I’ll See You Online: Teaching Assistants, Google Hangouts, and the Online Classroom

This paper was presented at the Cultural Studies Association annual conference in Riverside, CA in May of 2015.


I’ll See You Online: Teaching Assistants, Google Hangouts, and the Online Classroom

When asked to be a teaching assistant for a fully online class at UC Riverside, my initial response was “of course…but what do I do?” The transition for teaching assistants into the digital world is an often overlooked aspect of online education, with little attention paid to issues of digital preparation, social media training, shifting labor demands, and digital pedagogy. In the physical classroom, teaching assistants play a vital role by grading papers, leading discussion sections, and most importantly, interacting with students. In the virtual classroom, however, TAs can easily become readers or aides that only grade papers and have little connection with students, or even the professor. In order to remedy this situation, in three online courses over the last two years in which I was a TA, the video conferencing service Google Hangouts was used for synchronous class discussions. Read more

Amazon: The New Consumer’s Bible

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Amazon cardboard robots (via dullneon)
and don’t worry, they’re for sale on Amazon

From November 2013, Derek Thompson writing for The Atlantic:
The Amazon Mystery: What America’s Strangest Tech Company Is Really Up To

Seriously: What is Amazon? A retail company? A media company? A logistics machine?

In a way, this strategy isn’t new at all. It’s ripped from the mildewed playbooks of the first national retail stores in American history. Amazon appears to be building nothing less than a global Sears, Roebuck of the 21st century—a large-scale operation that aims to dominate the future of shopping and shipping.

From October 2014, also Derek Thompson for The Atlantic:
What in the World Is Amazon?

…there is something devilishly seductive to the conveniences of digital capitalism that makes life better for us as consumers and worse for us as workers. Does buying diapers once from Amazon make one morally complicit in the working conditions of its warehouse employees? What about subscribing to Amazon Prime? Having an Amazon credit card?

A Constant State of Alarm – The Undersea Network

Also, an article on The Undersea Network, at Scientific American

This vision of autonomous networks is shaped more by Hollywood cinema than by actual cable operations. In reality, our global cable network is always in a sort of crisis and, at the same time, highly dependent on humans to power the steady flow of information transmissions.

the-undersea-network-coverExcerpts from The Undersea Network, Duke Press, 2015, by Nicole Starosielski

It would perhaps be more precise to say that cables are always in a state of “alarm.” An “alarm,” in network-speak, is anything from an indication that the cable has been severed to a reminder about a needed computer update.

Even if our signals continue to pass through cable systems without delay, the undersea network never quite functions perfectly on its own, that is, without alarm and without human assistance.

When I ask operators about the vulnerabilities of today’s undersea network, many express concerns about downsizing and retirements. They fear that carefully sustained industry knowledge will be lost and that there will be nobody to take their place that will adhere to the same standards of reliability. Recruiting the next generation of workers is difficult. There is no direct path to the industry and it remains largely invisible to the public.

Undersea Cables and Cybersecurity in Australia

Australia’s vulnerable submarine cables, by Jessica Woodall at The Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Scattered across the ocean floor in intricate webs, submarine cables transfer high data volumes between onshore nodes. Five main international cables connect Australia to cyberspace and global voice networks. They carry 99% of Australia’s total internet traffic, dwarfing the capacity of satellites. Submarine cables are vital to our communications, economic prosperity, and national security. They also tend to break. A lot.

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Cable repair ship, Ile de Re, in Port Jackson, or Sydney Harbor, Australia (via Australia Japan Cable)

In most regions of the world this isn’t unexpected, or particularly worrying. Submarine cables aren’t much thicker than a garden hose and for the most part sit untethered and unprotected on the sea floor. Inadvertent breakages from ship anchors, nets and natural phenomena such as undersea earthquakes occur frequently, averaging at least one a week. To mitigate this risk, international agreements between cable operating companies are extensive, repair ships are quickly deployed and traffic is usually rerouted through other cables.

Unfortunately, the situation for Australia is more complicated. Sitting in the Southern Hemisphere, we’re largely isolated from the busy network of Transatlantic and North Asian Cable lines. We’re also unable to use overland fibre optic cables from other countries, leaving us reliant upon just a handful of international undersea cables.

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Screenshot of Australia and New Zealand on TeleGeography’s submarine cable map at http://www.submarinecablemap.com

Sea Monsters and Submarine Cables

Vintage-style map of submarine cables by TeleGeography, updated for 2015.

This year’s map pays tribute to the pioneering mapmakers of the Age of Discovery, incorporating elements of medieval and renaissance cartography. In addition to serving as navigational aids, maps from this era were highly sought-after works of art, often adorned with fanciful illustrations of real and imagined dangers at sea. Such embellishments largely disappeared in the early 1600s, pushing modern map design into a purely functional direction.

sea-monster-book

To bring back the lost aesthetic that vanished along with these whimsical details, TeleGeography referenced a variety of resources in the design process. One of the most invaluable was Chet Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters in Medieval and Renaissance Maps book, which provides arguably the most complete history of the evolution of sea monsters and map design from this period. Our final product is a view of the global submarine cable network seen through the lens of a bygone era.

There’s an interactive online version of the map as well: http://submarine-cable-map-2015.telegeography.com

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“A new map of submarine cables connecting the world” (at TeleGeography)

(via Vox)