FemTechNet is a feminist online educational resource founded in 2013 by Anne Balsamo and Alexandra Juhasz. Its online course on "Dialogues on Feminism and Technology" and an associated initiative, "Storming Wikipedia," have been described as "a new approach to collaborative learning", a "feminist anti-MOOC", and an "awesome" attempt to combat "Wikipedia's boy's club problem."
At its core, FemTechNet is “an activated network of scholars, artists and students who work on, with, and at the borders of technology, science and feminism in a variety of fields including STS, Media and Visual Studies, Art, Women's, Queer and Ethnic Studies.” FTN grew out of a coffee klatch between Balsamo and Juhasz, both of whom have written extensively on women and feminist pedagogy in technology. The pair shared concerns that women's contributions to technology, from academia to art, weren't being recognized, or even documented, and female representation in the field suffered for it.
FemTechNet proposed a new model they call a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC). The DOCC structure eschews centralization for several “nodal” classes that are based around proposed themes and augmented by video discussions available on FemTechNet's website. The first DOCC, "Dialogues in Feminism and Technology," was initiated in 2013 as for-credit courses at the following institutions: Rutgers University, The New School, CUNY, University of California at San Diego, University of Illinois, Ohio State University, Bowling Green State University, Pitzer College, Colby-Sawyer College, Penn State University, California Polytechnic University, Ontario College of Art and Design, Brown University, and Yale University. Non-traditional students take the course via the FTN website's free, self-directed learner component.
In 2014 -2015 the second Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC) was offered at the following nodes: Bowling Green State University, Brown University, Colby-Sawyer College, The College of New Jersey, Cornell University, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Rutgers University, The New School, City University of New York, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, MacCauley Honors College, University of California at San Diego, University of Illinois, MIT, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Pitzer College, California Polytechnic University, California State University Fullerton, Ontario College of Art and Design, Temple University, Texas A and M University, The University of California, San Diego, and Yale University
In 2013 FemTechNet launched "Storming Wikipedia", which aimed to encouraged students to engage in Wikipedia editing. Portrayed as a response to Wikipedia's gender imbalance, the assignment is also used to highlight "the significant contributions of feminists to technology."
FemTechNet articulates its vision in terms of a desire to create "projects of feminist technological innovation for the purposes of engaging the interests of colleagues and students on advanced topics in feminist science-technology studies. This project seeks to engender a set of digital practices among women and girls, to teach and encourage their participation in writing the technocultural histories of the future by becoming active participants in the creation of global digital archives."
Wikistorming is an annual event that exists to help clean up the online encyclopedia that is Wikipedia. The idea behind Wikistorming is rather simple; feminists across the country want to help bring attention to and attempt to disrupt or diminish the inherit bias that comes from an encyclopedia based on the information provided by editors. The main problem with the bias lies in the editors themselves; if the editors represented a proportion even close to the actual population distribution of our country, the bias would not seem so apparent. According to the United States Census Bureau, males make up 49.2% of the population of the United States, slightly under half of the American population. According to one study, 83.9% of Wikipedia editors are male; according to a separate study, 91% are male. Though the numbers are not absolute, as it can vary study to study, the lowest estimate of male editors is still 83.9%, which is significant considering that once again a little less than half of the American population is male. In every aspect, this is one gender controlling and influencing what is supposed to be an information source for all, free of opinions and biases. No matter how much the editors attempt not to be biased, there will simply always be bias in this system as the many factors that make up their opinions simply do not encompass those that sway the rest of society. The inherit bias in Wikipedia is not only seen across genders, but across cultures too. It is no surprise Wikipedia is mainly an American site. This has led to some ethnocentrism in the article creation. In 2010, an article about “Makmende” was constantly removed as it “lacked notability.” However, Makmende was a widely known public figure in Kenya at the time, similar to the notoriety surrounding Chuck Norris in America. The article for Chuck Norris is rather expansive, so to deny Makmende an article is to say that Makmende is not a public figure like Chuck Norris is, and this occurred because he is unknown in America. It took global attention on the matter for the issue to be resolved and for Makmende to receive a true article. The event known as Wikistorming is an event created and sponsored by FemTechNet. It first started in 2013, with these central ideas in mind: “Adding feminist scholarship to already existing content on Wikipedia Creating and expanding articles on women who played and are playing important roles in history and current events Making Wikipedia readers and editors more aware of the systemic gender bias inherent in the encyclopedia’s structure Encouraging feminists, academics, and activists to contribute to Wikipedia and help revolutionize its culture Participating in Wikipedia’s processes” Plenty of colleges, including the Georgia Institute of Technology, participate in this event year to year. The event is supported by English departments offering students credit for participating in the event. This has caused a lot of backlash amongst conservative groups such as Fox News and CampusReform.org who claim this event is biased in nature and thus unfit for an educational platform. However, most condescending opinions fail to recognize that no matter how technical an article may be, there is always bias. One of the main focuses of Wikistorming is to shed light on this bias and reduce some of it. Feminism has changed drastically in the digital age. It has become so much easier for the world to access feminist writing and philosophy through the internet. “The landscape of online feminism can be accessed at several levels that vary in terms of their similarity to traditional scholarship and in terms of the level of currency and activism they entail”. This is ushering in almost a new wave of feminism; “If the status of technology is regularly shifting, so too is the theoretical and institutional status of feminist discourse”. Feminist authors, professors and researchers around the globe are recognizing the impact the digital humanities will have on feminism, the impact feminism can make on the digital humanities, and how feminist digital humanities can become more accessible to the public. This all relates back to Wikistorming; if the digital landscape where information is accessed is altered to express or show a feminist viewpoint, then certainly feminism will not seem so taboo in the modern society. The idea FemTechNet has with Wikistorming is to bring a revolution to the modern digital age.
Critiques of the DOCC
One critique of the Distributed Open Collaborative Course is the distribution of knowledge on an open source, without the access to control who comes and goes. "It is a feminist rethinking of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that has been widely used in distance learning education. A MOOC is pedagogically centralized and branded by a single institution. FemTechNet seeks to enhance the system using feminist principles and methods that support a decentralized, collaborative form of learning."
It has been criticized as being more concerned with political correctness than factual accuracy. Katherine Timpf, a reporter for the Leadership Institute's CampusReform.org, commented on the idea of Wikistorming saying, "They're more concerned with making it politically correct than factually correct". "Wikistorming" as defined by the site is "inject[ing] feminist thinking into the popular website Wikipedia -- something critics are calling an eye-opening case of campus bias."
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- 2013-2014 DOCC Nodes
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