Reflections on Federated Wiki Happening 2014

CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdog (Flickr)
CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdog (Flickr)

The year 2014 ended, for me, with a 2-week-long dive into Federated Wiki Happening (#FedWikiHappening & #FedWiki). With a full house here at home for the Christmas/New Year holidays (a rare and treasured occurrence these days), throwing my hat into the #FedWikiHappening ring for the last two weeks of December seemed a bit optimistic (reckless?) on my part, but despite having limited time it was Oh so worth it. Enormous thanks to Mike Caulfield for inviting me and others to take part, and for his and Ward Cunningham’s work in making it not just possible but a lively and messy, even passionate, exploration of federated wiki collaboration.

Smallest Federated Wiki is the work of Ward Cunningham. At its simplest, the notion of federated wiki moves beyond the “consensus engine” of wikis like Wikipedia, where individual contributions on a particular topic cohere towards one accepted, canonical version. In a federated wiki, you write as you wish, adding your own pages to the wiki, and forking and editing pages created by others.

The radical idea of the wiki was to put an edit button on every page. The radical idea of the federated wiki is to put a “fork” button on every page. Cunningham’s vision is that you will have your own wiki, perhaps several wikis. When you see a page on someone else’s federated wiki that you want to edit, you can click “fork,” and the page is copied into your own wiki where you can edit it. The owner of the original wiki can then decide whether to merge your changes into the original page. [source]

A significant feature of a federated wiki is that different versions of ideas (pages) can exist simultaneously, with connections and conversations occurring between them, either in the wiki itself or in the wider social media ecosystem, e.g. Twitter, blogs, etc.

My introduction to the federated wiki concept came only recently, through a series of wonderful blog posts by Mike Caulfield (especially this one). The posts seemed to me a kind of deep thinking out loud about identity, networks, cooperation, collaboration and knowledge creation. The posts sparked thinking and conversations amongst quite a few people and some of us ended up participating in Federated Wiki Happening. Mike’s “health warning” at the start of FedWiki Happening was that Federated Wiki is hard to learn, easy to use. I’m not sure I got to the “easy to use” part, but I sure learned a hell of a lot.

So many possibilities have arisen in my mind as a result. My existing social media ecosystem – Twitter, blog, Flickr, etc. — seems now less than what it could be. I don’t think federated wiki will replace these identity-driven networks, but it could provide a unique space for idea generation and idea mining. My thinking is running along the lines of how might I/we use federated wiki in learning and teaching? Doing this seems both challenging and important to me, and I hope to continue some of those discussions with others over the next few months.

Most of my reflections on federated wiki at this moment, immediately after #FedWikiHappening, are circling around the ideas of identity, authorship, communication and voice.

Identity

When FedWiki Happening began, each participant was visually represented in the wiki by a simple but unique square, a gradient of two colours. Early on, based on the preferences of many of the participants, personal avatars were added so that individual contributors could be readily identified – contrary to the wiki convention of discoverable but not obvious. This seemingly simple change reflected deeper thinking about identity and collaboration. How important is it to know who has written a particular passage? Is this an absolute judgment or is it contextual? Are we carrying our existing biases (from identity-based social networks) into the wiki or might it be possible, even preferable, to leave behind the typical notions of authorship/ownership – while still leaving traces as to the original authors of particular words and ideas within the wiki? John Udell explored this in an excellent blog post Individual voices in the Federated Wiki chorus (and subsequent comments).

Notwithstanding the addition of our avatars, my belief is that we always write who we are. When writing in a personal, yet potentially multi-authored, wiki we may in fact be more rather than less free to write authentically. As Mike Caulfield writes in A Kinder, Gentler Attention Economy:

Writing in my fedwiki journal gives me the space I need to think without worrying about how interesting I’m being, whether I [am] contributing something new to the conversation. It gets my head out of the stream for a bit. It feels nice, like a personal library of slightly musty books on a beautiful rainy afternoon.

Maybe if a million people were using Federated wiki that feeling would disappear. Maybe I’d get addicted to forked pages, extensions, the like. Maybe having a thousand people on my feed would recreate the self-consciousness that exhausts my introvert self.

Maybe. But if there’s even a chance we could make the future less of the conversational pigpile that forms Twitter or the personal exhibitionism of Facebook and Instagram, we should pursue it. Federated wiki provides the routing and discovery architectures of current social media. But it also has a place for quietness. It allows one to attempt to break out of time, to see rather than react.

Federated wiki can be a unique space situated between sole ownership and no ownership, informed by the values of a gift economy. I write and share my ideas. They are open to change and to challenge, and may become part of someone else’s creation, far beyond what I may have imagined. I can re-appropriate those new ideas and build on them – or not. This is one of most essential values of openness, and indeed of open scholarship. The potential for new modes of authorship, collaboration and knowledge co-creation are here in federated wiki.

Different ways of communicating/creating

I was not alone in experiencing numerous struggles in FedWiki Happening, first in getting to grips with FedWiki mechanics – situating myself in a neighbourhood, writing and saving my ideas, forking (what does it really mean? when do I do it?) — but then in jumping into the wiki and interacting with 20 or so other “newbies”. Mike and Ward provided an outstanding level of tech support, care, and wild encouragement to all in FedWiki Happening (kudos and many thanks to them both). We brought our respective experiences and expectations to this new space, a Third Place, and we wrote and wrote (nearly 2000 wiki pages in just over two weeks). Many pages were written in non-personal way (e.g. Chorus of Voices), while others were written in a decidedly first-person way (e.g. Why I don’t like the Chorus of Voices analogy). And there were many, many variations in between.

One of the advantages of having “no one way” to write in the federated wiki (is this particular to the Happening, I wonder?) is that all voices, and all forms of voice, were equally accepted – or so it felt to me. It was like a breath of fresh air to read and to write in such a free way within a network of peers. Theory, technology, edtech talk, power, gender, philosophy, literature, poetry, and even recipes became part of the federated wiki fabric. Free connections between these, conversations about the connections, agreement and disagreement flowed – but all within a framework of respect and trust amongst the participants.

And there I pause to reflect. The 4 key ingredients of this experience were the federated wiki itself; the support provided by Mike, Ward and others; the participants, open thinkers every one; and the environment of trust, respect and care. All together: a powerful experience which has opened my mind to new possibilities for collaborating, learning, connecting, and being a scholar — not in an institutional-scholar sense, but in the sense of connecting with other thinkers, in both tightly knit and loosely coupled networks, using federated wikis. Much seems possible now. But how to build on what has been done? And how to ensure those 4 magic ingredients?

Finally…

If you’d like to find out more about federated wiki and perhaps become involved, now or in the future, please check out Mike’s summary blog post, and do check out some of these terrific FedWiki posts written by participants.

I look forward to continuing the FedWiki thinking and exploring over the next few months, particularly in relation to my research on open education and digital identity. I am grateful to Mike for enabling me to work with him, as well as with some of the most valued people in my networks – Kate Bowles, Frances Bell, Maha Bali, Alan Levine, Whitney Kilgore and others – as well as to meet, connect and collaborate with still more vibrant and generous thinkers, including Alyson Indrunas, John Udell, Jason Green, and, of course, Ward Cunningham. Thank you all.

Image: CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdog What’s happening? FedWiki!

Reflections on Federated Wiki Happening 2014

the answer is not silence

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The title of this post is from Audrey Watters’s powerful talk: Men Explain Technology to Me: On Gender, Ed-Tech, and the Refusal to Be Silent. If you haven’t read it, please do. For those of us who’ve experienced what Audrey talks about, it is truth, and immensely moving. For those who haven’t experienced what Audrey talks about, it will be eye-opening.

I grew up in New York City in the 1960s/70s. My degrees are in engineering and, like Audrey, Women’s Studies. Over a 30-year career in multinational corporations, my own business, community organisations, and higher education, I’ve worked as an engineer, a software engineer, an educator, and a researcher. Recently it feels like many of these strands of my life have been converging. Increasingly, I think and talk about connections between education, technology, equality, social justice, race, gender, pedagogy — a full circle. The personal is political. The educational is political.

In one week I’ll be taking leave from my post as lecturer and academic coordinator here at NUI Galway to move to full-time PhD research. In studying open education and digital identity practices, I’ll be speaking with educators and students about their interactions in open online spaces. Where do students and educators interact online? What happens there? What identities are enacted? How is power enacted? What do students and educators think about issues such as privacy, anonymity, data ownership, surveillance, and online harassment? How do they deal with these?

Many important and urgent questions lie at the nexus of education, technology, power, and cultural values. I aim to explore just a few of these by learning from and engaging with others, and by sharing my thinking and my work, openly.

The answer is not silence.

Image: typewriter on Flickr CC BY-SA catherinecronin

the answer is not silence

Workshop: considering openness

I facilitated a workshop with academic staff at GMIT (Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) last week in which we considered, mostly through group discussion, openness as educators. Carina Ginty invited me to share some of the ideas from Navigating the Marvellous: openness in education as a prompt for the discussion. The following slidedeck summarises some of the concepts we explored and the activity used to kick off the discussion.

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The academic staff who participated in the workshop were from a wide range of faculties: engineering, IT, business, marketing, tourism and arts — as well as the library. In addition to their discipline-specific work, all of the lecturers teach a skills development module Learning and Innovation Skills for first-year students, with the goal of “empowering students with the skills to be successful in third level education and the workplace”.

After initial discussion and exploration of our definitions of openness, OER, copyright and Creative Commons,  I asked participants to work in small groups to map their open practices on a scale from Low to High, using this colour code:

Slide1Each group created a different map of their current practices — here is one of the maps produced:

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This activity was a quick and engaging discussion-starter. There were lively conversations in small groups, and afterward in the large group, about openness, privacy, use of social media, and how academic staff are — and are not — protected when working in open spaces.

Not surprisingly, all of the the participants had used or adapted Open Educational Resources (OER) when designing their own teaching activities and materials. However, there was little experience, across the group, of creating and licensing OER, or supporting students in publishing their work openly. This was noted by the group as an opportunity for future development. We discussed a few of the many different social media tools that can be used by students and educators to create, share, and publish work openly, e.g. various blogging platforms, Twitter, Scoop.it, Wikipedia, Google Drive, Google maps, etc. A few examples can be found in this great post by Debbie Morrison: How-to Use Social Media Platforms to Create Meaningful Learning Assignments, and in the CT231 blog post: A Module Ends, A Networked Community Continues.

Apart from using this as a simple group exercise in considering openness, many of the academic staff participating described how they might adapt the simple “coloured dots” activity in their own learning activities with students. Like any workshop with educators: always many levels of teaching and learning happening :)

My thanks to Carina Ginty and all of the participants for a thought-provoking session — and for an outstanding lunch afterward, cooked and served by students from the College of Tourism & Arts at GMIT.

Image: CC BY-SA catherinecronin “considering openness” on Flickr

Workshop: considering openness

Connecting with #ccourses

Connect Do ShareI’m jumping into the Connected Courses adventure — here goes!! #ccourses popped onto my radar during the early summer, through Twitter and Flickr feeds (thanks @heloukee :) ) The blog posts and videos and tweets which followed whetted my appetite further. I identify as an open educator and feel deeply not only about helping my students to develop their learning networks and networked learning skills, but about about sharing my ethos with students, and finding out about their practices, preferences, and values. That’s the heart of learning for me — whether it’s IT or poetry or history. I shared some of my thinking about this at #altc last week and here in Navigating the Marvellous, a summary of some thoughts about open learning and education, connecting across boundaries, and power relationships in education.

I participated in one of Howard Rheingold’s courses in 2011 (#mindamp). Howard, you modeled so much of what all of this is about, with humour and great insight. Thank you. I still share Howard’s adage with students whenever one of our learning experiments doesn’t go quite, er, as planned: “If you’re not falling off, you’re not on the edge.” I love that Howard addresses all of his students as Esteemed Co-learners.

Now for the confession. I’m been blogging for awhile here… but my blog is in need of some major rework. I’d like also to create a self-hosted WordPress blog. I’m immensely grateful for the advice and suggestions from Click, Link and Embed (priceless, guys!) and had hoped to get down to this during this pre-course week, but start-of-semester pressures mean that’s not been possible. So I’m taking a deep breath and just getting started in #ccourses with my blog as is — but stating my intention to get under the hood of my blog later during #ccourses.

So, thanks to you all — organisers, participants, readers of this post — for bringing #ccourses to life. I’m heading in with open mind and open heart… see you there :)

Image: Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 catherinecronin 

Connecting with #ccourses

Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education #altc

For three days last week I participated in #altc (the Association for Learning Technology Conference) at the University of Warwick — attending in person for the first time after participating virtually for several years. It was a joy to meet so many online friends and colleagues for the first time and to take part in such an inspiring programme of events.

I was very grateful to be asked to give one of the keynotes at the conference. It was an honour to keynote along with Audrey Watters, an educator whose work, integrity, and friendship I value greatly. And a privilege also to speak along with Jeff Haywood. The innovative work being done at (and shared openly by) the University of Edinburgh in the area of online and open learning is important for all of us in higher education.

My keynote was titled Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education, drawing on a metaphor from Seamus Heaney. Links to the keynote and related items are included here.

Summary of the keynote [Medium]
Summary of photos, images, tweets [Storify]
Presentation slides [Slideshare] (also shown below)
Video recording [ALT YouTube channel]
Times Higher Education article
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Many thanks also to Bryan Mathers @bryanmmathers, Simon Thomson @digisim, and Sheila MacNeill @sheilmcn for creating several beautiful images during the keynote. These are included below, with links to Bryan’s, Simon’s, and Sheila’s sites. Please check out these sites for other wonderful work, both from #altc and other events.

Finally, thanks to all of the organisers, the co-chairs, the presenters and participants for such a warm welcome and for making ALTC 2014 such an enjoyable and stimulating learning experience. It will stay with me for a long time to come.

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“Catherine Cronin keynote” by Digisim is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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“Education is Changing” by Bryan Mathers (Flickr) is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
“Education is Changing” by Bryan Mathers is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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“The Learning Black Market” by Bryan Mathers is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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“Catherine Cronin #altc 2014 keynote” by Sheila MacNeill is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education #altc

A conversation about Third Space, Third Place, and Liminality

Photo: CC BY-SA Skyggefotografen (Flickr)

At the Networked Learning Conference 2014 in April, I began an interesting conversation with a Twitter-friend, Kathrine Jensen (@kshjensen). I presented a paper at the conference on my ongoing research in the area of networked learning and digital identity, focusing on student-staff interactions in open online spaces. I cited Kris Gutiérrez’s conceptualisation of the Third Space as a useful framework for exploring the interaction of students and staff in networked publics, particularly in considering issues such as identity and power relations. Kathrine gave me some useful feedback and noted that she was using the concept of liminality in her work exploring student-staff collaboration.

This week we reignited our discussion via email and Twitter — comparing notes on Third Space, Third Place, and liminality — and quickly agreed that we should open the conversation more widely, as others had joined in on Twitter and expressed interest. Below is our conversation — please add your thoughts and ideas, links to your work, and/or any references which you have found helpful in this area. Kathrine has also shared her thoughts in a blog post Using liminality to look at student/staff interactions. We look forward to continuing the conversation :)

Kathrine Jensen:

Hi Catherine… We had a quick chat at the Networked Learning Conference about ‘Third Space’ and I am keen to develop my knowledge in terms of this as a potential useful theoretical approach to thinking about ‘partnership’ etc. I know that you are using Kris Gutiérrez as reference for the concept of Third Space and I believe you referenced this paper: Developing a Sociocritical Literacy in the Third Space.

As you may remember I was using the concept of ‘liminal space’ to explore the characteristics of the relationship between students and staff working in partnership and stepping out of their ‘normal’ role [paper forthcoming]. But I also just came across this article using the idea of ‘Third Place’: Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as ‘Third Places‘ (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006), in which they refer to Ray Oldenburg’s (1999) eight characteristics of ‘‘Third Places’’ – this looks quite useful.

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I would be interested in hearing how you think the various concepts differ or are useful in terms of what you are doing.

Catherine Cronin:

Hi Kathrine… These 3 concepts — Liminality, Third Space, and Third Place — are all on my radar in thinking about digital identity and interactions between students and staff. Fascinating altogether!

Firstly, the Third Place concept. It seems to have been used by quite a few researchers/writers as a metaphor for computer-mediated communication and online interaction (as early as 1993 by Howard Rheingold, of course!). Rheingold, in his book The Virtual Community, was quite optimistic:

 Oldenburg explicitly put a name and conceptual framework on that phenomenon that every virtual communitarian knows instinctively, the power of informal public life… It might not be the same kind of place that Oldenburg had in mind, but so many of his descriptions of third places could also describe the WELL. Perhaps cyberspace is one of the informal public places where people can rebuild the aspects of community that were lost when the malt shop became a mall. Or perhaps cyberspace is precisely the wrong place to look for the rebirth of community, offering not a tool for conviviality but a life-denying simulacrum of real passion and true commitment to one another. In either case, we need to find out soon. (p. 26).

However, up to the mid-2000s, all of these articles pre-date the massive take-up of Facebook, Twitter, and social networking sites in general. For example, the first article I read which linked Oldenburg’s concept to networked publics was a 2006 article by Soukup; he was quite cautionary about the links between the Third Place concept and CMC — but his reference points were multi-user domains (MUDs) rather than SNSs.

The Steinkuehler & Williams article you shared is interesting — focused on gaming and quite positive about the relevance of the Third Place concept. Another recent article in this vein is Rethinking Third Places: Contemporary Design with Technology by Memarovic, et al (2013). They revisit Oldenberg’s dimensions, but explore how today physical Third Places also have a virtual element:

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Their findings are slightly different (and more temperate) than Steinkuehler & Williams, but I think this has to do with the context, i.e. combination of physical & virtual Third Places vs. online games as Third Places. So, while it is interesting, and I will reference it, at present I’m not sure that the Third Place concept is significant in my analysis of student-staff interactions in open online spaces.

This brings me to Third Spaces. The salience of this concept (as developed by Gutiérrez 2008 and Gutiérrez, et al, 1999) for my own research remains. The reason is twofold. Firstly, Gutiérrez’s conceptualisation relates specifically to learning and literacy practices in the context of schools/classrooms, rather than gaming or social spaces. Secondly, the Third Space concept addresses power relations and identity, both of which are central to interactions between students and staff in networked publics. Gutiérrez grounds her work in what she calls a “sociocritical literacy”. I’m still getting to grips with this concept, but it is powerful and holds much promise for analysing student-staff interactions across various contexts. Whereas academic literacy is often narrowly conceived along a vertical dimension (incompetence to competence), learning in the Third Space “attends to both vertical and horizontal forms of learning”, including expertise which develops “within and across an individual’s practice” (Gutiérrez, 2008, p. 149).

Students bring with them to higher education a particular set of digital and network practices and literacies, developed and applicable within various contexts. As HE staff and institutions, rather than (a) assuming that students have particular digital literacies (i.e. are “digital natives”), or (b) denying the digital and network skills — and networks — which students use for informal learning (e.g. by requiring that all online pedagogical interactions take place in bounded online spaces such as LMSs), we can consider other approaches. A Third Space approach would invite students and staff to share their practices, skills, networks, etc., and then to collaborate in identifying appropriate spaces and tools for learning, and for chronicling their learning.

Finally, I am seeking to engage with the concept of liminality, and look forward to reading your latest paper. As I understand it, liminality is an in-between state, between the pre-liminal and post-liminal states. I see how this applies to students, in general, who are learning to do as well as learning to be. Your work is fascinating, chronicling learning and personal growth for both the student and staff participants. I see how the concept of liminality applies in the case of this project. In terms of liminality as a concept relevant to online interactions between students and staff, I note a very interesting 2008 article by Ray Land and Siân Bayne: Social technologies in higher education: Authorship, subjectivity and temporality, in which they note the blurring of boundaries between social/informal and formal spaces, and between public and private spaces. I must wrestle with the concept a bit more, however. Is it possible to identify a post-liminal state when considering interactions between students and staff in online spaces? The process is individual, but is an unfolding — depending, of course, on the level of engagement of the individuals involved.

…to be continued.

Apologies: I’ve tried to find openly accessible article sources, where possible, but I’m not sure that every article cited above is openly available. A full list of references is below.

References:

Gutiérrez, Kris (2008) Developing a sociocritical literacy in the Third Space. Reading Research Quarterly 43(2), 148-164.

Gutiérrez, Kris, D. Baquedano, P. López, & C. Tejada (1999) Rethinking diversity: Hybridity and hybrid language practices in the Third Space. Mind, Culture, and Activity 6(4).

Land, Ray, & Siân Bayne (2008) Social technologies in higher education: Authorship, subjectivity and temporality. Networked Learning Conference 2008.

Memarovic, Nemanja, et al. (2013) Rethinking Third Places: Contemporary Design With Technology. The Journal Of Community Informatics, Spec. Issue on Urban Planning and Community Informatics.

Oldenburg, Ray (1989, 1999) The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Marlowe & Company.

Rheingold, Howard (1993) The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. MIT Press.

Soukup, Charles (2006) Computer-mediated communication as a virtual third place: Building Oldenburg’s great good places on the world wide web. New Media and Society 8, 421.

Steinkuehler, Constance A., & Dimitri Williams (2006) Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as ‘Third Places‘. Journal of ComputerMediated Communication 11(4), 885-909.

Photo: CC BY-SA Skyggefotografen

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>> Postscript: 26-July-2014

Many thanks to Mary Ann Reilly for creating and sharing this wonderful resource: Third Space – Curated Bibliography. The bibliography contains links to work by Homi Bhabha, Margaret Cook, Kris Gutiérrez, Edward Soja, Reijo Kupiainen, and more.

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A conversation about Third Space, Third Place, and Liminality

Navigating the marvellous at #altc

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CC BY-NC-SA pascalvenier (Flickr)

On September 1st, I’ll be joining a few hundred other educators, researchers, and policy-makers at the ALT 2014 Conference organised by the Association for Learning Technology (UK). The theme of the conference this year is an ambitious one: Riding Giants: How to innovate and educate ahead of the wave.

I’ll be one of the speakers at this year’s conference, but mostly I’m excited about meeting and sharing ideas with the diverse range of people who will be participating, both in person and virtually — and, of course, getting to hear and catch up with Audrey Watters. :)  I’ll be speaking from my perspective as an open educator, sharing a few questions, as well as examples of practice and research which illuminate possible paths for us as educators. I hope, too, to include voices other than my own in the keynote. Here’s an overview:

Navigating the Marvellous: Openness and Education

Inspired by a Seamus Heaney poem, I’ll explore “navigating the marvellous”, the challenge of embracing open practices, of being open, in higher education, from the perspective of educators and students, citizens and policy makers. To be in higher education is to learn in two worlds: the open world of informal learning and networked connections, and the predominantly closed world of the institution. As higher education moves slowly, warily, and unevenly towards openness, students deal daily with the dissonance between these two worlds; navigating their own paths between them, and developing different skills, practices, and identities in the various learning spaces which they visit and inhabit. Educators also make daily choices about the extent to which they teach, share their work, and interact, with students and others, in bounded and open spaces. How might we construct and navigate Third Spaces of learning, not formal or informal but combined spaces where connections are made between students and educators (across all sectors), scholars, thinkers, and citizens — and where a range of identities and literacy practices are welcomed? And if, as Joi Ito has said, openness is a survival trait for the future, how do we facilitate this process of “opening education”? The task is one not just of changing practices but of culture change; we can learn much from other movements for justice, equality and social change.

I look forward to many stimulating conversations at the conference, and in the meantime, as I continue working on my presentation and plans for the session. Do you use and foster open practices in your own learning? in your work? with students? Is an ethos of openness central or peripheral to your work? If you experience a tension between openness and your work in (higher) education, how do you resolve this? I welcome your thoughts.

POSTSCRIPT (9th September 2014)

I wrote a follow-up blogpost after the conference, containing all of the following links:

Summary of the keynote [Medium]
Summary of photos, images, tweets [Storify]
Presentation slides [Slideshare]
Video recording [via ALT YouTube channel]
Times Higher Education article

Photo:CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 pascalvenier

Navigating the marvellous at #altc

A module ends, a networked community continues

catherinecronin:

My reflections on CT231 at the end of this academic year, and thanks to my students.

Originally posted on CT231:

To mark the end of the year of CT231, I’d like to begin by thanking you — all of the students who participated in the module. We’ve covered a lot of ground this year.

CT231 2012-13 image v2Many of the terms above may have seemed unclear or irrelevant last September, but hopefully you feel much more confident now about your research skills, your communication  skills (writing and presenting) and — as many of you wrote in your social media reflections — your digital identity and use of social media, especially for learning.

Working with you all this year has been a pleasure, an adventure, and a great learning experience. Exploring concepts both established (academic writing skills, referencing) and emerging (digital identity, privacy, social networks for learning), your ideas and your questions have helped me to think more deeply about my own practices, about creating learning spaces (physical and virtual), and about the always-fascinating…

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A module ends, a networked community continues

Open Education Week(s) 2014

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CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdogblog (Flickr)

Open Education Week 2014… and an opportunity to use one of @cogdog‘s wonderful #open images (thanks, Alan). This post is a summary of what I’ve been up to in the lead up to Open Education Week 2014 — preparing an #openedweek webinar, working with other open educators, supporting students in open sharing, participating in an inspiring Irish education conference, and finally, recounting a moving coincidence.

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  • On Saturday, March 1st, we joined over 300 educators from across Ireland at the annual CESI Conference here in Galway. The conference (and CESI TeachMeet on the preceding night) provide a welcome opportunity for primary, secondary, third-level and community educators to meet, to form and strengthen friendships, and to learn from one another. The Irish educator community has a strong online presence via #edchatie, but gatherings such as the CESI and ICTEdu conferences are invaluable. It’s impossible to summarise this inspiring conference in a few words — please check the #cesicon hashtag on Twitter for updates and summaries.
  • I presented and facilitated a workshop at the CESI Conference on Becoming and Being Open Educators, inviting educators to consider their (and their students’) identities and practices with respect to open education. My thanks to all of the educators who participated and who challenged my thinking.

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  • Finally, a coincidence. One of the outstanding innovations in Ireland in the past year has been the launch and growth of the Youth Media Team (@YMTfm), a team of secondary students, supported by educators, who attend education-related events, engage with participants, and create and share multimedia reports on the spot — photos, interviews and blog posts. Two weeks ago at the CESI Conference, Dave and Finn recorded a conversation between Laurence Cuffe and myself during which we shared our discovery of a moving coincidence – spanning the years 1968 to 2014.

Photo: Unlocked, CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdogblog

 

Open Education Week(s) 2014

Open education and digital identities

I’m currently in the early stages of Ph.D. research on digital identity practices in open education. I’ll be exploring how educators and students in higher education construct and negotiate their identities — social, pedagogical, civic, professional — in open online spaces in which they interact. Some of the questions I am considering are: How are digital identities enacted in open vs. bounded online spaces? What is the relationship between digital and embodied identities, particularly with respect to learning and teaching? And how are power relationships between educators and students negotiated in different online spaces?

Last week I was invited to give a seminar on this research (early stages!) as part of the IT research seminar series at NUI Galway. Below are the slides, a brief summary of my research, and a reflection on my own identity as a “digital identity” researcher.

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The recently published Horizon Report 2014 (Higher Education edition) is just the most recent of many to pose the question: How will formal learning institutions remain relevant when quality learning materials are freely available? (i.e. now). Of course, it isn’t just learning materials, but learning networks and learning experiences that are freely available in our increasingly networked society. The MOOC phenomenon is just one example: across the spectrum of MOOCs, from open, connectivist models to more content-focused, behaviourist/cognitivist models, the desire for flexible, autonomous learning is  clear. Noisy pronouncements to the contrary, open education is about much more than MOOCs, of course. Open education includes initiatives and practices such as the use and creation of open educational resources (OERs); open course blogs, websites and wikis; open sharing of student work — via a range of digital, mobile and social media;  and open communication across learning networks using social media and social networking tools.

identities & learning spaces

In most higher education institutions, after meeting stated entry criteria, student access is achieved by fee and by name. In my university, for example, students must register using the name shown on their birth certificate, unless this has been legally changed. Thus, in most classrooms and within most Learning Management Systems, students and educators are identified by their real names. To participate in open online education, however, learners need simply the will to participate and an identity. Learners not only choose their own learning paths, but they create their own digital identities. Thus individuals can choose to be identified by their name or a pseudonym, by a photo or an avatar, with a consistent digital identity across multiple networks or different digital identities for different situations and contexts. 

So how does the concept of digital identity layer on to our understanding of offline or embodied identity? Identity can be defined as a constantly re-worked personal narrative; we continually create and develop our identities through our actions and our interactions with others. But identity is not a single construct; we have multiple identities related to our different roles and contexts (e.g. daughter, mother, partner, friend, student, lecturer). This is the case for both digital and embodied identities, as Miller makes clear in the excellent Future Identities report of 2013, which explores the relationship between online and  offline identities:

As studies become more contextualised it seems that the real lesson of online identity is not that it transforms identity but that it makes us more aware that offline identity was already more multiple, culturally contingent and contextual than we had appreciated.

Miller also notes that contrary to many media claims, most studies (with the exception of a few, e.g. Turkle) oppose the notion of digital dualism, i.e. the belief that online identities are separate from and less authentic than our offline identities. Our online and embodied identities are, in fact, deeply intertwined. 

Learning involves identity transformation. In Lave and Wenger’s Community of Practice work, for example, education is defined as an identity project: there is a relationship between “learning to do” and “learning to be”.  During the course of their learning, students in higher education develop new identities: personal, social, academic, professional. Both students and educators develop and enact their identities when interacting in learning spaces, be they physical or digital, bounded or open. As part of my study, I’ll be exploring three types of learning spaces: physical classrooms, bounded online spaces (e.g. members-only LMSs), and open online spaces or networked publics (e.g. blogs, wikis, discussion forums, social networking sites). These three modalities are often used in combination with one another, but my study aims to identify the specific affordances of each, particularly with respect to identity, access and equity.

The first two of these spaces, classrooms and LMSs, are private learning spaces in which learners and educators within a particular course can meet, physically or virtually, to interact and learn together. In the third category, open online spaces, educators and students in a given course can interact with one another as well as with other students, educators, writers, creators, experts, etc. in other courses, disciplines, institutions, organisations or locations. 

politics, power & privilege

Politics, power and privilege cannot be ignored in educational research. For example, in examining learning spaces, the architecture of most physical classrooms speaks loudly about power and privilege. Who is present, and who is not? Who sits and who stands? Who moves? Who speaks? Where is attention focused? Answers to these questions reveal whose voice counts, whose knowledge counts. Those educators committed to democratic practices — to creating environments for mutual knowledge construction and sharing —  often must work against the constraints of the architecture of physical classrooms.

In bounded online spaces, such as members-only LMSs, system architectures may communicate similar messages. LMS participants are typically identified by their (real) names and their roles — student, lecturer, tutor, observer, etc. Lecturers and tutors have design, creation and editing privileges within LMSs; students usually have fewer and lesser privileges (e.g. writer vs. editor). These are signals about power and ownership of the learning process.

In open online spaces, students and educators are not limited by real-name identities, nor by rigid role definitions. Students, particularly, may experiment with new identities – not just social identities, with which they may have some confidence, but learner identities and public/civic identities. The teacher-student relationship is changed, moving beyond a teacher-student dichotomy. Students and educators can have more equal roles in creating content, sharing resources, participating in and starting conversations. Educators can be learning peers in open online spaces, not just the lecturer at the head of the classroom or with privileges within the LMS. Although the technologies themselves do not create democratic environments, educators who choose to engage with students in open online spaces, who use open tools, and who engage in and model democratic practices, can foster learner autonomy and agency.

Open online spaces can be considered what Gutiérrez defines as a Third Space of learning; where students develop sociocritical literacies not in a formal learning space, or informal learning space, but a combined space:

People live their lives and learn across multiple settings, and this holds true not only across the span of our lives but also across and within the institutions and communities they inhabit – even classrooms, for example. I take an approach that urges me to consider the significant overlap across these boundaries as people, tools, and practices travel through different and even contradictory contexts and activities.

Many students already have confident social identities online, but developing identities as learners, writers, scholars, citizens — these are important tasks as part of higher education. As Etienne Wenger has noted:

If institutions of learning are going to help learners with the real challenges they face… [they] will have to shift their focus from imparting curriculum to supporting the negotiation of productive identities through landscapes of practices.

Moving beyond private, bounded learning spaces into open learning spaces, even occasionally, provides learners and educators with opportunities to discuss and develop important digital and network literacies, as well as  a deeper awareness of issues such as privacy and data ownership. Open practices allow students the potential to link formal education with their informal interests, knowledge and expertise, and to build Personal Learning Networks which reflect all of these – to the extent that they wish to do this. In these open Third Spaces of learning, learners cannot just develop new identities, but strengthen existing identities, and integrate identities across multiple settings and contexts.

postscript: my own identities

During the past few months, I’ve added this ‘digital identities’ research project to a full schedule of teaching, programme management, and my own networked learning and blogging activities. It’s been challenging, but mostly satisfying. Those cycles that people warned me about when embarking on the Ph.D.  ( lurching from “wow, this is wonderful!” to “oh, I’m lost!”, and back again) — I reckon I’ve ridden through a few of them already :)

At the start, it was the practical aspects of combining these activities that demanded my energies. How will I organise my schedule/workspace/systems to accommodate my new research commitments? And how will I manage others’ expectations of me — colleagues, students, family, friends? Lots of thinking, discussion, negotiation of boundaries.

But, of course, it’s not *that* simple. It’s not just my schedule that must be negotiated, but my own identities. Every day the balance is slightly different: dividing my hours and energies between teaching, student and facilitator support, programme management, learning and research. For the past few years, this blog has provided an invaluable space for sharing ideas and questions related to learning and teaching, for thinking-through by writing, and for connecting. Up to this point, I’ve been happy to share my learning and to share my teaching experiences. So where does “researcher me” fit?

For example, I’ve been working with Jane Davis and Joyce Seitzinger over the past 6 months, each of us writing papers and collaborating on a joint symposium for the upcoming Networked Learning conference. Throughout all of that research and writing and rewriting, I didn’t write here in my blog. I put my time and effort into writing the paper (in the “academic” voice) and engaging in discussions with Joyce and Jane. That time was productive, and it wasn’t my intention to separate these two activities — research and blogging — but that’s what has happened. Hmmm…

As so often happens, via my PLN I read a recent blog post by Bonnie Stewart in which she described this dilemma: identity challenges for hybrid scholars:

I’ve been researching hybrid scholars – people like me who are both cultivating some semblance of a traditional institutional academic identity and building connections and credibility for their ideas in online networks … I’ve been trying to be both networked scholar and proper academic, whatever that is. I’ve been trying to wear two entirely separate hats and engage in two entirely separate identity economies … If there’s anything to the premise that the potential of massiveness + openness = new literacies of participation, it’s those of us out here straddling the edges of old and new that will end up making and modelling those literacies, whatever they turn out to be worth.

Michael Gallagher, another valued member of my learning network, posted a comment to Bonnie’s post which captured this conundrum — and my perspective — so well:

My identities have oscillated all over the place depending on where the projects reside (scholar one day, project manager the next, teacher the following, that sort of thing). I find a certain joy in that disequilibrium, as if I dance between these ambiguous spaces and identities long enough, something new will emerge. And it will just emerge, as you said, by walking the road. And if I contribute at all, it will be through my blog and that emergent identity.

As I noted in my response to Bonnie’s post, I’m often comfortable in boundary and hybrid spaces — I’m a New Yorker living in Ireland, a feminist working in technology, an engineer doing research in education, and I’ve taught/teach in both higher education and community spaces. So being a hybrid scholar feels right — most of the time. Most of the time, the intersections energise me and spark connections which move my thinking and practice. But sometimes things feel out of balance, and I suppose that’s what I’ve recognised regarding my writing at the moment.

So, where am I now? I’m enthusiastically continuing my research and also reflecting on my identity as a hybrid scholar. This reflexivity seems important, given the nature of my research. I am comfortable as an open and networked learner and educator, and still in a liminal space as an open researcher. This blog post is another step in developing that identity, and opening myself to new creative possibilities. As Michael Gallagher expressed in his beautifully written blog post ideas and identities in liminality, creativity springs from ambiguous states; liminality is a “generative state of being”.

If you identify as a hybrid scholar, an open educator, a researcher in the area of open education, networked learning and/or digital identities, how do you navigate these hybrid spaces? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and to learn more about your work. :)

Open education and digital identities