In early 20187, building on connections, in some cases friendship, and ideas, a group of women practicing and researching in educational technology launched femedtech – a feminist network for people working in education. It appeared via a Twitter account @femedtech, a hashtag #femedtech and a (now defunct website femedte.ch powered by WordPress) and was very much a volunteer effort. Our early vision for femedte.ch as a conversational space where people operated under their own identities within conversation proved difficult to achieve. Women (and most of our supporters were women) in educational technology, have many goals and challenges, and networking has to be done in the interstices of the daily struggle to do the work, look for the job and be the person who is and who looks after others.
This quote from the recent book created by many staff and students from Edinburgh University (and a few from elsewhere) captures gender inequality present in UK higher education.
The ivory tower, like other stately homes in the UK, might present a grand façade to the world but closer inspection reveals a dark, spidery basement full of inequalities. Men from disadvantaged social backgrounds might never make it to the ivory tower in the first place, and men who do get there are less likely to do well. Women students are more likely than men to suffer from mental health problems and encounter sexual harassment during their university lives, and even as graduates will earn less pay for the work they do during the course of their careers. Women staff are less likely to have permanent contracts, and considerably fewer of them ascend the career staircase of the ivory tower to professorial or senior management levels. Those who do make it there are paid less than men. The occupants of the ivory tower no longer sip port and think deep thoughts. Instead they drink Red Bull and fill in spreadsheets. They work long hours under stress to serve conflicting, crushing governmental agendas of excellence.
Femedtech has persisted in a quiet way on Twitter, and encouraged by support from people like Maren Deepwell, @femedtech and #femedtech have begun to grow by sharing the task of curating them for a two week slot. So why don’t you check out femedtech on Twitter, and think about whether you would like join in by reading, tweeting, re-tweeting or curating?
#Femedtech is a hashtag on Twitter that can link feminists who practice in education technology (and that is an expansive category) and who have an interest in supporting each other and how things might be different.
Here is something you can do today and in the future – please tweet (including #femedtech) links to :
resources and examples that help us wrangle the tech in a feminist sort of way
research that casts a feminist perspective on learning technology
The week before OER17, I had responded to a request from #101openstories (still time for you to add yours too). In writing my open story, I realised that I became open, in the sense that it is generally meant within OER/Open Access/ Open Education Practice/ Open Pedagogy, by accident.
Writing my story, reading posts and commenting all added to my personal reflections on what open meant for me in my own practice as an educator and as a learner. I am not really interested in getting into a definition war about open – I am more interested in the relationship between the theory and practice of openness, and for me that predates my use of the Internet in education. One OER17 presentation that was particularly relevant to this issue for me was this one by Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewycz. Putting critical pragmatism in a reflexive relationship with advocacy is a powerful contribution, and leaves space for us to explore broader and older ideas. Viv Rolfe gave a presentation entitled Open but not for criticism at Opened16, and Dave Kernohan stressed the need to a community of practice to operate in part as a shared history of that practice (in order to combat ahistoricity) in his Opened15 presentation.
Eventually, I realised that #101openstories, David Wiley’s blog post were focused around #YearofOpen so I explored that site, interested to see that more active education was a claim for open pedagogy.
Around the same time Maha Bali, who also has a post at the Year of Open site, invited me to a hangout to discuss What is Open Pedagogy?. I was honoured to be invited but I am not a huge fan of Google Hangouts, and I think Maha understands that. The question of how we explore the meaning and practice of open in education is an interesting one and fortunately won’t be answered in the next two days 🙂
So distilled from my reflection and recent reading and thinking, here is my contribution to the #YearofOpen in the area of open in practice.
When I was commenting on on Tannis Morgan’s post I referred to the problematic nature of what I called Ground Zero approaches to Open. Afterwards, I was slightly worried that the use of the term Ground Zero might have been offensive in the light of its use in the context of the destruction of the World Trade Centre so I was relieved to find that it had a pre-existing meaning, as I had thought. I was very pleased to see the exemplar given for meaning 2 , a starting point or base for an activity ‘if you’re starting at ground zero in terms of knowledge, go to the library’.
Some writers like Tannis do look back in the literature to explore meanings of open in education prior to the Internet age. Because my own educational practice pre-dates the Internet, I thought it would be interesting to look back to see if I could find some of the sources that influenced my own HE philosophy/pedagogy in the late 1980s/ early 1990s https://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?q=Open+Active+Learning&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_yhi=1995 . Apparently a journal changed its name to ‘Open Learning’ in 1986 and there was argument over the misuse of terminology in 1990 so not much has changed. I realised that an important concern for me was the activity of the student, and I was able to incorporate new activities as opportunities for open web learning emerged.
As well as looking back, it’s good to look around too . I have worked with many colleagues who would be reluctant to openly share their resources according to 5 or even 6…. 25 Rs but would be open practitioners according to a less stringent orthodoxy. In terms of the scholarly literature, an example of something that fails the 5Rs but is hugely valuable source for theorising and practicing openness is the excellent Learning, Media & Technology Special Issue edited by Sian Bayne, Jen Ross and Jeremy Knox http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cjem20/40/3?nav=tocList . Only one of articles is ‘open access’ but several of the others are available as pre-prints or by ingenuity via one’s network. Does that mean that the wealth of knowledge available by reading and discussing the articles should be excluded from consideration of OER and open educational practice. I don’t think so. I have been very pleased to some of the work cited in the OER community, notably in Catherine Cronin’s OER16 keynote but I always hope to see more crossover.
So I am recommending a healthy suspicion of Ground Zero approaches to Open (Pedagogy). For me they tend to suggest that we ignore what has gone before, and require signing up to tightly defined rules (that may change in future). Why should we be suspicious of these approaches? Firstly, the unenlightened who refuse, for example, to sign up to a particular version of a CC license may have a good reason for their decision, and why should it be imposed upon them? If we exclude people and their rich, lived educational practices, we may fail to learn from them as well as them learning from us. Can we afford to exclude valuable knowledge that falls outside the parameters of our particular ground zero?
We may need to look beyond what we see as our community, and go the the library.
I’ll be watching this at 9 p.m. BST today and on #YearofOpen hash tag on Twitter – maybe see you there?
I am a newbie to OER conferences, and #OER16 was the first I attended. It was fun, informative and helped me move forward my ideas about Open Education. I loved it, and live blogged and blogged quite a few keynotes and sessions.
If Open Education is something you do or plan to do, why not consider registering for OER17 . The theme is The Politics of Open, a topic that becomes more relevant by the day. The Conference Chairs Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski were prescient in their choice of theme and today a session was announced that will provoke lively discussion
Reading posts on variations of Creative Commons licensing by Alan Levine, Doug Belshaw , and Maha Bali really made me think about our practices of licensing, copyrighting and attributing creative works, particularly of what we share as ‘knowledge’. Alan describes the various CC licenses he has used for his photos on Flickr, and the trials and tribulations he encounters in trying to apply CC0 to all of his images on Flickr. I had to check what CC0 was:
” Once the creator or a subsequent owner of a work applies CC0 to a work, the work is no longer his or hers in any meaningful sense under copyright law. Anyone can then use the work in any way and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, subject to other laws and the rights others may have in the work or how the work is used. Think of CC0 as the “no rights reserved” option.” Creative Commons FAQ
Doug Belshaw explains why he has applied CC0 to all of his work (including his doctoral thesis) that is under his control. Maha Bali, whilst acknowledging that CC licenses can be ignored, reveals how her approach to licence choice is contextual.
Thinking about my own practice, I publish this blog as CC BY-NC and try to publish my research writing in Open Access journals. Having said that, the last two articles I wrote with colleagues as I was retiring were published in closed journals, since those were the most beneficial for my co-authors still subject, unlike myself, to the Research Excellence Framework. So my approach to copyright and licensing is also contextual. If asked do you publish openly? my answer would have to be – Yes, but it depends.
I am always interested in looking at historical accounts to try to understand innovation. Bijker(1995) was one of my teaching resources, with the story of the emergence of the popular style of the bicycle being a good classroom story to explore. Audrey Watters has argued powerfully that 21st Century ‘innovators’ in Educational Technology ignore/distort history in an attempt to big up their products and services.
Then I remembered reading about 19th century industrial innovations that relied on sharing rather than protection and secrecy. In looking for this, I didn’t find my original reading but instead found a very interesting article about the Cornish Pumping Engine (Nuvolari 2004). Nuvolari contrasts the ‘heroic narrative’ where individuals are credited with inventions with ‘collective invention’, an incremental approach where the contributions of individuals can remain anonymous. For example, we all ‘know’ that James Watt invented the ‘modern’ steam engine that helped to bring about the Industrial Revolution. Nuvolari’s case study examines what happened in Cornwall, a remote area of England, in the 19th century mining industry which had memories of a bad experience in the last quarter of the 18th century with the more fuel-efficient patented Watt steam engines, needed to address flooding in their mines. The business model that Boulton & Watt established with Cornish mine adventurers was royalties based on hypothetical fuel efficencies of the Watt engine as compared with the earlier Newcomen engine. This model was unsatisfactory to the mine adventurers not only for business and economic reasons but also because Boulton and Watt’s refusal to license the design prevented Cornish engineers from improving the engines to suit local circumstances. Watt’s patent hampered engine innovation in Cornwall (and elsewhere) and the 19th century started with a dearth of progress.
“This situation lasted until 1811, when a group of mine “captains” (mine managers) decided to begin the publication of a monthly journal reporting the salient technical characteristics, the operating procedures and the performance of each engine. The explicit intention was twofold. First the publication would permit the rapid individuation and diffusion of best-practice techniques.
Secondly, it would create a climate of competition among the engineers entrusted with the different pumping engines, with favourable effects on the rate of technical progress.“
Lean’s Engine Reporter continued until 1904 and was accompanied by a steady improvement in the thermodynamic efficency of Cornish engines. Cornish adventurers were driven by pragmatism rather than an ideological attachment to open knowledge. I can recommend reading Nuvolari’s case study as it questions the standard historical account of the ‘golden boys’ role in the Industrial Revolution and the role of patents in stimulating innovation, and draws attention instead to innovation’s incremental, anonymous reality that occurred in a variety of social, geographical, legal and economic circumstances.
Nuvolari also hints at the central nature of patents with frequency increasing with proximity to the Patents Office.
So what have I learned?
I have already started to think about the personal is political in relation to Open Educational Practice, and have long observed (from my gendered lens) restricted narratives and dialogues even within open educational communities , see this post from 2011. Cornish mine adventurers had pragmatic reasons for challenging patents and promoting competition between engineers, and will no doubt have operated within class structures. If we want to promote Open Education that challenges structural inequalities of class, gender and race, we need to acknowledge these inequalities and be alert to where heroic narratives obscure structure inequalities in the cause of ‘innovation’ and profit.