Considering Empathy (A Discussion with Students)

Exploring EmpathyAn impromptu discussion with my young students this week on the topic of empathy found a connection my head with the Equity Unbound project. I am not sure quite yet how those pieces fit, but they do. Maybe it is because empathy for others allows one to make change for better equity for all. And empathy is an upcoming discussion theme and thread for Equity Unbound.

Empathy, as defined at Wikipedia, is:

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

The comic above captures some of the thoughts of my 11 year old students as we discussed what empathy is and why the world might be a better place if more people showed deeper empathy. (I’m looking at you, Trump).

I was thrown off a bit by this response by Ruth.

But I responded:

And Terry added:

The last panel  of the comic is interesting in light of Equity Unbound (which is an online dispersed course with university students and professors from around the world mixed with a bunch of open participants like me), and the topic of how some digital spaces may work to discourage empathy is something my students and I will explore more in a few weeks during our Digital Lives unit. But the fact that it was so prevalent in the discussion with young people is both alarming and perhaps a door open for exploration.

Peace (may it come to you),
Kevin

 

Equity Unbound: Advocating for Accessibility

Alt text considerationsAn interesting discussion unfolded into the Equity Unbound hashtag the last few days as some of the organizers — who are university professors — launched a Twitter scavenger hunt, where people tweet mystery images and others tweet guesses as to what the image is.

The issue of accessibility to images and information for disabled participants, particularly those who use screen readers, sparked a discussion about the use of “alt-text” on images. If you don’t know what that is, alt-text is an option that allows you to layer some informational text along with an image, so that a screen reader for a blind participant, for example, can understand that an image has been shown and get some understanding of what the image is. (This is not to say screen readers are perfect, either).

On Twitter, you have to go into your profile on the web version and find the setting, and turn it on. It’s way at the bottom of the options. Once on, every image you post will give you a prompt on adding text to the image. But, the default for the setting is “off,” which seems rather strange. Maybe there is a technical reason. But I doubt it. (Mastodon, for example, has the default “on” for all users.) It’s also odd that the setting on Twitter for this is at the very bottom of the options, as if were a throw-away issue.

twitter alt text

I tweeted out an idea off the top of my head yesterday morning as I was thinking about accessibility — what if the Equity Unbound community wrote a crowd-sourced letter to Twitter, asking for it to make the alt-text option to be default as “on” as a way to make the platform for more accessible. After a day of teaching in the classroom, I found that a bunch of folks had taken up the idea, and a letter was already underway.

See the draft of the letter and consider signing it

Our friend, Greg, has been helpful in starting to share some online resources about this topic, and one of the links breaks down the types of images that might need alt-text for screen readers (such as informational images, photos with text in it, maps, etc.) and those that may not (decorative images). I also found a neat flowchart for making a decision about alt-text. There are also tips and tricks, and Alan even shared out a link about his suggestions for how one might write alt-text in a way to adds to the conversations.

Will Twitter listen to such a letter? Who knows. At times, it has seemed to ignore complaints and suggestions from its users. At other times, it seems like it has listened and made changes. If nothing else, it has all of us in theEquity Unbound network thinking about accessibility issues with digital platforms, and how to make the barriers of entry as low as possible for as many voices as possible.

Peace (write it for all spaces),
Kevin

 

Equity Unbound: Collection o’ Comics

I’m making some assorted comics for Unbound Equity project. These  are sort of hit or miss, to be honest. I’m hoping making comics will help me think about issues of equity and access in different ways, and add a little variety to the conversation stream.

The following comic is the best of the bunch from the last few days, I think. I was watching a Twitter Scavenger Hunt unfold in the #unboundeq hashtag (people were sharing mystery photos and others were guessing items), and I thought about someone misunderstanding the directions, and searching for Twitter itself. Particularly since so many people think Twitter has lost its original concept in this age of disinformation and hate.

Losing TwitterAnd this following comic came from me wondering about how we interact with people in places like Twitter, where personality is often understood through words alone. While this can be powerful, from a writing standpoint, it can also lead to misinterpretation. The last line is a nod to my six-word-bio I have pinned on Twitter.

Surfing Words on TwitterAnd then, there has been a conversation going on about using the alt-text feature of Twitter for photos — so that blind and/or disabled readers can still engage in the conversations (alt-text is read aloud by screen readers.) In Twitter, you have to turn the feature on. Which makes no sense to me at all. (In Mastodon, it is a default feature). This comic didn’t work as I wanted it to — the telescope was supposed to be a metaphor for narrow vision turned around into a wider understanding of the world. It came across as too preachy. The version I shared on Twitter was a video format, with audio voice (since one of my suggestions was to use audio for content). Ironically, by making the comic a video, I was unable to add alt-text to it.

Accessibility strategiesFinally, this comic is a response by Chris to another comic (about identity). The thread moved into technology platforms disappearing, and what happens to our data and our digital identity when that happens.

Disappearing Act

Peace (framed and sometimes funny),
Kevin

 

 

Equity Unbound Webcomic: Amplification Effect

Identity and Understanding Comic

I am doing some personal exploration for the Equity Unbound course/class/discussions, with the intent of making regular webcomics (I hope) to think through some of the prompts and points about, as the site says:

… questions of equity issues such as equity in web representation, digital colonialism, safety and security risks on the web, and how these differ across contexts.

Yesterday, I shared a comic and thoughts on how difficult it is to forge our own identities.

Today, I have a comic (above) thinking on how others views impacts how we see ourselves. The last frame/box is the most important of the comic. While it is easy to fall these days into the traps of negativity, I remain hopeful of the possibilities of networked digital spaces to expand not just notions of others, but also some semblance of kindness.

I hope you do, too.

I used kid characters in this comic for purposeful effect — to remember that this world we are in now contain the seeds of the world our children and our young students (I teach in an elementary school) are growing up in. We have an obligation to make it better than it is, for them as much for us.

I hope you agree.

Peace (making it happen),
Kevin

Equity Unbound Webcomic: Splintered Digital Identities

Composite Identity Comic

I am dipping into Equity Unbound, a new online course/collaboration with Mia Zamora, Maha Bali and Catherine Cronin. They will be working with university students as well as opening things up to other spaces where folks, like you and me, can jump in. (The Twitter tag is here: #unboundeq)  I am always interested in seeing how new offerings can be riffs off previous open learning networks, such as NetNarr, Rhizo, Digiwrimo, CLMOOC, and others.

One of the topics of the first week is to think about the nature of identity. I’ve done regular mulling on this topic of digital identities before and continue to be intrigued by the way we are perceived and the ways we project ourselves through networks and platforms. In my classroom with sixth graders (11 year olds), we have discussions about this in relation to creating avatars for online spaces and gaming platforms. What do your choices about your avatar say about you? About what you want others to think about you?

In some ways, we have the possibility to create new identities or to build off existing interests, to find groups with our interests (that long tail effect) and use identity to connect. In other ways, once we project ourselves into the world, we relinquish (sometimes, rather reluctantly) some authority over that identity since we lose the human interaction (facial expressions, hand movements, emotional reactions) that plays such a large role in the ways we understand another. This tension sits at the heart of the possibility and the problems of engaging in online discussions with others.

See more posts in the Identity tag here at my blog from over the years.

So, I am thinking I might do some webcomics for this Equity Unbound course as much as possible, as another way for me think about different issues. I created the comic above as I was pondering this question of how our digital interactions are often two sides of our identity — sometimes on purpose and sometimes, not.

Peace (framed),
Kevin