A Typology of Keynotes

Keynote image

Preview of the scene in Manchester the week of June 23 2016

Co-authored by that Lawrie Phipps , who is also responsible for the header photo.

The thinking for this post started with discussions we’ve been having with each other about keynote speakers, and keynote talks, inspired in part by recent blogposts and Twitter conversations with James Clay and Martin Weller (and others).   We are both doing several (separate) keynotes this spring, and have invitations to do some in the next academic year as well, and will also be keynoting together at UXLibs 2 .  As one of us is also a folklorist, and the other a naturalist (we will leave it to you to figure out which is which), the idea of a typology of keynotes eventually came up.  Here we approach typologies as tools for classifying materials, a necessary step before engaging in content analysis and interpretation.  

Folk narratives for example, can be divided into genres, and engaging with a typology of genres can be a first step towards analyzing the meaning behind the narrative.   Folktales are narratives that are fictions, legends are fictions told as true (or with a kernel of truth), and myths are sacred narratives told as true.  There is, of course, slippage among the genres, but using them as discrete categories can allow for discussion of the motivations behind the telling of tales.  When do people use fiction to make their point?  When does invoking the sacred matter?  Why make the choice to tell a fantastic tale as if it really happened to a friend of a friend?

We think we see the following types of keynotes.   We may or may not be judging them, even as we attempt a relatively “neutral” list of categories.

The Provocateur

Sometimes speakers are invited simply to get people to sit up and notice, and, ideally, push back.  The point is not to get people to agree, but to get them thinking and talking, and for the content of the keynote to outlast the talk, and carry on into the halls and the sessions of the conference, encouraging people to speak to, or against, or in some way connect to the themes explored in the talk.

The Campaigner

In education this type of keynote is most often associated with political or policy imperatives. Sometimes, something is happening and changing that is so important that you have to get the message out there, situations where a lot of senior people in a lot of different organisations and institutions know that their staff need to have an awareness of that thing.

There is a clear message that the speaker is trying to get across, and usually it will have wide ramifications across the sector. On the “campaign trail” the speaker will have the opportunity to refine and hone their delivery, while, through necessity, keeping the integrity of the message.

The Persuader

Whether it is the speaker who wants to persuade the audience, or the person who has booked the speaker; the persuader is there with an idea and a message. It’s on the continuum with campaigner, but lacks the hard edge political or policy imperative.

The Entertainer

This is a speaker whose strengths are known, to the audience and to the organizers, and it’s that known quantity that they want to bring to the event.  This talk can make people smile, or generate emotion in some way, but isn’t designed to provoke or profoundly upset. In some ways the content of the talk is less relevant than the show put on by this speaker.  

The Reporter

This keynote is about work that has been done, and its output.  This speaker is giving a sense of the project they carried out, a situation on the ground in a particular field of study or practice.  The point is not to persuade but simply to inform, and perhaps seek feedback or validation of results.  This can also take the form of a retrospective, where the speaker is invited to narrate the arc of a project, research agenda, or perhaps their entire career.

The Guru

The expert, the source, the philosopher who generated the idea.  The speaker is synonymous with the concept in question in the keynote, so indelibly associated with an idea that it is that person that you want, and if you can’t get them, you want them referenced by your Plan B speaker.  

The Seller

This keynote has something on offer, this speaker is doing more than persuading, they are selling a concrete thing. Caveat Emptor, this particular manifestation of keynote may slip into any of the others without the conference organised realizing. There are three sub-categories:

  • Service:  The speaker has a workshop, a consultancy, something that they would like you to pay for them to come in and run.  Their speech is designed to identify the situations or problems that would make such a service necessary, and ideally for audience members to realize that they really really need to bring the speaker in to run that service for their own place of work.
  • Self:  The speaker is selling themselves, their personal brand or style is why they have been brought in to speak.  As a conference organizer are paying less for the content and more simply to have them on stage at your event and hoping they will align with the content.  
  • Artifact:  This is generally a book, DVD or even blog, the product of work the speaker has done as a researcher or other kind of practitioner (see above:  Service).  This speaker uses their keynote as an advertisement for their book, giving a preview of the content and perspective so that audience members will want to have their own copy, or make sure their institution acquires it.

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In this breakdown of keynotes into types we’ve tried to allow for the reality that many talks (and people who give them) are doing more than one of these things. And, as with folktales, sometimes the motivation of the teller is not the same as the motivations of the listeners.

For conference organizers, think about what you’d like from any speaker.  Is it always what they want to deliver?  Is it always what they are asked to do, when invited to speak? If not, whose fault is that?  Conference attendees, what do you like to listen to?  Does the kind of keynote you think is on offer affect whether or not you will attend certain events?  What does the presence of any keynote speaker do to your perception of conferences?  

Do you have types you would include in this list? Do you have a favorite type?

Teaching, Learning, and Vulnerability in Digital Places: Library Instruction West 2016 keynote

I just got back from Salt Lake City yesterday.  I was and still am so pleased and flattered to have this invitation to speak to another group of librarians, another room of my colleagues inspired and challenged by the nature of instruction in and around libraries.  This was my third (out of four) big talk of the Spring, and it was also the one I wrote the last, the one I struggled with the most.  I knew I wanted to say something about vulnerability, but kept coming up against how to frame it, what was the point I wanted to make?  I think in the end I came up with a point, but I confess that it was mostly in the improv around my notes,  in that room this past Thursday morning, that it all came together (you can also see from the Storify ).  Those who were in the room with me may reasonably disagree, of course.

I should also thank before I continue the people who helped me think this through, whether they realized it or not:

@edrabinski  @davecormier

@tressiemcphd  

@slamteacher  @bonstewart

@jessifer  @AprilHathcock

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As an anthropologist who works in libraries, my fieldwork takes me beyond libraries into a wide variety of learning places.  And those learning places are classrooms, cafes, parks, Moodle, Facebook, and Twitter.  I spend a lot of time online and talking about being online, not just in my fieldwork, but in my academic practice.  

Online is a place.  It is not just a kind of tool, or a bucket of content, but a location where people go to encounter and experience other people.  Places, online and otherwise, are made things, they are cultural constructs.  Technology, and the places technology helps create, are likewise cultural constructs, and therefore:  Not Neutral.  They are human, they are made, they contain values.

I am not telling people anything that hasn’t been said before, but it’s worth repeating.

Libraries and Librarians aren’t neutral either.  

I see some Librarians try to position themselves as neutral, supportive nurturing helpers, and those who try this are not always good at conveying it.  I think the reason for that is that such neutrality cannot possibly be real–we are all human, we all have biases, we are not “objective” and pretending to be just allows us to deny our subjectivity rather than working through it.  

[at this point I asked the room:]

How many of you have ever been told,

“I have a really stupid question?”

[lots of hands went up.  Seemed like the entire room]

When people walk up and say, “I have a really stupid question,” It’s because they are preemptively signaling they are not comfortable yet.  They don’t feel safe.  So I’m wondering, how do we build, within libraries, and within education generally, places for people to feel safe?

And in thinking about places, I want to ask, where are librarians?  Where do you want to be?  Why do you want to be there? I am making an assumption here that If you are in online spaces, it is to connect, with each other, with students, (not because “it would be cool” please no not that). 

I think presence in those places signals that you care, and value connection, and want to create safe spaces.  How, then, does that affect practice?  How do we think critically about practices such that we can make places feel safe?

How do you become trustworthy?  Not as individuals, but structurally?  What makes it make sense for students or faculty to come to you?  To the Library?  Where else is the library?  Does the persistent question, “why don’t they come to us?” make sense if we are all supposed to be part of the same community?

What do you do to become part of your community?  What do you do that is trustworthy?

And, also, how do you come to trust the people whom you are trying to reach?

How do you find them?  How do you find out about what they are doing and why?  Because it can be difficult to trust people you do not understand.

And this, actually, is part of the problem I have with these notions of empathy as some sort of prerequisite to action, to connection.  I am troubled by the suggestion that you need to muster up empathy first before reaching out to students or faculty.  (Not that I am opposed to empathy, I’m a fan of it in my life and work)  Our students and colleagues are worthy of our respect, they have an inherent human dignity that means it is our responsibility to reach out, to try to connect, whether we have achieved empathetic understanding beforehand or not.

Perhaps, perhaps that empathy actually comes most effectively post-connection.  Empathy is not a prerequisite, but an outcome.

Some of the work I do in my research and practice might point a way towards understanding the motivations behind practices online.

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Visitors and Residents map, collected from one of the workshops we’ve conducted over the years. Visualizing practices, and online places, is a first important step towards understanding motivations to engage.

I have spoken and blogged before about mapping practices.  In research and in workshops we can get people to talk about where they are online and also how it makes them feel.  People feel about digital places in similar ways to feeling about physical ones–I’ve interviewed students who sigh deeply in dismay at the thought of their Facebook account, full of troublesome family members, or who smile in thinking about their Twitter community, configured carefully so that they can be who they want to be, feel how they want to feel, while in that place. 

Online behaviors are not determined by the venue.  Facebook is not always about what you had for breakfast, and Twitter is not always about politics.  Each of these places, all of the new and old online places, are about people, and choices.  So, mapping, as with the V&R maps, can show us where people are, but the important part is the conversations that are generated, about why they are there (or not).

I think about the emotional associations of institutional spaces, for example in usability studies of library websites revealing the embarrassment and frustration students can feel at not being able to wrangle the website.  In fact, they frequently blame themselves for the tech failure, apologize to us for our crappy websites.  They say they will try again, but when they are away from us, why would they go back?  Who voluntarily goes back to some place that makes them feel stupid?

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During the Twitter-based #digped discussion in mid-May, there was a discussion about how to make ed tech more human.  This tweet I’ve captured points to some of what I have been turning over in my head about digital and presence.

When thinking about instructional online spaces, I’d like to ask (and I’m far from the only one) how to make them human as well as positive?  How do we build in access to other people, and not just provide buckets of content?  Where are the people in your online learning environment?  Are they connected to each other?  In my experience, students find their human connections outside of the institutional learning environment–they are on Snapchat, on Instagram, in Facebook and Twitter.  So we should continue to think about the role of digital places, outside of institutions as  where connections happen.  

We need to continue to think about identity, and how it plays out online.  Where and how do we develop voices online?

I have been thinking the role of vulnerability–it troubles me lately, because I often see it approached in terms of personal vulnerability, of some sense that sharing your personal life at work is necessary, so as to give people a “way in.”

In my own practice, I’ve made deliberate decisions to share parts of my personal life, on Twitter, in my blog. I approach it as a political decision as much as anything, a result of what I think needs to happen around the representation of women as professionals and academics.  And things I’ve written can indeed be interpreted as a wider call for more people to be “personal” online, so as to be human, and therefore accrue  a different kind of credibility in the new academic spaces of the Resident web.

“Acquiring currency can be about whether a person is perceived to be vulnerable, not just authoritative, alive and sensitive to intersections and landscapes of power and privilege: As Jennifer Ansley explains, “In this context, “credibility” is not defined by an assertion of authority, but a willingness to recognize difference and the potential for harm that exists in relations across difference.” In other words, scholars will gain a form of currency by becoming perceived as “human”…rather than cloaked by the deliberately de-humanised unemotive academic voice. This is perhaps because the absence of physical embodiment online encourages us to give more weight to indications that we are assigning credibility to a fellow human rather than a hollow cluster of code. We value those moments where we find the antidote to the uncanniness of the disembodied Web in what we perceive to be indisputably human interactions.”

Lanclos and White, “The Resident Web and Its Impact on the Academy,” Hybrid Pedagogy, 08 October, 2015

Who is a scholar?  Who is a professor?  Who is a teacher?  The many paths we take now didn’t always exist, and there are indeed political as well as pedagogical reasons for revealing those narratives (as I have, in talking about mine).

But I wonder, how do you reconcile that with the narrative of “risky” online environments, and how faculty and students need to be “cautious?”  How do you balance the need for a kind of vulnerability with desire for “safety”–how is that possible?  What does “safe” mean?

What constitutes vulnerability online, and for whom?

Who gets to be vulnerable?  What does that mean?

Who is already vulnerable?  

“Risk-taking” is so often framed as a positive thing, especially when people in a position of privilege engage in it.  But when the intersections of our identity place us in more vulnerable categories, ones other than white, straight, male, cisgendered, middle (or upper)-class when does “risk-taking” segue into “risky?”  When do our human vulnerabilities get held against us?  This is about context–who is classed as positive risk-takers when they make themselves vulnerable, who is classed as “risky” and perhaps necessary to avoid, someone who makes people uncomfortable.

So, what price “approachable?”  How much do we strip ourselves of ourselves so that people are comfortable, so that we are not “risky?”

This, I think is the tyranny of NICE–I see this especially in libraries, wherein “approachability”  can be shorthand for “seems enough like me to be safe”  How do we create environments where unfamiliarity doesn’t have to feel risky?  Where “discomfort” isn’t a barrier to engagement or thinking?

How do we get a diversity of “safe” people into our networks, who do not discount us as “risky” in our vulnerabilities?

In particular i want to ask this question:

What does it mean when we ask Students to be vulnerable online?  How is it different if they are women?   Black?  White?  Brown?  LGBT+?   Fill in the category of your choice here.  

Because some of us show up more vulnerable than others.  Our identity is not just the categories and characteristics we self-identify with, it’s the boxes people try to place us in.  it’s involuntary vulnerability, the people we are perceived to be become a way to dismiss us, our expertise, our content.  Structural and personal vulnerability can’t be shaken off, and maybe we don’t owe anyone our personal vulnerability.  Maybe our students don’t owe us personal vulnerability.

Vulnerability doesn’t have to be personal.

I think about professors giving phone numbers out to students, back before social media ubiquity.  Choosing to give out home phone numbers, or even cell phone numbers wasn’t something everyone did, it signaled a particular approach to boundaries and the role of professors in student lives.  What is the online equivalent?  Is it friending or following on social media?  

I wonder what are other ways of being present and human to students without violating important boundaries yourself?  

I don’t think that kind of putting yourself personally out there is mandatory.  Personal narratives don’t have to be the default.  You don’t owe anyone your personal story.  And sometimes just your existence is story enough.

We do owe them professional vulnerability.  That way lies inclusion–for our colleagues and our students.  Professional vulnerability can model the kind of society that we want them to have.  We need them to be flexible, transparent, and to expect that from their professional and civic networks going forward.  

So what would that kind of professional vulnerability look like?

Libraries have traditionally expressed “service” in terms of seamlessness–systems that don’t need explaining, for example.  And from a UX perspective, that’s one thing. But in an instruction context, that’s problematic.  Seamlessness doesn’t signal a way in.   iPhones don’t tell you how they are made, they just expect you to use them.  How do we build educational environments, both digital and physical, that give people a way in?  In to the course,  to the library, to the discipline, to the University?

One answer might be in engaging with seam-y (“see me”)  practices and pedagogies.  Showing the seams, being open about how educational experiences and scholarly content are produced.  Academia is a made thing, we can show students the seams, and allow them to find their way in.  

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Seams showing how the locomotive cylinder is put together. Image from page 180 of “The Locomotive” (1867) Internet Archive Book Image Flickr Stream: https://flic.kr/p/ovuPbj

I see examples in many places.  Including the rhizomatic learning work coming from Dave Cormier. In his connectivist approach to education, he argues that:

“What is needed is a model of knowledge acquisition that accounts for socially constructed, negotiated knowledge. In such a model, the community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum.”

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

Teaching a class where you admit that you aren’t quite sure where things are going, where you are clear in not knowing everything, that is professional vulnerability.  Instructors who construct their authority in the classroom around knowing everything, or at least knowing Way More Than Their Students about Everything, are at risk of #authoritysofragile, of that moment when it is revealed that of course we don’t know everything, and the authority is shattered.  We can avoid those shattering moments by never pretending in the first place to know it all.  Positioning ourselves confidently alongside our students as we explore things without being sure of outcomes, that’s powerful, that is seam-y, that is professional vulnerability.

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If you read this blog you’ve seen this map before. This workshop participant annotated her V&R map with arrows indicating where she wanted to move her practice, mapping the trajectory of the changes she wanted.

In the V&R workshops we conduct we ask people to annotate their maps, to show where they are willing to move and change, and even discontinue what they are doing.  The epiphanies that happen when people realize this thing they have been doing doesn’t serve them especially well can feel like admitting a mistake. These conversations reveal emotions that these places and practices engender, and those revelations are a form of professional vulnerability.  

Open practice is a kind of vulnerability that reveals the seams of academic work.  I am open in my own practice, in sharing rough drafts via Google Docs, in blogging half-formed ideas, in Tweeting even less formed ideas.  If you look at my blog from when it first started my voice was very different than what it is now.  I am never finished, my work is never seamless and complete.

What can we do in our own practices to create spaces where the seams of academia are visible?  Create places where our students can see how and where they fit?  The possibilities for our students finding where they can get in are contained in the spaces we do not fill with content, or cover over with seamless interfaces

The work of teaching and learning is challenging, and when we talk about seamlessness we are lying about what education is supposed to be.  The challenge is in doing the things we don’t know yet, and how will our students learn that if we do not?  If we do not model our own unformed and unfinished practices, how can they even know that is what happens?  How can they imagine themselves doing it?

Digital affords us different ways of revealing the seams, the mess of our academic projects.  We can, without revealing ourselves totally, still reveal process in a way that makes it clear that academia is a cultural construct, made by people not entirely unlike our students.  Tools and places are out there such as Hypothes.is ,GoogleDocs, Twitter, blogging platforms. Facebook groups, Instagram, Pinterest, ephemeral contexts such as Snapchat. The point is not the specific environment or tools, but in the possibilities to connect, and capability of revealing process along the way.  

We can highlight the importance of engaging in unfinished thoughts, in exploration.  Where a .pdf is seamless and a finished product, an invited GoogleDoc is seam-y and in process, perhaps never entirely done.

Libraries have a history of engaging with process, not just content.  Libraries are good at this, their particular area of expertise is in navigating, framing, and evaluating content (in its myriad forms). Open practice, professional vulnerability around the processes of academia, this is an opportunity for Libraries and Information Literacy and Library Instruction to shine. 

My friend and colleague Emily Drabinski writes marvelous things, and one of her latest, a co-authored piece with Scott Walter, “Asking Questions that Matterchallenges us to articulate not the value of libraries, but the values within libraries, coming out of libraries, of library instruction.  

So I want to end, as I usually do, with questions.  

What values are you expressing with your instructional approaches? How can you express them digital places?

What is the role of vulnerability for you?  How can you protect yourself, model protection for your students, and still achieve seam-y pedagogy?

What would that look like?

 

 

When the Active Learning Agenda Comes to Town: #TILC2016

River in Radford

It was a lovely day to visit VIrginia, thank you TILC organizing committee for inviting me.

 

I had the great pleasure of getting to speak to a roomful of library colleagues at the Innovative Library Classroom conference in Radford, VA this past week.  It’s one of those nice small-room conferences that facilitates deep dives, long conversations, and chatty interactions that can inspire and lead to future work that you would never have otherwise been able to consider.

I have been presenting on the work my UNC Charlotte colleagues and I are doing in our Active Learning Classrooms  in a few different contexts.  This is the first time I’ve gotten to speak about what I think the implications are for libraries and librarians.  Several people helped me with the content and the framing of this talk, and I will thank them at the beginning of this blogpost (rather than at the end of the talk).  If I am coherent at all when I give talks it is thanks to the processing that my friends and colleagues allow me to do in their presence, in conversation, on Twitter and email and elsewhere.  They are not of course culpable, any mistakes or disagreements should settle safely on my shoulders alone.

For this talk, I get to thank Dave Cormier, Rich Preville, Kurt Richter, Stephanie Otis, and Susan Harden for talking with, working with, and otherwise indulging me processing aloud in some way.

(Usual caveats about how I am far more Improv Theater than Scripted–here is my best attempt at capturing this particular talk. )

I have been asked to talk to you today about the agenda of active learning classrooms, active learning practices, and active learning places.
I am an anthropologist employed by my library to do research around academic practices, defined very broadly.  I am responsible to the Dean of the Library to bring relevant information around digital and physical spaces and practices, so that our library can make better, more effective decisions about policy, spaces, collections, and agendas.  

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Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte.  Photo Wade Bruton, UNC Charlotte: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stakeyourclaim/6254440195

It has become clear over the last several years that my work is about more than the library, it’s about academia generally, and therefore I have to be present, in my research and in my policy discussions, outside of the library.  So I am collaborating with people in the US, UK, and of course at UNCC who are in centers of teaching and learning, who are in leadership positions around digital pedagogy, as well as in libraries.  

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You’ve seen this cognitive map before. I love these visualizations of how wide-ranging and messy academic practice is, the nice representation of the connected network of learning spaces including but also beyond the library.

So when we talk about Active Learning, I like, as with my library work, to take a broad view.  I am defining active learning for the purposes of this talk as the cluster of pedagogical approaches that center student participation in teaching and learning, and de-center the role of the instructor as Imparter of Knowledge.  It tends to take place in a wide variety of environments, including purpose-built ones like we have at UNC Charlotte.

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UNC Charlotte’s active learning classroom in Kennedy Hall, photo from the Center for Teaching and Learning. Dr. Coral Wayland teaches and learns from her students.

I think it’s useful to ask, when talking about Active Learning Agendas, questions like:  whose agenda?  Is there more than one?  Where are those agendas located?

I see multiple sites for discussions around active learning, and many possible participants.

Another question I have is:  are the agendas embedded in the practices of a university or school?  Or are they accessories that mask the dominant presence of less innovative practice?

I think about the difference between integrated Information Literacy education vs. One-shot library instruction, and what those very different approaches can signal about how the library is situated on campus as a whole.   When one-shot instruction is the only option, what does that mean with regard to the culture of teaching, and the possible library role in it, as a whole?  Conversations I have with instruction librarian colleagues (and indeed, the content of much of the TILC program) indicate that no one thinks it’s a particularly marvelous way to teach people.  But it persists, sometimes as the only game in town.

Likewise we know that lectures are a less effective way of teaching and learning than active pedagogies, but they are still around because…?

There are a number of reasons, but I wonder in particular , where is the time to plan and do otherwise?

How do we create organizational space?  Time?  Priorities? Communities for people to come together and teach as a process?

And I struggle with this a great deal in part because while I’m increasingly witnessing relatively high-level policy discussions around the intentions of our administration, faculty, and community with regard to teaching and learning, and am also getting access to grass-roots practice via fieldwork (observations and interviews mostly, and also some MA-student led work on the anthropology of collaboration among undergraduates), I don’t have a good sense of what the in-between bureaucratic procedures we need at UNCC (or elsewhere) for a sustainable, pervasive active learning agenda.

I am confident that all of the people in the room at TILC are doing as much active teaching and learning as they can, it’s part of why they were at the conference.  I want to explore a bit what my experience around active learning has been at UNC Charlotte, and ask some questions about the role of libraries in the larger educational agenda of universities.

I see active learning as an opportunity for libraries and librarians to partner with teaching faculty–and so as always the question is how do you get buy-in?  How can you get faculty informed, and also informing each other about those opportunities?  How, in the course of engaging in active practices, can we get people to go along with de-centering content, transmission of knowledge, and focus instead on process, on connection, on learning?  Here is where I turn to the work of Dave Cormier and his #rhizo experiments in online learning.

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Image source David L. Van Tassel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Helianthus_maximilianii_rhizomes.jpg

I quote shamelessly from Dave’s blog here:

“What is needed is a model of knowledge acquisition that accounts for socially constructed, negotiated knowledge. In such a model, the community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum.”

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

To borrow a phrase from libraries and archives, how do we get to a point where we curate connections rather than curating content?  This has always been the work of the library, but is now more than ever at the center of what we do.  And we are not alone, clearly that shift is happening in the classroom as well as other teaching and learning spaces in universities.

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UNC Charlotte’s active learning classroom in Kennedy Hall, before they started being used. Photo from Center for Teaching and Learning.

UNC Charlotte’s active learning classrooms are the newest teaching spaces on campus, constructed in our oldest building.  We have this agenda and these spaces in part because of our Senior Associate Provost, Dr. Jay Raja, and his commitment to fund and facilitate these classrooms.  The roll out of these spaces was accompanied by a programmatic attention to them in the form of the Active Learning Academy, the leadership team of which is comprised of people from the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Classroom Support, and the Library.  My role is assessment but also in participating in conversations about the role of teaching and pedagogy at UNC Charlotte generally.

In the fieldwork I conducted and facilitated I did observations not just of the classrooms but also of the sessions where faculty teaching in these rooms came together to talk about what they were doing around active learning, and why.  We approached the Active Learning Academy as a community of practice, an opportunity for faculty to share with and learn from each other, far more than another place for faculty to be told what to do by outside experts.

I was most struck by what was anxiety-provoking.  One faculty member, on walking into the space, wanted to know how to turn off the internet.  We heard from another faculty member they had been warned not to teach in classrooms like these, because they would not be able to deliver the content they needed to.  We had another faculty member stop teaching in the classroom after an academic year (we are now at the end of our second full year of these classrooms being open), because he could not lecture effectively in that space.  There was too big a gap between what the room was encouraging him to do, and what he was still comfortable doing.  He was unable to put much distance between himself and the model of authority which required that he know everything, and try to communicate it all in person to his students.

There was some anxiety around what if the tech fails?   Persistent narratives, either around tech or students or content delivery, centered on lack of control.  Lack of control of classroom tech, of students, of their own time as instructors to be able to pay attention to their syllabus and their pedagogy to really effectively use the potential in a room like this.

Students pushed back as well, against a notion of teaching that was unfamiliar to those used to lecture-based content delivery, of standardized testing.  “I thought you were supposed to be teaching me!”  is what some faculty heard.

Student are not immune from the same cliches of teaching and learning that can trap instructors.  

The role of the Center for Teaching and Learning was to attempt to provide a space where faculty could start to feel comfortable engaging in teaching practices that didn’t require them to know everything.  Active learning is approached as a continuum of practice, where there are lots of ways to get stuck in, and many opportunities for faculty to realize where their existing practice is already quite active, as well as discover places for them to take apart and put back together their classes.  

There can also can be a huge role for the Center for Teaching and Learning (and other locations on campus) to provide ways for faculty to share strategies on framing active teaching and learning for students as “What Education Looks Like.”  We are in some ways responsible for deconstructing the model of education handed to our students by the public K-12 system.  Standardized-testing-centric teaching (mandated by the state) provides fewer and fewer opportunities for students to engage in the collaborative active generative (and messy) learning that the Active Learning Agenda encourages and facilitates.

The Active Learning payoffs discussed by faculty included:

“Inquiry assignments work great!”

“Spontaneous “write-think” exercises”

“Discussions are more productive.”

“I get their full attention.  They are very engaged.”

“They interact with each other & build a stronger relationship/friendship.”

“I feel more connected to the students.  A reward for me as the instructor.”

Who doesn’t want those things? And who notices that these are not easily measured, but are definitely observable and describable phenomena, another argument for including qualitative assessment work in institutional projects such as these.

It seems to me that libraries are super-well-positioned to take advantage of the active learning moment because IL has always had to be more about process, evaluation, sifting, and then critically using than the essential container of content.  This is why we are ideally positioned, in theory, to articulate our instructional agenda coming from libraries with the larger educational mission of the university.

What is library instruction in an active-learning environment (i.e., one that de-emphasizes content) ?

It is, really, same as it ever was, but now we can explicitly link it to the kind of teaching and learning happening at our universities.

This feels like an opportunity for librarians serve as consultants, partners, and leaders on campus with faculty.  So, we continue to have conversation with faculty, and about what they do.

A nice example of this is the work of my colleagues Stephanie Otis (in the library) and Joyce Dalsheim (in Global, Area, and International Studies).  They are partners in a now four-year long project called Reading is Research, and co-teach.  Their model is library and librarians as colleagues, not helpers–this is not “how can I help you?” but is expertise, and embedded practice.  I quote from a description of a workshop they co-delivered this Spring at UNC Charlotte:

This collaboration between anthropologist Dr. Joyce Dalsheim and Atkins’ teaching librarian Stephanie Otis has been tested and improved and is now inspiring new First Year Writing assignments and course design. It has also informed changes to the Senior Seminar approach in Global, Area, and International Studies (GAIS)…By initiating this collaboration, Joyce has advocated for research instruction that goes beyond scheduling a session in the library to involve faculty and librarians planning the syllabus, class meetings, and assignments/activities together. This approach helps establish the library as an academic and curricular partner rather than an optional service. In addition, the idea of deep collaboration and rethinking the emphasis of research can inform many other partnerships with the library.”

They delivered this workshop to attendees from across the university–for example, Anthropology, the Honors College, Biology, and Engineering.

As with the Active Learning Academy, the interest in these practices has not been limited, at UNC Charlotte, to just one corner of the university.  It is a pervasive agenda from many locations.  We are therefore forging an Active Learning, Community of Practice.

What does this mean for each of you, in your institutional spaces?

Of course there are questions of bandwidth–if you are a small library, how do you get time to do that?  If you are doing instruction and outreach, maybe you can’t do that.

New Spaces aren’t always going to happen.

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And there is an inevitable contrast between old spaces and new spaces when we do have them.

Think about faculty who get into the new spaces, how do they go back to the old classrooms?  What happens when the possibilities  are limited to certain spaces on campus?   We need to ask questions about how people have access to these kinds of spaces.  If they don’t exist on your campus, to what extent can you engage in the pedagogies anyway?  My colleague Susan Harden (pictured above teaching in our smaller active classroom) has come up with a kit.

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Susan carries the kit around in a bag like this. Active Learning To-Go.

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The Active Learning Agenda can mean using whatever space you have, it’s not always going to be about building shiny new spaces.    And space is just a starting point, not the be-all-end-all.  “Building classrooms is the least expensive part of this”–I have said this in a variety of contexts.  We are lucky, at UNC Charlotte, we got to build the classrooms,  but the strength of the agenda is in the human labor, the staff development, the money required to give time and opportunity for faculty and students to try, and regroup, and try again.

At UNC Charlotte this is not an agenda that is possible if it only emerges from one location. This is a cross-university partnership among our CTL, Classroom Support, the Library, Academic Affairs, and key champions in each of our Colleges.

This cannot happen on an institutional basis by practitioners engaging in isolation from each other.  We are banding together with like-minded faculty but then also finding ways to disseminate these practices.  I find it frustrating (I am not the only one) that we’ve got 25 years of research backing up these techniques as more effective on nearly every measure than traditional lecture, but there is still push-back and demands for proof before space is allowed.  Who is interrogating the efficacy of lecture-based classes?   Too often the familiar and the tidy (and the numerically significant–“butts in seats”) win out over the messy and the unfamiliar (but, more effective!)  We are still coming from a defensive position, and current political climate that is fundamentally suspicious of the expertise of educators is not helping.

The UNC Charlotte Active Learning model is trying to approach the sweet spot of harnessing grass roots practices and having administration on-board with the overarching agenda.  Space was created for us by high-level policy decisions, the practices existed on our campus, and we need to do the (occasionally boring) work of putting in place procedures so that this agenda can spread and thrive in a sustained way.

So I end, as I usually do, with questions rather than conclusions.

What is the role of the library?  What is your position in your university now?  How does that status reflect what voice is possible?

What does your agenda look like?  

What are the implications?  What is at stake?

One of our faculty members said to me in an interview:  “now that we know how much more effective teaching and learning are in these active environments, it’s a social justice issue that we continue to do so.”

Who do you talk to?  Who do you influence?  How do you find the rooms where practice can start to be moved?

What are the leadership contexts in which a tolerance for risk and mess can be created and maintained?

The Active Learning Agenda can provide a space for the library to become a place that facilitates access, not just to information (never just to information), but to possibility.

How can the library, and those of us who work from within the library, be part of the team removing the obstacles to active learning?    Can we curate a path to change?

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Ganesha, “Lord of Success, Destroyer of Evils, and Remover of Obstacles.”

 

Qualified

I think we need to have a discussion about the difference between “credentialed” and “qualified.”

I not long ago got to once again experience the thing where I am the only person in the room not given a title.  Probably not a coincidence that I was also the only woman.  Ordinarily, I don’t insist on titles, because I think insisting that people call me “Doctor Lanclos” is kind of a dick move.  But if everyone else is given their titles, then I guess I should ask for it too, since I did earn that PhD way back when I was 29.

The thing is, that PhD is not really a credential, but evidence of a particular educational experience on my part.  What qualifies me to do my current work is my experience with a particular methodological and theoretical approach, and at this point the fact that I’ve been working in academic libraries and HE environments in the UK and US for the last seven years.

I am qualified.  Not because of my PhD, even if that does open doors for me.

I am so conflicted about that last sentence.  If the only reason anyone listens to me (if anyone listens to me) is because I have a PhD, I actually don’t want their attention, or to be present with them in any fashion.

I work with people in many different contexts who do not have PhDs and my God are they ever qualified.  Some of the most innovative and impactful work I see around me in terms of pedagogy, space, place, and learning is being done by people who do not have PhDs.

I don’t give a shit about your PhD, I care about your work.

And you shouldn’t care about my PhD, you should care about my work.

Insisting on PhDs (or any other terminal degree) as a credential is to fall into the trap of thinking that a degree is the same thing as a qualification.  It’s NOT.  It might be, but that requires critical thought about the nature of a person’s experience, how their work is relevant, and insists on you engaging with a person rather than reading a CV with a list of boxes that have been ticked.

We should not do that credentialing dance with our colleagues any more than we should with our students.

I’m qualified.

You’re qualified.

“Your edu-ma-cation ain’t no hipper than what you understand.”

Take it, Dr. John:

 

“Digital” Doesn’t Do Anything: #digifest16

 

I got to attend my third Jisc Digifest (out of three) last week in Birmingham, because I was invited to participate in the plenary keynote panel at the beginning of the event.

Jisc invited all of us in the plenaries to write something ahead of the event to get people thinking, and you can find what I wrote on the Jisc blog.  I was also interviewed for the DIgifest podcast, you can hear me speaking starting about 1.30.

So here is roughly what I said (those of you who know me will realize that not all of the adlibs are captured here, but I try).    Nicola Osborne of Jisc did a nice job of live-blogging both days, and she captured the keynote Q and A (as well as other things) here.   I also Storified it so you can get some sense of what the content of the room while I was speaking was like.  I had no slide deck, just paper notes, and the #digifest16 Twitterstream behind me.   It’s my understanding Jisc will be posting video highlights soon.

 

“The power of digital for change”

The power of digital is not contained in nor limited to, the kinds of tools it can offer.  Tools change, and how people use them does too.

More than this, as we discussed recently with the Jisc digital leaders programme, education leaders should now think of “Digital” as place.  The implications of society as we experience it face to face also erupting within the digital are wide-ranging and profound.  Have we really thought about what that means in terms of education?  

What does it mean for the human experience of teaching, learning and research to know that it is possible to carry these places around in our pockets?  

Digital is not just about attention, and where people put it, but about where people are themselves.

This means that (those endless circular) debates we have about tools being “fit” really miss the point.  In fact, they are symptoms of a flawed system wherein we hand people tools and insist that they use them regardless of their practice.  The point is actually the people, and the practices in which they are engaging.  And our work should be to facilitate the exploration of all the different ways they can do that.

What are the implications for research?  What are the implications for teaching?  What are the implications for pedagogy?  What does it mean for the design of learning spaces, when, with digital places, nearly any physical place can have a learning space nested within?

And furthermore what does it mean for those who don’t have access to those spaces?  What is lost when those spaces exist but not everyone can get to them?  More than just a digital divide, it’s segregation, lack of access to the places where power and influence can accrue.

It’s crucial that we move the conversation from “tools” and even sometimes from “practice.”  Let’s talk about place, let’s talk about presence.  Let’s talk about (says the anthropologist) people.  Where are we?  Where are our students?  They can be scattered, or they can be layered in their presence–for example, in a room, on Twitter talking publicly about the content of the room, and in DMs snarking about the content.  

This is multi-modal engagement.  What does the presence of these places mean for engagement?  We have never been able to take engagement for granted–disassociation happens in face to face spaces all the time.  What’s happening in this room right now?  How does that make you more here?  How does that take you away? Who else is here?

“The power of the digital for change.”  That’s the theme for the next two days.

In thinking about change I am less interested in what we are changing than how change can happen?  And also thinking about–change for whom?  Why?  I am never interested in change for change’s sake.

At the end of the Visitors and Residents workshops we do, that we’ve done for Jisc and for other orgs,  where we talk about practice, we do end up talking about tools, but then we always, always end up talking about people.  Who are the people with whom you connect?  What does engagement look like?  

And, when you want to change things, who are the people you need to influence, not just the things you need to do?  And if you don’t want to change things, make that argument.  Make the argument for change, too, not just saying the word change over and over again.

More than that–we need to think about what the role of leaders is in making space for these questions to be asked, and explored.  Institutional acceptance of risk, change, failure, this is all crucial.  Accepting change means accepting a certain lack of control.

We on this stage have been asked to help frame what Digifest can be for you, and of course I would recommend that you go to the mapping sessions, explore your own  practices, and engage in discussions around the implications of digital practices for individuals and institutions

But beyond specifics,   I would encourage you to explore the parts of the Digifest that are not someone handing you a tool or a piece of tech, but are about people talking about their educational agendas, their practices, and the people with whom they are working, and why.

Eventually tech will come into it.  But not starting there is a much more interesting conversation

 

 

 

 

 

“Intelligent” Campus?

Photo by Phil Whitehouse https://flic.kr/p/ntu9dA CC with some rights reserved

Photo by Phil Whitehouse https://flic.kr/p/ntu9dA
CC with some rights reserved

 

I’d like to kick back today against the persistent idea that knowledge and information necessarily transform behavior.  I was made to think about this while perusing the Jisc HE learning and teaching vision document (now open for comments), and in particular the “Intelligent Campus” item at the end.

I work with groups of people at UNC Charlotte who are excited about advising systems and learning analytics that can push information out to students about how they are doing, what they are doing, and what it might mean for their time to degree.  These people are administrators, teaching faculty, and advisors who are already engaged with students within networks of care, who provide service and support.  

So, to call the “new” vision of a university campus that Jisc is considering “Intelligent” is an insult to the people who currently provide the human labor that goes into educating people.  Students need to learn how to do higher education, and university campuses are full of people whose job that is.  And they are doing it.  

So, I’d suggest that we might usefully talk about how to be a more “Responsive” campus.  How we might leverage these tools to be more agile in our responses to student needs, more timely, and yes, to involve students more in the labor of their own education.  I’m not suggesting that pushing information out to students is useless, but rather that it cannot be enough to effect behavioral change.  

I think about people and their fitbits.  And how the information they get from their fitbit isn’t what effects change (if it does).  It’s about the other things that happen around fitbits, the network they build around that fitbit, the people with whom they share that information, the social connections and relationships, and social media sharing that build around paying attention to the information.  Just wearing the fitbit is not what makes them more active.

Handing people a piece of tech, or a piece of information, is not inherently transformative.

Behavioral change is about networks, trust, motivations to engage, about being able to understand the implications of the information being received.  That is the role of advising and teaching staff, and should not be seen as anything that learning analytics systems can replace.  “Dashboards” may make certain sorts of information visible.  They are not a substitute for teaching and advising, both in the classroom and beyond.

These systems are tools.  The important focus is on the people within our universities, the work they do, and whether these tools will help them do that work more effectively.  

And you may find yourself…

RhodiePath2015cropEdit

 

The beginning of the calendar year can be a traditional time for people to write about What Will Come Next.  I find myself, after a nice chunk of time disconnected from work and some social media places, thinking about What Has Come Before, for me. And reflecting on how I got here.

Recently, I’ve had conversations with colleagues during which I realize that they don’t know how it is that I came to the work that I have.  And while it’s not mandatory that anyone in particular know my story, I personally find it valuable to know how people got to where they are (See:  An anthropologist for as long as I can remember, I just can’t help myself.” ).  Making transparent all of the mess and backtracking and accidental connections that can go into people’s current work and lives feels important.  Very few things are as simple as deciding to do something and then it coming to pass.

So, prompted by those conversations, and also by the memory of Andrew Asher’s blogpost about his alt-ac career, I’d like to tell my story so far.  I have told it in bits and pieces in talks, in conversations, but not on this blog.

In 1999 I was finishing my dissertation and looking to file.  My anthropology and folklore fieldwork was in Northern Ireland, with primary school children, so I was looking at a job market of folklore, anthropology of Europe, anthropology of Childhood, and 4-fields anthropology jobs.  The latter was going to be a difficult sell because it’s still the case that socio-cultural anthropologists tend to get stereotyped as not-proficient in teaching intro courses on anything but their own subfield.  My background in archaeology and enthusiasm for intro physical anthropology might have saved me.  Who knows.

As I was finishing my dissertation, my husband got a full time job as a lab manager in an academic research unit at UC Berkeley.  We finally had grown-up style health insurance!  So we thought we’d try to have a kid.  We had no house, or what we thought of as permanent jobs, but health insurance felt more stable than anything we’d had in our seven or so years thus far in grad school, so this felt like a good decision.  And, we wanted children.

I assumed, because I’d seen it happen all around me, that I’d have the baby, go on the market, something would happen, and I’d figure out how to be a junior faculty member with a partner and a newborn.  

Lily was born on October 9, 1999.  

Lily died on October 29, 1999.

The world I thought I was building shattered and disappeared.  

I filed my dissertation in December and was handed a See’s lollipop, with a “Congratulations” label on it (I think, I don’t actually remember what the little tag said) by the smiling woman with her ruler (to check the margins) at the Graduate Division office, and then I went home and cried.

The thing is, in my grief, I actually applied for more jobs.  I remember the tears in my advisor’s eyes as he read my cover letters that started to suggest that my next project might be around themes of child loss in folklore.  I was never short-listed.  It was probably just as well.  My assumptions that I would have full time academic work faded.  I figured I’d just have to do something else, but at that point, I didn’t have the energy to figure out what.

My husband continued to work as an archaeologist and build his CV.  We had two subsequent children, and they are still with us, now 15 and 12 years old.  I published my dissertation as a book just before the birth of our son.  My son was 2 1/2 years old when my daughter entered public school (as we had no money for preschool before then), when a friend needed someone to substitute teach her college archaeology class, and contacted me.  So I found part time daycare for my son that would not cost all of what I was being paid, and did that.  And that led to being invited to teach a January term class on the anthropology of childhood.

And then we picked up and moved to my husband’s tenure track job at UNC Charlotte.  Please note:  he had been on the job market for six years.  He had his own path through grief.  Neither of us were living the post-dissertation life we thought we would have, before Lily died.

Our new university home found adjunct work for me, the trailing spouse, and we were lucky that we had landed in a city that was livable on one salary.  I assumed that this was going to be my life–part time anthro teaching to supplement my husband’s full time work.  My CV was out of date.  Had I not had recent teaching experiences courtesy of my friend who was both aware of and valued my anthropology experience, despite the big hole in my CV, I wonder if I would have been hired even as an adjunct.

In 2009, UNC Charlotte hired a new university librarian, and he created a job for an anthropologist.  Several of us with anthropology degrees were employed part-time by the anthropology department, and I was not the only one who interviewed for the library job.  When I was hired, it was clear that it was not because I had ever had great ambitions to work in libraries, or to study higher education, but because I was an anthropologist, and was trained to study people.

I was 39 years old, and I had landed my first and (to date) only full time academic job.  10 years after filing my dissertation I had found my second field site:  Academia.

That was the start of the Anthropologist in the Stacks.  That space, a space created for me to do anthropology in a library context, started everything that came next.  When I was hired, I was asked to do work at the university, in the library building.  I found, in the course of my work, opportunities to collaborate across campus, because staff and students who use the library live and work other areas of the campus too. Serendipity and a good friend from a previous part of my life invited me to do work at University College, London.  A conversation with a guest speaker at UNC Charlotte led to my being invited to be a part of the Visitors and Residents research team.  The agenda I have now, the one I cite in my bio, the broad-ranging, international work around information, digital and physical places in higher and further education, leadership and policy, and the nature of academic work, none of that existed until about 3 years ago.  It’s only in the past year or so that I feel I’m truly building something, something of value, something that will have an impact.

I can still vividly remember the time when I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have the chance to contribute anything to anthropology or academia ever again.

My point is not that that non-academic path not taken would have been meaningless (of course there is meaning outside of academia!), but that this path I find myself on is in many ways happenstance.  I’m being as mindful and purposeful (and frankly, ambitious) as I can be while realizing that this was not really ever part of some Grand Plan.

The life and work I have is a direct result of the derailment of the life I thought I would have.  My satisfaction in the work I have and the colleagues I get to enjoy now is impossible to disentangle from the persistent absence of my child who died just as I finished graduate school.  

Through it all I am lucky.  I am lucky. This is how I am here.

I didn’t start this off intending to give advice, or to offer myself as any kind of lesson.  I am not a lesson.  My life and such career as I have are examples of just how little plans can have to do with how things unfold.

I do want to point out that part of my luck was to have trust, friends, and opportunities.  At key moments I was offered opportunities and people trusted that I would not only take the chance, but do well enough to make the risk of me worthwhile.  I have taken opportunities, and run with them.  And then been further fortunate that people around me agreed that it is worthwhile, what I had done, and continue to do.

So if you want to take anything away from this, here’s what I suggest:

Collect colleagues and friends, not followers and minions.

Pay attention to what is being offered you.

Say yes.

Offer people opportunities.  Be part of someone else’s happenstance narrative.

 

You cannot know what will happen.  It is worth finding out.

 

Happy New Year.

 

 

Resident Anonymity?

photography-731891_960_720

https://pixabay.com/en/photography-lifestyle-experimental-731891/

I recently gave a talk about Messy Practices, and in it, I was focused on the physical and digital practices of academics, and how and why they are unbounded by Institutions (however much Institutions might like that not to be the case).  It occurs to me (not for the first time, and yeah, I am Not The Only One) that identity is also messy.  And I’ve been thinking about that this week for a very particular reason.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with my, my work or my ubiquitous presence on Twitter that I think a lot in the presence of other people.  I believe I think more effectively in the company of others.  Alone I can only get so far.  Workshops provide me with additional opportunities to do this kind of thinking–I always show up with a very similiar powerpoint, and with a set of points I would like to arrive at, but the people in the room and the interactions we have around the ideas I am presenting, make each workshop different.

I really enjoy it.

So this past Monday I had the pleasure of working at USC Upstate, at the invitation of Cindy Jennings.  Their Quality Enhancement Program (QEP)  group wanted to spend some time thinking about digital practices, both as individuals and as members of an institution.  We did individual V and R mapping and then also using institutional maps (debuted in October in Bristol, with the Jisc Digital Leadership course).

In the process of discussing the nature of presence, and working our way towards the possibilities of Residency in academic life, one participant started wondering aloud about the role of anonymous web presence.  She began from her experience with online newspaper commentariat–so many of the anonymous comments she encountered were negative and not-productive, they ended up driving her away from participating visibly in the comments section (an experience not at all unique to this person of course).  She wondered first about whether anonymous web presence could be “Resident” because we have been defining such presences as findable in some way–either highly visible by Googling, or visible in bounded communities to those who are also members.

But if who you are is not linked to the content of what you are putting online, what then?

If Identities are performances, requiring an audience of at least one, where do we put Anonymous web presences on the Visitor-Resident continuum?

I think it’s possible that it doesn’t matter.

Because the mapping process has never really been about typologies or absolute taxonomies of practice.  It is a tool to facilitate discussions about motivation.

So rather than ask “What is Anonymous Web Presence?”  it is more useful to ask about Why.  Why anonymous?  What are the motivations to anonymity?

And if we think in terms of pseudonyms, we can begin to see some of the reasons why.  Let’s set aside for the moment the “So they can Troll and Bully and generally be Unaccountable for their Bad Behavior on the Web.”  Because:  the internet is made of people, and we can stipulate that some of them are indeed assholes.

Pseudonymous presence on the web still allows for identity to accrue.  This has been true for noms de plumes, stage names, alter egos, supervillain aliases.  Groups of people who are collectively anonymous to the outside,  but known to each other within their group, likewise accrue the “stuff” of identity, being attributed character, values, and responsibility for actions.  

These anonymous individuals, however, may not accrue that identity stuff.  Their actions may not be recognizably linked to who they are.  This lack of accrual can be the point.    What if you are black and want to see what happens to your voice when not filtered through structural and individual racism?  What if you are an artist who wants to find another part of your voice without being hampered by what people think you are already capable of?  What if you are anyone who would like to see what it’s like to be unbounded by the categories people have already put you into?

So, this is why people have multiple Twitter accounts, why they join online communities under different names, why Facebook’s insistence that you use your “real name” is such a problem.  We see the tension between Being Yourself Online and Finding Your Voice.  Holistic, “authentic” web presence isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

Students, novices, anyone trying things out and wanting to see what happens might well value the freedom that comes from anonymity, the ability to try something on and discard it without it scuffing the identity that everyone already knows them by.  Anonymity can facilitate creativity, risk-taking, a feeling of safety.

Safety is not just relevant in situations where people are trying out ideas, creating art, taking academic risks, but of course in political and social activism, where there are risks to people’s physical and legal well-being if they are easily identifiable.  

This is not news.  But in the context of talking about behavior online, the notion of “anonymous trolls” comes up often enough, I think it’s worth interrogating, and also making visible the variety of non-toxic anonymous and pseudonymous presences that people cultivate on the web.  I am not interested in unmasking people, but I am interested in having more public conversations about the motivations to be hidden while making work and words visible.

networkED: The London University

I had the great pleasure of kicking off this year’s networkED talks at the London School of Economics thanks to the generous invitations of Jane Secker and Peter Bryant.  I was asked to address the theme this year:  what will learning and teaching look like at the LSE in 2020?

A recording of the event has now been posted here.

I am somewhat allergic to future-speak, but do think that there are some useful ways of approaching the “what are we going to do next” question, and I tried to model myself after those approaches.  In particular, I wished my remarks to be grounded in current practice.  Too often, I think, futurism is a feint so that one does not have to deal with the complicated present.  The future can be shiny and seamless and therefore much more easy to discuss.  Also, it hasn’t happened yet.  Anyone can be a futurist.

 

storytime

I started with two stories.

The first was the story of 4 students.  I saw them walking up to the library gates at a UK University, where I was waiting to be admitted as I did not have a card to get me in.  3 of the students walked through the gates with cards, and the remaining student, as their friends waited just beyond the gates, walked up to the desk and said, “I’m sorry, I left my card inside the library, and can’t get in.  I am a student here, please can you check against my name, and let me in?”

The student was let in.

I asked the room:  what happened here?  The room answered:  One of the students was not enrolled at that university, and they did the ID card “dance” to get them into the building, so they could study together.

The moral of that story:  Institutional boundaries are more porous to students than they are to Institutions.

 

The second story I told was about a student at UCL, in the Institute of Archaeology, who when asked about where he did his academic work, started waxing rhapsodical about the Wellcome Library.    He loved that there were huge tables with comfortable chairs, powerpoints all around, “a quiet space that was actually quiet rather than trying to be quiet” and also minus people “waiting for your seat [especially during exam times]”   He loved all of the light in the Wellcome.  It was his “home” library, not his institutionally-affiliate space.

He had a lot in common with a faculty member, also in the Institute of Archaeology, who used the Wellcome Library cafe as his space in which to work, and also to meet with his post-graduate students.  That archaeologist’s map of academic work spaces revealed the affection he has for the Wellcome, with lines of significance radiating from his sketch of it in his network of spaces.

 

UCL15cogmap

Showing the love for the Wellcome Library and Bookshop cafe.

 

The moral of that story:  people’s favorite spaces to work in do not have to be the ones associated with their “home” institutions.  Particularly not in a city like London, where such alternate locations are just down the road, across the street, or next door.

 

What I want to do is ground our sense of what might happen in the Future of Higher Education in the practices of students and staff there right now.  This brings me to a conversation about
“experience” and “lived experience, started by my colleague Nick Seaver on Twitter.

 

Nick got a marvelous response from his colleague Keith Murphy (kmtam), which reads in part:

” for us today to say “lived experience,” aside from its trendiness, is actually signalling something very important regarding a truly ethnographic orientation to the world, one that cares not just about the fact that “something happened to someone,” but that the particular ways in which it happened — how it was understood, felt, and made meaningful”

I’d like us to think about, with all of this talk about “student experience” (which I already have a problem with), what happens if we shift not-so-slightly to a conversation about the lived student experience.  What would a consideration of that mean, if we think about the day-to-day experience of being at University in London, and studying for a degree.

In part, my research into learning spaces reveals that the lived experience of students and staff in Higher Education (and elsewhere)  isn’t tightly bound by institutional location at all.

These cognitive maps show how widespread, scattered, fragmented across the landscapes of London and Charlotte these student and faculty learning networks are.

This UNC Charlotte student goes all over town, to her home, the home of friends, to a 24 hour cafe with amazing pastries, and also to the University.

 

UCL22cogmap

This UCL Student counts as learning spaces her home in outer London, the bus, the Archaeology Library, her “home” Library of SSEES, and Bloomsbury cafe.

 

Student and other scholars’ lived experience is a networked one–they have personal networks, they are starting to build their academic networks, and they are not neatly bounded.  They experience these networks in physical and digital places–these places are also not very neatly bounded, although institutions try to make them so.  In practice, institutions are full of people who are Not Of that Institution.

 

This got me thinking of the work that I do in the Visitors and Residents project, and in particular how we’ve come to refine the mapping process that allows people to visualize their practices.  And in visualizing them, they can recognize their practices in important ways, come to grips with how they might like to change things, think about how to continue doing what serves them well.  It’s the visualizing that can be the hard part.

Because it’s all well and good to want to talk about how people can do more, engage differently, but you can’t change things if you don’t know the shape of the situation to begin with.  

So.  If we start from what we know about student (and faculty) practices around learning spaces:  they treat them as a network.  They do not pay as much attention as institutions do to boundedness (although they do get possessive of spaces).  

What happens, then, when we make these networks, created by lived experience, visible?

Contrast the isolated sense of the any institution represented on a map by itself, with the sea of dots that comes up when you Google “Universities in London”:

What can institutions do to make these networks visible, and therefore accessible to more? What could they do to build those networks further, support them with their own resources, go beyond recognizing current practices to facilitating even more?  What would that mean for how we think about education, place, and belonging in London Universities?

The whole city of London is treated in many ways like a university.  What would it mean to be mindful of that, to move towards that purposefully?  

What would happen if we thought of space as a service, the provision and configuration of learning spaces as a thing that institutions can actually do way more effectively than can any individual or private corporation.  Starbucks/McDonalds/Caffe Nero/Pret don’t care if their establishments are good for studying–even if they frequently are because of free wifi, comfy chairs, and access to snacks.  

Fundamentally, this is a Common Good argument.

Because our students encounter barriers all the time.  In a context where they need more space, not less.  And in a context where universities themselves are acutely aware that they cannot provide all that their students need.   What about leveraging the network of London spaces to be a connected set of spaces, powerful in their mutual awareness, profound in their potential to connect students to other resources, other places, other people.  This is the work of education:  preparing our students for the diversity of experiences that will come their way.  It is more than our work, it is our responsibility.

 

 

What problem are we trying to address when we throttle access?  Is it people we don’t want in our spaces?  Is it discomfort of people who “belong?”  Is it limited resources that we want to conserve for “our community?”

People who work in libraries are used to thinking about who gets to be in and out of the space.  Public libraries in particular struggle with access: who is in the building? who uses services? how can the library serve them?  I think here about about homeless people in public libraries in the US, and policies such as limiting the size of bags people can bring into libraries, which target these populations of people who often have nowhere else to go. Why are the homeless a problem in the library?  The problem of homeless people in the library is about so many other things.  They are matter out of place.  It’s about discomfort, housekeeping, mental health, access.  These problems are not solved by banning people.  Savvy libraries such as the San Francisco public library, and also the public libraries in DC, have moved to hire social workers, have job seeking centers as part of their library services.  They are taking the broader view of what their responsibility is to the people in their spaces.

Likewise London universities concerned about resources for their own community won’t garner the resources they need by banning certain categories of people from their locations.  I would argue rather that they decrease the access of their community members to the value of London.  Let’s remind ourselves again that chopping London into silos goes against the very thing that can make big cities so marvelous.

If Institutions have a reason for being in London, then why would they protect their students from the London experience?

The point was made in the room, quite rightly, that of course many London students are in London because they are from that city, not because they have “Come for the London experience.”  And it’s also very true that not all students experience diversity and difference as something positive to explore, but as members of communities who are victimized and marginalized by perceptions of difference.   In those cases, many students choose to go to university to be with people among whom they do not have to explain themselves, to experience being with others who are “just like them.”  And who might not thank totalizing agendas that valorize “diversity” as something that people should go out and find for personal growth.

I think there is still an argument to be made for networked universities to connect because it provides spaces for students to encounter each other (and all of their similarities as well as differences).  And in being networked with each other, universities can continue to provide places for students to come back to, institutional homes where they gain comfort, and can eventually contemplate ways of feeling safe even as they confront discomforting situations.

Learning places are not monolithic, not in physical space, nor should they be in digital places.  But digital tools can be used to connect physical spaces, to link them and thereby create something even better.

Academic libraries, for example, are starting to think about themselves not as The Learning Place on campus but as a part of a network of learning places, and this is informed by work like mine that shows the lived experience of university students.  Cambridge University is working to build digital tools to make the network of spaces visible, in particular with their SpaceFinder app, which makes it possible to visualize (and so, consider accessing) a wide range of spaces in and around Cambridge University, not just institutional ones.

I ended my talk with a question, What would this look like for all of London?

There are already digital things that network universities in the UK–Eduroam was brought up by the room, and I think it’s a great example.

I did surprise myself rather far along in the discussion with the realization that I am in fact making an open-access argument about the physical resources of universities in London.  I stand by that.  I think it’s worth exploring.

I was also surprised by the lack of discussion in the room around security issues (perhaps that is my bias coming from the US, home of Security Theater).  I was pleased at that lack, it left time for talk about curriculum and education, and class differences that affect how various HE and FE institutions have (or don’t have) resources.

 

The discussion in the room was wide-ranging,And people paused really thoughtfully before digging into a conversation that was shot through with practical and ideological concerns.  I was so pleased to witness and participate.

https://twitter.com/lselti/status/644159059181064194

 

 

 

 

ATRIUMS: we need to talk

 

This is yet another thing I’ve been ranting about on Twitter long enough that it justifies me simply blogging about it, so that I can then just re-post it every once in a while, much as I can do now about Digital Natives.

 

So here’s the thing:  people troll me with library atriums on Twitter .    For example:

 

…and so on.

They are my friends, I love them, it’s funny.  And yet.  It’s not funny that people who pay for the construction of academic buildings (including libraries!) persist in thinking that atriums are a GREAT IDEA for their building.

 

What do atriums perform?  That the space is impressive?  That it’s awesome?  Do we want our University buildings to be awesome?  Clever, sure.  Useful, certainly.  I’d also argue for beautiful, and functional.  We should aspire to all of that.

Atriums are not necessary for any of those things.  They can in fact get in the way of several of those things:  in particular:  useful and functional.

One exception is the Atrium in the LSE, which contains a large spiral staircase, making highly visible how you can navigate up through the building.

There is another space that I thought was an Atrium, and therefore worthy of my ire, but it turns out the glassed-in space of the SSEES building at UCL is not an atrium but instead a very important light well and ventilation shaft, and is in fact the reason that SSEES is able to have that building (for their department and their library) at all.  As my colleague Lesley Pitman told me (and I am grateful to her for actual facts, as I would like for my rants to be relatively well-informed):

” Essentially, if we didn’t have it, we probably wouldn’t have the building, or at least we would only have one that is considerably smaller and opened several years later. Its purpose is not primarily aesthetic. Instead it is a key element of the innovative natural ventilation system that was the main selling point to UCL in choosing the architects, and was the main reason that we got planning permission from Camden Council in a very difficult part of London in record time. It fitted their environmental agenda, as it did for UCL too…We had an enormous challenge trying to find somewhere for the School to be rehoused, and in the end we were lucky to get what is a very tightly restricted location – surrounded on 3 sides by other buildings and with restrictions on how high and how low we could build. The architects who won the contract won because of their approach to ventilating the building without any air conditioning at all. This allowed for the unusual shape of the building, including the fact that the curve at the back takes it much closer to a neighbouring building than we would otherwise have been allowed to be. We have given up no space at all to air conditioning plant, and there is no background noise of air con in the building. Instead the air flows through the front staircase, through the automatic windows, and through the lightwell, in a multitude of complicated ways depending on the weather.”

The whole story of SSEES is a fascinating case study in practical compromises necessary for institutional buildings to happen in the first place.  Lesley wrote about it here.  So this is an example of a big hole in a building that has a purpose, and it’s really really not the self-aggrandizement of either the architect or of the academic institution.

Lest by rant be entirely derailed by facts, do let us remember that seldom are big holes in your library as functional as the ones in SSEES or the LSE Libraries.

For the most part Atriums are like the one in my own library, huge open spaces where useful floors could be.

 

also for example (a response to the first draft of this blogpost):

 

Why, WHY are architects spending time designing buildings where space is deliberately not-used?  It’s not just a problem for London universities, or institutions in any city where real estate prices are crazy-high.  Any university building, once built, is going to be stretched to its limits in no time by increased student numbers, escalating demand for space.  There’s never enough square footage to go around.

Putting an atrium into a building isn’t just about light, or an airy feel to the place.  It’s about demonstrating just how much the institution thinks it doesn’t have to use that space.  It’s a middle finger of an architectural detail, in a context where university students and staff don’t have enough places to go and do what they need for their work, their degrees, their scholarship.

And if you ask me what architects should do instead, I will happily say, I don’t know, but maybe as they are fairly clever individuals, they could come up with some creative and effective alternatives all by themselves.  Rather than using atriums as shorthand for “important buildings” or “impressive spaces” or “designed by an architect,” they could stretch themselves a bit and figure out how to communicate the importance of the work that needs to be done in those spaces.  How can we encourage the creation of buildings that can facilitate the mess of academic work, inspire the creative connections that are possible when people come together in common locations, without atriums?

A final warning:

And if you haven’t had enough, this is a nice record of a conversation about library spaces, including atriums.

 

Now, let’s see what else we can do with our library spaces, shall we?