consciousness.

An experiment in integrity

I am looking to attempt an experiment during the course I am teaching right now. The idea is to give the course participants the opportunity to examine how much personal information is available online.

To do this, participants are divided into groups. Each group is then given the name of a person and then digs up any and all information they can about that person.

The teams will have to account for:

  1. The information they find
  2. How & where they found the information
  3. Make assessment of the details of credibility.

One of the major “problems” in conducting this experiment is the selection of the person to be examined. Choosing a public figure could be an option but it is difficult to assess the credibility of information acquired. Therefore what remains is to put oneself on the line and the students study their lecturer. Which leads to a question I must ask myself – Do I have something I do not want to find out about myself…

I would really appreciate comments on this idea….

The day after

A wonderful full day. Woke up flew to Stockholm, train to Uppsala, lectured at the university, got interviewed. Hopped on the train to Stockholm and gave a lecture at the Technical Museum. Jumped in a taxi and I am now sitting on the train home.

Two appreciative audiences and lots of happy people. I like lecturing and meeting new people. I needed a day like this to balance out the crappy one I had yesterday.