Hitting the wall and maybe working out how to get back up again

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.

From little things big things grow.

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.

17 thoughts on “Hitting the wall and maybe working out how to get back up again

  1. I hope writing this made you feel a bit better! I know reading it has helped me in my attempts to make sense of the total fuckwittery of the world right now. So thank you again for you open-ness and honesty. Sending a virtual hugs

    1. So good to hear from you Sheila and thank you for your words. Your work and your writing over the years have been a source of inspiration for me. Glad to be in it together with you. Sending hugs back at you too. X

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Some days I wonder if I am the only one feeling less and less inspired, more and more ready to get out of this business – I hoped this feeling would go away as we moved further from March 2020, but it has only become clearer that COVID pushed us further into the abyss, even if it opened possibilities (the powers that be seeming to be less and less likely to embrace those possibilities making it harder for those of us working with edtech to really feel like we can make a difference). Anyway, not wanting to rant too much myself, you are an inspiration to me (this is Emily @Camosun) like Sheila, also sending virtual hugs!

    1. Thanks for commenting Emily and I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling some of the same. It seems to be an occupational hazard for many of us in edtech these days. I’m never so grateful for the community I’ve met here in BC and inspired by the folks I get to work with in the OpenETC and that includes you very much. So sending virtual hugs and solidarity back at you! Look forward to doing more of the good work together wherever we can.

  3. Mostly commenting to send virtual hugs, the fragmentation of the birdspace etc making that less obvious where to do now.

    In my own thinking on this, it’s come down to “I can’t save/change everything. I can barely save/change *anything.* So what can I do with my limited lifespan and personal power that will have the best impact, done in a way that I can live with and hopefully even enjoy. Detach from the outcome, aim high, hope for the best.” Or some equally rambling formulation.

    This general topic is something I’ve been wrestling with since I began working, and been a part of collective discussions on for almost as long. To me, the fact that we continue to ask the question and struggle with the answer is actually a good sign, because the massifiers don’t. What was it Yeats said, the best lack all conviction?

    Be well Anne-Marie, you’re one of the good ‘uns, I’d gladly share a foxhole with you any day. Cheers, S

    1. Virtual hugs gratefully accepted Scott and hopefully actual hugs at some point too. I agree that it’s a good sign that we keep asking these questions and having these conversations too. All care and concern hasn’t quite been stifled yet and that’s some hope in itself. Good deeds, good actions, good lives. Xx

  4. If you happen to be in the vicinity of Vancouver on your Western travels and feel the urge to exchange empathetic rants about age related ailments, weight gain, the sad state of edtech, and a general sense of powerlessness in a world that was probably always wonky but that seems to have taken a wildly insane turn of late, maybe on a sailboat or in a nearby tavern, ideally with beer, call me, mail me, whatever.
    J

    1. Hi Jon – i got this just this evening as I arrived back home I’m afraid otherwise that would have been lovely and I would have accepted. I will be back soon I hope though, so can we pop that beer on ice and I’ll collect on it and the sailboat seat next time!

  5. Who does not love a rambling shambles? Whomever they are they are not my people. Anne-Marie good to get to writing (you have be berating yourself for a while now that you must). Wonderful too to get to the sea and to dwell in the fair blue of distance for a while with little else to do. Yes. Small things will make the moves. But don’t fear the massive. Far as I can tell you muscle like a beast. I am a bit like that, so accept my apologies in advance but as one gutsy babe to another, it is hard to muffle and reframe for ever. The brute force to even keep up motivation is nothing short of INSANE. I truly do not know this myself but live a life blessed in my elders who look at my to do list of work rapidly actualizing itself (at a nuclear level) after 20 years of plodding, the political sh*Tshow, the promise (and the deficits) of framing a new home for myself and by myself somewhat after thinking I knew what my end game was, and yes let’s add in losing loved ones to illness and death (FFS!), let’s fold in a worldwide public health emergency, in your case skies on fire and mine murder in the foyer, and my elders and ancestors are looking at me like.. who do you think you are? That’s nuts. Just make progress, this is NO TIME TO BLAME THE END USER. I do not know about your age of bonkers. It seems to be TOO MUCH. There is a lot happening, yet we are starving. Starving for sense. For SUMMER safety. For culture and society. IT is TOO MUCH. Perhaps this will NOT be a GOLD medal year. Take your breaks and pace yourself and for all frickin means gain strength. But there is so much evil in the strong ones right now too know for here I smile with such affection that you announce ‘all you can do’ and it is rest. You announce that you are without strength. GOOD. I have had it with resilience and strong men. Like Brenna. I am not a fan. Informed fragility announcements land well with me. And I hope a little time on our coast pleased you. You deserve it. In this Bronze Age so many are working themselves to the bone. Rest. Nourish. I was so grateful when a friend noted to me how happy they were I would rest. I stiffly remarked I would be good soon… I am here on like my 99th and day… and guess what? I am still EXHAUSTED. It all just makes me tired all over. No amount of macrobiotic nutrition plans, or pilates classes, or even… WRITING — Is going to change for me anyway. But the fair blue of distance and some vitamin sea yes. Being a good animal with a smattering of smart arse here and there, yes. Accessing culture and the ridiculous humour I need to abide this parochial place and the corruptness globally bearing down — for that TOTALLY. Breakfasts at arborite tables with allies. You called it with grace. You have all the grace you need. And this world will serve you up plenty of calls to use it — no need to answer EVERY call. Take care. And soak up my admiration for all you do AND ALL YOU DON’T. This is midlife. And it is a TRIP! #fml

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