Karen Cangialosi

Professor of Biology, Keene State College

Category: OpenLearning

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?


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.

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