A Pedagogy of the Internet

8 min read

I started writing this post 2 years ago, shortly after I wrote the post Does Open Pedagogy Require OER? Like many unfinished blog posts, this is likely rambling in spots. Unfinished. And contextually, perhaps a bit dated as conversations defining what open pedagogy is have evolved since I first drafted this post. Indeed, Open Educational Practices were just becoming a thing 628 days ago, and we were all grappling with defining open pedagogy. These days I am not as tuned to the convo around open pedagogy/OEP and the new-ish OER-enabled pedagogy, but originally I drafted this post as a reflection on what a pedagogy of the internet (my own made-up term) looks like vs what is open pedagogy, so I share it here fwiw.

First maps of the internet by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid CC-BY-NC-ND

Many excellent comments have been added to my post Does Open Pedagogy Require OER? that have pushed my thinking into a different direction about what open pedagogy is, and made me realize that maybe I am trying to twist open pedagogy into something that is isn’t? Maybe I am trying to stretch open pedagogy into something more like a pedagogy of the internet, built upon the unique affordances of the internet?

Open pedagogy does certainly owe a lot to the internet, so it could be a good candidate to include in a pedagogy of the internet. As I wrote shortly after OpenEd 15, the thing that first drew me to OER’s was that I saw OER’s as a deliberate and explicit response by higher education to both acknowledge the existence of the internet, and actively exploit the internet’s unique affordances to do something innovative and novel in education. When they first arose 10-15 years ago, OER’s were something completely new, something that existed primarily because the internet made it possible for them to exist by providing a cheap and easy distribution method for sharing materials. This was higher education responding to the internet, and doing something different with the internet beyond simply trying to replicate a distance education model.

But the internet has enabled so much more than the ability to share resources, although I don’t want to discount how powerful and innovative that has been. The internet has also given us the ability to develop wide and deep learning networks of people, and has created an entirely new and influential public sphere. It is a public sphere that, I fear, is increasingly becoming less public, increasingly controlled by corporate interests, and increasingly rigged to benefit the powerful and affluent in our society. In short, that public sphere is feeling less and less like a public sphere.

In a fantastic post exploring critical digital pedagogies, Michael Rowe draws upon the work of Manuel Castells, and notes that, at one time, higher education had an influential role in the development of that public sphere. While the early internet was created by the military, it was able to grow “from an unlikely collaboration between university based academics and graduate students (the hackers), and the government.” The early internet was being shaped by those who were using it. The users were the creators, and one of the foremost groups of creators were universities. It was the universities – a societal construct that was neither government nor commercial – that brought the culture of openness to the internet in the 1960’s and 70’s. It was the universities who understood that an open internet was an incredibly important educational resource. And then what did universities do to harness and exploit this incredible resource? They created the LMS and turned their back on the open web.

Ok, maybe a bit glib. But I digress….this post is about pedagogy and the internet. More specifically, the open internet. The public sphere internet. This is about a pedagogy of the internet and open pedagogy and the relationship between the two.

Back to open pedagogy for a sec because I am very aware of Rajiv’s point in his comment about the muddying of education waters around the term open, and the need to reserve the term “open pedagogy” for something very specific, and that specific is the 5R’s.

While I think the terminology will continue to evolve as we keep pushing the boundaries of this space; I do think we need to reserve the use of the term “open” to refer to practices that bestow the 5R permissions. This is increasingly important with OER, where advocates customarily define OER in terms of free + permissions, but are then guilty of spending the rest of their time emphasizing the “free” part (i.e., cost savings).

(an aside note from the 2018 Clint before you move on – this comment from Rajiv may be one of those “things may have changed” moments in this post that I alluded to in the intro).

Anyone who works in OER knows the struggles we have to define “open”, and the attempts at openwashing of activities that, while on the surface may seem open, actually are not. So perhaps it is better to reserve our use of the term open to the specific activities that revolve around OER creation, use, reuse and distribution.

Fair point. So, maybe what I am interested in doing shouldn’t be called open pedagogy unless it fits within that criteria. I don’t want to muddy the open waters.

So, what kinds of models are out there that can help me feel more satisfied with the kinds of teaching & learning activities and approaches that I think are valuable learning experiences for students? The types of teaching and learning activities that are designed explicitly to take advantage of(defend) the unique affordances of the open, public sphere/internet? What are the kinds of pedagogies that can build upon the affordances of the open, public internet?

Thinking out loud, here are some other models that have resonated with me over the years that, I think, help contribute to a pedagogy of the internet.

Public sphere pedagogies. High on the list would be a pedagogy that has students engaging with the public, or their peers, in an open platform. Public sphere pedagogies are not exclusive to the internet (a letter to the editor could be seen as a public sphere pedagogy activity), but do see learners actively engaging with the wider world in order to provide a more authentic learning experience for students.

Network learning. The practice of co-learning within a network by actively participating in the network where even the act of developing a rich learning network is an ongoing experiential learning activity.  Closely related is Brown and Duguid’s concept of Networks of Practice, which builds upon & extends Lave & Wenger’s Community of Practice model.

Connected Learning, which “combines personal interests, supportive relationships, and opportunities” which, in and of itself doesn’t necessarily speak to the exclusivity of internet affordances. Opportunities, personal interest, and supportive relationships could be found at your local recreation centre. But when connected learning speaks of “learning in an age of abundant access to information and social connection”, that begins to speak to me more of a pedagogy of the internet.

Student as Producer builds on the notion that students are collaborators and creators of knowledge. To me, Student as Producer shares much in common pedagogically with activities such as having students write or edit a Wikipedia article. So while there are elements of Student as Producer that could fit with a pedagogy of the internet, it is not, in and of itself, a pedagogy of the internet.

So, all this is to say, for me, the pedagogical piece that I am most interested in is what the open internet enables, and exploring what it means to participate in a meaningful way on the open, public internet. What are the challenges? What are the benefits? Why do I feel it is important that educators and students participate in these open spaces?

Perhaps I am driven by a desire that the internet could and should be more than a delivery vehicle for vapid/incendiary/hateful commentary, and that educators have a place – no, a responsibility – to help learners navigate these new public spheres in order to become active and engaged citizens.

Or maybe it is that I think that we need to prepare students to be better lifelong learners, and the way to do that is to help them learn to build resilient learning networks that can help them stay abreast of the rapid pace of change?

Or maybe it is just the belief that the Internet has profoundly changed our society, and that there are unique affordances of the internet that are continually emerging as the medium continues to develop. That we need to be continually engaged with the internet in order to fully understand the internet, as it is today and as it will be in the future. Because, as Rowe/Castells pointed out earlier, higher education did have an influential place at the table in the past. Perhaps we need to work harder at making our voices heard again for the sake of the internet of the future.


5 thoughts on “A Pedagogy of the Internet

  1. Your discussion here of online pedagogies reminds me of Chapter 2 of Anderson and Dron’s book Teaching Crowds. What it has me thinking is that different spaces are conducive to different pedagogical outcomes. I remember a few years ago asking someone from Google what their pedagogical stance was (I was thinking inquiry vs. instruction back then) and he stated that Google was not about deciding other people’s pedagogy. This may be true in part but if you look at there movement into transformation and subsequently online learning then the technology seems to produce certain outcomes.

    1. Thanks for the link to the chapter. Appreciate the pointer.

      I find that quote from Google soooooo interesting because it reminds me of a “technology is neutral” stance which, as we know, it is not. Even if they *think* they don’t have a pedagogical stance, they actually do as the decisions they make when developing educational software reflect a pedagogical stance, whether those decisions are made consciously (you hope) or unconsciously (yikes).

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