Opening and Closing at #altc

Bonnie Stewart

The opening keynote at the ALT Conference this year was by Bonnie Stewart.

Bonnie Stewart is an educator and social media researcher fascinated by who we are when we’re online. An instructor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Founder/Director of the media literacy initiative Antigonish 2.0, Bonnie explores the intersections of knowledge, technology, and identity in her work.

Bonnie’s presentation was entitled, The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the keynote, as I do like to be surprised, so hadn’t read the abstract. For those that do want to read it, here it is.

This talk opens up the intersection of learning technologies, open practice, and the idea of “norms” in learning and education. An exploration of the tensions around gatekeeping in higher education, the keynote examines our histories of norms and gatekeeping and the current trajectory and possibilities that openness offers learners and scholars, via learning technologies and digital practice. It also examines some of the dark corners of society opened up by the digital, and considers what this “new norm(al)” means for higher education. The talk frames our current moment as one of constant confrontation, and offers ideas for navigating confrontation overload while still preserving the spirit of openness and learning.

For me there were some key messages that came out, one of the main ones was that just saying you work openly doesn’t necessarily mean you are open to everyone. That open can sometimes be a solution, but can also sometimes be a problem. Listening to Siân Bayne the following day, the importance of anonymity (by definition not open) is something we need to recognise.

I do share much of my work openly, my Flickr images are Creative Commons licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 for example. However I also recognise as a white middle class, middle aged male that I have privileges and opportunities to be open that may not be available to others.

Bonnie recounted her early career up in the Arctic Circle and she said one thing struck her when she started was that she was white!

The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education

This resonated with me and reminded me of my early teaching career. I was bought up in Cambridge (not a real place) and at the time in the 1970s and 1980s wasn’t a culturally or ethnically diverse place. I started teaching in Somerset, first in Weston-super-Mare and then Bridgwater, both these places (back in the early 1990s) were predominantly white working class cohorts. I then got a job at Brunel College (now City of Bristol College) which is based in Ashley Down, literally a stone throw from the inner city district of St Pauls in Bristol. I don’t know why I didn’t realise but I was surprised when 90% of my students were not white. Like Bonnie did, I suddenly realised I was white!

The keynote also reminded me that the “norm” isn’t necessarily the “norm” for some people. Normal may be familiar, but reflecting on my time working in Bristol, the norm there was not familiar to me. My teaching needed to change to reflect the diversity and background of my learners and not my own background, which would have been inaccessible and unknown to the people I was teaching. We don’t always fit under a bell curve.

The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education

Another thing that came out of her keynote for me, was the essence of open working in a closed bubble. I know that my network, which is made up of lots of people who work openly, is very much a bubble and for many outside that bubble, despite the protestations of openness is as much closed to them as if the people were working in a closed manner. Even within the bubbles, open practice can be a barrier for many. Some people do not have the advantages or privileges that many have and can not afford to share and be open.

I also liked her slide on technical problems versus adaptive challenges and is something I recognise from working with academic staff in various colleges and embedding the use of learning technologies.

The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education

It was never about the technology, it was always about the people. Interestingly I also found it was never about the pedagogy either, it was always about the people too.

As with other keynotes at the conference I also did a sketch note.

Keynote: Bonnie Stewart – The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education

Her keynote was recorded and out on the YouTube.

What did you get from Bon’s keynote?

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