Blog Posts

when the fringe conference – #opened16

Opened16 was packed with people I admire, who are a combination of those who I have met in person and in online spaces, people whose work I follow, people whose work I will now follow, AND I know there were people there whose work I should follow, but I didn’t get a chance to talk with. This was my first Opened.

I think it is really important to note that this conference was/is special. There are certainly some equity problems in terms of the over and under represented, that Martin Weller mentions here and Tomo Nagashima mentions here, but this is a community that asks and hopefully works for this to change. Even though I am not a huge fan of “jam sessions”, the fact that there was a jam session says a lot about the idea and importance of seeing people in and outside of the institutional bubbles. And then this:

The idea and power of narratives was an overarching theme at #Opened16. The #SONAR group asked us to join them in looking at the power of stories and narratives in research. They committed a chunk of their presentation time to a story told by Laura Gogia showing how important and powerful narratives can be. It was this and other stories that continually popped up that made me on the verge of tears at different points. Yes folks, tears. And the ideas that linger and whisper in my ear as I get ready for another week of work are based on the compelling narratives the two keynotes Gardner Campbell and Sara Goldrick-Rab gave that really got to that idea of how it takes effort, attention and care to keep humans as the focal point of education. (Find here Dave Kernohan’s notes on both talks. This is a great practice.)

Hey, students are people. Obvious, right? But is it? When we ask students to regurgitate what we tell them, to learn how to “act” like “us”, we are expecting a robot, not a person. When we give students financial aid, and yet don’t take into consideration other factors in their lives and only look at whether they can get good grades, we are not seeing humans. Let’s be aware of whole lives that include interests, family, responsibilities, concerns. It may be easier to take this into consideration when a class is only made up of 20 people, than it is with 200, but it doesn’t mean we don’t approach it that way. And both Sara and Gardner helped us think about what we can do. Gardner reminds us of insight and how precious and worth cultivating these moments are, and that they can’t be forced. Yes, we are aware of the push for outcomes and measuring, but we need keep working to change that narrative. Sara, and I was soooooo looking forward to hearing her in person, uses her voice to amplify and shine light on the stories of students whose voices most often don’t get air time. She created Fast Fund and the proceeds of “Paying the Price” go to funding students and bypassing the “administration” of traditional grants, because she wants to show that it is possible. She’s done so much leg work for all of us to better understand these systems of aid and funding that don’t work, even though they appear to be legitimate on the surface.

Another key highlight of the conference for me was hearing from Erika Bullock, Olga Belikov, and Andrew Rikard about some of their work and perceptions about why they would want to control / access their data and what a domain of one’s own means to them. This was a great session and Adam Croom calls on us and Opened17 to bring in students as colleagues and make sure they are with us having these conversations.

And so much of this seems obvious, until returning to our every day work where these conversations become more complex. Jim Luke talked about returning to realities in his post. We go from a conference of (somewhat) likeminded individuals, to the physical place where our work resides, and we have to negotiate how to bring in these conversations. I heard Ken Bauer whisper several times during the conference, “do what you can in your classroom”. I agree this is helpful to remember. I am also glad to hear people like Amy Collier talk about the difficulty, but the importance, of managers and administrators to work at this as well, Amy continually offered to “come talk to me” to those also struggling with this.

In the spirit of blogs and my continual habit of writing and not publishing, I am going to end this one here. Knowing that I can always revisit and write more, continuing to make sense of what goes on around me and my own narratives.



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