Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Techship Down: Utopian Promises, Silences, and Communities of Resistance

I'm writing today from Ardglass, a small fishing village on the east coast of Northern Ireland.  I've been thinking a great deal about my experience during ETMOOC, and am grateful that I was introduced to so many wonderful people, ideas, and resources.  I wanted to post some reflections, and to practice a few of these new digital resources at the same time.   The title promises more than I had time to deliver in creating this ETMOOC artefact and within the YouTube time limit, but I'll be writing more about these ideas over the next weeks and months.  I look forward to continuing  the conversation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

“…Magic can’t happen unless you’re in the mix. . . ”

This post’s title comes from a Wall Street Journal article by Eric Hellweg of the Harvard Business Review, who urged those attending the recent SXSW conferences and festivals to load up on networking magic and expect to stay up until 2-3 am (saying “you can sleep when you’re dead”). Being “in the mix” might be an extrovert’s paradise, but I was exhausted just reading Hellweg’s breathless commentary.

This made me reflect on how Etmooc’s stated and implied support for connectedness, sharing, collaboration, project-based learning, and even openness, might be related to a western cultural preference for extroversion—to “being in the mix” as the expected norm. I thought even more about this after browsing a link posted by Alec Couros on Twitter that explicitly challenged the assumed effectiveness of collaboration for creative practice.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cooking, Digital Confidence, and Play

In the Etmooc session last week Doug Belshaw proposed eight different elements as essential for digital literacies (arrayed like a periodic table).

I’ve been thinking since about the element of “confidence” (Cf on his chart). In this context, confidence represents a willingness to approach new digital technologies without knowing how (or if) they will work (the first time, or perhaps at all). Confidence is being OK with making mistakes on the way to learning a new tool or approach, and navigating the unknown undeterred. Can we learn this? At one level, it makes sense that repeated exposure, practice, and “learning” from things that didn’t work so well initially would build confidence. This made me think of my experience with cooking.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Digital Storytelling and Resisting the Scriptural Economy

"What is a digital story?" Alan Levine began this week's Etmooc session asking that question and repeated the question at the end, after having presented many possible answers from his 50+ Web.20 Ways to Tell a Story.

His question kept niggling at me after the session--or rather my curiosity at his reason for repeating it, even as I tried out some of the tools I hadn't encountered before. Why was he so insistent about this definitional uncertainty? Was this a rhetorical strategy? Resisting the authorial mantle? A hope that we in Etmooc would just try doing something different rather than seek to define what we were doing? Or was he attempting, by embracing the uncertainty, to pull one small thread out of the tightly-woven "scriptural economy" that legitimates modern Western knowledge claims? I'll assume this last one--at least so I can think about it out loud.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The door makes no promises

I treasure the poetry of Adrienne Rich, and her truth-telling challenges me deeply. After Friday's delightful Etmooc adventure on Blackboard Collaborate with Darren Kuropatwa, I couldn't help but think of Rich's poem titled: Prospective Immigrants Please Note which she reads here:

I've often shared this poem with students as a way to acknowledge that considering new ideas together does not mean they have to make them their own. As Rich says so clearly in ending the poem, ". . .The door itself makes no promises. It is only a door."

Monday, February 4, 2013

toe in water six word poem

Right now I'm reading Frank Delaney's 2005 novel Ireland, featuring one of the last of the wandering Irish storytellers. This man shows up at a young boy's home and changes his life.

That evening, in that white house among the fields, a boy's most passionate dream came true. His father had long talked of the traveling storytellers. He said they possessed brilliant powers; they brought the long-gone past to life vividly, without what he called 'the interference of scholars. Those professors,' he said. 'They dry out history in order to put it down on paper.' In his father's view, a tale with the feeling taken out of it had 'no blood and was worth very little.' But the old stories, told by travelling storytellers round the fireside on winter evenings - they came hurtling straight down the long, shiny pipeline of the centuries and the characters, all love and hate and fire, 'tumbled out on our own stone floor'(p.4).

Being a professor, but hoping to avoid dry and bloodless tales, I'm looking forward to learning new ways to tell stories using digital tools, especially the video options. Here's where I am tonight:

Friday, February 1, 2013

Machines, revolutions and uncertainty

I can still remember my anxiety at taking a required typing class in high school (back before the electric IBM self-correcting Selectric II). I was confident about "regular" school subjects and human interactions, but not at all sure about interacting with a machine where I would be "timed" and my competency judged by accuracy and speed. I worked very hard, and became an OK typist--not because I valued the machine, or even the potential careers it might make accessible, but because performing poorly was just not an option. Of course this has been an important tool for me, and even a way to help pay the rent. (I charged $2 a page to type papers and theses for graduate students when I needed flexible hours organizing against nuclear weapons in the 70s and 80s).

I start with this bit of history because the past two-plus weeks in Etmooc have reminded me that I still do not have confidence in my ability to interact successfully with machines (and the often baffling software programs and applications) that have revolutionized our ways to communicate and share/construct knowledge. Douglas Rushkoff's assertion that we can choose to "program or be programmed" makes me nervous. Unlike my resistance to learning to type, I DO want to take up Rushkoff's challenge (at least a middle path of becoming at ease with the tools and aware of their limitations). Still, the issue for me is not that I'd better get good at using new digital technologies or be left in the dust. It's deeper than that, and I've needed this throat-clearing introduction to get to the more challenging part.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I Write Like (exposed?)

In a recent tweet, Lisa Lane mentioned a neat little site called I WRITE LIKE that compares your writing style to various famous authors . I submitted one of the posts from this blog and learned that I write in the style of HP Lovecraft (American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction). I was suspicious, since Lisa’s writing was also supposedly like this author's. I’ve much appreciated her blog and wonderful resources, but didn’t think we had very similar styles. So I submitted a second blog and was told this time that I write like Dan Brown (American author of thriller fiction, best known for The Da Vinci Code). Perhaps everything I’ve written is pure fantasy, (though perhaps thrilling or horror-filled). Or perhaps the people behind this site want us all to think we have a penchant for fantasy and horror (not realizing how connected we etmooc folks are and that we’re sure to catch on to their limited author list).

Between excitement and despair

I find myself swinging between excitement about using emerging educational technologies in my teaching and despair (or cynicism, or anger depending on the day) about unrealistic expectations around these technologies. Etmooc offers many reasons for the excitement—but also provides important connections to the wider debates—and thus to the despair.

Today I am thinking especially of the spate of writings in the popular press about MOOCs as a revolution that presages the end of higher education as we know it and the congratulatory tone regarding anticipated cost-savings to universities from offering more online education options (illustrated by California State University’s pilot project with Udacity to offer several remedial courses at San Jose State University). There are some helpful analyses out there too. Here I point out three that I’ve found useful this past week: Audrey Watters' “MOOCs for Credit come to California”; Ian Bogost’s Inequality in American Education Will Not Be Solved Online; and
David Theo Goldberg’s “MOOC Mania” with Siva Vaidhyanathan identifying some missing considerations.

So, with these authors, I’ve been pondering questions about inequality and about the consequences of this “online movement” for post-secondary faculty. Today I begin with a little background on my own context and offer a brief comment on inequality. I’ll talk about the faculty issue in another post.

I am a professor of sociology at Eastern Oregon University, on sabbatical this year (making it possible for me to participate in etmooc with some free attention). Eastern is a small rural state school that serves a geographic region the size of the US state of Pennsylvania, and has 17 regional centers (assisting the 50% of our students who attend online). As the de-facto community college option in our county, Eastern also admits a growing number of transfer students , especially from the two community colleges within a hundred-mile radius, and offers 4-year degrees in the usual liberal arts and sciences fields, and professional degrees (both BA and MA level) in education and business. Over 88% of the students are of white ethnic background, and many are the first in their families to attend college. How does this national debate around “remedial MOOCs” affect us?

In a recent NYT article about the partnership between San Jose State University and Udacity, SJSU provost Ellen N. Junn, asserts that this pilot project is a response to a crisis – in this case the problem that 50 percent of entering students cannot meet basic college requirements. The anecdotal evidence presented in the Times' article about a former successful Udacity course attended by a small number of “at risk” students may be hopeful, but I’m not convinced that this can scale well to resolve the problem at SJSU.

Students who have suffered the hidden injuries of social class in poorly funded k-12 schools deserve access to high quality education, requiring the kind of commitment evident in the work of creative teachers participating in Etmooc. Perhaps Udacity will provide all the mentors, facilitators, personalized approaches, accessible and easy to navigate tools needed to create a positive learning space for these students to be successful. And perhaps they can do it with the kind of corporate support for new initiatives that has made possible the development of this massive open course model. However, unless the funding model envisions continuing private initiatives and grants in a time of continuing public disinvestment, I don’t see how Udacity can afford to continue such a partnership. Further, as Siva Vaidhyanathan asks in his comment on Ian Bogost’s article (referenced above):

So shouldn't we be pushing for universities to host and publish their own MOOC content? Why do we need Udacity and Coursera? No one has been able to answer that. The Universiteit van Amsterdam runs its own MOOC service. It's not complicated. And a university that runs its own can collect its own data (and protect student privacy) for study and analysis instead of allowing the corporation to monetize it.

Regarding the question of students needing remedial courses, I don’t have the exact figures for students at my small university who are not ready for college level coursework, but I don’t think they are much lower than those at San Jose State. The reasons for this are complex, and a resolution would require new approaches much earlier in students’ lives, involving richly varied educational opportunities that tax-averse citizens have been increasingly unwilling to fund.

The despair side is winning out today. I see the present (and imagine a future) with the creative and curious children of wealthy parents exploring the far reaches of galaxies and human cultures, guided by caring and demanding teachers with access to amazing digital resources; and the creative and curious children of poor parents having a very different experience. With regard to inequality, predictions about a MOOC revolution don't do much to transform my despair to hope.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Doing the Doctoral Dance

Here's a tech tool saga....with a happy ending that I hope you enjoy. After updating my MAC OS so I could update my i-movie software; and after learning how to convert a videocamera file to one I could use with i-movie; and after learning how to convert an .mov file to a form that could be used with You-tube (whew!). . . . Here is my contribution to the 72 hours of videos uploaded to You-Tube every minute. Doing the Doctoral Dance. I am so grateful for both the tech assistance and encouragement from my sister Theresa. Now I just need to keep using the tools so that the process sticks in my mind.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tech tools are like manure

In my first post about #ETMOOC, I ended with a reference to Auntie Mame's statement that "Money is like manure . . ." *
I was relating this to the sharing perspective that I can see so clearly among people in this MOOC who are excited about using emerging technologies to "encourage young things to grow" (and old things as well!). Right now, though, I am feeling a bit daunted by the amount of "manure" that folks are so generously spreading. I expect I'll settle on a few that work best for me with my level of skill and focus, and that I'll benefit greatly from the kindness of new colleagues. But I wanted to think out loud for a minute about the way the ground could be prepared for this rich material, stretching the metaphor a bit. The other day I was taking a try at Camtasia, recording a tutorial for how to contribute to a Wikispace resource site for a Tacoma, Wa. area organization that assists persons transitioning out of prison. I was assisted by my sister Theresa, who directs a home for women in transition,and has a background in information technology. She had never used Camtasia before, but had that "sense" of how things might work that people seem to develop after some experience. She wanted to plunge right in to create the tutorial, learning how to use the program as we went along. I balked, even with her trusty companionship, because I hadn't read everything through, and I thought I should create a "throw away" example of a tutorial before doing the "real thing." Ever the patient teacher, Theresa suggested that the best way to learn how to do this was to "just do it." We are planning to team-teach a course next year on Gender, Race, and Crime, and we'll need this resource anyway, so....why not get it ready now? I did feel like the young girl ready to go down the ski jump (that Alec shared during orientation). I was so aware, in talking this process through with my sister, of the differences in how we approached new learning experiences. True to my comfort with reading, and my many years of successfully moving through the academic world surrounded by texts, I wanted to understand it all before I did the real thing. True to her applied background, first as a carpenter and then as an information technologist, and now a community leader, my sister knew the powerful exhilaration of trying something until you learn it--and of potentially understanding at a deeper , and more embodied level. While I recognize some of this as general differences in learning styles, I stand at the top of the ski jump imagining what it will feel like to know, in my body, the thrill of having more tools in my toolkit for "encouraging young things to grow." ("Manure"image from Occupy*Posters at Shared through Creative Commons license)

Irish scribes and the challenge of #ETMOOC

ETMOOC 2013 comes at a very good time for me. I am currently on a year-long sabbatical from my sociology professor role at Eastern Oregon University, and my major focus is learning as much as I can about emerging educational technologies and new media. I am new to most of this, and I admit that I have devoted more time to collecting information about these technologies and their social consequences than to learning how to use them. It is hard, anxiety-producing work to step out of comfortable patterns, and my technology-related brain muscles are still quite weak. Sometimes when I am practicing a new tool, the instructions just swim around in front of my eyes and my brain checks out. As a high achieving academic sort, I have to smile (with gritted teeth at times) that this isn’t something I can just get by osmosis. But I count on patient friends with more experience in these things to keep me going. That’s the most specific reason why I’m here and what I hope to gain. Another reason has to do with what sociologists call social location.