Understanding data: praxis and politics

Understanding data: Praxis and Politics is a one year project funded by the EPSRC ( EP/R045178/1) and the HDI+ network.  (Here you can find a more detailed description of the grant). The aim of the project is to design, develop and pilot an OER (open educational resource) to support educators in improving their critical data literacies. The aim is to pilot the OER in four strategic pilot institutions. They are: Tangaza University College in Nairobi, Universidad de la República in Uruguay, Universidad Oberta de Catalunya in Barcelona and University of Surrey in England. These pilots will allow us to explore what works and what doesn’t so that we can refine/redesign the OER for a second iteration. 

We live in a datafied society where decisions taken by corporations and governments are increasingly data and algorithm-driven. Whilst data are often said to be ‘collected’ as if pre-existing, and therefore simply reflecting reality, the processes through which data are generated and communicated are neither neutral nor devoided of negative effects.  Richterich (2018) reminds us that data are socially constructed and embedded in their structures. Data are political. Therefore we need technical abilities and media literacies weaved into a critical approach to understand the socio-political and cultural mechanisms that affect individuals and groups in a datafied society.

The OER will provide educators with analytical tools to think about real-life situations and relevant content that will put them in contact with the most recent issues and research in the field. We have already started our pilot at Tangaza University College with three lecturers in the business school that are teaching in the Sustainable Development degree. We have had our first workshop, educators are implementing the new knowledge in their practices and we still have a follow-up workshop to do. Our chapter at the Open University in Catalunya will start on the 12 of April, you can follow this chapter in more detail here. The University of La República is ready to go as well. For the Uruguay chapter, we produce a first online baseline course for in-service educators so that they can learn basic concepts around open data, this will allow them to be in a better position to take full advantage of a more complex understanding of critical approaches to data, which is the aim of the advance course. The advance course will start on the 8th of April and will be four weeks long. The last chapter the UK, where we are working with the University of Surrey. This is still in the making. I will post news soon!

We make the road by walking

The title of this book, which is taken from a poem of Albert Machado, for which Joan Manuel Serrat took inspiration to write his song ‘caminante no hay camino’ (walker there is not a path) is remarkably meaningful for me as it tells the story of the last 5 years of my life. I left my  home country looking for freedom and agency. Looking for my essence. In this long walk, there has certainly been no trail marked for me, I had to open my own. And as Machado says in his poem:

caminante son tus huellas el camino y nada mas, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar, y al andar se hace camino y al volver la vista atras se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. Caminante no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar

Saying, that the road is nothing else but your footprints. There is not such a thing as a footpath, one makes the road by walking, and in that walking, you make the road, and when you look back, you see that road that you will never walk again.
And yes, I believe we make a footpath while we walk searching for our essence, for who we are and more than that, we are the trailblazers of our destiny. This reading will be part of my path.
Ideas that have caught my attention:

  • Formal education prepares people to live in a system, the prevailed system, i.e. capitalism. Institutions block freedom creating this incredible contradiction of educating people that cannot move out of the system, perpetuating it and its pitfalls. I think this book is a conversation of alternatives to escape that. In the case of Hyghlander School, the idea of Myles was to make the experiences of their students the building blocks of the curriculum. This reminds me David Cromier’s idea of Rhizomatic learning, the community is the curriculum. Myles says: Students analyse their experience by storytelling and reflecting about an experience leads to change, or at least it is the beginning of change. Although they are talking here about adult education, I ask myself how can this idea be extrapolated to children or young people education.
  • The main goal for both, Freire and Horton, was supporting people in the process of finding their freedom. They had a radical democratic belief in the capacity and right of all people to achieve that freedom through self-emancipation. This has much in common with my idea of fostering agency, so students can pursue what they want and have the knowledge, skills and attitude to do so. The concept of freedom I am using in my work is the one by Sen and (here) and Marta Nussbaum. They have developed the human capability approach where freedom and agency are addressed in a holistic manner.
  • Both believed that participation is the means to freedom and educational practice ought to be seen as both liberatory and participatory. In a way, I think, it allows students to embody participation in education, and this way of learning could then be a means to participate in society involving the people themselves in the creation of their own knowledge. Much of this is argued when talking about the benefits of open practice.
  • These ideas grew from the struggle the authors had to connect theory and practice, which is still a struggle nowadays. All the brilliant ideas about OEP and OEP are a response to the unconnected theory and practice. We need to see how we can, through OEP, uncover and critically analyse the power structures that are once again doing their best to keep those structures that protect their power. This hopefully is among the aims of the OEGlobal conference in South Africa next year where I am presenting my ideas about how personal learning spaces are open context created by the learner but at the same time, they are part of open practices.
  • The main objective was linking participatory education to liberation and social change. Asking questions about the role of the student, the teacher and the organisation. How is education linked to mobilisation and culture to create a new society? Can society transform education or must education first be transformed?

I can see in their ideas much of the basic tenets of socio-cultural activity theory the theoretical approach I am using for my research.
What I see with this ‘movement’ of OEP is an attempt to transform education. My argument is that for that to happen, students need to have the skills, the knowledge and the attitude, an explorer mindset, I call it, so that they can harness the affordance of the digital revolution. Following Freire and Horton’s ideas, learning needs to happen through participation. How can we design learning for this digital participation to happen? The question of the microcosmos is important. Which is a suitable, ideal microcosmos where students can enact digital skills? It will be through satisfying that need that they will learn. This needs further elaboration, for now, I will leave it as it is because I will never hit the publish button.
How can we design learning experiences for this digital participation to happen? The question of the microcosmos is important. Which is a suitable, ideal microcosmos where students can enact digital skills through critical participation thus emancipation. This needs further elaboration, for now, I will leave it as it is because I will never hit the publish button.

Towards a digital sociology of education, an interview

The whole talk is brilliant! @Neil_Selwyn is interviewed by and  @mark_carrigan. Here is the blog: The Sociological Review if someone is interested in finding more posts and relevant information
Some key points tha illuminate my learning journey as an (very) early career researcher:

  • Digital technology must not be seen as a hubris-driven solution for educational problems. Loving this idea of hubris-driven. I have to admit that when I started my research I thought of digital technology as the panacea in education. After getting into reading, analysing and understanding technology from a more broader and philosophical perspective I started to see so many different avenues that were hidden for me before. I can see how much my position has changed, how much critical I have become, and there is so much to learn still. But defenetly it is imperative to know more and be aware of much more critical stances on technology to ba able to see beyond the fancy view on technology. My process has been amazing! And I have to Bbe thankful to scholars like Selwyn and Martin Oliver, as they have been my main eye-opening readings.
  • Experiences are happening in the digital space, what does it mean to research the practice that unfolds in that space? What is new and what is different in this space?
  • It is important to be skeptic about too much optimism, not to be a cheerleader 🙂 but to see the danger within the politics of educational technology. The power structures it favours.
  • Educational technology needs to be problematised, and there are areas recommended by Neil Selwyn:
    • Materialities of digital technology (software, coding, structure). It is about unboxing these materialities and looking at them closer. It is not about opening up the box when things go wrong; instead, it is about unboxing them while they are functioning and analysing them in depth
    • Platform studies, sociology of software. This, in particular, I found pretty interesting. It is about tearing a system apart. I would say it is analysing how it came what it is. Looking beyond the system.
    • The human aspect of technology. Exploring what people do, activities and practices, emotions, affects. It is not only questions about what works and what don’t and why? Meaning making, how do people make meaning of experiences that are unfolding in the digital space? what is new or different there? what are the continuities or discontinuities in that experience? Values that are shared.
    • Sociology of knowledge in the digital age and how that interacts with education? Exploring literacies and ways of doing things in the digital space. Digital identities and the struggle between the individual and the institutional, that debate between structure and agency.
  • An interesting view of schools as data farms, this I found fascinating
  • Then they talked about the different methods to do research, new modes of enquiry in a digital age where new tools and approaches are developed. What is the new toolkit that the digital offers?
    • Semantic analysis: Digital discourses as they unfold. Twitter feed, blog with comments, instagram feed.
    • Data mapping
    • Computational social science: Big data analysis
    • Trace ethnography: Tracing data through codes and networks. The data as the unit of analysis instead of the individuum.
    • Digital ethnography
    • Platform and software studies (I am interested in this): Researching the systems, the coded spaces, the digital learning environments. Looking for the coded elements of education. Interrogating those codes, the data, the online aspects of education. This tides in with critical reverse engineering which is interested in deconstructing closed educational system and look at how it is build, what assumtions, values and considerations are coded into the platform. Interrogate the code itself. Selwyn argues here that technology is higly political and it some how predefines structures of power within the design. This structures can be very interesting if they are dismanteled. An interesting thing to do would be taking a LMS terring it apart and building it again with your won assumptions, values and intentions
    • Cooperative critical design (I am interested for phase 2 of my research). I found a paper which I am starting to read: Critical Theory and Paricipatory Design. The aim of this method is build and design with the users. The process of designing is important not so much if the design works or not. It would be important to ask why it didn’t worked. It is bottom up design. I think that Feenberg in his book questioning technology talks about democratic design, arguing that this approach is powerful to foster change.
    • Life methods

The talk was highly interesting and enlightening for me as I am still questioning technology and my unit of analysis. I am thinking in applying cooperative critical design as students will be re-designing the informal system of tools they already have in place and through that design process I hope to foster more awareness and critical thinking about the role of technlogy in their education.

Bildung and its connection with the idea of flourishing in the post-digital era

This post is about my reflections in relation to why I think that being digital literate will help students to flourish in a post-digital era, moreover why I think that being literate, in particular, digital literate, is desirable and will lead to students’ progress (I will not cover this second part of my argument in much depth, but it is my first approach to justify these ideas more theoretically)
A note from the author: It is a difficult task for a non-native and relatively new English speaker as me, to tackle some of this complex ideas from this still foreign language. My thoughts are still bubbling in my head trying to find better words and better sentences and paragraphs that can make my argument intelligible to others. I get very frustrated when I read my finished work, not because my ideas are not clear to me but because I feel still the limitation of not being proficient in the language in order to make them clear to others. My excuses for the confusion and lack of precision in parts of my text, all of this is still a work in progress.
I will start with my Research question:
How and to what extent can the university support and encourage undergraduates to enable their engagement with digital technology and research skills to become digital research literate and flourish in the 21st century?
With some help of a more knowledgeable other 🙂 I refined the question:
How and to what extent can the university support, encourage and enable undergraduates to become digital research literate and flourish in a post-digital era?

I have a potential solution to this question (the idea of re-designing and implementing a personal learning environment (PLE) by students will demand the deployment of digital skills in a critical manner)--> Re-designing students' informal PLEs and use it as a workbench in the context of the dissertation module will improve students' digital literacies and at the same time will increase their digital capability. My hunch, guess, hypothesis is that the PLE is in itself a learning outcome and an aid to improve digital literacies in students.

What do I mean by flourishing and on what does this idea rely on?
Bildung is an old German word usually translated into English as ‘formation’, ‘education’, ‘cultivation’ and more recently by Richard Rorty as ‘edification’ (edification takes us out of ourselves by the power of strangeness, to aid us in becoming new beings).
The word comes from ‘bilden’, German for giving shape and it is related to the idea of giving shape to a certain object. In its origin, it had connections with the religious sphere, but  later, in the 18th century, it became an indication of a new anthropological model and a different outlook on the world. The origin of the word does not lie in the Enlightenment although it is a keyword used in the 18th century due to the protagonism of knowledge as the driving force to construct a better world. Bildung and the idea of self-cultivation through the acquisition of knowledge give voice to the new intellectual attitude of the men of the Enlightenment.
Wilhelm von Humboldt’s work at the end of the 18th century is a good example of such a tradition. He placed the idea of Bildung at the centre of his work, it was rooted in a dynamic idea of transforming the idea of the natural and human world while also being oriented toward a model of balance and perfection. It is about the self and the world. The world represented by the unity of nature, culture and society all exerting its power of influence. In this sense, bildung is seen as a reciprocal process of formation between the individual as a self and the world she/he meets actively rather than passively (Fossland, et al. 2015). It suggests self-education as a path to transformation, to strive and change in the process of meeting the world. In words of Humboldt, it is about uniting individual and culture in a rich mutual and complex interplay.
Paola Giacomoni puts it in beautiful words,

Being is Bildung for Humboldt, it is growth, it is transformation, it is never a given thing, a quality. The point is not to recognize and identify a state, a condition or a situation but rather to understand the continuous substitution of forms, the never ending metamorphosis, the unstoppable flow in which the human world may be adequately illustrated. (…) What moves the world and history moves man above all, pressing him to act and express himself as a primary need and with no other goal than the reproduction of his own movement and research: man as part of nature is impulse, energy, an irresistible longing to live in a multi-form way.

Being educated or ‘becoming’, how I see it, is a concept encompassing but subjective knowledge as Kierkegaard calls it; it includes a broad cultural orientation, the understanding of science and technology, and a cultivation of the fine arts. All of this shall bring transformation and, in words of Reindal (2012), thus foster responsibility.  In this sense being literate (the word comes from the Latin word litteratus: learned, cultured, educated) is a necessary condition for knowledge to become subjective, a necessary condition to be able to understand the world and act on it, or at least that part of the world that is available to us, and participate proactively in society, taking responsibility for our transformation thus, societies’ change.
Contextualising this idea of bildung in the academic world, Fossland et al. (2015) are of the idea that in higher education there is a particular form of bildung that is expected to happen in the student in formal and informal learning. They call it ‘academic bildung‘. The world students will meet is one of ideas, thoughts and practices. The authors argue that it is a normative concept, an idea with which I agree as it is loaded with values, it is linked with specific attitudes used in concrete situations. It is, therefore, a concept that describes a developmental process towards something better, a normative ideal in an educational setting. It is linked with critical thinking, society-oriented reflections, how Solberg and Hansen (2015) calls it, and autonomy. But it is also connected with self-development and existential reflections hence the development of the individual is not only concerned with knowledge but also with cultural sensibility linking the individual’s development with his/her wider potential through education. It seems to me that bildung and the development of greater potential are intrinsically related.
And it is precisely in the suggestion of developing more full potential where the idea of flourishing makes sense. The word flourish is derived from the Latin word florere, flourish, blossom, be prosperous. My idea is that developing the knowledge and digital skills that will enable students to interact critically with the world and the cultural reality they live in –a post-digital culture in this case- they are more able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a digital mediated and knowledge driven society but at the same time being critical enough to think and speak from within their perspective and not only from the drivers of the labour market and other more deterministic agendas.
The link between digital literacies and progress still needs more development…

  • The idea of Bildung of the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Oslo
  • Bruford, W.H. The German Tradition of Self Cultivation. From Humboldt to Thomas Mann (I only accessed today the pages available online, there is much to read when the book arrives 🙂 )
  • Fossland, T., Mathiasen, H., and Solberg, M. (2015). Academic Bildung in Net-based Higher Education. Moving beyond learning.
  • Giacomoni, P. (1998). Paideia as Bildung in Germany in the Age of the Enlightenment. Paper given at the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, in Boston, Massachusetts  August 1998. Available here
  • LLanera, T.A. ((2011). Shattering Tradition: Rorty on Edification and Hermeneutics. Kritike, Vol.5 (1). pp. 108-116.
  • Reindal, S. (2013). Bildung, the Bologna Process, and Kierkegaard’s Concept of Subjective Thinking. Stud Philos Educ (2013) 32:533–549. Available from here

What’s Happening in ‘Their Space’?

It is so nice to come across like-minded researchers with whom I share with out knowing it my own ideas about education and learning.
Article: What’s Happening in ‘Their Space’? Exploring the Borders of Formal and Informal Learning with Undergraduate Students of Education in the Age of Mobile Technologies
Source: What’s Happening in ‘Their Space’? Exploring the Borders of Formal and Informal Learning with Undergraduate Students of Education in the Age of Mobile Technologies

Learning in the wild and open, like Skywhales -#Blimage

love + passion + research + craft + creativity + adaptation + challenge 
I was invited last week to give a seminar at the NUIGalway by @catherincronin. The Arts Festival was running that week, and we went together to RelativityPatricia Piccini’s exhibition.

Later in the week I went to hear her talk about another piece of art she had created, the Skywhale, which is the one in the picture, this time in Galway’s landscape 🙂
This #blimage post is inspired by this talk.
She said things that I relate with what educators are experiencing within this cultural shift. She explained that whales are mammals, and normally mammals are animals that live on land but somehow this special creatures have adapted to a different environment, namely the sea. Patricia has gone further, she has in her creation, brought whales up to the air in the form of a balloon!
We, as educators, have lived most of our lives in a closed and safe environment: the classroom, where we had fixed resources to teach deciding what and how to teach it. The classroom, as a safe closed space-the land of mammals- has been changing dramatically and educators and even learners, are adapting to this new open digital ecosystem, an ecology of abundance-the sea- which is not only different because it is digital but also because it is an open and wild space, as the sea. We need different skills to adapt to this new environment, to evolve like whales did in order to move at ease in this new fluid space, where boundaries are sometimes unclear and difficult to identify.
Fluidity is a new condition that characterises modern times, as Bauman brilliantly puts it:

(…) fluids do not keep to any shape for long and are constantly ready (and prone) to change it; and so for them it is the flow of time that counts, more than the space they happen to occupy; that space, after all, they fill but  ‘for a moment’

Whales are dynamic and mobile when swimming and splashing, giving us a magic sensation of lightness despite their huge dimensions. This agility is what I argue educators need to develop, always ready to embrace change, maybe not knowing all the answers nor the path to go, but accepting the challenge to adapt and flow in the open and wild sea, finding clues and daring to take risks. 
We need to understand how to embrace the wild and the open, how to manage our vulnerability when we curate, remix and share our ideas, which are some times still in the making but ready to be seen, therefore to be criticised. In the open we are much more exposed and it would be desirable to learn how to cope with this. We ought to embrace this new culture in which our students are growing up, but where many of us are late comers, with lungs instead of gills. It is a scary task but unavoidable in order to adapt and rearrange to become Skywhales, agile educators of the future!
Piccini said: 

I wanted it to be an artwork that took advantage of the opportunities that the balloon form offered

I think this is what educators ought to do: take advantage of the opportunities that this new digital and technology-mediated world has to offer and transform our former structures maybe, from solid to liquid! 
And if we live long enough we will need to adapt again and again. From the land to the sea and up to the sky! 

The University as a third space?

The University as a third space?
I am after an idea that will allow me to define and characterise the space students are going to design and hopefully live in for a longer period of time to make it sustainable for them. It seems to me there is something to take from Ray Oldemburg‘s work on ‘third places’.
Complementing to it is the metaphor of liquidity used by Bauman in his characterisation of modernity.  Bauman, a key theorist in pot-modernity thinks that social forms and institutions no longer have enough time to solidify and cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long–term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organise their lives. They have to splice together an unending series of short–term projects and episodes that don’t add up to the kind of sequence to which concepts like ‘career’ and ‘progress’ could meaningfully be applied. Such fragmented lives require individuals to be flexible and adaptable (agile in my words) – to be constantly ready and willing to change tactics at short notice, to abandon commitments and loyalties without regret and to pursue opportunities according to their current availability. In liquid modernity the individual must act, plan actions and calculate the likely gains and losses of acting (or failing to act) under conditions of endemic uncertainty. In line with this description of society is the work of Carlo Giovanella who argues for liquid spaces in an organic era. I aim to come to my own version soon!