On Endings

When I was a teenager neighborhood friends I had connected with moved away, the way that neighborhood friends do. It wasn’t far but it wasn’t nearly as close. I have a memory that kind of haunts me about walking around the area the day after they left, passing by their house, feeling this kind of emptiness.

In my early 20’s I fell in love with a coffeehouse in downtown Dearborn. There was coffee of course but also whimsical decor, this chicken wrap with toum, music and poetry in the evenings, and friendly randos who quickly became confidants. It closed for renovations promising to reopen in a few months but it never did.

I enjoy the nature of endings in my work as they tend to allow for reflection and growth. I can also plan for them. They are explicitly expected, timed precisely, and everyone is on board. The term is x weeks long, the class is x hours, the midterm occurs in week x, and the final in week xy. But endings in most of life are never like this.

It feels like there has been a lot of endings over the last yearish. For me personally but also for so many around me. And I’m not exactly sure what to do with it – there has just been so much of it. I want to mourn but I also want to celebrate. I also want to learn and do better next time. I also want to scream and cry. I also want to spit in the face of any asshole who dares come at me with that “better to have loved and lost..” or “when one door closes..” crap.

To err is human. To end is human.

For now, in late autumn, in Michigan, with most of the trees bare and woody, it has been unseasonably warm. I’ll prepare for winter and darkness as best I can. I’ll plant amaryllis now for a splash of color in few weeks when the cold is sure to have set in. And I’ll wait and watch for some sign of newness.

Image by Terry from Pixabay

So Many Connections: Attending Data, Power, and Pedagogy

I’m excited to have been accepted to participate in Data, Power, and Pedagogy put on by HestiaLabs and Brown University’s Information Future’s Lab (IFL) running Sept. 27th – 29th in Providence, Rhode Island. It is the first professional development anything I have traveled to in person since the pandemic and I’m so happy that it is NOT a conference. I’m doing a little homework trying to prep for the experience and can’t help but find connections to past and current work that seemed worthy of a blog post.

I know HestiaLabs as the most recent project from Paul-Olivier Dehaye who I know from my past poking around regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In the last few months, I have caught up with Paul and others at HestiaLabs and been impressed with what they are doing. When I saw this opportunity in Providence to workshop some of the things they are working on first-hand I had to apply – especially since I am now remotely teaching Digital Citizenship part-time for College Unbound which is also located in Providence – and was really excited to be accepted.

As part of our prep work for the workshop we were asked to make data requests from several social media sites, ride share services, mobile operating systems, etc. and to export the data that we got back. We are bringing those exports to the workshop with us. What are we going to do with those? Well, I have some idea from following what HestiaLabs has been doing but it turns out IFL’s most recent panel discussion gave us a sneak peek too. The panel was after my own heart asking the question “Can Regulation Solve the Problem of Misinformation?”, and at about 51:00 in the video one of the panelist Mark Scott from Politico gives a glimpse of what I think we are going to experience this week.

As I found in the past, just obtaining the data exports was a lesson in itself. Every service had an automated process to request your data which is a huge improvement from when I worked with Paul to request my data from Cambridge Analytica back in 2016. All of the platforms that we were asked to download from were big ones and I suppose they now have to have such services with GDPR protections and an automated system is likely the cheapest way for them to field such requests. For almost all of them I had to initiate a request and then wait a bit to then be provided with a raw data file in a JSON format. I could have also picked an HTML format in many of them. All of them sent me a notification when my file was ready with the exception of TikTok. I had about 5 expired requests from TikTok already as I’ve requested my data from them in the past but they never send a notification and I always forget. The data files expire after something like 4 days and without a notification that your data is ready it is easy to forget.

I’m excited to participate and to be blogging again. I’m seeing connections to my past work questioning regulation and calling for education around data privacy, as well as, applying some of these methods to help us to better question the edtech solutions that we use locally. We will see what comes of it all.

Photo by Nancy Hughes on Unsplash

For Mom: Reflections on teaching and learning with family

On the day before what would have been her mother’s 104th birthday, my mother left this world. She didn’t want a service. If we would of had a service I would have felt drawn to express how I felt about her but if you know me well then you know I am not that good at speaking – especially when it comes to times where I am overwhelmed emotionally. I suffer from pretty debilitating performance anxiety and I’m not sure I would have been able to do it honestly. 

I’m more comfortable with the written word but even that has been hard recently in my grief. The kind people at the funeral home helped us to compose her obituary but we put it together while I was still in shock and it is mostly just facts. This post is not going to be a very good obituary or eulogy since it is maybe more about me than about her but I have used public writing as a way of processing my thoughts for several years now, and in my grief I feel drawn to write about her and how she influenced me. I’ve committed this last third of my life to teaching and learning and dedicated this blog to the subject. So, reflecting on her as a teacher, as my teacher, seems appropriate for this public forum.

I want to say that mother is the first and most powerful teacher but I know that is not always the case. I want to believe that it is often the case; but I don’t know for sure that this is true either. I was lucky that it was the case for me. My mom, Elizabeth Rita Caines, (“Rheat” to her friends, and often “mom” to my friends) was by far my greatest champion and advocate. From the perspective in which we think of a teacher as a positive and supportive force who guides someone to discover for themselves rather than force ideas or processes, one who protects the learner from external and internal obstacles to learning – she has no rival in my life. 

Her love and advocacy for me was so fierce. Well I mean she was ‘so fierce’ in general, and you didn’t want to cross her but you really didn’t want to cross her if it had anything to with me. She often attributed this to the fact that I was her only biological child. She said a psychic once told her that she would “never have children but that all children would be her’s”. She loved children and I know many nieces, nephews, and other children loved her dearly (‘Aunt Rheat’ was a force of her own who I only knew peripherally). But it wasn’t just the physic, doctors too told her she could never have children due to a childhood accident on a horse and so when she became pregnant with me it was a shock and a delight – and a point of much bragging by my father. Before discovering it was a pregnancy she was frightened, at first being told she might have a tumor but then an ultrasound revealed that she had a baby instead. She said there was a mailman coming up the stairs to the doctor’s office as she was leaving and she excitedly told him she was pregnant and did a little dance with him on the steps. On the way home she stopped at drive-in coney island type place and got a “baby root beer” and drank it for me – I still have the mug. 

As a youth, when I expressed questions or an interest in things she would find resources for me and let me decide for myself – even if those were things that she did not understand or those that challenged her own beliefs or upbringing. We didn’t have a ton of books around the house but a medical encyclopedia and nature guide outlining plants and animals were often referenced to answer questions. When I expressed interest in music that was “controversial” in some way she would surprise me, buy the album, and we would listen to it together. As I entered high school and began to question the Catholic faith that she raised me in (though she always referred to herself as “one of those backsliding Catholics”), I was nervous in the bookstore to ask her to purchase Zen Mind; Beginners Mind and The Three Pillars of Zen but she did so without question – both of these were way over my head at that age (who am I kidding – they are still way over my head).

Formal schooling was a struggle for me from K-12 but she fought for me at every stage whether it was struggling to get me up in the morning (oh dear reader, how I fought it) or fighting with teachers and administrators who had all kinds of ideas about how I was different. It seemed they always knew something was not quite standard with my thinking but they were not really sure what it was. Early on, I attended a private Catholic school for just a few years and they thought that I was “gifted” but later transferring to public school they said I had a learning disability of some kind, put me in a “special education” room, and threatened to hold me back. She worked with me all summer, using flashcards and worksheets she obtained from the school and the educational sections of the bookstore, and even enlisted my brother to help, till I got to where they wanted me on their standardized measures. 

She never graduated high school herself and my completing this milestone was important to her. I did so, but by the skin of my teeth. Eventually, higher education would be a place where I would thrive, but I tried a few different paths on my way and at one point my free spirit got brave enough to take on some extensive travel. We were always close and spoke nearly every day, but the 10 ½ hour time difference when I was going to spend nearly three months in India would make that difficult. I was traveling on a shoestring budget and didn’t even know how often I would be able to call – I wasn’t even sure where I would be sleeping. Public libraries had recently started to offer computing stations with internet and so before I left I took mom down to the Henry Ford Centennial Library and set her up with an email address. We would return several times before I left so that we could practice sending and receiving messages. During this time she often said that she, the teacher, had become the student but considering how and where I ended up it seems to me that she was perhaps preparing me for an occupation yet to come. 

On the topic of death she was known to say “I’d have no problem with death, if it wasn’t just so damn permanent”. Now that she is gone the permanence of her absence, and the reminder of the brevity of our existence, weighs heavy on me. She was sick for a long time and throughout my life various doctors would tell her, and even tell me, that she was not going to live a year or two if she didn’t change her lifestyle, have an operation, or take some medicine. Sometimes she would listen, but often she would not. So, even though the nurse told me a few months before she passed that it was near, it still came as a surprise to me. She made it to 81. I am missing her every day.

She was more than my mom and there was more to her than being my teacher. Things were far from perfect between us, I suppose that is one of the risks with being the kind of teacher that let’s the student decide for themselves – you are not always going to agree. But she let me become my own person and I knew she would always love me no matter what. When I would tell her what a great mom she was, she would often say “all mothers are this way; I’m nothing special” but I know that was not true. I was lucky to have her as my mom. 

Thinking of and collecting artifacts that I have of her (old pics, voicemails, text messages), I remembered that she appears very quickly at the end of a video I made to “un-introduce myself” for CLMOOC back in 2015 – it is one of the few bits of video I have of her and it seemed to fit in with the topic of this post too well to not share it.

Thank you mom for all you taught me and all I learned from you. I miss you.

Is it possible to ban remote proctoring?

This post is co-authored and jointly published with Sarah Silverman

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The harms of remote proctoring have been so extensively documented that some educational institutions have now instituted formal recommendations or policies against using remote proctoring.

But, is it possible to ban remote proctoring on campus? We have found that even when these decisions are made, the goal of protecting students from the harms of remote proctoring is not completely achievable. This is because directly purchasing a proctoring service from the provider is only one way to make use of proctoring software. Many other educational technology companies offer proctoring services, often for “free” or passing the cost on to the student.

While our own campus has a formal recommendation from the Provost Office against remote proctoring, and no contract with a remote proctoring company, we noted that proctoring was available on our campus for free through McGraw Hill Connect’s partnership with Proctorio. Our experience was that Proctorio became available without the consent or even the knowledge of the instructional technology staff on our campus and we only discovered its availability after learning about the MH-Proctorio partnership through outside professional networks.

Because of these vendor to vendor relationships, students and faculty can easily be exposed to these products without any oversight from educational technology, data privacy, or accessibility professionals. Because many of these proctoring options operate with a “freemium” model, students are potentially required to pay fees in order to complete their assessments.

It is useful to know which educational technology companies have agreements with proctoring companies and integrate their services into their products. After many months of communication we were able to get McGraw Hill to remove the proctoring functions for our campus. However, even those with proctoring in place at their institutions should be aware of these kinds of offerings as the training materials are not always consistent between the provider and the reseller with respect to the product’s functionality. For instance, we found examples in which the company purchasing and reselling the proctoring options was presenting the technology as being able to “detect cheating” while most proctoring companies are very clear that the technology alone cannot determine cheating and that human verification is required to be certain.

The following are some examples of educational technology companies and products that currently offer some form of remote proctoring for free or by charging a fee to students. There are likely to be many more examples, but this list represents ed tech products with which we are familiar in our work. These relationships are also liable to change at any moment, for example a company initiating a new proctoring partnership or ending one. Are you aware of vendor to vendor relationships that bring proctoring into your campus or school?

Primary Product Proctoring Provider Nature of partnership References
McGraw Hill Connect Proctorio Free settings available on all assignments, “Proctorio Plus” settings available for 15$ per course, paid by student https://www.mheducation.com/highered/connect/proctorio.html

https://www.mheducation.com/highered/connect/proctorio/compare.html

TopHat Proctorio Announced that Proctorio protected exams would be available for free on April 2, 2020 – current status of partnership unclear https://tophat.com/press-releases/top-hat-partners-with-proctorio/

https://success.tophat.com/s/article/Teaching-Online-Remotely-Proctored-Tests

McGraw Hill ALEKS Respondus LockDown/Monitor “Secure testing with LockDown Browser, always free. Deter cheating with Respondus Monitor via institutional agreement or $10 per student for the entire term.: https://www.mheducation.com/highered/support/aleks/how-to-move-your-course-online.html

https://web.respondus.com/aleks/

Derivita  Proctorio Lockdown settings available at no extra cost, unclear how payment for additional features works https://www.derivita.com/proctoring

https://www.derivita.com/lockdown-settings?_ga=2.54833771.1798584622.1626192772-1122037571.1621811441

Gradescope Respondus LockDown While currently in Beta, LockDown browser will be available to courses subscribed to Gradescope Complete, their paid product. Instructor or institution can decide to pay for Gradescope Complete https://help.gradescope.com/article/gm5cmcz19k-instructor-assignment-online#additional_security_with_lock_down_browser_beta
Pearson MyLab Respondus LockDown If the university does not have an existing license with Respondus, the instructor can choose for students to be charged $10 per course  https://web.respondus.com/pearson-mylab/
Wiley Online Homework Respondus LockDown Appears lockdown is free for students, but hard to find current information https://wileyplus.gallery.video/instructors/detail/videos/legacy-wileyplus/video/5827956956001/how-to-use-lockdown-browser-with-wileyplus
Cengage WebsAssign Respondus LockDown Lockdown browser available for free https://www.webassign.net/manual/instructor_guide/t_i_installing_webassign_lockdown_browser.htm

Image by succo from Pixabay

Playing with the Zoom Gaze: a facilitation guide

I was thrilled to have been asked to present at the American University in Cairo’s CLT Virtual Symposium this past week to consider virtual facilitation in the light of the Zoom Gaze. I was honored to present alongside of four other amazing facilitators, our plenary session was entitled: Touring the Many Worlds of Virtual Facilitation, and my portion was called: Playing with the Zoom Gaze.

I attempted to use play as a frame for looking at the very different experiences that each of us have in synchronous video environments. I framed this as something that teachers could do themselves in their own classes as an orientation to better understand the experiences of their students but it can be hard to both experience a technique and harness that technique yourself so I promised a facilitation guide that broke down and reflected on some of the elements of how I facilitated the session. I’m also making my rough notes available to anyone who cares to dig that deep.

Playing with the Welcome

One of the first things I do is simply ask everyone how they are. This may just seem like a thing that one does as a facilitator. An expectation. A basic out of the box or from the book hospitality move. But I’m being intentional about this little question and paying particular attention to how people naturally react. Who can I see nodding their head. Who chooses to use the emoji reactions? Who does not respond at all? Who uses the chat?

I can tell so much in these few seconds and with this simple question. This is the lowest bar of interaction for the whole session but the key is to withhold judgement and just observe. It is not a bad sign if someone does not respond – perhaps they don’t want to compete for response time – but it is very interesting to see how people respond when they are not specifically told how to respond.

Playing with Presentation

The Zoom Gaze makes explicit the power dynamics of the software itself and one of the most jarring experiences on Zoom specifically, for me as a participant, is the screenshare. I talked to the group about this and pointed out how it kind of hijacks your screen taking over your computer. I did have some material that I wanted to present to the group at the beginning but rather than use the screenshare function I hacked the virtual background feature by simply covering my camera while using it. This results in my image disappearing and the virtual background being the only thing shown. Participants can choose to stay in gallery view or use speaker view if they want to see my visuals bigger. Yes they could choose to look at another screen too but they choose, and their choice is more important to me for this kind of session. The background images I used for this are mostly to set the mood around the things that I’m saying – they are not bullet points or graphs. They are just beautiful CC0 images from Pixabay, Unsplash, or a similar site.

The content of this presentation is important in that I am setting a baseline for the fact that it only feels like we are together but that the togetherness is to some degree an illusion. It is during this little talk that I’m calling out the many differences that we each could be experiencing. I’m inviting people to come and play with the environment but also letting them know that it is okay if they don’t want to play – you can’t force someone to play. You can read the text of my little presentation in the rough notes.

Playing with Interaction

At this point in the presentation I really start prompting people to participate. One of the first things I do is have them answer a question verbally all at the same time. It has to be a simple question – even just your name and where you are from. This results in an audible mess of the mics cutting out and the camera focus jumping around and it makes the point that audio is not so equitable. We do the same question in the chat and everyone’s responses come rolling in kind of fast but at least you can make some sense of it. I think this is a basic interaction demo that most people have from doing multiple sessions but it is fun to tease it out. I then continue to ask them and prompt them about different ways of interacting. From the rough notes:

  • Playing with Audio –
    • Ask a simple question – What are the ways you can express yourself in zoom.
    • Ask everyone to turn on their mics and respond at once
    • Note the power struggle when everyone tried to talk at once
      This sets up the need and importance of non-verbals
  • Playing with non-verbals
    • Text – chatterfall – ask another question (maybe how did it feel when everyone was talking at once) one word in chat hold before hitting enter
    • Zoom reactions (virtual)
    • Physical reactions – gestures, facial expressions, sign language

 

Playing with the intersection between the physical and virtual environments

Some of this we did not get to in the session but here are some prompts for leading this kind of play. From the rough notes:

This feels like a shared space but we are actually each experiencing a virtual environment just a little different.

There is a real possibility that our spaces and ourselves are not as they appear in zoom.

Ask these questions – take answers in chat, reactions, physical, audio 

  • Who is in grid view/who is in speaker view?
  • Who has self view on – who has it off – who realized you could even turn self view off?
  • Let’s talk about grid view – go there if you would like – if your camera is on where do you appear in the grid? Who is to your left/right? Everyone is actually looking at a different order. What does this mean for the idea of “eye contact”?
  • Play with virtual backgrounds. How far back can you go before the background takes over? How far forward?

Playing with Physical Environment

  • “Touch” the boundaries of your “identity box” with your hands. The square that surrounds you. Where are the edges? Where are the edges in the physical space?
  • Move your whole body in and out of frame – what happens to audio when you do this? How is this impacted by the kind of microphone you might have?
  • Play with light levels

Your physical environment says something about you and is part of your identity

Playing with Identity

I really wish that we had gotten more time to get to this and there was a little of it but I think that there is a real opportunity to go deeper here.

  • Play with virtual filters on the body
  • Play with some kind of physical avatar or puppet 
  • Play with costumes, masks, or some kind of physical adaptation of self

 

Final Thoughts and Shout Outs

Preparing this workshop was a challenge for me. The Zoom Gaze article is a rather critical article as it shines a light on the many inequities that exist in synchronous video environments. How to use it to bring everyone together and to talk with educators about how to harness it in their own facilitation?

My work with Maha Bali and Mia Zamora around community building activities was recently referenced by Sarah Rose Cavanagh in How to Play in the College Classroom in a Pandemic, and Why You Should and this helped to remind me that perhaps play was part of the answer here. With Virtually Connecting I had the opportunity to co-author the idea of Intentionally Equitable Hospitality where we explore hospitality in inequitable spaces and the importance of informality in learning.

Huge thank you’s go out to several folks. Heather Pleasants met with me on two occasions to play with this weird environment, ask questions of it, and consider its effects on togetherness, space, and identity. Mia Zamora, Alan Levine, and the entire NetNarr and Equity Unbound communities provided me an initial playground. George Station taught me how to disappear into the virtual background. Maha Bali has been teaching me (and learning with me) about these virtual spaces for several years now.

My deepest gratitude goes out to all the folks who have worked with me in virtual environments over the last several years and especially those of the last year when these virtual rooms became one of the only ways we could connect.

Feature Image by beate bachmann from Pixabay 

The Zoom Gaze

Note: On December 7th I expanded my thinking on the concept of the Zoom Gaze into a full-length article with Real Life Magazine which you can find here https://reallifemag.com/the-zoom-gaze/ 


I’ve been doing video conferencing pretty intently since 2016 in connection with my Virtually Connecting work. This work has been technical, social, and critical. It has compelled me to ask questions around power, voice, and visibility. As the whole world distances from one another physically in fear of a sickness which could be nothing or could be death, those who have the means use this technology as a way to simulate normality. But all of this is anything but normal.

I’ve been thinking about the power of looking, seeing, and being seen – of speaking, listening, and being heard – of touching, feeling, and being felt. That last one is tricky and the one in which the physicality is problematic but as an act of emotion seems to come through from time to time in this virtual space – or perhaps we just yearn for it so much that the approximation is close enough.

There has been a lot of talk about not forcing students to turn cameras on and I advocate for this. I advocate for this out of an attempt to create equitable spaces as I know that not everyone can show their face/space. That video takes more bandwidth and so there is a technical inequity that privileges those with speedy internet and fancy equipment. Also, it is cultural in that we don’t just show our faces but we show our places and sometimes that is problematic for a variety of reasons. 

Even with this, as we begin the fall term I cannot help but think about the power dynamics at play in all of this. Gaze has a history and has been evaluated from multiple angles including the gaze as pure power such as in surveillance with Foucault’s panopticon and as racism in hooks’ the oppositional gaze; gendered analysis in the male gaze comes from Mulvey and the feminine gaze from Butler, and nationalized in the imperial gaze of Kaplan. 

My understanding of Gaze is limited but it seems to me that in all of the constructs of it above that the viewed is greatly impacted by the seer. The one who is being looked upon changes their behaviour, as well as their sense of self, because of the viewer. In our current time, in the “age of COVID-19”, what does it mean for so many of us to be under the Zoom Gaze? What does it mean for a teacher to see some of their students and to not see others? 

It is wonderful to give students the option of turning their cameras on or not but are there underlying power dynamics (unconscious, implicit, and unintended) of being seen that still create inequities in these environments? Are teachers unconsciously tuned in to faces, expressions, body language in such a way that privileges students who are privileged to have fast bandwidth, nice cameras, and good microphones? My gut tells me yes. 

And so “allowing” students to not have their camera on in our class session may seem like the super nice thing to do and a way to make your classes equitable but I’m coming to feel like it is actually the least that you can do. 

Here are my questions (which I don’t have answers to):

  • What is Zoom Gaze and what does it look like given different pedagogies and functions of technology?
  • How do we recognize the power structures within the Zoom Gaze?
  • How do we challenge the Zoom Gaze power structures to not perpetuate inequities?
  • Are there overlaps between Zoom Gaze and the development of parasocial interactions/relationships

Featured Image by Михаил Прокопенко from Pixabay 

Reflections after Day One of Digital Pedagogy Lab 2020

Starting Again

It has been a long time since I’ve written here but I think about it all of the time. This blog was born of eventedness and it seem that I struggle to write without an event (note of self-reflection). Still, I’m often here, in my head, struggling to pull all the threads together.

Digital Pedagogy Lab has been a staple gathering for me for several years and one that I’ve come to look forward to – where others I go to out of obligation.

So, if there was ever an event to blow the dust off this blog and get it going again I think this would be it.

I’m in the Education, Agency, and Change course led by Elena Riva and Naomi De La Tour and one of the first things we were asked to do is to gather beautiful things around us to create a learning environment for ourselves. I think this was meant to focus more on our physical space but the digital space of this blog has long been a learning space for me and it was in need of some beautification – so, besides a fresh post for the blog I’m trying on a new theme.

Models, Styles, and Taxonomies; Oh My

There are three keynotes for DPL this year and the first is from Jesse Stommel – Not Taking Bad Advice: a Pedagogical Model.

This keynote intersected for me with a little tweet conversation that I got caught up in this week. Did you see the whole – “I have a joke but” thing?

Like – “I have a statistics joke but the average person would think it is mean”

Well, a bunch of us started doing educational ones and

I came up with “I have an instruction joke. I’ll tell the joke and you will then laugh” – Note: I’m breaking convention here a tiny bit because mine does not have a ‘but’ in it. I didn’t give it a lot of thought when I tweeted it – I was just tying to be funny.

As Jesse’s keynote brought in and critiqued all of the models and best practices I couldn’t help but come back to this little joke and start to feel like it was doing a little more work than I had originally intended.

I’ve often thought that instruction is but one kind of pedagogy. I think it has its place but it can only do so much. As Jesse talked about how all of these models have their limitations and how they never seem to get at the human side of education I couldn’t help but think about my joke.

There is nothing quite like an honest laugh. The kind that sneaks up on you and just comes as a reaction. Giving someone instructions on how to respond to a joke makes about as much sense as some of these models that Jesse critiques.

I suppose it works – to some extent. We are being very clear in what we are expecting and if we tied external rewards to the outcome we are seeking (the laugh) we could further incentivise it. If we felt that the laughs we were getting were not authentic enough we could create a rubric to further clarify.

Unacceptable – not laughing or just going ha ha sardonically – 0pts

Good – a chuckle with a smile – 3pts

Excellent – full on belly laugh with tears in eyes – 10pts

Of course this is ridiculous. If we are really trying to get at authentic human laughter – instruction is not the tool.

What kind of education do you want to create?

Jesse is clear in his talk that “None of this is to say Bloom’s taxonomy or the Quality Matters rubric have never ever been used to support good pedagogy.” and I would argue that instruction is not always such a lackluster tool.

If I’ve bought a new shelving unit that needs to be assembled by all means give me good instruction. Please don’t let me discover how to build this on my own through a human process of trial and error.

So, for me, this comes back to a question of what kind of education we are shooting for and what education is for in the first place. And that brings me back to my track around Education, Agency, and Change.

I’m hopeful to have a few blog posts this week but I’m not sure how much I’ll get out. I’m also leading up a workshop with Nathan Schneider around Ethical EdTech which starts tomorrow which I’m sure will give me lots to think about.

Free image from Pixabay

Presenting #DigPINS at Original Lilly Conference on College Teaching 2019

I am super excited to be presenting with Joe Murphy at the Original Lilly Conference on College Teaching about #DigPINS – a small cohort online faculty development experience that Joe and I have run in network with one another and several other institutions for a few years now.

This presentation is a basic “what is #DigPINS” kind of poster. We focus on the foundational theories, philosophies, and foundational practices of #DigPINS. We also give a taste of the curriculum and tools as well as answer some questions about what it takes to facilitate #DigPINS. This part is especially important because we are hoping to do another networked run in Summer of 2020!!

You can find out more in our written proposal for the conference and at http://digpins.org

Welcome to D3 – Domains, Data, and Democracy: with special thanks to agency, identity, and environment

On May 20th I was invited to speak at St. Norbert College’s D3 – Domains, Data, and Democracy conference and deliver a welcome address. The post that follows is the text I worked from to deliver that address reworked just a bit – the biggest add was the addition of hyperlinks. The slide deck is also embedded in the bottom. Header image credit Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

Before I begin with the welcome address I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the historical memory of the land we are on and its indigenous peoples as well as our responsibility to work towards reconciliation by reading the St. Norbert College Land Acknowledgement.

You may or may not be familiar with this idea of a land acknowledgement. They are much more ubiquitous in Canada where they are often used to start public meetings such as this one but also in smaller meetings, to start the school day, and I’ve even heard that some of the major hockey teams use one before their home games. There is no one land acknowledgement but rather each is crafted to the local area and the native peoples who at one time maintained the predominant culture there. They don’t have to be tied to the subject of the talk, or the hockey game for that matter, but they are offered as a reminder of how we got here so that perhaps we can think about how we want to go forward. In this case, I do think that there is alignment with this talk as I will be addressing issues of democracy, ownership, and environments (though some may be digital) but I wanted to point out that this connection to the subject matter is not needed and I have included the acknowledgement as part of this talk as a remembrance of the this land and its history.

In the spirit of the Norbertine value of stabilitas loci, a deep commitment to the local community, we acknowledge this land as the ancestral home of the Menominee nation, which holds historical, cultural, and sacred significance to the community. We acknowledge the living history and contributions of the indigenous communities that inhabited this land prior to the establishment of St. Norbert College, as well as the sovereign Native American Nations who continue to contribute to the flourishing of our communities

In 2016 I first became acquainted with St. Norbert College through attending and presenting at the T3 conference. T3, like D3, is a shortened version of a longer name. When I presented it was Transformative Teaching Through Technology and I quickly pointed out that was 4 T’s not 3 but I was told the “Through” did not count. I was also told that in previous years it had been Transformative Teaching AND Technology but that the exact meaning of the name was somewhat neblus.  That there were some who saw this as ‘Transformative Teaching’, and Technology. While others thought that the idea of transformation could encompass both teaching and technology I guess as Transformative: Teaching and Technology.

Fast forward a few years to the planning of this year’s conference – I’m horribly late to an online meeting with Martha and Krissy and when I enter the meeting they tell me that in my absence they have been thinking and talking about changing the name of this year’s conference from T3 to D2 – Domains and Data. This is because SNC has in the past year gotten really serious about its commitment to the Domains project and we had been getting some requests for more support around data literacy. I tell them that I love the idea but point out that we have also been having lots of conversations in ITS and Full Spectrum Learning leadership for many years around digital citizenship and communicating to our students about what it means to be good stewards of the web and I suggest D3 – Domains, Data, and Democracy … and it stuck.

As planning progressed, I started to notice that D3 might be having some of the same problems that T3 was having around the name and how it is being interpreted. There were just these subtle things like the way folks were pausing when they said the name like Domains…. Data and Democracy. I think there was a lack of an oxford comma in drafting some of the materials that we were using. There also might have even been some confusion about where to put the “and” like “Domains” and “Data” and “Democracy” but also Domains and “Data and Democracy”.

At some point I brought up that I was noticing these subtle differences and I that I didn’t think that they were wrong but that I saw democracy as being central to both domains and data and that I also saw connections and overlaps between domains and data themselves. So Krissy asked me to come up and give a welcome address to paint a picture of how the name aligns with the conference and to talk about some of these things.

Last year we had Robin DeRosa come to T3 as our keynote speaker and one of the ideas that Robin hit upon that resonated with several people was this idea of bricolage. She contrasted the methods of the engineer with those of the bricoleur saying that an engineer takes brand new materials, lots of measurements, and lots of money to build perfect products. In contrast the bricoleur takes what may seem like disparate parts that already exist and puts them together as a new whole through a process of trying, testing, failing, and playing around.

I see the main themes of Domains, Data, and Democracy as being a list so they are separated by commas and you could even put them into a bulleted list. Each of these D’s are complex realms and we could have a whole conference on any one of them. Each has multiple moving parts, incorporates subjective decision making with a variety of impacts, and each is open to interpretation from outside entities. All of these themes have problems and issues as well as great gifts to give. My hope is that we have put together a conference for you that is flexible enough to allow you to be a bit of a bricoleur with your thinking around these concepts weighing the complex nature of each. I also hope that you will use the themes as a starting place and connect them not only to each other but also to your own interests and contexts in your own work.

It is my hope that by presenting them as a list of things we can encourage participants of the conference to think of them as building blocks. Some of you may want to grab onto one of these and spend the next two days looking at every event and workshop through that lens. While others may only want to concentrate on some particular set of connections like “Data and Democracy” or “Democracy and Domains” or “Domains and Data”. Still even others may want to keep all three in mind and look for the connections between them.

To help demonstrate this I’d like to share with you a bit of my own bricolage or how I see these themes fitting together. I will use three other frames that I think are important to this. As this is a welcome address I’ll also try to weave my thinking with some information about the instructors that we have invited to the conference and snippets from some of the workshops and other events we have lined up.  I want to encourage you to keep in mind what your own bricolage creation looks like as you weave these themes for yourself.

Domains as Agency

D3 is being held as this past year St. Norbert College has made great headway into a centralized domains project with connections to their philosophy of Full Spectrum Learning and the college’s strategic plan. I’m excited to hear a State of Domains address from the Full Spectrum Learning leadership tomorrow to get all the details about how things are going but I also realize that there may still be those in the room who have different levels of understanding around what a domain is and what it means to give one to a student.

Audrey Watters says that giving a domain to a student is a “radical act” but radical acts do not come without risks and complexity. I will point out in my short examination of each of our themes that all of them come with affordances and constraints. I believe the most radical thing that a domain does is encourage and enable agency – the ability for an individual to act independently and make their own choices. Agency is central to democracy but it can be seen as risky in educational environments as students by nature are not as informed and have not had the opportunity to build specialized knowledge. However, education cannot exist in a risk free environment rather it is the job of educators to weigh risks to the student with the opportunity for learning.

Martha Burtis gives us several opportunities over the next two days to look at the complexities around domains as educators from considering the web itself as a subject of study to situating students and student agency in domains pedagogy.  Martha is one of the founders of the Domain of One’s Own movement and has worked to help higher education see how we interact with and support student use of digital environments and technology as more than a transactional exchange and rather an opportunity for truly transformative learning. No  matter if you are new to domains or have a start and are looking to dig in deeper Martha has planned some amazing conversations and collaborations for us.

Data as Identity

A domains project often gets legs as an e-portfolio project. This ties back to showing a student how to create a digital identity but let’s be clear that a domain does a lot more than that. There are plenty of platforms that we could direct students toward which they could use to build a digital identity but when we direct students to use 3rd party platforms we not only teach the student how to create a digital identity we also teach them that it is okay to give that identity data over to a 3rd party without question.

For all of the hype and promises of a better life through data, like all of our themes, data is not without its imperfections. We have been generating, collecting, and analyzing data long before digitization but the digitization of data, especially personally identifiable data, has changed the paradigm for what it means to live in a democracy and no one knows this better than Kris Shaffer. Kris works on matters related to digital disinformation, data ethics, and digital pedagogy and his new book Data versus Democracy: How Big Data Algorithms Shape Opinions and Alter the Course of History, will be published this spring.

He writes in the description for his Data Literacy workshop later today that “Big-data algorithms affect just about everything we do these days: the news we read, the shows we watch, the music we listen to, the students we admit, the mortgage rates we’re offered” he goes on to say that many of the claims around the promise of data is nothing more than a marketing scheme and this workshop will help us to understand the difference. Besides helping us to demystify big data and machine learning Kris also offers us workshops around data privacy, fact checking online, and a cryptoparty.

Democracy as Environment

Democracy is a system of governance for and by the people. Rather than having a monarch or a dictator who makes political decisions for the people – in a Democracy the people gather together to govern themselves or, most likely, to elect representation. It sounds great but then like all of our themes, you guessed it, it gets messy fast – few proclaim it is an flawless system.

Often it is hard to see issues in our environment because we live in it every day and it is easy not see the forest for the trees. Ideas get normalized and we stop questioning things that might have earlier given us pause. Let’s stop for a moment and remember that land acknowledgement that I started this talk with which is a reminder that this land was once held by different people than those who are here now – see there is an assumption in this idea of a democracy for and by the people about who “the people” actually are and who “counts” as “the people”. Those who are not included can fight for greater acceptance but there are always those who see this as a zero sum matter and fight to keep barriers and boundaries high.

Digital tools and technology can be used to transcend and span these boundaries, make short work of some of the oldest and strongest barriers like time and distance, and be used to further justice for society. But it is easy to forget that those digital environments themselves can be problematic and can reinforce threats to our societies and cultures.

Another criticism of democracy goes something like this – if all these people, who are not trained in the ways of governance and who are likely uninformed or ignorant, have an actual say in the running of things, well then things are going to go to pot because uninformed people are calling the shots. Democracy answers this criticism with a call for education and an informed citizenry. My interests, questions, and thinking are around what an informed society looks like in a digital age. What literacies and skills are needed to be informed in such an age and how does that impact who we are as a people?


Evolving Digital Identity – The “Real Life” of watching and being watched

This post is around the #DigPINS Pedagome “Identity” week. I want to just sort of riff on my own about some personal experience so forgive me for not doing a map or otherwise following the prompt. I’ve long been interested in the impact of environment on identity but I recently took on a little personal project that made me think harder about the intersection of physical environments and digital identities. I’ve been wanting to write about it and this seemed the time to get it out.

I’ve been interested in data privacy and surveillance for some time now. About a year ago I started paying more attention to the signage that indicates that my physicality is under surveillance and started snapping pics of them. This was very much an aside and I wasn’t doing much more than snapping the pics. I did find some use for them in tweets and headers for blog posts about data privacy and surveillance but most of the time they just lived on my camera roll. I did find them interesting and noted some nuances to myself such as subilities in iconography and rhetoric but this was all just sort of in my head.

A few months ago I started wanting to do more with these pics and I had the idea that a social media presence could give them a home, help me be more intentional about looking for signage, and help me in noticing those nuances and chronicling them. Since they were pics I tried to establish an Instagram account but I’m not much of an Instagram user and the account never got off the ground. I’m not sure I ever even got one follower and then a few weeks later Instagram actually shut the account down – I think because I missed a verification email. Still, I wanted to do something and considering that I’m more of a Twitter user I decided to reestablish there. After being two days old on twitter @SurveillanceSam/Surveillance Signage had a few hundred followers – so something to be said about having an established network on a particular tool and even just knowing the tool.

For me, @SurveillanceSam is an establishment of a digital identity to scaffold a new kind of awareness and a way of being for myself. Right away several folks pointed out similar projects that were more robust or suggested that this project could be or do more. Suggestions included creating intricate maps, attaching levels of metadata, or scraping data of where surveillance equipment might be deployed and displaying it. All of these are fascinating and ideas I may want to evolve @SurveillanceSam to do at some point but right now it is just an outlet for me to be more aware of my surroundings. It is an outlet for a part of my brain and an expression of my current living experience right now. As great as all of those other ideas are that is not what I’m interested in doing with it right now.

Then something interesting happened – a few people started wanting to do this with me. They started tagging @SurveillanceSam in tweets that had pics of surveillance signage that they had come across and I started using the account to retweet. Some even backchanneled them to me and I would use the account directly to post them.  

I have mixed feelings about this phenomenon – on one hand I it is really fun to have other people doing this same kind of thing that I’m doing: paying attention to their surroundings, capturing these signs, sharing them with me to curate in one place. On the other I worry a bit about encouraging folks to follow along. I sometimes worry about snapping these photos even myself. I used to just carry a camera with me everywhere and snap pics of everything around me – I was a bit of a photo nerd. One day I was shooting a large outdoor fountain and some kind of angry enforcement officer (I can’t even remember if it was a proper cop – it was many years ago) wanted to know why I was taking pictures of the bank. I had not even noticed there was a bank in the background of the fountain. You sort of have to assume that you are under surveillance when you are taking these photos and that could look somewhat shady to whoever is watching. If you are not a middle-class looking white lady and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time I can see how this could perhaps not be the best practice for you. So I hesitate to promote people joining me on this journey. But it is a journey that I am on and for those who find it possible to capture signs that their identity is being captured I’m happy to amplify.

So, what have I learnt?

It has been an interesting few months with @SurveillanceSam. Since creating the account I have become much more aware of signage and where I might find it. It feels a bit like geocaching in a way but with instinct rather than a GPS. One of the first things that I noticed was being more aware of where I would find surveillance but what was really interesting was how often there was no signage. I drew a line with the account that it was not a place for pics of surveillance equipment but rather just signage. I’m interested in how surveillance is communicated, why it is communicated, and who it is communicated to – and my experience so far has found that most often it is happening without communication. More often than not I find equipment without any signage.

And about the signage and my questions of how, why, and who?

“How” surveillance is being communicated is an interesting question which bleeds into “why” and “for who”. Iconography stands out to me: eyes, shields, and cameras permeate. I made note that often the cameras are mounted – though usually they are mounted to nothing. There is often a mount on the icon and sometimes a wire but it just hangs there in a void. This is a common kind of camera I suppose but it is interesting to me that so many of the cameras are old school – the newer cameras are dome ones but you never see those in the icons.

Screenshot from SurveillanceSam account showing camera mounts

The “why” and the “who” questions are even more interesting. Especially in light of my experience that most surveillance is not communicated. If not then when it is being communicated why is it being communicated. A favorite way of mine to question this is to put images indicating that you are for sure being surveilled next to one’s that say you may be being surveilled. What exactly is the point of a sign that says you “may be” under surveillance?

Yellow sign that reads "This area may be under surveillance"

“Who” is a sobering question as in my experience I’ve seen signs of surveillance more often in poor neighborhoods and in communities of color. But also digging into the signs themselves. Who are they directed at? Many are directed at the criminal stating in all caps WARNING or ATTENTION you are on camera, microphone, closed circuit TV, etc. but for others the audience for the sign is the person who is doing nothing wrong and states that the surveillance is for their benefit for protection or will even save them money by stopping theft at the store.

Black and white sign mounted to post that reads "Closed Circuit Television Cameras are in use to help provide you with low prices. Recordings will be used in the prosecution of criminal offenses".

In conclusion, I’m two months into @SurveillanceSam and it is an interesting overlay of a digital identity and how it can impact a “real life”. If you are familiar with some of my past thinking you know that those scare quotes are because I have issues with the term “real life”. I think this creates a false dichotomy. Unless we are talking about your dreams, imaginagings, psychedelic hallucinations, spiritual encounters, or the like we are talking about “real life”. @SurveillanceSam is not a “real person” but I am and it is an extension of my attention and current thinking. I’m sure that there are folks out there who have taken a deeper look at these things but I’m just starting to explore them and this is where I’m at for now.