Walking the dog

On a recent episode of Teaching in Higher Ed, Bonni Stachowiak invokes the “free like a free puppy” simile. I know this phrase from the open source community, which for a long time drew the distinction between “free like beer” (having no monetary cost) and “free like speech” (referring to having the right to change, hack, express yourself, with a tool or platform). This was eventually expanded to include “free like a puppy” to point out that open resources do require investment to get and keep them working, and a higher level of investment to develop them and keep them healthy and relevant as time goes on.

Bonni says that people she works with have started talking about sending some of their metaphorical “puppies” to go “live on a farm upstate,” and she encourages us to evaluate our “puppy” projects and ask if they’re really bringing us the joy that they should.

Which was a funny thing to hear as I was giving the dog her morning walk.

On campus

Bella is our pandemic puppy. She was a big shaggy older dog at the pound, who looked up at me and said “Sir, I’d really just like to go home please, I’m old and arthritic and I’ll lie on the couch and be no trouble at all.”

Then after about 3 days, she looked up at me and said “hey, it turns out I was just stiff because no one was exercising me. Let’s walk more. In fact, let’s run. Omigod is that a deer come on let’s CATCH A DEER…”

(She did not catch a deer, or a squirrel, or a raccoon, not for lack of trying. She did get the drop on a skunk once… bad for us, worse for the skunk.)

I was also assured that the dog would be my son’s and wife’s responsibility, and all I had to do was tolerate it. I have been informed by the law offices of BigSadEyes and PerkyEars that Bella was not a signatory to that agreement and will not be bound by it. Even when they do walk the dog, she comes home and gives me the “OK, I’m warmed up now, let’s go back out” look.

So it’s kind of funny to hear Bonni talking about projects which consume resources you hadn’t planned on, at the same time I’m trying to convince the dog to stop sniffing everything so I could get home and get changed and go to work.

(She did not stop sniffing everything. I got to work, eventually.)

So while the “send some puppies to the farm” metaphor sat a little heavy with me, I do like the idea of “evaluating” your puppy-projects. What do they need, and what do you need from them? Do you need to give some of your commitments more attention, and are there others which do need to go away? What’s worth doing better, and what’s worth not doing yourself.

I can’t help but think that I have a dog who adores me precisely because someone else said they couldn’t keep up with 80 pounds of running, barking, shedding dog. My colleagues will rightfully roll their eyes and point out that handing off projects is one of my real weak spots, so I’m not saying it’s easy, but not unlike an animal, it’s fairer and easier to find a project its “forever home” before I let it get neglected or in the way of my other commitments.

(Tangent: this reminds me of the terrific episodes of All The Things ADHD in which Lee Skallerup Bessette and Aimée Morrison discuss Marie Kondo and the way things and arrangements of things can “spark joy” or not. Maybe someone can build out that connection in the comments because what would really spark joy for me is hitting that Publish button…)

You and I, Face to Face

The identity of the Center for Innovative Pedagogy is wrapped up in modality. Our mission statement starts with facilitating conversations, and we’ve tended to interpret that as literal, in person, synchronous conversation. That’s true for my professional identity as well. I’ve often described my job as “buy faculty members lunch and get them talking.”

So 14 months of social distancing really requires some reflection not just on practice, but on our identity. I expect this lens of thinking about modality touches every aspect of our program, but the one taking up the most of my attention right now is the future of our department’s conference.

We actually pulled off 2 conferences in 2021, both fully online. Teaching and Learning Beyond 2020 was a 2-day event in January, with participation from a number of consortial partners. Talks were delivered live, recorded and archived to YouTube. The Q&A following the presentations was not recorded. The What Works conference in March was actually a replacement event from a planned retreat for our Natural Sciences division. Using a “modality” lens, the important things to note are that this “conference” met on three successive Thursdays around lunchtime, and while the keynote was live, the talks were all prerecorded and released in advance. We met only for discussion. (So we might call it a “flipped” conference.)

We talked about both of these events as our “first annual” conference, and both were pretty successful, so I think I’m on the hook for another one next May.

In a lot of ways, I want to go back to hosting a big event on campus. I want to order catering and have swag printed up. I want to gather people together and hear the spontaneous conversations that happen in the hallways. I think my faculty are looking forward to that too.

On the other hand, I really want to keep including colleagues in other locations. It was a thrill to have presenters from other schools in Ohio and Michigan and Indiana, one presenter in India and some registrants from Europe. (I’d like to get Wisconsin and Egypt on that list next year!) We have an opportunity to keep the Kenyon community in conversation with the broader community, and I’m not confident I can get that if I have to ask people to come to Gambier, Ohio. For that matter, I’d like the conference to be accessible to the Kenyon faculty member who doesn’t have childcare, who has a doctor’s appointment, who just doesn’t want to burn the gas and time to come to campus that day.

I’m really tempted by the challenge of pulling off a “hyflex” conference. But thinking back to pre-pandemic events, I can’t recall a single one where the online experience was anything close to the in-person. The last thing I want to do is replicate the experience of an in-person conference where someone turns a webcam on in the back of the room. And while hyflex might be a viable modality if you’re creating a community of learners for a semester, I’m actually pretty doubtful that we can replicate all that technical and social knowledge in a 2-day event.

So if I’m worried about the people who can’t make it to a face-to-face event, and I’m even more worried about the way people can get lost in a hyflex event, it seems that the right direction is to pursue an excellent, inclusive, engaging online event. (Many thanks to my colleagues Jen Lisy and Michelle Nobel at Ohio Wesleyan University for helping me see this.) I’ve had some good experiences in the last year, and I’d love to hear about yours.

Universal design for teaching

I was listening to Brenna Clarke Gray’s terrific podcast You Got This Sunday night, in which she talks about the amount and kinds of labor which go into making accommodations for students’ individual situations, and the way this work can be front-loaded or dispensed with entirely through Universal Design for Learning.

And a whole bunch of things clicked – Brenna Clarke Gray talking about distribution of labor, Aimée Morrison and Lee Skallerup Bessette talking about work rules and norms on their podcast, Josh Eyler’s talk on grief and loss, and my colleague Alex’s question when he was just starting at Kenyon about who handled accommodations needed by faculty.

We talk about universal design for learning, when we’re thinking about the things we create for others. But what about the things we create for ourselves?

What would it mean to pursue universal design for teaching? Or let’s say universal design for educating (so we can include all the folks on campus who are engaged in education but don’t ourselves teach in classrooms)? How do we build schools where multiple pathways to doing the work well are equally accessible to all?

It’s a complicated question for lots of reasons, not least being the wide variety of jobs happening on campus and even the variety of tasks handled by individual people. In part, that’s why I think we need a new metaphor. We need to shift from policies which are essentially focused on the needs and desires of the institution, to a suite of options which focus on the needs of the individuals who do the work.

(I’d like to draw a parallel here with teacher-centered vs. student-centered pedagogy, but I can’t quite bring it home. I can even use “guide on the side” to describe the work relationship I want to get to but nothing rhymes with “Administration”. Leave your suggestions in the comments.)

Following some design thinking, I think it would mean really examining whether mission and values, policies, and practices are in alignment. Given that our institutional missions tend to be about the things we do for and with students, we might even need some new level between mission and policy. Shouldn’t there be a map connecting our goals for the environment we create for and with students, to our goals for the departmental environments in which we do the work?

Maybe we need to annotate our faculty handbook and employee handbook, like an annotated syllabus. OK, there are a lot of practical reasons that this is a terrible idea. But take it as a thought experiment – what would be a good way to reflect the community’s knowledge of its own practices? If we replace one-size-fits-all policies with menus of choices, how will we make it understandable? Are there reasonable ways to connect the policies as written to the stories of how they’re implemented?

Sharing stories gets us back to the big question of an inclusive community. Who gets heard and why? Who gets supported in making the best choices for their situation? Are there differences between material support (access to resources) and social support?

I never said this universal design for educating idea was going to be easy.

(Many thanks to Maha Bali, who nudged me to dust off the blog and write this instead of just talking about it.)

I always feel like Somebody’s Watching Me

The wonderful Rissa Sorensen-Unruh put a good question on Twitter:


And she and some other folks were nice enough to entertain my ideas, and then she pointed out that I’d basically started a blog post and I should go finish it so she could refer to it without counting on Twitter.

The first thing I noticed was that there are 2 questions there. Should we be using automated proctoring, and should we be proctoring at all?

The first question is easy for me to answer today. I simply haven’t seen a single lockdown browser or AI proctoring software option which I think delivers more value than it causes in harm. Look at the student experiences collected at https://twitter.com/Procteario – these are products which crash student computers, which distract and distress and insult students, which introduce the cover of “algorithms” where humans should be responsible for their judgment. And they visit these consequences worst on our most vulnerable students. So as of right now, I think colleges and universities shouldn’t be paying for these services.

(Do I believe that forever? Probably not. I can imagine a world where an AI proctor is closer to a teacher than a prison guard. But the language these systems use to sell themselves doesn’t convince me their designers can imagine it.)

The second question is actually really complicated. Should we proctor? Well, I think having a proctor for a driving test is probably a good idea, yes. When where we’re actually evaluating process, not just outcome, we have to have an observer. We’re not really talking about those when we talk about the kind of proctoring you can outsource, of course, but I think it’s useful to consider the kind of test where the observer adds value.

Similarly, I think it’s possible to agree that there are a set of examinations where the consequences of cheating would be really, really high, and it’s appropriate to impose barriers to success to make sure cheaters don’t get through. Medical boards come to mind; I think it’s pretty important that we not license doctors who cheat. For me, this line is somewhere around “matters of public safety” but more nuanced thought about the definition of “consequences” would be worthwhile.

We’ve started with a troubling assumption: “assume a cheater.” When we start with the assumption that every class includes a student who is, in essence, trying to steal their degree, then all sorts of choices become justifiable, and not only justifiable but necessary. Prioritizing catching cheaters also send the message that cheating is common, which can’t be a good message to send students.

I’m reminded that a long time ago I did some research into honor codes. One of the findings which stuck with me (though I can’t find it at the moment) was that the presence of an “honor code” per se wasn’t nearly as important as the presence of an active discussion about academic integrity on campus. This is the approach which starts by questioning the assumption – what can we do to have fewer cheaters? How do we inculcate a positive value for academic integrity, instead of a fear of being caught cheating? Could we just make the amount of cheating go down?

This is related to the question of how you build assessments and courses which students don’t want to cheat on, which you’ll notice, is at the heart of the original debate. There are lots of approaches to these, using language like “authentic assessments” and “nondisposable assignments.” And they’re all really good ideas, since they get at moving students toward practicing more complex skills, hopefully in more motivating environments. That’s what we’re all looking for, right?

Well, sort of. Every discipline does have some body of knowledge which you just need to have in your head to be successful. An “authentic assessment” might be an indirect way to test that knowledge, while a more direct test might be a better measure of exactly what’s known and what isn’t. If you’re looking to identify the specific areas where a student and a teacher need to focus their efforts, less “authentic” measures might make sense.

We’ve shifted into the zone of formative assessment, though. If the point is less to take a measurement than to use that measurement to further learning, then suddenly we’re in the zone of retrieval practice and spaced repetition and automatic re-takes on quizzes… in other words, strategies which don’t particularly require proctors. (At least not if the students actually understand why we’re using these approaches.)

I’m reminded of Jim Lang’s fantastic Cheating Lessons, which looks at the ways in which course and assignment design can incentivize or remove the incentives to cheat. One of the things I really like about this book is the way Lang offers both an extreme example of a course which has been radically redesigned to address a reason students cheat, and some less extreme examples of courses which make smaller changes.

Because these things are more work, right? Even the more liberal approaches to quizzing imply spending more time writing good quiz questions. Authentic assessments might mean searching out authentic but appropriate data sets; they mean spending more time coaching students and eventually more time grading more complicated assignments. This is the work of good teaching, but it is labor that has to come from somewhere. It can’t be by accident that I see lots of good teaching innovations which return in a year, scaled back a little. Faculty members find out which parts work best and trim the less valuable parts away. Much the way their students do.

And more complex assessments are also labor for our students. Many of our students are already stretched to their max between commitments inside and outside the classroom. The “opportunity” to work harder, learn more, demonstrate their accomplishments more meaningfully may be a double-edged sword, for those students who need to learn about prioritization and letting some things be “good enough”. I don’t in any way mean that classes should be dumbed down, but scale is important, and it needs to be considered across the whole student experience.

Speaking of “good enough”, it’s time to not write my cool closing paragraph and just hit publish…

If you read that far, you deserve something, so here’s the clip where I learned that some people call proctors “invigilators”.

The original thread is really good and I encourage you to check it out. Lots of folks had good points which fed into any good points I made.

love dares you to change our way

It occurred to me that I could model something I really value: real-time reflections about the act of teaching. So here goes.

We usually start planning our summer DigPINS runs in December and January. Most of these conversations are about finding good dates and figuring out which institutions want to collaborate this time, and there’s a little bit of reflection about what we might like to do this time. We had enough collaborators interested that we probably should have put more explicit planning into how DigPINS changes as it scales up.

In late February 2020, we started to think about how we could include some different digital literacies which people might find handy if this weird pandemic thing turned into any kind of problem. Obviously stuff changed a lot faster and a lot farther than we thought it would.

Screencapture from our early March meeting.

There were some rather obvious changes to DigPINS. For example, we used to do videoconferences in part to make sure people had thought about bringing in external speakers over video. It’s fair to say I don’t ever expect to introduce that concept to a faculty member again. Our use of Liberating Structures this time has been a kind of recognition that effective meeting techniques, especially over video, aren’t always intuitive. (And thanks to Maha for bringing us those approaches!)

And then right as we were preparing to launch, the outrage sparked by the murder of George Floyd caused us to think again about how we might need to hold space for the processing people need to do in this moment.

This has all made me more aware, perhaps, of a repeating theme that people sign up for DigPINS without entirely understanding what it is we’ll be doing together. That’s not entirely a bad thing – I think enough people have overall positive experiences that I’m not worried about DigPINS being a bait-and-switch, and our heutagogical model relies on learners pursuing the experiences they want. But I still wonder whether there’s a way for us to signal ahead of time just what kind of workshop this is.

And then I thought back to last year’s Kenyon digital storytelling workshop.

In that workshop we explored the ways that we can make a course more engaging and transparent by drawing on narrative or narrative-like techniques. As Alan wrote in his recap, while the trappings of fictional narrative like plot and character proved too big a lift for most folks, ideas like recurring theme or central conflict are already there in many courses, and the idea of lifting them up seemed to interest people.

Now, DigPINS’ central argument is IMO pretty darn central – who we understand ourselves to be, and who we understand ourselves to be in community with, impacts how we teach and do our disciplinary work. And we tend to believe the benefits of expanding those definitions are worth the work and risk. Still… sometimes that feels more like an assertion than a debate or an arc.

I find myself wondering what might happen if DigPINS had a more intentional theming, an agreement to try and look at one facet of the PINS, if you will. I could imagine iterations which focused on issues of equity and inclusion, on public scholarship, on subsets of technology. We might advertise it as DigPINS And… or The DigPINS Of…

Bokeh Focus

(This idea is inspired by the different genres explored over the years in DS106, with the understanding that DS106 is a very different course/community.)

How would our conversations be different around a more defined common point of interest? Would it give us a better way to navigate the way “the digital” touches pretty much everything? I want to believe the extra structure would give us resilience, even if it were only in the form of having the ability (the responsibility) to pause the main topic to address current events. Or would sticking to the plan become a bigger hazard than it already is? We’d definitely be shrinking our potential community of participants, and one of the things I value about DigPINS is the way different perspectives can inform one another… would the sacrifice be worth it?

It might be worth noting that this is my 3rd time facilitating a DigPINS cohort, and a lot of faculty have comments that this is often the point when they start messing with courses just to mess with them. So I do want to approach this with some humility.

I don’t know what the right answers are; I don’t know what my co-facilitators will think about the questions. I don’t know where we’ll be this time next year. But… I can write them down, share them, and try to remember to return to them in 6 months.

GIF of Tori Belleci from Mythbusters getting whacked in the head from giphy.com .

GIF of The Dude captioned by Alan Levine.

Bokeh Focus” also by Alan Levine.

And if you want it, you can lean on me

bent pillar

I extemporized something in yesterday’s faculty meeting which I thought maybe I should write down. Use it if it’s useful.

For the last 3 years or so, most of my professional engagement has been in the form of online meetings. I am, if I do say so myself, pretty good at them. (Not great, but I know who the greats are and I learn from them.)

By Friday afternoon, I’ll have co-hosted (with my invaluable colleagues) 15 online workshops over 2 weeks for my faculty about moving to remote learning. I’m writing this between workshops 8 and 9.

I’d say the last one was pretty OK, and the one the morning before that was almost pretty OK. None have been up to my high standards.

And yet faculty members are coming back to workshop after workshop, and thanking me and telling me the workshops were helpful. At a time when they need connection and support, they’re getting it. What I’m giving is good enough.

And that’s what I want you to remember. You don’t have to be that good to be good enough. You’ll want to get better, and you’ll get a lot of practice and you will get better, and you’ll learn some tips and tricks which, in future when you actually get to plan in advance, will make you better still.

It’s gonna be frustrating, because you’re exceptionally good teachers and you’re going to see all the flaws. But give yourself – and your students – permission to be good enough.

Because it’s actually pretty good.

Photo: “Bent Pillar” by Bryan Alexander, CC-BY at https://flic.kr/p/2gVGyD7. I tried a couple of different searches on Flickr – “lean” and “good enough” first, and then “support”, and I decided this fits.

Come on-a my house

I do a lot of RSVP forms for work, using Google Forms. I’m finding that I’m sending out lots of invitations for “pick as many as you like” events – things like writing groups, workshop series, summer book clubs, all-day events where people can come and go.

Screenshot of form to sign up for writing groups. 10 different dates/times, each with a checkbox.
Why and how we offer so many writing groups is its own post.

Unfortunately, when you use checkboxes like this, Google Forms helpfully concatenates all the answers in a response. So it’s easy to tell what an individual has signed up for, but really hard to tell who’s signed up for the Thursday morning group.

Spreadsheet excerpt: column "What groups would you like to join?" has answers like "Mondays 8:30 - 10 am, Wednesdays 8:30 - 10 am" and on a new line "Tuesdays 8 - 9:30 am, Thursdays 8 - 9:30 am"
Google Forms’ “Responses” screen is useful for some surveys, but almost useless in this case. You have to view responses in Google Sheets. It won’t bite.

If you don’t have too many options, or too many respondents, you can do some manipulation with Text to Columns and maybe a Transpose, but pretty soon I always find myself dragging data around on the sheet, a job that’s both tedious and error prone.

I suppose I could make each item on the form a “do you want this yes/no” radio button, but (a) that would be ugly and (b) I never remember this problem until I’m looking at data I can’t massage easily.

I was hoping to be able to handle this with a pivot table or a vlookup or some other function I don’t quite understand. These hopes all appear to be wrong, but searching for it is how I discovered the Filter function. That terrific linked page is where I learned that the Filter function can combine with the Search function, and critically, the Search function doesn’t require a complete match. It’ll find every instance of the searched-for text.

So, I opened a new tab in the results Google Sheet, and laid out all my options in the top row. (I’ve learned the hard way to always use different tabs for data and analysis.) To get a list of email addresses for each option, then I used this formula in each column.

=filter('Form Responses 1'!B:B,(search("SEARCH CRITERIA GOES HERE",'Form Responses 1'!D:D)))

Let’s take that apart. “Form Responses 1” seems to consistently be what Google Forms names the first tab of a responses Sheet. (If you’re not getting data through a Google form, well, change it to whatever the tab is called where your data lives.)

Column A is always a timestamp, and if you’re collecting email addresses they always go in B, so that’s why I’m filtering column B. If I wanted human names, in this form, I’d have used ‘Form Responses 1’!C:C

The Filter condition is the result of my Search against Form Responses 1, Column D, for matching responses… again, which column depends on how the form is organized. For the search criteria, I could have used a cell reference (A1, B1, C1…), since I did put all the options in Row 1 . That might have been better for cutting-and-pasting the formula or using it as a template for next year. I wanted it to be more human-readable, though, so my staff and I have a better chance of remembering how to do this in future.

Anyway, I hope writing this down helps me remember it, and maybe helps out other folks using Google Forms for RSVPs. Plus, I get to knock some dust off the blog.

To the place I belong

I got in my car and told Google Maps to take me to DC via the big highways and non-toll roads I’m used to.

So when I found myself on a 4-lane toll road somewhere in the Laurel Highlands, scrounging my ashtray to see if I could make exact change, honestly, I was pretty pissed.

Fortunately, pulling out of the toll booth, my buddy Terry put on that song he likes.

And he and my friend Ken struck up a conversation about their influences and activities in open education. Before I knew it, I was relaxed, I was thinking about my communities, and I was able to notice that it was a lot nicer to drive on a slightly smaller road, rolling through gentler hills without all the big trucks of I-79.

Terry and Ken weren’t actually in the car, of course. I was listening to them on my podcatcher, doing a crossover episode of their podcasts.

(That’s Terry’s podcast Gettin’ Air; I should give you a link to Ken’s show at The Flipped Learning Network too.)

This is what the digital storytelling community calls “the gift of voice.” It’s all of the human cues – pacing and timbre and volume – which expand and explain our word choices. It’s the speed with which the presence of the other person becomes palpable, as they literally come into the air around us. It’s the ability of my friends’ voices to short circuit road rage.

I find Terry and Ken to have a particularly relaxed style on their podcasts. They make space for spontaneity with their guests, which makes me feel like I’m observing a conversation, not an interview. For a lot of podcasters, I hear them using their NPR-voices and I imagine them in their recording studios, checking their notes, but I often feel like I could walk up on one of Terry’s or Ken’s episodes happening over lunch at a conference.

I should take a step back and attribute that to craft as much as talent. I know both of them do extensive research and craft their interviews thoughtfully, at the same time they leave the space for the conversation to go where it wants to. That balance probably has a lot to do with why I both enjoy their shows and find them useful for learning. This brings up a question of relationship – how much of my enjoyment of their shows comes from the reminder of spending time with my friends? (Probably a lot. It has to help that, through Virtually Connecting, I’ve seen Terry’s and Ken’s homes and offices, and when I see them in my mind, we’re all together at OpenEd in Niagara.) Conversely, if I knew John Kane and Rebecca Mushtare, (http://teaforteaching.com/) or Bonnie Stachowiak (https://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/) or Ed Burger and Jennifer Stayton (https://www.kut.org/topic/higher-ed) or the good folks at Xavier University (https://cat.xula.edu/food/podcast), would I hear their gifts of voice differently? (Also probably a lot, though each of those hosts do have their own style and that would probably play out differently. And even though I’m not buddies with the hosts, I can recommend all those podcasts without reservation.)

For a decade or more, I’ve reflected that my professional development has been moving away from loyalty to organizations which purport to be disciplinary homes, and toward smaller, more tightly knit personal networks. Events and publications are good; it’s nice for someone to do the work of coming up with a reason to get together. But I feel myself growing more in the meals shared and hallway conversations than in the sessions and articles. Growing differently, anyway. Perhaps podcasting also fills my desire for time spent with other people – for the perception of community, even in a one-way medium, in a way that text and for some reason asynchronous video rarely grants. It’s some combination of a memento of time spent together before, and a ritual of being together again.

Which, because having a dusty untended blog isn’t enough, makes me wonder if anyone out there wants to hear more of my voice. I know there are voices I want to hear (because those are the episodes I download first, or grab as one-offs when my friends tell me they’re on a podcast).

I wonder if it’s really wise to publish a call for there to be even more podcasts, when I look at the days and days worth of unlistened-to episodes I’ve already got. But then I think about all the folks whose voices I’d like to hear more regularly (or, if I’m honest about my listening habits, more irregularly) and I think yeah, bring it on.

Image credit: View north from Sideling Hill rest stop, my own photo. Technically, this view would have been a couple hours after the story, but it’s pretty. CC-BY-NC at https://flic.kr/p/2gZgkps

Comments and an ethos of care

Arrrrrgh! I’m trying to get all. the. things. in this post and make it perfect which is exactly what I’ve been telling people not to do…

I’ve been thinking a lot about a recent interview with Sherri Spelic on my friend Terry Greene’s podcast. Among the many interesting things in that discussion is the discussion of using “an ethic of care” in thinking about blogs and comments. (This is about 20 minutes into the episode.)

I think “care” is a challenging concept in online spaces. Well, it’s challenging in face to face spaces too, but there’s all that additional information available to us (whether or not we use it) and context is usually more apparent than it is with the written word. Online it can be harder to know whether to press or alter an approach to a discussion, which seems to lead to this a lot:

“Duty Calls” by Randall Munroe, CC-BY-NC at https://xkcd.com/386/

Sherri talks about the power of a good comment to show care, which can feel a little lost now that we’ve entered the world that says “smash that Like button” on one hand and “don’t read the comments” on the other. But in an ideal world, we’d think about all the social cues embedded in a comment – starting with “I heard you” and continuing through “and it was important enough to talk back” and then the actual content of the comment (and the cues in how it’s phrased). I think this is an important way of thinking about commenting – that it’s not just an intellectual engagement of one text with another, but a society-building (or society-breaking) act between people.

Commenting is, of course, different on different platforms. Blogs and discussion forums tend to support longer responses, and longer discussions in those responses. Slack and Twitter lend themselves towards more conversational modes, where there might be more room for back and forth. Facebook’s commenting feature is a stinking mess, in my opinion, promising conversation but not really delivering it for any sustained or large discussion.

(We’ve also got everything from Twitter’s heart button to Facebook’s 6 allowable emotions to a full complement of emoji available in Slack, which include a lot of those cues and are sometimes sufficient, but for the moment I’m going to declare them all to be not full comments.)

Another thing I find myself thinking about is the way that different platforms map onto different spaces. A person’s blog is their own space – the comment there is kind of like the comments you might make in a person’s home. This, of course, is a group blog, but it’s still ours. A discussion forum in a class ideally belongs to the class, with some direction from the professor. Comment sections on news sites and YouTube and such are clearly the public square at best (perhaps a public restroom at worst).

Twitter is an interesting space to read because it’s a public space where it only takes a little work to discern multiple groups – multiple “publics” – in operation. You’ll even see people moving among those publics as different parts of their identity prompt them to Tweet about different things. As I think about the way I navigate those spaces on Twitter, there are places where I’m pretty vocal (ed tech Twitter, mostly) and people I talk to pretty frequently. But I also keep an eye on some places (and topics and people) where I’m still learning, and I try not to insert myself in those conversations because I can create a lot more value by listening instead of talking. (I’m a talkative extrovert and this is a lifelong struggle for me, just applied to a new domain.)

OK, this post has been open for days, and it’s time to just hit publish, but I did happen to find one more relevant thing. (Which probably reinforces a bad habit, but there it is.) We’re doing a summer book club on Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi, which presents the research on stereotype threat and discusses ways to mitigate it for better learning. In a footnote, Steele says

Reducing the threat a person sees in a setting may err in the direction of encouraging too much trust. But it may be worth the risk. I say this because it is hard to believe, in light of the central message of this book, that learning, achievement, and performance can be optimized without trust in the setting… If one has to err, in light of our research over the years, I would thus err in the direction of urging greater trust, rather than greater vigilance.

This is specific to Steele’s argument, of course, but I think it’s useful to this discussion. The Internet and higher education are both facing massive crises of mistrust right now. Some of that mistrust is very fairly placed and I don’t mean to minimize that. Still, as we move toward the pedagogy and scholarship weeks, I think it’s a worthwhile challenge to keep thinking about what we can do – as individuals, in classes and in our fields – to set up structures which normalize and reward appropriate trust, and protect those who extend it.

Which may be a lot of words to say “what we can do to care.”

Week 5: Write Your Own Ending

Well, that’s the end.

End of The Muppet Movie: A rainbow shines, the words "The End" appear, and then Sweetums bursts through the screen

After a fashion. Because we were talking about identities, and networks of people, and our work, and those things didn’t end.

So the question is, what do you want to do with this experience?

Let me start with thanks. I have greatly enjoyed hearing your ideas and discussions over this month and I’ve learned a lot as you’ve shared your thoughts and concerns.

DigPINS is a very different kind of “workshop” than I’m used to teaching and this has been a terrific learning opportunity for me. It’s also been a stage in DigPINS’ growth, as the first time we implemented it as a multi-institutional effort. So thank you for helping me have those experiences as well. I have more reflecting to do on those topics, but there is a formal evaluation coming and I don’t want to prime your thinking any more than necessary.

Technically, this blog will continue to be available for you if you’d like to keep writing here. I’d also be more than happy to help you get set up somewhere else if you’d like a space that you can own a little more. At some point in the future, I hope this site will be the home to a new iteration of DigPINS at Kenyon, and that will have some consequences for the content that’s already here.

Twitter and Hypothesis will remain available for you as well. If you see something which you think you’d like to share, the #DigPINS hastag is kind of our Bat-signal. Autumm and I and other members of the community keep an eye on it, so don’t be shy about using it if you’ve got something to share. And for that matter, there are conversations already going on about more schools trying out DigPINS, so any time you see the hashtag or hear about a blog post, your comments would be welcome.

So let us know about your next project or idea or question or hare-brained scheme. You’ve got a great group of caring folks who will celebrate your accomplishments or bat ideas around.

GIF from The Muppet Movie (1979) by Jim Henson, et al. “Contributed” to YouTube by Jack Copper’s Video Vault and tweaked on Giphy.com by me. (Hey, gang, hold on, don’t go yet, we never talked about making your own animated GIFs…)