#openness

Going Beyond Humanizing Online Learning

If “democracy is a system of self-governance where governance is justified by consent of the governed,,” then are our educational institutions democratic? How about our classes? How about the online learning areas we set up for our students like the VLE?

Join this talk to discuss ways to create a democratic platform in online and blended learning. We will talk about shifts and tensions in teacher identity when we move to online spaces,  our imagined audience and community building. Students are welcome to join the discussion!

This is my session abstract for a talk I will be giving at Goldsmiths tomorrow titled Going beyond humanizing online learning: Creating a democratic platform for and with our students.

The session is discussion based, so I am hoping to tackle this complex topic with the participants on the day and also here on this blog prior and after the event. The motivation for this talk comes from my recent reflections on Parker J. Palmer and  bell hooks. I’ve started to think increasingly about democracy in education and how we might achieve that in online settings. We talk a lot about humanizing online courses, making it a social experience for both teachers and students, but we don’t talk much about how that social space is organised; we don’t talk much about the politics of it. I see a strong need to focus on that, especially to critique and improve our institutional learning spaces.

Palmer (2011) says:

“If students are to be well served and are to serve democracy well, we need to invite them into a lived engagement with democracy’s core concepts and values. There are at least two ways to do this: by engaging students in democratic processes within the classroom and the school and by involving them in the political dynamics of the larger community.”

So what are democracy’s core concepts and values? Well, there is civic responsibility. There is this expectation that you will be “a productive, responsible, caring and contributing member of society.” Palmer mentions many ways to achieve this but what struck me was his argument on creating democratic habits of the heart – the qualities we need to be able to “listen with an open mind” and “respond respectfully”:

  1. We must understand that we are all in this together.
  2. We must develop an appreciation of the value of otherness.
  3. We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. (This is about turning a seemingly negative event into something positive.)
  4. We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
  5. We must strengthen our capacity to create community.

But there is a problem I observe in online spaces: even the most democratic educator, the most caring instructor, can easily shift to quite authoritative teaching methods and ways of being online, if he/she has limited understanding of possibilities. It is not uncommon for instructors to use online spaces to ask students to do things (“submit your assignment,” “book a slot for your one-on-one,” “read this book,” etc.). Students are expected to do things in a space that is designed for them but not with them. The learning space becomes a space that reflects institutional choices and preferences and personal tastes of course designers (I once knew an instructor who had purple background on her site because she liked the color) more than a communal one.

One of the reasons why this shift happens is the heavy emphasis on content. It is so much easier to deliver content online than to build an active and supportive learning community.  A learning community open and responsive to diverse voices… a learning community that welcomes students as a whole person to the environment – real people. The former requires resources and tools, the latter requires commitment and care beyond all content.

In the talk, I will propose that the first step to democracy, to creating democratic habits of the heart, is by enabling open structures in learning (I draw from bell hooks and Parker Palmer on this). An open educator:

  • makes the initial structures of working and/or studying explicit to students and open to discussion (imagine a teacher encouraging her students to comment on the syllabus, on the class activities and assignments);
  • co-constructs the structures of working and/or studying with students (imagine modifying the assignments with the help of students; imagine students co-constructing a code of conduct for their online interactions);
  • doesn’t confine education to a certain space and time (imagine learning “on the web and with the web,” with the public and for the public; imagine a teacher tweeting a resource to the class hashtag long after the course ends);
  • centers education around dialogue (imagine a teacher using conversations with students as content to work with).
  • recognizes the whole person in education (this is complex, but imagine a teacher making the emotional well-being of her students a priority, a lot more important than assessing in-class/for-class “performances.”)

Can our educational institutions be democratic when there is so much reliance on standardized tests, when we want to get accreditation for our programmes, when teachers have so much more power over their students on deciding how things should look like in the learning space, and how the learning should be organized? How can we help students “practice in real responsibility, real dialogue and real authority” (Palmer,  2011) despite institutional and curricular constraints? And how about the limitations of democracy as a system of governance? (Think about how the rule of majority can be a problem in educational settings.)

What do you think? Please join the discussion and let me know about your thoughts.

 

#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):

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 15.34.58

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 15.34.00

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 00.50.33.png

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 15.37.48

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 15.38.17.png

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 15.38.54.png

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:

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 15.40.35.png

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?

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 🙂