Well it’s been a while but I finally can post this conversation that I got to have with my buddy Peter about music and other things (I especially talk about my dad here, as I often seem to do when talking about music I love) at ALT-C in September 2023. Thanks to Dom Pates for giving us the platform and starting things off with me while we waited for Peter to grab lunch! (proper sound kicks in after about a minute)
The annual conference for ALT was last week in Manchester, and I was there (among other more social reasons) to 1) see Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom deliver the opening keynote, 2) to present on the recent research project that Lawrie Phipps and I are wrapping up for Jisc, and 3) to participate in a Gasta round, the lightning talks imported from the ILTA conference courtesy of Tom Farrelly of IT Tralee. When Dr. Maren Deepwell invited me to deliver a Gasta talk, I was reminded of the perfectly crafted Pecha Kucha talks I witnessed at the EPIC conference in 2014, and knew I wasn’t going to be able to swing that.
Fortunately Tom has envisioned Gasta (“lightning” in Irish) talks as somewhat more loose than Pecha Kucha. So, I thought I would start from a series of 5 images (one for each minute I had to talk), to ground me in what I wanted to say without scripting it out. I was remembering my extemporaneous speaking experiences in high school, on a speech and debate team, and what a fun challenge it was to know what I wanted to say without having completely planned how to say it.
So, that was my Gasta. A largely improvised 5 minute talk on what I want to see happen around reflections on digital practice and presence.
The entire Gasta session was recorded and is available for you to view here. My 5 minute piece starts at about the 29 minute mark.
This post is my attempt to capture what I said. Or, what I tried to say.
I am not a learning technologist, I am an anthropologist. In the work that I get to do in the sector (while I am not of the sector) I am occasionally tasked to go in and talk to people about what they do when they go online, and why.
And early on, I was working within the framework of Visitors and Residents, in part because we thought it would give people a way to push back against the problematic framework of Natives and Immigrants, give them different ways of talking about themselves and their practice that were less damaging. What we found, though, was that people started to pigeonhole themselves in the different framework that we gave them, because they were still talking about identity, about who they were, rather than what they did. So, this triangle is our attempt to give people a way to center themselves within their practice, to map themselves within a framework that does not try to pigeonhole them.
One thing that comes up when people talk about what they do online is that they very swiftly move to talking about the people among whom they do these things. We start off with practice, and all of a sudden we are talking about people. They talk about places they go online because there are certain people there, they talk about places they avoid online because there are certain people there. They are talking about networks, the networks they have, the networks they want to have, and the networks they avoid because they are toxic and do not serve them well. People don’t get enough of an opportunity to talk about this kind of thing. There’s too much emphasis on “What are you going to do? Where are you going to do it?” and not enough emphasis on “With whom are you going to do it, and why?”
The other thing that happens when we have people map their practices is that they talk a lot about visibility, they talk a lot about people who are “stars” on social media, the people they see all the time. “They shine so brightly, I see them all the time, so surely I know who that person is.” And, you might know some things, but you don’t know everything. You know what they show you, that doesn’t mean you know them. They make choices, and you see what they choose to show, but that is not the same thing as knowing. So when we talk about people’s practices, and when we talk about what people want to do, I think too often we get bogged down in concerns about “but who can see me” and “look at that person over there, aren’t they amazing.”
I want people to think about the intimacy of their practices, to think with people who care for them.
One of the things my mother and I do together, when we have the chance, is to walk together at dusk, and we can peer in other people’s windows, because they haven’t put their blinds down yet, and the lights are on, and we can see in, and be opinionated about whether we like their choice of sofa, or wall color, or furniture arrangements.
One of the exercises I have started doing with Lawrie Phipps (not yet in workshops, we’re still figuring it out offline) is based on an idea of a window, but instead of peering into the windows of strangers as my mother and I occasionally do, the idea here is that you invite people to your window, you open it so that others may see in. You invite people to talk to you about what they see of your practice, and not just what is visible, but what they are aware of because they know you. And you, in turn, can listen and learn from these people because you trust them to share with you what they really think, not just what you want to hear, because they care about you and will be kind even when they are disagreeing with you.
I don’t actually think a window is an adequate metaphor for what I’m trying to encourage people to do here. I’m trying to encourage people to leverage their intimate networks of people who care about them, not random workshops of people you have just met, who can google you and think they know you if you are visible. I want for you to talk with the people who you would want to invite into your home. Who are the people who are already in your network, how can you open a door to the people you want to hear from about your practice, what it means, what it means to you, what it means to them. How do we create the moments of reflection that come from a place of care, rather than from an abstracted notion of visibility and importance? How can we create places of reflection that feel like home?
— Will Allen (@whaa) March 9, 2015
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.”
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.