Blog Post

This Is How We Change the World

Every day, since the Sept 5 publication of The New Education, I have received 5-10 emails from people who are changing their universities-- or are hoping to do so.  In the latter group, a comment I'm asked often asked is:  "How can you be such an optimist?  How can you believe higher education can change?"  And then often, more personally, they ask: "How can we do this? What are the steps? Can you help us?" 

My optimism comes from meeting and profiling so many people doing great work at their institutions.  And today, on Twitter, Prof Cottom has tweeted out a long Twitter thread with many of the steps she and her colleagues took to make their program.  It's wonderful.  Read, and feel inspired.


In the summer of 2016, I attended a five-day workshop on “critical technology"--a boot camp held at the University of Mary Washington for academics interested in learning how to use the best educational technologies in the most responsible and exciting ways. Over 100 other faculty, administrators, IT professionals, librarians, technology designers, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, learning center directors, graduate students (and one undergrad) gathered there to think about the best ways to think about, with, and through technologies for learning.  

I interviewed the keynote speaker, Prof Cottom (who is also on the Steering Committee of HASTAC) and wrote a profile of her in The New Education.  Then, I was asked to be a "Author in Residence" on the website HigherEdJobs and I again featured Prof Cottom and her Digital Sociology program. She then Tweeted this thread to give credit to her peers and also let her Twitter followers see what steps they used to build their program.

How do you scale and amplify a small program? How do you move from models to a movement (the question so many people ask me every day).  This is how:  you attend conferences like the Critical Technology workshop at UMW---or  you come to HASTAC 2017 in Orlando where Prof Cottom will be and I will be and so will hundreds of others who are working together to "change the way we teach and learn . . . with difference as our operating system."  And then you tell everyone about it, you share, network, reinforce, celebrate the changes you make.  Really.  That's how you do it.  

Here's Prof Cottom's fabulous Twitter thread, a step-by-step guide to creating a new program:

"Revolutionizing the University for the World We Live in Now" - HigherEdJobs I am so proud of @SociologyatVCU …

  Tressie Mc‏Verified account @tressiemcphd 3h3 hours ago

When I was hired it was with a promise that we would build something that mattered. And my colleagues have never wavered on that

Three research faculty, two teaching faculty and three contingent faculty have designed and implemented a sociology degree that

Applies critical social theory and social science methods to social problems in a digital society

We redesigned an entire program in nine months. I was writing curriculum my first year on the

We had to figure everything out as went. How do you teach theory online AND when some of that theory hasn't yet been theorized?

What social science methods translate to studying APIs and what methods will we have to innovate?

What if the majority of our students are not from the ivies or deeply immersed in tech companies? How do we level their starting point?

My partner in crime is @TaraStammily who has written one of the best theory syllabuses I have ever seen

She has also single handedly devised, written and supervises digital sociology practicums

The woman learns a student's subfield, has become a fount of knowledge about public data sets and customized every research practicum

Our department chair, @Dr_JJ took on the challenge of teaching digital methods. Lucky for us, she is an SNA expert

But she also went and learned about git hub, jupyter notebook and can now run twitter data extractions like a G.

In one semester sociology grad students learned how to use APIs, extract twitter data, and ask meaningful sociology

And then @meredith_a_katz completely redesigned her social problems course to engage emerging problems in consumption, global capitalism+

labor and social movements. what do those look like when capital flows are shaped my tech access and vice-versa?

And I don't know where we would be without Twitterless Mike Pastore, a computer scientist with the heart of a sociologist. Bless him.

As a contingent faculty, Mike pairs up with sociology faculty to teach our methods courses. & he teaches us. And we let ourselves be taught

He takes all of our mumbo jumbo social theory talk, embraces its messiness, and then shows us how to discipline it in a digital data context

This year @twoodwar joins us as faculty, teaching data viz. Tom has seen our struggles and is already citing @kjhealy on his syllabus

Here is what I have learned from co-building this program: nothing about doing something that matters is easy. But that's why we do it.

We will never "scale" but we can and will amplify: our students are primarily focused on the professions.

They will take into those professions a sociological imagination that critically interrogates data, platforms, and the ideologies in both

That's an amplification effect few of us as academics can mostly dream of having.

As for the necessary work of knowledge production, teaching these courses has produced two major research initiatives for my colleagues

Because we have had to grapple with the practical effects of theorizing digital sociology, that research is more robust

I am incredibly proud of this program, our students who have grown w/ us, & my colleagues who pull off amazing every day like it's nothing

So anyway, thank you so much @CathyNDavidson for including us in #neweducation and spreading the word about digital sociology

12:13 PM - 27 Sep 2017



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