What I have been up to in 2017

Writing a year-in-review blog post has not been ‘my thing’ so far but the end of this year does put an end to the job I have had for quite some time, so looking back seems like a good thing to do. Here’s a quick summary of what I have been up to in 2017:

Podcasting

I started recording the podcast “Feierabendbier Open Education” with Markus Deimann in 2016 and I came to enjoy this quite a bit. We record unprepared conversations about readings and developments in the world of education, technology and anything related. Over the year, it always struck me when someone at a conference or in a meeting would mention that they listen to our ramblings, that they felt that they were missing something when we could not record a new episode for a couple of weeks (on average, we have a new episode every two weeks or so). All in all, a lot of time goes into this, but it helps me clarify my positions, it helps me as a non-tech person to learn some new things and it connects me to others in interesting ways.

Over the year, we have published 27 episodes. An average episode lasts about 1 hour and 44 minutes. So, if you are new to this, there’s close to 50 hours of conversations between two German guys for you just from 2017.

If you are looking for more meaningful and prepared conversations in English, I was honored to be invited by Bonni Stachowiak to record two episodes for her podcast Teaching in Higher Ed. People like Gardner Campbell, Cathy O’Neil, Maha Bali, Chris Gilliard, Cathy Davidson, Kris Shaffer, Catherine Cronin, Clint Smith, Bryan Alexander and many other brilliant minds had been on this podcast so imagine my surprise when Bonni asked me. We recorded two episodes that you can listen to here and here. And please do me (and, more importantly, yourself) a favor and subscribe to her podcast.

Virtually Connecting

Another thing that I try and spend some free time on is Virtually Connecting. It’s hard to pick a conversation that stood out for me this year but it certainly was special to organize a first round of German-speaking conversations this year and the German community seems to have developed a taste for this. The sessions at #OER17 and the Missed Conversation (I will always remember it as the one where I managed to set YouTube to only show me during the whole recording…) we had after the TowardsOpenness workshop also seemed quite special for various reasons. Introducing VConnecting to the German community included writing about it for Synergie, an open access magazine by folks at the University of Hamburg. I make this claim like a broken record, but VConnecting enhances my conference experience on-site and online in many ways and I am glad to be a part of this community.

TowardsOpenness

In 2017, Towards Openness has become another side project of mine that I would not want to miss anymore. We facilitated two workshops, one at #OER17 and one at #OEB17 at two very different events. We had some very interesting provocations around the workshop themes and it is great to see how this sticks with people and follows them in their work. It felt weird and self-centered to do a 2017 year roundup conversation at first, but I have to say that this was one of the most energizing online conversations I was a part of this year. This would not be what it is without the people who recorded provocations, co-facilitated workshops, participated in them and blogged about them. A huge thank you for that!

Consulting

Starting this year, my ‘regular’ job at Leuphana University was reduced to a 50 percent position, so I had more time for other things. It was a great coincidence that, with the start of the year, the opportunity came up to work on a project with Vodafone Germany. I wrote about this in an earlier post (or at least I tried and got distracted along the way). I think we have built something of value and the feedback from participants reconfirmed what we noticed along the way: everyone involved in this project saw something special in it for themselves, felt attached to it and they want it to go on in some way. I hope we have a chance to widen participation a little bit over the next year.

Leuphana University

This was my last year at Leuphana University. I helped get Leuphana Digital School off the ground in 2012 and have been involved there ever since. Over the past years, we worked on connected learning experiences, collaborative, peer-evaluated and project-based learning in different online formats. In 2016, we worked with university leadership to develop a strategy for the university and its use of technology in teaching in learning. We made plans on how to involve faculty, staff and students. We came up with a strategy that allowed a small provincial low-budget university to both try new things and experiment as well as to integrate technology in its pedagogy and teaching where it seemed useful. We had plans for research and dissemination and we were ready to start first projects when our university leadership killed the whole idea only to start the strategy-findng-process all over again at the end of this year. I still have no idea what the reasons for all of this were but it made me reconsider my involvement there and, looking back now, I am glad that I did. Dec 29 was my last work day at Leuphana. Next up: Wikimedia.

Wikimedia

Starting next year, I will be joining Wikimedia Germany as “Education and Science Advisor”. I wrote about this in a short German post. I glad that this worked out the way it has. Wikimedia has its offices in Berlin which means I will be travelling quite a bit over the next weeks and months. But, more importantly, I get to work with a great team on things I am interested in. More on this once I am settled in.  As an exemplary employee, I am kicking things off there with a two week vacation so my first actual workday will be on Jan 15. This new job will still leave about two days per week free for other work and projects, so I hope I can continue consulting, podcasting, TowardsOpenness, VConnecting and many other things. But my primary focus will be on Wikimedia for the next months.

This year had lots of challenges for me, both professionally and in my private life. Looking back now, it seems like it all fell into place. I grew some more grey hair. I lost a very good friend. I moved in with my partner, I quit a job and found a new one, I got to travel to some conferences, I had the opportunity to meet and work with inspiring people. And it feels like 2018 will be both challenging and rewarding as well.

Header Image by Nathan Anderson via unsplash.

Giving to causes I care about – edition 2017

Last year, I published a short post about the causes I am giving to and I wanted to keep establish this small tradition. As I wrote last year, especially when you are not satisfied with the way things are going, you need to step up. Lots of people have done so in 2017 and I have tried to follow their lead a bit. This year, I tried to focus my donations a little more. Here’s the list of organizations that I have given to:

Internet Archive – when words and phrases are banned from government websites (I know this is not even close to news in most countries, but it does seem somewhat different when the “leaders of the free world” are doing so), when non-profits shut down from one day to the next and the documentation of their work is in jeopardy, then the work of the Internet Archive becomes even more important.

PRO ASYL works with refugees and steps in for human rights, especially related to migration.

Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V. – the GFF was founded in 2015 and its work and approach are somewhat similar to that of the ACLU, at least that is what one of their more prominent supporters claims on their website.

Open Knowledge Foundation Germany – OKFN Germany has funded and supported very interesting work in the field of open, technology, learning and literacy over the year. Check out their projects, it will be interesting to see how they will move onwards over the next year.

Header Image “Bloody Moon” by Linda Xu via unsplash.

One year after #2016DML

tl;dr: I am giving a brief update on what happened to the ideas I was kicking around in my #2016DML Ignite Talk about refugees hacking the education system. I am also briefly describing a class in which students and refugees tell stories and share their perspectives.

One year has passed since my trip to #2016DML and my Ignite Talk. Lots of things have changed for me personally since then and, more importantly, not many things have changed in the way that refugees’ access to German higher education is designed. What has changed, though, is that fewer people make it to Germany and, to many, the perceived urgency of finding ways to integrate them into the education system has lessened a bit. This is not to say that nobody is working on that, not at all, it is rather becoming the ‘undercover operation’ that it has been before 2015. Some organizations, Kiron for example, have gained some ground. Mostly, however, it is left to the federal states and the universities to organize the efforts around studying in Germany. And that’s a good thing, I think. This is exactly the kind of problem that should be solved by society, its democratic organizations, its elected officials, and with tax money. On the other side, this makes changes in the information ecosystem hard to push for, difficult to implement. We’re still talking about a massive bureaucracy organized mostly by PDF for download.  Continue reading →

A new project and some grounding principles

tl;dr: I was going to outline ‘Vodafone Create’, a project that I have been working on over the last couple of months but this post turned more into a compilation of my own ground rules of project design than into a project report.

I started out this year with the prospect of a couple of new developments. Professionally, the biggest step was that I quit my gig at the Hamburg University of Technology by the end of last year to shift my focus a bit. At that time, I was still hopeful that new beginnings at Leuphana University would occupy my worklife for most of the time. Those plans did not come through but I remain employed there with a 50 per cent position at the Digital School.

I always like to have one or two projects on the side (podcasting and occasional Virtually Connecting plus X) and it was by some lucky coincidence that another door opened while bigger visions and strategy at my university were being shredded.

I had been working as a freelance consultant / project manager earlier in my career and I never really shut that down completely even though my tax accountant – I am lazy and incompetent with my personal accounting, bookkeeping and the like, and giving this to someone for a fee might not be economically reasonable, but mind-soothing on many levels – hinted at the idea of shutting this down to save money and time at every occasion.

By the end of last year an acquaintance who now works for Vodafone Germany’s department for Learning and Capability Development got in touch. We started talking about my ideas and experience in the realm of connected learning, team and project based learning online, peer feedback and many other things. We talked about the ideas and concepts that were being developed at Vodafone Germany, latest achievements and some of the challenges they had. A consensus emerged that, by working together, we would both learn and move out of our comfort zones to some extent and we started to work on a concept for training and learning that would encompass technological developments, social and societal issues as well as ‘new’ management techniques, creativity techniques and team work. At some point we needed a project title: Vodafone Create. Continue reading →

Lending Perspectives

tl;dr: Chris Gilliard asked if I would share my impressions of the first part of his and Maha Bali’s #DigPed closing keynote. It grew just a little longer while I was writing the email, so here’s a short blog post.

Just to set the scene: I was watching the recording after #DigPed Institute happened. During those days, I was not able to follow the twitter stream, Virtually Connecting or anything else for that matter. The closing keynote was the first thing that I took a look at.

Closing remarks or keynotes should respond to the events of the respective event or conference. It usually says something about the event (or the one doing the keynote) when a response, a reflection or even a slight change in the once thought-through slidedeck does not seem necessary.

This can happen in a rather dull, recitation-ish way. The audience is taken from day 1 to day 2 to day 3 of the conference sequentially. Sometimes, closing remarks will tie together the workshop sessions, the keynotes and evening events so you can re-live your own experience of a conference. If you’re lucky, though, the person doing the closing remarks lends you their perspective, their point of view, to some extent. If that happens, it expands your overall experience of the conference.

As I said, I have not seen anything from this year’s #DigPed Institutes before I watched the closing keynote by Chris and Maha. As someone who follows Chris’ and Maha’s work – both have contributed provocations to #TowardsOpenness –  I was interested in what they would have to say after an intense week of #DigPed but the title “Praxis, Privacy, and Care in Digital Pedagogies” would have probably raised my attention anyways.

From what I can tell, Chris distilled some of the ongoing discussions during the Institute in a few clear statements, but also blended in his own personal background, his values and his focus of work. And for me, as someone who was not able to go to the event, this is great. It adds a bit of context to the descriptions of tracks and sessions, but also to his following ‘actual’ keynote, and it seems perfect to stumble into before watching some of the other recordings of the event.

I also learned about Amerigo Gazaway, the artist behind the music that is playing during Chris’ first couple of minutes (actually, at first I thought the music was coming from my own laptop and not from the recording of the keynote). However, my positive reaction to Chris doing this a bit differently might also stem from the fact that I am familiar with his work, his ideas and views on platforms, privacy, digital redlining and access to education – not sure how someone feels who lacks that background knowledge.

#DoOO is not an app and not a blog farm

tl;dr: I had the opportunity to propose a #DoOO project at my university and it failed to come through. Because apps.

Featured Image “Controls” by Alan Levine via Flickr under a CC-BY 2.0 license

In 2016, someone in the leadership of my university asked for my opinion: they were working on a funding application that was themed around the idea of an open, approachable university that is in exchange with its surroundings, its stakeholders, employers and businesses in the area, with society as a whole. Basically a ‘third mission’ application.

The application team members were wondering if I would be able to contribute an idea or a concept related to learning, teaching and digital technology that was in line with the idea of outreach and participation beyond our campus borders. Now, let that sink in for a minute: university administrators approached me. They were curious about digital pedagogy, about ways to enable interaction of students with the ‘real world’, and they were hoping to include a concept that fosters this in an application to the federal ministry. Not too bad, is it? Especially considering that my university does not have the more or less traditional tools and technologies in place that many (falsely, I would add) consider to be state of the art for digital teaching and learning practice. No LMS. Not really, anyways – we have a self-developed and self-hosted platform which students use to set up their semester schedules. It has some additional features, but that’s its main use.

Okay, so here I was in one room with university administrators. I chose the concept I was going to present by three main criteria:

a) The concept should scaffold ongoing, constructive and critical discussions around the different ideas of digital pedagogy, identity, teaching and learning among faculty and students.

b) I wanted to show ‘proof’ that what I was pitching had worked before elsewhere, that it had been applied.

c) Under no circumstances did I want to promote a centralized use of technology that follows ideas of control or restraint. (you may read “LMS” here) Instead, I was looking for something that provided students and educators with agency over their own digital identities and their learning and teaching.

Continue reading →

Conscious online learning design?

I am cross-posting something that I have written for the Towards Openness project. You can find the original post here on the Towards Openness page.

This post started as a message exchange with Kate Green. Kate and I decided to go beyond text messaging and write a blog post instead. Find her post here.

After #OER17 Kate and I started to talk about the next steps for our project Towards Openness. This is something that we do in our free time and I think we both see the value in that. We get to make of this whatever we find helpful for ourselves and for the community around ‘open’ and learning. But this lack of a pre-defined direction or goal can make some choices a bit harder. A very pragmatic example: find a tagline for the website. This is not too important to many. And I see their point when they say that a tagline, a font, or a color scheme is just polish. But especially a tagline will always be noted and perceived, consciously or unconsciously. It is included in link previews, it appears in all sorts of ways. We didn’t have a tagline until about a week ago. And I thought “let’s fill that gap”. I sensed that this might be an opportunity to think more closely about what we mean to do with Towards Openness, beyond a vision. A tagline should not be more than 6-7 words maximum and, by then, we had not tried to project our understanding of Towards Openness on half a sentence.

So I thought a bit about this and suggested “conversations for conscious online learning”. I sent it to Kate and quickly added “design” after I sent it, so that it read “conversations for conscious online learning design”. Kate asked what I meant by conscious, reminding me of the importance to try and dissect what we mean by the things we say. And here we go. We texted back and forth and concluded that this is worth a blog post. So here’s my shot at dissecting what I meant with that tagline:

Continue reading →

Public universities, management, expertise and trust

tl;dr: This post might turn into a rant but I hope it won’t. It serves as a valve for something I have been trying to say for quite a while now and I am not sure that I got all the nuances right. It is incomplete but I feel better now that it left my system.

During the last year, I have been working on a strategy for the small institution I work at. We had smaller and larger meetings with different stakeholders of our university. We had conversations with university leadership, external advisors and personal mentors, colleagues from other institutions whom we trusted. We worked on documents, agendas, and a vision. We worked to develop partnerships, we argued for budgets. It took time and effort but, in the end, we all were confident that we had found a goal worth working towards to, a feasible mode for operating without the implied understanding that our team members would have to work beyond their agreed-upon capacity. “No self-exploitation”, we said. A rare statement in academia these days. Partner organizations were prepared and looking forward to work with us, which is especially important for an institution that is part of a small to medium-sized university with limited budgets and experience. And the things that we would be working on were amazing, I haven’t been as enthusiastic about anything work-related for quite a while.  Continue reading →

Late first thoughts: #TowardsOpenness at #OER17

I am not sure why, but it took some serious licorice intake to overcome my inertia in order to write something reflecting the Towards Openness workshop I co-facilitated at #OER17. It might be that the impressions and ideas are hard to sort out, but you have to start somewhere. What this shows, though, is that we somehow seem to have hit a nerve. People I admire for their work have responded to the theme of safety in open online learning in ways that I would have never expected. We had provocateurs who took time and effort in coming up with mind-boggling provocations, we had fantastic onsite participants who came up with interventions to marvel at (find all resources on our website), Frances Bell and Jim Groom blogged about the workshop in retrospect, Bryan Mathers drew (Is that an accurate description of his magic?) a couple of images during and after the workshop. We had a Missed Conversation on Virtually Connecting with onsite participants, provocateurs and others who could not make it to our session (during which I accidentally set the frame to fixate on me, which only adds to the embarrassment of moderating an online session with people who are both smarter than me and are more eloquent conversationalists than I am). The twitter stream includes a wide range of educators. So this would be enough material, ideas and conversations to write plenty of posts about, which probably made it harder for me to start the first one.

Continue reading →