Wednesday, September 7, 2016


This a thanksgiving for the openness and generosity of my fellows.

Being thankful.

I am thankful for the openness of ALTC.

It is one of the most stimulating conferences that I have never had the fortune to attend in the flesh.

I was able to watch Ian Livingstone's keynote on games in learning.

I remark his use of the slogan: "Life is a game."

I might have used such a slogan in the past myself...perhaps not.

I feel inclusion at his mention of a book in my collection:

"Program or be programmed" by Douglas Rushkoff

I can identify with this culture.

I admit to feeling a little uneasy at the story and the photo of a meeting with Angelina Jolie.

I hesistate to admit it openly.

I felt nostalgic for the Learning Without Frontiers Conference that I had first attended in 2012.

Game-based learning, graphically engaging video games, virtual reality is indeed seductive.

Jane McGonigal's book "Reality is Broken: Why games make us better and how they can  change the world." has pride of place on my bookcase.

Those were the days when everything seemed shiny and new.

I loved the fact that I got a free iPad.

If I retain much enthusiasm and two "free" iPads, all this is now accompanied by a more critical eye.

I think back to a previous session of Virtually Connecting at ALTC where the participants, Catherine Cronin, and Remi Holden among them, were talking about the importance of humility and learning from our failures.

Changing the world.

I was thankful this afternoon to be able to benefit from the work of the Virtually Connecting Crew who enabled me to hangout with Fiona Harvey and Lorna Campbell who were speaking at the conference at Warwick University.

I was thankful to be able to say hi to my good friend Teresa Mackinnon who was buddying onsite.

Having participated as a virtual buddy at last year's ALTC, I have an idea of the incredible work of Maha Bali and Rebecca Hogue the founders of Virtually Connecting and of the people like Autumm, Alan, AK or Nadine and others who are enabling it to grow.

I am suddenly reminded of a quote that Teresa and I have shared and discussed in the past:

"Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead.

Virtually Connecting gives evidence to support this sentiment.

In a small way, a small group of committed educators are indeed changing the world.

Experiences of changes in the world are not necessarily all so positive.

Being connected, becoming critical.

I would describe myself as a "connected" educator.

I have benefited enormously personally from developing a personal digital presence and openly sharing and collaborating online.

I spend a good deal of time opening up classrooms, connecting learners and encouraging them to develop open digital identities, portfolios, networks.

Such efforts are considered by some in the institution as "innovative".

I don't count the hours entailed in my personal professional development.

Any research I do, is done for free, on top of my full-time job.

I am thankful for the freedom that I have been able to establish in my work.

In being an openly "connected educator", I have become more nuanced in my enthusiasm.

I have been drawn to be more critical in my thinking and in my pedagogy.

It has been through dialogue with fellow co-learners from different backgrounds and contexts that I have become more critical.

Free, freedom.

I hear Fiona talk about using "free tools."

I think to myself of Facebook's attempts to "offer" free internet to India, to Africa.

Facebook lures Africa with free internet but what is the hidden cost?

"Free tools" don't necessarily equate with "freedom".

"Free trade" doesn't necessarily equate with "freedom."

"Openness" doesn't necessarily benefit the individual.

"Openness" may benefit corporations more than individuals.

We may be blind to how privileged voices, our privileged voices, silence those of people who need to be heard.

I go back to listen to the session again and annotate it with a free tool - Vialogues.

I too use "free tools."

I too encourage "openness".

I share the fruit of my labour freely.

Institutional Policies.

I note with interest that "more universities" are encouraging openness.

I write this having spent a morning learning about how our latest walled garden VLE will restrict us.

I hear an expression "business heart of the university"  which sounds weirdly scary from my French public university perspective.

I make a comment in the chat about the importance of reclaiming "public good" but there is no response.

Has the idea of education as a "public good" become untenable?

I hear how fees that British universities will be able to charge will depend in part on National Student Satisfaction Surveys.

I hear about the rethink going on in UK universities about sustainability of MOOCs on commercial platforms.

I make a comment in the chat:

"Does openness favour the strongest?"

This provokes an energetic response to suggest the contrary.

I am not so sure.

I wonder now why it is that big American Universities are so in favour of sharing course content for "free".

Doesn't openness favour MIT?

I wonder if some of us are still living with a dream of a web of openly shared knowledge.

Doesn't Google favour open?

We speak of an open share economy.

Wasn't Airbnb or Uber built on the basis of a "share economy"?

What do ex-journalists write of unpaid articles in the Huffington Post?

I find an article entitled:

"Hell is working at the Huffington Post."

Identities or brands?

I hear that there are dangers with tying our professional identities to our institutions, that we need to develop independent identities.

Are we to develop identities or brands?

Are we preparing ourselves for more open employment structures?

Are we to join the ranks of  freelance, intermittently paid academics?

Are those employed in privately funded scientific research laboratories to thrive while those in less commercially viable academic pursuits to be encouraged to become willing, lesser (un?) paid adjuncts/amateurs?

Don't get me wrong, I believe that the pay-wall system around academic publishing is a scandal.

There is no question in my mind that research funded publicly should be shared openly.

You need a network.

I hear that "being open gives you a network."

Well being open may well be a first step to developing a network.

Are networks so open?

Don't badges act to control access to power on networks too?

It is one thing to be part of a network, the most important question is how your network is able to benefit you.

Power differentials in networks mean that some may benefit from open sharing more than others.

Whose networks really count in the world?

Whose platforms will support such networks?

You Tube?



Who will have the power to analyse the data, to decide on policy or ethics?

The NSA?

Badges, and open badges.

A comment of Fiona "People are more than their badges" made me think.

I am not so sure that people are necessarily more than their badges.

Aren't we all reduced to badges to those who don't know us?

How do the participants in the VC session introduce themselves?

How did I introduce myself?

What do people see when they look at my Twitter Profile?

love life, love learning, edupunk language teacher and aikidoka.    

What is my avatar?

Is it not a badge for a brand?

Am I not making connections with groups of people who group around a hashtag, a movement, a profession?

What do people see when they look at our photos?

What is that professional card that I carry in my wallet?

Is it not a badge?

Why is it that my parking card doesn't work any more?

A person with power has deprogrammed my card, I discover yesterday.

I write this while applying for French citizenship, post Brexit.

What can be said of those people who don't carry the correct passport?

Are they expats or emigrés, refugees or migrants, illegal immigrants or potential first ladies, citizens or potential terrorists?

Language teachers

We learnt during the hangout that a number of us were current or former language teachers.

I wonder which languages the others taught.

Being an English language teacher is hardly neutral.

When I encourage a student to learn English by telling him it is important for his career, that is underlining cultural dominance.

Openness and risk.

I get to ask a question about the danger of being over-enthusiastic in encouraging students to be open.

I am met with energetic rebuttals from Fiona and Lorna.

I am not surprised at their replies.

I would say the same - up to a point.

I try to give an example of how it is necessary to be critical.

Working with a Syrian refugee convinces me of the danger to him of being open for himself and his family.

On sharing this, Lorna shares her story of participating in a book entitled: "The cost of freedom."

I was unaware of the plight of Bassel Khartabil, an openly connected Syrian educator who has gone missing.

I feel that our own freedom, our own privilege comes with a cost.

Learning from others

I hear a story of attending a conference in Tunisia.

I hear about the sharing of practices: portfolio development, learner centred teaching.

I hear "Us going there gives them an insight into how things could be."

A few minutes later, I am Googling the word "Thanksgiving."

I think of that foundational, disputed story at the heart of American freedom.

I find some documents:

"Thanksgiving: a native American view".

I read:

"Among the Dakota, my father's people, they say, when asked to give, "Are we not Dakota and alive?" It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all -- the exact opposite of the system we live in now, which is based on selling, not giving."

Who benefits from open sharing?

"Since that initial sharing, Native American food has spread around the world. Nearly 70 percent of all crops grown today were originally cultivated by Native American peoples. I sometimes wonder what they ate in Europe before they met us. Spaghetti without tomatoes? Meat and potatoes without potatoes."

I find another document: "The real story of Thanksgiving."

I wonder who really benefits from learning a dominant language?

"The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to  England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped.  By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew their language.  He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags." 

I find another document which makes me question the "real story of Thanksgiving."

I find a final document:

Thanksgiving: Native Americans Reveal What They Really Think About Thanksgiving Day.

I reflect on our discussion about the commons, the public good, open sharing.

Then I remember Dakota.

"Dakota Access Pipeline Company Attacks Native American Protestors with Dogs and Pepper Spray."

I think of that Margaret Mead quotation again and I annotate it pessimistically.

"Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens...

[with access to the best information, equipped with the latest connecting technology, ships, trains, bulldozers, tanks, drones, massive capital, major media presence, carefully designed slogans to arouse fear or desire, control of communication platforms, extensively developed networks, speaking the dominant language]

...can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

I no longer buy that slogan: "life is a game."

If it is to be seen so, then whose rules are we playing it by?


  1. One remark in the margins that I will return to after I till some in the garden and plant some fall brassicas.

  2. Yes yes yes. You've given voice to some excellent questions here, which I've also pondered, albeit quietly. Thank you so much for sharing your reflections and your wonderings.

  3. Lots to think about. I clicked into the two videos and listened to the introductions. Just in awe of how many people I might connect with who share common interests and goals.

    You quoted Margaret Mead and her "a few people can change the world" statement. I've embraced that idea for over 20 years, and keep meeting more of those "few people" every time I go on-line.

    However, finding the right mix of talent and people who share a common purpose, is extremely difficult without any significant resources to stimulate people's involvement.

    The only lesson that I'd offer is that "unless you keep trying, nothing will happen".