Karen Cangialosi

Professor of Biology, Keene State College

More Questions Than Answers (about Open Ped)

Now that the Keene State spring 2017 semester Open Education speaker series and Open Pedagogy Learning Community have come to an end, I wanted to write a wrap-up post. I know I can’t capture everything that I have been thinking for a whole semester in this blog post, but I will try to hit some main points. The presentations were fabulous. And I wrote about our first few speakers in my Student Drivers post.  I think the best part about having Open Ed guest stars on campus was all of the informal conversations, interactions and meals that allowed us to dig into some deeper discussions.

Meanwhile, the Open Ed world has been on fire with tweets and blog posts and hangouts and such where there has been much discussion aimed at trying to answer the question- ‘What is Open Pedagogy’?  See Maha Bali’s excellent curation of posts on Open Pedagogy.

Well I’ve been facilitating an Open Pedagogy Learning Community at Keene State where we set out with that question- and like I always tell my students, the best investigations end up generating more questions, not answers:

  • Do you have to use or create OER for it to ‘count’ as Open Pedagogy? (we actually discussed this back in January/February before David Wiley’s controversial post).
  • Who gets to decide what Open Pedagogy is?
  • Isn’t just calling it Open Practices better?
  • What is Open anyway?
  • What counts as OER?
  • What is ‘content’ for that matter? Is it anything that is ‘captured’ (written or recorded)?
  • Once anyone posts something online, is it “captured”? And therefore copyrightable? And therefore you could put a CC license on it?  And therefore it could become the stuff of Open Pedagogy?

And also meanwhile the students in my two different biology courses starting tweeting at each other and sharing ideas and articles and hashtags- they opened up the edges of their classes and nobody asked them to- Is that Open Pedagogy? Shrug.

And then Jim Groom writes about choosing ‘awesome’ over open, and I think “Yeah!” And then Maha reminds us…once again…about privilege (oh yeah.)

Then, Martha Burtis comes to campus and says:

“We can’t say that our questions are only pedagogical- they have to be technical and pedagogical.” 

This realization smacks me upside the head. I like learning about tools, but I have always thought the point was for them to be easy to learn and use, for people like me that are not experts at coding and stuff.

But Martha emphasizes to us that the ‘appification’ of the internet – has enabled students and others not to learn the technical. That those ‘apps’ control how people interact with and learn from the internet, the web. The people that control THAT are controlling nearly everything. Like Google and Facebook and Amazon. (Duh Karen!).

Google can say “Oh, it’s the algorithm, it’s not our fault” (when a search returns a bunch of racist results on a topic), and this deception is widely swallowed by those of us not in the know.  Damn. There is an activist agenda to this. We have a responsibility to learn the technical aspects of the web; to create spaces, and algorithms and apps or whatever that are cognizant of diversity, inclusion, social justice and the rest of the pedagogical principles that we espouse so boldly when we talk about our teaching practices, our pedagogy. Students (and others) need to not just learn technical skills, but the IMPLICATIONS of those technical skills. We need to push back on the idea that is it ok to say “I’m not technically savvy”.

“I want us to realize that the web is not something that is happening to us, but rather it is something we are creating.”  From Beyond Websites, by Martha Burtis

So more questions:

  • Who makes the web?
  • Who could/should be making the web?
  • What is a domain? Who needs to own one?
  • Who owns your data?
  • What does your institution do with its data?
  • Why is a non-institutional, non-vendor-built space so critical?
  • If students take part in making the web, using their own domains, in the context of being guided by professors using educational/social justice principles, is this Open Pedagogy?

If you’re not sure that these are important questions, you don’t need to look much further than the biting wisdom of Audrey Watters whose ability to cut straight to the educational technology chase is uncanny. If you haven’t read her ‘Why a Domain of One’s Own matters (to the future of knowledge)’ and ‘Education Technology’s Completely Over’, read them now.

Last summer, I wrote this:

“For those of us that believe that our job is to help students become agents that can transform the society we live in, not just replicate it, the potential of Open Ed was like breathing fresh air…”

Open HAS to be political. Anything that is potentially transformative is political. I wouldn’t have put as much energy into learning about and participating in the Open Ed movement if it wasn’t.  And make no mistake, it is a movement. I recruited faculty into our KSC Open Pedagogy Learning Community by emphasizing the political power and potential of Open. And I said:

“Practitioners of Open Pedagogy actively critique and confront the industrial and corporate approach of co-opting and packaging ‘teaching technology’ to turn students into consumers.  Instead, they utilize the as web a place for uncontrolled discovery, creativity and analysis, and as a venue for dialogue with the wider public.”

So Bonnie Stewart’s recent post about her Keene State talk gets me thinking even further about the politics of Open, and Open as activism.

Bonnie pointed to some complicated relationships between digital identity and digital citizenship.  In her talk, she said “[Digital] citizenship means we need to think about what we open up to the public. Our empires today are not all nation-states. Empires are places that we bring our students into when we ask them to engage online. And identity is the price of admission.”

There is so much to say about the importance of helping students think about how they shape their digital identity and the complexities between media literacy and digital identity. And this reminds me of Maha Bali’s Fake News: Not Your Main Problem where she says-

“The solution isn’t going to be by focusing on promoting digital literacies to combat fake news. It’s got to be about nurturing cross-cultural learning attitudes and skills that help make our knee-jerk reactions to news in general more socially just and empathetic.”

  • Is ‘nurturing cross-cultural learning…’ a central tenet of Open Pedagogy (or should it be)?

Then Bonnie says in her post,

“Digital identity isn’t just the wrong lens for figuring out digital scholarship, or encouraging participatory engagement in learning. It’s actually the wrong lens for building towards any vision of digital citizenship that makes for a liveable, decent digital social sphere to inhabit.”

So I am thinking that maybe she means the narcissistic, isolated ways that some people build their ‘digital identities’? (maybe she doesn’t, so I apologize for any incorrect interpretation). But if the focus is solely on the created digital self, then this likely works counter to building a social movement.

And more questions,

  • Are domains about identity? (Are wikis better than blogs for community building?)
  • Is Open Pedagogy about guiding that process of digital identity development towards building a social movement that is about connection, compassion, authenticity and addressing global issues?
  • Does it start with students seeing the potential of using the web to be helpful to someone else?

 

Student Drivers

Our spring break is just around the corner, and as we reach the middle of the semester I am thinking about how things have been going so far with our efforts to bring awareness to the value of Open Education at Keene State College. Jenny Darrow (@gobman) and I have spent many hours this semester immersed in planning and in wonderful conversations about what we can do on our campus.  We’ve worked hard identifying and trying to motivate faculty who would be early adopters, excited to rise to the challenge of doing something new.  Our faculty Open Pedagogy Learning Community has been humming along with great discussions emerging from that group.  We have also put energy into numerous conversations and emails with administrators.  (The admin reaction sometimes feels like high enthusiasm and sometimes feels like ‘pat-on-the-head’ support. Perhaps they just haven’t taken us seriously enough to be hostile yet says my cynical self!)  But the way our work has been developing this semester has shown us that the students might just be the drivers of this Open Ed bus, the real ambassadors.  A New England snowstorm ‘flipped’ the order of our first few guest speakers, and shifted my thinking about what we were doing.

If one of the important tenets of Open Pedagogy is that it is student-driven, then why shouldn’t an Open Education movement itself be student-driven?

compliancesigns.com

The first speakers in our open education speaker series were students: Andrew Rikard, from Davidson College, and Erika Bullock, from Georgetown University.  Their visit started with a conversation with our OPLC faculty, and I have to say that the dialogue that emerged, really blew my mind.   Our faculty were riveted as the students talked about what it meant to them to take ownership of their learning.  (This phrase- ‘students take ownership of their learning’ -really sunk in so much more deeply for me even though I had heard it and thought about it many, many times before).

Erika and Andrew spoke earnestly to professors of their fears about questioning faculty authority, an authority for which they have great respect, and they very much did not want to appear disrespectful or challenging.  But they hoped that faculty would “respect the authority of students in their own experiences”.  Faculty looked students in the eyes and spoke earnestly about their fear of being perceived as ‘not doing their job’.  Students told of feeling uncomfortable with a professor when they ‘don’t know what you want’.  We all wondered, how do we make it feel like ownership, not a burden?  Erika and Andrew went even further to suggest that students themselves could decide whether Open is really the best path to learning for them. “What is my vision for myself?”  “Do I enjoy being a collaborator and sharing?” Faculty pondered “How do we (if we can) increase student intrinsic motivation?”

Erika and Andrew suggested that faculty should be very transparent with students about what they are doing in order to convey a sense of ‘we are all in this together’.  When Erika told us about a faculty member that shared her life story in the first class that ended with “…and this is why I am here, why I am teaching this”, it was extraordinarily moving for her.  At one point Andrew said, “I got to watch somebody who I thought knew everything, learn.” And Erika said, “I was deconstructing my definition of a student”.  Erika also spoke eloquently about her experiences with Open Pedagogy as academic and co-curricular collaboration (a topic for a whole other post).  I think there was something particularly powerful for our faculty to hear these kinds of statements directly from the mouths of students. It was also brought up that many of these ideas about student ownership and connected learning aren’t necessarily new, but that they weren’t easy or possible when many of us started teaching, but now technology and domain spaces are making so much more of this possible now.  There were so many other amazing moments in this conversation (like how ‘scientists cultivate frustration’); I wish I could have written them all down, but I was too transfixed.

This exchange really got me thinking that Open Pedagogy faculty ‘development’ might be most effectively achieved by having students do the ‘training’.

The presentation, (Trust, Power and Agency) that Andrew and Erika gave later was (without planning it this way) mostly to a student audience, and we ended with a rich roundtable discussion with Andrew, Erika, KSC students and visiting students from Plymouth State University. That discussion moved even further into student engagement- how students should be influencing college policies, designing courses and making curriculum decisions. I wish I would have also periscoped that conversation with students from four different institutions. So much great stuff – take a look at the #KSCollab twitter feed from Feb 24 for some of it.

Enter @actualham.

Photo by Celia Rabinowitz

We originally scheduled Robin DeRosa to be our first speaker in the KSC Open Ed speaker series. Of course, we wanted to begin with a big splash and get everyone fired up and who better than @actualham?  But due to the weather, Robin followed Andrew and Erika.  And, our OPLC faculty were already fired up by the students!  And then, when it came time for Robin’s talk, apparently all of our advertising that said, ‘make sure you bring students too’-   resulted in an unexpected 75-80% of the audience being students, and the rest faculty (we counted a single administrator).

But the talented and audacious @actualham (and Robin is surely ready to kill me with all of my adjective use lately, but this one really works here and I love the alliteration), instantaneously transformed her presentation, Putting the Public back in Public Education, for a mostly student audience.  And I mean instantaneously. I think she had about 3 minutes to think about it.  (She IS a genius among geniuses and anyone who thinks I am just another ‘over-the-top actualham fan’,  will someday know I was right).

What was particularly great, was that Robin got the students fired up, not mainly about textbook costs (although they certainly cared about that too), but about the Open Pedagogy! They were excited about learning in a different way, and especially in learning beyond their class.

One student, after the talk, even asked Robin where she can get her own e-port.  She was psyched about the idea of having her own domain space where she could create there, without some faculty member requiring it for a course. Now that’s student empowerment. The consequences of Robin’s presentation are still incubating, but I am already sensing a significant shift in my own students who attended.

Perhaps Adrienne Rich’s (another woman ahead of her time) 1977 call to students to Claim their Education (HT Mark Long), is finally emerging, about 40 years later.

The Collective

What really struck me when viewing videos of Douglas Englebart and reading parts of his essay ‘Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework’ so kindly excerpted for us by Gardener Campbell, was when he talked about the idea of a Collective IQ.

Beehive by Jeremy Price is licensed under CC by 2.0

As an invertebrate zoologist, when I think of a collective, a bee hive comes to mind. Individual bees are separate animals, but they function in a eusocial arrangement whereby the colony persists and grows as individuals do their different jobs of nursing, foraging and reproducing.  E.O. Wilson referred to eusocial insects like bees (and ants and other Hymenopterans) as a “superorganism”.    I don’t know if bee colonies offer us much in the way of a model for humans working together, but their abilities to communicate with each other puts humans to shame.   I especially loved it when Englebart said “Collectively, we can learn how to work collectively better”.  Because he both acknowledges that we don’t work so well collectively now, and that paradoxically, it is going to take a collective of us to figure out how to do it better! And so I think that much of the ‘augmentation’ of our ‘intellect’ is essentially about how we ‘put our heads together’, and how we use our technologies to basically learn how to work together more effectively.  But somewhere in those 1962 videos and writings of Engelbart’s, there is also the implication that we need to go beyond connecting our minds together to putting our hearts together as well. These days, I think we need to be very explicit about this. Perhaps Engelbart’s Collective IQ needs to incorporate other IQ’s, like social IQ and emotional IQ.   So what does a contemporary collective of intellectual, caring, human beings look like?  How do we integrate the power of working and learning in the Open to go about creating this? To me these seem like the important questions.   Engelbart says:  “The complexity of man’s [sic] problems are growing still faster and the urgency with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater in response to the increased rate of activity and the increasingly global nature of that activity”.   And that was in 1962!  The urgency and complexity have only been intensified, and while our technologies are more sophisticated- we have not made any progress towards creating the kind of human compassionate collective that I think we will need to address things like  global climate change (and so much more).  Indeed things seem to have just gotten a lot worse.   I think a place to start is with an authentic practice of intersectionality (not just a recognition of diversity or inclusion).  What do you think?

From the Ground

Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I’ve been saying since we began thinking about having an Open Education ‘Initiative’ on our campus- that it has to rise up from the people.  (Those who have known me as an activist for at least three decades wouldn’t be surprised by this.)  For our institution of ‘higher learning’, that means we the faculty and staff.  This past Friday (27 Jan 17) was our first meeting of the KSC Open Pedagogy Learning Community (the OPLC) with 13 attendees.  With no real agenda, just some suggested readings and a question- the rising up from the ground is already happening… below are my notes (in all of their imperfection and incompleteness, apologies to my esteemed colleagues for all inaccuracies).

 

I like the idea of building a community of learning, blurring the line between student and instructor. Open could be a catalyst to ‘blow the whole system up’

How to get student buy-in for open strategies. How to bring students in, address their worries about grading.

I’m interested in the intersections between open pedagogy and critical pedagogy, how to empower students to take ownership.

I don’t even know enough yet to be cynical like I usually am. 

My students are already using open resources I realized. 

I need to work on having my students make their work public.

I’ve become increasingly aware of a conversation that I didn’t know I was already a part of.  All of my courses are open, my students are writing in the open.

The library could be an incubator for open education efforts.  It could provide a hub to support students.  

I would blow it all up tomorrow if we could.

I’m already familiar with open source software, I’m here to learn more about open education.

Open education offers something new, it is really exciting. 

Having students being part of the process of learning is especially exciting.

No textbook? I was already doing that.

Open would allow us to do education even after we retire. 

How to find that balance between what students need to learn and ‘blowing it all up’.

I know very little about open, I’m here to learn more.

I’m familiar with OER, but I want to learn more about open practices.

Very excited about the idea of students producing the textbook. 

Social justice aspect of critical pedagogy – the connection between open and critical

Is the process more important than the product?  Not about striving for ‘perfection’.

It seems like it is OK for it to be messy and not perfect…the key is action, not perfection.   That the process is part of the learning.  This may be a hard adjustment for me to make.

But this doesn’t mean we don’t know anything.

Building an external community is important, maybe do that first, before you work on creating a textbook with students for example.

The voices of students that are uncomfortable or not there yet, need to be heard too.  How do we get our students to move forward?

Talk about the advantages to them.  Getting jobs.

The balance of privacy and openness.  Development of digital literacies.  Using annotations- private? Public?  Dimension and value of social learning. 

Challenging traditional teaching role expectations.  

Reflect upon and transform structures. 

What does it mean to say that education is inherently an ethical and political act?

We aren’t trying to turn students into something.  We are trying to get our students to turn themselves into something. 

I look for the grappling, the struggling.

Blow up grading. Let’s just all give our students incompletes because learning isn’t done.  #resist

Just start with having students react.  Can’t analyze until after they react. 

We don’t understand where our privacy begins and ends online.

Teach students not to put too much personal information online. 

They are going to be information producers when they leave here in an unsafe space. That’s going to happen to them later.  Have to help students learn how to do it now.

Making students aware of risks and vulnerability. 

Every time you put something online, you attach your own credibility to it.  What do you want that to look like?

Connecting students currently in the class with alums. Helps students to see better where they might go next.

Let’s use some of this time to talk about tools. Syndication tools. Annotation tools

Importance of peer review.  ‘Peer review is like trolling’

When we open students work, we are subjecting them to constant peer review

Some of my students admitted to being trolls and are proud of it. Trolling as an act of rebellion.

I don’t want it to be so open that it’s pointless.  How do we structure open so that’s there is something there?

Have people in this group generate a list of what they are trying

Get everyone in the OPLC to create a blog, have participants write blog posts about their teaching, syndicate their blogs to a main site for the OPLC.

Trying not to kill my mind

I must not fear by ben b is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Since fear is the mind killer, I am trying to have some courage.  My mind needs all the help it can get these days.  My fear in joining the Open Learning 17 faculty collaborative isn’t really about writing poorly or having nothing to say that anyone else wants to read (although I have those fears too); but more a fear that I won’t be able to keep up! Fear of being too busy.  But Laura Vanderkam recently reminded us that it isn’t about the quantity of time we have, but about how we set our priorities.  I am setting out this semester to facilitate an Open Pedagogy Learning Community at Keene State College where I work- but I have a lot to learn!   It seems like a good idea for me to take advantage of as many learning opportunities as I can, so here I am.

The Open Pedagogy Learning Community at KSC

Keene State College begins its Open Pedagogy Faculty Learning Community (OPLC) this Spring 2017 semester.  I am very grateful for the generous support of the Keene State College Faculty Enrichment, Faculty Fellow program, and excited to facilitate this learning community together with KSC Instructional Consultant, Chris Odato.

From the time that I first began learning about it, the Open Education movement, to me, seemed uniquely poised to be part of a range of solutions to the numerous problems facing both higher education and our society in general. Centralizing the political context of Open Ed has always been part of my thinking about it.  But since November 2016, it seemed especially critical.  As I sought to recruit faculty for the OPLC in December I sent the following email:

*******

Dear faculty colleagues,

As our country faces more and more uncertainty, many of you have asked yourselves, what can I do about it? How can my role as a professor or someone who works with college students have a greater impact in influencing our larger culture? Some of you might join me in wondering how higher education has lost touch with a public that seems to increasingly undervalue us and can even be outright hostile.

Open Pedagogy is not a panacea, but it does offer some unique possibilities to address these questions. Open Pedagogy is part of the larger Open Education movement. Teaching in the Open is about building connections and community. It is about connecting students to a larger world and making the process of education more transparent, understandable and accessible. Open Pedagogy also deeply prioritizes the concept and value of students constructing their own learning process. While it involves the use of the web and some easy-to-learn technological tools, it is not about the technology itself. Practitioners of Open Pedagogy actively critique and confront the industrial and corporate approach of co-opting and packaging ‘teaching technology’ to turn students into consumers.  Instead, they utilize the as web a place for uncontrolled discovery, creativity and analysis, and as a venue for dialogue with the wider public. Students need faculty who can facilitate and support this learning process.  When students can work within a ‘Domain of their Own’, the web offers unlimited potential.  Open Pedagogy can be utilized in any type of class, regardless of discipline.

Some OP practitioners have said:

“Openness …can mean that students see themselves as actively building their learning, not simply being recipients of someone else’s version of it.”  Audrey Watters, Founder of Hack Education

“…networked learning is not about digital tools, but about the dream of the public commons. And that’s not about new high-tech modes of connection but about community-driven communication and the empowerment of diverse public voices.”  [Open Pedagogy can] “help teachers develop practices that allow students to critique and contribute to the knowledge economy.” Robin DeRosa, Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies, Plymouth State University

“Education is inherently an ethical and political act.”- Michael Apple  (HT Catherine Cronin, National University of Ireland, Galway)

Reasons to join the OPLC:

  • because you don’t have time NOT to join in on these critical conversations
  • because you are interested in critically engaged pedagogy
  • because this is not about technology, it is about students and teachers and learning
  • because the world is changing and you want to change with it, and help direct that change
  • because you believe that putting students at the center of their learning makes them take ownership and care more deeply about what they are doing
  • because online isn’t going away, even if you choose to stay offline

**********

I was very happy to have received many enthusiastic responses and a surprising number (to me) of faculty ready to commit to meeting every other week on a Friday! We are fortunate to have faculty from Sociology, English, Women’s and Gender Studies, Communication, Education, Music, Environmental studies, Library, Biology, Chemistry, and Physical education.  I feel very honored to be a part of this grassroots, faculty-driven initiative at Keene State College!

In our planning, I also sought resources from Tweeps, Followees and Open Ed experts on Twitter. I was blown away by the number of generous responses and retweets of my call for help- what an amazing group.  I gathered a list of those resources together and share them HERE.  A huge THANK YOU to Maha Bali, Gardner Campbell, Samantha Veneruso, Christian Friedrich, Laura Gogia, Catherine Cronin, Simon Thomson, George Station, Bonnie Stewart, Rajiv Jhangiani, Dan Blickensderfer, Alan Levine, Jeff McClurken, Jamison Miller, Mariana Funes and Robin DeRosa.  This list (in an open google doc) is a work in progress, please add anything to it that you think would be helpful!

Open Pedagogy Learning Community Resource List

We are also planning an Open Education Speaker Series for this spring that includes Robin DeRosa, Andrew Rikard, Erika Burke, Martha Burtis and Bonnie Stewart.  Details and Periscopes to come soon!

I promise to report back later on our progress and as our plans develop. Stay tuned!  Also follow us on Twitter at #KSCollab

 

The ‘we’ and ‘our’ in any of the statements above refer to the

Open Ed Keene Dream Team:

Jennifer Darrow (@gobman) KSC Academic Technology Director Extraordinaire

Celia Rabinowitz (@crabinowitz) KSC Dean of Library and Awesomeness

Robin DeRosa (@actualham) Goddess of all things Open, and our USNH colleague (yeah that’s right, and Jenny, Celia and I feel like we won the megabucks colleague lottery!)

Karen Cangialosi (@karencang) Faculty member and rebel rouser

Left to right: Karen, Robin, Jenny and Celia

Changing the Tide

jess-cCongratulations to Jessica Comeau, Keene State College Biology student who has been selected as a finalist in the TEDx student presenter competition!  Jess will present:  ‘Changing the Tide:  Empowering Youth as a Pathway to Sustainability’.   Jessica has been involved for two years in our coral reef monitoring and local youth education program that we have been running since 2008.   She was awarded funding from the BEST (Building Excellence in Science and Technology) program that allowed her to make three trips to the Turks and Caicos Islands and work with the students from Clement Howell high school on Providenciales.   The finalist competition takes place on Sunday, Nov 6.

Update:  Jess was selected as the Runner-Up in the contest!   Watch the video of her presentation:

Her abstract:

From the Great Barrier Reef to the Caribbean Islands, coral reefs are dying and many species are in danger of extinction.  The young residents of these islands may be our only hope.  Industrial tourism is having devastating effects on local ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, including the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI)- which are now at a critical juncture.

The coral reefs of Providenciales, and the other islands of TCI are still mostly in good shape.  But we have seen some dramatic changes in development over the years that have had severe impacts on its coral reefs.  Which path will TCI take?  Follow the ways of others and continue development with no eye towards preserving its natural environment?  Or use the principles of conservation to underscore its development practices?  We believe that the Turks and Caicos Islands are uniquely positioned to serve as a model for sustainability in Caribbean.

Keene State College students and faculty have worked together to create a program that is based on an acknowledgement of the critical relationship between the empowerment of local people and environmental impacts.  Collaborating with stakeholders from the TCI government, local businesses, and schools, we have focused our efforts on the young TCI residents who have spent their whole lives on these islands.   Particularly we strive to instill the awe and curiosity that comes with experiencing a coral reef for the first time.  And then to turn that fascination into understanding, and then understanding into a commitment to make change.

 

One Foot In, One Foot Out

I wrote this in response to Institutionalized by Mike Caulfield and following the Jim Groom and Mike C. conversation.  And frankly just trying to keep up as others are also posting about this!  See Stephen Downes‘ piece and Maha Bali’s, The Sustainability of Open.

This is not a new debate. And may be one of those non-debate debates, like nature/nurture.  One of the oldest struggles that activists have had in any movement is whether to work ‘in or out of the system’.  And if Open Education is a movement, it needs its activists – inside and out.

Not sure who Mike is accusing of “romanticizing the fact they are poised against the institution”. And maybe he means us tenured, full professors who have and still enjoy a very decent salary.  But it hasn’t always been an easy road for many of us to get here. And this is especially insulting to people who have had to fight institutions every step of the way for their very life.

The real argument here isn’t institutions vs. not institutions- but who gets to have a say over how these institutions are run, who gets to set the priorities, who has the power.  Also, there seems to be a real misunderstanding here of equating ‘non-institutionalizing’ with rogue individuals just working on their own.  But activism has been about organizing groups of people – want to call that an institution? Whatever.  Do huge groups of gay rights activists in the street, for example, constitute an institution? By the way, it was that kind of activism that eventually led to institutional changes like legalizing gay marriage in the U.S.

“You can’t make real and lasting change without reforming institutions.” says Mike. But as any good feminist understands, the pressure from OUTSIDE of the power-holding institution is what leads to the institutional change.

 “Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference—those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older—know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” 

Audre Lourde, History is a Weapon, The Masters tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s house

Especially for those of us that work in so-called public institutions, the influence of the voice of most of the people inside of those originally well-intended institutions is being increasingly eroded and replaced by a corporate top-down structure.  Why?

“But we don’t have any money”! -seems to be the excuse.   Nobody seems to have any money these days. Not schools, not communities, not local businesses.

 

People working inside of higher ed institutions who have watched them close down, or are watching the very essence of teaching and learning slowly and deliberately being defined and controlled by a consumer model are not just ‘romanticizing’ about being ‘poised against the institution’.

Perhaps the piece in Jim Groom’s post that needs the most attention is his link to Audrey Watters, The Education Apocalypse.  To me, these are the questions:  Why is public support for Higher Ed eroding? To what extent has this been engineered by profit-motivated corporations seeking a new base of untapped consumers?  And what can we do about it?

Open Education has the great potential- if we do it right – to make crystal clear, the connection between what students are learning in their universities AND the value of that learning to the public commons. As our institutions become increasingly defined by corporate structure, we will more and more need to collectively organize outside of them to effect the changes necessary to get this message through.

Into the Open

The Seawall in Vancouver by K. Cangialosi

My 2016 summer session biology course, Evolution and Human Behavior, finished up a few weeks ago. I had asked my students to write a final blog post reflecting on their experiences in the course and figured it is about time that I do the same.

As I began to think about the summer course itself, I found that I needed to go back a little further and review how I got to this point.  My decision to dramatically transform my teaching of this course came about as a result of a series of events and interactions. Last year, I spearheaded a complete overhaul of one of our two main Introductory (1st year) biology courses, BIO 110 Molecules and Cells, using a blended design. Since most of the content was to be delivered online, we searched for an online textbook. Who knew that the journey into looking for free online readings and resources for our biology students would be the beginning of my journey into understanding the meaning and power of open education? We decided to use OpenStax Biology, an OER (Open Educational Resource). I thought it was great to be able to provide links to just those chapters that we wanted our students to learn, put them in whatever order we liked, and that there were practice quizzes and links to animations.  At the time, because we also used a lot of other freely available stuff like YouTube videos, material from the Genetics Learning Science Center and other sites; the distinction between ‘free’ and ‘open’ was lost on me. We were saving our students money and that seemed like a big deal.

Then a few things happened that really opened (pun intended) my eyes and my world to the possibilities of Open Education. First of all, I was invited by our Keene State College Academic Technology director, Jenny Darrow, to attend the 2015 Open Education Conference in Vancouver last November.  What a difference a conference can make!  As I listened to numerous speakers, and had discussions with participants, it all started to become a little clearer. Open was about so much more than ‘free stuff’. In my quest to understand more, during the conference, I began typing a list of things in my notes that I titled: “Possible things that people mean when they say Open”. I shared my list with Jenny, and we kept discussing and going back and forth about what Open is and the potential that it held, not just for KSC, but for revolutionizing Higher Ed. The real turning point for me was realizing the incredible fortune (a great stroke of luck really!) that I had in having Robin DeRosa from Plymouth State University as a USNH (University System of New Hampshire colleague)! If you don’t already know, Robin is a superstar in the Open Ed movement. There was a ‘light bulb’ moment (or two or three…) during some conversations with Robin when I realized that the true power and potential of Open Ed wasn’t OER, but Open Pedagogy. Robin, and the colleagues that she connected with, were talking about revolutionary transformation in how we teach, and in how students could learn. This was powerful stuff and I wanted to know more.

Jenny and I wasted no time in inviting Robin to speak at Keene State College in January 2016. I’ve been in academia a long time, and I have had more than my share of cynicism and eye-rolling at Higher Ed jargon and slogans like ‘student-centered’ and ‘putting learners first’ and ‘innovation’. But Robin was actually doing it -and being wildly successful at it.  Robin talked about making students the ‘architects of the course’ and having no ‘disposable assignments’ and emphasizing ‘community and collaboration over content’.  She asked us to consider ‘what is the shelf-life of the content in your discipline?’ And even more powerfully- the crux of open pedagogy- that students need to be connected to a larger world outside of their classroom, their institution of higher learning, their instructor and their peers. “To bring the students into the community of scholars, you need to engage students in their professional and scholarly communities- in their own institutions with other professors, with professors and scholars and workers at other institutions, with students outside of their classroom, with students at other institutions, and with community stakeholders – so they can enter the knowledge economy that is turning over so much faster than ever before” (Robin DeRosa January 2016).  And how better to do that than through the use of the internet and digital tools? But this was about so much more than technology.

“…networked learning is not about digital tools, but about the dream of the public commons. And that’s not about new high-tech modes of connection but about community-driven communication and the empowerment of diverse public voices.” Robin DeRosa 2015, Working In/At Public

When technology itself is presented as the central force driving change in education, it is often seen for the falsehood that it is by many a wise faculty member. Academic technology is just a set of tools, maybe a really awesome set of tools, but still a set of tools that have no skills and creativity of their own (like a set of high-end power tools, useless in the wrong hands). I have heard many faculty members say things like, ‘I’d like to use educational technology, but I don’t have time to learn it well enough to teach it to my students’. But the tools are NOT the point. In fact, Robin points to her own lack of familiarity (when she started) about how to use some of the technological tools, and how this actually improved her pedagogy because students going out and trying to learn things on their own IS the point. Inspire students, shake their foundations, teach them how to ask good questions, motivate them to seek answers and make connections- this is what we have always striven for as good educators. So why keep using a screwdriver to do this work when you have access to set of power tools?

Following Robin (@actualham) on Twitter, reading nearly everything she has written about Open Ed, and reading and listening to other experts in Open Education and Educational Technology, led me eventually to listen to a Future Trends Forum hosted by Bryan Alexander and his guest for the day, Gardner Campbell. Gardner said many brilliant things that day, and I really encourage you to listen for yourself to the recording at Bryan’s website. But the one thing that he said, that stuck in my mind and wouldn’t leave, was that his most important learning outcome for his students was that they have “an increased capacity for interest, both in breadth and in depth”.  When I heard this, I thought- that is exactly the learning outcome I want for my students- and the only learning outcome that is necessary.

I went to the notes that I had been making for a while about changes that I wanted to make in my online course, Evolution and Human Behavior, and wrote in all caps to myself:  ‘SCRAP THE WHOLE F…ING COURSE AS IT IS!’

When Gardner Campbell talked about students not just contributing to the digital commons, but to that “larger commons that we call civilization”;  and Robin wrote  “…what I think we could work for is the slow and deliberate carving out of a public digital space…one that insists on the critical naming and challenging of silencing, exclusive, cruel, and oppressive structures”,  I was moved in a way that I had not felt since reading bell hooks. Education could truly be about the practice of freedom, about real transgression, and the tools of Open Education could help get us there in a way that we have not experienced before. For those of us that believe that our job is to help students become agents that can transform the society we live in, not just replicate it, the potential of Open Ed was like breathing fresh air after living for a long time in a dark, moldy basement. But Robin also reminds us that Open is not a panacea, it is up to us to thoughtfully implement it in ways that make student learning truly transgressive.

So, my summer Evolution and Human Behavior course became my learning space and my first baby steps towards trying to do this.

INBIO 300 Evolution and Human Behavior is an upper-level, non-majors biology course that ‘counts’ as a requirement in the integrated studies (general education) program at Keene State College. So students don’t necessarily have a lot of background in the subject area, but they are not first-year students either so they’ve learned a thing or two about how to navigate a college course. I used Canvas (the LMS for Keene State) as a place to provide ‘nuts and bolts’ information, but mostly the course took place via students blogs and twitter. I thought hard how to get rid of my usual managerial style of teaching which is often too controlling. In the spirit of Gardner Campbell, I wanted to create a ‘swirling madness’ that allowed to students to explore whatever ideas were interesting to them and help them avoid their tendency to be compliant as a means of getting a good grade.  (The canvas course is publicly visible and you can access most of the material here if you like.)

Because human behavior is inherently interesting to most people, and offers such a broad range of possibilities for investigation, it seemed like the perfect course to do this experiment.

Also, as the understanding of evolution is fundamental to the study of every sub-field within biology, I wanted students to figure out its importance through their own self-driven interest and discovery. Students were asked to explore whatever questions or topics interested them within the context of the evolution of human behavior. I gave them questions to begin with, but they were free to explore questions not on my list if they wanted to. I also gave them a vocabulary list and asked them to incorporate the terms into their blog posts. (I guess I wasn’t ready to entirely give up all my instructional influence on what they were doing, and I am not sure this is a bad thing. I welcome any suggestions or comments about this or anything else).  I also provided several readings, articles, videos and other content to help get them started if they wanted to use it. But everything was optional.

I barely provided any instructions on how to set up a blog (using wordpress) and all of them seemed to figure it out without major problems. Along the way, I answered a few questions and gave them some feedback via screencasts, but they mostly used wordpress help or other resources to set up and modify their sites. I am especially grateful to Laura Gogia (@GoogleGuacamole) for her incredibly well-constructed resources for how to do proper and effective hyperlinking, embedding and attributing. I basically copied and pasted her stuff into my canvas course- it is so excellent and anyone considering using student blogs for their courses needs to read her work at The Integration of Web Culture into Higher Education. Check out especially the drop-down menu for students.  And no course like this would be worthwhile without explanation and a link to Creative Commons.

Summer sessions are different in many ways, the time goes very quickly (only 7 weeks), and having only 9 students in the class makes it a different experience as well. It allowed me to read every blog and tweet and comment that any of them had written through the whole course- and to respond. I am still figuring out how to strike that balance between wanting them to feel my presence and input, but not wanting them to feel like they were always under surveillance or just writing for me.  Most of them did a great job commenting on the blog posts of their peers (another requirement).

I think twitter worked extremely well for discussion, reminders, links to blog posts, articles and any interesting stuff.  (You can explore #evolhumbehav on twitter if you are interested). It took some arm-twisting for some students to tweet, but most of them got it quickly and liked using it. There was resistance by one student who hated it. How much did they tweet just because I ‘made them’?  I’m not sure I can answer this but a couple of them are still tweeting now that the class is over which is very gratifying to see. Towards the end of the course, I organized a synchronous Twitter chat with my students. It worked really well and next time I will organize one of these much sooner and do a few more.

My efforts to engage them in the larger community outside of the class were only somewhat successful. I think the short session time and summer vacations contributed, but I what I need to do mostly is to keep building my own online PLN (personal learning network).  But it was so great to see blog post comments and tweets from my wonderful colleagues and tweeps (especially @actualham, @googleguacamole, @susanwhittemore) and from some people with whom I had no previous connections. My students mentioned that they really liked hearing from others outside of our class, and again, the whole point of blogging and communicating outside of an LMS.

For grading, I used only self-evaluation forms where I asked them to give a grade for various things and to explain why they should have that grade (there were a total of 3 self-evaluation forms for them to complete- at 2 weeks, 4 weeks and 7 weeks. My hope was to get them thinking about their efforts and to see what might need improvement. At the end, I asked them to give an overall grade for themselves for the class. Surprisingly, they almost all gave themselves the same grade that I would have given them without their input. I also asked them whether they planned to keep blogging in the future and saw potential in their site for other uses.  Most of them said yes and I will keep an eye out for their work!  One student already made significant progress towards making her site into a professional e-portfolio.

In closing, I want to say that I really enjoyed this class much more than I usually do! I was so very impressed with my students and I learned many new things. It definitely increased my interest in continuing to learn how to be an educator in the Open.

“Holy shit, bigger world!” (quote from Gardner Campbell, June 2016, USNH Academic Technology Institute). 

The Caribbean as Playground

Whenever I tell someone that I do coral reef monitoring work in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), the first response is usually something like, “Oh, do you need an assistant?! I’d love to come with you!” or “It must be really hard work! ha ha ha.” as if they can’t believe we actually do anything there other than lay around on the beach.  I don’t really blame people for having this reaction, but it is starting to annoy me more and more.  You see the Caribbean is so much more than just a playground for Americans or Europeans or other visitors. Real people actually live there full time, some for many generations, some for just a few years. And for them, it is not a vacation. For many people, especially the Haitian refugees and their families, and the Turks Islanders (the “Belongers”)- life can be pretty harsh there. For, ex-patriots from many, many countries, it is their home- with its ups and downs, but it is not a fantasy land.

All of the people that I know that live on Providenciales (the most populated island in TCI) work extremely hard, primarily in the tourism industry.  Not surprisingly, tourism is the main source of revenue for TCI (as it is in the rest of the Caribbean, Bahamas and many other places), so packaging these islands as ‘Paradise’ and ‘Beautiful by Nature’ is critical to their success at attracting visitors.  I get that, I really do. I enjoy the beautiful water, the sunsets, the warmth, the beaches and an occasional pina colada for sure. And I understand this need to keep up the reputation as a place to go for fun.  But there is a lot of illusion built into this concept of paradise in the Caribbean in general.   People work really hard so that you are whisked off in an air-conditioned vehicle from the airport, and quickly down the high way past the streets that turn off towards Blue Hills and other places that are residences for many local people. They work hard so that you are deposited into your hotel or all-inclusive on the beach and don’t experience much of the rest of the island. They work hard to carefully sweep the beaches every day and remove the natural debris that washes up from the ocean so that you think this pristine white sand is what beaches naturally look like. They work hard to make sure you have a good time parasailing, or snorkeling, or diving, or horse-back riding on the beach and so on. They work hard to make wonderful dishes at restaurants with local seafood. They work hard to make you believe that you are in paradise.

What you may not see are all of the impacts that this has on the environment- on the fragile coral reefs, on the freshwater supply, on other habitats like the mangroves and seagrass beds.  And what you may not also see is that many people are trapped in low-wage service jobs for their whole lives.  It isn’t paradise for them.  The tropical air, warm temperatures and mostly clear blue water do not actually translate to paradise for most people that live there.

When we go there to monitor the reefs, or work with local TCI students, or teach a Keene State College class there, we are not on vacation. It is wonderful, rewarding work.  I love the water, I am thrilled and inspired every time I dive and encounter the rich marine life.  I am truly happy to spend 10-12 hours/day schlepping heavy equipment long distances in the blistering heat, preparing food for students, shopping for supplies and groceries, driving students around from one end of the island to the other and back again, addressing medical needs, rinsing salt water off of dive gear, logging data, teaching students to snorkel, meeting with government officials, going back again and again to the government official offices because they weren’t there the first time, begging for money from fundraisers, eating peanut butter for lunch every day because food costs are high. I really am truly happy to do all this, I chose this work and I love it.  But I am not on vacation.

 

 

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