It all started with a tweet....
My employment history is somewhat interesting. As I have shared before - I am a recovering textbook sales rep. I worked for a large higher ed textbook publisher for almost 7 years, in between having babies, and because I had been recently laid off and needed a job as I had just purchased my very own "Money Pit". I am now an Instructional Technologist working with a team of Educational Developers on a campus in Ontario. I am also an #openadvocate (circa 2015), an #OEORanger (Open Ranger with eCampus Ontario) and a member of the #OpenRebelAlliance (#OpenCon).
I won't rehash the reasons I loved/hated by job in publishing, only to say that there were reasons that I loved *and* struggled in my job (see previous posts). A colleague (bless) recently said to me, "don't worry, you are on the good side now", and I had to sit with this for a second, If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that *many* folks working in higher education publishing are extraordinary, caring and smart people. We all have to pay the bills you know? I also ran into a friend (faculty, textbook author) last weekend. She is writing a new edition. She loves her subject matter. She cares about her students. She is a fantastic teacher. She writes for a major higher ed publisher - a textbook for a large first year class offered at pretty much all 4-year schools. She got into it for her care of the aforementioned. And because until recently we didn't have a widely-known, supported alternative model in Canada. And because "open" does not equal "free" when it comes to labour. We all have to pay the bills you know?
But the system is broken, even if the people are great.
Just to say this...that today, after many years of NOT repping for a publisher, I had my first formal-ish conversation with faculty about #OER (as opposed to off-the-side-of-my-desk, informal, pipe-dream conversation). It was exhausting. I learned a lot. And despite the tweet that I referenced above, it all felt a little too much like "sales".
And perhaps that is because our institutionalized systems are outdated. The "reward" system (T&P) hasn't changed much (at least at my institution) and so as much as we revere open, it doesn't change the practicalities on the ground overnight. Nothing revelatory here. But our faculty need it to be (somewhat) easy. Perhaps this is why so many open advocates focus on textbooks. It is the gateway drug. The entry point. But if we focus there, then aren't we actually perpetuating existing systems? And while our instructors want to "do the right thing" for their students, and "adopt the new campus priorities", they also want to know who to call when they need help and support (in this case, the question was easily answered). They want to know if this will this be more than a passing phase, one that will actually be recognized and rewarded in a way that matters (not so easily answered).
There were a few other smaller questions -who else has adopted this resource? who has reviewed this resource? when is the next edition due? what do we do about these spelling mistakes? this figure is terrible, how can we change it? (and more practically) how big is the test bank? are there media assets? - some easily answered (adapt/remix of course!), others not. These are questions that have become enculturated in the process, in this focus on content, not practice or pedagogy.
Many other questions were not as easy to answer, no matter my role. How can we ensure that the adoption of OER is less work (or at least the same work) and not more? How can we reward the labour that (might) go into such a change?
And these were instructors who DO philosophically believe in the advantages that OER provide in terms of access and equity. But they still only have "60 hours in a week". They still need to understand how this will be valued by the institution.
And so while this is a fairly simple reflection on the challenges that are ahead...and while some of these questions have been asked (and answered) in other provinces...I am feeling a little bit "new" today. How do we a/effect real change that is recognized and rewarded for the betterment of our students AND our instructors?
As part of the eCampus Ontario Extend program, I have committed to writing a post on "Digital Literacies for Teaching"....and what better time to get started than 2 days before the holiday break? A good excuse to avoid diving in to "New Year" work don't you think?
This challenge was embedded in the "Technologist" module for the Extend program. Each module is based on an element of Simon Bates' (2014) "Anatomy of 21st Century Educators".
And this brings me immediately to my first thought. While I recognize this prompt needed to go *somewhere*, I think we are limiting ourselves if we relegate the concept of digital literacies to only one of these domains. And in particular, if we embed it under "technology" we might miss all of the important ways it intersects with our roles...as teachers, curators, collaborators, scholars, experimenters, and instead place the importance on gadgets and platforms...
Of course, inherently this is why the Extend program exists. To provide a professional development opportunity for instructors to hone their knowledge and skills in all of these areas toward not only digital literacy, but also citizenship, scholarship, and beyond, and so I digress...
So, "Digital Literacies for Teaching?" you ask. The questions is not easily answered. The question is, in fact, HUGE. And it is important. On my campus, "Literacy" (broadly) is considered an institutional learning outcome. And while "digital" and/or "media" aren't explicitly mentioned in the definition, I would argue you would be hard pressed to deny they are implicitly assumed, expected and valued as part of the undergraduate teaching and learning experience.
But, where can we find the development of these literacies in the curricula? Which of our educators are ensuring that our students are developing the skills and knowledge to confidently and critically participate and contribute online? More, how can they do so if they are perhaps not "literate" themselves, or perhaps shun the exercise as one only rooted in technology tools or platforms (as mentioned as this is inherently not what it is about), or most often, can't figure out where to include such practices alongside their "content"? These questions are further compounded by a shared belief that our students are "already there", a belief that many, including myself, would vehemently disagree with, but a belief that allows us to perpetuate the idea that this is someone else's question to answer, or perhaps not a relevant question at all.
So what do we mean by "digital literacies"?
What do we mean when we say "digital literacies"? This ambiguous term is banded around a lot, but what is it that we are talking about? A somewhat recent NMC Report (ahem, commissioned by industry - a good commentary on this here) recognizes varied definitions, but underlines that the question is complicated further by divergent practices and applications. Conceptually, it is ever-evolving, and is influenced by context, and a changing set of tools over time.
But, let's try and ground the discussion for a moment.
Digital literacy is more than technological know-how: it includes a wide variety of ethical, social, and reflective practices that are embedded in work, learning, leisure, and daily life.
So that's one definition, but do we have any more clarity in reading it? It's easy to feel a little...
And so what can we do?
Recently, on Twitter, I have dipped in and out of a conversation in this area (the "out" determined by 2 young and busy boys who needed my attention this holiday season, that and I am still deeply thinking about the question "And so what can we do?"....).
In a blog post by Brian Lamb as follow up to this conversation, he wrote -
The emergence of digital media represents foundational shifts in how knowledge is constructed, gathered and disseminated. One would think this transformation would be of vital interest across higher education, yet all too often it remains the domain of the specialists that she [Autumn] mentions. When considered within the curriculum, it is usually by specialists in computer science, media studies, digital humanities, etc… Elsewhere, it is evidently fine for a modern scholar to proclaim “I don’t do technology”, to accept the logic of surveillance capitalism as it is, whatever the effects on scholarship or the platforms where we teach, learn, communicate.
More layers of complexity. It is an unwieldy beast. As part of the Twitter conversation above, I had suggested we build something together. And Brian noted in his post that he is unsure of what I am suggesting. The answer is, "neither do I". I don't know the answer to "And so what can we do?".
What I do know is that if we continue to be rooted in our own contexts and/or silos of our home campuses, the work may be necessarily harder, or at least likely take more time to get started as we are often alone in the work (....it won't "end", and even though we needn't reinvent the wheel). I agree with Mike Caulfield that we need open pedagogy AND open resources, and that inherently instructors do need (or at least want) support to include both in their curriculum, and including support for their students as they "try" to work this through.
Looking back to the original prompt considering "Digital Literacies for Teaching?", of course we have to provide educators with their own opportunities for professional development. Programs such as Extend, or JISC's Developing Digital Literacies are awesome as they offer educators a place to start. As Autumm mentioned, faculty development programs are also another option. I like the #digpins program coming at SNC, in particular the idea of planting "kernels" to seed larger conversations and encourage ongoing practices. There are plenty more great options: #Digipo, Antigonish 2.0, Digital Pedagogy Lab etc. all working toward similar values and in particular placing front and centre the "ethical, social, and reflective practices" mentioned in the definition above.
But if we are truly going to build something to help these practices into curricula, we also need to provide instructors with something tangible. We can bemoan the notions of learning outcomes, assessment, etc, but the current reality is that most instructors will continue to abide by these tenets. And so we need to reach further.
Extend the Extend?
What if we did find "some other not-so-creepy place to collect our work and let it grow" as Brian suggests in his post. This work can include some of the already great initiatives by folks in the conversation above (Sundi Richard, #digpins), and many others, and build on them. What if the work covered all of the conceptual areas valued as important, but with suggestions for non-disposable, discipline-agnostic activities and/or assignments, and including guidance and support toward implementation. What if this "not-so-creepy place" was completely open, simple and modular, and offered instructors the option to adopt well-curated resources, to at least give the digital a "try" in their courses. What if these activities and/or assignments are just well developed *enough*, so that anyone might be willing to give it a shot? All the while ensuring that the rest of the *enough* leaves plenty of room for adaptability, creativity, etc.?
And so if they only wanted to adopt a little bit, great. But, if you wanted to think bigger, the entirety of the modules could be a stand alone course?
It would seem I have more questions than answers. And I'm okay with that for now. I realize that, in the end, this post is less than coherent, but at least it has me starting to make sense of "And so what can we do?" in my own head if nothing else.
So, "Digital Literacies for Teaching" you ask? I guess I don't have a clear answer. In particular as the focus on teaching leaves out the learner, and that is the question I am perhaps more interested in, for now. For now my one wish going into 2018 (as I am continuing this post after the New Year) is that we keep the conversation going. "Faster alone but further together" right?
Part of my "work" (#personalgoals) in 2017 was to continue to resist the urge to "burn it down". Meaning, that I have learned to value small fires and incremental progress and to lean in to my own impatience. I have been working on a First Year Seminar tackling some of this "stuff" that will hopefully be a small fire, for me, and a small group of students, for this year.
But, if you have other ideas in mind, or answers to my questions...please do let me know!
I have so much I want to say about OpenCon.
I wondered when I was getting on the plane, if it was going to be like going to see that movie everyone you know has raved about. If I was bound to be disappointed.
In this case, OpenCon was everything I was told it would be. Everything I expected. And more.
What made it so awesome? Well, I think I’ve narrowed it down to three things...
Where do I start? I feel like my heart and head are exploding. I literally feel so "open", almost to the point of vulnerability.
And so, I am starting with the personal. Not because it is "easier", but because I need to get it out.
I was so overwhelmed with gratitude to be selected to travel to OpenCon this year (Thank you University of Guelph Library!). It was shortly after the news set in, that I started to panic. I have never been away from my kids for so long, or so far away. I questioned my "worth" to be extended such an opportunity. I worried that my plane would crash in a fiery inferno. All of the feelings, all of the worries.
All of which slipped away upon touching down in Berlin. I am a fairly seasoned traveller at this point in my life. I quickly remembered how much I love travelling alone within the first few hours of wandering the dimly lit streets. I am literally so much more "open" when I do. There is not the same opportunity for insularity. And so I smelled all of the smells, Saw all of the sights. Listened to all of the sounds. Felt all of the feels. I was also reminded that I am so much more than a worker, a student, a mother, a partner. I am me. And for this, I am most thankful.
This is going to be hard for me. It shouldn't be, I have opinions. But I also feel vulnerable. Vulnerable to let my opinions be known. To be so "out there". But how can I be a proponent of open if I am not?
In 2015, I took a course at Athabasca University, "Openness in Education". Although I knew some things about "open", the course called to my attention its nuances. I learned about the complexities inherent in the language we choose when speaking about open, in particular OER. I was reminded that free is about cost and access. That access must consider varying contexts and computing and communications infrastructures, accessibility, and not just the ability to "click" and use. That use must contemplate the ease of localization and adaptation to account for a variety of cultural, curricular and pedagogical perspectives. And this doesn't even begin to address issues of quality, discoverability, sustainability, or support, let alone open pedagogies or scholarship....And so began my meander down the path of open.
This is not going to be a long post. But on contemplating what open means to me...at the moment it mostly means that I need to take more risks. I actually need to be more open, even when I feel vulnerable. As it is in this vulnerability, that I will learn even more. So I will leave you with this reflection from a paper I wrote from the above-mentioned course -