History education in an era of fake news

I’ve been thinking for a while about documenting some reflections on my experience of studying and learning from History in the Apartheid regime. In this autobiographical essay, I examine some History education approaches I’ve observed and the value of introducing, developing and fostering good research skills in an era of fake news. A recent social media conversation brought my intention into the open.

Simon Horrocks: The arts & humanities regularly come in for a rough ride from those who would prefer a more instrumentalist education system but if the last 24 hours in the UK prove anything its that everyone would benefit from a greater understanding of history AND semiotics. Anna Page: I've been thinking this for years, it is why certain types of government try to eliminate / whitewash certain history topics in the curriculum as they don't want us to understand the nuances of the full story. Reflective blog post on learning history in apartheid regime coming... Simon Horrocks: I look forward to that post Anna - it's a bit exhausting right niow but keeping the momentum of these discussions going will be important.

Twitter exchange with Simon Horrocks, 8 June 2020

Please note: the use of the terms ‘Black’, ‘Coloured’, ‘Indian’ and ‘White’ in the following account records the racial categories which were codified by the South African government in the Apartheid era and were familiar to me as a child. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coloureds.

A personal history…

I grew up in Cape Town during the Apartheid era, my primary and secondary schooling happened between 1975 and 1986 after a year at pre-school. In those days the Group Areas Act was in full force, to “maintain the status quo of white supremacy” (South African History Online, 2019). We lived in a White, mainly English speaking suburb (the first ‘garden city’ in South Africa) which had 3 co-educational English primary schools, 1 co-educational Afrikaans primary school (which later closed) and 1 co-educational English secondary school. The only black people who lived in the area were ‘live in domestic servants’ if the house had accommodation for servants (a permit was required), otherwise they travelled with their pass (often long distances in crowded transport) to work every day. As a young child I began to become aware of these rules in the year I started school when my family employed Elsie Jonas to clean our home one day a week (she had other cleaning jobs on other days). I’m thankful my mother instilled good manners in us: we were expected to treat Elsie with respect and had to tidy our bedroom beforehand so she wouldn’t have too big a task to clean it.

Our school buildings were smart, very new (my primary school was only 2 years older than me) with spacious well equipped classrooms, a large hall with a stage, sports field, large tarmaced playground marked out with sports pitch lines and best of all a well stocked library, where we had weekly ‘library lessons’ from our earliest days at school (even before we could read and write, we had ‘story time’ in the library). I’ve written before about how we were taught beginner research techniques from primary school age in that library, where we were introduced to the Dewey decimal system to help us find books in the catalogue, given short research topics and asked to find at least three reliable sources of information for our projects. This was taught as a basic building block for our education, regardless of the subjects we later chose to study in secondary school. I realise it was a privilege to receive such good quality grounding in the basics of research at primary school, it was rare in South Africa for black and coloured children to have such facilities and teaching in their schools as “White learners were taught subjects that led towards higher education and superior skilled and leadership roles in society …. Black learners, on the other hand, were taught subjects that contained and limited their horizons of opportunity.” (Karllson, 2004).

In Sub A and Sub B (the first two years at primary school after I attended the pre-school next door in 1974, now called Grades 1 and 2) we were taught to read, write and do basic arithmetic, with plenty of creative play and music.

In Standards 1 – 5 (now Grades 3 – 7) we had lessons covering several subject areas: English, Afrikaans, Mathematics, History, Science, Geography, Art, Music, Sewing and Knitting (girls), Woodwork (boys) and Physical Education. Athletics, netball, rounders, tennis were sports I recall doing, boys did cricket and rugby instead of netball, swimming lessons were at another primary school as ours didn’t have a pool at the time.

History was one of my favourite subjects. We were taught that the Cape was settled by White Europeans finding a sea route to the East rather than the overland route to India and China for spices, sugar and fine cloth: the names and dates of Barthomeu Dias 1488, Vasco da Gama 1497 and Jan van Riebeeck 1652 are ingrained in my mind even now. In Geography class, I recall tracing a map of Africa and being asked to carefully colour the edges blue showing the sea and land, then colouring and labelling the map with the different countries, revealing the colonisation of the continent by the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Belgians and Germans. We learned about the Slave trade and something of the influence it had on the culture, ethnicity and cuisine of South Africa. We also learned a little about the Khoisan people who were at the Cape before the white settlers arrived (they were referred to as Bushmen and Hottentots in our lessons) and the migration south of the various Bantu tribes (such as the Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho) as White settlers moved north.

In the largely “didactics tradition in South Africa” (Le Grange, 2010) we were taught using printed textbooks, lined exercise books for writing in, chalk on traditional blackboards (which were actually green), overhead projectors and occasionally films. The films were shown in a dedicated room where I recall watching government information films about how to brush your teeth and the damage done to lungs and teeth by cigarette smoking which made such a strong impression on me I’ve never taken up smoking.

In 1976 when protests broke out in response to the imposition of Afrikaans as the main language of instruction in black schools, the apartheid government killed 176 protesting school children in Soweto (a township near Johannesburg), triggering strikes and riots in other cities, including some townships on the Cape Flats in Cape Town. Elsie, who lived in Gugulethu, a black township, told my parents about her fears for her children, especially regarding their safety getting to school. She wanted to send her 13 year old daughter by bus to Xhosa relatives in the much quieter King Willliamstown in the Eastern Cape area so Miriam could continue her schooling in a more peaceful district, and was saving the money for the fare. My parents and other people she worked for loaned Elsie money towards the fare (which was paid off gradually through her wages). I was told the basics of this situation at the time in a matter of fact way by my parents, and wondered about Miriam being far away from her parents because they wanted her to complete her school education. I was becoming aware that black and coloured children had a very different educational experience from my privileged State education for white children as I had Coloured friends in Sunday School at the Cathedral (St George’s, in Cape Town) and we visited them in their District Six home (before the multi-racial melting pot of District Six was controversially cleared and demolished to become a whites only area). At that age I had no conception of the Black Consciousness Movement whose “education activists and theorists” (Motala & Vally, 2002, p178) were inspired by illegal copies of Friere’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed‘ (which was banned in South Africa), and school boycotts by some Black children which were happening in response to the Apartheid regime. I had no appreciation for the paradoxes involved – was it better to have some education, even if deficient and only leading to limited opportunities, reinforcing the hierarchical, race driven status quo or to leave formal education, risking job opportunities (and possibly getting a criminal record or killed) to campaign for parity with White education. I didn’t yet know much about the “history of political and economic marginalisation and exploitation” (Gathara, 2020) suffered by Africa at the hands of colonial rulers and post-colonial governments.

Making history…

In my final (Standard 5) year at primary school (1981) the South African government celebrated 20 years of the country being a Republic. Schools were expected to mark the occasion with special events (I recall some written work in class and the singing of ‘Die Stem‘ during a special Assembly in the school hall) however my English parents weren’t too keen to make a big fuss about it. They were closely involved, via the Cathedral, in helping provide support to people living in squatter camps in the Cape Flats so were aware of the injustices suffered by many people because they were not White. One rainy Cape winter Saturday night in 1977 my parents had received a phone call from the Dean of Cape Town asking for their help. They told my elder brothers to look after us while they took our VW Combi to help transport people, whose squatter camp had been destroyed by the security forces, to a church hall for shelter and food. Later I vividly remember the Cathedral gave a temporary home (tents in the grounds for several weeks) to some displaced people and in the seats below the gallery for “three weeks of instant community living” (King, 1996, p52) to another group of people whose squatter shacks had been removed, an event described movingly by the Dean in his book ‘A Good Place to Be’.

During Standard 5 our class had Xhosa lessons from our White male teacher Mr Barendt, who was quite fluent in the language. I can still remember the words of one song (a greeting song). I was able to shyly sing it to Elsie (who was Xhosa), which made her laugh.

Molweni Nonke, Ndiphilile unjani, Siya impilo enkosi, Kunjani Kuwe
Rough translation:
Hello everyone, I’m fine how are you, we thank you and good health, how are you

Curriculum and perspectives in history…

I was starting to read newspapers regularly in my final years at primary school (The Argus and The Cape Times were the English papers my family purchased, later my father also had The Guardian and Observer posted to him from England), my English literature and History classes were also beginning to teach us how to weigh up sources of information and the motives behind them, though in a sanitised way (we were never given anything too upsetting to discuss), so my parents’ muted response to the 20th anniversary of the Republic celebrations was another moment of enlightenment as I started to consider the different viewpoints and voices I was discovering. I compared what I was learning in school with what I was observing and hearing in every day life, including radio news reports and listening to a local Indian music programme on Saturday mornings. I discovered that my parents could only vote in local municipal elections as residents, they could not vote in national elections as they did not have South African citizenship (they both retained their British passports). Sometimes when it was election time and posters were put up on every lamp post on Forest Drive (the main road through our suburb), I could tell by things my father said as we drove past that he didn’t approve of particular parties or candidates.

In 1982 I started secondary school at Pinelands High School (Standards 6-10, now Grades 8-12). In the first year it was compulsory to do the following wide range of subjects: English, Afrikaans, Mathematics, Biology, Science (physics and chemistry), History, Geography, Physical Education and Home economics (girls) or Woodwork (boys). We could choose optional extra subjects: I did Art and Music, there was also Latin, Typewriting and Accountancy. In Standard 7 we could drop Home economics or Woodwork.

I continued to enjoy History lessons. I had good teachers who encouraged enquiring minds within the limitations of the Apartheid curriculum designed for White children. Two history teachers stand out in my memories. My standard 6 History teacher, Mr Jackson, was an energetic and inspiring character, with great love of his subject. He made the lessons come alive. It was probably in my Standard 8 or 9 year that Mr Jackson was called up for his repeat military service: White South African men had compulsory “national service or diensplig” (Baines, 2008) for 2 years after school, followed by another 3 – 6 months 10 years later. As a pacifist against the South African government military action in Angola, he refused his call up, so was removed from the school and made to work in a Government archive for a year (at least they made use of his history training, though we lost a good teacher as he didn’t return to the school).

In Standard 8 we narrowed down our subjects to 6 matric subjects which had to include English and Afrikaans. I chose History, Maths, Art (including Art History) and Graphic Art to study through to Standard 10.

In my final school years, my history teacher was Mr Hughes who had a calm, measured and somewhat dry approach to the subject but with the ability to emphasize important points in a way which held my attention. He taught us some critical evaluation techniques to weigh up what was known from different sources, not just the prescribed History textbook. I realise he was teaching us how to recognise the hidden propaganda messages in different artefacts such as articles, descriptions and textbooks, to try and counteract the selectiveness of the curriculum. In a qualitative study of memory accounts by a small number of people who were taught in apartheid era schools, Jenni Karlssohn noted that “subjects such as History were criticised primarily for how the past was portrayed selectively to exclude certain stories and voices rather than for having a doctrinaire approach to apartheid ideology” (Karlssohn, 2004).

Despite this caveat, the South African history curriculum for White children at the time opened a door to understanding historical themes, eras and concepts. We spent half the year examining South African history and half the year studying ‘rest of the world’ history, mainly concentrating on Western history. It wasn’t just a series of dates, events and facts, though timelines were used as tools to help place events in a sequence and context, we also learned cause and effect – what happened and some of the reasons leading to historical events. Learning about both South African and European history helped place the South African contribution to world events into a bigger contextual timeline, showing how events in different countries were interlinked. We studied feudalism, the Renaissance in Europe, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the unification of Italy, the colonisation of North America (mostly concentrating on USA: independance, civil war including that the USA had a slave history and separatist policies too). We examined the terms of nationalism, fascism, communism, self-determination and democracy, including a bit on the Suffragette movement. We studied World War 1 (WW1) and World War 2 (WW2) in detail, touched on Far East history (mainly relating to its connection with South Africa for trade, though also Japanese involvement in WW2, then Western involvement in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, plus Western involvement in the middle East leading to the Israel/Palestine situation).

In South African history we explored in more detail some of the early European settlement period we had learned about in Primary school, the change from a Dutch to a British colony in 1803, the Great Trek by the Afrikaner settlers and clashes with Xhosa and Zulu peoples over land, the Boer War, the Union of South Africa, its involvement in WW1 and WW2, the emergence of Black and Asian politicians (in my matric year we studied the founding of the ANC, we also learned a bit about Mahatma Gandhi) and South Africa becoming a republic in 1961. It was when preparing for our matric examinations that the control and limitations of the Apartheid curriculum even for privileged white children were starkly illuminated for me, as I explained in my April 2016 blog post ‘Libraries and homework in the internet age’:

“my practice examination essay on the African National Congress in preparation for my Matric was a personal turning point because my history teacher gave it an outstanding mark and asked me to “please not write like that in the examination” as the school would be investigated for teaching us to question the official apartheid government story about the ANC (he said it with some pride – he was clearly pleased with me). It was a sobering realization of the stark divisions in that country where equal opportunities for a good education did not exist because of a terrible ideology.” (Page, 2016)

It was at that point that I realised I didn’t want to live in a country which treated the majority of the population as lesser people because of their ethnic background, with a privileged few having more rights, freedoms and riches than everyone else. I knew it was idealistic to believe that any country existed without such stark inequalities but many other countries did not have racism codified into law as explicitly as Apartheid South Africa, though their underlying structures and cultural practices limited equality.

I had been a Brownie then a Guide, and although Girlguiding South Africa Brownie packs and Guide companies were segregated by local area (caused by Apartheid), they were organised in wider districts which covered white, coloured and black areas. This meant that larger Guiding events such as the 75th anniversary celebration in 1985 at a local sports stadium and the 75th anniversary camp and annual district camps were multi-racial, with patrols of 6 Guides often mixed, so we got to know each other’s customs and cultures a bit through the various communal activities (putting up tents, cooking, orienteering, swimming, cleaning latrines, campfire sing-alongs and games).

Partly because of mixing with people of other races socially at the Cathedral and in Guides, parental minor involvement in social justice activities through the Cathedral, along with skillful History, English and Art teachers who encouraged my wider reading, I was acutely aware of my privilege (including the choice to travel elsewhere). I realised that my view of racial discrimination as unjust was not universally held or was ignored by my peers, many of whom had given up History at the end of Standard 7 in preference for other subjects. I was beginning to appreciate that a multitude of historical perspectives of world and South African histories existed, not just the sanitised, dry and sometimes contradictory viewpoints of the Apartheid curriculum.

Contrasting history curricula…

When I moved to England, aged 19, I noticed the underlying prejudice and racism in some aspects of British life (including TV sitcoms), it was not what I had rather naively expected. For the first couple of years I was working (as an apprentice pipe-organ builder) in Brixton and living in Hackney, both multi-cultural suburbs with visible deprivation and war damage, occasionally visiting my retired maternal Grandparents in their comfortable country bungalow in Dorset. Over the next few years (including starting my first Open University job) I started to assimilate into British life and observed the class and wealth driven education system (State schools which included Grammar and Comprehensives, ‘Public’ schools independent of state control which South Africans called ‘Private’ schools). I began to understand comments my grandparents made about the sometimes superior quality of the State education we received in South Africa compared to what children at many State schools in the UK experienced during the same period, though it had improved a bit since then.

A generation earlier my grandparents (who lived for a time in East Africa: Uganda and later Kenya during the Mau Mau) had sent my mother and her sister to reputationally good UK ‘Public’ schools because they could afford to pay for such tuition (otherwise they would both have been entered for the 11-plus to seek places in a State Grammar school). At the time the teaching of history in English Public schools reinforced rather than challenged the status quo, a curriculum of “nostalgic analyses about our supposed global power and the beneficence of the former empire” (Claeys, 2013). Although my mother may have learned something about slavery in her history lessons, the curriculum was likely to have emphasized the emancipation narrative more than how Empire profited from slave labour and oppressed local cultures by creating “racial hierarchy to control and govern colonies around the world” (Goodfellow, 2019) after slavery was officially abolished.

Similiarly, my English husband’s experience of learning History (at a poor quality Independent secondary school) was of lists of dates, Royalty and Empire with little in the way of critical analysis or research skills taught and nothing about the causes of WW2, which was recent history for him. His knowledge of that war was drawn from the many films (dramas and documentaries) which were made in the 1950s and 1960s, often featuring ‘British heroes’ rather than international allies beating fascism and post war efforts between nations to build and maintain peace.

Years later, when our children were at State schools in England, I noticed distinct differences in the curriculum from my South African experience. Although they had school libraries, the teaching of research skills (for any subject) was much less apparent and I found myself teaching them some of what I had learned when they were doing homework because they were unsure how to seek reliable information (either in books or online) and make sense of what they found. At primary level, history seemed to be taught around period themes (The Victorians, the Saxons, the Romans, etc). There was little overview of the interconnectedness of world history, which the voyages of discovery and trade around the world revealed about how cultures interacted in different periods and the consequences of those encounters. I realised that South African children were geographically ideally placed to learn those stories, while there was much less of a narrative thread in the history curriculum experienced by British children like mine, as the less glamourous features of the British Empire were omitted or not emphasized in the curriculum. With a plethora of ruined castles and country houses to visit on school visits and family outings, the focus was on glorious, romanticised histories rather than on what could be learned from past mistakes. Neither of my children did History for their GCSEs and they’ve both said they’ve learned more history from holidays and outings, plus discussions with me than they remembered from school.

Three of my Open University undergraduate modules stand out as examples of critical engagement with cultural and historical differences:

  • A216 Art and its histories had a whole unit which explored and discussed other viewpoints in contrast to the often dominant Western view of art and culture. It also had an indepth unit on different views of gender in Art.
  • AA303 Understanding Comparative History: Britain and America from 1760 compared and contrasted the political, economic and industrial cultures of the two countries, revealing their strengths and weaknesses.
  • AA309 Culture, identity and power in the Roman empire examined a much earlier empire and the cultures it conquered, influenced and embraced.

Unfortunately, “ubiquitous imperialism, which continues to pervade our institutions and culture” (Matharu, 2020) means that “colonial thinking persists” (Goodfellow, 2019) in 21st century Britain, with animosity towards immigrants and people of other races whipped up by politicians and the media. This is largely due to ignorance of the nuances in British history and the proliferation of fake news stories with eye catching headlines which are deliberately divisive and encourage people to take sides without much thought or understanding. Unlike Germany which has confronted and continues to acknowledge its bloody and imperialistic role in WW2, Britain and other European nations have not yet faced and come to terms with the less palatable elements of their colonial histories; unfortunately “we cannot have a just and decent present as long as we refuse to face our pasts” (Neiman, 2020).

Redesigning history curricula…

The challenge for 21st century educators is to find ways to integrate the development of research and critical thinking skills into every subject they teach (primary, secondary and tertiary levels) and provide meaningful ways for child and adult learners to practice these skills so they can recognise propaganda and fake news more readily. The challenge for all of us who have such skills is to openly take on misleading headlines and soundbites in public (in the press, in films, documentaries and on social media) and when possible counter them calmly with relevant, verifiable nuance and detail in persuasive ways. We also need to review the History curriculum in British schools to ensure that every child is taught a broader narrative of world history along with concepts such as democracy, socialism, nationalism, facism, capitalism and communism before they choose their GCSEs.

By implementing a revised curriculum and engaging research informed public approaches, more people might begin to have some understanding of the richly mixed range of political, economic and cultural influences on British life and the role they can play individually and collectively to make a new future which is more equitable across culture and race than in the past.

Postscript

Both the schools I attended were some of the first South African schools to become mixed race once Apartheid was abolished (Pinehurst in 1990), with Pinelands High School introducing the annual Rainbow camps in 1999 to support cultural integration and tolerance.

References

Baines, G. (2008) Blame, Shame or Reaffirmation? White Conscripts Reassess the Meaning of the “Border War” in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Interculture, vol 5.3 (October 2008). Available at https://web.archive.org/web/20100609211126/http://dih.fsu.edu/interculture/volume5_3/Baines_Blame,_Shame_or_Reaffirmation.pdf (accessed 30 June 2020)

Claeys, A. (2013) Gove’s Proposed History Curriculum Forgets That We Live in 2013, Not the 1950s, 21 February 2013 [online], Huffpost. Available at https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/anna-claeys/michael-gove-history-curriculum_b_2723655.html (accessed 4 July 2020)

Gathara, P. (2020) Black Lives Matter protests should lead to rethink of attitudes to Africa, 23 June 2020 [online], The Financial Times. Available at https://www.ft.com/content/bc03814b-7f4e-4af2-af87-d8b85785c087 (accessed 4 July 2020)

Goodfellow, M. (2019) Put our colonial history on the curriculum – then we’ll understand who we really are, 5 December, 2019 [online], The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/05/britain-colonial-history-curriculum-racism-migration (accessed 1 July 2020)

Karlssohn, J. (2004) Schooling Space: where South Africans learnt to position themselves within the
hierarchy of apartheid society, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, Volume 12, Number 3, 2004. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14681360400200206 (accessed 29 June 2020)

King, Dean E. L., (1996) Chapter 7. A theatre of basic drama, A Good Place to Be: Dean E. L. King on thirty years at Cape Town Cathedral (p52). PreText, Cape Town, ISBN 0-620-20764-7

Le Grange, L. (2010) Chapter 5. South African Curriculum Studies: A Historical Perspective and Autobiographical Account, in W. F. Pinar (ed.), Curriculum Studies in South Africa. Available at https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9780230105508_6 (accessed 1 July 2020)

Matharu, H. (2020) Beyond Exceptional: The Etonian English Imperialism at the Heart of a Deadly COVID-19 Crisis, 5 June 2020 [online], Byline Times. Available at https://bylinetimes.com/2020/06/05/beyond-exceptional-the-etonian-english-imperialism-at-the-heart-of-a-deadly-covid-19-crisis/ (accessed 2 July 2020)

Motala, S. & Vally, S. (2002) ‘People’s education: from people’s power to Tirisano’ (p178), Apartheid Education, Popular Resistance and Alternative Education, in The History of Education under Apartheid 1948 – 1994: The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened. Peter Kallaway (ed.). Pearson Education, South Africa. ISBN-10: 1868911926

Neiman, S. (2020) Germany confronted its racist legacy. Britain and the US must do the same, 13 June 2020 [online], The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/13/germany-confronted-racist-legacy-britain-us (accesed 2 July 2020)

Page, A. (2016) Libraries and homework in the internet age, AnnaCPage’s Blog, 16 April 2016 [online]. Available at https://annacpage.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/libraries-and-homework-in-the-internet-age/ (accessed 30 June 2020)

South African History Online (2019) Group Areas Act of 1950 [Online], South African History Online. Available at https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/group-areas-act-1950 (accessed 30 June 2020)

Bibliography

Bantu peoples https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantu_peoples

Coloureds https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coloureds

Die Stem van Suid-Afrika https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Stem_van_Suid-Afrika

District Six https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_Six

Khoisan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khoisan

Pinehurst Primary School https://www.phps.org.za/history

Pinelands High School https://www.phs.org.za/

Pinelands, Cape Town https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinelands,_Cape_Town

Soweto uprising https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soweto_uprising

St George’s Cathedral https://sgcathedral.co.za/

Tired of the media and the message?

Fake News - Scrabble Tiles, Journolink Journolink, https://www.flickr.com/photos/157230341@N02/33661377268/ CC BY 2.0

Fake News – Scrabble Tiles

This is an opinion piece in response to various social media exchanges I have observed recently and touches on fake news, online communication as well as roles and responsibilities in society.

We would all like to believe that the governments we elect will serve us with the best interests of our nations at heart, wherever we live in the world. However it isn’t enough to believe, we also have a responsibility to actively hold them to account to ensure they do, because governments are made of people, some who unfortunately do not have public service at the forefront of their motivations and may have stood for elected office or employed others for ulterior purposes.

Some of us have specific roles which are meant to help hold governments to account; this includes Journalists, Members of Parliament (in all parties including a government’s own party) as well as expert lead organisations/associations such as the British Medical Association (in the UK), Universities and business organisations among others. We may not always like the ways in which people in such roles operate and this is where we, as civically responsible individuals, can also do our part to hold those in official positions to account. We can do this by paying attention to what they are doing, keeping in touch with them (writing to our MPs and media organisations with questions or observations) and reading widely beyond the headline, not just trusting one source because it is what we have always done. Then, whenever the opportunity arises we vote for candidates based on what we have found out about them and their policies (checking their integrity and track record of public service in their field) rather than because we, our parents and grandparents have always voted for a particular political party, because parties evolve over time.

Many of the online platforms we use to keep in touch with family and friends are not neutral spaces because “technology connects us but it is not culturally neutral” (Gunawardena, 2014) and the data we allow those platforms to hold about ourselves is sometimes used in unethical ways to feed us personalised messages which are designed to persuade us to accept particular viewpoints as absolute truth, even though they might be biased because they don’t tell the whole story. This might be happening gradually over a long period of time to sway people towards a particular mindset for propaganda purposes. It is important to be aware of these manipulation issues and treat each message we see (shared by friends, acquaintances, colleagues, newspapers, sponsored advertisements or pages we follow) with some scepticism rather than accepting them at face value as entirely true, then discussing them honestly and respectfully with each other.

It is wise to ask the following questions about messages we see put out by the ‘media’ or ‘government’ or ‘members of parliament’ or ‘business’ or ‘the man in the street’:

  1. Why did they phrase it that way and does the message contain emotive language?
    What is the real message they are trying to put across, i.e. what is the motivation behind the message?
    Is it a message we want to believe, does it reinforce or challenge our usual dearly held beliefs?
    Is it easier/more comfortable to agree with rather than challenge the message and can we challenge constructively and kindly?
  2. Who funds them or owns them?
    Does the funder have extreme right or left wing views: extremes are often a danger to equity?
    What does the person or organisation hope to achieve by sharing particular messages, might this result in them making more money?
    Do they want to make people despair, give up or do as they are told?
    Do they seek to cause division?
    Do they want to incite people to do the opposite of what might be healthy or sensible?
    Are they appealing for support from like-minded people or are they inviting comment from others who might disagree?
  3. Is the message factual or is there another perspective or some verifiable, reliable facts which counter the message?
    Why is the message a problem or a challenge and how might it affect different people in a variety of situations?
    How can we as ordinary people counter-act a dangerous message to diffuse rather than inflame a situation?

If we believe that a government has our best interests at heart, we still have to accept that others may believe or have verifiable evidence to prove the opposite is true or that the reality is more nuanced than polarised. Their roles might require them to point out the flaws in a particular action or directive, and might help to safeguard our rights and freedoms. If we want truth and democracy to flourish, we must uphold freedom of speech conducted in fair-minded, ethical and respectful ways, however we cannot expect that to happen without a lot of work on our part, it is always dangerous to be complacent and passively rely on others to do this for us. As the late Eleanor Roosevelt said “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” (United Nations Foundation, n.d.)

References:

Gunawardena, C. N. (2014) ‘Globalization, culture, and online distance’. in Zawacki-Richter, O. and Anderson, T. (eds) Online Distance Education: Towards a Research Agenda, Athabasca, Canada, Athabasca University Press, pp. 75–107. DOI 10.15215/AUPRESS/9781927356623.01. Available at www.aupress.ca/books/120233-online-distance-education/ (accessed 8 May 2020)

United Nations Foundation (n.d.) 10 Inspiring Eleanor Roosevelt Quotes. Available at https://unfoundation.org/blog/post/10-inspiring-eleanor-roosevelt-quotes/ (accessed 28 May 2020)

Image:

Fake News – Scrabble Tiles, Journolink Journolink, https://www.flickr.com/photos/157230341@N02/33661377268/ CC BY 2.0

Reflections on the #OER20 conference

‘Care in openness’ was the overall theme of the 2020 OER conference, which was originally meant to be hosted in London by Mia Zamora, Daniel Villar-Onrubia and Jonathan Shaw. However, 2 weeks before the conference, with the escalating COVID-19 pandemic crisis making an international face-to-face event for over 200 people in a big city a dangerous idea, the Association of Learning Technology and the co-chairs showed immense care for participants by cancelling the face-to-face conference and instead offered a reduced programme online.

Fortunately, ALT has a good track record of running online conferences, as their winter conference is an online event. Presenters were invited to choose whether to present live (via webinar), offer a pre-recording or withdraw from the programme. I chose to do a pre-recording of my presentation ‘Practical perspectives on building sustainable and caring open education practices in culturally aware and inclusive ways‘ and posted it online in my blog a few days beforehand.

The revised conference programme was published online, the conference was opened up for anyone to register for free and attendees took our seats in our ‘working from home’ spaces and tuned in to the live streamed webinars which were all hosted in Blackboard collaborate with the live stream simultaneously on Youtube.

The OER20 programme was an absolute feast for enthusiasts of open educational resources and practices, despite being reduced from the original programme. The organisers built in what seemed like sensible timings including mid morning, lunch and mid afternoon breaks. Even so, I found myself quickly overwhelmed, not least getting to grips with a slightly unfamiliar online conferencing software (although Blackboard collaborate has similar functionality to Adobe connect which was used for the H818 online conference a few weeks earlier, the layout is different).

The opening remarks by the co-chairs was an hour long conversation in which they explored how they came to choose the conference theme of ‘Care in openness’ which unexpectedly became so completely apt for the time. They explained that it “harnessed the idea of social justice” (Mia Zamora, opening remarks, OER20) with the underlying meanings of nurturing and compassion, juxtaposed with the realities of a world of data surveillance, capitalism and risks of operating in the open web. The idea was for the conference to map out aspects of care in education practice. The Soup Can image artwork designed by Brian Mathers alluded to the iconic Andy Warhol image and juxtaposed the notion of soup as nourishing (care) but mass produced, highlighting the scale of consumer culture.

The organisers had wondered how to enable attendees to make playful and useful connections with each other at the conference. They came up with the Social Bingo ‘directory of attendees’ idea in which everyone was invited to create a Splot (Simplest Possible Learning Open Tool) about themselves without having to create an account in the hosting platform to contribute, then to click the random Splot button to get another person’s Splot to read, share and use to make connections with other attendees.

It turned out that Splot means weave in Polish, with weaving being a means of connecting. This nicely tied in with the FemEdTechQuilt project which was one of the highlights of the conference that afternoon, when Frances Bell told the story of how the OER quilt came about and shared the progress (quilt 1 was complete by the conference, quilts 2, 3 and 4 were nearly complete) as well as some of the stories behind the squares. This session became quite an emotional one because the intention had been for us to see and help complete the quilt at OER20. I had made a 6 inch square for it very quickly one evening in late January – my Shweshwe Table Mountain of the Mother City. I have got a 12 inch version which I need to stitch and will keep. The Quilt of Care and Justice in Education will travel and have a life of its own.

The day one keynote by sava saheli singh was an intensely thought-provoking exploration of the concept of modern surveillance technology use and how easily this dehumanises and reduces caring and connection between people. ‘Frames’, the short film her research project had made which we watched during the session, was utterly haunting and very powerful. It generated lots of contributions in the conference chat screen.

I have been fortunate enough to attend several OER conferences since OER14, sometimes as a presenter. Usually during sessions I make notes on the ipad (I have a Bluetooth keyboard and touch type) and use the ipad for taking photos and tweeting key points. For the H818 online conference, I used the laptop for the conference session (presenting and writing in the group chat) and the ipad for making notes and contributing in the H818 Whatsapp group chat.

H818 online conference programme divided into 4 hour sessions on 3 different days (one morning session, one afternoon session and one evening session) to accommodate the international locations of the students who all had to present for 10 minutes. OER20 was over 2 consecutive days, both morning and afternoon sessions (with an optional online Karaoke in the evening of the first day, which I was too tired to join). This was a concentrated period of screen time.

For OER20 my technical setup was the same as I used for H818 online conference (laptop and ipad) but I used them differently: I made notes on the laptop into a Word document kept in the background (taking screen clips of some points in the chat screen or some of the slides, but I didn’t do this consistently for each session I attended). I also contributed far less than previous OER conferences to Twitter, though I kept an eye on the #OER20 hashtag stream on the ipad. I discovered that I didn’t have the cognitive bandwidth to do more, and struggled to concentrate for any length of time through many of the webinar parallel sessions (except FemEdTechQuilt).

On the second day I joined a couple of the social webinar spaces between sessions for informal discussion, though this had the double-edged sword of yet more screen time and concentration problems because I was reducing my screen breaks.

Some sessions apparently suffered uninvited guests ‘zoom bombing’ the chat for short periods of time. The first time I experienced this was during the afternoon of the second day when the webinar hosts had to disable the chat function as they cleared the uninvited guests from the webinar room. This meant that for about 10 minutes, only the presenters of that session were able to post comments in the chat screen which was frustrating for everyone else as we were excluded from asking questions and making our comments for a while. The theme of ‘inclusion’ from H818 immediately sprang to mind, as being able to make contributions to the chat is a useful engagement tool.

It can be cognitively demanding keeping an eye on the chat as well as listening to what the presenter is saying and looking at their slides (this was another reason the #OER20 Twitter back channel didn’t get so much of my attention). At a face-to-face conference the Twitter back channel is the chat space and some presenters have made interactive use of it in their sessions.

I did make some new connections during the conference by following some people on Twitter and joining in the social spaces, I was gratified to be contacted afterwards via Twitter with some questions about my re-recorded presentation. I shall address those questions and my responses in a separate blog post. I was sad not to be able to present live at the conference as originally planned but Webinar slots were limited in the schedule and the dreaded imposter syndrome kicked in, so I made the choice for a pre-record instead. Inevitably, the live webinars received more attention during the conference, though I did take a look at a couple of pre-recorded presentations during the breaks on the first day.

At a face-to-face conference it is never possible to get to every presentation with only some of them live streamed beyond the physically attending audience. Fortunately all the OER20 presentations (both live and pre-records) are available as OER on the OER20 website to return to for further investigation. I hope to watch some of the presentations again and explore the pre-records further. Even though the mix of webinars and pre-records makes for less equity of exposure and discussion for some presentations during the conference, bringing the entire conference online makes all the presentations available afterwards to a much wider audience. OER20 was the biggest conference which ALT had ever hosted, with just over 1,200 registrations, a huge increase in the usual attendance at the face-to-face versions. I would like to thank and congratulate the co-chairs and the organisers for a fantastic conference, thoughtfully planned and run with an abundance of care for all participants.

OER20 Practical perspectives on building sustainable and caring open education practices in culturally aware and inclusive ways

The OER20 conference has been moved online due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The conference themes of my reflective practice presentation ‘Practical perspectives on building sustainable and caring open education practices in culturally aware and inclusive ways’ [0-089] on 2 April 2020 at 11am are:

  • Theme 2: Sustainable open education communities
  • Theme 5: Caring pedagogies and designing for diverse communities of inclusion
  • Open Educational Practice

My presentation is pre-recorded (sorry, with a slightly croaky voice). The slides, without audio, can be found at the link below:

OER20 Anna Page – Practical perspectives on building sustainable and caring open education practices in culturally aware and inclusive ways [0-089]

The transcript can be downloaded:

Script for OER20 conference presentation [0-089] – Anna Page

Please ask questions by commenting on this blog post, on the session on the OER20 website or via Twitter using hashtags #OER20 and #089 in your message so I can find your question and respond.

I am interested to know if you have taught with the assistance of an interpreter to translate dialogue between tutor and learners, or if you are student being taught in a language which is not your first language. I have a pair of short online surveys which will inform the scenarios in my educational colonialism videos, OERs I am creating as part of my open education project research:

Working with interpreters (translators) for teaching and learning

Learning with the help of interpreters (translators)

Abstract

The ambitious UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (UNESCOa, n.d.) offer a challenge to educators for finding ways to develop caring, inclusive and sustainable educational practices to improve equity and better support for diversity in different cultural settings.

While Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) could help realise these goals (Lane, 2017; Perryman & de los Arcos, 2016), the challenge for OER projects is to adopt practices which acknowledge and take account of the inclusion paradoxes in open education. For example some OEP unintentionally excludes because OER and MOOCs are hosted on Global North developed platforms with the assumption that “technology provides an unproblematic solution to educational demands” (Adam, 2019) or insufficient guidance on participation and learner behaviour is given to bridge cultural deference to Global North knowledge, leading to “dependency and inequality” (Trotter & Hodgkinson-Williams, 2018). Done thoughtfully, with feedback and evaluation practices built in, OEP can help develop and improve critical thinking and digital literacy skills in supportive, culturally aware ways, assisting Global South participants to find their collaborative, online voices demonstrating that “I too had something to contribute” (Rye & Stokken, 2012).

This presentation will focus on the evolving practices tried and adopted by a specific international development project, Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education (TIDE), as a case study. It will explain the hands-on OER building sessions using Moodle tools at one face-to-face Yangon Residential School in November 2019, including technical and language issues, and participant attitudes and behaviours encountered (deference, willingness to try, demonstrating their own progress and peer support). It will describe approaches and techniques used such as involving interpreters to successfully address problems. The presentation will investigate the extent to which caring and inclusion is explored and adapted by and for TIDE participants in light of ongoing evaluation feedback, with the aim of helping to build sustainable open education communities in Myanmar beyond the lifespan of the project.

Adam, T. (2019) Digital neocolonialism and massive open online courses (MOOCs): colonial pasts and neoliberal futures Learning, Media and Technology Volume 44, 2019 – Issue 3: Global Technologies, Local Practices

Lane, A. (2017) ‘Open Education and the Sustainable Development Goals: Making Change Happen [1464]’, Paper presented at the OER17 conference ‘The Politics of Open’, 5-6 April 2017, London, UK. Available at https://oer17.oerconf.org/sessions/open-education-and-the-sustainable-development-goals-making-change-happen-1464/#gref (Accessed 13 November 2019)

Perryman, L-A. & de los Arcos, B. (2016). Women’s empowerment through openness: OER, OEP and the Sustainable Development Goals. Open Praxis, 8(2) pp. 163–180. Available at https://openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/article/view/289/206 (Accessed 13 November 2019)

Rye, S. A. and Stokken, A. M. (2012) ‘The Implications of the Local Context in Global Online Education’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Athabasca University, 13(1), pp. 191–206. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v13i1.1010.

Trotter, H. & Hodgkinson-Williams, C. (2018) ‘Degrees of Social Inclusion’, Presentation at the OEGlobal 2018 conference, 24 April 2018, Delft, The Netherlands. Available at https://www.slideshare.net/ROER4D/oe-global-presentation (Accessed 13 November 2019)

UNESCOa (n.d.) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [online]. Available at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld (Accessed 12 November 2019)

 

H818 conference presentation questions and answers

Simon Ball, my H818 tutor, has kindly sent me all the questions and comments people made during my H818 online conference presentation last Saturday. See Working with interpreters for my account of the presentation, some slides and the transcript.

I responded briefly to some of these at the time in the 5 minute questions/answers slot at the end of my presentation.

Now, 6 days later, I’m reviewing the questions and comments to respond more fully below.

The questions and comments:

– How much additional time was needed for translation?
– I’ve worked with an interpreter myself to deliver CPD – it’s really Hard!!!
– working with interpreters is challenging as it is more than the words … non – verbal can assist too
– Are you having a practice session before the actual teaching?
– better to know even a little bit the language of the students – my experience((.
– So instructive — having the interpreter seems to have made visible just how much interpretation our learners often have to do! (When it is easy to assume ‘we teach: they learn’ 😉 )
– To what extent did cultural differences impact on the teaching sessions?
– Were the interpreters familiar with the content of the course?
– Really interesting stuff – something that I just hadn’t appreciated before
– Echo the issue with animations not addressing cultural diversity
– links to my work as work with healthcare providers globally
– A really active kind of learning – great work, Anna
– have seen similar sort of issues with a blind student with a sighted assistant who “translated” their instructions into submitted work, and a lot was lost in translation
– It makes it difficult to teach with the gaps before responding?
– Great presentation, well done. How much do you think you lost in not being able to directly communicate with the learners? When I have conducted interviews with a translator, I often felt that the translator ‘edited’ the students’ responses
– Interpreters may find difficulties when the subject contents are hard to understand
– The use of previous cohorts seems like a good idea.

My responses:

Did I have a practice session before the actual teaching?

No, I didn’t do a practice session with the interpreters before any of the sessions, nor did I practice with any of the other tutors, though the tutors had several planning meetings together in the 3 months leading up to the Residential School when we went through what would be covered and our approaches to each element of the sessions.

In hindsight, some of what we planned for the Assessment of Distance Learning sessions (which incorporated quiz question building) was quite ambitious in the time available, especially in view of the diverse range of experience which the participants had about assessment methods. However, trying pedagogical approaches with the learners, getting their feedback and reviewing our methods prompted some immediate adaption, changes for subsequent sessions and longer term plans which include some translated flipped learning materials and activities, to enable more active learning in face-to-face sessions.

How much additional time was needed for translation [in the sessions]?

I roughly estimated this took a significant proportion of time during each face-to-face teaching session: approximately a third, though not quite half of the time (depending upon the mix of presentation and activities). Although some of the participants could understand some English, it was impossible to tell how fluent they were, and if tutors spoke fast or for to long, this reduced their chances of following what was being said. So we consciously had to slow ourselves down, think carefully about how we were explaining something and then wait while the interpreter translated and spoke. Responding to questions also took time, the interpreter had to listen then ask us the question and this sometimes turned into a three way conversation if we weren’t sure of the question.

Were the interpreters familiar with the content?

No, for the interpreters, what we were teaching was new to them too and they were keen learners. They were young university students, who could speak English well, but some of the terminology we were introducing was unfamiliar to them. Their positive attitude made a huge difference to the tutors and helped the learners understand more.

How much was lost in translation?

It was difficult to tell whether the interpreters were substantially editing what we had said when they translated or whether their potential misunderstanding of a topic was being passed on to the learners. However, clarification questions helped tutors gauge that at least some of what we were explaining was being understood and translated appropriately. In the practical hands-on sessions I was teaching, it was particularly apparent when learners understood, because they succeeded in configuring something which was quite complicated and they asked meaningful questions about quiz question configuration which showed they were grasping what I was trying to explain. This was heartening (and something we celebrated); however at the same time it gave me much food for thought on finding alternative ways to convey the time-consuming complexities of quiz building more accessibly next time so that language and culture is less of a barrier.

To what extent did cultural differences make an impact on the sessions?

I became conscious that I wasn’t sure if some gestures were culturally acceptable or not (such as a thumbs up for well done/success: no one told me it wasn’t, but I stopped using it because I was unsure). There was a strong cultural element of deference to expertise; even within the groups: it was noticeable that there was a hierarchy between the academic and ICT learners within each university group when working together and respectful deference to tutor knowledge. Smiling seemed to be a universally understood non-verbal language, thankfully, and went a long way to build relationships between learners, interpreters and tutors. The status of the young interpreters in relation to the learners (who were Higher Educational academics and ICT support staff) wasn’t entirely clear to me. In a culture of deference to expert teacher, they would traditionally be considered as learners, yet as interpreters facilitating communication between tutors from another country and Higher Education staff learners (educators in their various ways), their temporary role changed their status to something more ambiguous – both influential and deferential.

I was also conscious of my complete lack of the Myanmar language (apart from the polite greeting of ‘mingalabar’ which is ‘hello’) and very basic knowledge about the country and customs, in comparison to learner knowledge of English. Personally, it highlighted the imbalance between some cultures regarding attitude towards language learning, colonialism and intercultural exchange of ideas and practices.

Tutors were encouraged to utilise activities which helped groups collaborate across roles to introduce new approaches to learning which could build upon or change the traditional classroom lecture approaches. It isn’t realistic or practical to introduce radical, sudden changes to educational culture as it won’t be sustainable, it is better to introduce pedagogies gradually in ways which model such practices as exemplars which could be tried, reviewed and adapted by learners for their contexts.

The use of previous cohorts seems like a good idea

This comment was as a result of me explaining during my answers something which I didn’t have time to mention in the 10 minute presentation – the training of some members of the 2018 cohort of learners as tutors during the Residential School, to help build sustainability into the distance learning programme. This strand of the 2 year programme was called Training of Trainers (ToT) and I believe five learners in the 2018 cohort presented various ICT strand topics during the Residential school. One of them presented during the OpenLearn Create Masterclass which I ran on the Thursday afternoon – she used English slides (with some Myanmar language words) and explained about self-registering an account, logging on and creating a course to the class in Myanmar language while we watched. It was immensely helpful that she did this near the start of the Masterclass, before I introduced the Moodle tools the ICT learners were going to try out in their draft courses. Although I couldn’t understand what she was saying, I could follow it roughly because she was using slides which were mostly in English (and depicted web pages which are familiar to me).

Ideally the Masterclass for the ICT support learners needed to be run earlier in the week, followed by a quiz question building session before the main joint session with the Academic learners on Assessment for Distance learning. The programme is continually under review regarding content, teaching approaches and cascading both content and pedagogy so that it becomes locally sustainable.

Animations not addressing cultural diversity

This is an interesting issue and I noticed that some other H818 students were encountering similar limitations when building their conference posters using multimedia tools, because the availability of free culturally diverse images, clipart or animations is not widespread online. It seems that online tools and resources often reinforce the dominance of Global North imagery as the basic standard ‘for free’ versions such as online animation characters, with greater diversity of choices only available behind a pay wall.

Additionally, animating a character exaggerates particular quirks or behaviours, sometimes this can be quite stereotypical and matches rather than challenges perceptions of how characters might behave or look, depending upon their culture or status. There is a danger that selecting and using an animated character and its actions based upon stereotypical behaviours or appearance could inadvertently cause cultural offence rather than be inclusive, though some stereotypes can also quickly and usefully convey actions which are widely understood across cultures.

For Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices to truly become more culturally inclusive, it is vital to create a wider diversity of resources which are freely available to use.

If you have ever taught with the assistance of an interpreter, please complete my short online survey ‘Working with interpreters (translators) for teaching and learning‘ which will inform the scenarios in good practice videos I am making.

Working with interpreters

It was a fascinating afternoon at the H818 The Networked Practitioner Online Conference 2020, a global tour of open education projects, as one of the other students explained on Twitter:

The H818 conference of MAODE has taken me to Nigeria 🇳🇬 Bangladesh 🇧🇩 Myanmar 🇲🇲 Dominica 🇩🇲 Netherlands 🇳🇱 Sri Lanka 🇱🇰 Uganda 🇺🇬 Rwanda 🇷🇼 .... and we are only just over halfway through! @OpenUniversity is brilliant! — Anna Sue (@AnnaGreathead) February 15, 2020

Anna Greathead’s tweet about H818 online conference 15.2.2020

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Thankfully my 10 minute presentation ‘A rabbit in the headlights! Learning from doing: open practices, interpreters and educational colonialism‘ with 5 minutes for questions went smoothly and the other presentations all came through, one with the assistance of a pre-recording because of local electricity supply problems, though he was able to join us for the questions. There was huge variety in the projects presented, because each student had their own projects to work on which used one of the three H818 themes:

  • Inclusion
  • Innovation
  • Implementation

The conference presentations were not meant to be a summary of the conclusions of our projects because many of them have longer lifespans than the length of the module, instead we could talk about  what we had done so far, any difficulties we were facing or had overcome and future plans, using the conference as an opportunity to invite the H818 network of current and former students as well as MAODE educators to help us with advice, collaborating on new projects or sharing our work with their networks.

In my project I’ve got as far as analysing observational notes and feedback data to start formulating scenarios to illustrate in my videos about educational colonialism. I need a wider range of experiences of teaching with interpreters to inform the scenarios I have started compiling, to make them more credible and engaging. So I have designed a short online, anonymous survey which I have been sharing via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and within H818.

If you are an educator who has worked with an interpreter to help you communicate with learners, please complete the survey:

Working with interpreters (translators) for teaching and learning

My conference presentation (script with some illustrations):

Slide 1

Slide 1: A rabbit in the headlights! Learning from doing: open practices, interpreters and educational colonialism

Slide 1 image

I am interested in educational colonialism, and the development of inclusive, sustainable educational practices to support diversity and equity.

For my H818 project I am focussing on the theme of inclusion. My project output will be a video series illustrating good practice examples in cross-cultural education situations; to be published as OER – Open Educational Resources – on YouTube.

I am using an international development project led by the Open University as a case study. This has given me my first experience of teaching in Myanmar with the help of an interpreter.

I felt a bit like a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ the first time I lead a TIDE workshop, despite all the preparation beforehand.

Slide 2

Some context about TIDE.

TIDE Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education

Slide 2 image

Slide 3

Slide 3: images of Myanmar Ministry of Education website, TIDE collection, UNESCO sustainable development goals website and UK Aid website page about TIDE

Slide 3 image

The Myanmar Ministry of Education aims to improve Higher Education following years of under-investment. There is an increasing demand for skilled graduates. Traditional lecture and classroom practices, introduced when Myanmar was Burma, a British colony, places teachers as subject experts, and students as receivers of knowledge.

TIDE: The ‘Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education’ project aims to introduce new approaches to teaching and learning in Myanmar, aspiring to meet the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. TIDE is UK Aid funded.

TIDE has been running online and face-to-face events since May 2018 for Higher Education staff on a two year education programme, including webinars, residential schools and reusing existing OER. The topics are chosen with the universities and are mostly taught in English.

Residential Schools have two strands:

  • Academic focussing on environmental management and climate change topics.
  • ICT support strand teaching online and distance education practices and assessment methods.

Slide 4

Slide 4: table showing residential school participants and image of TIDE residential school registration

Slide 4 image

At the five day November 2019 Residential School hosted by University of Yangon there were 150 higher education staff learners from several Myanmar Universities. 73 were ICT support staff.

The sessions were in a lecture theatre and classrooms.

For the ICT support strand there were 6 ICT tutors and 4 Academic tutors for Assessment methods. There were 11 tutors for the Academic strand.

TIDE teaches collaborative learning practices for learners to try, potentially adopting in their own context, changing traditional dynamics between teachers, learners and technical support staff.

To reduce colonial bias, the crucial element of this practice is informed choice:
what they adopt must not be imposed as ‘the way to do it now’ but needs to be critically reviewed by learners for their context.

Tutors were encouraged to try new approaches, making sessions as interactive as possible, adapting activities in response to feedback.

Collaborative planning discussions reflected on previous residential schools which showed the need for interpreters, to improve communication between tutors and learners, mostly bilingual but not fluent English speakers. There were 19 interpreters.

Slide 5

Slide 5: images of extract fromTIDE residential school programme featuring the Assessment workshops, Myanmar language instructions for configuring a quiz question and a Moodle quiz in edit mode

Slide 5 image

ICT support sessions were run by tutors in pairs, taking turns as lead or assistant educator. Tutors observed each other, and made reflective notes in a shared Google document.

I lead the quiz question building activity, part of ‘Assessment for Distance Learning’.

I wrote step-by-step guidance for each question type based on an OER called ‘Hands-on Moodle quiz’, which was translated in learner handbooks.

Academic and ICT learners in the 2018 cohort learned about online assessment methods.
In groups they wrote a quiz question using one of three question types.

While Academic learners explored Assessment methods, ICT learners were asked to build the questions online using OpenLearn Create, a Moodle OER platform.

31 ICT learners crowded at desks with their laptops and draft questions.

Some learners were unfamiliar with Moodle. None had set up quiz questions before.

With an interpreter, I did a short demonstration of how to set up a Moodle quiz, and then invited learners to build a question.

Learners worked in small groups with interpreters and tutors circulating.

When groups wanted one-to-one help I explained, with the interpreter, what settings to configure, why a question might need changing, or a different question type.

When I discovered everyone making the same mistake, I did a demonstration, speaking a sentence, and then the interpreter translated before I spoke again. It took practice to get this right because it was easy to say too much for the interpreter to remember and translate.

Working with small groups with interpreters gave me insight into the ideas and misconceptions learners had about online assessment methods.

Slide 6

The follow-up session enabled ICT learners to continue building their quiz questions.

There were celebrations and laughter when some learners succeeded in getting their quiz questions to work ready for demonstration the next day.

It took longer to build questions than planned because there was a lot to absorb, even with the help of a pre-translated guide and engaged interpreters, as configuring quiz questions is not simple.

Tutors tried to adopt approaches which rebalanced the relationship between learner and teacher.

Strongly ingrained learner deference to expert teacher was hard to overcome, though hands-on activities engaged and started to empower learners to question, debate and collaborate.

Slide 7

What mistakes were made?

Tutor observation notes of all ICT sessions that week recorded common mistakes when working with interpreters and learners, such as:

  • Some activities were not explained clearly enough, or had no written translated guidance.
  • Some tutors didn’t brief interpreters fully, so interpreters had to think fast to understand and translate.
  • Tutors speaking for too long before handing over to the interpreter. Clarification took more time.
  • Sessions were content rich with insufficient time allowance for translation.
  • Some sessions didn’t have enough hands-on activities.

Slide 8

Slide 8: image of the Moodle quiz description of a quiz designed during the TIDE residential School

Slide 8: the Moodle quiz description of a quiz designed during the TIDE residential School

Is feedback from project participants acted upon sensitively and constructively?

  • Between tutors, interpreters and learners there was a real eagerness to learn from each other.
  • The interpreters were brilliant – they made it possible for tutors to listen and understand learner’s difficulties, enabling friendly, constructive conversations leading to achievements for some learners.
  • The experience of running the quiz question workshop with a language barrier, informed my adaption of the follow-up session, and the OpenLearn Create Masterclass the next day.
  • The observational notes and feedback continue to inform learning design approaches and collaborative creation of resources for the TIDE project, including an online activity I built following a workshop activity not working as planned.

Slide 9

What good practices could be adopted more widely?

  • Pair interpreters with tutors for the week and put them in touch with each other via email for briefing purposes.
  • Hold a briefing session between tutors and interpreters before the event.
  • Design practical learning activities which encourage collaborative peer support between learners.
  • Provide unambiguous written step-by-step guidance for activities, which is translated in advance.
  • Design and share online OER versions of guidance,
    pilot test with learners and interpreters
    use their feedback to revise
    before getting OERs translated as flipped classroom resources to be used before another face-to-face learning event.

Slide 10

Slide 10: Inclusive practice in video production, with image of the characters used in the pilot video, and link to online survey

Slide 10 image

I am mapping potential scenarios to illustrate in the good practice videos.

The experience of creating the pilot video using the free version of online animation software highlighted some underlying educational colonialism issues and inclusive practice decisions in video production:

  • Animated character choice in the free version is not ethnically diverse and could reinforce stereotypes and colonialism;
  • Scenarios need a narrative in unambiguous language to be inclusive;
  • Use of symbols, such as flags for language, in the animations needs to be obvious by clarifying their meanings;
  • Choice of voice for narration is critical to supporting the video message:
    Does the voice have a strong accent or is it bland to reduce obvious nationality?
  • A transcript is vital for local translation to make the video more inclusive.

To inform the video scenarios further, I have designed a short survey for educators who have worked with interpreters. Please follow the link and share your experience.

Websites and Bibliography

ACPageOU (2020) ‘Learning from doing’ (YouTube). Available at https://youtu.be/7SYN-1a_J7o

Adam, T. (2019) ‘Digital neocolonialism and massive open online courses (MOOCs): colonial pasts and neoliberal futures’, Learning, Media and Technology Volume 44, 2019 – Issue 3: Global Technologies, Local Practices. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cjem20/44/3 (accessed 13 November 2019)

Lane, A. (2017) ‘Open Education and the Sustainable Development Goals: Making Change Happen [1464]’, Paper presented at the OER17 conference ‘The Politics of Open’, 5-6 April 2017, London, UK. Available at https://oer17.oerconf.org/sessions/open-education-and-the-sustainable-development-goals-making-change-happen-1464/#gref (Accessed 13 November 2019)

Myanmar Ministry of Education (n.d.) Available at http://www.moe-st.gov.mm/

Perryman, L-A. & de los Arcos, B. (2016). Women’s empowerment through openness: OER, OEP and the Sustainable Development Goals. Open Praxis, 8(2) pp. 163–180. Available at https://openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/article/view/289/206 (Accessed 13 November 2019)

TIDE – Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education project (2017-2021). UK Aid ‘Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform’ [online]. Available at https://www.spheir.org.uk/partnership-profiles/transformation-innovation-distance-education (accessed 30 December 2019)

UNESCO (n.d.) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [online]. Available at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld (Accessed 12 November 2019)

 

The contents of this blog post has been created and shared using a Creative Commons ShareAlike Non-commercial licence which means others can remix, tweak and build upon this work non-commercially as long as they credit me and licence their new creations under the identical terms.  If you reuse any part of this blog post including photos or text please use the following attribution to credit me:  CC BY-NC-SA by Anna C Page https://annacpage.wordpress.com/2020/02/16/working-with-interpreters/
For more information about Creative Commons licences see https://creativecommons.org/

Inclusivity activity

I recently volunteered to run the Inclusivity activity, which is one of the Living Threads challenges, at our local Trefoil Guild meeting. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has a diverse membership around the world, and this year for World Thinking Day on 22 February WAGGGS has designed a challenge called ‘Living Threads’ exploring Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

At our January Trefoil Guild meeting we had done the ‘Getting ready to play Living Threads’ activity, at our February meeting (2 weeks early for Thinking Day) we did the remaining 4 activities – one activity for each theme and a reflective / creative activity.

The WAGGGS activity pack gave a number of options for each theme, our leader had chosen the options and 3 of us volunteered at the January meeting to run them, so were given the instructions and equipment in advance of the February meeting. The Diversity activity (which revealed some differences but many similiarities in our group) and Equity activity (which used teamwork) were done first and went fine.

The Inclusivity activity (based on a game from Our Chalet) was trickier than the others and I had to read the instructions in the pack several times to work out exactly what we needed to do and what instructions needed to be given, especially as the activity appeared to have been designed for several groups to observe each other. I ended up redrafting the handout for the group slightly to make the instructions clearer and simplifying it for one group only.

The group were asked to hold a discussion with some agreed rules which those not in the group had to try and work out from observing what the group was doing and saying.

My minor redraft gave the group a choice of two topic options and sets of rules, with clear instructions to choose one option. I could have made it simpler by giving them one topic and one set of rules, but I wanted them to have a discussion and make their own choice, otherwise it felt too prescriptive. Their instruction sheets were on one side of A4.

Although the WAGGGS instructions said a group of 4-5 people, because there were only 8 of us at the meeting, we decided that 2 of us would make the tea while the other 6 would discuss which topic to choose. Then, when we brought in their tea they had to start their discussion and use gestures, hands and body language rules which the two of us had to try to identify then copy so we could join their conversation.

Inclusivity activity

In Switzerland there are 4 official languages, so it can be hard for people to understand each other. Gestures, hand and body language are important.

In this game, in your group, please have a conversation following certain rules.

The others will observe your conversation, to try and work out what your rules are, and integrate themselves into your group.

Topic option 1

These are the cultural rules of your community:
    • End every sentence so it sounds like a question
    • Never make eye contact when you speak to someone
    • Make lots of hand gestures when you talk
    • Wink every time you say ‘yes’
    • Touch the floor when your name is mentioned
Topic to discuss:

Ask each other about what you have been doing today.

Topic option 2

These are the cultural rules of your community:
    • Start every sentence with ‘I see’
    • Sit with your hands clasped
    • Touch your ear when the word ‘and’ is said
    • Point at someone when you talk to them
    • Shake your head if someone speaks for too long
Topic to discuss:

Ask each other about your favourite meals and places to eat them

What you need to do

    1. Discuss these rules in the group for a couple of minutes and decide which topic option and rules you will use.
    2. Sit so the others can see you and hold your discussion.
    3. The others will observe what you are doing and will try and work out what your group rules are. They might try to follow what they think are your group rules to join your conversation.
    1. Stop the discussion when instructed, for the whole group discussion.

The group chose topic option 1.

Some were better at applying the rules than others, some made them very obvious, there was a lot of laughing at hidden jokes or each other’s discomfort. In hindsight, they had too many rules to try and remember (most of them were looking down at the sheet with the rules to remind themselves, which spoiled the flow of conversation). Perhaps only giving them 3 rules in each topic option would have been better. We managed to identify hand gestures and touching the floor, it was less easy to identify ‘I see’, the winking or lack of eye contact unless it was exaggerated. Different members of the group did different combinations of the rules or only one rule, so they weren’t consistently applied, which made it even harder to identify all the rules they were using. This reflects real cultural practice with rules never perfectly applied.

We followed this with a discussion about what rules we had managed to identify and how it made us feel to not be included.

Stop after a while and hold a whole group discussion:

    1. Ask what rules were identified
    2. How did people feel when they joined the group – did they think they had got all the rules?
    3. How can we act when we come into contact with a new culture?
    4. How can we help people who don’t fit in?

As we plaited our friendship bracelets from the threads we had selected at the end of each activity we continued the discussion about the three themes, though it soon moved onto other topics.

We each received a cloth badge for completing the activity, so I digitised mine by tweeting about it.

Living Threads 2020 - my tweet about #WTD2020 for International World Thinking day 22 Feb our Trefoil Guild did Living Threads Diversity, Equity & Inclusion challenge. I adapted the Inclusion activity to suit our group. #WTD2020 #inclusion We made friendship bracelets with our 3 threads & got a badge https://t.co/zfwmAb0HTI pic.twitter.com/4jFNiQot0Q — Anna Page (@AnnaCPage) February 10, 2020

Living Threads 2020 – my tweet about #WTD2020

I learned the following as a Learning Designer from running this activity:

  • however clear you think the guidance might be, someone won’t read it properly or understand it fully, so presenting it in both written and verbal form and answering questions helps to clear up any misunderstandings
  • reusing existing activities always needs to involve reviewing, revising then running to suit the context
  • people in some cultures have to be really enthusiastic about and convinced by the activity to be willing to step beyond their comfort zone when participating (for some, doing gestures or body language they didn’t normally do in conversation was deeply uncomfortable)

The topic of inclusion is hard to discuss in a group which isn’t visibly very diverse or is uncomfortable discussing deeper thoughts or contraversal views. It is easy to make an assumption that everyone feels the same about something, especially as some people hide what they feel if they think it will upset others, because that could quickly lead to being excluded from the group.

 

The contents of this blog post has been created and shared using a Creative Commons ShareAlike Non-commercial licence which means others can remix, tweak and build upon this work non-commercially as long as they credit me and licence their new creations under the identical terms.  If you reuse any part of this blog post including photos or text please use the following attribution to credit me:  CC BY-NC-SA by Anna C Page https://annacpage.wordpress.com/2020/02/13/inclusivity-activity/
For more information about Creative Commons licences see https://creativecommons.org/

H818 Networked Practitioner Conference – A rabbit in the headlights!

Roles in cross cultural educational projects - sponsors, administratord, project leader, learners, interpreters, academic educators, ICT educators

Roles in cross cultural educational projects

I am currently studying again, after a long break since my undergraduate degree and two subsequent short courses (all with The Open University).

I’ve just completed H880 Technology Enhanced Learning (an excellent module which I really enjoyed) and am half way through H818 The Networked Practitioner.

Part of what H818 students are asked to do is a presentation in the H818 online conference (13, 15 and 17 February 2020) about the projects we have each been developing as an activity which runs throughout the module. Our assignments are designed to help us work towards the online conference presentation and encourage online networking with other H818 students in the module forums, OpenStudio and our wider networks to help us develop our networking skills for education, project ideas and learn from each other. This involved helping each other with technical challenges of learning to use new multimedia tools. In my case, I was learning to use Animaker, an online video animation tool, to create a short video to embed in my conference poster.

Part of the challenge for this poster was to make it more than just a printable paper poster of text and images, it had to include some other type of multimedia and be as accessible as possible. Unlike most conference posters, which explain elements of a research project clearly in some detail, these posters are a means of promoting our presentations to encourage people to attend so they can find out more (they still have to explain the project clearly and be engaging). An image of the poster is displayed below.

Learning from doing - image of poster promoting my H818 The Networked Practitioner Conference presentation

Learning from doing – image of poster promoting my H818 The Networked Practitioner Conference presentation

Below is the link to the powerpoint version of the poster, which has the video embedded (behind the Myanmar flag). The video can also be reached via the URL just below the flag or by scanning the QR code, both of which should lead to the video hosted on YouTube.

I’ve tried uploading the interactive version of the poster to Slideshare, but unfortunately the embedded video function was stripped out by Slideshare, hence the powerpoint version hosted in this blog post. So I posted the printable version on Slideshare instead to help give the poster wider reach.

H818 TMA02 part 1 Anna Page A0 poster (powerpoint)

I have embedded the YouTube video to play in this blog post.

I have provided a printable version of the poster as a downloadable PDF file – this not only includes the poster image but also the video transcript and a long description of the action in the video, to make it  more accessible. The whole thing is in English, however with the provision of a transcript, the following can be done:

  • translation software could be used to translate the text into other languages,
  • screen reader software should be able to read it to anyone with a visual impairment,
  • anyone with a hearing impairment will have access to the audio soundtrack of the video

H818 TMA02 part 1 Anna Page printable poster (PDF)

My conference abstract is below.

Feedback on the poster and abstract is very welcome (please comment on this post):

  • Would you be interested in attending my presentation based on what I’ve shared in the poster and abstract, even if this isn’t a topic you might know about?
  • Does the video embedded in the poster play for you (after downloading the Powerpoint file) or did you use the YouTube link or the QR code to access the video?

A rabbit in the headlights! Learning from doing: open practices, interpreters and educational colonialism

The UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (UNESCOa, n.d.) challenge educators to develop inclusive, sustainable educational practices for supporting diversity and equity in different cultural situations. Potentially Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) could help realise these goals (Lane, 2017; Perryman & de los Arcos, 2016), if the practices used recognise and accommodate the inclusion paradoxes of open education. These include assumptions about using Global North technology hosting OER and MOOCs as an “unproblematic solution to educational demands” (Adam, 2019) in the Global South or lack of participation and learner behaviour guidance, which amplifies deference to Global North knowledge, resulting in “dependency and inequality” (Trotter & Hodgkinson-Williams, 2018). Adopting thoughtful, culturally supportive Open Educational Practices (OEP), which includes feedback and evaluation for improvement, can help develop learner critical thinking, digital literacy skills and build learner agency to contribute more equitably, while also developing and extending educator approaches to inclusive practice.

The H818 project will produce short animated videos illustrating good practice examples in cross cultural education situations; to be published as OER on YouTube. The pilot video for this presentation, illustrating the inclusion of interpreters to improve communication between educators and learners aims to show the initial ‘rabbit in the headlights’ discomfort for tutors new to working with learners with different languages, educational cultures and pedagogical expectations.

The H818 presentation will focus on the realities of using open practices and interpreters wisely to avoid perpetuating educational colonialism in cross cultural projects, especially experiences, observations, findings and feedback from running workshops at a Myanmar residential school, part of SPHEIR funded International Development Project called ‘Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education’ (TIDE) which is introducing OER and OEP to Myanmar Universities. The H818 project video outputs could be used by TIDE participants (tutors, interpreters and learners) to inform their practice in cross cultural situations as the project works towards consolidating and sustaining inclusive, innovative pedagogical practice in Myanmar Universities.

The presentation will briefly describe the Myanmar Higher Education educational context and approaches of the wider TIDE project before focussing on issues encountered during hands-on workshops about OER and learning to use OER creation tools at the face-to-face TIDE project residential school. It will explain the evolving approaches and techniques used in the workshops, especially educators learning to collaborate effectively with interpreters to make sessions more inclusive and engaging for everyone involved, as learners, interpreters and educators learned from doing and observing each other’s approaches.

These questions about educator awareness of colonial bias in existing teaching practice will be explored.
• Is feedback from project participants acted upon sensitively and constructively?
• What mistakes were made?
• What good practices could be adopted more widely?

The findings will inform video content and topics.

Some video production considerations and inclusive practice decisions will be briefly mentioned in the presentation, which will interest anyone working on international educational projects at universities and non-governmental organisations.

References

Adam, T. (2019) ‘Digital neocolonialism and massive open online courses (MOOCs): colonial pasts and neoliberal futures’, Learning, Media and Technology Volume 44, 2019 – Issue 3: Global Technologies, Local Practices. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cjem20/44/3 (accessed 13 November 2019)

Lane, A. (2017) ‘Open Education and the Sustainable Development Goals: Making Change Happen [1464]’, Paper presented at the OER17 conference ‘The Politics of Open’, 5-6 April 2017, London, UK. Available at https://oer17.oerconf.org/sessions/open-education-and-the-sustainable-development-goals-making-change-happen-1464/#gref (Accessed 13 November 2019)

Perryman, L-A. & de los Arcos, B. (2016). Women’s empowerment through openness: OER, OEP and the Sustainable Development Goals. Open Praxis, 8(2) pp. 163–180. Available at https://openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/article/view/289/206 (Accessed 13 November 2019)

UNESCOa (n.d.) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [online]. Available at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld (Accessed 12 November 2019)

Website

TIDE – Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education project (2017-2021). Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform [online]. Available at https://www.spheir.org.uk/partnership-profiles/transformation-innovation-distance-education (accessed 30 December 2019)

 

The contents of this blog post has been created and shared using a Creative Commons ShareAlike Non-commercial licence which means others can remix, tweak and build upon this work non-commercially as long as they credit me and licence their new creations under the identical terms.  If you reuse any part of this blog post including photos or text please use the following attribution to credit me:  CC BY-NC-SA by Anna C Page https://annacpage.wordpress.com/2020/01/15/h818-networked-practitioner-conference-a-rabbit-in-the-headlights/
For more information about Creative Commons licences see https://creativecommons.org/

Guarding our digital identities

It is 2018 and the age of ‘Big Brother’ is upon us.

When I was a teenager, the Matric year group of 1984 at our school studied George Orwell’s novel of the same name.  Those of us in the lower year groups were treated to references to the story all through the year via artwork, posters, writings, presentations and dramatisations of extracts in school assemblies.  Even though we didn’t study it, the disturbing message of that prophetic novel crept into our classes so we were broadly aware of the storyline and the dark message it contained.  It was the age before the internet became widespread, the school (a well off state sponsored white-only school in a lovely suburb of Cape Town) had a few Apple Mac computers for a few programming minded pupils to use.  None of us had mobile phones.  But this was Apartheid South Africa and we were all conscious that covert Government surveillance happened even if we didn’t necessarily notice it every day.  We were becoming politically aware and some of us were starting to question the injustices of the black / white / coloured divide enforced on our daily lives.  The message of that novel about propaganda manipulation and control via computer technology seemed unreal yet profoundly and frighteningly true – this could happen in the future as we knew that technology was developing faster than laws and ethics could keep up to protect people from exploitation and disaster.

So much has happened since that time as technology has advanced at ever increasing speed.  Mobile computer devices have become ubiquitous in many countries and communities, print news media is fast being superceded by online news exchanges in online news and social media sites but not everyone has the digital skills to interrogate the veracity of what they read or see online.  I’ve written before about the importance of teaching research skills to children, encouraging their natural curiosity while teaching them the principles of probing questioning of facts, interpretation of data and why I think the UK curriculum doesn’t cover this sufficiently well or early enough.

The internet age has meant that a vast amount of information is now available at the click of a button or tap of a finger on a screen, providing a huge library of knowledge, alternative facts or shop of delights.  So many new connections between people in different communities, regions and nations have become much easier to make – so much swifter than penpals communicating via pen, letter and stamp of snail mail.  We can exchange opinions and facts almost instantly with people we will never meet, sharing hobbies, games, interests, pastimes and skills as well as emotional support. So many positive and fun things have happened and continue to happen as a result of these new online technologies and tools.

My children have grown up with computers and mobile phones, though they didn’t get their own mobile phones until secondary school.  21st century schools often set homework which requires pupils to use computers. Social media apps are pervasive and addictive, especially with peer pressure in the mix making personal mobile phones potent tools for bullying and intimidation.  Every parent has the problem of weighing up how early or late to allow their children access to such tools and how to teach their children about safe responsible use of the internet, especially if they are less than sure themselves.

Our digital identities have become commercially valuable to hugely powerful companies who have immense influence about what kind of service they provide as well as the terms and conditions of using those apps and services. Governments and private companies are exploiting these tools for political purposes, using covert surveillance and manipulation of public opinion, this is especially easy to do if people are ignorant of basic good online practice or are too trusting or gullible. Even if we create online accounts on various platforms using pseudonyms to try and protect our identities depending on the context in which we use those online platforms, it is still possible for those controlling the systems we use to discover our identities hidden behind a cover name and to make use of this data and what we share for their own purposes.  Especially disturbing is how this is used in cyber warfare to divide public opinion, fan the flames of distrust and hate between groups, religions, cultures and countries.  There are reports this is done via covert setups such as bot farms which latch on to popular hashtags then twist messages to confuse people; disrupting conversations and debates sometimes with devastating results. The forthcoming EU General Data Protection Rules (GDPR) are compelling EU countries and countries who trade with them to face up to their responsibilities regarding the handling of personal data which they hold about people, this may offer more protection and clarity of our right to privacy though may be difficult to enforce.

Teaching people how to use these modern online technologies safely, responsibly and openly is never more urgent than now in the face of all this frightening online activity. It is hard for those of us in Open Education who embrace and promote the concept of open access, open sharing and open online education to counter the negativity and dangers which can so easily outweight the good aspects of the online world.  We try to practice openness which can be risky depending on the situation, we have discovered that a blended mix of open and closed practice is needed to fit the particular context.  The ideal is to be completely open, the reality is to be as open as sensibly possible and when appropriate to explain why we have chosen a particular mix, to encourage others who are tentatively contemplating the merits and potential pitfalls of open educational practice.  Designing learning activities to teach topics in a subject which make good use of the internet and social media is challenging.  Yet it also offers the opportunity to embed teaching about digital identities, open educational resources and practices.

The internet allows us to participate in a class being taught by someone in another country. We can sit on the periphery of a class as we cannot see or hear all the conversations in the physical classroom unless they are shared via a video link, however we can contribute via social media synchronously or asynchronously, possibly enriching or disrupting that lesson by our virtual presence as we share observations and artefacts via images or links to resources.  We cannot know the extent of the impact of our presence on the students whose class we have been invited to join virtually, it may be tenuous or profound, different for each individual.  The potential for learning isn’t limited to the students, those of us who join these learning activities as guest participants also learn and may be inspired to explore avenues we may never have contemplated before as our own cultural world view is challenged and expanded.  It is intellectually rewarding and fun, though can also feel vaguely intrusive (gate crashing the class), depending on how the guest involvement is mediated by the teacher.

I participated briefly in one such international class by contributing a photograph of an item from an unusual angle, as requested by the teacher, the academic Maha Bali, whose fascinating keynote at the OER17 conference in London last year got many of us reevaluating cultural and gender identities, online privacy, accessibility and context of open educational practices.  The photo activity was only one element of the Twitter Scavenger hunt for the Intercultural Learning Class she had designed for her Cairo based students, which she shared via her blog and Twitter several days in advance when she invited her Twitter connections to contribute if they could.  I liked that in her class design she acknowledged the reluctance of some students to create a social media account, students were not excluded if they didn’t create an account, they paired up with others, so mobile phone use could be a face to face group social activity.  The class activities included creating an alternative job or career for themselves as well as reading specific sources in advance or during the lesson.  They tweeted their responses or shared their favourite quote from these sources, tagging the author and a particular hashtag to engage in online discussions. Both the students and the online guests were invited to share a photo of a weird view of an item and guess what the item might be, encouraging online engagement with strangers from many cultures and several countries in a relatively controlled and friendly way.

Image I shared for #DigitalGuardiansEg

Image I shared for #DigitalGuardiansEg – guesses included “a game of some sort?” (@Ayah_Egypt) and “Art piece of some kind? Wall art?” (@el_venter)

One of the resources I was able to read before heading off to work (I shared my photo just before commuting) was the poem I’m Not Angry at You by Maha Bali which explores the topics of cultural divide, colonial attitudes, power, the imposition of language and culture, as well as misguided assumptions about how others think and feel. My favourite quote from the poem, which I didn’t share on twitter at the time of the class, was:

“I’ll tell you what makes me angry
I’m angry when I tell you my story
In your OWN DAMN LANGUAGE
And you change it
Because you think you know it better
You don’t
Because you think you can express it better
You can’t
That’s YOU colonizing ME ”

I found myself telling my daughter about the class activity and the poem as I drove her to school.  Later I recalled my favourite Open University course A216 (Art and its histories) which devoted a whole unit of the course to cultural otherness including colonial attitudes to African art and culture. That course had reawoken my dormant interest in the art, designs and scenes of my childhood very vividly (Cape Town Market Square filled with colour, music and fabric stalls, bushman paintings in Lesotho, white washed Cape Dutch art galleries and natural history displays) and how these had been reinterpreted and rewritten by Western views.  My perspective is filtered through the lens of a white South Africa born and raised British person who has lived in the northern hemisphere all her adult life, yet with a deep appreciation for Africa, its histories, art and peoples.

I have shared some of my own creations and historical researches in public online, either via a semi anonymous blog with a pseudonym about a particular hobby or more openly via social media: Twitter, this blog and Facebook with my real name.  I’ve been conscious of limitations and risks regarding digital identity and privacy as well as the inherent need in this modern online age of educating people to engage in responsible and respectful ways in online spaces.  Thank you Maha Bali for inviting the world to engage in your online class activity which explored this topic and for making it accessible to many of us who do not speak your language.  As one guest participant commented “I thought I was playing a guessing game this morning, but instead my very worldview has been shaken! #DigitalGuardiansEg” (@jmgordon, via Twitter, 8 February 2018) [edit: though I believe this was said as a joke, @jmgordon has said she “truly appreciated being reminded that things are not necessarily how they seem to me”].

And in case you were wondering what the image I shared is all about, it touches on some of the topics I have covered in this blog post.  It depicts a joint creation built by my husband and me over a period of several years in our spare time, inspired by our love of music, art and places special to us.  You can read more about it on my husband’s pipe organ website if you are interested.

32 keyless street organ with hand carved and painted facade

32 keyless street organ with hand carved and painted facade, mounted on a Silver cross pram chassis

The contents of this blog post has been created and shared using a Creative Commons ShareAlike Non-commercial licence which means others can remix, tweak and build upon this work non-commercially as long as they credit me and licence their new creations under the identical terms.  If you reuse any part of this blog post including photos or text please use the following attribution to credit me:  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by Anna C Page https://annacpage.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/guarding-our-digital-identities/
For more information about Creative Commons licences see https://creativecommons.org/

Visit to the Somme – part 4

The War diaries of the 4th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadians indicated troop movements away from the Somme at the beginning of October 1916.  Corporal Noel Bramwell Hall and his fellow infantry in the 19th Battalion had to take a long curved walk to their destination across fields, farms and through villages so they did not pass too close to the frontline.

They set off on 5th October from Bouzincourt and walked to Warloy-Baillon via Senlis-le-Sec. They had a couple of nights at Warloy to rest.

On 7th October their billet was La Vicogne via Contay, Herissart and Val de Maison.

Their 8th October destination was Bonneville via Val Heureux (Vert-Galand farm).  It seems they had a bit more rest at Bonneville of 3 nights in one place without being fired upon.

Beauval (one of the other Canadian Battalions came through this town)

Beauval (one of the other Canadian Battalions came through this town, not far from Occoches)

On 11th October they left Bonneville and went via Rienvillers, Autheux and Occoches to Remaisnil.

Their 12th October destination was Sibiville and Sericourt which they reached via Bouquemaison, Rebreuve-sur-Canche and Canettemont.

On 13th October they left the Houvin-Houvigneul area (it seems some of the Brigade was there rather than nearby Sibiville) – the march table for their destination listed several villages including Houvlin, Magnicourt-en-Comte, Monchy Breton, Orlencourt, Marquay and Bailleul-aux-Cornailles.

On 14th October they moved to Bruay-la-Buissiere, Haillicourt and Ruitz near to Bethune and the frontline.

16th October was the day the 4th Brigade marched to the Barlin-Hersin area in preparation for the frontline again.

Signs for Lens, Bethune, Lievin and Barlin

Signs for Lens, Bethune, Lievin and Barlin

During the afternoon of 26 October 2016 we roughly followed their route from the Somme to get a sense of the landscape and places they would have seen on their journey.  It was mostly farmland, villages and towns until we approached Bruay-la-Buissiere, though even on the motorways leading to Lieven, Lens and Loos-in-Gohelle where Noel is buried the colour of the autumnal trees lining the route were spectacular.

So although the landscape had become industrial and built up, there was enough nature to retain some beauty.

British line in Artois in the spring of 1916 after the relief of the French army south of Loos.

British line in Artois in the spring of 1916 after the relief of the French army south of Loos. http://www.1914-1918.net/maps.htm

The British frontline the 2nd Canadians had been sent to relieve was divided into three Brigade sections: Souchez on the right (south), Angrez in the centre and Calonne on the left (north) – near Bully-Grenay (where one Battalion was based in reserve).  The 4th Brigade was assigned to the Calonne section which was being held by the 111th Brigade and relieved them on the 17th October.

The map shows the British front line in Spring that year.

The Lens and Bethune area was a mining region and therefore of great value strategically.  Some of the 4th Brigade was called upon to help with some tunnelling for military purposes while most of the others manned the defences and frontline.

The War Diary intelligence summary sheet for 26th October 1916 shows that the weather was fair, the gas alert was relaxed and the Duke of Devonshire visited the 2nd Canadians that day. It also stated: Casualties O.R. 1 killed, 1 wounded.  O.R. means Ordnance Rating.  Noel.

On the Library and Archives of Canada website I found the index card showing the circumstances of Noel’s death:

“Killed” (Accidentally)

He was instantly killed by the premature explosion of a shell in the gun he was serving, during operations in the vicinity of Calonne.

Cemetary: Cite Calonne Military Cemetery, Near Fosse No. 2 de Lievin, 1 1/2 miles West North West of Lievin, 4 miles South of Vermelles, France.

Circumstances of death Cpl Noel B Hall 26 October 1916

Circumstances of death Cpl Noel B Hall 26 October 1916

Newcastle Daily Journal 10 November 1916 - death notices for Ann Eliza and Noel Bramwell Hall

Newcastle Daily Journal 10 November 1916 – death notices for Ann Eliza and Noel Bramwell Hall

It seems that he died somewhere just south of Grenay as the cemetery where he was originally buried was between Grenay and Lievin and they would not have moved him far.  He was less than 2 months short of his 25th birthday.

Also online I found a very poignant listing in the Newcastle Daily Journal, Friday November 10, 1916 which showed not only Noel’s death notice (under the military deaths – Roll of Honour) but that of his grandmother Ann Eliza Hall who died on 9 November exactly 2 weeks after Noel’s death, at the age of 79.

I can imagine that Ann Eliza was probably already unwell and that the appalling news of her beloved grandson’s death broke her heart.  Only 2 years previously her eldest daughter Marian had died and Noel’s father (her son) was also dead.

In 1925 Noel’s aunt Rosa Beatrice Hall, still living at the Manor House in Shincliffe, received a letter from the Imperial War Graves Commission which explained that Noel’s body had been moved to the Loos British Cemetery.

The tone of the letter is sensitive even though it would have been sent to many families (the type is different for the unique information about individual soldiers but the letter was still signed personally).

In 2008 we found his grave so it wasn’t difficult to find it again in the neatly laid out cemetery.  Once again for our visit to Noel the weather was beautiful, with a clear blue sky, the fog of the Somme area left behind.

We had brought some English roses from our garden to place on Noel’s grave – the lovely yellow scented ‘Summertime’ which climbs around an archway in our garden, the two last buds of the gorgeous scented deep purple ‘Young Lycidas’, some sprays of the prolific red Olympic flame and an unidentified orange coloured hybrid tea rose from our front garden.  Noel has a known grave with his name on it.  So many of the WWI dead have no known grave or were not identified, therefore it seemed fitting to bring him an unidentified rose to acknowledge his many lost comrades.

The Maple trees in the cemetery had lost a lot of their leaves but still looked flaming in the sunshine.  We signed the Visitors Book before we left to return to England.

Our entry in the Visitors Book at Loos British Cemetery

Our entry in the Visitors Book at Loos British Cemetery

It was an immense privilege to be able to retrace some of Noel’s steps on this 2 day trip to France and learn something of what those soldiers experienced in that terrible drawn out fight for territory which wasted so many lives.

References:

War Diaries of 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade October 1916

British line in Artois in the spring of 1916 after the relief of the French army south of Loos. Campaign and Battle Maps, The Long, Long Trail – the British Army in the Great War http://www.1914-1918.net/maps.htm

Library and Archives Canada – Circumstances of death registers, First World War

See also Visit to the Somme – part 1Visit to the Somme – part 2 and Visit to the Somme – part 3.