Open Academic Practice – How open are you?

This was a question that I asked FSLT13 participants this week in a synchronous online session that I was invited to run. I suggested that we place ourselves on this grid, according to whether we consider ourselves a lone academic or an open scholar and whether we make limited use of digital technologies or extensive use of them. This was the response.
how open are you 2
Given that FSLT13 is principally for people new to learning and teaching in Higher Education, but also for anyone who has an interest in learning and teaching in HE, the outcome of this activity is not really surprising. Whilst the majority of people in the session felt they are making good use of digital technologies, not everyone feels they are working as open academics, and as one participant pointed out the notion of ‘openness’ can be context dependent.

The invitation to run this live session was good for me. It forced me to consider how open I am. I decided to try and depict this graphically by using characteristics which have been discussed by Terry Anderson and Martin Weller (see references at the end of this post), scoring myself out of 10 for each characteristic and generating a radar graph. This was the result.
Characteristics of an open academic
It is fairly obvious from this that there is room for more openness in my academic practice, but that would mean increased contribution of OERs and shared outputs, increasing my online network and mixing personal and professional outputs. To be honest, I am hesitant to do any of these things. I can just about keep up with the online network I have, my outputs would have to be of significantly higher quality for me to feel confident in pushing them out there, and there’s no way I want to share aspects of my personal life with people I don’t know. So that leaves me with being more adventurous with new technologies, which I could/should do, and maybe that would increase my confidence with sharing outputs and thus increase my online network.

Given how many years’ experience I have had of teaching and learning on and offline, it is easy to see how becoming an open academic can be daunting. I have in the past discussed the ‘tyranny’ of openness  and the fact that regarding openness as some sort of moral imperative can be unhelpful.

I haven’t changed my views on this, as I don’t think we can force people to be ‘open’. But I do think it is worth reflecting on Terry Anderson’s comments that

‘…successful educators share most thoroughly with the most students’

‘…expertise is non-rivalrous … it can be given without being given away’

In other words openness can be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.

But ultimately openness is an individual dimension as Carmen Tschofen and I discussed in our paper – Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual experience (see reference below).

These were the ideas (and there were more), that we discussed in the live session, a recording of which has been posted on `YouTube’. I will now try and address my reluctance to share outputs by posting this here  – and hope I don’t live to regret it 🙂

It took me a while to relax (I still find it difficult to talk to an invisible audience), but once I got going, I enjoyed it. However, despite all my preparation and determination to be sufficiently organised to be able to follow the chat at the same time as speaking, I still didn’t manage it. So apologies to those whose questions went unanswered.

Finally I was really interested to see this response to aspects of the session from Steffi in her Week 1 reflection

The rewards of open practice come in reciprocity, alternative perspectives and opportunities for dialogue. Thanks to FSLT13 participants and team for this opportunity.

References

Anderson, T.  (2009).  Association for Learning Technology Conference, keynote presentation.  http://www.slideshare.net/terrya/terry-anderson-alt-c-final

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar. How technology is transforming academic practice http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781849666275

Tschofen, C. & Mackness, J. (2011). Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1143

Scholarship and the ‘Tyranny’ of Openness

There have been some great comments by George Veletsianos, Mark McGuire and Fred Garnett on my blog post, which asked the question ‘What is a Scholar’ –  prompted by George’s presentation to ChangeMooc.

In George’s comment he asks

Are we are attempting to impose our values (of openness, sharing, online learning as the future of education, etc) without a critical examination of what that means for practice and for individuals who are part of social organizations?

This is a very timely question. There has been a lot of discussion on the web over the past 12 months or so about what we mean by openness. According to Martin Weller it is a ‘state of mind’. I agree…..

….but whose mind? As Carmen Tschofen and I discussed in our paper – Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience  – openness means different things to different people – ‘learners may vary greatly in their desire for and interpretation of connectivity, autonomy, openness, and diversity

On p.137 we write

This inner state of openness offers a significantly expanded perspective from the much more externalized “sharing” definition of openness and the “no barriers” definition currently articulated in connectivism. It leaves room for the speculation, for example, that legitimate peripheral participants may be experiencing “openness” in relation to connective learning by being attentive in a mindful and non-judgmental way.

An understanding of psychological openness and its relationship to connectivist principles and process also introduces a potential connection between creativity and connective learning. The personality trait of openness to experience is linked to curiosity, exploration, creativity, and unusual ideas. These elements may be significant in gaining insight into MOOC “early adopters” and in understanding the challenges and rewards of promoting and conducting such unusual learning ventures. By the same token, learners who express discomfort in learning networked environments, calling, for example, for more structure, may be closer to the “more cautious” end of the openness spectrum, with greater preference toward the familiar, including learning conventions and traditions. Questions remain as to how connective learning can best accommodate learners throughout this spectrum.

So I agree with George that we need to critically reflect on what we mean by ‘openness’ and how this might affect our expectations of scholars and influence their scholarship. And I think I understand where he is coming from when he writes ‘I am worried about imposing a single worldview that we view as “correct” on others. Freire talks about the oppressed becoming oppressors, and I find that without an uncritical examination of our practice we might be heading towards that direction.’

I also understand where Mark is coming from when he writes about the dangers of becoming institutionalized

‘in the process of working within an institution, we become institutionalized. We internalize the values, assumptions, and practices of the institution of higher education as it is currently constructed, and we take on the mission statements, strategic plans, and objectives of the organization that pays our salary.’

‘becoming institutionalized is like becoming acclimatized or acculturated — it is an induction into a particular set of habits, histories and beliefs that we come to accept as natural and right. If we wish to develop new ways of organizing our labour and our learning using more open networks, in keeping with shifts elsewhere in contemporary society, we must be prepared to examine and critique our institutions and our place within them.’

It seems to me that both Mark and George are making a strong case for critical reflection on and critical examination of the meaning of openness. Is openness (like participation) becoming a ‘tyranny’ that we are all just drifting into? Or is openness essential to the future of education and scholars?

I’ll be interested to hear what Frances Bell has to say about this when she talks to #fslt12 MOOC on Wednesday 30 May


Frances Bell, “The role of openness by academics in the transformation of their teaching and learning practices.” Wednesday 30 May 2012, 1500 BST

What is a scholar?

George Veletsianos’ presentation to Week 33 of Change Mooc  has been very timely for the First Steps in Learning and Teaching Mooc  that I am planning with colleagues  at the moment.

George has posted a recording of his presentation to his blog and it is worth listening to. (See also – http://change.mooc.ca/recordings.htm) Another very interesting part of this presentation was the chat that it provoked. This focused on the question on ‘what is a scholar?’ a question that novice academics must surely think about. I have pulled together some of the key ideas and questions that came out of this chat. I’m not going to try and identify those responsible for each comment – but these are the people who contributed (in no particular order): Lisa Lane, Keith Hamon, Stephen Downes, Verena Roberts, ljp and Bon

This is how I have interpreted the key ideas – but I have also included quotes from the chat below.

  • You have to be networked to be a scholar
  • These days you not only have to be networked to be a scholar – you also have to be networked online
  • As a scholar you need to have your work critically assessed and this happens by submitting your work online
  • Sharing is an essential element of scholarship
  • Blogging can be scholarship
  • There is no such thing as a non-connected scholar
  • Scholarship relies on interaction
  • Institutional management processes are a constraint on scholarship

The discussion started with the question of whether in this digital age a scholar can be a scholar without being online. The conversation (chat) included these comments……

‘the act of becoming a scholar is (now / in the future) the same as the act of *creating* an online social network’ 

‘your activities may be online and off, but your *scholarly* activities (papers, presentations, discussion, etc) ought to be online – otherwise the

y’re just private & therefore not very scholarly’

‘I think we all became scholars by participating in networks, online and off’

‘… the extent that they are not online I think they are over time becoming less and less “scholars”

I became a scholar BY participating in online social networks (no chicken, no egg)

Then there was the question of whether you need to have your work critically assessed by online networks to be a scholar

‘…you can’t submit your work to critical assessment (these days) without really being online, and a person who does not subject their work to critical assessment is arguably not a scholar’ 

Sharing was considered an essential element of scholarship

‘..sharing is what makes scholarship valuable’

‘I can’t think of any scholarship that isn’t shared eventually’

That makes most blogging qualify as scholarship?’

‘… no but it does mean that blogging can be scholarship’

‘Do you have to be with a University and digital in order to be a scholar?’

and

What are the institutional constraints on scholarships?

‘ …institutions cannot change quickly enough to support the kind of work we are doing’‘management is based on [a] measurement, and [b] best practices and these are antithetical to good work’ 

we keep having to go outside institutions to do good work?

as a grad student, this academia beyond the institution potential is what i find most profoundly absent withIN the institution. little support and no scaffolding. people can’t model or even recognize what they don’t understand.

because our institutions keep wanting to ‘manage’ us

because the institutions cannot change quickly enough to support the kind of work we are doing, for instance here today

& management is based on [a] measurement, and [b] best practices and these are antithetical to good work

I wonder whether creating an environment for scholarship is an institution’s responsibility any more?

Can a person working on his own be a scholar?

I don’t think you can say an individual working on his/her own can’t be a scholar.

if a person is working on his/her own, then, what is it that makes them a scholar (and not, say, a carpenter)?

no scholar works on their own – that pile of books IS a network of scholars

There is no individual working alone – we are all born out of a discipline, or network of study, and we conduct our study (even alone) within the context of that network, using its language, tools, resources, reference points, even if we extend them or change them

generally, I think we would agree that just reading a bunch of books is not by itself ‘scholarship’

Maybe its about the interaction as well? Its difficult to interact “with” a book…have to interact in order to be a digital scholar?

a “bunch of books” + peer review of ones own work can equal scholarship

actually successful readers are highly interactive with the books they read

All these comments and questions seem to me to be directly relevant to the work of lecturers in Higher Education, whether or not they are new to the job.

My question

Is the identity of people working in Higher Education changing?

Or do you keep your identity intact in a special place known only to you as one chat participant commented ……

Final quote from the chat…

I keep my identity in a small cardboard box in the attic

I love this comment 🙂

I share….. therefore I am….

The title of this post is a quote from Sherry Turkle’s presentation on YouTube – Alone Together – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtLVCpZIiNs

But I could equally have given this post the title – People lose their identities in cybermush – which is an idea expressed (if not in those exact words) by Jaron Lanier in a conversation that he has with Aleks Krotoski about the failure of Web 2.0 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIwikI7IVYs .

Turkle and Lanier’s work has come into focus for me this week for two reasons.

First – they both focus on the same concerns that I have been discussing with Carmen Tschofen for quite a few months now – i.e. what is the impact of connectivity on the individual. The paper we are writing is almost ready for submission now.

Second – they were pointed to by Martin Weller as part of his work in Week 3 of ChangeMooc – http://change.mooc.ca/week03.htm

Martin Weller has been sharing his work on Digital Scholarship and in particular  ‘open scholarship’. In the changemooc website he writes…..

Although I have tried to avoid some of the more rabid evangelism one often encounters with new technology, it is fair to say that in general I regard digital scholarship as an improving force in scholarly practice, and that it provides ways of working that are often an improvement on existing methods. But it is not without its drawbacks and areas of concerns. In this section we will look at some of these, and consider which ones have the greatest significance and validity.

…. and asks

  • It is worth considering the nature and tone of some of these criticisms (criticism of Digital Scholarship), often based on anecdotes and lacking in evidence. Is this simply a case of the evidence not existing yet, or does it reveal something about the nature of the discussion?
  • Of the criticisms listed which ones do you feel are most significant?
  • Beyond the ones I’ve listed do you think there are other areas of serious concern which should give us pause to reflect in the adoption of digital scholarship approaches?

Weller – in Chapter 13 of his book – summarises these criticisms as follows:

  • Moving beyond the superficial – many successful Web 2.0 services essentially allow a very simple function, for example, sharing a photograph. Can we use the same techniques for deeper, more difficult tasks?
  • Understanding quality – this is not just about maintaining current quality, as this may not be appropriate in many forms, but appreciating when different levels of quality can be used.
  • Managing online identity – there is a tension for scholars and their students in gaining the benefits of a social network, which thrives on personal interactions, while not compromising professional identity.
  • Ownership of scholarly functions – there is also a dilemma regarding how much of scholarly discourse and activity we give over to cloud computing services and whether the benefits in terms of widespread use and (often) superior tools outweigh the potential risks.

In the work that I am doing with Carmen, we focus on issues relating to identity, but identity in relation to the learning of individuals rather than professional identity  – although there is clearly some overlap.  What concerns us is that connectivity, as Sherry Turkle states, can become addictive, can make us too busy to think and can lead to simply sharing what is easy to share (superficiality), rather than ideas that are more deeply considered.  Turkle tells us that ‘solitude energises and restores’ and that ‘alone’ is OK and is not the same thing as lonely. These are some of the ideas that Carmen and I have been discussing in more depth and have included in our paper.

I can’t speak for Carmen, but in terms of Digital Scholarship – I have been having difficulties in relation to this work I have been doing with Carmen. I work really slowly. It takes me a long time to read, digest ideas and sort out my thinking. None of it ever comes easily. So, I have been working on these ideas since February of this year.  Originally our discussions were about autonomy, but gradually our thinking shifted to a deeper levels of enquiry and understanding and after one submission of the paper which was returned, our focus shifted again. Clarifying and articulating the essence of our ideas and concerns has been a lengthy process. In the meantime, because we both follow conversations on the Web, we know that if we don’t get a move on our ideas will be out of date before we can publish – the conversation will have moved on. So there is this tension between seeking depth and understanding, and keeping up. Of course I appreciate that some (maybe many) people are clever enough to get to depth and understanding quickly, but I am not one of them 🙂

And then there has been the whole question of whether we should go down the publication/peer review route. Both of us work independently so we are not subject to the pressures to publish research exacted by many institutions, but having spent quite a few months on this work, it seems like a lot of effort if it is not going to be read by anyone. We could publish on our blogs, but I know that I don’t get what I would consider enough visitors to my blog (certainly not the daily hundreds that Martin Weller talked about), and blogs are not cited as much as papers. So the best option for me is an open peer reviewed journal – but even with these there is a delay between submission and publication. Whilst this might not be as great as for traditional journals it might still be too slow to keep up with current web conversations.

So for me there is a great tension between avoiding the superficial, seeking quality and depth, and the demands of open digital scholarship.

And of course I am aware that even after all this our paper may not be accepted 🙂