CHI metadata deadline

Today’s the day we have to submit the CHI2018 metadata for each of the paper that we are going to submit.

Usually this day I’m stressed out. I worry. And I start to re-read and care about every single word that is in my abstract and paper title. Generally, by this point, all I worry about is my paper(s) and spend hours re-reading each of them, changing very little, but feeling like I’ve accomplished something. In reality, all I’ve done is print out the paper, make pencil or pen marks on it, translate those marks into my .docx file, and save the thing as a new draft in the appropriate folder. It doesn’t really do much, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, the editing process is invaluable (and I actually really enjoy this process), but it gets to a point where all you’re changing are a word every now and again. And then I really wonder how much use it is.

Sometimes it useful though. During some of these 10s of read-throughs, every now and again, I notice that a discussion point doesn’t really make sense, or that I could use a different example to illustrate a point more accurately. So I change a whole column or page of the paper, I re-write paragraphs and shuffle them around.

But sometimes, it really does just end up being something along the lines of: should I use this word or this other word that means pretty much the same thing here?

It’s the kind of editing that resembles the latter that I’m not sure on how useful it is. I don’t think I’m changing the paper very much at that point, but it has helped me feel more comfortable with and confident of what I’ve written. So maybe it’s useful afterall…

Anyway, this year has been weird. I’ve not really felt the ‘chi stress’ that I’ve felt in previous years. I’ve happily worked on my papers, writing, editing, talking to others about it. I’ve been deleting pages worth of stuff and re-writing it and doing superficial read-throughs of the paper to decide which words fit best in which sentences. To be honest, I’m still doing all sorts of reviews and changes on my papers, but I’m enjoying it much more than I have in the past.

On top of this, I’m also doing some very non-CHI related work. It’s a nice alternative to the constant re-reading of paper and paper sections. Instead, it allows me to focus on something completely different for a bit, which then allows me to come back to the papers with fresh eyes.

In a weird roundabout way I also think it’s making it all feel less stressful. Even though I’m technically doing ‘more’ stuff, I feel like I’m stressing less about the individual things I’m doing. I just kind of get on with it. And enjoy it. Since the other things I’m doing are not related to the papers (or even projects I talk about in the papers) I’m writing this year, it really is like taking a little holiday from CHI. Even if it’s just a few hours every day, it seems to make a huge difference.

And dare I say it, I’m a little excited about the coming deadline!
(I guess this might have something to do with my mum coming to visit me on the day after the deadline…but shh)

No, but really. I’m excited to hand in my papers. I’m proud of them and I like what my co-authors and I have written. I’m sure we’ll get some harsh reviews, somebody won’t see the point in the paper, and somebody else will love it. It’s weird though, I’m so curious about what other HCI researchers think about what we’ve written – and what they think about the projects that are represented in the paper.

Book chapters are a weird beast to master

I’ve not blogged here for a long time, so again I’m going to say how strange it is to get back into this. This time, I found this title in my ‘drafts’ in the blog post folder, so let’s see where this takes me in the next half hour or so.

Book chapter are a weird beast to master. There are so many different types of books and types of chapters, and it’s all very dependent on discipline and methodology. It’s a weird and complex hodgepodge of words.

Maybe I should explain myself a little before I get too far down the rabbit hole about how weird I think book chapters are. So, essentially I’m a PhD student who’s trying to write words for her dissertation while simultaneously trying to publish my academic work in a number of different formats. I’m working on stuff that is very much at the intersection of HCI and social sciences (and I’m using the term ‘social sciences’ here because I can’t figure out where in the social sciences my work actually fits in quite yet…). Since I’m still not entirely sure whether I want to go into social sciences or HCI after I finish my PhD, I want to try to publish in both spaces, in different formats. I’ve published papers in HCI, and have started going to social science focused conferences recently, but I’ve yet to publish in the social sciences.

That’s about to change!

A few months ago, I received a CfP for a book surrounding sex industry research. One of the sections of the book was something like ‘underresearched areas’ and another one was ‘technologies’. In my head, I think technologies and sex work are generally underresearched so I decided to write an abstract for the ‘underresearched areas’ section of the book.

Writing this abstract took me aaages. I couldn’t quite figure out how I could write what I wanted to write and have it make sense to a social science audience. I hadn’t realised just how much of the language I use in my writing is HCI-specific! So I went through and edited, edited, edited. I re-wrote things, took things out, restructured my abstract until it was the deadline.

To be fair, I probably freaked out much more than I needed to, but I wanted my ‘social science debut’ to be good. A few weeks later I get an e-mail from the editors and as it turns out my abstract was good enough! woop! So I’ll be writing a book chapter for the ‘Handbook of Sex Industry Research’. They did however change my chapter into the ‘technology’ section, which I wasn’t super happy about – but I can see why they did it.

So anyway, a few weeks roll around and I decide to get over my fear and try to figure out how to even start writing a book chapter. I remembered the vast amounts of editing and re-writing it took me to get the abstract into somewhat send-off-able shape, and just tried to have a go at the chapter.

At first, it went really slowly. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, what I was trying to say, or even how to get a start at my chapter. I wrote a few sentences and let it sit for a while. Even though I had months before the deadline, I was starting to get worried that I hadn’t given it a proper go yet, but still couldn’t figure out how to go about doing it. It kept sitting in my head as something that I needed to figure out. It wasn’t something that actively stressed me out or scared me, but it was just this little thing in my mind that, every  now and again, would come up.

One Saturday, pretty randomly, I felt like I wanted to have a proper go at the chapter. I lied in bed thinking about what I wanted to write and it seemed to all make sense. It seemed like I knew what I wanted to write, what pictures I wanted to include, and how I wanted to shape my argument that would be my ‘social science debut’. It would be political and strongly worded, it would be reflexive, show what cool work I’ve been doing, but then also questioning why I did things in a certain way. I got out of bed got ready really quickly and headed outside to go to Pink Lane Coffee. I ordered my flat white, sat down on their brown leather couch, and had a go. I started with writing notes in my notebook, then developed a skeleton for the chapter in a word document and then had a go at writing the thing. I spent hours that day writing away, not really re-reading what I had written – just getting words on the page. I ended up with more than 5,000 words that day and still wasn’t completely finished. But I left it at that.

I don’t really remember what I did the rest of that day, but I’m pretty sure I slept well that night.

After having that start on the chapter, I felt good about it for a few weeks – I thought I had figured it out and was happy with what I had written, knowing that I had a lot of work left on it (I had still to write the conclusion, for example). So I let a few weeks pass again before I had another go at it. This time I picked up a printed out copy of the words I had written that Saturday that I had lying on my desk and started to have a go through it. I put it down almost instantly as I realised how bad the words I had written were.

Instead of being discouraged by this, I told myself: at leat you’ve got words down. Words are editable. You can re-write the whole thing, but at least you’ve got an outline that somewhat makes sense, and at least you’ve got words. You can edit them.

I don’t remember whether it was a few days or weeks later, but I had to go to a cafe again to get this sorted. This time I sat in the Settle Down Cafe and took the chapter and a pen out of my bag. A sip of my flat white, a deep breath, and then I started. I don’t think a single sentence was left in tact from my initial chapter. Almost all the pictures were deleted, and the structure changed drastically. It was a pretty  heavy re-write of what I had done on that long Saturday in Pink Lane Coffee. But this time I actually felt good about it.

I had essentially hand-written the entire chapter through my edits on the printed out page; many of my notes were now only legible to me, and the arrows and asterix’ stopped making sense after a while.

After a change in scenery I decided to try to type up what my hand had spilled on the page – I went through all of my notes, typing things up as I went along. Trying to decipher what I was trying to say wasn’t always easy, and I changed a few things in the process of typing them up, but it kept me going. I had something on paper that I just had to type up – this wasn’t a hard task, it was do-able. Much of the hard work (to this stage) was already done.

So I typed and edited, and had another read over, and changed many things again, and then changed some more before I was happy enough with it to send it to my co-authors and supervisors. It’s still not done, and I’m still not 100% happy with it (and I don’t know if I ever will be), but I’m in a good place with it now.

What was hardest however, was trying to write in such a different style and for such a different audience. A book is written so differently from a paper. Even though I actually have less space in the chapter than I would in a CHI paper, the format makes me want to write more reflexively; it makes me want to explain things more and not cram everything into a single paragraph or sentence. The different referencing format (Harvard as opposed to the ACM CHI format) makes me want to reference fewer papers, but spend more time explaining them and how they relate to my argument. It makes me slow down, think, and really appreciate the words I put on the page.

It’s weird.

I think working on this chapter is helping me re-calibrate the way I write. It’s helped me start to write for my dissertation. I know the dissertation is yet another type of writing with yet another audience and yet another purpose, but the way I want write about my work seems to be closer to how I am working on this book chapter than how I work on CHI papers. I don’t think I can really explain why (yet)…but for now, that’s where I’m going to leave it. An open-ended sense of wonder as to what my dissertation is going to look like, and how writing in different formats has helped me see my work through different eyes. It’s helped me look at different things, and it’s developed me as someone who puts words on a page.

Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

In exactly one week, I’ll to be sitting on a metro that is taking me to the airport. I’ll probably be equally nervous and excited about flying to Denver, Colorado, USA to attend CHI2017. While there, I’m hoping to meet some awesome new people who do awesome research, I’ll be working on some cross stitch to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, and I’ll be running a few pop-up stalls for zine making for people to share their different experiences of being at CHI, but I’ll also be presenting my paper.

So, maybe I should give a little bit of context here. As fempower.tech, some great people that I work with and I are organising what we have called #CHIversity. It’s an attempt to make diversity (whatever that is) more visible at the conference, and to foster discussion on inclusion, representation, feminisms, and social justice while there. The name, CHIversity, is naff. We know. It was a bit of a play on the topic of diversity (again, whatever that means) and CHI, and is supposed to be tongue in cheek. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to start a discussion. In this way, we hope to provide a small alternative to the usual exclusive parties that people go to to network by providing a comfortable, safe, relaxed, and alcohol-free environment for people to come together. Since we’ll be crafting, if someone doesn’t want to talk but rather just enjoy the presence of others, that’s absolutely fine. If someone wants to chat and not craft, that’s also more than okay.

We’ll be doing a number of things: tweeting, blogging, fundraising, making zines, and supporting our colleagues at the diversity lunch. Something I’m quite excited about is our feminist CHI programme. It’s not complete by any means, but it’s a nice starting point for something that we could maybe keep doing at other conferences we go to?

You can find out more about what we’re planning by having a look at our website and to keep up-to-date with what’s going on while in Denver, please follow @fempowertech on twitter. 

While all of that is exciting, it’s not the only reason I’m going to CHI. I’ll also be presenting a paper I wrote with Mary Laing and Rob Comber. It’s called Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives and is based on some of the work I’ve done with National Ugly Mugs. It’s an analysis of their service delivery in relation to social justice, and I outline how they utilise technologies for their reporting, alerting, and mobilising practices to support their social justice outcomes. The paper ends on implications for design that will be useful for people who want to design digital technologies with charities.

If that made you curious enough to want to read the whole ten pages, you can either go download it from the ACM digital library (once it’s out on there, probably around the 6/7/8 of May), but if you don’t have access to that or want to read it before then, here you go. See below for the abstract:

[edit on 3rd of May 2017: the paper’s now been published in open access, so go download it here to boost that download count, because academic metrics :p]

Sex workers’ rights are human rights, and as such are an issue inherently based in social, criminal, and political justice debates. As HCI continues to move towards feminist and social justice oriented research and design approaches, we argue that we need to take into consideration the difficulties faced by sex workers; and explore how technology can and does mediate social justice outcomes for them. We contribute directly to this challenge by providing an empirical account of a charity whose work is built on the underlying move towards social and criminal justice for sex workers in the UK. Through ethnographic fieldwork, meetings, interviews, surveys, and creative workshops we describe the different points of view associated with the charity from a variety of stakeholders. We discuss their service provision and the ways in which HCI is uniquely positioned to be able respond to the needs of and to support sex work support services.

 

My first publication…from ages ago

Today I’m going to talk about something really old to ease myself into talking about more recent things. I’m going to talk about my first publication. It was a weird experience that I think I’ve slightly touched upon before, but I want to revisit to reflect on how far I’ve come in relation to this and to ease myself into talking about more recent things. It’s also something that’s on the bucket list I’ve put on my website, so since I had nothing else to really talk about today, I thought I’d address something from there.

My first CHI paper. If you’re from HCI, chances are you know about CHI. If you’re not, it’s (one of) the biggest HCI conferences out there. HCI is a weird field where conference proceedings are actually quite hard to get accepted (CHI has an acceptance rate of around 23-25% each year), and where they’re in the form of (roughly) 10 page peer-reviewed papers as opposed to the usual 250-500 word abstracts in social science conferences.

CHI stands for Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems and is held in a different city every year. The one I’m going to be talking about is CHI 2015, and was held in Seoul, South Korea. So this is a reflection on something quite old…

This was the year I was finishing my MA in International Development and Education and was looking around for places to do a PhD. I really got a taste of doing research half way through the MA when we were writing our research proposals, and wanted to continue to do this. It wasn’t something I had ever before considered, but something I wanted to know more about. I looked and asked around in different universities across the UK and Europe to see if there was anything interesting somewhere.  I found loads of interesting Professors and Lecturers, but couldn’t really find something that stuck out. I found people that were particularly interested in homelessness (and I think actually contacted someone to see if they wanted to have a chat) but things never really went any further than an e-mail. Nothing felt right. It wasn’t until I heard about Culture Lab (which is the old name for Open Lab) that I started to feel like this could actually be something I wanted to do. The website, while not the most up-to-date and amazing thing, told stories of interesting projects that sounded more like the kind of thing I was interested in. It wasn’t all about reliability, about standardised research methods, and projects made by one person. It was about collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and creative research methods. For some reason I decided to send off a message on the contact form for the lab and was half-expecting not to get anything in return, when a few days later I had an e-mail in my inbox from R. We met up and I explained what my research was for the MA and how I wanted to do a PhD in something similar but wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do it in yet. He seemed somewhat interested and continued to informally support me throughout the rest of my MA research. Throughout this process, we met up quite regularly and as I started to get to know the lab a little and he started to get to know me a little he mentioned that there was going to be some funding for a 1+3 PhD studentship that he thought I might want to apply for: the Digital Civics PhD.

I did.
For some weird reason, I got it.

When it came to writing my dissertation he was an immense help, and since it was roughly the same time of the year as CHI deadline he and P recommended that I put something in for the conference. I was terrified and thought it was a bit silly I was writing something for the conference, but almost everyone that was in the lab at the time was doing it. They offered me a desk in the lab (multiple times) but I was too shy to accept it. I didn’t feel like I was smart enough, or good enough to sit with all these other amazingly smart people, so I only ever came in for my supervisions with R. It wasn’t until it was almost the CHI deadline that I started actually working in the lab. I wish I’d have done that sooner! The people are incredibly smart and intimidating, but they’re also absolutely lovely and kind – I really should’ve just sat down in the lab sooner. Maybe I could’ve gotten to know a few more people sooner.

Anyway, back to the paper. So it started off with R explaining to me what CHI was, what a CHI paper was, and how the review and publication process worked. Throughout the entire time he made clear to me that, while the work I did was interesting and good, it had a low chance of actually getting in (which is/was very true). It was my first time writing something, which lowered the chances even more, but I did it anyway. It felt really great that they thought the work I did was interesting enough to be published, and it was even more exciting that I got to work on an actual academic publication with R.

I’m  not going to go into detail of his supervision style, but he was really supportive in the writing of this paper and helped me out in many different ways. He sat down with me and answered my silly questions, but he also sat down with me and the paper and transformed a few of my horribly naive sentences into something that read like an academic paper so I could learn from that and transform the rest of my paper by myself.

When it came to deadline day, I was happy with the paper and excited to see what reviewers would say. A few days before we had another meeting about the paper where we decided together that it was amazing that I had written this, that it was something that should definitely be submitted, but that I shouldn’t have too many hopes as it was my first time submitting, and the work was arguably not done with HCI in mind throughout the whole thing (as I was focusing on the International Development and Education thing for my dissertation…). Anyway, we submitted and I was excited to see the reviews.

They ended up being quite nice, but it seemed like the paper would not get accepted. They scores weren’t terrible, but not good enough to really get the paper accepted. I was a bit sad, but also understood that there was always going to be a next year. After the AC meeting (where they discuss each paper and finalise the decision whether it should be published or not) however, I got an e-mail that said my paper was accepted and that I would be shepherded. R had explained to me earlier that this meant someone took on a lot of work and time to help me re-write parts of the paper (my discussion) to the point where they think it should be publishable. Apparently someone thought my work was interesting enough to be published. Thank you!!

So, over the christmas holiday I re-wrote my discussion section and changed other parts of the paper to match with this so it would be ready for publication in early January. That was an exciting experience that I briefly go into more detail here. And then, when it came to May 2015, I got to fly to Seoul to present the work I did. To talk about homelessness in Romania and the informal learning networks that are shaped in that environment. It was fun and exciting, and terrifying all at the same time. Something I’d like to do again, and something I’m going to do again in a couple of weeks at CHI 2017 in Denver, Colorado, USA. But that’s for another post.

I have changed a lot over the last two years academically and personally, and I’m assuming CHI will have changed too. This year my paper was not shepherded, and got a variety of different scores across the board. The reviews were absolutely lovely and I was able to make the paper much better based on them. I’ve grown a lot since this first CHI cycle. I’m less scared about sending out papers for review (I actually really quite enjoy that process now!), I’m less scared about showing my writing to others (anyone want to proof read any of my stuff?), but I still ask R silly questions about conferences and their review process (I don’t think this’ll stop until I stop working with R). I’m glad I was pushed into the scary land of CHI so early, it made the next year much easier, and has now opened me up to attempt to publish not only at conferences but also in journals and got me interested in learning more about book chapters. Exciting times. I’ll keep you posted.

 

starting things, but not finishing them?

I’ve talked briefly about before, about how sometimes I have an issue about finishing things I’m working on. I’d like to reflect on that a little more here. It’s an issue I particularly have with the writing of papers, though not yet with my dissertation – I guess you have to start writing something before you can not finish it…

But maybe that’s a place to start this post: I’m scared of starting to write my dissertation. Every time I sit down with the intention of writing my dissertation, I open documents that have notes, paragraphs that I’ve written on ideas for sections on the dissertation, and I start to work away at these notes. I copy and paste things into a new document so I don’t have the ‘blank page’ problem that causes me to not know how to start, and begin to read through what I’d previously written. That’s where the issues start. Some things make sense, and other things make absolutely no sense. I try to re-write, re-structure, and add on to the thoughts that make sense, moving things around to try to build an argument.

When that inevitably doesn’t work, I open a new document and start to write out sentences and thoughts that I’ve had, in true Mean Girls style word vomit.

I start typing things out and things start to make sense.
For now.

When things start making sense I get into this nice flow of writing out stuff and things. Things I’ve read about and have thought about, things I’ve started building arguments around in my head. At this point, there are no citations and very little academic language in the text, but I make some references to papers and books I’ve read. I assume that I’ll remember what references I was thinking about (I don’t) when I come back and edit that bit of ‘writing’ I’d done at a later time (I don’t).

Sometimes, what I’m trying to say makes so much sense in my head that I continue to write and write until I have several pages of rambling. When I look back at it, I start putting in headings and bullet points of things that I should be adding to make the argument make more sense. I start to add in questions and points on different bits of data I have to support my arguments and start drawing out an outline for potential papers and chapters.

This is where the ‘not finishing’ bit comes in. After doing this for a few hours I inevitably get distracted (mostly by getting some tea) and start to loose my concentration. I decide to leave the document for now, save it in my ‘write up’ folder in the ‘PhD’ folder and continue to do some work on other bits of work I’m doing. The idea is, I’ll let the thoughts ruminate in my head to get back to the bit of ‘writing’ I did at a later point in time. The problem that I have however is that when I do go back to the writing (which doesn’t always happen) it either makes no sense in my head again, or I like what I’ve done and try to turn it into an actual bit of writing. When this happens however, I end up never finishing it. It doesn’t end up even remotely looking like a dissertation chapter, and more like a half-baked idea of something that could be interesting.

At that point however, things start to get hard in the writing and I tend to stop. It sucks, because some of the ideas are actually quite interesting and it’d be nice to see them come to fruition a bit more. It’s something I need to work on. Soon.

I’m about half way through my PhD and am starting to worry about writing up. I fluctuate between ‘meh it’s going to be fine, I’ve got all these notes that I can surely turn into a dissertation’ and ‘holy crap, I have to write 100,000 words and I don’t know what I’m doing’. I guess this is normal? I’m just going to assume it’s normal, and try to work on making sure my half-baked ideas don’t deflate like an unfinished soufflé that the oven door was opened on too early. Instead, I’m going to work on one or two pieces of writing that currently make sense to me until they’ve gone through that first stage of baking that a double-baked soufflé has to go through. So that when it comes to having a draft of my dissertation, the first full version will be a dinner of double-baked soufflé’s that will then be perfected. So that by the time I get into my third year I have something to work with rather than something that I need to start writing.

So yea, I’ve got some pretty big goals…but maybe changing my strategy will work. I’m half way through my time for the PhD, so maybe it’s time to start sticking to a few bits of specific writing rather than writing bits and pieces of ideas all over the place. Like one of my supervisors said in a recent supervision: ‘I should try to just stick with what I’ve got right now. It makes sense (to her, at the time I explained it), and I need to just stick with something.’

So I guess I’m going to give it a try. Wish me luck!

Supporting Support Services: The Digital Revolution?

This was the (slightly cheeky) title of my talk at the ProsPol conference Displacing Sex For Sale that took place at Aarhus University, Copenhagen Campus on the 29th – 31st of March 2017. Here’s the abstract to my paper, which in all honesty was based on my CHI2017 paper, titled: Supporting Support Services: The Digital Revolution?

Many sex workers use technologies in innovative ways in various aspects of their working lives. Support services however rarely make use of digital technologies to support them in their everyday practice. In this paper, I will outline a case study of one charity’s novel use of technology to illustrate the role the digital plays in their successful direct service delivery as well as underlying social and criminal justice agendas.

I will do this by first introducing the discipline called Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and outlining their move towards feminist and social justice oriented approaches, topics of sex, sexualities, and activism, and reflexive methodologies. As part of this there has also been a shift towards Digital Civics (Olivier & Wright 2015), and as such relational models of service provision, citizen activism, and participatory methods, giving it a unique potential to support sex workers, sex worker rights organisations, and sex worker support services.

Taking these disciplinary and methodological potentials into account, I will discuss an interdisciplinary, mixed methods, and collaborative case study of National Ugly Mugs: a politically active UK sex work support charity that allows sex workers to report crimes committed against them, creates alerts out of these for other sex workers, and trains police and services on good practice for service delivery. By evaluating their services, I provide an outline of how they utilise technologies in their day-to-day activities, focusing on how this affects their reporting, alerting, and mobilisation practices. At the end of the presentation I will discuss how technologies can aid in institutional and fractured service delivery by showing how it has influenced the re-designing of the NUM website, and pose questions that should be considered by interdisciplinary sex work researchers addressing the digital, and other sex work support services wishing to integrate more technologies into their services.

Olivier, P. & Wright, P., 2015. Digital civics. interactions, 22(4), pp.61–63. Available at: http://dl.acm.org/ft_gateway.cfm?id=2776885&type=html [Accessed July 10, 2015].

The talk however was slightly different, and went on a slightly more meta-level than would be expected from this abstract, ending with some questions on service design and digital technologies such as:

  • what does it mean to deliver services in a certain way that provides different outcomes, but also uses different actors, technologies, and services?
  • What kind of world does the service create? And how do the technologies we design interact with this world to provide us a different way of exploring this space to move towards a more socially just one?

ProsPol Conference

It’s nice to be back in the lab, sitting on the grey sofa in the Design Space to reflect on the last week. I’ve been away: one week, four countries; but that’s for another post. Today I want to write to you about the ProsPol conference. Well, actually it was the second conference organised by ProsPol, which is an Action funded by COST. The conference was called Displacing Sex For Sale and marked the end of the four-year project that was ProsPol titled Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of GovernanceContinue reading “ProsPol Conference”

DEN Annual Meeting

Just over a week ago, we received an e-mail that we are to attend the annual meeting of the Digital Economy Network (DEN) in London. So, on Wednesday a group of roughly 15 people groggily got on a train at 6:30am in Newcastle, heading South. There was talk of last years annual meeting that only a few of us attended, and previous DEN conferences and events that took part in London.

After an hour long delay, we finally arrive at Kings Cross Station, head out and walk towards the Digital Catapult, and try to find the building on Euston Road. Once finally there, we quietly walked into the room where a presentation was going on. Throughout the day, we listened to presentations and joined ‘workshops’ that were more like half-hour long discussions around a certain topic on issues related to the student experiences across the 11 CDTs the DEN supports.

It was a weird day. I was engaged with the group that was discussing potential events, barriers, and opportunities for diversity and equality within DEN and its CDTs. In the end what I had learnt was that the DEN really wants to find out our experiences of equality and diversity, but also that they think we are doing a ‘pretty good job’ in relation to gender diversity.

Looking at the room we were in, I’d have to agree on the basis that it’s rare to find a CDT or a DEN event where the audience doesn’t have a relatively large number of women, but on the grand scale of things, I’m not sure how ‘well’ we really are doing. Just because you have an audience that is 1/4 to 1/2 women, does not mean you’re doing a great job. How do those women feel? Are there any policies in place to support them? Most importantly however, diversity goes beyond this. Where are all the people of colour? Those from working class backgrounds? …

As a network, what are we doing to engage rather than alienate those that think differently, those with different backgrounds, and those who look differently?

Something I quite liked about the last discussion group we had, was that after it finished, a woman came up to my friend (not the one that proposed the topic, but the one I run fempower.tech with…) and me and started a conversation about the futility of Athena Swan, and how women are always the ones who end up having to do the work in it. About how it’s almost impossible to even start conversations about diversity, because of the lack of understanding of what diversity is – the idea that it goes beyond quotas and having a woman CEO!

So, DEN, just to let you know: while you have a (much) better gender balance than traditional engineering and computer science spaces, we need to engage in some work to encourage diversity. I’m glad that this is what came out of our discussion at the event, and that DEN seems to support this idea.

My two friends and I are now working on putting a proposal together to develop a cross-CDT working group to tackle this issue. It’s going to encourage exchange between all the CDTs and encourage each participant at the quarterly meetings to go back to their CDT and to be a champion for diversity, enacting at least one ‘thing’ after the meeting. It was encouraged by DEN at their annual meeting that we do something on this issue.

Thank you for that, and thank you for listening to the importance of this topic. At the same time though, let’s take some time to reflect, and see what we can do. While I was starting to put together the proposal for this network yesterday, I went looking for a diversity policy on the DEN website. I couldn’t find one. So, maybe that’s a starting point. Or an end point?

SWRH PGR Conference

On the 20th of January Teela Sanders hosted the 5th annual sex work research hub postgraduate conference at Leicester University. After hearing only fantastic things about the previous conferences, I took it upon myself to travel the three hours to Leicester on the train to see for myself whether it really was as safe, comfortable, and supportive a space as I was told it would be.

Arriving a few minutes late, sadly I missed Teela’s welcome to the whole day, but I was able to slip in half way through the first presentation. I snuck into the back of the room, quietly dropped my bags, sat down and listened. I was immediately taken by Anastasia’s analysis of home and belonging among Russian-speaking women engaged in commercial sex in Finland.

As the day continued, and the first round of questions came around after the first three papers, I began to understand why everyone who’s been to this event before spoke so fondly of it! As the day went on and more and more questions were asked and answered, the sense of support and camaraderie in the room almost became tangible. Both PGR students and seasoned academics not only looked interested in what was being presented, but asked intriguing questions and shared their supportive and informative comments and remarks.

I’ve gone to my fair share of conferences, PGR, academic, non-academic, and I’ve never felt so safe; I’ve never felt so welcomed; and I’ve never experienced such interest about not only my research, but all the research that was being presented throughout the day.

Something that really struck out at me about the conference besides the support and mentorship, was the diversity in the room. It was great to see such an international delegation of attendants providing questions from so many different schools of thought, disciplines, and nationalities. Presenters attended not only from many corners of the UK, but also from University of Helsinki and the University of Milan (I’m not even going to try to count how many nationalities were in the room!).

The different paper sessions also ranged in topics: covering relationships and sex work; power, marginalisation and stigma; labour, rights and regulation; diversity in sex work; and the arts and sex work. We were also lucky to have a surprise treat from Alex from the Sex Worker Opera!

I didn’t really know what to expect from the day, and was very pleasantly surprised! It was great to hear so many people address technologies as part of their research; to hear that even when not directly asked about technologies that participants share stories of their use of apps, websites, and other technologies. It made me feel like my work fits in with the wider context. It gave me some confidence in what I am doing, and pushed me to continue doing the work that I do.

At the end of the day, I learnt so much about sex work research and finally met some people I had heard so much about before going. It was a fantastic opportunity to get to know some other PhD students doing sex work research, and to hear about their work. At the same time, it was great to have the support from all those present at the event, and to be able to share thoughts and ideas.

Anyway, enough of my raving about the conference! Here’s what I talked about:

Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is a field dedicated to the study of digital technologies and the ways in which humans interact with them. Recently, HCI has started to move towards methodologies inspired by feminisms, participatory design, and social justice-oriented interaction design and have taken steps towards developing technologies in, with, and for social justice movements. Since sex workers’ rights are human rights, and as such are an issue inherently based in social, criminal, and political justice debates, I argue that HCI has a unique opportunity in this space to design methodologies and digital technologies.

As HCI continues to move towards feminist and social justice oriented research and design approaches, I explore how technology can and does mediate social justice outcomes for sex workers. I address this challenge directly by providing an empirical account of a charity whose work is built on the underlying move towards social and criminal justice for sex workers in the UK: National Ugly Mugs (NUM). Through ethnographic fieldwork, meetings, interviews, surveys, and creative workshops we describe the different points of view associated with NUM from a variety of stakeholders. We discuss their service provision and the ways in which HCI is uniquely positioned to be able respond to support NUM and other sex work support services.

This talk was based on some of the work I’ve done with National Ugly Mugs over the last year of my PhD.

If you want to know more about the things I’ve talked about, I’ve got a paper coming out in May, published and open access in the ACM’s digital library (dl.acm.org).

 

(parts of this will be published in the next Sex Work Research Hub newsletter)

Experiences of Self Organised Learning…

I’ve written before about Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs), and the opening of SOLE Central at Newcastle University. I have problems with the research, as I do with all the research that I read, but overall I think it’s an interesting concept. I also think it shouldn’t be talked about only in the context of schools (which much of it is), because I think it can say so much more about learning than what could or couldn’t work in schools. Having said that, I do think there is potential for this in schools….

Anyway, that’s not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about Self-organised learning, not necessarily self-organised learning environments. As I was writing my last blog post about EDU8213, I began to write a little bit about the self-organised learning that I had experienced in schools…so this is just a continuation of that. An exploration into self-organised learning that I’ve done over the years.

This could be a very, very long blog post…so instead of describing everything in great detail, I’m just going to list a couple of things that I’ve done through my education so far.

  • Small projects through primary and middle school where we could choose what topics we were interested in and then study those in depth. This sometimes happened in groups and other times as individuals. A particularly great example of this for me is how I developed my knowledge of Dolphins.
  • In middle school, one of the teachers at the school decided to create a module where students could study anything they wanted in whichever way they wanted. I decided to learn about  the beginning of the Universe and (much like Sugata has found) ended up going into stuff that was way beyond what any curriculum would have taught me at this age.
  • As part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) World School Programme that I took part in through middle and high school, we had to complete the Middle Years Programme (MYP) Personal Project. Here each student spends a year learning something that they are interested in. They have a supervisor that helps them through the process, and have to write a reflective report about what they had learnt in the end, and also present the work in front of an audience made up of students, staff, and parents. I decided to create a line of recycled clothing and learnt many things about recycling and ethical clothing, as well as practical skills in sewing and clothes-making.
  • As part of the IB programme (essentially the last two years of high school), we did the ‘Group 4 Project’. In the IB, different subjects are seperated into different ‘Groups’ that students can choose from. Group 4 for example, is the group all the sciences are in, and we had to choose at least one of these to do for our IB. The Group 4 project was a week of entirely student-led experiments, and one of the best memories I have of 11th grade. Each group was made up of one or two students from Physics, Biology, and Chemistry (the only sciences our school offered at the time). We had to work together to develop a theme that we would each do experiments around before presenting our work in front of staff and students at the end of the week.
  • Another part of the IB was the Extended Essay, or the EE as we all referred to it. This is a 4,000 word paper that each student writes with the help from a supervisor. The student picks a subject they want to do it in (I chose English Literature) and then the student and supervisor come up with a topic within that subject to choose (I looked at the role setting played in character development in Shakespeare’s The Tempest).

As you can see, all my projects were very different and didn’t really have anything to do with one another. And that was okay. That wasn’t the point of these projects. The point was to learn something that interests the student at that point in time, as well as learning to manage a project, learn as a group or an individual, and ask big, difficult, and complex questions. All of these things are great preparation for university work…particularly Dissertations (which really, are just longer forms of reports of self-organised learning).

I think whoever manages the school in the cloud twitter summed it up perfectly in this tweet

So if all of academia is built on the idea of self-organised learning and projects, why do we have such a problem with accepting that self-organised learning works? Why do we as a society, as the institution of learning not take the way of learning that all of this is built on and just roll with it?

There’s a bit of research into how and where SOLEs have been used, there’s the collection of large questions that can be used, and there’s stuff on the school in the cloud on the website, but really. Why do we still have to ask the same question of students? The examples I showed above were all entirely led by me. Yes, I was led and supported by teachers, colleagues, supervisors, other students, but it was my journey. My learning.

Something that bothers me a little with my description of projects above, is that while they were all led by me, the content was also only learnt by me. I didn’t work in groups for most of them, but very well could have (there are also lots of projects that I did work on with others that were ‘taught’ in the same vein of pedagogy that I just didn’t mention above). So why not have SOLEs that are learner-led; where the questions come from the learners themselves?