INF537: Critical Reflection

Golden Snitch
An extract from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I feel the phrase “I open at the close” is incredibly pertinent to my two year journey through this Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) – I feel humbled by the scale of work still ahead of me but prepared for the challenge.

Three themes have defined my study during INF537 (my last unit of this degree):

The Three Digitals

  • Digital literacy
  • Digital scholarship
  • Digital citizenship

I have grown my understanding of each of these areas and how they interrelate. Dave Cormier’s blog on teaching digital literacy really opened up the path forward for me and solidified my thoughts on my own digital literacy teaching.

Digital scholarship and digital citizenship became intertwined in my thinking for assignment 2 (probably to the detriment of my focus on digital scholarship). I started to reflect on the social benefits and costs of being digitally connected. This degree has shown the wonderful benefits of being a connected learner but this easy interconnection has increased the workload on educators and other workers as there is an expectation of immediate response. As a digital citizen I will have to find the balance between time when I am online and when I am disconnected both for my own wellbeing and to set an example to others.

Open versus closed

People sitting in the park
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Thinking about open source versus closed source began with my reflection on Siemens’ argument that networks are confined by the systems in which they are situated. My initial thinking was that, if this confinement is the case, why would you choose an artificially confined system such as a proprietary system? I explored this idea in this post about open source versus closed sourcee commercial software. I determined that, like in the park pictured above, that setting clear bounds for a system is important to create clear expectations and responsibilities. This bounded system is what the digital commons relies upon, as without limits, a community can become so diffuse that it becomes impossible to manage.

Application of ideas

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

When I have been most frustrated in this unit and degree, it has been when I have read articles where scholars discuss technological change and adoption as if it were a foregone conclusion. I have to check myself when I get in to this mode as I have worked implementing ICT projects and therefore come at a problem from a practical perspective that is not always compatible with pushing the boundaries of possibility. Just as I have to learn to appreciate a scholarly approach, I believe it should be incumbent on scholars to expand their digital literacy to understand the challenges of organisational ICT, allowing them to envisage how to bridge the path between their vision and implementation, this will ensure research has the best chance of making a practical difference.

Conclusion

This degree has provided the framework for where I want to position myself in the world – as a connected learner who continues to expand their digital literacy to grow as a digital citizen and scholar. The INF537 research project on my community of practice has been a great way to conclude my studies as throughout this course, this community of practice has been my main outlet for experimenting with the concepts I have learned. The community has developed and grown along the way (you can view the change in the 7 related blog posts) but there is still a lot of opportunities for myself and my community to grow. As my degree draws to a close, I am open to the opportunities.

 

INF537: My approach to the research project

I have not previously done any formal research and although the research project within INF537 is a short project both in word count and time, it posed a significant challenge to me. This post breaks down the steps I took to grasping some of the intricacies of research.

Step 1: Identifying a research paradigm

Having to identify what I believe about the “way the world works” was quite a confronting first step but I quickly realised how fundamental it is to research. I tend to find videos are the way I learn best and the following video really helped me to better understand paradigms:

The approach that I related to and applied well to education research was post-positivism. As I was taking a quantitative approach to research, this strongly linked my work to a paradigm that advocates that we can understand how causes influence effects.

Step 2: Research questions

Once I had wrapped my head around paradigms, the next obstacle I found was identifying the differences between research aims, objectives and questions. The following video helped me a great deal:

I developed the following for my research:

  • Research Aim:
    • To help me improve my virtual Community of Practice  (vCoP)
  • Research Objective:
    • Identify issues that are preventing my vCoP from growing
  • Research Question:
    • Is it possible to assess the health of a public service virtual community of practice using basic participant analytics?
  • Investigative Questions:
    • Are the Wenger and Nielson’s models helpful in assessing the health of vCoP participation levels?
    • Do the standard measures of social media engagement enrich our understanding of the health of a vCoP’s engagement levels?
    • How do the statistics compare with the self-evaluation of the vCoP’s health

Step 3: Research Method

Selecting the research method for the project was one of the more simple parts of the project (although still not easy). I had heard of many of the research approaches before survey, interviewing, observation. The short time frame for the project means that ethics approval for research is not possible and therefore there were limited to research methods that did not involve interaction with subjects.

After reviewing the research methods, my ah-ha moment came when I read the following quote from Bryman’s (2016)

the idea of the survey is so closely connected in most people’s minds with questionnaires and structured interviewing that the more generic term cross-sectional design is preferable… While the research methods associated with surveys are certainly frequently employed within the context of cross-sectional research, so too are many other research methods, including structured observation, content analysis, official statistics, and diaries

I had previously thought that survey design just referred to questionnaires and so this definition opened up lots of possibilities for me and led to me using a cross-sectional research design in my project.

Conclusion

Although I was rather nervous about conducting a research project, I was surprised by how valuable it was taking time to build an understanding of the terms involved, not just for the project but also my approach to other parts of education life in general.

Reference

Bryman, A. (2016). Social research methods (Fifth edition.). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Questioning my research

For my final assignment for INF537 I am trying to use learner analytics to provide an indication of the health of a community of practice. So far, it has surprised me at how much quality research there is of complex analytics compared to work on more simple analytics. This anomaly has prompted me to question whether I am pursuing the right track.

My view is that for people working on administering communities of practice, it is often better to have a simple picture of what is going on than a very impressive detailed statistical model that you do not understand.

My view on analytics was shaped by my time as a web designer. It was my job to set up the analytics tools and to ensure that they were collecting the right kind of information, which could then be interrogated to answer various questions.

My favourite use of analytics was helping a company to adjust the types of products it sold by looking at what customers were searching for but not finding on their site a simple analytic that made a bigger difference to sales than any other approach.

I know sometimes complex analytics are required to identify problems that otherwise may not be seen but I like Avinash Kaushik’s approach, that a great metric is:

  • uncomplex
  • relevant
  • timely
  • instantly useful

This definition helped to reassure me that although my research may not be revolutionary, there is value in pursuing an approach focused around simplicity.

INF537: Assignment 2 – Examining Digital Scholarship

Provide an interpretive discussion that examines digital scholarship in education, in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research.

In 2013, Edward Ayers, one of the early adopters of digital humanities projects, argued that to foster digital scholarship we need to understand how cultural, institutional, economic and personal factors impact it (Ayers, 2013). Ayers believed that by understanding the context for the issues facing digital scholarship, we could begin to address them. The term “digital scholarship” has grown to mean many things since its inception but this essay defines it as scholars who employ a workflow that is open, digital and networked, to create outputs in a range of digital formats that are of benefit both to academia and society (Weller, 2017). This essay will discuss Ayers’ view on how cultural, institutional, economic and personal factors were impacting digital scholarship and discuss how the environment has changed from 2013 to 2019. This essay argues that although cultural and institutional challenges have remained very similar, the economic and personal challenges to the adoption of digital scholarship have radically shifted in the six years since Ayers’ article and there are now structures in place to ensure that it can thrive in the years ahead.

The cultural pressures facing digital scholarship are perhaps the most immovable of the four factors outlined by Ayers (2013). The “monographic culture” of higher education is rooted in centuries of history and one that has stood the test of time (Ayers, 2013). The invention of digital books and online articles have predominantly mirrored this monographic culture, perpetuating expectations of how scholarly writing is presented. Ayers argued that cultural factors would only start to be overcome when there were powerful examples of the benefits of the digital medium. The number of these examples has grown exponentially over the past six years.  Projects such as A global guide to the First World War by The Guardian have shown mainstream newspapers that they can display digital information in ways that blend multimedia with narrative (Kiln.it et al., 2014). However, outside of these pockets of innovation, the argument outlined by Ayers still resonates. Twenty seven years afters Ayers’ first digital project, The Valley of the Shadow, the monographic culture continues to be by far the most popular method for scholarly communication (Schreibman, Siemens, & Unsworth, 2016). There are scholars who predict the end of the current monographic culture and foresee the merging of artificial intelligence writing with interactive apps, video games and virtual worlds but currently that vision seems more akin to science fiction (Lanier, 2014). Without a sudden and unforeseen change, existing cultural approaches will dictate the expected style of scholarly output for decades.

Higher learning institutions have seen very little evolution from the world described by Ayers (2013), with limited numbers of universities embracing the potential of digital scholarship and even fewer viewing it as something to be considered when making decisions about tenure and career advancement. As universities are such large institutions, for them to create and support a holistic framework that enables digital scholarship will take years and this creates more generations of university scholars who view the status quo as appropriate scholarly practice (Risam, 2018). Institutions could benefit from digital scholarship through increased awareness of their work and applying new methodology to problems that have been tackled the same way for generations but to realise this opportunity, universities must support its scholars in their efforts. This support includes providing the networking tools, training and support to ensure that there is a shared understanding of digital scholarship and the rights and responsibilities of those involved (Raffaghelli, 2017). Institutions should also have clear guidelines for how they reward and value digital scholarship and digital media has the capacity to measure these targeted goals with analytics providing the user metrics and engagement statistics (Cabrera, Roy, & Chisolm, 2018). Any changes to the institutional framework would have to consider an update to the peer review model. With digital scholarship and open access making it possible to conduct research without the need for ethics proposals, the time taken to publish some work has been dramatically reduced, allowing a post publication review to complement the existing peer-review model by allowing for open feedback, continuous improvement and a strengthening of content quality (Cabrera et al., 2018; Silva & Dobránszki, 2015). The way that colleges and universities have mobilised relatively quickly to deliver massive online open courses (MOOCs) show that digital progress is possible in the right circumstances (Ayers, 2013). There is evidence of progress in the digital scholarship sphere with key institutions trying to tackle the issues that prevent the adoption. Stanford have embraced the possibilities of digital products that use interactive non-traditional mediums, creating a section within the Stanford University Press that partners with academics to aid in the design, creation, presentation and archiving of digital products. This partnership tries to break down the walls that prevent digital products from being viewed as scholarly work by allowing for formal peer-review and tackling issues such as long-term accessibility, a hallmark of traditional products but an elusive problem for digital scholarship (Harvey, 2017).  Progress is slow but with key institutions tackling long-held impediments to change, it may only take a few more universities to join before there is a sudden rush to digital scholarship adoption, mirroring what happened with MOOCs a decade ago.

The economic factors influencing digital scholarship are framed by the commercial pressures that face the modern day academic. Ayers (2013), in his article chose not to interrogate economic factors of digital scholarship beyond the challenges of acquiring funding for a digital project from an organisation; however, the maturation of the education technology industry has meant that in 2019, the market forces are likely to play a role in scholastic work (Huggett, 2019). Although digital scholars may endeavour for their work to be open, many of the tools used to share their work and network are owned by commercial entities who have their own agenda and can co-opt the content shared on their system (Weller, 2017). One such example is the anti-plagiarism tool Turnitin that monetises the content uploaded by students (Morris, 2017). The commercialisation and walling off of content generated by scholars reduces ambitions for openness (Weller, 2017). For companies that do not manage to turn their vision in to a sustainable product then the network can either be closed or sold, losing years of academic content, discussion and debate. As education technology companies look to realise a profit from their investment in the sector, the neoliberal society that we live in is exerting a powerful influence on digital scholarship. Open educational resources (OER) are currently seen by many as a way to both promote digital scholarship and fight against the capitalist approach to education that has evolved (Jones, 2019). Ayers (2013) viewed MOOCs as a concept that could help disrupt the stranglehold that universities and companies had on education; however, a few years after their peak, the same enthusiasm does not seem to exist for MOOCs. The same may well be true for OER as their voluntary nature means that they are often not able to reach the size or complexity that can consistently allow civic action to compete with commercial interests (Jones, 2019). To enable openness to prosper requires government to introduce policy and legislative reform and some Governments have started this process by mandating that publicly funded research is made publicly available, helping to further the open access movement and support digital scholarship (Jones, 2019). Economic factors are complex and ever changing, there are endeavours underway to curtail commercial influence in education but they require ongoing political support which is never a certainty.

Digital scholarship can take a personal toll both psychologically and physically. Ayers (2013) argues that digital projects require academics to invest extra time in learning new technologies; however, there is a wider range of digital engagement required by scholars that needs to be considered. A UK study by the University and College Union calculated that the requirement to stay digitally engaged was contributing to academics working the equivalent of two unpaid days per week (UCU, 2016). One of the main causes of this lack of down time has been the mobile phone which has removed of boundaries between the work and home life and increased the pressures to be stay connected and engaged. With the increased accessibility that new technology has brought to content, the perceived value of the scholarly product has been diminished with consumers taking little account of the work required to create the content; therefore, scholars need to spend more time promoting and sharing their content to ensure that it is seen as valuable (Huggett, 2019; Schwarz & Knowles, 2018).  As this working environment becomes the norm, not all scholars are able to meet these expectations, people whose disability precludes them from checking their digital device regularly, those with young children and those with health issues are at risk of being disadvantaged (Huggett, 2019). Any non-flexible work expectations will result in poor outcomes for individuals with special requirements and just because technology makes it possible for work to occur outside of traditional working hours, it does not make it accessible (McNally, 2015).

The psychological risks of digital networks for academics are similar to those face by anyone who has to regularly engage with large online networks, especially open forums such as Twitter. Given the often text-driven medium of social networks, it is difficult to ensure that comments posted are not interpreted differently to how they were intended (Stewart, 2016). An additional risk is that in the hyper-partisan environment of social media your comments may be wilfully misinterpreted leading to an influx of hateful messages. If your comments are not misinterpreted at the time of their posting, then the long memory of the internet can result in them being revisited in the future when your profile may be higher and comments you have made in the past may have more impact. This was the experience of two university lecturers who were targeted with death threats following their promotions, when previous political tweets were uncovered by internet trolls (‘Threatened scholars’, 2019). The nature of digital networks means that any actual or interpreted missteps could have an audience of millions compared to an audience in the hundreds in pre-internet days (Pausé & Russell, 2016). Although any scholar is at risk of a potential backlash from their digital engagement, scholars who have tenure are able to post with less fear of repercussions; therefore, digital networking is riskier for those with less job security and this can curtail scholarly debate (Sugimoto, 2016). The digital world is starting to understand the need for safer spaces for scholars to communicate and be supported by their networks (Cook, 2019). Watrall has proposed a framework for “thoughtful praxis” where communities can be a space to help nurture scholars with time being taken to discuss topics without the fear of failure, allowing scholars to be positive about networks rather than fearful of them. (Watrall, 2019). Digital citizenship has started to increase momentum as the overarching phrase for this responsible and appropriate use of technology that considers “digital etiquette, digital health and wellness, and digital rights and responsibilities” (Alexander, Adams, & Cummins, 2016). Within digital scholarship, digital citizenship needs to be the core of personal and institutional approaches.

Fostering digital scholarship continues to require us to understand how cultural, institutional, economic and personal factors impact digital scholarship. Institutions and culture have continued to maintain similar impediments to the progress of digital scholarship in the six years since Ayers (2013) wrote Does Digital Scholarship Have a Future? There have been major changes in the cultural and economic realms where a much more complex environment has emerged. However, with that complexity has come the tools to allow increased adoption of digital scholarship. Digital citizenship has started to consider the need for a balanced digital life and the open access movement has gained support from governments allowing it to compete with commercial interests within education. The future for Digital Scholarship will be bright but major impediments mean that the sun is still yet to fully rise.

 

References

Alexander, B., Adams, S., & Cummins, M. (2016). Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief (pp. 1–16). Retrieved from The New Media Consortium website: https://www.learntechlib.org/p/182085/

Ayers, E. (2013, August 5). Does Digital Scholarship Have a Future? Retrieved 18 August 2019, from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2013/8/does-digital-scholarship-have-a-future

Cabrera, D., Roy, D., & Chisolm, M. S. (2018). Social Media Scholarship and Alternative Metrics for Academic Promotion and Tenure. Journal of the American College of Radiology, 15(1, Part B), 135–141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacr.2017.09.012

Cook, K. (2019). EmboDIYing Disruption: Queer, Feminist and Inclusive Digital Archaeologies. European Journal of Archaeology, 22(3), 398–414. https://doi.org/10.1017/eaa.2019.23

Harvey, A. (2017, August 8). Experiments in Digital. Retrieved 18 August 2019, from Stanford University Press Blog website: https://stanfordpress.typepad.com/blog/2017/08/experiments-in-digital.html

Huggett, J. (2019). Resilient scholarship in the digital age. Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology, 2(1), 105–119.

Jones, C. (2019). Capital, Neoliberalism and Educational Technology. Postdigital Science and Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-019-00042-1

Kiln.it, Panetta, F., Poulton, L., Purcell, A., Moss, S., Shabbir, N., … Brazier,  and L. (2014, July 23). A global guide to the first world war—Interactive documentary. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2014/jul/23/a-global-guide-to-the-first-world-war-interactive-documentary

Lanier, J. (2014). Who owns the future? Simon and Schuster.

McNally, R. J. (2015). People Can Be Resilient, But Can Communities? Psychological Inquiry, 26(2), 197–199. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2015.1010421

Morris, S. M. (2017, June 15). A Guide for Resisting Edtech: The Case against Turnitin. Retrieved 22 August 2019, from Hybrid Pedagogy website: https://hybridpedagogy.org/resisting-edtech/

Pausé, C., & Russell, D. (2016). Sociable scholarship: The use of social media in the 21st century academy. Journal of Applied Social Theory, 1(1). Retrieved from https://socialtheoryapplied.com/journal/jast/article/view/29

Raffaghelli, J. E. (2017). Exploring the (missed) connections between digital scholarship and faculty development: A conceptual analysis. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(1), 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-017-0058-x

Risam, R. (2018). Diversity work and digital carework in higher education. First Monday, 23(3). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v23i3.8241

Schreibman, S., Siemens, R., & Unsworth, J. (2016). A New Companion to Digital Humanities. John Wiley & Sons.

Schwarz, B., & Knowles, C. (2018). The scandal of contemporary universities. Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture, 69(69), 4–14.

Silva, J. A. T. da, & Dobránszki, J. (2015). Problems with Traditional Science Publishing and Finding a Wider Niche for Post-Publication Peer Review. Accountability in Research, 22(1), 22–40. https://doi.org/10.1080/08989621.2014.899909

Stewart, B. (2016). Collapsed publics: Orality, literacy, and vulnerability in academic Twitter. Journal of Applied Social Theory, 1(1). Retrieved from https://socialtheoryapplied.com/journal/jast/article/view/33

Sugimoto, C. (2016, April 11). “Tenure can withstand Twitter”: We need policies that promote science communication and protect those who engage. Retrieved 22 August 2019, from Impact of Social Sciences website: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/04/11/tenure-can-withstand-twitter-thoughts-on-social-media-and-academic-freedom/

Threatened scholars: Online harassment risks academic freedom. (2019, February 14). Times Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/threatened-scholars-online-harassment-risks-academic-freedom

UCU. (2016). Workload is an education issue. [UCU Workload Survey Report 2016]. Retrieved from https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/8195/Workload-is-an-education-issue-UCU-workload-survey-report-2016/pdf/ucu_workloadsurvey_fullreport_jun16.pdf

Watrall, E. (2019). Building Scholars and Communities of Practice in Digital Heritage and Archaeology. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 7(2), 140–151. https://doi.org/10.1017/aap.2019.1

Weller, M. (2017, December 20). The Digital Scholar revisited. Retrieved 17 August 2019, from The Ed Techie website: http://blog.edtechie.net/digital-scholarship/the-digital-scholar-revisited/

INF537: Hey, that model perfectly describes my problems!

Dave Comier’s blog on teaching with the internet has managed to shine a light on the way I have been trying to prepare my students to embrace the internet and digital literacy.

Dave’s has created a model to explain his process:

Model for preparing an education system for the internet

He uses the 20/60/20 model to address an issue I will face in teaching digital literacy, that students do not all enter class with the same mind frame.

  • The top 20% are the early adopters who are keen to try anything
  • The bottom 20% will struggle due to a variety of reasons and may spend their time either subtly slowly things down or in open rebellion.
  • The middle 60% are the people who have the potential to be won or lost depending on how good your plan is.

I have been running digital literacy courses and hoping that I would produce a number of students that would embrace teaching the course. However, according to Dave’s model, as I have only been running an introductory level course, I have only reached “Level 1” with my students.

Level 1 – Awareness

Keeping learners safe is as much about explaining the simple dangers as anything else.

I have been developing an intermediate level course in recent months and it is specifically to address the gap that Dave identifies as “Level 2”

Level 2 – Learning

This is less about a few tricks that can make your life easier, and more about a shift to understanding how knowledge actually works now.

Interestingly, “Level 3” is the subject of my research project for this course, how we can help students to connect with communities and develop their skills and knowledge mutually. I am keen to learn more about whether this can be facilitated through teaching/support or if it is something that has to come from a student’s internal motivation.

Level 3 Interacting and making

At this point we’re also hoping that people are able to connect with social groups and being able to discern whether or not the space they are looking to work is a healthy one or not.

Now the hardest part of the model, transitioning people to be interested enough to teach digital literacy. One of the hardest parts is finding people to teach students who may not be keen to learn.

Level 4 – Teaching

people are not going to be working with self-selecting folks in your fun community looking to learn together… While it would be awesome if we were all able to teach in environments where our learners were ecstatic to learn what we have to teach them, the truth of the matter is a different thing entirely.

As Dave explains, the number of students who will make it to level 4 is very small but now I have an explicit model to help support my experiences, I think I will be better prepared to help more students progress along the path to their own digital literacy and hopefully motivate them to teach others about digital literacy.

The conundrum of open source software in education

Adult classroom

Having read about the dubious business practices of some companies within the EdTech industry, such as Turnitin profiting from the intellectual property of students, I have been reflecting on whether I should try and only use open source software when teaching.

When a lot of jobs are asking for applicants who have skills in particular commercial software such as Microsoft Office suite, by using open source alternatives are we harming future job prospects or does the tool agnostic approach taken prepare students to be able to adapt to whatever technology is being used?

I would argue that a platform agnostic approach usually allows for greater adaptability but it often misses out on the mastery of a particular platform that may help a student to stand out. Additionally, if you do not provide students with the opportunity to use expensive software, then they will probably never get the chance as the cost is prohibitive to personal use. One example is Photoshop (a professional photo editing tool) versus GIMP (the open source equivalent). Photoshop has a number of unique tools that allow you to automate the design process and as creative industry often uses Photoshop, the student may struggle in an interview if asked what processes they use to save time in design as GIMP does not have these features.

Another question is that in the era of cloud computing when large amounts of information is not stored locally on a computer, is it responsible to rely on open source projects to make sure that data is secure? Are commercial alternatives any more secure?

Neither solution is perfect here. Both open source and commercial tools have and will continue to be subject to data breaches. Open source can suffer from lack of accountability for data breaches and also not having dedicated resourcing to fixing flaws and vulnerabilities. There are projects by Google, GitHub and many others to try and solve this by providing funding and advice to improve security. However, as commercial tools are more widespread, hackers tend to focus on them as there is an economy of scale in their efforts. For commercial products you at least have someone to hold accountable when your data is breached but that is not much comfort. Therefore, probably the best approach from a security perspective is to teach students not rely on the security of any product and to put the minimum amount of personal data in to a system as possible.

But maybe this approach is overly cautious and would prevent students from embracing digital scholarship… so really all types of software create a conundrum.

 

 

INF537: Networks within systems

Systems versus network visual representation

INF537 and this piece by George Siemens has prompted me to reflect on the differences between systems and networks and whether a system constrains a learning network.

As I run work-based training the options for the training I run are very limited by the systems available to me. For my students, their networks are limited as they are often learning things very unique to work that they cannot talk about publicly. So it appears as though the system is very much constraining the networks.

So how can I help networks at work to flourish?

I need to focus on promoting networks within the confined system. There is plenty to be gained through internal connections and through engagement with the outside world, even though the scope is limited. If eventually the networks have no room to grow, like a confined pot plant, the organisation will have to decide whether to move it to a bigger pot and therefore provide better tools for networking or more freedom to discuss our work or be happy with the plant only reaching a certain size.

3 illustrated pot plantsSource: Flickr

 

 

INF537: I wanna live like common people

“The commons is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values and norms devised by the community to manage its resources.” (Bollier, 2011).

A digital commons can provide the framework for open education to flourish but is it possible to create and sustain it?

Enclosure of resources has been the nemesis of a commons based system for centuries and ideas such as the “tragedy of the commons” promote enclosure as the only antidote to what otherwise would result in self-interest exploiting the resources.

Advocates for the commons cite the success of Swiss farmers over 800 years and lament that government regulation and enclosure does not really have a better track record than the commons.

Now to me, Swiss farmers are not the best group to use as an example as it is probably hard to find a more privileged group of people but both sides of the argument seem reasonable.

In a digital context, is the commons different? Yes. The system is reversed with the resources often already existing behind pay walls or licencing. Even when content becomes available, someone has to pay for hosting the environment for the commons to thrive. So the digital commons is opt-in whereas the traditional commons is opt-out.

This is an exciting opportunity as it means that the digital commons is not as fragile, a person can opt out of the community and pursue their own goals and that will have less effect than it would have in the real-world commons.

The digital commons is still at risk from enclosure but the nature of digital is that the commons can always spring up anew in a different part of the web meaning that the opportunities for open education to thrive are massive.

 

INF537: Is evangelising the digital future helpful?

When attempting to apply what I have learned throughout my degree in my work as a public servant, I have often hit roadblocks including available tools, willingness of colleagues to engage and time to implement best practice.

When I read journal articles such as Ross’s 2012 article on the future of reflective practices, I wonder whether we are providing a vision and narrative for people to follow that is achievable.*

I have had experience in higher education and know that, with a few exceptions, the reality of what is being implemented is so far from what is promoted by many education evangelists that I wonder how the gap between the two will be narrowed?

Often for institutions the reality is that we are limited by the tools that are provided to us such as our learning management system, our conferencing tool, content authoring systems. We are similarly limited by the users’ knowledge of how to use the systems effectively. Tags, categorising and even basic html formatting seem to be beyond the skill-level of a large number of people.

I often feel that too much time is spent advocating for the brave new world of technology enabled education when more value could be derived from a narrative that:

  • acknowledges that often you will be limited in your ability to implement best practice by corporate systems
  • discusses the pros and cons of using unsupported systems to achieve your goals
  • considers how to up-skill the users to allow them to complete the approach that is being advocated

In may articles there is an assumption that everyone is interested in implementing tools to improve education outcomes. My experience is that unless you provide considerable investment in training, monitoring and communicating; new approaches are normally doomed to failure. Therefore, by including reference to the practical realities being faced by educators we can sart to bridge the gap between vision and implementation.

* The big caveat on this post is that I do not work in an academic institution and therefore am not the primary audience for Ross’s work.

References

Ross, J. (2012). The spectacle and the placeholder: Digital futures for reflective practices in higher education. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Networked Learning (pp. 227–244). Retrieved from http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2012/abstracts/pdf/ross.pdf