Jade Did Drumbeat: A Field Journal

It's Interactive and Ethnographic


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.