Reflections on Catherine Cronin’s keynote in OER16

From who else can this BEAUTIFUL image be if not from the great Bryan Mathers. Capturing Catherine’s ideas in her Keynote at OER16. So brilliant! Image Credit: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Visual Thinkery

I could not go to the OER conference although I had a lightning talk to give, difficult family circumstances held my back. I felt very somber as it was a good opportunity to do ‘inlife’ instead of online networking with like-minded scholars and get to learn from and meet valuable people. I watched many sessions online and I decided to write about Catherine Cronin’s Keynote(mixing it with drops of my thinking and ideas) as it is very close to my project and also as Catherine has been a key person in my learning journey.

Catherine Cronin says in her talk something which I find powerful for educational purposes: The unfinished nature of open ___(here we can write what we are working with: practice, resources, research) it works with all. This means that the unfinished state of the artefact or the practice is implied in the definition of open. It is not finally settled; still admitting debate. In open practice, this is particularly beautiful as we, the open practitioners, are all but not finished as it is not our practice. All is in constant flux.

Participatory culture is highly significant in an open culture. As I see it, participating today can and indeed happens on the open web. Although I have recently learned, it is not only on the web where participation happens but, on the Internet (the Internet is the whole railway infrastructure and the Web is only one kind of train that circulates through the railways system, from John Naughton’s book: From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg).
It is through the codes of this participatory culture that open media, open data, and social media are having an influence in the migrants’ crisis, to name one of many examples. NGO’, small companies, people are getting together using different media to help in this massive crisis. Thus, participation is the driving force in social change, Catherine said.

Although I agree, how could this be denied, I think the effects of the participation of this participatory culture is more evident outside the educational space (this is my view). It is my impression that less of these participatory social driven movements happen within the universities. We might be still rigid and not so permeable? We need to change and become more fluid and porose?

In any case, coming back to Catherine’s talk and participatory culture, it has these features:

- Low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
- Strong support by creating and sharing
- Members believe their contribution matter
- Informal mentorship
- Social connection

Jenkins also argues about the power of informal learning spaces, affinity spaces, he calls them, open spaces, the third space, as many others call it, a zone of proximal development, in words of Gutierrez. Jenkins argues that this participatory culture represents ideal learning environments thus, zone of proximal development (ZPD). Gutierrez gives an interesting turn to the concept of ZPD in her paper: Developing a sociocritical literacy in the third space; space she relates with the Migrant Student Leadership Institute, relevant to the examples Catherine gave in her talk. Something to reflect upon.

Those spaces will be informal, flexible, driven by personal interests, open to adapt to the needs of the group, experiential, innovative, with provisional structures that are interchangeable according to the circumstances, they are oriented to short-term needs. They are ad-hoc and localized. This participatory culture is more active and productive having a bigger stake in the culture that is produced. They would create, I argue, open resources and generate open spaces to learn in open practice informed by open research!

This open culture or participatory culture needs some literacy practices Cath said, the language we all need to be integrated into any culture. I mean by this, being an active part of this culture, being able to raise our voice, to understand and hopefully harness the possibilities and opportunities that culture has to offer. It is, I would suggest, the same call society had some centuries ago to encourage their citizens to learn how to read and write, the literacy of the time. If you are interested in this topic in Edutalk, follow this link, there are some of the talks with keynotes, among them is Catherine’s with interesting ideas about the need to foster competences beyond professional ones, i.e. digital literacy and social competencies, in order to prepare and strengthen learners for acting in open ecosystems.

Watching this video can be illuminating and funny as it makes us think about that we take for granted, how to handle a book.

These literacies practices (multimodality, multimedia, networked, social, purposeful, collaborative and agentic) call for different skills, this time, a more complex mix of skills, knowledge and attitude. And I agree with Cath, the agentic part is essential, agency, agency agency! Society needs, and it always has needed active citizens, so does the university. It becomes crucial then to search for answers, or at least look for some clues to Catherine’s main questions::

How effective are we educators in supporting Jenkin’s six lliteracy practices.
How can we develop students’ voice, participation and agency so they can contribure to the shared production of knowledge and culture?

In my research, I am trying to find answers for Catherine’s questions. My potential answer is proposing a Personal Learning Environment approach to learning, which will foster agency, self-direction and ownership and it will improve students digital research literacies as well as design skills, those that are best acquired through active social practice. Learning by doing!

I will approach this idea under a critical participative design methodology.

I want to share my -draft- ideas about how I have envisioned and characterised that space, the PLE. This sketch works like a graphical metaphor that has guided my conceptual work so far. It is a concept-space (in words of Engestörm), the personal learning environments that students will co-design along their next academic year. A (third) space to learn in an age where been part of and connected to an ecology of abundant resources (material an non-material)is key to participating in the academic culture and further in life as they integrate into the society with better skills and hopefully better suited also for the workplace having an organic space to life-long learning.

Caroline Kuhn. Graphic metaphor for the Personal Learning Space: E-Dynamic.Space (I slightly changed the name of my first version, as you can see)

For students, the process will be one of re-engineering their existing informal learning space. Because as Catherine said, students come with their baggage, an EdTech baggage paraphrasing Doug Belshaw. They bring a network (although I discovered that the network they have is not so dense thus strong yet), they also have some tools (more to use in their social lives than at the university), resources, and of course, their own needs and vision about what their digital open practice should be. That would be the starting point.

I am still experimenting, tinkering, and sketching together with students, to generate some initial guidelines to scaffold the process. But I have no worries, I feel safe standing under Bryan Mathers’ umbrella of experiments! Isn’t this what research is all about? Tinkering and playing with ideas, imagining a wealth of possibilities for the good of others, facilitating a complex process to support and include all types of students, those who are really tech-savvy but also those who fear and struggle with the Internet and its boundless nature trying to gap the digital divide that stemms from the user experience (DiMaggio, 2014).

I hope I can shed some light on Catherines’ questions.

Image from Bryan Mathers, what a talent!! CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Visual Thinkery.

Although the process is neither straight forward nor simple, I am sure it will be worth the effort! I believe that for students the process of re-designing their PLEs will address the need to renew their EdTech baggage (toolsets, skillsets and mindset). I am using Doug Belshaw’s words which can be found in his brilliant article.

I argue that the mindset is what needs to be challenged and shook. We ought to encourage an explorer mindset in our students, one that will drive them to explore the Internet and enrich their EdTEch baggage, so they are well equipped to participate in the academic strand of Jenkin’s participatory culture.

Catherine’s model of teaching is one where the teacher and the student are part of 3 spaces, the physical space (the institution), bounded online spaces (platforms, online spaces?) and open online spaces (the one that we create with our practice? the PLE?). She suggests that coming from all 3 spaces is the way in which we can support our student to be agentic and participative. I couldn’t agree more. It is about recognising the ubiquity of knowledge, networks, and empowerment, she said, but also recognising the importance of civic participation and capacity of building. Hands on!!

A brilliant talk, so humble and so rich, not only in knowledge but also in wisdom, which is what makes her such a special scholar and human being. Thank you Catherine, for being so inspiring !!

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