Associative Trails Around DigCiz, Fake News, and Microtargeting

Microtargeting: A Digital Citizen’s Perspective

I started writing this post about fake news and microtargeting a few days ago and then I was reminded that #OpenLearning17 was talking about Vannevar Bush’s As We May Think this week. I began to see connections between how they might relate. It made this post even longer but I think it was worth it.

Some background if you don’t know: Bush’s article was written in 1945 as the war was ending. He was the Director of Scientific Research and Development during this time so he was all about applying science in warfare. In the article he is envisioning where scientists will put their energies as the war is ending.

Now, as peace approaches, one asks where they [scientists] will find objectives worthy of their best.

The article focuses on the connections we make when we build knowledge. How we associate past discoveries with current ones and tie things together. Bush advocates using technology to track the connections that we make in this process to extend memory for better reflection on those connections. Many credit this article with predicting the Internet.

He uses this term “associative trails” to describe indexing knowledge based on connections that we define. He thinks this is more powerful than typical kinds of indexing like sorting by number or alphabetizing. But I note that this is a much more personalized kind of indexing.

He is advocating for metacognition, that is, realizing what you are thinking and where your trails lie so you can better understand what you are researching, yes, but more importantly your own thought processes. What I am wondering about is what happens when you get the technology part but you leave out the metacognitive part? Bush does not seem to consider this option but I think this is often the world that we live in today.

When I start thinking about fake news and microtargeting I have to ask what if a person does not have access to their associative trails? What if they don’t even realize they are leaving a trail? What if they think that their trail is not so important? What if someone’s trail could be bought and sold? What does the record of all our connections say about us and can it be used in ways that might be exploitive?

I’m not a data scientist. I’m not a journalist. I’m not a librarian.

I am a technologist. I am an educator. I am a person. A person who lives some of her life on the web. I want to say a lot of her life on the web…. But “a lot” is a relative term.

Often it is journalists and librarians that tackle the fake news topic. I think that both of these groups add an important perspective to the conversation but I also think that there is the perspective of a digital citizen and those that advocate for such concepts; the perspective of someone using the web as a place of expression, a place to learn, and to be heard and to listen to others.

What is microtargeting?

When I bring the idea of microtargeting up I’ll start with something like “well you know they track a lot of your data from the internet to try to influence you” and most often, before I can continue, I hear “oh yes of course I know that”. Then there is the inevitable story of shopping for an item on one site and then continuing to see ads for it on other sites. But that is rather mild and not really what concerns me.

I’m not just talking about the machine realizing that you were looking at a product on another site or that you clicked on something from your email, that is cookies and web beacons, that is rudimentary stuff.

I’m talking about gathering thousands of data points, combining them, and analyzing them. Everything from shopping history to facebook likes and what church you attend can be gathered and combined with traditional demographics to create a “personalized experience” meant to influence you with emotional and psychological messaging.

The big story around microtargeting right now has to do with a little company called Cambridge Analytica (CA) in London. They are the big story because they’ve had well known wins with customers like the Brexit Leave and Donald Trump campaigns.  

In this eleven minute video during the Concordia Summit their CEO Alexander Nix explains how they work. In the video Nix explains that demographic and geographic information is child’s play. That the idea of all people from one demographic getting the same message: “all women because of their gender, all African Americans because of their race, all old people because of their age” is ridiculous. That those things are of course important but they are only part of the picture; that psychographics are a much more complete picture because then you are targeting for personality.

The big shocker where people feel a little creeped out is when they learn that CA uses those silly little facebook quizzes (you know the ones that you click the “connect to facebook” button on before you are allowed to take them) to profile your personality. What! Those quizzes are not just there for free for you to have fun with… as they say: if the service is free consider that you might be the product.

As we may forget

CA is not the only one doing this; they are just the popular story right now and the quizzing is only part of things. For me the big part is that connection to facebook which can give the owner of the quiz (be it CA or some other company) access to all of your account information, your likes, your posts, and often much of your friend’s information. Of course, much of your personal and consumer data can be purchased so throw that into the mix. Imagine aligning all of this data for a person. It is a lot. Often people don’t even realize what they are giving away.

You authorize the connection so that you can take the quiz or play the game or whatever and then it is over for you – you have had your fun and you move on. But the app still has that connection to your account and will continue to unless you go in and specifically delete it. This means that it can continue to gather data. Apps will vary of course and I can’t speak for any specific one but I know that all of you are reading the terms of service of each app before you connect it – right?

In this case the user is continuing to make associative trails on facebook through friending and liking. However, they are not using those trails for metacognition. They are not using technology to extend their memory so that they may better reflect on the connections that they are making. Instead they plow forward forgetting many of the connections and the fact that they have authorized someone/thing else access and track their connection trails. The trails are being harvested by an outside entity and the user, more than likely, has no idea who that entity is – did I mention that they could change the terms of service, the name of, or the nature of the app at any moment?

But how much can someone really do with all that data?

I have seen the data scientist folks that I follow sort of look at the CA story a little sideways and it seems every day there is a new article downplaying the impact CA had on the Trump and Brexit campaigns. Interestingly though not too many saying that the idea behind this, using big data and psychographics to personalize experiences, is invalid. Just that CA might be more hype than pay off.

This much more comprehensive story about the origins of CA in Motherboard states that Cambridge is not releasing any empirical evidence on how much or how little they are affecting the outcomes of campaigns. And though CA is more than happy to tout their wins as proof of their effectiveness I’ve yet to see anything about their losses which is a classic vendor ploy.

In this recent Bloomberg article, The Math Babe, Cathy O’Neil points out that what Trump was doing during the campaign is not uncommon and that the Hillary campaign was also doing it. Also, that U.S. companies have for decades been tracking personality. O’Neil points out that “To be sure, there’s plenty to be appalled at in this story…. It is just not specific to Trump”.  She states that Hillary had access to more data than Trump because she had access to Obama’s archive of data from the previous elections. 

But then I think about Bush. As We May Think considers information storage and to be sure the amount of data is important. However, I think the real meat is in the connections. It is here that I have a hunch that having the right context or being able to see the right connections could be more powerful than having more data – well at least if we are talking about the difference between a lot of data and a whole heck of a lot data. Did I mention that I am not a data scientist?

Paul Olivier Dehaye has written about how CA was targeting “low information voters” for the Trump campaign. This article hypothesizes that CA used data (citing CA’s claim to have 5000 data points for every adult American) to specifically look for voters who had a low “need for cognition” for microtarged political advertising. These are the type of folks who would be more likely to not dig too deep or question stories that were presented to them. These folks are not doing a lot of metacognition. I don’t blame them for this, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

What is real and how can we tell?

As I remember it, when the term fake news first started being thrown around during the campaign it was largely being used to define sites that were not run by major news organizations or even particular journalists but rather individuals who knew how to buy a domain name, hosting, and throw up a WordPress site but who were only interested in click revenu. They would come up with crazy stories and even crazier headlines just to get people to click. As these started to be called out as “fake news” some began to create lists of these sites and place parody and satire sites alongside of them.

But then it got more challenging with accusations that major news sources were in fact fake news and that we could tap into “alternative facts” to get to the truth.

Journalists receive training to be sensitive to bias and context and to not let it interfere with their reporting, so they should be more prepared to consider context and fight against bias, especially their own. However, you will never be able to completely remove bias and context; much of it can be hidden and not realized till later. It is here that education is asked to step in and create critical citizens who will hold journalists responsible for what they report and it is here that we see the calls for greater digital and information literacy in regards to fake news.

Fake news, microtargeting, and digital citizenship

Bush envisioned people using technology to extend their memory to be more metacognitive about the connections they were making while they were building knowledge. These seem like rather “high cognition” kind of folks to me but what about those “low cognition” kind of people that Dehaye thinks CA could be after? Who are they?

I mean I’ll admit that I’m guilty myself. I don’t read every terms of service for every new app I download. I have forgotten that I’d given access to some app only later to find it hanging out in my facebook or accessing the geolocation of my phone. But I think that it is really some of the most vulnerable among us that are at risk here.  

What if you work 40/50 hours a week and care for children, parents, or grandparents? What if you have a disability or illness to manage? What if you grew up surrounded by technology and this kind of technology usage is your normal? Do you have time to build all of those literacies? 

Building critical literacies around information and digital technologies takes time. It requires more than just a list of which websites are fake, which are satire, and which are backed by trained journalists. It requires more than a diagram of which news sources lean in which direction politically.

You need the ability to critically look for the nuance of things that could be off. For instance a .com.co is different than a .com. Kin Lane talks about “domain literacy” and goes much deeper than this basic understanding of domains but I hope you see what I mean. We need to read the article and then ask is it really reporting first hand or are they reporting on reporting as Mike Caulfield points out when he calls for the first step in fact checking to not be evaluating the source but rather determining who the source is!

Once you determine the true source you need to evaluate it – who wrote this, what are their political leanings, are they being backed by other influences (like money) somewhere? You should click on the article’s links and/or look at its sources and read those articles to get context before you make a definitive decision about it’s worth. All of this takes access, and knowledge, and constant practice.

Maha Bali writes about how fake news is not our real problem. She points out how fake news is good for critical thinking and states that we need more than just a cognitive approach; what we really need is cross-cultural dialog, learning, and skills. This is where education and community need to step up to the plate.

It seems like a lot and for me it is a call for better general and liberal education. I think the first step may just be in realizing (and getting students to realize) that my internet is different from your internet. Where possible, taking ownership for our own “associative trails” and demanding that ownership when it is kept from us. Finally, simply realizing that there are political forces and companies with lots of your data… which has always been the case but maybe realizing that they are trying to influence you in increasingly intimate ways.

This article (images and words) are CC-BY Autumm Caines

When Free Beer Leaves Me Cold: Declaring Interest in #OpenLearning17

I’m super excited that some of my favorite Virginia educators have gotten together to do a cMOOC! #OpenLearning17 started today and I’m so thrilled to follow along and learn with a great community. The syllabus says this week is for introductions, blogs, and working with a connected learning coach.  There is also a great reading all about the meaning of “open” which was enlightening to the history of the word. To this end the article starts with the word “free” as defined by Richard Stallman for the Free Software Definition, distinguishing the difference between “free” as in “free speech” not as in “free beer”. “Free”, in the sense that will eventually grow into “Open”, is focused more on liberation than lack of price. So, besides lacking a price, “free” as defined by Stallman also includes the ability to see and change the program itself – also the ability to redistribute changed versions of the program. It seems to me that in this way the program is used by the person instead of the person being used by the program. It also seems that this encourages community as conversations need to arise around this kind of usage.

I am actually struggling with some “free beer” kind of software (at least I think it is free beer) in my life right now so I thought I’d talk about it as my introduction to the group.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the best at email management. Our institution has a size limit on faculty and staff inboxes that is like 20mb or something. I’m always archiving stuff off because I’m getting yelled at for not having enough space in my mailbox. To make more room one of the first things that I do is sort by size and archive off the messages that are the largest. Usually these are messages that have large attachments.

A few months ago it seemed to really start filling up quick. The thing was I would do my little trick of sorting by size and I started finding these messages from one particular professor that I was working with that had no attachment – often they were just a sentence or two of text. I checked to see if perhaps there was an image in the signature line that was taking up a bunch of room but I didn’t see anything like that. I thought it was a fluke, archived the messages, and moved on.

The thing was it kept happening and it was getting worse. The first few times I found these messages they were maybe 500kb but then after a week I was finding that they were 1mb – then 2mb – and always from the same professor. What was going on?

I’d had enough and I knew there was something that I couldn’t see in the background of those emails. I asked our Instructional Designer Jim Kerr what he thought and we started a back and forth of trying to deduct what was going on. Was it only in replies? Was it every email that professor sent me? It did not seem to be happening when the professor sent from his phone… Well eventually we pulled up the source code for the emails and the cause became abundantly clear – there was about 11,000 lines of junk code in each of those emails. I don’t read or write code but one word was sticking out all over the place; Grammarly.

Grammarly is a piece of “free” software that is supposed to help you write better. In real time it corrects spelling and grammar errors in all of your text. You can install it as browser plug-in so that you don’t even have to go to a website – wherever you write text on the web it is there.

Grammarly says it is the “free grammar checker” but I believe this is free as in beer not free as in speech. I’m new to the open/free movement and new to Grammarly so let me know if I got this wrong. I don’t see anywhere that I can get to their code to tweak it or to see what exactly it is doing or why it is ending up in the background of very simple emails and bloating them up. Any talk of community on their site applies to those looking to talk about grammar issues not to talk about the software, how it functions, or how users can change it directly. Grammarly is free but there is a paid tier and the volume licensing also has a cost associated to it. So, I suppose it is like free cheap beer – if you want the stuff that tastes good you have to pay.

I printed the code that was behind the email just so that I could demonstrate how much was actually going on behind the scenes. Mind you this is double sided.

Printed code behind an email message that was one sentence long. This is double sided.

After going through all of this the professor immediately removed Grammarly from his computer – he said his email box was filling every day and no one could figure out why. But it also got Jim and I thinking about how Grammarly works. It is not entirely on your computer – much of the computing process is in the cloud – it needs the internet to function. So, it seems that it is basically a keylogger. Though it is not covert (I mean you install the thing) it is recording every keystroke and sending it to their servers to check for grammar and spelling issues. It does seem that they are encrypting and such but now we are wondering if there are implications for FERPA in an educational setting. And besides having some program record and send my every keystroke is a little creepy to me. Especially, If I don’t know what is going on in the background.

To be honest, I’m not a coder and even if Grammarly did make their source code available I couldn’t make much of it. I think that there might even be security issues if it were that open. Honestly, a big reason why I’m writing this as a part of my introduction for #OpenLearning17 is because I’m trying to better understand the implications from others that might know better than me. I’m wondering if our concerns about FERPA are warranted and if anyone has any clue how the junk code got into the emails. Any feedback would be great but if not, if this is too far outside the interest of #OpenLearning17, that is okay too. Hoping that this post can still act as a way of saying hi and giving folks some idea of the type of things that I’m thinking about.

Looking forward to working with everyone in #OpenLearning17 and can’t wait to see where this takes us.

Growth in Presenting: reflections on “combating fake news”

Yesterday I presented Combating Fake News: Critical Consumption and Digital Citizenship during Capital University’s Martin Luther King Day of Learning. It was really exciting to dig a little deeper on one aspect of digital citizenship rather than just give a broad overview. This is such a tricky topic because it is not about “fake news” really.  Or at least not the way I see it. It is about critical thinking, diversity of thought, and yes self-discovery. I mean how are we defined if it is not based on our perception of reality?

It was one of my better presentations and I was really proud of myself because if you know me at all then you know that presenting is not one of my strongest skills. I think teaching last term helped a lot. I also reached out to some colleagues who are really knowledgeable about this topic, but who also happen to be amazing presenters, for advice and that helped me feel more confident.

I was under quite the time crunch and had to do things differently than I normally would but I think that actually made the presentation better. Considering I just wrote about imperfection with Maha and Rebecca I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Normally, I try to have very visual presentations. I start with lots of text but then I move all or most of the text to the notes section and replace with images. There was no time for that this time but I actually think that it made the presentation more of a resource – especially because there are a ton of links in there.

That was another thing that was different; I knew going in that I had way too much. Too many big topics, too much media, just too much stuff overall. However, I found this allowed me to be more spontaneous. Because I had all that stuff – I was able to flow more smoothly and just skip around. Sometimes I only played part of a video or had to skip a slide or two but I was able to take more comments from the participants and let the thing go where it wanted to. Of course I had to reel things back in a few times because of the clock but it was so freeing.

I generated a bit.ly link for an online version of the deck and pointed it out to everyone before and after the presentation. I also put the bit.ly link on the bottom of almost every slide. After the workshop a bunch of folks are still accessing it so I think that may have actually worked out. It may not be as pretty as many of my other presentations. It might break all the rules of how you are supposed to do a slidedeck these days… but I think it worked out for this particular presentation as a resource. What was key was that the conversation in the room was the centerpiece not slidedeck. Now, the slidedeck is more than just a collection of pictures. It is a collection of idea snippets, yes, but most useful it is a collection of links.

Not that I’m giving up my pictures in the future mind you ;-P but it is nice to know this kind slidedeck is not automatically a disaster.

P.S. Did you notice that the blog has a “Subscribe” button now? If you would like to be notified of new posts via email sign up 🙂

Image Credit: Autumm Caines. Underwood, CC-BY

Further Defining LOOM: autonomous persistence in relation to ethos

I was asked to be part of a panel discussion at the Winter Symposium on Digital Literacies in Higher Education as a part of my work with Virtually Connecting. This time I not only had distance as a barrier but also time – I had a meeting scheduled at the same time.

The panel was on networking and digital literacies so we were talking about how Virtually Connecting is a learning movement; how we use networking as a way to learn about digital tools together in community. To illustrate this point I told the history of how I got involved with VConnecting which is tightly tied to #Rhizo15. I could have gone back even further because I found #Rhizo15 through Hybrid Pedagogy and I found Hybrid Pedagogy because of the #MOOCMOOC MOOC but I only had 5min.

Some of the other folks on the panel asked me to tie it back to the idea of LOOM which I wrote about a few months ago and it was nice to articulate the Little Open Online Movement again. In doing so I found that the concept grew in my mind a bit. It was in the rethinking of “Movement” that I found growth.

In this particular articulation of it I again stressed the “Little” and the “Movement”. Little being important because you can’t have meaningful project with 10K people. I’m reminded of all the little projects that broke off in the many MOOCs that I was in as evidence of this.

As I had stated originally, “Movements” are not events; they don’t start and stop at defined points the way that courses or twitter chats do.  I still think that this is a key to describing online movements.

But then I added a new nuance to the description of a movement this time; the idea of autonomous persistence: No one is there or continues to be there because they have been told to be or because they have negotiated some kind of pay off – not that there isn’t a pay off. I attribute this to the biggest definer of a movement (which I had included in the last definition) – the ethos or character behind the group. Because the group has defined itself in some way it stands for something, and a kind of  personality has arisen from this.

This relationship between autonomous persistence and ethos was an interesting one for me to consider. I think that autonomous persistence of participants and the ethos of the group are tightly tied. It is not that the participant has to even agree with the ethos to be autonomously persistent. Just that there has to be interest and reciprocation between the two.

On Listening and Beauty: Freire hears a Horton and I hear a call

Bryan Alexander’s most recent book group around We Make the Road by Walking has caught my attention. There are several reasons for this but a big part of it is the community response; especially the Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires post by Bonnie Stewart where she calls for a community to develop around the teaching of digital literacies. Bon draws from the rich histories of Horton’s Highlander Folk School and brings in the Antigonish Movement of her own Maritimes home to issue a call for discussion around how such a community could develop. What she, for now, is calling Antigonish 2.0. This catches my attention because I am drawn to community movements and to the idea of hybridity. I’m also in the midst of exploring digital literacy on my own campus and and continue to encounter others doing similar work through the conversations around digital citizenship that I pursue.

Besides Bon’s call and the many other excellent posts that have arisen from this book group (including this one from Laura Ritchie, this one from Amy Collier, and this one from Kate Bowles) I was also drawn to the book group because of the book itself. First there is the title which resonates with me as a kind little poem summing up this natural-interest kind of learning that I’ve always loved and have been reflecting on over the last few years. There are the interlocutors themselves: I’d never heard of Horton but after digging around and finding out more about him I fell a little in love with him, and to admit that I’ve never actually read Freire is a bit of a faux pas but there we have it. Finally, there is conversation. I feel this affinity for conversation and when I discovered that the book was a conversation, that Horton and Freire had gotten together to “talk a book”, well I was in.

I’m weeks behind the official schedule for the book group but I don’t mind making my own way a little later than others; it seems that may even fall into the theme of things a little. I had intended to get the book and try to catch up with the schedule before blogging but that does not seem possible to me now as my mind is exploding as I read this book. Though I am only about half way through the second chapter I just have to reflect on some of this – there is no way that I can wait. Mind you, again, this is all very new to me. I’ve never read Horton or Freire or the many other men that they list among their influences. However, it all seems so familiar. I have lived in community and done some community based organizing. I grew up white urban poor and among many rural poor family members. There is something familiar about this road and, yes, even something familiar about temporarily embarrassed millionaires.   

So, I mean for this post to be a reflection on a few of the concepts from the book but also how they might relate to our current endeavors around building liminal learning communities which lie on the borders of concepts such as time, location, topics, politics, online, etc especially building them around digital literacies. As I read the book my mind jumps in a ton of different directions but here I am just going to concentrate on two: Listening and beauty. I have explored these concepts before but I’m going to attempt to connect them as they came to in the book as a response to Bonnie’s call for a new community effort around digital literacy and other digital literacy initiatives that I’ve been hearing about.

On Community and Listening

If I am going to consider dedicating myself to a community I have pause for a second. Community is not easy. It is filled with possible pitfalls, arguments, negativities, and disappointments. The rewards can be numerous but why do it in the first place? Especially if we are considering a learning movement. Who are we educating? What do they need? I want to be sure that I think about those questions and listen to the community we are reaching out to.

In reflecting on this aspect I can’t help but think about the book but also Amy Collier’s response (linked above) with concerns around missionaries. Both Myles Horton and Amy seem to have become disillusioned by the idea of missionaries coming into a community to save the members from themselves. In the book someone asks Myles how he knew that there was a misalignment between the questions he thought people should have and the ones that they actually had:

“When they weren’t paying any attention to us. When we saw that we weren’t talking about their needs. We were going to bring democracy to the people, I mean bring it to them like a missionary and dump it on them whether they liked it or not. We thought we were going to make world citizens. All of us had traveled, we’d been around, abroad, and we’d read all this stuff, and we were going to bring all this enlightenment to the people… So we thought we were pretty good, but the people didn’t pay any attention to anything we were doing. Nothing we were doing they reacted to. We couldn’t even talk a language they understood. A lot of their language was nonverbal. We were verbal. We were certified as verbal, but we couldn’t communicate.”

I have no doubt that this kind of community is needed. We are seeing a shift in politics that is pretty scary and we are seeing that digital tools and media are having a huge effect. From fake news to public surveillance to exploited emails, I feel like digital literacy is the kind of the thing that is becoming critical to understanding the way that much of the world works. But what avenues of inspiration do we use to get people to understand the importance of the tools but also the complexities of how they are and can be used? Paulo also talks about this later remembering a conversation with his wife Elza:

“After one program, Elza and I were coming back home and Elza said to me, with a delicate understanding, “Look, Paulo, it does not work like this.” And I asked her: “What did I do? I spoke serious about serious things” She said: “Yes of course. All you said is right, but did you ask them whether they were interested in listening to you speak about that? You give the answers AND the questions…. You have to change. You cannot grasp the interest of the people while speaking with this language you spoke. It is the language you have to speak at the university but not here.”

How do we get people to speak about their struggles with digital literacy? Do they even know that they are struggling with this? Do they realize how many fake news propaganda stories they are consuming and sharing? How often is data hidden from them so that they don’t even know where to start with the questions? How do we start the conversation with them and how do we listen?

Something About Beauty

After the recent US elections there were unprecedented donations given to organizations that are working toward social justice and equality. Many of my colleagues have been publishing lists of who they are donating to or simply indicating their intent to give. When I see these I’ve been advocating for people to also support artists as a part of this effort. I’m concerned that this could get overlooked in times like these. I need to point out that there is something about beauty that is deeply important to these endeavors. Freire touches on this in reflecting on interest driven learning. Paulo talks about reading as an act of beauty “because it has to do with the reader rewriting the text.” and states “It’s an aesthetical event”.

I tend to think of reading as one way to come to understanding. It is a favorite, personally. However, I also really love listening and I’m a big fan of audiobooks. There is a difference between listening to audiobooks and listening to songs. There is a difference between reading a novel and reading a conversation. There can be beauty in all of these I don’t mean to separate them. What I do mean to do is draw attention to beauty and aesthetics as contributing to interest. Interest as in natural inclination to pursue a topic. Elsewhere I have written about this and juxtaposed the interest that one naturally has to the interest that one “should” have. Think, “in your best interest”.  I’m still making that road but I’m pretty sure natural interest has something to do with beauty. And I say all of this because I think that it can be easy to forget this in forming learning communities. It seems to me that this is a place where we should pay particular attention. I wish the book gave more detail into Zilphia’s (Horton’s wife) thoughts on this. There is a point where Horton states:

“I learned a tremendous lot from Zilphia, my wife, who brought in a whole new cultural background, drama and dance and music, oral history, storytelling-all kinds of things that I’d grown up knowing but just hadn’t thought of as being related to learning”

Perhaps I will have to dig deeper and try to find some of Zilphia’s work on my own or perhaps this will come up again later in the book. Like I said my mind is on fire with connections while reading this book so there is a good chance that there will be more writing in this area. I do hope there will be more writing about Antigonish 2.0 as well or some kind of initiative to pull these ideas together. I hope that we can find a way to have conversations about how we can listen to people and use aesthetics to generate interest in how technologies are shaping the world around us.

#codesign16 #ngdle: a response with pauses and concerns

So, JISC is asking for those of us in the field of edtech to envision what the next digital learning environment will look like.

I don’t usually respond to these kind of things. I’m always cautious about futures, I love to imagine but I also know the power of giving voice to things and I feel a huge responsibility in such projections. Ripples, ya know? But maybe it is time to dive in – encountering many things that are influencing my thinking around this kind of thing in just the last few weeks.

Word Concerns

I’m having concerns about the word “connection” lately (just the last few days) and it is very strange for me because this is a word I have felt very drawn to in the past. My concern is that in just the last few days it has begun to feel too clean. Too neutral. Too much like a pipe or a line simply linking two things together. This presents as a problem as I’m considering the next generation digital learning environment. It comes as a problem because I’m considering the connection between humans and systems and it feels anything but clean and neutral.

Humans use systems – we hear this all the time and even call humans “users” when referring to their connection to the system. I wonder if we should ask how systems use humans…. How are humans part system themselves… How is the system a part of the humans… and dare I ask… how human is the system?

Could we start by thinking about and looking at the relationship we have to the digital learning environments that we currently have. Not the environments, mind you, but the relationships. Oh wait. There. Relationship. Perhaps that is the word I’ve been looking for – relationships are messy.

Public

I’ve been thinking about digital citizenship a lot lately. Making plans and putting out content around the subject. Asking people to talk to me about this. Poking and prodding. Cause I want to discover. I’m not sure anyone has really figured this out and I want to talk to other people that want to discover with me. I use public social networks which are public in the sense that anyone can see. I also use ones where I control, a little more, who sees what. I also pay money to have my “own” spaces. I learn this way and it is in the public. I have dreams of teaching students how to do this for themselves.

So what will the next generation learning environment do for me, my students, and others? I gotta ask – what is the relationship of this system to the public systems? Is it a public system itself with a secure backchannel? If it is not in itself a public system then how does it relate to the public social networks that are used as learning systems? Maybe it is not a system but rather systemS. Maybe it is a way of creating relationships between already established formal and informal learning systems. Maybe we think of public systems in which we learn as a part of the next generation learning system. In that case where is our voice in those systems? To influence their direction in terms of hard interface changes. Is a petition for a voice in such changes a part of the system’s development?

Creepy Concerns

The final two questions from JISC in this call give me particular pause.

With the prevalence of analytics in education, can data be used to create a learning environment that is more responsive to student and staff needs?

Can the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) type tools enhance learning environments?

As I write this I’m attending #OpenEd16 and on my way I was able to attend the panel discussion at University of Mary Washington surrounding ethics in online learning. Prior to the event they posted this article from 2013 about failures in online learning and noted the lack of liminal spaces in online environments. Environments that encourage acausal experiences. The article points out that in a physical campus environment these are often the library, a bit of nature outside, or in the coffee shop. It goes on to say:

How can we facilitate the interdisciplinary dialogues that bring a campus to life? What spaces can we build online that aren’t quantified, tracked, scored, graded, assessed, and accredited?

This kind of environment seems important and seems to have been missing for so long in the formal learning systems that we have had in the past. So when I see these questions about analytics in relation to the question of what the next gen learning system will do for me and my students – yes pause. Learning would be happening there and I’m sure we are gonna want to show that to justify the system. But wouldn’t it be kind of creepy if we were tracking that. In a physical environment this would be like the teacher following you to the coffee shop and listening in on your informal conversations. So yeah, I pause.

And in that pause something comes to me (nod to Gardner Campbell’s keynote from #OpenEd16 for recognition of the pause). Maybe the next generation learning system has some tracked spaces and some free spaces. Perhaps this is facilitated by a kind of radical transparency in the data that is being tacked and not being tracked with a heavy point directed at the student having complete ownership over their data. Now we are teaching students what it looks like to be tracked. They can see what is being tracked, they can export their own data and look at it in a variety of ways. They can imagine how other systems might be tracking them in less transparent ways. And there is a safe space where there is no tracking happening – but I suppose that will require something more complex to build – trust.

Call for Participation and Introducing #fyschat

fyschat

George Station and I are both teaching first year seminars (fys) this term and we have been considering ways to collaborate. My class is called “digital citizenship” and his is “technology and society” but we are both asking questions about the role that connected and networked technology is playing in our various worlds and in education.

Teaching first year seminar is interesting for me (this is my first time) as I am tasked with mixing the conversation that I want to have (digital citizenship) with the questions around fys like what it means to be an educated person, what is the difference between college and high school, and how can students start to learn about how they learn.

In trying to converge those two conversations George and I have been collaborating on a shared project between our two classes and we wanted to open it up to anyone else that might be interested in the practice of digital citizenship, technology and society, or in the experience of being a first year college student.

It all starts the week of October 17th when we will ask students to collaboratively annotate this Washington Post article about about why some students succeed in college while others don’t do so well. We will be using hypothesis so that all of the students can see and respond to each other’s annotations all week long.

Then, on October 25th we will all gather on twitter using the hashtag #fyschat for an all day twitter chat about the article, what it means to be a first year student, maybe what it was like to participate together using hypothesis…

If you are a first year college student, or if you are interested in the experience of first year students, I do hope that you will consider joining us for all or part of #fyschat in just a few weeks.

Would You Like a Receipt with That? Could read receipts be making us lazy empathizers?

A few months ago I asked some folks that I would backchannel regularly with on Facebook if we could move to another platform. I like Facebook but I found that I was spending too much time there. Someone would message me and often I would retrieve the message using my computer rather than my phone and that meant going to Facebook. The little window with the message was a tiny portion of the rest of the screen which was filled with updates from my friends, family, and colleagues and I was just no match for it. While messaging I would inevitably start to scroll the stream and even after the messaging stopped I was scrolling along. So I asked some people that I messaged with there regularly if they wouldn’t mind moving to another platform and for the most part it was not a problem. But then the other day I was just thinking how nice Twitter DMs were because there was no “read receipt” and no typing indicator – when bam Twitter announced both of those.

It is not that I am against read receipts or typing indicators, I use both in other platforms, it is just that I was kind of liking not having them in Twitter. It was nice to have one place that did not have them in juxtaposition to all those that do. I was just considering some of the benefits of not having these before it got turned into a new feature so I thought I would reflect some here.

For one, read receipts are misleading; you don’t actually know if the person read your message. What you do know is that the app registered that it was opened  as a new message came through. However, it could be that the person left the app open with your message thread active, but has since walked away from their phone or computer. It could be that the person clicked on the message thread but chose to not read it because they got distracted by something else, or maybe because the thread was rather long and they didn’t have time. Of course with some companies using eye tracking software to make apps that remind us to blink while looking at screens (yeah I’m not going to link to those you are going to have to google that for yourself) I suppose you could get closer to a real read receipt but that is super creepy. It also then begs the question of what it means to “read” something. Can I get an “understood” receipt? How about a “read but was slightly confused due to cultural context” receipt? Oo Oo, how about a “had to rethink multiple world views” receipt?

The other thing is that bugs me about read receipts and typing indicators is that they feed into an always-on mindset. I collaborate with several colleagues all over the world so I can’t talk about how one should block out a particular time of day for not being on the internet – the sun will not allow me that nor would it of anyone working on a global context. Maybe this is why I am more sensitive to these micro-moments like when you see that typing indicator pop up and you are waiting for the person to finish and hit send. Often, I’m thinking as I’m typing and sometimes I even need to delete the message once I’m finished because I can see that it is not right once I compose it. What a let down to someone who has been watching those three bouncing dots for several moments to just watch them go away with no message. Would it be better for me to send a message that I was not happy with just because I think the other person(s) are expecting something? Wouldn’t that lead to worse communications? I thought the point of communication technology was to help us communicate better.

I keep read receipts on for several technologies but I have turned it off on Twitter DM’s for now. They did make me turn them off which is a little annoying. Why can’t new features be opt-in rather than opt-out? Or make it opt-out for new users but let current users keep using the system in the way in which they are accustomed – at least for a little while. There is no option to turn off typing indicators so I guess I will have to live with those.

My point in writing this post is to remind that our lives are hybrid and that our digital interactions often do not allow us to know what is going on with the person on the other side of the screen at any given moment and that I think that is okay. I think that we should use things like language, empathy, and hospitality to reach out to one another when we want to know about each other. In some situations maybe we just need to give some time for the other person to respond. We can’t let on/off switches stop us from connecting with one another. If you are wondering why a person has not responded to you, maybe just ask. People are complex creatures and I don’t think we should rely on a read receipt as an indication of how another person is interacting with us. They could be tired, dealing with other work, in a bad mood, paying attention to family, dealing with social anxieties, or any number of other realities. I’ve been a big proponent of stating that online is real too, but we must realize that when in a world that shifts so readily between synchronous and asynchronous that there is a ton that we cannot see, hear, feel… experience. There is so much that might be going on with a person on the other side of the screen and a little blue check is not going to really give us much insight into their lives.

#MyDigCiz as Critical Experimentation in Opposition to Best Practice: Self-Reflection After #DigPed PEI or why I thought you might care about my soup

It was 2007, I was just finishing up my BS degree in communication technology when I received a google alert on my name one day. Honestly, I had felt a little vain when I set it up but I saw how this could be helpful especially considering the uniqueness of my name.

Someone had written a blog post and mentioned me!

I didn’t have a blog and really didn’t know any bloggers so this seemed really strange. I discovered that the post was about Twitter as a tool and explored how people were using it. I was on Twitter. My supervisor at the time had said that it was something that I should check out and so I created an account and started tinkering with it a few months prior.

The blog post was a rant about the best ways that people were using twitter and comparing how they should not use twitter. Two accounts were highlighted and an example was made out of them – your’s truly was the prime example of how to NOT use twitter.

I remember being pretty mortified, I think I killed my account for awhile, I think I changed my name when I eventually reactivated it. After some time I finally got a little mad. I mean I was a student. I was new to this online platform and so was everyone else; it had only been around for a little over a year. The whole thing was a big experiment as far as I was concerned. So I tweeted some boring stuff. There are worse things in the world. I ended up tweeting a link to the offending post stating “I guess no one cares about my soup”.

I’d like to think that I’ve come a long way in my use of twitter. But I still use experimentation in dealing with new tools and I’m sure that I’m not using tools as intended at any given time depending the context. But I don’t think that I should stop doing that. I may look silly sometimes and I may come off the wrong way but I learn a lot in doing it and then I write posts like this one sharing what I’ve learned… and…  I think that is valuable. I’m not just experimenting in a vacuum. I am thinking about context, I am thinking about different vantage points, and I am thinking about how my uses impact others. But I am experimenting.

Still, I’m prone to getting sucked in by that voice of authority stating the right way to use tools. It is a strange dichotomy. This post is largely about me trying to work that out.

Right now there are a ton of things converging and diverging in my world. I’m just back from the #DigPed PEI conference where I took the digital literacies track but it is also the last two weeks of #DigCiz and Maha Bali has charged us all to define what digital citizenship looks like for us and on whose terms are we encouraging it using the tag #MyDigCiz. These two things together have me taking a hard look at what I am doing and questioning some of my practices in terms of being a person in the flesh and on the internet. I’m realizing that #MyDigCiz has a lot to do with critical self-reflection and continually trying to understand connections. At the same time I’m realizing that experiments are risky and not just to myself but to others.

I mean I am luckier than most. I have a self-reflective nature and a community of scholars that help me to build digital literacies and consider multiple contexts regularly; it’s called Virtually Connecting. As a community we are in almost constant dialog about what is ethical and what is not. How we can elevate voices that don’t get heard. What is working technically and how we can adjust environments for better connections. We are thinking about what is happening in the background when we go live and record. Who might walk into the frame and do they want to be live on the internet. It’s not perfect. We too are experimenting and learning. But we are also thinking critically, adjusting, and persisting.

You’d think this stuff was old hat for me. But it is not. I’m constantly readjusting.

One of my favorite moments at #DigPed PEI was the twitter chat. I didn’t do much tweeting. Those of us that were more experienced at twitter grouped up and gathered in the big open room – the Market Square. There were these loungy couches around the perimeter but some of us gathered in the middle and began a verbal in the flesh conversation/online twitter chat. I loved this moment so much because it ended up being a great liminal space. Those of us who gathered in the center of the room took time to talk but also time to read twitter and to tweet. There was tons of “dead air” interspersed with bits of verbal conversation. It wasn’t a show or a presentation, there was no front of the room, it was a conversation among people in the flesh who were on the internet at the same time. It was beautiful for someone like me. People jumped in from that outer ring from time to time while others were just quietly on their computers. The verbal conversation was a great mix of people with varying levels of experience in terms of presenting/attending conferences but like I said most were pretty established with using twitter and other forms of social media. Out of this conversation, a few key questions (particular thanks Audrey Watters) have led me to remember how I’ve developed certain methods around tweeting but also helped me to question some of my approaches as well.

I share a fair amount on the web. Not as much as many on Twitter but more than most in the world. I often filter other people through me via my tweets and I’m sure I deviate from their intended meanings – I am my own person after all. I live tweet many keynote speakers and session presenters. After doing this for awhile and being self-reflective about it I realized that there was a lot to be said for context. Hearing some snippet of what a speaker has said out of context can convey a completely different meaning. Then I have to ask where does my interpretation of what a speaker has said start and what they actually said (or what they meant in a particular context) end – and how does the random person who encounters that tweet perceive it?  What responsibilities do I have to the content, the connections, and the speaker? What if I hear something wrong and share something that creates confusion? What if I start a conversation between some people that are going to hate one another? What if I say something in public that will hurt someone? If any of this happens how do I atone for this? Will I even realize it?

Upon this realization I remember making a conscious choice to stop using quotes, for the most part, in these kind of tweets. I did this on purpose. My point in not using quotes is that I’m taking some responsibility for the content of that tweet. I don’t want there to be a perception that I’m quoting directly – unless I do but it is rare in the scope of my tweets. This is my little indication that I’m doing the best I can in 140 characters to interpret and not mimic. But that’s not written down anywhere – that is not a best practice – that is an Autummism… but the thing is I’m not sure anyone “gets” that but me. I think many people assume the quotes. They assume that I’m word for word transcribing the talk. I don’t know how to assert that I’m a human and not a recording or broadcast device. I’m not trying to be a journalist, I’m not trying to be a camera, I just want to be a person who expresses her experience and uses social media to process that experience… more on that in a bit.

Until a few months ago I also used to never put the handle of the speaker in each tweet. I would send out one tweet at the beginning stating who I was hearing and interpreting but all subsequent tweets would not reference the speaker. But then there is a problem with attribution and does it look like I’m spewing the speaker’s rhetoric on my own? After getting called on this it might have been the first time I googled “how to live tweet a keynote speaker” (or something of the like) and low and behold there were a set of “best practices” that sure enough stated that you should tag the speaker in each tweet. So I started doing that.

Yes! Best practice to the rescue. Now I can finally start using Twitter right.

But now that I look back I realize that many of those articles were geared toward folks that were doing some kind of media production, were trying to sell something, or were interested in hitting a specific analytic. Wait!… That ain’t me babe. I’m not sure that I’m the intended audience of those articles but I didn’t get that at that time.

The thing about “best practices” is that they are problematic in that they strip nuance out of these contextual experiences. During our conversation some noted that this tagging in every single tweet basically sent the speaker a barrage of notifications which could be annoying. Furthermore, these had the potential to start side conversations that resulted in even more notifications. These side conversations are complicated by the “meaning problem” that I started to outline earlier. Because a meaning which is based on an interpretation by the person reading the tweet, in the context of the interpretation of the person who composed and sent the tweet, can be very different than the intended message of the speaker. It feels like you are almost asking for trouble. This problem is going to be present regardless I guess but my beef is with the “best” in best practice.

Who is that best for again? And how is the “best practice” better than my experimental Autumm practice? It seems either way the vulnerabilities persist.

Another tool I have started using is mobile live streaming and I think this does a good job of taking some of the problems I just discussed off of the table. It is pretty clear when I am on camera and when the speaker is on camera and the speaker just gets to speak for themselves. This technology is fairly new and there are a ton of best practices on the web mostly geared at video and sound quality and creating an experience for the virtual audience. The problem with the live streaming over tweeting is that I don’t live tweet a speaker only for the other people on twitter who may read those tweets or for the speaker themselves – I do it for myself too. I gain perspective considering those multiple contexts and constraints. It keeps my mind engaged in a different way than if I were listening without writing or even if I were listening and taking public or private notes. I know through my work with Virtually Connecting it is not about creating a great experience for a virtual audience as much as it is about creating a reciprocal experience between those on each side of the camera. Or at least that is what it is about for me and others that I surround myself with… I suppose this is where digital citizenship comes in. 

I don’t just use social media and the public internet to channel other people who are speaking at conferences. I don’t just use images, video, and text to speak to an audience. I experiment with these things to learn about myself and the world around me. To explore multiple contexts and points of view. I have public conversations about topics that no one has easy answers for so that I can learn, maybe not the right answers but to perhaps be able to ask better questions, in community. I reflect on my experiences based on various forms of feedback that I receive and I make adjustments. I try to do better. This is not a research project, this is not reporting, this is not a course… this is a part of who I am.

And so when Sundi Richard and I started to ask questions around the idea of digital citizenship, having public conversations using video chat and Twitter seemed like second nature. When we decided to do it again a few months later we purchased web space and gave a home to some things like a schedule and an articulation of the context in which we were interested in talking about digital citizenship. By that time I had also found time to read Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade by Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell and it gave me pause. I was in Rhizo15 and found the facilitator Dave Cormier to be attentive and deeply concerned for those that were experimenting with him around a complex topic for which there was no clear easy clear cut answer. However, this paper painted Dave as having control and influence over the group but neglecting the needs of those that were not having a positive experiences. That some participants had learned a great deal in the course but that others had been somehow damaged (the paper seems unclear to me on what this damage was and even feeling deeply embedded in Rhizo15 I’ve never figured it out) and that the facilitator should have had more control or something.

So, I wondered if our little #digciz project should have a disclaimer of sorts, perhaps a set of standards, or a defined code of ethics. I knew that we would never reach the scale of Rhizo14 but I saw no reason why we should not be concerned by the same ethical implications. I wanted to be clear that I was concerned about all those that were going to choose to engage with us but that at the same time that there were some dangers inherent to being on the public internet and that we would not be able to control every connection. That I have a life outside of #digciz and that I would not be able to watch 24/7.

I proposed this to Sundi and we created a page for this but we really struggled with articulation. Eventually, we decided to let the community own it and during the first week we would encourage the participants to build this statement themselves. Our first Twitter chat was more active than either of us had imagined but no one seemed interested in building such a statement. The page remained blank. We continued discussing digital citizenship anyway.

I think this was right for us and for the group that we ended up getting. We could have put on the breaks and refused to continue till we defined a disclaimer, list of ethical points, or a statement of some kind. But we didn’t. We decided to keep experimenting.

I think we all struggled with coming up with some set of standards for several reasons. For one we are a pretty new group and I don’t think that group members have even really defined what they wanted from the group. As a community comes together and solidifies I think that they sometimes feel a need to define themselves, but that takes time. For instance I had a hand in composing the Virtually Connecting manifesto and point to it often when defining that work. But I also think that our approach to subject of digital citizenship had something to do with this. We were bypassing some of the best practices on the subject and instead asking questions that were more complex and so reducing it back to a simple statement or a list of some kind just didn’t seem right.

As for me, I think that #MyDigCiz is somehow rooted in a sense that by creating a list of rules and practices we might give guidelines to some but that those guidelines will not speak for all. That like online, as in the flesh, the complexities around how we live and how we impact each other have more to do with deep fundamental attitudes surrounding relationships, empathy, and an ability to see multiple contexts than they do with following a list.

Of course the rub is that not everyone is ready to be self-reflective digital citizens. And so sometimes we create best practices, community statements, codes of ethics, etc. because we have to start somewhere. I think these are especially important for instance when dealing with young children and I don’t want to be condemning of those efforts (I understand that perhaps I have come off as hypercritical in the past) – they are important and needed – I just think that there is another conversation that is not really being discussed. I guess my point is that I think the best practices are not working by themselves and that we need more.

One thing that I did take from the Sunlight and Shade paper was that online courses including, and maybe especially, MOOCs are not going to be an enlightening experience for everyone…  I think we knew that but research often tells us things that we instinctively know.

What is becoming really clear to me is that none of this is happening in a vacuum. I see the use of public, social, digital, tools changing and shaping all of the time. I see them used to commit atrocities and then in other cases used to shine a light on atrocities. I know technology is not neutral but I also know that people’s use of technology is not neutral either. We are learning from each other and shaping the way that we affect one another through the use of these tools. I see the free experimentation of the use of technology when done with what John Dewey referred to as the “habit of amicable cooperation” as an affront on formulaic prescribed best practices that may only be best for sales numbers and media clicks. I know that the idea of citizenship is a problematic one and that digital citizenship is an even more problematic. However, I think that we have a better chance at finding a way to live together by developing an ability to see connections than in being able to follow the rules.

~~~

My next stop in this journey will be the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at University of Mary Washington and there will be lots of ways that you can participate virtually from Twitter to Virtually Connecting and I’m sure I will live stream a bit. However, I do want to encourage you – if you can by any means – attend in the flesh. I think that this is going to be one of the foremost learning events of the year if you are interested in getting past the hype and taking a close look at your own practice of teaching with digital tools.

Image Credit CC-BY-SA 4.0: Autumm Caines, Market Square UPEI 

LOOM’in Large (or perhaps small) at T3 and NMC16

I call them Autummisms. These little ways that I process the world. They are ever growing and changing. They are in-process and; not complete. So… take this for what it is worth. I’m going to warn you up front – it is an acronym

and

Yes

there are two O’s in the middle.

Now, how the hell do I unpack this?…

People are always asking us ‘what is Virtually Connecting?’ Often, we say it is a movement and point them to the manifesto. Let’s start there – movements.

What do I mean by a movement? Well, I think about the recent presentation at the AMICAL conference in Rome by Maha Bali and Jim Groom where they talked about ethos.

From Google (kind of):

“e·thos
ˈēTHäs (tho I say ēTHōs) -noun:
the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.”

So, yes I think that a movement is based in an ethos. Starts from an ethos. Creates and grows through the development of an ethos. Goals and outcomes can be developed around an ethos but I don’t think that a movement enacts from a goal or an outcome so much as it does from an ethos. 

The other thing about a movement is that the start date can be kind of fuzzy…

And end dates…

yeah those don’t exist so much till after the fact. We can look back and say that we see the start of a particular movement tied to an event of some kind; a political upheaval, a gathering, a protest, a leader being elected, etc. And the end date tied to this one person’s death or this one law being changed. But it is not till after… that we see concepts such as starts and stops.

As I write this I’m at the New Media Consortium’s Summer Conference with Helen DeWaard and I’m testing out a one-way live streaming video app while we walk the river and Maya Georgieva asks us how we got involved with Virtually Connecting… how did it start… for us???  and Helen reminds me it was #rhizo15.

Did the event #rhizo15 spark the movement that is VC? Maybe not for everyone… but for Helen and me… well… let’s just stick with maybe… for now.

In the moment, a movement just sort of is.

…So yeah, movements.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about, and something that is tightly tied to Virtually Connecting, is my affinity for small group conversations. I think that there is an untapped potential for the power of small.

I’ve talked before about my idea of the Interpersonal Multitudes Barrier (IMB); which states that in a synchronous conversation that the more people you add to that conversation, the less intimacy you have – (or maybe have potential for?). It is a theory – I think I might have stolen it. Lately, I’ve been feeling it is flawed as I wonder about the histories and diversities surrounding personalities in a sync convo and how they might contribute more so to intimacy than the size of the group.

Still, I can’t help but feel like quantity matters (HA! perhaps an organization is in order). I am aware of the Dunbar number but that has more to do with relationships – I’m just talking about conversations. Real-time conversations.

I digress…

I know I promised you an acronym. Sigh. I’m struggling with that part. Especially, cause it is a double O acronym and so many people have ripped off Dave Cormier’s “MOOC”… Do I really want to be another one of those guys?

But… but… (yells that little voice) it is more than an acronym… It is a metaphor, this particular Autummism, (though I know those too are problematic)… {… is she speaking of metaphors or Autummism’s being problematic?}

Last week I went to the T3 conference in De Pere, Wisconsin at St. Norbert University. T3 is a small local conference and I’m not sure it is the kind of thing that most people travel for – it was mostly faculty and various acatechies from St. Norbert and surrounding areas. So, why travel by car for something like this? Well, I was not that far away, St. Norbert is a very similar kind of school to the one I work at, and there was an opportunity to learn from some of my favorite people: Sundi Richard, Daniel Lynds, Bonnie Stewart, and Dave Cormier.

Dave and Bonnie keynoted – it was a real treat to see them present together. Dave took a historical perspective and laid out the story of how we got where we are now. Reminded me how important it is to remember. How the connections often go back further than we realize and how histories are collected from differing perspectives. 

Bonnie did the color lines exercise, which I saw her do in Cairo at a Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute (no I wasn’t IN Cairo but was watching live stream). Here’s how it works: She has each person who is listening turn to someone else and tell them their favorite color. Then, she has them turn to another person and tell them the favorite color of that last person that they talked to… in the next step she has everyone visualize the colors as threads that are connecting each person to one-another.

So, I’m thinking about those threads, and movements, and the power of small when I come back from T3. I’m on backchannel with Maha Bali and Rebecca Hogue one night and again it comes up – what exactly IS Virtually Connecting?

…We played with CMOOCC (Connectivist Mini Open Online Conference Convo) and there was some talk about how we are this perpetual cMOOC (that lower case c bugs me) fueled by conferences…

And then I’m thinking about the idea of small, and I’m thinking about movements, and I’m thinking about the threads of connections, and I’m thinking about collective history… and…

L – Little

O – Open

O – Online

M – Movement

Followed up by “Weaving connections through space and time, baby”

Pops out

And a loom is a technology

And it creates a whole out of parts – parts which happen to be threads

And it does this by connecting the parts together – weaving them into one another

And when done right that whole is beautiful

(And when done wrong…

Well, you know how it is when things are done wrong – right, dear reader?

Disclaimer: It is easy [some may say casual, irregular, or haphazard] to use one’s imagination to draw conclusions to an eventual dystopian [or utopian] end.)

Again…I digress.

So, what is a girl to do when faced with a rip-off acronym and a beautiful metaphor?

Well, when she is attending the NMC Summer Conference and has a VConnecting session scheduled with Gardner Campbell she simply asks “So, I have this theoretical construct that I’m working on and I’m wondering if you could tell me if it is cheesy or… if there might be something more to it?”

Let’s just say Gardner gave his blessing. He also reminded me that loom is more than just a noun … it is also a verb depicting something on the horizon. And it seemed rather appropriate given that we were at NMC talking quite a bit about horizons.

And I’m thinking if LOOMs might be bigger than just VC and I think of the #FTTE online gatherings (and how Bryan Alexander always takes that mingle moment – where he let’s participants break into small groups), and I think of #IndieEdTech and their small gatherings, and I think of #DigPed and and the various #DigPed Lab Institutes which end up being these small group intensives (still room for PEI and Fredericksburg I believe – early bird for PEI ends on June 20th… just sayin..)

And then I start wondering if LOOMs can be people – like single people. Rather than groups of people. But that is crazy because the M is for movement and a person can’t be a movement. But then Helen and I go out to dinner with Bobbie and Jen Lane and Jen says that people can be LOOMs because people can independently hand weave threads to make connections too and that maybe they can be even more skillful and nimble about it because they are individuals.

I’m still unsure how I feel about the LOOM as a construct but as I explained it to people they got a kick out of the idea and it put a smile on their faces so I decided to blog about it. I like that it is focused on the idea of weaving connections – not just weaving nodes or people. But I think that point is subtle and I worry it could get lost. I also worry that it might get boxed in by the little aspect – some forgetting that when dealing with connections things can grow quickly. But I’m trying to work on my addiction to worry so here it is world. LOOM – a Little Open Online Movement – It may be more than you thought at first glance. 

Image Credit Jakub T. Jankiewicz  “Loom in crystal ball” CC BY-SA