#selfOER in Open Educational Connections

I am really excited to read Jim Luke’s post The OER Content Trap as it gives me a framework to think about my work on Self as OER with Maha.

Jim says:

… by focusing on the “resources”, the content, we’ve fallen into the content trap.  We worry about how to finance the costs of production of “free” textbooks. We worry about competing for adoption of OER texts vs. the publisher texts. We’re trapped into focusing on the content.  Even when we talk about open educational practices or pedagogy, OEP, we’re still focused on the content because we focus on how the content is used.

We’re not alone in this trap. Nearly all higher ed institutions are there too.  They almost all think their special sauce is are the courses they teach or the research publications they produce. They’re wrong.  Similarly, the special sauce in open education isn’t the OER, the resources, books, videos, and content. The real special value is in the connections people make, the community that forms, and the identities they forge.

So what should we be focusing on? Open Education Connections or Open Educational Communities. OEC.

I believe by focusing on Open Education Connections we can avoid the “polarization and antagonism” that so often occur in our discussions on open pedagogy. We can abandon our “fixed positions from the foxholes of the pedagogy wars” as Palmer wisely said. It’s a meaningful and productive way to bridge OER and OEP and 5Rs and Content and Relationships.

Where does Self as OER, or as we are now considering, the “Open Self,” fit in Open Education Connections? I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer to this or can we ever firmly establish its position, as it’s tied to identity, and identity can never be understood from a single fixed point. This was reflected in the responses to Maha’s Twitter exercise If You Were an OER, What Kind Would You Want to Be? (I’m just posting a few ones that I picked from the latest stream):

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There were so many good and thought-provoking and fun posts in the stream (@sensor63 in particular really pushed the boundaries of OER with his responses).

Maha then reflected on the tweets saying:

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Yes! And because those values and attitudes are so diverse and rich, and often unpredictable, we can never fully understand the Open Self. As I said before it’s one of those concepts that is hard to define just like the notion of the “whole person” because it’s tied to identity. I return to Palmer again to explain this. The following is from “The Courage to Teach” and is about the meaning of identity and integrity:

…Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials. …. They are subtle dimensions of the complex, demanding, and lifelong process of self discovery. Identity lies in the intersection of the diverse forces that make up my life, and integrity lies in relating those forces in ways that bring me wholeness and life rather that fragmentation and death.

Those are my definitions –but try as I might to refine them, they always come out too pat. Identity and integrity can never be fully named or known by anyone, including the person who bears them. They constitute that familiar strangeness we take with us to the grave, elusive realities that can be caught occasionally out of the corner of the eye (Palmer, 2017; emphasis mine).

So what’s the best way to research something if we can’t ever fully understand it? How can we capture the everchanging and shifting reflections of the Open Self in public spaces? Does this make sense?

From democracy to educating the whole person – My associative trails

I had a quiet time reading Parker J. Palmer’s most recent book this morning and in the spirit of  thoughtvectors I am sharing my associative trails here before they start fading away.

Palmer says,

…war is not the only setting in which violence is done: violence is done whenever we violate another’s integrity. Thus we do violence in politics when we demonise the opposition or ignore urgent human needs in favour of politically expedient decisions.” (Parker J. Palmer, 2011) (emphasis mine)

The quote above sparked my interest as just recently in my Tech and Ethics class one brilliant student, Grace Wengler, had raised questions about the meaning of integrity. Wasn’t it culturally constructed? “Might someone NOT feel humiliation if they were never taught to be embarrassed?”

I searched for the meaning of integrity, out of curiosity to see what would come up.

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To my surprise, the second Google dictionary definition mentioned “the state of being whole,” which was something I remembered reading in bell hooks:

“Denying the emotional presence and wholeness of students may help professors who are unable to connect focus more on the task of sharing information, facts, data, their interpretations, with no regard for listening to and hearing from students. It makes the classroom a setting where optimal learning cannot and will not occur.” (bell hooks, 2003) (emphasis mine)

Wholeness of students made me think of this great interview with Gardner Campbell, Educating the Whole Person. At the very beginning of the interview Gardner says:

“We are talking about lives. We are talking about minds. We are talking about ideally, As Randy  Bass puts it, the whole person. And the whole person is much more than accessories bolted onto a body. It is about a life lived in space and time with the potential to touch many other lives.

I mentioned the whole person in education in my dissertation but I didn’t explore the concept in depth and I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Gardner myself (I examined a course he co-designed and taught with a group of faculty at VCU). It was intriguing to come back to it almost a year after my defense. In the interview Gardner talks about how learning can be made personal with meaningful connections, he talks about the importance oftapping into the very meaningful and deep ways to students’ disposition to connect,” and “[helping students] have an understanding of their own needs and identities”... Now I felt like I got a gist of this complex concept because it was discussed in context.

Still, I wanted to find out more about this so I followed Gardner’s shout out to Randy Bass and found really interesting resources, one of which is the Designing the Future(s) of the University project – described as an integrative initiative engaging the whole Georgetown [university] community. And here below, I think I found good summary of educating the whole person. The italics in the quoted section reflect my thoughts:

“[The Formation by Design Project is] dedicated to shaping students to be fully human [so education is not all about the intellect], to cultivating their authentic selves [the relational selves, the way learners feel and live in the world], and to inhabiting a sense of personal responsibility for improving the world [working towards something larger than personal goals, ambitions]” (Formation of Design group).

From democracy to educating the whole person… there are interesting connections remain to be made…


Open Pedagogy: A Response to David Wiley:

What is Open Pedagogy? David Wiley recently asserted:

…there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice.

But that’s not what open means.

As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.” Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions. … open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical in the context of the 5R permissions. Or, to operationalize, open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you are using OER.

I’m, however, inclined to think about open pedagogy as a philosophy of teaching and learning that in its core, as Maha suggested, has an ethos of sharing and social justice. I’m under the spell of bell hooks right now so I will define open pedagogy as the way she frames it in her book Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope:

Intentional approaches in teaching that encourage students to have “the will to explore different perspectives and change one’s mind as new information is presented”(emphasis mine).

Open pedagogy may include the 5Rs of OER (Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute content), or it may not; the discussion on 5Rs to me is simply an issue of method, not methodology (the broad philosophical orientation to the methods used). Open pedagogy might enable many methods, in other words ways of doing things, to achieve its goals. Take Clint Lalonde’s Digital Humanities students who shared their work online without open licenses, take the awesome open courses offered by the Virginia Commonwealth University (I wrote my dissertation on one of their courses). Are we saying that these people haven’t been engaging in open pedagogy? That they were using some other method simply because their focus is not on 5Rs?

In a reflective post Sheila Mc Neill posted a resource by Bronwyn Hegarty titled Attributes of Open Pedagogy. This is more comprehensive than Wiley’s framing of open pedagogy but again, I think there is a confusion here between methods and paradigms. I would love to hear from you on this to clarify my thoughts.

bell hooks writes:

“Throughout my academic career I have sought the spaces of openness, fixing my attention less on the ways colleagues are closed and more and searching for the place of possibility” [for positive change].

What are our “spaces of possibility”? How do we construct those spaces and nurture democratic learning environments where people get exposed to different perspectives, challenge the way they view the world and their position it? How can we help them have the will to learn enthusiastically and passionately, despite all the difficulties that come with deep learning?

Why does it matter to have this discussion on the meaning of open pedagogy? Because I strongly believe openness is contextual and messy. As Maha says:

When we call anything “open” we need to clarify: What are we opening, how are we opening it, for whom, and why?

I’m ending my post with a quote from by Rajeev Balasubramanyam or this rant post will go forever. This piece is on artists’ responses to right wing politics but there is a lot we can apply to education. Rajeev says:

The artist of faith is able not only to live inside of this uncertainty, but to create from it, to surrender to the unknown and, by doing so, to make peace with it. This is a political act not least because it is the one thing that fundamentalists of every hue will always oppose. Fundamentalists seek to erase uncertainty, to replace the unknown with crass, bludgeoning answers, but the writer of faith gazes into this void with open eyes, even, or perhaps particularly, when she is afraid, seeking to share what she sees with others in who find themselves in similar situations.

*Watch and participate in the open pedagogy discussion here. More information is available on Maha’s blog.

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.

Strange thoughts


strange thoughts on the way home today…

I remember an Iraqi artist painting horses. just horses and nothing more. perhaps a few fields…

and I think about a woman. a mother whose baby has measles but she won’t take him to the hospital because she has four other kids no five other kids to take care of because the doctors are going to play tricks on her because somebody will take the kids away, because it’s so damp in their tent, and so cold.

and I think about a brother quietly saying to himself, shouting to the world, “I never would have thought that one day I would be relieved to see other people’s losses,” because you see, he was looking for his sister in the hospital morgue and she wasn’t there. yet.

strange thoughts on the way home today…

painting horses and nothing more. and brushing my daughter’s beautiful soft hair, weaving pink flowers and butterflies into her curls.

The context of plagiarism

I need to write the acknowledgments section of my dissertation but I can’t help going back to Maha and Groom’s post on the ethos of educational technologies. Now I’m thinking about plagiarism in higher education courses, what it means for instructors and for learners themselves. In every undergraduate class I taught there were always one or two students who copied material from other resources and used them in their work without appropriate references. However, I’m very careful to say that they were plagiarizing, because in my experience, most students want to do a good job in their projects and they don’t understand why copying content without references may not be appropriate. Consider this:

In a ceramics class the instructor tells student that she can’t just copy a design from a book onto her vase. Student tries to explain that the design is traditional and anonymous. Instructor isn’t interested. She cuts the conversation by firmly saying “No. That is not your design. You can’t use it. That’s plagiarizing.” The instructor is patient but it’s clear that the conversation is over. The student is offended, can’t understand the instructor’s point of view. The instructor can’t understand the student’s point of view.

Ehem, so that student was of course me. 🙂 To give this incident a little bit of context, that was my 2nd year in Minnesota and I had a book that I brought from Turkey on traditional shadow puppets Hacivat and Karagoz. This was a precious book; my husband’s grandmother (who is now 99) had given it to me. Its pages were falling apart and that day I must have taken it to the class with great care. I’m sure I was excited about using it for my project. But I remember coming home frustrated and disappointed. I hated the instructor (although I’m sure she had good intentions), and why were we so far away from home anyway?


Picture taken from here

So you can clearly see how context complicates things when it comes to plagiarism (to this date I still don’t know if it was ok to use the design on my vase). This experience significantly shaped how I go about plagiarism in my own classes. In one class focusing on children’s and youth’s use of social media, students were given the option to design an educational website on a topic of their choice for their final project. To my surprise one student in the class, and she was doing really well in class discussions and in other class activities, copied most of the content of her site from other sites. The website itself looked really nice; it wasn’t a last-minute project where she dumped all the content to her site. When I brought the issue to her attention, she panicked. She explained to me she never had the intent to plagiarize stuff. She wanted to make her site look good, professional. By taking content from other credible sites she was making sure that she was providing professional content.

I believe it’s the instructor’s responsibility to offer as much guidance and support as possible long before a project begins to avoid issues like this. And this is not only about  technical guidance or even about ethics. It is also about helping students understand that a course project, a website, a blog post, an essay, can always be a work in progress. It can always be improved and they shouldn’t be afraid of failing. What matters is the way they go about their work rather than the end result. I have had hundreds of undergraduate students in my courses and in most cases of plagiarism (using it for the lack of a better term), I chose to trust my students. Even if they were being dishonest it didn’t matter because I knew that when I had a positive attitude and when I believed that they approached their work with all the best intentions, our relationship would always, always be better.

So when we use a tool like Turnitin in our classes, what are we saying to our students? I wouldn’t prefer to use the tool in my classes because I don’t think it gives the right message to students. I think it creates power issues between instructors and students when actually it’s so much more important to remove those barriers in a meaningful way. And when you know your students, you just know when something is not quite right and you can always use that as a way to improve your relationships in class.