Masclab at TC’s Academic Festival

Thanks to everyone who attended our session at the annual Teachers College Academic Festival this past weekend! We had a full house with whom we shared snippets from some of our ongoing projects, including the new Masclab Podcast Series (link coming soon!), an article and upcoming AERA presentation on multimodal scholarship, research in community based settings and afterschool programs like the Educational Video Center, our participatory screening series, and the successes coming from the Masclab Writing Group! Phew….! Lots going on, and lots more to come.

In the meantime, check out a few photos from the event below. Subscribe to our blog and follow us on twitter and instagram to stay informed.

Judges Take the Lead in the Education of Court-Involved Youth

Morning General Session: Mark Soler, JD presents alternatives to solitary confinement for youth. 2/14/17

Since much of my research as a MASCLab member centers on understanding how media representations of crime impacts juvenile justice policy, I attended the National Conference of Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) in NYC recently and learned that many judges are shifting their focus from behind the bench to beyond the courtroom, taking a leadership role in youth case management.  NCJJ is a four day, tech-savvy symposium organized annually by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), an 80-year-old juvenile justice think tank based in Reno, NV.  The conference is a forum to disseminate best practices in interpreting, applying and measuring new research and strategies designed to promote and ensure the best interests of youth who come in contact with the juvenile justice system.

Recognizing the potentially life-long and multiple impacts of their decisions, judges and other juvenile justice decision-makers emphasized supporting youth well-being by keeping system-involved youth in a stable home (as opposed to detention or prison), supporting caregivers, and requiring documentation that health care needs are met and satisfactory educational progress is being made.

Conference sessions covered topics such as trauma-informed justice, new research on LGBTQ youth, ending solitary confinement for youth adjudicated as offenders and, among many more, reviewing school-justice partnerships, like NCJFCJ’s School Pathways to the Juvenile Justice System (School Pathways Project or SPP).  NCJFCJ developed SPP about 4 years ago in response to Georgia Judge Steven Teske’s crusade against the flow of non-violent, “non-scary” juveniles being referred to his court in increasing numbers.  In 2012 Judge Teske testified before a Senate subcommittee on “Ending the School to Prison Pipeline.”  His data indicated a 2000% increase (not a typo) in the numbers of youth referred to his court between 1995 and 2004.  In 1995, 49 youth came before his court.  In 1996 school districts in his jurisdiction adopted harsher, “zero-tolerance” disciplinary measures and recruited police officers to supervise discipline inside of the schools.  Judge Teske testified that the increased police presence on school campuses led to higher rates of arrests and youth crime.  More guns and other weapons  appeared in schools and drop-out rates rose as well.  Judge Teske told the commission that 92% of the 1,400 youth that were referred to juvenile court from the schools in 2012 had committed misdemeanors involving school fights, and otherwise disruptive behaviors that “made adults angry,” but did not merit arrest and court referral.

Since 1997, when crime rates were at a record high in the United States, (following more than a decade of heightened vigilance and anti-crime rhetoric aimed at the “war on drugs”), crime in the country has been steadily decreasing. Yet schools and law enforcement continue to refer youth to juvenile courts for misdemeanors and “status offenses” – infractions such as breaking curfew or underage drinking – which would not be considered criminal if committed by an adult. Youth of color – and particularly Black youth continue to be over-represented across all levels of youth corrections from school-based suspensions, detentions and expulsions to referrals to law enforcement and in-school arrests – a particularly pernicious disruptor of youth education and referral to juvenile court.  And Black males are four times as likely as whites to be detained and confined following adjudication.  According to the American Psychological Association, “zero tolerance” policies have undermined educational prospects for students and Black boys, who are less likely to commit status offenses.

Emerging professional opinion, qualitative research findings, and a substantive empirical literature from social psychology suggest that the disproportionate discipline of students of color may be due to lack of teacher preparation in classroom management (Vavrus & Cole, 2002), lack of training in culturally competent practices (Ferguson, 2001; Townsend, 2000), or racial stereotypes (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; Graham & Lowery, 2004).
-American Psychological Association (2008)

Unlike crime, however, poverty levels are on the rise in the United States, and youth of color are also over-represented in populations most impacted by poverty.  In the Morningside Heights community surrounding Teachers College – poverty levels are just over 31% – above the national average of 22%.  Growing up in poverty is correlated with justice system involvement. A panel on community-school partnerships at NCJJ, described the Communities-in-Schools (CIS), program.  This drop-out prevention initiative is intended to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by offering a tailored menu of direct, school and community-based interventions and added supports for students, families, classroom teachers and the wider school community to offset some of the impacts of poverty, boost academic achievement and address behavior problems.  In a session offering a debrief of a CIS partnership in Texas, one judge insisted a youth whose case he oversaw be placed in a CIS school.  Promising results have been noted for CIS, although measurement was hampered by widespread inconsistencies in initial assessments and data collection.

It is clear that it does take a village – and for judges in the juvenile justice system – their sphere of involvement is expanding beyond the courtroom and into the classroom. Judges have new mandates to account for the well-being of youth, although no clear consensus seems to exist on what the criteria for measuring well-being might be.  In an Educating Youth session, judges from Pennsylvania discussed a sharper focus or deeper involvement in evaluating academic progress as a starting point. Judges discussed striving to minimize the “devastating effect” of school change, assessing a youth’s academic standing, and serving as an education decision-maker.  Another judge mentioned trying to connect with teachers and youth every three months.

Although poverty was on the agenda as concomitant and causative factor, much of the targeted strategies seemed to address issues that arise after a child’s life trajectory has been deeply impacted by some of the harsh realities of living in poverty.  So it appears critically important that the village needs funding – perhaps flowing directly to the families, schools and children directly.  Families and communities need more support, access to capital, job equity, quality schools, affordable housing and an end to racial barriers to social mobility.  There should also be less reliance on law enforcement to fulfill the goal of assisting youth and ensuring contact with the juvenile justice system is not a norm – especially if you’re born Black and poor.  It would be worth studying how direct resource flows to families and schools might rust the faucet of the school-to-prison pipeline, and enhance a renewed commitment to community-based responses to normal adolescent behavior and end to zero-tolerance policies that corrodes school climate.  Teachers are being sought as partners by judges to complete the educational picture of a court-involved youth, and for those most vulnerable youth, resources and technology should be available to facilitate teacher-court contact.  And teachers must also have access to support,  resources and tools to recognize and end subjective profiling of students of color that often ignites the spiral of a momentary pain-in-the-neck into a lifetime of unnecessary and costly involvement in the juvenile justice system.


Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools?

Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2014 National Report

American Factfinder, US Census, 2010

Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice (Steinberg, L. 2009)

School Pathways Project

Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline.  Hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dec. 12, 2012   (Judge Teske’s testimony starts on p. 29).

“When I took the bench in 1999, I was shocked to find that approximately one-third of the cases in my courtroom were school related. The year before campus police, the court received only 49 school referrals. By 2004, the referrals increased over 2,000 per- cent, of which 92 percent were misdemeanors, mostly involving school fights, disorderly conduct, and disrupting public school.  Despite the many arrests, school safety did not improve. Guns, knives, box-cutter knives, and straight-edge razors continued to come on campus. The graduation rates decreased during this same period, reaching an all-time low in 2003 of 58 percent. The more students we arrested, suspended, and expelled, the more juvenile crime rate significantly increased. These kids lost one of the greatest protective buffers against delinquency: school connectedness.” -(Teske, S. C., 2012).

Additional resources:
The Public Assault on America’s Children

Thoughts on Multimodality

Happy March everybody!

In a recent discussion about our upcoming podcast, the MASC Lab team discussed the importance of multimodality in education.  Multimodality, in a strictly denotative sense, is the understanding and approach to communication that utilizes sign systems across our five senses.  But it is also an acknowledgment that we have undergone a major shift in the way we make meaning, from a strict reliance on printed text to the inclusion of design, sound, rhythm, and kineticism.

One form of multimodal engagement MASC Lab is involved with is the teaching, learning, and practice of media production.  Podcasting, video production, social media, and even this blog are all examples of multimodal approaches to communication.  We’ve also been inspired by CASES Choices Alternative-to-Detention, an alternative program for court-involved youth, whose youth-initiated projects include collage making, role playing, and physical activities like boxing.  The work that CASES does has broadened our conceptual framework of multimodal literacy as embodied forms of expression.

Understanding, interpreting, and using these multimodal texts requires educating ourselves on how they operate.  As Frank Serafini (2015) argues, “More than simply asking what modes or multimodal texts are, we need to be asking what multimodal texts do.”  Part of that learning means being able to articulate the subtext of a multimodal texts (i.e. What is this image saying?  What is this sound communicating?).  But it also means applying a critical lens by interrogating the site of production, the purposes of representations, and asking who is included and who is excluded.

In advocating for multimodal approaches to education, we are advocating the self-empowerment of people to read and construct meaning of the world through sign systems including and beyond printed text.  We believe that this approach strengthens people’s opportunity to become active participants and citizens in a multimodal society.

Unfortunately, despite the expanding opportunities to take a participatory role in a multimodal world, schools in general have reified multimodality as a distraction to “real” learning.  Film, music, physical education, the arts–all are marginalized due to an obstinate commitment to traditional conceptions of literacy and text.  Multimodality insists upon an interdisciplinary approach to learning that reflects the reality young people inhabit and will be expected to navigate as they grow older.  And indeed, young folk are more aware than adults that the traditional ways of teaching—top-down, passively received knowledge, rigid and authoritative reifications of knowledge—do not work in this social paradigm of the post-industrial U.S. and globalizing understandings of culture.

As society globalizes and interactions across cultural difference become the norm, people are required to produce meaning through their engagement with various modes of meaning making.  Some of the tools of this meaning making are literally in the pockets (and more often the hands) of young people.  It is our responsibility as educators to invite young people to think critically about these tools and how they can be used in ways that move toward reshaping the world in humanizing ways.





Serafini, F. (2015). Multimodal literacy: From theories to practices. Language Arts 92(6), 412-423.

Moving from Media Consumers to Media Producers

Happy Monday, everyone!  Here’s another update to the goings on in MASC Lab at Teachers College, Columbia.

We have a lot of great equipment that we’re itching to get out into the streets and produce popular media, so we gathered in MASC Lab headquarters last Wednesday for a media technology workshop.  We talked technical about frame and shot sizes.  Then we broke into teams, story-boarded our shots, and made small films.  Soon we’ll be working with software and practicing some basic editing techniques and hopefully we’ll have some small experimental films to post on here for all to see.

At MASC Lab one of our missions is to use media in ways that push back on the normative function of corporate mass media.  This “popular media” is media made “by the people” with a critical understanding of power and a sense of social justice.  In Storytelling for Social Justice, Lee Ann Bell makes distinctions among stock stories, concealed stories, resistance stories, and emerging/transforming stories.  Where stock stories fall in line with dominant narratives of rugged individualism, historical amnesia, a blindness to social and cultural critiques, and hope devoid of action, the latter forms of storytelling complicate, critique, and disrupt this ideology.  Popular media expands our ways of knowing and being and embraces diverse experiences in the movement toward liberation.

With the freedom of the Internet and the ubiquity of digital media devices, a tremendous opportunity exists for people to move from consumers to producers of media.  But unless we are willing to critically examine our own understandings of the world and media we run the risk of reproducing the same messages that saturate us daily.  At MASC Lab we not only hope to teach and develop the skills of making media, but also to generate ideas that will make media a democratic space of participation and dialogue.



New Year, New Projects

Happy Monday, everyone!

Last week the Media and Social Change Lab (MASC Lab) met in the basement at Teachers College to plan and strategize our projects for the spring.  One of those projects is a weekly publication on our blog.  Please check back here every Monday for more updates on our projects and other goings on in the activist and media community.  Below are more of the ideas, projects, and events that came out of our meeting.

  • Our new Media Making Workshop is a free workshop for people interesting in learning how to make their own media with our state of the art audio and visual equipment.  It’s an attempt to move people from consumers to producers of popular media.
  • Our Media Literacy Project is in development to provide an opportunity to learn how to read media through a critical lens.
  • We’re beefing up our social media presence to communicate what’s going on with us as well as the broader activist community.  Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter at @MASCLab.
  • Look out for our new MASC Lab podcast that is in development.  Hosted by our very own Kyle Oliver, our podcast looks at the many ways media is being used in society, culture, and as a tool of social justice movements.
  • Also watch out for a paper being submitted to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) by several of our members on multimodality.
  • Finally, we’ve all decided that MASC Lab should serve as a space of resistance to the steady stream of Trumpist hatred issuing from our national politics.  We’ll be making a committed effort to supporting and amplifying the multiformed and multivoiced Trump resistance through media.  If you are an organizer, please contact us so we can dialogue and find ways of using media to push back on Trump’s racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, and jingoistic agenda.

That’s all great and it seems like we have a lot of irons in the fire.  But what’s going on now, you ask?  Well, on Wednesday, February 1st, we will be hosting a free participatory screening of the documentary Newtown.  The film chronicles the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and the Newtown community’s story of tragedy and resilience.  Afterwards we will ask you to participate in a dialogue so that we can put our thoughts into action.  More info here:  If you can’t make it on Wednesday night, no worries!  Look out for more screenings throughout the year.  Did I mention they’re free?

Thanks for your support and interest in MASC Lab!  Stay tuned for an exciting semester of activism and media.

In solidarity,


Communicating in Trump’s America: Teaching encryption behavior to young people

Photo by gfpeck | Flickr

On Sunday, December 4, 2016, the New Inquiry hosted an event called “Communicating in Trump’s America” about how people can use encrypted communication to promote social change in the coming years. Appropriately tucked behind a corner in a DUMBO warehouse, the panel included Harlo Holmes, the Director of Newsroom Digital Security at the Freedom of the Press Foundation; Olivia Martin, a Digital Security Intern at the Freedom of the Press Foundation; Ahmed El-Hady, a neuroscientist at Princeton University and Egyptian revolutionary; and Loubna Mrie, a Middle Eastern Studies student at New York University and Syrian revolutionary. This group of journalists and activists combined their knowledge of both high- and low-tech encryption to offer a balanced vision for building an activist community during Trump’s presidency: from understanding how hackers and spies root mobile phones, to the importance of having a concrete plan when you decide to organize.

Even with their combined experience, the panelists offered a surprisingly light response to a question that came toward the end of the Q&A: How can we teach young people, “digital natives,” how to use their public and social platforms safely? While the panelists from the Freedom of Press Foundation emphasized the importance of teaching everyone about encryption (encryption literacy, we might call it) the prospect of bringing encryption education into the K-12 realm was a stumper. Even understanding the existing laws about data privacy for minors is a challenge; and there is a lot of legalese to wade through at both state and federal levels.

Yet even with the panelists’ trepidation, I noticed several themes over the course of the evening that seemed especially relevant and teachable under the umbrella of multiple literacies. In my mind, I’ve started calling these themes “encryption behaviors,” but don’t let my working neologism get in your way:

  • Seeing Traps
      • Data as Currency: The understanding that nothing is actually free on the internet. What we don’t pay for with dollars, we pay for with data. So, it’s important to be aware of exactly what data each platform collects, what data other users have access to, and how it becomes currency that corporations and governments might exchange. According to Martin, “The general public doesn’t [know] when to believe a platform is secure.” Have you ever tried reading a privacy policy? But knowing who is collecting your data is a good place to start, especially as political phishing scams are on the rise. In the eternal words of Arthur Weasley, “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”
      • Media Literacy: Many of the panelists described propaganda and fake news as the amplifiers of corrupt and repressive governments, propped up by algorithms on Facebook and Google. With the rise in fake news this election season, it’s no wonder students struggle to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate sources. This goes beyond learning to read for bias, to the more basic (and perhaps intangible) ability to read for truth.
  • Creating Shields
    • Low-tech encryption: The words “coded language” came up again and again as panelists talked about how to manage your online presence: go by a nickname rather than your real name; avoid using keywords that might be tracked. El-Hady even talked about “encrypting” his lectures with coded language, while Holmes pointed out that sometimes the best form of encryption is the noise of a loud bar. These kinds of physical choices draw a parallel to theories of figured worlds and created spaces, where time, place, and consensus abet communication and meaning (e.g. Bartlett & Holland, 2002).
    • Cross-national and cross-generational comparisons: It was nearly irresistible for the moderator to draw connections between America’s looming future under Trump and the panelists’ experience with recent uprisings in Egypt and Syria. While El-Hady and Mrie cautioned against alarmist comparisons, the panelists and audience seemed to agree that American activists have a lot to learn from history — from people who have lived under real repressive conditions and older generations who have struggled and won.

I should add the proviso to all of the above points that, of course, we shouldn’t underestimate what young folks already know, have figured out, or hacked together on their own. Many, no doubt, have some sense of the value and appeal of ephemeral communication thanks to apps like Snapchat and Confide. Cross-generational learning can work in two directions.

So, let’s conclude with the idea of imagination, which was another recurrent theme throughout the panel: the ability to envision the worst possible outcomes of this administration and build bulwarks against them. It’s important not to be alarmist in the conversations that we have with each other and our students, but there may also be a way to draw hope, strength, and trust from a shared set of digital literacies and encryption behaviors.

NOTE: The event ended with a cryptoparty, but I wasn’t able to stick around. For those that are interested in securing/encrypting their devices, maybe consider hosting one of these? Also, check out the ACLU’s cybersecurity tips.

Join Our Projects via Slack!

Hi all – we are trying out using Slack to organize our projects. Check our convos there: it’s open and free! Follow the message below from Lisa!

Hello MASClab,
In an effort to organize our communication and efforts on our many projects we have set up a Slack account.
If you do not have a email, please email Lisa at and she will add you to our Slack–Masclabgroup.
There are 8 Channels (Projects) all but one are open. With Slack you can choose to “mute” channels by going to the channel settings. This means you only receive messages from those projects you are interested in. You can also add documents.
#labtalk is our general lab message center in Slack. The rest represent specific projects. Let us know if there are other projects which need a channel.
We will be organizing task request for projects, so if you are eager to get involved follow the messages and take action

MASCLab Updates and Announcements

We had an excellent meeting this week–Kyle led us through an excellent discussion of podcasting and we took our first steps toward producing our own MASCLab podcast!
You can see the introductory handout he used to guide us below. We came up with some great ideas, which we are going to build on in two weeks and take the next step in actually making it!
This upcoming week, we will be meeting in iDesign, 322 Thompson Hall for an Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality jam session with Professor Joey Lee! 
It will be at our usual time:
Wednesday October 12th from 12-1:30pm.
It’s going to be an awesome opportunity to learn about what’s going on with AR/VR technology these days, and possibly even to play with some awesome AR/VR tech!
In other news, Lisa has heroically begun the process of improving our website! One of the first steps is to update our very sad-looking “people” page. If you are involved in MASCLab or plan to continue to be soon (if you come join us in conversations or projects in person or online, you’re involved!) please fill out the following short survey Lisa designed so we can put you on our people page! We’re setting the deadline for two weeks from now and then we’ll put them all online–do it now so you don’t forget!

September 28 Meeting Notes and Updates

We will be meeting next week at our new usual time:
Wednesday, 12-130 in HM46A. 
The first half of the meeting we will be workshopping a collaborative podcast around MASCLab’s work and interests, suggested by Kyle. Please join us to do some audio thinking and making, among other things!
If you have something you’d like to address/workshop/brainstorm/get feedback on at more length this week or in upcoming weeks, and we will make sure to let people know!
We had a great meeting this week in which we laid out some initial projects MASCLab is going to be working on producing this semester, so that we can start building collaborations and making things. One of the things we wanted to make sure to do was host an online list of what people are working on, so people can propose things and also see what’s out there to get involved. SO, check out our new MASCLab Projects Page to see the projects that we talked about at this meeting. If you see something you want to be involved in, email us at this address! If you want to propose or add your project to the list, or if you just have an idea for one you want to talk about, email us about that, too! We are really focusing on making so far this semester, and we want to help support people making their media/social change ideas a reality.
You can check my sparse and cryptic meeting notes here, but the Projects Page will give a fuller version.

MASCLab Meeting Time Set!

The Media and Social Change Lab is meeting
Wednesday, September 28 from 12-130pm in HM46A. 
All are welcome and encouraged to join (dont worry if you couldn’t make it to the first meeting or are unsure if you’ll be able to make it every week)–we will be introducing ourselves and beginning to plan for the new year.
The lab is under the guidance of Professors Lalitha Vasudevan and Ioana Literat, and provides a supportive, participatory, and collaborative space for people to engage with the use of media in research, scholarship and pedagogy. We make media, engage with mediamakers in the TC community and beyond, and think and talk together about the role and potential of media as a tool in our work and in society.
Join us and consider how you might want to make/think/learn with us this year!
Email or visit for more information.