I’ve collapsed. Mentally a bit, but more so physically.
After many months of work stress, family grief, and poor health I’ve hit a wall. Thanks to a wicked combination of oestrogen and anemia I’ve piled on weight and am currently swollen up like a balloon due to water retention. All my joints feel sore and I’m struggling with strength in my hands. I feel like I’m part of a whole generation hitting late middle age and just shouting “WTF” when they realise how little is done or said about menopause. Fun times.
So, on a much needed holiday I’m at the point where all I have the energy for is staring across the sea and letting my mind wander. Beside the water is my happy place and wind and the rhythm of waves are immensely calming. The sunshine that can go with that here on the coast of BC is deeply weird, but I’m coming to enjoy it. Do not ask me if I’ve put sunscreen on. I’m an idiot.
News from the US in the past few days has been hard to hear, and the echoes of Black Lives Matter protests are unmistakeable as unarmed protestors are again being assaulted by police forces.
“Land of the free” my fucking arse.
And there’s no smugness from me here in my adopted Canadian home. The same problems are everywhere. I worry about trigger effects because the worst kind of regressive politics seems ascendant in many places. We’re not even pretending to say the quiet part out loud anymore, and of course Clarence Thomas has made clear that this is only the first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of anyone the GOP objects to. Trans folks in the US will ask you to be aware that the assault on LGBTQ2S+ rights has actually been underway for some time.
As access to abortion healthcare fragments into have and have-not states and as I watch Scotland launch a new campaign for IndyRef2 I wonder about size and scale and how big is too big to govern? Fundamental rights are fundamental rights, but the fight for them feels like it will necessarily be small scale, local, piece by piece.
I try to take heart from the work of writers and thinkers like adrienne maree brown who talks about the repeating patterns that can build from small actions. Of course that can cut both ways and bad can repeat and grow too, but it makes me feel less hopeless about working on what’s in front of me and seems doable.
I’m also reflecting that I love so little of the work I do these days.
The mission of my institution inspires me, the faculty and colleagues I work with inspire me, the student leaders I work with inspire me, but the wider edtech narratives depress me daily. The techno-bullshittery never ceases, and the lack of respect for learning and teaching expertise and for human scale initiatives is unrelenting. Access is a problem of scale at one level and I am committed to working on that but I increasingly hear reductive views of digital learning limited to students navigating personalised pathways through high-end content and teachers interpreting that learning through analytics. This seems devoid of any kind of good relations and community.
I remember a time when I got excited about generative and liberating uses of technology, enabling people to bring their whole selves to learning, being able to incorporate their world, their context, their knowledge, and in turn develop new connections, new communities, and new knowledge to further explore and build on these things. I think this is still possible, and I think work around open practices, open pedagogies, ethics of care, and decolonisation point the way towards how to do it in today’s dogpile of an internet.
Every day I’m grateful for the community of committed educators I find myself in and from whom I take much inspiration (you know who you are and the continuity of your care has been sustaining for a number of years now). Most recently, sparks of hope have come from Jim Groom reclaiming “edtech” (if I can age into my career with even half the sense of fun, grace, generosity that he has then I will have achieved something) and Tom Woodward punching metaphorical lions in the face.
The work I do as the Board Chair of the Apereo Foundation (one of the largest open source software foundations in post-secondary education) and as part of the leadership group of the OpenETC here in British Columbia is also massively sustaining (I will be forever grateful to Tannis, Brian, Grant, and Clint that they invited me to come play with them). Talking and working with people who build and make edtech directly informed by teachers and students, sharing the best of what we do with our community, contributing to the collective wealth of our commons, not the bottom line of a quarterly profits forecast. I can do this.
I was thinking back to an OpenETC chat we had a week ago about finding a few examples of cool projects that weren’t based on WordPress for a bit of variety (we also run Mattermost, Sandstorm, and NextCloud). In the end we realised that the most exciting and creative work is being done on WordPress because we specifically run it in such a way as to facilitate that. A community has been built where small ideas and projects can be supported, and when they work, they can be shared and re-used by others in the community. And because of the “contributions not contracts” model it can scale to as many institutions as are willing to bring their labour and time to the plate.
From little things big things grow.
Someone else has made idle threats about blogging recently and I know has things to say about the range of different projects that a platform like WordPress can support, so I’ll leave that space clear. But I will return to a quote that Grant Potter and I used in our OER21 presentation.
“…digital platforms as key educational devices in the governing of education, deploying a nuanced sensitivity towards mobility, enactment, patterning, paradoxes and the generation of different potentialities.” (Decuypere et al, https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2020.1866050)
Edtech platforms can exert control over education. This is why building platforms like the OpenETC (and other open platforms) is so vitally important. The purposes, values and contexts that drive the development of these platforms is massively different to most commercial edtech. Knowing your community, being attentive to their needs, creating frameworks for contributions from that community as the path to continual evolution – this all feels like the good work in action.
This is a bit of rambling shambles of a blog post, which is a fair representation of my mental faculties at present. If there’s a common thread through my thoughts today, I think it’s that in the face of whatever monstrous bullshit, find your people, do good work at whatever scale you can, and find ways to share that out, so that it hopefully connects to many others also doing the same. This is how we will get through. This is how it gets better.