On knowledge and power

This is my final reflection for 806 - my final course requirement. I have also submitted my proposal revisions and had them approved. I am now truly ABD (All but done, all but dissertation).

I began this program on May 25, 2015, and on March 1, 2019 (slightly less than four years later), I received this email: 

This email is to advise that Jason Openo (EdD Program) completed and passed his candidacy oral examination on December 13, 2018.

Jason's supervisor, Dr. Connie Blomgren, has confirmed that all revisions to Jason's proposal are now in place.  Degree Works has been updated and as far as FGS is concerned, the candidacy portion of the program is now complete.

Please update your records accordingly.

Congratulations Jason and good luck with your research!!

Heraclitus suggested that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  I’ve heard it so often, it sounds trite, but it has never been more true.  This journey has truly been a transformative experience. One of my revisions asked me to be very clear about what I believe about knowledge creation, and this final set of revisions forced me clarify my conception of power. Here is a short description of how I answered those questions, and in the process, came to know myself better than ever before.

I believe in an inter-related structure of reality, best described by the phrase that what affects one directly, affects all indirectly (King, 1967).  As much research shows, the experience of alienation, precarity, and unpreparedness of part-time online faculty can and does negatively affect students and the quality of their academic programs.  What affects faculty affects the students, the institution’s reputation, and the value and legitimacy of online education.  All teaching and learning is inter-related.  I believe knowledge must play a role in the improvement of the human condition (Franklin, 1990), and from that stance, I approach my research with a critical temper and belief in democracy as a way of life.  At its simplest, to be critical means to orient one`s approach to critiquing and changing society, rather than solely trying to understand or explain it.

One tradition within critical theory is pragmatic constructivism (Brookfield, 2005).  Pragmatic constructivism “rejects universals and generalizable truths and focuses instead on the variability of how people make interpretations of their experience” (p. 15).  Originating from William James, pragmatic constructivism

argues for an interactive, co-evolutionary relationship between mind and world, individual and environment: mind is a creative participant in mind-world interactions, individuals are agents in individual-society interactions, and those who do science are, by logical extension, as implicated in truth-making as the world which they try to objectively describe.  This co-evolutionary process does not release cognition or selves from the environment’s orbit, allowing them to spin off freely through space, but rather situates them in a larger context in which they are active and creative agents. (Lempert, 1997, p. 43)

Or, as Brookfield puts it, events happen to us, but experiences are constructed by us (2005, p.14).  The mind and the world exist in dynamic tension co-creating each other, and the researcher exerts influence during the research process.

If there is a co-evolutionary relationship between the mind and the world, the individual is continually engaged in a process of creating the world.  Harnessing this power of co-creation generates social intelligence.  Social intelligence arises from lived experience, and Kadlec (2008) argues that Deweyan critical pragmatism recognizes that power imbalances do exist, but they are not fixed.  Experience, and the experience of “unalterable changefulness,” can alter patterns of dominance.

Tapping into the critical potential of lived experience under conditions of unalterable changefulness begins with the therapeutic recognition that there is no such thing as a unified field of power directed entirely by stable and fixed interests.  The first implication here is that there are always new opportunities to exploit cracks and fissures in various structurally entrenched forms of power (Kadlec, 2008, p. 69).

Pragmatic constructivism suggests experience is a co-evolutionary process, and reality is relationally established by language-based, mind-world interactions.  Dewey’s philosophy of experience is similar; Dewey outlines a dual and dynamic nature of culturally inherited knowledge and knowledge forged in experience.

We live from birth to death in a world of persons and things which in large measure is what it is because of what has been done and transmitted from previous human activities.  When this fact is ignored, experience is treated as if it were something which goes on exclusively inside an individual’s body and mind.  It ought not be necessary to say that experience does not occur in a vacuum.  There are sources outside an individual which give rise to experience. It is constantly fed by these springs (Dewey, 1997, p. 40).

The first reality is the one passed down and handed down to us.  The story and actions we inherit.  The second reality is the one we come to understand and create based on our experiences derived from our interactions and evaluation of our inherited reality. This informs my conception of power.

The conception of power in this study is derived from Dewey's critical pragmatism, as described by Kadlec (2008), and the mind-world interaction.  The arrows represent an exertion of power or influence that is not reflective of scale.

The conception of power in this study is derived from Dewey's critical pragmatism, as described by Kadlec (2008), and the mind-world interaction.  The arrows represent an exertion of power or influence that is not reflective of scale.

As the stress fractures emerge, educational developers can exploit these fissures and cracks by exerting formal influence within the institution through strategic planning processes and resource allocation.  They can also exert influence through networks of support with other administrators and with faculty (Roxa & Martensson, 2009; Roxa, Martensson & Alveteg, 2011), highlighting that power relations can be dynamic and internally contradictory.  Professional development is conceived as an activity that provides a congruence of interest between the mission of the institution, the role and function of teaching and learning centres, and the faculty who identify with the desire to provide high-quality instruction.

Faculty development for online faculty also represents part of a more mature wave of online education, one that recognizes that technology is a small part of the solution. As the web turns 30 and online education turns 20, educational development for online faculty is essential if online distance education is to reach its potential and fulfill its promise.

We are at a moment of convergence portending a second, more mature, wave of work that transcends “technosolutionism” – one that requires an integrative vision committed to student success and deep learning and looks to the larger “social compact,” and even more broadly to a more profound cause and urgency around the future of human capacity. (Bass, 2018, p. 35)

It’s not the same river and I am not the same man. I know this because I finally feel ready for the task ahead.

I passed! So what? (Or, remembering a hike in Yuma, AZ when it's -40C)

On December 13, 2018, I passed my proposal defense unanimously with only minor revisions (the revisions turned out to not be so minor, after all, but that’s a different story).  On December 14, I flew down to Yuma, Arizona to be with my mom after she had Whipple surgery (they removed part of my mom’s liver, pancreas, and gall bladder).  Some people have cancer; my mom has cancers, including breast, lung, pancreatic and liver.  While I was sitting by my mom’s bedside, I reflected on my most significant academic achievement. 

So what?!

My life wasn’t any different and tons of work remains.  As I watched my mom sleeping and struggling to breathe, I couldn’t help but think, “Life is too short. Life is fragile. This is such a false accomplishment. Will getting the title doctor feel any different than this total letdown I am feeling right now?  And how much longer can I burn the candle at both ends – working to be a loving husband, devoted father, director, student, instructor – what’s the point?” 

The fact that I was closer to the finish than I had ever been, that I had published a book and a few articles – all seemed pretty silly.

When this tyrannical meaninglessness comes to strangle me, it’s time to find the altar in the wilderness. Yuma is a warm and beautiful place, and I went for a hike on Telegraph Hill.  The reviews for the trail described it as “paved straight up,” and it was. It was gruesome because I’m out of shape.

Telegraph Hill (Now Cellphone Hill) in Yuma, AZ. |t’s “paved straight up.”

Telegraph Hill (Now Cellphone Hill) in Yuma, AZ. |t’s “paved straight up.”

Too much time on the computer, so much so that I have “mouse elbow.” 

I counted steps 50 at a time, lungs and thighs burning.  The view was gorgeous, and at one point, I asked myself, “What will you be able to see at the top that you can’t see from here?”

The answer: “Your self-respect.”

That’s why I am following Dr. Blaschke’s advice to just “keep going.”  I am not dealing with septic shock or the horror of watching my organs fail like she was, and I wondered, If I was facing imminent death, would continuing my doctoral work hold any meaningful motivation for me? Would it help me keep fighting?

Maybe.  Maybe passing the candidacy defense is a smaller accomplishment in retrospect than it feels during the lead-up to it.  But there is this small transformation of identity.  I am no longer a “student.” I am now a “candidate,” and it took a while for this subtle transformation to take hold.  I am about to become a researcher.

And I actually care about heutagogy, and the practical limitations of heutagogy in courses where students expect and want structure, and programs that expect things like grade distributions as part of accreditation processes. I have worked to apply heutagogical principles in the leadership course I teach at the University of Alberta. I actually care about evolving and maturing online education; this stuff matters to me. I want to see what it looks like at the top.

The view from the top of Telegraph Hill.

The view from the top of Telegraph Hill.

The way down was almost as hard as the way up. Turf toe and old knee injuries. But there is the comfort of a cerveza and a fried avocado with chipotle ranch dressing waiting for me - these mundane but delicious celebrations that comprise a human life.

Then, it will be time to get on those revisions. There will always be revisions.

But there won’t always be time for a game of cribbage with my mom.  

Book Review

Leary, T. (2018). Book review of Assessment strategies for online learning: Engagement and authenticity. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, (48)2.

This actually happened

A doctoral student using auto-ethnographic methodology criticized my research approach as being too “internally focused.”

Qualitative researchers will chuckle at the irony.


I find it interesting how emails cluster in my inbox. This email, showing my current readership dashboard, appeared directly after receiving a rejection for an article submission.

Openo - World Renowned Author 11 3 2018.PNG

Rejections are good. They keep me humble. But they are also like course evaluations - sometimes they are contradictory. For every positive comment there is a corresponding negative comment, usually about the same thing.

Reviewer A liked it.

“The article is clear and understandable. There is no problem in the flow of reading.”

“A study that can contribute to the course design. The added elements are based on rational reasons.”

Reviewer B did not.

“This author does not offer anything new to ODL”

“Satisfactory but also dated.  There is several bodies of literature that were not captured within this literature.”

Reviewers C & E kind of liked it.

“The topic is interesting; however, the research is based on the author’s personal experiences, it can not be generalized to a larger population.”

“Author has made use of recent literature which is the strength of this article”

“This is a well written reflection of an individual case study of a course.”

“I appreciate the author's thoughtful reflection on his own teaching and the lens through which he examines his instructional design process.”

“I doubt the helpfulness of this article for other faculty who are working through instructional design processes and the ability to sufficiently replicate the study.”

Of all the comments, this is probably the one that hurt the most:

“One major weakness of this article is that the manuscript is poorly written. The author is suggested to get it checked from a native speaker.”

I face only instrinsic motivation to produce scholarship. I am going to see what I can do to address some of their comments and then submit elsewhere, perhaps to a journal with a discipline-specific focus on teaching in the discipline. This might make it more generalizable.

And I will practice my English. Perhaps one day I will be able to write like a native speaker!

It's NOT all relative!

Last night’s presenter is conducting her research from a relativist ontology. I believe a relativist ontology is an illogical, self-refuting orientation. The proof: no one lives as a relativist.


Once upon a time, I was facilitating an Instructional Skills Workshop.  One of the new instructors going through the course was a long-term paramedic (an expert), and their 10-minute mini-lesson was on making triage decisions in emergency situations.  When her lesson began, she explained: “You are at a crash site. You have to find, diagnose, and determine who is going to get medical attention. There are four index cards in this room.  You have to find them.  On the back of each index card are indicators that will tell you how to determine (a) whether they have a chance to live with immediate attention, (b)  if they have a chance to live with moderate attention (1-2 hours), or (c) if they are likely to die no matter what you do.  You need to make these decisions quickly and you should direct your attention to those who have the best chance of survival.  In the next three minutes, I will tell you what to look for, and you will have five minutes to find the casualties and make your decisions. Then we will have a short debrief.”

She quickly outlined the criteria to look for, and we listened intently and took notes.  Then she said, “Go save some people,” and we launched into action. We matched the likelihood of survival indicators to the four patients, and we sorted them accordingly.  We followed the instructions perfectly.  Person 1 needed immediate attention – without it, they were likely to die.  Person 2 could wait a couple of hours (broken bones).  Person 3 showed weak vital signs, meaning they were unlikely to survive.  Person 4 showed signs they were near death and no intervention was possible.

And then the instructor revealed:

  • Person 1 was a drunk driver who was seriously injured, but with the right attention would likely survive.

  • Person 2 was the drunk driver’s passenger. They had broken bones and potential internal injuries, but based on their vital signs would likely survive without immediate attention.

  • Person 3 was an in utero child near term.  Even with an emergency C-section, they were unlikely to live.

  • Person 4 was a pregnant mother with a serious head injury.

The lesson, as the instructor revealed at the debrief, was not actually about identifying vital signs.  It was about making professional judgments.  It was applied ethics for paramedics. It was about making the moral judgment to save the life of a person you might hate.  The point of the lesson was that paramedics have to transcend habitually inherited value systems and just see the body, not the person.  They needed to be able to look past their instinctual inclinations about who should be saved.  As we sat in a state of shock, the instructor said she believed saving people you didn’t want to save is an unexplored part of post-traumatic stress disorder in paramedics, but there was no way to prove this. 

It was the best ISW lesson plan I have ever seen, and it proves no one lives as a relativist.


Foucault, in The Order of Things, said that truth was an “arbitrary play of power and convention.”  The argument that all truth is arbitrary and relative has been a powerful argument. The eminent historian Paul Johnson believes relativism was misappropriated from science but is the dominant ideology of modernity.  Einstein saw moral relativism as a disease and social pandemic that led him to say towards the end of his life that he sometimes wished he had been a simple watchmaker (Johnson, 1992, p.4). 

Relativism is powerful until you dare to ask Foucault: “You say all truth is arbitrary. Is your presentation itself true?” (Wilber, 1995, p. 29).  Relativists exempt themselves from the very criteria they apply to other value systems. They make truth claims that deny all truth claims, except the privileged stance of relativism, itself a truth claim.  It is worth listening to Ken Wilber at length on this point.

Nobody is denying that many aspects of culture are indeed different and equally valuable. The point is that that stance itself is universal and rejects theories that merely and arbitrarily rank cultures on an ethnocentric bias (which is fine). But because it claims that all ranking is either bad or arbitrary, it cannot explain its own stance and the process of its own (unacknowledged) ranking system. And if nothing else, unconscious ranking is bad ranking, by any other name. And the relativists are very bad rankers.

In short, extreme cultural relativity and merely heterarchical value systems are about as dead as any movement can become. The word is out that qualitative distinctions are inescapable in the human condition, and further that there are better and worse ways to make our qualitative distinctions.

In many ways, we want to agree with the broad conclusions of the cultural diversity movements: we do want to cherish all cultures in an equal light. But that universal pluralism is not a stance that all cultures agree with; that universal pluralism is a very special type or ranking that most ethnocentric and sociocentric cultures do not even acknowledge; that universal pluralism is the result of a very long history hard-fought against dominator hierarchies of one sort or another. (pp. 29-30)

Only when we admit that universal pluralism is a value stance can judgment systems such as nursing ethics, Cultural Safety and Human Flourishing make any sense.  They are not all relative. The values of tolerance and appreciation for diversity are not values simply relative to our particular cultural circumstance. They represent some of the most highly evolved ideas of humankind, ideas that are still evolving and not universally shared across the globe. The individual human being, no matter who they are or where they are, matters.  From the relativist perspective, however, if all value systems are equally valid, then all value-based decisions are equally worthless.

"Someone once remarked that the two great errors in moral philosophy are the belief that we know the truth and the belief that there is no truth to be known" (Wilson, 1993, p. 12).  Without pretending to know the truth or be in possession of a dogmatic truth, we can affirm that we know quite a bit about what contributes to human flourishing and what does not. There should never come another day or time when the idea of Residential Schools makes sense or can be justified. It was wrong and will always be wrong.  It’s NOT all relative.  What if we encountered, as Wilson absurdly suggests as a philosophical counter-example, a society that believed torturing babies produced better crops?

Absurd, yes, but it is a variation of this absurdity that explains why feminists and those fighting for social justice have completely given up on relativist ontologies.  Bloland (1995) describes the inevitable endpoint of relativist ontology very well:

If there are no legitimate bases for rewarding the privileged in our society, there are also no foundational standards for rewarding marginal groups. There are no grounded assumptions or moral grounds from which marginal groups can claim privilege. From this postmodern perspective, there is no compelling reasons for controlling groups to give grounds to others. (p. 529)  

An uninformed opinion becomes as valuable as an enlightened opinion, and who needs nurses at that point?  The death of values also means the death of expertise, and so let’s bring back leeches and bloodletting!  

Bloland suggests that the only course of action left is to "listen and listen very hard and long to the 'other'” (p. 553), and in listening, create space for dialogue.  I listened hard to the presentation last night and offer this in the spirit of dialogue.  I hope the last night’s presenter will give up relativist ontology and choose instead to stand on these values of tolerance, diversity, and universal pluralism.

Done. Axe ground. I am stepping off the soap box.

Bloland, H. (1995). Postmodernism and higher education.  Journal of Higher Education, 66(5). 

Johnson, P. (1992). Modern times: The world from the Twenties to the Nineties. New York, NY: HarperCollins. 

Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, ecology, spirituality: The spirit of evolution. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Wilson, J. Q. (1993). The moral sense. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Some current project management challenges in online education

I am writing this from a hotel room in Toronto, shortly after the conclusion of the 2018 Online Global Learning Summit. Rosetta’s presentation tonight focused on project management, and project management is never far from my thoughts when I consider what’s going on in my daily life at work, designing online courses, and managing the project of my dissertation.  This is a jumble of thoughts scribbled down during the conference that relate to Rosetta’s presentation (or at least I think they do).  They reflect the necessity for project management, and some of the challenges and opportunities of managing online learning projects.

Darcy Hardy, Associate Vice President of Blackboard – There is no empirical evidence for the face-to-face classroom. What empirical evidence does exist suggests lecture is not the best way to learn all (or most) disciplines. Instructional design is about creating more engaging, more robust learning experiences. Faculty do not have the same skill set as instructional designers, so how can we adjust online course design practices so that they are not just managing a project, but managing a high-quality learning product?  What new uses of the LMS are required? As Hardy suggests, the LMS is too expensive to just be a repository or holding tank. How best do instructional designers, teaching and learning centres, and online learning specialists disrupt/adapt teaching practices? 

Tim Duncan [lost affiliation and position] wondered what background do you need? This is perhaps the most perplexing question of them all. What background do I need in project management? I have informally been an accidental project manager most of my life.  No background – everything I learned about project management I learned informally.  Many managers do not have a background in project management, and does this help explain why 60-80% of all strategic change initiatives fail? Should PM be a required course in online learning? 

We live in a world obsessed with technology, but there is a growing displeasure with our technology Phil Hill, Co-Publisher and Market Analyst e-Literate, said Artificial Intelligence is “not just another iteration of technology.” It’s not. We cannot suggest this is just a difference of degree.  This is fundamentally different.  There are ethical and philosophical questions we have not answered, but as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spends $1 billion to work out how technology can change pedagogy, is it reasonable to think we can innovate safely and advance the field without pretending “this is not just another iteration of technology?” Hill said that the advance of artificial intelligence forces the rethinking of the learning organization itself.  It forces a rethinking of social structures. As we face the prospect of a learning organization in the age of artificial intelligence, who is doing the learning?

Jill Holliday, Resultant / Curiositeer at Learning Advantage Performance a likened the current age to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. We are surrounded by data by, but just like water, there is not a drop to drink. We don’t know how to make sense or use of our data.  As a librarian, I know we have barely moved beyond counting how often our collections are used.  At my institution, I have done some work outlining the project management challenge that leveraging our learning analytics presents. The project management challenge (ethics, integration of multiple systems, intelligent analysis, and developing creative interventions) is so monumentally complex, we haven’t gotten started (and we are not alone).

Gavin Toole, Superintendent of Learning and Development at Vale, began with the wisdom of Yoda, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” The average shelf life of skills is 5 years. I don’t totally believe this because it depends on how you define “skill,” “knowledge,” and “pattern recognition,” but I think the great unknown does put us into a state of profound unknowing. What will people need to relearn?  How can we unlearn some of the straight-jacket structures such as the Carnegie Unit, the four-point grading system, the four-year degree, the discipline, etc. What would a project management process look like to dismantle or supplement any of these structures that may have outlived their usefulness?

Mark Milliron, Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Civitas Learning, suggested “we are about to enter a Golden Age of Learning.” I believe this. Conrad and Openo (2018) argue for this pedagogical renaissance. Offering student choice and providing meaningful opportunities for student choice is the heart of our book.  I don’t know how long this Golden Age will last. I fear it will be a short blip for reasons outside of the control of technology-enhanced learning.  One of the things Milliran suggests is that there is no doom of demography – student activity and student choice is the #1 predictor of success.  What innate project management skills (unpacking student motivation) do these students possess?

Stephen Murgatroyd, Chief Innovation Officer, Contact North, would have been perhaps the most controversial speaker if he wasn’t so British, warm, and hilarious. Some of the things he said: Dear faculty, you still matter, not just as much. And you’re not as smart as you think you are. “If we’re so smart, why are we under surveillance?” Because we are all under surveillance and we are all dancing with robots, which is causing a human/faculty identity crisis.

Is he right that “assessment is the new black?”

Is the real hope for faculty to transform into “ambiguity specialists?” Advocates for the learner who demand evidence for change management who are the project managers shifting ideas about what learning? Who demand proof through research and evaluation that pedagogical innovations demonstrate great quality and integrity?

How do we, as Brian Desbiens, Education Consultant Canadian Digital Learning Research Association and Former President of Sir Sandford Fleming College said, manage the collision between those who are trying to “hold together the past” and those who are “navigating a new future”?  How do we project manage that big change at time when organizations are suffering from initiative fatigue?  Rosetta’s presentation, juxtaposed against the Global Online Learning Summit, provides some enormous things to think about.

Q&A: Toward Better Assessments in Online Courses

This appeared today on Inside Digital Learning. It’s the best coverage we have received for the book so far.

Online learning offers instructors an opportunity to rethink their approach to assessment. A new book hopes to spur that conversation.

Lieberman, M. (2018, October 31). Q&A: Toward better assessments in online courses. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/10/31/qa-strategies-better-assessments-online-learning

A real Halloween treat!

On becoming a techno-pessimist

Last night, Stephen presented on Next Generation Digital Learning Environments, and during his presentation, two opposing sides of myself, who are both quite familiar with one another, continued their never-ending dialogue (like the cartoon angel on one shoulder and dirty red devil on the other).  There is the side of me that is excited about the possibilities and potentials of technology in education (my inner technophile), and there is the side of me that is skeptical and terrified of what technology is doing to education (my techno-pessimistic self).

No technology is neutral. Take the humble index card.  The index card was invented by Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy. The Swedish physician used the index cards to categorize and arrange hierarchies of the world’s flora and fauna.  He cut heavy paper into standard-sized cards and stored a discreet bit of information on each (the origin of metadata), and the card enabled him to reorder his data while keeping each datum distinct. (Davidson, 2017, p. 113). 

In Systema Naturae, Linnaeus also divided humanity into four races based on continent of origin and skin pigmentation.  He specified “temperaments” for each race, and because of his hierarchical assumptions, those who were not white were assigned demeaning and lesser characteristics. He created four races, such as yellow, red, and black, and each of these were assigned negative characteristics.  He also invented a fifth category, called monstrosus, which included people with disabilities and genetic differences (Davidson, 2017, 113).

The index card is particularly fascinating to me, as a librarian, because its use was picked up by Melvil Dewey.  Dewey is famous for hiring women because they had the “housekeeping instinct” (Higgins, 2017, p. 70) that Dewey felt essential for library work.  Melvil Dewey probably also liked to surround himself with women for another reason – he was a serial sexual harasser who got kicked out of the professional society he helped found at a time when it was much easier to get away with sexual harassment (Blakemore, 2017).  The nondescript, everyday index card holds within it the history of racism and misogyny.

The web is no different.  Here is Audrey Watters (2014) on this topic:

I have to come right out and say it, because very few people in education technology will: there’s a problem with computer technology. Culturally. Ideologically. There’s a problem with the Internet. Largely designed by men from the developed world, it is built for men of the developed world.  Men of science.  Men of industry.  Military men.  Venture capitalists. Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies will provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old.

Harassment — of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups — is pervasive online. It’s a reflection of offline harassment, to be sure. But there are mechanics of the Internet — its architecture, affordances, infrastructure, its culture — that can alter, even exacerbate what that harassment looks like and how it is experienced.

The harassment of Chris Bourg, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in March 2018 is a good example of what happens when someone confronts the ideology of technology in education.  The ideological dimension of technology is expressed well by Veletsianos and Moe (2017) as a “technocentric belief that technology is the most efficient solution to the problems of higher education.”  This technocentric belief “shows ignorance of the significant history and knowledge base surrounding technology use in education” (Veletsianos & Moe, 2017, Assertion 4). Veletsianos and Hodson (2018) have also shown that being more active online can lead to the weaponizing of social media against women academics.  Today, at least, the techno-pessimist seems to have the stronger arguments.

Selwyn (2014) suggests there is a need to counteract the “almost unconscious urge to improve the human condition through technology.” Selwyn suggests that a pessimistic stance is the most sensible and most productive perspective to take because it allows room for an acceptance that specific things are getting better but that many social inequalities continue to persist, or worsen as a result of technology.  The pessimist works within the limitations of educational technology rather than imagining its limitless potential.  Techno-pessimism is a rewarding and heartening position because the pessimist expects nothing, whereas the optimist must suffer through a life of disappointment. The pessimistic perspective draws attention to the fact that the use of digital technology in education is never a completely predictable affair. The purposeful pursuit of pessimism is to be “a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will” (Gramsci, 1929 as cited in Selwyn, 2014, p. 16).  Pessimism is not a passive resignation to one’s fate, but an active engagement with continuous alternatives to develop a set of pragmatic, achievable, and grounded interventions. In this, I hope that Stephen is successful in his work to transcend the limits of the learning management system.  

Blakemore, E. (2017, December 19). The father of modern libraries was a serial sexual harasser. The History Channel. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/the-father-of-modern-libraries-was-a-serial-sexual-harasser

Davidson, C. N. (2017). The new education: How to revolutionize the university to prepare students for a world of flux. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Higgins, S. (2017). Embracing the feminization of librarianship. In Lew, S. & Yousefi, B. (Eds.), Feminists among us: Resistance and advocacy in library leadership (pp. 67-89). Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.  

Kenney, A. R. (2018, March 12). ARL denounces harassment of Chris Bourg following Code4Lib keynote. Association of Research Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.arl.org/news/arl-news/4487-arl-denounces-harassment-of-chris-bourg-following-code4lib-keynote#.W7elTtdKhhE

Selwyn, N. (2014). Distrusting educational technology: Critical questions for changing times. New York, NY: Routledge.

Veletsianos, G., & Hodson, J. (2018, May 29). Social media as a weapon to harass women academics. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2018/05/29/dealing-social-media-harassment-opinion

Veletsianos, G., & Moe, R. (2017, April 10). The rise of educational technology as a sociocultural and ideological phenomenon. Educause Review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/4/the-rise-of-educational-technology-as-a-sociocultural-and-ideological-phenomenon

Watters, A. (2014, November 18). Men explain technology to me: On gender, ed-tech, and the refusal to be silent. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://hackeducation.com/2014/11/18/gender-and-ed-tech

I am a librarian

Every month, I write an article for The Fax, MHC’s Faculty Association newsletter. This month’s piece talks about my relationship to libraries because as of May 2018, I am now responsible for Library Services at Medicine Hat College.

Without being overly dramatic, if it weren’t for libraries, I wouldn’t be here (literally, in Medicine Hat, Alberta and perhaps metaphorically, as well).  I feel like libraries saved my life, and I am glad to be responsible for a library again.  After my dad left when I was six years old, the library became my lifeline, and I will never forget the first two items I checked out – AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.  They opened my world.  The music came first, then the reading, but I think the most important thing, at times, was simply the space.  On any given summer day, I would ride down to the South End Branch of the Bay City Public Library and lose hours looking through collections of music and Choose Your Own Adventure Dungeons and Dragons books.  I was always welcome to loiter there, and for those with a library narrative, the library becomes part of our identity.  Throughout my life, I have never strayed far away from libraries.

I worked at the Albion College Library at a time when we first got InfoTrac General Reference Center (which excited my passion for library technology).  After working with homeless families in Seattle for five years, I obtained my Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington’s iSchool at a time when Amazon, Microsoft, and Google were taking over.  The stories about libraries becoming obsolete were plentiful, and my awareness of the social and political function of information started to dawn.  I then worked for the King County Library System as a part-time librarian (where I experienced the nature of precariously employed labour), and then moved to Oregon to take on my first full-time library job.  Years later, at a library conference, I met the woman who became my wife, shortly after moving to Canada to join the Edmonton Public Library in 2007.  EPL would be the first Canadian library system to the win the Library of the Year award in 2014.  My sever years there were exciting, rewarding years.

Even after I left libraries to join Medicine Hat College and pursue my passion for teaching and learning, I never really left libraries.  I remained an instructor in MacEwan University’s Library and Information Technology program, and now I am a sessional faculty in the University of Alberta’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science.  I include my library history here for a few reasons.  First, it is not lost on me that 20 years’ worth of stories about the death of libraries are not true here.  In Alberta, the Taylor Family Digital Library, the new Calgary Public Library, and MRU’s Riddell Library & Learning Centre have all recently been constructed.  I won’t say MHC needs to keep pace with the Joneses and build a bigger and better library.  I will say that libraries are more relevant and important than they have ever been before.  They have been made more important by technology, not replaced by it, and the growing importance of critical digital literacy and digital citizenship as core elements of curriculum are proof of that.  74% of institutions say their outcomes include critical thinking, information literacy (59%) and research skills (51%).  The library remains core.

The second reason I have discussed my 20 years as a librarian is because libraries continue to adapt.  Some functions have disappeared, but maintaining collections (physical and digital), delivering services (APA support, reference, and technology assistance) and providing space continue to be important elements of being a library.  Open Education Resources, trends in scholarly publishing, academic integrity, and distance librarianship are growing aspects of libraries that continue to grow more complex and sophisticated.

Finally, my life in libraries has made me aware that it is impossible to prove the value of the library.While large scale studies have been able to correlate surrogates or proxies of student learning (such as grades) with library-related interactions and behaviors, the is impossible to establish causation and say the library caused learning to happen.Library value is ultimately established by the strength of the relationships the Library has with its community and the value it provides to them.The early indicators of the Student Success Centre are positive, and they show the collaborative nature of the library.Chuck, Irlanda, Nicholas, Justine, Natalie, Shawna, etc. all had a vision for how to provide the space, services, and expertise necessary to help MHC students succeed.This is the only definition of Library that makes any sense, and it’s so good to be here!It’s like I never left.