by Moyan Brenn

A vision for a PARCMOOC (pronounced: PARK MOOC)

Okay, yes, the name is ridiculous. But I think there’s something in this idea. I want to mashup Participatory Action Research (PAR) and a Connectivist MOOC (cMOOC). I have a few topics in mind, but the organizing idea is actually most important to me at this point. The fact that it could be called a “PARC MOOC” makes me think of getting out, being outside, being with others in public, and I think that’s good imagery to start with.

I see Participatory Action Research as a methodology that has ethical implications for research practice. Ethically, it shifts social research from being about other people to research as an everyday practice we do with other people to change the political, social, cultural, and economic circumstances of our lives. It’s not empowering, it’s offering tools to be self-determining. There’s tons of writing that supports this shift on the grounds that it is a kind of research that really respects people. I also added the phrase “everyday practice”, because I think in the world we live in (especially in the West) requires research to skillfully and effectively navigate it. I agree with Arjun Appadurai’s assertion that research can no longer be considered a skill that scholars gain over time, but a right to which we all have access (See Appadurai – the Right to Research). Continue reading

#OpenTogether: A Proposal for the Study & Practice of Openness

I joined the #OpenSource and Maker movements in my early teenage years, when I began building computers and teaching myself to write software, first in HTML and Basic, then Javascript and PHP and CSS. The Learning With New Media study entitled Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out tells the story my growing involvement in my teenage years with computers and the world of open source. I taught myself (and learned with friends) how to code, how to fix computers, how to build computers, and I gained a whole lot of practical experience programming. More importantly, I learned to be an autodidact. I’m always surprised when people tell me, “I don’t know how to do X.” I often respond with a friendly query: “Have you tried Googling it?” It’s my first default when it comes to learning something new. And if I’m interested enough, I pursue those new ideas with some serious tenacity. Continue reading

#OpenSource Everything

I’ve been spending little fragments of free time over the last several years engaging with Maker and Open Source communities. For a long time, I’ve seen them as part of claiming a more open, democratic (in real, everyday democracy kind of terms) way of life. The ideas I see behind both movements are: (1) we can build it ourselves, (2) we can do it better when we do it with others, (3) what we share will be multiplied, expanded upon, and will come back to us better than we could have imagined it, and (4) we can invite others to learn and participate.

When I was a teenager, open source was a fledgling movement. You could use Linux, but you really had to be a pretty decent hacker to get things working and keep them that way. Mostly though, you had to pay hundreds of dollars for software like operating systems, media editors, word processors, and so forth. Now, all of it is available for free. And you can edit and modify it to suit your needs. And, better yet, that invitation is no longer an empty one — there are many people making it easier than ever to learn to program.

I’m very inspired by the #FutureOfOpen conference that occurred today in London. It was organized by the group: http://www.oi-london.org.uk/. I love the idea of open sourcing a city and its commons. I especially appreciate the list of Open Domains at the bottom of this page http://www.oi-london.org.uk/what.

I’m working on a piece right now about the interactions between Makers, MOOCs, and learning. I posted on it preliminarily on the July 2 Group blog. It seems as though Open Source is officially moving beyond a movement that is “gaining steam” and has entered the “main stream.”

An Apology, a Purpose, and a Fragment: Ways and Modes of Grappling with Ideas

When I created this blog, the original purpose was to engage the unfinished, draft fragments of my work. I had two primary purposes. The first was simply to challenge academic processes of production which recognize work as either in process (and therefore relatively secret) or as finished/published (and therefore complete, unchanging, and static). The second was to recognize that my work is–in a “working” or “finished” form–always presenting and representing only fragments of me, fragments that I choose to make public.

I’ve failed at both of these in a particularly telling way. I continue to think of things I might post, only to stop myself in the process, thinking it is “not quite read yet.” Therefore, there aren’t fragments of my production or fragments of my process of becoming and self-representation. There is only an occasional post of things moving toward “completion.”

I’d like to disrupt that trend here and now with a first fragment. It is a mini-project rooted in my readings of several introductions to commentaries on Gilles Deleuze (who I plan to grapple with in detail this summer). In each of these introductions, some attention was paid to the ways that he wrote and talked about his writing. I was struck, in particular, about Deleuze making the claim that his work on other philosophers was an act of grabbing them “by the middle.” This was striking as a way of reading, contrasting with analytic (which I might characterize as searching for a string of more or less logical arguments) and continental (a search for hidden, absent, present signifiers through close readings) modes of engaging a text or work. Another example I borrow from scholar Eve Tuck, who writes about Deleuze in education, talking about Deleuze being “relentlessly scalar” — an idea that also captured my imagination.

So I began thinking it would be useful to have a list of the different modifiers you can use on ideas, to twist out nuances in your readings and writings. The points where I write “vs.” below are a pretty simplistic approximation trying to articulate that there is some tensionality between these two positions. One way to articulate the purpose of this mini-project is that it works at some of the phenomenological experiences associated with ideas and our experiencing of ideas.

Without further delay, here is the beginning of my list. I welcome suggestions.

  • Harden v soften
  • Clarity v stuttering
  • Scaling
  • Translating
  • By the middle (Deleuze) vs. hidden signifiers vs. analytic.
  • Spatial
  • Territorial vs deterritorial
  • Regional
  • Smooth vs striated
  • Tree vs rhizome
  • Normative vs resistant
  • Conscious vs unconscious
  • Empty vs full
  • Firm solid vs unstable
  • Connective v disconnective
  • Opacity
  • Singularity
  • Multiplicity
  • Active vs reactive
  • Rigid vs malleable
  • Texture
  • Complex vs simplify
  • Pitch – flat vs sharp
  • Crunchy, chewy, soft
  • Alive v dead
  • Attractive vs ugly
  • Abstract vs sensual
  • Engaging vs distant
  • Revealing vs obfuscating
  • Light vs heavy
  • Light vs. dark
  • Clean v messy
  • Internal v external
  • Inside v outside
  • Intellectual vs lived / experienced
  • degrees of Pressure
  • Being v. doing
  • Speed up vs. slow down
  • Bulleting
  • Countour, line, point

The Social Worker as Capacity Builder: A Proposal for Radical Professional Change (Draft of Ideas)

Sunset on the Prairie

Social work practice and research are divided, contested spaces. There are many divisions in social work, and in my education at both the masters and Ph.D. level, these divisions occupy an incredible amount of our time and energy. In the arena of practice, we construct arguments between micro and macro practice; between different models of case work, individual, and group therapy. In research, we argue about qualitative and quantitative research, about our values, and about Evidence-Based Practice. In fact, we are so wrapped up in these conversations that I think we often forget (or maybe even choose to forget) that all of these debates are based on a lot of assumptions. We argue about research based on social work values and practitioner’s wisdom versus evidence-based practice, but we forget in both of these frames, social work is still most often about working for people, rather than working with them. Working for is a synonym for “working on behalf of.” It can be seen structurally in the relationship between practitioner and client, where the practitioner is in a position of power over someone else, regardless the ways they attempt to mediate that power in their relationship. Working with is a way of struggling with other members of the human race to create a society that is more just, peaceful, and healthy. This is not simply a distinction between micro and macro level social work. Many community organizers work for people when they go to oppressed communities and try to mobilize them (this is common with union organizers). While some social workers might be comfortable with the idea of working for people, I see working for as another way of living out the hegemony of wealth and social class. I’m not the first to make this argument, in fact it is an argument deeply embedded within the history of the pre-profession and profession of social work (Reisch and Andrews, 2002).

Continue reading

Why deal with the “hard stuff” in class?

Or, the danger of sterilizing education (Reblogged from UMinn Techniques in Teaching and Learning)

 

“So, what did you learn?”

I asked this recently of a former student become a friend as we were sitting together in my office. She was catching me up on her previous semester, specifically an interesting class on the history of science.

“You know, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton… How science changed through all of those things.”

“Sounds interesting. Did you learn about eugenics?” I ask.

This question has been present on my mind as soon as she started talking about the course. Maybe it was growing up Jewish that made me particularly attentive to this question, or maybe it was my education in ethics. Either way, it felt like an important thing to learn about in a course purportedly training our future scientists about their historical roots.

“No, what’s that?”

“The scientific movement that provided the ammunition for Hitler’s attempted extermination of the Jews and the forced sterilization of mentally ill people in the United States and indigenous people in Australia.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Did you learn about IQ? How it was used to justify racism?”

“No…”

Social Darwinism?”

“No… We probably should have learned these things, huh?”

Yeah. Probably. Continue reading

How I Organize All My Data Across 2 MacBooks, an iPad, and a phone: My Academic and Personal Workflow

I’ve been getting a bunch of questions about how I use my iPad for academic stuff, which leads to the broader question of how I integrate my academic and technological lives. I’ll try to answer that briefly here (though I’m still happy to talk with you about it).

Cloud Storage — The Backbone of My Workflow

Cloud storage serves as the backbone of my workflow. For Cloud storage, I variously use Google Drive, SugarSync, Dropbox, iCloud, and Box.net. These applications are on my home MacBook, work MacBook, iPad, and phone. They keep all of my relevant files synchronized. My primary computer is my home MacBook, so it is host to many more documents than my other devices. As such, it is backed up regularly to an external hard drive using Mac OS X’s Time Machine. This way, I ensure that all of my files are backed up, and all relevant working files are synchronized across all of my devices.

I use iCloud for Apple’s iCloud based services: Notes, Reminders, Contacts, Documents (Pages, Keynote, Numbers), Photos & Photo Stream, and backup for the iPhone and iPad. When you upgrade to iOS 5 (or soon iOS 6), iCloud should be part of the setup process. Using up to 5GB of space on iCloud is free, but more than that will cost you (though it is cheap). iCloud does not yet have a general file storage feature, so I can’t use it for most of my other needs. Continue reading

Learning from Early Childhood Education – Two Pedagogy Nerds Contemplate What Higher Ed Might be Overlooking

Co-Written with Marisol Brito. Originally posted at the University of Minnesota’s Techniques in Teaching and Learning blog.

Learning from Early Childhood Educational Practices

My son has just turned three and, as a self-proclaimed pedagogy nerd it is not surprising that I currently geek-out by reading up on Magda Gerber or the Reggio Emilia approach to childhood education  or checking out similarly-minded counterparts in the blogosphere.

While reading a recent post by preschool blogger extraordinaire TeacherTom – who advocates for alternative, engaging educational practices that emphasize his status as a co-equal with his students – I was struck by parallels between his pedagogy and the kinds of things I teach my University-level ethics students about how human beings ought to be treated.

Although I originally came to these resources as a parent, I have been thinking about how deeply ideas from early childhood education have resonated with me as a teacher in Higher Education. These ideas include:

  • valuing young people as equals regardless of age or experience,
  • helping young people acquire an internal sense of accomplishment as opposed to responding to extrinsic rewards, and
  • caring for young people as whole persons. Continue reading

“The Educative Committee”

I was sitting this evening with a small group of students that are working as TAs for one of the classes I am teaching this Fall semester. On one of our many tangents, we spoke about one of our students and talked about how we had each relayed information about our interactions with this student to each other. The interaction reminded me of a paper I wrote a while back which I called “The Educative Committee.” My idea was that every student, every young person, should have a number of different people looking out for their learning and growth from a number of different perspectives. These people should be in constant communication, updating, supporting, and challenging each other to help each individual student grow.

At the time I wrote the paper, I recall feeling like something of an idealist. Yes, it was a great idea, but honestly, how could this ever happen? The simple logistics of having such a conversation are impossible, not to mention all the work that would be done to have to convince anyone that this was worthwhile. Impossible. Yet, here we were, doing just that. I quickly realized that this is what we do in our program generally. Once you are a student, you are welcomed into our community, and then each of us is looking out for your growth and development as much as possible.

So, why not do this more broadly? Maybe teachers should act less as instructors and more as conveners — bringing together the people necessary to move each person forward in their own learning trajectories. Certainly, there are many adults (and youth) interested in helping in our classrooms. Why not bring them in as learning mentors? Why not start building “educative committees” (though I suppose I like the term learning committees more).

I also find this inspiring because it puts everyone in the position of being an educator. If we are in someone’s life, we are also a part of their “learning committee”, and therefore are responsible for thinking about how they might grow, or what we might teach them.

My Definition of “Engagement” for Imagining America 2011 (word limit)

Rather than engagement, which evokes a sense that we are focusing on something static, completed, or defined, my experience in community work has centered around engaging – an ongoing and fluid process of engagement. In my experience, engaging involves a process of defying social expectations in ways that provide real space for connection. This can happen in coffee shops, community centers, or lecture halls. I notice it with a particular barista at a favorite coffee shop who asks, ―”What are you doing today?” rather than ―”How are you?” This change of question invokes a profoundly different interaction. Engaging comes in many forms. After a violent shooting at a community center in which I was working, a young person who had prior barely spoken a word to me for months asked if I was scared. Answering ―”yes” was engaging, taking a stand of my own (rather than the stand I was expected to take) and revealing my own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Opportunities to engage are everywhere, with people of all kinds, in any context. While these opportunities may be planned, engaging is an active choice, made in the moment, to be vulnerable and open.