Tag Archives: #VandR

Introducing Donna Lanclos and Dave White: ALT-C 2016

One of the previous times Dave and I argued on stage, thanks @whaa for the image, and of course to @Lawrie for that particular debate.


It’s nearly September that must mean I’m gearing up for another trip to the UK.

This time I’m heading over to attend ALT-C.  Dave White and I have been invited to deliver the final keynote together.  Do please let me know which of these  you think we are either during or after the fact–we hope to have the Twitter stream up on screen as we speak.

I am lucky (Dave and I both are) to be invited to give these sorts of talks on a semi-regular basis.  So I’m not exactly complaining when I say that the bios we are usually asked to submit are So Very Boring.  The list of descriptors might be useful to someone trying to decide if they want to hear us speak–but I wonder, especially given the things that Dave and I have written about the importance of being human as an essential part of academic and professional credibility these days.  Are lists that reduce us to the work we do really engaging?

So in the spirit of being human, and also having a bit of fun, we offer these alternative bios.  Hope to see you at ALT-C in Warwick.

“Dave White would quite like your attention. He makes a habit of building castles in the sand not because he particularly likes castles, or even sand, but just to see what might happen before the waves come in. Despite having grown up near the sea he does not enjoy raw oysters, and would rather thank you very much for some macaroni & cheese. He is a big fan of the Internet, just not always in the ways you might think he is. He blogs, tweets, writes, speaks, and is generally quite Googleable.

Donna Lanclos was born in the desert and managed to name her son after a coyote. She has very little patience for bullshit, despite her American heritage. She is an anthropologist in all things and you really shouldn’t invite her to speak or write or work with you if you are unclear about what that means. Her love for shoes and cocktails has thus far not managed to get in the way of her work around digital and physical learning places and practices. She has lived on the prairies of North Dakota, the coast of California, and in the North Carolina foothills, as well as in the UK and Ireland.  She is very happy to see you.

Donna and Dave have been working together since the early days of the Visitors and Residents research project in 2011.  That was when they started their long-standing argument about whether there’s anything “old” in the cities of the United States.  They began arguing in public with each other in about 2013 about education technology, the nature of the digital, and the role of the internet in the structure and content of academia.  And also about how awful Dave’s shoes are. So far people remain willing to listen.”


Ta Dah! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Doing a Visitors and Residents Workshop

Photo by Steve Rowett @srowett

Me, Lawrie and Dave at Digifest 2015. See how well we work together?  Photo by Steve Rowett @srowett


It’s well past time we got these resources available for anyone to use, and I’m glad we’re managing it now.  The intention is to give not just a sense of what activities go into a Visitors and Residents workshop, but also what the motivations for such a workshop might be, and what kinds of larger context and conversations surround and emerge from the workshop activities.

What I’d like to talk about here, in addition to participating in announcing the availability of the workshop guide, is what the maps are for.  Anyone who’s seen me or Dave or Lawrie talk about Visitors and Residents might be forgiven for thinking that the whole point of the exercise is the map.  We use the maps in our talks, in publications, we show them and point to them and talk around them.  We have people produce maps in conference presentations, workshops and professional development events, in student orientations/inductions.  Dave has written a nice review of various ways the mapping has been used and developed, here.  

We spend a lot of time with these maps.  

The maps are not the point.

I’ve been thinking about the mapping process, and what sort of thing it is to me.  In my practice, it’s been a way of helping me visualize the practices of the individuals we were interviewing as a part of the original Visitors and Residents research project.  The interviews we conducted yielded a rich amount of information, and it was occasionally necessary, especially when talking about our research results, to have a relatively easily accessible way of representing practice, while talking about the complexities of people’s engagements with technology and the web.

I use other sorts of mapping processes in my research–the other one that looms large in my practice is cognitive mapping.  In each case, whether V and R mapping or cognitive, the map is the starting point, a way to begin a conversation or anchor an interview around something concrete, a challenge to find in something as hard to materially capture sometimes as digital practice.

Any of these maps are not themselves the participants’ practices, but are representations of a recollection of practice.  They make sense once they are talked about, once the larger context is revealed.  This is why they are particularly useful in workshop contexts, they can stimulate reflection and conversation that can lead to determinations to transform practice, given what participants learn about themselves, and also the practices and motivations of others.

So as with any instrument used in research or in applied contexts, the mapping process needs to be engaged in and analyzed with a broader sense of what else is going on–the interviews or conversations that happen after the mapping are at least as (if not more) important than the maps themselves.  They should not be mistaken for holistic representations of practice–how can they be?  They are snapshots of remembrances, people forget things on their maps that they call out in subsequent conversations.  To mistake the maps for the result is to misconstrue the point of a workshop, a reflective exercise, an interview prompt.

This is a major reason why the guide is more than just activities, but contains long stretches of reflections that Dave, Lawrie and I have written about what might emerge, what it might mean, and how to explore what comes out of the initial mapping process.  

Those explorations are the point.  The maps never have been.

I hope those of you who take up this guide and run your own workshops have fun with it–I have always enjoyed doing them, even as they are exhausting (do it with a partner!  You can take turns and not die at the end!).  

Please let us know how you get on.

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


@slamteacher  @bonstewart

@jessifer  @AprilHathcock


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.


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?


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.  


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.


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?



“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






Resident Anonymity?



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.



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.



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.



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.






September Tour

2012-11-13 12.34.07

It doesn’t look like this in Charlotte yet, but it’s time for my Fall Tour anyway.

Well it’s been a while since I’ve traveled (NO IT HASN’T I JUST GOT HOME WHAT IT’S SEPTEMBER?).  This month I’ve got some fun stuff lined up, and I’m excited to get to do so many things.

First up, I’ll be presenting in two different sessions at the Association for Learning Technology Conference,  in Manchester.   One will be a debate, co-led by Lawrie Phipps, continuing our discussion started in March around the value of (and values embedded in) ed-tech.    The other will be a conversation co-led by Dave White, where we frame approaches to ed-tech via discussions of failures, as well as our by now well-known opposition to the assumptions that underlie the notion of “Digital Natives.”  I’ve never been to ALT before and am going to finally get to see in person large chunks of my Twitter feed, which makes me smile.

Next I will be spending the week in London, first stop visiting my colleagues at Kingston University again, talking more about libraries and learning spaces.  This time around some of the discussion will be very much informed by the work I’ve been doing in collaboration with the Active Learning Academy in UNC Charlotte’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

And then I am pleased to have been invited to give the first talk this year in the NetworkED seminar series at the London School of Economics.

And finally I will be working for the first time ever in the Wellcome Library, running workshops very similar to the ones I got to do for Imperial and Kingston in March of this year.  I’ve been hearing about the Wellcome since I started doing library ethnography work in London in 2011, and am appalled it’s taken me this long to get there, but pleased it’s finally happening.

So, if you see me flying by in Manchester or London, please give a shout and wave.


Institutional Ephemera


This librarian hangs out on YikYak to “hear” what students are saying about the library and the university. She mapped it as Visitor because she does not leave a social trace or participate actively, rather she “lurks” (elegantly or otherwise).


I’ve thought and written about this before, but the popping up of YikYak in a V&R map at Carnegie Mellon last week, and a flutter of interest in it in HE contexts in the UK this week have made me think again about why it’s important for people to have spaces where their words and thoughts can be encountered and interacted with but not captured or curated.

Sam Ladner laid out the landscape of concerns about privacy and freedom of expression really nicely in 2013,  the platform in question then was Snapchat, and I think her points are relevant for any discussion around platforms that facilitate the disappearance of content.  There are reasons, excellent reasons, why people might want their words or images to not be remembered.   Simon Thomson summarizes them briefly here.

The hazard in instructional contexts is when ephemerality is combined with anonymity.  Trolling and bad behavior is as much a part of the internet as it is in real life.  it’s particularly visible to me on Twitter, but the fact is that the Internet is Made of People and we are not beyond the worst of our potential in digital or physical places.  Racism, sexism, bullying behavior and worse are among the hazards of our society, and anonymity makes it much much easier to attack people and then slink away.   In a digital instruction situation, anonymity is inappropriate.  If we want for our students to take chances and speak to each other about concepts that they are unsure about or uncomfortable with, we also need to make sure those spaces are safe and that people are held accountable for their words.  Anonymity makes that nearly impossible.  Students in physical classrooms can be encouraged to speak, and we know who they are.  Students in ephemeral digital classrooms should be identifiable to each other as the people who they are, to foster community as well as responsibility.

So, I can see (much to my chagrin, as I am historically opposed to making arguments for things to be built in institutional systems) an argument for institutions creating (non-anonymous) YikYak type spaces in their LMS/VLEs, because currently those spaces track and keep content.  Designing a digital institutional spaces that deliberately forget content would be injecting into digital learning spaces an affordance easily achieved in physical spaces.

The trick (there’s always a trick) would be in convincing the students that conversations and interactions in such spaces are in fact safely ephemeral.

Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.

People, Places and Things: Why do Visitors and Residents Workshops?


View from the High Line, NYC

I have just completed a week away that contained two different Visitors and Residents workshops.  The first I conducted with Dave White at Parsons, the New School for Design, at the invitation of Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo, with a group of Parsons faculty.  The second was a two-day event at the invitation of Keith Webster at Carnegie Mellon, with a group that included librarians and library staff from CMU as well as the University of Pittsburgh, and Dave and I were joined by Lynn Connaway to run the workshop.  Dave blogged his views on the different workshops here.

I am struck by how little the basic mapping format has changed since we started doing these workshops in conference settings, as a way of getting people to think about the V&R concept without lecturing.

When we have people map themselves, the range of practice remains striking.  We get “sparse” maps

2015-05-13 12.09.20


and we get “filled in” maps.

2015-05-13 12.11.06


We get people whose Resident practice is largely in their personal lives,

2015-05-13 12.10.55


and others who primarily engage in the Resident spaces of the web (such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+) because of what they need to do in their professional lives, or for their volunteering obligations, or as a part of their artistic practice.

2015-05-11 11.04.53


The point we have to make over and over again at these events  is that no mode of practice is inherently better than the other.  I can see the tension run out of people when we tell them that no one is going to be judged for their maps.  The intent of our work, and the workshop, is not to identify those who are “More Resident” so as to claim that their practices are Best and then send their largely Visitor-centric colleagues over to Learn How To Do the Web Better.

Because the V&R workshop is not about Doing the Web Better.  The workshop is a way of visualizing practice, and in particular about making clear all the different ways in which the Web is a Place, a location for people to meet and interact and learn and leave and come back to.  A place where, as with any place that has people in it, individuals can do the social work that results in relationships, where intimacy can flourish even in the absence of face to face interaction.

Engaging with digital places is not a substitute for engagement face to face, rather it proliferates the possible locations where connections can be made.

In libraries, in higher education generally, the work of institutions is embedded in relationships.  Students, faculty, and staff rely on each other (or don’t) because of webs of trust and credibility that are not just about institutional authority ( they are seldom just about that) but because of the meaningful connection that grow when people interact with each other in common places like:  Student Unions, Library Buildings, Cafes, Classrooms.  But also:   Twitter,  Facebook, YikYak (!) and Instagram.  The Digital can be (among other things) a tool, or a resource full of content, but its existence as a Place is what can be hard to see, at the same time it is so terrifically important to grasp.

We seldom have time to be reflective about our own practices, what they are as well as what they mean.  In offering the workshop format as an open resource, and also in coming in to run the workshops ourselves, as we did this last week at Parsons and at CMU/Pitt, the Visitors and Residents team is helping provide space for such reflection to take place.  Further thoughts from Lawrie Phipps about where we can take the V&R framework from here can be found here.



Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Memorial Chapel, Pittsburgh.


A March of Workshops

Well I am back in Charlotte, after nearly a month away from home, and am realizing that I can divide my time in March chronologically, spatially, or in terms of genre. I think I’ll try the last one, as it occurs to me that I really did to several different kinds of things in my travels this past month.

So I’ll post briefly (or, uh, not so briefly) here about the workshops I got to facilitate, not in the least because I want to have a centralized place to collect the links to all of the blogposts other people have written considering the content of those workshops.  If I’ve missed any, please let me know!  I will edit.

Visitors and Residents

In Galway, thanks to the generous invitation of Catherine Cronin (and the sponsorship of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education in Ireland), Dave White and I got to pilot a version of the Visitors and Residents workshop we’ve been working on for a while. We blogged about it beforehand here.  And Catherine interviewed us about the V&R workshop process the day before we did the pilot.  

Catherine blogged about it afterwards here .  And Sharon Flynn Storifyed it here.

What I’d like to emphasize here is how pleased I am with the steps Dave and I took to make sure that the people attending the workshop (who were so enthusiastic!  Thank you!) came away with something concrete  (we call it the “So What” part, see the entire workshop template in the .pdf here).  We not only discussed the V&R concept, but consistently connected it with practice.  People were encouraged to reflect on their own practices, recognize the differences in the practices of their colleagues, and last but not least, think about (and articulate) ways they wanted to move their own practices going forward.  They did this by first mapping what they did on the V&R pole chart.

Then they “toured” the maps of their colleagues, and eventually annotated their own maps with the meaning/content of what they originally mapped, as well as their aspirations for the new or different.

2015-03-13 Galway V&R

Map from one of our participants. Arrows show direction in which they want to move their practices–FB more Resident, for example.

Some people wanted to engage in new digital platforms.  Some wanted to stop engaging in some places so as to have more room to develop elsewhere.  Some people saw how much their practices reflected their work, but not their personal lives, and resolved to think more carefully about the time they were spending online in all aspects of their lives.

The power in workshops like these is in providing moments people would not otherwise have to really see, and think about, what they are doing.  Too often we engage with digital tools or platforms because they are there, or recommended, or because people are there, but don’t have the space to think about why.  When people put a presence into a platform but then never really use it, why should they have that presence at all?  Being deliberate about motivations to engage can provide people with important chances to make careful choices about the limited time they have for f2f and digital interactions.

I think one of the best things we did in this workshop was make sure there was someone in the room (in this case it was Sharon Flynn) who could make concrete suggestions to people in the room about where they could go for institutional help in learning more about the things they wanted to change and develop.  Too often when we do this workshop at conferences we are reduced to hand-waving and “I hope you can find someone to help you!”  Being able to hand participants off to specific next steps was indeed Marvelous.

If you want to see what it was like, a recording of the session is available here.


photo by Jamie Tilley, see full Flickr photostream at https://www.flickr.com/photos/132033164@N06/with/16842774026/

photo by Jamie Tilley, see full Flickr photostream at https://www.flickr.com/photos/132033164@N06/with/16842774026/

I think the most important thing I needed to get right at UXLibs was my workshop on ethnographic methods.  It was planned and conducted in conjunction with my colleagues Andrew Asher and Georgina Cronin, and the intention was to equip all of the teams (read more about the overall picture of UXLibs here , here and also here.  Ned Potter blogged specifically about the ethnography day here) with a range of instruments and approaches to use for their project in the Cambridge libraries.    My workshop was on observations, and while I gave them a basic handout about domains, etc., I really wanted them to just pay attention and note what they saw, and then mindfully write it up.  Participants worked in pairs (or teams of 3) and had to pool their observations into a coherent narrative at the end.  In Cambridge I sent them out to the Market Square, which bustled with people.  Some teams went inside to a bookshop, which bustled less, but they all had plenty to write up.  Our discussion post write-up was less about what they observed, and more about the process.  Without much prompting on my part we got to discuss the observer effect, ethical obligations for researchers working in public spaces, hazards of interpretation, and the limits of observation as a method (i.e., what else do you  have to do to get to a better understanding of what is going on?).   I was terrifically pleased–after the rush and bustle of observations, the discussion was fairly low-key, but I felt like everyone dug into the issues and came away with the things in their heads they needed for the afternoon’s fieldwork.

(I will blog more about UXLibs #obvs just not right now!)

Ethnography (with a side of V&R)

My colleague Andrew Preater invited me back to Imperial College to work with library staff members with regard to both ethnographic techniques and V&R mapping.  Eleni Zazani blogged (very kindly!) about it both parts of the day here. Most of the participants had done the V&R mapping before, but I had not had a chance to try the “So What” part with them, yet.  They really came through, annotating maps and talking with each other and with me about what they wanted to change.  It’s such a powerful moment to me, to see when people become clear about what they would like to have happen.

After a short break I had them do a mini-version of the ethnography workshop I conducted at #UXLibs.  Karine Larose had been with us in Cambridge, as had Angus Brown in the Imperial leadership team.  So Imperial is well-equipped with people to take ethnographic techniques forward into the work of the library.

This time the observations were distributed throughout the library building, and because I wanted them to be able to apply the workshop to the specific Imperial Library context, we did spend time talking about what they saw, and what they thought it might mean.  Once again 15 minutes of observations required far more than that of write-up time (let alone time for reflection, analysis, interpretation, and planning of next steps!).

I think I’d like to have a workshop full of library leadership sometime, to have the people who need to make decisions about how staff spend time and resources experience the powerful potential of ethnography, as well as subjectively experience just how much time it takes to do effectively.

Inspired by the concrete suggestions that people had taken away from the V&R workshop in Galway, and the morning at Imperial, I wanted the ethnography piece to have specific outcomes, too.  So at the end we collectively thought about the questions that participants wanted to start to try to explore via ethnographic techniques at Imperial.

And there was a definite impact, with staff members actively seeking out material to help them take ethnography further in their own work.

Ethnography at Kingston

This should have been a #shoetweet tagging @SaraBurnett

This should have been a #shoetweet tagging @SaraBurnett

Kingston University and UNC Charlotte have a formal exchange with each other, and I’m delighted to be starting to participate in conversations there around libraries and learning spaces.  Thanks again to Robert Elves for being my liaison and scheduler. The final workshop I conducted was here, and I was once again fortunate to have 2 alums from the UXLibs conference, Sara Burnett and Simon Collins.   We didn’t have time to do observations in the library sites this day, but spent good productive time having Sara and Simon go over some of the methods they learned at UXLibs.  They also described some of the issues that they observed in the Cambridge libraries, and that led into a great discussion of what they were interested in exploring at Kingston.  The outcome of this workshop was a document with a list of questions to start asking, with each question accompanied by the instruments/methods that might provide a good start in finding things out.

Real Outcomes for Real People

Overall, it was just so much fun to not just talk ideas with people, but to take the ideas towards something that everyone agreed would be worthwhile to try.  I was never in the position of telling people what they needed to do, but rather helped provide space for the conversation to happen, for people to connect with each other and with new concepts and to make new connections with things they had already heard before.  It was satisfying work in a completely different way from report- or article-writing, or presentation-making.

Thanks to all the institutions (NUI Galway, Cambridge, Imperial, Kingston) and people within them who provided me the chance for such work.  it was practical in the best sense, and I hope I get to do more of that going forward.