Spring 2018 Course

A COPLAC Digital Distance Learning Course

Author: verrastro (page 1 of 2)

Defense of Contract

Though I felt confident before today, after Sean and I’s successful presentation of our website, I feel even more confident in my defense of our contract. At the completion of the course, I believe we met all, and exceeded some, of the goals we outlined for ourselves when we first created the project contract.

When it comes to the mission statement, I felt it was very important we make it a central part of our project to not only demonstrate all sides of the case, but also provide perspectives from people who aren’t often featured in censorship cases: the students and the school faculty. This was thoroughly accomplished through our interviews with Trish Warren and Carly Maldonado, as they both represent distinct points of view I felt were not often represented in popular media’s coverage of censorship cases. Though I was in touch with the teacher we wanted to interview, Carole Barnabas, and she agreed to answering questions, she never got back to us, despite my reaching out. I think we were successful in our portrayal of the case and those involved without her direct input, though Furthermore, we were able to give a well-rounded view of the case with the Alex Sanchez interview and our page dedicated to Rev. Morse. Though we were not able to get in touch with him, I think we represented his views to the best of our ability and gave context to why he might have objected to the book and challenged it. I’m proud of our ability to demonstrate how censorship cases often involve far more people than just the challenger and their student.

As far as our process goes involving the tools we used, I think we were able to utilize a vast about of resources to produce our project according to our contract. WordPress’s theme Activello was great in the final production of our project because it allowed for a search bar and two separate navigation sections, including a left sided one, that fit the design we had envisioned earlier in the semester. Coggle and Google Docs were key in allowing me and Sean to share ideas and give feedback to each other, especially when we were not able to meet in person. We felt these organizational tools really helped us plan and carry out Behind the Rainbow. Similarly, we were able to successfully incorporate an interactive timeline and map using Timeline JS and StoryMap JS, which we found to enrich our site even more. We similarly incorporated elements that went outside of the class requirements through our use of the SUNY Geneseo online academic databases and YouTube. We were able to use an academic article written about Rainbow Boys to demonstrate the issues with the novel from the left and YouTube to demonstrate Sanchez’s commitment to bettering LGBT life.

When it came to the Milestones, I think we strove to meet our plan, but as Rebecca always reminds us, we can’t control other people, so some of the interviews and related content were delayed. I think the milestones enhanced our ability to design our project effectively because sometimes it felt like we had so much to do, but I would be able to look at the project contract and focus myself on a specific part of the website for that week.

Finally, when it comes to the division of labor, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner than Sean. We were able to both contribute equally to website, and a big part of that was because we were able to work together and weren’t afraid to ask for help when we needed it. We pretty much stuck to our assigned content, but were able to edit and clarify each other’s sections, which was another way to augment our website.

Overall, I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be showing off our website for years to come.

 

 

Progress Report #5

For my last progress report, I want to focus on the feedback we’ve gotten from both COPLAC students and professors. I like to think about feedback as advice on how to strengthen our website instead of just as something that points out our flaws. The feedback we got from Cara and Karina was really helpful, both in person and on hypothesis. I definitely think adding the transcripts of the news articles is smart because they will help people read them and make them searchable. It’s good to have this feedback because I can read the articles so I wasn’t thinking other people wouldn’t be able to, but now I know how to make our site better. Similarly, we’ve been working on this site for so long and there are typos we need to fix because I’ve been reading it and rereading it for so long that I just read it how I wanted to read it, so I’m grateful for help in that area.

There are some things I’m not sure how to fix, such as the italics in the Timeline JS or the color of the hyperlinks, but Sean and I are going to tackle that this week. Another fix that is less straightforward to me is the permission from the D&C because I’m a bit confused. I had asked about that a few weeks ago and I thought that Leah said because I got the articles from newspapers.com permission from the newspaper wasn’t needed, so I’m not sure where to go from here. Also, I’m not sure what pictures to insert to break up the text. I don’t want to randomly insert images that aren’t related, so I’m hoping Sean has some ideas for that.

I’m excited to tackle all the feedback otherwise because it feels a bit like spring cleaning. Organizing and cleaning up the website is almost therapeutic. It didn’t occur to me until reading the feedback that some links and stuff would be faulty because they worked for me. Now I realize I will have to look at the website while logged out so that I can see what a third party observer sees and understand what they experience. I really appreciate the feedback we got because sometimes when you create something it’s hard to look at it and see its flaws. One of the things I really appreciate is that with the constructive criticism there were also compliments. It’s nice to know that some things work well and makes it easier to see how other aspects need to be enhanced. I really felt good about these comments from Cara and Karina and am happy we all got to engage in this peer feedback.

Another benefit of the feedback is that going over it demonstrates what might be our main parts of the website. This will help Sean and I figure out what pages we want to showcase when we do our presentation

Progress Report #4

I had a weird feeling come over me today when Sean and I were presenting our website. I didn’t realize until later that it was pride—in the website, all the work we did, and what we were able to present. It’s not that I wasn’t proud up until that point, but I’m usually not the best at public speaking, so I don’t usually experience that level of pride where I want to show everyone everything about my project if I don’t have to. But that’s what happened today. I wanted to brag about how awesome, at least to me, everything turned out. I was worried I was actually going to take up too much time. It was a great feeling, but I also know that it just means I’m going to take the critiques of my website that much harder. I understand the necessity and that it will only serve to make the website better, but I’ve always been a bit afraid of criticism even if it is constructive. I’m looking forward to improving my website based on the feedback, but I almost wish that part was over with already. Similarly, I find it hard to wait for criticism. I know, it makes no sense. Why would I say I hate criticism and then say I’m impatient for it? It’s because I know it’s coming; I want it as soon as possible, so I can address the issues as soon as possible.

I’m plan on keeping my fears in mind when using Hypothesis to evaluate UNC Ashville’s website. I can already tell they put a lot of work into it and that any suggestions I have are just things intended to strengthen the website rather than point out something they missed.

I’m been looking over the other websites for the past few weeks now, both inside and outside of class, but I’m looking forward to doing an in-depth study of Buncombe & The Bluest Eye. I have never read the book, but I have studied Toni Morrison, so I’m interested to learn more. Furthermore, their challenge was more recent, so I definitely think that will lend to a website structure and information portrayal that differs from ours. I’m planning on going over the website throughout the week to really get a feel for it, so that my feedback is useful and not just criticism, which I definitely understand is hard to take.

I don’t handle constructive criticism well at first, but after moving past the initial feeling of being uncomfortable, I take it for the often valuable advice it is. One thing I really like about the COPLAC class is that even though we are not attending in the same space, it’s such a small group that it makes for a more intimate setting. I’m more comfortable with these fellow students critiquing my website because I’ve known them—stared at them over a computer screen, really—for weeks. Sometimes, with a bigger in-person class that doesn’t happen. I’m glad I got to experience a class like this before I graduate.

Progress Report #3

I’m very happy with the progress Sean and I have made on our website so far—though there’s still work to be done. I know that part of the progress was held up because we were struggling to find all the major players in the Webster case due to confidentiality issues and the amount of time that had passed since it was challenged. Unfortunately, Carole Barnabas—our teacher who had agreed to an Q & A over email—has not gotten back to me, and I fear we will not be able to incorporate her perspective into the website. However, now that we probably have the name of the alleged challenger, that does make up for it a bit. We’re trying to find out more about the challenger—who, based on evidence, we believe to Reverend Ronald Morse from Victory Baptist Church in Rochester, NY.

Earlier tonight when Sean and I were at work, we were discussing our plan for finishing the website this week. He mentioned that when he messaged the Reverend on Facebook, there was an indication that Morse had seen Sean’s message, but Sean did not get a response. I’m worried that Morse might’ve just decided to ignore our reaching out to him. Sometimes Facebook can be weird and it is not the most reliable way of communication, so I’m not completely hopeless, but I’m just being realistic. If that’s the case, I will understand, but I’ll be disappointed. I wanted to be able to portray both sides, but I definitely think we tried to find out as much as we could. Furthermore, we’re going to construct a background based on what we are able to learn about the Reverend and his church, the Victory Baptist Church.

When looking for articles about Morse on Newspapers.com (s/o to Cathy, Thanks!) I found an article from 2005 where Reverend Morse and numerous other Rochester area religious leaders signed a statement affirming their belief that marriage was between a man and a woman.

This is great because it helps provide historical context. Of course, there are still challenges to gay marriage in the US even though it is legal now, but I feel like in the early-mid 2000s tensions were much more heightened. Different states were passing laws to legalize and illegalize gay marriage. I’m going to look into the Reverend’s church a little more to try and find more historical context this week.

For next week, I’m also going to finish up the StoryMap; provided it doesn’t give me any more trouble. Then, I have to polish up and proofread all our content so that it reads well and is grammatically correct. Similarly, I’m trying to figure out the best way to present our newspaper clippings and images on the website so that they are with the content they relate to, but then I think maybe it’s good to keep them together. Sean and I are navigating that and we created a game plan to put the finishing touches on the website for next Monday.

Post Alex Sanchez Interview

I’m happy to report Alex Sanchez got back to me today with his interview responses! It was really cool to get to communicate with the author of the book we’re studying and get his input in our project. When I study literature in other classes, most of the authors we read are dead—and have been for a while, so there is never even the possibility of getting to interact with them. I was excited to read his responses and see what he could add to our project.

I thought it was weird that he did not respond to the few questions I posed that directly referenced the Webster case we’re investigating. However, after class today, I think it’s probably because he consulted a lawyer or agent who advised him to use caution when answering questions. It’s also possible he’s not supposed to talk about cases like that for one reason or another. Either way, even though I wanted to get his take on the specific case, we have a pretty good background on the case, so his responses could’ve been more interesting then informative, possibly. I think because it’s later in the course and we’ve done so much research on the case, the need for him to provide details about the Webster case is less now than it would’ve been in February. I think the answers he did give will be a big benefit to the website.

I really like Sanchez’s idea of controversial books being dealt with by the individual family and not school wide. It would make sense to follow the practice of parents objecting to their specific child reading something, but not having say over other children. As Sanchez asserts, “But in a free society, no single individual has the right to prevent others from reading books they wish to read.” This is very important because if some parents from the Webster school wanted their children to read Rainbow Boys or similar books as part of their summer reading, then they should be able to easily, without having to contend with other parents’ decisions for their own families. I think this is a policy more schools should adopt, even though it’s not a complete solution to censorship issues. Parents shouldn’t be able to get their children out of reading certain books just because they are not comfortable with the content. Some books, especially ones we read in school, are meant to provoke feelings and teach new and different perspectives.

Sanchez’s responses also highlight how society has changed since Rainbow Boys was first published in 2001. This case—since it was over a decade ago—and his responses demonstrate how more LGBT representation can be found in popular culture and how, on some level, society is more accepting of these themes. He makes a very important point, however, when he emphasizes that even though things have improved, we still have a lot of work to do. I agree that the way to continue progressing and advancing is to represent more marginalized and minority voices in literature.

Timeline JS

I really enjoyed working with Timeline JS this week. I had never used it before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had wanted a timeline for our website, but I imagined it would be something pretty simple and just words. However, after seeing how to work with Timeline JS, I am excited to be able to include such an interesting and multifaceted feature on our website. I sometimes feel like this class is introducing me to so many different types of technology that I didn’t even know existed. I like to consider myself somewhat technologically savvy, but not when it comes to this class. I was very confused with how Timeline worked at first, and I imagine this is what older people feel like when it comes to email or smartphones. The one thing I do wish is that we could’ve tried working with Timeline earlier in the semester like we did for StoryMap JS.

When first exploring the Timeline website, I found some really cool examples of other timelines, including one tracing the trial of a famous criminal, which was very compelling.

I was wishing I had more things to make into Timelines or that more of my classes would include Timeline in our assignments.

When Sean and I were trying to figure out the dates to include in the Timeline we knew the obvious ones to put in but were less sure about other peripheral dates. I think it can be hard to take our project that has so many different avenues and condense it down a Timeline immediately; we had to almost take a step back and think which dates were important and what they added to or showed about our case. Besides the dates of the challenge of the book, I thought it would be important to include the notoriety the book received. I included an award Rainbow Boys had gotten and the date it became a bestseller to demonstrate how popular the book was. If the American Library Association considered it to be an outstanding YA novel, then it calls into question why community members feel it’s not appropriate for young adults. Similarly, I wanted to highlight the journal article Sean and I discovered that calls Rainbow Boys‘ content out from a left perspective because it is too stereotypical. I think it’s important that our timeline try to demonstrate all areas of our project.

I’m very happy with our Timeline for Rainbow Boys, and I’m looking forward to putting it into our website. I tried to figure it how to do it after class today, but I was not sure how to embed it to get it the show up as a timeline and not just the text, which kept happening. I know it’ll be easy to do once I actually look up directions on how to do it, I just thought I could try to MacGyver it myself.

Interview Preparation

I was so excited to land an interview with Alex Sanchez, the author of Rainbow Boys, last week. The first time I corresponded with him, which was just to ask about the Webster case, I did not even expect him to respond, but he did and was super nice about it. That gave me more confidence that he might be willing to be interviewed for the website. The fact that it was not a cold call for an interview felt better to me as well. I was very nervous to ask because I have a natural fear of rejection, so I wanted to make the interview as easy as possible for him to increase our chances of him agreeing to it. I thought he would be more likely to agree if I just emailed him the questions so he could answer them at his leisure and he said yes!

 

 

I was a little surprised by his quick response, but very grateful he agreed to the interview. I had been drafting a tentative list of questions to ask him ever since Sean and I first thought about the possibility of interviewing Alex Sanchez. However, for whatever reason, after he agreed to the interview every question seemed not good enough or too silly to ask. I think I was just nervous since he was so generously agreeing to help us. After consulting with Sean about his interview preparation for Trish, I eventually settled on the following questions:

As an author, what are your thoughts on issue of challenging books as it relates to your profession? To your personal views?

I know 2006 was a while ago, but what do you remember about the challenge of Rainbow Boys in Webster, NY? Anything about the challenger? Or the residents who fought to get the book back?

You’re quoted saying the removal of the book from the reading list was “un-American,” made you decide to reach out to the Webster School district’s administration?

So far we found three challenges to your book in the US and a cancelled speaking event in Canada, did you expect this sort of response?

Do you still hear about challenges to Rainbow Boys and its sequels Rainbow High and Rainbow Road over a decade and a half later?

Often times when books with gay themes are challenged the challengers claim they are challenged for “sexual themes” and not for having gay content. What do you think about this?

What are your thoughts on representation of LGBT  characters or other underrepresented groups in YA books? Have things changed since Rainbow Boys came out in 2001?

Anything else you’d like to share or raise awareness of?

I added the last question in at the last minute because I was happy with the questions I had developed, but I was worried I might have missed something that I wanted to give Alex the chance to say. The obvious downside to the emailed interview questions is that I am not able to ask follow up questions based on Alex’s response, but I think I left the questions open ended enough to result in in-depth answers. The question I had the most issues with was the one where I ask about the meaning behind banning books with gay themes under the guise of “sex scenes” or “inappropriate language.” This is because it’s known that this is often a way to get rid of gay books without being outright homophobic. Other books with straight sex scenes aren’t challenged, so it’s clear there can sometimes be a bias. I wanted to stay away from loaded language, so that Alex’s answers wouldn’t be led or influenced by my views.

I’m eagerly waiting for his response because I want to be able to use it in the site–I was sure to include a consent form when I emailed him–but I am also genuinely interested in his take on censorship. I’m hoping he will get back to me sometime this week.

Progress Report #2

As I mentioned in class, I’m happy to report that I finally got my Freedom of Information Act request documents. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. I received the documents via email a little before 2pm today, and Sean and I went over the files after class. The contact at the Webster School District, Ms. Cushman, sent me a pdf of over 35 pages, so it wasn’t that hard to go through. I had requested the board meeting minutes from all meetings, regular and special, from April 2006-November 2006, since we know the pulling of the book from the library reading list happened around May or June of 2006. Since there are no official documents about the challenging of the book, Sean and I had been hoping there might’ve been a tangential board of ed discussion we could look into. Also, when we spoke with the former student, Carly, she said she couldn’t remember the name of the complainant but might have remembered him speaking at a board meeting. Thus, we had been hoping we might be able to find the complainant’s name for our case. However, the records revealed nothing.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect because I had never looked at board meeting minutes before, but the minutes for each meeting were pretty short. I don’t know if this is because there just wasn’t a lot going on, or if the notes are always very minimal. I had been hoping there would be something to uncover, but we were disappointed. I’m a little embarrassed because we were so excited to get these documents, and they turned out to be nothing. It reminded me of in the beginning of our research when we found the articles about our case written for the Democrat & Chronicle, and then we found that the reporter was no longer an employee of the D&C.

I am definitely feel the issues with having a case that is a little over a decade old. I think this is especially emphasized because in the mid-2000s society was transitioning to one that relied more and more on technology. What I mean is because we didn’t have the access to technology that we have now, it’s frustrating to try and find digital records because we expect the access we have now. If there was a case from today being researched in 10 years, the researchers would have much more digital information to look through and gather intel from. 

The disappointment with the meeting minutes not withstanding, I am excited to move forward with our case using the interviews we’re lining up for the next weeks. I am similarly having fun playing around with the WordPress website, but sometimes I stumble upon a function or display that I think would useful by accident, so I then have to try and find my way back to it in order to incorporate it. I’m glad I’ll be able to update my resume with my new WordPress skills. Even though the documents were a bust, I am looking on the bright side.

Progress Report #1

I had been putting off write my blog post this week because I was hoping I would be able to report in my progress report that I had received the Board of Education minutes I had requested through the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I was thrown off because I reached out to the contact person listed for this information, Ms. Cushman, on February 14th and she got back to me on February 15th saying she would get the documents to me in the next few days. I was surprised by the quick response and looking forward to getting the documents, but all last week I waited for an email that never came. I understand it can be hard to get the documents together, especially since they’re from the mid-2000s, but because her email conveyed she would be able to get the files together rather quickly I was expecting them sometime during this past week. Now that they haven’t come, I’m not sure what to do.                

I know I should be reaching out soon to double-check that she is getting the documents in order, but I’m not sure what a polite amount of time is. I don’t want to be nagging or too aggressive because then she won’t be inclined to help me at all. At the same time, is there a reason she hasn’t gotten the documents to me yet? I’m wondering if there’s some issue because they don’t want us to have the documents dealing with the censorship case, even though the information in them that pertain to our case would be minimal. I’ll give it until mid-week and then I’ll consult with Sean before emailing the contact again.                                                        

In more uplifting news, when Sean and I spoke with the student who wrote the op-ed about the book challenge she gave us great insight into the student perspective on censorship and a new name to investigate. When we asked her what she remembered, she was able to point us in the direction of a teacher who was involved in the case, Carole. Though the teacher is now retired, the student, Carly, assured us she was very active on Facebook, so we could try to reach out to her that way. I totally understand why some people might be apprehensive about contacting people over Facebook because it can seem like an invasion of privacy; I hoping that if I am polite and courteous and explain that we would’ve reached out over email if we had the opportunity, the teacher will be open to speaking with us, even if it’s just answering a few questions. It will definitely give us a new perspective on book challenges

I’m very excited about the direction our Rainbow Boys project is taking because it feels like something that’s not often investigated. Students should be the priority when it comes to what content to include in schools, but not a lot of people showcase their opinions. The same goes for the teachers and librarians tasked with the content. I think this will help shape our project.

Survey of Technology

Sean and I conducted our survey of technology this week. We both work as tutors in the library, so we’re there pretty frequently, making it easy to talk with both the library staff and the Computing and Information Technology (CIT) staff (also located in the library) about the equipment and assistance we will have access to when we start building our COPLAC site.

Sean and I at work in the Geneseo Writing Learning Center located in the library.

We found that we have access to a host of different devices through our school. We will be able to rent out digital voice recorders, video cameras, scanners, and cameras with tripods for multiple days at a time. What’s also extremely helpful is that the CIT staff will be able to teach us how to use the equipment. One thing that this survey made me think about was what the benefits might be of having school technology versus the tools we have on our phones. I’ve seen people use the voice recorder on iPhones pretty frequently, so I’m wondering if there’s a difference in the features of each tool. It’s definitely possible that the school equipment is much better quality, but I think it would be much easier to record stuff on my phone because it’ll make it that much more accessible for our website. Either way, I’m satisfied that there are a bunch of people on campus willing to help us with our website.

The people working at CIT are also able to help beyond showing us how to operate equipment and enhancing our WordPress skills. They turned us onto these great services they offer that specifically pertain to creative media projects. I never knew the school had these services available, and, though I wish they had been more publicized so I could’ve discovered them before my senior year, I’m so glad I found them.

I found a few places to turn for help outside the library as well. A few good friends of mine took a digital humanities class last semester, taught by Dr. Schacht who is our resident digital humanities expert, and I think they will be able to point me in the right direction once we start getting more specific about our website design. Furthermore, they would be able to put us in touch with Dr. Schacht if we need his help. Another unexpected resource I will probably turn to is my friend Emily who took a COPLAC class two years ago. She has already told me about her experience and given me tips for time management, places to go for help on campus, and website designing.

The last resource I found was Allison Brown, the Digital Publishing Services Manager on campus. Allison works with my English class to produce a literary magazine, Gandy Dancer, that requires a lot of online design for not only the printed journal but also our website. I’ve worked with her before and she’s really nice and so knowledgeable. Even though she’s not a traditional digital resource, I think Sean and I will definitely be reaching out to her occasionally–especially since we’ll be spending time with her when she helps out our English class.

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