I recently had a chance to catch up with Philosophy professor Matt Burstein to learn about his plans for his Spring 2012 class, “Ethics: Technologies of the Self.” In addition to that course, Matt is also leading the Philosophy Department’s Third Year Seminar, an effort to provide an online space for PhD candidates to chronicle and share their experiences transitioning from classroom work to the process of dissertation writing.
Third Year Seminar
To approach the challenge of providing students the bilateral structure of private reflection space and sharing channel, we borrowed a bit from the hub-and-spoke model of MAENGL. Each participant of the seminar will maintain:
- A blog, private to participants only and includes links to other participants’ Seminar blogs.
- A Hub membership, allowing everyone to notify others of updates to their personal blogs, and to share any relevant news/resources.
The Third Year Seminar blub (blog + hub) launched this week (November 15), and students were prepared with savvy questions. I thought they would be worth going over in case anyone runs into them again:
- Q: How much storage space does each blog come with?
A: Each blog allows 250MB for media storage. We recommend that students host large multimedia (photos, videos, audio) files on sites like YouTube or Vimeo, and either embed or link from those sites.
- Q: What sort of backups do you keep of the blogs?
A: We run daily backups. Additionally, we’re on the UIS backup system.
- Q: How permanent is the install? How long will we have access to our blogs?
A: After graduation, students may not be able to log in with their netIDs. However, we can set up local user accounts with a non-Georgetown email address that can be used to log in. There’s also the option of exporting the content of their blogs to an external site.
I’ll report more on the blub experiment as the Seminar progresses.
Ethics: Technologies of Self
According to Matt’s description, this course will “…look at the philosophical and ethical implications of various “technologies of the self” — that is, the various methods of intervening on a body so as to make or enhance a person. We will cover topics such as the ethics of enhancement technologies, reprogenetics, trans/posthumanism, artificial intelligence, and doping in athletics.”
Matt and I brainstormed ideas for the course, focusing on both required utilities (i.e., reflection, collection) and technologies that are responses to the course material itself.
For example, students will be asked to think about what constitutes a technological enhancement to humanness. It brought to mind an idea raised during a conference session I recently attended on the topic of designing for mobile devices.
A panel member described research that indicates a growing number of people go to bed with their smartphones or tablets, often being the last thing they look at before going to sleep and the first thing they check in the morning.
The widespread adoption of (and some would argue reliance on) mobile technology raises opportunities for creative course implementation. While brainstorming, we considered:
- The percentage of students with smartphones is impossible to predict, but there’s a strong chance that almost all will have phones with text capability. Is there a way we can incorporate SMS into assignments?
- As many of the topics covered in this course see constant and rapid changes, what’s the “best” way to keep track of changes? Specifically, would a wiki be the best way to collect a running glossary of terms/concepts? Further, what about Wikipedia as a space to not only track current states of these ideas, but contribute to public knowledge of these topics?
We’re thinking on it, and will continue to search for ideas. If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.
A friendly reminder to our TLT Fellows
As assessment is a critical component of the Fellowship, we ask that our Fellows gather data from students regarding their experiences before the end-of-semester rush. The suggested deadline is November 30th for launching your survey, as classes end on December 7th.