Blog Post

Open Letter to Students in Future of Thinking--And To YOU!

Dear Students in our Collaborative Tutorial on the Future of Thinking:


PRELIMINARIES (if you are not a student enrolling in this course, skip this part):

(1) Twitter hashtag for Eng 195T, 391.03; ISIS 195T, 295T:   #Unclass10.   Tag on   Unclass10  

(2) ASAP:   Please contact Nancy Kimberly to secure your undergrad and grad permission numbers for this course (English 195T, English 391.03; once these permission numbers are used up, we will then go to ISIS S 195T and ISIS 295T)

(3)  Special thanks to the English Department and Chair Leonard Tennenhouse and DUSA Carol Renegar for their assistance in making this hybrid experimental course possible.

(4) August 30 is the official beginning of the semester.  You must be registered by then.  We will have a first meeting set up for soon after August 30, once all students have been accepted and registered.

(5) Deadline:  This first project should be up and running by September 10, our first public event, the Peer-to-Peer Pedagogy Workshop. 


Now that those official things are out of the way, here's the more interesting part, so let's begin again:

Dear Students in our Collaborative Tutorial on the Future of Thinking---and anyone else who maybe reading about our experiment in an experiment in crowdsourced grading, project management, tool building, syllabus building, and creative self- and collective education:

Rather than write you directly, I'm writing you on this blog so anyone who wants to look can see how this class is beginning.  I almost titled the posting "How to Crowdsource Your Syllabus" but don't want (not sure I'd get either!) the avalanche of publicity that came last year about this time when I blogged "How to Crowdsource Grading."   Still, what I hope with this email is to show, for us and for anyone out there reading this, how crucial (and very HASTAC) it is to think the tools and critique and creativity plus project management, collaborative models, and distributed pedagogy together.   So let's get started.

Assignment #1:  Privacy, Getting to Know and Trust One Another, Publicity, and Building our Basic Pedagogical Tool

The very first step is that Nancy and Ruby at HASTAC are working on a WordPress tool for our class (the word "class" feels wrong but I'm going to use it for simplicity; whenever you see "class" you can fill in collaborative, project-based, multifield, multidisciplinary, undergraduate/graduate/postgraduate evolving peer-defined, peer-graded tutorial).   That's a mouthful.  So "class."    That's the wrong paradigm.

Challenge #1:  Who will step up to work with Nancy and Mandy to build out the features we want for our Wordpress tool?

Challenge #2:  How will we build in privacy and publicity into our tool?

Challenge #3:  Who are we?

Normally, we would be thinking these things together on line, but let me throw out some thoughts since this is our first collective foray together.  Later, I won't be calling the shots, I promise you, and these aren't so much called shots as ideas.

Backstory:  I have had the privilege of reading what amounts to a small essay from each of you in which you presented the reasons why you should be part of our group.  You told me what you would contribute and you gave me evidence--resumes, websites, past work, ideas, hilarious personal facts (one of you has memorized the capital of every capitol of every country on the planet---now who could resist that?).    It would be a gross violation of your trust for me to publish these really quite amazing documents that exemplify better than anything that I, as a third party, could say here about what makes a rounded, exciting, exceptional contributor to this kind of peer-inspired learning.   I would never do that.  But I want you to.  

But I want you to do it as an intellectual, personal, and technological project.   So, first I would suggest you build a syllabus together of your favorite discussions of the practice, pragmatics, and theory of privacy that will help all of you make informed and thoughtful decisions about how you will present yourself to the world on our class blog.   I love the work of danah boyd and Eszter Hargittai (and I probably botched the names--I'm writing from out of the country and with limited resources and a strange computer and perilous wifi---so very quickly!).   Who else would you like all of us to be reading?   I also want you to work with Nancy and Ruby on the Wordpress site and quickly develop a private group function where you can each post whatever version of what you sent me that you would like your classmates to read.   And I would like you each to give feedback on what you see, keeping in mind what you have read about privacy and futurity.   Are you seeing something that a future employer might find suspect or offensive or offputting?   Help each other.  Give feedback?  And also ask questions to improve these bios.   And think beyond text.  Do you want artwork?  Photographs of yourself or avatars? Multimedia?  Sound?  What are the limits of WordPress for this?  How do we build in and link to other tools?  Should we have a class badge, an icon in addition to the HASTAC and Duke logos, to brand what we do collectively?  Any logo builders among us?

[Here's the point that is HASTAC's founding principle:  it is ridiculous to build a tool just to build a tool.  It is ridiculous to have a theory of media that is un-located.  You conceive of those together.   You draw upon the finest minds to help think through the thorniest topics, such as privacy, and you work towards a collective goal and do it publicly so others can contribute once you have worked past a threshold of private comfort and security.  You build in affordances but you don't build in encumbrances.   What do you need? What do you want? What already exists that can be branded and retooled? You don't always start from scratch but build upon others and that requires knowledge, technical, historical, and collaborative, as well as self-awareness.   And you keep a respect for your posse.  We are all enormously busy, invested people and our collective goal is maximum learning, creativity, collaboration while pushing as many possibilities as we can because surprise and innovation is how learning happen together.)

Once you feel these are ready, I would like you to post them as your collective introduction to the world and to our project and I would then like you to host a discussion of privacy that is public---in other words, cut and paste in to this blog your previous conversation on privacy (in a public sort of way) so others can share this and let others comment, on your ideas on privacy, on what will be the evolving syllabus for our course, and on your bios.

My wifi is dying so this is plenty to get you started.  I have promised to keep the class open until August 15.  There are already eight of you and the HASTAC team and me.   Four are graduate students, two from Duke (both in English with amazing arrays of talents) and two from UNC (one from SILS and one from Communication Studies).   The undergraduates are mostly science majors--largely engineering and BME--with serious chops in the humanities and media arts.   The two postgraduates blend all of this.   I guess they are "auditors."   It is a fantastic group.   I suggested to some people who were averse to technology or only were worried about their grades and time that this wasn't the right class for them.  I want time management to be one of our major issues in project management and I don't want this to take more time than a normal class would take but I want it serious time, not the busy work so endemic to much learning in formal situations, so it may feel like more time than it is.   If you have to ask, this class isn't for you!   I have two or three others I need to look over and that will be less about them than about Duke's rules for tutorials.   We also have some serious scheduling issues as no one has any one time to meet so we will need to look this over and maybe start subdividing into groups very soon.  All will happen on Monday.  In the meantime, feel free to use the comment section below for ideas.  Or wait until Monday and we will resend this to you with all of your emails and you can get started.

First order of business:  build us a class communication tool that allows group privacy as we work out our public identities and that allows us to do this with thoughtfulness, research, theory, creativity, sensitivity, and a "course" that will serve and inform all of us as we go along and also all of our "auditors" reading this blog and others to come.   

Oh.  One final question:  are we having fun yet?   If you have read all this and it makes you want to run away, please do so because this class is so not for you.  Me?  I am up before dawn with terrible wifi and typing this instead of packing because, well, I could not be having more fun and I am very exciting to be traveling this road with all of you.  

All the best, 

Cathy Davidson (aka Cat in the Stack)




I should know by now that if I read a blog post by Cathy Davidson at night, I will not be able to sleep! Cathy, this is an exciting introduction to the class and I am so glad that the first challenge is to dig around the issue of privacy.

One of the authors I have read with interest, and hope to discuss with others, is Helen Nissenbaum, who wrote Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. I had to turn to her work to help make sense of the Library of Congress's announcement that they would be archiving Twitter's tweets, which touched a nerve for reasons that were hard to articulate (the majority of the tweets were already public, so why be irritated that the government was going to archive them?). My background is in information and library science, so I understood the archive/database mining perspective, but not so much the moral, philosophical, and ethical issues around privacy. In discussions with others, both in and outside of my field, I kept thinking that "massive, deep database" and "public" are two very different, but overlapping things that are abstract's too late. I'll have to do more reflecting before I sum up her work, but for now, it strikes me as a must-read for our class.

Some of Helen's related work has interesting relevance to our class, particularly in her article, Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue (Benkler, Y., Nissenbaum, H. (2006). Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 14, Issue 4, p. 394-419). I like the definition in the abstract:  Benkler and Nissenbaum's article "...argues that common based peer production offers not only various kinds of information goods but also cultivates moral and political virtues among people." The authors mainly focus on open-source communities and the remarkable contributions to public knowledge, but I think the basis of the article could apply to our work as well.

I also like Daniel Solove's Understanding Privacy, who argues "that no single definition can be workable, but rather that there are multiple forms of privacy, related to one another by family resemblances. His theory bridges cultural differences and addresses historical changes in views on privacy."

More to come, but your post immediately brought these two authors to mind. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone and getting started!



Hi, Sheryl, so what we will end up with is a fantastic "reader" on privacy, even as we build out the web tool for our class and introduce each of ourselves to the public in what every form represents us publicly and keeps us private.  To me, that is how education works.  I love the Benkler and Nissenbaum and it gives exactly the kind of depth we need.  I also like the Solove very much.   So we are building together already--Hargittai's studies, boyd's ethnography, Benkler and Nissenbaum's deeply theorized political philosophy, Solove's legal understandings.   That's a great syllabus and we're off and running and people aren't even registered yet.  


Once we have our public webtool assembled, we'll have one place where we can put each addition to our ongoing crowdsourced collaborative syllabus.  So, when everyone pitches in, we will have a very textured and rich unit that anyone out there can learn from, in the classroom and out, of what the best minds have to offer on "privacy."   Unit #1 of our collective syllabus-builder.


May we all have a productive semester (and less insomnia too).  Best, Cathy