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Open Pedagogy: Building Compassionate Spaces for Online Learning

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In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “for me this place of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a ‘safe’ place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance.” For hooks, the risks we take are personal, professional, political. When she says that “radical openness is a margin,” she suggests it is a place of uncertainty, a place of friction, a place of critical thinking. This is not an Open pedagogy neatly defined and delimited.

Open pedagogy pushes on the notion of education as content delivery in favor of education as community and dialogue. The work is less crudely didactic, more ephemeral. This can be especially true in online teaching and learning, where presence is signaled in very different ways and risk is felt differently. When we ask students to work openly on the Web, it’s critical that we make space for them to critically interrogate digital culture and to contribute to knowledge on the Web. As online educators and designers, we must also make space for students to teach us about working on the Web, about learning, about what education can be.

[Plenary at Open SUNY Summit, March 2018]

Published in: Education

Open Pedagogy: Building Compassionate Spaces for Online Learning

  1. 1. Open Pedagogy
  2. 2. Jesse Stommel @Jessifer
  3. 3. “To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” ~ bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
  4. 4. In the Milgram Experiment, Stanley Milgram asked a “teacher” (the subject of the experiment) to shock a “learner” (an actor) for getting wrong answers on a simple test. An “experimenter” (working with Milgram) would order the teacher to give increasingly powerful shocks, and more often than not, the teacher complied. The study is not without baggage.
  5. 5. Milgram describes the device as “an impressive shock generator. Its main feature is a horizontal line of thirty switches, ranging from 15 volts to 450 volts, in 15-volt increments. There are also verbal designations which range from SLIGHT SHOCK to DANGER- SEVERE SHOCK.” I see glee in Milgram’s language (“impressive”), something theatrical in the excess (“thirty switches”), and a fastidiousness in his attention to detail in reporting all this.
  6. 6. The subtler and more intricate or inscrutable the mechanism, the more compliance it generates—because the human brain fails to bend adequately around it.
  7. 7. Tools are made by people, and most (or even all) educational technologies have pedagogies hard-coded into them in advance. This is why it is so essential we consider them carefully and critically —that we empty all our LEGOs onto the table and sift through them before we start building. Some tools are decidedly less innocuous than others. And some tools can never be hacked to good use.
  8. 8. Remote proctoring tools can’t ensure that students will not cheat. Turnitin won’t make students better writers. The LMS can’t ensure that students will learn. All will, however, ensure that students feel more thoroughly policed. All will ensure that students (and teachers) are more compliant.
  9. 9. When our LMS reports how many minutes students have spent accessing a course, what do we do with that information? What will we do with the information when we also know the heart rate of students as they’re accessing (or not accessing) a course? How can teachers begin to see courses as more than just a series of tasks and to see students as more than just rows in a spreadsheet?
  10. 10. Photo by flickr userVictoria Pickering Why do we attempt so often to resolve this...
  11. 11. Photo by flickr userVictoria Pickering Into this?
  12. 12. When do we decide that a tool isn’t working, and how can we work together to set it down en masse?
  13. 13. In his book Obedience to Authority, Stanley Milgram coins the term “counteranthropomorphism”—the tendency we have to remove the humanity of people we can’t see. These may be people on the other side of a wall, as in Milgram’s experiment, or people mediated by technology in a virtual classroom.
  14. 14. My hypothesis is that learning is the opposite of content. Content is a closed circuit, a mechanism. Learning is an open circuit, a field. And the best courses overflow their containers. What is the pedagogical value in openness?
  15. 15. Photo by flickr user Emre (NZ) “The walls of the course circumscribe subject matter, project timelines, written work, and assessment. The quarter, the semester, the course dictate almost everything we understand about education. We equate learning with compartments of learning, rather than with a lingering process that shifts and moves invisibly between the accomplishment of one learning objective and another.” ~ Sean Michael Morris, “The Course as Container”
  16. 16. We need to devise learning activities that take organic (and less arbitrary) shapes in space and time. We need to recognize that the best learning happens not inside courses, but between them.
  17. 17. Photo by flickr user Mr.TinDC “Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst … I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit and made a satellite instead of a system.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, “On the American Scholar” “We act — at our peril — as if ‘open’ is politically neutral, let alone politically good or progressive. Indeed, we sometimes use the word to stand in place of a politics of participatory democracy.” ~ Audrey Watters, “From ‘Open’ to Justice” To what use do we put Open Educational Resources?
  18. 18. “Simply adopting open educational resources will not make one’s pedagogy magically change to take advantage of the capabilities of the internet. Adding legal permission to technological capacity only creates possibilities – we must choose to actively take advantage of them.” ~ David Wiley, “Open Pedagogy: The Importance of Getting in the Air”
  19. 19. A text or learning object is "open access" when it is readily available and also legible. An OER is not just a “free” resource but also an opportunity. To engage students not just as receptacles for content but as contributors to their own learning and knowledge on the Web.
  20. 20. Photo by flickr user Xabi Ezpeleta What are the Ethical Responsibilities of Open Education? As teachers, we have a responsibility to create environments for learning in which students are empowered as full agents.
  21. 21. We can open our classroom by creating assignments that have more than just a single teacher as an audience. By doing this, we give students reasons less banal than points to do the work of learning. Authentic learning happens in spaces that are free of “busy work.”
  22. 22. Photo by flickr user JD Hancock Open pedagogy creates a perforated community -- a networked group of learners that extends beyond the bounds of those officially enrolled in a term-based class. And hopefully a community that outlives the course that gave birth to it.
  23. 23. Photo by flickr user Fio Sometimes we do need to close our classroom door (whether virtual or literal). We should take these opportunities as a moment to talk to students about the “rhetoric of the room.” What are the affordances of a closed door? What different stuff can happen inside a closed space? And who gets left outside the room?
  24. 24. How to Adapt Content for an Open Pedagogy? ONE Find and create content that is self-undermining. Content with space on the page for student contribution. Content that is less neat and tidy than the average textbook.
  25. 25. The best online and hybrid courses are made from scraps strewn about and gathered together from across the web. We build a course by examining the bits, considering how they’re connected, and creating pathways for learners to make their own connections.
  26. 26. Photo by flickr user wplynn TWO Realize that content is not actually a marker of expertise. From the first moments of our courses, relinquish some (perhaps not all) authority and model uncertainty. Say directly that the course will focused less on the expertise of a teacher and more on the growing expertise of students. How to Adapt Content for an Open Pedagogy?
  27. 27. Rigor arises through the development of a critically voracious learning community. This is best encouraged through intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. Making participation worth points does not help build community.
  28. 28. Photo by flickr user KayVee.INC THREE Student-generated content is the stuff of learning. And it can’t be populated into a learning management system in advance of their arrival to the course. If there is a better sort of mechanism that we need for the work of digital pedagogy, it is a machine, an algorithm, a platform tuned not for delivering and assessing content, but for helping all of us listen better to students. How to Adapt Content for an Open Pedagogy?
  29. 29. I’ve taught hybrid classes since 2001 and fully online classes since 2007. Almost every class I’ve taught has been an open course, but few have been massive. Designing for openness means thinking carefully about both what registered students can do in the course and what passersby can do. Some of the best learning opportunities are ones we fall haphazardly into. I began by putting all of my syllabi online, but I’ve increasingly asked students to consider the nature, benefits, and risks of public work.
  30. 30. Photo by flickr user Alex FOUR Content should never be delivered at the expense of questions or openings to discussion. Coverage is a myth. Too often, the more we cover, the less students know. So, put more energy into starting the discussion and less anxiety into determining where it travels or ends up. How to Adapt Content for an Open Pedagogy?
  31. 31. We should design courses that actively reconsider when and where learning happens. One of the benefits of online learning, for me, is that I can have a local group of students collaborating with people elsewhere in the world, disturbing the notion that learning happens best in a single course, at a single institution, or within a single country.
  32. 32. How to Adapt Content for an Open Pedagogy? FIVE There is no plagiarism in pedagogy. The first thing to open is our own approach -- to other teachers that can put them to use -- they won’t work in every class, or for every student, but good pedagogy is not something we ought to hoard. Give credit but worry less about taking it.
  33. 33. OPTE Map of the Internet
  34. 34. “Grading [undermines] the climate for teaching and learning. Once we start grading their work, students are tempted to study or work for the grade rather than for learning.” ~ Peter Elbow

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