No One Knows When it Began

I am fearful of writing this down lest I forget it.

Or that you will think I have something to tell you. You will make of this what you will; I have not the mastery to get it to click for you, at least not this way.
But everyone has to start some place. If you are looking for consistency, look elsewhere. This gets messy.

a sort of love story

It could have happened anywhere. Maybe. But that it happened in Barcelona seems just right. This liminal city, autonomous, proud, balanced between old and new, awash in style, in culture, in cultures. Edge city, liminal city.
Old and New

I am NOT a Resource

So, the first and foremost reason for the journey to Barcelona was the 7th Annual Open Education conference. This was my 4th year at the conference having acted as a co-organizer last year with Brian in Vancouver.

The setting was out of this world - a science museum high on the high overlooking Barcelona. The conference mostly went off without a hitch (well, except for the disastrous wifi connectivity.) But I would be lying if I said I did not feel a sense of disappointment; last year it felt we made some real inroads in expanding the vision of "Open Education" past a limiting Resource/consumption model of education, making room for more discussion about "open teaching," as well as open education as a phenomenon not restricted to formal educational institutions. This year felt like a step backwards; lots of talks from big repository projects, back to that disconnected logic of "sustainability" that views it solely from a funding model perspective. I am probably being too harsh. I do know one thing, though; I was left with the feeling by the end that I was at the wrong conference. I am not a policy guy nor good at generating funding proposals. I know that is not the way I want to relate to either "openness" or "education."

Still, like my mother always said, if you can't say anything nice... So below are some of the sessions that stood out for me:

Open High School of Utah -

I still want to dig into this further, to find out if the structural changes they were making to how they did education, how they related to students, was truly enabled by the cost-savings/openness of the resources they used. It seemed possible that this was not so, that the changes could have happened regardless of whether the resources were open or not. But either way, the piece about this talk that left me excited was that they were evolving an online model that used instruction for what it is good for, one on one support, not a talking head to thousands. I can see many (myself included) bristle at the idea of using "customer relationship management" with students, but take away the customer and the management and what they were really doing was paying attention to relationships. I can get behind that.

edufeedr -

Is it the mythical eduglu? Not sure, but Hans PƵldoja made a pretty convincing case for this open source piece he has developed that can help those running distributed/blog-based courses to aggregate and track course work across participants blogs. Add on a grading feature and... well, I can see lots of courses that would make much better use of this than of all the bells and whistles of an LMS that ultimately don't get used.

Sugar on a Stick in Chile

Even more than the talk on rolling out Sugar widely in Chile (via Sugar on a stick, using USB keys), I enjoyed getting to meet Werner Westermann Juarez a little bit over both the conferences. It doesn't surprise me anymore, but I do still delight when I come across educational technologists who so clearly bring together deep theoretical groundings, strong ethical drives with real technical competence.

Free Technology Academy -

This session was grouped with the Sugar one and Diego's, and I can only hope the other groupings of sessions worked as well. The Free Technology Academy is offering a full Master's Programs worth of online courses focused on the development (and related issues) of Free Software. The content is immensely relevant, often developed in and with direct engagement of various open source communities, and reminded me a little of our model at BCcampus in having multiple institutional partners from the outset co-develop and deliver the courses.

Diego Leal Open Online Courses in Colombia

This session was an absolute highlight for me for a few reasons. It (along with the edufeedr app) were clear demonstrations of the effects that the whole RSS-loosely coupled-fast,cheap,out-of-control,eduglu crowd (you know who you are) have had on the field; it's not just sketches on a whiteboard anymore, it's working examples. But even better, it's working examples by practitioners like Diego who have taken the ideas and made them there own, implemented them in ways no one had thought of yet. The network visualization diagrams of these distributed courses were a thing of beauty. And Diego's turn of phrase, "imaginary boundaries," to describe the initial constraints on formal courses (that they be run at a certain time, with certain assessment goals and specific cohorts) was a lovely way of describing how to envision open online courses as seeding communities of practice.

Martin Weller - Big OER, Little OER

I understand Martin's distinction, and maybe it is useful, though it does seem too polite (but then, he's the tenured Professor, I'm the lowly eduskunk.) Irregardless, Martin's talk was one of the few to challenge the conventional lecture format. With his daughter playing Vanna White to his Pat Sajack, Martin showed once again how you do not need to suck the life out of a talk to make it insightful or educational. Learning can be fun? Fiddlesticks!
We are excited by the net, by computers; in their infinite shiftability they seem to offer the potential for the diminishing of suffering through the reduction of "friction." But what friction? Unnecessary ones? To whom? To you? What if it was precisely _that one_, at that time, for that person, that was the difference _they_ needed to learn. And in your desire to help, you stole that moment from them.

can't get there from here

I left off mention of David Wiley's talk because somehow my wild gesticulations during it meant that I got the opportunity to walk home from the conference facility on the hill with David, extending the session another 3 hours as we got lost, willfully.

Our conversation was wide ranging, deeply personal and practical. I have been fortunate now to have 3 or 4 such deep conversations with David, and I find it impossible to have them without experiencing some real insights.

"Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."
Here, I'll stick to the piece that extended the conversation we started in David's session. David made the case during his talk that the main thing that "Open" means when it cames to "Open Educational Resources" is that the material is available under a 4R (reuse, revise, remix, redistribute) license - that the forms the content takes (blogs, wikis, textbooks, etc) and the pedagogical models (didactic, constructivist, problem-based, etc) are not essential to something being an "OER." This stripping away that David did in his talk, down to essentials, was really helpful, because it helped me get clear on the root of so much confusion and disagreement in the open education community. Because you see, in a literal sense, he is right - the license was the only new introduction that literally made one resource an "OER" and another not. But in another sense, this is too literal minded a sense of "open" which actually has another much more common understanding - "open" not just as in "licensed under an open license" but "open" in the colloquial sense of "simply visible and available." If we accept that both of these are at play when people use the word "open," suddenly (well at least for me) it becomes much easier to understand Stephen (and others) fears about "enclosure" - that simply having an open license won't effectively help learners much if practically the material is obscured so as not to be easily visible and available for learning. Or Leigh's often stated issue that the focus on licensing has little to do with learner's actual concerns (and for that matter most educators). Or the focus that Jim, Brian and others have put on *simple* personal platforms for publishing - sure, blogs and wikis aren't integral to the definition of "OER," but practically, they make it far easier (and more likely) that the shared material will not only be open, but "'Open' open." It's not that the move towards open licenses is a bad thing, but in itself it is also not sufficient. And the worse scenario is when the licensing model of openness is used to entrench a commodified vision of learning, a "resource" based one (that Dave, Joss and Richard in part have been speaking to.) Does it have to? No! But it does, again and again. It is so much "planning to share" - I won't demonize it, we have too many actual opponents actively trying to enforce artificial scarcity to then make more out of those who should be allies. But it is to deny existing cultural practices (the web, heck "culture" itself, was built this way, the licenses simply are catching up) and the real URGENCY the learning is meant to address. Copy now, ask forgiveness later, I say.
I am probably simplifying things; I always do. And please don't mistake these as David's words or that I won him around to this way of thinking. But engage on it, viscerally, we did. There are some deep differences not only between David and I but amongst many in this "movement," but that is what I love about it, the willingness to still engage. Whatever disappointment I felt with the conference, it was by far counterbalanced with this and many other individual engagements in which solidarity isn't just surviving, but indeed thriving, amongst differences.
It is NEVER enough. NEVER. My life is an impossibility. I shouldn't even speak that out loud, it offers no relief nor do I seek any anymore. Except in the refuge of the Three Jewels. Not relief - en-courage-ment.

my life is impossible

empty cafe at sunset

Fellowship with the University of Utopia

I had to skip class at the University of Utopia, but fortunate me, was given a one night fellowship with them. Them? Anyone listening in would have wondered who let the madmen out. But sometimes you just time it right, and each grunt, smile, shrug, takes you...where? There is no there, there. I didn't think it could get any better.

"My life is impossible" the wise man stated. Smiling. And he meant it. And all I could do was smile back. Two grinning idiots in this living hell. Glad for the company.

Resiliency does not mean "withstanding, persisting," or at least it requires us to look deeply at what it is we think we're persisting. Resiliency means "to adapt." It is bigger than us but we are also wholely of it.

The Peace came not when the conflict stopped but when I didn't run away. When I sit with it, as with everything else, I found there was no reason to be afraid.

I WILL NOT TURN AWAY FROM SUFFERING. There is nothing to be afraid of. I give thanks for this lifetime.

Indeed, there is no bearing, no withstanding, only change. Thank you, Joss.

Interlude - Scene from an Italian Movie

But then, what else did you expect?

i don't want to work...

drumbeat - or the educators get p0wned

ok, not "p0wned," that's not fair; but there was this implicit sense I got from some folks prior to Drumbeat that it was for "the hackers, the technical types," as if to denigrate their educational experience compared to those formal educators up the hill.

And yet, my experience of the two days of Drumbeat was one of incredibly thoughtful sessions, structured to produce a combination of real educational engagement and actual work from all of the participants. Contrast this with yet another powerpoint talk, yet another 45 minutes listening to a project report, and it was hard not to wonder where the real educators were. I know, I'm creating divisions where none need exist, stirring up shit. But it bugs me, this condescension towards praxis in higher ed. Far from not being reflective, the community I found at Drumbeat were super reflective, deeply thoughtful of the why's of their engagements, not just the how's. It wasn't perfect, but damn if it was a lot closer to the critical education I yearn for.

thunder drum

If code is poetry, what language should I use to develop sound poems?

What would e e cummings have made of Python?

At Drumbeat "there are no spectators" goes up the cheer. Fuck yeah. But programmers, pragmatists, do-ers - there are no "users" either. Only people seeking agency and freedom. We can enable it, but only they can find it. Mistrust _your_ desire to help; first listen, watch, feel.

"The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." But what if it *wasn't* censorship, but simply a difference of opinion? Friction is not always to be avoided.

"Some people got no choice and they can never find a voice To talk with that they can even call their own So the first thing that they see that allows them the right to be Why they follow it You know what it's called? Bad luck." - "Street Hassle," Lou Reed

There is not a TOOL I could create this in, and least not one DESIGNED to create THIS.

And so I write it instead in a language, in HTML and CSS.

But even they will not permit me the rough edges I seek. If you can build me a computer that lets me rip off pieces, create frayed edges, then I might be happy. Until then, open all the way down seems the best we can hope for, so keep on banging that drum.

why I need to sit in silence

On the Design of Inclusivity

I participated in a number of sessions led by people from HASTAC. I should first off apologize - they bore the brunt of my mania at Drumbeat, itself a by-product of a rare week out of my basement and then to be surrounded by so many happy mutants. It was too much.
I definitely overstated my case; of course the design of tools can be more or less inclusive, have a greater or lesser effect on alerting people to biases, their own and others. When I sat with it some more, I realized that the ideal for me would not be simply the reversal of one filter for another, but rather an approach that revealed its specific biases, as well as allowed people to learn by watching the techniques others used to expand their awareness, be these technical or not.
So, as an offering for taking up so much time working through my own stuff, here are some links that are hopefully of some use
But I will not give up on my call to resist encoding into technology "solutions" that can (and here I probably lose some, if anyone got this far) and _should_ be dealt with by personal engagement, attention, learning. I am not a gadget, and neither are you. Before there is Hacktivism there is simply Activism.
"Convivial" and "Affable" do not mean the same thing.
"Above all I want to show that two-thirds of mankind still can avoid passing through the industrial age, by choosing right now a postindustrial balance in their mode of production which the hyperindustrial nations will be forced to adopt as an alternative to chaos." - Ivan Illich,
How often have I mistaken insecurity for arrogance, confidence for lack of caring, thoughtfulness for meekness, acceptance for tolerance.

what does it mean to know?

Knowledge is not a thing, it is a way of relating to the world

Not knowledge but KNOWING. We constantly reify knowledge (intellectual property? ha!) when there is only knowing. Knowing always occupies some material condition, living or dead. We don't understand savants because we still think of knowledge and skill as things, something to be possessed, something we can have. No - we come to be knowing, but we never have knowledge. Knowledge is a way of relating, a way of being, and some people recognize where they are as soon as they open their eyes. Some of us never will.

Why are some things easier for you to learn than others? Is there anything *you* can't learn? But how can you say this?

Far from simply mystic rambling (but that too, please!) we are only this body, only this world. Knowledge does not exist outside of its specific material conditions. Plato was a wanker and molester. Yet, for sure, his forms 'exist.' We speak, we write, we build, we code, & they exist. I do not want to commit semantic genocide. But each time I sit, a meme dies, just a little bit.

Sidewalk art
Emergent phenomenon are not reducible. The tyranny of the copula is to think they are the same. Words fail us. Would the ant hill still be there if we didn't observe it? The ants would say so, I think...

Given enough time, even just one monkey will type the collected works of Shakespeare. His Mum called him 'Willie' for short.

The rocks, the trees, were given little choice about whether they'd be here, but then they bear it so well, it's usually their last time. Or maybe they did choose - Hello, Boddhisatva, thank you for your gift.

i am a part of a large family

Party on Garth

Next time, if I come to Barcelona, I will speak nothing but Greek.

"Equanimity" has always been a hard word for me to say
Thanks to you all for your patience with me. I will try harder to return it.