D&T F2020 πŸ”š Final Project Notes, Trends, and Tips β†ͺοΈπŸ”‹β†©οΈ

If you choose to pursue your final project beyond the scope of this class, it might help you to note the following frequent issues encountered across many final projects. I plan to use this list when updating the Final Project brief in 2021. Thanks, and have a great break!

  • Define “diversity:” specify the geographic scope of diversity in your research. Diversity in NYC means something different from diversity in Hawai’i; diversity in Singapore means something different from diversity in Ethiopia.
  • Remember to discuss technological aspects of your project. Especially if you’re researching a media tool (e.g. social media or publishing platform), what affordances of the technology differentiate the from low-tech solutions? How do the choices of tool’s developers affect the tool’s users?
  • Fact-check EVERYTHING––and cite it! A number of projects had errors of accuracy, . If you’re not 130% sure of something that you’re positioning as a “fact,” double-check it using multiple, credible sources. Recall our sessions on Media and Information Literacy.
    • Speaking of citations, informed opinions are fine, but they should also be supported with research citations from credible sources. This helps to make your project more potentially useful for other scholars.
  • Solution flowchart: Be sure your project justifies itself as a solution by answering the following basic questions:
    • What new solution are you proposing?
    • Why is it needed?
    • Who is the solution meant to serve, and who is meant to implement it? 
    • When, where, and how should it be implemented? Are there specifics of time or place that should be reflected in the flowchart (eg, which governments are providing funding for wheelchairs)?
  • Define specialized terms and specialized uses of common terms, e.g. β€œsmart” city. 

A Few Notes on Environmental Justice Projects

I’m pleased that this was the first semester in which several students focused their final projects on environmental justice. Here are a few additional points for future consideration, based on my past work with environmental data visualization (including satellite data analysis for NOAA, NASA, AMNH Science Bulletins and Save Lamu‘s World Heritage Report) and with UN-Habitat in collecting and analyzing environmental and bio-spatial data in the Global South:

  • How do the environmental responsibilities of individuals differ from that of organizations, particularly corporations? For instance, how does individual pollution compare to organizational pollution? How do individuals meant to contribute–and not contribute–to CSR (corporate social responsibility)?
  • What kinds of lessons that indigenous groups, traditional modes of living, and developing economies have to teach to those in more industrialized, post-colonial, and/or β€œdeveloped” economies.Β 
  • How does the environmental footprint between indigenous and traditional societies compare with that of industrial societies?Β 
  • How does environmental messaging differ between indigenous and industrialized societies?Β 
  • How might this undercut the message of environmentalists from industrialized societies that environmental stewardship requires wealth and privilege?

An early pioneer in connecting indigenous practices to environmental justice and democratic equity is Wangari Maathai, who was a biologist, indigenous farmer, founder of the Green Belt Movement, and the only environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her memoir UNBOWED illustrates some of the points I’m getting at:

At a seminar, a woman researcher presented the results of a study she had done, which found that children in the central region of Kenya were suffering from diseases associated with malnutrition. This was an eye-opener for me, since that is where I come from and I knew from personal experience that the central region was one of the most fertile in Kenya. But times had changed. Many farmers had converted practically all of their land into growing coffee and tea to sell in the international market. These β€œcash crops” were occupying land previously used to produce food for people to eat.

Consequently, women were feeding their families processed foods like white bread, maize flour, and white rice, all of which are high in carbohydrates but relatively low in vitamins, proteins, and minerals. Cooking these foods consumed less energy than the foods I had eaten as a child, and this made them attractive and practical, because available firewood for cooking was limited due to deforestation in the region. Instead, women were using as fuel materials left over from the harvest, such as corn stems and husks. This shortage of firewood, the researcher concluded, was leading directly to malnutrition as people’s diets changed in response. The most vulnerable were children and the elderly.

These facts troubled me, not least because they seemed so contrary to my experiences as a childβ€”when there was more than enough food, the food itself was nutritious and wholesome, people were healthy and strong, and there was always enough firewood to cook with. I remembered how the colonial administration had cleared the indigenous forests and replaced them with plantations of exotic trees for the timber industry. After independence, Kenyan farmers had cleared more natural forests to create space to grow coffee and tea. Until now, however, I had not fully appreciated the multiple costs of these activities.