#OpenEd18 Lightning Talk: #DigPINS, We are Open … But sometimes closed

I’ve made it to Open Ed 2018 and I’m excited to present a lightning talk on Friday at 3:30 – 3:45 with Sundi Richard and Joe Murphy on our collaborations with #DigPINS. If you are at the conference please consider coming by and if you are not I’m hoping this blog post will give you a glimpse.

If you don’t know, DigPINS is a faculty development experience, much of which happens in the open, where we collaborate with small cohorts of faculty in a fully online experience to discuss issues of Digital (the Dig) Pedagogy, Identity, Networks, and Scholarship (the PINS) over anywhere from 3-5 weeks.

We have released a template of the curriculum as a model that can be found at https://digpins.org so that is one place to get started but that is just content… #DigPINS is really an opportunity for collaboration and community as we will discuss in the talk.

It basically works from a position of someone at an institution deciding that they are going to run #DigPINS with a cohort of faculty – this could be an instructional designer, a librarian, a technologist… but someone interested in faculty development around how we learn in online spaces. This person needs to pick dates, register people, promote it and ultimately design the thing. Like I said a template is available at https://digpins.org but, again, that is just content. One of the big design decisions is about choosing the open digital environments and the backchannel (This is the ‘closed space’ that we are calling out in the title of this talk).

We have found that the backchannel is important for faculty who are just getting started. They have to have a safe space to communicate and collaborate outside of the public eye while considering and challenging themselves with these heavy notions and the very idea of ‘going open’.

The facilitator should have experience with each of the themes (the PINS) in theory and in practice.

This past summer Joe and I ran the first DigPINS cohorts in conjunction with one another creating the first inter-institutional cohorts. We had a total of 17 participants and we had to be flexible with one another. We had our own backchannels and our own open hubs.

There are lots of ways to join – the big one is to run your own iteration at your own school with your own cohort but people can also dip in as individuals with any of the open activities and of course on the #DigPINS tag on Twitter. This January there are plans for all three of us to run it with cohorts from January 2nd till the 28th.

I’m embedding our slides below – if you need more info don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

Privacy and Security in DoOO: First attempt at student resource

It has been a wild few months and it feels like there are a lot of things happening at once.

I’m thrilled that at St. Norbert we have gotten our Domains project off of the ground and I’m talking about and working with domains more than ever – which is wonderful.

However, a few months ago after attending DigPed Lab, those of you who follow regularly will recall, I had some serious questions about how to design for privacy and security with DoOO.

I had some great collaboration around this from comments on the post to backchannel conversations about what all is out there. I would be remiss if I did not particularly give a shout out to Tim C from Muhlenberg College and Evelyn Helminen from Middlebury College who gave me lots of feedback and resources. And of course to Chris G who just keeps me thinking about privacy in edtech in general.

I’d had some visions of pulling together a group who is interested in this topic but I found that things just moved too quick for me and I was in need of a resource that I could give to students before I could pull the group together. So, still working on that – if you have a particular need for this please put a fire under me.

I’ve struggled with this topic because it is such a nuanced thing. I love DoOO because of the focus on student ownership and agency. Privacy can be addressed with blanket best-practices but that is not the conversation that I’m interests me.

I feel our domains project at SNC is particularly blessed in that we have our Tech Bar. We visited University of Mary Washington in building it and got a lot of tips from Martha Burtis and the students who work at the Digital Knowledge Center. I’m telling you all of this because I think it is important to contextualize this resource that I’ve built for students.

This first little resource around privacy and security with DoOO that I’ve built is directed at students and is really just meant to give them a taste of what is possible around naming, making pages private, securing sites, etc. I created a little infographic around this and at SNC I printed them up as large bookmarks. The SNC version clearly says that a student can visit the Tech Bar for more information.

I made a more generic version of the resource and slapped an open license on it in case it might be helpful for others with DoOO projects. I’m hoping to think about this more, collaborate with others, and have more thoughts on this as we move forward.

PrivacyAndSecurityStudentsDoOO

Download link

On a somewhat related note I do want to draw attention to our most recent DigCiz call for engagement which is a parallel project to an interactive presentation that we will give at EDUCAUSE Annual Conference.  The call for engagement and the presentation basically ask the question “What do we owe students when we collect their data?”. To participate in the call just blog or tweet (Nate Angell even started a hypothes.is annotation of the post). To participate in the presentation come to the EDUCAUSE Annual conference presentation or participate in the twitter chat. All details on the post.

Designing for Privacy with DoOO: Reflections after DPL

The thinking for this post comes on the tail end of Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL) where, despite not being enrolled in any of the data or privacy offerings, concerns of student data and privacy rang loud in my ears. This came from various conversations but I think it really took off after Jade Davis’ keynote and after Chris G and Bill Fitzgerald visited us in Amy Collier’s Design track to talk about designing for privacy. After the Lab I also came across Matthew Cheney’s recent blog post How Public? Why Public? where he advocates for public work that is meaningful because it is done so in conjunction with private work and where students use both public and private as options depending on what meets the needs of varying circumstances.

A big part of what attracts me to Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) is this possibility of increased ownership and agency over technology and a somewhat romantic idea I have that this can transfer to inspire ownership and agency over learning. In considering ideas around privacy in DoOO it occurred to me that one of the most powerful things about DoOO is that is it has the capability of being radically publicly open but that being coerced into the open or even going open without careful thought is the exact opposite of ownership and agency.

In a recent twitter conversation with Kris Schaffer he referred to openness and privacy as two manifestations of agency. This struck me as sort of beautiful and also made me think harder about what we mean by agency, especially in learning and particularly in DoOO. I think that the real possibility of agency in DoOO starts from teaching students what is possible around the capabilities and constraints in digital environments. If we are really concerned about ownership and agency in DoOO then we have to consider how we will design for privacy when using it.

DoOO does allow for various forms and levels of privacy which are affected by deployment choices, technical settings, and pedagogical choices. I hear people talk about these possibilities and even throw out different mixes of these configurations from time to time but I have never seen those listed out as a technical document anywhere.

So, this is my design challenge. How can I look at the possibilities of privacy for DoOO, refine those possibilities for specific audiences (faculty and students), and then maybe make something that is not horribly boring (as technical documents can be) to convey the message. I do want to be clear that this post is not that – this post is my process in trying to build that and a public call for reflections on what it could look like or resources that may already exist. What I have so far is really just a first draft after doing some brainstorming with Tim C during some downtime at DPL.

Setting Some Boundaries
This could go in a lot of different directions so I’m setting some boundaries up front to keep a scope on things. I’d love to grow this idea but right now I’m starting small to get my head around it. I’m looking to create something digestible that outlines the different levels of privacy around a WordPress install on DoOO.  DoOO is so much bigger than just WordPress, I know that but I’m not trying to consider Omeka or other applications – yet. Also, I’m specifically thinking about this in terms of a class or other teaching/learning environment. A personal domain that someone is doing on their own outside of a teaching/learning environment is another matter with different, more personal, concerns.

Designing for Privacy with DoOO
Right now I’m dividing things up into two broad categories that interact with one another. I need better titles for them but what I’m calling Privacy Options are stand alone settings or approaches that can be implemented across any of the Deployments which are design and pedagogical choices that are made at the onset. Each of these also afford for and require different levels of digital skills and I’m also figuring out how to factor that into the mix. I will start with Deployments because I think that is where this starts in practice.

Deployments:
Deployment 1 – Instructor controlled blog: With this deployment an instructor has their own domain where they install WordPress and give the students author accounts (or whatever level privileges make sense for the course). Digital Skills: Instructor needs to be comfortable acting as a WordPress administrator including: theming and account creation. Students gain experience as WordPress authors and collaborating in a single digital space.

Deployment 2 – Instructor controlled multisite: With this deployment an instructor installs a WordPress multisite on their own domain and each student gets their own WordPress site. Digital Skills: Running a multisite is different from running a single install and will require a bit more in the way of a digital skill set including: enabling themes and plugins, setting up subdomains and/or directories. Students can gain the experience of being WordPress administrators rather than just authors but depending on the options chosen this can be diminished.

Deployment 3 – Student owned domains: This is what we often think of as DoOO. Each student does not just get a WordPress account or a WordPress site but their own domain. They can install any number of tools but of course the scope of this document (for now) is just WordPress. Digital Skills: One fear I have is that this kind of deployment can be instituted without the instructor having any digital skills. Support for digital skills will have to come from somewhere but if this is being provided for from some other area then the instructor does not need to have the skills themselves. Students will gain skills in c-panel, installing WordPress, deleting WordPress

Privacy Options
Privacy Options looks at approaches, settings, or plugins that can be used across any of the Deployments:

1 – Visibility settings: WordPress Posts and Pages have visibility settings for public, password protected, and private. These can be used by any author on any post and by admins on posts and pages.

2 – Private site plugin: Though I have not personally used a private site plugin I know that they exist and can be used to make a whole WordPress site private. Tim mentioned that he has used Hide My Site in the past with success.

3 – Pseudonyms: There is no reason that a full legal name needs to be used. How do we convey the importance of naming to students. I took a stab at this for my day job but I’m wondering what else can be done.

4 – Search engine visibility setting: This little tick box is located in WordPress under the reading settings and “discourages search engines from indexing the site” though it does say that it is up to the search engines to honor this request.

5 – Privacy protection at the domain level to obscure your name and address from a WhoIs lookup. Maybe not a concern if your institution is doing subdomains?

6 – An understanding of how posts and sites get promoted. Self promotion and promotion from others. How different audiences might get directed to your post or site.

Some Final Thoughts
There is one approach that I’d actually been leaning toward prior to Digital Pedagogy Lab that raises questions about how to introduce this. I do worry about the technical barrier that comes with learning about these privacy options. All of the privacy options come with some level of digital skill and/or literacy that needs to be in place or acquired. In addition, I think that often the deployments are made before the privacy options are considered; yes yes I know that is not ideal but it is a reality. Because of this, is it maybe just better to tell faculty and students, in the beginning at least, to think of their DoOO or their WordPress as a public space? Mistakes happen and are we muddying the waters by thinking of DoOO or WordPress as private spaces where a simple technical mistake could easily make things public? Most people have so many options for private reflection and drafting; from Google Docs to the LMS, email to private messaging we have so many tools that are not so radically publicly open. Is there something to be said for thinking of the domain space as public space and using it for that – at least while building the skills necessary to make it more private?

I don’t have the answers but I wanted to open the conversation and see what others are thinking. Are there resources that I’m missing and how can this be created in a way that will be easy to understand and digestible? I’m thinking and writing and booking some folks for conversations to keep thinking in this way. Stay tuned and I’ll keep learning transparently.

Big thanks to Tim C and Chris G for giving feedback on a draft of this post.

Photo original by me licensed CC-BY

Platform Literacy in a Time of Mass Gaslighting – Or – That Time I Asked Cambridge Analytica for My Data

Digital Citizenship and Curiosity 

In the beginning of 2017 I first discovered Cambridge Analytica (CA) through a series of videos that included a Sky News report, some of their own advertising, as well as a presentation by their CEO Alexander Nix. I found myself fascinated by the notion that big data firms, focused on political advertising, were behind those little facebook quizzes; that these data firms were creating profiles on people through harvesting their data from these quizzes and combining it with other information about them like basic demographics, voter and districting information, and who knows what else to create a product for advertisers. I was in the process of refining a syllabus for a class and creating an online community around digital citizenship so this was of particular interest to me.

My broad interest in digital citizenship is around our rights and responsibilities online and I was compelled by the thought that we could be persuaded to take some dumb quiz and then through taking that quiz our data would be taken and used in other ways that we never expected; in ways that would be outside of our best interests. 

I had questions about what we were agreeing to: how much data firms could know about us, what kind of metrics they were running on us, how the data could be shared, and what those messages of influence might look like. I started asking questions but when the answers started coming in I found myself paralyzed under the sheer weight of how much work it took to keep up with all of it not to mention the threats of financial blowback. This paralisis made me wonder about the feasibility of an everyday person to challenge this data collection, request their own data to better understand how they were being marketed to, and of course the security and privacy of the data.

Cambridge Analytica is again in the news with a whistleblower coming forward to give more details – including that the company was harvesting networked data (that is not just you but your friends’ data) from facebook itself (reactions, personal messages, etc,) and not just the data entered into the quizzes. Facebook has suspended the Cambridge Analytica’s accounts and distanced themselves from the company. Additionally, David Carroll, a professor from the New School Parson’s School of Design, filed a legal action this past week against the company in the UK. The story is just going crazy right now and every time I turn around there is something new.

However, much of this conversation is happening from the perspective of advertising technology (adtech), politics, and law. I’m interested in it from the perspective of education so I’d like to intersect the two.

The Request

A few weeks after I found those videos, featured by and featuring Cambridge Analytica, I came across a Motherboard article that gave some history of how the company was founded and how they were hired by several high profile political campaigns. Around this time I also found Paul-Olivier Dehaye of personaldata.io who was offering to help people understand how to apply to get a copy of their data from Cambridge Analytica based on the Data Protection Act (DPA), as the data was being processed in the UK.

My interests in digital citizenship and information/media/digital literacy had me wondering just how much data CA was collecting and what they were doing with it. Their own advertising made them sound pretty powerful but I was curious about what they had, how much of it I’d potentially given to them through taking stupid online quizzes, and what was possible if combined with other data and powerful algorithms.

The original request was not to Cambridge Analytica but rather to their parent company SCL Elections. There was a form that I had to fill out and a few days later I got another email stating that I had to submit even more information and GPB £10 payable in these very specific ways.

umm.edtech.fm/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/Screenshot-2018-03-19-23.17.38.png”> Response from SCL asking for more information from me before they would process my Subject Access Request

[/caption]Out of all of this, I actually found the hardest part to be paying the £10. My bank would only wire transfer a minimum of £50 and SCL told me that my $USD check would have to match £10 exactly after factoring in the exchange rate the day they recieved it. I approached friends in the UK to see if they would write a check for me and I could pay them back. I had a trip to London planned and I considered dropping by their offices to give them cash, even though that was not one of the options listed. It seemed like silly barrier, that a large and powerful data firm could not accept a PayPal payment or something and would instead force me into overpayment or deny my request due to changes in the exchange rate. In the end, PersonalData.io paid for my request and I sent along the other information that SCL wanted.

Response

After I got the £10 worked out with Paul I heard from SCL pretty quickly saying that they were processing my request and then a few days later I got a letter and an excel spreadsheet from Cambridge Analytica that listed some of the data that they had on me.

It was not a lot of data, but I have administered several small learning platforms and one of the things that you learn after running a platform for awhile is that you don’t really need a lot of data on someone to make certain inferences about them. I also found the last tab of the spreadsheet to be disconcerting as this was the breakdown of my political beliefs. This ranking showed how important on a scale of 1-10 various political issues were to me but there was nothing that told me how that ranking was obtained.

Are these results on the last tab from a quiz that I took; when I just wanted to know my personality type or what Harry Potter Character I most resemble? Is this a ranking based on a collection and analysis of my own Facebook reactions (thumbs up, love, wow, sad, or anger) on my friend’s postings? Is this a collection and analysis of my own postings? I really have no way of knowing. According to the communication from CA it is these mysterious “third parties” who must be protected more than my data.

m/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/Screenshot-2018-03-20-01.35.23.png”> Excerpt from the original response to the Subject Access request from Cambridge Analytica

[/caption]In looking to find answers to these questions Paul put me in touch with a Ravi Naik of ITN Solicitors who helped me to issue a response to CA asking for the rest of my data and more information about how these results were garnered about me. We never got a response that I can share and in considering my options and the potential for huge costs I could face it was just too overwhelming.

Is it okay to say I got scared here? Is it okay to say I chickened out and stepped away? Cause that is what I did. There are others who are more brave than me and I commend them. David Carroll, who I mentioned earlier just filed legal papers against CA, followed the same process that I did is still trying to crowdfund resources. I just didn’t have it in me.  Sorry democracy.

It kills me. I hope to find another way to contribute.

Platform Literacy and Gaslighting

So now it is a year later and the Cambridge Analytica story has hit and everyone is talking about it. I backed away from this case and asked Ravi to not file anything under my name months ago and yet here I am now releasing a bunch of it on my blog. What gives? Basically, I don’t have it in me to take on the financial risk but I still think that there is something to be learned from the process that I went through in terms of education. This story is huge right now but the dominant narrative is approaching it from the point of view of advertising, politics, and the law. I’m interested in this from the perspective of what I do – educational technology.

About a week ago educational researcher and social media scholar danah boyd delivered a keynote at the South by Southwest Education (SXSW Edu) conference where she was pushed back on the way we approach media literacy with a focus on critical thinking – specifically in teaching but this also has implications for scholarship. This talk drew a body of compelling criticism from several other prominent educators including Benjamin Doxtdator, Renee Hobbs, and Maha Bali which inspired boyd to counter with another post responding to the criticisms.

The part of boyd’s talk (and her response) that I find particularly compelling in terms of overlap with this Cambridge Analytica story is in the construct of gaslighting in media literacy.  boyd is not the first to use the term gaslighting in relation to our current situation with media but, again, often I see this presented from the perspective of adtech, law, or politics and not so much from the perspective of education.

If you don’t know what gaslighting is you can take a moment to look into it but basically it is a form of psychological abuse between people who are in close relationships or friendships. It involves an abuser who twists facts and manipulates another person by drawing on that close proximity and the knowledge that they hold about the victim’s personality and other intimate details. The abuser uses the personal knowledge that they have of the person to manipulate them by playing on their fears, wants, and attractions.

One of the criticisms of boyd’s talk, one that I’m sympathetic to, is around the lack of blame that she places on platforms. Often people underestimate what platforms are capable of and I don’t think that most people understand the potential of platforms to track, extract, collect, and report on your behaviour.

In her rebuttal to these criticisms, to which I am equally sympathetic, boyd states that she is well aware of the part that platforms play in this problem and that she has addressed that elsewhere. She states that is not the focus of this particular talk to address platforms and I’m okay with that – to a point. Too often we attack a critic (for some reason more often critics of technology) who is talking about a complex problem for not addressing every facet of that problem all at once. It is often just not possible to address every angle at the same time and sometimes we need to break it up into more digestible parts. I can give this one to boyd – that is until we start talking about gaslighting.

It is exactly this principle of platforms employing this idea of personalization, or intimate knowledge of who a person is, which makes the gaslighting metaphor work. We are taking this thing that is a description of a very personal kind of abuse and using it to describe a problem at mass scale. It is the idea that the platform has data which tells it bits about who you are and that there are customers (most often advertisers) out there who will pay for that knowledge. If we are going to bring gaslighting into the conversation then we have to address the ability of a platform to know what makes you like, love, laugh, wow, sad, and angry and use that knowledge against you.

We don’t give enough weight to what platforms take from us and how they often hide or own data from us and then sell it to third parties (users don’t want to see all that messy metadata…. Right?).  I’m not sure you even glimpse the possibilities if you are not in the admin position – and who gets that kind of opportunity?

It would be a stretch to call me a data scientist but I’ve built some kind of “platform literacy” after a little more than a decade of overseeing learning management systems (LMS) at small colleges but most people interact with platforms as a user not as an admin so they never get that. I’m not sure how to quantify my level of platform literacy but please understand that I’m no wiz kid – an LMS is no Facebook and in my case we are only talking about a few thousand users. I’m more concerned with making the thing work for professors and students than anything, however, in doing even a small amount of admin work you get a feel for what it means to consider and care about things on a different level: how accounts are created, how they interact with content and with other accounts, the way accounts leave traces through the content they contribute but also through their metadata, and how the platform is always monitoring this and how as an administrator you have access to that monitoring when the user (person) often does not.

I don’t think that most LMS admins (at least as LMSs are currently configured) at small colleges are incentivised to go digging for nuanced details in that monitoring unprompted. I do think that platform owners who have customers willing to pay large sums for advertising contracts have more of a motivation to analyze such things.

Educational researchers are incentivised to show greater returns on learning outcomes and the drum beat of personalized learning is ever present. But I gotta ask if can we pause for a second and think… is there something to be learned from all this Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, personalization, microtargeting, of advertising story for education? Look at everything that I went through to try to better understand the data trails that I’m leaving behind and I still don’t have the answers. Look at the consequences that we are now seeing from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The platforms that we use in education for learning are not exempt from this issue.

My mind goes back to all the times I’ve heard utopian dreams about making a learning system that is like a social media platform. All the times I’ve seen students who were told to use Facebook itself as a learning tool. So many times I’ve sat through vendor presentations around learning analytics and then during Q&A asked “where is the student interface – you know, so the student can see all of this for themselves” only to be told that was not a feature. All the times I’ve brainstormed the “next generation digital learning environment” only to hear someone say “can we build something like Facebook?” or “I use this other system because it is so much like Facebook”. I get it. Facebook gives you what you want and it feels good – and oh how powerful learning would be if it felt good. But I’m not sure that is learning is the thing.

In her rebuttal boyd says that one of the outstanding questions that she has after listening to the critics (and thanking them for their input) is how to teach across gaslighting. So, it is here where I will suggest that we have to bring platforms back into the conversation. I’m not sure how we talk about gaslighting in media without looking at how platforms manipulate the frequency and context with which media are presented to us – especially when that frequency and context is “personalized” and based on intimate knowledge of what makes us like, love, wow, sad, grrrr.

Teaching and learning around this is not about validating the truthfulness of a source or considering bias in the story. Teaching and learning around this is about understanding the how and why of the thing, the platform, that brings you the message. The how and why it is bringing it to you right now. The how and why of the message looking the way that it does. The how and why of a different message that might be coming to someone else at the same time. It is about the medium more than the message.

And if we are going to talk about how platforms can manipulate us through media we need to talk about how platforms can manipulate us and how some will call it learning. Because there is a lot of overlap here and personalization is attractive – no really, I mean it is really really pretty and it makes you want more. I have had people tell me that they want personalization because they want to see advertising for the things that they “need”. I tried to make the case that if they really needed it then advertising would not be necessary, but this fell flat.

Personalization in learning and advertising is enabled by platforms. Just as there are deep problems with personalization of advertising, we will find it is multiplied by tens of thousands when we apply it to learning. Utopian views that ignore the problems of platforms and personalization are only going to end up looking like what we are seeing now with Facebook and CA. The thing that I can’t shake is this feeling that the platform itself is the thing that we need more people to understand.

What if instead of building platforms that personalized pathways or personalized content we found a way to teach platform’s themselves so that students really understood what platforms were capable of collecting, producing, and contextualizing? What if we could find a way to build platform literacy within our learning systems so that students understood what platforms are capable of doing? Perhaps then when inside of social platforms people would not so easily give away their data and when they did they would have a better understanding of the scope. What if we were really transparent with the data that learning systems have about students and focused on making the student aware of the existence of their data and emphasised their ownership over their data? What if we taught data literacy to the student with their own data? If decades ago we would have focused on student agency and ownership over platforms and analytics I wonder if Cambridge Analytica would have even had a product to sell to political campaigns let alone ever been a big news story.

I’m not saying this would be a fail safe solution – solutions come with their own set of problems – but I think it could be a start. It would mean a change in the interfaces and structures of these systems but it would mean other things too. Changes in the way we make business decisions when choosing systems and changes in the way we design learning would have to be there too. But we have to start thinking and talking about platforms to even get started – because the way they are currently configured has consequences.

Image CC0 from Pixabay

ELI Poster Presentation: DigPINS – A participatory faculty development experience

I’m excited to be presenting a poster at ELI2018 with Sundi Richard on DigPINS – a participatory faculty development experience. Sundi designed DigPINS around the same time that I was designing my first year seminar in digital citizenship – of course we co-founded #DigCiz and digciz.org together so there has been a lot of talk between us about all of these projects.

DigPINS looks at Digital Pedagogy, Identity, Networks, and Scholarship as an online faculty development experience in a cohort model over a set time period. It sort of reminds me of a cMOOC except the focus is not on massive numbers and there is a part of the experience that does not happen in the open – the cohort at the school that is running the course has a backchannel and really they are often closer in physical proximity to one another so they can sometimes just talk to each other on campus.

For our poster we have given a description of each of the defining concepts (the PINS: Pedagogy, Identity, Networks, and Scholarship) on one half and then an interactive description of examples of the activities on the other half. The activities are dynamic and complex – they are not easily put into a box – hence making the poster interactive. How do we make a poster interactive? Well each activity will be printed separately so that during explination they can be placed along two intersecting continuums: Private/Public and Synchronous/Asynchronous. The far extremes of each of these are hard to get at and I’m not sure that anything in DigPINS belongs there but we are hopeful that having these as moveable elements that we will be able to better demonstrate their complexity.

A digital version of the poster is embedded below – it is three slides long as Slide 1 is the poster, Slide 2 are the moveable activities, and on Slide 3 we put a description.

DigPINS Poster

Some of you know I just took a position at St. Norbert and one of the big reasons was because I knew they were not just open to but encouraging really exciting approaches to faculty development like DigPINS. I just finished up running my first implementation of DigPINS at St. Norbert. I had a great group of faculty, staff, and librarians who were really thoughtful about their approaches. We had some serious conversations about the good and bad of technology, social media, mobile access and their effects on pedagogy, scholarship, and ourselves.

I’m excited to be able to present with Sundi on DigPINS – our next move is to open the curriculum so that others can take the skeleton of the defining concepts and activities and make it their own at their institution. That is coming soon so stay tuned!!!

 

भक्ति in the Time of MOOC and Yoga in the Open

This past week was the soft start to YogaMOOC. I jumped into the twitter stream, signed up for the edx side, and signed up to be a research subject. I’m also taking #OpenEdMOOC and it was week 3 this past week and I did not do a blog post.

I’m combining some thoughts about both of these into this one post. They are thoughts about behaviour, research, resilience, metaness, and more. I’m hopeful that I can weave them together in a way that makes sense. If not I’m hopeful that you will not judge me too harshly dear reader.

Persistence and resilience: Bhakti in the time of MOOC

As we work through week 0 of YogaMOOC I’ve been dabbling into some of the blog posts (admittedly I have ignored the discussion boards on edX – I feel that this speaks badly of my character somehow but there it is) most are little tester posts just to get something out there; a sentence or two just to say “hey I’m here”. This is valuable as many are starting blogs (or tags or categories) specifically for this mooc. However, others are digging in a little deeper and reflecting on past yoga and meditation experiences. I’d like to do that too but I’ll save that for the next section. 

I digress

What really stood out to me as I perused these posts were the occasional ones that reflected on a past yoga or meditation practice that had been abandoned (or diminished) with an interest in rekindling this practice through YogaMOOC. These did not seem to be the majority of the posts but I suppose this featured prominently for me because I know this story well. I have had yoga and meditation practices in the past but they have all fallen off.

This made me think of MOOCs and especially OpenEdMOOC especially considering that I did not post a week 3 blog entry and honestly my week 2 was just a response to someone else not a response to the content or instructors. Persistence in MOOCs was a thing of interest to researchers once – I think it still is. It is one of those that I’ve been flirting with for some time but have yet to really fall into – much like my own yoga and meditation practice.

Okay here I go again with the digressing – forgive me…

I make it no secret that in my youth I was a hippy. Along with certain types of music and dress with such a lifestyle comes certain practices…. Yoga and meditation falls right in. I love yoga and meditation because of the mind/body connection – it is a liminal space.

This in-between of what makes us human. Yoga is often thought of as just physical postures, and while these are beneficial, as we go deeper we are asked to align the mind as we do them.

Meditation is thought of as just sitting and staring at one’s breath but the body ever persists (with aches and pains and cramps) in this state and we are asked to pull the mind back to a fixed point.

It naturally falls into the religious and philosophical with questions such as ‘what are we’ and ‘what happens to the mind after the body is no longer viable’. And with me being all forehead chakra, such questions appeal to me.

I’ve been to India. I’ve done the silent treatment. I’ve followed the master. I’ve climbed the mountain (okay okay … maybe it was just a foothill but that’s what I’ve got). Finally, I’ve just let myself be – and I’ve seen the echo that creates.

What’s next?

Enough digressing…

Persistence

Resilience

Yoga

MOOCs

भक्ति Bhakti is the Sanskrit word for devotion or adoration which makes me think of persistence and resilience. I’ll admit that I could be conflating things here but the path is too enticing for me not to follow it. I can’t put my finger on it quite yet but it is right there…

is it persistance out of blind practice

or out of …

(fine I’ll say it)… love?

Does it matter?

Perhaps these are two paths to the same end?

Which is easier to measure?

Researching the Intimate: Yoga in the Open

I decided to also be a research subject for YogaMOOC but I have to admit it was difficult for me. I love LINKLab MOOCs and I’ve been a research subject for them before. I’m not sure what was different this time. I filled the stuff out but it just felt more … idk… closer to home this time.

The questions were increasingly intimate. I should have paid better attention but as often happens with me (and I suspect many of us) I just kept filling in answers. As I remember it and have gone back to pick a bit…

The regular demographic stuff and with a particular nod to yoga:

How much do you make a year. How much experience with yoga do you have.

But it was the stuff after that …

The stuff about deliberately noticing sensations on the body when doing mundane tasks. The stuff about being self critical. The part about watching my feelings. The parts about meta… cognition, experience, emotion, … idk… life… that was hard for me – in that it felt really close to home.

I come from a tradition (that admittedly in which my bhakti is low) where we live in silence for ten days or so at a time in quiet reflection. We think about these things but we don’t discuss them in the open. In fact, the only dialog is in private consultation with a teacher.

Of course this research is not sharing the results with everyone but I’m not even sure myself what the research questions are? Did I miss that part? Will I get to reflect on how my data fit into the larger project?

I don’t know – I suppose it is a small thing but I can’t help wonder. I don’t mind sharing but I feel like I’m missing some kind of reciprocation… I still filled the stuff out… but it just feels strange to me…

I’m looking forward to YogaMOOC and OpenEdMOOC and few other MOOCs that I’m playing with at this time.

These are just some thoughts – let’s see what comes next.

Till next time,
शरद (aka Monsoon) 

Image Credit: Yoga Baby – photographer: me
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Openness, Humanness, and Connectedness: or We can connect in the Open if you want to

In my last blog post I responded to the question “why does open matter” posed by #OpenEdMooc with the answer “because we are human” by proclaiming that open mattered because humans have a need to connect and because openness facilitates connectedness.

I came across an interesting response to my post from Benjamin Stewart that I did not notice before because Benjamin posted it as an Evernote note which I did not get a notification on but I did notice when he posted it to twitter. Benjamin asks if I’ve gone far enough in my thinking. He gives an example that one can connect without being in the open and gives examples of connecting through a clique or a closed group of like minded individuals.  

I appreciate the question – it makes me wonder about how open is open. Can one be open within a clique? Can a closed group have diverse minds? Then I start thinking about Blake and the doors of perception – about how I’ve argued that the doors are more than just open or closed but of many differing natures and states (glass doors, murphy doors, pocket doors… being propped, locked, ajar, and I could go on). But again I’ll stop myself from going down the rabbit hole as this post will be much longer and go in a different direction if I do.

Trying to stay somewhat short and on task I’ll address Benjamin’s concern by simply restating that it is my premise that open matters because are human. To extrapolate further – humans have a need to connect and openness facilitates connectedness…. however, I am not stating that humans have a need to connect in the open. I think that Benjamin is absolutely correct when he says that people can connect in closed groups. I would actually take it further and say that people will connect in closed groups. This is not antithetical to my point – I think that it actually makes my point.

I’m not one of those who demonize this closed connectedness – I think we need that too, though too much of it can be a problem. I see the problem with it as one of scale more so than it being an issue in the thing itself.

As we enter week 2 of #OpenEdMooc we are starting the conversation around copyright and how that plays with Open. The problem around Mickey Mouse and copyright has come up because here in the US every time the threshold of public domain draws near to Mickey going into the commons lobbyists petition the courts and the date is pushed forward another twenty years. Of course this does not just apply to Mickey but to all copyrighted works.

We don’t have to connect with Mickey – but if we wanted to – well it has to be one way and at a premium.

We don’t have to connect in the Open – but we can if you want to.

But we do have to connect.

Humans need to connect. With ideas, with one another, with language, with images, with emotions, with numbers, with color – I could go on. Extreme cases of humans being deprived of connections are abusive atrocities but lesser barriers are always going to exist. You can connect within closed systems or you can connect in the open but I think most people mix it up depending on your definition of ‘Open’. I like to connect in both in the broad sense; though when it comes to education I tend toward Open when I can. There are some for whom connecting in the open may be their only option because of money or other circumstance. So, when I think about why Open matters – I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but still, I say it is because we are human. 

Why Does Open Matter? because we are human

George Siemens and David Wiley have joined up to do a MOOC on Open Education and I feel as though, with my interest in the subject, I would be remiss if I did not at least dip my toe in…

I always find myself intrigued by those big broad questions and the guys have not let me down by asking in week one “why does open matter”. 

I’ve watched the videos, done some readings, read some of the participant blogs and tweets. Along with some personal reflection here goes my take on things.

The question is a hard one for me because I’m not sure that there are simple definitions for either “open” or “education” and I’m not happy with my own definition for either. Both of these words give me pause and raise more questions than answers for me. However, I will try to not get too “in the weeds” with definitions in this post.

If I have to answer this question simply, this question of why open matters, I would say it matters because we are human. Because it is in the nature of most humans to connect… in some way. It is what we do. (Often to each other, but not always). And openness facilitates connectedness.

It’s a big messy web. And it is bigger than technology. It is bigger than the internet – which is just the latest tool for making connections in the open.

Because it is in our nature to connect, somewhere along the way a premium was put on the ways that we connect – which was mostly through means of expression. An expression of knowledge, let’s say a book, is placed out of reach for most and only given to a few who can afford it. This proves lucrative in terms of growing capital and in terms of growing a certain kind of knowledge but alas not in terms of growing that kind of knowledge that serves the human spirit and it only feeds that human need to connect for a very few.

Simply, open matters because we are human; humans need to connect and openness facilitates connectedness.

However,

Humans grow and thrive through connections but not all connections are equal.

Even if that book is put at a premium – one may not connect with it but they will connect (to something – someone), nonetheless.

Earlier today Siemens asked an intriguing question:

I do think that we will have gone wrong somewhere if we start thinking that open equals good.

Most of the platforms used to facilitate open connections and open education these days require a person to sign off on a terms of service that most never read and few could really understand. Often these platforms harvest the data that we generate through satisfying our need for connecting to feed our preferences and leanings back to us at a premium. I don’t find this “good”, yet I have a need to connect and so here I am.

While I think that open matters because humans have a need to connect fulfilling a need is not always good. We have a need to eat but if we eat junk food all the time that would not be “good” in terms of our health and wellbeing.

Some may say that junk food is not real food and others may say that junk food may be good in the moment as it might taste good. So perhaps getting in the weeds with definitions is not so bad afterall but if I would have tackled “what is open” or “what is education” this post would have been much different.

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of the MOOC. I’ve just started a new job in De Pere WI as an Instructional Designer at St. Norbert College and I’ll be seeing if any of my new colleagues may be interested in these questions and others that I’m sure will be coming up in #OpenEdMOOC.

 

#DigCiz Reflections and a #DigPed Workshop

We just wrapped up a month long #DigCiz conversation and it was really unlike any of the others.

It was bigger for one thing.

I was informally running Twitter stats in the background and we consistently had between 200-400 people for any given week. Not massive by any means but growing. Though it was bigger than before and though it was online I’m still adamant that it was not a MOOC – it’s a conversation.  A conversation mediated by technology, sure, but a conversation, and not a course, nonetheless.

A #DigPed Workshop

Still, we learned a lot and as part of the continual processing and dissemination of that learning, I’m excited to point out (I’m not really announcing – the site has been up for awhile) that Sundi Richard and I will be collaborating in the flesh with participants for a 75 minute workshop during the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute. The workshop is broad so even if you did not follow along with #DigCiz, but are interested in digital citizenship in higher education and society at large it will be valuable.

If you are attending the Institute consider coming to our workshop! If you are not attending there is still time because registration is still open (as of the time of this posting anyway).

I realize trying to ask people to attend a whole institute for a 75 min workshop is a little crazy but there is so much to be learned at the Institute as a whole! It looks like there is still room in Data, Networks, and Domains tracks! These are led by some of the smartest people in the room (and by room I mean the internet) Kris Shaffer (Data), Maha Bali and Kate Bowles (Networks), and Martha Burtis (Domains).

And! Even though their tracks are full, hanging with the likes of Amy Collier, Sean Michael Morris, Jesse Stommel, and Chris Friend… Well come’on! I mean the prospect of running into these folks in the hallway is super cool in and of itself.

#DigCiz Reflections

Mostly what I really want in hashtag #DigCiz, is to have a broad conversation about “digital citizenship” that takes a critical look at both “digital” and “citizenship” and that moves beyond things like netiquette and cyberbullying. I think those things are important but I want them to be part of the conversation not the whole conversation.

I think that we have been pretty successful in creating conversation that does that but it also seems that a bit of a community is growing.

This last round of #DigCiz spurred a bit of a branching out…. meaning that there are all of these little side things that keep popping up even though our planned burst ended weeks ago.

For instance the other day Dr. Naomi Barnes decided to live tweet a reading of an article called Towards a Radical Digital Citizenship in Digital Education by Akwugo Emejulu and Callum McGregor using the #DigCiz tag.

This spurred a bunch of us to read it, and wow!! This is exactly the kind of thing that I’m talking about when I say that I want to think about digital citizenship in deeper and more critically.

Besides Naomi’s spontaneous contribution we also had this cool idea inspired by Bill Fitzgerald’s and Kristen Eshleman’s week to do a hypothesis annotation of a privacy policy. We chose to annotate the Slack privacy policy and it was really enlightening. So many of us are entering into these legal agreements when we use these services without even questioning what we are agreeing to. Using social annotation we can really dig in there and pull out the nuance of these documents for questioning, contextualizing, and clarifying.

Ever since Audrey Watters blocked annotation from her site I’ve been rethinking my use of hypothesis. I don’t think that Audrey is wrong (it is her site people) but I also see great benefit from annotating the web. Annotating privacy policies and TOS as a way to better understand them does not feel like I am impinging on anyone’s creative work. We are still doing some work to refine how we do this but I think it has promise.

Then, the other day on Twitter George Station was talking about Zeynep Tufekci’s new book Twitter and Tear Gas. Turned out Sundi and Daniel were about to read it as well as some others. I noodled George on Twitter about doing a #DigCiz book discussion and he took me up on it! I started into the book right away and wow!!! Again, this is more of what I’m looking for when I talk about a deeper look at Digital Citizenship.

In Short

A big part of why I can’t call DigCiz a MOOC is because I don’t feel like a teacher in DigCiz – I feel more like a learner.

However, I do turn around what I learn in DigCiz and teach it. I am planning a first year seminar in Digital Identities, Environments, and Citizenship to be taught in the fall and now I have this exciting opportunity to do the workshop at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute with Sundi.

If you are going to be at DPLI consider coming to our workshop. Sundi and I will be presenting together and we will be talking about many of the things that we have learned through these DigCiz conversations. We plan to present different scenarios that encompass facets of digital citizenship and ask participants to think about how we can present these to students for a deeper consideration of digital citizenship.

Also keep an eye on digciz.org  cause you never know when a DigCiz blast could pop up.

#DigCiz Week 4 – Big Data Big Dreams: waking up about data collection in edtech

It is week 4 of #DigCiz and Kristen Eshleman and Bill Fitzgerald are leading us in a week of discussion around data security and the part that higher education institutions play. In the prompt Kristen questions the context of EDUCAUSE’s top 10 issues in IT and information security’s place in the #1 slot saying “when you read the description from this list, it’s pretty clear that our membership views information security policy not in the service of the individual digital citizen, but in the service of institutional IT systems.” Kristen states that though security breaches may be costly that higher education institutions are not in the business of data security (we are in the business of educating students) and goes on to say “we may be able to address the needs of institutions and individuals more effectively if we reframe the conversation from the lens of digital citizenship”

This really spoke to me in terms of how our professional organizations frame things to us as professionals. Often training and development from professional organizations is the way that many of us stay abreast of changes in the field. How professional organizations choose to frame these issues shapes how we bring these issues back to our institutions.

In response to the prompt Kristen and Bill held a synchronous video call and again this came up from Chris Gilliard and Amy Collier.

All of this reminded me of something I wrote several months ago about my attendance at the ELI National conference that at the time I’d decided not to publish. I was questioning the framing around the professional development I was getting and now, after hearing other colleagues similar concerns, it just feels so relevant that I can’t hold back.

I want to say that I felt really blessed to attend the conference and to present on digital citizenship but because of various experiences, which I will outline, I am now asking questions about what educational technology is for and why we are doing this.

It is not the job of digital pedagogues—or digital aficionados, or digital humanists, or educational technologists, or instructional designers—to force people to go digital. When we make it our mission to convert non-digital folks to our digital purpose, we will not only very likely alienate these valuable colleagues, but we’ll also miss the mark of our true intention: to support learning and scholarship within institutions that, in our heart of hearts, we adore.” – Sean Michael Morris 

If the focus of edtech is simply to implement technology for the sake of technology are we not vulnerable to the money and power that is backing those solutions? I’m negotiating ideas around how we are influenced in environments of professional development in edtech and what our responsibilities are as professionals, educators, and citizens. It seems to me of critical importance to be aware of how we are influenced in the environments where we place ourselves. I’m contemplating how we bring these experiences back to our institutions and how we influence our campus communities after attending them.

But anyway – onto the lived experience part:

At ELI

Having come from a more traditional IT background and then moving to an academic technology environment I was excited to attend the EDUCAUSE ELI conference. I’d always been told that the big EDUCAUSE main conference, which I have attended many times, was for that traditional IT audience but that ELI was more focused on educators.

While registering for the conference I was surprised to find that I had been automatically opted into being geographically tracked using beacons while I was onsite in Houston at the conference. Mind you I was opted in by default – I had to specifically indicate that I did not want my physical location tracked. I choose to opt out of this because I didn’t really understand what exactly it all entailed, but I can imagine.

I would imagine this tracking means EDUCAUSE (or ELI as the case might be) knows where I spend my time at the conference. What vendor booths and sessions I attended. If I took a lunch at the conference or if I went out. How much time I might have spent in the hallway. Maybe even which of my colleagues, who are also being tracked, that I’m spending time with while I’m at the conference. 

There are just some key questions that I could not find answers to – These are increasingly the same questions that I keep having with all of these data collection tools be it facebook and google or educational systems:

  • Do I get access to my data?
  • Who exactly owns these data?
  • Are these data for sale?
  • Could these data be turned over to government agencies – raw or analyzed?
  • Do vendors get access to my data – raw or analyzed?
  • Do I get access to the algorithms that will be applied to my data?
  • Is someone going to explain those algorithms to me – cause I’m not a data scientist.
  • Are the data anonymized?
  • Are these data used only in aggregate or can they be used to target me specifically?
  • How long will these data be retained? – Will they be tracked over time either in aggregate and/or individually?
  • Who has access to these data?

Once I arrived on site I found many participants who had these extra little plastic tabs stuck to their name badges and quickly found out that these were the tracking tags. In several of the session rooms and around the conference in other areas I found mid-sized plastic boxes with handles under chairs and in corners with the name of the beacon company on them.

I don’t remember information that could have answered any of the questions I listed above being provided during registration. I did not seek out anyone organizing ELI about this or anyone representing the vendor.  However, while I was onsite at ELI this started to bother me enough that I asked plenty of the participants at the conference these kind of questions. While I mostly got into very interesting conversations I did not find anyone who could answer those questions for me.

So What?

This bothers me because if educational technology professionals are giving over their data at professional development events geared toward educating us about innovations in educational technology, shouldn’t we be able to answer those questions? Why do so many of us assume benevolence and hand our data over without having those answers?

Many of us might think that we know those entities to whom we are giving our data away to but even if we think that it is a trusted professional organization, companies and organizations are changing all of the time switching out leadership and missions. Throw in the possibility of the data being sold and we have no idea what is going on with our data.

After attending larger conferences I have felt targeted by vendors and I have heard about horror stories from other female colleagues (who actually have purchasing power) at the lengths vendors will go through to get a closed door meeting. I can imagine scenarios where my data is used to the benefit of vendors over my own benefit or that of my institution.

When our professional organizations do not prompt us to think critically about data collection and when we are automatically opted into turning over our own data without question it is no wonder we don’t question taking students’ data without informing them. We are compelled by those who are teaching us about data collection that this is normal and we pass that on to our institutions.

ELI is not alone in this of course, it happens with most of the professional organizations with corporate sponsorship and with most of the corporate digital tools used for education and social interactions. However, I’m concerned when one of the major professional organizations in my field is perpetuating this normalization of data surveillance in a time when we are seeing the rights of our most vulnerable students threatened. Yet I continue to see a proliferation of this mindset that more data is always good without so much as a mention of who really owns it, how will it be used, and how can that usage change over time.

This was also evident with the first keynote presentation at ELI from a non-profit called Digital Promise. The CEO Karen Cator talked about the many products that they are developing but it was the Learner Positioning System that got me thinking about these issues. Listening to the level of personalization that was associated with this tool I could only imagine the amount of data being collected on students who were using it. The presenter made it clear at the beginning that it was the first time that she had delivered the talk and that it was a work in progress but it was hard for me to forgive no mention of the data security and ownership around a project like this. It became just another example of how the conference was glorifying and fetishizing the collection of data without any real critical reflection on what it all means.

Audrey Watters writes about about how students have to comply with the collection of their intimate data and that they don’t even get the choice to opt out. She takes a historical look at how “big data” of the 1940’s was used to identify Jews, Roma, and other ‘undesirables’ so that they could be imprisoned. She writes “Again, the risk isn’t only hacking. It’s amassing data in the first place. It’s profiling. It’s tracking. It’s surveilling. It’s identifying ‘students at risk’ and students who are ‘risks.’”

I am concerned that we are creating a culture of unquestioned data collection so much so that even those who are supposed to be the smartest people on our campuses about these matters give over their data without question. Professionals return to their campuses from events like ELI with an impression that this level of data surveillance is always good without question and that data collection is normal.

I believe that big data and personalization engines can be extremely “effective” in education but sometimes it is precisely this “effectiveness” that makes me question them. The word“effective” communicates a kind of shorter path to success; a quicker way to get to an end goal of some kind. However, the value of that end goal could be nefarious or benevolent. None of us like to think that our campus’ could use data for iniquitous ends but often these negative effects come from models being applied in new ways that they were not designed for or emerge later to show reflection of unconscious biases.

We saw this last year when the president of St. Mary’s University was let go after speaking in a disparaging way about at-risk students – wanting to get them out of the pipeline within the first few weeks of classes. I’m sympathetic to the point of view that we want to identify at-risk students so that we can help them stay but in this situation at-risk students were being identified (by a survey developed by the president’s office) specifically so that they could be encouraged to leave.

I think that we should be asking, and getting students to ask, what does success look like and what is the end goal. I don’t feel like that question has really been answered in higher education. It is really hard to think of data collection as something potentially dangerous when it is an education company or institution and the end goal is “student success”.  Of course we all want our students to be successful but let’s not forget that these data can be put together in various ways.

Let’s also not forget that we are giving students subtle and not so subtle cues about what is acceptable and what is not. Will our students think of asking questions about ownership, security, and privacy around their data once they graduate if we take and keep their data from them while they are with us? Or will they assume benevolence from everyone who asks them for access?

We need more education in our educational technology. Students are tracked and their data are mined all over the web; often I am reminded that we are not going to be able to change that. However, we could provide transparency while they are with us and get them to start asking questions about what data can be gathered about them, how it can be used, and what impacts that might have on their lives.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our professional organizations would help us to demand transparency of our personal data so that we could better imagine the possibilities of how it can be used?

Image Credit Ash –  Playing with Fire – Gifted to Subject 

I would like to thank Amy Collier and Chris Gilliard for providing feedback on an early draft of this post. The two of you always make me think deeper.