Day 3 did not let up at all – Digital Redlines – #DigPed 2017

Going into it I thought day 3 may let up a little bit. After the breadth of conversations and activities of the first two days I needed some chill time. Sean encouraged us to take this time in his opening remarks, but I’m pretty stubborn. Although it is a long week, it is but a week, and I want to squeeze every possible thing out of this. I want to do everything longer – to listen, to think, to share, to build, to watch, to hug, to write. I have waited so long to be here at UMW during a DPLI that I just want all the things! ALL THE THINGS!

It may be overwhelming (and I become overwhelmed very quickly), but I feel that I need to take as much in as I can and document as much as I can in my idiosyncratic way. However, during our pair coding sessions (we’re mostly just working our way through this free online text) my coding partner Theresa and I mostly just slowly really try to understand what we are doing over plowing through it. 

Meeting so many smart and critical people for the first time inspires me. Seeing people I’ve only met virtually in the flesh for the first time inspires me. Listening to people talk about the challenges we all face in so many complex systems inspires me. My goal in sharing my experience here is to reach out to others and find a way to work together to help. My goal is to find ways that I can help and to meet others who can look at me and say: “Hey that Daniel may be able to help us/me/him/her/them with …”

Over the past 3 days I sure have listened a lot and it has been wonderful. Sitting in a room this morning listening to Chris Gilliard outline the many interweaving narratives that are digital redlining was amazing. Beginning in the 1920s and 1930s in his native Detroit, banks decided which neighbourhoods were worthy of investment and which were not. They drew lines based and the neighbourhoods within the red lines were those least worthy of development. There was absolutely no coincidence that those neighbourhoods were people of colour. This approach was not limited to Detroit of course – the whole country had its redlined districts. In many places you can still see this clear distinction – on a street divided by one of these lines the disparity is obvious. One side may have a million dollar house while the other side has abandoned townhouses.

As Chris described the physical spaces where zoning lines are clear because of the conditions of roads and buildings directly across the street from one another, my mind moved again to how physical and virtual worlds are intimately intertwined. How spaces on the internet look so different depending on why/how/when you enter them. If you can even enter them at all. We talked about firewalls limiting access and how prestigious schools have more open access than not. We talked about how many people making decisions about access don’t even understand how the internet works. And Chris asked this question, which I think opens up so many interesting conversations:

What is legal that you shouldn’t have access to on campus?

We talked about all the things. After all of these challenging and rewarding ideas, we all smiled as I grabbed my selfie stick and we took our first #DataLit group selfie:

(I’m leaving out a whole bunch of awesome that Bill Fitzgerald brought in the afternoon. His work and approach to data is just wonderful. And he is by turns hilarious and touching.)

Borrowing notes & memos – Day 2 from #DigPed 2017 #FXBG

Things heated up today. Before I could jump into the keynote, I had to call into the New Faculty Orientation session happening at Davidson College. There’s an interesting group of new faculty and our Instructional Design team had a chance to talk about our work and aspirations. We have a pretty cool team: Kyo Koo, Brian Little, Robert McSwain, and Sundi Richard. As different faculty spoke, my mind moved into different ways that the things I am learning in the DataLit track are so DIRECTLY applicable to what will come in the next weeks, months, and years. A “screengrab” from said session:

In many conferences I have been known to take many group selfies, but I didn’t take any day one. Day two brought us my first “wefie” of the conference:

 

Sadly I missed almost all of Adeline Koh’s keynote. Will watch and reflect later, but as the day went on several peeps were beaming from it, so I can only assume it was all the awesomez.

 

After the keynotes we had a discussion of … all the keynotes. Now, I still haven’t even touched on how crazy smart, reflective, and varied are those in my cohort. They are those things. And we are also studying many of the scary things that are about sharing your data on teh internetz. For me at least, these twists and roundabouts are equally exhilarating and exasperating. As a species we have built up such complex systems to engage and gauge and share our selves, yet our bias(es) permeate everything we do. During one of our exercises I thought for a long period (and therefore probably zoned on a bunch of other stuff) on the etymology of the word “data”. Don’t want to “Dansplain”* this here, but data comes from the Latin “datum” – something given. So the origins of this term do not align with the contemporary idea of data, or at least not with 100% transparently. What is “something given” if you do not know to whom the thing is being given? And yes, in an age with so many security settings and ways of finding data, are we not more blindly surrendering our data at points?

So. Our #DataLit track talked about the keynotes. So heavy. I came in late, as I wanted to publish my first day’s reflection on DigPed before way further eschewing my views. During that session I listened – I don’t think I said a single word. And I did not fall asleep. For those of you who really know me you must know this was a true feat. But I did it and it was f**king awesome. So many smart ideas from cool peeps. Part of the coolest part of the day is I got to “steal” all of the great notes that Adrienne Lapierre is taking during our track. Looking over here notes helped me remember some things I’d already forgotten AND see some things from a different perspective. Her data collection lens is quite different from my own – meaning she actually has one :P

Really looking forward to the workshops on day 3 and the Virtually connecting sessions as well. Its going to be a long full week for sure.

Hellos, Intros, & Memos from #DigPed 2017

 

I’m finally here. For years I have been part of Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute (DPLI) community – perhaps not a major contributor to the larger body of work, but an enthusiastic collaborator and instigator at turns. Two years ago I yearned to be at the first DPLI in Madison – I watched from afar as so very many of the people whose work I found challenging and lovely at the same time shared the same physical space. Last year I was extremely lucky to be part of DigPedPei and even delivered a workshop on dataviz. But this year I am in the heart of it. The University of Mary Washington  – the birthplace of #DoOO and the current working space of so many totally awesome people. When I met Jim Groom for the first time In The Flesh (ITF) he espoused on his history at UMW (a lot of which I had mostly lurked on from teh internetz) and many of the cool projects and people he had (and does) work with. It was all so very far off though. A land I never thought I would one day visit. But here I am now.
Today began with hugs and hellos to bodies I have and/or have not touched somehow before. We should have a rule right? If you share a bunch of laughs and love and thoughts on teh internetz and then you meet someone for the first time → hug! You don’t have to hug forever and deeply, but even a shoulder to shoulder tap. Unless people really know you’re not a hugger, or it is not appropriate for you to hug for whatever reasons, in which case you get a warm and greeting pair of hands. Such a great feeling to forego the normal handshake. My day started like this – with hugs and an awesome pair of welcoming hands.

And then it began – with a kind and welcoming message from @slamteacher that spawned these tweets:

 

Sean Michael Morris’ work has consistently been a beacon for me as an instructional designer and even more just as a human. His work has constantly been a voice for the empathy we SHOULD all have. His voice is aspirational and his sentiments and praxis inspirational. After Sean’s introduction, we moved onto an ice breaker activity led by Jesse Stommel. It was so much fun. Our task: get into pairs and, using a bunch of lego pieces on our tables, construct the avatar of your partner. Here are some of the results:

After going through the exercises and thinking some, there are several pedagogical implementations with this create your own avatar exercise. You could use it as an icebreaker exercise at the beginning of a class to get students to engage in a variety of narrative discourses. For me, my avatar was a reflection of myself in a variety of ways and right after this, someone suggested how interesting it would be to use the avatars as a way of trading and swapping pieces with others. So many possibilities.

After this we went into our tracks and I am soooo happy to be in the Data Literacies track. We started out with an ice breaker exercise which was hosted on GitHub. It was the basic “find someone who” exercise, but with the twist at the end of the exercise we reported back on others. This was an interesting way of introducing each other instead of introducing yourself. It also got to the core of what the data literacies track is about: how data can be reported, built on, manipulated, and shared. Kris Shaffer is openly sharing all of our schedule so have a look and do all the stuff you want to.

My last takeaway from the track is we were asked to read an article by Danah Boyd. As Kris had sent out the schedule in advance, I thought I would be a good student and read in advance. Opening the article in Chrome, I had hypothes.is open and I started going through the article. At one point I noticed this great quote was annotated so I opened up the annotations. What I saw was kind of embarrassing and cool at the same time – I had made a couple notes on the article back in January. So, it is either that my research is so deep that I can’t remember all the things I read, or I am old and my memory sucks. Or something else. It is interesting that this data sat there and then I re-encountered my own data in the data track.

Not sure how the rest of the week will go, but I do know that I am here, with some of my people, in so very many excited ways.

 

Ddigpins, ID, and Another 336699

Today is day 66 on the job at Davidson College as Instructional Designer and the last 33 sure passed faster than the first 33. It has been a fun chunk of time in which there has been tons of great posts from others in the field, a bunch of interesting projects at the college, and one unforgettable conference. My first post of 336699 was focused more on actual projects at the college, where this one will be tangental at points as it attempts to address a few things hanging in the balance.

DDIGPINS Response

Ddigpins is a continuation of #Digpins which aims to help participants cultivate their “digitalness” in (our current instance) Instructional Design. We are running this version on Ddigpins in a bit looser style as it is for the 5 of us Instructional Designers only and it is during summer so vacations/conferences are pacing things out more. Each week a different ID is responsible for the CTA, and last week Robert McSwain asked us to reflect/share on a ‘a ha’ moment when it comes to us starting down the ID path. I thought long and hard after watching his video and failed to come up with my moment. Not from not having one, but from having so many. Instructional Design has been a pseudo-dream job for me as I get to be creative in how I do things, collaborate with smart/cool people, and constantly learn new things. A recent post from Kerry Pinny on learning technologists (essentially IDs) had this great quote about ID work:

I would say my work now is mostly in the bottom five lines here more than the others, but this goes to show how diverse and dynamic ID life can be. Many great posts of late have reflected on the ID praxis and how entirely complicated and complex it is. So maybe that’s MY ‘a ha’ moment – I love doing this work because of its complexities. Over a decade ago when I started my M.Ed.Tech, I met an ID community online and realized how interestingly diverse their projects/positions were. I’d found a line of work that incorporated many of the things I loved as an educator and required many elements of my creative background as well.  I’ll write more on this later I’m sure.

DDIGPINS CTA

As this week is my turn to spark and engage the team, I thought I would talk about something I am quite excited about – D-D-D-D-D-DOMAINS! Domain of One’s Own (#DoOO) has been running at Davidson for a few years now with some courses requiring students to have a domain for their projects. ITS has decided to push DoOO as an “anchor” technology which means we need to build out a bunch of pieces for creating awareness around various initiatives.

One of the most exciting bits in here is we’re looking at crafting a community portal for all of our Domains. We are looking to pilot this in several courses/disciplines this Fall and are excited at what it will look like. I’ll probably report back on this in the next 336699 post.

For our CTA this week (I’m looking at you idteam_digpins) I would like you all to share and reflect on a social/community site that has been transformational in your work as an ID.

DOMAINS @ DAVIDSON

BACKGROUND

As a pseudo continuation of my CTA, the project I’ve been working on most is domains.davidson.edu Over the past couple months I have been getting more and more involved with our Domains at Davidson initiative. Before and after the Domains17 conference we have been looking at ways to create more of a sense of community around our Domains initiatives. Over the past month we have chatted with Tom Woodward and Jim Groom about adapting some work they’ve done at other colleges. We would like to create a community site where all of our domains can interact with each other and be social somehow. Our community pages will have a variety of ways to filter posts and content.

NEXT STEPS

We have meetings and consults set up with internal and external people over the next few weeks. For the next few months we will focus on building more literacies around Domains through class visits and consults. As we build out our resources we will focus on scaffolding the community pieces into messaging.

HOW MANY DAYS UNTIL NEXT PROJECT

Our first big meeting was today. There are many others planned, but we will focus on some pilot projects first and build out from there. Will defo report back on this in the next 336699.

Unpacking from/through/about Domains17

I left Oklahoma bursting. Still am really. After two and a half days with people/ideas/purplepenguins at #Domains17, I was full of all of the stories. On the evening before the conference began we were dropped at 21c Museum Hotel in Oklahoma City which is a converted Ford model T plant. We had dinner there that night and then moseyed over to Flashback Retro Pub for some coin op madness. On top of pulling a draw with Jim Groom on two heated Track and Field matches, I had some great conversations with friends old and new and some for the very first time in the flesh (ITF). Everyone was abuzz with the two days to come and we talked at length about many Domainy things – art, games, music, writing, architecture, research, food, and locations. It left me feeling lifted.

On the first morning there was a “Domains Fair” which was an eclectic mix of Domain of One’s Own (#DoOO) based initiatives at a variety of institutions. Said fair was DJed via #ds106radio and felt at once intense and cozy. If I had but one takeaway here it is the work Laura Taub (and others) are doing with #DomainsResist at Muhlenberg College. It is the most important work of archiving protest. Although I didn’t get to see the session on the second day based around this, the twitter feed afforded me to see: “Take back the archive. Take back the web. Tell untold stories. Make [campus] history.” These ideas really pushed me to think about how we should try and frame every project we work on.

To this point I am often asked: What is a domain? OR What is this Domains thing I keep hearing about? Depending on context and who is asking, I explain the history of DoOO and touch on Domain Literacy a bit, but I’ve never had a “go to” structure/response. Using the Cynefin framework to help talk through this, we could say Domains fall into all of the areas: Simple because it is “just” a website, Complicated as it allows you to structure multiple areas for sharing and exploration, Complex for there are an endless number of ways that it can be used as part of your digital identity, and chaotic – I’m not exactly sure how to describe this bit. My thoughts on Domains veer into many directions depending on the context, but Martha Burtis’ keynote helped me more clearly articulate an approach and structure with which to look at future projects. Although there were several notable takeaways, I think the main one was her breakdown of the four key components to DoOO: Naming, Building, Breaking, and Knowing. In this order, one could perfectly (and problematically at the same time) map out the cynefin framework as well – Name (simple/best practice-ish), Build (complicated decisions around apps and direction), Break (adding subdomains, using aggregators, reaching audiences), and finally Knowing (our ever chaotic realm of trying to prove we KNOW something and/or what knowing actually means). Refusing to get all philosophical at the moment, I think these four steps align almost perfectly with how I build meaning in my life in general. But that’s a whole other post.

Weaving in and out of conversations at Domains17 was the idea of metaphor. At the beginning of her keynote, Martha Burtis asked us to write down a word or two that we thought described all of the images she used as springboards to ideas. My interpretations of this was to name and then try to attribute pseudo abstract ideas to these pictures. After this, she asked us to think of a physical space that we thought represented the internet using #concreteweb. My initial response I now find lacking. In retrospect I would change my answer to my suitcase. It is a symbol for my wanderlust and potentially how I find the web to be a constantly evolving learning space. As a concrete space it can contain, and has, so many different things and continually gathers traces of its journeys. When I travel/experience/return from trips, I usually leave it open, in plain sight, long enough to fool myself into thinking I have processed many of the elements of that trip. Often times there are new items in it from the trip(s); postcards, stickers, books, shirts, a tie or two. As of this writing my suitcase is still on the floor of my bedroom unpacked. It remains the perfect analogy for my thoughts on Domains17 – open and unfinished.

As a parting thought I would say that Domains is like a lifestyle that one needs to improve no matter how good they think theirs is. Sure they are problematic and messy, but they can at least be an attempt to do share good things with the world. And while that could/should be criticized from many angles, we need to be diligent in our attempts to harness what is positive and critically build on them. There are issues like this in pretty much all edtech conferences, but if Domains is meant to be the “ascendant technology” it aspires to be, we all need to do more to bring diverse voices into the fray, whom domains will potentially best serve and amplify. Although there were many female presenters and attendees, we do have a lot of work to do after #Domains17. We must aspire to write stories that include more students, more POC, and more diversity in general.

Now I am off to read all the reflections others have written about Domains17 and there are many. Over the past month I have intentionally not read anyone else’s reflections so that my piece would remain uninfluenced.

If you’ve read other Domains17 posts which ones are your favourites and why? How can Domains18 intentionally include more diverse narratives?

PS: I must also mention how awesome @brumface‘s approach to organizing dinner. SRLSY! If you ever organize a conference, take her advice!

PSS: If you made it this far, the pic at top is a link ;)

Intentional Practice OR My first 33 days of Instructional Design at Davidson College OR #336699

It is business day 33 at my new job as “Instructional Designer – Quantitative Applications” as part of the Davidson College WildCat tech team. These first weeks have been full of fun events across campus and I feel quite lucky to be warmly welcomed by people here in the Technology and Innovation team, as well as a bunch of faculty, staff, librarians, students, and alumni at various events across campus. It may seem weird to have the exact day count at 33, but ever since I started as an Instructional Designer at UPEI several years ago, I have slotted out my time in 30/60 and 100 day chunks. I thank Dave Cormier for this, as he tasked me at the beginning of my time at UPEI to set goals for each of those marks, and then reset once you get to 100 and do it all again. Having clear markers of some sort is very important. Especially when you’re working in such an odd field as Instructional Design. Whenever someone asks me what I do and I say I’m an ID, it is usually met with confusion and a lot of explaining. But I will talk about this elsewhere.

As day 30 approached, I decided to break my time into 33/66/99 chunks instead of 30/60/100. I won’t break down the logic for this, but it has made me really pay attention to each day and where it falls inside the intervals. Mostly this also helps me to get a feel for what I have done, what I’m looking to do, and what is a bit further off down the line. My main goal when working with people is to amplify their work in the open. When I first meet people I use a variety of frameworks to begin our work together. Using these frameworks, I try to get as much of the work into the open and in my first 33 days here I have found many opportunities to do this. Although A LOT has happened in my first 33 days, I am going to briefly outline 6 projects/classe I’m involved in that have at least parts in the open and how I am excited for their trajectories. Each project will be broken down into: BACKGROUND, NEXT STEPS, and HOW MANY DAYS UNTIL NEXT PROJECT.

Religion 238 – Islamic Cities

BACKGROUND

Religion 238 is a class taught bi-annually by Rizwan Zamir. He has taught the class several times and decided over a year ago that he wanted to use a larger visual component to the course. To (very roughly) paraphrase Rizwan:

Using only text to get to the intricacies of how a city can be a spatial reflection of the empire and religion it is a part of has its limitations. By using some type of mapping assignment, we are able to better represent the actual experiences of people in the city and in the empire.

From my side, I came into the class on my Day 4 (!) which was VERY near the end of the semester. By that point, students had already divided into groups, chosen the cities they were going to map, and done most of their research. There were only 3 weeks left in the semester with students working in different environments as they prepared for final presentations. It was fun to get to work with each group on how to build out their presentations and to learn a bunch of stuff about Mecca, Istanbul, and Jerusalem.

NEXT STEPS

This course won’t be offered again until 2018-2019 so we have a bunch of time to prepare and rethink some approaches. Brian Little and I will be the Instructional Designers working on this project – we’re both pretty pumped to say the least. Also of great interest is that Rizwan is going to start an OER text/site/something based on his Islamic Mysticism in Spring 2017! (Will defo report on this later!)

HOW MANY DAYS UNTIL NEXT PROJECT

99ish for the OER part. 399ish for the next REL238 section.

 

History 306: WOMEN AND GENDER IN U.S. HISTORY TO 1870

BACKGROUND

In my second week here, I was invited to meet with Rose Stremlau about a digital mapping project she wanted her students to do for her HIS 306 class. Over the semester her students transcribed letters from the Davidson Archives written by Mary Lacy from 1855 – 1860. Rose wanted to get some ideas for interesting projects where students could reflect on the letters in a variety of ways. We decided on three separate outputs: word clouds, topographical maps, and blog posts with scans of the letters. Not all of these were shared in the open by students, but the blog itself is a worthy and interesting read. Many of the details make good yarn. And the student reflections are top notch.

NEXT STEPS

Rose is just great fun to work with and we have a few things on both front and back burners. What seems interesting about the HIS 306 class is that the focus will be a bit different each time, so every time it is offered students will make some cool stuff and (hopefully!) share in the open on teh internetz!

HOW MANY DAYS UNTIL NEXT PROJECT

99ish days until Rose’s Fall 2017 courses – I am sure we’ll do something then. Meanwhile, over the summer Rose has alluded to a couple of UBER interesting projects. Stay tuned and I’ll share as it comes up.

 

#HUMDavidson

BACKGROUND

There is a reimagining of how the Humanities are being taught/taken at Davidson. At the end of my second week here, I was invited to take part in a workshop with this as part of the email:

Design session, definitions, short-term and long-term goals, planning, brainstorming, course building, thinking about recruiting, connecting to campus programming, and more. Thinking about our theme for the next three years: REVOLUTION

Those who know me know I LOVE this kind of workshop. I haz all the ideaz! They’re not all GREAT ideas. Some are quite the opposite, but I haz them all. Needless to say it was a VERY FUN exercise. We (meaning @sundilu and I) were brought in primarily to figure out what type of digital mapping/timelining/whatever-ing would happen during the course. We’re still not 100% on what that will look like, but what we did get those 2 days was intros to a bunch of great people.

Of particular fun-ness for me was intros to most of the fellows. There are 10 student fellows who are going to help out during the fall and spring sections. One of my main side projects over the last month has been herding them up individually to make short “promo” videos that are both on the Humanities site and the HUMDavidson youtube channel.

NEXT STEPS

We’re working with a few peeps on campus to make sure that #HumDavidson gets a good look by incoming freshman. Of course, we’ll also be working with the team of faculty teaching the course and the fellows on varied critical instructional design approaches.

HOW MANY DAYS UNTIL NEXT PROJECT

We’ll be visiting this regularly over the summer, but 99ish is when the course kicks off! Of course, I’ll report back before and after then on how its going.

 

Whats this all mean?

Somehow I lost the thread of what my intention was with this post at the very beginning. It was intended to talk about how I am going to be intentional in my practice here and as a response to this post. So here it goes – every 33 business days I plan on updating and adding to a conversation about projects new and old whilst using #336699 and #instructionaldesign. Although this series is not meant to detail/outline/share ALL THE THINGS, it will give a glimpse into some efforts made to be more open and a window into some design processes.

MEANDERING DRAFT AND THE DEAD BIRD BLEEDING ON THE KEYBOARD

MEANDERING DRAFT AND THE DEAD BIRD BLEEDING ON THE KEYBOARD

We five are sitting on the last day of Hybrid Pedagogy Lab PEI during the unconference afternoon session. I am but the scribe of this swirl of ideas voiced in the hope of making sense of the pain we encounter in our varied personal and professional lives. On tap: why don’t people in general understand the value and flow of educational journies.

Blog posts can become conversations. If people respond. Lawrie Phipps had some comments on his blog recently and it shocked him —”Who actually comments on blogs anymore?” he asks. We are sitting at #DigPed PEI discussing annotation and which methods. Scott Robison nods and expresses with his face what we all feel — education is messed right up.

Robin DeRosa is trying to sort out and is concerned about things because she wants to know where the bigger picture work gets done. During a conference, she wants the thought leaders to gather from a variety of industries to gather and get the tough work done.

Lawrie Phipps worries about differentiating between the work self claimed thought leaders and what is actually being done. He takes issue with the noise and sound-bite thought lead-ness of some thought leaders in his beloved UK. These shady figures appear on the keynote circuit and they create an initial buzz, but then fizzle. It reflects poorly on the HigherEd landscape.

How do you differentiate the noise? We need people who want diverse models to structure and design programs. With all of the “awesome” people we have in our lives, how do we get people like Martin Weller to talk to others who want to enact change in higher ed?

There are personal and systemic changents that we share with those around us. How do we shape a more critical systemic group?

#DigPedSystems is what we might need? But Lawrie doesn’t believe that the focus should be on the PED — it should be focused more on the soft skills and “embodiment” as Amy Collier references in her Digital Design work.

We can come to conferences like #DigPed and no matter how oppressed you are can change your individual pedagogies, but systemically you will eventually hit a wall. Our enemies and how we counter them are un-nameable perhaps. Money doesn’t matter. We need to focus on low input high impact projects that affect change and create a need to be fulfilled.

OER may be a way for us to break through some of the barriers. As schools become run more like businesses, the human elements and public service are disappearing. People cannot see the public needs because of the privatization of #HigherEd. Public narratives are fledgling because of education not serving the common good. This lack/abuse of basic literacies have lead to UK being literally torn apart.

We need to find a way to talk to the public about the true possibilities of education.

WHAT HIGHER EDUCATION SHOULD LEARN FROM A SUFJAN STEVENS CONCERT (DRAFT)

This, like all the writing I am now embarking on, is a thought draft — a water cooler conversation starter?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/shashankbhat/

Pretty sure most people will read this piece because they have an affinity for some sort of learning in tertiary spaces, or they, like myself, have been mesmerized by the intricate, playful, and honestly brutal performances of Sufjan Stevens, who has a J in his name that sounds like a Y. Either way it is great to have their (or your) attention on either/both fronts. Over the past few days I have participated in the Digital Pedagogy Lab PEI (#DigPed) and a Sufjan Stevens concert (in Chicago) for the first time, so I thought it pertinent to write on both as they are fresh and (in my mind) linked in some way(s). Looking at the pageantry, conversations, and accessibility present in a Sufjan concert reveals a few interesting calls for HigherEd.

During #DigPed, there were two different tracks: one in digital literacy, one in networks. Both tracks explored various themes and ideas around how technology affordances have intrinsically changed learning spaces. If you are part of these conversations for long enough, certain questions repeat and echo themselves, with a central precept present: How can we solve (primarily student centered) problems in education? Although this question is likely never to be answered, the poking and prodding most people in the education sector always creates dazzling conversations and narratives. Throughout #DigPed smart and caring people try their hardest to reason with and develop more the complexities of education.

CONVERSATIONS By no means a Sufjan fan boy, I do admit to being quite familiar with his most recent album, Carrie and Lowell, which is a beautiful, stark, and captivating meditation on the passing of his mother, and step-father. It is an album at once sad but celebratory, with soft volleys of whispy recants of magical imagery and gutsy recollections of love and pain. An album that you need to pay attention to for it subtly pulls apart modern concepts of interaction using poetic turns of phrase for songs that work as potential song cycles. I will not attempt to depict the content of these songs, but it is very safe to say that there are conversations on this album that are both frank and playful. Honest and sad. Folk and experimental. There is a diversity and inclusivity of viewpoints. One is challenged to reanalyze the direction of a song given different turns of phrase. You ultimately feel like you are listening to, and somehow privy to, a conversation of great importance. Sufjan sings to/through/with you somehow.

This is the main context I brought to the live show and while this piece was present there were so many other conversations happening it was even more compelling and engaging than expected. He opened the evening saying “Welcome to the Sufjan Stevens Community hour” and joked about how he had toured the world for over a year singing mostly about death. He acknowledged how some of his artistic/tortured journey had begun in Chicago and how transformative that was. He asked us to send positive vibes to his co-singer/dancer for she had some health issues with her hip. During the concert he continually revealed himself to be someone who was learning from everything he could. He was frank and honest and humble. He made several mistakes, but just kept playing through them. He told us that we’re all going to die. He read a beautiful poem about the impact we can all have (if you’re reading this and know the poem PLEASE share in comments!). He covered Prince’s “Kiss” as his last song because he said every night should end with a kiss. He told us he loved us.

Of course a lot of this may be in service to the spectacle, but that misses the point. There was a clear message throughout the evening: we are all learning together and not one of us was without power. It truly was the Sufjan Stevens Community hour and this is what we need in Higher Ed. We need to analyze where we have come from and as institutions/boards truly assess how we are helping our communities. We need to evoke positive change on our campuses and beyond. We need to have open and honest accountability. We need clear and honest communications about direction. We need to make mistakes and be honest about them. We need to tell each other we love each other more and share in that care.

We need conversations that somehow include all of the voices of our past, present, and hopeful futures.

PAGEANTRY Sufjan’s aesthetic does a lot of reaching through its pageantry. There are overt spiritual references in his music and his live show fully harnesses and expands on spiritual tropes and imagery. In the first song of the set, he and his two female singer/collaborators, wore costumes that transformed them into angels. At other points in the show he stood on a shimmering silver step ladder covered in similar material creating a shining monolith casting light back onto the crowd. At the end of the show he donned a multi-coloured hat and suit made of balloons of varying sizes and shapes. All of these eclectic set and costume pieces were further supported and built on by the accompanying video projections. These projections often included live video outline capture of people on the stage, personal imagery of Sufjan in various video/film formats, and distinct aesthetics for each song. Mixing these elements together really created a sense of immediacy, yet somehow none of it seemed gimmicky — it was tied to the message of the song and accentuated the music. Every song was treated in a unique way and told very different stories. So what has all this to do with Higher Ed?

What if we looked at each of the songs in the set as a course experience for a student? A lot of great work is being done in places in the realm of personalized learning where course experiences are truly centered on individual learning. And we truly need to make learning contexts relevant and unique for students because referring to them in a general sense as a group undermines them all ~ (this idea is from something I’m not properly attributing ATM — if you know what/where it is please add in comments and I’ll add here). We need to find a way to allow our students to, like a song in a Sufjan concert, tell their own stories while contributing to the overall fabric of the whole. We need to find ways to build spaces and environments where our spirits, bodies, and minds are raised together as part of our community. Where we are safe to make mistakes and gain agency from the process.

ACCESSIBILITY DigPed was a truly great event. Over 50 people spent 3 days at the University of Prince Edward Island discussing/workshopping different approaches in education. We used TWITTER as our main conversation space, which was new to some, with an engaged community both in the flesh and virtually. Our little league was so active that we were top trending topic in the area for some time. Wazzah! Most of the conversations I saw/experienced were about finding communities for your professional and personal development. People want to expand their networks so that they can also expand their worldview. regardless of what field people are in. In the two days since, there has already been a few great posts about the event from Brittany Jakubiec Lawrie Phipps @DonnaLanclos Stephanie Loomis with many more to follow for sure.

Perhaps it’s obvious, but this all happened only because of how OPEN we were in our practice. Just a small group of people sharing their work in the open can have huge effects. For me, the main take away was exactly that: Work Open or Close Off. You can try to engage with a bunch of great communities/supports or you can keep your practice regional, and in most cases disappear behind paywalls. Especially in Education, we need to openly share our voice(s) so that we can find those in similar struggles and unite with them in the struggle. Join in by following #OER #OA and #OPENPED (thanks to Robin DeRosa for her inspiring work in this area).

During the last couple of songs, there were 5 huge flailing balloon men that sprang up backstage and blew around with jubilance. They moved about bouncing around off each other. At times they seemed like they were hugging, other times dancing, and sometimes they even seemed to lift each other up off the ground. As silly as these large objects were, there was also a tragedy inherent in their positions: stuck in one place and only able to connect at their extremities. There lot was to be stuck; without movement or the ability to connect with others.

This all hit me very strongly on the field of the Pitchfork Festival as Sufjan sang and danced around openly on stage singing of hope, love, and death ~ no matter what your medium, we need to open up. His field may be large rock venues and as educators ours may be classrooms, but we have the same goal: share what you have learned and be as open as you can about how to make a difference. That is why I felt compelled to publish this post ~ it is time for me to share some of the seemingly disconnected parts of my life in an open space and hope that I can learn something from it. These are just initial thoughts at the beginning of what promises to be a long road at looking at connections between education, music and other art forms/experiences.

FOR THE COMMENTS(?): What are you willing to share to help education? Can your work have greater effect? Why haven’t you already started? Where have you seen Sufjan and what kind of impact did it have on you?

top image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shashankbhat/

My final #tiedayfriday at #upei – it’s been an interesting 4+ years. I will so miss the eclectic community here on #pei – next week’s tie will be coming at you from De Pere #wisconsin

My final #tiedayfriday at #upei – it’s been an interesting 4+ years. I will so miss the eclectic community here on #pei – next week’s tie will be coming at you from De Pere #wisconsin