Talking to Audrey Watters about web literacies. She’s a very smart person and I was impressed by what she had to say. I tried to capture most of what she said in this blog post.
As my colleagues are such a talented and productive bunch, an important part of my working day is spent in co-ordination. When you’re not co-located it’s important that you get your thinking out there, which is exactly what Brett Gaylor’s done with his post on New Webmaker Prototypes. Exciting stuff! My response is here.
This week I’ve been invited to over 10 events (including Estonia twice!), which is a little insane. I said no to pretty much all of them, as I’m trying to travel less (and be more strategic when I do travel) in 2013.
I’m trying to comment on more blog posts, especially when people are sharing the awesome work they’re doing around badges. Most notably, I commented on posts by Chris Sharples, Zoe Ross, Robert Weeks, and Grainne Hamilton. You should go and read them (the posts, not necessarily my comments!)
Interestingly, the post by Robert Weeks was stimulated by a virtual presentation to the Bristol ‘weelearning’ group on Wednesday. Formerly a badge skeptic, Robert is now a badge enthusiast. Job done. 🙂
My work around web literacies is going to end up as a ‘learning standard’. I’ve been discussing this with Erin and Carla. More on that soon.
I spent Thursday in Leicester in the company of Josie Fraser, Lucy Atkins, Richard Hall and David White. I was advising on a new digital literacies framework for teachers in Leicester which should, hopefully, lead to badge-infused CPD. That was a bit of an epic journey: 4.5 hours each way in a day. Except the train was delayed on the way after a suicide on the line. 🙁
The ILTA invited me to write up my keynote last year into a journal article. I’m about half-way there, I reckon, and should finish it on Monday. It will have the title Zen and the Art of Digital Literacies.
When I wasn’t doing the above I was clearing the drive of snow, spending time at the gym (no running this week!), and sledging, snowman-making, and generally spending time with my family before…
Next week I’ll be escaping the snowy hinterland of Northumberland and heading to sunny California to meet my colleagues. We’ll be participating in a DML conversation around, you guessed it, Open Badges. On that note, I’m delighted to have been asked to do more work around learning and assessment related to badges – so look out for more posts of that nature in the near future!
Image uploaded originally by Cory Doctorow on Twitter
If there’s one thing that educators, and especially those involved in educational technology agree upon, it’s that the time for ‘business as usual’ as come to an end:
All of us, especially within the EdTech community, can begin to think about how to develop ‘resilient education’. That is, a pedagogy and curriculum that both encourages and fosters the radical change that is necessary as well as ensuring that the present depth, breadth and quality of education is sustainable in a future where there may be less abundance and freedom than we have become accustomed to. (Joss Winn, 2009)
Whilst I certainly wouldn’t label myself a Marxist, I do agree with Richard Hall’s critique of Capitalism and the enclosure of public spaces where ‘non-legitimised’ skills currently flourish:
A global range of skills, alongside stories in which they might be situated, exist in spaces that remain as yet unenclosed. These spaces might be harnessed collaboratively for more than profiteering, or the extraction of surplus value or further accumulation or financialisation, or alienation. We teach and re-think these skills and these ways of thinking every day with other staff and students and within our communities of practice. We need the confidence to imagine that our skills might be shared and put to another use. We need the confidence to defend our physical and virtual commons as spaces for production and consumption. We need the confidence to think ethically through our positions. We need the confidence to live and tell a different story of the purpose of technology-in-education. (Richard Hall, 2011)
We can see this in the way, for example, Pearson have labelled their new, ‘free’ LMS offering ‘OpenClass’ and Blackboard talk about the way their system is ‘open’ because academics can choose to CC license work within their system. It’s nothing less than the commoditisation of Open Education.*
1. capable of being bent, usually without breaking; easily bent: a flexible ruler.
2. susceptible of modification or adaptation; adaptable: a flexible schedule.
3. willing or disposed to yield; pliable: a flexible personality.
1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
There’s a subtle difference between the two positions: one is active and one is passive. One is future-shaping and empowering whilst the other looks for authority elsewhere.
Sometimes two pieces of writing from very different sources complement each other so well that quoting from each in the right order tells the story without superfluous words from the person doing the juxtaposition. These quotations are taken from Seth Godin’s Pre Digital (2011) and the 52 Group’s Preparing for the postdigital era (2009). All emphases are mine.
The intersection of technology and the social has often been a driver of social change. The mainstreaming and mass production of powerful digital tools has had a profound effect on the way that we live and learn. These digital tools have allowed us to speed up communication, publish our thoughts in any number of ways and allowed for new complex forms of collaboration. The speed and reach of this transition has had a profound effect on what it means to be a participant in society. The speed of the change, however, has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow ‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on a the canvas of the digital; that the digital itself is the main driver of change. We would argue the opposite. (52 Group)
School is pre-digital. Elections. Most of what you do in your job. Even shopping. The vestiges of a reliance on geography, lack of information, poor interpersonal connections and group connection (all hallmarks of the pre-digital age) are everywhere.
Perhaps the most critical thing you can say of a typical institution: “That place is pre-digital.”
All a way of saying that this is just the beginning, the very beginning, of the transformation of our lives. (Seth Godin)
The transition to a postdigital way of thinking allows for that previously coded as ‘digital’ to be woven into the wider discussion of social dialects that people bring to their acts of collaboration… Texts have been recorded in spaces like Facebook and MySpace that have previously been the content of private conversation and casual face-to-face interaction. We have the (mis)fortune of having a record of the social grooming of our time, which, sadly, is often misinterpreted as a degrading our our social intellect. It is a manifest record of the facile “Hi how are you? Fine thank you”s of the older generation, which, when recorded 6 billion times might appear facile, but is, in reality, simply a confirmation of social connectedness worn smooth in repetition. (52 Group)
Postdigital aims to throw off the yoke of digital dogma, where the language of a perceived digital elite drives not only development, but also skews innovation, where innovation is only seen as being that associated with the “latest” technology… Innovation in a postdigital era is more effectively articulated as being associated with the human condition and the aspiration toward new or enhanced connectedness with others. (52 Group)
My three main areas of research are Open Educational Resources (OER), Mobile Learning and Digital Literacies. I have no problem talking and writing about the latter of these – it is, after all, the subject of a thesis I’ve been writing for the last few years. Mobile learning, too, presents no great issue: I used mobile devices in the classroom as a teacher and Director of e-Learning. Moreover, because it’s a relatively new area there’s only a few ‘experts’ to which to defer.
OER is a different kettle of fish. Not only is it a increasingly-mature area of study but it’s a political minefield. Coupled to the fact that it’s very much a Higher Education-focused area of enquiry, I haven’t ventured many opinions publicly. However, as I continue to develop the OER infoKit with consultant Lou McGill I feel that I do have something to say about OER.
So here goes… (and this is my opinion, not my employer’s, etc.)
Recently I’ve been going back through the key posts in the OER debate curated by Lou McGill on the OER infoKit here. It makes for fascinating reading as, not only are there some very intelligent people arguing against each other (always interesting!) but it’s evident that OER is a battleground not over educational practice but ideology.
I’m a big fan of the philosophy of Pragmatism, as espoused by Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, and developed by luminaries such as John Dewey, W.V. Quine and Richard Rorty. My rule of thumb is that things worth pursuing should be ‘good in the way of belief’. In fact, it’s probably worth wheeling out the 10 guiding statements about what Pragmatism means from my thesis:
Pragmatism is an anti-skeptical endeavour.
Dividing lines between theory and action are arbitrary.
Truth is conditional and dependent upon a community of inquirers.
Human experience of the external world is ineffable.
Pragmatism is method of ‘un-thinking’ rather than providing an explicit framework.
A universally-held set of beliefs is impossible.
Any statement can be accommodated as ‘true’ by amending a belief system to a greater or lesser extent.
Knowledge is a matter of social practice rather than mirroring nature.
We ‘create’ rather than ‘discover’ truth.
New concepts are often understood through metaphor, enter common usage, and then ‘die off into literalness’.
So, what has this got to do with ‘user outcomes’? I think there’s three points I’d like to make about OER in this regard.
1. There’s nothing special about OER
Stripped back to basics, there’s nothing magical or especially revolutionary about Open Educational Resources. An educator allows others to use the materials they prepared. This has been happening ever since people have been able to share things.
The revolutionary thing comes in the co-ordination of the system around such sharing. The first massive massive boon to this has been the widespread adoption of Creative Commons licenses. These allow resource creators to state explicitly the conditions under which others can use what they have created. The second, which is perhaps where organizations such as JISC have been instrumental, is the expansion of open-access repositories like Jorum. Instead of merely unco-ordinated and fragmented institutional and personal repositories, there is a growing expectation that a copy of OERs will be deposited in such repositories.
As Mike Caulfield puts it, people do things out of habit because of established frameworks. He uses the simile of recipes:
If a recipe had to explain everything about cooking — what it was to beat an egg, what it meant to mix something, how broiling differed from sauteeing — well, no one would write recipes, and no one would use them. Recipes exist in a system of cooking that is relatively narrowly defined — the framework is in place, it just needs this thing called the recipe to work.
If we want people to share OERs then we need to make it easy for them to do so. But more than that, it needs to become just another thing that’s expected of educators.
2. There are no meaningful metrics for OERs
Not everything that can be measured should be measured; the pig doesn’t get any fatter by weighing it. If sharing and openly-licensing resources is a good thing that educators should do, then it needs to be an expected part of professional practice.
As I have often said with metrics such as numbers of followers on Twitter or winning awards, true influence is a fickle beast. Quantity is not quality. So what if one resource has been used 100,000 times and another one only 14? Unless you know in what circumstances and for what purposes it was used in each case, the task is meaningless. And even then the parts can be more than the sum – just look at the REF.
The point is that OER release is adding to and improving the quality of the sum of human understanding, in an even more profound way than a research paper or press release. A good OER is written to support deep learning and this is the advantage that academia, which is unique in grappling with these issues every day, can bring.
An OER might never find itself being reused, but the process by which it is created is inherently valuable. It’s about mindsets, not metrics.
3. It’s not about OER, it’s about Openness
I can feel the vitriol that this comment will no doubt engender, but just how many people banging on about OER have taught in a classroom environment? And I don’t mean the occasional webinar or guest lecture, I mean preparing lessons day-in, day-out over years. It makes a difference to the way you approach the issue.
Scroll back up and read statements 2, 6 and 8 again. Whilst academic ideas and debates are important, the point – to paraphrase Marx – is not to describe the world but to change it. Waiting for everyone to agree about OERs before getting on and doing something about changing the system is a fool’s errand. No amount of posturing changes practice.
What’s much more important is to change the mindsets of educators so that OER release and reuse is an outflow of something they want to do. Thankfully, I think that Amber Thomas (another JISC programme manager) understands this:
Its worth saying… that of course open content isn’t just about the content … because it is also a manifestation of a way of working … and the benefits of the open way of working are:
knowing that content will be public is an incentive to improve the content
collaborative development improves the work: the many eyes principle
the best thing to do with your data/idea will be thought of by someone else
if the public have paid, the public should benefit
It would be remiss of me not to reference the excellent critiques of OER by Joss Winn and Richard Hall at this point. Read them, they’re eye-opening and staggeringly well-written.
Sadly, what I think is almost entirely lacking in the debate (apart perhaps from in Amber’s commentary) is an understanding that OER is merely a supply-side term for something that, let’s face it, educators should be doing anyway. Joss Winn’s qualms noted, it still seems manifestly obvious that if educators are funded by the taxpayer then what they do should be for the public good. And to my mind, that includes being as open as possible. I’m not particularly bothered if OERs are good for marketing, good for career progression or good for the REF. They’re good in the way of belief.