Epiphanies from the Field, March 4th 2022
Fireside Guest – Jim Groom
In academia, Jim was a part time faculty and director of the Teaching and Learning Technologies at University of Mary Washington. While there, he founded the Domain of One’s Own project adopted by a number of universities and created the #ds106 digital storytelling course that has been taught by colleges for the last 14 years or so. He is the co-owner of Reclaim Hosting, a venue we, and our students, have access to here at UW.
“Starting now. A technology that allows for limitless reproduction of knowledge resources, instantaneous global sharing and cooperation, and all the powerful benefits of digital manipulation, recombination, and computation must be a “bag of gold” for scholarship and for learning. It is well within the power of educators to play a decisive role in the battle for the future of the web. Doing so will require the courage to buck prevailing trends. It will require an at-times inconvenient commitment to the fundamental principles of openness, ownership, and participation. It will require hard work, creativity, and a spirit of fun.” Jim Groom, Reclaiming Innovation
Here are Jim’s thoughts about our hour and below is a recording of the event.
These are some of the highlights from my notes from Jim Groom’s talk.
Importance: giving students voice and platform to share work.
- Content could be reproduced between different platforms.
- Having his own archive and connecting with other people was important. Before, teaching was a solo act. Then I opened the door a bit and all these brilliant people were teaching my students–it was awesome–for my students, for me, and for others who could use our work as a model. One model was DS106, a course Jim originally created while working at U Maryland-Washington.
- Jim used a #URL that students would use as a tag to get work to the course site.
- Jane contributed that she had a course site with student blogs feeding into the course site. Each URL was put into a folder on a feed reader, which she used to check on work, reading and commenting (http://janevangalen.com/568/)
- Jim: EduGlue crashed into Twitter and Facebook as AP1 replaced RSS, which had made sharing easy.
- Chris added later that we’ve been very tied into the written word but that now video is opening up new options (“Closing of Guttenberg parenthesis”). There are problems of mass media and scale. The future is a 3rd space. What is it? Don’t know–we’re making it.
- Jim added that one way of moving forward was to refocus scale, for example on smaller communities such as our university or even our little LC.
Reflection: Reading Ko’s comments reminds me that I am in this learning community because I am interested in learning how to develop course projects (and possibly a course) that could exist long-term–that could be developed over time by students, with each group of students adding to the knowledge base. I still have a lot to figure out, but hearing from people who have done it makes it seem more possible.
“Using spammer tools for good.” Giving students ownership and power. Building community over time. Idea of using tags to direct content toward particular collections (ie: for grading). Higher education should have a space for exploration.
I’m very grateful for Todd to invite Jim who has inspired us so much by sharing his lifework with us! What he described was way above my skills, such as RSS feed, and I honestly am not sure if I was able to understand his talk completely. However, there were many points that made me think deeply and reflect my own teaching style. For example, would the students want to continue learning the course content even after the term is over? If yes, I’m not doing a good job on supporting this as my Canvas course is closed once the quarter is over. On the other hand, many entries in his ds106 website are very up-to-date, and it is apparent his students have been very active beyond the academic calendar. Jim has definitely expanded my perspective to become a better professor!
After learning about Jim Groom’s work from Jane Van Galen, I was kind of curious about who Jim might be. Todd invited Jim to our little learning community (thank you Todd!). The opportunity to hear Jim talk was a precious one. Not only did I learn about all the amazing things he did (I think I have a better understanding of RSS now!) and the varied epiphanies he had but also what struck me was seeing him talk most enthusiastically about his collaborations, how they made him feel, and how much he valued those relationships. In the absence of this kind of engagement, the necessary groundwork to transform existing realities seemed daunting and not likely to happen.
Jim learned from his colleagues, shared back, and learned more in a continuous reciprocal relationship that benefited him as well as his colleagues.
Jim collaborated with so many individuals but each one of them had a personal connection and meaning to him because of how much he learned from them. The importance of building nurturing relationships where a person is comfortable enough to share their own vulnerabilities and to learn together is important. It also appears that the work he did in community with others had longevity and spanned decades. So, the value of sustained, ongoing learning in supportive collaborative communities was one of the biggest takeaways from this experience for me.
While Jim spoke, I began thinking for the first time about how to use a course to build a community that continues after a class is over. I’d been curious about how to have a particular class extend beyond the university in terms of content we bring to the classroom and the knowledge we create, but I’d been stuck within the confines of a 10-week quarter. It’s quite liberating to think about how to bring past and future students into the conversation, and this might be the final piece of the puzzle I need to move my course content into the open web, like Jane Van Galen did in her course on Critical Media Literacies for Children and Youth. What would it be like to have spaces on the site where former students can continue to interact?
Fireside Special Guest Chris
Having been in this game for a long time, it’s become too easy to fall into the trough of despair and spend time wringing my intellectual hands at what could have been. Hanging out with Jim, who I’ve been fortunate enough to know for 15+ years now, is always invigorating…but being part of this group conversation, knowing that there are other staff and faculty who see opportunity and value in open teaching and learning, collaborative education, student ownership and empowerment, etc., is what helps me climb out of that trough and remember/recognize some of the rich possibilities here and now.
Part of that is because Jim’s ongoing work, and the conversation with him here, demonstrated that some (much?) of the old dream is still alive. In particular, there is still plenty of room to realize progress in a few of my own long-time hobbyhorses:
- Information fluency (building on information literacy)
- The emergence of new literacies, and ultimately fluenc(y)(ies), as we continue to ride the emergence of a Secondary Orality (ala Walter Ong)
- Both kinetic and passive spaces on the web built with the idea of those spaces being Third Places (ala Roy Oldenburg), which are necessarily small(ish) and often either temporary or cyclical in activity
- Working outside the LMS, in whole or in part, so the teacher becomes part of communities of those teaching similarly and students have access to their work and thinking after the artificial time constraints of class are over
- Building recognition that technology is not neutral, that what is often mistaken for (or implicitly taken to be) technological determinism is really what Langdon Winner aptly calls technological somnambulism, and there is both great opportunity and risk in how we use tech, and how it uses us, in all of these spaces
Fireside Special Guest Jane
So nice to be designated as “special”!
Jim Groom has always been an inspiration, though I have never felt that I could catch up with his train of thought. I have been so impressed by his thinking about what’s possible, by his delight at making new things work, with his collaborations with people like Gardner Campbell (who came to UWB to talk with faculty once). Jim and Gardner and others who were part of the Connected Learning networks never, ever thought of the internet as something to help “manage” learning, but instead saw the open web as the place where we could do things in teaching and learning that we’d never been able to do before.
I wanted to share another example of the kind of open learning that Jim talked about. In 2015, the world bicycling road race championships were scheduled for Richmond VA, and Virginia Commonwealth University had to plan for huge crowds, traffic, and major disruptions. They could not hold regular classes those days and the general plan was to have reading days. Gardner Campbell was Vice Provost there and he worked with faculty (with Alan Levine’s help) to set up a series of open, 1 credit courses in different fields through which students would study what was happening during the race and publish their work on the open web. Sadly, the great “mother” website that was the central hub for all of this student work is no longer active, but I found this archive that gives a sense of what students were doing. The faculty reflections are really interesting. One of my favorites is the Anthropology of the Crowd class. It was amazing to have all of this student work on beautifully designed websites.
I also wanted to quickly share this doc that includes the “under the hood” info on the WordPress Plug-ins that I used to create the course that Todd dropped into the chat (plus one other course).
Alan Levine set up this system, blogged about it, and also then ran the workshop I went to as part of the Digital Media and Learning annual conferences.
There’s also some extra info in the doc about how I’d use a RSS widget (and the bookmarking tool Diigo) to share things I currently was reading on the web into the sidebar. These “in the news/in the wild” feeds were an excellent way to connect the course to ongoing discourse in the field (beyond what I’d included in the syllabus at the start of class).
These readings in this RSS widget were always optional and I was surprised by how often students wrote reflections of them on their blogs. That created another way for the students to assume some ownership of the course: Beyond the common readings, students often read additional current articles/news items from this RSS feed and would then contribute to our shared conversations with perspectives and information that they’d acquired but other students might not have.
Students would also tag our course reading authors on their tweets about the class, and it was pretty common for authors to engage with them, even briefly. One author went through a student to offer to Skype (OLD SCHOOL!) into our class to talk about the readings with us. We did get that set up and the students were pretty impressed that this had come about in response to the students’ tweets about their readings.
(I made this doc for an Open Scholarship LC I was part of last year with Denise Hattwig, and lo and behold, I reference Robin DeRosa and Jim Groom here!)
Whenever I am around Jim I feel as though I am part of some strange experiment. It is both exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I suppose that is a lot like my job.
Jim has done such a beautiful job of putting the students in the front of the classroom. The Domain of One’s Own ethos is all about sharing. It is about telling the story of our learning. It is about placing the valuable contributions students have and moving them from the lonely confines of an LMS assignment to a place where others may find value in them. It is giving students agency. It is lifting them up. And I just love that.
We are fortunate here at UW to have access to the beginning of the Domains story. We have the Digital Scholarship space that students, staff, and faculty can build spaces for our work. It is one step on this path to a greater digital literacy for faculty and an opportunity for students to learn about the web and how it works.
Looking at the 90,000 posts on a single university class site is pretty incredible. And I know, as someone who has placed more than one there, that the community it has built is amazing. Not everyone. Not all the time. But it offers up more opportunities to connect to students, to people outside the class, and a more variety of spaces to connect. No one will use Canvas after they leave school. Everyone will use the tools out there on the web.
Todd’s Favorite Poster – In about 2010 I emailed some of the more notable people in the field of digital learning and asked them to send me a quote about digital learning. It was pretty unspecific. I used the quotes as talking points for a “round table” conversation at a conference. One of the people I emailed was Stephen Downes. He sent me the quote below. I had it attached to my office wall for years and had many great conversations around it. It was right next to the door so you couldn’t miss it. Anyway, here it is for you.