Academic Exchange as Emergent Practice – a #TJC15 Story

Garni_Gorge3

(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Garni_Gorge3.jpg)

The piece below is the brother post to Laura Gogia’s “Becoming Pedagogy for Becoming People“.  This relates to #TJC15 that I have written about before.  Our blog posts are an extension of our participation in #TJC15 and an instantiation of open scholarship.  We have published a Storify of a ‘twinterview‘ where we discussed ideas that are now found in extended form in these two blog posts.  As part of our commitment to open scholarship we are sharing the various iterations of our thinking/writing, inviting responses and contributions from others.  There will be further iterations over the coming weeks.

In the piece below, in the spirit of the particular ethic of open scholarship that I articulate I present my writing in an unfinished form (there are now hyperlinks or references). This is version 2.  Below you will see version 1.  This version was written using Ommwriter, a tool for contemplative computing.  The ethos of Ommwriter is that you focus on writing and so do not avail of the distractions of editing or spell checks.  I use this for first drafts so that I can concentrate on the essential ideas rather than formatting.


OPENINGS

Twitter Journal Club arrived in front of me at a moment of opening. I was open to a reconfiguration of my practice, a revisioning, in almost every sense of that term. I was a year into my job, in a new institution, a new country, and a new field of practice. I had moved from a fairly well bounded field of sociology of education to the more porous field of academic practice (jackson). I had already shifted balance, perhaps even sought to be off-balance in making this move. I had moved from familiarity to deep unfamiliarity. I had moved from a sense of authority or certainty to being a novice. So a year in I was emerging from that steep learning curve you encounter on entering new terrain. Continuing with that metaphor I had navigated safely through this new topography and rather than seek refuge in the new known, I sought disruption, disorientation. I sought to pocket the map and replace it with a new way of travelling, a form of travel more akin to the Situationist dérive.

Let me open up this moment of opening a little more.

I arrived in my current post mid-year. Although I arrived eager to make teaching and learning the core of my interests (rather than the core of my activity though not the core of my knowledge or personal learning networks) I was faced with more immediate demands – to cope, to cope with an existing curriculum and syllabus, with a cohort of students who had gained familiarity with each other for a semester and had formed relationships with their tutors. I was washed up ashore and needed to make it habitable, for me. I made my mark here or there, but it was a time characterised by a sense of cognitive dissonance. Everything looked familiar – how many configurations of higher education classes can you have? But everything was strange, slightly off kilter. There was new literature to get to grips with, and concepts half understood had to be more fully grasped. While some of my habitual ways of thinking and doing traveled well, many had to be put aside, leaving me feeling exposed. I started a new academic year feeling that I ‘knew’ the course, I knew its contours, I knew it peaks and valleys, I knew where to ford the rivers, I knew which were the places that were less clearly defined and so should be approached with some caution. I was even able to start re-drawing the map, becoming a cartographer of learning myself. I felt empowered in being able to apply principles of academic practice that had long been constrained, of enacting modes of constructivist being.

While the digital landscape was all around me and digital learning was in deed part of my remit, though one I was still to engage with, connectivism was not one of the lines drawn on the map, not a symbol, not a northing or easting. But it was there, in collegial conversations, hinted at when talking of open educational resources, of breaking out of the constraints of learning management systems. Even though I was already a fairly active blogger, both professionally and otherwise, and used twitter, the idea of these being platforms for a reimagined educational landscape was only slowly coming into view for me. One colleague nudged me in particular. I was challenged by her talk, by her practice, by her desire for more open educational practices. I felt resistance, resistance to the unfamiliar, to the challenging, to the not-quite-understood. While I was trying to put order on my anxiety, she was encouraging something that felt reckless. So, even though I was stimulated by the anarchic philosophy of Rânciere, and talked of enacting freedom and seeing what happens, my actual practice was somewhat different. And so I took a step from what I came to understand as striated to soft space (bayne) and engaging with forms of open education and scholarship that could be viewed as types of ‘nomadic science’ (D&G).

My entanglement with this was multiple in that it spoke directly to my new role in academic development, but also to a broader critique of academia as dangerous space. Over years of working in the striated spaces of postgraduate programmes and professional doctorates I had come to see the limitations not of the striated spaces but of the weak structures and failure to utilise the capabilities offered by the LMS. Coming into this job I was able to introduce into my courses those elements I had often found lacking in my previous work. Specifically this took the form of maximising the LMS so that it became less of an archive and more of a hub. But it is clear now that what I was mostly maximising was its MANAGMENT aspect. Its pedagogic function was less clear to me. However, I did introduce many elements of the flipped classroom and ‘just-in-time’ teaching.  Of course, I have come to see how this also works as an enframing device, of locking me and the participants into a closed system. My desire to provide clarity and clear signposting also had this mix of striation and softness, of clarity within enframement. Expectations, underlying pedagogies were all opened up to participants as central to my daily practice with them. This seemed more than appropriate given that we were focused on the development of teaching and learning in higher education. I tried to model the practices that were expected of them in the courses. If they had to keep a reflective journal then I did; if they had to talk openly about their signature pedagogies, then I did.  So, in this regard my slow turn towards open pedagogies and connectivism was a continuation of a journey I was already on.

OPEN SCHOLARSHIP

I had also been involved in critiquing higher education as a particular kind of dangerous space. I had done this from an autoethnographic perspective in my ongoing ‘broken academic’ project (link). This involved linking wellbeing and the micro-aggressions of academic life to the broader political economy of higher education. But this also found form in another kind of journal club. And it is this particular experience that resonates so much with TJC. The space was that of a combined MA in Academic Practice and a loose cluster of colleagues interested in the scholarship of higher education. Some structure was provided through the development of a journal club activity whereby we focused on a particular journal article in our fortnightly sessions. Although I initially volunteered the readings it was how we engaged with this structure that brought it close to my growing commitment to open scholarship. We were engaged in this reading in a context of a highly charged gender politics of academic promotions. We read in the context of petitions, court cases, and demonstrations. Our reading took up these themes, allowing us to examine a range of debates about how the university and academic practice could be both critiqued and re-imagined. The boundary between scholarship and our daily lives as academics became seriously blurred, and blurred seriously. For me this was reflected in a renewed interest in using my professional blogs a spaces to rehearse ideas, to practice writing, and to speak out loud about thoughts and writings that were in progress, unfinished. This covered both reflections on what was going on in class (links) and those emerging from the critical space of the MA.

TJC appeared at the confluence of these streams of activity, of these openings. Importantly, here, it housed two sets of practices/ideas that have increasingly defined my practice:

  • TJC as an enactment of academic practice beyond the ‘managed CV’
  • TJC as involving an ethic of care.

BEYOND THE MANAGED CV

The modern university, certainly in the UK and Irish contexts, is being experienced by many as a dangerous space. I will say more on this in relation to the ethic of care. But one dominant characteristic is the growth of methods of management that seek to align the personal CV of the academic to institutional objectives. We live and work in an age of the ‘managed CV’ or the ‘accelerated academy’ (links). These practices work to alter our own practices and relate to how we perceive ourselves as academics. TJC was interesting for me because it positively challenged both my inherited academic identity and the strictures of the ‘managed CV’.

The experience has tested my technical capabilities in relation to managing the various tools required to engage in this particular digitally mediated interaction. I had to move quickly from being mostly a consumer to being a producer in the twitterscape. You become entangled in the algorithms in a way that demands an intensity of thought, quite contrary to the ‘slow thought’ that I have sought to cultivate and value highly (link slow university). The content of the articles also demanded an acceleration of cognitive shift, to become familiar with a new terrain of connectivist discourse and digital pedagogies. I might have been operating from within an LMS but I was still an analogue academic. I would leave the TJC sessions simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted.

I came to reflect on how this experience differed from much of my day to day practice, and the feelings that this produced. The idea that a core feature of academic practice is the free exchange of knowledge, and that this is structured through academic journals and conferences sat uneasily beside the exhilaration of TJC. The unease did not come just from the contrast of intensities. Firstly, It came from recognition that in this particular experiment there was a quality of exchange and interaction that was largely absent from my own experience of traditional modes of academic exchange. Academic knowledge is locked behind a series of pay walls – journal subscriptions and conference fees in particular. The MA reading group discussed often the way the outputs of our endeavours were being commodified and knowledge privatised. We discussed the attacks on the very idea of academics as involved in eh production of public goods. The structures of academic progression demand that we collude with this privatisation of knowledge and locking it behind various pay walls. Indeed, many if not most academics see this as unproblematic. Secondly, the idea that what actually happens in academic journals and conferences is a free exchange of knowledge feels näive. Journals and conferences are substantively hierarchical spaces. Indeed, academic promotion is premised upon this hierarchy. We are counselled to publish in high impact journals, regardless of the quality or innovativeness of what we actually write. The assumption of course is that high impact journals equate with high quality scholarship. But the algorithms for measuring ‘impact’ (ref) do not assess quality of outputs and are mechanisms that increasingly tie the practice of academic endeavour to the commercial interests of academic publishers. Again this links back to the privatisation of knowledge.  Thirdly, academic publishing through the closed spaces of pay-per-view journals disguises the process of writing and working with ideas; it disguises the collective and collaborative nature of the academic enterprise. Writing is messy. Thoughts are usually emergent, being worked out in the moment. Academic publishing demands polished, non-messy, products. They are non-emergent. Even when articles have multiple authors there is a sense that the ideas contained within the bounded space of the article ‘belong’ somehow to the authors. This ‘belonging’, this notion of ownership of ideas is of course what gives legitimacy to academic promotion. You have appropriated the collective endeavour of many scholars, of participants in research, and privatised it, made it yours, and so added it to your CV, which you submit to the promotion panel.

TJC, despite its many limitations, for me, works against this culture of closure and privatisation. Accepting that no platform is ever fully inclusive, the use of this particular platform to engage in academic discussion breaks free of the institutionally defined spaces for academic exchange. There is inevitably a pay wall involved. You have to have access to the essential infrastructure – internet connection and a device for connecting to the platform and accessing the articles. But these are much more ubiquitous than the closed systems of universities, academic journals and academic conferences. The principle of using open access articles (whether pre or post published) is important in affording more people the capacity to participate. Using a digital platform means that the restrictions on international collaboration are, in principle, ameliorated, so long as attention is given to different time zones.

Activities such as TJC bear many of the hallmarks of Wabisabi, the Japanese aesthetic that celebrates incompleteness, amongst other qualities. The nature of the platform itself necessitates messiness, incompletness, disjuncture and non-continuous interaction. In this sense it also resembles the Situationist dérive and so can be thought of as a way of moving through a particular academic terrain (defined initially by the article of choice) but without a definite end point in mind. Following the idea of the dérive or psychogeography this is not without purpose, just that the purpose is emergent in the activity itself, and is likely to come out of specific interactions. It is marked by the way each of us would zone in on initial comments or questions posed by other participants, following up on those threads of discussion. The initial attraction might reflect a current interest or indeed might be recognised as something one had not thought of and so worth exploring. Each of us would then construct a representation of the event defined not by external criteria but by the impulses of attraction or repulsion. I would follow perhaps a number of threads but eventually concentrate on one or at most two. As has been seen in other events of this type, and I am thinking of various connectivist projects such as MOOCMOC and #rhizome, the interactions take on lives of their own outside of the specific frame the initial event. Indeed, this article is an example of just that. Again, this runs counter to the instrumental character of policy and institutional discourse on academic productivity and careers. In spaces such as this it is the connections and the working out of ideas, it is the emergent quality of academic practice that is foregrounded. This is enhanced by the way participants have chosen not to interrogate the articles as such but use them as springboards to reflect back on their own practices. There are interesting processes of feeding back on existing practice and feeding forward, of contemplation of new practices.

This relates to the third element, that of the way some TJC practices carry aspects of hacker culture. TJC discussions spring up in a wide network of places and spaces. Although Laura produces a storify after each event this is then available for anyone, TJC participant or not, to hack, to produce derivatives. Derivatives appear in peoples’ blogs or resurface in discussions in other connectivist spaces. This hacker commitment to re-use emphasises the collaborative nature of any endeavour. It is a different way of conceiving of the free exchange of knowledge that maintains a ‘public good’ aspect. While academics can become obsessed with plagiarism (in our students but also in relation to colleagues), TJC picks up on the growing interest in open data or experiments in collaborative education (lincoln ). It is non-proprietorial.

For me, TJC has felt like a ‘wild’ space escaping many of the closed systems that characterises and structures academic practice. In discussion with Laura I likened it to a ‘potluck’ meal rather than a three-course dinner. Although we had an entrée, the meaning of the event was given by what each of us brought to the table. Perhaps, building on the open access and hacker analogies, we can think of experiments such as TJC as forms of academic ‘maker spaces’.

ETHIC OF CARE

Personal circumstances (link) have made me particularly attuned to the many micro-aggressions we experience in academia. It would be nice to apportion blame to the rise of various neo-liberal forms of management and performative culture. But, as Kathleen Lynch has so rightly noted, higher education is almost endemically ‘careless’. In her discussion of this Kathleen Lynch points to the way the academic self is fashioned on a primary distinction between mind and body, a distinction that has historically privileged the male. Of course, this cascades out along a chain of other binaries such as public/private, assertive/passive, hard/soft science. By fetishising the the cognitive this model of academic identity and practice and its cross-referencing to gender means that women, in particular, have been poorly served by higher education. Some have sought to re-imagine higher education in ways that place care as central to the academic project and specifically as a public service (refs). What this actually means in the micro-practices of individuals is still a little uncertain.

I would argue that there are aspects of my experience of TJC that rehearse an ethic of care. In some ways the actual articles that form the initial point of contact are almost irrelevant, other than acting to signal the boundary of an affinity group. Thinking back on the idea of the ‘potluck’ and dérive, it is the specific character of connecting (what attracts and repels us in the different threads), the capacity of the article to support a feeding back on practice and feeding forward to imagining new practices that is important.   It is the emergent character of the activity the practices we undertake while engaged in TJC perhaps makes it more amenable to caring practice. Some of us have built up a certain amount of care and affection for each other over time and regular interaction in this and other spaces. But it is important to note that affection is not a necessary requirement. This is another example of how TJC resembles certain hacker practices. We are linked by a mutual interest in this project. We may or may not go on to work on other projects. It is the project and our interest in it that will determine the longevity of our commitment. Of course, proprietary practices are possible in such spaces. The hacker ethic simply dictates that if that happens, and if people don’t like it, then people go off and form other projects. Unlike the institutionally bounded spaces there is no requirement to keep TJC going. Anybody who has been involved in conference organising committees or editorial boards know how keeping the structure going all too easily becomes the underlying rationale. When that happens then care also dissipates. When participation in a project becomes a positional good in an academic market I believe care is undermined.


I am conscious of certain weaknesses in this piece, in particular

  • lack of discussion of the inherent problem of the ‘echo chamber’ effect in activities such as TJC
  • advancement of aspects of hacker culture that are too positive

I will deal with these in further iterations.


THE EXPEDITED VERSION (written with Ommwriter)

OPENINGS
Twitter Journal Club arrived in front of me at a moment of opening. I was open to a reconfiguration of my practice, a revisioning, in almost every sense of that term. I was a year into my job, in a new institution, a new country, and a new field of practice. I had moved from a fairly well bounded filed of sociaology of education to the more porous field of academic practice (jackson). I had already shifted balance, perhaps even sought to be off-balance in making this move. I had moved from familiratiy to deep unfamiliratity. I had moved from a sense of authority or certainty to being a novice (who had to act authoriorial). So a year in I was emerging from that steep learning curve you encounter on entering new terrain. Continuing with that metphor I had navigated safely through this new topography abd, rather than seek refuge in the new known, I sought disruption, disorientation. I sought to pocket the map and replace it with a new way of travelling, a fomr of travel more akin to the situationist derive .

let me open up this moment of opening a little more.

I arrived in y current post mid-semester. although i arrived eager to make teaching adn learning the core of my interests (rather than the core of my activity though not th ecore of th eknowledge networks) i was faced with more immediate demands – to cope, to cope with an existing curriculum and syllabus, with a cohort of students who had gained familirarity with each other for a semester already and had formed relationships with their tutors. I was washed up ashore and needed to make it habitable, for me. I made my mark here or there, but it was a time characterised by a sense of cognitive dissonance. Everything looked familiar – how many configurations of higher educatin classes can you have. But everything was strange, slightly off kilter. There was new literature to get to grips with, concepts half understood had to be more fully grasped. While some of my habitual ways of thinking and doing traveled well, many had to be put aside, leaving feeling exposed. I started the new academic year feeling that I ‘knew’ the course, I knew its contours, I knew it peaks and valleys, I knew wher to ford the rivers, I knew which were the places that were less clearly defined and so should be aproached with some caution. I was even able to start re-drawing the map, becoming a cartogrpher of learning myself. I felt empowered in being able to apply principles of academic practice that had long been constrained, of enacting modes of constructivist being. I fashioned forms of formative fedback, content as heuristics, drew out blackboard?????

I could have stayed in that place. The ill-defined zones were now more granular in their….

While the digital loandcape was all around me and digital learning was in deed part of my remit, though one I was still to engage with, connectivism was not on eof the lines drawn on teh map, not a sumbol, not a northing or easting. But it ws there, in collegial conversations, hinted at when talkin gof ‘open educational resources’, of breaking out of the constraints of learning management systems. Even though I was already a fairly active blogger, both professionally and otherwise, and used twitter, the idea of thes being platforms for a reimagined educational landscape was only slowly coming into view for me. I was nudged by one colleague in particular. I was challenged by her talk, by her practice, by her desire for more open educational practices. I felt resistance, resistance to the unfamlirar, to the challenging to the not-quite-understood. While I was trying to put order on my anxiety, she was encouraging a somethig that felt reckless. So, even though I was stimulated by the anarchic philosophy of RAnciere, and talked of enacting fredom ‘and seeing what happens’, my actually practice was somewhat different. And so I took a step from what I came to understand as a striated space to soft space (bayne) and enaging with forms of open education and scholarship that could be viewed as types of ‘nomadic science’ (D&G).
My entanglement with this was multiple in that it spoke directly to my new role in academic development, but also to a broader critique of academia as dangerous space. Over years of working in the striated spaces of postgraduate programmes and professionaldoctorates I had come to see th eliitations not of the striated spaces but of the weak structures and failure to utilise the capabitilites of offered by the LMS. Coming into this job I was able to introduce into my courses those elements I had often found lacking in my previous work. Specifically this took the form of maximising the LMS so that it became more than an archive and more of a hub. But it is clear now that what I was mostly maximising was its MANAGMENT aspect. Its pedagogic function was less clear to me. However, I did intorduce many elements of the flipped classroom and ‘just-in-time’ teaching. Of course, I have come to see how this also works as an enframing device, of locking me and the participants into a closed system. My desire to provide clarity and clear signposting also had this mix of striation and softness, of clarity within enframement. Expectations, underlhying pedagogies were all opened up to participants as central to my daily practice with them. This seemed more than appropriate given that we were focused on the development of teaching and learning in higher education. I tried to model the practices that were expected of them in the courses. If they had to keep a refelctive journal then I did; if they had to talk openly about their signiture pedagogies, then I did. So, in this regard my slow turn towards open pedagogies and connectivism was a continuation of a ourney I was already on.

OPEN SCHOLARSHIP
I had also been involved in critiquing higher education as a particular kind of dangerous space. I had done this from an autoethnographic perspective in my ongoing ’broken academic’ project (link). This involved linking wellbeing and the micro-agressions of academic life to the broader political economy of higher education. But this also found form in another kind og journal club. And it is this particular expereince that resonates so much with TJC. The space was that of a combined MA in Academic Practice and a loose cluster of colleagues interested in the scholarship of higher education. Some structure was provided through the development of a ‘journal club’ activity whereby we focused on a particular journal article. Although I initially volunteered the readings it was how we engaged with this structure that brought it close to my growing commitment to form sof open scholarlship. We were engaged in this ‘reading’ in a context of a highly charged gender politics of academic prmotions. Our reading took up these themes, allowing us to examine a range of debates about how the university and academic practice could be both critiqued and re-imagined. The boundary between scholarship and our daily lives as academics became seriously blurred. For me this was reflected in a renewed interst in using my professional blogs a spaces to rehearse ideas, to practice writing, and to speak out loud about thoughts and writings that were ‘in progress’, unfinished. This covered both refelctions on what was going on in class (links) and those emerging from the critical space of the MA.

TJC appeared at teh confluence of thse streams of activity, of these openings. Importantly, here, it housed two sets of practices/ideas that have increasingly defined my practice:

TJC as an enactment of academic practice beyond the ‘managed CV’

TJC as invovling an ethic of care

BEYOND THE MANAGED CV
The modern university, certainly in the UK and Irish contexts, is being expereincedby many as adangerous space. I was will say more on this in realtion to the ethic of care. But one dominant characteristic is the growth of methods of managment that seek to align the personal CV of the academic to instituional objectives. We liveand work in an age of the ‘managed CV’ or the ‘accelerated acdemy’. These practices work to alter our own practices and relate to how we perceive ourselves as acadmics. TJC was interesting for me because of how it positively challenged both my inherited academic identity and the strictures of the ‘managed CV’.

The expereince has tested my technical capabilities in relation to managing the various tools required to enage in this particular digitially mediated interaction. I had to move quickly from being mostly a consumer to being a producer in the twitterscape. You become entangled in teh algorithms in a way that demands an intensity of thought, quite contrary to the ‘slow thought’ that I have sought to cultivate and value highly. The content of the articles also demanded an execleration of cognitive shift, to become familiar with a new terrain of connectivist discourse and digital pedagogies. I might have been operating from within an LMS but I was still an analogue academic. I would leave the TJC sessions simulataneously exhilerated and exhausted. They were physically exhausting.

I came to reflect on how this expereince differed from much of my day to day practice, and the feelings that this produced. The idea that a core feature of academic practice is the free exchange of knowledge, and that this is structured through academic journals and conferences sat uneasily beside exhileration of TJC. The unease did not come just from teh contrast of intensities. Firstly, It came from a recognition that in this particular epxeriement there was a degree of exahcnage and interaction that was largely absent from my wn expereince of traditional modes of academic exchange. Academic knowledge is locked behiond a series of paywalls – journal subscriptions and conference fees in particular. The MA reading group discussed often the way the outputs of our endeavours were increasingly being commodified and knowledge privatised. We discussed the attacks on the very idea of acadcmis as involved in eh production of public goods. Teh structures of academic progression demand that we colude with this privatisation of knowledge and locking it behind various pay walls. Indeed, many if not most academics see this as unproblematic. Secondly it the idea that what actually happens in academic journals and conferences is a free exchange of knowledge feels naive. Journals and conferences are substantially hierachical spaces. Indeed, academic promotionn is premised upon this hierarchy. We are counselled to publish in high impact journals, regardless of the quality or inovativeness of qhat we actually write. The assumption of course is that high impact journals equates with high quality scholarship. but the algorithms for measuring ‘impact’ do not assess quality of outputs and are mechanisms that increasingly tie the prctice of academic endeavour to the commercial interests of academic publishers. Again, this links back to the privatisation of knolwedge. Academic conferences…Thirdly, acadmic publishing through the closed sapces of pay-per-view journals disguises the process of writing and working with ideas; it disguises the collective and collaborative nature of the academic enterprise. Writing is messy. Thoughts are usually emergent, being worked out in the moment. Academic publishing demands polished, nojn-messy, products. They are nn-emergent. Even when articles have multiple authors there is a sense that the ideas contained with in the bounded space of the article ‘belong’ somehow to the authros. this ‘belonging’, this notion of ownership of ideas is of course what gives legitimacy to academic promotion. You have appropriated the collective endeavour of many scholars, of participants in research, and privatised it, made it yours, and so added it to your CV which you submit to the promotion panel.

TJC, despire its many limitations, for me, works against this culture of closure and privatisation. Accepting that no platform is is ever fully inclusive, the use of this particular platform to enage in academic discussion breaks free of the institutionally defined spaces for academic exchange. There is inevitably a pay wall involved. You ahve to have access to teh basic essential infrastructure – internet connection and a device for connectign to th eplatform and accessing the articles. But these are much more ubiquitous than the closed systems of universities, academic journals and academic conferences. The principle of using open access articles (whether pre or post published) is important in affording more people the capacity to particpate. Using a digital platform means that the restrictions oninternational collaboration are, in principle, ameliorated, so long as attention is given to different time zones.

Activities such as TJC bear many of the hallmarks of Wabisabi, the Japanese aesthetic that celebrates incompleteness, amongst other qualities. The nature of the platform itself necessitates messiness, incompletness, disjuncrure and non-continuous interation. In this sense it also resembles the situatinist derive an dso can be thought of as a way of moving through a particular academic terrain (defined intially by the article of choice) but without a definite end point in mind. Following teh idea of the derive or psychogeography this is not without purpose, just that the purpose is emegent in the activity itself, and is likely to com eout of specific interactions. It is marked by the way each of us would zone in on initial comments or questions posed by other participants, following up on those threads of discussion. The initial attraction might reflect a current interest or indeed might be recognised as something on ehad not thought of and so worth exploring. Each of us woul dthen construct a represetnation of the event defined not by external criteria but by the impulses of attraction (and opposite?). I would follow perhaps a number of threads but eventually concetrate on one or at most two. As has been seen in other events of this type, and i am thinking of various connectivist projects such as MOOCMOC and rhizome, the interactions take on lives of their own outside of thespecific frame wothe initial event. Indeed, this article is an example of just that. Again, this runs counter to the instrumental character of policy and institutional discourse on academic peoductivity and careers. In sapces such as this it is the connections and the workingout of ideas, it is the emergent quality of academic practice that is foregrounded. this is enahnced by the way particpants have chosen not to iterrogate the articles as such but use them as springboards to reflect back on their own practices. There are interesting processes of feeding back on existing practice and feeding forward, of contemplation sof new practices.

This relates to the thrid element, that of the way some TJC practices carry aspects of hacker culture. TJC discussions spring up in a wide network of places and spaces. Although Laura produces a storify after each event this is then availabe for anyone, TJC participant or not, to hack, to produce derivatives. Derivatives appear in people’s blogs or resurface in discussions in other connectivist spaces. this hacker commitment to re-use emphaises the collaborative nature of any endeavour. It is a different way of conceiving of the free exchange of knowledge that maintains a ‘public’ aspect. While acaddmics can become obsessed with plagiarism (in our students but also in relation to coleagues) , TJC ick sup on the growing interst in open data or experiments in collaborative education (lincoln ). It is non-propriatorial.

For me, TJC has felt ‘wild’, escaping many of the closed systems that charactersies and strucures academic practice. In discussion with Laura I likened it to a ‘potluck’ meal rather than a three course dinner. Although we had an entre, the meaning of the event was given by what each of us brought to the table. Perhaps, building on the open access and hacker analogies, we can think of experiments such as TJC as form sof academic ‘maker spaces’.

ETHIC OF CARE
Personal circumstances (link) have made me particularly attuned to the many micro-aggressions we expereince in academia. It would be nice to apportion blame to the rise of various neo-liberal fomrs of managment and performative culture. But, as Katheen Lynch has so rightly noted, higher education is almost endemically ‘careless’. In her discussion of this Kathleen Lynch points to the way the academic self is fashioned on a priary distinction between mind and body. of course, thiscascades out along a chain of toher binaries such as public/private, assertive/passive, hard/soft science. By festishing the teh cognitive this model of academic identity and practice and its cross-referencing to gender means that women, in particular, have been poorly served by higher education. Some have sought to re-imagine higher education in ways that place care as cenral to the academi cproject and specifically as a public service (refs). What this actually measn in the micro-practices of individuals is still a little uncertain.

I would argue that there are aspects of my expereince of TJC that rehearse an ethic of care. In some ways the actual articles that form the initial poit of contact are almost irrelevant, other than acting to signal the boundary of an affinity group. Thinking back on the idea of the ‘potluck’ and derive, it is the specifica caharecter of connecting (what attracts and repels us in the different threads), the capacity of the article to support a feeding back on practice and feeding forward to imagining new practices that is important. It is the emergent character of teh activity the practices we undertake whlle engaged in TJC perhaps makes it more amenable to caring practice. Some of us have built up a certain amount of care and affection for each other over time and regualr interation in this an dother spaces. But it is important to note that affection is not a neccesary requirement. This is another example of how TJC resembes certain hacker practices. We are linked by a mutual interest in this project. We may or may not go on to work on other projects. It is the project and our interest in it that will determine the longevity of our commitment. Of course, proprietary practices are possible in such spaces. The hacker ethic simply dictates that if that happens, and if people don’t like it, then people go off an dform other projects. Unlike th einstituionaly bounded spaces there is no requirement to keep TJC going. Anybody who has been invlved in conference rganising committees or editorial boards know how keeping the structure going all too easily becomes the underlyhing rationale. When that hapens then care also dissipates. When participation in a project becomes a positional good in an academic market I believe care is undermined.

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It’s amazing what happens over coffee: or deterritoralising the curriculum (a #rhizo15 story 2)

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I had meant to take a break from #rhizo15 but instead found myself taking a coffee break that brought me right back.

Over coffee, at the end of a year’s teaching (my first full academic year in the job), myself and a colleague got to reflecting on how the year had gone and how we might develop things next year.  In the back of my mind was the article by @sbayne that I think was put out there by@NomadWarMachine (not @davecormier) and the task he proposed for #rhizo15 this week.

So, I don’t know to what extent this musing is a detailing of my ‘subjective’:

How do we design our own or others learning when we don’t know where we are going? How does that free us up? What can we get done with subjectives that can’t be done with objectives?

or a working out of ideas partly inspired by Sian’s article.


During the coffee chat it became clear that while happy with the main course I oversee (for me still new, to my colleague now possible tired), having made various changes to emphasise the challenges I wanted participants to engage with rather than just go through content (the content instead working as a vehicle for engaging with concepts and problems), I felt a desire to push explore the possibility of creating more open/connected/distributed forms of learning.

My recent engagement with digital scholarship and #connectedlearning has propelled me to consider other options, and to think about how I might hack my own course, hybridise it.

The stimulats, very much driven my the discussions in #tjc15 and #rhizo15, are:

  • think of resources rather than content: while remaining with the striated texture of the current course (a pre-defined syllabus and form of assessment) how might we reconfigure these so that they are more like initial sets of resources organised around difficult ideas that we face as university educators?  How do we communicate that intent and encourage a mode of engagement with them that is more akin to ‘hacking’ than consumption?
  • can aspects of the syllabus be participant driven? one idea that occurred to me as we talked was of playing with the current timetabling in order to facilitate more participant engagement and potential to generate participant relevant content.  Folks did find useful the clear signposting (and if you read my #rhizo15 story previously you know how attached I am to signposting) of key texts/resources that were organised around difficult or challenging ideas.  Rather than being tied to the fortnightly 3 hour workshop (at the end of busy days) why not have the participants work in cross-disciplinary groups (like action learning sets) to work on the key texts and find their own texts, all the time focusing on the critical questions for practice this reading produces (semester 1 is more theory focused while semester 2 is more practice focused); and have shorter workshops that model many of the ideas we promote.  I think this is about pushing my interest in practice theory further to see how it can reconfigure the current approach.  It is also about playing with the potential for learning to come out of the connections folks make within the course.
  • making emergent objectives explicit: while we will have learning objectives, the reality is that folks operate with their own emergent objectives.  They are motivated differently to participate in the course, this motivation often changing over time, and in relation to different aspects of the course.  I make the assumption that they are all strategic learners.  So why not make emergent objectives an explicit structure within the course?  This would be transient, and would help them see their own students differently, more positively.  Emergent objectives could become points for reflecting on what the course should be dealing with, what the difficult ideas and issues are, and therefore the content required.
  • disrupting my role as obligatory point of passage: and how can I dislodge myself as the obligatory point of passage, the ultimate point of authority? I have tried to break this down a little already by sharing with them my own critical reflections on the course (see here and here for examples).  But by constraining the power to archive materials in the institutional VLE a clear hierarchy is established.  I will not pretend that I am removing the hierarchy since I am after all a final arbiter, the one who, institutionally, is responsible for assessment – this Sian Bayne’s struggle to institute smooth spaces within striated institutions.  But this can be disrupted by distributing the curating role across as many participants as possible through the use of social bookmarking to share resources (as well as the VLE).  Also, could we introduce aspects of peer review?

What have I done here?  I think I have, in the doing of this post, identified an emergent objective – that is the way my participation in #rhizo15 can feed back into my thinking about my own practice as an educator; working with the play of smooth and striated space.

But also, it is subjective in that it speaks to how I want to constitute my self as practitioner – what kind of educator can I be?

Continuous Publishing and the digital republic of letters

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It has become something of a truism that we (that is academics) live in a time of intensification of academic labour with its technologies of surveillance such as research assessment exercises, key performance indicators, and metrics of productivity.  We are caught up in what Mark Carrigan has referred to as the ‘accelerated academy’ and its toxic and murderous effects.  It is this ‘toxic academy’ that I have directed some of my own energy, partly through my blog but more recently through more ‘legitimate’ (?) forms of academic publishing (book chapter under review).

In response to this situation some have called for the institution of a slow university that draws on the ethos of the slow food movement.  Others, however, have championed forms of open scholarship and open access as alternative or complementary practices.  Indeed some initiatives, such as the online journal Hybrid Pedagogy, deliberately situate themselves in this space.

Many of these debates congregate around the issue of academic publishing in these accelerated times.  In particular they attend to a number of intersecting issues:

  • the closed nature or privatisation of academic traditional publishing
  • the impact of the digital on traditional analogue publishing.

I won’t go into these issues in detail.  However, there has been growing concern about the dominance of academic publishers over the nature of academic labour, and that this constitutes a privatisation of what should be regarded as a public good.  The digital landscape has been seen by some as opening up a new republic of letters, a new way of reconnecting scholarship with its many publics.

My own scholarly practice has been impacted positively, in my view, by this more recent idea of a DIGITAL REPUBLIC OF LETTERS.  As Edward Said would note, there are many beginnings associated with this turn in my practice.  Specifically, I was inspired (and I use that term deliberately) by a number of articles in the LSE’s ‘Impact of Social Sciences’ blog.  These articles deal with the practice of continuous publishing.  One ‘beginning’ was my reading of Mark Carrigan’s discussion of The Open-Source Academic and the use of participatory media (for instance blogging and twitter).  I followed this discussion through two sister articles written by Mark and Pat Lockley.  They noted that “We need to have an ongoing and honest conversation about what academic publishing is, what it could be and what it should be.”, drawing attention to the perverse incentives generated by the particular kind of reputational economy that the accelerated academy is producing.  In this scenario university managers appear to fetishise metrics of academic productivity, being obsessed with improving their institutions’ relative position in an insular economy.  This particular reputational economy is increasingly divorced from the the big issues, and leads to public goods (research knowledge) being locked behind ever expensive paywalls.  They then go on to argue that multiple forms of publishing – journals, blogs, twitter, etc. should become the norm if we are serious about public engagement, and could enhance more traditional forms of reputational value.  Bonnie Stewart has done some incisive work looking at twitter activity as a measure of impact and contribution in open scholarly networks (which often sit alongside the traditional mode) (and it is important to mention Bonnie’s work here since a brief review of the LSE ‘Impact’ blog shows that men seem to be dominating this discussion in that particular space even though my personal empirical experience is of a dynamic network of women driving much of this forward).

But I think there is something beyond the #altmetrics buzz we are getting just now, something that has to do with ethical choices about the kind of academic you want to be.

I am struggling with this right now, caught between embracing digital and open scholarship as a strategy of increasing professional presence and public engagement (though the matter of publics is in need of serious deconstruction), and something more akin to #alt-ac.

My engagement with the work of Mark Carrigan and Pat Lockley came at a moment (a beginning) where I was reconsidering my place in academia, indeed whether I wanted to remain in it all.  A good colleague of mine had been gently nudging me to venture further into the digital and open scholarship space, and to build on my existing blog.  While my blog had initially been developed with a vague idea of the potential of participatory media as a platform for reflection, this was to be further and more deliberately developed later in response to my embracing of the digital identity.  This signalled a desire to refashion my professional identity and practice, to explore the opportunities afforded by ‘digital’, ’openness’, ‘connectedness’. 

In part this is a continuation of traditional modes of academic endeavour.  My sister blog ‘The Broken Academic’ is a vehicle for rehearsing ideas and writing leading to academic publication.  And in my main blog I am currently trying to tease out my understanding of various literatures in relation to aspects of learning and teaching in higher education, with the intent of publishing.  But I have taken to heart the ethic of continuous publishing as also being about uncovering the artfulness of academic writing, of its created sense; to capture in blog posts some of the messiness, the experimentation, so that it does not appear as ready-formed, as rationally produced, as the mere outcome of a recipe that one simply needs to follow.  In this it is a refashioning of the self and a framing of ‘engagement’ as making oneself vulnerable, and so undermining the potential mantle of ‘expert’.  Is this, though, a kind of ‘academic suicide’, a denial of the possibility of being an ‘academic’?

And this is why it is more than enhancing the traditional form of academic publishing (while not, as yet, refusing that offer completely). 

Jacque Ranciere is a fantom here, present not in his corporeal person but in his evocation of a spirit – the spirit that says “Enact openness and see what happens”.  I am seeing what happens, and what ‘openness’ might mean.

It is taking on interesting forms.

While for me the digital and open scholarship practices that I am trying to enact are about ‘connected scholarship’ I find myself enjoying the company of folks who might be described (inscribed?) by the term ‘connected learning’.  This space is defined by certain practitioners and certain concepts and certain networks, many of which overlap:

  • @catherinecronin; @bali_maha; @GoogleGuacamole (Laura Gogia); @JeffreyKeefer; @jessifer, @bonstewart, etc (just some most pertinent to this particular discussion) I am new to most of these folks and in a few short, but intense months, have learned so much that I doubt I can go back to where I was; and the use of ‘@‘ is deliberate because that is how I mostly know/communicate with them, the platform that carries the learning;
  • #connectivism; #connectedlearning; rhizomatic learning; digital scholarship; #digiped; #openscholar, etc. – and again the ‘#’ is instructive as to how I engage with these;
  • Hybrid Pedagogy/@HybridPed; @LSEImpactBlog; #TJC15 (via Laura Gogia); and now #rhizo15.

Now that most of my teaching has become f-2-f (having been distance/blended for so long), I find myself embedded in conversations about hybrid/connected/rhizomatic learning.  And although my concerns are with digital and open scholarship the crossover conversations are stimulating, push me beyond the familiar and habitual, push me into uncomfortable (but enriching) liminal spaces.

And, finally, perhaps this is what I really want to say:

I had imagined academia as a place where we regularly engaged in stimulating intellectual discussion, where, when one was teaching there would be pedagogic debate.  I never believed that this would happen all of the time.  But I had worked in spaces that on the surface appeared to share similar creative impulses (in community arts and education).  In those spaces debates/discussions/considerations of principle, of ideas, of pedagogy were central to what we did – TO OUR DAILY PRACTICE, TO OUR DOING.  Approaching 20 years in academia, in the company of the folks, the concepts, and the networks above, I find myself in that kind of stimulating arena, of being daily tested/attracted/disgruntled. 

BUT much of my normative/paid ‘academic’ doing is dominated by timetabling, meeting committee deadlines, instrumental demands around introducing modules rather than why we are doing it, what does it mean for teaching or for learning (and so for who we are or could be as academics).  Academic publishing and conferences are seldom experienced as invigorating but as enervating.

So, the discussions of continuous publishing speak, to me, of where we experience the kinds of discussion that academia should have, the spaces where we engage with people and ideas and practices that place us in liminal spaces, and therefore powerful learning.

What’s the point of this blog …….the author responds to himself

Following my recent blog post I feel the need to respond to myself.  Listen to the short podcast where I explore further ideas of digital scholarship and how they are affecting my pedagogy and scholarship.

I mention a number of inspirational (for me) sources:

The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice by Martin Weller

Designing for learning in an open world by Gráinne Conole

The Rights’ Future by Conor Gearty

What’s the Point……of writing this blog?

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I have been thinking a lot recently about my aversion to writing this blog.

Of course, events in the summer disrupted the flow, introduced some new sense of urgency around particular concerns, then….very little.

It was as if I had lost faith in what I was doing here, of doubting the efficacy of this project.

Some recent reading around public pedagogyand digital scholarship has encouraged me to revisit my purpose here and to try and reframe what and how I want to write.

This is not necessarily a radical change in what I had set out to do initially, but perhaps simply gives me more impetus.  It picks up on an effort within my teaching to share with students the processes underlying the pedagogy, of revealing the pedagogic purpose of what I am inviting them to participate in.

This revisiting of the purpose of writing a blog like this is to bring my attention to certain key terms:

What do I mean by ‘public’?

What publics do I have in mind in engaging in this kind of writing? The kind of writing we engage in, the types of event or outlets through which we seek to present our intellectual work all speak to both who we want to enter into conversation with and what kinds of conversation we want to have.  Hopefully I can clarify this (to myself) as I continue the process of writing in this public forum.  The word public can also suggest a certain breaking down of hierarchies, but how true is that?

Scholarship – an elite practice?

I remember a response from Beatrix Campbell to a right wing politician who was deriding academics and ‘theory’, where Beatrix noted that ‘theory was another name for thinking’ so was the politician against thinking?  In the context of the managed academic CV where what we write about is of less importance than the ‘value’ our academic endeavours can bring to the institution (as if it was separate from us) – as the recent Research Excellence Framework exercise demonstrates – attention to academic work as a form of public good is critically important.  Higher education scholarship must speak to the major issues that affect people, and do so in a way that is not defined by the interests of institutional game-playing or private profit. This is allied to scholarship as a public activity.  Therefore, while we may, individually, have to keep in mind our scholarly outputs for promotional purposes, we have to be mindful of how public knowledge is increasingly being privatised by the dominance of the major publishing companies.

Which brings me to the digital scholarship debate.

And here I simply refer to the responsibility incumbent upon academic workers to make our work more publically available.

In particular I am going to revisit the idea of blogging as a form of continuous scholarship that simultaneously is focused towards the scholar (the development of ideas that may become other kinds of academic output) and outward as public scholarship that deconstructs the process of knowledge work, and contributes to a revisioning of scholarship as a public practice.