Jade Did Drumbeat: A Field Journal

It's Interactive and Ethnographic


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.

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.