Navigating across boundaries: openness in higher education #OER15

The OER15 Open Education Conference held in Cardiff last week may be over, but the reflections, connections, and tweets (#oer15) are still simmering. For a flavour of the conference, excellent summary blog posts by Marieke Guy (Window boxes, battles, and bandwagons) and Grainne Conole (The OER15 conference) are well worth reading, as is Viv Rolfe’s post (with screencast): Open education: sustainability versus vulnerability and Sheila MacNeill’s account of her excellent keynote: Airing my open washing.

The title of my session at OER15 was Navigating the boundary between formal and informal learning in higher education. Following are the slides and a short summary. I’d welcome your comments, either here in the blog, on Twitter (@catherinecronin), or in the Padlet I created to gather feedback during the session.

Slideshare: Navigating the boundary between formal and informal learning in HE

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I’ve been a long-time advocate and practitioner of open education and now am engaged in PhD research in the area of open educational practices in higher education. Although the context of my current research is HE, I’m exploring learning beyond the bounds of the institution, focusing particularly on the boundary between formal and informal learning, and how educators and students navigate this boundary.

FORMAL & INFORMAL LEARNING

As networked individuals we continually engage in informal learning – any time, anywhere – based on our interests, our curiosity, and our passions. Through our informal learning practices we develop our own, necessarily personal, learning networks, communities, and identities. These networked and open practices often sit uneasily within formal education. As education professionals, many of us have found ways to integrate (to a greater or lesser extent) our open networked practices with our institutional roles. Bonnie Stewart has explored the complexities of this process in her recent PhD research:

… few scholars inhabit a solely digital, networked, or open educational sphere; many engage in networked scholarship while simultaneously working towards institutional academic goals and careers. This means navigating multiple sets of expectations and legitimacy standards at the same time, as well as negotiating institutional relationships with peers, superiors, and students for whom the participatory set of terms may be invisible or devalued. (Stewart, 2015)

But what about our students? How do students in higher education navigate these boundaries and complexities? Connected Learning is one approach that focuses on fusing informal and formal learning practices.

Connected Learning is a model of learning that holds out the possibility of reimagining the experience of education in the information age. It draws on the power of today’s technology to fuse young people’s interests, friendships, and academic achievement through experiences laced with hands-on production, shared purpose, and open networks. (http://connectedlearning.tv)

Although its roots are in the K-12 sector, #connectedlearning principles and pedagogies increasingly are being adopted in higher education. A recent example is Connected Courses or #ccourses, a course offered openly online in autumn 2014, as well as “an emerging community of practice tied to an open network”. Another example is the Academic Learning Transformation Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University, or #vcualtlab, with the tagline “connected learning for a networked world”. This concept is explored by Laura Gogia, graduate fellow at VCU ALT Lab in The case for connected learning. And, of course, an exemplar of open, networked and connected learning in higher education is DS106 at the University of Mary Washington, and the larger project around Reclaim/Domain of One’s Own. It was a delight to meet Brian Lamb at OER15, who spoke about some of this work: The spaces of open educational experience. All of these open, networked, connected learning initiatives are focused on learner autonomy, with students as co-creators of both learning spaces and knowledge.

However, these examples are by no means representative of higher education practice in general. As part of the recent Visitors and Residents research project across multiple higher education institutions in the US and UK, David White, et al, found that many tutors, lecturers, and other members of academic staff are openly sceptical about the academic use and validity of non-traditional online resources such as Google and Wikipedia, and as a result students often mask their informal learning practices.

This furtive thinking and behaviour around open-web resources such as Wikipedia masks the level of use of non-traditional resources and also masks the methods learners use to increase their understanding of subjects… The point at which learning takes place is often not being discussed because either explicitly or implicitly learners are being told by their educational intuitions or perceive that the educational institutions view that their information-seeking practices are not legitimate. (White, et al, 2014)

When educators advise students against using ubiquitous open tools such as Google, Wikipedia, and social media, or do not engage with students to find out what tools they already are using, and how – for finding information, for sharing information, for connecting with others – a valuable opportunity is lost. Without acknowledgement of the actual learning practices of students (the “state-of-the-actual” as described by Selwyn and Facer (2013)), we cannot support students in connecting their informal/personal learning practices, networks and identities with their formal/institutional learning practices, networks and identities. Building these connections is an important step towards learner independence and autonomy, as described by Richard Hall:

Developing the connections between formal and informal learning networks and spaces moves us towards an acceptance of a personalization and ownership of the learning process that coalesces within a range of spaces, networks and applications. In this way, there is hope that learners can develop agile agency in deploying new learning or literacies, within new contexts, and as a result enhance their outcomes. (Hall, 2009)

Openness

At OER15, I posed a question: to what extent do openness and open educational practices help students to navigate the boundary between formal and informal learning?

Within the open education community, and at a gathering such as OER15, there is a shared understanding not just of the signifier ‘open’, but of its educational value. This is also my stance as an open education practitioner. However, as a researcher, and indeed as critical practitioners with a goal of “mainstreaming open education” (the theme of OER15), we must be prepared to theorise openness and to engage with critiques of open education. I summarised a few definitions, interpretations, and critiques of openness in my presentation, before concluding with my plans for future research.

As a starting point, four distinct definitions of ‘open’ (as in ‘open education’ and ‘open educational resources’) were identified:

  1. open access – available to all
  2. free – available at no cost
  3. openly licensed – available in the public domain or with a Creative Commons license (OER)
  4. open educational practice (OEP), characterised by sharing OER and ideas, working across open networks, and supporting students in doing the same

These definitions can be seen also as successive levels of openness, with each level building on the previous ones. Only level #3 and beyond are considered to be truly ‘open’ within the open education community – as it is these practices which enable legal reuse and repurposing of resources by others (see the 5 Rs Framework). To claim to be open while continuing proprietary practices (i.e. definition #2) has been identified as openwashing by both Michelle Thorne and Audrey Watters, i.e.having an appearance of open-source and open-licensing for marketing purposes, while continuing proprietary practices. As a straightforward example, most institutional or xMOOCs use definition #2, while connectivist or cMOOCs use definition #3 . When considering claims or critiques about openness in education, it is essential to identify which definition or level of ‘open’ is being used to make the case.

There are further complexities, however. In general usage, the word ‘open’ has multiple definitions (oxforddictonaries.com). One definition is as a descriptive adjective, i.e. ‘open’ defined as ‘available’, ‘accessible’, or ‘receptive’. In this case, open is not a binary construct; one can discuss a continuum of openness, i.e. the degree to which, or the conditions under which, something is open. However, another definition of ‘open’ is as a state. In this case open is a binary construct, defined in relation to its opposite: e.g. not closed, not blocked, or not restricted.

So which definition is correct when discussing open education, open educational resources (OER), or open educational practices (OEP)? In practice, both definitions are used. Again, it is essential to identify the definition being used in order to understand and assess any claim or critique of openness. David Wiley, for example, rejects the open/closed dichotomy, espousing the continuous construct:

‘Open’ is a continuous, not binary, construct. A door can be wide open, completely shut, or open part way. So can a window. So can a faucet. So can your eyes. Our common-sense, every day experience teaches us that ‘open’ is continuous. (Wiley, 2009)

Yet, even among those who may agree that openness is a continuous construct rather than a binary state, there remain further differences. Richard Edwards has identified the interplay of openness and closed-ness in all educational practices, whether digital or face-to-face. A useful question to consider: do all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness?

Openness is not the opposite of closed-ness, nor is there simply a continuum between the two… 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. (Edwards, 2015)

There are additional recent critiques of openness which I will explore in the course of my research, including Knox (2013) and Oliver (2015). All analyses will include an examination of the specific interpretation of openness being used, as well as the theoretical underpinning of the respective arguments.

MY RESEARCH

In my ongoing PhD research, I explore open educational practices in higher education. The two main research questions are:

  1. For all members of academic staff (full-time and part-time, permanent and adjunct) at one higher education institution: Why and how do academic staff use online tools and spaces (bounded and open) for research, learning and teaching?
  2. For selected members of academic staff who use open educational practices in their teaching, and their students: Why and how do students and staff interact in open online spaces in higher education, and how do individual students and staff enact and manage their digital identities in these spaces?

I await ethical approval for the study and am currently engaged in writing a literature review encompassing learning theories, open education, connected learning, networked learning, and Third Spaces — as well as searching for similar studies of academic staff and students. I will continue to write here in the blog to document thoughts and ideas, and to request feedback. Many thanks for reading this; your comments are very welcome.

Postscript: Notably, each of the four keynotes at OER15 was excellent: Cable Green, Josie Fraser, Sheila MacNeill, and Martin Weller. All of these videos are available on in one playlist. Sincere thanks to the OER15 co-chairs, Haydn Blackey and Martin Weller for a wonderful conference and community gathering.

REFERENCES

Edwards, Richard (2015). Knowledge infrastructures and the inscrutability of openness in education. Learning, Media, and Technology (online).

Gogia, Laura (2014). The case for connected learning. VCU ALT Lab.

Hall, Richard (2009). Towards a fusion of formal and informal learning environments: The impact of the Read/Write web. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 7(1), 29-40.

Knox, Jeremy (2013). The forum, the sardine can and the fake: Contesting, adapting and practicing the Massive Open Online Course. Selected papers of Internet Research.

Oliver, Martin (2015). From openness to permeability: Reframing open education in terms of positive liberty in the enactment of academic practices. Learning, Media and Technology (online).

Selwyn, Neil & Keri Facer (2013). The Politics of Education and Technology: Conflicts, Controversies, and Connections. Palgrave MacMillan.

Stewart, Bonnie (2015). Open to influence: What counts as academic influence in scholarly networked Twitter participation. Learning, Media, and Technology, 40(3), 1-23.

White, David, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Donna Lanclos, Erin M. Hood & Carrie Vass (2014). Evaluating digital services: a Visitors and Residents approach. JISC infoKit.

Wiley, David (2009, November 16). Defining “Open”. iterating toward openness. [blog].

Navigating across boundaries: openness in higher education #OER15

Marvellous Mapping: Visitors & Residents workshop in Galway


Creative Commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) Flickr photo shared by Catherine Kolodziej (Calyon)

As networked individuals each of us makes choices – on a daily and sometimes minute-by-minute basis – about how we share, interact, learn, and teach within and across different online spaces. We do this in the multiple (and often overlapping) contexts within which we work and live… as students, educators, researchers, professionals, parents, citizens, etc. In each of these roles, but perhaps particularly as educators, it is important to reflect on our identities and practices in online spaces – and how we learn and teach in those spaces.  Visitors & Residents (V+R) is a tool which helps us to do this.

Last week – to celebrate Open Education Week 2015 – we were fortunate to have Dave White and Donna Lanclos here at NUI Galway to facilitate a Visitors & Residents workshop, “Marvellous Mapping”, sponsored by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education in Ireland. Dave White is Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of the Arts London and Donna Lanclos is Associate Professor for Anthropological Research at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Dave is the originator of the Visitors and Residents concept, and both he and Donna are on the research team that developed the related JISC infoKit.

Creative Commons licensed (BY-SA) Flickr photo shared by catherinecronin

Thirty-five educators – lecturers, tutors, librarians, educational technologists, researchers – participated in the workshop on a gloriously sunny day here in Galway to reflect on and discuss our online identities and practices using Visitors & Residents mapping. Following is a short summary of the workshop.

Visitors & Residents – the concept

Visitors and Residents is a way of describing the range of ways we engage with the Web. In particular, V+R encourages us to think about the social traces (rather than data traces) that we leave online. In Visitor mode, you might access an online resource in a purely instrumental way, i.e. simply to get some information. In Resident mode, you view the web as a series of spaces or places; you engage with people – not just with information. As a Resident you typically have a profile, and at the extreme end of residency you are visible to others on the open web, i.e. you will show up in search results (e.g. your Twitter profile, your blog, etc.).

We are never wholly Visitors or Residents, however. Our behaviour depends on our choices and our context, i.e. what we are doing and with whom. V+R is a continuum. Somewhere in the middle of these two poles, Visitor and Resident, is where a lot of online activity happens – behavior which is “resident in character but within bounded communities”, i.e. resident behaviour which is not visible on the open web. This would include interactions within Facebook groups, within members-only wikis or discussion forums, or in module discussion boards within VLEs, for example.

V+R mapping

Dave and Donna described Visitors & Residents mapping as a useful exercise for “making the virtual visible”, and thus for reflection. The metaphor helps us to talk about the digital as a space or a place: “the web is a place where we do stuff… mapping helps make it more visible.” The two axes used in V+R mapping are a horizontal Visitor-Resident axis and a vertical Personal-Institutional (or Personal-Professional) axis. You can then add the various tools and spaces that you use to this map, locating them according to how you use them.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 13.50.15
Simple Visitors & Residents map by Dave White

This is described in more detail by Dave White in the video below:

For education professionals the line is often blurry between the professional and the personal. Convergence is an interesting concept to consider: how comfortable are we with this, or do we deliberately want to separate these? There are many ways to separate the personal from the professional, or even to separate different strands within our personal and professional lives. Some people separate these by having different personas, e.g. on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs, etc. Some enact boundaries by using different devices for different activities, e.g. gaming on their PC, work on their laptop, no email on their phone, etc. We make our own boundaries, consciously or unconsciously – separating or merging the different spheres of our lives. During our discussions at the workshop, there were differing opinions about this. Some found that making their personas and practices separate (personal vs. professional) made things easier, others found that this made things more difficult. One thing was clear, however, and that was that the act of mapping, of making visible, was a significant aid to both reflecting on these ideas and discussing them with others.

During the workshop, each participant created their own map and had the opportunity to share and discuss their map with others. As a follow-on activity, Donna and Dave asked participants to think about where they might want to change their existing practices, i.e. what might they like to do more or less of? Participants annotated their maps with arrows to show the direction of these proposed changes.

When discussion moved to our practices as educators – in various roles (lecturers, tutors, learning technologists, librarians, etc.) – the VLE was the focus of some interesting debate. Some participants see the VLE moving on from being a repository to becoming/being another learning space. One participant, a tutor in a fully-online course, noted that the discussion forum within the VLE for that programme is considered to be the “heart of the course”. But what do students think? In their work with students, Donna and Dave found that many students liked the idea of the VLE as a consistent home or a hub for each module, with other connections (e.g. social media) being voluntary. As recounted by Dave, one of these students noted that they liked the fact that “there’s always somewhere to come back to”. In general, for undergraduate students, many of whom are just forming their voice, it is useful to have a home, a place to start and to return. But must this home be within a VLE, or could it be a more open, networked hub? As one participant noted, for those who operate predominantly in Resident mode it can be tough to have a VLE-based course home page. This can be “just another place to visit”, “a dead end” rather than a place on the web that can be integrated with other learning activities and networks. Compromises can surely be struck. As educators, we need to think about the best ways to facilitate a home or hub for our courses – depending on the particular course, the context, the needs and preferences of our students, and our own abilities, experience, values, and preferences.

V+R reflections

There were many other dicussions on the day, but this summary provides an overview. Overall, the workshop provided educators with an opportunity to reflect on our own online  practices; to share perspectives on learning spaces, digital identities, and openness; and to consider how such insights could inform our teaching practices. The Visitors & Residents mapping exercise proved to be a useful starting point for reflecting on overall approaches to learning and teaching, for informing ways to work with students online, and for considering the relationship between the formal institution and online culture.

On a personal note, it was a joy to meet and work with Donna and Dave in Galway after connecting online for some time. Along with my co-conspirators in CELT, Sharon Flynn and Iain MacLaren, we all enjoyed the “eventedness” (thanks Dave!) of bringing the workshop to fruition. Thanks to all of the workshop participants from Galway, Donegal, Sligo, Limerick, Athlone, and Dublin (and remote participants from within and beyond Ireland) for your openness, enthusiasm, and thoughtful feedback. CELT will follow up with the specific requests for training and information which emerged during the workshop.

A video recording of the workshop is available here; and a Storify of tweets (thanks to Sharon Flynn) captures the spirit of the day very well. A reflective blog post by Mairead Seery sums up the workshop beautifully:

The take-home message for me was that even when we inhabit the digital spaces of the online world, we are seeking something very simple and fundamentally human: a sense of belonging, connection and community, moments of fellowship with others.  For educators who are working to create meaningful learning experiences for students in real, online and blended learning environments, that is something worth remembering.

References:

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

Marvellous Mapping: Visitors & Residents workshop in Galway

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), 885909.

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