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?


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2 thoughts on “More Questions Than Answers (about Open Ped)

  1. Thanks for this, Karen. So much interesting engagement with openness over the past few weeks.

    In terms of my own small piece of the conversation, I *do* mean some of the narcisstic, isolated ways people approach digital identity, for sure, but even more so the ways platforms constrain our capacity to engage without signalling (in often surface or self-promotional ways, no matter what our intentions). In a sense, I’m aligning with Martha’s emphasis on the technical, and on the web as something we are creating. I think when we focus on self vs focus on social movement – or even just social sphere as a liveable space – we create very different possibilities. 🙂

  2. Bonnie- Thanks so much for your comments! I’d love to keep brainstorming and experimenting with tools/platforms that have the potential to help build digital social movements on the web.

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