Antigonish 2.0 – the plan

America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories
I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

– Allen Ginsberg, America, 1956

The Backstory: Fifteen years ago, I lived in the suburbs of Bratislava, Slovakia, next to a corner store that sold absinthe.

Bratislava’s medieval city centre was all cobblestone and Hapsburg extravagance, but the suburbs where the teachers’ sublets were located were concrete sameness for miles, broken only by public statuary and tram stops and the requisite pubs and potravinys.

My apartment came furnished with an old secretary desk, two chairs, a bright red plastic rotary phone, and a folding couch that served as a bed. I thought of it as mid-century modern, even if was more Soviet than stylish. I loved that apartment.

In Bratislava in 2002, I drank absinthe and cheap wine and listened to mixtape CDs I’d burned on Napster: Tom Waits and Edith Piaf and Stevie Wonder and Allen Ginsberg reading America, aloud. I was thirty; a Canadian English teacher abroad. I only made $400 a month, but I’d paid off my student loans and I’d helped out my mother and I didn’t know enough to know that I should aspire to more. I read Umberto Eco. I was trying to self-educate my way into getting a grip on the 20th century, even as the 21st was shaping up post-911 to be a spectacle of a different sort.

I walked a lot. In the middle of Bratislava, in a square near the Danube, there was a monument…a striking, harsh-looking modernist metal sculpture topped by the Star of David, and chains. It stood out from the other Fathers of the Revolution monuments.

This sculpture is Slovakia’s monument to its Jews. It is a strange, stark public penance. A plaque tells its story.

In WWII, Slovakia sold its Jews.

The Slovak Republic – a client state of Nazi Germany established in 1939 after Hitler mobilized into Czech territory – made a deal. In exchange for keeping Slovak workers out the war effort, they agreed to deport their Jewish population, whose roots in Slovakia went back 500 years. In the deal, the “republic would pay for each Jew deported, and, in return, Germany promised that the Jews would never return to the republic.” According to Wikipedia, the deal was initially for “20,000 young, strong Jews,” but the Slovaks eventually agreed to deport the entire Jewish population for “evacuation to territories in the east.”

In 1942, the first mass transport to Auschwitz came out of Slovakia. In total, in 1942 alone, 58,000 Jews were deported by the Slovak Republic. 99% of them are reported to have died in the concentration camps.

I took the above picture of the monument one sunny autumn afternoon, in black and white film on an old Pentax K-1000.  I framed it in the frame with the little wooden doors, and it has lived with me on three continents since. I still don’t know entirely why.

It makes me think of Allen Ginsberg’s voice, intoning America aloud in that little Soviet-stark apartment, teaching me histories I didn’t know. It reminds me of things I’d rather not acknowledge about human nature.

We sell each other out, we humans, the picture cautions me. Our better angels regret it later. But we sell each other out.

The picture forces me to ask what part I am playing in the world, what wheel my shoulder is turned to, or turned away from.
***

The Rest of the Story: Back at the end of November, I wrote about adult education and a piece of history far closer to my own part of the world.

The Antigonish Movement was, in the 1920s and 30s, an adult education & cooperative movement based out of the Extension Department of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Led by Father Moses Coady and Father Jimmy Tompkins, Irish Catholic cousins from Cape Breton, the Antigonish Movement fostered the idea that ordinary people could take control of their circumstances and their economy through critical thinking, scientific methods of planning and production, and co-operative entrepreneurship, taught in kitchens and community halls, and via radio and whatever means were available.

It had a huge impact. Even today, the legacy of the Antigonish Movement dots the Maritime provinces in the form of credit union buildings, which got their start through the cooperatives that Coady and Tompkins fostered.

So.

I look at our media literacy and information literacy landscape – our democratic society, interconnected and border-blurred as it is – in the lead-up to Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States on January 20th, and I shudder. Arms race tweets. Putin. Fake news. White supremacists gloating. Wikileaks uber alles. Basically, it’s the West Wing version of what danah boyd calls the hacking of the attention economy, not just by trolls but by a Troll in Chief.  Messy through multiple lenses…and by my lights, potentially terrifying no matter where one lives or what one’s party affiliations are.

But I am not a foreign policy analyst. I am a digital literacies educator…and that is the lens I focus through.

So I proposed a new adult education movement for our times, an Antigonish 2.0. With a media and information literacy focus.

I said: To me, at this current moment, it is our societal lack of understanding and agency regarding media literacies and digital literacies – and thus the stories we tell ourselves about truth, decency, and each other – that is the poverty I know how to address.

And a whole freaking whack of you said…ME TOO.

So I’ve spent the past month in conversations with people – individual educators, people on the street, government folks, the excellent & quick-thinking Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier from the Coady Institute (yes, named after THAT Coady) at St. FX University – and we officially really and fer real *do* have an Antigonish 2.0.

We’ll draw on the model of the original Antigonish Movement of participatory learning – see below – but re-tooled for the 21st century and the local and global connections that digital makes possible. It’s particularly meaningful to get to do this with Wendy at St FX.

The Plan, As It Stands: As I noted in the first post, the Antigonish Movement had three key structural components: mass meetings, organized with community members from villages and towns around the entire region, study clubs, where community members gathered together in homes to study materials available, and the school for leaders, where members of the study clubs could attend six-week programs at the university in Antigonish, to prepare people for action and minimize business failures.

I see Antigonish 2.0 as having three potential layers or structural pieces, too.

The first layer will likely be mostly the people who commented on the original post – a distributed international network of people. Maybe mostly educators, with relatively high digital presence and the knowledge capacity to lead this kind of work, but in need of something to coordinate around and up-to-date resources on specific media/information literacy conversations. And the broader epistemology and truth conversations that we all need to work our way through to understand the times we’re living through.

Building a site and awareness and a hashtag around this first layer – and getting people connected to the work that initiatives like the Digital Polarization Institute are on about – would be how this layer would get started. INPUT WELCOME ON WHAT IT WOULD ACTUALLY NEED TO FUNCTION FOR PEOPLE. But basically the first layer would be self-selecting and networked; our mass meetings, for people who might be interested in taking on aspects of levels two or three in their institutions or their communities or spreading the good word.

The second layer – from our perspective here in the Maritimes – would be capacity-building among local institutions as well as among any Layer One individuals interested in joining in with an eye to building institutional media/digital literacies and capacity. We’re looking at a grant to hold a summer institute or mini-conference – essentially our school for leaders – that would be open both to members of Layer One but also focus on getting buy-in from Atlantic institutions, for faculty and staff development….for people interested doing media literacies and critical literacies stuff in formal classes. We’re looking at August 2017. We have a lot to figure out (EDITED TO ADD: AMENDED TO JULY 2018)

The third layer is my real, original goal, the study clubs: getting past institutional boundaries to having the Layer One and Two people starting up localized workshops for people in their own communities, people not necessarily affiliated with higher ed. Workshops at libraries. Discussion series in bars or restaurants. Participatory art events. Kitchen parties. This is the part where people get – collaboratively – the kind of information they need to be critical citizens and consumers within an attention economy run from the top down; our Hunger Games mediasphere come to life. This is the part where people (maybe?) learn to rise and hold mass media accountable for the narratives we are sold. This is where, in whatever small part, I can put my queer shoulder to the wheel of spectacle that’s turning our time, right now, and try to make a difference.

So that sometime down the road I don’t find myself standing in a square in front of a sculpture, saying about some population being symbolized in wrought iron, Yes, a terrible shame. We sold them out, to Nazis. We even saw it coming. (shrug) What can you do?
***
If you’d like updates on this initiative as Wendy and I work to get it up and running…send an email to bstewart@upei.ca. We welcome you. :)

Education for a Digital Age?

Do MOOCs inherently help develop digital literacies?

I’ve been thinking about this…and I think they can – even in xMOOC format – IF they are built on platforms that enable peer-to-peer networking.

I sat down to do an experiment for this week’s #moocmooc – a kind of short video essay exploring some of my thoughts on MOOCs and their capacity for developing digital literacies in the form of decentering (gasp!) teachers – and 28 hours later, after life and meetings and childrearing and my own occasionally stunning levels of technical idiocy interfered and I decided to conflate Tuesday’s video assignment with Wednesday’s peer pedagogies assignment, kinda, I emerged with a $*&($#&%$*)! video essay that is nearly 28 hours long.

Okay, 11+ minutes.

Apparently I *don’t* think better out loud. I *do* think better in the round, though, so I’m going to try another experiment right here, and rather than expanding in my usual prosaic format about my ideas, I’m gonna try to condense them. And then open them up for critique and improvement.

You can follow along while watching the video (alas, this version doesn’t feature my cat Clementine, as two cutting-room floor drafts did, but does feature sound, which another sleek 9 minute run-through did not. Please to enjoy the fruits of my, uh, compromise. Ignore the fact that my head bobs around a whole lot. This was Take #23 or something.)

Key Ideas & Assumptions:
1. The early MOOCs DID develop digital literacies, inherently.
I always thought of MOOCs as helping to develop digital literacies because my first MOOCs were all connectivist, and focused on the generative knowledge of networks, and the principles of aggregation, remix, repurpose and feed-forward: in them, learners worked to expand on and connect with the ideas of others by creating and sharing ideas of our own.

2. Then xMOOCs came along.
The big xMOOC startups seem to have been taken up as if the transformational thing about them is that they’re massive But really, massively-scaled education was tried back in the 20th century with TV broadcast models and never really lived up to the hype (side-note: a lot of educational TV initiatives evolved into what became known as “distance learning,” which I worked in back in 1998 when it was morphing to online ed). Broadcast education at scale has never been particularly effective. Or revolutionary. And the capacity to educate at scale is not inherently digital.

3. Ergo, if MOOCs are simply massive (& open in the sense of registration), that is NOT scaling education for the digital age.
That is, in fact, what Cathy Davidson calls scaling what’s broken in education. Taking a transmission model of teaching and broadcasting it via the internet does not create digital literacies, or citizens of the Internet.

4. But if MOOCs are built on platforms that enable (and preferably coax or encourage) the digital affordance of networked participation, connecting peer to peer, they *will* teach at least one key digital literacy. Especially if they’re big.
Traditional models of education have the teacher at the centre, providing knowledge, structure, care and validation (hopefully), among other things. Learning and value can come from this, but the model has become hegemonic and leads people to approach learning situations as if they are vessels to be filled, rather than active, central participants in their own learning. But at scale, with 20,000 students, teachers can’t humanly fulfill the validation needs, in particular, of learners to know whether they’re learning and making sense. The more students, the harder that is. So what networked MOOCs at scale do is decenter teachers. Not devalue. Just decenter.

5. Unlike broadcast models of scale, networked platforms need not leave learners hanging for validation, though. Peers can and will step into collaborative validation and knowledge-building roles if they have the means to connect and share.
At first, being in any course where you’re not performing directly – and predominantly – for the teacher is disorienting. Gradually, however, so long as the facilitator still provides structure and serves to lead continued movement and step in where thorny spots or challenges become evident, this freedom to lead and explore within peer networks can be pretty heady. The extent to which a facilitator encourages this depends on the content and assessment structure of the course; if it’s a mastery-based course with testing at the end, peer-generated knowledge may not be a goal. But peer networks of shared idea validation, like free-form networked study groups, have a place in almost any learning model. Even xMOOCs.

6. So if the network capacity is present, even conventional delivery of content – whether xMOOC or cMOOC or anywhere on the spectrum in between – can implicitly help learners to learn to look to networks rather than lone teachers or facilitators. 
And this IS a key digital orientation towards the world and the practice of learning.

So maybe, with millions of registrants around the world, MOOCs *can* be a key part of education for the digital age, by help learners unlearn the passive “schooling” model of transmission education that many still seem to struggle to shed. But ONLY if they utilize networked platforms that enable and encourage communications and connections between learners.

That’s my two cents. There’s something hopeful here, I think.

What do you think #MOOCMOOC? This is – even at Take #23 – just a draft of a thesis. Have at it. :)