Search & Research: EFF

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

The red and black logo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose motto is, "Defending Your Rights in the Digital World"

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a nonprofit, public interest law firm that has been working for people’s online rights and civil liberties since 1990. Primarily, they focus on privacy, the freedom of speech, expression, and association, and consumer rights to intellectual property (such as fair use). According to EFF, they “work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.” To accomplish their work, EFF analyzes policies, promotes grassroots activism and technology development, and pursues “impact litigation.”

6 icons that represent the 6 major areas in which the EFF works
EFF advocates for free speech, fair use, the rights of innovators, individual privacy, protection of digital freedoms internationally, and government transparency.

Major EFF Initiatives

This article provides a succinct overview of the EFF’s major initiatives.

  1. Transparency Project. EFF’s transparency project seeks to ensure that the government doesn’t overstep its bounds, and that civil liberties of citizens are protected. In a post-9/11 world, government surveillance is increasingly a concern. EFF lawyers use the Freedom of Information Act to request relevant information and keep the government accountable.
  2. Litigation for Equal Rights/Fairer Laws. EFF frequently uses litigation to push back against legislation that violate digital freedoms. This link shows all of EFF court cases.
  3. Technology Research and Development. EFF is working to develop technological projects that protect freedom and privacy online, like HTTPS Everywhere, MyTube, and Switzerland.
  4. Codifying Digital Free Speech. EFF seeks to protect the free speech of bloggers and coders and prevent censorship. According to EFF, when you go online, your freedoms should come along with you. That becomes particularly important when talking about online free speech, expression, and association.
  5. Protecting Privacy. New technology makes invasion of privacy even easier than it was in the past. EFF works to protect digital privacy, including litigation against NSA spying, protection of medical privacy, and transparency in drone surveillance (among many other projects).
  6. Open Wireless Movement. EFF and a coalition of other organizations have launched the Open Wireless Movement and are “working on new technologies and best practices that will allow individuals, businesses, and community organizations to open up their wireless networks—while not sacrificing privacy, security, and quality.”

This is just a snapshot of the work that EFF does. Go here and click through the icons at the top, and you’ll get a better idea of the depth and breadth of the EFF’s work in protecting digital freedom. EFF’s work is all about how citizens interact with the digital world, which makes the connections to this class (digital citizenship) fairly evident. EFF addresses fair use and intellectual property (which we discussed extensively as part of Collection 3), as well as things like internet privacy, which also seems to be a recurring theme/point of discussion throughout the class to this point. EFF invites participation and depends on membership/donations, so if you believe in EFF’s mission and activities, EFF gives you an opportunity to practically exercise digital citizenship.

For more research…

  • This article from The Guardian, posted on July 21, 2016, explores one of the EFF’s contemporary court cases. The EFF recently filed a lawsuit against the US government, claiming that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is unconstitutional. Particularly, EFF is arguing that rule 1201, which relates to Digital Rights Management, is unlawful. (Digital rights management makes it illegal to break a access control on copyrighted material). The lawsuit could take years to be decided, but a decision in EFF’s favor would be a significant change in copyright and intellectual property law.
  • In this 2011 podcast, Mari Frank, attorney and privacy consultant, interviews Lee Tien. Lee Tien is a Senior Staff Attorney for the EFF, specializing in the Freedom of Information Act and internet privacy. In this podcast, Tien discusses EFF’s work in protecting privacy online, and discusses the flow of personal information from business to government.
  • This blog post provides a succinct overview of the EFF’s mission, and identifies 7 of the “top” initiatives/programs undertaken by EFF. Because EFF’s work is so extensive, this post is useful because it simply highlights a few of the EFF’s most interesting projects.
  • In this video clip, Stephen Colbert interviews Cindy Cohn, who is now the Executive Director of EFF. Previously, she served as EFF’s Legal Director and General Counsel. In 2013, Cohn was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America. Despite Colbert’s shenanigans, Cohn manages to discuss a few off EFF’s key issues in the interview, such as net neutrality, fair use, and freedom of speech online.
  • This article in the Washington Post describes the immediate impact of the Snowden on EFF’s work, and the relationship between EFF and Washington. The article explains: “Having started as a public interest law firm and dabbled in lobbying, EFF in San Francisco evolved into something more like a civil liberties think tank that happened to employ teams of crack technologists and grass-roots political activists.” It outlines the culture, mission, and values of EFF, and describes some of its primary techniques EFF uses to accomplish its goals (such as impact litigation).
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Exploring the ADA

To answer the following questions and explore the ADA in more depth, I chose to create a Prezi, an infographic, and a flow chart.

Go here to see my response to these first two questions:

  • What is the Americans with Disabilities Act and who does it protect?
  • Why are the terms “Title II” and “Section 504” important to this discussion?

Next, I made an infographic to answer this question: what is IDEA and who does it protect? How does it differ from the ADA?

Image of textbooks and school-related items, with the following definition of reasonable accommodations superimposed: "Schools have to be willing to change the way things are usually done to make sure that a student with a disability can participate equally. This might mean changing rules/policies, removing barriers, or providing aids, services, or assistive technology."Lastly, I chose to answer these last three questions in a flow chart. I grouped these questions together because I think understanding reasonable and unreasonable accommodations will be most applicable to my future working life. These are the questions answered in the flow chart:

  • What is a “reasonable accommodation” and what else are those called in the educational setting?
  • What might make an accommodation unreasonable?
  • The big one: how do ADA, IDEA and other legislation in the readings and your exploration so far apply to you in your working (or future working) life (where might or do you find yourself needing to take ADA, IDEA, etc. into account?)
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Metathink #2: Fair Use

I decided to reflect on the Fair Use post that I completed, using a few of the questions provided for the “thinking about thinking” assignment as a guide for my reflection.

What did you find most challenging? I found it difficult to get over my concern about potentially breaking copyright law and actually post the copyrighted materials in a public forum online. I frequently use/used copyrighted materials in my teaching, but that was usually within the confines of a classroom or hidden behind a password-protected LMS, so I felt “safer” about it. I could relate to Linnea’s fear about “being a criminal,” especially because I chose to use a photograph from the New York Times— a photograph is a creative element, and the New York Times isn’t a small or inconsequential publishing entity. Linnea posted a “Fair Use Evaluator” tool, and I think I will use this frequently in the future to help justify my use of copyrighted materials, so that I can use the best possible materials confidently.

Why do you think I required it? I particularly liked this assignment because it moved us beyond just “thinking” about fair use in the academic sense, and gave us the opportunity to practice fair use. Last semester, I took ED 653 (Instructional Design) and one of the concepts frequently emphasized was the value of “performance-based learning.” We learn by doing, and I think this assignment gave us the opportunity to “do” and therefore “learn.”

What advice would you give a student if you could travel into the future and give them advice? I would advise them to push the limits of what they feel comfortable with, copyright-wise. In other words, this is your opportunity to get feedback on what is/isn’t fair use… in the future, you’ll have to make that decision on your own. So don’t “play it safe” for this assignment; use materials that are questionable so you can take advantage of the feedback and start figuring out for yourself what works and what doesn’t.

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Work Out Loud

Task: post a work in progress along with questions and thoughts of your own that address the 5 elements of working out loud.

According to this article,

“Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

Thinking about the Five Elements of Working Out Loud

I tried to come up with something academic and deep and thoughtful for this final post, but I was having a hard time concentrating coming up with something, which I actually can blame on my one, big “work in progress.” Which is, I am moving this week from Maryland to South Carolina. All of our other moves have been from Alaska to the lower 48 (or the reverse of that), so this move, in theory, should be easier since it’s only a mere 9-hour drive from the old duty station to the new home. But moving is always a lot of work, and since the moving company comes tomorrow, it is definitely at the “work in progress” stage!

I’ll briefly discuss each of the 5 elements of a “work in progress” and then I will share my “work in progress.”

1. Making my work visible. (Disclaimer: these pictures are from past moves, because my house won’t look like this until tomorrow).

2a
At least the dog thinks moving is fun.

 

2011-06-02_16-03-37_953
The “guess what’s in this big jumble of moving blankets and tape” game.

The whole point of the first element is to “make my work visible in a way that might help others.” Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure how making this type of work visible will help others, but then I remembered that during my first few moves, I really benefitted from posts like this and this; blog posts in which other military spouses have shared their experiences on moving and what makes a successful move. The military and military organizations provide lots of tips and resources, but sometimes it’s easier just to learn from the experiences of others in your same situation.

2. Making my work better. By writing about the experience of a military move, hopefully I will find ways to improve it. Efficiency is the key to a smooth move, and so creating a written record (this time) of what I did, didn’t do, and forgot to do, can result in a more efficient move for next time.

3. Leading with generosity. I’m not just looking for help with my own “work in progress,” but I’m looking to help others, too.

4. Building a social network. The more I get into the practice of “working out loud,” the more connections I will make. Collaboration can result in greater productivity and innovation.

5. Making it all purposeful. Creating goals for my “works in progress” helps to ensure that the work is targeted and focused. Identifying what I haven’t yet done for this move reminds me of what I need to do!

Sharing the Work in Progress

These are the tasks that have already been completed:

  • Scheduled a walk-through with our landlord
  • Took down all pictures and curtains
  • Got copies of all medical and vet records, gathered important papers/documents into an “important papers” file that travels with us and doesn’t get packed by the movers
  • Ate up almost all of the food in the fridge/freezer (been working on that one for a while)
  • Bought a case of water and a case of gatorade and ice (to put in a cooler) for the movers since they’ll be working really hard in 90 degree + weather. Movers will treat your stuff better if you are kind to them!
  • Washed sheets, towels, and final loads of laundry
  • Found, made an offer, accepted a counteroffer, and closed on a house in South Carolina
  • Transferred the utilities at our house in South Carolina into our name, and closed out all utilities/internet/cable here
  • Cleared out one large closet and started putting things in it that (a) the movers won’t pack (so we need to take with us in our car), and (b) that we will need in the 2 weeks that we are between houses. Movers won’t pack a lot of liquids, and everything they pack will get exposed to really hot temperatures, so that means anything that will melt (like candles) or get ruined in heat (like everything in the medicine cabinet) comes with us. Also, this closet so far has things like: an air mattress, camp chairs, a box of kitchen supplies, towels, pillows, etc. We call it “PCS camping.”
  • Reserved a trailer so we can haul more stuff
  • Sold a bunch of stuff on eBay and Craig’s List, and took 2 trips to Goodwill. Don’t go to the trouble of packing, hauling, and unpacking stuff you don’t even want anymore.
  • Photographed and made an inventory of valuable belongings so we have proof that items weren’t damaged before the move, in case we need to make a claim

These are the tasks that still need to be completed:

  • Unhook and prep the washer/dryer
  • Finish cleaning out fridge/freezer, transfer any leftovers into disposable containers, run the dishwasher one more time so all dishes are clean and ready to be packed
  • Separate out sentimental items to hand-carry with us. It doesn’t ever really happen… but things get stolen, fall off trucks, sink with the ship (not this time since our stuff doesn’t have to go on a boat between Anchorage and Seattle), but you get the idea. If you’d be heartbroken if you lost it, don’t let it out of your sight (if possible)
  • Clean, clean, clean so we won’t get charged during the walkthrough
  • Call the auto repair shop- my car broke down last week & we’re keeping our fingers crossed it will be done by the time we need to drive it to South Carolina (another moving tip: something like this always, always happens, so just be ready to roll with it)
  • Tape off the closet with the stuff we don’t want the movers to pack. Usually I take masking tape and make a big sign that says something like, “DO NOT PACK.” The movers roll in fast and furious and so I’ve heard stories of things like trash and the family cat getting packed up if you’re not careful.
  • Find a quiet corner to set up the dog’s crate so he’s not underfoot and stressed out
  • Pack up clothes, laptop, internet router, and whatever else we’ll need for the next two weeks
  • Finish Collection 3 for ED 654 so I won’t be trying to work on schoolwork over the chaos of the next 3 days

So there you have it! I feel like this list is a jumbled mess, but that’s probably an accurate account of this current “work in progress”! And since the point of a “work in progress” is to share something that isn’t polished, complete, or perfected, sharing this list will meet the requirements of this assignment.

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Participatory Citizenship

Assignment: Find and describe 3 digital tools that can be used to promote participatory citizenship. For each tool, describe how it works, and then analyze if it works.

Tool 1: See Click Fix

How does it work? SeeClickFix streamlines the process of citizen complaints, and allows citizens to more easily draw government officials’ attention to problems in communities. Smartphone apps allow citizens to capture problems and send them instantly to the correct place for attention. This is what the interface looks like:

Screen shot of a See Click Fix interface. A citizen in New Haven, Connecticut reports a problem, the Department of Public Works responds, and the problem is fixed.
Example of SeeClickFix being used in New Haven; turning complaints into gratitude. Source: Gizmodo.

SeeClickFix operates under three basic principles: empowerment, efficiency, and engagement. Citizens are empowered to report problems and assist government officials in creating better communities. SeeClickFix is efficient because “distributed sensing is particularly powerful at recognizing patterns,” making it easier for government officials to identify trends and problems. Lastly, citizens who take the time to report issues will be more engaged in their community, which creates a “self-reinforcing loop.” It makes the process of submitting a complaint a more user-friendly experience. As founder of SeeClickFix explains, instead of making a user feel like a narc, SeeClickFix rewards them. “The government wants to talk to you,” said founder Berkowitz. “You’re not being an asshole, you’re actually helping out.”Image from See Click Fix website that describes their process: 1) Capture or document issues you see in your community, 2) report the issues to let the neighborhood know, and 3) communicate with your community and government through the mobile app.

But does it work? SeeClickFix reports that over 2,271,448 problems have been fixed as a result of their technology. Cities like Minneapolis, Decatur, Houston, and New Haven use SeeClickFix. It’s used in almost 300 citizens and according to this article by Gizmodo, its requests see an 86% fix rate. Of course, the power of this tool is limited by (1) the number of citizens who are willing to engage and use the app, and (2) the responsiveness of government officials.

Tool 2: Open Secrets

How does it work? OpenSecrets.org is a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics. This describes the center’s mission:Text block that describes the Center's mission, which is to "inform, empower, and advocate." Nonpartisan, independent, and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy. OUR VISION is for Americans, empowered by access to clear and unbiased information about money's role in politics and policy, to use that knowledge to strengthen our democracy. OUR MISSION is to produce and disseminate peerless data and analysis on money in politics to inform and engage Americans, champion transparency, and expose disproportionate or undue influence on public policy.

OpenSecrets provides voters, reporters, and others with hard data about money in politics. It looks at spending by interest groups, super PACs, political nonprofits, federal lobbying, “dark money,” and personal finances of government officials. By gathering and reporting data, OpenSecrets works to make government more transparent. For example, they just rolled out an iPhone app (“Dollarocracy”) that tracks spending on campaign ads. Among other things, the Center tracks anomalies in campaign finance, creates easy-to-read fact sheets on campaign finance issues for voters, and offers their data for scholars to use in performing robust academic research.

But does it work? According to the website, in 2012, OpenSecrets recorded nearly 35 million pageviews from 5 million distinct visitors. It has received high praise from news reports and academic sources. According to the New York Times, “The Center for Responsive Politics is a rare thing in Washington. It does the heavy lifting of true research, not just spinning information.” I think the most useful part of OpenSecrets.org is the place where you can look up your own representatives. For example, I looked up the data for 2014 Congressional election in Alaska, and here’s what it looks like:

Screen Shot of OpenSecrets.Org search for Alaska Congressional Races in 2014. It shows that Senator March Begich (D) raised over $10 million, while Dan Sullivan (R) raised $7 million.

If you click on “Dan Sullivan,” it takes you to this page, which breaks down all sorts of information about Sullivan’s spending and finances, such as these two pieces of info:

Chart that shows the top 5 contributors and top 5 industries who contributed to Dan Sullivan's campaign from 2013 to 2016. Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 12.32.08 PM

Transparency is critical for a democracy, and OpenSecrets.org helps promote transparency in campaign finance. This data can prove invaluable for news agencies and academics, but… given that most Americans probably don’t have their own finances in order, I am doubtful that the average citizen really cares about campaign finance or has the motivation to sift through data and use it to make voting decisions. However, for the motivated citizen, this could be a really valuable tool in terms of making informed voting decisions.

Tool 3: Volunteer Match

How does it work? VolunteerMatch “brings good people and good causes together.” Right away on the homepage, you see a search window like this (obviously adjusted for your particular location).

Screen Shot of VolunteerMatch.Org showing a search bar that allows you to search for issues you care about, or browse major issues like advocacy and human rights, animals, and school development.

This database allows you to search for volunteer opportunities that match your particular interests and skills. You can search options by local/virtual and select any of these causes:

Screenshot from volunteermatch.org that shows the entire list of cause areas available on the website, which include arts and culture, children and youth, community, emergency and safety, environment, race and ethnicity, women, and many more.

For example, I searched near my location and found opportunities to bake cakes for people in hospice, host an international exchange student, teach English as a second language, help a small nonprofit with marketing and communications, and a lot more. However, I do imagine this tool is particularly useful in larger metropolitan areas. You may not be able to find as many opportunities in small towns.

These are some stats on VolunteerMatch’s success:

Screenshot from VolunteerMatch.Org which shows important statistics on the website's success: over 100,000 participating organizations, over 11 million volunteers matched, and over 100,000 volunteer opportunities available.

But does it work?  I like the fact that you can actually find volunteer positions that take advantage of your professional skills– if you’re a marketing professional, you can volunteer to help with marketing; if you’re good with kids, you can find opportunities that will allow you to use those skills, etc. This could actually be pretty beneficial to volunteer as well as service agency, since you are building your own resume/skill set while helping your community.

Too, volunteerism and community connection is actually a critical part of participatory citizenship. Citizens who get involved are more likely to care and get involved in other areas of politics and community (that “self-reinforcing loop” mentioned in the See Click Fix description). Democracy depends on a citizenry that knows how to compromise and communicate, and civil society participation (like volunteering) can help foster those values.

In Summary…

I intentionally chose different categories of civic engagement– civic reporting (SeeClickFix), government transparency (OpenSecrets), and civil society building (VolunteerMatch). Tons of apps and websites exist for each of these types of categories, and more! Hope you have a chance to check some of them out for yourself.

Score: 10/10

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Creative Commons License

Choosing a Creative Commons License

I decided to apply a Creative Commons license to the very first infographic I made for this course (for Collection 1). I chose a CC-BY-NC license, as evidenced by the logo at the bottom of the infographic.

Writing tips infographic created by the author.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

I chose CC-BY-NC to indicate that I am ok with people using and remixing my work, with attribution. I chose NC to indicate that I don’t want my work used for commercial purposes. I didn’t choose to use SA (Share Alike) because I really don’t mind if people use my work, remix it, and then choose a different CC license for their product. I also didn’t choose the ND option, because I don’t mind if people create derivations based off of my work.

Proper Use of CC-BY-NC

A tutor at a university writing center comes across my infographic on this blog. She is looking for posters to put up in her office, so she prints it off and hangs it on her wall. She also decides that she would like to add the tutoring center’s contact information and personalize the infographic a little bit, so she does (which she is allowed to do since I did not choose an ND license). If students ask about the poster, she makes copies for them and hands it out freely.

Improper Use of CC-BY-NC

A tutor at the same university writing center also comes across this infographic on my blog. He is publishing a short pamphlet of writing tips to sell to teachers and students. He decides to include my infographic in its entirety in his pamphlet and does not attribute me as the creator of the infographic. This is an improper use of my CC-BY-NC license because he didn’t (a) attribute the work to me, and (b) intends to make money off of my product. If I found out about his improper usage, I would contact him and explain the CC-BY-NC license. Since, in this example, my work is being used for educational purposes, I would offer him the license to use the infographic in his pamphlet in exchange for attribution. This article outlines other options that I would have, if I decided I didn’t want him to use my work at all commercially (assuming that it’s clear that his use DOESN’T fall under Fair Use guidelines, of course).

 

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Get Productive: Just in Case

It occurred to me that all of my work on my blog and all of my other productivity tools won’t mean a whole lot if (a) something happens and I lose all of my WordPress posts, or (b) something happens to my computer and I lose all of my other work. Consequently, I think backing up your work on a regular basis is a critical part of productivity!

I had never backed up a blog before, so I started with this website. I liked the idea of automatic backups, so I took a look at the various WordPress plugins available for backing up my site. I found this link that described some of the best free backup options (since I obviously prefer free if possible!) I decided to go with Updraft since it had so many good reviews. I downloaded the plugin in my site’s dashboard, then clicked to activate the plugin. I’m not very WordPress savvy, but I found Updraft pretty easy to use. Under the “settings” option, I was able to link my Updraft backups to my Dropbox account. After authenticating my Dropbox account, I was able to complete a backup and scheduled automatic backups every 2 weeks. I checked and can see all of the zipped WordPress backup files in my Dropbox folder. Pretty easy!

I also wanted to backup my computer, and I decided to do it the old-fashioned way. I have a Mac, so I used an external hard drive and Time Machine to backup all of my files and settings. In the future, I’d like to have backups set to go to the Cloud, but for now, I’m satisfied with Time Machine and Updraft.

 

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Fair Use: Let’s Learn about Microfinance

The prompt for this assignment asked us to teach the class about something we are interested in or passionate about. I’d like to think I’m passionate about the things I teach my students in the classroom, and so for my topic, I chose one of my favorite lessons to teach. My primary academic background is international relations; in particular, I’ve always had an academic/research interest in the Global South, transitional justice, and international development. In the past, I’ve included one class session that focuses on strategies for international development in my intro to political science or comparative politics courses. What is being done to move Global South countries out of poverty and towards sustainable development and rule of law? Obviously, there is a whole lot that you can talk about related to this, but for the purpose of this assignment, I am going to teach you about one development strategy (of many): microfinance.

What is Microfinance?

Image of Muhammad Yunus speaking and smiling with two women.
Muhammad Yunus, the economist who pioneered the practice of microfinance in Bangladesh, won a Nobel Peace Prize for it in 2006. Credit: Eric Thayer/Reuters. Source, New York Times, at this link.

Microfinance started in the early 1980s with the founding of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh by Mohamed Yunus. Yunus founded the Bank based on the premise that, because you have to have money to make money, it is difficult for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Banks only offer loans to people with money, good credit, or collateral—things that no person in poverty has. According to Forbes:

“For the world’s poor who survive on less than $2 per day, banking services are unavailable. Without access to a safe place to store savings, the poor cannot get a loan to start a business. And without a job or collateral for a loan, no bank is willing to lend.”

Thus, Yunus developed the Grameen Bank as a nonprofit organization that gives small cash loans to people in poverty, with the intent that these individuals use the money to start a small business. Grameen Bank and manny other microfinance institutions (MFIs) promote development by providing these small cash loans (a couple hundred dollars, perhaps) to individuals. But does it work?

Image of a small green plant, sprouting up from a small pile of gold coins.
Image source: http://www.grameen-info.org/what-is-microfinance/

Benefits of Microfinance

It (Sometimes) Works. According to some studies, MFIs have the potential to reduce poverty rates. For example, a 2012 study in peer-reviewed World Development journal by Imai, Gaiha, and Thapa indicated that countries with more MFIs had lower levels of poverty indices. According to the authors,

“Taking account of the endogeneity associated with loans per capita from Microfinance Institutions (MFIs), our econometric results consistently confirm that microfinance loans per capita are significantly and negatively associated with poverty, that is, a country with a higher MFIs’ gross loan portfolio per capita tends to have lower poverty after controlling for the effects of other factors influencing it…These results suggest that microfinance not only reduces the incidence of poverty but also its depth and severity.”

Empowering to women. Many MFI loans are targeted towards women. Women in developing nations typically cannot open a commercial bank account (they represent less than 1% of all loans from commercial banks), so MFIs give women more opportunities for women-led entrepreneurship.

Builds community and wraparound services. Lastly, some MFIs can foster community solidarity and wraparound services. The Grameen model was based on the idea that loans were granted to individuals, but each individual must belong to a five-member group of other borrowers. These groups provide support and accountability for repayment. Other MFIs have diversified to provide wraparound services along with microlending, such as the provision of insurance, savings accounts, healthcare, or recreational activities.

Problems with Microfinance

Macroeconomics. Critics of MFIs accurately point out that certain macro-level problems, such as the lack of borrower education, an inefficient or corrupt national government, poor infrastructure, and weak economy all prohibit microfinance from having a positive impact on poor communities. If borrowers are uneducated on how to make the most of their loan, or corrupt government officials can’t guarantee property rights, licenses to run businesses, etc., the loan will not lead to growth. If there are no roads to transport goods to customers, the loan will not turn a profit. If there are no buyers for goods, the loan will not turn a profit. All of these macro-level problems are untouched by microfinance, and yet drastically impact the potential of microloans to be successful vehicles of development.

This photo shows an empty wallet, and quotes MFI borrower Kutaisi as saying, "I [took the picture of the] empty wallet to signify monthly expenditures, the increase of dollar rate..."
Photo taken by a MFI borrower. Image is from 2016 a synthesis report by the Smart Campaign, http://www.smartcampaign.org/
Potential for exploitation. Due to the nature of the loans (to rural areas, small amounts, etc), the loans are very expensive to manage, and so MFIs have high interest rates. Even at the Grameen Bank, interest rates can be around 20%–not very many activities will pay back at that rate and allow for growth. This means businesses must be run extremely efficiently to make a profit at all. In addition to claims of exploitation by the nonprofit MFIs, some MFIs are for-profit organizations, and according to the New York Times article, “Banks Making Big Profits from Tiny Loans,”

“Drawn by the prospect of hefty profits from even the smallest of loans, a raft of banks and financial institutions now dominate the field, with some charging interest rates of 100 percent or more.”

MFIs like these can saddle already impoverished individuals with huge amounts of debt that they are unable to pay, and are an example of exploitative banking practices disguised as “development” work.

Conclusion

Obviously, no “magic bullet” to eliminating poverty exists. Proponents of MFIs often expound the benefits of microfinance while ignoring the harm it can have in a community when it is not done responsibly or paired with other wraparound services or other development efforts. Conversely, those opposed to MFIs often only focus on the examples of predatory institutions, and ignore the real, positive changes that microfinance can have in the life of an individual in poverty.

Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials

According to the US Code on Fair Use:

“The fair use of a copyrighted work… for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

The copyrighted materials I used in this short lesson include:

  1. Photograph from the New York Times
  2. Quotation from a Forbes article
  3. Quotation from a scholarly journal
  4. Images from two non-profit websites

I contend that all of these materials I used in this lesson were used “fairly,” or in accordance with Fair Use laws because they meet these four criteria outlined above (and below).

1. Purpose and character. All of the materials I used meet this first requirement; they are used for a nonprofit, educational purpose. I would also argue that the use of all of these materials represents “transformative” use of the materials. According to Appendix A in our required readings,

“Cases have reinforced the notion that for a use to be considered “transformative,” it need not—as, in fact, it usually does not—entail a literal modification or revision of the original material. Instead, it is crucial that it has put that material in a new context where it performs a new function. Thus, the reproduction of an image to illustrate the argument of a scholarly article could qualify.”

All of the images and quotations that I have used do represent a “transformation” of the original piece of copyrighted material, since I am using them for a different purpose/function. My work will be the subject of review or commentary by my instructor and classmates in ED 654, making it transformative.

2. Nature of the copyrighted work. Factual works are more likely than creative works to be protected under “fair use,” and so I think that the quotations I used are “safer” than the images/photograph. However, I think both the quotations and the images still meet this test of factuality. (I would probably be most concerned about the photograph from the NY Times, since it is definitely more of a creative work- I’d be curious to hear other Nousion-ites thoughts as to whether or not they think the photograph I used meets the criteria for “fair use.”)

3. Amount and substantiality of copyrighted work. I did not use the entire work of any of these materials; for example, the NY Times photograph is one image in a 7-image photography gallery on microfinance. Similarly, the quotations are short excerpts, and I only used what I needed. I also did not use the “heart” of any of these works.

4. Effect on real/potential market value. My use of these copyrighted materials will not prevent others from purchasing or accessing the work. All of the materials that I used, except for the scholarly journal, are free for my readers to access if they follow the links I have provided. To ensure that I did not harm the market value of the scholarly journal, I provided the DOI link instead of posting a link directly to the PDF. If our class was meeting within Blackboard or another password protected LMS, I would’ve been able to post the journal’s PDF, because everyone who would be able to access the article would already have access through UAF library.

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Collaborate (a little) & metathink

Collaborate (a little)

For this assignment, I met in a Google Hangout with Sarah, D’Arcy, and Linnea. These were the original 10 statements we were asked to discuss/revise:

  1. We should have a high degree of tolerance for group members who are late to synchronous meetings or do not attend due to other obligations.
  2. Creating friendships and completing the group task are equally important.
  3. Criticizing other group members should be avoided.
  4. All group members should have identical goals and reasons for being involved.
  5. Majority rule is the best method of group decision making.
  6. If one group member is not pulling his or her weight, the other group members should confront that person together.

During the Google hangout, we went item-by-item and discussed whether or not we agreed with each statement. These were our final statements, which D’Arcy made into an infographic.

  1. The most important goal for a group in this class would be to complete the stated task(s).
  2. Groups are most productive when a leader steps forward to run meetings and allocate tasks.
  3. Group members should do everything in their power to attend scheduled synchronous meetings on time.
  4. While a good working relationship is important, completing the group task is the most important priority.
  5. Group members should respectfully engage in constructive criticism when appropriate.
  6. Resolving small conflicts in a professional manner will help prevent conflict escalation and group dysfunction.
  7. Whenever possible, group members should attempt to reach a consensus to make a decision. When that’s not possible or time is limited, relying on the leader’s guidance or majority rule is acceptable.
  8. Group members should be held accountable for their contributions to the group.
  9. Depending upon the learning objective, groups should be evaluated as a whole, as individuals, or some combination of the two.

Thinking about the thinking

What did you find most challenging? It was somewhat challenging to find a time that worked with four very different schedules. I am also on the east coast, so meeting at 6pm AK time meant it was 10pm my time. That really wasn’t a problem for me- I just realized I probably don’t do my best work at 10pm!

What questions remain? I am curious to see how these statements are used later on in the class. I would also be curious to hear how/why other students came to different conclusions about the statements (as compared to our group).

Why do you think I required it? I think it was a great opportunity to practice collaboration. I liked having the flexibility to complete it in a small group instead of partners, too, as that changed the dynamic in terms of collaboration and dialogue.

What advice would you give a student if you could travel into the future and give them advice? Plan ahead! Too, I’d recommend using whatever tools you have available / are comfortable with. D’Arcy set up a Doodle poll to coordinate a time to meet, and Sarah set up a Google Hangout link. Using both of these tools helped streamline our coordination and made completing the assignment that much easier.

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