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’lllikely 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’venever 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 feelslike a statement of support for things I can’tagree 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.
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 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.
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.
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:
The Inclusive Design Guidefrom 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
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.