Why Padlet? Ohhhhh, wait…you can remix

The MALAT course I am teaching at RRU is wrapping up this week, and I am starting to reflect on how this first iteration of the course has gone.

The course is called Facilitating in Digital Learning Environments, and while this specific iteration is a new design, it is based on a facilitation course I have taught in the past. We held onto the experiential model from the old course, where learners become the facilitators and design a week of digital learning for the rest of the cohort. I step back and get a chance to observe them develop their own facilitation style.

I love going through the weeks and seeing what kinds of activities the learners design, including their technology choices and rationale. This time around, I’m noticing some new tools being used. While learners have always had access to a Moodle course shell (and many use it as the central hub for their facilitation week) they are using other tools, like Kaltura. This year, RRU joined the provincial Kaltura service, and I noticed a big uptick in the use of video by the learners, especially the informal “turn on the webcam and fire off a quick video” types. Flipgrid is also a video tool that is being used as an asynchronous video discussion forum.

Padlet is another popular choice, and a fairly new tech to me. Before this course, the only exposure I had to it was in 2016 when it was one of the apps featured in the first ETUG 12 Apps of Christmas, but never really explored it.

As I worked my way through the different student-led facilitation weeks, I noticed that many included a Padlet activity. When I went into the Padlets, what I noticed was that Padlet was being used in a very similar fashion to a linear asynchronous discussion board common in the LMS. Now true, the layout of a discussion in Padlet looked different than in an LMS discussion forum, but essentially what I was seeing in Padlet was pretty similar functionality that you would find in an LMS asynchronous discussion forum.

With this limited view of Padlet, it made me wonder why use Padlet for asynchronous discussions when there is already a discussion forum in Moodle? I thought maybe I was missing something about Padlet – some specific affordance or functionality that made it significantly different than the toolset available to the learners within Moodle?

I got back a few responses. The first from D’arcy pointed me to some functionality I didn’t know Padlet had

Ohhhh, wait. Clustering and linking? Ok, that is something that can’t be done in an asynchronous discussion forum.

Dugg (one of the learners who is also active on Twitter) also reminded me that Padlets can be openly shared, making contributions from outside the class possible.

And Brandon noted that content in Padlet can be embedded, making it portable and reusable in other contexts.

So I started digging around in Padlet a bit more. Sure enough, there are templates that allow you to build various types of Padlets, including Padlets that mimic the functionality of an interactive mind-map, and a Kanban board. Already I am looking at Padlet in a different light. It’s more Swiss knife-ish with the functionality that I first thought.

Then I noticed a button labelled Remake in the top right hand corner of the Padlet. What is this? A one button clone of a Padlet? Well, this is useful.

Functionality where I can not only share the works I make in Padlet, but I can also clone someone else’s Padlet and use it as the starting point for my own Padlet. One button remixability. Very handy. About the only thing missing that would make this a fully complete OER creation tool would be the ability to add a Creative Commons license to a Padlet. But still, it is good to see that the makers of Padlet recognize the value to educators of being able to copy and remix others work.

Seeing this kind of functionality built into Padlet sans Creative Commons licenses, or any reference to “Open Educational Resources” or open education reminds me of just how much “grey” open educational activity occurs among educators, many of whom are likely unaware that there is this thing called “open education” out here, with communities and practitioners, advocates and researchers. They are simply doing and sharing, remixing and adapting, using tools like Padlet to clone, remix and adapt others resources, and making their own resources available for others to do the same.

So, next year when I offer this course again & knowing how much learners love using Padlet, albeit in a fairly narrow way, I think I will include some more introductory activities using Padlet that I can use to model other uses and affordances of Padlet. I’ll use this link of 30 Padlet ideas sent to me by Tom Farrelly as a starting point, and see if we can’t perhaps use the remix functionality in Padlet as a pedagogical device on which to hook concepts of open education, reuse and remix onto.


Subversive Teaching

Holy shit screen shot from Austin Kleon

A 9x9x25 post from Peg French last week triggered a memory of one of the first books on teaching practice that I ever read; Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner.

I came across this book not as a student of education, but as a student of media criticism. My introduction to Postman in the mid-90’s wasn’t the Postman as radical educator, but Postman as media critic.

In 1996-97 ish (dates are a bit hazy) I was taking a media studies course with Marshall Soules at Vancouver Island University (then Malaspina College). It was notable as it was one of the first web-based courses I had ever taken, and one of the first web-based courses offered by VIU/Malaspina. It was in this class I was introduce to a number of media theorists, including Postman. Amusing Ourselves to Death sat side by side with Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent and McLuhan’s Understanding Media as key works in critical media studies at the time.

It was Amusing that led me to Teaching as a Subversive Activity a few years later as I was beginning to shift my career and pay more attention to teaching than to media & media criticism.

There are still a few things I remember vividly reading that book. It was the first time I heard the term Crap Detecting, a term coined by Hemingway and also used often by Howard Rheingold. Postman’s position was that school’s should have, at their core, the development of people who are expert crap detectors. By crap detector, Postman meant people who are both immersed in their society and culture, but who are capable of taking an anthropological stance and view their own culture from a distance in order to be able to recognize the problems (aka the crap) that are deeply embedded within society. As someone who grew up with a view that education was primarily about getting a good job, this was, indeed, a radical and subversive perspective to me.

Another concept that the book first introduced to me was the idea that the teacher should not be the centre of the classroom. Postman & Weingartners perspective was that a good teacher;

encourages student-student interaction as opposed to student-teacher interaction. And generally he avoids acting as a mediator or judge of the quality of ideas expressed.

This was another radical perspective for me as someone who grew up with teacher as authority and holder of all knowledge.

Thanks Peg, for a reminder of this important work. It has to have been at least 20 years since I last read it. Might be time to pick up the 1969 classic and give it a reread.


A Pedagogy of the Internet

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.


Students as customers

A few weeks ago, I was a virtual attendee at a member meeting of a regional higher ed I.T. consortium. In attendance were I.T. Directors and CIO’s.

One of the speakers at the event was an I.T. vendor who continually kept referring to students as “your customers”. Now, once or twice in a vendor presentation is annoying. But he kept repeating it over and over again to the point where I got so frustrated that I did what most people do when they are frustrated these days.

I vented on Twitter.

Now, I get that, to most vendors, everyone is a customer. But I do recognize that it is easy for this type of language to just slip by unnoticed until it becomes an uncontested part of the education landscape, and I think the language of student as customer needs to be unpacked whenever possible.

Thinking of students as “customers” makes me very uncomfortable. When we think of students as “customers”, I believe it changes the relationship we have with students. It alters how we see them. How we interact with them. And it alters how they see themselves. When students begin to see themselves as “customers” of education, then they soon build their expectations of what their education should be using the paradigm of a consumer transaction.

If you have taught, you may have experienced a moment when a student challenges you on an assessment with an argument that contains some version of “I am paying a lot of money for this course, therefore I deserve a better course”. That is one of the more obvious manifestations of the student as customer mindset.

We need to stop referring to our students as “customers”.

It’s a position that the confirmation bias engine that is Google supported when I went Googling shortly after my Twitter outburst.  First result Google returned was a 2008 op-ed article from Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars. Talk about supporting my tweet.

Students are – to embrace a tautology – students. That’s to say, the relationship between a college and a student is sui generis. It needs to be understood in its own terms, not twisted to fit the needs of a metaphor. It doesn’t need to be modeled on the relationship between merchants and consumers, or any other metaphoric arrangement. (Students are not constructively thought of as “patients” either, despite the urges of residence life and student affairs staff. Nor are students “clients,” “colleagues,” or “partners,” etc.)

Alia Wong in a 2016 article in The Atlantic digs deeper into the history of how U.S. institutions developed a “student as customer” mentality, and the increasing influence that various ranking schemes have had on institutions. These rankings, often designed with the intention of helping students make better decisions about where to go to college, have helped to instill a student as customer mindset with institutions as they continually chase high rankings in order to get the greatest number of students applying to their institution. We begin to instill a student as customer mindset on ourselves well before the student even applies to attend our institution as we try to figure out how to best market our services to potential students.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., Patrick McGhee in The Guardian notes a certain ironic twist in our desire to treat learners as customers at a time when so many businesses want to see their customers as learners.

It seems strange to exhort universities to treat learners as customers at a time when businesses are increasingly trying to treat customers as learners. Business analysts are reflecting buying patterns relating to knowledge and learning: “instant skills” has been identified as one of the major consumer trends for 2015. The idea is that there is a relative shift away from “having” to “creating”. Successive generations are spending less on things and more on experiences, desiring collaboration, creativity and transparency.

An Australian perspective offered by Kelly Matthews from the University of Queensland gets to the heart of the implications that “student as customer” has on teaching & learning, noting that, how we see our students influences how we teach, and how students see themselves influences how they learn.

The idea of being a customer shifts the responsibility of learning onto the lecturers, leaving students with a passive role to play. Yet, we know students need to take active ownership of their own learning. Numerous studies demonstrate grades suffer – and students learn less – when they are passive learners.

If students see themselves as customers, it shifts the burden of responsibility for learning away from the students and onto the teacher, making them passive, not active, learners. Instead, Matthews advocates for students as partners, which is far more appealing to me than students as customers.

Core values of students as partners are grounded in principles that highlight how students and staff can work together as co-researchers, co-teachers, and co-creators.

Student as customer is a pretty easy narrative to blindly fall into, both for students and for educators. As students are forced to bear more costs for their education due to continual cuts and rising fees, it is easy to understand how they adopt a transactional, customer-service based attitude towards their education.

For educators, we are often swimming in a sea of neoliberal economic values in our institutions. We are continually being told that the most important bottom line is the economic bottom line.

While the eternal optimist in me wishes we could completely remove all financial fees from our education systems (which is one of the appeals of open textbooks as I think forcing students to buy learning materials reinforces this consumer mindset of learning), the pragmatist in me knows that eliminating all fees for students would be difficult and likely bring about it’s own issues and problems.

But I do believe that educators need to continually kickback at the notion that students are customers because it fundamentally changes the nature of our relationship, boiling it down to dollars and sense. Getting a post-secondary education isn’t like buying a new car. Deep learning has to be driven by something other than economics and the more the language of consumerism seeps into our conversations, the more education adopts values that mimic the market. And we are not the market.


The Ontario Extend 9x9x25 Challenge

In October I am going to try to participate in the Ontario Extend 9x9x25 blogging challenge – 9 posts over 9 weeks each post at least 25 sentences long reflecting on teaching & learning.

With any luck, this post should be the first to appear in a newly created 9x9x25 category on this blog, which will have an associated RSS feed that will feed the into the larger 9x9x25 content syndication hub put together by Terry Greene and Alan Levine.

Note to self. Short sentences are ok. Really.

My biggest fear for this particular activity is that I am going to MOOC all over myself. Sign up, do the first week and then…..

Grumpy cat meme with text they just won't complete their MOOC's

Over the summer, my blogging fell off and I had quite a dry spell, and I am hoping that this might just be a good kickstart to help me generate a rhythm again. That, plus I have yet to fully participate in any of the Ontario Extend activities, which I have meant to do.

If you are not familiar with Ontario Extend, it is an eCampus Ontario run initiative designed to help build digital learning capacity. While the focus is on Ontario post-secondary educators, the fact that the program is open makes it available to any educator who wishes to take part in the many participatory digital initiatives.

So, if you have thought about blogging, or are a well established blogger looking for a bit of a kickstart, consider joining me and participating in 9x9x25 this fall.