Personal is Political – a frame for thinking about Open Educational Practice

The OER17 Call for Contributions is about to be released but we already know something the theme of the 2017 conference, entitled The Politics of Open, chaired by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski. OER16 was my first OER conference and I loved its friendly atmosphere, and of course I learned a lot too.  The theme and chairs of OER17 were announced at the end of OER16, and I was thrilled at the boldness of the topic.  From what I know of the OER community, we will rise to the challenge.

I have been thinking for some time about the topic of my own submission to OER17, and in preparation for writing it, I started to think of the different flavours of ‘political’ that are important to Open Educational Practice (a concept explored so well by Catherine Cronin, in her 2016 keynote).  The theme of the conference is broad enough to welcome many different perspectives in policy, organisational and societal contexts, and is sure to include fun too.

My first thought was about openness in politics, and I found , and from there to . I wonder if there will be submissions  that are specifically about political systems but it’s not really where I think I can best contribute.  The conference themes include policy and practice in local and wider contexts, organisational politics, and issues of equality  and participation.  I think my contribution will look at digital literacies but I am starting by looking at how I can frame my thinking.

I am interested in approaches to openness that are contextual, and don’t expect openness to automatically remove existing structural inequalities. For the Networked Learning Conference this year, my contribution to a symposium with Catherine Cronin and Laura Gogia included this digital story that hopefully illustrates my approach.

A Door Half Closed from Frances Bell on Vimeo.

As I develop my abstract for OER17, my challenge is to present my ideas in a meaningful way for the audience (assuming it gets accepted). The phrase ‘the personal is political’ popped into my mind and I decided to refresh my memory of what it meant.  Carol Hanish wrote an article originally published in 1970 in Notes from the Second Year: Women’s  Liberation. Carol’s article was  renamed by the book editors as “The Personal Is Political”, and it has had widespread traction over the last 46 years. Reflecting in 2006, Carol said

It challenged the old anti-woman line that used spiritual, psychological, metaphysical, and pseudo-historical explanations for women’s oppression with a real, materialist analysis for why women do what we do. ” from 2006 Introduction

A materialist analysis of Open Educational Practice seems important to me, revealing lived experiences and informing possible collective responses,  beyond an idea that the political is personal. I am still homing in on my specific topic for my abstract but I feel sure that the feminist perspective of ‘the personal is political’ can help me explore the politics of Open Educational Practice.

I’d love any feedback or discussion of this.


Hanisch, C. (2006, original article 1970) ‘The Personal Is Political’, Carol, (January), pp. 1–5, [online] Available from:

Check out:

Twitter – conference hashtag #OER17, Chairs @josiefraser, @atarkowski , Conference Committee list

Web site

Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum?


Prueba 001 by Magdalena Lagaleriade CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Our third and final paper from research in the context of the Rhizo14 MOOC has been published in the open access journal of the Association for Learning Technology:

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes (2016) Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, vol. 24 .

As the title suggests, we explored ‘community is the curriculum’ in a MOOC: how community formed and was perceived; how curriculum emerged; and how both of these happened in the context of an absence of explicit community and learning goals.  We also looked at the impact of the choice of Social Networking Sites (SNS) on community formation and on the curriculum.  SNS are being used in and around education and our research can contribute to inquiry into how they can be used, or not.

Our previous two papers were both published in Open Access journals:

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38
Mackness, J., Bell, F. & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 32(1), p.78-91 .

I can’t speak for Jenny or Mariana but I know I am experiencing a mixture of pride, in the body of work that we have produced, and relief, that I can take forward the ideas explored in the 3 papers and surrounding interactions on blogs and other social media into broader contexts than a single MOOC. I really hope that practitioners and researchers can benefit from this work, and I would be delighted by their constructive engagement with us, here or in other spaces. Many of us are learning and researching in online spaces. We can work together to find out how to organise our learning better, and choose and use SNS. And all of this is dynamic as we and SNS change.

So I’d love to hear your ideas, objections, reflections that can help us all engage with our research and that of others in this important area of open learning.  What I have learned from this work is that we can and must do that in our own ways, and that kindness is important.

Open Access and Social Media: Networking around a scholarly article

(The short version is in the last paragraph if you want to skip to there).

Many places
Many places

Heterotopic communication

In writing about heterotopic communication (see Foucault’s Heterotopia ), the prescient Leah Lievrouw showed that public and private can relate to strategies for engagement behaviours rather than being properties of spaces (Lievrouw 1998 ).  As we communicate apparently within one space, we are simultaneously performing across multiple physical and digital channels and spaces with others who have related but different sets of spaces.  Communicating across spaces around the publication of an open access paper that I co-authored has been a long learning ‘moment’ for me over the last week, and I wanted to capture and share my reflections before I forget them.

OA Publishing and Social Media

I have been thinking about the links between Open Access scholarly publishing and social media for some time, inspired by my privileged involvement in two ventures. The first was Cristina Costa’s PhD entitled Participatory Web in the Context of Academic Research: Landscapes of Change and Conflicts. I learned so much from listening and talking to Cristina as she planned, conducted and wrote up her research. The second venture was my involvement as (then) co-editor in the move of the ALT journal Research in Learning Technology to Open Access publishing (including the entire archive). In the editorial of the first open access issue, we said

By attending to, and even influencing, the emergent practices of our members (as well as authors and other researchers) as ALT introduces innovations, we can continue to exploit the opportunities presented by the openness and web presence of articles in Research in Learning Technology. The read/write web, as represented by blogs and social networking services such as Twitter and Google+, offers the potential to develop conversation and interest around our articles, and thereby promoting their use.

That seems very relevant to my current reflections, since I find my own practices to be emergent, with rapid change having occurred in the last week.

Encouraging engagement via Social Media

On 13 Feb 2015, Jenny Mackness and I had a paper published in Open Praxis  an open access journal. Conscious that we wanted to maximise the impact of the fruits of our labour and that of the participants who supplied such rich data, we considered briefly how best to share it . We shared the (open) link to the paper on Twitter, including the hash tags for rhizo14 and rhizo15. Open Praxis use Twitter to market their activity. They stream their own tweets on their web page, and have some means of picking up occurrence of their links in Twitter that they then helpfully retweet including authors’ handles where they know them. On reflection, it occurs to me that it would be really helpful for connectivity purposes for (willing) authors to include their Twitter handles within the paper, and for a share button to be next to the paper that could include author twitter handles when the link to the paper is shared. I don’t know of any journals do this. I have checked out a few publishers and whilst some enable creation of post that links to paper, the twitter post often exceeds 140 characters and included publisher rather than authors’ handles. These look like devices for marketing rather than scholarly engagement.
We decided to blog the publication of the article at Frances’ blog and later at Jenny’s blog and the comment streams are evidence of rich engagement with the paper. We have used the posts to link to activity on Twitter and elsewhere. For example, the very wonderful Laura Goglia decided, on the spur of the moment, to live tweet her reading of our paper (we recorded this via storify) and she blogged the experience too.
Twitter was a very useful way of sharing and commenting around the paper. One less positive (for me) use of Twitter was a reader who used Direct Messages to quiz me about aspects behind the paper ( 17 messages in less than 30 minutes). I suggested redirection to the blog.
During the live tweet there was a playful suggestion that what the paper needed was a hashtag but perhaps this turns out to be something worth deciding at the start (possibly even including within the article as a keyword). We used Storify to capture the chat around Laura’s live tweet of the blog post.

Rhizo14’s most active space is the semi-permeable Facebook group that has a membership of 320 of whom a small proportion are active.  Typically, longer threads will engage ten or more people but one has a sense of not so much an invisible audience, but rather an unnoticed audience. We had not directly posted our paper to the Facebook group but two threads emerged around a link to the paper. The first was started by a positive comment and fizzled out fairly quickly. The second thread was introduced by a comment raising doubts about the extent of ethical obligation of the leader of a voluntary extra-institutional cMOOC like Rhizo14, and ran on to include some other concerns about the paper. post by Rebecca Hogue that was actually about her planned blogging course but I mistakenly thought was about the rhizo14 cMOOC.  I engaged in both threads, trying to respond to points about the paper as they were made. It was strange – I had been active (less so in recent months) on this Facebook group for over a year but I came to feel that my presence as author (particularly in the second thread) wasn’t helping the discussion that people wanted to have (see my comments on cognitive dissonance). Eventually one participant expressed that they felt that I was categorising them and lecturing them. I was mystified by the first point but reread the thread and could see that my contributions could be seen as having ‘lecture-like’ attributes. I was speaking about collaborative work with Jenny on which I had spent many hours, and unsurprisingly my contributions were in an authoritative register that was probably out of place in the context of this particular Facebook group, for some participants at least.

So what are the outcomes of my reflection?

  • there are positive links between open access and social media
  • open access publishers can and do support the dissemination of articles using social media and this can increase the readership of articles
  • publishers and authors could investigate the possibilities of using social media to create engagement with the article that could more easily include authors themselves (if that is what authors want)
    consider creating a hashtag for an article that can be used to tag it and aggregate discussion around it
  • it can be useful for authors to blog the publication of an article, enabling dialogue and using this as a hub to link to other direct and curated interactions around the article
  • Twitter has many affordances for supporting sharing and commenting around articles but DM was less useful from my point of view
  • in future I would not directly engage with discussion of our work in the Rhizo14 Facebook group as my engagement seemed to be of little use to the group participants or to me

PLE Conference 2012 Unkeynote 1

Antonio de Figuerido and Frances Bell were invited to give the opening unkeynote at the PLE 2012 ConferenceMe and my network at the University of Aveiro, Portugal on 10 July.   We hope that the resources we provide here and elsewhere might become part of our PLEs. Conference participants and other interested parties were invited to submit questions in advance, and these were shared so that everyone was able to read and reflect on the questions prior to the unkeynote itself. Here were the first questions submitted, and by the start of the Conference this list had become much longer.  The questions were projected at the Aveiro session, and the Melbourne were supposed to have the session streamed but in the end had to come in via Skype so I am not sure what their experience was.  Anyway, they went off for tapas that looked delicious.  The Twitterstream was very active, as it has been throughout the conference.

The questions were projected to participants from show at and the audience came up with some fascinating responses.  Here is my attempt to draw out the themes raised in participant discussion around the questions.

The what

Early in the discussion, Antonio identified that the ontological question of what is a PLE?  does not seem to have been resolved.  Later on, someone suggested that we shouldn’t try to achieve an agreed definition, being better served by alternative perspectives in our exploration what we can do with PLEs.

The when

Time came up as an issue in many of the responses with the attractiveness of a PLE being the ‘just in time’ nature of its support being attractive for many PLE owners.  However, this did not entirely rule the possibility of ‘just in case’ learning (often a feature of more traditional learning) being enacted in people’s PLEs.

The who

There was discussion of ownership of PLEs – student/ teacher/ institution. When we were exploring Q3 where George asked if PLE was something you did or something you had, participants raised  the issue of identity – that the PLE is us and each of us is our network.

The why

Suggestions for why we might promote the use of PLEs by learners included:

Challenging learners’ views of what learning is

Formalising informal learning

Acknowledging informal learning in formal education

The how

Helping learners to choose and use technologies/tools effectively

Modelling learning behaviours that students can emulate – this tied in with the welcome to the introduction by Prof Antonio Moreira, the Director of the Department of Education.  He talked about historic shifts in teacher training from ‘sitting with Nelly’, through formal training, and back to learning by observing using PLEs.

There was discussion around the relative (un)importance of which tools we used and how they link together in networks of tools, people and resources.

The in-betweens

Emerging from discussion of all of the above was the relational aspects how they impact on and change each other.  Rather than technology determining social and cultural factors, participants were acknowledging that all three were changing each other.  This was especially evident in a rich discussion of ecologies of PLEs, and the emergent patterns that become visible rather than the (mythical) achievement of planned objectives.


This was my reflection and interpretation of the themes I saw emerging from the questions and answers in our unkeynote – but you will all have your own reflections that I hope you will share and explore via comments here, Twitter, face to face discussions, etc.

Post Script

Terminology is always a bugbear and definitions can stifle debate and discussion but one terminological issue struck me as I listened to the discussion.  There was a lot of talk about tools, and my personal view is regarding Twitter, Facebook, etc. as tools can conceal as much as it reveals.  For me these are (constantly morphing) services, on which and across which we can ‘do’ our PLEs.  The focus on service can emphasise ‘free’ and paid for services, and help draw out who is serving whom and who is paying for what.  A tool seems like something we can pick up and put down, but a service can give us a resource that may be ephemeral (like the paying advertisers receive from Facebook) or the service we provide (in return for ‘free’ use of Facebook) can result in persistent data about us over which we have lost control.  But maybe that’s another unkeynote;)

Comparing two publication channels – academic journals and blogs

Henry Jenkins by Tamaleaver CC by 2.0
Henry Jenkins by Tamaleaver CC by 2.0
Journals on shelves
Journals by Bezanson CC by 2.0



I am going to throw out a few initial ideas about comparing academic journals and blogs as publication channels, as a kick off to a writing project I’ll be doing with Cristina Costa.

Let me start by saying that it is very difficult to generalise about either academic journals or blogs as channels since they are each in a state of flux, changing and interpreted differently  by different users and audiences. This post has been provoked by recent discussion on peer review and journals within my (albeit limited) network.  The issues that interest me are:

  • development of research and writing
  • the role of peer review and editing
  • dissemination of research

Obviously, I will be collaborating with Cristina and we will both improving our review of the literature to find what is already known on the subject.

development of research and writing

Blogs can play a role in the development of academic writing.  An author can try out ideas and get feedback.  I have tried this myself  (but can’t point to the posts as they are sadly lost) on a paper I wrote for Networked Learning 2010.  Also I recall a learning developer who posted successive drafts of an essay on their blog in response to readers’ feedback (would love the link to this if anyone has it). I think the intention of this was to reveal the sometimes messy journey of writing rather than to recommend this as a method of writing.

I see writing as a process with a product that emerges from privacy to publication with more eyes seeing and commenting along the way. A tweet may take only a minute to write but increasingly this text is wraparound/trigger to click a link to another text /multimedia artifact such as a blog post or video created over a much longer period.

There are different styles of blogging and plenty of tips on how to do it and writing for different audiences is very useful for an author’s toolkit.

Writing an article for a scholarly journal is likely to be a much more lengthy process with commenting and revisions emerging from the exchanges between authors, reviewers and editor(s) not all which are ‘public’ in the sense the article itself is.  The process for rejected articles is private with no publication endpoint. Journals with a commitment to the development of their authors will try to ensure that peer review is as much about development as about selection/ rejection.  I am interested in the role that blogging and other social media can play in writing development.

the role of peer review and editing

Journal peer review can be double blind (where neither reviewer nor authors are known to each other – though it is sometimes possible for them to guess each others’ identities); single blind where the reviewers know the authors’ identities but they remain anonymous to authors.  Usually peer review remains a relatively private exchange with comments and responses sent by email.  Different levels and types of openness are possible.  JIME, Journal of Interactive Media Education conducted very interesting dialogic review  and I am interested to research into evaluations of that and similar approaches.  I do know that reviewing can help writers develop, and that editing has had an impact on my reviewing and my writing.

I was also interested in Alan Cann’s experiment with open review but  think that much more work needs to be done to tease out more and less effective methods of using feedback to develop writing. I am not at all convinced by Doug Belshaw’s linkage of transparency to better in relation to peer review (see last sentence).

With blogs, comments are usually (but not always) invited and open, but may be moderated by the blog owner who may choose to reject comments e.g. spam comments.  The blog owner has quite a few powers at his/her discretion moderation, deletion, opening/closing comments. You could say they are their own editor – as they make the decision on publication of post and comments.  Some bloggers (like Seb Schmoller at Fortnightly Mailing ) invite guest contributions that they then edit before publication. So power relations are exercised in both blogs and journals in relation to what is published and how, and in both cases there may be room for more research into how the dimensions of power are operationalised.

dissemination of research

At Research in Learning Technology, we are keen to explore the role of social and other media in disseminating the research articles we publish in our newly Open Access journal.  I have blogged about this here and here .  The joy of Open Access is that every article has a clickable link so we can safely tweet links to articles knowing that all readers can open the article and read some or all of it as they wish. In Actor Network Theory terms, we hope to grow our network of human (readers, authors, etc.) and non-human (articles, web sites, tweets, blog posts, etc.) actants.  And if you wish to read more about ANT you can check this article or this one or this one.


It will be really interesting to see what the literature throws up on journals and blogs as publication channels, and I would also be very grateful for any comments and suggestions that you have to make.  Clearly the openness of processes in writing and publication is worthy of question and shifts in practices should be observed and evaluated to achieve potential benefits of digital publication for readers, authors and others.  Clearly there are cases when openness can help to emancipate but I can’t help but wonder if slavish openness can also have the potential to reinforce existing power differences and may even aid discrimination if not handled carefully.

Increasing the relevance, audience and reach of a scholarly journal

Research in Learning Technology Open Access

In another post I wrote about Research in Learning Technology’s move to Open Access and since then the transition has taken place.

The web site is open for business so authors can submit their papers for consideration.

Our full back catalog is available so researchers and practitioners can search for relevant content knowing that there will be no barriers to them accessing the articles.

We already have some idea of the increase in hits on the web site but the full challenge of increasing the impact of the work of authors, reviewers, editors and others is only just beginning.

Doug Belshaw blogged about this blog post by Dan Meyers and it has really set me thinking about ways to seize the challenge of increasing impact. I should make it clear that I am fully committed to peer review and the need for rigorous research.  However, I think that there are big challenges and opportunities in Open Access publishing within a social media context.

Here are a few ideas:

  • we are thinking about podcasting and webinars around issues and to support authors (and maybe potential reviewers)
  • our work as editors and reviewers is to support authors in producing work that  is relevant, rigorous and readable (this is BIG work)
  • as editors we wish to continue to improve the quality and effectiveness of our editorials
  • we want to consider what other types of content (if any) could improve the journal
  • can blogging bring our work to a wider audience
  • how can we make use of the clickable link of an open access article to include our content in social media conversations about practice and research with learning technologies?

I would love to hear any comments and ideas you have.

Please note: views expressed here are personal and not official policy from Association for Learning Technology

Open Access is a piece for cake for Research in Learning Technology

open access cakes

Research in Learning Technology , the journal for the Association for Learning Technology, is going Open Access from January 2012 (with Rhona Sharpe, I am co-editor of the journal).  ALT’s plans for Open Access publishing have developed over several years, and we are very keen that this move can extend the impact of the journal – gaining us more readers, more authors and more citers.  Just today, I came across this blog post from @melissaterras “What happens when you tweet an Open Access Paper” that is very persuasive of the benefits of Open Access publishing married to institutional repositories.

@A_L_T has developed skills in the use of social media integration of its multiple publication and presentation channels, and openness makes that so much easier.  Typically for ALT, the tendering process was done meticulously and fairly around this time last year, and was even written up and published in ALT’s (Open Access) repository.  The winner of the tender was Co-Action and they have been a pleasure to work with so we are very confident  that our journal can develop and go from strength to strength.  The really great news is that even content that is currently closed will be open from January 2012. Watch this space!

When the web site is launched, we will be sure to splash it over all channels, but I wanted to alert you two publishing opportunities with Research in Learning Technology:

1. Although we have not yet got an upload url, we are eagerly awaiting your copy so please keep writing, writing, writing.  Here are the interim arrangements.  Open Access is such good news for authors especially where the scholarly society (and all the volunteer editors, reviewers and editorial board) invests in the publication and does not expect authors to pay.  We already have all of the copy we need for the the first issue, and some in hand for the second issue but we want to fill Issues 2 and 3, especially as we will be having 4 issues (1 more than previously). Of course, you can always contact Rhona and I for informal advice, if you have any questions.

2. The fourth issue of Research in Learning Technology is a Special Issue on Digital Inclusion and Learning, edited by Profs Jane Seale and William Dutton.  The Call for Papers is here.  This will be a seminal issue – please be part of it.

If you want to get news of this exciting venture, you can follow me @francesbell or @A_L_T on Twitter or watch out on the ALT web site.  Please tell your colleagues about our move to Open Access – we are proud and really rather excited by the opportunities it presents.

A comment on George Siemens post plus a few more comments

I just tried to post this comment on George Siemen’s blog post but not sure it ‘took’ so I am posting it here.

Thanks for this George (I also made a comment over at your slideshow).  One of the reasons that I came into the field of Learning Technology (if indeed it is a field) was to play a part in letting lessons learned in earlier organisational applications of technology benefit what is happening in education.  This requires us to reference disciplines such as Information Systems (my home discipline), Business and Management, as well as Computer Science and Education.
Last year I was the commissioning editor, facilitating a Special Issue of ALT-J edited by 3 significant figures in education and you can see the articles here
You could say that the articles mainly cover additive change but that issue and the whole wealth of research into transforming institutions within a huge business and societal sector like education is a huge challenge.  I agree, we need to broaden our thought (and read around), but also ‘go canny’ as they say in Scotland.  Whatever the future will be, we are unlikely to predict it with accuracy, and will need to nudge our visions along the way.

We at ALT-J are experiencing change, with our name having changed from what sounds a bit like a keyboard shortcut to ‘Research in Learning Technology’, and Research in Learning Technology moving to Open Access publication (without author charges!) from January 2012.  This has been a process of change, with reflection, consideration of options along the way, including publishing back issues in ALT Repository (within copyright agreement) see