This will be my last ever post to this blogsite, as I have moved to www.lauraczerniewicz.co.za: in making this change, my comments could not be transferred. So, if you are interested in my old posts' comments, please read them here. Subscribers please remember to update subscriptions to my new blog.
I started blogging last July, and got into a fortnightly (ish) rhythm of comments and reflections raised by my work or that at CET. Then came the summer break (Xmas and New Year in the south) and the rhythm was interrupted. But not completely broken because over the past few months Michael Feldstein of the well-known and prolific E-literate Blog- http://mfeldstein.com/ - asked me to do some guest postings for him. He was especially interested in antidote and explanation to the excitement generated by the rise of smart phones. What is so interesting about mobile phones in developing country contexts? I have answered this question in two postings so far .
The first was evoked by some images - http://mfeldstein.com/cell-phones-and-learning-in-the-south-of-africa-some-images/
The second posting is more informative and factual http://mfeldstein.com/mobile-is-my-soul-cell-phones-in-south-afric/
(I am still writing the third one, examples of mobile learning)
So a blogging haitus of a kind. And not stoppage because now that I am on sabbatical (and the World Cup is over!) I am getting my rhythm back.
Openness has been on my mind. It’s coming from all sides, at the moment, a confluence of events and possibilities. We have an Open Education Resources Project here in CET (OER UCT), which is speeding up to the launch in February 2010. Our Opening Scholarship Project (ie access to research outputs) came to the end of its funded period, but lives on in the form of advocacy work and another grant proposal. We at the university are talking about Open UCT, and what that might mean and what form it would take. And next week Tony Carr and I are presenting at a seminar in Barcelona called Open Social Learning, where we will be reflecting on e/merge, the online conference we have hosted bi-annually since 2004 (e/merge 2008 being the last one). It seems ironic but we are thinking about how a “traditional” online conference might respond to and be changed by the broader social trends and expectations about openness, sharing, immediacy, and widening of community presently being enabled by social software.
Like other universities in the world, there are many reasons we are engaged in these projects. For us there is an additional reason, an especial imperative to address imbalances; the righting of the direction of the global flow of knowledge production.
This graphic (from worldmapper) graphically illuminates the imbalances. Although it visually represents percentages of book publishing in different parts of the world, it’s also a kind of proxy for all outputs including academic research, teaching resources and contributions to conferences.
There are many excellent reasons for advocating open. And we do.
At the same time, the guru of open access Lawrence Lessig, sagely warns against what he calls “naked transparency”. (He is writing about government in particular but I think the principle applies to us in education.*) I like the way he comments that reformers always focus on the good and think that the bad is someone else’s problem. It’s a useful reminder that we have to consider the “horribles” as well as the “blessings” of openness. All bits may not need to be open. Some spaces should not be open. Closed may not always be a negative word, it may also connote positive attributes such as a safe space for risk, privacy, a trusted community…...
I am finding it more useful to think about degrees of openness on a continuum, rather than open/closed as a binary. My colleagues Cheryl Hodgkinson and Eve Gray beautifully demonstrate how this can usefully be applied to open educational resources (in a thoughtful piece in IJEDICT at http://ijedict.dec.uwi.edu/include/getdoc.php?id=3695&article=864&mode=pdf).
This is helping me think through CET’s current and planned Open projects, as well as openness in general. I think the tendency towards openness is right, and generally hugely beneficial. But I think that a nuanced view of developmental work in differentiated contexts is also necessary. So rather than a blinkered view of openness, rather it’s about openness at different times, for different people, for different reasons. Sometimes about semi – openness, partial openness, on a gradation, about opening up bit by bit, about being ready. It makes it more difficult but hopefully we can avoid some of the “horribles” by taking all these complexities into account, and going into all this with eyes wide open!
* Lessig, L “Against Transparency”, in The New Republic (http://wwwtnr.com) 9 October 2009
Both of these are academic positions, neither of them are "typical" academic jobs (ie undergrad teaching etc and a research day). Yet when we advertise these positions we have to choose between two conditions of service: academic and general (or non-academic or PASS as they are known in my university [Professional and Support Staff]). Those are the choices and it seems to me that they work less and less well for us. We run the danger of framing the position around the conditions of service rather than the needs of the job itself.
Its always interesting when there is a coalescence of observations; I have noticed this issue arising in a few places of late. So, a piece by Marcia Devlin in University World News (http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20091023103130927) on what Australian universities might look like in 20 years time includes an endnote which says "Nowhere in this article is there a reference to the majority of staff in institutions - the professional staff - and how their roles and functions may change over the next 20 years. By then, I hope, we will have 'university staff' as the accepted terminology so there will be no more nonsensical conversations about 'academic' and 'general' staff, and who runs universities."
Then I read an illuminating paper by Celia Whitechurch, called Shifting Identities, Blurring Boundaries : The Changing Roles of Professional Managers in Higher Education (Research & Occasional Paper Series: Cshe.10.2008 , University Of California, Berkeley, http://cshe.berkeley.edu/. It is really worth a read even though it focuses on "managers" as her suggestions of new identities resonate for the field of learning technology.She posits four categories of Professional Identity
Categories of identity
Work within structural boundaries
(eg function, job description)
Actively use boundaries for strategic advantage and institutional capacity building
Disregard boundaries to focus on broadly-based projects and institutional development
Dedicated appointments spanning professional and academic domains
It is these last two which are of special interest; are our job and that at Otogo not blended professionals? Yes they are academic positions with academic obligations, but they are more than that. And those additional professional competencies are something to name, and to praise are they not? We know that where and how positions are located influence the focus and nature of the work.
And of course just to muddle things a little more, we are higher education professionals. My colleague Duncan Greaves suggests the following typology for professions and their relationship to the academe:
1. Profession Type 1: Emerges outside the university and then moves into it eg law, accountancy and medicine
2. Profession Type 2: Emerges outside the university and remains outside the university eg estate agents. Such types have professional bodies and a knowledge domain, but it are not studied as a scholarly undertaking.
3. Profession Type 3: "Near professions" eg trades with tacit knowledge, accreditation and professional bodies, eg artisans and traders boiler makers fitters and turners
4. Profession Type 4: Emerges inside the university, gains status and moves out eg business studies through modern business schools
5. Profession Type 5: Emerges inside the university and stay inside – this results in a close relationship between communities of practice and scholars eg higher education studies, higher education leadership studies.
Learning technology has sites outside the university of course, but the confluence of roles and sites in the university make these even more complex positions.
What is encouraging is that there are recently several conversations and studies beginning to engage with these issues. The fundamental tenets of academic rigour, scholarly commitments and sound knowledge bases are not being questioned. But hopefully all this attention will coalesce into some concerted change and acknowledgement about the changing nature of academic work. (And that will be good for the emergent scholarly and professional field of educational technology.)
Premised on the principles of communication and connectedness, the event was facilitated to ensure participation and engagement. With almost 150 people, there were numerous interesting development interventions, research projects and networks to be discussed and discovered. There is so much I could mention; here I only focus on highlights: the small group events, the effective bilingualism of the whole affair and the excellent communication strategy.
(It goes without saying that it was encouraging, and often inspiring, to hear of innovative projects in diverse contexts, and to get a sense of current trends and debates. Specificities for another blog posting.)
Normal academic conferences impart a lot of information fast, but their format is rigid and makes finding and talking to people with whom one shares specific (and sometimes obscure) interests difficult. At the Acacia Forum, I experienced the Open Space methodology first hand for the first time, and if it is always this useful then I am a convert! One morning was devoted to discussions on issues determined by participants. In this case 150 people, 22 topics. The facilitator was adamant that there are as many topics as needed, that topics should not be clustered because differences of emphasis are relevant, and that the number of people in a group is irrelevant. If you only find one other person interested in your issue, but it’s the right person, then that is an achievement. I went to a group discussion on Youth, Creativity and ICTs convened by Marie-Hélène Mottin- Sylla from Senegal and was absorbed by an in-depth conversation which included concepts of “hyper-modernity” about the juxtaposition of deep seated cultural practices with the affordances of new technologies. The other session I attended was on Theorising ICTs for Development and there were only three of us (don’t know what that says) but it was useful and included research sites such as e-government and public access to information, as well as consideration of the role of theory in enabling and understanding practice.
I now think that every academic conference should reserve a half day of the programme for participants to create discussion spaces of their own choice.
Also useful were the “speedsharing” sessions. Like “speed dating” these sessions had 12 “stations” where 12 projects were reported on, in five consecutive 7-minute long slots. The concise format forced one to be succinct and to the point, which is perfectly do-able as I found after giving the same presentation five times in a row (I got better each time!). It meant talking to smaller groups, and it meant participants could capture a flavour of several projects within a short space of time.
Another highlight of the event was being part of successful bilingualism in action, a real pleasure. This was achieved in several ways including bilingual facilitators who moved seamlessly between languages, slides and posters in 2 languages, simultaneous translators and “whispering translators” who could quietly translate in small group discussions. This went a long way to overcoming the Francophone / Anglophone divide allowing challenges, strategies and outcomes across the continent as a whole to be discussed by all. I knew in theory but experienced in practice that there is a qualitative difference in conversations when people are able to talk in the languages of their own choice.
The last highlight to mention here was the exemplification of an open and wide ranging communication strategy in action. A website- http://www.acaciaforum.net/- was set up in advance in order for conversations to be enabled even before the meeting. Throughout the event, bloggers kept a running update on the site, podcasts were made of presentations and were immediately made available, webcasts were uploaded to YouTube and linked to the site, participants were interviewed and their views shared, and of course pictures were uploaded and shared. Most of the website is in the public domain providing access to an audience beyond the Forum participants, as well as an archive of the events themselves.
These highlights are not accidental and they don’t come cheap. An experienced facilitator Allison Hewlitt was responsible for the overall event design, was on her toes and fully focused at all times; the African Commons team worked hard to ensure the recording and communication; and the translation facilities are an expensive resource.
Are there any downsides? The challenge for this kind of event with communication as a central objective and large numbers is ensuring sufficient depth. While it was a matter of some pride that this was a paperless event, I did wonder whether some supporting documents would have been useful. Perhaps I am too much of an academic but I would have liked a background document which contextualised ICTs for Development as a whole in terms of literature, trends and debates. And a knowledge repository on the site where participants could upload and share documents might have been of value. Maybe I just get antsy with no papers at all (smile).
All in all, I came away having learnt much and in ways quite unanticipated. Ideal.