When doing a PhD there is a constant challenge in terms of balancing commitments and remaining focused on the target of completing your thesis. It is a humbling experience and there are constant reminders of all the areas where you need to develop in order to do the best possible job to create a very long piece of writing that feels, at times, more important to yourself and your own development than to anyone else. In the continued examination and re-examination of my thesis I took a month to dedicate my work to equity. What I mean by that is that two weeks were spent working on equity issues. I was in Punta del Este, Uruguay participating in the 1st EdTech Winter School held by ANII and Foundacion Ciebal during the first week in July. For the last week in July I was in Boston, MA presenting at the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Social Justice Symposium. My presentation at this symposium reflected efforts to support students with disabilities at the Open University in the UK. This meant that the work I participated in during the month was reflective of challenges of equity faced by Uruguay, the United States, and the UK. This form of national perspective taking in the global arena of educational technology is precisely why I opted to pursue my PhD at the Open University in the Open World Learning research program.
According to the Open World Learning (OWL) research frame a meaningful investigation into educational technology considers enablers and disablers at the micro, meso, and macro level of people places practices and properties. As I use this research frame for my thesis and my PhD is in OWL this is the frame I will likely use in my career as I develop as a researcher. Uruguay is a great place to flex my newly developed research skills as the country has a national initiative to address issues of equity leveraging Instructional Computer Technology (ICT). Many of the Macro level aspects of the OWL research framework are in place in the country through a One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative 10 years in the making that has effectively closed the digital divide. Everyone in the country has access to technology, instructional technology, and they have internet access in schools and at or near home. The next step in Uruguay is to get the retired population computers and internet access so that as they build a digital community the retired population are participants and represented in the digital culture. While the OWL research framework was developed based on the assumption that Open Educational Resources provide people access the parallel in Uruguay is that there are national initiatives ensuring everyone has access to educational resources.
I distinctly remember on my first day at the Winter School walking along the lake talking with an international group of researchers about our various perspectives on education. As you can see in the above picture I was puzzled as to how this could be considered “winter” in Uruguay. I spent a week considering the elements and challenges in Uruguay and through an international collaboration I started work on a grant proposal to explore how the development of help seeking behavior related to using the available educational resources. In effect the proposal is to explore if there is a relationship between developing help seeking behavior and developing people who will take advantage of the readily available educational resources. The retention issues in Uruguay are related to High School retention.
While working on this proposal it was noted that the environment in Uruguay was a fantastic place to explore how ICT could be used to address equity issues at a national level. I am looking forward to pursuing this work and furthering my understanding of how to leverage the OWL research framework to effect social change in the world.
As I returned from Uruguay to the UK I had the time to reflect on the decisions and choices that led me to this environment. The first year in my program I worked with researchers at the OU on a policy report for learning analytics that included a global scan of productive initiatives around the world. One of my contributions to this report was a one page summary of what was going on in Uruguay. I could tell from my desk research that there was a lot of interesting work going on there.
"We need learning analytics that improve equity. How can technologies contribute to the field of equity?" #edumetricas
One of my colleagues visited people doing to work in Uruguay and I had a brief twitter interaction where we discussed learning analytics and their potential to help create equity. I did not understand the depth of work or the broad spectrum of possibilities developing in Uruguay through these interactions. As I spent a week there working with the people focused on creating a equitable nation I got a much clearer picture of how these elements could fit together.
I returned to my wife and children after this trip and could not help but wonder if the society my sons would experience would be more or less equitable than the one I had experienced. I may not be pursuing a path of personal gain that would directly benefit my children to shield them from society. Rather I am doing my part to create a world where fathers can look forward to how society will challenge and activate their children. In what felt like a short two weeks in the UK, I prepared to return to Boston.
As I lived in Boston before I moved to the UK there are friends with whom I can stay when I visit. In fact, my favorite safe haven is in the neighborhood where I used to live in West Medford at the residence of Matt & Nell Weber. They recently had a child so it was nice to see my friends as new parents. Matt is the director of digital strategy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and he was a classmate of mine during my masters program at HGSE. Matt would likely have a ton of advice on how to make this blog post have more impact. Nell is a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As I talked with Nell about UDL and social justice symposium she said that she had just recently worked on a Harvard Education Review on a series of articles which included the following three pieces:
In this series of publications there was discussion about the intersection of Culturally Responsive Curriculum and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I was presenting at the UDL Symposium for the third year in a row, I previously worked at CAST for four years, and I had the pleasure of taking David Rose’s course on UDL. I had more experience with the UDL guidelines than I did with Culturally Responsive Curriculum. Although many of my family members have dedicated their lives to the preservation of Native American culture in many forms including higher education. It is disappointing to me as a Native American how poorly US education serves native youth. Just as America is a cultural melting pot this topic and this conference felt like a collision of two perspectives I have on education. There is the cultural traditions of my family ( Joseph, Mary, Pauline) from the Lummi Nation and there are the pedagogical practices I learned about while a masters student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This conference was a place where the two perspectives were creatively colliding (my personal mantra is to creatively collide with my environment). During my time at the conference I listened to a variety of perspectives and gained some further insights on how to reconcile my own understanding of education. The integration of pedagogical perspectives and inter-cultural communication is in fact part of my daily life now.
As a graduate student in the UK at the Open University I have the pleasure of myself being an international student. In the Open World Learning program there are a total of 18 students (12 of whom I have met and 6 that will join this coming fall) and I think each comes from a different country. One of the benefits of have a global program with international perspectives is the opportunity it creates for cross-pollination between graduate students.
The presentation I gave at the UDL and Social Justice Symposium was in fact a collaboration with my fellow student Francisco “Paco” Iniesto from Spain. We both have experience working on research on the topic of students with disabilities and we both seem to be on campus frequently at the same time so we have had ample opportunity to collaborate. Last Christmas break we asked ourselves what lies at the intersection our research. Paco focuses on students with disabilities and I focus on the role of emotion in learning. We decided the intersection would be to explore what emotionally accessible learning would look like. From that question we decided to explore how synthetic voices from screen readers emotionally expressed the learning material from online courses. Effectively we were asking if these voices read the content with an appropriate emotional expression. The short version of the results of our initial work is that the voices we analyzed do not do a good job of using appropriate emotional expression of course material. You can read more about this project here.
At The Open University it is important to understand that it is itself an educational organization that supports a nation. In the United Kingdom there are around 200k students at The Open University. In the age of MOOCs nearly every University offers some form of online course though the Open University has been doing distance education since courses were offered on the radio. It is an institution with deep knowledge about online education and it is fascinating to see how developed they are at supporting learning. For example one of the things that is clear at the Open University is that students who self-report disabilities are increasing. It has gone from 4.18% in 2010/11 to 16.58% in 2015/16. A recent report went into detail about the disparity in completion rates for OU Students declaring a disability and I have worked with the people at the OU who are working to address these issues of equity.
In talking about examining the effects of synthetic voice and emotional delivery of course material we determined it would be good to start with interviews with students that could potentially benefit from this type of delivery. The initial students we plan to interview will be students with visual impairment, learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia), and students who self-report fatigue. We are interested in Audio Supported Reading as it may help students who experience fatigue while access the course material online. While this project is not the thesis topic of Paco or myself we both feel energized whenever we get the time to collaborate on this work. We also recognize it cannot take our focus away from the thesis though we have setup the pilot study to be done in conjunction with staff at the OU and we have high hopes that we can get the ball rolling on thinking about how this line of work can have an impact on equity for students in the UK.
As if this was not already a packed month for my studies I decided to apply for my first grant in the UK which actually fits into the topic of equity. I have an upcoming study that is focused on my thesis topic where I am examining the emotional dynamics in group chat during computer supported collaborative learning. One aspect of my study design scaffolds emotional communication. I am interested to investigate how supporting emotional communication affects inter-cultural communication. There was a UK Council for International Student Affairs that offered a small grant scheme to help ensure that international students in the UK have the best possible experience while studying at University. I wrote an application for my first grant where I asked for support for conducting interviews in an upcoming study to understand how supporting emotional communication affects inter-cultural communication.
I concluded the month with a sense that I was capable of working in the world across nations at different points of focus on the topic of creating a more equitable world. In each respective PhD journey I have noticed how no one gets everything they want out of their graduate studies. I have to admit that there are times I am uncertain of my path. However, for the month of July the Open World Learning research program was authentically a global investigation leveraging a common framework considering how to help people around the world benefit from the embarrassment of educational resources that we have available today.
Last Friday I attended the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) day at the OU 2017. It has been interesting working in EdTech over the past seven years as MOOCs have been something that sparks discussions about education. Even at this conference we ended with a discussion asking if anything has actually changed. In order to explore the question of MOOCs I think an analogy of a dance may help. I recently saw a tweet that said something along the lines of the following: Open is like having an invitation to a dance, but access is getting people to actually dance. In broadening this notion in a way almost everyone at FLAN was trying to figure out how to get more people dancing.
I like the idea of thinking of a MOOC as one giant middle school dance. We have a large number of people getting together for a social event and so far it seems like there are lots of people that are showing up in an awkward fashion and not necessarily dancing. Recapping some of the research from the conference in terms of this analogy you can get a sense of what happened at the conference.
As this post has centered around having lots of people at a dance that are not yet dancing it reminds me of the “Leadership From A Dancing Guy” video posted by Michael Hughes.
In this video a lone nut starts a movement. In a way, the conference was a group of people trying to identify the lone nuts in MOOCs and figure out how to get them followers. It was a fun afternoon and it was great to see peoples ideas about MOOCs at FLAN.
In the above photo I am ahead of a group of friends. We are all headed towards Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, MA after a snow day party at our dear friend Doug’s place. This happens to be one of my favorite portraits because it really illustrates one of the experiences I cannot articulate well with words. Pictured above is what it can look like when I struggle. Here I am in a winter coat, scarf wrapped around my face, wool hat, and trudging through snow. I am really having a hard time in this picture and when I struggle I push forward. I have to streak with progress when I can. Even if it means that I end up alone and ahead of the group. I can remember my cheeks, my breathe, and my exhaustion from this evening. I was definitely having a hard time. However, when I struggle it does not necessarily mean I am falling behind. In this case, I am struggling ahead. My wife and friends are behind me and I am happy that my wife took a photo of me to capture an image of this experience. This photo illustrates an experience I frequently have in life.
As a person goes forward in search of knowledge – they struggle. Part of my path towards a PhD is a struggle. It does not necessarily mean that I am falling behind but may potentially mean that part of my thinking is surging ahead. I really think this is the case in my recent conference rejection. I submitted a piece on how computerized voices may have an unintentional emotional nudge in the learning process when we access learning materials through text-t0-speech technologies. The conference rejection included comments such as “I would be eager to see this paper at [our conference]” . However, my technical chops and the time I put into the proposal reflect a valid rejection of the work. I think in this case my conceptual understanding of the role of emotions in learning surged ahead of my technical capacity to describe my theoretical understanding. My ideas were surging ahead of my capacity to describe them. I knew this when I submitted the work. I submitted the work as a ‘Work in Progress’. However, it seems there is more work to be done than progress to describe associated with this facet of my research as judged by the reviewers.
I will persist and refine the work and eventually my capacity to describe my work will reach my theoretical understanding. I will resubmit and eventually share my insights with the world. Today I will struggle ahead. Tomorrow I will reach Massachusetts avenue and wait patiently for my friends and loved ones to arrive. When they get there I will have caught my breathe and we can continue on our journey. Just like I did on the evening pictured above on a cold dark winter evening in MA.
In a time when people appear to be closing borders and building walls the world is opening to new possibilities such as the exploration of Open World Learning. I take comfort in knowing that I have decided to spend my time in hopes that my research will enable people to be a part of the expanding world of education. I believe that education is expanding because connecting education to the entire world is, from my perspective, more about changing education than it is about changing the world. In order to examine this belief we should start with a definition of education. A definition that would be appropriate to express this viewpoint is from Dewey’s pedagogic creed.
If we operate from the viewpoint that education is a process of living then by extension world education is a form of world living. As I close my eyes and reach for a sense of world living I have limited experience to help me make sense of what this transformation will bring. From my limited experience I can attempt to bridge my experience to the future of education. While Open World Learning has painstakingly selected the word learning over education the purpose of this writing will be limited to the scope to exploring global education. As I walk through my past there are many aspects that speak to models of global living. I live through fantastic cultural tensions and appreciate what they can tell me about global living. This appreciation can perhaps inspire thoughts on global education.
Native American Reservations – Nations within Nations
You may have not heard of the Lummi Nation. It is in fact a nation within a nation. You can find it just north of Seattle in the pacific northwest. Since the 1855 Point Elliott treaty the Lummi have continued with cultural traditions that have a connection with the pacific northwest since before it was called Washington state.
I consider myself lucky to have a father from this tribe and a childhood that included participating in those traditions. This is one way of global living. You exist in your own sphere in an almost parallel world. There are decisions that effect your culture from the outside nation. When looking across all native american reservations and the united states the connection between the outside culture of America to the inside culture on the reservation has not been historically successful in terms of higher education. There are many fantastic initiatives that are attempting to address these gaps such as tribal colleges such as the Northwest Indian College. As we reach to make better connections between these nations I am sure that it will take a variety of strategies to build bridges.
While America and the UK start down isolation pathways what I see is a retraction from the global context that will produce inequalities. These inequalities will inevitably require some form of bridge building. I am not sure that this retraction is a direction that I would recommend though I can sympathize with the desire to protect national identity in the face of dramatic change. I just hope that those making these decisions review other places where similar decisions were made and evaluate the likely long term effects of this approach.
Hawaii – Aloha
In my youth I lived on Maui which provided another kind of global cultural experience. You may have a positive image of Hawaii as a form of paradise or you may look at it as a tourist destination. In living on Maui a different perception forms. You feel a strange juxtaposition between the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty in stark contrast with the generations of mistreatment of those who call Hawaii home.
Families moving away from the islands seeking more affordable living while wealthy purchase lands for their own sanctuaries. While there is one island that maintains the isolated sphere like a nation within a nation it does so in a unique way. The majority of Hawaii has been more of a melting pot. Even if that melting pot narrative is a half-truth. There has been tensions between the melting pot mentality and the protection that Hawaii gets for its own identity. Recently a question was raised in asking if Hawaii would be better off as a Nation within a Nation and be recognized in a similar way that native american tribes have been recognized. Again I can sympathize with the intent to protect the identity of Hawaii though I am not sure that this direction will produce the desired effect.
What I like about the half-truth of the melting pot was a sense that you could be Hapa and belong. In Hawaii Hapa means mixed ethnic heritage. You got a free pass in this melting pot if you were Hapa. It is nice, as a person who considers himself Hapa in this context, to know that there is a place in the world where these blends across culture are embraced. I also respect and understand that for the people of Hawaii that going down a path towards tribal recognition may be desired. I do have a concern that this is another example of retracting away from the emerging global context. I am pretty sure that no matter what governance structure there is in Hawaii there will still be a place that embraces mixed heritage as a residual effect of the melting pot mentality.
The United States – a familiar trap
The United States itself offers a model of a collection of different systems. While living in the Pacific Northwest, my wife (fiance at the time) was living on the east coast pursuing her masters degree. This bi-coastal living brought with it a brief exploration of the east coast. In a road trip we went to Maine. What was so striking to me about Maine is how similar this place was to where I grew up on the west coast.
I believe this similarity explains how unsettling it was to experience. In Maine, with respect to the coastline the sun rose on the opposite side to my normal experience. The rocks that I saw in the landscape were a reminder that I was not home. However, the trees, the temperature, and smell of the ocean air, and even the sun felt like home to me. This was perhaps my first primary experience of the uncanny valley. When describing human experiences with robotics such as prosthetic hands as the robots got closer to human looking they were described as more familiar until they reached a point where it was so close to looking like a human that it became unfamiliar.
I bring up the uncanny valley as an expressed hope that education does not seek to remain the same as it could become a negative familiarity. I predict that trying to stay the same in an age of global living would result in an uneasiness. I contest that trying to keep things the same may actually be more difficult than more radical alternatives. For example as we try to measure success of online learning as completion of a 12-week course we already question whether that is an appropriate measure for success in online learning.
Global Tourism – The adjacent possibilities
I have had the wonderful chance to take steps into a variety of different places in the world. Belize, Guatamala, Canada, Germany, Italy, France. Some basic tourism where I would see one city as a snapshot glimpse of another culture and another way of existence. As each of these places are clearly possible and in some ways adjacent to my existence in the United States I can see each of these systems as adjacent possibilities. In a way we may be driven to expand into diversity in order to maximize what can happen next. As Stuart Kauffman puts it:
I think there are many people that look across the distinct possibilities and wonder how they can adopt what works in different contexts into their own communities. Just as a tourist cannot purchase a trinket that will capture the essence of the country, a curriculum will likely not be moved so easily between nations. It is however an adjacent possibility. The nation could put concerted effort into the culture shift that would make any of these existing systems something that would make sense in their own context. I believe that these forms of cultural shifts are difficult and part of what teachers do in their day to day lives. As they experiment (or are experimented upon) with new tools and pedagogies they are in one sense our cultural pioneers. If you want to know how hard that work can be then volunteer with a school and get a line of sight into the life of a teacher. Teachers are asked to make these kinds of changes in their classroom all the time. They pilot a new system, new classroom management strategy, new technology, new assessments. This is the tough work of cultural change and new approaches are tried every year. The adjacent possible is at times enviable and not easy to achieve.
Boston – Parallel Universe(ities)
My time in Boston was limited. I studied at Harvard for my masters of education and stayed in the area to participate in research into Universal Design for Learning at CAST.org. When asked what Boston is like my top level answer is that Boston is a demanding town. If you live in Boston you simply do a lot. It is an active and vibrant community of scholarship. I believe this is true in part because of the sheer number of universities there are in the area. Even when someone wants to dramatically change how higher education works they consider Boston the place to start something new.
On the positive side there are so many initiatives in the collegiate system here. I refer to Boston as an academically diverse place. You can have a conversation with just about any kind of expert you would like. However, even with all of these wonderful options in Boston and other similar cities in the states, I still think there is room for improving how people connect to higher education. A recent report outlined that some schools have more students from the top 1% of wealth in the nation than students in the bottom 60%. I have a hard time believing in a system that for whatever reasons continue to reinforce economic disparities will help provide changes for those disparities. If we want to change the course of the US as a nation away from its trajectory toward an economic-elite oligarchy, then I think we may want to start with more radical changes in Higher Education.
Which way forward – Open World Learning?
As I continue my global living (currently in the UK) I have developed the perspective that as we unpack what Open World Learning means that we need to engage with the emotional elements as much as we do with the cognitive elements. We are seeking an understanding about the very core of culture, identify, and community at a global scale and it will be important to understand more about emotional thought (the process that encompasses emotion and cognition). My question is informed from my life experience and there are already another 11 people that are researching Open World Learning that offer their perspectives on the work. The Open University is looking for another 6 people to explore questions that should be considered as a part of a large research framework seeking to understand what Open World Learning means. If you are at a point in life where you look at events shaping the world and you think that you would like to put energy and effort into a concept like Open World Learning than please consider joining our project.
My father was among other things a Lummi story teller. One of the stories my father would tell me as a child was the face of thunder. As this is oral tradition I am sure that I am either remembering the story incorrectly or perhaps my father told it to me in a slightly different way. Forgive me if you recall this story differently. From what I recall in this story a young man wants to see the face of thunder. He is told that he must climb a mountain during a terrible storm in order to see this face. A storm comes and he climbs a mountain and when he reaches the top he collapses in a puddle due to exhaustion. When the lighting strikes he sees his own face in the water and realizes that he is looking at the face of thunder.
There are a variety of reasons I like this story. One of the reasons is that it illustrates that the accomplishment can be about self-awareness. That when we want to find something it may actually be found within ourselves. I also like how in the story the struggle of the climb forges the expression on his face. It communicates that sometimes the act of taking on a challenge is itself what helps you realize your goal. What is also so fascinating about this is how the simple device of reflection is critical in the process. Sure the young man has to climb the mountain and he must struggle in order to achieve a face that would be described as a face of thunder. However, until he reflects there is no realization of his goal.
Many years later as an adult, I found myself sitting in one of the most delightfully peculiar courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. T-440 – “The Having of Wonderful Ideas” taught by Eleanor Duckworth. Duckworth was a student of Jean Piaget and in this course I can best describe it as exploring Piaget’s theory of learning through a series of exercises providing graduate students with a primary experience of those ideas. One of the exercises we did was an exercise with mirrors. I will not detail that exercise here but rather a moment I had in my section (if that is unsatisfactory for you then please read more about the having of wonderful ideas here). The course was structured with entire class days and sections where you met in smaller groups with a teaching fellow. In section we were discussing properties of mirrors. Duckworth dropped in on our section and sat next to me. She asked us what we knew about mirrors. We all provided our insights and she would check our statements with a mirror that she brought with her. Her mirror was something like a dental mirror attached to a stick.
Then she held her mirror between our laps. It was in the middle between us. She asked me if I could see her in the mirror. I replied yes. She then lifted her arm in an arc until the mirror was over our heads. The entire time we kept eye contact through the mirror as it moved. It felt like a childish experience and it was delightful. I still remember how she looked at me through that mirror. She was intent, measuring, and critical with her gaze. I am sure she saw my face of delight as this course felt like a game for my mind. This moment of reflection held in Duckworth’s critical gaze generated a clear memory for me on of how I felt while learning in this course.
These stories illustrate how the reflective process can capture the emotional aspects of learning. In the first it is about the role of reflection as it relates to a private realization of self-awareness and in the second a demonstration on how a teacher might participate in student reflections. In my work at CAST, I participated in the development of a universally designed emotional self-report mechanism intended to support socially contextualized emotional reflection during the learning process. You can read about this interdisciplinary collaborative work in this recent tutorial published in the Journal of Learning Analytics. It is in some manner an early step in my process of becoming a researcher. As I continue to climb the mountain of my PhD I am exploring how technology can be implemented with socially contextualized mirroring supports for students’ emotion so that we can generate a trace of the emotional aspects of learning. The hope is that through supporting students we can also improve the trace data they generate during technology enhanced learning. This work will eventually directly support students, teachers, and researchers through improved data on the emotional process of learning. If that goal is not achieved perhaps struggling towards that goal will afford me the face of a researcher.
I am biking to the Open University now. For Xmas I purchased myself a modestly priced Vilano 21 Speed at £140 this seemed like something that could both offset my commute costs and integrate exercise into my daily routine. The bus costs £2.10 each way so biking will cover the cost of the bike in about 2 months. I have already gone between home and school 4 times saving around £16. The ride on the bike seems to save time as well. It takes about 10 minutes to get to campus from my place on a bike, which is sometimes less time than it takes when waiting for the bus. While it helps that this saves both time and money what I enjoy most about it is the scenery.
There is a path directly behind my house that passes between two pastures. Sylvie (sp?) is the local resident of those pastures. I see her on a daily basis and it just seems awesome that my commute includes saying hello to a horse when I leave my house.
After rounding the corner from Sylvie’s pasture I am essentially on the Heritage Cycle Trail of the Ouzel Valley with my first sight the still functioning holy trinity church in Woolstone. This church dates from the 13th century. The trail guide says that there is evidence of a Norman church foundation as well as archeological evidence of Roman occupation. My wife and our two kids went to a service here during the Christmas holiday last month to sing carols. It was a nice small gathering of people in the community. My sons are so young that we could not stay for the entire service, but what we saw was nice and the boys did enjoy the singing.
There are a few grazing areas that I cycle through on my commute. Most of the gates have cattle guards so I can pass through. There are three gates that require that I get off of the bike to open the gate. I love how green the pastures look here. In general the land seems very well maintained – making it a very scenic commute.
The second church I pass is called the Little Woolstone Church and is no longer in use. It is located on the site of medieval fish ponds. There is a nice marker that outlines what the ponds used to look like. The ponds are from the 14th century.
Before I arrive on campus I pass underneath the roadway and there is some fun graffiti. It is hard to date the grafiti though I heard that Mark Twain said he took a picture of this with his iPad in the 12th century. The pillar I usually pass has a face on it. Sometimes, if this part of the path is washed out, I pass a mural of what looks like Che Guevarra a few meters down from here.
The final leg of my journey is to park my bike behind the Jennie Lee Building and I am ready to start my day. On my way home it is dark so it usually takes less time as I am not as distracted by the scenery.