Notes on Brown’s Emergent Strategy

During the last three months (June, July, August) I participated in Mid-Year Festival 2022, organized by Equity Unbound. This was a wonderful space of learning and conversations, in which I got to know new people and new authors/resources/ideas.

One of those is adrienne maree brown and her works on emergent strategy. I recently finished reading her book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (AK Press, 2017), and I found so many important and helpful ideas in that book I wanted to write a few down here to be able to refer back to them later.

I was particularly interested in learning more about emergent strategy because I thought it might address some questions I have about being an educational leader during a time of significant change and transition–what are some helpful leadership practices for times when things are quickly changing and we are facing situations and conditions that are new to us, when the future feels more unknown than it might have earlier? How to support myself and others to act with intention in such a situation, rather than mainly being reactive? How to support myself and others to appreciate the opportunities this kind of situation opens up, in addition to feeling apprehensive? How to do all this without the common refrain I felt myself saying to myself and others over the past couple of years (something along the lines of: “thinking about how to do this is making my head feel like it’s going to explode and I’m trying but I’m not sure exactly what to do”).

The blurb on the back of the book grabbed me:

… The world is in a continual state of flux. … Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. … [This is] a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.

Sounded like the sort of thing I was looking for, and I have indeed found it very interesting, thought-provoking, and useful.

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Moving boulders: Dreaming higher education futures with MYFest22

I am participating in Mid-Year Festival 2022, a set of professional development workshops, events, and asynchronous activities run by Equity Unbound and facilitated by many different people around the world. One of the sessions in August is “Dreaming Higher Education Futures,” in which participants take time to vision, re-vision, and dream what higher education could be like in the future. Between the two synchronous sessions, participants are invited to create artifacts to explain their visions.

I struggle with articulating a clear vision, though I do have thoughts on what I’d like to see more of in the future (e.g., more equitable access, decolonization, anti-racism, flexibility of approaches and teaching modalities, more focus on care and wellbeing…). Instead of designing a dream of the future, I ended up focusing on the barriers I struggle with when I think about large-scale change. And I took a few photos on a weekend long walk to illustrate.

Moving Boulders

When I think about radical change in higher education, I often get a bit stuck by realizing how hard it is because of so many interconnecting structural systems. It’s difficult to change thing A because things B, C, D, E, etc. are tied to that and limiting/upholding limits on what can be done in A.

For example, I recognize that workload, stress, and burnout are significant problems for many people at the institution. Addressing that can be challenging because it’s tied into financial issues (can there be more people hired?), institutional expectations that increased during the pandemic and don’t seem to be abating, as well as a general culture of accepting that more and more work just is part of what we have to do (those who would push against that find themselves wondering if it means they might be viewed as less valuable). Many of these are not specific only to post-secondary contexts, of course. But they seem to be bigger issues that make it hard to address the problem without addressing many others.

As I was taking a walk this weekend I was thinking about how to visualize this situation, and one idea is to consider it like rocks in a wall:

Tightly packed rocks

It feels difficult to really change each one because all the others are pushing in around it. How can you change one thing without altering all the others? It feels “stuck.”

Cobblestones

Sometimes it can seem like there’s a bit of wiggle room at least, such as here, where one might be able to expand some of the rocks in the spaces between them and the others. But there is still a limit if one doesn’t change other other rocks; there could be some squishiness between, but then you hit rigidity again.

I don’t have a photo for this one, but another sense one can have is that there could be some changes, but the movement is elastic, like a rubber band–one can expand outward, or change shape somewhat, but it’s temporary and eventually things get pulled back into their original shape, their usual grooves. For example, I think this is how many folks may be feeling as we went through changes in teaching and learning during Covid-19, and while some changes from those may be continued, in many other respects we are pulling back into the “way things used to be” even if in some cases more radical changes would have been better if we had worked harder to ensure they could happen.

Pushing through the rocks

I also found signs of hope, though, on my walk. Plants have an amazing ability to push around and through what may seem like impermeable barriers and attempts to keep them away.

When systems seem stuck and blocked by deep structural interconnections that appear hard to change by pushing outward, sometimes it takes movement in a different direction–in this case, upwards and downwards through the stems, leaves, and roots of plants pushing their way through walls of stones in a seawall. If movement seems really hard, perhaps one way to think about it is to not stay within the usual confines of systems but to move in a different direction/dimension. Work underneath or around in unusual ways. It may not make sense at first, and one may not be sure what the results could be, but perhaps this will lead to movement of the stones themselves. Sometimes, it may

Tree sprouting in rocksSometimes, it may even be possible to grow whole trees out of the floors and walls, reaching far above and below.

What could be the result? Eventually, the boulders may become more moveable, jumbled, no longer stuck in the same places, more malleable. And by being closely connected together, this could be an advantage to change–by changing one or a few, those nearby may have to change, causing ripples outwards and loosening what was stuck in place.

 

Though they may be, at first, still stuck in a larger structure that keeps them from bursting out into something new.

Rocks in a cage

But even those wire cages may not last, and in the end the boulders may roam more freely, able to be moved and shaped into new configurations.

Loose boulders

Shaping Boulders

This is as far as I’ve gotten so far–I’ve managed to free the stones but haven’t begun building with them.

Yet, one of the resources shared during the first Dreaming Higher Ed Futures session has really resonated with me–Radical Tenderness cards created by the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective, an arts/research/teaching/practice group including people from UBC, a group I didn’t know about until now.

The cards are invitations to approach modernity and decolonization in ways that invite the death of the old and movement towards something new:

Radical tenderness is an invitation for us to learn to hospice modernity/coloniality dying within and around us, and to be taught by these deaths. Through learning from the gifts, harms and limits of the modern/colonial politics, radical tenderness also invites us to assist with the birth of a grammar of politics OTHERWISE, without suffocating the newborn with blankets of projections and idealizations.

Some that are resonating with me as I think about higher ed futures include:

  • “Make space for the unknown and the unknowable, in ourselves and in others.”
  • “Stop fearing fear, uncertainty and emptiness.”
  • “Assist with the birth of something new, without suffocating what is being born with projections and idealizations.”

One of the things that I have felt significantly challenged by over the last couple of years is a sense of uncertainty–we are going through quite a lot of change; what will the future be like? What will develop out of what we are working through now? How can I get back to a sense of stability?

I’m trying to learn to appreciate the opportunity that change an uncertainty bring, without being exactly sure what will come next. I am starting by recognizing that boulders can be moved, which helps get me unstuck enough to have space to dream about what else we might build with them.

This is one step along the journey. I’m looking forward to learning from and with others who are also dreaming!

Entangling Pedagogy and Technology (EdTechEthics Part 4)

I’m continuing a series of blog posts on ethics and educational technology, this time with a discussion of a recent open access paper by Tim Fawns called “An Entangled Pedagogy: Looking Beyond the Pedagogy—Technology Dichotomy.”

This paper doesn’t provide a framework for thinking about ethical considerations in educational technology, but rather talks about the importance of considering how technology and pedagogy are entangled with each other, and also with broader contexts and values, including ethical ones. It helps me think further about how ethics and other values are already embedded in educational technology decisions and uses, and also adds complexity to how I’ve been thinking about this topic–after reading and reflecting on this article I am thinking even more about how ethical evaluation of ed tech tools may differ across different types of uses, contexts, and pedagogical purposes.

I’m going to use this post to take some notes for myself on points from the article I am finding particularly generative at the moment, and then do some reflections on implications for thinking about ethical principles or a framework for an ethical approach to educational technology at a post-secondary institution.

Also, I’m excited that there is a workshop about entangled pedagogy, led by Tim Fawns and Maha Bali, as part of MYFest 2022. I’m really looking forward to digging into these ideas further then!

Caveat: this is an incredibly rich article with some complexity that I’m still not sure I fully understand. And I am only going to be able to do a rough summary of many of the author’s very insightful arguments. If anyone reads things differently, or thinks something else is more prominent in the article than I’m indicating here, I’m happy to discuss further in comments!

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Alt CV for DS106 daily create and MyFest22

A couple of things came together today in a way that was just too wonderful to pass up! As noted in an earlier blog post, I’m participating in MyFest 2022 for the next three months, and as part of that a number of folks are participating in the DS106 Daily Create activities.

Today’s Daily Create is to “Introduce yourself with a creative alternative CV”–“something more creative than an dry traditional CV.”

Also, Maha Bali, one of the organizers of MyFest, published a blog post today about a session she recently attended about finding joy at work, led by Kathleen Vinson. As part of the session, participants reflected on three questions:

  • What do you volunteer for, happily?
  • What do you do well?
  • Where do you have flow?

These two things (the daily create and Maha’s blog post) seemed to me to mesh well together, so I’m going to do the former by providing my own reflections on the questions in the latter.

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Joining MYFest

I am exciting to be participating in Mid-Year Festival (MYFest), a three-month series of professional development events and activities hosted by Equity Unbound, June, July, August 2022. There is a fantastic lineup happening throughout all three months, on four themes:

  • open educational practices, open publishing, and digital literacies
  • critical pedagogy and socially just education
  • community building and community reflection
  • wellbeing and joy

There is a lot happening, and I can only attend some of the synchronous sessions due to time zone or other commitments, but there are a lot of ways to participate asynchronously as well. I’m also really impressed by the care that has been put into ensuring people in many different time zones can participate!

Some of the things I’ll be attending in June include sessions on ungrading, on entangled pedagogy, and open learning (among others!). I’ll also be participating in the daily create activities (well, maybe not every day, but will do at least a few a week), and in conversations with others on our blogs through the MYFest blog network.

Anyone can participate in this choose-your-own-journey set of events, and registration is pay-what-you-can.

I’m looking forward to connecting with many folks over the next three months, some old friends and hopefully many new as well!

Elements of Digital Ethics by Per Axbom (Ed Tech Ethics Part 3)

I have started a series of blog posts reviewing what others have done related to the ethics of educational technology–see Ed Tech Ethics part 1 and Ed Tech Ethics part 2 so far.

Here in Part 3 I want to talk about a new resource I came across on Mastodon, a chart of Elements of Digital Ethics, by Per Axbom.

This chart is meant to include ethical considerations and concerns related to work with digital technology generally, and much (if not all?) is also relevant to educational technology. There is a lot here, and I won’t go over every piece (Axbom’s website helpfully provides a summary of each area), but I do want to make a few reflections here to help me connect this work to educational technology specifically, and to what I’ve reviewed in previous posts.

The elements of the chart are not ethical principles or criteria so much as they are broad-ish areas in which ethical concerns and harms arise, and that should be considered when deciding on things like what to purchase and how to use digital products and services.

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Handout for workshop on non-disposable and renewable assignments

I was scheduled to facilitate a workshop at the Teaching Hub at the Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association this week. The title of the workshop was “Transforming Assessments with Renewable Assignments.”

Unfortunately, I was sick this week and had to cancel the workshop. Being in a room with many people, and a hotel with hundreds, while sick is not a good idea in the age of Covid. Plus, I was not feeling able to stand and speak/facilitate for very long.

The meeting was in person in downtown Vancouver, and because AV is so expensive at the hotel there wasn’t AV available for this session. Instead I created a handout that can be viewed on paper or online during the session. I created the handout on the UBC Wiki, and am embedding it below. Note that there is a link to a longer version with my notes for the session, further examples and citations, and more.

I wish I had been able to facilitate the workshop during the conference, but I wanted to share this handout (and the link to longer info), because I hope it might be useful to others. And I may use it again for another event!


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Ethical questions about learning technology (Ed Tech Ethics Part 2)

As noted in the previous post on this blog, I’m reviewing some resources on ethics of educational technology (aka learning technology). In that post I did a short summary and some reflections on the UK’s Association for Learning Technology’s Framework for Ethical Learning Technology. That framework is made up of fairly broad principles that can form a very useful foundation for self-reflection and discussion about ethical approaches to learning technology decisions and practices.

In this post, I’m going to consider a couple of sets of questions that can guide reviews of specific educational technology tools: (1) a rubric by Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel that has been used and refined in several Digital Pedagogy Lab Institutes, and (2) a tool to help with analyzing the ethics of digital technology that Autumm Caines adapted from another source for an Ed Tech workshop at the 2020 Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute.

Morris & Stommel, Rubric for Critically Evaluating Digital Tools

This rubric comes from Morris & Stommel (2017), where they describe a “crap detection” exercise they have used in Digital Pedagogy Lab Institutes, asking participants to review and compare various learning technology tools on a particular set of questions.

Critically evaluating digital tools activity; questions (included in text below) on a rainbow background

Rubric for evaluating learning technology tools, by Morris and Stommel, licensed CC BY-NC 4.0

The slide above includes the following questions as ethical considerations one could use when reviewing one or a small number of specific learning technology tools:

  1. Who owns the tool? What is the name of the company, the CEO? What are their politics? What does the tool say it does? What does it actually do?
  2. What data are we required to provide in order to use the tool (login, e-mail, birthdate, etc.)? What flexibility do we have to be anonymous, or to protect our data? Where is data housed; who owns the data? What are the implications for in-class use? Will others be able to use/copy/own our work there?
  3. How does this tool act or not act as a mediator for our pedagogies? Does the tool attempt to dictate our pedagogies? How is its design pedagogical? Or exactly not pedagogical? Does the tool offer a way that “learning can most deeply and intimately begin”?

Morris and Stommel also note in the article that they have also added another set of questions, around accessibility:

  1. How accessible is the tool? For a blind student? For a hearing-impaired student? For a student with a learning disability? For introverts? For extroverts? Etc. What statements does the company make about accessibility?

They also note that the point of using the rubric is not necessarily to do a takedown of specific tools but to encourage participants to think more deeply about the tools they use, or may consider using (and requiring students to use): it is “a critical thinking exercise aimed at asking critical questions, empowering critical relationships, encouraging new digital literacies” (Morris & Stommel 2017).

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ALT’s Framework for Ethical Learning Technology (EdTechEthics Part 1)

Some context

Over the past couple of years I have been reflecting on the importance of ethical principles related to learning technology (LT), particularly as several ethical concerns have been surfaced related to use of LT during the pandemic, at our institution and elsewhere.

For example, I was part of a working group that created guidelines for use of online invigilation tools in 2020 (currently posted on the front page of the UBC Keep Teaching website), that included considerations of privacy and equity. But the institution still had and supported this kind of technology for awhile (and did before the pandemic as well). It took work by many people, both through public advocacy and behind the scenes, but eventually the UBC Okanagan and UBC Vancouver Senates voted to “restrict the use of remote invigilation tools that involve automated recording and algorithmic analysis of data captured during invigilation to only cases explicitly requiring ‘remote proctoring software’ by external accreditation bodies” (from the UBC Vancouver Senate minutes of March 2021). Looking back, there are things I wish I had done differently, but my own view is that I am happy that we have at least now reached this point where the institution no longer centrally pays for or supports this kind of online proctoring tool.

This was just one example where a focus on the ethics of learning technology came to the fore at the institution, and I had every intention of starting to dig more deeply into working on a possible set of ethical principles in the last year or so. But the pandemic, and the ups and downs of continual changes in teaching and learning that have accompanied it, along with significantly increased workload for staff in our unit and myself, have meant it kept getting pushed off. But it’s long past time to get started, and I’m taking the first steps by reviewing what others have already done. I’ll be doing summaries and reflections in a set of posts on this blog over the next … well … however long it takes!

I’m starting with the Association of Learning Technology’s (ALT) Framework for Ethical Learning Technology (FELT), a project that I have been watching from the sidelines and following updates about. It’s a comprehensive project that I think is very promising.

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OERI and some literature on open pedagogy

Open as in Not Closing Open, photo by Alan Levine, shared on Flickr under CC0.

I’m excited to be giving a lightning talk at the Open Education Research Institute hosted by Kwantlen Polytechnic University this week–thank you so much to Rajiv Jhangiani and Urooj Nizami from KPU for the invitation. I’ll also be acting as an OE research mentor for a group of participants in the Institute, which is a wonderful honour though to be honest I still feel a bit of a novice myself in this area. I was trained as a researcher in philosophy, with no information about empirical research with people, which is what I’ve had to try to learn along the way as I do research on open education. Not that all research on open edu has to be empirical…there is a good deal of theoretical research of great significance as well!

But I have done some empirical research on open educational resources in particular, and I must say a big thank you to Rajiv Jhangiani, Jessie Key, Clint Lalonde, and Beck Pitt for my first intro to such research, as we worked on the 2016 BCcampus report: Exploring Faculty Use of OER in British Columbia Post-secondary Institutions. This was part of the work that Rajiv, Jessie and I did during our 2014-2015 BCcampus Open Textbook Fellowship program. I am also grateful to have received an Open Education Group OER Research Fellowship in 2015, where I learned a lot from John S. Hilton and the many other OER Research Fellows as we met and discussed projects.

Of late, I’ve been working with a couple of colleagues on a research project about student perceptions of an open pedagogy project. Specifically, we surveyed students who created case studies for Forestry and Conservation courses, most of which were shared openly and with an open license, on the UBC Open Case Studies website. We started this research back in 2018, when we administered surveys to students in three courses, in Fall 2108 and Spring 2019. Then in 2019 we began coding the data, finishing up around the end of 2019 if memory serves, and then…COVID-19 and we dropped it altogether for a year.

We recently picked this project back up and are excited to report the results and write up an article to submit for publication. The lightning talk at OERI will be the first time I’ll be talking about this project to a wider audience. We’re not completely ready with full results; we have coded the data and have started pulling out a few themes, but we haven’t done a full analysis yet. So the lightning talk will focus on:

  • motivations, including (at the time) not a lot of research literature on student perceptions of open pedagogy projects
  • methods
  • a few preliminary results

That should be easily enough to fill the seven-minute time slot I have!

In the rest of this post, I’m basically starting on the literature review for the article we’ll be working on, by reviewing some of the literature on open educational practices, open pedagogy, and student perceptions of open pedagogy. What follows is a not exhaustive review of literature with some quotes, about open pedagogy, open educational practices, students as producers, and student perceptions of open pedagogy. I can’t imagine we’ll use all of this in our article, but it’s useful to have it in one place!

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