sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘conferences’ Category

notes on being the chainsaw you wish to see in the world: Closing remarks for the AERA 2010 annual meeting

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 6, 2010

I just got back from my first trip to the annual meeting of AERA, the American Educational Research Association. AERA is apparently the biggest educational research conference in America. I had a fantastic time (highlight: I got to have dinner with Jim Gee!) and my presentation went well (highlight: I argued with the panel’s discussant over why thinking about gender inequity isn’t enough if you’re not also thinking about class inequity!), and I don’t think I made too much of a fool out of myself.

I really enjoyed my first trip to this conference, though when I got home I learned from others that there are significant challenges to be made about the structure, format, and ethos of AERA. I am coming around to that way of thinking and will post my thoughts on this soon.
For now, though, I want to share with you the paper I had to writereallyfast when I got back from the conference. It’s a final paper for a course on computational technologies, and because I was thinking about AERA, social justice, and why the conference’s biggest events mostly featured staid, mainstream thinkers, I decided to write the paper as closing remarks for the conference. I am sure that once the AERA organizers read my closing remarks, they will invite me to deliver next year’s closing remarks in person. I am also available to deliver opening remarks and keynote addresses.

Notes on being the chainsaw you wish to see in the world: On a critical computational literacy agenda for a time of great urgency
Closing Remarks for the AERA Annual Meeting
Jenna McWilliams, Indiana University
May 4, 2010

I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak this evening, at the close of this year’s annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

I want to talk to you tonight about the nature of urgency.

Because urgency characterizes the work we do, doesn’t it? The education of our children—our efforts to prepare them to join in on this beautiful and necessary project of naming and claiming the world—it is certainly a matter of the deepest urgency. Even more so because of the war being waged over the bodies and minds of our children.

It’s a war whose contours are deeply familiar to many of us—more so the longer we have been a part of this struggle over education. Certainly the issues we’re fighting over have limned the edges of our educational imagination for generations: How do we know what kids know? How can we prepare them for success in their academic, vocational, and life pursuits? What should schools look like, and how can we fill our schools up with qualified teachers who can do their jobs well? No matter what else, then, at least we’re continuing to ask at least some of the right questions.

Yet a deeper than normal sense of urgency has characterized this year’s annual meeting. It was a “hark ye yet again” sort of urgency: We stood, once again, on a knife’s edge, waiting for word of legislative decisions to be passed down from the policymakers—among whom there are very few educational researchers—to the researchers—among whom there are very few policymakers.

And what sorts of decisions were we waiting to hear on? The same sorts we’ve been wringing our hands over for a decade or more: Decisions over the standardization of education. Development of a proposed set of Common Core Standards whose content seemed painfully anemic to many of us. We’re waiting to learn whether teacher pay will be linked to student performance on standardized tests. Massive budget cuts leading to termination of teachers and programs—these certainly feel familiar to us, though the scope of these cuts and the potential consequences of these decisions seem to loom larger than ever before. The decision by the Texas Department of Education to pervert and politicize its K-12 curriculum by removing references to historical events and even terminology that might offend members of the political Right-—the specifics are new, but the story feels familiar.

A call to action was paired with the clanging of the alarm bells. Ernest Morrell told us that he had counseled his kids to prepare presentations that not only described their work and achievements but that also included a call to action. “I told them, ’Don’t let them leave this room without marching orders’,” he said. “We need to do better. AERA needs to do better.”

He’s right, of course. And I plan to heed Ernest’s advice and not let you leave this room without your marching orders. But first I want to explore the edges of this new urgency, explain why critical computational literacy is part and parcel of the urgency of this moment, and explain exactly what I mean by the term.

There are at least two reasons for the acuteness of the urgency that has characterized this year’s AERA conference. The first is that many of us had hoped for something more, something better, something more honorable from the Obama administration. After eight years living in a political wasteland, many of us felt a glee all out of proportion with reality upon hearing Barack Obama’s position on educational issues. We felt hope. Even a warm half cup of water can feel like a long, tall drink when you’ve just walked out of a desert.

It’s a long revolution, you know. And if Obama authorizes something that looks very much like No Child Left Behind, and if he mandates merit pay based on student performance on standardized tests, and if the recent changes made by the religious right to the Texas state history curriculum stand, and if school board nationwide continue to make terrible, terrible decisions about how to cut costs, and if we see the largest teacher layoff in our history and class sizes creep up to 40 students per room and if computers get taken over by test prep programs and remedial tutoring systems, well, we’ll do our best to live to fight another day. The other day, I listened to Jim Gee talking about his deep anger at the people who run our education system. But he also said something we should all take to heart: “I’ll fight them until I’m dead,” he said. Let’s embrace this position. If they want to claim the hearts and minds of our children, let’s make it so they do it over our cold, dead bodies.

Let’s not let ourselves begin to believe that the stakes are any lower than they actually are. This is the second reason for the urgency this year: There is the very real prospect that the decisions we make within our educational system will get taken up by education departments across the globe. Around 30 of us attended an early-morning session called “Perspectives From the Margins: Globalization, Decolonization, and Liberation.” The discussants, Michael Apple and Dave Stovall, spoke with great eloquence about the nature of this urgency. You’ll forgive me for secretly recording and then transcribing a piece of each of their talks here.

Michael Apple, responding to a powerful presentation on rural science education by researcher Jeong-Hee Kim and teacher-researcher Deb Abernathy, spoke of the far-reaching implications of the local decisions we make:

As we sit here, I have people visiting me from China. They are here to study No Child Left Behind, and they are here to study performance pay. All of the decisions we make that that principal and Deb and you are struggling against are not just struggles in the United States, they are truly global—so that the decisions we make impact not just the kids in the rural areas of the United State, but the rural areas of the people who are invisible, the same people who deconstruct our computers.

Dave Stovall, from the University of Illinois in Chicago, underscored the need to think of the global implications of the policy decisions that intersect within the realm of education:

Arizona is Texas is Greece is Palestine is where we are. This day and time is serious. When a person in Texas cannot say the world capitalism in a public school, we live in serious times. When a person in Arizona can be taken out of a classroom at five years old, to never return, we live in serious times. When we can rationalize in the state of Illinois and city of Chicago that having 5 grams of heroin on a person accounts for attempted murder, we’re living in different times. When we can talk about in Palestine that young folks have now been deemed the most violent threat to the Israeli state, we’re living in different times. And now, how do we engage and interrupt those narratives based again on the work we do?

These times are different and serious, and talking about critical computational literacy may make me look a little like Nero with his fiddle. But critical computational literacy, or indeed its paucity in our education system, is the dry kindling that keeps Rome burning.

I’ll explain why. Let’s talk for a minute about another Apple, the electronics company Apple Corp. The year 2010 marked the release of Apple’s iPad, a tablet computer designed as a multipurpose information and communication tool. Despite mixed reviews of its usability and features, records show an estimated 500,000 units sold between pre-orders and purchases in the first week after the iPad’s release.

This has been accompanied by a push for consideration of the iPad’s utility for education, especially higher education, with schools working to develop technical support for iPad use on campus and at least one university, Seton Hall, promising to provide all incoming freshmen with iPads along with Macbooks. One question—-how might the iPad transform education?-—has been the topic of conversation for months.

“The iPad,” crowed Neil Offen in the Herald-Sune (2010), “could be more than just another way to check your e-mail or play video games. It has the potential to change the way teachers teach and students learn.”

Certainly, these conversations reflect a positive shift in attitudes about what comprises literacy in the 21st Century. If you attended the fantastic symposium on Sunday called “Leveraging What We Know: A Literacy Agenda for the 21st Century,” you heard from the panelists a powerfully persuasive argument that “literacy” is no longer simple facility with print media. Indeed, facility with print media may still be necessary, but it’s no longer sufficient. As the emergence of the iPad, the Kindle, and similar literacy tools make evident, the notion of “text” has become more aligned with Jay Lemke’s (2006) description of “multimedia constellations”—loose groupings of hypermediated, multimodal texts that exist “not just in the imagination of literary theorists, but in simple everyday fact” (pg. 4). Add to this the ongoing contestation of the tools we use to access and navigate those constellations of social information, and the urgency of a need to shift how we approach literacy becomes increasingly obvious.

As anyone who works in the literacy classroom knows, this is by no means a simple task. This task is complicated even further by the dark side of this new rhetoric about literacy: There’s a technological determinism hiding in there, an attitude that suggests an educational edition of Brave New Worldism. Offen’s celebration of the iPad aligns with the approach of Jeremy Roschelle and his colleagues (2000), who a decade ago trumpeted the transformative potential of a range of new technologies. In explaining that “certain computer-based applications can enhance learning for students at various achievement levels,” they offer descriptions of
promising applications for improving how and what children learn. The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ are separated because not only can technology help children learn things better, it also can help them learn better things” (pg. 78, emphasis mine).

More recently, the media scholar Henry Jenkins (2006) described the increasingly multimodal nature of narratives and texts as “convergence culture.” As corporate and private interests, beliefs, and values increasingly interact through cheaper, more powerful and more ubiquitous new technologies, Jenkins argues, our culture is increasingly defined by the collision of media platforms, political ideologies, and personal affinities. Jenkins celebrates the emergence of this media convergence, arguing that “(i)n the world of media convergence, every important story gets told, every brand gets sold, and every consumer gets courted across multiple media platforms” (pg. 3).

Brave new world, indeed. But there is reason to wear a raincoat to this pool party, as a cursory examination of the developing “Apple culture” of electronics confirms. The iPad, celebrated as a revolution in personal computing, communication, and productivity—and marketed as an essential educational tool—is a tool with an agenda. The agenda is evident in Apple’s decision to block the educational visual programming software Scratch: Though Apple executives have claimed that applications like Scratch may cause the iPad to crash, others argue that the true motivation behind this decision is to block a tool that supports media production. The Scratch application allows users to build new applications for the iPad, which Bruckman (2010) suggests goes far beyond Apple’s unstated interest in designing its products primarily for media consumption.

There is no closest competitor to the iPad, so users who want to leverage the convenience, coolness, and computing power of this product must resign themselves to the tool Apple provides. Similarly, as Apple develops its growing monopoly in entertainment (iPods), communications (iPhone), and portable computing (Macbook), Apple increasingly has the power to decide what stories to tell, and why, and how.

Now let’s go back to the other Apple, Michael Apple, who argues quite convincingly about the colonization of the space of the media by the political right wing (2006). We have, he argues, politicians deciding what we pay attention to, and we have corporations deciding how we pay attention to it. This makes the need for critical computational literacy even more important than ever before. Perhaps it’s more important than anything else, though I’ll leave that to the historians to decide.

What is this thing I’m calling “critical computational literacy”? Since I’m almost the only person using this term, I want to start by defining it. It has its roots in computational literacy, which in itself bears defining. Andy diSessa (2001) cautions us against confusing computational literacy with “computer literacy,” which he describes as being able to do things like turning on your computer and operating many of its programs. His definition of computational literacy, he explains, makes computer literacy look “microscopic” in comparison (p. 5). For him, computational literacy is a “material intelligence” that is “achieved cooperatively with external materials” (p. 6).

This is a good start in defining computational literacy but probably still not enough. And please do remember that I will not let you leave this room without marching orders; and if I want you to know what to do, I have to finish up the definition. Let’s add to diSessa’s definition a bit of the abstraction angle given to us by Jeanette Wing (2008), who shifts the focus slightly to what she labels “computational thinking.” She describes this as

a kind of analytical thinking. It shares with mathematical thinking in the general ways in which we might approach solving a problem. It shares with engineering thinking in the general ways in which we might approach designing and evaluating a large, complex system that operates within the constraints of the real world. It shares with scientific thinking in the general ways in which we might approach understanding computability, intelligence, the mind and human behaviour. (pg. 3716)

For Wing, the essential component of computational thinking is working with abstraction, and she argues that an education in computational thinking integrates the “mental tool” (capacity for working with multiple layers of abstraction) with the “metal tool” (the technologies that support engagement with complex, abstract systems).

So. We have diSessa’s “material intelligence” paired with Wing’s “computational thinking”—a fair enough definition for my purposes. But what does it look like? That is, how do we know computational literacy when we see it?

The answer is: it depends. Though we have some nice examples that can help make visible what this version of computational literacy might look like. Kylie Peppler and Yasmin Kafai (2007), who by the way have a new book out on their work with the Computer Clubhouse project (you can buy a copy up at the book fair), offer instructive examples of children working with Scratch. Jorge and Kaylee, their two case studies, are learners who make creative use of a range of tools to build projects that extend, as far as their energy and time will allow, the boundaries of what is possible to make through a simple visual programming language. Bruce Sherin, Andy diSessa, and David Hammer (1993) give an example of their work with Dynaturtle to advance a theory of “design as a learning activity”; in their example, learners work with the Boxer programming language to concretize abstract thought.

Certainly, these are excellent examples of computational literacy in action. But I would like to humbly suggest that we broaden our understanding of this term far beyond the edges of programming. Computational literacy might also be a form of textual or visual literacy, as learners develop facility with basic html code and web design. It might be the ability to tinker—to actually, physically tinker, with the hardware of their electronics equipment. This is something that’s typically frowned upon, you know. Open up your Macbook or your iPhone and your warranty is automatically null and void. This is not an accident; this is part of the black box approach of electronics design that I described earlier.

Which leads me to the “critical” component of computational literacy. This is no time for mindless tinkering; we are faced with a war whose terms have been defined for us by members of the political Right, and whose battles take place through tools and technologies whose uses have been defined for us by corporate interests. Resistance is essential. In the past, those who resisted the agendas of software designers and developers were considered geeks and freaks; they were labeled “hackers” and relegated to the cultural fringes (Kelty 2008). Since then, we have seen an explosion in access to and affordability of new technologies, and the migration to digitally mediated communication is near-absolute. The penetration of these technologies among young people is most striking: (include statistics). Suddenly, the principles that make up the “hacker ethos” (Levy, 1984) take on new significance for all. Suddenly, principles that drove a small subset of our culture seem more like universal principles that might guide cultural takeup of new technologies:

  • Access to computers—and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works—should be unlimited and total.
  • All information should be free.
  • Mistrust authority—promote decentralization.
  • Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position.
  • You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  • Computers can change your life for the better. (Levy 1984)

If these principles seem overtly ideological, overtly libertarian, that’s because they are. And I’m aware that in embracing these principles I run the risk of alienating a fairly significant swath of my audience. But there’s no time for gentleness. This is no time to hedge. I believe, as Michael Apple and Dave Stovall and Rich Ayers and others have argued persuasively and enthusiastically, that we are fighting to retrieve the rhetoric of education from the very brink. It’s impossible to fight a political agenda with an apolitical approach. We must fight now for our very future.

That’s the why. Now I’d like to tackle the how. If we want our kids to emerge from their schooling experience with the mindset of critical computational literacy, we need to first focus on supporting development of critical computational literacy in our teachers. They, too, are subject to all of the pressures I listed earlier, and add to the mix at least one more: They are subject to the kind of rhetoric that Larry Cuban (1986) reminds us has characterized talk of bringing new technologies into the classroom since at least the middle of the 20th century. As he researched the role of technologies like radio, film, and television in schools, he described the challenges of even parsing textual evidence of technologies’ role:

Television was hurled at teachers. The technology and its initial applications to the classroom were conceived, planned, and adopted by nonteachers, just as radio and film had captured the imaginations of an earlier generation of reformers interested in improving instructional productivity…. Reformers had an itch and they got teachers to scratch it for them. (p. 36)

This certainly hearkens, does it not, of the exhortation of Jeremy Roschelle and his colleagues? I repeat:

promising applications for improving how and what children learn. The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ are separated because not only can technology help children learn things better, it also can help them learn better things.

Teachers are also faced with administrators who say things like these quotes, taken from various online conversations about the possible role of the iPad in education.

I absolutely feel the iPad will revolutionize education. I am speaking as an educator here. All it needs are a few good apps to accomplish this feat.

Tablets will change education this year and in the future because they align neatly with the goals and purposes of education in a digital age.

And finally, the incredibly problematic:

As an educational administrator for the last eleven years, and principal of an elementary school for the past seven…after spending three clock hours on the iPad, it is clearly a game changer for education.

Three hours. Three hours, and this administrator is certain that this, more than any previous technology, will transform learning as we know it. Pity the teachers working at his school, and let’s hope that when the iPad gets hurled at them they know how to duck.

We must prepare teachers to resist. We must prepare them to make smart, sound decisions about how to use technologies in the classroom and stand tall in the face of outside pressures not only from political and corporate interests but from well-meaning administrators and policymakers as well. There is a growing body of evidence that familiarity with new tools is—just like print literacy—necessary but not sufficient for teachers in this respect.

There is evidence, however, that experience with new technologies when paired with work in pedagogical applications of those technologies can lead to better decision-making in the classroom. I recommend the following three-part battle plan:

First, we need to start building a background course in new media theory and computational thinking into our teacher education programs. My home institution, Indiana University, requires exactly one technology course, and you can see from the description that it does its best to train pre-service teachers in the use of PowerPoint in the classroom:

W 200 Using Computers in Education (1-3 cr.)Develops proficiency in computer applications and classroom software; teaches principles and specific ideas about appropriate, responsible, and ethical use to make teaching and learning more effective; promotes critical abilities, skills, and self-confidence for ongoing professional development.

Fortunately, we can easily swap this course out for one that focuses on critical computational literacy, since the course as designed has little practical use for new teachers.

Second, we need to construct pedagogy workshops that stretch from pre-service to early in-service teachers. These would be designed to support lesson development within a specific domain, so that all English teachers would work together, all Math teachers, all Science teachers, and so on. This could stretch into the early years of a teacher’s service and support the development of a robust working theory of learning and instruction.

Finally, we might consider instituting ongoing collaborative lesson study so that newer teachers can collaborate with veteran teachers across disciplines. I offer this suggestion based on my experience working in exactly this environment over the last year. In this project, teachers meet monthly to discuss their curricula and to share ideas and plan for future collaborative projects. They find it intensely powerful and incredibly useful as they work to integrate computational technologies into their classrooms.

I’m near the end of my talk and would like to finish with a final set of marching orders. If we want to see true transformation, we need first to tend our own gardens. Too often—far, far too far too often—we educational researchers treat teachers as incidental to our interventions. At the risk of seeming like an Apple fanboy, I return once again to the words of Michael Apple, who argued brilliantly this week that it’s time to rethink how we position teachers in our work. We say we want theory to filter down to the “level” of practice; the language of levels, Apple says, is both disingenuous and dangerous. Let’s tip that ladder sideways, he urges us, and he is absolutely correct. We live and work in the service of students first, and teachers second. We should not forget this. We should take care to speak accordingly.

These are your marching orders: To bring the message of critical computational literacy and collaboration during this time of great urgency back to your home institutions, to the sites where you work, to the place where you work shoulder to shoulder with other researchers, practitioners, and students. I urge you to stand and to speak, loudly, and with as much eloquence as you can muster, about the issues of greatest urgency to you. This is no time to speak softly. This is no time to avoid offense. In times of great urgency, it’s not enough to be the change we wish to see in the world; we need to be the chainsaws that we wish to see in the world. That is what I hope you will do when you leave this convention center. Thank you.

References
Apple, M.W. (2006). Educating the “right” way: Markets, standards, God, and inequality. New York: Routledge.
Bruckman, A (2010, April 15). iPhone application censorship (blog post). The next bison: Social computing and culture. Retrieved at http://nextbison.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/iphone-application-censorship/.
Carnoy, M. (2008, August 1). McCain and Obama’s educational policies: Nine things you need to know. The Huffington Post. Retrieved at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/martin-carnoy/mccain-and-obamas-educati_b_116246.html.
Carter, D. (2010, April 5). Developers seek to link iPad with education. eSchool News. Retrieved from http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/04/05/ipad-app-store-has-wide-selection-of-education-options/.
Cuban, L. (1986). Teachers and machines. New York: Teachers College Press.
diSessa, A. A. (2000). Changing minds : Computers, learning, and literacy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kelty, C. (2008). Two bits: The cultural significance of free software. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Kolakowski, N. (2010). Apple iPad, iPhone Expected to Boost Quarterly Numbers. eWeek, April 18, 2010. Retrieved at http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Desktops-and-Notebooks/Apple-iPad-iPhone-Expected-to-Boost-Quarterly-Numbers-825932/.
Korn, M. (2010). iPad Struggles at Some Colleges. Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2010. Retrieved at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703594404575192330930646778.html?mod=WSJ_Tech_LEFTTopNews.
Lemke, J. (2006). Toward Critical Multimedia Literacy: Technology, research, and politics. In M.C. McKenna et al. (Eds.), International handbook of literacy and technology: Volume II. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. (3-14).
Levy, S 1984. Hackers: Heroes of the computer revolution. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday.
McCrae, B. (2010, Jan. 27). Measuring the iPad’s potential for education. T|H|E Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/2010/01/27/measuring-the-ipads-potential-for-education.aspx.
New York Times (2010, March 17). Editorial: Mr. Obama and No Child Left Behind. New York Times Editorial Page. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/opinion/18thu1.html.
Offen, N. (2010, Jan. 28). The iPad and education. The Herald-Sun. Retrieved from http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/5680899/article-The-iPad—education?instance=main_article.
PBS (2010, Jan. 7). How will the iPad change education? PBS TeacherLine Blog. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/teacherline/blog/2010/01/how-will-the-ipad-change-education/.
Peppler, K. A., & Kafai, Y. B. (2007). From SuperGoo to Scratch: exploring creative digital media production in informal learning. Learning, Media and Technology, 32(2), 149-166.
Roschelle, J. M., Pea, R. D., Hoadley, C. M., Gordin, D. N., & Means, B. M. (2000). Changing how and what children learn in school with computer-based technologies. The future of children, 10(2), 76–101.
Sherin, B., DiSessa, A. A., & Hammer, D. M. (1993). Dynaturtle revisited: Learning physics through collaborative design of a computer model. Interactive Learning Environments, 3(2), 91-118.
Smith, E. (2010, April 16). The Texas Curriculum Massacre. Newsweek. Retrieved at http://www.newsweek.com/id/236585.
Wing, J. M. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing. Philosophical Transactions A, 366(1881), 3717-3717.

 

**Update, 5/6/10, 1:09 p.m.: I have changed this post slightly to remove an unfair attack against a presenter at this year’s AERA Annual Meeting. He points out in the comments section below that my attack was unfair, and I agree and have adjusted the post accordingly.
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Posted in academia, computational literacy, conferences, convergence culture, education, graduate school, Henry Jenkins, Jim Gee, Joshua Danish, President Obama, public schools, schools, teaching, Twitter | 7 Comments »

can we defend danah boyd while also wondering if there could have been a better response?

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on November 24, 2009

file under: just about the hardest blogpost I’ve written to date


I just spent a good few hours catching up on the Web 2.0 Expo / danah boyd debacle. You know the one I’m talking about (and if you don’t, you can read about it here, here, and here).

As a quick reminder, boyd gave a keynote at the event last week and by all accounts failed fairly resoundingly, especially given her renown for fantastic presentation style. According to all in attendance (including boyd herself), she spoke too quickly, read from her notes, and struggled to get her points across. If you weren’t in attendance, a video of her presentation is below.

Issues of ethics, good behavior, and bullying aside, I’m most interested in boyd’s response to the event. On her blog, she published a reflection on the event, which alternated between clear-headed analysis of her mistakes and a resentful self-defense.

Now bear with me for a second, because I stand here in absolute defense of boyd against her critics. But I also, because as a young female academic myself I cannot afford not to, want to offer a reflection on boyd’s reflection, which to me felt somewhat overly defensive.

boyd admits that her delivery was fairly bad, but she defends herself with a host of excuses, including the following (all emphases, to highlight points of self-defense, are mine):

Because of the high profile nature of Web2.0 Expo, I decided to write a brand new talk. Personally, I love the challenge and I get bored of giving the same talk over and over and over again. Of course, the stump speech is much more fluid, much more guaranteed. But new talks force folks to think differently and guarantee that I target those who hear me talk often and those who have never seen me talk before.

A week before the conference, I received word from the organizers that I was not going to have my laptop on stage with me. The dirty secret is that I actually read a lot of my talks but the audience doesn’t actually realize this because scanning between my computer and the audience is usually pretty easy. So it doesn’t look like I’m reading. But without a laptop on stage, I have to rely on paper. I pushed back, asked to get my notes on the screen in front of me, but was told that this wasn’t going to be possible. I was told that I was going to have a podium. So I resigned to having a podium. Again, as an academic, I’ve learned to read from podiums without folks fully realizing that I am reading.

When I showed up at the conference, I realized that the setup was different than I imagined. The podium was not angled, meaning that the paper would lie flat, making it harder to read and get away with it. Not good. But I figured that I knew the talk well enough to not sweat it.

I only learned about the Twitter feed shortly before my talk. I didn’t know whether or not it was filtered. I also didn’t get to see the talks by the previous speakers so I didn’t know anything about what was going up on the screen.

When I walked out on stage, I was also in for a new shock: the lights were painfully bright. The only person I could see in the “audience” was James Duncan Davidson who was taking photographs. Otherwise, it was complete white-out. Taken aback by this, my talk started out rough.

Now, normally, I get into a flow with my talks after about 2 minutes. The first two minutes are usually painfully rushed and have no rhythm as I work out my nerves, but then I start to flow. I’ve adjusted to this over the years by giving myself 2 minutes of fluff text to begin with, content that sets the stage but can be ignored. And then once I’m into a talk, I gel with the audience. But this assumes one critical thing: that I can see the audience. I’m used to audiences who are staring at their laptops, but I’m not used to being completely blinded.

All of the above points are undoubtedly true but obscure a crucial point: that even the most stellar academics just sometimes have bad days. This was a bad presentation from a stellar academic, and it should be enough to leave it at that.

The audience should have left it at that, but did not. They treated boyd’s struggle with glee, with an evil, hysterical schadenfreude. So instead of defending herself by explaining how the cards were stacked against her, boyd should have spent her time reviling the spectacularly bad behavior of the keynote audience. This behavior is exemplified through the following tweets, which were broadcast on a screen behind the podium, out of boyd’s range of vision:

This guy, whose profile names him as Doug V, was one of boyd’s most active hecklers. Other chunks of the twitter stream, in which @dugwork was a regular and active participant, included this:

and this:

Then, when the twitter feed was apparently taken off the screen by conference moderators, this:

In her blog reflection, boyd expressed anger and frustration, and rightfully so: this was bullying at its most despicable.

There’s also, as boyd herself points out, a gender dynamic to this kind of bullying. She refers to the hecklers as the tech version of 12-year-old boys with whiteboards. She asks:

what’s with the folks who think it’s cool to objectify speakers and talk about them as sexual objects? The worst part of backchannels for me is being forced to remember that there are always guys out there who simply see me as a fuckable object. Sure, writing crass crap on public whiteboards is funny… if you’re 12. But why why why spend thousands of dollars to publicly objectify women just because you can? This is the part that makes me angry.

I parsed the archived twitter stream, tweet by tweet, and didn’t find anything in there that suggested the audience saw or was trying to treat her as a sex object, though I don’t doubt she felt completely objectified. Let me reiterate: I do not doubt that she experienced this bullying as objectifying, possibly terrifying, definitely absolutely demoralizing. I don’t doubt that I would feel exactly the same way. In fact, isn’t that the point? It didn’t even take an outright sexual comment for boyd to feel objectified, sexualized, and treated like a “fuckable object.” That’s what the best hecklers can do to even the most capable female speakers. 

And here’s the part where I start to feel incredibly torn, because a huge piece of me wants to leave it at that, to stand up and start swinging at boyd’s bullies. They rose up en masse against her, in a public, cruel, and mean-spirited way. I have deep suspicions, just as boyd does, that gender played a significant role in helping the steam to build: We (us smartypantses in audiences filled with other smartypantses) are more likely to want to undermine women, especially when they dare to speak with authority, especially when they dare to present themselves as confident, competent, and infallible, especially when they dare to also seem in any way vulnerable. Seriously, you guys, stop being such enormous assholes. Stop using your misogyny as an excuse to be cruel. I’m so effing tired of you effers.

I also struggle with boyd’s blogged response to the heckling, because I worry that it plays into the very weaknesses that so many of the hecklers (and techies and academics and so on) suspect smart, confident, brash women harbor. Women are overly emotional. We whine when things don’t go our way. If people don’t play by our rules, we pick up our toys and go home.

Now, I don’t mind being critiqued,” boyd writes;

I think that being a public figure automatically involves that. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years, but there are still things that get to me. And the situation at Web2.0 Expo was one of those. Part of the problem for me is that, as a speaker, I work hard to try to create a conversation with the audience. When it’s not possible or when I do a poor job, it sucks. But it also really sucks to just be the talking head as everyone else is having a conversation literally behind your back. It makes you feel like a marionette. And frankly, if that’s what public speaking is going to be like, I’m out.

So I have a favor to ask… I am going to be giving a bunch of public speaking performances at web conferences in the next couple of months: Supernova and Le Web in December, SXSW in March, WWW in April. I will do my darndest to give new, thought-provoking talks that will leave your brain buzzing. I will try really really hard to speak slowly. But in return, please come with some respect. Please treat me like a person, not an object. Come to talk with me, not about me. I’m ready and willing to listen, but I need you to be as well. And if you don’t want to listen, fine, don’t. But please don’t distract your neighbors with crude remarks. Let’s make public speaking and public listening an art form. Maybe that’s too much to ask for, but really, I need to feel like it’s worth it again.

It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s not defensible that female intellectuals are held to a different standard than male intellectuals are. It’s abominable how the audience treated boyd during her keynote. And not having ever been subjected to the kind of public bullying boyd was subjected to, I don’t know how I would react given the same situation: probably with the same rage, resentment, and abject pain that boyd expresses in her post.

But the solution is not to plead to the audience to be nicer next time. The solution is to come out swinging, to come out with both barrels smoking, to storm the audience with righteous indignation, to stand up and say yes, I screwed up, and fuck you all because I’ll be back up here next year (or next month, or next week) and you’ll still be sitting down there in the audience watching me shine. Good luck with your puny little attempt at twitter fame.

boyd and I are approximately the same age, and I look to her as one model of female academic. I believe that those of us who are strong enough to take it (and early evidence suggests that boyd is indeed strong enough) have a responsibility–an ethical duty–to stand in scrappy, defiant, unapologetic opposition to the stupid, ignorant, misogynistic, did I mention ignorant?–ignorant theories about how women should act and how to take them down if they get too presumptuous, too arrogant, too cocky to fit their preconceptions.

Here’s what you say in response: not Can you please be nicer next time? but Fuck you. 

Here’s what you say: Fuck you. I’ll see you next year.

Posted in academia, academics, celebrity, conferences, danah boyd, feminism, human rights, lame, obnoxious | 11 Comments »

some thoughts on Sakai 09: here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors…

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

I’ve been liveblogging day one of the Sakai 2009 Conference in Boston, MA. One key theme in all of the panels I’ve attended so far is this:

We (designers, programmers, educators, faculty, administrators, students) need a shared language for talking about open education, open technologies, and Sakai.

Which makes me wonder: Why is there such a dearth of faculty and, specifically, education faculty at this conference? My sense so far is that the majority of the 500-odd attendees of this conference are in administration, technical support, and Information Technology. A few presenters are also faculty members, but this is generally a split role–IT folks also teach part time.

If it’s true that we need a common language, if it’s true that we need to think about how to support adoption of and deep engagement with the tools made possible through Sakai, then we need a wider variety of people at the table. A common language cannot be devised until everybody starts talking.

Sakai is an ambitious and admirable project, and designers and programmers have developed a robust system that supports a wide range of interaction types. What’s missing seems to be the conversation about pedagogy. Presenters have pointed to the tool’s affordances, but I wonder how much work has been done exploring what kinds of learning experiences are supported through Sakai, and how the results of Sakai-based courses compare to those of offline courses of courses that work through other types of collaborative learning environments.

Where are the education folks? Were they not invited?

Posted in conferences, education, pedagogy, sakai | 5 Comments »

Sakai 09 Panel: Closing the Deal

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Closing the Deal: Seeing Sakai Adopting as a Sales Process
Sarah “Intellagirl” Smith-Robbins, Senior Director of Emerging Technologies, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
Roger Henry, Instructional Technology Consultant, Indiana University


Roger and a Back Story

Roger is, first of all, awesome. He started his presentation by trying to figure out what kinds of support people at IU would need to adopt OnCourse, which is what Sakai is called at IU. He met with faculty, administrators, deans, and staff to try to find strategies for encouraging adoption; and he also reached out to Kelley Executives affiliated with IU’s Kelley School of Business. He explained that he presented some of his ideas about the results of this at last year’s Sakai Conference in Paris.

Also, Roger added that there’s more backstory to last year’s Sakai presentation in Paris–he was trapped there for three weeks.

“But don’t worry,” he added, “I consoled myself.”

Sarah’s Presentation: The difference between higher ed and executive ed

First of all, Sarah is awesome. She points out key aspects that differentiate traditional higher ed from executive education. Here are her key points about the differences:

  • The “students” are different (for one thing, they don’t want to be called “students”).
  • The learning goals are different. in a traditional classroom, the instructor defines the learning goals; in executive education, students come to the program with needs.
  • The courses are different. The topics are usually very narrow and specialized to a specific business issue. They also bring their own culture, instead of integrating into the IU culture that’s already established.
  • The expectations for Return on Investment (ROI) are different. If you have students who are working adults and paying for their own education, they have different expectations than the typical undergrads. In executive education, the transaction is linked to economic value. “I think we’re going to see more of this kind of expectation among students, as well,” she added. “We’re already seeing students push bak and say ‘This isn’t directly related to the job I want, so I’m not going to take it.'”

The Circumstances

  • Exec ed clients aren’t students in the university system.
  • Most companies are looking for online learning solutions and have failed. (Sarah explains: People find software, then try to solve a problem instead of identifying the problem first and finding software to solve it.)
  • Exec Ed courses are short and constructed on short notice.
  • University faculty aren’t typically able to build unique settings for Exec Ed

OnCourse: The Solution

  • Supported by a large university system
  • Available globally 24/7 (and also scalable)
  • Familiar to faculty
  • Flexible enough to accommodate a range of learning experiences

One significant shift, Sarah said, was offering a new kind of learning experience. Typical corporate approaches align with the “death by PowerPoint” approach–everybody sits in a room while somebody talks at them and everybody just tries to get through the day.
“So the first question people ask,” she said, “Is ‘Can I upload my PowerPoints to it?'”
This is one of the key issues they address on a regular basis.

Sarah tosses up Here Comes Everybody and I swoon with joy. Seriously, you guys, read this book.

“Promise Tool Bargain,” she says. At which point I link you to every blogpost I’ve written on exactly this framework.

Sarah points out the promise of OnCourse, and Roger stands up to talk about the tool. He is, he explains, a choral conductor by training, and his research focuses on how the tools we use shape our practice.

“Most of the problems I hear at IU,” he said, “are tied to using the tool.”
A lot of questions, he said, are also about what will happen when things go wrong.

He points out that a big part of offering the tool is linked to ensuring people that when problems arise, they will be resolved as quickly as possible (and gives the example of a flurry of emails that went out last night at 11:30 about a problem somebody was having; it was solved by the morning).

Another key, Roger said, is managing expectations: “We’re not selling a perfect tool.” It will break, it will slow down, it will go down for maintenance, and the key is to be as responsive and communicative about these things as possible.

The Bargain
Sarah speaks to the bargain: “Faculty have to engage with learning the tool in a new learning paradigm. They can’t use a lecture format and expect it to be as good as or better than a classroom.

“Using a tool that is so transparently requiring participation can cause some issues with the expectations, both of faculty and exec ed students.”

Another part of the bargain, she said, is being honest about the weaknesses and problems with the tool as well.

Sarah said she uses the “promise, tool, bargain” paradigm to approach faculty issues.
Example: When faculty says “my students are not participating” Sarah asks where did the bargain break down.

Did you not promise they would be evaluated on their participation? Are you giving them lame questions? Are you using the wrong tool to facilitate the discussion? Have you explained to them the requirements and the energy required to put in in order to get a good conversation out of it?

Another example: If a CEO says he talked to someone on the phone and got an unprofessional interaction, she asks: Did we promise to offer professionalism at all times?

***my thoughts***
Of course I’m thrilled to hear Clay Shirky mentioned–and, especially, the “promise, tool, bargain” paradigm that I love so well. Though Sarah and Roger pointed to the value of this framework for engaging executive clients, this approach has tons of potential for bringing people in to the open education movement that Vijay Kumar pointed to in his opening keynote this morning.

Posted in Clay Shirky, conferences, liveblogging, sakai | Leave a Comment »

Sakai 09 Update: lunch was awesome

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

The food was okay, but what really rocked was the conversation I had with a guy named Aaron Watters, a software engineer from Rutgers University. Here’s the main thing: He’s a computer scientist and he said it’s not too late for me to learn programming!

This, you guys, is my secret dream: getting under the hood of the open source movement for the purpose of opening up education. Aaron recommended that since I have experience with html code, I could try working with building dynamic websites with php.

“You’ll know you’re a real programmer,” he said, “when you enter the pupal stage. It’s the stage where you stop eating, stop sleeping, stop talking to everybody for about three weeks.

“And when you emerge,” he said, a magical expression on his face, “you’re a real programmer.”

I want what he’s having.

Except, of course, that it happened to Aaron when he was 14. I’m more than twice that age. Do you guys think it’s too late?

Posted in awesome, conferences, creativity, sakai | 1 Comment »

Sakai 09 Panel: Faculty Success Stories

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Encouraging successful teaching with technology

Description: To foster innovative teaching and learning with technology, Indiana University’s technology services (UITS) widely shares stories of successful teaching and learning with technology. The sharing process relies on principles of Appreciative Inquiry, strategically chosen communication channels, and a sustainable system to generate stories.

Presenters: Michael Morrone, IU; Jan Holloway, IU; John Gosney, IU

Indiana University calls its Sakai program OnCourse and these IU faculty and staff have worked to collect stories of faculty uses of the tool. Their data collection strategy was to gather stories.

This panel, presented in clear language with good use of multimedia materials, makes the important point that institutions need to have a common language for discussion technology use–and that this language needs to extends across departments, programs, and expertises. This means that IT guys, designers, faculty, and students need to be able to communicate easily.

Michael Morrone:
“When I started doing interviews, I learned that faculty use Sakai in a lot of different ways. There’s a lot of good energy that needs to be harnessed so Sakai can be harnessed.”

Michael starts with the following clip from Star Trek to suggest that we shouldn’t be slaves to our technologies.


“There’s a big divide and a lot of diversity in the way faculty come to the use of tehcnology. We talk about technology in very different ways, even among the faculty. When you start looking at faculty vs. technology, the divide in how we talk is even bigger.”

How do you get across the river?
Michael Morrone shows a photo taken from his office of a river and asks: How would you get across the river? Then he asks: How would you get all of us across the river?
One person can cross in tons of ways; lots of people cross in lots of different ways. If we all wanted to get across the river, we have to have a shared language. We have to be able to talk about the problem in the same way.

One of our hopes for today’s session is to find out how we can get ppl at our institutions to talk about teaching and learning with technology in similar ways. If we can do that, then the teaching with technology doesn’t become something we fear. It becomes something we embrace.

How do we do this?
“We did it with stories.”


Why stories?

Stories brand tehcnology mission through shared language
“People don’t like to think of a university as a business. They don’t like to think of students as consumers. But you have to brand because if you don’t, people think about you how they want to think about you. Successful corporations have an image and an identity, and “your technology has to have an identity on campus.”

Why stories? “Humans thrive on stories…. Stories are a way to start dialogue, to get people interested. This is a way to create conversation, intrigue, dialogue. Once we start doing that, then together, we start constructing the language that will work for us as a community.”

Morrone showed this video of Randy Isaacson, associate professor of Educational Psychology at IU South Bend, who uses Oncourse CL to teach his students about metacognition.

Key points from the video:
1. You have to have experienced faculty.
2. You have to use technology in tons of different ways.

John Gosney is up next: Once we gather the stories, how do we get them out to the IU community?
A key strategy is a “multi-channel approach”

  • OnCourse “announce” listserv/other mailing lists
  • Teaching center consultants
  • Weekly “e-news” (264k distribution including Big Ten and beyond)
  • Internal communications (uits.news.edu, podcast portal)

Second video: Kathy Lay, Asisstant Professor of Social Work.

**side note: I am a subscriber to the uits.news.edu listserve and I NEVER read it. Though I imagine I will start reading it now.**

Getting faculty engaged: some strategies

  • Developing “grassroots” faculty conversations (faculty-to-faculty)
  • Normalize IT use (comparisons and conversations give people baselines and ideas)–we don’t want it to seem so complicated that it becomes onerous. Indeed, Gosney points out, even being cutting edge may not always be necessary–a cutting edge tool requires work to learn, and that’s not always useful.
  • Change nature of conversations so that language is highly relevant to teaching and learning as opposed to “tool based.”

Gosney makes the important point that video often works much better for faculty than text. “And the technology is very inexpensive, simple to use…and once you film it, it’s incredibly easy to upload in Sakai.”

Question: Communications seem very one-way (listservs, email communications, etc.). Can you talk about thoughts about how you might foster more discourse on these topics?
John: “My boss (Stacy Morrone) brings up a very good point.” We set up a one-way conversation to limit negative comments–not because we didn’t want to hear it but because we didn’t want to foster” a negative space. “I think a real challenge is trying to get that ongoing kind of discussion, and we can blanket the universtiy, and in many cases we do…but until we get that kind of grassroots level faculty-to-faculty communication…that’s what we’re really after. And once that starts, the rest kind of takes care of itself. It’s a real challenge getting this communication and sustaining it.”

Think / Pair / Share
Current practices for showcasing teaching with technology
Process for identifying best practices
Identify possible stories that are appropriate for your institution
Identify other criteria / guidelines for stories at your institution
Should success stories be housed intra-university? How?

**my thoughts**
I’ve been working with OnCourse at IU for the last several weeks with my advisor, Dan Hickey. Despite my engagement with a variety of classroom and other educational communities, I find OnCourse somewhat onerous in terms of developing fluency with its features. Stories in themselves are helpful, but they can’t magically lead to engagement with the technology itself. I see OnCourse has a lot of .pdf’s and other “getting started” materials, but I’m not positive this is sufficient, especially for faculty who are anxious about working with new technologies.

I happen to be the kind of person who doesn’t read instruction manuals or watch instructional videos–if I can’t figure it out on my own, I don’t bother. I’m going to spend some time working with OnCourse after this conference, then I’ll get back to you.

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Sakai 09 Megasites panel: my reach exceeds my grasp

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Liveblogging Sakai panel: MegaSite Lessons Learned

Session Description: This session will present examples from three universities demonstrating the unique challenges associated with mega sites– single sites serving hundreds, even thousands, of students. What kinds of needs are we being asked to meet at this scale? Which tools are the best fit? What customizations were employed? Finally, what do mega-sites need from 3.0?

Presenters: Diana Perpich, University of Michigan; John Leasia, University of Michigan; Stephen Marquard, University of Cape Town; Margaret Ricci, Indiana University; David Martinez, Polytechnic University of Valencia.

Margaret Ricci: “Mega Sites or, as I call it, shoving a round peg in a square hole. Doing this makes Sakai do things that…it’s a big stretch.”

I’ve learned something important in this session: There is a good deal of information about Sakai that is out of my range of understanding. It’s possible that this session was just misplaced–I suspect I’d have a better sense of the connotations of megasites once I have a sense of a regular old normalsite–and it’s possible that the panelists were rushing to make up for Vijay Kumar’s keynote going 15 minutes over schedule. It’s also possible that my next session will be chosen to give my confidence level the powerboost it now needs.

Posted in conferences, liveblogging, sakai | 4 Comments »

Sakai 09 Keynote: Vijay Kumar

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Keynote: “Learning OUTed: Open Ubiquitous Transformational”

Vijay Kumar is MIT’s Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Director of the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology, and a member of the Advisory Committee for MIT’s OpenCourseWare project. He was also an editor of Opening Up Education, a new and key text for the open education movement. (Dr. Kumar’s full bio can be accessed here.)
“My god,” Dr. Kumar says, “I thought…this is our Woodstock!”

Remarking on the number of new attendees, Dr. Kumar said:
“There’s at least a 50% growth (new users) and that speaks volumes of the strength of this community–which is why it’s a particular privilege for me to be here because Sakai’s an important marker for something I’m quite passionate about: the open education movement. And yes indeed, it is a movement.”

Kumar identified the open education movement one that’s both global and accelerating. He notes MIT’s OpenCourseWare project as a key momentum-driver, but a wide range of other proejcts too, including work in the k-12, publication, and textbook sectors in addition to higher education. “We need to make sure,” he adds, “that this movement doesn’t die or meet the future that so many movements have faced.”

Going back to the title: Learning OUTed:

“I think one of the most significant impacts that this growing education movement has had is really making learning very ,very visible–learning in all its flavors…in all its diversity… and suddenly attention is shifting in focus. I think this is the really sustainable impact of the open ed movement.

“For me, what’s significant, why I think this is indeed a really dramatic movement, is because it’s become part of the discourse of educational change–nationally, globally, whether it’s at the micro level or at the level of national or international crusades.

“The fact that this has become a part of the discourse for educational change…is what really signifies the impact of this movement–that this movement is really something to be reckoned with.”

Pointing to Opening Up Education, the book he recently edited, he asks this question: “How can we advance teaching and learning by taking full advantage of open education?”

Kumar points to the “iron triangle” of access, quality, and cost–if you want to increase, for example, access, typically either the quality suffers or the cost has to go up. He points to the need for gatekeeping if you want high quality.

“One of the things about open education is that it offers the opportunity to do better things with more quality at lower cost and increased access. It makes the iron triangle much more flexible. It has the ability to render the previously inflexible triangle flexible.”

The implications of the iron triangle are much more significant for developing companies and large institutions, he said, but also relevant in developed countries.

Open Education Vision Elements

Kumar points to two areas where Open Education has the most vision-changing promise:
Blended Learning: “When we talk about blended learning–and this isn’t a new notion–I’m talking about how open education enables intelligent combinations of the physical and virtual, formal education with informal education…”this is one of the transcendental promises of open learning.”

Boundary-less Education: “I am not talking just about traditional geographical and political boundaries, but boundaries that are much more subtle Between disciplines, between research and learning, between on campus and off campus….in fact, there’s a lot of talk about lifelong learning. I’m talking about all the boundaries that exist between these sectors…between living and learning. And the possibilities of open education presents the transcending of these boundaries in multiple ways.”

Dr. Kumar points to multiple examples from MIT, including OpenCourseWare, the Spoken Lecture Browder, an iLab, an open-ed project based at MIT but open for use in multiple sites (therefore boundary-less). Labs in general are expensive, he points out, not just in terms of actual cost but also in terms of the learner’s time. One of the criteria of good courseware is that it is efficient on learners’ time. iLabs offers a strategy for addressing latency–the phenomenon of a class followed by a lab two or three days later (during which time learners lose information).

One issue he points to is the problem that a lot of learning materials (esp. on blogs) is difficult to package for ready use. We need to consider viability and appropriateness of converting material into open resources.

Kumar adds: There’s a lot of assumption that making something available is making it usable, but unless we have ways to show the pedagogical underpinnings of a course, the educational value of some material is debatable–is in fact suspect.”

Design, Kumar explains, “is a very, very important influence in who participates in this open education revolution, and in terms of the kinds of choices we enable, and in terms of the kinds of things that can happen.” Just having things open is not enough, he explains, unless the design allows access.

Readiness for Opening Up Education: Organizational Cultural Factors
Running out of time, Kumar offers final comments in the following categories:

  • Scarcity vs. Abundance (reliance on situated learning / push teaching vs. demand pull learning)
  • Sense Making (ordering the digital disorder, pedagogical shifts [individual learning=collaborative, social learning], codevelopment of knowledge with learners)
  • Accountability and Accreditation (massification implications for Quality and Preparation; Distributed; Open Knowledge and Learning)

Kumar ends with this quote:

“we are seeing the early emergence of a meta-university–a transcendent, accessible, empowering, dynamic, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced.” Charles M Vest, President Emeritus, MIT

**My thoughts**
Vijay Kumar is a big name in the open education movement, especially for anyone who’s done any reading or conferencing. I’m already a convert to the open education movement and therefore found his talk fascinating; but there was a mass of newbies in the audience, and this was a moment to grab and convert the fence-sitters. Even if it’s true (and I’d be willing to believe it) that everybody in the audience is already a fan of open education, I wish Kumar had spent more time galvanizing us around the notion of community. As Michael Korcuska noted, attendees came from all over the world. We’re meeting for the first and, for some of us, the only time–we’re converging in the name of open source, open technology, and open education. Let’s value, admire, and rally around the ethos, the spirit of open education, that brings us together. Kumar pointed to this in discussing the newly flexible iron triangle, but while that hits me right in my logic center, I’m also here to get hit in my passion center.

Okay, that’s the mini-critique. What I’ll add is that Kumar is a fascinating, smart, excellent speaker whose ability to talk about complicated, difficult issues in the economics of education is impressive. Mind-blowing, really. As noted in the Twitter conference feed,

You can follow Sakai tweets with the hashtag #Sakai09.

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Sakai 09 Opening Remarks: Michael Korcuska

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009


What follows is a liveblog of the opening remarks for the 10th Sakai Conference, July 8-10, in Boston, MA.

Opening remarks began with Michael Korcuska, the Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation. (Here’s his Sakai blog.) Some key points are below.

Keywords: collaborative, “software that is as good as any commercial product that’s available.”

As good is not good enough” says Korcuska. “We want to make something that won’t just change the economics of an institution but something that will change how an academic community can choose its mission.”

“It’s not only a project..it’s also path. It includes free and open source softwar– not free as in no cost but free as in free from restrictions. We believe this kind of freedom is especially important to the mission of education.

“The Sakai path is the path of self-determination in many ways, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a lonely path. Sakai is also a community. We believe we have a great…strong community, and this community is the real strength of Sakai. It’s the reason why Sakai is helping so many organizations around the world today and why we know it’ll be even better than it is today.”

A few key points:

  • Sakai 2.6.0 is ready (released post conference)
  • Sakai 3 is starting to take shape
  • New product development process (more visibility)

Tons of newbies are here, according to an informal poll Korcuska ran. That’s kinda cool, huh? Especially since it’s my first Sakai conference too.

Sakai Fellows, 2009/2010

  • Ian Boston, University of Cambridge
  • Jean-Francois Leveque, Universite Pierre et Marie Curie
  • Nicolaas Matthijs, University of Cambridge
  • Mathieu Plourde, University of Delaware
  • Manice A. Smith, Three Canoes Consulting
  • Steve Swinsburg, Lancaster University

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