The Manifesto for teaching online and my postcard

This post is in preparation for a Creativity at a Distance Workshop by Tanya Elias and hopefully it makes sense outside of that context.

I have put down my thoughts about a postcard I created in the first module of the Digital Education programme at the University of Edinburgh as a way of linking the annotation of the manifesto itself. It is my personal take on it. Please keep in mind that I am writing this eighteen months after I created it and thus my interpretation may be coloured by the time since. Also it is one very small artefact generated for this course and is not representative of the whole picture, it was simply a fitting example for this exercise.

1. My teachers

Contact works in multiple ways. Face-time is over-valued.

During my first module many teachers contributed to my learning experience through multiple modes: discussion forum, social media, synchronous tutorials, audio/video message, postcards, written feedback and weekly instructions/study guide to name a few.

Online teaching should not be downgraded into ‘facilitation’

Apologies if I am incorrectly understanding this line but to me it reads as if facilitation is something LESS than teaching. Surely, facilitation is an integral part of teaching, rather than inferior to. The Wikipedia entry for ‘facilitator’ includes the following (I added the bold typeface): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facilitation

Kaner defines facilitator as follows: “A facilitator is an individual who enables groups and organizations to work more effectively; to collaborate and achieve synergy. She or he is a “content-neutral” party who by not taking sides or expressing or advocating a point of view during the meeting, can advocate for fair, open, and inclusive procedures to accomplish the group’s work. A facilitator can also be learning or a dialogue guide to assist a group in thinking deeply about its assumptions, beliefs, and values and about its systemic processes and context”(Kaner: 2007: xv)

To me these are all positive attributes so maybe we need to rethink our perception of what facilitation is, whether online or offline.

2. My classmates

Contact works in multiple ways. Face-time is over-valued.

Massiveness is more than learning at scale: it also brings complexity and diversity.

Over the course there has been pockets of face time but as an overall percentage of contact it would come out very low. I am ok with that, as discussions, Instant Messages, Twitter and so on suit my introvert tendencies. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t enjoyed ‘seeing’ my teachers and classmates, it just isn’t something that is at the top of my wish list.

The overwhelming positives though are the things I have learned through the different contacts I gain an international perspective, which I doubt I would have had from a course in a local institution, learning more about the course content but the highlight for me is the inspiration from the all the creative elements. This postcard being a very tangible example as the idea was proposed by a student. Not only did they propose the idea they provided examples and ideas to focus on, that is there were prompts and boundaries to guide – so important.

Peer support is also crucial, hearing others who struggle at times and reading how they overcame obstacles is really important to my precarious learning state. It isn’t easy admitting not understanding something or getting stuck with technology but being able to talk about frustrations and worries about keeping up with workloads, with peers has been invaluable.

Openness is neither neutral nor natural: it creates and depends on closures.

However, everyone chooses to participate in different ways and open is a very wide scale. Some may only ‘be’ in the closed space of the Virtual Learning Environment (Moodle in this case) and thus the blurring of faces in this open space (hopefully enough). Multiple spaces are therefore essential, but this brings on a different level of complexity to navigate. I can see that this line could have several meanings but here I see it as our safe, closed VLE space allowed us to be open with each other, our even more closed blog open only to two tutors was even safer and allowed even more honestly and openness.

3. The campus

Don’t succumb to campus envy: we are the campus.

Online can be the privileged mode. Distance is a positive principle, not a deficit.

By beginning with teachers and students, I purposely tried to put people at the centre of my experiences, however, I can’t get away from that horrible, weighty word ‘privilege’.

I have a picture of Edinburgh, in one lens and a picture of the Narnia Room in our library in Queen’s, a traditional red brick university. Being an online student, in many ways I feel a bit fraudulent about the whole thing for several reasons.

First off, I am a graduate of the University of Edinburgh (I even have the same student number twenty+ years later) so I when staff and students speak of it I can picture exactly where they mean, I have tangible images in my head of the physical spaces inhabited.

Second, as I work in a university I have access to physical resources such as the library, high speed internet connections, high performance hardware and software and colleagues who I can discuss my thoughts and learning difficulties with.

Third I am an educational technologist, so the technical hurdles for me are part of the fun challenges and can always be overcome one way or another.

Lastly, during the first week of the programme I was surprised to discover that one of my colleagues had also enrolled so we have been able to share our journey online but also when we meet in person.

Adding the rose tint in the glasses was my way of trying to voice these, highlighting that the ideal of the ‘red brick’ institutions provides an overly romantic view. The reality is messy, my classroom in Edinburgh is mostly a VLE and my office at work is overcrowded, dark and uninspiring. How would I have managed without all these additional support structures?

4. The backdrop

Don’t succumb to campus envy: we are the campus.

The backdrop to my studies is utter and total chaos both at home and at work. I constantly snatch time where and when I can, on multiple devices. It isn’t pretty but so far it works and the wheels haven’t come off the cart (yet). Could I have achieved this with a fixed, face to face programme in specific physical settings? Absolutely not!

5. Offline work intersecting with online learning

Text has been troubled: many modes matter in representing academic knowledge.

This element is difficult to link to the manifesto. I was simply attempting to acknowledge that non-digital technology has an equal worth for me, by including paper and pens. It is also about trying to visualise the academic text that I had been reading so that I could both understand for the course and incorporate into my work life. During this course I have learned from many modes and also experimented with assignment modes – through this I have gained a lot of knowledge in creating the artefacts. However, looking across my module marks so far, my straightforward text pieces have potentially gained me the higher marks, and some may have gained more marks had I removed the non-text elements. So this, for me is a learning vs grades internal debate if I were to look closely. Maybe this links to:

Assessment is an act of interpretation, not just measurement.

6. Digital remixing

Distance is temporal, affective, political: not simply spatial.

As I have said in a previous section this postcard idea was proposed by a classmate and wasn’t linked to assessment. It was a way of experimenting, being creative but most importantly CONNECTING across the space, some of us through physical cards delivered by post and some digitally by sharing in the VLE space (some both). I think I did include it at some point in my blog, which was assessed but that was afterwards and certainly not why I took part.

Assessment is an act of interpretation, not just measurement.

A digital assignment can live on. It can be iterative, public, risky, and multi-voiced.

Despite the non-assessed aspect of this artefact it is still an example of how it is living on a year and half after I made it. It is public and becoming multi-voiced. It is risky as these are my personal reflections and others (strangers, my classmates and my teachers) may disagree wholeheartedly. It is also something that was once private for a handful of people, now public – does that change the original meaning for me?

Remixing digital content redefines authorship.

This postcard remixes my own photos and screenshots with Creative Commons Zero images (the background image can be found: https://pixabay.com/en/chaos-room-untidy-dirty-messy-627218/, I also replaced the Edinburgh one as I couldn’t find the attribution of the original: https://pixabay.com/en/arthurs-seat-edinburgh-scotland-960242/). I am posting it on my site with a Creative Commons license but in some cases people may not be happy about the whole area of remixing and ownership. A whole other debate for another day.

These are all my interpretations of some elements of the manifesto.

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