Jade Did Drumbeat: A Field Journal

It's Interactive and Ethnographic
future class


or, a Topic Often Left Undiscussed

I started really thinking about Gender when I was reflecting on what the experience of going to Drumbeat was like.  The opening, where two women at the top of their fields opened up this event for 450+ hackers, technology enthusiasts and educators was awe inspiring.  It is something I noted on my initial blog post Drumbeat:

Now on to the abnormal/positive observation: THERE WERE SO MANY FRIGGIN’ AMAZING WOMEN at the event.  I didn’t realize, though I’m sure I’ve seen it before, that Mitchell Baker, the Chair of Mozilla Foundation, is a woman.

My Post Drumbeat Blog Post

Mary Caton and Robbie Have a Side Conversation

Mary Caton and Robbie Have a Side Conversation During Class

Future Class falls 50/50 along gender lines: 3 women, 3 men.  We are not immune from the normal structural problems we see replicated across society.  For us, gender has been an issue.  I’m not pointing this issue out in an attempt to vilify the males in class.  Rather, I think it is interesting that despite conversations around this there is still disagreement on if it is happening in our class space.  Another interesting side conversation has been around who gets to dictate if the experience of sexism is real.  I am not sure if there is a solution for this, but I think that acknowledging that it exists is important.

It also makes me wonder about the stories Cathy and Mitchell might have from their careers dealing with similar issues.  Anne Balsamo, who was part of the Storming the Academy tent and featured in the video on this page, is very vocal about her experiences of sexism during her career.  I am always thankful for people willing to give their voice to these subjects, especially when they’ve managed to be successful despite adversity, either real or perceived, that they have experienced.

Collaboration by Difference

Cathy introduced me to the idea of collaboration by difference; with a diverse group, the sum is always great than its parts, to be cliche, and the outcome is always going to be more than expected. Acknowledging difference, and purposefully giving it a place is never a comfortable experience.  Neither is collaboration.

Mary Caton was the most candid about her discomfort with collaboration.  She was also good at placing where her discomfort came from.

One of the reasons academic culture is so slow to change is that the people who decide to become academes tend to perform well within the established system. I am no exception! As an instructor, I’ve embraced pedagogical methods that are student-centered and collaborative. But, as a student, I find it really hard to perform in group settings. I tend to like working in pairs with like-minded peers, but I find it hard to know if I’m contributing in meaningful ways when working in a diverse group such as ours.

Mary Caton, Future Class Website on Collbaoration

Navigating our differences, from cultural to methodological, is something we had to learn to overcome as a group.  I think it will always be a work in progress.  Despite the process of progress, I hope that the work we have produced shows that  idea of Collaboration by difference has merit.

And really, the six of us, there are only 6 of us, and we all very different in so many ways.

I think one of the most difficult things about our class collaborations so far has been how diverse our group is! In our class, though, every single person is at a different year as a student (or non-student!) and has radically different research interests and career goals. This makes for very rich discussion when we have time to feel out our differences — smoothing over everyone’s confused looks, learning from each other — but when it comes down to the wire, what is one of our greatest strengths becomes a burden and a frustration. How do other groups bridge these divides?

Whitney in reply to Mary Caton, Future Class Website on Collbaoration

At one point during a disagreement  between classmates that I am pretty sure if we were to dig in to it came down to different cultural approaches, Cathy said:

To quote Tim Gunn on Project Runway, “Make it Work!”

At a certain point that is the only option you are left with.  The pressure to finish and not let down the group pulls it all together.

The Future of Learning

I still have my main questions. They are one of the reasons I am back in school. I want to know where traditional institutions fit in Freedom, learning and the web? are we friend, foe or collaborator with the non-traditional institutions that are taking ground? What is the future of learning?

I am so lucky to have been able to play with these questions in real time with people at Drumbeat and with Future Class.  To get different perspectives on what that future might be is invaluable.  To put those perspectives into conversation with each other?  I don’t even know the words to qualify that.

I learned so much by watching people playing, especially at Drumbeat. The video above is an illustration of what we are all capable of doing if we work together in real time, with a bit of imagination, tinkering and determination.  I did not produce it, but it inspires me.

To see the work that Mozilla will continue to do around this theme, visit:



Regardless to how well groups get along close proximity can often lead to tensions.  Future Class was no exception.  Things came to a head after our first group presentation at Drumbeat.  There wasn’t an argument.  However,  there was a circular conversation of high intensity.  I understood where both of the involved parties were coming from, but my attempt at mediation failed.

When I realized there was not going to be a resolution, I requested that Cathy hold a class meeting at the end of the first day of the festival to ensure we were still operating as a team with the same goals and interests.  This meeting was one of the rare instances where we actually needed private space.  After about 30 minutes, and acknowledgement of where the tension were coming from and many apologies, we were able to finish our night closer than we were before the friction.

We create masks and personalities to get by in different contexts — we need to, it’s a great skill to learn — but when you have to be “on” all the time, it’s difficult to negotiate when to turn the role “off” — or even what “off” means.

Whitney, in reply to Cathy’s blog post on Learn Intellectual Property by Doing

After leaving the festival we ended up spending the entire night talking over drinks and food.  I think we all started heading back to our respective hotels around 3:30AM.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the tensions did resurface post Drumbeat.  This led to an extended class sessions where we took off our masks and truly discussed what was going on, how everyone was perceiving the class and what our goals as a group vs individual.  That is why it was fortunate.  The time away from the issue allowed people to process.  The initial meeting ensured we could keep working as a team at Drumbeat.  Plus, Mary Caton wasn’t at Drumbeat and she has a way of taking all the chaos and bringing it back down to earth through talking.  I wish I could have gotten some of these conversations on tape we had when we returned but they were very private.

I have been through hundreds, maybe thousands of meetings in my life, and I cannot think of many where individuals dealt with one another with greater honesty, candor, frankness, criticisim, appreciation, sensitivity, respect, and, I’ll say the word:  love.

Cathy Davidson, Learn Intellectual Property by Doing

The ability of face to face discussion, trust and true dialogues to get people on the same page cannot be underestimated.

First want to send out a love bomb to teammates and leader for beginning this dialogue.  And then I want to send out a second but unqualified love bomb to leader and team mates.

We’ve gotten where we’ve gotten through using a determined, head down, full sprint, and now we have a pretty finite decision and a space with a determined outcome

Nick, First Email post session on tensions to the listserv.


Top of the Tent

Top of the Tent

It’s like the class never ends.

Robbie, First Interview

That is the quote that has been stuck in my head since the first day of interviews.  The class never ends, and it is a good thing, and a bad thing, like so many things with this complex project.

Timing Communications

Class never ending means that any time someone is hit with inspiration they can start a dialogue either via the listserv or the website or make an addendum to a shared document.  The instantaneousness of tools such as email for future class tended to create an rapid dialogues that were closed if you logged in an hour too late (I think this is one of the reasons I am more partial to website communications).  Using google docs to create private wiki-like documents was also a very good “on your own time when inspiration hits” tool, but it did lead at online chats that disrupted schedules and caused private tensions for the group.  At the same time, the ability to communicate in these ways was liberating.

I actually really like communicating via Chat.  And it was really cool having you and Robbie on video chat during our meeting on Sunday.

Mary Caton, Class meeting following a chat over a google doc

Meeting Times

Originally Future Class was supposed to meet a few times a semester.  This turned in to every other Tuesday.  In actuality we ended up meeting every Tuesday + we’d meet early and stay late + we occasionally had meetings on additional days of the week including on weekends + we went to Drumbeat, all in addition to the multiple times a day, including weekends, when we would find emails in our inboxes, posts on the website, etc.

My other professors don’t know about this class or how much time it takes.

Nick, Final Interview

Project Time

For students with active projects, part of the communications that were happening in an almost constant stream were keeping people in the loop on status of said projects as all projects ended up being class projects.  My class website project ended up taking many more hours than I would have anticipated to initially launch in addition to more people (Sorry again Ruby!), partially due to user error.  I also broke the site twice during initial development.  As a result of these things I lost a weekend.  However, once it was functional the website was used as a catalyst to play and tinker in ways they wouldn’t have existed if we didn’t all share knowledge and contribute extra time.


I am on the new site.  Whitney is going to take me behind the hood on some websites and give me a crash course on web mechanics, after which I will be able to know how I can volunteer my services (or what exactly these emails mean..)

Nick, email regarding switching websites

Other People’s Time

Organizing the class and the prep for Drumbeat took so much time from other people, especially those on Staff at HASTAC.

We all also had to take bits of information and turn it into a program, be on conference calls with Mozilla twice a week, and do countless hours to get everyone safely to and from Barcelona.

Cathy, Private email reproduced with permission

All people involved directly depended on each other, and on us, the members of future class, to make time to ensure that everything moved smoothly.

There is Never Enough

I know this appears on another part of the site, but I think it warrants a restating.

we’re like the flavor of the month.
I mean every day it seems

some crazy new invitation is coming asking for us to teach people to think in a different way

Cathy, first day of class

Members of Future Class are seen as part of HASTAC, not just because we signed up, but because we’ve spent the semester embodying the HASTAC ethos throughout the experience, especially at Drumbeat.  Drumbeat propelled us to use our time wisely so we could effectively manage our individual and collective projects, our other school work or work work, and our lives.

HASTAC and this class are in an incredible spotlight … opportunities keep coming because of that.  It has put pressure on our collaborative project and also been, well, amazing.

Cathy, private email reproduced with permission


Nick's Engagement Cloud Storming

Future Class required complete engagement from everyone. That is a lot to ask for.

This class, and being connected all the time, it’s kind of changed how I’ve framed the whole semester and how I manage my time. It requires so much time, and none of my other classes work like this.

Nick, final interview

Nick starts Tweeting Again

I am positive that everyone in Future Class experienced engagement ways we were not anticipating.  I know for many of us, we also tested what level of engagement we were comfortable with.  I don’t know that we would have done the testing without the catalyst of the Drumbeat festival. Having such an important event and being responsible for such an important part of making the event work influenced members of future class to assert themselves and the value they added to the group.

One of the most drastic changes in engagement style was Mary Caton, who came to a realization early on in the course that collaboration makes her uncomfortable.  Further, she was the only student who did not go to Drumbeat.  However, once we realized what our responsibility was, she found ways to engage and be helpful, and ultimately found the whole drumbeat experience to be amazing and useful, even from afar because,

The event put all the stuff we had been discussing in class in conversation with a larger audience.

Mary Caton, Final Interview

The implication of us being in conversation with a global audience changed our conversations.  Knowing that everyone in the class was a part of these conversations that were now viral, and knowing that our voices had been folded in to this amazing dialogue was truly a humbling experience.


Discussing Ideas

Robbie Discussing his Ideas on Collaboration at Drumbeat

I didn’t want this idea to get lost in the shuffle and thought perhaps we could start the conversation…

Whitney, email to the listserv

I wish I had some really great footage for this post or one of those amazing quotes Cathy always seems to have but I don’t.  I didn’t get a chance to ask Future Class their thoughts on the idea of “Ideas”, and how that has shaped the class and class experience for them.  I, of course, didn’t realize how central ideas were to everything about Future Class, and our Drumbeat experience until I had time to reflect and really look at all the information I compiled.   Talk about missing the obvious! As a result, this will be a post-observational post.

Nothing we have done this semester would have happened had it not been for someone’s idea. The owners of the ideas are varied and the individual ideas moved from owner to owner, at times belonging to the group. That has taken a lot of negotiation; of power, of roles, of communication… of everything. But it has been amazing to see what we come up with once we allow the ideas to have their own lives.

While I think the tool we have is probably something of our hallmark “idea into something” thing we can show it wouldn’t have existed had we not given all of our ideas life and let them live as part of Future Class. More than a project based tutorial, the experience was an idea based tutorial that forced us to push our ideas as far out as we could until they turned in to something tangible. All the ideas turned in to something amazing, even if it was just a really engaged conversation, and so did the group as a result.

Meet Future Class

This is not a “class.” And it wasn’t intended to be. It’s a collaborative independent study. I’ve never taught a class like this and don’t consider myself to be teaching a class this term, only offering opportunities, guidance, and lots of infrastructural support as students self-organize and collectively organize themselves around the projects I made available to all of you to participate in: http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/tutorial-thinking-digital-age-students-welcome andhttp://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/peer-apprenticeship-new-teaching-model-digital-age

Cathy Davidson, response to the listserv after I called us a class

The End (of the festival)


An empty HASTAC Tent post Festival

Robbie's Tweet

The festival ended on November 5th. We all started making our way back home on the 6th and 7th.  Our biggest souvenir was the amazing experience.

Even though things didn’t go as planned, things happened as they should have.  We did not expect Mozilla to want to take on our project.  If the project will go forward is now in the hands of Future Class and that is an amazingly empowering position to be in, especially as students.

We also grew closer as a group.  Up until this point, we’d gotten to know each other, but we hadn’t really gotten to talk and learn about each other.

Aside from the awesomeness of Drumbeat and the important things we have to get moving on, I wanted to acknowledge and honor how important this was to me and, I think, our group. In these spaces we’ve managed to build important things between the six of us that I hope will lead to some long-term productive collaborations and friendships.

Whitney, from her first post Drumbeat email to the listserv

So, I leave with this is to be continued, by the individual members of the class. I am sure this experience was impactful in ways we are aware of and ways we are not… and it only took 2.5 days.

Meet the Prof

Cathy, Professor of Future Class

I have been back and forth trying to determine if “the prof” needed a separate section.  She does.  This class wouldn’t have happened without a blog post.  We wouldn’t have gone to drumbeat if it weren’t for her.  Further, as one of the co-founders of HASTAC, we can also thank her for that.

You can read all of the stuff she is thinking about at her HASTAC blog.

For the purposes of future class, drumbeat and this site, “Meet the Prof” is more about the role she played in the class.

Why is This Separate from “Meet the Class“?

The role the Professor played in Future Class has been, like most other roles, undefined.  While the professor does attend most  of the class meetings at least part of the time, based on interviews with the class and my own observations, this is probably the most independent of independent studies we have all gone through in perception.

Rather than explaining what she does in a narrative, I will provide some bullet points on her role.

The Role of the Professor in Future Class

  • To trust the students to be self guided
  • To ensure that if things seem to be veering to far out of the realm of okay that they get brought back in
  • To be an advocate for the students
  • To serve as a mentor rather than an instructor
  • To observe from a distance when necessary
  • To take the lead when the time is right
  • To step in at times of conflict and confusion
  • To always have the big picture in mind
  • To get to know the students and their strengths and weakness
  • To use the knowledge of the students to challenge them and push them in their work
  • To allow the students the freedom to try new things and fail without penalty
  • To listen and hear

I’m sure there are more, but those are the main patterns of behavior I’ve observed.   What do we call professors who do not profess?  Do we go back to them being teachers?

From the student point of view Cathy has been involved in bullet points.  She gave us the freedom to do what we wanted and forced us to work out any issues or tensions we had as a group.  It must be acknowledged that there is always  more behind the scenes.

I have spent more actual hours on this class than on any other I’ve ever “taught”–or not taught.   I’m on line with one or another student virtually 24/7 and the behind-the-scenes required to get everyone some kind of scholarship funding to Barcelona and to process all the paperwork, including for the one student who was a minor, was endless […] In terms of a time commitment, in a semester where I have no extra time whatsoever, FutureClass has been an incredible investment of my time, more than I’ve spent getting my book ready for press, but worth every second.

Cathy, Private Email, Reproduce with permission

In addition to Cathy, none of this would have been possible without the help of the HASTAC Staff, a group of amazing women that stayed hidden in the background even more than Cathy and her bullet point roles (they have their own bullet points).


Storming the Academy Online

Members of Future Class and HASTAC on their Computers at Drumbeat

Blurring Lines

Subject: Re: Meeting TOMORROW, Sunday, 7pm, Link seminar room 1
Date: November 13, 2010 1:12:00 PM EST

Hey everyone,

I thought we were doing a skype conference.  I won’t be able to come out to Durham that late.  Is there any way I can call in/connect via webcam?

Jade (Email to class listserv)

Due to a scheduling conflict I was unable to make it to the first big post Drumbeat brain storming meeting. Robbie also had a conflict. As a result, while Whitney, Sam, Mary Caton and Nick met in a seminar room at Duke, I connected from my bedroom and Robbie connected from work.


A majority of our “class time” leading up to the festival happened through various means of online communication. Through trial and error we went through two websites (a basic wordpress blog and a buddypress), an email listserv, various google documents (that were managed wiki-style) and random skype, ichat and google voice meetings.

The form of communication that ended up being the most successful was the listserv. The idea of a private collective space that was accessible on our own terms and timelines, within reason (meaning constantly and continuously but discretely for most), proved to be the most intuitive. Though people seemed very happy to have the buddypress website, especially the community elements that were built in, there was confusion and unease over the idea of creating public facing content.

The most interesting thing for me regarding the online communication was the shifting of power dynamics/negotiation tactics that occurred when compared to our face to face meetings. When people had the opportunity to reflect and then write without interruption voices that might have been lost or uncomfortable to bubble of during fact to face meetings suddenly had a lot more input. Things that were limited to side conversations during class meetings were able to become group discussions where people who weren’t initially involved felt safe to assert themselves. Things that would have been lost had we not had the online component ended up being the things we were most passionate about during Drumbeat.

During the Festival

The class website fell silent but people were active on twitter, letting people at drumbeat know what was happening at the tent as well as noting interesting occurrences, meetings and thoughts. Mary Caton also sent emails to the listserv checking in throughout our time in Barcelona.

Why I Care and Why I Pushed for Some of This

My primary area of research interest is around how people represent themselves online versus in real life.  What things do people add or take away from themselves, and how do their interactions change when they are digitally mediated?  Do their online and offline identities sync up?  It was very fun for me to observe the subtle and sometimes not so subtle changes in personalities and visibility that happened online.  It is one of the reasons my initial project was creating an online forum for use in a classroom.

Future Class is Going to Drumbeat!

How’d this Happen?

I am almost positive that when the six members of Future Class signed up that none of us knew that Barcelona was going to be a part of the class agenda (we didn’t have a syllabus, bur rather a series of agendas).  

A Poetic Transcription Reformatted by WordPress

The class started with Cathy saying:

I want to find ways we can make your projects come true this semester

and make your dreams come true.

But I don’t know what any of us were dreaming of Drumbeat and Barcelona, until she followed that with this Other Poetic Transcription Reformatted by WordPress:

The Drumbeat Festival
We’re all inventing it
It’s kind of like burning man / or maker fair or
they’re calling [it] a folk festival,

We’re going to have something planned
by the time we get there
in fact a lot planned

but you don’t go to it like a normal conference

you wander around

you go from place to place

and you actually sit down and build things with people

and they want your input about what to do and how to do it
your actual input!

our thread is called Storming the Academy
and it’s all about how to take the principals
the open web

and collaboration

and use them to help transform higher education.

In the end, 5 of us trekked halfway across the globe to see what this Drumbeat thing was about as we “Stormed the Academy”.

Drumbeat for me as a Member of Future Class etc.

Going to Barcelona was probably the last thing I was thinking about. I’d not been in Europe for some years and hadn’t really thought about going back for anything other than dissertation research (two years away). Cathy made Drumbeat sound like nothing I’d experienced before. When it became clear that I’d be able to receive some funding to go I jumped at the opportunity.

It was a pivotal experience beyond giving me the information you are finding on this site. Being able to speak with the people who were attending caused me to critically question how I approach my research. It also made me think about how I can incorporate more openness in to my pedagogy when I start teaching regularly next fall.  Based on conversations I had with members of the class while I was there and since returning I am sure I’m not the only one who had what might be called a “life changing experience” at Drumbeat.

The Science Fair & Side Table Sessions

HASTAC tent in the sqaure

HASTAC Tent in Plaça dels Angels



This was a First

None of us had attended a festival like Drumbeat before.  We went with a carefully crafted schedule that filled every time slot with a main tent event. For every tent event there was a complimentary side table event scheduled that a member of Future Class was in charge of.  Future Class also took the lead on planning the Science Fair table.  Like most well planned events, things did not work out quite as we had hoped.

The Science Fair

Sam's Tweet

Sam's Tweet on the Science Fair

At the Science Fair Future Class debuted the low tech social network. It was meant to map connections people made at the event.  We spent the entire night enticing people to place themselves on the canvas via self-designed post it type notes with tidibits of information.  It was our first opportunity to meet and observe who had come to this Drumbeat festival.  We were all left in awe. We were in a room full of so many fascinating people, and that the fascinating people were playing with our canvas! The empty space of our idea became a cluttered with little squares that represented all the people we were coming in to contact with. Our success at the Science Fair made us excited to take it to the side table as an ongoing activity.

The Downside =(

We could not hear the keynote speech from Joi Ito due to the acoustics of the room where the science fair was held. I am pretty sure that was the only downside to the Science Fair.

The Tent

We had a full schedule for both days we were there and a beautiful handout created with all the information about what would be going on in the tent. Rather than talk about everything we had planned, I will share the schedule:

Storming The Academy Tent Schedule

Storming The Academy Tent Schedule

Storming the Academy Tent

First Event at Storming the Academy

The Side Table

I think we learned that there is such a thing as over planning. The side table schedule was a bust. During the first event it was swallowed by everyone who wanted to participate in Anne Balsamo’s session on minority voices in tag clouds. This also made our low-tech social network inaccessible (can you find them, and us in the picture to the left?).

I will take responsibility and acknowledge that my actions, insisting that the table stay inside the tent so our technology wasn’t an easy target for pick pockets (there were a couple of big robberies at the event) might have had something to do with this failure. At the same time, allowing Future Class students the ability to freely participate in the Storming the Academy events added a unique voice. Cathy pointed out on numerous occasions that “our tent was the only tent with actual students”.  Had we been outside we literally would not have been part of the tent.  We were more engaged as participants by giving our input than we would have been had we stuck with the rigid structured schedule we set up.

Solution and Outcome for a Failed Plan

Anything that needed to be covered by the side table was incorporated into the main tent events. Everyone who was supposed to present and engage an audience had the opportunity to do so. The solution, incorporating the class fullt in to the tent, was a positive thing because it also meant that Future class members who presented also had the main tent activity leaders as part their audience to provide feedback and mentor in real time.

The side table ended up downgraded (or upgraded) to an information post about Future Class and HASTAC.

The Website(s)

The Class Website

I joined the class in search of a way to enable online collaboration in a class setting.  I was looking for a solution that was scalable, both public and private and had the ability to manage course and conversation workflow.  Anything else was just a perk.  After doing a bunch of research, and speaking with the project lead for the UNC Digital Commons Project, I decided to try buddypress.  With the blessing of the class, and the aid of the Director of New Media Strategy at HASTAC, I was able to get the site up and running in time for the class to use it pre and post Drumbeat.

Of all the feedback I could have received, I think the best feedback was from members of the class who had been weary of a public class blog.  All of the people became quick converts to the buddypress platform.  They attributed the comfort with a stronger community feel.

This Site

The goal of this site is to tinker with the information I gathered at Drumbeat to try and find a way to create an ethnographic archive of the experience, that is augmented with links, video and imagery in a way that a flat ethnographic document could not be.  I am playing with the form of the field journal here.

I guess technically, I am the lead website manager of both.  I developed nothing and broke everything (everything you see is thank to push button installs).

Face to Face

Future Class meeting in the Cafe

Sam and Robbie in the Cafe

The First Day of Class

The building is a recently converted former tobacco warehouse, complete with that wonderful, slightly chemical smell that can only be found in new construction. We head down a corridor around a corner to the open concept cafe space. We all stop and take everything in: brick walls, narrow windows, large comfy benches, modern over sized clean lined chairs, exposed pipes, awkwardly placed power outlets and a soda machine with a diet coke apparently left behind for whomever dared take the owner-less beverage. Bright fluorescent light from overhead is absorbed by brick walls and diffused by the natural light sneaking in despite the sun’s attempt to hide behind the building.

As we cautiously move forward and take our seats on the benches and chairs around small circular tables meant for one, we are forced in to an awkward closeness that is mitigated only by the waterfall of cold air pouring over us from the exposed ventilation pipe over head. As we experiment with different configurations in search of comfort, bodies move in the background some alone and rushing, others slowly drifting in pairs in hushed conversations as they make their way down the corridor behind us. I find myself wondering about their thoughts when they quickly glance our way to take in the activity in their periphery.

This is our primary classroom space. I say primary because we will learn during this meeting that we will also have a virtual class space and a class tent an ocean away.

Future Class in an Actual Classroom

Class Meetings

Future class met every week on Tuesdays generally from 3:30-5:30 in a cafe space at Duke University’s Smith Warehouses, the buildings where HASTAC is housed.  At least 50% of class meeting time occurred without Cathy present.  Leading up to drumbeat the class time extended and generally met from 2:00-5:30 (sometimes longer, but I had a class at my home institution at 6 so I missed some face time). The face to face meetings tended to break the class off in to smaller groups of side conversations as people attempted to organize around their individual ideas and projects they hoped they could bring to drumbeat. During the last two classes pre-drumbeat things took a shift to being more organized and more in the form of a traditional class. We generally made the decision within the first 20 minutes to move in to one of the actual classroom spaces available in the building.

While conversations in the cafe area tended to lean towards disorganization, in the traditional classroom setting we moved in to a semi-circle, one person would speak at a time, and one person write on the board.  There were also designated note takers, though Whitney tended to spearhead this role.

Note Passing During Class

What these classes Provided

In addition to organizing the class, the face to face meetings provided a space where members of the class could voice their discomforts with things that were happening. The primary area where people were having discomfort was in role definition and primary goal of the course. Due to the free form nature of the class as well as the diversity of perspectives, there were also many side conversations that voiced desires for some type of syllabus provided by Cathy that would allow the class to be “on the same page”.


The class meetings were very tech friendly. Every one in attendance came with either a laptop or an iPad, and Smart Phones. We also had access to the internet which allowed us to create something of a real time private class stream when necessary.


When it came time to nail things down having tangible things was infinitely more helpful and often times more fun. Despite the tech heaviness of the class, the things we found most valuable were low tech tools and practices, from the use of white boards and post it notes on presentation boards, to the low-tech backchannel (a.k.a. note passing).


Due to the nature of the class, being the first of its kind, etc, we were also put in many abnormal class situations involving visitors.  As we were prepping to leave for Drumbeat we had four different visitors (most from HASTAC but also some visiting professors from other Universities), and two different film crews for various companies from the region in addition to my little raspberry camera.  While I didn’t mind the visitors, class conversations later let me know that some of my classmates did find the visitors to be distracting.

My Role in the Face to Face meetings

As a member of the class, I would participate in the discussion and provide my input. I also sat with my camera and smart pen and recorded the sessions for this project.

The Tool

Nick and Sam Present the Tool

Nick and Sam Present the Tool

Begin the Dream Sequence

Walking back to our separate  hotels after the first day of the festival, the day Nick and Sam debuted the tool the class brought, I had a brief conversation with Robbie, the youngest member of the class.  He was blown away by everything that Sam and Nick had accomplished in such a short amount of time.  They went from an initial idea from Nick to a class brainstorming session with all of Future Class to a built out prototype from Sam and his friend in one week’s time.  Robbie was amazed to be involved in the experience of the class and to be at Drumbeat.  He said he’d “never been around people like this”, meaning people who just did instead of talked, who thought big and tried despite the fear of failure to create.

I asked him if he was happy he said “yes” to coming.  “Yea! This is one of the greatest experiences of my life!”

What about us, here at FutureClass, the collaborative independent study tutorial I’m guiding at Duke, and newly returned from an exhilirating and eye-opening Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona?   We’ve been set the challenge to complete some work on the prototype of a classroom attention device that everyone talked about, that one student firestarted with a stunningly subtle idea, and that another, working with a friend not in the class, actually developed independently into an app.   Now the Mozilla developers have pledged to help us bring this to full fruition.

-Cathy Davidson, Learn Intellectual Property by Doing

On the Tool

It all started with an idea from Nick

The Prototype

The Prototype

The  “Classroom Attention Barometer” is a tool to enable interactivity in situations where that is not always possible.

Though it was described as being for a lecture situation, there are other, more intimate settings where a tool that functions as this tool does would be of use.

The premise is that we want a super simple, easy-to-use, HTML-5 based app that lets speakers and lecturers get real-time feedback on their talks. This opens the door for audience members to report their level of attention, comprehension, and engagement with the material being presented.

Sam, Our Contribution to Drumbeat, Future Class Website

The Prototype

The prototype of the tool was very basic, written in java, taking advantage of the HTML5 Canvas tag.  The way it is used is as follows:

A speaker/lecturer provides the URL to the tool.
People go to the tool on a computer or mobile device they are automatically logged in to the tool.  There is a graph output and three buttons:

Up, Down, and Neutral
As people go through the lecture they click one of the buttons to manipulate the graph collectively.  This readout is then provided to the lecturer either in real time or after the lecture so that the lecturer can then determine what worked and what flopped

This prototype was just the tip of everything that was discussed in our class sessions, but it was the central component of the all inclusive “class in a box” interactivity kit we discussed.

To follow the development of the tool, visit the Mozilla project wiki: