Author Archives: Ian Phillips

Can I pay for this with my good intentions?

There are a lot of big ideas in Lawrence Lessig’s talk REMIX: How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law and Chapters 2 and 9 of Lewis Hyde’s book Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership. Big ideas that are certainly related and relatable yet too numerous and too large for me to pin down and fully synthesize in this short blog post. What I will say, though, is that the focus in these works on the creations and not the creators concerns me. The big ideas in these works address the survival and freedom of creations, but what are we doing to address the survival and freedom of creators? What about the common of estovers—the right of subsistence—Hyde describes? The common of estovers meant that a commoner would not lack food, fuel, or shelter. If creators of culture have a “copyduty” obligation to make their work available to benefit the community in the commons, what obligation does the community have to ensure the well-being of the creator? Hyde brings up an idea from Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice that “…a basic form of inequality, if not tyranny, arises whenever one sphere of social life begins to command the others” (p. 222).  How can we protect the cultural commoners from the tyranny of the need to earn to survive in a capitalistic economy?

In Common as Air Lewis Hyde states that “…our practices in regard to property fit us or unfit us for particular ways of being human” (p. 41). I would argue that current capitalist economic practices “unfit” us for being the types of humans that give away our labor for free. Grocery stores accept money in exchange for food—if you need to make money to feed yourself, how can you afford to give away your labor? How can people who concentrate their energies on creating art and ideas afford to buy land or houses if, as Hyde asserts, “…art and ideas, unlike land or houses, belong by nature to a cultural commons, open to all” (p. 214)? I wholly support making culture and knowledge freely accessible to all in a cultural commons, but how are those that contribute to the commons supposed to support themselves? Are creators of culture and knowledge expected to work a day job to buy groceries and pay rent and then work the night shift creating culture to give away for free? Energy is not limitless and mental fatigue is a real thing.

According to Lawrence Lessig’s talk REMIX: How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law, creativity is being strangled by the law. I disagree. I mean, I agree with Lessig’s points and his argument, but saying the law is strangling creativity is like saying “guns kill people”. The truth is that people kill people using guns and capitalism strangles creativity using the law. To loosen the stranglehold copyright law has on creativity, Lessig and others created a set of alternative Creative Commons licenses, which give creators finer-grained control of how their works are made available or restricted for public use. I am concerned that we are distracted so much by the instrument used to commit the crime that we fail to see who’s holding it. As optimistic as the creation of things like Creative Commons licenses makes me about the possible existence of a cultural commons, I won’t be truly convinced of this possibility until I see the development of a creative commons economy. Hyde states that for the commons to endure, it must be protected from despotic dominion and the market. We must remember here that the commons is not just the land, but also the rights, customs, and the social structures governing these uses. If things like Creative Commons licenses loosen the grip of law on cultural creations, what equivalent do we have protecting the cultural commoners and their ways of interacting from the squeeze brought on by the need to survive in a capitalistic society?

Two Project Proposals, by Ian

Project 1: The Linguist’s Kitchen


Introductory linguistics courses are typically taught by using cooked data sets that present specific linguistic phenomena to investigate or illustrate a specific theory or hypothesis. In addition to selecting language data sets based on their illustrative value, instructors should consider utilizing data collected from populations that students interact with, including their own social groups. By analyzing these kinds of data, found close to home, students will not only be learning linguistic principles and how to apply theory to data but also scrutinizing their language-based perceptions of the language and its speakers. By performing linguistics analyses on samples of languages about which they may have certain feelings or opinions, students will be encouraged to view the language as an object and, through learning by analysis, will discover for themselves the systematic nature of the language and may perhaps come to understand that all natural human languages are products of complex cognitive processes and should not be used to stereotype individuals. Teaching linguistics in this way may engage students by studying material relevant to their lives outside of the classroom, phenomena that they experience first-hand. By having students analyze language collected from their home environments, rather than cooked data sets from a language they’ve never heard, we may grant a degree of power to students as authorities on the subject and creators of knowledge. This method may also benefit linguistic thought by developing analyses of potentially unique linguistic phenomena such as novel combinations of code switching, second-language (L2) phonology, heritage languages, and unique sociolinguistic practices that students may produce or discover, record, and analyze.

Some existing technologies could be used in combination to assist students in analyzing language they use or encounter in their homes and communities. If existing speech analysis and transcription tools are brought together in a very user-friendly way, it may assist students in objectifying and analyzing languages they interact with, which may make studying linguistics a more meaningful experience.


Don Powers – Don is taking an intro to linguistics course to fulfill one last liberal arts requirement. In four months he’ll be completing his degree in accounting. He is not incredibly interested in language and just wants to know what he needs to get an A. Don knows his way around an app and is quick at understanding how one works by experimenting with it.

Sarah Babel – Sarah is a sophomore who has recently declared a major in linguistics and is taking this course as a core requirement in her discipline. She is quite interested in the topics presented in the course and actively engages in class discussions with enthusiasm. For years, Sarah has been using her computer for email and checking out friends’ vacation pics on Facebook, but that’s about all she uses it for.

Ben Frazzled – Ben is a first-time adjunct lecturer fulfilling the two-section-per-semester teaching requirement attached to his funding package. Ben also needs to submit his first qualifying exam by the end of the semester in order to stay on pace for completing his doctorate in five years. Ben loves linguistics and has a passion for teaching but at this point in his life, completing his qualifying exam is his first priority. Ben makes use of various apps to network and do research and is adept at learning how to use new applications.

Gladys Solvent – Gladys is a tenured professor in the linguistics department. She has been researching and teaching for 30 years and has it down pat. Her syllabi, lessons, examples, and assignments have been carefully crafted over three decades into the perfect teaching packages. At this point in her career, Gladys needs to make few adjustments to her teaching practices each semester and teaches from the book, literally. Gladys does not make use of digital technology in her teaching but a recent growth in student disinterest is prompting her to find a new way to engage her students on the subject matter.

Use case scenario

Users of this app will most likely have discovered it through word of mouth, so will probably have some idea of what it’s used for and what it does. The value of this app is that it may assist the user in objectifying her/his language (or any language), which is necessary in conducting linguistic analyses. Instructors will likely use this app in an instructional context, perhaps utilizing its functions to demonstrate how language can be objectified and dissected, then having their students use it to analyze language samples from their home and community. A student will hopefully use this app for exploratory purposes, uploading language from her/his home or community and making use of the functionality to gain an objective perspective of the language.

Full-fledged version

The fully functioning version of this idea is quite complex and will have analysis tools, guides, and reference links for phonetic/phonological, syntactic, and morphological analyses as well as data storage and sharing capabilities. There are several existing analysis programs that can hopefully be incorporated into the Kitchen: Praat ( is a suite of freely downloadable phonetic analysis tools and Audacity ( is a freely downloadable audio recording and editing program. Analysis guides can be made by hand and references can be linked to. I don’t know if there is anything existing for syntactic and morphological analysis, but I have an idea of how a useful interface should look and function. All of this functioning will be (hopefully) housed on a WordPress site, at least to begin with.

As far as tools, I think I will have to “beg” the creators of existing analysis programs (e.g. Praat, Audacity, etc.) to incorporate them somehow into the Kitchen. I will need to use various WordPress plugins, HTML, and CSS to incorporate the tools I’d like the suite to have (whether they’re created from scratch, borrowed, or begged). At this point, I am not very confident that all of the moving parts proposed above will work together.

Time and skills required

To complete the full-fledged version, I will need to develop a reasonably good understanding of WordPress, HTML, and CSS. I will also need a fair amount of time to tinker with the app design and functionality. Realistically, this will probably take a year.

Stripped down version & time and skills

The stripped down version will include just the tools to conduct a syntactic and morphological analyses. As these will be built by hand, I can cut out the begging, borrowing, and compatibility issues in the full-fledged version, but this will still require a good amount of tinkering time. Including my learning of WordPress, HTML, and CSS, I could probably produce the syntactic and morphological analysis tools with guides and reference links (but probably not storage or sharing capabilities, sadly) with a summer and a semester.


Project 2: WordPress Research Management Theme


Managing a research project, especially one with a massive scope, multiple PIs, and several looming deadlines is not an easy task. RAs and PIs involved in a project are also balancing their individual obligations, which makes communicating ideas, coordinating efforts, and moving a project forward challenging. Communication is vital to moving the project and organization is the key to getting anything accomplished (and maintaining sanity). The complexity of conducting research (especially with human subjects) adds an additional layer of difficulty to the process: grant applications, IRB applications, the creation and testing of data elicitation instruments, recruiting participants, technical training, collecting, storing, analyzing data and record keeping must all be organized. Keeping everyone informed and coordinating efforts to complete tasks is not all that efficient even with email, cloud storage, and planning apps like Doodle. The problem is that vital pieces of information end up in a dozen different places and the manager ends up being the one source of knowledge for all project-related information. When new RAs join the project, there is a serious learning curve to figuring out where everything is. What would alleviate some of this pressure on the project manager and give all collaborators access to the information they need to function efficiently is a virtual space in which all aspects of the project can be organized and recorded. This goal of this project is to develop a WordPress theme for research management, which contains all of the tools needed for researchers to work efficiently as a team, and hopefully be useful enough to add to the WordPress theme repository.


Will Depleted – Will is a third-year grad student that got involved in a developing research project last year and has, by default, become the project manager. The grant application is due in three months, and the pilot testing phase has been delayed by a glitch in the stimulus presentation program. This project itself is a three-phase experimental procedure involving data collection via ERP. In addition to coordinating the development of grant application materials and IRB application with the four project PIs, Will is working in conjunction with the other three RAs to fix the stimulus presentation software, organize training for ERP procedures, recruit participants and plan for data analysis. Will knows his way around an app or two.

Harvey Warzmahtyprater – Harvey has enjoyed a long and prosperous career in linguistics research. He has managed a dozen large-scale research projects and knows how to get a job done. Harvey is open to using technology–he is an avid email user and likes the Internet–but prefers to have a hard copy and meetings in person. Harvey has developed a file organization and naming system as well as a document annotation method that suite his needs quite well, and he is reluctant to stray from his tried-and-true ways.

Alyssa Newbeigh – Alyssa is a first-year grad student that has recently joined the lab and is interested in getting involved with a research project. She has never participated in research and isn’t quite sure what it entails. Before joining a project, she’d like to know more about the research goals, methods, and the phenomena under investigation. Alyssa has a Gmail account and makes extensive use of Google Calendar, Drive, Dropbox, and has an active presence on various social media platforms.

Use case scenario

This theme will provide the basic structure and functionality needed to effectively manage research though users will need to customize it somewhat for their specific projects. The idea is that once created, a research project website using this theme will serve as the center of information and communication for all activities related to the project. A project manager user may act as the project website manager, customizing the site, updating and repairing as needed. RAs and PIs may use the site to find and interact with all project documents and each other. Experiment participants may use the site to communicate with researchers and, after the experiment, find out more information about the project.

Full-fledged version

The tools that will be used to develop this theme are WordPress, HTML, CSS, and various WordPress plugins (e.g., an interactive calendar, chat function, timeline, discussion board, password protection). The aim of this project is not to create anything new but, rather, just compile existing functionalities in a very user-friendly layout. The focus of this project is on creating a highly-effective design rather than complex functionality. I don’t see too many moving parts at this point, so I am fairly confident that the pieces will work together without too much special adaptation. I would like it to have document syncing capabilities, storage of previous document versions, and automatic backup to a hard drive somewhere, which may complicate development.

Time and skills required

I am not creating anything new. I am mostly just joining together a bunch of already-existing programs to create an easily-navigable interface. The vision I have for what it will look like is still not that clear, so this project will take a significant amount of tinkering and experimentation. For this reason, I see the full-fledged version taking at least the summer and probably part of the next semester.

Stripped down version

The stripped down version will include just one or a few pages that organize different aspects of the project and contain links to documents. There will be few or no moving parts in this version, though I will need to figure out where to find storage (free storage would be great, but buying may be required here).

Time and skills required

As the focus of this project is the interface and its usability, the minimally viable product will still require tinkering to get the arrangement right. This can be completed over a semester.

Ian’s one-paragraph project ideas

1. So, my number one idea is still creating The Linguist’s Kitchen—a suite of tools for analyzing language in the home and community—because (1) I’m really getting attached to the name and (2) it would be a tremendous resource for teaching, learning, and the discipline. In the end, I’d like the suite to have tool sets for syntactic, phonetic/phonological, and morphological analysis, but for now I think it’s only realistic to consider building a subset of these. Considering the project feasibility and its usefulness, it might be best to start just with a web-based application with the ability to upload recorded speech, a place to transcribe it, some capability to categorize sentences by type, label words by syntactic category, and compare word order across sentences, as well as storage and sharing capabilities. My main concern is figuring out how/where to get free storage space for speech and analysis files and how to make the interface ‘drag and drop’.

2. Number two is a reworking of my original idea to create a database for research participants. I know CUNY Academic Commons is all about collaboration and community, but I haven’t been able to find any kind of ‘help wanted’ board. I’m wondering if it’s possible to create some kind of Commons ‘collaborators needed’ board or an add-on that functions to connect Commons members looking for individuals with expertise in some area or qualified research participants with those willing/able to offer assistance. This could be for all kinds of work, and could help community members connect with individuals that have particular skills or knowledge. I definitely see a need for something like this. The lab I work in is always looking for CUNY people with certain language backgrounds for experiments and paid RA positions, but it’s always so difficult to find people because word of mouth only goes so far.

3. Number three is a shift in my thinking about modifying CommentPress to better suit the needs of my small writing group. We’re on the verge of using CommentPress now, so I don’t yet have any additional insight into how the functionality of CommentPress might be enhanced for a small writing group dynamic. The shift is this: Our writing group has been helpful and I know that another two or three have popped up in the department, so what about creating a Writing Group Theme for Word Press? It would be a simple theme with just the necessary writing group functionality: a calendar, a log book for recording writing goals, and CommentPress. (Currently, we each use our own recording systems and Google docs). I don’t know if this project would be adequate in terms of scope, but I believe creating a ready-to-use package for writing groups would useful to individuals interested in starting one and may even encourage them to engage in writing as a social process.

Effective teaching and learning online: Is it all about time?

What are the advantages that online teaching and learning have over traditional face-to-face educational experiences?

Think of five answers. How many of these have to do with time?

Most of the specific advantages I can think of (out of the blue or taken from this week’s readings) can be reduced to one common denominator: The online environment alters the temporal aspect learning in a way that’s beneficial to the learner. In my opinion, the traditional classroom environment can make learning an isolated act—you spend two hours one or two days per week learning something in class and then you mostly forget about it for the next six days. By removing the physical constraints of classroom learning, the online environment allows learning to take place continuously.

In Joseph Ugoretz’s article “Two Roads Diverged in a Wood”: Productive Digression in Asynchronous Discussion he analyzes the value of digression in learning and discusses how online learning can allow for students to gain the benefits of digression via asynchronous discussion. In this case, the online environment not only provides the necessary time for the discussion to take place (something a limited class period can’t afford) but the prolonged nature of asynchronous discussion gives students time to digest what’s been presented, reflect on it, perhaps check some sources, and then offer a thoughtful contribution.

In Bill Pelz’s article (My) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy he offers insight into effective online pedagogy from his own teaching experiences. The three principles that he offers are essentially (1) stay out of the spotlight and let students do the work of learning, (2) encourage interaction among learners, and (3) maintain a presence in the online learning environment. I think the first two are sound principles in any environment, but in practice may be difficult to implement in limited face-to-face interactions. An online environment, however, increases opportunities to put these principles into practice by allowing the possibility of extended student-student and student-instructor interactions. While this article is more advice for educators (rather than an analysis of online learning), the principles it promotes are taking advantage of the continuous learning experience made possible in an online environment (rather than taking advantage of some other unique dimension of online learning).

For me, time is a central theme in both of these articles. I know that the advantages of online learning are not all about time (I appreciate the point brought up by Joe in the cac.o.phony discussion on the CUNY IT Conference that “…the fa [fully-asynchronous] environment gives students a chance to construct an identity based on their knowledge and thinking–and their communication of ideas–without any barriers or prejudices which might arise (and often do) in the face-to-face classroom.”), so what is it that makes online teaching and learning special? Should online teaching and learning be promoted as just a convenient alternative to traditional face-to-face environments? Or, is there a more fundamental difference with online learning that should be recognized and form the basis for developing effective online learning and teaching practices? With online teaching and learning, are we just gaining time? Or, are we gaining something else that just doesn’t exist in the traditional classroom?

Ian’s Project Ideas

Here are a few project ideas I’ve been considering lately:

1. For the Core 1 term paper, I considered how digital technologies could be utilized in teaching introductory linguistics courses. I reflected on our readings and discussions of education and learning, and decided that some existing technologies could be used in combination to assist students in analyzing language they use or encounter in their homes and communities. The issue is that most linguistic analyses utilize “cooked data”: clean categorical representations of the real continuous messy data. Cooked data is typically used to do analyses in intro classes because eliciting and cooking the data yourself is difficult and time-consuming. The basic idea I’m considering is creating a cooking suite (called “The Linguists Kitchen”?), where existing speech analysis and transcription tools are brought together in a very user-friendly way. While this will not automate the cooking process, it may at least provide an opportunity for students to try analyzing language that they actually interact with, which may make studying linguistics a more meaningful experience.

2. As an experimental linguist, I often think about the logistics of finding and recruiting participants for experiments. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of creating some sort of database where individuals interested in participating in research can sign up and list (or not list) various traits they possess that experimenters may be interested in (I’m thinking of traits related to language knowledge and usage). While something like this may be extremely useful to researchers, it seems like it would raise a number of ethical issues concerning confidentiality, security of personal information, etc. Perhaps an equally useful alternative would be to create a CUNY-wide database of ongoing research projects in need of participants. Individuals interested in participating in research could then peruse participant selection criteria and contact experimenters if they find a project they’d like to be a part of.

3. For the past year, I’ve been meeting weekly with a small writing group of fellow linguistics students. We help each other set writing goals, balance our personal work with our many other commitments, and find ways to help each other meet the goals we set out for ourselves. This group has been extremely helpful and, lately, I’ve been wondering if we could be even more useful by actually participating in each other’s writing process. This idea sprouted while I was somewhere in Chapter 2 of Planned Obsolescence and was crushed when I got to Chapter 3 and discovered that CommentPress exists. I’d like to try using CommentPress this semester with my writing group to figure out if there are any modifications we could make to align it more with (or better complement) the nature of our in-person interactions.