Thoughts on Sync Video Conversations

It has been a while since I’ve posted – I’ve been dealing with a bit of writer’s block. Theoretically, politically, philosophically my mind is racing too fast and I can’t seem to get any of it down. To try to break the block I’m going to set it all aside and go for a simple technical post.

Through my work with Virtually Connecting I do a lot of synchronous video calls so I’ve developed some thoughts on formats, techniques, and technologies. Though warning – I will NOT be advocating, admonishing, reviewing, or even mentioning by name any specific brand of technology for sync video in this post – cause that is how I roll. I see more and more people doing sync video conversations so I’m hoping this will be helpful or start further conversation.

Why Sync Video

Sync video is not always the answer. You have little time for reflection in sync conversations so you need to be more “on”. There is something more vulnerable about sync video than other kinds of technologically mediated communications. Still, as with most things, opening to that vulnerability brings possibilities of a rich experience. Seeing facial expressions instead of emojis, hearing laughter rather than just a lol; this is the kind of immediate feedback that we should be looking to give rather than numbers on a dashboard.

Use sync video when you want to have a conversation.

Silence is Golden?

I’ve yet to work with any system that I really felt was 100% synchronous. There is always a little bit of a lag. You should know this going in and be okay with it. There might be times where no one is talking because they are still listening to what you just said – because it is taking longer for the audio to reach them. These days it is really much better than in the past and it should not be more than a couple of seconds on a day when you have a bad connection for whatever reason. However, if it is too bad you may have to look for other options.

The problem is that those silences do not feel good. They break up the flow and make things seem off. Even in face to face conversations we have all had awkward silences, the technology cannot help with those. If you are trained in media studies then the feeling is even going to be worse for you because you have been conditioned to avoid “dead air”. If you are broadcasting or recording your conversation then it can be even worse and you may even face the opposite problem where everyone is so afraid of dead air that they step on one another trying to avoid it. You don’t have to fear dead air. You can warn your participants about lag before the conversation if they are new to sync video and let them know that natural pauses for reflection and listening are normal and okay.

At the same time there are moments where hospitality can avoid awkward dead air that is not needed. The most obvious for me is when you have a large group and you ask them to do introductions. They don’t know what order to go in. Sync video gets strange with two people starting at the same time. No one wants to go first and no one wants to step on anyone else. So, everyone just sort of sits there looking at one another. Here is where I think you need someone to host. Someone needs to call on people and invite them to introduce themselves. If everyone knows one another really well maybe you don’t need this but it is still nice. I have tried to organize the order before hand or even in the moment and communicate it out to everyone but it just never really works for me. People always forget the order, they are not looking at the chat where I posted the order, or they think the order is different than what I said. It just seems so much nicer to me to just invite people one by one to introduce themselves.

Audio is Often More Important than Video

When you first start doing sync video you might think it is the video that makes it a rich conversation. Well, yes and no. I have a sync video project right now where students will be paying particular attention to nonverbal cues while someone is telling a story. It is a listening exercise. Here video is going to be key. In my past I’ve done some work with the deaf community in terms of sync video – again video is key. Is video really needed for your conversation?

If it is not really needed I would still argue that it can make for a richer conversation; so I’m not saying don’t do video unless you absolutely need it. However, technical issues can make it so that you need to back off. Video takes a lot of bandwidth and if you are in a lower bandwidth situation turning off your video can free things up so that you can continue what is important – the conversation.

And the one everyone forgets – I bet you have a phone. If technical issues around video are too much, call the person. One of my favorite stories is when I was set to have a sync video call with Bob Cole and Joe Antonioli and as the time neared I happened to be backchanneling with Sean Michael Morris when it became clear that it would be great to have him on the call. But Sean was in a coffee shop with really limited wifi. We tried, but it was no go. So I was like “hey you have your phone don’t you”…. I had to put Sean on speaker and hold the phone up to my mic when he wanted to speak, but you know what – we had that conversation.

Seeing the Person(s)

I think it has something to do with the immediacy of it. And yes, it is visual but so much of it is the audio in sync with the visual. However, I think some of it is tactile too – where the vibrations that someone makes come through to me in almost realtime touching my ears or when I see someone throw their hair to the side and get some sense of its texture.

Different platforms treat visuals differently and video may only be one element. Some try to be everything to everyone and break the screen up into other boxes. A box for video, a box for sharing documents, a box for chat, a box for listing the participants, a box for drawing on a whiteboard… If you are working with something like this take time to think about the environment and what is most important. If the conversation is most important make the video the big box and put it in the center. If this is the case look at your lighting and make sure you don’t have a light source behind you like a window. Think about your physical environment, your background, tidy up or even think about things that might be nice to have in the background.

When having a conversation with more than one person different platforms have different approaches. Some privilege the speaker, having a large video of one camera at a time with smaller thumbnails of everyone else on the bottom. The person who appears on the large part of the screen is determined by the audio – whoever has the mic’s attention has the floor. Other times the video is controlled by a host. Still, some platform layouts shrink the video of everyone as members join the call to give equal screen real estate to all. What is best? What kind of conversation do you want to have?

I’ll be honest, I’m biased toward the speaker getting the camera. Listening is done with more than the ears and if someone is speaking I want to see them. I get that it visually minimizes everyone else. I’m sympathetic to the argument for equality that some make for the set-up that shares the space with all. Using this layout I have felt more like everyone is present and no one is any larger than anyone else but I’ve also been distracted by someone who is not speaking who is fidgeting or something. I like the ability to switch back and forth between these layouts because to listen best I like to see.

So, Why Sync Video Again?

You know what I can’t stand – webinars. Why make people come together to listen to you if you are not going to listen to them? Just record the thing and let them listen to it on their own terms. For me, sync video is about a complex interplay of combining the communication senses to further understanding, and ultimately it is about conversation. It is about seeing but it is also about being seen, it is about talking but it is also about listening, and it is about being vulnerable and being brave. It is not for everyone and it is not for every situation. There are many options, there are still many barriers, for me it is about learning and playing with the possibilities afforded through tech, design, and delivery.

Image Credit: Me, Electric Lavender 3, CC0 

Going Clear: A Call for Conversation around the Ethics of Mobile Live Streaming from #OER17 and Other Events

Last year I read Dave Eggers’ The Circle, a dystopian novel about technology, social media, and society gone wrong. By the end of the novel the lead character is engaging in a process called “going clear” where she is live streaming her entire life save sleeping and going to the bathroom. It is pretty creepy. I’m not ready to go clear but I like to do live streams from my phone when I’m attending conferences and I want to evaluate my usage because I do think that this technology can be overreaching and even dangerous. I’m interested in the ethical pursuit of technology in my work so I think about this stuff a lot.

My work with Virtually Connecting has made me sensitive to things like making sure when we go live in a public hallway that we have a wall behind us and not a walkthrough – to be sure that people who are passing by do not get caught in the livestream. But it is more than just visuals – live stream can pick up background conversations and other audio that others may not want out there too.

There have been calls for me to live stream from #OER17 and I’m thrilled to do it. Maha asked Martin Hawksey if it was okay to do personal mobile livestream and he said he had concerns about the Wifi bandwidth but as long as presenters were okay with it that was fine. I have a good data plan that I can use in UK so I think I can still do it and not bog down the conference wifi. Battery life is more of a concern to me than bandwidth at this point.

But I’m wondering about those ethical concerns of live stream not just conference sessions but also social time.

Consent is huge for me. During a scheduled conference session I can ask the presenter but I think I might also ask the presenter to make an announcement to the audience that the stream is happening.

I’ve had wonderful experiences live streaming social situations. I’ve had great circumstances where it was just a lot of fun for everyone involved and people watching have told me that they love it and that it makes them feel like they are really a part of the conference. However, consent can be tricky with a group of people. I’ve had situations where even though I’ve announced that I’m going live not everyone in the group caught that and if we are in public what about strangers who might just wander into my shot?

There is also something important about addressing the camera. Talking to an audience even if no one is currently watching. It is a hospitality thing but really an ethical concern about the background audio for me. There are lots of beautiful visual elements that can be fun to live stream without putting my face in the camera and saying “hey look at this”. But to just start up a recorded live stream without directing the audience’s audible experience means that you are publicizing the ambient sounds, with I’m fine with if it is birds chirping or street music but feel a little concerned about for background conversations.

What else should I be thinking about as I consider live streaming from #OER17? Much of this is an experiment for me but how do I do that ethically? What technology should I use? What is the best way to confirm consent? How do I empower people to say no? Has anyone else done this from a conference? What ethical concerns do you have? It seems to me that live streaming is a great tool for open education but what are the ethical implications?

The Paradox of Inclusion: Reflections prior to presenting at #OER17

Some of us have been accepted to present at OER17 reflecting on Virtually Connecting (VConnecting or VC) as an approach to open and inclusive conferences. The name of our panel is Breaking the physical presence barrier: Virtually Connecting as an approach to open, inclusive conferences. I am absolutely thrilled to be able to present with Martin Weller, Maha Bali, Sue Beckingham, Mia Zamora, and Rebecca Hogue and to be able to travel to London to be there in the flesh (it will be my first time in the UK). The date of the conference will mark the second anniversary of Virtually Connecting and there are plenty of questions about how to sustain or even grow the movement.

I joined VC just as I was finishing my Master’s work in EdTech, and it has lent itself very nicely as a continuation of my studies. Through this work I have been able to attend conferences from around the world virtually and have conversations with those who are working and researching some of the latest aspects of our field. I see VConnecting as wonderfully inclusive but I know that is not everyone’s perspective. There have been plenty of criticisms and even all out attacks on the work that we do. I have come to find the aspect of inclusion stated in our manifesto to be a paradoxical and confusing one. I am excited and nervous about doing work in this area. I realize that this work needs to happen if we are to continue forward but I find it deeply uncomfortable. I’m thankful for the opportunity to dig deeper,face this uncomfortableness, and attempt to find some clarity on these matters.

Methodology

I’m hoping for this post to be a sort of hybrid of a research paper and a blog post. We obtained IRB approval from the American University of Cairo before conducting this research so the research is more formal than most of my blog posts. However, I will not be doing a comprehensive review of the data and much of my thinking in this area are still developing so there will some thinking out loud. Considering that this research was conducted for a panel for OER17, I could not think of a better way to put my initial thoughts out in the open and ask for feedback than to publicly blog about my initial thoughts.

Three focus groups were held via Google Hangout/YouTube Live over a seven day period with twelve different participants. Participants were chosen who had prior experience with VConnecting and care was given to choose those who had diverse perspectives in terms of the different roles that they have held with VC: virtually or onsite, guest or participant, and even those who have indicated that they participate by listening to the recorded conversations. Because inclusivity was central to the researchers’ interests and because past criticisms around inclusivity were known to the researchers, we were careful to include those who had pointed out problems or had various criticisms around inclusivity in Virtually Connecting. These attitudes and perceptions of VConnecting held by the participants were determined by referencing a 2016 survey, prior informal conversations, and public communications such as tweets and blog posts.

Conversations were scheduled for one hour though focus group three did go on for two hours. Prior to the meeting all participants were made aware and gave consent to the fact that that the conversations were being recorded as an unlisted YouTube video. After the meeting further consent was obtained by all participants to publicly link to the videos and to reference them in further reflections around this research.

Participants in Focus Group One

Laura Gogia

Jamison Miller

Joseph Murphy

 

Participants in Focus Group Two

Nadine Aboulmagd

Sheri Spelic

Bonnie Stewart

Harriet Watkins

 

Participants in Focus Group Three

Kate Bowles

Chris Gilliard

Carl Moore

George Station

Audrey Watters

A common set of questions were referenced for all focus groups, though in practice the question order and delivery varied slightly from group to group. Groups one and three were led by Maha Bali and I led group two. The researchers did not create a formal interview plan prior to the focus group sessions but each session proceeded with an intention from all researchers that we were there to listen more than talk. Not all researchers were present for all sessions though I was present for all sessions. I further reviewed the recordings in preparation of this post.

This research specifically focused on the first two items of Virtually Connecting’s manifesto:

  1. We are motivated by a desire to improve the virtual conference experience for those who cannot be present at conferences for financial, logistical, social or health reasons. This often includes unaffiliated scholars, graduate students, adjuncts, moms of young kids, and people from developing countries or countries far away from where most academic conferences are held.
  2. While our aim is to be inclusive, we recognize that inclusion is elusive. When others point out to us ways to be more inclusive we try them. We are trying to both support the development of social capital for people who cannot attend conferences, and to generously do so as widely as we are able. We try to welcome and create space for new people to participate. The way we have expanded means many who were participants are now part of the team and this creates more space for new participants as we widen our circle

Discussion

I am not going to discuss responses to the full list of questions here but rather focus on three main themes that I found of particular interest that emerged from the conversations.

In what ways is Virtually Connecting inclusive?

In what ways is Virtually Connecting exclusive?

What are some ideas for the future?

I will not be able to reference every participant in this post but for the ones that I do reference I will include a time stamped YouTube link to the moment in the video that I am referencing. To the best of my ability I will contextualize the reference so as to give the best depiction of my understanding of that quote.

Us and them

During focus group two Harriet Watkins speaks about how the recordings allow for a layer of inclusivity to those who cannot overcome the barrier of synchronicity. Harriet mentions that she has listened to tons of VC session recordings when she has not been able to participate in real time. She says “I appreciate that the inclusivity extends beyond the real time event when it is happening” and states that she is interacting with the dialog while she is watching.

However, in juxtaposition to the idea of the recordings being inclusive, in focus group one Laura Gogia reflects on how by being a community that has come to know one another Virtually Connecting often exudes an informal fellowship that sometimes uses specialized language to communicate. She points out that this familiarity can be intimidating for new people and that recording someone who is struggling to fit in could be uncomfortable. She imagines how someone who has never had experience with VC could feel like they are not part of things and points out that the joining can be perceived as “high stakes” for several reasons, one of which is the recording.

I found this contrast between Harriet and Laura to be of particular interest. A few months ago in a post that I authored for the Digital Pedagogy Lab Blog entitled The Praxis of Virtually Connecting I reflected on a similar contrast. How when I was first joining VConnecting the recordings contributed to anxiety (as a part of general social anxiety of meeting a bunch of new people) while I was in the session but also served as an opportunity to go back and listen where I might not have been able to do so because of that anxiety.

This is just a small example of how when I consider the prospect of inclusivity in this research I find myself in paradox. In one case the recording is bringing in people who could not make it at a specific time and in another it might be driving people away who would otherwise join at that specific time. I cannot find a way to reconcile this particular paradox. I try to be a strong proponent of those who like to listen and I can’t imagine cutting them out by not doing the recordings. I suppose we could offer some sessions as recorded and some as not but it feels like that is always going to be a problem.

The inclusivity paradox is deeper than just the choice of recording or not at its heart it often comes back to the very fact of our existence. We have often been criticized for being a community. For knowing and liking one another. Some say this camaraderie can be intimidating for some, hindering our ability to bring in new people, while at the same time it is something that holds us together.

Jamison Miller seemed to see both sides. In asking what ways VC is inclusive Jamison talked about VC “piercing the bubble” of those who are at the conference by bringing in outside perspectives. However, when asked about how we are not being inclusive he also saw how a casual and informal tone can seem intimidating for those who are not already on the inside of a community.

Yet, Joe Murphy says that what has been most useful to him has been the opportunity to make personal connections. How do we reconcile the fact that we are a community with the fact that some people will feel outside of the community because of the very things that make us a community? The only answer I have here is hospitality. To welcome people in, listen to their needs, and try to be accommodating. Do this research to better understand ourselves, try to reflect, and be mindful of these things.

Inclusivity vs Dismantling Privilege

`In focus group three we found the term inclusivity itself to be a troubled term and started to explore the term “dismantling privilege”. This opened up a discussion started by Kate Bowels about the prestige economy and if VC could challenge privilege while being a part of the conference. The question: “is it harder to be critical because you’ve been included” came up. Chris Gilliard, with Audrey Watters agreement, answered in a personal way which was outside of VC but which I think begs some interesting questions. Chris argued that there was a designated role for some (in this case himself) to be critical as presenter or keynote at the conference. Could VC also be perceived to have a designated critical role at the conference? Do we already? Could this critical perspective help us to better “dismantle privilege”?

Yet there is also an ongoing criticism around a perception of VC working within the privilege economy. I’ve talked with Chris Gilliard about this in the past and he brought it up during the focus group. Quick disclaimer – I have always felt that VC was an assault on the idea of stardom, because of the very reasons of “high stakes” joining discussed above. The idea of stardom evokes in me a concern for image and asking someone to join a conversation with strangers, in a hallway, that may not be sanctioned by the conference organizers, that will be broadcast over the Internet and recorded seems like a potential threat to image and face to me.

I do see the other side. I see that there is a privilege economy that VC takes advantage of when we ask those who are keynoting the conference to come and speak with us. When we put their pictures on our blog post header and promote the date and time that we will be speaking with them we are playing into that. Audrey Watters noted how this marketing makes her uncomfortable but notes that it is the same uncomfortableness that she she feels when she is marketed as a keynote. I have to wonder how many of these criticisms of VC could also just be applied to the general conference culture. I have to wonder if it is VC’s duty to overcome all of these?

Rebecca brought in the Audre Lorde quote “you cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools”. I challenged this by remembering during DigPed Tressie McMillan Cottom saying that the quote was over exaggerated and that you do need some tools. That we always have to use the master’s tools “to some extent”. Maha seemed to agree with this sentiment. (Disclaimer: my quoting of Tressie is completely from memory. I quickly reviewed the video of her keynote from DigPed looking for that particular statement but I could not find it. Apologies in advance if I have misspoke). After we broke it down a bit Rebecca also saw the other side from a patient perspective stating that the patient needs the doctor’s expertise but also needs the doctor to hear about their lived experience. I’ve always felt like the marketing was a sort of a necessary thing that we had to do to play the game but it has never been the foremost thing for me. Most of the “celebrities” that we’ve met I didn’t even know before VC. I’ve been very grateful to VC for introducing me to the work of some amazing people.

Another barrier of inclusivity is often drawn between those who are at the conference and those who are not at the conference. The first point of the manifesto is that we are there to enhance the virtual conference experience. In my mind this is our primary constituency. However, it is questioned that those Who are at the conference on ground have to take time out to meet with the virtual people. I can see how that possibility exists – especially for speakers and conference organizers who are already busy. The suggestion is that perhaps this is disruptive to their on ground/in the flesh experience of the conference. However, George Station mentioned in focus group three that he found the VC experience to actually enhance the onsite experience by having a window to people outside of the conference. Once again enter the paradox, it is also pointed out a few times in several of the groups that VC allows for a small group to go off and have some time with the keynote speakers. It is noted that this is not fair for others on site who would often not get that option.

Challenging or Promoting?

I find these particular overlapping messy point about access to academic stardom and celebrity alongside power structures of onsite vs virtual of interest and feel that I need to unpack it more. Here is where I go much less research paper and more thinking out loud blog post style.

I have often seen many attending conferences rush to the front of the room to get a few moments with the speaker be it a session speaker or keynote speaker. This is not as possible at really large conferences where the speaker prepares and retires to a backstage area with a green room of sorts. Those are usually the kind of conferences where the stage is lit up like a rock concert. However,I have only ever seen this at the largest of corporate sponsored conferences and find that this is often not the case.

Often, the stage is some risers in a hotel ballroom and yes there are a few hundred people present but when the speaker comes off stage they are just coming off the riser not escaping to backstage privacy. I will say that in seeing people approach speakers either before or after a talk often they just spend a few moments with them and then break away. I have never noticed anyone take a speaker aside and have more conversation with them for another twenty to thirty minutes the way that Virtually Connecting does but I have also never followed and studied a situation like this. I’m not sure that it is not happening. Perhaps this does happen but we just don’t see it because it is not broadcast live and recorded.

I want to challenge the idea that this is a problem for Virtually Connecting. First, I’m not sure that we have any proof that this does not happen face to face. Second, if it does happen face to face I think that it is a good thing. If the speaker wants to go off and have a conversation with some of the participants what is wrong with that? I would think that this could be insightful for the speaker and the participant to debrief and grow from each of their perceptions of the talk that was just given. I’m still unclear why this would be considered a problem if it were to happen in the flesh and so I have a hard time with criticisms of doing it virtually. If VC can facilitate conversations to these ends and contribute to the commons through broadcasting and recording that conversation while we are doing it I feel it is all the better.

Yet I see the paradox. I see how the community can be a barrier to itself. How the recordings can bring people in and yet still shut others out. How the celebrity can simultaneously be challenged and perpetuated. I’m struggling with how to resolve these paradoxes. I feel very strongly that the first step will be to identify them and articulate explicitly on which side our intentions exist.

Conclusion

There is a lot to unpack from these videos and these conversations. This post is just a first attempt at getting some first impressions down on the page for further feedback and reflection. I’m hopeful that the other researchers on this project, others in the VC community, and even those beyond will see this and have some further thoughts.

In terms of next steps Sherri Spelic’s idea of VC trying to bridge the gap between those in K-12 and higher ed is something that I am always struggling with and would welcome. Also Bonnie Stewart’s idea of growing to be more inclusive of those that are wanting to be more resident online is something that resonates with me.

I am hopeful that there will be more reflection and more feedback in the months that follow. Please join us by responding to this post in the comments or with your own post, writing about your own experiences with and impressions of Virtually Connecting, watching the focus groups (linked above), or attending our presentation at OER17 in London on April 5th.
Image Credit CC0 obtained from Pixabay

Image metaphor The Law of Included Fragments 

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.