catherinecronin

learning | reflecting | sharing

Tag: open education

Openness and praxis (at #SRHE)

14950468430_d656c3b015_o

This blog post is a summary of my presentation at SRHE (Society for Research into Higher Education) in London on November 18, 2016. The event was organised by the SRHE Digital University Network, convened by Lesley Gourlay, Ibrar Bhatt, and Kelly Coate. The theme was Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education. Three of us shared our research: Muireann O’Keeffe, Rob Farrow, and myself. Sincere thanks to SRHE and DUN organisers for the kind invitation, to Muireann and Rob for their thought-provoking presentations, and to all who attended for sharing their ideas. Following is a short summary of my presentation.

I begin with a reflexive note. I first shared the above quote by Michael Apple during ALT-C in 2014, a conference held in the weeks immediately following the start of both the Black Lives Matter movement and Gamergate. We continue to live in uncertain – and for many, perilous – times. As educators, we face fundamental questions about education, democracy, and inequality. How are we developing digital and media literacies, data literacy, civic literacy, digital citizenship? What is the purpose of our work as researchers and educators? What is the role of higher education, and of public higher education? I am an open researcher as well as an open education researcher. I believe openness has the potential to increase access to education, to help to democratise education, and also to prepare learners in all contexts for engaged citizenship in an increasingly open, networked and participatory culture. But openness is not without risk. Openness can as easily exacerbate inequality as help to reduce it. We need more than good intentions. We must theorise openness and we require critical approaches to openness in order to realise the benefits in any meaningful way. This has been the impetus for my work and I begin my presentation with that reflexive framing.

The title of my presentation is ‘Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices (OEP) for teaching in higher education’. I use the word praxis as Freire (1970) defined it: “reflection and action directed at structures to be transformed”. I’ll briefly describe the preliminary findings from Phase 1 of my PhD research study – a qualitative, empirical study exploring meaning making and decision-making by university educators regarding whether, why, and how they use OEP for teaching. It is a study not just of open educators, but of a broad cross-section of academic staff at one university. The purpose is to understand how university educators conceive of, make sense of, and make use of OEP in their teaching, and to try to learn more about, and from, the practices and values of educators from across a broad continuum of ‘closed’ to open practices. (A subsequent phase of the study will include the perspectives of students re: openness.)

Defining OEP

Overall, open education practitioners and researchers describe OEP as moving beyond a content-centred approach to openness, shifting the focus from resources to practices, with learners and teachers sharing the processes of knowledge creation. In their summary of the UKOER project, for example, Beetham, et al. (2012) explicitly define the project’s interpretation of OEP as practices which included the creation, use and reuse of OER as well as open learning, open/public pedagogies, open access publishing, and the use of open technologies. Ehlers (2011) defines OEP as “practices which support the (re)use and production of OER through institutional policies, promote innovative pedagogical models, and respect and empower learners as co-producers on their lifelong learning paths.”

Education researchers and practitioners have described and theorised some or all of the practices defined here as OEP using a variety of definitions and theoretical frameworks. These include open pedagogy (DeRosa & Robison, 2015; Hegarty, 2015; Rosen & Smale, 2015; Weller, 2014), critical digital pedagogy (Stommel, 2014), open scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a; Weller, 2011), and networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b). All are emergent scholarly practices that espouse a combination of open resources, open teaching, knowledge creation and sharing, and networked participation. I have drawn from research in all of these areas to inform my work.

I use the following definition of OEP in my study: collaborative practices that include the creation, use and reuse of OER, as well as pedagogical practices employing participatory technologies and social networks for interaction, peer-learning, knowledge creation, and empowerment of learners.

The study

The goal of this first phase of the research study is to understand why, how, and to what extent educators use, or do not use, OEP for teaching. The study was conducted at one university in Ireland: a medium-sized, research-focused, campus-based university offering both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Openness was not one of the mission statements or core values of the university at the time of this study. I conducted semi-structured interviews with 19 educators across multiple disciplines. Constructivist grounded theory was used for sampling, interviewing and analysis.

Summary of findings

  • A minority of participants used open educational practices for teaching (8 of 19).
  • All participants who used OEP for teaching described being open with students, i.e. being visible online and sharing resources in open online spaces beyond email and the VLE. Each has an open digital identity and shared at least one of these profiles with students as a way of interacting and/or sharing information.
  • A small subset of participants who used OEP for teaching chose not only to be open with their students but explicitly to teach openly, i.e. to create learning and/or assessment activities in open online spaces beyond the VLE. Teaching openly took different forms: inviting students to make connections, interact, and/or share information on social media (e.g. Twitter), creating courses in open online spaces (e.g. WordPress blogs), and/or encouraging students to share their work openly.
  • Participants across the spectrum of ‘closed’ to open practices cited both pedagogical and practical concerns regarding the use of OEP for teaching. These included lack of certainty about the pedagogical value of OEP, reluctance to add to their already overwhelming academic workloads, concerns about excessive noise in already busy social media streams, concerns about students’ possible over-use of social media, and concerns about context collapse, both for themselves and for their students.
  • While many participants who were open educators acknowledged potential risks to using OEP for teaching, they considered the benefits to outweigh the risks. According to participants who used OEP for teaching, benefits for students included feeling more connected to one another and to their lecturer, making connections between course theory/content and what’s happening in the field right now, sharing their work openly with authentic audiences, and becoming part of their future professional communities.
  • Few participants mentioned OER or open licensing – unsurprising, perhaps, in an institution without an open education or OER policy. This suggests, however, that the relationship between OER and OEP might be more complex than sometimes conceived. In addition to OER leading to OEP, the reverse also may be true: use of OEP, specifically networked participation and open pedagogy, can lead to OER awareness and use.
  • By building a model of the concept ‘Using OEP for teaching’, it emerged that four dimensions were shared by open educators: balancing privacy and openness, developing digital literacies, valuing social learning, and challenging traditional teaching role expectations. These dimensions were shared by many participants – however all four were evident in each of the participants who used OEP for teaching. (I’ll explore these dimensions in more detail in a subsequent blog post.)

Thoughts for discussion

Openness is situated and relational. This study found educators’ use of open educational practices to be complex, personal, contextual, and continuously negotiated. Recognition of these complexities and the risks of openness and OEP, as well as potential benefits (for individuals, not just institutions) should inform higher education policy and practice. A growing body of research advocating greater theorisation and critical analysis of openness and open education is useful here (e.g. Bell, 2016; Czerniewicz, 2015; Edwards, 2015; Gourlay, 2015; Knox, 2013; Oliver, 2015; singh, 2015; Watters, 2014). In addition, attention must be paid to the actual experiences and concerns of staff and students; qualitative empirical research is essential (e.g. Veletsianos, 2015). The findings of this study suggest the need for institutions to work broadly and collaboratively to design appropriate forms of support for academic staff in three key areas: developing digital literacies and digital capabilities; supporting individuals in negotiating privacy and openness; and reflecting on the role of higher education and our roles as educators and researchers in an increasingly open and networked culture.

The research study described here is limited in scope; it explores the experiences of a  relatively small number of academic staff at one university. This study comprises Phase 1 of my PhD research study on OEP in higher education. Two further phases building on this work are currently in progress. Phase 2 is a survey of all academic staff at the same university. And Phase 3 follows two open educators from Phase 1, as well as their students, in exploring how educators and students interact and negotiate their digital identities in open online spaces.

Many thanks. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you all.

References & links

 

srhe-selfie

thanks @muireannOK & @philosopher1978 🙂

 

 

 

Exploring OEP at #NextGenDL

Today I’ll be joining educators and researchers from across Ireland (and beyond) at the Next Generation: Digital Learning Research Symposium in Dublin – we’ll be tweeting with the hashtag #NextGenDL. I’m looking forward to meeting scholars and researchers in the areas of digital and networked learning and open education to learn from one another, discuss the merits of different research lenses and methodologies, consider the collective challenges we face, and identify possibilities for future research and collaboration. It will be a privilege and pleasure also to hear keynotes by Sian Bayne, Grainne Conole and Paul Conway.

I’ll present a brief update on my PhD research study Openness and praxis: Exploring open educational practices (OEP) in higher education:

..

This initial phase of my research has focused on how university educators make sense of and make use of open educational practices for teaching. The next phase of the study will explore how both staff and students enact and negotiate their digital identities in the open, networked spaces where they interact with one another. I’ll write a longer post on my preliminary research findings before presenting at the upcoming SRHE event on November 18th – Critical Perspectives on Openness in Higher Education.

I’m shouting out also to the OpenEd16 conference this week (wishing I could be in two places at once!). I’ll be tuning into the #OpenEd16 hashtag and plan to participate in at least one @VConnecting session. May the connections and conversations commence…

P.S. My track record of including *at least* one image in each of my presentations from the wonderful Alan Levine continues. Thanks @cogdog for that amazing sunflower (shared via CC0 on Flickr)… a gorgeous image to use to talk openness, learning, connection and vulnerability.

#OER16: a critical turn

..

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

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

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

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

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

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

..

Thanks to Beck Pitt for her amazing visual notes…

CatherineCronin.OER16

CC BY Beck Pitt (Flickr)

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

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

..

Presentations, workshops & keynotes

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

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

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

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

OER16 blog posts

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

…and finally

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

 

Bibliography (from my keynote)

 

Initial thoughts… Exploring OEP in higher education

9533293701_4016ff1b99_o

CC BY 2.0 woodlewonderworks (Flickr)

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

The starting point

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

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

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

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

Phase 1: methodology

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

Phase 1: interim findings

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

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

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

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

Valuing social learning

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

Balancing privacy and openness

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

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

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

Growth mindset re: digital literacies

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

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

Challenging role expectations

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

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

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

Enhancers/inhibitors to using OEP for teaching

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

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

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

 

REFERENCES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image source: CC BY 2.0 woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

 

 

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

How would you answer the question above?

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

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

From the New York Public Library (public domain)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: public domain image from the New York Public Library

 

 

 

Whither higher education? Considering big questions at #dlRN15

CC BY-NC-SA Mark Chadwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taking a broader view at #ALTC

CC BY-SA iliasbartolini

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

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

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

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

IMG_6074

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

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

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

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

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

Ready & open for #altc 2015

CC BY 2.0 cogdog

CC BY 2.0 cogdog

Last year at this time I was busy preparing for my first visit to the ALT Conference #altc. This year, as I pack my bags, it feels like I’m returning to visit a wonderfully engaging, animated and inspiring group of friends and colleagues, and I can’t wait. Once again I’ll meet many Twitter friends — some for the first time and others who have become colleagues and friends. One of these is Vivien Rolfe, with whom I’ll be collaborating for a session on Thursday, September 10th. Our session “Go Open” addresses the conference theme of open educational practices (OEP).

Here’s an excerpt from our updated session description, and our video introduction (Viv’s idea🙂 ):

Considering the diverse array of educational approaches now claiming to be open, it has been suggested that the term ‘open’ has lost its way – or at the very least, means radically different things to different people. Perhaps, as Audrey Watters (2014) has suggested, this loss of focus has created confusion in the minds of those wishing to embrace open approaches. Multiple studies in Ireland, the UK and the US have shown a relatively low level of awareness of open educational resources (OER) among academic staff in higher education, a growing desire to use open materials, and a desire for clarity over copyright, ownership of academic work, and technical guidance (Alan & Seamen, 2014National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Ireland, 2015; Reed 2012, Rolfe 2012). So, what can educators in higher education do to gain a foothold in understanding OER and to further develop their open educational practices, for themselves and for their students? In institutions without adequate policy and supporting strategies, how can people get ready to ‘go open’ — both within and beyond their classrooms?

Our session emerges from the perspectives of two open educators, both committed practitioners and researchers of ‘open’ – not only in their individual teaching and learning practice, but also in championing openness as a necessary and democratic practice for education, at all levels. Emerging themes and conflicts regarding openness, OER and OEP are identified. These themes have informed the design of an open wiki which can be used by educators at all points on the openness continuum, from those just learning about openness and OER, to those wishing to enhance their open practice and effect wider change. The wiki shared at the conference is simply a starting point. All contributions are welcome.

Please do have a look at the wiki: wikieducator.org/GoOPEN. This is very much version 1.0. We would love your thoughts and ideas — via Twitter, our blogs, or by contributing to the wiki itself. All you need to become a contributor is a WikiEducator account — simple to create if you don’t have one already. If you’ve created or edited pages in Wikipedia, MediaWiki, FedWiki, etc., then you already know all you need to know in order to edit pages. If you haven’t done any of those — then this is a great wiki place to start🙂

Viv and I have had many fascinating conversations already as we’ve prepared for this session. We look forward to engaging with many at #altc and beyond this week, both onsite and online. Please join us!

@catherinecronin  and  @vivienrolfe

Image: CC BY 2.0 cogdog

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

ccc

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/admission – 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].

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).