A screenshot of Ohyay showing Amy, a slide that says “What did you think of that activity? (Use emoji reactions)”, and several floating emoji reactions.
A screenshot of Ohyay showing Amy, a slide that says “What did you think of that activity? (Use emoji reactions)”, and several floating emoji reactions.
Students giving me some feedback about the activity we just did. Credit: Amy J. Ko

Last month, I ranted about how much I hate Zoom for teaching. It’s missing all of the key things necessary for great synchronous teaching—student gaze to convey attention, indicators of student confusion, conversation, social grouping, and freedom to configure a classroom for learning—while adding new problems, like latency and disembodiment. Many of these things are more generally problems of video chat, but some are also specific to Zoom itself and it’s sterile, featureless design.

When I posted my rant, Arvind Satyanarayan reminded me of Ohyay, and pointed me to Kayvon Fatahalian’s blog post about using it for teaching. I’d heard…

A four panel strip. Top left: stick figures and virtual attendees all on computers. Top right: Collaboration at a table. Bottom left: independent activities. Bottom right: Out in the world as seen through the window.
A four panel strip. Top left: stick figures and virtual attendees all on computers. Top right: Collaboration at a table. Bottom left: independent activities. Bottom right: Out in the world as seen through the window.
Conferences can be so much more than they have been. Credit: Amy J. Ko

My first conference was the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages in September, year 2000. It was a first in many ways: it was my first academic conference, the first time I’d given a conference presentation, and the first time I’d been to Seattle for professional reasons rather than play. I was just a sophomore in college and I was simply terrified. I had to buy a new outfit to look “professional” (but I don’t know what that meant), I had to prepare a presentation on print transparencies for an overhead projector (because digital projectors didn’t work reliably back then, nor…

9 month old Amy smiling and crawling on a wooden deck.
9 month old Amy smiling and crawling on a wooden deck.
9 months old and zippy. Credit: Judy Jensen.

I often have vidid memories of my childhood. I remember when I was 8 or 9, playing with the newly born surprise kittens of our aging, unexpectedly fertile cat Snickers. My mom had told us that we could only keep one, and so my brother and I erected an elaborate obstacle course to see which one was the most cunning, smart, and strong. Donatello, the runt, lost all of the contests; Leonardo won the sprint and Raphael won the maze, but Michelangelo, he won both the climbing test and the endurance challenge, which involved hanging from a cliff molded from…

A collage of all 18 chapters of the book, showing 90,000 words and dozens of images, arranged in a row with varying height columns of text.
A collage of all 18 chapters of the book, showing 90,000 words and dozens of images, arranged in a row with varying height columns of text.
The book I wrote, in pixel form. Credit: Amy J. Ko

This post describes my writing process for the book I just published online, Foundations of Information. If you’d just like to read the book, it’s free and online: just click the link above and start reading. (It’s about 90,000 words as of this writing, similar to a 200-page print book). Read it, share it, use it in your own teaching, and see how I use it in my course INFO 200 Intellectual Foundations of Information. If you’d like to learn more about why and how I wrote it, read on.

I am no expert in information. My background is in…

A three stick figures joyfully dancing on three grey face coverings
A three stick figures joyfully dancing on three grey face coverings
A year of no masking. (Yes, that is a pun). Credit: Amy J. Ko

It’s international trans day of visibility today. In one way, the day is about refusing to hide, helping the world accept that trans people do exist, and that we’re human like everyone else. In another way, it’s a day about celebrating trans joy, in contrast to the more mournful trans day of remembrance, in which we remember all of trans people murdered. Of course, this year of pandemic has been a hard year to have joy: for me, it’s been full of crisis, burnout, residual trauma, depression, grief, fear, and anger. And it’s been a year of conservative assault on…

A screenshot of the Pathable platform landing page, showing the SIGSE 2021 logo.
A screenshot of the Pathable platform landing page, showing the SIGSE 2021 logo.
The header of the virtual conference website. Credit: Amy J. Ko

A year ago, I was on a train, traveling to Portland, Oregon, wearing a very uncomfortable N95 mask. The train car was mostly empty; out of the corner of my eye, I could see the couple on the other side of the train. They peered at me every once in a while, maybe because of the mask, maybe because of my loud typing, or maybe because of my vaguely non-passing, recently out trans face and body. Little had shut down for COVID-19 yet, but most of my students, collaborators, and colleagues had canceled their trip to SIGCSE 2020. Many had…

A photograph of the Data Feminism jacket cover, showing the title “Data Feminism”, authors Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein, and a backdrop of hundreds of data visualizations.
A photograph of the Data Feminism jacket cover, showing the title “Data Feminism”, authors Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein, and a backdrop of hundreds of data visualizations.
Not too many books about oppression have this exciting a cover. Credit: Amy J. Ko

When I first learned to code in middle school in the 1990's, data was the last thing on my mind. Code, for me, was about experiences: games, animations, and interactive stories, guided by hidden logic, to entertain my friends and I between classes or on the bus ride home. While all of these things had data, whether game art my friends had made in Microsoft Paint, or illustrations I’d painstakingly plotted pixel by pixel on my TI-82, or the dialog of my fan fiction text adventures, none of them felt like data. They were content that I’d created to express…

A screen shot of Zoom, showing Amy’s screen in the top left and several gray rectangles with student names like “student1”, “student2”, and “student3”.
A screen shot of Zoom, showing Amy’s screen in the top left and several gray rectangles with student names like “student1”, “student2”, and “student3”.
The modern pandemic classroom. Credit: Amy J. Ko

This is superfluous and hyperbolic rant about Zoom and other video chat software used for teaching. If you’re in to that kind of thing, read on, and commiserate with me! If not, go read about more important things, like the abysmal conditions in which U.S. K-12 educators are teaching during this pandemic, and why its on all of us to fix them.

Prior to this academic year, the only experience I had with online courses was a developmental psychology course I took in college in 2001. My wife and I were new parents, and the online option was a godsend…

Women holding a sign that says “I just had sexism”
Women holding a sign that says “I just had sexism”
Yay, feminist puns! Credit: Claudio Schwarz

Before I came out as transgender in 2019, sexism was of my biggest fears about living as a woman. I’d benefited from some kinds of male privilege up until then: people listened to me when I spoke; when I was assertive, they usually read it as confidence and authority; people rarely questioned my authority or expertise. Being treated as a man-made life easier in these ways (and of course, as a trans woman, much harder in others).

In contrast, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, I saw how poorly women were treated by my male classmates. Women were constantly interrupted. When…

A photograph of a crumbling, dirty school hallway of a school in New Jersey.
A photograph of a crumbling, dirty school hallway of a school in New Jersey.
A crumbling New Jersey school, mirroring our crumbling future. Credit: NJEA

For most of my childhood, my mom was a primary school teacher. She taught second grade for several years while we lived in Eastern Oregon in a rural Ontario, just outside Boise, Idaho. It was a diverse community, with Japanese immigrants who had been interned, Basque immigrants who had been sheep herders, Mexican immigrants supporting farms, and of course White farmers and ranchers. …

Amy J. Ko

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.

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