Impressions, feelings, and senses of things

 

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I recently had the pleasure to meet with Ceiren Bell from the Department of Media and Communications (Goldsmiths, University of London) to talk about the VLE space. Here I post my reflections about designing online learning spaces after our conversations.

Jesse Stommel says,

When we teach online, we have to build both the course and the classroom. A good learning management system is a tool that can help with this process; however, we should never let its design decisions — its architecture — dictate our pedagogies.

Indeed, teaching online requires good design thinking because the web architecture, the structure of the space, is more or less malleable. The space itself can change and should change with students, with their activities and with what they bring to the class, but at the very least, instructors should know how to create a welcoming and engaging living space. “It’s all about media and communications!” Ceiren said at one point in our conversation, and I couldn’t agree more.

Media, as Marshall McLuhan suggested, affects how we perceive the message. Imagine an instructor posting a welcome video on her site rather than text based content during the first week of class. The video will have a different feeling than text, even if the content is exactly the same. Or let’s say, even if the content appears the same because, as Ted Nelson explains,

“The character of what gets across is always dual; both the explicit structures, and feelings that go with them. These two aspects, exactness and connotation, are an inseparable whole; what is conveyed generally has both. The reader or viewer always gets feelings along with information, even when the creators of the information think that its “content” is much more restricted” (p. 319).

Nelson also talks about how technical manuals, for example, might carry with them an air of authority, non-imagination or competence depending on the readers’ perceptions of how the information is presented. Because, he says, “people receive not only cognitive structures, but impressions, feelings and senses of things.”

Yes! We need to think about content, resources, activities, assessments… but beyond all of that… beyond the “deliverables,” isn’t there a need to pay more attention to “impressions, feelings, and senses of things”? Decisions about media do matter in an online course, where visual clues and bodily experiences are limited by the two dimensional structure of the web.

If we are going to pay attention to the visceral experience, we may also ask, is the VLE a space of reflective (or social) engagement or is it a space of isolation and disengagement? As instructors, how can we make it a space for and of creativity, critical and radical thinking with our intentional choices? How can we make it a place where the whole person can exist? (By whole person I mean acknowledging students with all their complexities, as political and social beings – not just brains to be filled in with new knowledge.)

These are big questions but it may be surprisingly easy to create an engaging online space. Posting informal videos, asking students to post media on the site, allowing them to work on projects that personally matter to them, giving them choices and the agency to further shape the environment are all ways to achieve a vibrant learning environment. It’s, as Ceiren said, all about media and communications, understanding that the VLE is a space we can all co-construct together – for better and or worse.

Ending my post with a smiley face! Below on the left is my default profile picture on Dropbox. How would you compare it to my default profile picture on learn.gold (Goldsmith’s VLE)?

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#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?