Cyborg Theory: A Love Story

CNDLS Graduate Associate Kelsey Brannan shares this recap of Michael Chorost’s recent talk on “Cyborg Theory and Practice.”

Michael Chorost’s recent talk on “Cyborg Theory and Practice” opened up a new conversation about the cyborg “reality” we live in today—a conversation about how the integration of technology into human life is changing the pace and form of human relationships. His most recent book, World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines and the Internet (2011), originally subtitled A Love Story, is a narrative about the way in which human beings are becoming emotionally dependent on technology. Referring to Marin Lindstrom’s New York Times article, “You Love Your iPhone. Literally,” he spoke about an MRI test that proved that human “subjects” respond to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.” Chorost noted that the popular mediation of cyborgs, what he referred to “cyborg porn,” objectify and violate the cyborg body, rather than visualize them as individuals. This objectification, he argues, materializes the aesthetic desire for and the human obsession with technology.

Chorost diverges from Donna Haraway’s “theory” of the cyborg to give a voice to “real-life” human cyborgs (such as Chorost, himself a cochlear implant recipient). The rest of his talk consisted of an explanation of the process of hearing loss, the installation of cochlear implants into the human head, optogenetics, and the possibility of “tele-empathy,” the ability for humans to exchange desires by coded signals. Michael Chorost provided a unique and humanist approach to cyborg theory and noted that the future of cyborg research is not in doing “old” things better, but in doing entirely “new” things. Chorost emphasized that the information age is generating a new “cyborgian” state of consciousness, one predicated on the human desire and love for virtual communication (e.g. email, Twitter, Facebook). Where will this love story take us?

To find out more about Michael Chorost’s research, visit his website.

Resources for Developing Blog and Twitter Assignments

Deciding to incorporate blogs or Twitter into your course raises a number of questions that may seem daunting. How will you structure the assignment? How will you connect student work on Twitter or blogs to in-class discussions? As the professor, to what extent will you contribute to the blog or Twitter stream? How will you evaluate student work in these spaces – or will you grade it at all?

CNDLS Graduate Associate Susannah Nadler collected the following set of resources for developing assignments and evaluating student work on blogs and Twitter.  We hope you find it useful. Please let us know in the comments if you have any suggestions of your own to add.

Getting started with student blogs: how and why?

from XKCD (

This article on the Educause website is designed to help professors thinking about setting up blogs in their classrooms, answering questions such as “Will my work increase if I assign blogging in my courses?” and “Will the process of blogging actually change how students think and express their ideas?”

Hillary Miller of Baruch College posted “Lessons from a First-Time Course Blogger,” which contains good advice such as not forgetting about the blog and not assuming that all your students are tech-savvy.

Julie Maloney of ProfHacker writes about “Integrating, Evaluating, and Managing Blogging in the Classroom,” focusing on course planning and what to think about when integrating blogging into a syllabus.

Heidi Ashbaugh of Texas Women’s University writes an article on the Educause website discussing the first time she used student blogging in a course; Heidi explains that she quickly realized that students needed a rubric for how she would judge their blogs.

Getting started with twitter in the classroom: how and why?

Ryan Cordell, Assistant Professor of English at St. Norbert College, writes on ProfHacker about the basics of how (and why) to use twitter in the classroom. His article includes step-by-step instructions of how to get started, complete with screen shots.

In “A Framework for Teaching with Twitter,” Mark Sample of George Mason writes on ProfHacker about the many ways Twitter can be an effective tool both inside and outside the classroom. He also provides a matrix of twitter uses that can help professors think about the role that twitter can play in their course design.

In this follow-up post, Mark Sample provides information about practical implementation of these twitter uses, focusing on six aspects of twitter that professors should think about as they are planning a course: organization, access, frequency, substance, archiving, and assessment.

In his own blog, Mark Sample also writes about an unexpected use his students found for twitter as a “snark valve,” a use that he celebrates because it helps students to take an oppositional stance.

Grading blogs:

There is a large array of rubrics available for professors grading student blogs. Here are some of the good ideas out there:

Mark Sample has a basic 5-point rubric that primarily evaluates critical thinking and engagement. The scale ranks student blog posts as Exceptional, Satisfactory, Underdeveloped, Limited, and No Credit. Read the full rubric here.

Mark Sample also explains in more detail the pedagogy of his class blog. He grades blogs based on the rubric, but also comments regularly on student blogs and asks students to complete a meta-audit midway through, in which they blog about their blogging practices. Read that blog post here.

Serena Carpenter, an Assistant Professor of Newer Media at Arizona State, has a more detailed rubric that includes blog elements such as whether the paragraph/heading structure is “scannable” and whether the post uses keywords and tags. She also assesses the blog’s focus, creativity, and research content. Serena’s website, where she posted the rubric, is here.

An article on the Educause website provides a rubric that assesses student blogs on the following categories: Content, Accuracy, Visual Appearance, and Resource Links. The rubric is on the last page of the article, the rest of which describes methods for professors to assess how well blogging assignments are working within a course.

A lot of professors agreed that it was a best practice to share the grading rubric for blogs with students at the start of the class. One professor has students use the rubric to grade their own blogs before they submit them (the professor grades the blog as well).

Grading twitter use:

Karen Franker at the University of Wisconsin provides this rubric for grading student tweets, assigning number values to content, frequency, hyperlinks, mechanics, and content and contributions. Mark Sample finds this rubric too narrow, but it could be useful in helping professors clarify their pedagogy around twitter.

In this post on “The Difference between Thin and Thick Tweets,” David Silver of San Francisco State provides useful criteria for the kinds of tweets that students using twitter should be tweeting. “Thick” tweets provide two or more layers of information, usually including a hyperlink.

Larger discussions about evaluating student use of digital technology:

Jeff McClurken and Julie Meloney provide further discussion of grading student blogs in “‘How are you going to grade this?’: Evaluating Classroom Blogs.” They discuss their use of rubrics, and suggest the interesting idea of asking students to revise their two best posts and submit them for a separate grade.

On the HASTAC forum, three scholars host a discussion on “Grading 2.0: Evaluation in the Digital Age.” They list several ongoing projects that are addressing the question, “How to grade, assess, teach, learn and structure the learning experience for students in the digital age?”

Alternate grading pedagogies (or, reasons not to grade digital technology assignments):

Barbara Ganley, founder of the nonprofit Digital Explorations, argues here that in order for student blogs to emerge organically, they should not be treated like online portfolios—that is, professors should avoid formally evaluating student blogs.

In another post on grading partnerships in the classroom, Barbara Ganley shows how her class came up with their own grading rubric—a practice that could work for coming up with a rubric for grading blogs or twitter posts as well (although that isn’t what she advocates).

Cathy Davidson, a Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University, wrote a controversial post on the HASTAC forum about grading by contract and crowdsourcing the judgment process. Davidson argues that this grading system teaches students the skill, necessary in the Internet age, of responsibly judging the quality of others’ work and being responsive to feedback about their own work.

About Digication ePortfolios

As the semester gets underway, we’d like to draw your attention to Digication, an enterprise ePortfolio tool that we are currently piloting.  We have completed the process of connecting Georgetown LDAP authentication with Digication, so users are able to sign on easily with their Georgetown credentials.

For the user who would prefer a tool specifically built to accommodate the needs of ePortfolio creation, Digication offers an easy drag-and-drop system for organizing ePortfolio content. Uploading and inserting content is uncomplicated, and the fact that Digication has been built exclusively for ePortfolio use means that ePortfolio-building options on the backend are tailored to many of the types of actions and content that individuals building ePortfolios will appreciate. On the other hand, Digication ePortfolios will all have basic structural similarities with each other, and while users can apply very basic header changes to their Digication ePortfolio, the basic architecture of the tool (sidebar with list of pages, navigation bar with sections, etc.) cannot be changed significantly.

If you are interested in learning more about Digication for the students in your course or to use as a personal ePortfolio, please contact Anna Kruse.

Mapping Character Development Across Time with Prezi Meeting

Collaborative PreziWhile Prezi has gained reputation as an alternative presentation tool to PowerPoint, the addition of the real-time group editing functionality of Prezi Meeting allows for users to collaboratively create exhibits like concept maps and timelines. Recently, CNDLS worked with Sociology professor Sarah Stiles to use the online presentation tool in one of her summer classes.

In a post earlier this year, Derek Bruff of Vanderbilt University detailed his use of Prezi Meeting to have his students create a debate map, demonstrating an alternative use for the tool. As Professor Bruff explained, “Prezi Meeting is a feature within every Prezi that allows you to invite others to edit your Prezi. You send them an URL, and they click on that URL to get full edit access to your Prezi. What’s more, Prezi Meeting allows you and your friend to edit your Prezi at the same time, much like Google Docs allows multiple people to edit a word processing or spreadsheet document together in real time.”

The Request

Students of Professor Stiles’s Contemporary City class were studying achievement ideology and social reproduction theory through the reading of Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-income Neighborhood by Jay McLeod. The text follows the lives of youth in two groups — the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers — growing up in the Clarendon Heights area during the 1980s-90s. Professor Stiles wanted her students to be able to work collaboratively in the creation of a document that would track the events of both groups during the time period. and relationships between the various events and characters.

Why Prezi?

Two things were to be represented: the connections between the characters in the text, and the events they encountered over a common course of time. While Professor Stiles was originally considering a wiki for this project, CNDLS staff thought of ideas to show both elements, such as the use of tag clouds on a Georgetown Commons blog and Dipity, an online timeline representation application.

Prezi was chosen for being able to fulfill both representations while at the same time allowing for collaborative creation. Making this use of Prezi even more interesting was that despite being known as a presentation tool, the process of creating the visual took precedent over the final product, an emphasis that made the activity of creation more meaningful.

How was it used?

Students worked in two groups, with one editor for each group. In a previous session, they were each assigned a character from the text and asked to create a Prezi on that character to gain experience with the app. One student demonstrated her character presentation before groups started working, and her use of imagery and humor to create a simple yet interesting character sketch helped ease the apprehension felt by many students unfamiliar and unsure of the tool.Students collaborate with Prezi Meeting

Before they started group editing, Professor Stiles shared a link to the main Prezi, where she had inserted a timeline image that was to be used as a common reference for both groups. The Hallway Hangers created their presentation above the timeline, the Brothers below.

While only one person edited for each group, other members took turns providing images (either by emailing them to the editor, or providing links) and descriptions that were formatted into the Prezi.

Prezi Meeting allows users to “follow” each other during the course of editing, meaning that one user can view the actions of another user in real time. Following users is as simple as clicking on user icons, a utility that has obvious benefits for instructors to track progress during a session.

You can watch snippets of their work in the video below.

What did we learn?

As with any new technology, there were a few flaws. The most frequent required editors to reload the page, a byproduct of having multiple users logged into the same session. While Prezi Meeting supports ten simultaneous users, CNDLS staff tested with eight prior to the class and experienced small issues like delays in seeing updates from other users, inconsistencies in formatting, and general growing pains with learning how to use the application. During the class, there were five accounts interacting with the presentation, including the two editors, Professor Stiles, and two accounts we used to record the work of the editors.

After the class, I asked the students a few questions about the experience.

The experience was new to most, and as a result, many had not planned a structure/format for their presentations. Despite this, we witnessed creativity on the fly — many of the character trees were created intuitively and with little debate in how they would be displayed, highlighting one of the best aspects of Prezi: its focus on laying out ideas in relation to one another rather than in a linear fashion. This is truly what allows Prezi’s use to expand beyond simply a presentation tool, and why it makes such an excellent space for laying out ideas, both in individual and collaborative use.

Editors worked in groups to create the PreziThe format of having a minimum number of editors seemed to help the process as well. Many students agreed that it created less confusion, and the application seemed to run with reduced “bugginess” when working with a smaller number. The idea behind having the students create their own Prezis before class time was a good one, as they all had an idea of the limitations and features of the tool.

The main complaint voiced by multiple students was the lack of an erase feature. While there is an “undo” feature, the visually abundant presentations required the manipulation of multiple images, and navigating through those images can be tedious at times.

Despite the occasional inconsistencies, students said they enjoyed the experience and found the tool easy to learn and use. This gentle learning curve combined with the flexibility and collaborative nature of the tool made it an excellent and productive choice. When asked, the students said that they were excited to have been exposed to this novel tool and would definitely make use of it for future projects and presentations, extending its benefits outside of this single course.

What We’re Reading: Now You See It…

Cathy Davidson’s new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, draws on psychology, media literacy, and brain science to explore questions about learning and technology in today’s schools and workplaces. In one chapter, she describes a controversial experiment in which Duke University gave free iPods to students and challenged them to design educational uses for the devices.  She discusses this experiment in an essay adapted from the book that was recently published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

We interviewed Cathy Davidson about participatory learning for the January 2009 issue of Academic Commons. You can read the interview here.

Thinking about Academic Continuity

Fortunately, yesterday’s earthquake caused minimal disruption to academic routines at Georgetown. However, it serves as a useful reminder to expect the unexpected! As you are planning for the fall semester, don’t forget to think about how you might communicate with students and continue with coursework in the event of a disruption such as a snowstorm, widespread illness, or other event. Check out our Academic Continuity site for some tips on planning for disruptions and some stories from faculty who have coped with unexpected events in the past.

Migrating blogs to a new server

For the past four and a half years, Georgetown Commons blogs have been hosted on a server that, while sufficient, is starting to show its age.  With the help of UIS and the Scholarly Systems Group, we are preparing to migrate all blogs to a new set of servers, which we anticipate will lead to more reliable and secure access to blogs for years to come.

The move will be accompanied by a change in URL.  For example, the current URL “” will become “”  Any bookmarks you may have will redirect and continue to function.

To accomplish this move, we will need to shut down the Georgetown Commons overnight on Thursday, August 25.

We recognize that the semester is fast approaching, and many of you will be counting on access to your course blogs.  To minimize the disruption, we have decided to schedule the downtime overnight, from 10 p.m. Thursday night to 6 a.m. Friday morning.  During this time, you will be unable to access your Georgetown Commons blog.  Once the changes have been successfully made, we will restore access to all Georgetown Commons blogs.  Access to wikis and Commons hubs will not be affected.

Please do take this outage into account as you plan your course blog preparation, ePortfolio posts, or other time-sensitive work on the blog system.

We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause, but we look forward to offering you the increased reliability that the migration will bring.  If you have any questions about the migration process, please contact the Commons team at

On Technology and Teaching Writing

In an essay recently posted on Inside Higher Ed, Steven J. Corbett (Southern Connecticut State University) reflects on the “ups” and “downs” of teaching writing with technology. He shares his thoughts on his initial resistance to using technology to teach writing and explains how he now teaches in a “paperless classroom.”

Some of our earlier thoughts on writing and technology can be found here.

Featured Resource: VALUE Rubric for Intercultural Knowledge and Competence

The Georgetown University Teaching Commons offers a wide range of resources and examples related to pedagogy. Today’s featured resource is a rubric developed for the AAC&U’s VALUE project. This rubric, which is part of a set of rubrics covering a variety of topics, addresses intercultural knowledge and competence.