catherinecronin

learning | reflecting | sharing

Category: Reflecting

#OER16: a critical turn

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I’ve been thinking about OER16: Open Culture since the conference ended just over four weeks ago. I’m reflecting now not just through the lens of those few weeks but also the other conferences and workshops which I attended immediately afterward, namely the C-DELTA project in Cape Town and the Networked Learning #NLC2016 doctoral consortium and conference in Lancaster. It has felt like a few months’ worth of sharing and discussing research and engaging in wonderful conversations condensed into a few short weeks – a great privilege. So, late as this may be, I want to share a few notes and impressions from these events, beginning with OER16.

As several others have already written, and beautifully (collection of blog posts below), OER16 was both enjoyable and thought provoking. I’ve long considered myself an open educator and I’m currently doing research in the area of open educational practices, so this is a community in which I feel at home. My main takeaway from the conference was that OER16, and the open education community more generally, is growing, changing and evolving. There was a strong strand of critical research shared and enthusiastically discussed during and after the conference.

My keynote: “If open is the answer what is the question?”

I was honoured to be asked to give one of the conference keynotes by the co-chairs, Lorna Campbell and Melissa Highton. I sometimes struggle with the idea of conference keynotes. I know that plenary speakers can be a powerful (and sometimes provocative) way of exploring conference themes. Yet I find myself wrestling with ways of providing that focus while also including other voices and perspectives, and including space for conversation and discussion. My approach for OER16 was to share my thoughts and questions in a blog post well before the event, inviting ideas, feedback and discussion. That post If ‘open’ is the answer, what is the question? led to several weeks of discussion before the conference; I shared this in the keynote. During the keynote I focused on 4 key ideas:

  • Noting the vital connection between networked participatory culture and openness, using as an example Ireland’s 2015 Marriage Equality referendum.
  • Exploring definitions, interpretations and levels of openness in education, highlighting openness as a complex phenomenon (technical, social, cultural and economic).
  • Arguing for the importance of a critical and reflexive approach to openness. Openness can help to address issues of access and inequality but it can also bias those already privileged. I highlighted work by Richard Edwards (2015), sava singh (2015), Laura Czerniewicz (2014), Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams (2014) and others who are doing critical research – including several people who also presented their work at OER16. (Full keynote bibliography included at end of post.)
  • Sharing work from my own PhD research. In my study of open educational practices in higher education, openness is characterised as individual, complex and contextual. For academic staff in my study, openness is: (i) closely linked with identity, (ii) negotiated continually and at multiple levels, and (iii) both a personal and collective decision.

Here is a Storify of tweets from the keynote, a video recording, and my presentation slides:

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Thanks to Beck Pitt for her amazing visual notes…

CatherineCronin.OER16

CC BY Beck Pitt (Flickr)

And thanks to Stuart Allan for his concise summary of the issues and challenges we face:

Having a clear, value-driven vision for openness based on ideas of sustainability, civic responsibility and social justice, as advocated by Catherine Cronin and others, represents the very best of what higher education can be (or should be). But when it comes to implementing this vision in a specific context, there are tensions at work between political values, educational aims and pragmatic concerns. These will have to be negotiated with courage and no little skill.

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Presentations, workshops & keynotes

There were many, many dilemmas in choosing sessions to attend at OER16 – the programme was rich and varied. A few highlights for me were:

  • sava singh discussed her PhD research in a session entitled: Open Wounds: The Myth of Open as a Panacea – this work also is explored in some depth in sava’s recent blog post The Fallacy of Open. sava reminded us of some blunt truths about our own privilege as social media users, e.g. being an early adopter is a privilege; being able to complain about how Twitter “used to be” is a privilege. She highlighted the tension between the discourse of open access and reputational politics in academia. There is a growing ‘be open’ diktat in academia (e.g. for many PhD students) yet for individuals who are marginalised within higher education in various ways, e.g. by race, gender, precarious or otherwise low employment status, etc., sharing work and being open can be risky. sava reminded us to ask ourselves important questions about risk, power, inequality and surveillance when advocating openness.
  • Viv Rolfe and Dave Kernohan presented Open education: “Runnin’ with the Devil” (their presentation begins at 41 minutes), asking whether the open education community is being critical enough in its evaluation of its progress. Viv discussed her systematic review of studies describing the impact of open education on learning and teaching. Then Dave turned the focus to blogs – “I’ve heard it said that all the good stuff is published in blogs” – talking us through his process of generating semantic blog citation metrics. This is fascinating work which I hope Viv and Dave will continue to develop.
  • Sheila MacNeill and Keith Smyth shared the results of their ongoing collaboration in two detailed blog posts before the conference: Reframing Open in the context of the digital university – part 1 and part 2. In their work, Sheila and Keith use the concept of Third Space (neutral, collective, inclusive spaces) to theorise the Digital University. I’m particularly intrigued by the concept of digitally distributed curriculum which they are exploring in their work, and I look forward to watching this work as it develops.
  • I participated in a lively workshop facilitated by Christian Friedrich and Shaun Hides entitled: Are we openness ready? Towards an Open Learning Scale. The workshop built on work by FemTechNet and Liz Losh, which used rapid feminist prototyping to identify “drivers of openness”. Christian and Shaun began by sharing the thinking behind the six drivers of openness; then we identified three to develop further in a “maker-style” workshop – fun and thought-provoking.
  • I felt honoured to attend the session in which Margaret Korosec described the amazing Stolen Lives project. Stolen Lives is a collaborative open educational project with the aim of increasing awareness of modern-day slavery; as Margaret described, “using OER to combat modern slavery”. Facts: 35 million people are enslaved worldwide and there are 13,000 people in forced labour in the UK today. During two days in which inequality and social justice were invoked by many, this work is a touchstone for what is possible. This project deserves to be shared widely.

Finally, if you are at all interested in openness, OER and/or OEP, please do check out the blog summaries written by many (listed below) and videos of the excellent keynotes by Emma Smith, John Scally, Jim Groom and Melissa Highton:

  • Emma Smith, a Shakespearean scholar, spoke honestly and humbly about her ‘open’ journey. Beginning with the decision to record audio podcasts of her lectures for the sake of students who might miss a lecture, she moved on to the realisation that releasing her lectures openly had “completely transformed my teaching”. Emma’s CC-licensed podcasts “Approaching Shakespeare” are available on iTunes and on the University of Oxford website.
  • John Scally, National Librarian at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) spoke about the digital strategy of the library and the challenge of balancing tensions between preservation and access. John believes that the library needs to go further than widening access, however: it needs to promote equity.
  • After years of quoting Jim Groom in my own presentations, I finally got to hear him in person:) (and meet his lovely family who had travelled to Scotland with him). As Jim describes in his own blog, he brought us on the magical, mystery tour that is DS106 and Reclaim Hosting. He lifted the focus from OER and even OEP/open pedagogy to open technical infrastructure. The keynote was an awesome summary of work done by Jim and a great many people whom he mentioned throughout – including DS106 students and participants. As Jim reminded us “most of the work that students have done [in DS106] is still there”.
  • Finally, conference co-chair Melissa Highton concluded the conference on a high note, speaking in her capacity as Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh. In her thoughtful and inspiring keynote, Melissa reminded us what it means to be open in an institutional context, highlighting the university’s OER policy: http://open.ed.ac.uk. She used the concept of ‘copyright debt’, analogous to technical debt, to make a strong case for open. Melissa’s take home message: “Not being open is a risk and not being open costs us money.”

OER16 blog posts

(apologies to anyone whose posts I may have missed!)

…and finally

Many thanks to Lorna Campbell and Melissa Highton, wonderful co-chairs of the conference and inspiring women in tech. Thanks also to the talented ALT team who supported us – before, during and after the event. Special thanks to Martin Hawksey and John Johnson, an incredible team; through their efforts the conference was made open via live audio and video streams, video recordings and audio interviews. And thanks to all who shared their work and participated in the conference; you made the two days very special…

 

Bibliography (from my keynote)

 

Initial thoughts… Exploring OEP in higher education

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CC BY 2.0 woodlewonderworks (Flickr)

The working title of my PhD research study is Exploring open educational practices in higher education. I’m currently at a ‘pausing point’ between phases – so I plan to write a few blog posts to capture my findings and thinking so far and where I’m heading next. This is the first of those posts.

The starting point

I began the PhD journey wanting to find out more about what happens when students and educators meet, interact and learn together in open online spaces, beyond the confines of the classroom and the VLE. As defined by danah boyd, networked publics are simultaneously “spaces and the imagined collectives that emerge as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice”. So what happens when those collectives are comprised of educators, students and others – blogging and using social media tools (e.g. Twitter, Hypothesis, etc.), adapting, creating and sharing OER, learning together, and sharing their learning? As an open educator for some time I had joined my students in such activities and could easily describe my own motives and experiences, and share student work and reflections. But I wanted to learn more. What motivates educators to engage in learning and teaching in open online spaces? Why and how do students respond to and engage with staff (or not) in open online spaces? How do students and staff construct and enact their digital identities in networked publics? What learning happens in those spaces and imagined collectives? What else happens? How can institutions support staff and students engaging in open educational practices? And how are learning, and institutions of learning, being re-imagined as a result?

Translating this to a coherent PhD study took some time.😉 I divided the research study into two phases. I’m close to finishing the first phase and preparing for the second. In Phase 1 I’m exploring academic staff meaning-making and decision-making regarding why, where, and how they interact with students online; their use of open educational practices; and the construction and negotiation of their professional and digital identities. It has been a privilege to explore these ideas with academic staff, and to develop a greater understanding of the complexities of these processes. In Phase 2 I will explore student perspectives also, i.e. whether, why, and how students engage with academic staff and others in open online spaces, and the construction and negotiation of their digital identities across online spaces and contexts.

The terms ‘openness’ and ‘open education’ describe a wide range of beliefs, practices and initiatives ranging from open admission policies to open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP). The broadest interpretation of open education is OEP. Education researchers across many domains have described and theorised all or some of the practices characterised as open educational practices using a variety of definitions and theoretical frameworks. These include open scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a; Weller, 2011), networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b), connected learning (Kumpulainen & Sefton-Green, 2012) and networked learning (Dirckinck-Holmfeld, et al, 2012). All are emergent scholarly practices that espouse combinations of networked participation, sharing and openness. For this research study, I’m using a broad definition of OEP which includes the creation, use and reuse of OER, open access publishing, the use of open technologies, open learning, and open/public pedagogies in teaching practice, with the goal of enabling learners and teachers to share the processes of knowledge creation (Beetham, et al, 2012; Ehlers, 2011).

Following are the main ‘raw’ findings from Phase 1, prior to further analysis and comparison with the literature.

Phase 1: methodology

The empirical setting for the study was one higher education institution (without policies regarding open education). Participants were members of academic staff, defined most broadly as those employed by the university whose responsibilities include teaching – regardless of their terms of employment, i.e. permanent, temporary or no contract; full-time or part-time. I felt it was essential that the voices of permanent as well as precariously-employed staff were included in the study. A constructivist grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2014) was used for sampling, interviewing and analysis. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 members of academic staff. All 19 participants teach undergraduate students; some also teach postgraduate and adult learning students. None of the participants taught fully online courses; all teaching was face-to-face or blended learning.

Phase 1: interim findings

Among the 19 participants, fewer academic staff used OEP for teaching than for either learning or research. There were three identifiable categories of ‘using OEP for teaching’. In order of decreasing prevalence these were:

  • Choosing to be visible and share resources with students in open online spaces – These academics have open digital identities (e.g. Twitter, blog) and share these with students as a way of exchanging information and/or engaging in conversation. This was often, but not always, accompanied by the use of a module hashtag(s) to curate module-related resources and conversations.
  • Creating learning activities in open online spaces – These academics created open learning activities for students, e.g. inviting or requiring students to use a Twitter account, engaging in live Twitter chats during class, blogging and/or creating courses in open online spaces (e.g. WordPress blog with Creative Commons license).
  • Encouraging students to share their work openly – These academics encouraged students to share their digital media projects, e.g. in a public Facebook group.

Participants who used OEP for teaching described various pedagogical advantages of their open practice. These included students feeling more connected to one another and to their lecturer, students making connections between the course theory/content and what’s happening in the field right now, students sharing their work openly with authentic audiences, and students becoming part of their future professional communities. Many participants also expressed caution regarding the use of OEP for teaching. These included staff who did not use open practices, as well as those who did but who engaged in the practice while reflecting on both its risks and benefits. Participants who expressed caution discussed both pedagogical and practical concerns, e.g. lack of certainty about the pedagogical value of open practices, concern about students’ possible over-use of social media, worries about their own additional workload, concerns about excessive noise in already busy social media streams, and concerns about context collapse, both for themselves and for their students.

Using the constant comparative method of analysis, four interrelated processes were identified as being associated with using OEP for teaching: valuing social learning, balancing privacy and openness, growth mindset re: digital literacies, and challenging role expectations. All four processes were evident for each of the participants who used OEP for teaching. In addition to these, environmental factors operated as enhancers or inhibitors, strengthening or reducing the likelihood that academic staff may use OEP for teaching. Below is a short summary of each of these processes.

Valuing social learning

Many academic staff value social learning. Some participants explicitly identified their teaching philosophy as social constructivist, while others described moving away from lecturing, efforts to encourage more student discussion and engagement, the importance of creating a learning community, and engaging in co-construction of knowledge along with their students. Not all of these participants used OEP in their teaching; many created social learning activities in their classrooms and some also tried to do this within the VLE. While it was clear that all educators in this study who use OEP for teaching valued social learning, the reverse was not necessarily true.

Balancing privacy and openness

Striving for a balance between privacy and openness is a key factor contributing to the use of OEP for teaching. None of the participants said that they did not value privacy. However, those who engaged in OEP for teaching managed to strike a balance between protecting their privacy, to the level that they wished, and seeking to gain the benefits of openness for themselves and their students. Regarding privacy, most participants stated that they make a clear distinction between what is personal and what is professional and also that it is important to maintain a clear staff-student boundary. The definition and management of those boundaries varied widely, however.

Many participants reflected on their personal and professional identities/activities online, with some participants happy to blend the two and others wanting a clear distinction. Some participants, for example, worried about context collapse, i.e. mixing streams of conversations about work, family life, social activities, sports, politics, etc. For those participants who want to distinguish between their personal and professional online activities, the most challenging boundary to manage is often with their immediate colleagues. This was most often expressed as the dilemma: will I accept this friend request from my colleague/work acquaintance on Facebook? Across all participants, there was recognition that personal-professional boundary keeping is an individual decision. Participants who wished to maintain this boundary described various ways of managing it, e.g. use of privacy settings, maintaining different Facebook presences for professional and personal activities, using different tools for different purposes (typically Facebook for private/personal, Twitter for public/professional), or non-use of social media altogether.

Likewise, while many participants spoke of the importance of supporting students, most described the importance of keeping a staff-student divide, both online and offline. This was expressed most often as keeping a professional distance: “I don’t like being too palsy with undergraduates”; “it crosses the line of creating a non-professional relationship”. Participants offered different reasons for not wanting to interact with students outside the bounds of email or the VLE. Online boundary keeping was described either in terms of controlling what students might see (e.g. personal comments, family photos) or controlling what staff themselves might see (e.g. student comments). Again, across all participants, there was recognition that connecting with students on social media is an individual decision: “I have personal rules for that”; “there’s no hard and fast rules”. There was an overwhelming tendency by participants not to connect with students in private online spaces, but in open online spaces only – if at all. This was evident in the number of participants who said they do not friend students in Facebook, although some staff have created Facebook pages/groups (or professional Facebook profiles) to work around this. Twitter, seen as open and public, was considered more acceptable by some as a tool for staff-student interaction. Managing this staff-student boundary, as with the personal-professional boundary, was considered by many participants to be a constant challenge: “you’re negotiating all the time”.

Growth mindset re: digital literacies

Academic staff who value social learning and who balance privacy and openness might be predisposed to using open educational practices for teaching. However, another necessary factor is having digital literacies, or perhaps more specifically, having a growth mindset re: digital literacies. [I am not completely happy with this description at present, but it is a placeholder for now.] Having a growth mindset re: digital literacies includes being aware of a range of digital and open tools; understanding how to use various tools, both technically and pedagogically; keeping abreast of changes in the landscape of digital and open tools; and most importantly, feeling confident about learning and experimenting with new tools and new features. For the participants in this study, this expertise and confidence was often described in connection with peer support and/or professional development, either within or outside the institution (see Enhancers/ Inhibitors below). Having a growth mindset re: digital literacies relates to the previous process: balancing privacy and openness. Staff with highly-developed digital literacies are more likely to have the confidence and skills required to manage privacy settings, negotiate various social media tools, and operate with agency in complex social media ecosystems.

Not all participants with a growth mindset re: digital literacies used OEP for teaching. Some who are proficient users of social media teach their students about social media and digital literacies, yet choose not to connect with students in open online spaces. As one participant described: “I don’t mind if students follow me and if they find stuff that I’ve written online. But I just don’t encourage it as part of the teaching, or their relationship with me as their teacher.” Several participants did not have a growth mindset re: digital literacies – some said they lacked the time or inclination to keep abreast of the rapidly changing landscape of social media and open tools, others used a ‘digital natives’ discourse (Prensky, 2001). The digital natives discourse, i.e. believing that younger rather than older people tend to be experts in using social and digital media, has been discredited (Lanclos, 2016; White & Le Cornu, 2011), yet the narrative continues to resonate with many, including some educators and students. [Much more to say on this – will include in next blog post.]

Challenging role expectations

All participants who used OEP for teaching described various ways that they challenged  expectations of them in their role as lecturers. Many challenged their role as ‘the expert’ — or the sole expert, at least. These participants spoke of being learners as well as teachers and of seeking to create and be part of a community of learners.

“So instead of really only knowing you for 45 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks… at least they think, ‘oh, maybe she actually cares’, or ‘oh, I could actually ask a question if I needed to’. Whereas email, it takes a lot of nerve for a first year to write an email and send it to what they call a professor. They just feel inhibited no matter how nice you are. I think it maybe allows them to feel like you’re more approachable. And if nothing else, that would be good.”

“I do think in order for me to create the conditions that people can learn in, I have to create a community of people here. I have to make sure people are comfortable interacting with each other; I have to make sure they’re comfortable interacting with me. So that idea of a community of learning would underpin my philosophy of teaching.”

Enhancers/inhibitors to using OEP for teaching

In addition to the processes defined above, participants described various environmental enhancers and inhibitors which served to act as lenses to increase or decrease the likelihood that they might choose to use OEP for teaching. Enhancers included institutional support and/or recognition, professional development opportunities (within or outside the institution) and peer support (e.g. personal learning networks or PLNs). Inhibitors included stress or anxiety experienced by individuals, particularly in connection with their institutional roles (e.g. workload, departmental or institutional culture). [Very much more to be said here, particularly in relation to work by Richard Hall on ‘The university as anxiety machine’]

While this first phase of the research study has been focused on academic staff, the next phase of the study will be a smaller study engaging both students and staff to explore why and how they interact in open online spaces and how they enact and negotiate their digital identities in those spaces.

I’ll continue to blog as my thinking develops and analysis proceeds. I hope that this sharing of raw findings and thoughts might spark a few conversations – I’d welcome your feedback.

 

REFERENCES:

Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L., & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open practices: Briefing paper. JISC.

Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructivist Grounded Theory (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Ehlers, U. (2011). Extending the territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, 15(2).

Hall, Richard (2014, March 19). On the University as anxiety machine. Richard Hall’s space. [blog]

Kumpulainen, K. & Sefton-Green, J. (2012). What is connected learning and how to research it? International Journal of Learning and Media, 4(2), 7-18.

Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Hodgson, V., & McConnell, D. (Eds.) (2012). Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning (pp. 3-24). New York: Springer.

Lanclos, D. (2016). The death of the digital native: 4 provocations from DigiFest speaker Dr. Donna Lanclos. Jisc.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).

Reed, P. (2013). Hashtags and retweets: Using Twitter to aid community, communication and casual (informal) learning. Research in Learning Technology, 21.

Rolfe, V. (2012). Open educational resources: Staff attitudes and awareness. Research in Learning Technology, 20.

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2012a). Networked participatory scholarship: Emergent techno-cultural pressures toward open and digital scholarship in online networks. Computers & Education, 58(2), 766–774.

Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012b). Assumptions and challenges of open scholarship. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning,13(4), 166-189.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. Basingstoke: Bloomsbury Academic.

White, D.S. & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).

Image source: CC BY 2.0 woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

 

 

Road to Hope

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photo by Maeve Kelly

Today I started writing a blog post about openness, inequality, and the complex reckonings we make about our digital, networked identities. But tonight I’m finding I can’t write anything until I write this.

I’m just back from a meeting with two wonderful people here in Kinvara. Maeve Kelly and Pete Brazier are part of a small team who are about to make their third trip to Greece to assist refugees there. In two weeks Maeve and Pete will return to the island of Chios to work alongside residents of the island, other volunteers and NGOs to offer welcome, care, and whatever support they can to people who are fleeing violence and terror — from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and beyond. Maeve and Pete call themselves Road to Hope, saying simply: “that’s all we can offer”. They inspired us with their generosity and their simple plea: please share what’s happening and please lobby our elected representatives to do more to address this humanitarian crisis. To find out more about Road to Hope and/or to make a contribution to their generous efforts, check out their page: https://chuffed.org/project/road-to-hope-april2016

Thanks for reading this. And humble thanks to Maeve and Pete, to Brendan Smith, and to all who see what is and just get on with building roads to hope.

Digital Identity redux

Time Square, Jan 2013 - 01

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Ed Yourdon (Flickr)

In the course of my work over the past few years I have circled back, again and again, to digital identity. In my research and teaching, when invited to speak with or facilitate workshops for staff and students (on open educational practices, social media & academia, digital literacies, etc.), and when working with young people and youth groups – at the core almost always are questions about [digital] identity. As my understanding and ideas have evolved I’ve blogged about digital identity, explored the concept with students, and it has been the focus of my PhD research from the start. And still I wonder – thinking occasionally (and wryly) of T.S. Eliot’s words:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Last week I participated in Day 3 of the ePortfolio conference at Dublin Institute of Technology. The conference was part of a National Forum-funded project: An ePortfolio strategy to enhance student learning, assessment & staff professional development. The focus of the conference was not on eportfolio applications per se, but on eportfolios as a focus for learning design and pedagogies that support students and staff in developing broader digital literacies and digital identities, within and beyond formal education. I missed some of the excellent sessions (all videos will be available soon on the ePortfoliohub site) but two highlights of the day for me were Helen Beetham’s keynote Digital identities: resources for uncertain futures? (summarised in her blog) and Bernie Goldbach’s workshop Creating collaborative portfolio objects – two posts well worth reading.

At the conference I also facilitated a session, Exploring our digital identities. Over the past two months I’ve facilitated several workshops for students and staff, separately and together, to explore issues related to digital identity. Although each discussion is unique, I often use versions of the presentation I shared at the ePortfolio conference:

(or this slightly different version for student workshops: social media, digital identity and me)

Although this is structured as a short presentation it’s intended to be a conversation starter, a prompt for deeper discussion. I’m particularly interested in the questions and concerns that students and staff bring to these sessions. At a recent workshop, for example, undergraduate students raised questions about the Right to be Forgotten ruling, managing privacy settings, being authentic online, finding a blogging ‘voice’, navigating different networks, dealing with FOMO, what potential employers are looking for, and how best to use specific tools like LinkedIn and Twitter during the transition from student to graduate.

Within the workshops, I tend not to discuss the mechanics of using specific tools. There are already some terrific resources for setting up and using social media and open tools, and I am always happy to share these. Instead, I invite participants to consider deeper questions, such as:

  • What are my networks right now?
  • What conversations do I want to be a part of?
  • Who do I want to share with?
  • Who do I want to I share as?
  • What are some ways that I might manage my different private/public and social/scholarly conversations, networks and identities?
  • To what extent, and in what contexts, might I separate or mix these conversations and identities?

And for educators, a few further questions:

  • How can I support and empower students in developing their digital literacies and digital identities?
  • What learning spaces do I create with and for learners? Who am I, and who are we, in those spaces?
  • How best can I model and nurture democratic practices, particularly in open online spaces?

There is a growing body of work in the areas of digital identity, digital literacies and digital capability that supports this process of open inquiry. The strength of much recent work is that it is increasingly integrated, for example: focusing not just on students or staff, but on students and staff together; broadening the definition of ‘staff’ to include adjunct, technical, library, and learning support staff; and looking beyond institutional roles and practices to consider social and civic as well as scholarly and professional identities.

This is the approach taken by the All Aboard project here in Ireland, for example, in addressing the challenge of the national Digital Roadmap to build our digital capacity. All Aboard has published a comprehensive review of existing digital literacies/competency models in their report Towards a National Digital Skills Framework for Irish Higher Education as well as a digital capability framework for Irish higher education in the form of an interactive Metro Map:

All Aboard

CC BY-NC AllAboardHE.org (click image for interactive version)

Key resources for the All Aboard project, and perhaps some of the most influential resources in the area of digital literacies and digital identity, have been those developed for Jisc by Helen Beetham, Lou McGill, Allison Littlejohn, Rhona Sharpe and others. A highlight of last week’s ePortfolio conference was Helen Beetham’s wonderfully wide-ranging keynote Digital identities: resources for uncertain futures? in which she wove the threads of her work in the areas of digital literacies and digital identities over the past several years. Referencing work on identity in the pre-digital age by Vygotsky, Goffman, Butler and others, Helen noted the diversity of perspectives; then as now variously anxious and playful, social and psychological. Helen then traced the development of her work in this area, beginning with the iconic model as part of the LLiDA (Learning Literacies for the Digital Age) project:

LLiDA

continuing on to the well-known Jisc 7 Elements of Digital Literacies model and finally to the latest Digital Capability Framework with its explicit focus on digital identity and wellbeing:

Digital Capability

Beetham (2015) Revisiting digital capability for 2015

In her keynote and recent blog post What is Digital Wellbeing?, Helen describes how important she felt it was that ‘digital identity and wellbeing’ be the overarching element of the new digital capability framework:

I think it’s useful, and potentially radical, to suggest that digital capability includes self-care, and that self-care requires a critical awareness of how digital technologies act on us and sometimes against us, as well as allowing us to pursue our personal and collective aspirations in new ways.

Positioning wellbeing and self-care at the heart of institutional initiatives to build digital capability is both radical and vitally important. And it is just a start. Balancing privacy and openness, self-care and scholarship, is a tightrope walk for many. For individuals who are marginalised, in any respect, the risks of openness and networked participation are often even greater. Digital capability models and policies provide an important starting point for institutions. But without caring hands to craft them in specific contexts, and a willingness to co-create new paths with and for staff and students, the models will not yield their potential, i.e. to help individuals to develop powerful digital identities and gain opportunities for voice, influence and growth.

My thanks to Helen Beetham, the All Aboard project, Digital Champions (a staff-student partnership here at NUI Galway) and many others doing this valuable work. I’m happy to be learning and working alongside you.

Image source: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Ed Yourdon Even Elmo has a mobile phone (Flickr). This image is one of my favourites by the late Ed Yourdon (1944-2016) whose work in both software engineering and photography has inspired me, and many others, for years.

If open is the answer, what is the question? #oer16

How would you answer the question above?

Please join the conversation by tweeting your response (using the #oer16 hashtag) or adding to the comments below.

nypl.digitalcollections.c6d5d0ca-e348-54db-e040-e00a18063df6.001.w

From the New York Public Library (public domain)

Whether we consider ourselves to be open education practitioners or researchers, advocates or critics, wonderers or agnostics, our motivating questions regarding openness are likely to be different. For example, you may find that open educational resources (OER) and/or open educational practices (OEP) help you to address one or more of the following (very different) questions:

  • How can I help to minimise the cost of textbooks?
  • How can I help students to build and to own their content and portfolios?
  • How might we support and empower learners in building their digital identities and making informed choices about digital engagement?
  • How might we build knowledge as a collective endeavour?
  • How can we broaden access to education, particularly in ways that do not reinforce existing inequalities?

Or perhaps you’ve found that OER and/or OEP lead to further questions, particularly about institutional policies and practices.

Along with many others, I hope to discuss some of these questions at the Open Educational Resources conference next month — #OER16: Open Culture. I’ll explore these questions, and others, in my keynote and in conversation with Lorna Campbell and Viv Rolfe in an OER16 preview webinar hosted by ALT later this week.

Have you found open practices to be useful, for you and/or for your students? What does it help you to achieve? If open is the answer, what is the question? What is your question? Please join the conversation.

Postscript 11-March-2016: Many thanks to all for participating in this discussion, both in comments here in the blog and on Twitter (summarised here in Storify). I look forward to continuing the conversation with you all at the conference.

Postscript 23-May-2016: I shared a summary of this discussion in my keynote at OER16 – links available here.

Image: public domain image from the New York Public Library

 

 

 

#iCollab, communities and networks

Nurturing global collaboration and networked learning in higher education, an article based on our iCollab experiences, has been published in Research in Learning Technology today. The article was authored by Thom Cochrane, Averill Gordon and myself, three members of the iCollab community of practice – it is based on a presentation which Thom and I gave at the 2014 EdTech conference ‘Nurturing global collaboration’.

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In the article, we reflect on our experiences in iCollab, creating a global community of practice of educators and students which intentionally operates within and across networks.

The iCollab lecturers who initiated and facilitate the iCollab CoP share a common understanding of higher education students, in all their diversity. We recognise that students, as networked individuals, enter higher education with existing identities, networks and practices – both digital and embodied. We do not ask students to leave these at the door (or the virtual door, in the case of VLEs). Instead, we invite students to join a community of practice that is itself networked, to reflect on and develop their identities, networks and practices within the iCollab CoP and to the extent that they wish, in wider networks to which the iCollab CoP provides visibility and access.

Thanks to our #icollab colleagues Helen Keegan, Ilona Buchem, Mar Camacho, Bernie Goldbach and Sarah Howard – and to all of the students with whom we have worked – for ongoing inspiration and learning.

#dlRN15: Hope, Hands, and Stories

And so, the Digital Learning Research Network conference. I have been mulling over all-that-was-dlRN since leaving Palo Alto a week ago. I extended my stay in California for a few days to visit family before making the long journey back to Galway. It was a wonderful and memorable week. In looking at the photos I took over the course of the week — at Stanford University and in Palo Alto, Petaluma, and San Francisco — it seems the first and last photos tell the story of the week. So I’ll start there.

Stanford University Memorial Church22305856980_314803d474_o‘Hope’: Stanford University Memorial Church & 575 Castro, SF

 

I. Hope

dlRN15 was short and intense (2 days + an optional pre-conference workshop). It was not a conference about tech or ‘how to’ solutions. It was a conference united around clear values, namely a social justice vision of higher education and a belief in research as a tool for advocacy or, as Kristen Eshleman wrote, “a lever for positive change”. Many of us at dlRN had spent the days preceding the conference following tweets and updates from the ICDE Conference, held in South Africa during that same week, where many of the same themes were being discussed.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 13.25.43

After the #icdeunisa conference, Paul Prinsloo wrote beautifully about the need to reclaim the potential of education as liberation through pedagogies of hope:

Designing hope means stop speaking in the passive voice as if there were no perpetrators, no guilt, no abuse in the name of science and technology. In designing hope we need to resist these discourses and return the gaze on venture capital, on the privatisation of education, the neoliberal dogma. We need to reclaim the discourses, the commons, ourselves. We should critically look at the words we use in our strategies and planning documents and our obsession to measure, to be top, to be the best, to rise in the rankings. Somehow we must discover the beauty and simplicity of hope, and designing hope. Hope that a better life of all may, may just be possible.

The central question propelling much of the dlRN conference also — whether discussing non-traditional students, adjunct faculty, open education, MOOCs, FedWiki, learning spaces, educational philosophy, curriculum or pedagogy — was this: how can we work together to make (higher) education more equitable for all?

II. Hands

It was a privilege to engage with so many smart and kind people for 2+ days to consider this question and to try to break it down. It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows, of course. Conversations diverged. I was frustrated, at times, at language and concerns that seemed to focus specifically on US higher education, many of which are different to issues and concerns in Ireland, Europe, and other parts of the world. But we speak from who we are and what we know. The conference chairs, Bonnie Stewart, Kate Bowles, Kristen Eshleman, Dave Cormier and George Siemens, individually and collectively created a space for dialogue that was open in the best sense — open-minded and open-spirited. We engaged with one another. I questioned assumptions — my own and others’. Sometimes we disagreed. At times we apologised. We talked, we listened. Overall, it was a space of compassion.

it seems almost

as though this is what a human life is,

to be passed from hand to hand,

to be borne up, improbably, over an ocean.

Moya Cannon (2011) ‘Hands

It was a privilege to share the space with so many wonderful people, not just in-person but virtually. The conference benefited immensely from virtual participation by so many. In addition to conversation channels on Twitter and Slack, the Virtually Connecting team enabled and facilitated multiple conversations. I was part of just one of these, but the full set is available on the Virtually Connecting YouTube channel. I also attended one of several conference sessions co-presented remotely by Maha Bali — this one along with the on-site Rebecca Hogue, Matt Crosslin, Whitney Kilgore and Rolin Moe. This worked beautifully for on-site participants (although I think Maha had some trouble hearing the audio on her end). We are learning. I left the conference with a deeper appreciation of the benefits and challenges of virtual participation. As someone living on the west coast of Ireland, I often rely on virtual participation in my teaching, learning, and research. After dlRN, I’m re-energised to push the boundaries even further. Thanks @VConnecting.

The most powerful part of the conference for me was the final wrap-up. I can’t recall a conference wrap-up which began with the questions asked by George Siemens: “What did we get wrong? What foundational assumptions about the conference were incorrect? and Did we surface research that will help us build towards our vision?” What a helpful starting point for post-conference activities. George Veletsianos spoke particularly powerfully in the wrap-up session, noting the need to create better futures for all students, as well as all who work in higher education. We will do this by cultivating compassion, avoiding reductionist approaches, and avoiding the creation of alternate power structures. A worthy challenge.

As I listened to the final wrap up, I sat back in my chair trying to make sense of all the emotions I felt, in awe of the capacity and willingness of the people in the room to be vulnerable, to demonstrate compassion and empathy, and their sheer resolve to make sense of the changing higher education landscape and ensure all voices are heard. I was, and will continue to be, deeply moved by it.

Patrice Torcivia

III. Stories

To borrow a phrase from the wonderful Kate Bowles, we brought our storied selves to dlRN. We worked hard to question and to understand one another’s stories, in order to build not just a smart but a compassionate network of researchers and practitioners to address our challenges.

My story? I travelled from Ireland to California with my wonderful daughter Sarah, a recent graduate with her own perspective on higher education. She joined me for the first day of the conference (before embarking on her own explorations) and for gatherings after the conference each day. I wasn’t the only one attending the conference en famille — we loved meeting Kate Bowles’s daughter and Bonnie Stewart’s and Dave Cormier’s children. In addition to enjoying the conference, my daughter and I met friends and family. We saw my 13-year-old niece play a home soccer game. We went on our own magical tour of San Francisco. We made memories. For one week we interwove our experiences and our dreams about work, education, family, friends, history, social justice, and the future.

My take-away from the conference is coloured by all of these experiences of the past week as well as by my position, my history, my values. And it’s simply this. There is, and will be, a plurality of voices, even when we passionately agree on the overall goal of working towards higher education which is more equal for all. We can learn much from other movements for social change — civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights. At times we will feel strongly about taking different approaches to reach our goal. Some of us will want to work for incremental change, some for policy change, some for legal change, some for setting research agendas. There will be times that none of these feels like it is enough and some of us will wield placards. But as much as possible, let us value our diverse positions as we speak alongside and on behalf of students (and potential students), colleagues (particularly those with fewer rights), and all who have been left behind, knocked down, or damaged by increasingly iniquitous systems of higher education.

We will re-write this story, we will take it and reshape. There is no one counter-narrative. We want one because the Master Narrative is so strong. But it’s going to take all the stories, all the points of data. In each retelling, each instance of both telling and listening, the story changes, the story evolves, and I believe we get closer to the place we want ourselves to be.

Lee Skallerup Bessette

Thanks to all those with whom I shared dlRN and all who have written their stories of dlRN. Each of you has touched me and taught me in some way. I’m sure this is not a complete list of the many dlRN blog posts, but I’ll add others as I find them. Thank you all.

 

I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.

– Harvey Milk

 

Postscript: I presented my own ongoing research at the conference in a presentation entitled: Unpicking binaries: Exploring how educators conceptualize and make decisions about openness. I’ll share more information about this in my next blog post.

Whither higher education? Considering big questions at #dlRN15

CC BY-NC-SA Mark Chadwick

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Chadwick (Flickr)

As the terrain beneath and surrounding higher education shifts, what possible futures do you see? Are any of them beautiful?

How is, and will, higher education respond to the growth of participatory culture and openness across networked publics? How will issues regarding access to education, equity, agency, and ethics be addressed? Later this week, participants at the Digital Learning Research Network Conference Making Sense of Higher Education: Networks and Change (#dlRN15) will consider these and similar questions.

Bonnie Stewart, in her pre-conference post inequality & networks: the sociocultural implications for higher ed, asks some of the central questions which motivate many of us:

…is the digital helping widen participation and equality? Is it hindering? If the answer to both is “yes,” WHAT NOW?

While digital higher education initiatives are often framed for the media in emancipatory terms, what effects does the changing landscape of higher education actually have on learners whose identities are marked by race/gender/class and other factors within their societies? We’ll be sharing and unpacking some of the places we get stuck when we think about this in the context of our work as educators and researchers.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the conference, to continue conversations which form part of my ongoing work as an educator and researcher, but which also connect deeply with my values. I’m looking forward to the plenary panel discussions and keynotes and to meeting fellow educators and researchers who will share their work across the 5 conference themes: Ethics of Collaboration, Sociocultural Implications, Individualized Learning, Systemic Impacts, and Innovation and Work. As part of the Systemic Impacts strand, I’ll share interim findings from my study of educators’ use of online tools and spaces for research, learning and teaching: Unpicking binaries: Exploring how educators conceptualize and make decisions about openness. Here’s the abstract:

In the changing environment of contemporary higher education, open education claims are many, but studies that provide empirical evidence to support such claims are few. Evidence and theoretical frameworks are required in order for us to further our understanding of openness and associated constructs. This presentation will report early results from a study exploring how educators conceptualize openness and open educational practices, including why, how, and to what extent educators choose to use/not use open practices. The study is taking place at one higher education institution that currently has no policies regarding open education. The data for this first phase of the study, exploring the motivations and practices of educators, consists of 15 semi-structured interviews. A constructivist grounded theory approach was used for sampling, interviewing, and discourse analysis. The study aims to move beyond considering Open and Closed as binaries, or even as a continuum, but explores the contingent interplay between them. Analysis draws on recent work by Edwards (2015): “An important question becomes not simply whether education is more or less open, but what forms of openness are worthwhile and for whom; openness alone is not an educational virtue.” This study gathers and analyzes data from educators about meaning-making and choices regarding open educational practices with respect to environmental factors, systemic pressures, personal values, conceptions of privacy, and agency. It is hoped that this study will contribute to ongoing conversations and other research theorizing openness and open practices.

I welcome your thoughts on these ideas — before, during or after the conference. I’ll blog again after the session to describe the work in some more detail, as well as to share ideas which emerge in conversation with others. If you’ll be at the conference, I look forward to meeting you! And if you won’t be attending, but are interested in the conference themes, you can tune in via Twitter at #dlRN15 or on the conference Slack channels. If you’d like to join in the conversations virtually, check out the preliminary schedule of Virtually Connecting sessions from the wonderful @vconnecting team.

Image source: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Chadwick (Flickr)

 

Taking a broader view at #ALTC

CC BY-SA iliasbartolini

CC BY-SA iliasbartolini (London, September 12th, 2015)

Many of us talk of “blurring boundaries” in education — between online and offline, our classrooms and the world, formal and informal learning, the roles of learner and teacher, research and practice, etc. Yet at last week’s ALT Conference in Manchester, UK, another boundary was challenged. Thanks particularly to two excellent keynotes by Jonathan Worth and Laura Czerniewicz, we were invited to move beyond our immediate areas of focus as educators and researchers, and ask of ourselves: how can we renew the discussion and practice of education, particularly open/online/connected education, to address broader issues of injustice and inequality?

There will have been many experiences of ALTC. A few hundred people attended in-person and even more participated online — via the live stream, Twitter and/or Virtually Connecting. Maha Bali has written of her experiences at ALTC, Alan Levine of his story of connection, and Frances Bell of her experience of connection & disconnection. Some may view ALTC as a tech-focused conference, but this was not my experience. I attended for two of the three days and, as with any conference, could attend only a fraction of all the sessions. Yet the overall tenor of conference — judging from the two keynotes, the sessions I attended, and conversations with many others — was, to quote Donna Lanclos, one of people and pedagogy. And more than that, many speakers and participants discussed the challenging issues of power, ownership, agency and inequality with respect to further/higher education. In the face of current global humanitarian crises, these are urgent issues for us to address, both as educators and as citizens.

Jonathan Worth set the tone with his Day 2 keynote, acknowledging the vulnerability of learners and speaking openly of his own learning and vulnerability. Early in his career, Jonathan actively defended the copyright of his work. As digital photojournalism and the associated business models evolved, he began to see the difference between images (data, experiences) and photographs (physical artefacts). As he wove together ideas and stories, Jonathan drew a powerful connection between Photographers and Teachers. Both used to be considered one-to-many arbiters of meaning — but no longer. Yet both hold positions of relative power within Photographer-Subject and Teacher-Student relationships. As educators, we must acknowledge this and ask ourselves: “how can I empower people to tell their own stories?”. The most powerful part of this keynote was Jonathan’s honesty and humility about not only what he’s learned, but what he has yet to learn. His experience with Phonar helped him to realise that “learners together are more powerful than learners apart”, so he shared his questions with us, much food for thought:

IMG_6074

Laura Czerniewicz‘s keynote on Day 3 was one which I will return to again and have already shared with others. In Considering Inequality as Higher Education goes Online, Laura noted how inequality pervades the entire landscape and she challenged us to create more inequality-informed practice, research, policy and advocacy. Drawing on Robin Mansell’s definition of two social imaginaries and Therborn’s Killing Fields of Inequality, Laura built a compelling picture of structural and global inequality. We require shared solutions to the challenges of inequality — particularly in further/higher education where, Laura noted: “the brutality of competition has opened a new era of global apartheid”. There are no simple solutions. We must do no less than reclaim the networked society. Education must be de-conolonised, in both face-to-face and online spaces. We should strive for more equal partnerships between the global North and global South. Open licensing and open practices provide some of the tools for this, but our main work is developing a deeper understanding of inequality and committing ourselves to challenging it, in all our work.

I highly recommend reading Jenny Mackness’s post The Micro and the Macro of the EdTech World in which she reflects on both keynotes. There’s also an extended comment from Jonathan Worth here — well worth reading.

Though not physically present at the conference, the important work of Audrey Watters, Kate Bowles and Paul Prinsloo was discussed during they keynotes and throughout the conference, as well as a recent blog post by George Siemens — all highlighting issues of trust, care, and equity/inequality. Other conference sessions which touched on these themes included:

These were just a few of the highlights of the conference for me. I missed other sessions I would have loved to attend by Helen Beetham, Steve Wheeler, Terese Bird, Andrew Middleton, Paul Gormley, Sheila McNeil, Sue Beckingham, Chrissi Nerrantzi, and others. In-person, online, and hybrid conversations (looking at you, Maha Bali and @VConnecting!) enriched the conference in so many ways. Warm thanks to all.

Image source: CC BY-SA Ilias BartoliniOne world, Refugees welcome (Flickr)

Alone and together, moving and learning — #blimage

CC BY 2.0 Matt Wiebe (Flickr)

CC BY 2.0 Matt Wiebe (Flickr)

Thanks to a challenge from Steve Wheeler this afternoon I’m responding to the #blimage challenge. I love the idea — blogging in response to an image — concocted by Steve and Amy Burvall. I’ve seen a few #blimage posts fly by me this week, thought “I must do that!”, and now there’s no getting out of it😉

Steve didn’t specify an image so I’m using the first image that comes to mind. Thanks to Robin Ashford this wonderful CC-licensed photo by Matt Wiebe has been in my mind all week. Robin used this as the closing image in her excellent presentation: Guiding learners towards digital fluency.

Such a powerful photo (thank you, Matt!). Firstly, there’s the idea of a frame or snapshot in time. What is happening just before or after this moment? What is happening just outside of the frame? Is this little girl running from her parents to her grandmother? running to keep up with a big brother or sister? perhaps running for the sheer joy of hearing the sound of her own footsteps in the echo-y train station? From this one image we don’t know. We can only imagine.

As an educator this feels familiar. When learners are silent or absent we often don’t know why. Silence or lurking can be so many things: thoughtful engagement, confusion, a crisis of confidence, a lack of time, a strategic reallocation of time elsewhere, or… who knows? What’s outside of the frame? It’s easy to make assumptions, especially when we operate (often subconsciously) with particular definitions of “engagement” or “success”, themselves propped up by the requirements of our various programmes and institutions. In another #blimage blog post today, Space to make ideas your own, the always-thoughtful Jeff Merrell writes about how he’s learning to allow more space and time for his students for emergent learning — i.e. learning to trust learners. Jeff’s post also led me back to my friend Helen Crump‘s #blimage post about learning as “an identity job”, once again highlighting the need for trusting learners, and building relationships with learners.

Another aspect of this photo is that I see myself here — apparently alone, but not alone. This past six weeks or so has been unusual in many ways for me. I lost two good friends at the start of June, a terribly sad time. I was less active online but connected with friends in many other spaces and places — funerals, kitchens, back gardens, and a few longs walks along Heaney’s Flaggy Shore.

I’ve also been engaged in data collection for my own research study, interviewing academic staff about where and how they learn and teach. I’m enjoying spending time with educators across a range of disciplines and interests as they share their thoughts, ideas, and values. This has been an enormous privilege. As has spending time with other scholars in recent weeks such as Caroline Kuhn, Kathrine Jensen, Leigh Graves Wolf, Mary Loftus and Pam O’Brien. My thanks to each of them — and I shall pass on the #blimage challenge:)

So while one frame of this summer might show me somewhat quiet on Twitter, and definitely quiet here on the blog, other frames would show something different — close connections, deep reflection, and rich learning. Alone and together, moving and learning.


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