Tracking #OpenTextbooks

Since the OT Summit in BC wrapped up a few days ago I’ve been trying to synthesize some of what I have learned there into my thesis. The intent if not the conversations. One of the things that struck me was what a great place that would have been to collect interviews–provided you could chase down people and make them sit with you for an hour.

At the same time, I’d been tracking the #opentextbooks hashtag prior to the summit and I was curious if that was a way to access different people speaking about open textbooks from the voices that are most commonly heard. If you’re familiar with open textbooks or open education the top three results will not surprise you:


Nicole Allen, David Wiley, Cable Green

The one person I was surprised not to see on the list was Ethan Senack, but when I checked I saw that he used #opentextbook or #textbookbroke a little more frequently.

After the OT Summit, it’s not likely that the top tweeters would have changed much (they’ve been the same for a month) except that an article on Open Textbooks from CNN took over.

Some other snippets on open textbooks: the majority of tweets on the hashtag are one-off articles or often retweets or manual retweets
Screenshot 2014-04-24 19.03.15The most recent tweeters were:

Which actually demonstrates the common trend of tweet and retweet that happens on this hashtag. It also means that people are sharing their ideas from their own personal learning network out to larger groups. Compared to news-related tweets or causes that have more attention on Twitter, (see #notyourasiansidekick for an example) the #opentextbooks hashtag reaches a smaller amount of people. Reflecting on this while writing my thesis makes me think there are two possible reasons for this. The one is that open education has not yet saturated the mainstream, the other possibility occurred to me when I was reading through Clint Lalonde’s “The Twitter Experience” that demonstrated out of the seven participants he interviewed the majority of them did not have large numbers of people who did not identify as educators within their personal learning network. Additionally people may not be using the hashtag when talking about open textbooks, which makes tracking the data a little more challenging.

Screenshot 2014-04-24 19.02.40


And, another way that the #opentextbooks hashtag is being used is in conjunction with conference tags like #OTsummit and #cnx2014 which shows that open textbooks are being presented or discussed fairly regularly at these events.

Screenshot 2014-04-24 20.10.54What does all of this show us? Honestly, I’m not really sure you could draw any solid conclusions outside of the continued popularity of a few people within open education, and the ability of a relatively small amount of people to create a pretty wide reach.

Screenshot 2014-04-24 20.09.02




“When external …

“When external control is rejected, the problem becomes that of finding the factors of control that are inherent within the experience. When external authority is rejected, it does not follow that all authority should be rejected, but rather there is need to search for a more effective source of authority.”

John Dewey, Experience and Education p. 8 

Wrapping up #Rhizo14


I don’t know where to start this week, so I begin with someone else and then as the King said to the White Rabbit I shall, “go on till [I] come to the end: then stop”. So here’s a point made by Jenny, that got me thinking: “[t]he difficulty is that open spaces attract a diversity of learners. What is a negatively risky space to one will be a positively challenging space to another.  But whichever way you look at it, risk is a factor of open learning spaces.” I’m unsure about what this statement means to me. I have to ask if diversity is really so risky. All of this is depending of course, on what you mean on diversity too, slavery was a diverse space too I would argue the cost is far greater if you lack diversity, but possibly less noticeable if you already have centralized power, such as in a boardroom, or a classroom.

We learn from places that are considered open only if we ignore many privileges. We do deal with risk and vulnerability in these spaces too. Though for me, if you are going to write about vulnerability and expect it to matter, you must show vulnerability. To write risk we must be taking risk. I believe there needs to be a distinction between what is risky, and what is just talking about risk.

As Jesse Stommel says, “[h]igher education pushes out the exact wrong people. Those wrong people are about to rise up. We need more right leaders of wrong”. We have to look for the outsiders, and pull them in for panda bear hugs. We can pull people into our own learning communities or, like we often are in open education, we can all be drawn towards the gravitational pull of our own bright suns.

And speaking of suns, that reminds me of a poem I learned during my Masters residency. It is by William Stafford:

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

For me our greatest risk in social learning is that of perpetuating sameness. This is why, as Dave Cormier notes in the week 6 video, we must plan in the obsolescence of ourselves and make sure that, “we don’t become the central point of the conversation”. As we wrap up Rhizo14 we see first hand the importance of enforcing independence, encouraging connections, or privileging community over individualism. If we do not work to form connection we may follow the wrong god home.

If we teach people from the beginning that a network means people who do not look like them, who do not sound like them, is the only community worth having I think we actually help to mitigate risk. With a wider safety net cast we have the ability to fall in more spaces and still land safely.

The risk factor of an open course is not vulnerability, that risk is beginning to be outdated as we have better understandings of privacy and the Internet. Like wondering out too far on thin ice, If you’re only beginning to be concerned about it when you hear the ice crack, it’s much too late.

I have no interest in Coursera—its successes or failures and yet I note that it is not open to students in Cuba, Iran, or Sudan because of the US trade embargoes. Considering the barrier that others face makes me feel quite safe by comparison. It makes me feel that I must take risks in order to matter.

I feel like an outsider a lot, not a marginalized one, but the type that can have trouble making connection with other people. I’m neurotic and nervous. Working on building a community is always going to be a challenge to me. I’ve lived on the sidelines too much to feel comfortable in the spotlight. But discomfort is good. For me, the biggest risk I can take is tied to that feeling of outsider-ness. It helps me in understanding that I am not the center of any topic. It can be hard, especially as a writer, to cultivate a group of readers and yet continue to send them to other spaces and other people, but my ability to do so is what makes me valuable. I think you end things by beginning to end them when you get started.

I leave you with some stormscapes, because they are beautiful and random just like this course. Hope to hear from you again.

Stormscapes from Nicolaus Wegner on Vimeo.

Is Books Making Us Stupid?! #RHIZO14

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“There’s something in print I’ve never trusted. There’s something in print that encourages objectivity” and “it moves towards the definite and not the relational”.  When Dave first spoke those words my eyes widened with disbelief, but my heart twinged that way it does when I want to not believe something but sense there’s a truth in it.  This is the way a writer feels when you challenge something really big about her identity. Because of that, I introduce you to a post that is a scrambled mixture of what it is to write, to read, to argue, and an oral tradition that is leading people back to the light.

“To write is to step or stumble over the edge of the known into that category of desire that defined itself, always just a hair’s breadth short of fulfillment”  Robert Kroetsch

2014-02-03 21.58.27

To confuse myself I will speak about what it is to write, and write about what it is to speak.

In the article from which this week playfully takes its name, Nicholas Carr laments the ease of access for information which makes us fidgety with longer pieces of work. This idea that test is little more than data to be neatly organized into accessible bits of information is true, when talking about how computers think, but not humans we don’t work that way. So much of this conversation hinges on ideas that are found in the basis of rhetorical delivery. I’m thrilled I get a chance to talk about rhetoric because I studied it in my undergrad and I use the knowledge gleaned from those classes every day.

Memoria: the term for aspects involving memory. It was one of the five canons of classical rhetoric. Oratory debate was the dental medium for intellectual and political life in Ancient Greece. A part of memoria was memorization including mnemonic devices to assist speakers. However, the sole focus is not route memorization and recitation. There’s fluidity expected from an orator—and it goes beyond carefully prepared arguments. One must have a wide body of knowledge in order to improvise.

We lament memoria though it was never that large of a topic in rhetoric, partially because not as much is written about it. We lament the short attention spans that people have in reading while ignoring the reality that most of our attentions spans max out at ten minutes technology or no technology. We lament that people do not read, that they read the wrongs things and surely we are going to hell in a hand-basket. We’re not. We’ll be ok. Charles Dickens wrote verbosely because he was paid by the word, and the writing on the Internet is sleek and efficient because that’s what we demand.

I put out this gem in the middle of an inflammatory discussion around Stephen King and Woody Allen. I’m a media critic and sometimes that means ruffling some feathers on Facebook or Twitter rather than writing until one of my editors emails me and tells me to stop it. It’s fun, you should try it sometime. What do I mean by this comment (SK stands for Stephen King by the way). I mean that in a written medium of 140 characters the people wishing to stand up for a man they’ve never met will make a lot of assumption about you while also claiming the maximum amount of objectivity for themselves. They might even link to something they’ve read as proof. They don’t want to hear your side however. None of this has anything to do with Stephen King’s books, of course, (or does it?).

It isn’t books, or online spaces that are making us dumb it is a lack to believe in the intentions and humanity of those around us, and ourselves. Meeting face-to-face is a great way to have to recognize another humanity.

While I don’t think books are to blame I would like to point you towards indigenous knowledge systems. I’m Métis and though my family was late in embracing our first nations status I grew up with a close friend who is aboriginal. Even as teenagers one of our favorite things was to sit and listen to her father’s stories. He was the most natural storyteller I’ve ever heard. This is not meant to bring forth the trope of the Mystical Indian but a lot of heritage on his mother’s side was passed down through story. We have Eurocentric myths about the inferiority of indigenous pedagogy positioning the oral history as quaint and antiquated. Where I live, children were removed from homes and put into colonial school systems that forced them to not speak their own language or practice their own religion. A part of the reclamation of humanity around this is to reclaim space and voice, and this is not something that books provide. Instead we gain this knowledge in the circles of our elders, and through their stories we can see more of the world than we could before.

Just some thoughts.

Teaching through Community Organizing: Being the Unacademic


That’s me in the middle there. Black dress. Being inflammatory.

As someone who writes pop culture at the intersection of feminism (see my home blog for a list of publications if curious) and also does community organizing (see: Edmonton Slut Walk that’s me). Within such a broad term as feminism the people that I attract with writing are all sorts. There’s the inevitable blow back from people who call themselves anti-feminists, there’s a contingent we call white feminism which is feminism that doesn’t seek to address other levels of systemic oppressions.

Paying attention to intersectionality is a huge mind-shift for many white feminists, while many (I would say all but there’s special ones like Camille Paglia) are familiar with patriarchy far less understand what it is to consider gendered racism. This is critical for any anti-oppression work.

In organizing an event like Slut Walk unlearning is one of the most important components. You need to unlearn the idea that the onus to avoid being assaulted lies on the victim. You need to unlearn that worldwide there’s a tendency to examine what the woman could have done, should have done, to avoid being harmed. You need to then learn why these ideas are insidious and harmful. I need to unlearn even while I am teaching. I need to sit and listen to the criticisms of women of color who say, well this movement is ok, but I don’t see myself in it. I have to learn to check self-defensiveness when a criticism of the work calls Slut Walk white supremacist.

As the lead organizer I need to help you unlearn these things, and I need to listen. It can be exhausting, as anyone who has tried to challenge an ideology will know.

Community organizing is a unique kind of teaching. It isn’t academic but you sometimes use academia. It isn’t self-improvement but you must reflect and work to undue your own prejudices. It isn’t just online or in the classroom it is everywhere, and all the time. I’ve had mentors for this work and so I understand the need to have someone around when things get uncomfortable.

The fact is a lot of the work in community organizing isn’t done at the march it is done before or after–the marches and demonstrations tend to be a part of the catharsis. They give a sense of community to people who feel marginalised.

It’s a different kind of teaching. This means that there’s just-in-time learning involved–for me as well as the participants.

For more on Coalition Politics and non traditional ways of learning and gathering there’s a beautiful essay by Bernice Johnson Reagon called “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century“.

Week 2 – Enforcing Independence #Rhizo14

2012-07-07 06.39.44My jaw practically dropped as an undergraduate when I asked my English teacher what a word meant and he told me to look it up.

What? Can he say that to me? I thought. He’s my teacher.

The rationale was that by taking an active interest in my own learning, I would be more likely to remember the word. It was a small way of enforcing independence, but it is effective.

ENFORCING INDEPENDENCE is, as David Cormier acknowledged, an inflammatory way of stating something that encourages the students to think critically and take responsibility for their own education. We could also call it what bell hooks did, Teaching to Transgress. Liberatory education.

The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In the field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.

I really had a Cheshire cat grin on my face when Cormier brought up this idea of forcing learners into being dependent. He mentioned that his audience is often 40-50 which is the same age range for students as mine. I’ve never worked in k-12 or with twenty-somethings on a regular basis, so at 26 I tend to be the mirror in which I consider millennial learning differences through. However, I do not believe that all 40-50 year old buy into the centralized power structure in the traditional classroom. In my cohort at Royal Roads the average age was around 43 and I believe the majority of people were very independent learners.

However, in the vocational training that I develop, hand-holding learners is often the norm. I’m the training development coordinator, so I mostly interact with subject matter experts, but I do advise students on a distance course in written communication. These have intersected for me in strange ways at times.Being one of the few non technical courses I moved away from the need for multiple choice tests for compliance, and sometimes the other advisor is not a fan of my work.

But they’ll be frustrated!

They are supposed to be at least a little uncomfortable (at least if they aren’t used to thinking about their communication skills). Given that considering your audience while writing it is a whole new way of looking at the world for some people, I would be surprised if they didn’t feel ill-at-ease. In the same way I felt a little jolt when told to look something up for myself.

Our differing perspectives have cause me to reflect a lot. For my students I like them to flail a little, not fail, but maybe panic a tiny bit. I think they come away knowing that they are able to think for themselves.

Open Education 2013 Day 1 Slides and Tweets

I got RTd by Stanford (is there a badge for that?)

while wine was being consumed, people were making music.