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Category : Digital Environments

Is a space

For some time now I’ve used “Is a liminal space” as my tagline and it has always intrigued me how people latch on to the word “liminal” in that little phrase. Asking me what it means and why I identify with it. Fewer folks point out that people are not spaces and that spaces, though they may indeed influence people, are not people. Still, I go on using it because I like to make people think and wonder – what the heck does that mean. 

Environments do indeed shape us and it has been on my mind more than usual lately. Someone recently asked me that question that seems to circle our field over and over about the differences between “designers” and “technologists” and what is the “right” term for the work. I’ve gotten to the place where those terms mean nothing to me. To understand what you do, in this strange world of edtech/instructional design/faculty development/teaching/administrating/// tell me where you work. That is the only way I will get some idea about what you do. And if what you do doesn’t fit the identity of the space you are working in… just wait. In my experience, you’ll either leave or change. 

Digital environments have been one of my bags for some time now and yes they shape us too. Especially if you share through them and make connections there. But no environment is static and when Twitter was sold to Elon Musk a few months ago I think everyone knew things would change.

I didn’t leave, technically. I’ll likely share this post there. Technically, I’ve been on Mastodon since 2016 but “technically” I’m in a lot of places. It’s messy. I’m messy. 

But when they started selling checkmarks… yeah I had to go. I’ve never had a checkmark, but the idea of buying one. It is all just so sad and strange. To see so much wide spread top-down abuse there. To scroll my feed there and see all these reports of banned accounts and blocking links from competing platforms and then sprinkled in someone promoting their latest article or webinar. I understand some people have invested years and have tens of thousands of followers and that is hard to let go of. I don’t want to throw shade. It is just weird. 

I also don’t want to tell anyone what to do but I will say it makes me happy to see familiar folks in other spaces.

I’m pretty privileged there and by privileged I mean invisible. Of course that is not completely true but it is not completely untrue either. I mean it has been a long time since I’ve been an egg but randos in my DMs still seem impressed that Barack Obama follows me. I’m somewhere in-between and not quite loud enough to make a fuss but not translucent enough to feel comfortable existing in a space that just continues to increase in toxicity. But that is strange of me to say too – I can’t say it hasn’t always been toxic – I know that would be a lie. But now it just feels like the call is coming from inside the house more than ever. And to continue to post just feels like a statement of support for things I can’t agree with.

Also, it just feels like a time to try something new. Maybe it won’t be as big or as notable (is Barack even on Masto?) but that has never stoped me before. Starting again, and again, and again. That is kind of my thing. Perhaps that is why I’m perpetually on the threshold. It is sad but it is where I’m at. 

I can’t help but think of the starling murmurations. You know these, yes? Starlings are strange and wonderful for lots of reasons (equal reasons why they are pests but I’m trying to end on an upbeat here) but one is because of the murmurations that they perform in the sky at sunset. Here in Michigan I see them while driving in the country. How they pull this off is a bit of magic no one really understands the details of – maybe something similar is happening now. 

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

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 

Becoming, Making, and How Do We Do Equity: some quick thoughts as an informal lit review

I was given a pretty cool opportunity last week to think with some pretty cool people about equitable design of digitally-distributed, studio-based STEM learning environments (think makerspaces – but at the same time destroy you idea of makerspaces and rebuild it to mean something more… at least that is what I ended up doing). It was put on by some folks at the University of Arizona and Biosphere 2, where we stayed, and was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The plan was to reflect and write and come away having created some resources – a white paper mainly. It is an awesome opportunity in itself but I was also just humbled to be among the others attending, many of whom are some of my favorite thinkers in our field though I made new connections too – (I’ll save posting a list for fear of leaving someone out or naming someone who would rather not be in my blog post but you can check out #stemequityb2 on Twitter if you would like to see some of the folks who are posting tweets and blog posts about the event).

I’ve never built or run a proper “Makerspace” per se and I can’t even claim to have participated in a “Makerspace” all that much. I suppose I took an old-school photography class back in the day and the lab had that kind of feel. However, I have participated in and even built a few online and face to face learning communities and I have been very interested in how we harness intrinsic interest of students to motivate learning.

It is here where I feel most comfortable – I think this is the idea of the Maker Mindset – tinkering and failing and starting again. I’m new to the more formal theoretical representations of this idea which I believe are tied to bricolage as laid out by Derrida and Levi-Strauss but I feel this kinship in those ideas which seems to also go back to rhizomatic learning for me. I’m still piecing the theory together.

Some resources

So, something feels incredibly spot on in all of this but I also feel a little bit like a fish out of water too. In thinking about all of this in terms of a blog post – rather than diving deep on any particular branch in my thinking I thought it might be best to reflect on some of the shared resources that I got from the gathering. Sort of half blog post half lit/resource review – or perhaps just a really informal lit/resource review – I suppose you will decide. There is no way that I can reflect on all of the resources shared and I’m sure that I will miss several really good ones but these are the ones that I was able to get into a bit enough to have some thoughts about.

Embodied Learning – Michelle Schria Hagerman

I started taking in some of the lit and resources around this trip even before we arrived on site. There was a Slack team created and a channel for resources. Here I became acquainted with Michelle Schria Hagerman from the University of Ottawa and this awesome preprint that she has out about embodied learning in maker environments – which she just released on her blog. This piece has my brain all aflutter about how we think about digital and hybrid spaces and reinforces my belief that all learning is hybrid (nod to Hybrid Pedagogy).

From the piece “You might read this and say: of course our minds and bodies are inextricably dependent on one another. How could this not be the case? Historically, learning scientists have been concerned with higher order cognitive processes such as language, critical thinking, and metacognition, all of which presumably happen in the mind. Proposing that the body is the foundation for higher order thought, that sensory perception is inextricable from abstract cognitive processes, and that humans use the environment to scaffold cognition are relatively new ideas for both psychology and education.

Technology and Learning: A Provocation – Punya Mishra

Once on ground and on the first day we were presented with three provocations. I have to admit some skepticism going in with the first one, which was by TPACK creator Punya Mishra, if for no other reason that it was going to be delivered via a 14 minute video but then…

… Then Punya went ahead and blew me away!

Seriously, this is an awesome reflection on the evolution of thinking in edtech and social learning over the last decade or so and ends with a call for more attempts to understand broader systems and cultures in our work going forward. Seriously, take the 14 minutes to watch this video – you will not be sorry:

Two Resources from the National Equity Project

The second day of the gathering was our big writing day and after some work to define a few projects we broke out for three hours to write and collaborate in our teams. I ended up on a merged group that were separately proposed by Amon Millner and Sundi Richard which attempted to create a Foundations of Equity and Inclusion document that could potentially be used by those who might be proposing (or evaluating) a project to the NSF that included an Equity and Inclusion component.  I don’t want to share the document that we ultimately wrote since we drafted it in just a few hours and it is now in the hands of the project PIs and could go through further revisions but it is basically a list of questions that we drew up using established resources that I would like to share. Both are from the National Equity Project: The Liberatory Design Cards and the Lens of Systemic Oppression. Basically what we did was a journey map of creating a makerspace and then put questions that pertain directly to matters of equity and inclusion to the different stages of development. Some of the questions we made up ourselves but some of them we reworked from these two documents which I found to be a great resource for thinking about .

Random Resource: Phenology

I really love this one so much but it is so random and unstructured I was not sure how to share it other than to simply say it is random and unstructured. Some may say this is not so much a resource but just a passing thought and they would not be wrong. This one did not come from any presentation, conversation, or any shared resource on Slack. It was simply there in Biosphere 2 on several signs and informational kiosks. It is this idea of “Phenology” which is simply the study of the change in life cycle of plants and animals as impacted through seasons (not surprising that stood out to me). It is concerned with questions about why flowers bud and leaves fall etc. but stood out to me in that so many of the learning theories that I’ve come to love are tied to metaphors of nature. Is the learning environment an ecology? Is the story of learning a rhizome? These questions intrigue me but I’m not sure any of them have really accounted for the changing nature of the learner as impacted by a changing learning environment. Could a learning environment have seasons and if so what would that look like and how would those seasons affect a learner depending on where they are at in their own journey? Perhaps that needs to be its own blog post – To every thing…

Several other resources

There are a ton more but I wanted to call out a few really quickly – these were either in the Slack or those that I was putzing around with on my own during this same time that I found overlap with – some of these are on my to read list still yet:

Techno-vernacular creativity, innovation and learning in underrepresented ethnic communities of practice – A dissertation my Nettrice Rosallye Gaskins, Georgia Institute of Technology. Nettrice also gave a provocation about the role of story and of telling the stories of underrepresented populations in makerspaces.

The Inclusive Design Guide from the Inclusive Design Research Center at OCAD University – I posted this one myself after listing to a podcast interview with Jess Mitchell. I love this thing so much as it is filled with practical design perspectives for all kinds of environments. It is a nonlinear resource that you can pick through in all kinds of creative ways.

Making Culture from Drexel University – In-Depth report on makerspaces in K-12 US educational context

Maker Culture has a Deeply Unsettling Gender Problem – from Edsurge

No Textbooks, No Lectures, And No Right Answers. Is this what Higher Education Needs – The Chronicle of Higher Education – Paywalled

A symposium of four articles in Equity and Excellence in Education called Equity in STEM-Rich Making: Pedagogies and Designs – Paywalled

Two resources: an infographic and a white paper – from Techbridge Girls

From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies – by the Connected Learning folks – I do love the CLAlliance folks in general.

Making Through the Lens of Culture and Power: Towards Transformative Visions for Educational Equity – SHIRIN VOSSOUGHI, PAULA K. HOOPER, and MEG ESCUD

Cruel optimism in edtech: when the digital data practices of educational technology providers inadvertently hinder educational equity –  Felicitas Macgilchrist – Paywalled – again this is one that I personally brought to the experience with me but it is a great look at some of the systemic problems surrounding using technology in education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#DigCiz Reflections and a #DigPed Workshop

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

It was bigger for one thing.

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

A #DigPed Workshop

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

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

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

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

#DigCiz Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Short

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

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

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

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