A response to #BreakOpen Breaking Open: ethics, epistemology, equity, and power

A response to the provocative question posed by Maha Bali, Taskeen Adam, Catherine Cronin, Christian Friedrich, Sukaina Walji, Christina Hendricks’s (+ Martin Weller and Jamison Miller):

How do we use openness to exclude, overpower and/or oppress marginalized individuals, communities, knowledge systems?

Initial reaction: This question assumes that “we” are the ones in the privileged position. Asking it from a place of power, a place of comfort and confidence. The question also assumes that there is somewhere a united “we” – could this be the OER18 community?

How about..

How do we use openness to exclude, overpower and/or oppress the other, whoever that might be?

The other doesn’t have to be “the marginalized.” Their opinions and habits might actually matter. For politicians it can be another group with power. For designers it can be the “end user.” For educators the other can be students.

The other might be anyone or anything we want to silence, exercise our power on, take advantage of, make profit from.

Refined reaction: But…something isn’t right..

Could it be because  I have created the “other” with the way I asked the question?

Othering: Any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”.   

Could it be because there is something missing in this question… a sense of connection… connection with real life and experiences, people’s stories.

Could it be because exclusion, overpowering and oppression are different things? They can be very different things and can come in many forms.

What does all of this mean for me?

Has there been a time where openness excluded, overpowered, or oppressed me? How so? How did I feel about it? What did I do about it? What could I have done about it?

Ok, this feels quite personal and the search for experience is emotional.

Has there been a time where openness excluded, overpowered, or oppressed YOU? How so? How did you feel about it? What did you do about it? What could you have done about it?

I’m asking something personal. Something that matters to you. Something that made you feel bitter. Or something that you aren’t even aware of yet. I don’t know what this might be,  I don’t want to make assumptions. Only you could tell me. 

What do you think?

Values in Open Education

Today, I want to talk about something positive, something that gives me hope and energy.

Thanks to the great efforts of Teresa MacKinnon and the open ed community, the ALT Open Education Sig has recently held a webinar where they talked about values in open ed:

I couldn’t join the webinar (recording will be available here) but I went through all the latest #openedsig tweets and got a sense of the nature of the conversation, at least on Twitter. Here is what I celebrate in this convo and where my thoughts are taking me to:

1. Open education isn’t a single thing.

2. There isn’t a single set of values in open education.

I think I mentioned before that open education has an ethos of social justice and transparency in its core, but this doesn’t have to be the case for all organisations and people. Open education communities, people who work in this field, have many interrelated and sometimes controversial values (value for money? doing open ed for business?). There is “plurality of interests” (Michael Apple talks about this in Official Knowledge) in open ed.

3. Open education community should celebrate its divisions and embrace plurality.

Because, as Michael Apple says:

Culture—the way of life of a people, the constant and complex process by which meanings are made and shared—does not grow out of the pregiven unity of a society. Rather, in many ways, it grows out of its divisions. It has to work to construct any unity that it has. The idea of culture should not be used to “celebrate and achieved or natural harmony.” Culture is instead “a producer and reproducer of value systems and power relations.”

4. However, we need [to learn] to recognise the tensions in open ed and respond in a compassionate and considerate way: this is critical literacy in open ed contexts.

5. And critical literacy is only possible by embracing “an ethics of care and listening” and by developing our understanding of the complex social and political systems in which we operate (this I draw from Michael Apple).

It’s evident from the Twitter conversations that there was this ethics of care and listening in the webinar. I’m happy to be part of the education community, the open ed community, which I see and experience as a “caring” and “connected” community, a community which is ready to recognise its limitations as well as its successes and challenge the status quo. That’s a good thought. It’s a happy thought.

Boundaries of Openness

“Space without boundaries is not space, it is a chaotic void, and in such a place no learning is likely to occur.” Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach

Reflecting on her recent #selfOER exercise (If You Were an OER, What Kind Would You Want to Be?) Maha said:

As I was reading Parker J. Palmer I found my personal answer to my Maha’s question. I’ve become open and stayed open (although intermittently) mainly because it’s a learning space for me, and because learning is social, it’s a social space for me too.

In his book The Courage to Teach, Palmer notes “six paradoxical tensions” that for him form the basis of good pedagogical design in (what I understand to be) formal educational environments:

1. The space should be bounded and open. (Bounded by a subject but open to interpretations and new directions of inquiry.)
2. The space should be hospitable and “charged.” (A safe space for learners to be present with their authentic identities, yet challenging enough to create tensions and aha moments.)
3. The space should invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group. (Receptive and responsive to the learner voice and the group artefacts.)
4. The space should honor the “little” stories of the students and the “big” stories of the disciplines and tradition. (Connects the personal with larger theoretical frameworks, worldviews.)
5. The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of community. (Learning can be self-directed and personal as well as communal).
6. The space should welcome both silence and speech. (Both silence and speech are equally respected.)

The networked spaces, in particular Twitter and the blog you are reading, have become learning spaces for me, spaces that are organically designed around the principles of paradox. I’m not expected to participate in open networks as part of my job but what I learn from open spaces directly feeds into my work. (As  Simon Ensor says, “I think of my online friends. They, the ones, who have fuelled much of my creativity.”)

What are some boundaries of openness for me? Well, first of all, most of my open activities are professional – my blog is the most personal of all because it’s a reflective medium and I write not as a gift but to think and connect with others (a lot to critique about the gift cultures but that’s another post). Second, even when I’m in a seemingly chaotic space like Twitter, I create boundaries by focusing on a specific subject (For example, education > open education > #OER17) and by following certain hashtags and people. I might learn from the chaos (mostly by lurking on random discussions) but I get the most out of Twitter when I have a systematic approach to open.

As we go forward with our research on selfOER, or the open self, we need to “identify the precise interpretations and contexts of openness being explored,” as Catherine Cronin suggests in her recent (really awesome) paper, because we are dealing with a complex construct that is perceived and practised differently by people.

Recent discussions on Twitter with Sally Burr and Helen Crump and the DMs with Maha have helped me think about some boundaries to our research, although they are still quite fuzzy.  The four dimensions of identity by James Paul Glee is an interesting theoretical framework which has a lot of relevance to what we are doing. The tensions between discursive identities (emergent, defined by relationships) we create in open spaces and our institutional identities might be one area we might focus on. As Maha argued in a recent post, most of open scholarship is “based around volunteering models”, around (most of) us carving time outside of our paid work” and this “is problematic,” it’s “not sustainable.” Our research might be helpful to draw some implications to better bridge our work in open spaces with the work in institutional spaces and get recognition for our hard work! It might also help us create more sustainable models for open connections and learning. (Having said that, I’m also aware that research often time takes you to unexpected places, provides new insights, so who knows what the implications of our research will be at the end?)

Drawing boundaries to our research might mean we’ll miss important stuff along the way, but as Maha noted:

You cannot possibly know every individual or see every blog post, comment, or tweet. This often means that you will miss some things, and in missing them, miss entire consequences built upon them. So there will also always have to be a humility of “knowing we do not know.”

What do you think? If you were to research the open self how would you define the boundaries for research and participation? Please leave a comment here or join the hashtag #selfOER, we would love to hear from you!

Identity & Open Education: Reflections on #OER17

My daughter plays with her identity every day. She becomes mummy or daddy, a friend, the naughty child in a nursery rhyme. We run together in the house, bump into a few chairs, sing songs and act for hours. But then, when she is tired, when she wants to sleep or have something to eat, she is herself again. She doesn’t want to be someone else.

It is fascinating to see how she plays with her identity, how she uses it as a tool to explore the world around her. These role-plays are intentional; they are planned and always playful. This aspect of child development, although it’s widely debated in the literature, was completely new to me until my daughter turned three or so. It made me think about the process of identity development, the different ways of being.

I struggle with my identity even now. Coming from a mixed background, I always navigated through different identities. My father’s ethnic origin (Kurds), particularly has taught me a lot. I learned, for example, how silence could be a powerful force for people to unite, when it’s mandated by the authorities. With my British mother, I experienced the white (western?) privilege in many aspects of the society.

There is a lot to say about constructing an identity, multiple identities, in a patriotic and patriarchal country like Turkey. My point is that identity is sometimes a painful process, especially when you don’t know which direction to go, where to rest and gain strength.

With OER17 I did experience something familiar to what I described here, an uncertainty about my place, a doubt cast over the wonderful talks and workshops: did I belong to the community? How could I really hold up to the values of open education and at the same time stand firm on the arguments I was making in my own work, mainly the argument that openness is subjective and meaningless without a given context. And because openness is subjective in any given context, it is absolutely necessary that we engage with it critically. Presentation by Frances Bell was particularly intriguing, as she was saying we need to think of criticality as a disposition, as a will to resist and shape ongoing practices.

Coming back to identity issues… The pressure I felt on digital openness was immense at OER17. With openness I struggled more with my identity. Should I be open, be periscoped, be virtually connected, be tweeted, be on Twitter? Although many times being open online has been playful for me, and many times I enjoyed it very much, this time I just wanted to be myself and I didn’t know at what point I was actually being myself.

But, at the same time, OER17 ignited in me something I kind of knew existed but never had the time to stop and deeply explore. Shortly after the conference, I’ve started reading bell hooks again and put Michael Apple on my to-read list, and I felt good about it. You know, not assigned. Not being forced—my interest in critical pedagogy has been sincere and deep and I owe that to the criticality at OER17.

Reading bell hooks is an amazing experience. It is inspiring and deeply touching. Here I want to share a quote bell hooks notes in her book Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope.  The following is from the chapter Democratic Education and it’s by Judith Simmer-Brown:

As educators, one of the best things that we can do for our students is not to force them into holding theories and solid concepts but rather to actually encourage the process, the inquiry involved, and the times of not knowing— with all the uncertainties that go along with that. This is really what supports going deep. This is openness.

bell hooks continues by saying how discussing our fears and uncertainties can actually nurture openness in education and help us “imagine and articulate positive outcomes,” one of which is commitment to “radical openness,” that is, “the will to explore different perspectives and change one’s mind as new information is presented.”

This chapter on Democratic Education really resonated with me and made me feel quite liberated. Although I wrote about this many times before, reading bell hooks helped me feel that openness in education doesn’t have to be digital or online. It’s a philosophy anyone can embrace as long as they have their heart in the right place. So now, I can confidently and passionately say that I am an open educator—a democratic educator—and that doesn’t mean I will be more exposed, more online and more digitally traced. For some, this might mean I’m not a good fit for the OER community. After all the emphasis in the title is on open resources and that’s tightly defined in many sources. Regardless, there is a new and exciting field that is organically emerging: Critical Open Educational Practices (check #critoep), and thanks to OER17 for bringing it into light.

More to come on that in following posts, thanks for reading…

Note: Shortly after I wrote this post I read Kelly Terrell’s reflections on OER17, in which she describes a similiar struggle with belonging and gives examples from others. Perhaps this is a common experience?

 

 

 

Open scholarship, researching public activities and openness as a worldview

The first time I ever considered a person, myself, a “resource” was 4 or 5 years ago, just before I started teaching my first completely online class as a graduate instructor at the University of Minnesota. I had good experience in teaching adults and received tremendous support from the department in designing the course site and the syllabus, yet I felt nervous. Would I be able to teach/facilitate this class well? Would students enjoy their studies? When I shared my concerns with Angel, my teaching mentor at that time, without a pause, and with a smile on her face, she said “Suzan, I have no doubt that you will be a great resource for your students.” I still remember her comment clearly to this date, because–now an obvious fact–until that time, it had never occurred to me that someone could be an educational resource. It simply hadn’t been part of my teaching vocabulary.

Years later as I was concluding my graduate school journey, I found myself going back to, and re-discovering with others, the notion of self as educational resource again. I was doing my dissertation research on an open online course designed by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and I was struck by how participants in my study had positioned themselves as learning resources in the course. Carol, for example, explained to me in an interview that she strived to be a good learning resource for VCU students in the course by strategically interacting with them through linking, tagging, annotating, and commenting. Mariana not only put a significant effort to nurture a welcoming and supporting online environment, she also wanted others to see herself as “an open educational resource.” Michael, another open participant in my study, published blog posts–a great synthesis of personal and professional experiences–as learning resources for others to use.

Yet, none of these people magically became a learning resource for their audiences, nor we can claim that each and every one of them wanted to be “public resources.” All the participants in my study, except one, repeatedly mentioned in the interviews how they were enculturated into openness through on-going practice and through their engagement with specific communities and networks. I said except one, because Michael (pseudonym) never responded to my attempts to connect with him. His posts were written as a potential learning resource for other teachers, but not for me – I wasn’t in his intended audience. But there I was, accessing, examining, writing about his participation in the course. (Please see my dissertation for a discussion on the ethics of adding Michael as a participant to my study.)

Thus, the historicity of openness and the tensions I personally experienced in open scholarship, made it clear to me that open processes, including research, is often times multi-layered, personal, shifting, and unpredictable. You are an open resource one day, the next day you are not. You are open in one course context, in another one not so much. You are this complex and messy human being living openness in a unique way, shaped by your own experiences–which includes stories of successes as well as failures–motivations, background, and future aspirations. In my conversations with Maha, this process of openness, the subjectivity of it, was something we often talked about. As we mention in our ProfHacker article:

While open scholarship can be planned, it can also be an everyday activity: unplanned, informal, arising out of relationships as much as personal motivations. It can be part of our identity.

I mostly talked about sharing openly in networked environments in this post. There is that; but there is also a whole other notion Maha and I will talk about in tomorrow’s GO-GN #FirstWednesdayoftheMonth webinar: openness as a state of being in the world. And I can’t think of better person than Maha to talk about that. If you are interested in learning more about open scholarship, researching public activities and openness as a worldview, please join the webinar – we would love to hear about your experiences and questions during the session.

Thoughts on open scholarship

Reflections on a Twitter conversation, stretched wide out in the open, but also enclosed with a group people that I feel connected to, that I know I can trust. We talked about threshold concepts and third spaces of learning, and Laura brought up the concept of heterotopia:

The idea of being in a space that is neither here nor there then reminded me of  an #et4buddy experience. Let me give you a little bit of background first. Et4buddy is a virtual buddy program first piloted in #et4online in April. Here is the vision of the organizers, Maha and Rebecca.

During pre-selected conference activities (such as social events), the virtual buddy program partners a few virtual conference participants with participants who are physically at the conference. The partners connect using video conferencing, allowing the physical participant to share the experience with the virtual participant. The goal of the program is to enhance the conference experience for both the virtual participant and the physical presence participant.

I thoroughly enjoyed the #et4buddy program, met some great people–both virtual and onsite–on Twitter and also on hangouts. Maha and Rebecca were fantastic–Maha even invited me to a hangout just so that we would know each other better!

The highlight of the conference for me was a #et4buddy chat with Gardner Campbell. I had some questions in mind about  “technology of emergence” vs “emergent technologies,” something Dr. C. discussed in his plenary talk “Thought Vectors in Concept Space” earlier in the morning the same day and couldn’t wait to talk to Dr. C about them. But at the same time I felt a bit shy and uneasy about being present “out in the open.” But I joined the hangout, asked my questions to Dr. C… and it was great. I just can’t describe the experience here. My experience in Turkish schools taught me to follow hierarchy and build it, even if doesn’t impose any structures on me. But here I was talking to somebody influential in the field, asking some basic questions and getting answers. A picture I saw some time after the event struck me. A picture of Gardner and Rebecca sitting together right outside a conference room–Rebecca smiling, Gardner looking carefully at the screen in front of him. Where was I? Were they really there when we had the chat?

Ahh, it’s the feeling of heterotopia, thank you Laura for helping me name my heterotopia-ish musings. I thought I was “in the zone,” but that’s not a good descriptor, is it? Reminds me of urban city zones and busy commuter trains..

I appreciate the #et4buddy opportunity… and the care… and the laugh, just like the conversation I had with my Twitter buddies tonight. I also think #et4buddy helped me normalize the feeling of being neither here or there. It’s just life, happens to many of us. It’s not a big deal.

Anyways, I tweeted:

And I mean it. Why would I go to a conference only to present a PowerPoint and listen to other PPTs? Why would I go to a conference if nobody is going to ask me any questions about my work, question it, and make suggestions to look at it from a different perspective? I’ve been to conferences where I almost begged for a discussion (in whispers). One time a friend commented that I liked asking questions (after listening to presentations). Here is my response after almost 3 years: How can you sit down for 20 to 30 min. listening to somebody talk about something and not have a single question! Is that even possible?

Need to get back to the #et4buddy experience. Maha commented on my tweet saying:

If #et4buddy is a movement, it’s certainly a postmodern one with no manifesto on how things should be like or should proceed (and I’m sure even if they had a manifesto it would be an editable Google doc.). Just a shared vision which grows organically into something larger with participation and activity. It’s the movement we all create by open and connected scholarship, by sharing, practicing, demanding, and deviating away from the rigid structures in educational research. It is part of the movement which also created and supported the Hybrid Pedagogy (peer review is a collaborative process), #eMOOCs2015 (a flipped conference), #tjc15 (a journal club open to everyone) and VCU‘s connected courses (healthy mix of formal and informal learning, caring instructors). I’m sure there are many others out there, but I can only count the ones that I’m familiar with. It’s not one thing, or a handful of things: it is the combination of hundreds of thousands of blog posts, tweets, open events, hashtags, journals, organizations… Let me also give you two very recent examples:

1. I blogged about reflection, asked to be challenged, Mariana took up on the challenge, found an article for me to read, but she didn’t have access to it, so Laura requested it through an interlibrary loan (she really did that), scanned it and sent it to me. I’m still thinking about how to respond; I asked for a challenge, I got one.

2. I started following VCU’s course CMST 691: Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community-Engaged Research (referred to as CEnR in the course), because they are doing some really good stuff and I want to learn more about participatory approaches to research. I had a question about the method, posted it on Twitter and got a response from Valerie Holton on the same day. Valerie is the Director of Community-Engaged Research at VCU. She follows me on Twitter but we’ve never met in person. I’m not one of her students. I don’t know much about CEnR. But Valerie takes the time to respond to my question and her response encourages me to think about ways to conduct ethnography using CEnR.

Open scholarship, as many of us experience on social networking platforms, is significant and I think its meaning will be unpacked in years to come. If you are in education and if you’re not engaged with open scholarship (even if that means simply lurking) you’re missing the conversation and the opportunity to shape it in more productive and ethical ways.

Now I feel like writing more on the ethics of open scholarship, but will stop here and leave that to another post:)

On Networked Communities

Community is a puzzling term: we can talk about communities of practice, communities of inquiry, learning communities, rural communities, research communities… We can talk about so many different communities that it’s, I think, impossible to explain it in one way. But I can try describing one community that I’m familiar with.

I’m doing research on open participants’ experiences in a connected open online course. At first, I thought I could examine their activities through the communities of practice framework. I would look at how open participants went about research writing, the inquiry process. I would examine interactions among participants, find out about common norms, language, the type of knowledge that they produce as a community through shared artifacts. It soon became apparent though, what I was observing didn’t resemble a typical community of practice where “members share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” I wasn’t observing shared practice-other than blogging about issues related to education, which I think is too general to be defined as shared practice. Open participation was so diverse and rich that I had to take a step back and re-think how I might capture open participants’ involvement in the course.

Then I read something Mimi Ito wrote almost a year ago, and everything clicked: Unlike becoming a contributor to Wikipedia or YouTube, Connected Courses is a veritable cornucopia of ways of participating with no central platform. And unlike a community of practice, there is an abundance of different forms of expertise and practices, and social norms that are colliding through a loosely orchestrated cross-network remix, immersive theater where participants are all experiencing a different narrative. Its not a funnel or even a community with coherent practices, but a hybrid network, more like a constellation that looks different based on where one stands and who one is.

This was (almost) exactly what I was observing: participants’ involvement with the course, their presence, was multifaceted and unique. Their involvement was authentic; they talked about things that mattered to them, they brought with them their existing and expanding networks, they organized the course in ways that made sense to them and that suited their busy adult lives.

This, I believe, is also exactly what Catherine Cronin, building on Kris Gutierrez’s earlier work, describes as third spaces–spaces where formal learning skills and the informal skills, networks, and identities intersect and create opportunities for authentic interaction and knowledge building. (This last part is taken from a talk that I’ll give at the Digital Pedagogies Conference 2015.)

So am I observing a community here in the first place? I think, yes, but I believe my context is unique because the course is built upon a strong foundation which encourages community building from within (for example, via faculty and staff blogs). There are multiple communities of practice operating on different levels (faculty, students, the VCU community in general). When open participants join the course and begin participating in the course activities and interact with the VCU community they become part of that community. But at the same time, they have one foot outside the community, creating unique ways of participation and diversity.

I’m struggling with the vocabulary here a little bit. I feel like there’s a lot more that I want to capture than I outlined here, but I just don’t have all frameworks in place yet. So I’ll be reading and writing about third spaces, learning communities and networks a lot this summer to be able to tell a story that is robust and rigorous– something that will make sense from where I stand. Below is an image that I find relevant to think about community in networked places: It is always changing, evolving, regenerating, but there is nonetheless a shared narrative (a series of connected events) that brings people together. Draw imaginary lines between individual leaves and add more shapes and colors to the scene: now the picture is more complete in our mind’s eye. giphy Animated gif taken from here.