The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. […] Once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together. The potential of the mixture of humans and machines working together and communicating through the web could be immense. Tim Berners-Lee (in 1998)
I love the ‘webness of the web’ for learning, I love the relationships I am building and am full of wonder about the kindness and gentle nature of the people in my network. Yet there is a dark side to it all that makes me wonder what role I want to play as I engage in online dialogue with others going forward. Each day I learn a little more about the implicit norms of behaviour a given collection of individuals shapes as they come together online. Decisions about belonging or ‘liking’ are often made on the basis of unstated group norms. I have spent my life offline noticing these patterns and the web does ‘make sense of what we are doing and where we individually fit in’. It is easy for me to see pattern even without engaging in fancy analytics.
As I reflect on my role I notice a world where acronyms abound. This is similar to the insular organisational cultures I visit offline in my consulting work. They are a marker of belonging as much as a marker of exclusion.
I learn about OER, about the OpenEd, about MOOCs of assorted varieties, about the pros and cons of the LMS, I observe confused metaphors about what it means to teach online – is it a course, it is the open web, is it the platform, is it blended or BYOD or all of the above? Am I a teacher, a learner, a peer learner, part of personal or professional learning network? Am I part of a community, a group, a CoP or a network? Can we measure my BC (between centrality) to see if my life is worth living? I can go on. All of this has felt quite unsatisfactory to me as I reflect on how to engage those people who have not made the transition to working in the open web. It is not self-evident that this is a ‘good’ thing and historically it is often just thought a ‘good’ thing by those who stand to benefit from it.
In this post I clarify an online role for me personally that aligns with evolving values and beliefs about open practices.
I have been reflecting for a long time now on what is the online voice that is emerging as I navigate open education practices on the web outside my ‘home’ space in ‘DS106’. What has been lovely about joining #ccourses is to work with educators who really care about ‘this learning stuff’. I have enjoyed adding to the flow and helping get things started. I realise this is the thing I enjoy the most about open online experiences. For me it is less about the content and more about seeing the interactions and the sub groups under a hashtag form.
I came to life online at the end of a successful academic career. I no longer work full-time, I only teach courses I want to teach and write as much or as little as I want. I am an independent learner and educator with weak links to many organisations but not one organisation can determine how or what I teach. I have also made a choice to live life as an 8-precept contemplative with a possible future of life in a monastery. This implies many things but one thing that is relevant here is this: I am an honest broker with no personal agenda as my work online is simply one of service and personal interest. No more publication targets, climbing career ladders, no need to work at hard at being Someone as my practice is now one of ‘being nobody and going nowhere’
In reflecting on #whyIteach over the last few days, I realise that I am no longer teaching in the sense I would have understood it when I was affiliated full time to an academic institution. I realise that the reason I am drawn to being an open educator, learner and researcher is that open practices enable me to do the one and only thing I have ever been motivated to do wether I am teaching or learning – ask why. Mike Wesch calls it ‘soul making’ and I resonate with that.
To be honest, I now feel that this distinction between my ‘why’ in the classroom or outside is a little artificial. Every conversation I have, if attended to, is soul making for all involved. This is my intent with every tweet and every blog comment. I see myself as a human open educational resource (OER) in relation to the people I meet online. I also keep asking more high nerd questions such as: How can we better use the web to augment our intellect? How do we best interact to shape the notion of the distributed mind or ‘inter-being’?
Our answers come from the domains we have expertise in. For some, it is about how technology can augment mind. I am more interested in exploring how the psyche gets in the way of the augmented mind. We humans have individual agendas and blind spots. It is this very selectivity that make us valuable as human OERs. We wonder, we have passions, we have hobbies….And we also have views we keep seeking to confirm; some of us know this is true of all of us and others of us still believe ‘it’s not me but the person sitting next to me’ that is a slave to her cognitive biases.
A lifetime of meditation practice has taught me a little humility. I know that mental patterns are hard to shift and that technology can only augment mind if I am able to disagree with myself often – that is, be self critical. What technology does more often is ‘collude’ with our dysfunctional patterns and allow us to play them out in a distributed virtual space. Our project over at the still web aims to offer a resource to help people who see this side of reality and want to learn more about digital contemplation. It is only just starting.
Here is the thing. I like depth. I like to find sources. I like to understand what people need and get to know them as people. This takes time and I have the time. But if and only if I let go of self-imposed dysfunctional patterns such as the pressure to respond or the fear of missing out or my need to behave like a rat on a variable intermittent reinforcement protocol pressing that lever for one more +1. I am a little uncomfortable with learning spaces set up to ‘gamify’ life. Are we designing learning systems to test positive for addiction? Is being addicted to cMOOCs any better or worse than being addicted to heroine? I need to reflect on my own part in this.
I have been feeling pressured to move on from looking under the hood. After all, there is such abundance of riches under the #ccourses hashtag. And Jonathan is next and he is so dreamy 🙂 And there is the un-conference where many a great conversation will be had and an anonymous board to heckle Howard 🙂 And….
I have decided to stay under the hood for a while. As I have listened to Blog Talk over the last few days, I have stopped arguing with myself for and against having a domain of my own. I now hear a different thread in the Brothers’ conversations.
Whatever we decide to do about a domain, it is our responsibility as online educators to understand what is under the hood. Or, perhaps less starkly, as Alan puts it,
I said to Howard in a comment the other day when he asked us ‘How is it going?’:
I think you are all doing a great job and I love the role modelling I see around the team of educators involved in the facilitation of #ccourses. It has motivated me to create a WP multisite, export/import various blogs, play with php files, install Known and create my own site there, even if I may conclude after the experiments that I do not want to spend my days doing this type of work. The great value is having embodied experience of what it means to be the sys admin of your own domain (shamefully <smile> I admit I have the technical skills, have had my own domain for many years yet have always paid others to do the implementing). But then I only recently made the decision to work as an open educator – to be ‘of’ the web rather than just ‘on’ it.
I will be over at my garage in marianafun.es building my car, learning how to be a mechanic and working on letting go of my dysfunctional patterns. Feel free to drop in for chat there and do ask if there is something specific you want me to do to help #ccourses. But forgive me if, in needing time to absorb this content before I move on, I do not get around to commenting on the content everyone is crafting as much as I would like.
I am going back ‘home’ to DS106 to develop my understanding of telling ‘the story of me’ through a sandbox domain. So what is next for me? A sequential read of WordPress tutorials as I enjoy breaking things in my new virtual home.
And by the way, how stunning is that domain name I found thanks to the Blog Brothers insistence that I get my own car?