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


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!


Poetry and academic publishing

I was watching Russell Howard’s Good News and came across Benjamin Zephaniah: “a poet, writer, lyricist, musician and trouble maker.” It was interesting to watch what he has to say about poetry as an art form. Zephaniah was talking about poetry and mentioned how he saw Bob Marley as a poet. As an example he recited lyrics from one of his songs (Burnin’ and Lootin’) :

This morning I woke up in a curfew;
O God, I was a prisoner, too
Could not recognize the faces standing over me;
They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality.
How many rivers do we have to cross,
Before we can talk to the boss?

“That’s a song lyric but it’s a poem,” says Zephaniah; “it’s beautiful.”

Russell Howard then at some point asks: Who is your favorite poet? Or your favorite poem?

Zephaniah replies: Well, my favorite poem is by Adrian Mitchell. Very short poem. The version I like is only three lines:

Most people ignore most poetry. Because most poetry ignores most people.

Ever since I watched the program I’m thinking about what poetry means to people, what it means to me and how music can be poetry. I read a few other Bob Marley lyrics but couldn’t relate to them much because his context is so different than mine. But then few days ago I listened to space oddity by David Bowie (Chris Hadfield’s version) and it hit me:

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating
in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

This was the poetry I was looking for. It inspires me. It makes me emotional. It makes me wonder and think. I can read/listen to it over and over again, I can quote it, I can re-play it in my head, the most important thing: although I have never been to space (!), I can relate to it.

Which takes me to educational research. I’m thinking how people might ignore educational research because educational research ignores them. I’m thinking about the language of “academia,” the alienation I feel when I can’t relate to academic articles, when I can’t really understand what the authors really, simply, in all honesty, mean.

I’m questioning the language of academic journals also because as I’m coming towards the end of my PhD journey, I’m questioning the whole dissertation process. It has been very rewarding for me, there is no doubt about that, but I feel like I could have followed a much different format, more suited to the affordances of the web and more accessible to others. It’s odd to think that there isn’t a single hyperlink in the hundreds of pages I’ve written. There are people who did really creative stuff with their dissertations. Nick Sousanis, for example, wrote his dissertation in comic book format. I’ve seen a few pages where he was talking about Bakhtin. It was amazing! There is also Dani Spinosa who has blogged her entire dissertation. I wish I had done something different and pushed the boundaries of traditional academic writing with my dissertation, but this has been a stressful journey and at this point I just feel fortunate to have at least a refined draft ready.

I stopped blogging, stopped my inner voice which is in a constant conversation with others to focus on my dissertation. I missed it a lot and I’m feeling excited to be back with this post:)

An open pledge

This post is inspired by author pledges made for open access publishing. I completely forgot about this post until last night when I was cleaning my desktop folders and I didn’t want to lose it again because I find it more and more important to talk about issues of power and privilege in accessing knowledge. So here you go, my take on author pledges!

A pledge can go like this:

or this:

“I vow that this is the last article that I will publish to which the public cannot get access. I am boycotting locked-down journals and I’d like to ask other academics to do the same.” (boyd, 2008)

So author pledges often advocate for open access publishing. A common argument is that “we have the means and methods to make knowledge accessible to everyone, with no economic barrier to access and at a much lower cost to society,” so why not open the products of academic work to everyone?

The author pledges I have above are bold and inspiring; they carry with them an air of academic  determination. As a (kind of) fresh academic, I’m not ready to make a pledge to publish only in open access journals yet. So here is an author pledge that makes sense to me the most at this time in my life:

I will share with you my thoughts and research whenever I can… because ideas are also valuable in their draft forms.

I will be open to questions, criticisms, or suggestions about my work… because then I can (we can) find new directions to inquire.

I will listen to you with an open mind and will be appreciative and considerate because that’s the only way openness can be mutual.

Here are some useful links if you want to learn more about open pledges and if you’re thinking about making a pledge yourself:

Making a pledge by Maura A. Smale

Open or Shot by Steve Wheeler

Reasons to pledge by Open Access Pledge

Make a commitment for open access by Open Access Pledge

Plugged in or turned off: A critical reflection on the digital literacy of 21st century students in higher education

This post was originally published in EdContexts in Sept. 10, 2015.

Heather and Suzan met for the first time at the Digital Pedagogies Conference (2015) this year. Heather chose the metaphorical title, “Connectivism: Plugged in or turned off? Does Connectivity equal Inclusivity?”, for a paper she co-presented with her colleague, Jane Hunt, in which they critically examined inclusivity in connectivist learning environments. In this post, we use the same metaphor Heather used in her presentation – being plugged in and turned off – to refer to our understanding and use of digital technologies in general.

Since the conference, we have exchanged many e-mails and Twitter messages discussing issues around inclusivity and digital literacy in connectivism, connected learning, and networked learning in general.Through our conversations, we discovered that we shared similar educational visions and concerns with regard to learning on the World Wide Web. We decided to open this conversation to a wider audience because as Freire noted:

Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other. (p. 72)

In this post, we challenge common assumptions about digital literacies and access to technology in the 21st century classes based on our experiences. We hope you will join the conversation too by leaving a comment.

Are you plugged in or turned off? What is the impact of technology on your teaching and learning? If you are like us, you feel simultaneously plugged in or turned off. No matter how hard we try, we still may not be aware of the bigger picture of how digital technologies can enable learning in so many different ways. We seem to be running flat out to keep up with emerging technologies whilst desperately trying to respond to the growing consensus that traditional learning theories are either obsolete or, at the very least, need adapting to meet the evolving needs of the 21st century learner.

Quite rightly, there is a sense of urgency to bring education into the digital age, but we believe caution is needed when introducing new digital technologies and learning theories/approaches aligning with those into our classes. We refer to the assumptions surrounding the digital literacy of our students. Our experience is that the 21st century learner may not be as connected and as technological savvy as one might think. In addition, even if students use digital technologies in everyday life, this doesn’t mean that they are comfortable or experienced in using them for their learning. This highlights the fact that the affordances of digital technology are not being fully utilised or indeed understood by a proportion of the student population. So what are the reasons?

In Heather’s experience of a widening participation context: primarily non-traditional students (mature, low socio-economic demographic) studying at a university centre in the UK,  there are students who are the first in their families to enter higher education and are still very much finding their voices. This directly links to having the self-confidence that they have something to say and, perhaps more significantly, that others will want to hear it. This seems to be more evident in mature students who are often less familiar with the affordances of emerging technology, especially in relation to learning. That is not to say that this is true of all students within that context. One digitally literate student used Twitter very effectively to garner opinion concerning the educational policies of opposing political parties and then after critical analysis, incorporated the results into a poster presentation. This student was confident both in terms of using technology as a learning tool and already having an online presence. Whilst he is certainly not unique perhaps this is where we are in danger of cultivating a one size fits all mentality, despite the fact that not all students, or indeed lecturers, are keeping up with the pace: their digital footprint is barely visible in some cases.

Mature students in particular who have not been born into the digital world (in the context of widening participation), generally have certain fears and expectations about their return to education. Their educational biography is often shaped by a bad school experience, external social/familial/economic pressures and lack of opportunities, which sometimes results in learning anxiety. Often a student who has previously had a less than ideal educational experience and has taken the life-changing step to return to education will be hoping for, if not expecting, a nurturing, supportive experience the second time around.Learning anxiety may be further exacerbated due to economic disadvantage because contrary to common assumptions not everyone has the financial means to buy digital devices or connect to the internet.Therefore, if we are to introduce theories which are more compatible with the digitally connected world in which we live and learn, we will need to take such factors into account. The Connectivist approach, for example, promotes self directed learning where the onus is on the student to build a strong, individualised learning network because ‘learning and knowledge is distributed across nodes’ and then the student has to have the skill to make immediate decisions regarding the currency of that knowledge because the “capacity to know is more critical than what is currently known.” Whilst Heather acknowledges the potential of students plugging into a network which enables them to engage with and analyse diverse perspectives which they would not otherwise have been exposed to, she has also identified challenges that may turn them off. If the student is digitally illiterate, or digitally disadvantaged, this theory may be further alienating which, given the premise of connectivity and collaboration, is quite ironic.

In Suzan’s experience of teaching completely online courses in her program area (learning technologies), her students’ expectations are not that different from Heather’s students. We think this is remarkable considering the differences in the two contexts.  Suzan’s courses are highly social  and encourage students to learn in a community via a social networking platform. Most of Suzan’s undergraduate students (US) have been born into the digital world and are affluent users of social media, but they too have challenges in using technology for their learning. It is common for undergraduate students to take more than four classes during each academic semester (typically equivalent to 12 credits; the expected workload for each credit is 3 hours a week) and work part-time to help with the high costs of college tuition. Students generally choose to enroll in online classes because they offer the flexibility they need to juggle work, study and social life. It is not uncommon for Suzan to see her students responding to discussions and working on class projects late at night until the early hours of the morning. Not surprisingly, many students have limited time to figure out new technologies on their own and need ample time and support to familiarize themselves with their course site and its structure.

The challenges are not merely technical or due to a lack of experience and/or knowledge. Students also have learning anxieties that directly tie into the traditional culture of teaching and learning in higher education. For example, they might feel the pressure to earn a good grade or feel deeply concerned about how they present themselves to others in class discussions and openly shared class projects. For some students using a highly structured classroom management system such as Moodle or Blackboard is more reassuring than a social networking site with loosely defined boundaries.

Last semester, Suzan taught a class in which students explored youths’ use of social media from an educational perspective. Inspired by David Wiley’s call to end disposable assignments, and to encourage students have hands-on experience with an emergent technology relevant to the focus of the class, Suzan asked her students to create a blog (optional;the blog could be open on the web or visible to course participants only) for their independent research projects. But it was challenging for Suzan to explain to her students the ethos of blogging and the necessity of creating something that would have value outside of “class walls.” Some students posted long traditional essays for their blog posts (with course descriptions at the beginning and paper-based citation formats), some students copied to their posts large chunks of content from other sites, some students created beautiful designs ticking every box for the minimum requirements for the assignment, but nothing more. Suzan was struck by the diversity in how students approached blogging – getting rid of the disposable assignments wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be. Students had blogs but not everyone had a voice in them – it hadn’t become a space for them to be present on the web.

How can we help our students have a voice in a networked learning context, informally or otherwise? How can we facilitate a welcoming and a suitable environment for our students: a space which enables each learner to get the most out of their learning experience?

These are not easy questions to address, but we argue that we can at least start by critically reflecting on our assumptions regarding the digital literacy of our students. To be precise, we should not assume that our students have easy access to the Internet and tools/devices; are technologically competent; and are confident in using digital technologies. To be “plugged in,” we have to ensure everyone (teachers included) has access to the tools and competency in using them efficiently. Perhaps, more importantly, we have to nurture students in this process so that, hopefully, they will gain the confidence and willingness to use technology effectively for their learning, and rather than being “turned off,” their learning will extend beyond the confines of the classroom into the connected world.

Without dismissing the need for scaffolding strategies, being connected implies partnership and we believe the best guidance happens when we work alongside our students, when we see ourselves as learners as well. Suzan, for example, could have blogged along with her students to model writing for a public audience on the web and engage in a more authentic dialogue with her students. That way perhaps she could better help her students “develop the awareness, skills, habits and dispositions necessary to take full advantage of the affordances of the web.” Heather could strengthen her own digital presence and become a node in the network, thereby providing a familiar starting point for her students, whilst guiding them to other nodes.

It is important for students to know that we don’t know everything and are still learners ourselves especially with regard to technology. Showing our willingness to explore and attempt new things…sharing our failures as well as successes…learning with and from our students… These are the types of things we might consider in our teaching because we (students and teachers) are all in the same boat with regard to navigating the open sea of numerous, unimaginable possibilities. There will be waves that may threaten to rock the boat or even capsize it and the fear of this (setbacks, failures) is often at the heart of the resistance to change/reluctance to explore those possibilities but connectivity – the idea that we are learning together –offers a lifejacket.

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 a “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 🙂