Technologies of Emergence

As part of the connected learning webinar series:  Learning and Leading in a Connected World with Educator Innovator, National Writing Project and EdConteXts, Maha Bali kindly invited me to a webinar on Emerging Trends in Open Scholarship with a great group people. I talked about technologies of emergence in the hangout as an intro to the conversation. Here I’m sharing the notes I prepared before the hangout  (they are edited; I turned them into a narrative for this post).

Hi everyone. Suzan here. I’m a PhD Candidate in Learning Technologies at the University of Minnesota. But today, I’d like to be on this hangout with you as an adult learner, not as a Phd student, not as a future academic, just a curious adult learner. Because that is essentially who I am. Also because there are extremely curious people out there, who want to start something new, but they can’t because of the way their life is organized, because of social expectations, or because they prioritize their kids’ education to theirs. We cannot limit open scholarship to academics only. Open scholars are not only those who hold degrees, BA’s, Masters, PhDs; they can be anyone seriously interested in learning. And I don’t think institutional affiliation is a criteria for scholarship either. It doesn’t matter where you participate from; it shouldn’t matter. Only that way the emergence we’ll talk about today can happen on a large scale.

So today we are going to talk about “technologies of emergence” and how that might relate to open education and open scholarship. Maha asked me to talk about the concept very briefly to start our conversation.

And to begin with I’d like to talk about “emergent technologies” first and compare that to Gardner Campbell’s notion of technologies of emergence, because there are fundamental differences between the two.

What is an emergent technology? For example, smart phones, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, tablet devices: anything old or new can be an emergent technology.

The argument is that these are the types of technologies that have promise, that give us new possibilities for learning and teaching, but at the same maybe they haven’t become mainstream in education yet, or we don’t have a general agreement on their role in teaching and learning. Perhaps there is resistance to using them in classes or in everyday practice. So these tools are not used to their potential.

How do we compare that to a technology of emergence? In #et4online Gardner Campbell talked about “technologies of emergence” using thoughtvectors (a connected MOOC) as an example. And he described technologies of emergence as tools (a lesson, course curriculum, a poem…) that create space for learning to happen in unpredictable, messy ways. So what is emerging is “learning”, a new way of seeing things, not technology. And there is a deeper philosophy and understanding of learning here; the understanding that learning is all about making new connections, so it doesn’t be have to orderly (it doesn’t have to go from step 1 to step 2) and certainly not predetermined.

One implication of technology of emergence is that we don’t have to decide everything for our students. Because learning is emergent. We don’t know, and we don’t need to know, how the dots of learning will come together; it’s not a clear cut pattern that we can know in advance. As Gardner Campbell says, thinking through technologies of emergence is all about “designing a learner experience, that will have, at the end, a surprise or two for all of us” (6:40).

Now I don’t think we can say “oh, this is a technology of emergence,” I don’t think we can define that for our students. But we can design learning environments and opportunities that create room for that to happen (1). A space where students can breathe. Designed with a sensitivity to students’ backgrounds, needs, everyday experiences, thoughts, emotions (2).

So connecting all of these to open scholarship and the tools we are going to talk about today (like #tjc15, Hybrid Pedagogy, connected classes, the faculty development initiative at the University of Guadalajara)… I’m hoping that we won’t focus too much on the technology but more so on what happens as a result of our relationship with the technology. Can we think of these tools/initiatives as technologies of emergence and what might be the significance of that?

(1)  Laura mentioned in a tweet that people have the agency to change things around and turn them into technologies of emergence. Also, we might do everything in our power to create a technology of emergence, but the emergence we seek might happen elsewhere or not happen at all. It’s all about how people interpret and make meaning of their experience.

(2) Looking for some examples? Check The UdG Agora Project, thoughtvectors, and the connected learning webinars (I have in mind the ones designed by Maha Bali and Shyam Sharma). I’m also sure you’ll find many great examples in your teaching. When was the last time your students got excited about their learning and asked some really good and unexpected questions? How about you?

True openness

A blog post about open scholarship and the connections I made from there have inspired me to write about the meaning of openness in open scholarship. Steve Wheeler says:

A new breed of academics is emerging in the digital age. They are the researchers and teachers who freely share their knowledge and studies online. They are circumventing traditional approaches and discovering new ways of sharing their work. They are the open scholars.

Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012) offer a similar perspective in their article Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship:

[Open scholarship] might include such activities as open teaching, the production and dissemination of open educational resources, publishing in open access journals, keeping a professional blog, and sharing of research data in online venues.

So, basically, open scholarship means we (educators) share our work or teach online and engage in dialogue through Twitter, blogs, social networking sites and so on. Both descriptions align with my previous post on open educational practices.

But I started thinking a little differently when I read something else by Steve Wheeler, a comment on true openness:

True openness is where content is shared freely, all work is attributed fairly, and where educators also open themselves up for dialogue, collaboration and constructive criticism. True open scholars are those who have aspirations to be global educators, promoting free learning for all, reaching out and connecting with other educators and learners everywhere, with the aim of participating fully in their worldwide community of practice.

I agree with Steve Wheeler that open scholarship “is a state of mind” and requires an open attitude to engage in “dialogue, collaboration and constructive criticism” in every aspect of scholarship, from teaching to research. So does open scholarship require access to technology and basic digital literacies as a prerequisite for practice? I don’t think so… That would limit the potential and sustainability of open education; openness should be a worldview for an educator more than a technological possibility (although I love the possibilities).

I don’t think we can talk about “true openness” or that true openness should be a target to reach on the openness spectrum – for example, should we all aim to be global educators? Also, the extent to which we participate in open scholarship is sometimes not a conscious choice. Sometimes it is just part of who we are, so change in practice requires a significant change in identity (how we see ourselves in relation to others) first. Open scholarship doesn’t have to be the same thing for every scholar.

My context? For me it has mostly been about transparency and connectivity (all rely on technology because of circumstances = phd mum). The most challenging part of it all is forming balanced open relationships. Sometimes I don’t know what to make of a Twitter conversation. Sometimes (I think) I send a friendly e-mail to somebody I’ve met online and get a one word response back. Sometimes I regret my tweets, sometimes I mull over a word for days. I’m still trying to make sense of all of this (the open world) and embrace the uncertainty as much as I can.