A Pedagogy of the Internet

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I started writing this post almost 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.

In the time since I wrote the first post and now, much has changed in the world of open pedagogy. Indeed, Open Educational Practices were just becoming a thing 628 days ago, and this was written at a time when we were all grappling with how Open Pedagogy was being defined. You’ll likely pick that up as you read the post with a 2016 lens. These days I am not as tuned to the convo around open pedagogy/OEP and the new-ish OER-enabled pedagogy. so my thinking might not be completely in line with the convo’s happening these days. At any rate, this was meant to be a follow up post to the original 2 years ago, based on many of the comments my original post had received. And this is something I have grappled with for a long time – what does a pedagogy of the internet look like?

Many excellent comments have been added to my post Does Open Pedagogy Require OER? that have pushed my thinking into a different direction about open pedagogy. Maybe I am trying to twist open pedagogy into something that is isn’t? Maybe I am trying to stretch open pedagogy into something closer to a pedagogy of the internet, something which it was never designed to be?

Open pedagogy does certainly owe a lot to the internet, so it could be a good candidate for 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. 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 incredibly 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 higher education at one time 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 shaping it. The users were the creators, and one of the foremost groups of creators and users 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 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 hyperbolic. But I digress….this post is about pedagogy. This is about the internet. This is about a pedagogy of the internet and how a pedagogy of the internet does not necessarily equate to open pedagogy.

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.

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, dear reader, move on – this comment from Rajiv may be one of those “things may have changed” moments in this post, originally written in 2016, that I mentioned 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. I don’t want to muddy the 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 internet? What are the kinds of pedagogies that can build upon the affordances of the open, public internet?

Here are some models that have resonated with me over the years.

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 of open pedagogy 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 an open internet in the future.


Aaron Davis October 11, 2018

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.

Clint Lalonde October 11, 2018

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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