A Reflection on Robin DeRosa’s #PaLa2018 Keynote

For the past few days, I’ve been trying to read a keynote I was anxiously awaiting, mostly because Robin had promised to break the mold of her previous keynotes:

(The entire thread stemming from the above tweet is worth reading BTW)

This morning I finally read the entirety of Robin’s keynote speech (found here for faster access):

As I read the keynote, I was inspired by so many ideas, some of them new and some long stewing in my brain.

I would call Robin’s keynote powerful, not just in the lyrical sense as she connected concrete with abstract through poetry and prose, but in the cognitive sense – teasing out the ideas we know (and those we don’t) through an embedded theme we can at once understand. Because what is a powerful keynote if not a way to connect the frayed ends of new ideas with those thoroughly contemplated within and by the audience?

Our challenge, of course, is to take those new connections and put them into action. And that’s where this blog begins its real discourse, There are four quotes, in particular, taken from Robin’s keynote, that have connected my frayed idea ends.

 

“What I do know, is that our stories, and our humanity, and our relationships– these are things that are so powerful that they bind us to our communities and our places in ways that move, enrage, fulfill, comfort, and challenge us.” (Robin DeRosa #PaLa2018 Keynote)

My life has centered on relationships and stories. In fact, recently I wrote about how fundamental these two concepts have been in my life. But this quote is more than just the concepts or their connections, it’s the way those concepts are tied to space and place with emotional, spiritual, and physical means. The relationships we build in person, online, both, or in some other way form communities of learning, discourse, sometimes difficulty, and friendship. The stories we tell, share, and curate help us process and reflect upon those relationships and communities; they also tie our communities together in common language. Our relationships, our communities, and our stories help us embrace the messy, creative liminal space in which human existence thrives. And they help us continue to become.

 

“This for me, is at the heart of open education.

Open to the past.

Open to the place.

Open at the seams.

Open to the public.” (Robin DeRosa #PaLa2018 Keynote)

My recent dive into embracing open pedagogy has been a result of being able to REALLY contemplate my pedagogy in the midst of time and space created by my semester off (due to my health issues). I have been stewing for awhile on the idea of open pedagogy due to a wealth of influences, including reading Paying the Price by Sara Goldrick-Rab, encouragement by Twitter friends like MahaBonnie, Chuck, Jesse, SeanRobin, and Karen, and decree by CNM’s administration. but only recently have I tried to integrate open pedagogy with my current pedagogical practice, which is fairly open but not student-centered enough. I wrote more about my ideas for pedagogical integration here.

Yet Robin’s quote centers on four words – past, place, seams, and public – of which I’ve only really previously contemplated two – place and public. Centering open pedagogy on seams makes me think of an idea I’ve really been grooving on lately – how to “break” ______ (fill in the blank with any idea you choose – college, open pedagogy, collaboration, design). In design, this groovy idea is called “Wrong Theory” (the link takes you to a post where I detail the wrong theory ideation we did for a project in instructional design because googling it came up with SO little). Learning how something is stitched together allows you to break the stitches and redesign it, so understanding the seams of open pedagogy allows one the flexibility to embrace the aspects of open that fit best for them. And that is indeed a powerful connection I had not seen before.

Centering open pedagogy on the past is an idea I need to engage with more as I try to build my newest iteration of my teaching pedagogy, which embraces my past while building on my future. More to come on that front in the future.

 

“We can engage in open pedagogical practices to highlight students as contributors to the world of knowledge, and to shape a knowledge commons that is a healthier ecosystem for learning than a system that commercializes, paywalls, or gates knowledge.” (Robin DeRosa #PaLa2018 Keynote)

I’m haunted by this tweet by Marie, which was prompted by Chuck Pearson‘s excellent blog detailing his renewed academic purpose, which focuses on open, collaborative, student-led pedagogy.

How can we teach classes that are collaborative not only amongst the students involved in that specific class section but also a larger group of students and scholars? How do we encourage and empower authentic student contributions to a larger world of knowledge? How do we make learning not only real and tangible but also long-term and creative?

These are questions I’ve long pondered with relatively little headway made, especially digitally. Until I found critical digital pedagogy and open pedagogy, which are really sister pedagogies. I am inspired by the ways we can help students contribute to a knowledge commons, and, in turn, inspire them and ourselves to believe that the web can function not just in privatized commercial ways but in public “for the greater good” kinds of ways. Much like academic and public libraries already do. And this is what Robin’s quote discusses – how do we make the web more like libraries (in their mission and output)?

 

“But technology also sabotages a lot of our human connections: infiltrates them with impersonating bots; manipulates and monetizes them for corporate gain; subverts them for agendas that undercut the network’s transparency; skews the flow toward the privileged and cuts away the margins inhabited by the nondominant voices– the perspectives that urge change, improvement, growth, paradigm shift. So it’s not the technology, just like it’s not the cost-savings, that matters.” (Robin DeRosa #PaLa2018 Keynote)

I recently read an article in Real Life Magazine by Chris Gilliard called “Friction-Free Racism”. Chris and several others, including Tressie McMilan Cottom and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, have given me the gift of understanding that the technology we use and the code that drives that technology are inherently flawed and systematically embedded with dehumanizing data. As Chris explains:

“The ability to define one’s self and tell one’s own stories is central to being human and how one relates to others; platforms’ ascribing identity through data undermines both.” (Chris Gilliard, Friction-Free Racism)

and, more so,

“Once products and, more important, people are coded as having certain preferences and tendencies, the feedback loops of algorithmic systems will work to reinforce these often flawed and discriminatory assumptions. The presupposed problem of difference will become even more entrenched, the chasms between people will widen.” (Chris Gilliard, Friction-Free Racism)

Inherent bias is woven into our technologies by its creators, who are mainly white men. When we use the technologies to “make our lives easier”, those technologies keep us from interacting more fully with one another, undermining our own cultural and relational bridges. This idea is essentially what Robin is saying in the quote above. And “what matters” (as Robin eludes to in the end of the quote), then, is that we go the extra mile or two to empower our relationships and our cultural and relational bridges in the midst of (and in spite of) the technology that stands in our way.

We cannot allow status quo for our technology future. Because, if we do…

“The apps and interfaces create an environment where interactions can happen without people having to make any effort to understand or know each other.” (Chris Gilliard, Friction-Free Racism)

And that would be devastating to us all.

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