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Tag: higher education

#dlRN15: Hope, Hands, and Stories

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

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


I. Hope

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

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 13.25.43

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

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

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

II. Hands

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

it seems almost

as though this is what a human life is,

to be passed from hand to hand,

to be borne up, improbably, over an ocean.

Moya Cannon (2011) ‘Hands

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

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

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

Patrice Torcivia

III. Stories

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

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

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

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

Lee Skallerup Bessette

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


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

– Harvey Milk


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

Whither higher education? Considering big questions at #dlRN15

CC BY-NC-SA Mark Chadwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


the answer is not silence


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

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


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.


Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 16.06.32

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


“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



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



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


Navigating the marvellous at #altc


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

Change, (Higher) Education, and Us

History has much to teach us about change. Time and again, social changes which begin with seemingly improbable goals bring about new realities, becoming the fabric of our lives. We each will have personal examples of this. From my childhood in New York City to my nearly 20 years living in the west of Ireland, examples abound. The remarkable becomes the accepted.  Looking back from our current vantage point, many major social changes seem as if they were inevitable.

Today we are living through a time of enormous change in education. The pace of developments in open online education, in particular, has been dizzying: OER, Open Courseware, iTunesU, the Khan Academy, connnectivist MOOCs, institutional MOOCs, open badges. In the past seven months alone, we’ve seen the launch of Udacity, Coursera, MITx, EDx and TEDEd. What might higher education look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? Will our universities look the same, serve the same purposes? In all likelihood, they will not. And when we assess our education institutions at that future point, will we say: “Of course. Given the changes occurring in technology and society, the change was inevitable.”

I was asked to give one of the keynotes at the recent Galway Symposium on Higher Education (described in a previous post). The theme of the symposium, “The Written Word”, gave much scope for participants to consider not just writing but learning, teaching, literacies, assessment, openness and creativity. I welcomed the opportunity to focus on change, particularly  recent developments in open education, and to consider re-imagining the future of higher education.

As with social change, our voice — our vote — in education is essential to creating the future. My heart sinks when I hear wonderful educators say, “I don’t know anything about/I don’t have time for… [fill in the blank: Twitter, blogging, even social bookmarking, etc.]”. I know that this means that their voices will likely not be part of educational futures which are being shaped now.

It’s not about age or the hopefully-dead Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants argument. (And anyway, why would it be about age, when our students are of all ages? As educators we surely are seeking to engage and include all of our students.) And it’s not about using this tool or that, or being for or against using a VLE. I think that the future is being shaped by educators who are open to change, open to continuing to learn, and open to learning from failure. These are the educators who inspire both their peers and their students.

In January 2012 Michael D. Higgins, Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of Ireland), received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the National University of Ireland. In his speech at that occasion he spoke of the role of the university in moving boldly into the future:

“The university is, and remains I suggest, a space from which new futures have always emerged and must do so again. The ethos of independent scholarship is what delivers a previous scholarship’s achievements into the present and challenges that scholarship for renewal and replacement… To navigate successfully through today’s troubled, uncertain, and probably uncharted, waters, now, more than ever before, we need vision, foresight and bold strategies. Now, more than ever, an original and confident education system is needed…”

We must be willing to ask the difficult questions. In moves toward open education, many long-held practices are being re-evaluated: open publishing questions (blind) peer review; the use of social media questions the “walled gardens” of classrooms and VLEs; pedagogical research questions the effectiveness of lecture as a teaching method, new educational initiatives outside higher education will continue to question the cost/benefit ratio of university degrees. What are your opinions? Which new practices are worth developing? Which current practices still hold value? Which practices do we wish to hold onto, and which should be left behind? Only those willing to engage with these new technologies and new practices will be in a position to evaluate them, and to make decisions which shape the future of education.

CC and publicly available images:

Rosa Parks, donated by Corbis-Bettmann, Shavar Ross (Flickr); President Barack Obama on Rosa Parks bus, The White House (Flickr); Presidential Inauguration, Michael D. Higgins, Irish Defence Forces (Flickr); Separate factions on Irish Street, Downpatrick, Burns Library, Boston College (Flickr); Mary Robinson and Nadhifa Ibrahim Mohamed in Somalia, Trocaire (Flickr); Dunnes Stores strikers, Trocaire (Flickr) – used with permission; NUI Galway, Nelson Mandela visit, 20 June 2003

Galway Symposium on Higher Education #celt12

The 10th Galway Symposium on Higher Education will be held here at NUI Galway on June 7th and 8th. The theme is The Written Word: Writing, Publishing and Communication in Higher Education. The popular annual event, organised by CELT (Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching), attracts people from across higher education in Ireland and beyond. This year’s keynote speakers are a diverse and fascinating group including Adam Rutherford, Mary Lea, Aileen Fyfe, William St. Clair and Adrian Frazier. Symposium sessions — including workshops, papers and Pecha Kucha presentations — cover a broad range of topics, e.g. flipped learning and teaching, writing for publication, academic integrity, active learning, social media in research, developing online learning, and “serious play” (!).

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the conference this year, on the topic of open education. I’m following Brian Hughes’s lead and publishing my abstract here in my blog; I’ll follow up with a more detailed post after the symposium. In the meantime, I welcome your comments and feedback.

#CELT12 Plenary: Exploring Open Education, Re-imagining Higher Education

We are in the early days of open education. The boundaries are blurring between real and virtual spaces, formal and informal learning, educators and learners. Open, participatory and social media are not just enabling new forms of communication; they are enabling new ways of learning, and thus are transforming education. In Joichi Ito’s (2011) words: “I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.” What this means for the future of higher education is still unclear. We have a great opportunity, however, as educators, scholars and students, to engage in re-imagining and creating that future – what Keri Facer calls future building (2011).

Catherine will explore current practices of open education, both within and outside HE, based on her research and learning and teaching experiences. Open practices in education will be explored: open research, open learning and teaching, open publishing; as well as the digital literacies required to engage in open education practices, particularly using social media. A radical approach to open education is to work metaphorically and physically (inasmuch as possible) beyond the confines of the classroom and lecture hall: engaging with students as co-learners; openly sharing ideas, feedback and reflections – with students and with wider learning communities; and acknowledging the value of informal learning and personal learning networks (PLNs) as the key to integrated and continual learning. As educators, we each must consider our own approach to openness and to open education. What role will we play in building the future – as individuals and as universities?

Love and Learning at PELeCON #pelc12

“Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people.”      – Paulo Freire

You won’t be surprised to know that “learning” was the most tweeted word at the Plymouth Enhanced Learning Conference (PELeCON) recently. But you might be surprised to know that “love” was in the Top Ten (#9) of over 14,000 #pelc12 tweets. So, yes, PELeCON was about education, the future, learners, learning technologies, pedagogies and literacies. But the outstanding feature of the conference, for me, was the sense of warmth, connection and community amongst the participants, and their “profound love for the world and for people,” to quote Freire.

Glynis Cousin, among others, has spoken about the often unreflected emotional substructure to teaching and learning. Educators who embrace the ideals of authentic, student-centred learning, and who seek to move their practice towards this goal, are engaging in a revolutionary act: giving learners more control over their own learning. Almost everything about our formal education system — from standardized curricula to grading systems to the architecture of our classrooms and lecture halls — reinforces the power of the educator over the student. Those of us who choose to swim against this tide, even in small ways, must first look within ourselves to uncover our own investment in these systems and traditions. Engaging in real dialogue with students, opening our classrooms and our practice to the world — none of this can be done without respect for and trust in our students. This was the ethos at PELeCON, and why it was such a powerful experience for many of us who attended.

In the 2+ weeks since returning from Plymouth, I’ve been reflecting on many of the ideas and themes that arose. More than that, though, I’ve been connecting furiously with many who attended the conference. I’m working with Julia Skinner and Linda Castañeda who will engage with Irish educators at the ICT in Education conference on May 19th. Helen Keegan and I have plans to connect our students at Salford and Galway with students in several other countries next autumn, using social media. And there have been countless other connections via Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram and email — a rich web of connections as Sharon Flynn describes beautifully in her PELeCON blog post.

I’ve already recorded my summary of the Student Showcase on Day 1 of the conference, in which primary and secondary students shared their work. It was one of my highlights of the conference to hear students describe how they are using YouTube, Google groups, WordPress, Livescribe pens and more to collaborate and create video tutorials, blogs and online school newspapers. I was immensely impressed by the confidence of these students, their pride in their work, and the trust their teachers showed in them to tell their own stories.

The excellent keynote and spotlight talks were diverse and challenging — the PELeCON video library of these presentations is a wonderful resource, well worth bookmarking. Sincere thanks to Alec Couros, Helen Keegan, Simon Finch, Keri Facer, Leigh Graves Wolf, David Mitchell, Julia Skinner and Jane Hart for sharing your work and challenging our thinking.

Thanks to all of the participants at PELeCON, for your openness and your friendship.

And enormous thanks to Steve Wheeler, and the hard-working PELeCON team, for throwing a 3-day party (Steve’s words!) with time to learn and to enjoy, and opportunities to nurture the seeds of future ideas, collaborations, and most importantly, relationships. My head and heart are full. Thank you all.

For more information on the conference check out the PELeCON blog, which includes links to Oliver Quinlan‘s excellent liveblogs. The following blog posts also capture the spirit of the conference especially well:

Postscript: See also PELeCON 2012 (in ALT online newsletter), authored by Matt Lingard, Farzana Latif, Santanu Vasant and me.

Image: CC BY-NC 2.0 bitzi

Resources for exploring digital identity, privacy and authenticity

At the CESI (Computers in Education Society of Ireland) conference last weekend (#cesi12), I presented ‘Social networking with our students: digital identity, privacy and authenticity’. A number of people have asked for details of the articles and resources I referenced, so here are both the presentation and a summary of resources.

Digital identity, privacy & authenticity – #CESI12

[=> presentation updated 18/04/12]  The presentation is based on student work in a Professional Skills module, in a 2nd year BSc Computer Science and IT programme (see our for additional resources). The module aims to help students to improve their research and communication skills. Students gain experience in writing and presenting, both online and in class. Together we explore digital identity, privacy, social media, openness, copyright and Creative Commons.

Authentic learning is at the heart of the module. It is unrealistic to believe that students can learn or practice modern communication skills effectively in a traditional academic situation — i.e. submitting assignments individually to a lecturer, in an essentially private transaction. Communication today, particularly for IT academics and professionals, often takes place in open, online environments: discussion boards, social networks, blogs, wikis, etc. Ideas can be presented, discussed and defended; collaboration and feedback are enabled; better solutions can be found. To make the most of communicating in these different modes, in different media, a good understanding of digital identity and privacy is essential.

My CESI presentation focused on our use of Twitter, and particularly Google+, in autumn 2011 as an environment within which to discuss digital identity and privacy. Following is a summary of resources which we found useful, thought-provoking, interesting.

Search for your digital footprint

This Is Me is an excellent set of learning materials about digital identity, produced by the This Is Me project and modified by Nancy White, Shirley Williams, Sarah Fleming and Pat Parslow.

danah boyd’s (@zephoria) work is essential reading for anyone seeking a deep understanding of digital identity, privacy and social networking, with a particular focus on young people. In her 2010 paper, Social network sites as networked publics, boyd identified 4 key attributes of information which exists (about us) online, i.e. it is persistent, replicable, scalable and searchable.

The private/public debate is fascinating, and one in which students can actively engage. For example, while Mark Zuckerberg has asserted that sharing or “public” is the new social norm, 4chan founder Christopher Poole argues that anonymity allows users to reveal themselves in a “completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way”.

Helen Keegan (@heloukee) is a recognised expert in the areas of digital identity, digital media, social networking and learning. Keegan has written of the “tyranny of authenticity”, particularly in the dynamic between students and educators, and the challenge of authenticity in the context of higher education.


TED Talk: Beware Online Filter Bubbles by Eli Pariser

TED Talk: “moot” (on Anonymity) by Christopher Poole

I Know What You Did Five Minutes Ago by Tom Scott  (many of my students enjoyed this video — possibly better for older students)


Eli Pariser (2011) The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You — The “filter bubble” concept is a great one to explore with students of almost any age; Pariser’s TED Talk is excellent and accessible, and the related website has useful tips.

Jeff Jarvis (2011) Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live — Jarvis, espousing extreme “publicness”, acknowledges that fear accompanies the adoption of any new technology and notes that “we will make a lot of mistakes as we develop social norms around how to treat information online”.

Sherry Turkle (2011) Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other — Turkle has received praise and criticism for this book, in which she maintains that democracy requires that we retain a “zone of privacy” around the individual.

We’d love to hear about additional resources which you have found useful.

Distributed Creativity: open education and challenges for higher education

“I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.”Joichi Ito

As an educator involved in online learning I’ve noticed a change this year. I’ve had more conversations about online learning with colleagues who teach in classroom-based programmes – particularly about open online learning – than ever before. The growing interest in Khan Academy, MOOCs and Stanford University’s online courses has made many in higher education realise that clear divides don’t exist any longer. The boundaries are blurring between real and virtual spaces, formal and informal learning, teachers and learners. Open, participatory and social media are not just enabling new forms of communication, they are transforming learning.

Learning is changing, but what of education? A couple of blog posts this week questioning the value of going to university at all are probably just the first of many.

A number of colleagues and I have been discussing these issues, as practitioners:  the opportunities and challenges of open online education, the role of the university, and our role as educators. Following is an edited draft of my initial contribution to these discussions. Your comments and feedback are welcome.

The growth of open online learning over the past decade has been steady. Open content, often discussed in terms of OERs (Open Educational Resources), is defined as “materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone”. The key to OERs is that they are openly licensed and thus available for use by all. The argument for using OERs is clear: if every university teaches introduction to programming, for example, then why should we all develop materials to teach this? Why not use openly available, openly licensed, excellent material, and spend more of our time on activities such as engaging with students, developing improved assessment strategies, etc.

There are many excellent sources of OERs (Open Educational Resources), including the NDLR; MERLOT; MIT OCW; OU Learning Space; OER Commons; Khan Academy; Stanford University’s online courses and more.

In terms of open online learning, MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and other video-based resources can be characterized as 1st generation, while the recent initiative by Stanford University, among others, can be considered 2nd generation, in that it includes not only learning materials, but instructional design, a learning structure and assessment – providing an experience closer to that provided within formal education. Stephen Downes recently suggested that the next generation will be widespread use of OERs along with automated, analytics-based, competency-based testing mechanisms, or open assessment. Indeed, this is precisely what OER university (OERu), among others, is setting out to do. Other open initiatives such as MOOCs and Open Badges have further potential to disrupt traditional higher education. Over 2000 people are currently participating in the #change11 MOOC “Change: Education, Learning and Technology”. Mozilla’s Open Badges project, particularly the DML competition on Badges for Lifelong Learning, is currently gaining a huge amount of attention as well.

Our challenges as educators in the further and higher education sectors? Here are just a few:

Open resources – Most students are aware of open educational resources, and these are shared widely, e.g. Khan Academy, YouTube, MIT OCW, and the recent Stanford University online courses. As educators, what are we doing to create or link to relevant online resources for students? Creating screencasts, video lectures, audio or video podcasts (and making these openly available) or linking to OERs (and OER repositories) can supplement lectures and provide students with valuable material for study and revision. Just as we refer students to the best textbooks, journals and databases, we should link to excellent, relevant, online open educational resources. Our challenge here is to create and share material in new ways, learn to use different tools, and stay abreast of online learning developments.

Open, participatory and social media – Students use social media and social networks in many ways, not least to support their studies, e.g. DropBox, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter. Once again, as academic staff, we must look to our own practice. Are we making use of tools such as social bookmarking, social networking, web-based applications, and online curation tools to model good academic practice and to share resources with students, and with one another? Not all student work must be submitted directly and privately to the lecturer – opportunities for openness, sharing and collaboration should be considered.  We are challenged to consider using open, social tools (at least sometimes) – instead of closed, 1:1 tools – in order to open up the learning process and make it more authentic.

Emerging technologies – In the 2011 Horizon Report, mobile devices and e-books are the most current of the emerging technologies identified. How are we addressing these trends? The Horizon Report lists examples of education institutions innovating in these areas for teaching, learning and research. Even if we are not at the front of the innovation curve, we must address these emerging technologies in our programmes in a coordinated way, and communicate to our students and others how we are doing that. For example, how are we making use of mobile apps, or making our own learning content available on mobile devices? How are we facilitating students in using open access or e-textbooks?

Openness – In most undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, students are encouraged to examine their digital footprint and digital identity, and to consider the value of building a deliberate, positive, digital identity. This is a core element of digital literacies. Our students are visible to us online, and we are visible to them. As academic staff, are we open and positively visible online, as professionals? Are we modelling academic values in virtual spaces? The best way to share and publicise open educational resources is through the use of social media and social networks, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs. In order to communicate and share our work and our values, our challenge is to consider our approach to openness – as individuals, as departments, and as universities.

Again, I welcome feedback and would be happy to hear from anyone who is currently engaged in similar discussions at their own institution. If you are at NUI Galway and would like to join in this discussion, please get in touch. I can be reached at catherine.cronin[at]nuigalway[dot]ie.

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 yobink


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