Digital Writing Month: Striving for Inclusion in Open Online Learning (CHE)

October 28, 2015

by 

I’ve been working for some time on ideas of inclusion & (in)equality in open education, and of the possibility of a postcolonial MOOC (with Shyam Sharma), and gathering ideas from others on how to envision a more inclusive, diverse and equitable open online learning experience.

Putting Ideas into Practice

In a couple of days, I get the opportunity to see how some of these ideas work in practice, as I co-facilitate Digital Writing Month (#DigiWriMo), which is a “30-day adventure through the world of digital narrative and art” (announced here) throughout November. This open online experience started in 2012 via Hybrid Pedagogy, and this year, I was asked facilitate it. Immediately, I invited two others to co-facilitate with me – Sarah Honeychurch and Kevin Hodgson. I chose these two people because I had seen in the past how they welcomed other people into existing and emerging communities, and together we worked to imagine ways of making the #DigiWriMo experience as inclusive as possible. This meant inviting diverse voices into center stage as guest contributors, and creating space for both visual and aural/oral expression as well as written; it meant even encouraging guest contributors to, if they chose, critique digital writing’s limitations and not only celebrate its affordances.

My own thinking about postcolonial online learning experiences revolves around making them as participatory as possible; so instead of Kevin, Sarah and myself setting the direction of the conversation, creating all the activities in #DigiWriMo, our guest contributors will not only write inspiring pieces, but some will also offer activities for other participants to try out for themselves or with their students. We sought to find a diverse pool of guest contributors who would both provide new angles on digital expression, and new forms. We have also been open to suggestions from others on Twitter to contribute more activities, or to suggest more resources. All of these are welcome and will be incorporated to the best of our ability.

And Yet

And yet. Not a single person we invited does not have a Twitter handle. An entire population of people who write, and possibly even who write digitally, who are not on Twitter were completely (unintentionally) ignored. If you are not on Twitter, you are still welcome to check out our website any time, subscribe for email updates, add yourself to the roster, or join our Facebook page orG+ group.

And yet. Every single person we invited is someone known to at least one of us; most of them are known to all of us. If you don’t know us, you are welcome to join in and we would love to get to know you. It’s how we grow our PLN (Personal Learning Network).

And yet. All those invited will express themselves in English, even though at least six of them don’t have English as their first language. If you would rather write in another language, you are welcome to do so.

And diversity brings with it its own challenges. Having people across so many timezones will make it exceedingly difficult to organize anything synchronous. But that’s a good thing. We should recognize how difficult it is for some people to do something synchronous. Also, if we care about accessibility, we may need to find ways to make visual and auditory contributions available in some kind of low-bandwidth and/or textual form (and oh, should we also do the opposite? There is almost no end to this kind of discussion).

[The image at the top of this post has all of our guest contributors (thanks to Chris Friend for editing my rough graphic into perfection)]

We realize the imperfections of all of this. We have invited people from all over the world who will express themselves and invite participants to join us in different ways, but they are all educators of some kind, who use Twitter and are comfortable expressing themselves on the open web, and they will all do so in English. We tell participants to choose their own path through the course, not to feel compelled to do everything, but we realize this may still overwhelm some. We hope to create a unique learning experience, and yet we realize it may have flavors of different other open online experiences we (facilitators and guest contributors) have participated in (cMOOCs such as #rhizo14/#rhizo15, #clmooc, #ccourses; other ongoing projects such as  edcontexts.org and virtuallyconnecting.org; and there is an over-representation of Egyptians and Australians, besides the overwhelming majority who are American, or living in America). But it’s a start.

So I realize that as we strive to be more inclusive, there will always, always, be someone we missed; an entire category of someones we missed. But we also do not want to reduce people to their categories. As we worked on the graphic above, I started to remember all the other great writers I know whom we did not invite. And yet we hope so many others will participate in the month, whether the whole month, one week, one day, or one Tweet.

 

Our first activity invites participants to create alternative, unofficial CVs and we posted it a few days earlier than the official start date, in case someone wants to spend some time on it and kickstart their month a little earlier than the official calendar date.

How would you make an open online learning experience more inclusive?

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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