I need to tell the story of my personal learning this past week in response to and in conjunction with this weeks readings for OpenLearning18. This story has a lot of different threads, but I promise it ends with my response to the question for this week – how did the readings relate to my thoughts on open educational resources?
I need to start this story with some background about me. Yesterday, February 15, was the 1 month anniversary of the start of my new position as an instructional designer for connected learning here at Colgate. This position is an alternative-academic job for me. Before this job, I spent 14 years studying natural resource management in college and grad school. I had always been interested in the relationship between the environment and people, so I took countless courses in social and behavioral sciences, education, city and regional planning, and of course natural resource management. My scholarship was in urban environmental stewardship and I explored strategies for engaging communities in planting and caring for trees and community gardens in cities. Most recently, I taught a course on environmental activism as an adjunct professor in my first post-PhD gig at Colgate University. I loved teaching, but teaching in the context of being an adjunct was really hard for me on multiple levels. I never really wanted a tenure-track job and after getting a PhD, I was still exploring what other things I could do with it. So after a lot soul searching, I decided to pursue an alternative-academic career and I landed on instructional design. In my soul-searching, I realized another passion of mine was liberal arts undergraduate education, which was what had launched my own environmental career and desire to pursue graduate school in the first place. Instructional design would allow me to help others enhance their own teaching and learning in the liberal arts, all things I care deeply about just like the environment.
As I sit here 1 month into this instructional designer role, I’m confident that pursuing this “alt-ac” career has been the right move for me (so far, so very good!) However, occasionally it feels somewhat strange that I’m not researching or teaching in the environmental field anymore, that faculty don’t see me as having a PhD or as teaching a course like they do. I also sometimes wonder, what contributions would I have made in my field? What cool research projects would I have started? Those types of thoughts bubbled up for me this week when I stumbled upon Erin Bartram’s quit-lit piece in which she reflects on her decision to leave academia. I don’t feel quite the same level of grief as Erin because I never really wanted to pursue the tenure-track in the first place. But still, a small part of me feels sad that I never “made it” to a tenure-track professor job and that I left all of that blood, sweat and tears that I put into studying environmental issues behind.
I share this because I went into this instructional design position feeling like I had made this big career shift into a completely different field. So in this past month, I have been pleasantly surprised to find countless references to theories and concepts I had encountered in my former career in the environmental world. For example, uses of the word “ecology” in an educational context: learning ecology, classroom ecology, etc. Bronfenbrenner’s “ecological model of development,” which wasn’t originally developed in the context of natural resources, is cited in the Connected Learning framework and was the conceptual framework for my PhD research in urban forestry. Even the term “resources” in open educational resources resonates with me; like natural resources, open educational resources are things that are produced, conserved, managed (in a sustainable or unsustainable way?)
So earlier this week, I read “50 Shades of Open” by Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek, which started out with the example of Garret Hardin’s idea of the “commons;” the idea that natural resources that are available for use, but are not publicly owned. Hardin was an ecologist and this idea is foundational to environmental studies: environmental problems are essentially “tragedies of the commons” because stocks of natural resources freely available to all can be depleted if they are overused. Plus, I’m married to an environmental economist, so “the commons” is a recurring theme in my household as well; clearly, this notion of the “commons” resonates with me. Pomerantz and Peek referenced natural resources later in their article, discussing how “open” was used in agriculture and beekeeping initiatives. Their article, as well as Nora Almeida’s article, also mentioned the term “openwashing” which is a riff on “greenwashing,” or the idea that consumer products, for example, are “green” or environmentally sustainable in name only. Again, an environmental term that resonates with me!
Later in the week, I somehow came across Michael Caulfield’s notion of info-environmentalism, which applies the idea of environmentalism and activism on behalf of the natural world to the information “environment” found on the internet. I will delve into my thoughts and excitement around this idea in another post, but all I will say is it blew my mind away. Not because of the concept itself per se, but because it demonstrated perhaps the clearest connection yet between my environmental background and this new field of instructional design around connected learning. Notions of environmental activism and stewardship applied to the internet? to learning? to teaching? Wow. Just wow.
So how do this weeks materials for OpenLearning18 relate to my thoughts on open educational resources? What they relate to is my own thinking about my new role as an instructional designer in which I’ve had access to 2 resources that have felt previously felt CLOSED to me in my former roles as a teacher/scholar. The first resource is time. In my 1st month, my schedule has been largely OPEN compared to my teaching/research schedule of the past. I’ve had time to dive into this cMOOC, blogs, Twitter, readings and to sit and think about them. The second resource is emotion. Because I’ve had time to essentially sit, read and think, I’ve been able to be OPEN to the emotions that my readings tapped into for me. In the case of this past week, it was sadness about leaving academia/the environmental field, which turned into happiness that a lot of the ideas I had encountered and cared so much about in academia/the environmental field were still relevant in my new “alt-ac” position. And most significantly, that I was able to apply my previous knowledge to this new area of connected/open learning that I’m currently learning about. I think the role of emotion is important here because I know from my background in environmental psychology that emotions drive attitudes, which can shape behavior, so positive emotions toward the work I do is critically important, so the excitement I feel is meaningful and being able to express it here on this blog feels empowering…
Perhaps I feel empowered now because time and emotion are two resources that often feel CLOSED within higher education. Time is a obviously a very limited resource for faculty. Emotion is something that at least scientists are taught to avoid to remain objective. Emotion = bias = something to be controlled. As I explained, time and emotion have been opened to me this past month now that I’m not teaching or researching anymore. And that openness has led to personal reflection and to learning (metacognition!) related to this new phase of my professional life. I look back on all of the education I got that lead me here – to this instructional design position where I’m now learning about learning in a new way – and I recall that the most powerful and memorable moments as learner were when my college professors openly expressed their emotions in front of an entire class, or during one-on-one meetings with me during office hours. My most memorable moments as a teacher were when I was able to tap into student emotions and create a setting where they felt free to share with each other and with me during a class discussion. My most memorable moments as a mentee in both undergrad and grad school was when I could share my emotions (usually fears) related to post-college jobs or conducting field research and when they made time to listen to me. So time and emotion absolutely have educational value, as I know from my personal experience as a learner, teacher and mentee in higher education, but they aren’t always out there in the open…
So now, in this new position as an instructional designer for connected learning, I’m asking myself: How can I open up these valuable resources of time and emotion for faculty? What kinds of spaces/places/times can I design or tap into to create more openness to emotion and the learning/reflection that can result? And toward what ends? For me, I hope toward instilling in them the same sort of renewed excitement for teaching, for learning, for making connections, that was instilled in me this past week.