From the bell curve to the cyborg, designing anonymous learning spaces: reflections on #altc part 2

Broken Glass

Once again all the #altc keynotes knocked it “out of the park”. Three very different perspectives, approaches and presentations yet all three complemented each other beautifully. From Bon Stewart’s opening around the need to challenge the new norm(al) of ed tech and re-balance the bell curve tradition with more of Haraway’s Cyborg manifesto, to Sian Bayne’s thought provoking take on the need for anonymous spaces to fight back against data capitalism, to Peter Goodyear’s closing talk around the need to re focus the way we think about and enact the design of learning spaces, I got what you want from any conference – insight, challenges, and a fair  bit of chin stroking “hmm”.

Like many of the attendees (physical and virtual), members and extended community of ALT, I work daily in and around the the normal (aka controlled, monitored and managed) institutional learning spaces.  I also work/share/interact in a variety of online, non institutional spaces such as this blog, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. Every day I move between some of the fuzzy boundaries between these institutional and corporate spaces. There is a core of “me” in all of them, but as with everything, “me” is very context dependent.

In my professional life, open practice is central to my own sense of belonging. That has been part of my educational and digital journey.  Being able to share in non traditional spaces has allowed me to develop my own sense of scholarship, and reflection. Whilst I really do believe that open educational practice and not just open educational resources can make a significant difference in terms of access to education and the growth and sharing of knowledge, I have always been wary of binary definitions and the either or choice of open or closed. During the conference I was reminded of this post I wrote a few years ago on that very topic. It heartens me to see that this is now being more recognised and spearheaded  through the work of open education researchers like Catherine Cronin whose research has concluded that open educational practice is a continually negotiated process.

However I am also cognisant that I work within a very privileged, western norm(al) context – with just the right amount of left wing intellectual beliefs, views and aspirations.  Open education can be a way to break down/across/beyond barriers but with the words of Maha Bali’s #oer17 keynote still in my head, we (and I mean we in the global north) need to be very wary of imposing our norm(al) through our “gift” of open education.  We need to do more to understand “other” sensibilities and contexts if  open education is to be an enabler of  the Haraway’s manifesto by way of  “uniting diffuse political coalitions along the lines of affinity rather than identity.”

But it’s that identity issue that is so problematic for the widespread adoption of open education.  Working in open networks is almost always predicated on identity. OERs are predicated on licences which provide various levels of identification. For many,  the notion of “putting yourself out there” is scary and a barrier to sharing.

I have always seen the need for parallel closed spaces with education, however Sian’s talk has made me consider the role and need for what she called “anonymous, ephemeral spaces” within an educational context. (see here for more).  As open becomes more mainstream will it be subsumed by the monsters of ed tech?  Does the open education community need to  be embracing and creating more anonymous spaces or is open really all about ego, identity and increasingly in this digital world, another gateway for data collection?

Sian reminded us that we need to start work with our students (and staff and the wider community) about data citizenship.  We need think of ways we can allow and embrace ephemeral spaces in education.  Not everything needs to be tracked, not all data needs to be stored, analysed and sold back to us and our students. Some times you just need a safe space to laugh and/or moan, where you don’t have to “be yourself” or perhaps the self people expect you to be.

As Amy Collier recently pointed out in her article on digital sanctuary we need to be asking

“What responsibilities do universities and colleges have in providing sanctuary for student data and for students’ digital footprints?”

I often find sanctuary in open spaces, but it is a constant struggle.

As an aside during the conference I had a conversation with Lorna Campbell about growing up in small communities where everyone knew everyone and what everyone was doing.  We both loved moving to the city and having that sense of anonymity – of people not knowing or caring or making assumptions about you.  I still value that. I am also aware now that the UK has a huge amount of CCTVs so I am being watched quite a lot. This again has pros and cons. Last week some kids threw a stone through my window, which has been a right pain and pane to get fixed. One of the first things the police asked was if there was a CCTV camera nearby – typically there wasn’t. So those kids can’t be identified through that, but I bet many, if not all of my near arguments with every type of self service checkout machine about “unexpected items in the bagging area” has caused much hilarity for many a supermarket security guard and has me marked (possibly quite rightly) as a bit of a mad woman. But I digress.

It’s all very complicated which has lead me again to Amy Collier and the work  she and Jen Ross did around  the concept of “not yet ness” – the need and value of “mess and complexity in digital education“.  In so many ways we are not there yet.

The final keynote from Peter Goodyear brought us back from the mainly digital spaces Bon and Sian highlighted to the physical space and the need to rethink how we are designing learning spaces. How we in education need to be thinking more about the complex ways we connect the physical space to the activities we are designing to the resources we are using.

Peter argued for increasing need for design thinking to help us understand the new landscapes we are creating between the physical and digital worlds. We need to understand more about what are students are actually doing when they learn to help them and us develop what he call epistemic fluency. Wouldn’t it be lovely if whenever new learning spaces are being designed activities were at the forefront instead of chairs and power sockets. . .

So much to think about I’m not quite sure how to end this post, but end it I must as my brain is starting to hurt.  Much, much more to think about. . .


2 thoughts on “From the bell curve to the cyborg, designing anonymous learning spaces: reflections on #altc part 2

  1. Just catching up with this, Sheila — many thanks for the mention. ALTC seems to have been an explosion of many of the ideas that are consuming me these days. So sorry to have missed it, but we can’t make it to every party in town, can we? 😉 Anyway, I’m grateful for the tweets and parts of the live streams which I caught, thanks to ALT and all.

    I was drawn to the discussion re: anonymity, particularly as it has emerged in my research also. There’s so much we can do to support students and educators in developing agency with respect to digital identity. This calls to mind danah boyd’s concept of “social steganography” which she observed in teens’ interactions on social media — ways of masking meaning when communicating in the open. Facebook, Google and others have much to answer for in their mainlining of real-name policies…

    Have to run just now but simply wanted to say thanks. I look forward to meeting up soon — in Glasgow, Galway, VConnecting or elsewhere! 😉

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