Critical Open Education Studies

I don’t know what to make of David Wiley’s latest blog post ‘MOOCs and Digital Diploma Mills: Forgetting Our History‘. I am astonished, to put it politely, that one of the leading thinkers in the Open Education movement is still sitting on the fence, despite having written about the proletarianisation of teaching in his early work. Of course David Noble’s critique of distance education (later expanded in a book) is applicable to open education. Noble’s concern about “the systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital and, hence, intellectual property” is not remedied with the simple application of a Creative Commons license – if only it were that easy. Many academics are already free to choose how to distribute their scholarly work (this simplifies the traditional transferral of copyright to the journal publisher resulting in more effective impact of the institution’s outputs), but what Noble was concerned with was the systematic interference by institutions in the re-production of teaching and learning, which is what xMOOCs are undertaking. xMOOCs are capturing value in teaching and learning where it was previously shared at the whim and will of the individual teacher. In choosing to license content under a CC license, such institutions are converting an under-commons into a valorised commons.

David Noble died in 2010 and did not revise his views about distant education in light of the open education movement. I suggest that this is because his argument remains apposite for OER-based teaching and learning, too. The content may be ‘free’, but the teacher is drawn further into the valorisation process of the institution.

As can be seen by David Wiley’s significant number of articles relating to open education, the movement has had over a decade to reflect critically on itself, yet there remains a void of reflexive, critical work that attempts to develop the open education movement and protect it from threats such as those which Wiley draws out of Noble’s article. There is no doubt that the work of David Wiley and others to advocate open education and grow the movement is a sincere and important contribution to a notion of the ‘public good’, but the movement still remains largely inward looking and self-referential. It is dominated by learning developers and technologists who are necessarily focused on implementation and have little time, motivation or opportunity for critique.

Where are the scholarly papers that examine open education from the range of disciplines within the social sciences? What has open education demonstrably learned from the tradition of popular and critical pedagogy? How have the critiques of open source been applied to OER? Similarly, the movement has much to learn from critiques of P2P, but where is this critical, scholarly dialogue occurring?

In the UK, the OER movement has been tightly coupled to state (JISC/HEA) funding, which has now ended. I was the recipient of two grants in this programme of funding. The synthesis evaluation of #ukoer clearly presents the instrumental agenda of the programme. Related conferences are mostly one project after another attempting to demonstrate their ‘progress’ with robust critique almost entirely absent. My experience at Open Education 2010 was the same. Academics seeking funding are naturally keen to satisfy the expectations of their funders and the effect that these funding programmes have had on the fundamental direction of open education in the UK has yet to be critically examined. What would open education look like if we hadn’t taken the money? Similarly, in the US, state funding and, to a greater extent, philanthropic funding has steered how the movement has developed. Funding is provided based on the premise of open education’s public good and we feel obliged to demonstrate this. There is a history of state funding influencing the outputs of academia, what effect has it had on us?

Clearly if this work is being undertaken, I have not found it, and so I am hoping that others will join me in reviewing the existing critical literature so that we might identify what has been written and therefore what needs to be done. I have made three contributions in the last two years. The first paper, with Richard Hall, addressed the potential role of open education to sustain higher learning. The second, was a critique of the valorisation of institutional OER. The third, was a paper with Mike Neary, which critiqued the idea of ‘commons’. While I am trying to develop a critique of open education within the framework of a critique of political economy, I know that approaches from other disciplines within the social sciences will prove insightful and fruitful, too. My next paper will be a critical examination of the historical role of academia in the development of hacker culture (and therefore notions of ‘freedom’ and ‘openness’ that have returned to the university via the success of Creative Commons). I think much remains to be done to uncover the historical forces, structures and conditions that gave rise to open education. Without this, how can we understand ourselves?

I have looked for literature reviews of open education and found little that satisfies my requirements for texts that are critiques of open education. For example, Mendeley groups point to the usual plethora of blog posts, news articles, reports and project outcomes. A Google Scholar search is not encouraging either. In the apparent absence of ‘critical open education studies’, I hope that you will recommend papers that offer David and I robust critiques of open education, OER and related practices. I think that the development of this area of scholarship would demonstrate the maturity of the movement and protect it from manipulation, co-option and coercion in the future.

Learning a craft

During my attendance at Dev8D last week, I used the time to start pulling together some ideas I’ve been knocking around for a few months now. Most of the projects I’ve helped set up or led over the last three years have involved working closely with developers working in higher education and ever since JISCPress, we’ve been growing a culture where student developers, either on bursaries, employed part-time or full-time recent graduates (i.e. their first ‘proper job’) are core contributors to the project. My point here is that through these projects I have been able to observe how young hackers learn their craft and make the transition from a formal education in Computer Science to learning on the job (i.e. apprenticeship).

DSC03598

DevXS http://devxs.org

I use the word ‘craft’ deliberately. I think our work is much more closely aligned with craftsmanship than with engineering but I was unsure how to articulate this until I read Pete McBreen’s Software Craftsmanship. McBreen argues that a focus on craftsmanship is to return to the roots of software development:

Good software developers have always understood that programming is a craft skill. Regardless of the amount of arcane and detailed technical knowledge that a person has, in the end, application development comes down to feel and experience.

McBreen distinguished software craftsmanship from software engineering and computer science, not as their opposites but as a different tradition “that happily coexists with and benefits from science and engineering.” He compares the software craftsman to the blacksmith, both of whom transcend science and engineering and benefit from improvements in their tools, materials and understanding. For McBreen, GNU/Linux is an example of software craftsmanship that thrives due to the dedication, skill and craft of the people who contribute to the development of the operating system.

‘Software engineering’ was born out of a so-called ‘software crisis’, identified at a NATO conference in 1968. It was determined that the way out of that crisis was to apply an engineering approach to large scale state of the art defence projects. Since that time, argues McBreen, “the needs of the US Department of Defence have dominated the conversation about software engineering.”

software engineering is not all that relevant to many projects. Software engineering was created to solve the problems of really large groups working on multiyear projects. Most modern software development, however, is done in relatively small teams.

Not surprisingly, the practise of software craftsmanship is often allied with agile development, which emphasises the human aspects of software development, the creative and variable processes involved in creating software that meets human needs. Both share a concern with quality and both encourage continual reflective critique of one’s work in order to improve the software and oneself. In his book on Crystal Clear, for example, Alistair Cockburn identifies ‘reflective improvement’ and ‘osmotic communication’ as two of the three minimum requirements for a Crystal Clear project. In practice, reflective improvement refers to workshops and end-of-iteration discussion about how the work is going and how it might be improved. Osmotic communication refers to how flows of information between developers should be unobstructed by locked doors, walls and corridors. It’s about sitting developers in the same or adjacent rooms so that they absorb information about the project with as few barriers as possible. Access to information, a safe environment where people can respectfully speak their minds and close collegial working are highly valued. At times, developers will program side-by-side or in pairs at one workstation, so as to review each others’ work. He refers to this as ‘peer code peering’.

Pair programming

Both reflective improvement and osmotic communication can be enhanced by the choice of tools developers use and the feedback they provide to her. Craftsmen in all trades rely on their tools to provide feedback – a joiner’s plane, a responsive power drill, etc. Many craftsmen will make their own tools to improve their responsiveness. Cockburn notes that one of the most important tools developers can use is an automated regression test suite, which allows the team to continuously test their work and provides feedback to each developer about the quality of their code. Feedback from a Continuous Integration (CI) suite of tools can be usefully presented by ‘information radiators’, dashboards which typically provide status information of servers, the number of use cases delivered and the number of tests passed. Although, Cockburn doesn’t use the term, I think that reflective improvement and osmotic communication refer to the ‘learning environment’ that the software craftsman creates so as to improve their understanding of their work and further develop their craft.

References to the importance of learning from others and from one’s work are made throughout McBreen’s book, as well as an entire chapter at the end of the book called ‘Perpetual Learning’. There, he outlines how to create a ‘learning environment’ by building a library of books for developers to read, as well as ensuring that they take time out each week to practice or learn something new. Like Cockburn, he emphasises the importance of workshops and a series of seminars where developers discuss their work. In addition, McBreen suggests that developers are encouraged to attend and present at conferences and write papers about their work as well as take on the role of instructor where they are able to do so. Craftsmen continually undertake self-directed learning, preferring non-proprietary, open source tools that are sustained by a community and made freely available to learn from, but more importantly, software craftsmen learn from each other, with master craftsmen mentoring journeymen and apprentices.

In a more recent book on software craftsmanship, Apprenticeship Patterns, Hoover and Oshineye also devote a chapter to ‘Perpetual Learning‘,  offering further practical advice to aspiring software craftsmen. They list the following:

  • Expand your bandwidth: Read books and articles, engage with your peers via conferences, social media and mailing lists, join user groups, study from open educational materials on the web
  • Practice, practice, practice: Take the time to practice your craft without interruptions, in an environment where you can feel comfortable making mistakes. i.e. ‘deliberate practice’ They borrow the term ‘code katas’, whereby programming exercises are repeated again and again until they become ingrained in the individual.
  • Breakable toys: Budget for failure by designing and building toy systems that are similar in toolset, but not in scope to the systems you build at work. i.e. build something personal to you, that you will learn from. Develop your own CMS or game that you can afford to break while learning.
  • Use the source:  Seek out other people’s code and read it.  Start with the applications and tools you use every day.
  • Reflect as you work: Become a reflective practitioner of software development. This involves regular introspection into how you are working.
  • Record what you learn: Keep a record of your journey in a journal, personal wiki, or blog. A chronological record of the lessons you have learned can provide inspiration to those you mentor, since it makes your journey explicit, but it can also give you a vital resource to draw upon.
  • Share what you learn: Early in your apprenticeship, develop the habit of regularly sharing the lessons you have learned. i.e. keep a blog, run workshop sessions, be part of a community of learners.
  • Create feedback loops: Create mechanisms for regularly gathering more or less objective external data about your performance. i.e. automated regression tests, information radiators, exams and certifications, pair programming, and asking your peers what they think.
  • Learn how you fail: Seek to identify the ways in which you tend to fail and try to resolve those that are worth fixing.

In his book, The Craftsman, Richard Sennett chooses to focus on open source software development as a modern form of craftsmanship (“the skill of making things well”). The value of Sennett’s book is its breadth of scope. While making no reference to McBreen’s earlier book, Sennett situates open source hacking and the development of GNU/Linux within the social and economic history of craftsmanship and our relationship with technology. For Sennett, Linux is a “public craft” and open source hackers are a “community of craftsmen.” In terms of learning this public craft, he compares ancient pottery making with open source hacking and finds that only the speed between problem finding and problem solving differentiates the two.  In programming, and especially open source programming, the velocity at which we can learn can be much greater than in traditional, material crafts. Our tools and the open, distributed nature of developer communities enhance our opportunities for learning.1

In The Nature and Art of Workmanship, David Pye does not make reference to software development but does develop a very useful framework for identifying and understanding craftsmanship, which complements much of what Sennett and McBreen describe. For Pye, craftsmanship is the workmanship of risk; that is, work that is constantly at risk of error in the process of creation. A simple example of this is writing with a pen. In contrast to the workmanship of risk (craftsmanship) is the workmanship of certainty; that is, workmanship where the quality is always pre-determined and is usually found in quantity production, and always in fully automated work. An example of this would be modern printing. The workmanship of certainty is most common in modern, industrial society, but has existed in some form for hundreds, if not thousands of years. All types of workmanship exist somewhere on the axis between risk and certainty and furthermore are subject to varying degrees of regulation or freedom.

Workmanship

Workmanship

What distinguishes the degree of risk or certainty for Pye is the extent to which the workman’s tools regulate his work. Pye argues that a pure form of workmanship of risk is hardly ever seen in any trade; for centuries people have developed tools to help regulate their work in some way (e.g. jigs) and guarantee some degree of certainty in the quality of their work. Regulation of work does not necessarily lead to certainty as some tools such as a lathe can be used in combination with a free hand, producing unique objects that are nevertheless regulated in some respects such as their size but not their form.

A simple way of asking whether it is workmanship of risk or certainty is to ask, “is the result predetermined and unalterable once production begins?”

In the drawing above, I have speculated that software craftsmanship as McBreen describes it, would be called workmanship of risk by Pye, with regulation introduced by tools such as Integrated Development Environments (IDE), Continuous Integration (CI) suites and the general operating system environment the developer is working with. Although regulated, like almost all workmanship of risk, the software craftsman often produces something bespoke to the users’ requirements, iteratively working towards the desired result through the writing and refactoring of code. Agile software development recognises that the result of most software development cannot be predetermined and that projects run best when they remain responsive to the users’ feedback. Software Engineering, on the other hand, aims to eliminate as much of the risk as possible and pre-determine the outcome of the design and programming effort, which both McBreen and Pyritz both identify as a form of Taylorism.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers defines software engineering as “the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to development, operation, and maintenance of software”. Pyritz questions whether the Taylorist model of scientific management is even viable in software development, quoting Humphrey, who asked ‘Why don’t they practice what they preach?’

The general practices of industrial software engineers are poor by almost any measure”. Why? “The educational system does not provide graduates with the practical skills they will later need. . . . Few software organizations are willing or able to provide the remedial training their new engineers need. Today’s software organizations have few if any role models who consistently demonstrate effective work habits and disciplines.

In learning to become software craftsmen we need role models, too. Both McBreen and Sennett emphasise the importance of apprenticeship and slowly learning by doing with others. This is what JISC’s DevCSI offers to the sector, running regular hack days, DevXS and the annual Dev8D conference. This year over 250 developers attended Dev8D to learn from each other.

Learning from each other at Dev8D

Learning from each other at Dev8D

While I was at Dev8D, I issued an informal survey asking developers a number of questions about their working environment, how they learn their craft, the tools they use and an assessment of their skills. I shall provide a summary of the responses in another post [UPDATE: here it is], but I am encouraged to do further research in determining how developers (working in tertiary education) learn their craft and how opportunities for learning might be improved.

Another related project I started while at Dev8D was Hacking the University, a simple website intended to collect short interviews with developers working in universities. It is inspired by The Setup and I hope that over time, it will provide a record of the people working in this community and add to the recognition of the work they do, how they learn and how their working environment impacts upon their work and learning.

If you are a developer working in a university, please consider contributing to Hacking the University and telling others about your approach to your craft.

  1. Sennett’s observations also help us consider software craftsmanship together with learning theories such as cognitive apprenticeship, situated learning, and constructivism. []

DevXS: Improve, challenge, positively disrupt

Even student hackers need to rest

I’ve spent the last five months helping to organise and host DevXS, a national student developer conference. The conference on 11-13th November was fully booked and a great success. Over 170 students attended from across the UK, representing 37 universities, as well as a further 20 tutors and developer mentors working in the Higher Education sector.

You can read more about DevXS on the conference blog which was updated throughout the weekend by a superb team of media students. There are lots of videos and presentation slides on the blog as well as pictures and information about the prize winners and their applications.

It was a really exhausting and satisfying experience to be involved in and not only was it the first conference of its kind in the UK but it looks like it will become an annual event hosted by a different university each year and organised by the JISC-funded DevCSI project.

You can read a report about the conference on the DevCSI website. The Guardian also published an article (originally titled ‘Hacking the Academy’) in the run up to the conference, which I wrote with Mike Neary.

Aberystwyth hardware hackers

Aberystwyth hardware hackers

Team HTTP Error #418

Team HTTP Error #418

Some brought their desktop rigs

Some brought their desktop rigs

The Aberdeen team raised sponsorship to attend

The Aberdeen team raised sponsorship to attend

The venue

The Engine Shed, where we lived for two days.

 

 

A Pedagogy of Excess: Interventions in the poverty of student life

Below is an abstract that I’ve just submitted, to be considered for the special issue of Critical Studies in Peer Production. I was drawn to the call for papers for three reasons: 1) One of the co-editors, Johan Soderberg, wrote an excellent book, Hacking Capitalism: the free and open source software movement (it’s expensive to buy but worth it. His PhD thesis is here); 2) One of the ways I frame our new LNCD group, is around peer-production of technology for education by students and staff; 3) I’ve been planning to write this paper anyway but could do with a deadline. It’ll get written before the end of the year, one way or another. There’s just so much happening at the moment, I could do with a deadline.

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A Pedagogy of Excess: Interventions in the poverty of student life

Despite the increasing marketisation of higher education, the generous practices of peer production have long been a characteristic of university life, giving rise, for example, to the emergence of the Free Software, Open Access and Open Education movements. These practices point towards a state of abundance that is not simply a Utopian vision but a real possibility of conditions already in existence within higher education where needs and capacities can be brought together (Kay and Mott, 1982). This possibility of abundance is at the heart of a critical political tradition that the University of Lincoln (UK) is engaged with through its institution-wide Student as Producer initiative (http://studentasproducer.lincoln.ac.uk/), articulated through a ‘pedagogy of excess’ (Neary and Hagyard, 2010) where students are more than just students and become producers of their own social world.

The possibility of a state of abundance in university life has been partially recognised by both the State (e.g. Lammy, 2009) and educators (e.g. Weller, 2011). In the world of Web 2.0, universities are being positioned as ‘edgeless’ resource providers through the funding of Open Access institutional repositories and and Open Educational Resources (Winn, 2011a). Student as Producer both challenges and leverages this abundance of open resources by articulating a pedagogy of excess, whereby the student is encouraged and supported in being not just a student-consumer but rather a critical, productive, social individual. In practice, a pedagogy of excess attempts to re-orientate the roles of staff and students against the marketisation of university life, to become producers of a really existing Utopian university and creators of social wealth (Neary and Winn, 2010).

This paper will introduce the unique approach of Student as Producer at the University of Lincoln and the ways in which we are actively supporting the re-establishment of a ‘hacker culture’ within the university where students are invited to share their ideas, mash up university administrative data and build prototypes that improve, challenge and positively disrupt the research, teaching and learning landscapes of further and higher education. In doing so, I will discuss the theoretical and practical articulation of a pedagogy of excess in terms of the peer-production of technology for education (Winn 2011b) as well as highlight the limits of our approach within a capitalist social universe.

379 words.

Kay and Mott (1982) Political Order and the Law of Labour. The Macmillan Press.

Lammy (2009) The Edgeless University.

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life. The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Eds. Molesworth, Scullion and Nixon. Routledge.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Continuum, London.

Neary, Mike (2010) Student as Producer: A Pedgogy for the Avant-Garde. Learning Exchange,Vol 1, No 1.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2010) Education Beyond the Property Relation: From Commons to Communism. Presented at the Open Education 2010 Conference, Barcelona, November 2010.

Weller, Martin (2011). A pedagogy of abundance. Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, 249 pp. 223–236.

Winn, Joss (2011a) Open Education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. Continuum, London. (In Press)

Winn, Joss (2011b) Technology for education: A new group.

Technology for education: A new group

I offer this as one response to my previous post. Much more needs to be done to ‘reverse imagineer’ EdTech, but this will be my practical focus for the foreseeable future and the nexus of where theory is put into practice, where pedagogy meets technología: “The processes and practices of doing things, understanding things and developing knowledge”? (Selwyn 2011, p7)

A new group

In January, I wrote about how I had written a paper for the university about the role of technology in the context of Student as Producer. The paper included a recommendation that a new team be convened to “further the research, development and support of technology” at the university. January feels like a long time ago now, and I wanted to write about what’s been happening since then, because it’s all good :-)

Following my presentation of the original paper to the Teaching and Learning Committee, I was asked to provide more detail on what the proposed team would do and a justification for the budget I had outlined. Both papers were written on behalf of and with the co-operation of, the Dean of Teaching and Learning, the University Librarian, the Prof. of Education, the Head of ICT and the Vice President of Academic Affairs in the Student Union. The second paper went back to the T&L Committee and, following their approval, then went to the university’s Executive Board in early April.

I began the paper by outlining what the team is for:

The team will consolidate and extend the existing collaborative work taking place between Centre for Educational Research and Development, The Library and ICT Services1 and invite staff and students from across the university to join the team. The team will offer incentives to staff and students who wish to contribute to the rapid innovation of appropriate technology for education at the university, through work-experience, research bursaries and internal and external applications for funding. Through our experience of the Fund for Educational Development (FED) and Undergraduate Research Opportunity Scheme (UROS) funds, we know this is an effective method of engaging staff and students in research and development. A core principle of the team will be that students and staff have much to learn from each other and that students as producers can be agents of change in the use of technology for education.

I then went on to argue:

The Student as Producer project is anticipated to take between 3-5 years to fully embed across the university. During this time, significant changes will occur in the technologies we use. In just the last five years, we have seen the rise of web applications such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Web 2.0 in general. Aside from such applications, networked infrastructure has developed considerably, with access to broadband now widespread and the use of smart phones and netbooks rapidly increasing. For a student at the University of Lincoln in 2011, high-speed networks are now ubiquitous across the city campuses and such networks themselves are now the ‘learning landscape’, in which the university is but one part.

There is a strong argument for shifting away from the idea of ‘educational technology’ to address technology straight on, recognising that any technology can support and enhance the research, teaching and learning process, and that the use of these technologies increasingly lies outside the institution’s control. We would argue that it is not the university’s role to compete with or determine the use of any technology but rather support access to technology in the broadest terms. This can be achieved through incremental improvements to infrastructure (e.g. network capacity and ease of use), supporting staff and students (e.g. training, workshops, courses) and personalising and integrating the services we do provide so that staff and students have a useful and enjoyable experience of technology at the university and understand how it fits within their wider networks. In particular, we should consider whether Blackboard can be better enhanced through mobile applications and the integration of other popular services such as Facebook. It is a key technology for the support of teaching and learning and if extended through the work of the proposed team, could be a platform for innovation. All of this work should be informed by a broad understanding of the social roles of technology and the objective of producing critical, digitally literate staff and students.

I presented a list of risks that I thought would present themselves if we didn’t take this approach:

  1. Poor co-ordination: Poorly co-ordinated investment in technology to support strategic objectives, resulting in competing interests in limited resources.
  2. Disjuncture: Growing disjuncture between student expectations and institutional provision of technology and support.
  3. Inertia: No locus for technological experimentation and innovation.
  4. Unattractive to potential post-graduates and staff: Technological provision compares poorly to other institutions, putting off new staff and post-graduates.
  5. Loss of income stream: Under-investment in ‘seeding’ projects that may attract external income.
  6. Business As Usual: During a period of significant change in Higher Education, our progressive T&L Strategy is hindered by poorly co-ordinated technological development.
  7. Student as Consumer: Technology remains something ‘provided’ by the university, rather than produced and informed by its staff and students.

Finally, I provided more detail about the costs. After taking into account existing budgets available to us and anticipated external research income, the total I asked for was £22K/yr to pay for an additional 12-month Intern position and a contribution to the staff and student bursaries we want to make available.  This was approved.

I was pleased with the outcome as it means that our current work is being recognised as well as the strategic direction we wish to go in. In terms of resourcing, we will have at least one more full-time (Intern) post and hold a £20K annual budget which will be used to provide grants and bursaries to staff and students, pay for hardware and software as needed and pay for participants to go to conferences to discuss their work and learn from the EdTech community at large. This doesn’t include any external income that we hope to generate. The nature of our applications for research grants is unlikely to change other than we hope to have more capacity in the future including both students and academic staff as active contributors to the development, implementation and support of technology for education at the university.

Team? Group? Network? Place?

The core members of the group (i.e. CERD/ICT/Library) met for an afternoon last week to discuss the roadmap for getting everything in place for the new academic year. We began by discussing the remit of the group (as detailed in the two committee papers), which is principally to serve the objectives of Student as Producer, the de facto teaching and learning strategy of the university. We spent a while discussing the nature of the group; that is, whether it was a team, a network, a group or even a place. In the first committee paper I wrote, I described it as “a flexible, cross-departmental team of staff and student peers”, but have since come to refer to it as a ‘group’, as ‘team’ does not reflect the nature of how we intend to work, nor the relationships we hope to build among participants, nor is a ‘team’ inclusive enough. I’d like to think that we’ll develop a network of interested staff and students and even attract interest and collaboration from outside the university, but I think it’s too early to call what we’re doing a network, although we are networked and working on the Net.  We’ve given ourselves a couple of weeks to come up with name but whatever we call it, we agreed that in principle we’d govern the group by consensus among us. Ideally, though not always in practice, the Net can help us create flatter structures of governance, so we’ll try to shape the way we work around this ideal.  My role will be to co-ordinate the work of the group by consensus.

UPDATE: We decided upon LNCD as the name for our group. It’s a recursive acronym: LNCD’s Not a Central Development group.

All participants will be encouraged to write about their work in the context of Student as Producer, building on the progressive pedagogical framework that is being implemented at the university, theorising their work critically and reflexively. We’ll support this approach, too, building a reading list for people wanting to think critically about EdTech and an occasional seminar series where we’ll discuss our ideas critically, reflexively and collegially.

Road map and tools

We will be up and running by the start of the next academic year. Over the summer, we’ve got a timetable of work that we plan to do to ensure we’ve got a clearly defined identity and the tools in place to support the nature of our work. By the end of September, we’ll have a website that offers clear information on what we do, what we’re working on, how to get involved and the ways we can support staff and students at the university. The site will allow you to review all aspects of our projects as well as propose new projects which can be voted up and down according to staff and students’ priority. There will be an application form for you to apply for funding from us and a number of ways for you discuss your ideas on and offline. We’ll be continuing our current provision of staff training, but will be looking to re-develop the sessions into short courses that are useful to both staff and students. The 2009 Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report recommended that

The time would seem to be right seriously and systematically to begin the process of renegotiating the relationship between tutor and student to bring about a situation where each recognises and values the other’s expertise and capability and works together to capitalise on it. This implies drawing students into the development of approaches to teaching and learning. [Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, p.9]

This is very much what Student as Producer is aiming to do through embedding research-engaged teaching and learning across the curricula and the approach we plan to take around support and training for the use of technology in teaching and learning. We’ll be working with the Student Union and the Principle Teacher Fellows across the university to identify ways that students and their tutors can be encouraged to support each other and we welcome the input and collaboration of anyone who wishes to adopt and advocate this approach. We’ll be designing some posters, flyers and business cards over the summer so that people around the university know who we are and how to get in touch in time for Fresher’s Week.

For the Geeks, you might be interested to know that we’ve decided upon a set of tools for managing our work online in a distributed environment where most of us work in different parts of the university campuses. We’ll have a dedicated virtual Linux box (as well as our usual development servers) and the main website will be run on WordPress using our own custom CWD theme. We’ll be migrating all of our code to Git Hub very soon and we’ll be using Pivotal Tracker to manage our development tasks in an agile and open way. We’ll be using our existing combination of Get Satisfaction and Zen Desk to manage peer-to-peer user support and bug reports and we’ll also be looking at alternatives such as User Voice and the Open Source Q&A tool to provide a way for you to suggest and vote for project ideas. Notably, through the use of their APIs, most of these tools integrate well, so that we can create tasks in Pivotal Tracker from bug reports made with Zen Desk and associate those tasks with commits on Git Hub. We’ll be using Twitter just as we always do, and we’ll be using Google Groups for longer discussions around each project (as well as regularly meeting face-to-face, of course). For projects that don’t involve writing code (which we certainly welcome), we’ll be looking at tools that assist with resource development and document control, such as digress.it, MediaWiki, Git Hub, Google Docs, EPrints and Jorum, depending on the nature of the project. We won’t be prescriptive with the tools we adopt, using whatever is appropriate, but with an emphasis on those that offer decent APIs, data portability and good usability. Proprietary software lacking APIs and with poor usability (we can all think of a few) won’t get much of a look in. Finally, through RSS and widgets, we’ll be presenting a coherent picture of each project on the main website.

There’s quite a bit to do but we know how to do it.  If you’ve got any suggestions (a name would be useful!), ideas or even want to join us, for the time-being, leave a comment here and we’ll get back to you. Thanks.

  1. Since writing this, I’ve listed examples of our existing work in a recent blog post. You can add JISCPress and ChemistryFM, this WordPress platform and our e-portfolio system to that list, too. []

Reverse imagineering ‘educational technology’

The question that has been occupying some of my thinking the last couple of months is “how is Student as Producer expressed in terms of ‘technology’ (technología)? That is, “the processes and practices of doing things, understanding things and developing knowledge”? (Selwyn 2011, p7)  Over the next couple of years, the Student as Producer project aims to

…establish research-engaged teaching and learning as an institutional priority at the University of Lincoln, making it the dominant paradigm for all aspects of curriculum design and delivery, and the central pedagogical principle that informs other aspects of the University’s strategic planning.

There are a number of documents that lay the theoretical and practical groundwork for Student as Producer.

Re-reading these papers, some broad themes are common:

  • History
  • Society
  • Pedagogy
  • Curricula

Within these themes, we can find the following keywords and ideas

  • Speculative thinking
  • Critique
  • Close contact between student and teacher
  • Dialectical method
  • Student as subject, student as producer
  • Make history not just knowledge
  • Relationship between intellectual and manual labour
  • ‘Common Affairs’ / ‘Everyday life’
  • Radically democratic
  • Direct communication/direct action
  • Informed by social history
  • Student designed curricula
  • University as producer and consumer of technological innovation
  • Student as personification of knowledge
  • Politics of production
  • Internet as mass intellectuality
  • Polycentric, collective intelligence
  • Social constructivism
  • Openness
  • Collaboration: Student as teacher/teacher as student
  • Connect theory with action
  • Interrupt consensus
  • Ecological sustainability = institutional sustainability
  • Social learning that transforms social context
  • Paradigm shift

In the context of a university, the technologist is interested in the ‘study of’ (logia) the art, skill or craft (techne) of teaching and learning and in the context of Student as Producer, we are obliged to  extend this interest to thinking critically about the use of ‘tools for improvement’ and recognising that their development and use is, and always has been, political and socially determined, just as ‘the idea of the university‘ has always been politically and socially determined.

How then, might we undertake a ‘reverse imagineering‘ of educational technology? What is it with technology that we are seeking to improve in education?1 Following the objectives and techniques of ‘reverse engineering’ in hacking, reverse imagineering might be a method by which we deconstruct the complex machine of ‘educational technology’ and reconstruct a technology for education.

The deconstruction of complex machines and their ‘decolonized’ reconstruction can be carried out on all kinds of objects, not just computational ones. In the same way as you deconstruct a program, you can also deconstruct the internal functioning of a government or an administration, a firm or an industrial or financial group. On the basis of such a deconstruction, involving a precise identification of the operating principles of a given administration, or the links or networks between administrations, lobbies, businesses etc., you can define modes of action or intervention.2

How do we deconstruct educational technology in order to reconstruct a technology for education? I suggest we develop a critical praxis of technology for education and that Student as Producer offers us both a theoretical and practical framework by which to undertake it.

  1. It’s worth noting that the word ‘improve‘ has always been closely aligned with the use of technologies to add value i.e. profit. The Middle English improwen, meant to enclose land for cultivation, from Anglo-Norman emprouwer, to turn to profit. The OED entry lists a long and interesting list of similar uses. []
  2. Bureau d’Etudes, Autonomous Knowledge and Power in a Society without Affects. []

JISC INF11 Programme Meeting: From unprojects to services

I’m going to the JISC Information Programme Meeting on Thursday and have been asked to join a panel where I’ll talk about our work at Lincoln under the heading ‘from unprojects to services’. Here are my notes.

Over the last couple of years, staff in CERD, The Library and ICT have worked closely together on a number of ‘rapid innovation’ projects, which have sometimes later attracted JISC funding.  Much of our work has been undertaken at the initiative of individual staff, who have benefited from a supportive ICT environment that allows us the freedom to develop and test our ideas without running into bureaucratic walls. ICT – in particular the head of the department, Mike Day, and head of the Online Services Team, Tim Simmonds – recognised the benefits of employing undergraduate students and recent graduates, and established a post which Nick Jackson and Alex Bilbie share. Alongside this, I have been applying for JISC funding and successful bids have allowed us to employ Nick and Alex full-time rather than part-time. In recent months, this has worked very well and currently much of their time is spent working on JISC-funded projects which bring value to the University. Below, are a list of the services that this culture of innovation has allowed us to work on over the last year or so. Click on the links to go to the services.

The Common Web Design: Distributed HTML5/CSS3 template for internal services

Posters: A repository for visual communications

lncn.eu: The official URL shortner for the university. Provides real-time stats, API and acts as branded/trusted proxy for other services.

Single Sign On: OAuth/SAML/Shibboleth/NTML/Eduroam integration

Zen Desk: University Help Desk

My Calendar: An aggregation of space-time data into a flexible web service. JISC-funded.

Nucleus: Datastore for People, Events, Bibliographic and Location data (and more to follow). Provides (open) APIs to all other services. MongoDB.

James Docherty, a third year student, used the nucleus datastore as a source of data for his final year project: Situated Displays for buildings, showing room booking information, posters and announcements.

Staff Directory: Fast, versatile people-focused search engine

Jerome: Fast, modern, personalised library search portal aggregating books, journals and EPrints data. JISC-funded.

Mobile: A directory of university services for mobile devices

Online Server Monitoring: A simple dashboard for anyone to check whether a service is working

QR Codes: Will be used for asset tags and already being used in rooms to create Help Desk tickets.

  • Most of these services push and pull data to Nucleus, the central, open datastore built on MongoDB. e.g. Zen Desk=People + Locations, My Calendar=Events, Jerome=Bibliographic
  • We’re currently looking at how Nucleus can also be a source for Linked Data. It has open(ish) APIs.
  • CWD sites transparently sign the person in to the site, if they are signed in elsewhere.
  • We like Open Source. SSO is mostly open source software. Alex has released his OAuth 2.0 code. CWD likely to be open source; MongoDB, bits and pieces from Jerome and My Calendar.
  • As we build these services, they are being integrated, too. e.g. lncn.eu will be a URL resolver for Jerome offering realtime monitoring; posters will show up in My Calendar events; CWD is the design framework for My Calendar.
  • Most of these services are for official launch in September. They will be included in the new ICT Handbook, included in brochures and other announcements.
  • We’re working with the Student Union to develop the use of FourSquare around the university.
  • Now that we know we can develop this way and that it works and we enjoy it, we’re hoping to expand from two to four student/graduate developers and have our own budget for hardware/software/conferences and to give to staff and students that want to join us.
  • Our approach links into the University’s Teaching and Learning Strategy: Student as Producer. We want to work with students and staff across disciplines to create useful, innovative and enjoyable online services that make the University of Lincoln a great place to work and study at. It’s not about a team that works on ‘educational technology’, but rather a network of people who develop and support technologies that make Lincoln a productive environment for research, teaching and learning. It’s inclusive, with students (and therefore learning) at its core.

Interesting things are happening – a window has opened

Dr Dean Lockwood recently gave some lectures where he reflected on Student as Producer in the context of digital media theory. Go to the Student as Producer site for the full paper. Here’s a very brief excerpt.

Interesting things are happening – a window has opened. Let’s focus on the university. For a couple of decades and more, higher education has increasingly been pushed towards running on a business model, a market model, in which the student is understood as a consumer. The current struggle over tuition fees highlights the extent to which this model is in crisis, in common with the market model more generally. Many are arguing again, just as they did in 68, that education must be politicized, connected back up to struggles against exploitation. Here, at Lincoln, the institution of the university itself is showing signs of moving this way, or at least there is an initiative, an experiment, at large within the university which is based on the argument that those who teach can no longer remain politically indifferent. Mike Neary, our Dean of Teaching and Learning, has even gone so far as to call for an agenda for ‘revolutionary teaching’, what he calls a ‘pedagogy of excess’ (see bibliography).

This agenda has become dominated by an organizing principle for teaching and learning which goes by the name of ‘Student as Producer’, which I want to say a few words about.