Interview with Laura Wildemann Kane

Interview with Laura Wildemann Kane

Laura Wildemann Kane is an assistant professor in Philosophy at Worcester State University, as well as a faculty fellow for the Clemente Course in the humanities (Worcester branch). She received a PhD in philosophy and certificate in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy from CUNY Graduate Center in 2017. She was a GC Digital Fellow from 2012-2015, joining GCDI in its first year of operation.

GCDI Program Coordinator Jessie McCormack, a PhD candidate in philosophy, had a chance to catch up with her to see how her experience as a digital fellow has shaped her continued journey in academia.

What led you to the digital humanities and working with GCDI?

When I was an undergrad and at the beginning of grad school, I worked at an Apple computer repair shop as a technician, so I learned a lot about computers. I learned I had a knack for computers, and I had an interest in just learning more about technology and how technology is used in academia, especially with respect to teaching. So, I took the ITP program certificate courses. Through that, I learned a lot more about how technology interacts with pedagogy and I also met a number of other people who encouraged me to apply for the Digital Fellowship. So I did!

What was your experience like with the fellowship? How was it to work alongside fellows from other disciplines?

I loved it. It was really neat to be with scholars from these different disciplines with different approaches to technology, what we could do with technology, and how it should be used in our disciplines. Everyone was very open and collaborative—we hung out a lot together in the GCDI space, beyond when we were required to be there. We just liked to hang out together.

I was in the first cohort of fellows, so we were kind of defining what the fellowship was. It was brand new; the six of us that were picked were the very first ones, so a lot of our work was trying to figure out an identity for what the program was. I know it’s very different now; there’s a set plan for what fellows are supposed to do.  I developed the initiative to have GCDI workshops. I was the main fellow who organized them every semester and who helped coordinate who was going to be teaching what. All the fellows were very collaborative with trying to teach the workshops and trying to participate and get people involved

I remember when we started to establish cross-channels with Futures Initiatives, etc. I got tasked with building a lot of websites for different programs at the GC. In building all these websites, I learned a lot about the programs. It was neat in that it connected me to faculty and to programs that I might not have had any other reason to. I got to learn about a lot of stuff that was happening at the GC, and I got to be involved with a lot of it in a meaningful way rather than as just an observer.

What did you do after your digital fellowship concluded?

I was a DF for 3 years, and then I was approached to consider applying for the managing editor position at the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. I got the position, and I was the managing editor at the JITP for my last two years at the GC. I helped organize a number of changes at the journal and shepherded four and half issues into production. After I left and started at University of Tampa, I co-edited an issue of JITP in 2018, an issue at the intersection of technology and pedagogy.

The GCDI fellowship was instrumental for my being able to get that managing editor position. It also gave me a good foundation of theoretical, practical, and hands-on knowledge to apply to the different areas of the journal. I knew what to be looking for content-wise from authors and I knew how to help encourage and manage editors so that we were able to get really good content for the journal. It helped me get my own publication in the Journal (I co-wrote the introduction to issue 13 with my co-editor). Additionally, I credit the GCDI fellowship for helping me to land my first tenure-track job at the University of Tampa. I had this interesting part of my CV that was all about trying to explore the intersection of philosophy and technology and digital humanities. I know that the people who hired me there specifically mentioned that they found that interesting.

What have you been doing recently? Does your work continue to intersect digital humanities and technology?

I’m co-authoring a paper right now with Danica Savonick and Amanda Licastro, both GC alumnae, both part of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. The three of us are writing about digital publishing and how the JITP—which is housed at the GC—is symbolic of feminist methods in digital publishing because it’s open access, open source, and we have a democratic editorial collective, which is very uncommon in journals. We’ve finished this paper and it’s in peer review. Last year I had a paper come out in the Journal of Applied Philosophy about whether shaming on the internet that’s done by internet mobs is the appropriate normative response to mitigate, e.g., racist or sexist posts on the internet, or if it would be more pragmatic if we took a more restorative approach to those kinds of offensive posts on the internet. [Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/japp.12427 ]

I was excited to see another philosopher involved in digital humanities. Do you think it’s becoming more common? What would you say to philosophers considering getting into it?

I think there are many more philosophers intersecting with not even just digital pedagogy but also digital projects. There’s a lot more research being done on the internet—I think it had always been there, but it’s getting a lot more attention now, with philosophers like Karen Frost Arnold and Regina Rini working on fake news and epistemology on the internet and Kate Norlock working on internet mobs. There are also philosophers doing data modeling, like Mark Alfano—another GC alum—which is cool. So I do see progress being made, and I see philosophy being more welcomed into digital initiatives.

One thing that’s interesting to think about is how philosophers can use new technologies that are available to offer more meaningful activities and assignments to students. For instance, there are “un-essays,” which cropped up in technology and digital humanities courses. An un-essay is an assignment that tries to encourages students to be creative with how they utilize and apply the knowledge that they’ve received in a course in a way that isn’t just regurgitated in a course paper. For instance, in my feminist theory course, I try to encourage students to use digital aspects to communicate some of the concepts and the theories we’ve discussed. I tell them they can create a digital game or board game that explains how women’s advances in the sciences seems to come at two steps forward, one step back in terms of encountering things like sexism, or hierarchies in terms of gender symbolism, or epistemic oppression or testimonial injustice with respect to women’s publishing. So, you can create games that communicate those ideas clearly without having to write a paper about it; the game can capture what’s going on. Or students can create graphical novels that can demonstrate how a woman might experience sexism or misogyny, as relating to Kate Manne’s work. Or a person could write a screenplay, act it out, film it, and show it to the class. Incorporating technology and digital components can help create a much more meaningful final project for students. They can really understand and internalize those concepts and theories, and creatively express how it connects with them.

It’s the same thing with written assignments. I’ve used blogs and I’ve made my own WordPress multi-sites on CUNY academic commons. I’ve used Buddypress—which is something CUNY Academic Commons uses—to create social networks in my classes so that students can comment on one another’s posts. It’s closed and password-protected, so they can write without fear that someone from the outside will be reading and misinterpreting what they’re saying. Within these social networks, they can message one another, create their own profiles for their class on my website. All these uses of technology can help foster communication and collaboration not just inside the classroom, but outside the classroom. I wouldn’t have really known about those things, or had the same level of experience, if I hadn’t participated in the GCDI fellowship.

I think philosophers can use those kinds of tools and approaches the same way that people in Digital Humanities can: they can keep the theoretical rigor of philosophy courses, but incorporate these newer methods for establishing communication and community in their classrooms, and also give students interesting and creative ways to capture the ideas covered in classes, in a way that they feel like they have significant input. It’s not just me telling them to write a course paper: it’s them coming up with the best way they think they can present these ideas.

I also think it could challenge what we think of as a legitimate form of publication. Interviews, I think, are the easiest next step to take. An interview could count as a legitimate form of publication, an interview where you discuss your work. But you can think about video testimonials, or you can think about digital or art installations, with a read-along or audio file or something, as counting as a publication if it’s done in a way that captures that philosophical rigor. I don’t see why we couldn’t use technology to broaden what we think of as a legitimate philosophical publication. That’s one thing JITP does, it tries to publish beyond the standard article. We’ve published videos before, we’ve published a number of websites and digital portfolios as scholarship. And I don’t see why philosophers can’t do the same thing.

Thank you so much for doing the interview with me! I was really glad you agreed to, because I agree with you that philosophy should get more into this.

It can! It can do it!

Hopefully the more of us that exist, the more things will change. It seems almost unavoidable, so, do we want to get on the train now, or do we want to get on it late?

And if we’re competing with apps like Tik-Tok, for attention, then philosophers need to adapt and be on top of it with their ideas.

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