Monthly Archives: April 2017

Cape Town with #go_gn + OEGlobal. Fantastic!


I am part of a wonderful network, the @GOER_GN, a global network of PhD students that are researching in open education in general. Everyone has a slightly different focus, but all of us are interested in using OPEN as a tool to social justice and inclusion. The #go_gn (how the gang is called) organises once a year a gather together, an intensive seminar for 3 days. There, all of us have a chance to present our research for 20 min, and we get 10 min for comments and feedback from the gang. That is a luxury I have to say! So many bright scholars around me focusing on what I am doing and thinking how to shed light in the not so clear spots.

I had good feedback on my work, basically two things: I can’t solve the world with my PhD, that is for later, so I need to pick up ONE strand and go deep into it. As my beautiful friend @catherinecronin says, go in and go out!  (advice she, in turn, got from one of her committee’s members). Second, I need to differentiate between doing research, as objective as possible, finding out things from the data, discovering the problem and barriers to students’ digital practice, and another is to solve those problems. And I agree, I have a tendency to be pragmatic, well, I am pragmatic! But when one is doing research, the real need is to do the research, to flesh that little bit of the world we are worried about.

Here is the feedback and a succinct account of my work in words of @phillospher1978 aka Rob Farrow, who was taking notes during the sessions.

Caroline’s research centres on personal learning spaces as an alternative for institutional students.  Her project has had to evolve somewhat since she started.  She has been working with undergraduates to explore their personal learning environments.  Similar themes were also raised at a ‘student voice’ conference at Bath Spa.  Guided by Selwyn, Caroline is looking at actual practices and analysing them in terms of openness. Several theoretical frameworks are currently under consideration, including Schatzki (2006) and Kemmis et al (2010).  The aim of education is taken to be flourishing (Wright, 2010).  

A constructive grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2014) explored assumptions about ‘digital natives’ and provides a richer description of actual student learning ‘spaces’ and the extent to which these are ‘open’ or ‘closed’.  Interesting things arising from the data include the idea that students are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material available online; students are also concerned about their grades and this can impede experimentation.  There is no shared understanding of digital literacies, but Google is so commonplace as to not even be thought of as a tool.  Many students are intimidated by technology with which they are unfamiliar.   This work has led her to the idea that an explorative mindset needs to be cultivated and encouraged.  


  • Similar themes emerging in the work of others in the grou
  • Need to distinguish the research elements and the attempt to be pragmatic and improve student learning
  • How to deal with students who are risk-averse?
  • Maybe a need to narrow down the study and be less tempted to follow every idea or theoretical lead.  Clear research questions may help.

One thing that has become clearer to me is the danger to be an advocate of our own research. Doing research should not be done to re-confirm what one is advocating for. Instead, it should be the outcome of the study. I attended the talk that Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams gave at OEGLobal. She was telling us about the new project they are undertaking within a bigger project she leads, ROER4D. The project is studying the impact of OEP in the world. This new project is a meta-analysis (synthesis she also called it), that will analyse and unpack the causes of change in the different countries that are taking part of the project. She said it is not the role of the researcher to advocate but to understand what are the barriers and then find ways to overcome those barriers. And that is where my research will aim to go, to identify the barriers students encounter in their daily academic digital practice. This will be accomplished exploring the state-of-the-actual of students’ academic practice, scrutinising the present and not the potential, staying grounded in the reality, in the daily entanglements of students when engaging with the Web for academic purposes. 

In the conference, I presented my work but in a slightly different manner than I had planned. The reason for this? We had the gala dinner the night before and it was the first talk the last day!! It needed to be dynamic and challenging in some way. So I did a sort of flipped talked. I was willing to explore what the audience thought about the data I have collected. To do this I gave each group (3 groups of ± 6 participants). Luckily enough 2 members of the #go_gn were in the groups which allowed me to have a more detail view of what was discussed in each group.

In this Padlet wall you can see what each group thought was the data about. The stories are short but I am working with some participants to get more details and have a more detailed version of what was discussed in each table. This work has resulted in amazing and unexpected answers!

Overall the experience in Cape Town was one of the best I have had so far and I have assisted to many of them as part of my development as a researcher. I am really grateful for the generosity not only of the organiser, the GOER_GN but also of all the participants that made the work so joyful and intellectually productive. And some dancing did also happen there 🙂



The power of narrative research in #OER17

Last week the yearly OER conference took place in London. The title, the Politics of Open, and the themes can give a sense of the depth and breadth of the event.  A great experience where different scholars from around the Globe, and this is really AROUND THE GLOBE, we had people from South Africa, Chile, USA, Egypt, Europe, UK, Colombia, and maybe more, gathered together to share their thoughts, findings and new ideas about different elements of the politics of open education. If you want to have an idea of all what was happening during and after take a look at the blog post roundup #OER17

Much of the conversation in OER17 was about care (The refugee situation in Europe demands attention), inclusion (The MOONLITE project), social justice (Critical pragmatism and critical advocacy) and in general, the bigger conversation was about the need to be critical when researching about open. In his talkOpenness and Ethics: a provocation, Rob Farrow said something very relevant

As ‘open’ is becoming mainstream, more radical aspirations of the open movement are becoming secondary!

This cannot be allowed, radical aspirations need to be kept alive and the conference was a place to make this possible!

The experience was not only intellectually challenging but also emotionally moving. I felt immersed in a space of care and social justice, of women wanting to make a difference with their discourses and actions, of art wanting to find its place in open education, of open projects like Wikipedia wanting, among other things, to bridge the gender gap… A special place, for sure! And it is in that special place where we, Catherine Cronin and Caroline Kuhn, gave a workshop to stress the power of narrative research and storytelling to uncover the nuances of students’ digital practices and daily entanglements with digital technologies as well as the struggles and negotiation practitioners face when thinking about the open as a way to embrace their teaching practice. There is an inner story for this workshop and I (Caroline) want to share it with you. Catherine and I, are without planning it, doing a very similar research –not only regarding the topic we are exploring but also how we are exploring it. We are interested in the idea of understanding, through exploration, the daily experience of individuals (practitioners, in the case of Catherine and students in my case) with open practice and digital practice, respectively. Both are using constructive grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006). This mutual interest is in students and practitioner’s experiences and meaning-making.

The aim of our workshop was twofold: challenging participant’s beliefs about young people being ‘digital natives’ and not-so-young people being digital immigrants. This idea of youth being digitally fluent and versed in the digital world is a limitation when it comes to HEI policy and other initiatives to educate students digitally.  In this part of the workshop, we shared part of our data with asked participants to create a tentative profile for that group. We used a Padlet wall (link) so that participants could write and share their stories. Then participants related those stories to their own experiences, both professional and personal, recognising themselves in some of the data they worked with. The workshop ended with a rich discussion about participants’ own experience.

It is rewarding to read what participants thought and felt after the workshop; all the work is worth this! Thank you to all who participated, assisted and made the workshop possible