Open Teaching: Identity, Practice, Tools, Intent
I was working through my syllabus for the upcoming (as in September) semester, taking stock of my research project (which is nearing conclusion) and reflecting on the state of open learning as I see it. I wanted to use this blog as a space for transparent reflection, much as I always do. My research project is exploring how students in the humanities in South Korean universities use mobile technology for learning and engaging in their disciplines. That research has led me to one of many conclusions: mobile technology occupies a space, but a focus on any one tool or space or practice or process is inherently limited. It misses the bigger picture. This granularization in research is necessary, but we need to balance that focus on the specific in our research with broader issues in our teaching. Teaching forces us to consider all the artifacts in the learning process and how our involvement stimulates or inhibits that learning. What we gain and lose with each approach, with each tool, platform, or practice.
So I thought I would start collecting what I feel are the elements (perhaps categories is a better word here) of open teaching. Open in this context refers to transparency, not necessarily open learning as we have to come to know it through open courses, MOOCs, OERs, and the like. Those are the tools, one possible set of tools, of that open teaching. So, I suspect by merely identifying these elements consciously, I will begin to flesh out (at least in my own head) what each of these mean, how I enact them, how I might better approach them, and what affect they have on the larger learning process.
I have identified the following elements presented here in visual format, because I merely wanted to break up the text.
Open identity, reflection, and practice are interrelated (they all are, really). They are concerned with the specifics of making your teaching practices transparent (I did or am doing this because I think it will have this effect), reflecting on those practices often (it worked or didn’t work, why?), and linking those to your identity (as a teacher). I am not saying everyone needs to be pouring themselves into a blog as I do. Find a medium of reflection and make it your own. But this is a professional expectation for teaching as I see it, one that is in dire need of being reclaimed by the teaching profession. We shouldn’t be (and not many teachers I know are) relying merely on authority of rank, title, content knowledge, or even experience. I had reflected on this a bit in a previous post. I personally try to completely rework my lessons each and every semester. From scratch. I openly reflect on what worked and didn’t, what I am going to try in the next semester and what I won’t, and how that reflects on me as a teacher (identity).
Open in terms of tools sits between research and teaching. We need to be open about what tools we are using, how we are using them, and how that might affect our students. This goes for both analog and digital technologies, for platforms, environments, applications, anything really. Something is always lost and something is always gained. I am quite optimistic about the use of technology, as one example of a tool, in my teaching. I believe the benefits outweigh the risks, but I am frank about that with my students. They know what data is being collected (as much as I know) and how that might be used. They reflect on their willingness to engage in such a process, how comfortable they are, the potential drawbacks, all of it. This transparency and negotiated state allows us to walk the learning through together, in collaboration. It is the beginning, the very foundation of the trust I look to create.
Which leads directly to the next few elements of intent and ethics. I am clear about my intent from the very first day of my instruction. I am going to do this, you are free to respond like this, I will justify my actions and you will justify yours. The process of openness generates the dialogue, the very collaboration I know will fuel our learning discoveries. I do not (and this is no surprise if you know me) believe in deception as a learning tool. We will experience enough deception in this life to last several lifetimes. We will learn from it, taste and never forget its bitterness. Since the relationship in teaching is built on trust, or should be, deception is not the optimal learning practice. Deception does have its place, as I said, but not in the classroom. As a negotiated enterprise (teaching), deception creates resistance and the very opposite of openness. My intent is clear there and this feeds into my ethics. I will tell my students if I want to do research or write about my experiences with them. I am quite open about that. I tell them I will anonymize and protect their identity. I will not manipulate or experiment through duplicity. My research feeds out of this intent and ethical approach. What good does it do me to generate research on learning from an experiment that was based on deception? How does that inform our teaching practice? My research is based on actual teaching scenarios that are actually replicable in terms of following the process I undertook to execute them. That is open practice for research. It feeds directly from the state it is designed to observe and analyze. Nothing else will do.
So, just some initial observations so far. Much more to come, I suspect.