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

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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?

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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.

The schizophrenic Moodle

picasso-portrait of sylvette david~b99_1433

Picture taken from here

Can we separate the way we teach from the technological systems in which we work? This question was posed by Maha Bali and Jim Groom in a thought-provoking post critically examining the ethos of educational technologies. Maha and Jim argue that the choices we make in educational technology say something about our values and pedagogical visions–they are inseparable from how we go about teaching and learning.

Couldn’t agree more. When I was teaching online classes in Learning Technologies at the University of Minnesota most faculty and graduate instructors were using Ning as an alternative to Moodle (institutionally supported) because its design better aligned with the values of the program. In Aaron Doering’s words, the goal in LT courses was “for students to discover and create knowledge as a group, with the instructor acting as a guide through the assigned materials” and Ning was a great platform to achieve that. A lot of what we were doing in Ning was driven by pedagogy but we were also guided by the possibilities and limitations of the platform itself. On the plus side learners could easily get a sense of others’ presence in the course through features like member pages, blogs, discussions, chat and photos and videos. There were small design touches we liked a lot, like how each forum post appeared with a member thumbnail picture. (In a class I’ve taken as graduate student all students had administrative access to Ning so we could even change the design of the platform if we wanted to.) On the other hand, I had to grade students’ work and Ning didn’t have a gradebook, I couldn’t set up assignments or create a sophisticated system to archive course resources. After all Ning wasn’t originally designed as a Learning Management System (LMS) and the way it worked was so different than Moodle, which is specifically designed for that purpose. I’m not saying that Ning is better than Moodle, it’s just for our purposes Ning seemed to work best.

Now I’m going to diverge a bit because it is really interesting to think about the multiple layers of values and visions embedded in educational technology. Especially when we think about technologies that are designed specifically for the purpose of education, like a course management system.

Let’s consider Moodle, for example. I find the misalignment between the ethos of the Moodle developer community and the end product quite puzzling. Let me explain:

Moodle as a design project: is community driven, globally supported, open-source.
Moodle as an LMS (how the end-product is typically used in higher education institutions):  is institutionally driven, locally supported, closed. Also supports the use of copyrighted materials because it’s institutional (this is one point I deviate from Maha and Jim because they argue that LMS are copyright havens).

I believe there is a strong mismatch between Moodle as a design project and Moodle as an LMS because there’s a disconnect between the field of computer science and education in general. A recent TaLIC lunchtime conversation where two computer scientists presented their work also made me realize the big gap between the two fields.

Solution? More partnership, more conversation between computer science and education and less bias toward our own assumptions and the paradigms of each field. Result: (potentially) innovative products to use in education. What do you think?

 

Confused Speech

Bonnie Stewart’s “Academic Twitter: The intersection of orality & literacy in scholarship?” is one of the most inspirational works I came across recently. Bonnie talks about identity in open scholarship from many different but connected angles: personal/professional divide, multiple identities, performative identities, quantified identities… What interests me most is where she talks about the difference between literate and oral traditions:

Slide 39: Oral Tradition: Participatory, Situational, Social, Formulaic, Agonistic, Rhetorical
Slide 40: Literate Tradition: Interiorized, Abstracted, Innovative, Precise, Analytic, Indexical

I find this distinction, although it is quite obvious to me now, fascinating, because it makes me think about the dominant traditions in academic scholarship and how alternative modes of communication like blogging, tweeting, having a Google Hangout with colleagues, and multimodality challenge that tradition. In an earlier post, I talked about how Nick Sousanis, for example, created a comic book for his dissertation (you can find more examples for comics as scholarship here).

Bonnie also says that we’re experiencing a confusion between oral and literate traditions on Twitter. She talks about how some treat informal speech online as if it’s print based material. The reverse is also possible, very often I see tweets which look like informal speech (they happen in a conversation) but they sound like quotes pulled from a book, which makes me think that they are out there for dissemination. I’ll call these blurry lines in oral and literate traditions “confused speech;” I’m sure a better term exists somewhere but for now it will do the job. 🙂

Confused speech can happen everywhere in education. I see it in text-books (e.g., text that might sound conversational but in fact designed to transfer factual info), in conference presentations (e.g., presenters read their paper in front of an audience), and in conversations (like a Twitter message created for reproduction in  a conversation). Confused speech is also evident in a book I recently started reading:  Introducing Foucault: A Graphic Guide. I wanted to read this book because I came across this journal article (published as part of Comics as Scholarship, a special issue for Digital Humanities Quarterly) on multimodal educational texts via one of Maha’s blog posts and wanted to learn more about Foucault through a non-traditional way of academic writing. The author of the article, Aaron Scott Humphrey from the University of University of Adelaide, says:

Academic writing has generally been understood as operating primarily within the linguistic modality, with writing remediating the “voice” of an educator or lecturer. Comics, by contrast, are more explicitly multimodal and derive much of their meaning from visual, spatial and linguistic modalities. Because of their multimodality, educational comics challenge the conception of an authoritative author’s “voice,” as is typically found in traditional educational and academic writing.

If we throw images into a book, does that make the text multimodal? I don’t think so. I see a confusion between oral and literate traditions in the Foucault book. When I see two people in the same comic frame, I expect them to communicate somehow. I don’t expect them to go into a disconnected monologue and certainly I don’t expect them to talk like a “textbook.” What I actually see in the images below are text highlighted from the book in disguise as “comics.” Take out the text and what meaning is left in the drawings? I think these images just give an illusion of multimodality, the illusion of “something interesting is happening here.”

What do you think about confused speech? Does it make sense? Please leave a comment and let me know; perhaps we can refine this post together. 🙂

Capturing moments in time

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Maha posted a live blog while Laura was having her dissertation defense. I have on my desktop about 3 or 4 draft blog posts waiting for me to finish. At this rate I will have only 3-4 posts each semester. But ideas can’t wait! Blogs are more exciting when they capture moments in time, the lived experience, half-baked thoughts, burning questions, and, of course, the not so burning questions.

Maha was saying that because Laura is a public scholar, we already know about her research. We know the process: the challenges, aha moments and tensions she had as she refined her chapters. Not all of them of course, but even having a glimpse of the process through Laura’s voice humanizes the whole research process. So this is more than having a Twitter presence, it’s about having a human presence. And it brings academia back to where it really belongs: the everyday life people.

I can’t wait to check the Tweets at night, join the conversations and be part of Laura’s defense. Thank you Laura for being a human OER and congrats on completing this part of your journey!