Introduction: Media and Methods for Opening Education
Suzanne Tamang, Stanford University
Gregory T. Donovan, Fordham University
With Issue 5 of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, we bring together scholarship that challenges traditional educational environments through more democratic and diverse modes of teaching, learning, and research. As the first themed issue of JITP, we sought contributions for Issue 5 that explicitly considered both media and methods for opening up educational places and practices. Our hope was to facilitate a scholarly discussion around what it takes to redraw educational boundaries as well as why certain boundaries should be redrawn. The following contributions, from an interdisciplinary grouping of artists and academics, explore how digital media and critical methods can help expand access to the classroom (see Daniels et al. 2014; Gieseking 2014), the laboratory (see Edwards et al. 2014), the urban neighborhood (see Mayorga 2014), and the global economy (see Literat 2014). Although open source media is featured prominently in many of these contributions, it is by no means a defining factor of what we mean by “open.” Rather, each of the contributions in Issue 5 reflect on the people, platforms, and practices necessary to open up access to educational environments—whether or not they are technically classified as open source.
When one considers open-source software, open access publishing, open government, or open courses, the “openness” promoted by each label evokes complex and contradictory meanings. Evgeny Morozov (2013) recently took issue with the seemingly ubiquitous presence of “open” initiatives in contemporary culture and pointed to the reading of “openness into situations and environments where it doesn’t exist” as acts of “openwashing.” Yet, as Morozov also argues, a consideration of openwashing only helps us question the authenticity of open initiatives but does little to help us consider what openness should mean. In Morozov’s critique we find a constructive starting point for discussing both media and methods in opening education. What do we mean by “open,” by “media,” or by “methods?” And, how might we consider what openness should mean within contemporary educational environments? This issue considers these broad questions as well as some of the media and methods that can help address them.
Media, Methods, and Openness
In 1964, Marshall McLuhan declared “the medium is the message” to draw attention to the mutual shaping of media, defined as “any extension of ourselves,” and messages, defined as “the change of scale or pace or pattern that [a medium] introduces into human affairs” (10). In considering the medium as message, McLuhan argued that human experience and media are locked in a state of reciprocity, thus producing an environment of relationships where people and extensions of themselves shape each other. The medium remains the message in contemporary educational environments, but also emerges as an underexplored method. Regardless of whether education is carried out for profit, governance, or social justice, the methods used to facilitate learning mediate both the knowledge produced and who has access to it.
In discussing participatory action research (PAR)—a methodology that cuts across many of the contributions in this issue—Fine et al. (2003) lament the ways PAR is too often reduced to a set of seemingly apolitical methodological techniques. PAR, they argue, should instead represent an epistemological stance within academic inquiry that “assumes knowledge is rooted in social relations and most powerful when produced collaboratively through action” (Fine et al. 2003, 173). In the context of digital media and methods, we similarly argue that “open” should be understood as both an ontological and an epistemological stance, one that strives to give access to diverse modes of knowing and becoming rather than a technical label for a publishing or property model.
A focus on the technical aspects of open media, without consideration for their associated epistemological and ontological aspects, can often obscure important proprietary qualities. Google’s Chrome web browser is technically open source software, yet it exists to provide Google with a lucrative edge over its corporate competitors. Chrome functions as both a popular, fast, no-fee browser and as a privately owned public space that affords its sole intellectual proprietor (i.e. Google) unique access through which to offer their for-profit products. We might also consider the NYPDs recent data disclosure regarding their “Stop and Frisk” policy. The data is shared with the public through proprietary formats that require everyday citizens to possess corporate software such as SPSS. What’s more, little transparency is offered regarding the methods used to collect and record such data.
Open source media, without a critical reworking of the politics and practices therein, inevitably reverts to the kinds of enclosure and privatization they claim to counter (Donovan 2014). The door to Chrome’s source code may be open to developers, and researchers now have access to a NYPD database, but the environment of relationships entailed in both examples give little power to those not already considered to be “insiders.” The following contributions to Issue 5 draw on critical media and methods to try and redraw this boundary between insider and outsider. Each contribution helps us consider what our mediated society might know and become through more accessible classrooms, laboratories, neighborhoods, and economies.
Contributions to the Issue
The understanding of “media,” “methods,” and “openness” that we’ve outlined above are implicitly, and at times explicitly, supported by the contributions featured in this special issue of JITP. The first contribution, a special feature by Elizabeth Bishop and Britney Harsh, offers an interactive and rhizomatic dialogue that explores some of the authoritative power structures within which new artists and scholars routinely operate. With “Questions of Authority: Academic Publishing, Anti-Art and Ownership,” Bishop and Harsh rework both the medium and message of academic publishing so as to open up this important dialogue to more than just those considered to be seasoned artists and scholars.
The next contribution, and the first of Issue 5’s five articles, is perhaps the most focused on the medium. In “Building a Place for Community: City Tech’s OpenLab,” Charlie Edwards, Jody Rosen, Maura A. Smale, and Jenna Spevack analyze the development of an open-source online platform that both embraces and extends their institution’s laboratory model of hands-on learning. The OpenLab, a WordPress- and BuddyPress-based digital platform implemented at the New York City College of Technology (City Tech), redefines the urban campus to include the digital environment. As the authors succinctly state, the OpenLab is an “open, shared, experimental, and democratic” space that brings together students, faculty, and staff.
In “The InQ13 POOC: A Participatory Experiment in Open, Collaborative Teaching, and Learning,” Jessie Daniels, Matthew K. Gold, and members of the InQ13 Collective reflect on both the platforms and practices that defined The Graduate Center of the City University of New York’s participatory, open, online course (POOC). The InQ13 POOC was designed to reassess and reimagine inequality in East Harlem through community-based inquiry projects that critically integrated social media. Offering a polyvocal analysis from course organizers, professors, librarians, educational technologists, and students, Daniels et al. offer a foundational text for educators looking to develop an interdisciplinary, participatory, and social justice oriented alternative to the more common massive, open, online course (MOOC) model of learning.
“Toward Digital, Critical, Participatory Action Research: Lessons from the #BarrioEdProj,” by Edwin Mayorga, assesses the ongoing development of a research project focused on the interconnected remaking of public education and the New York City Latino core community of East Harlem (El Barrio). Mayorga situates his participatory action research project within the broader context of public and participatory science while unpacking the benefits and challenges of integrating digital media for communication and collaboration.
Moving from East Harlem to Hyderabad, Ioana Literat details a community-based intervention aimed at narrowing the digital skills gap between young Muslim women and men in “Empowering Local Women through Technology Training: A Sustainable Income-Generating Model in Hyderabad, India.” Through her experiences designing and implementing a locally sustainable digital storytelling program in an Indian public school, Literat offers a detailed qualitative account of the elements that contribute to the digital participation gap among genders, and outlines a set of best practices for others developing similar teaching models.
In the issue’s final contribution, “Notes from Queer(ing) New York: Refusing Binaries in Online Pedagogy,” Jen Jack Gieseking reflects on the pedagogical work of refusing the norms and hierarchies often assumed in contemporary educational models. The Queer(ing) New York course was offered through the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies and integrated common social media tools with an open-source platform and in-person meetings. Situating herself as course creator and instructor, Gieseking analyzes the promises and perils of integrating queer, feminist, and critical geographic approaches to open up educational binaries like public education / graduate seminar and local / virtual.
In Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, Bruno Latour (2005) theorizes the “dingpolitik” as an object-oriented democracy. Latour’s theorization is based in equal parts on Donna Haraway’s (1991) notion of affinity politics and John Dewey’s (1927) argument that contentious social problems are what bring publics into being. The dingpolitik orients itself toward common concerns and interests so as to escape the confining realpolitik debates of technical standards and labels. With this issue of JITP we offer a similar approach, to move away from the realpolitik of openness and embracing it instead as an objective around which we as educators, academics, artists, and activists can and should orient ourselves.
The popular appeal of openness signifies, if nothing else, a strong desire for a more inclusive and accessible society. Even when used deceptively, openness represents a common and contested objective in contemporary education. Rather than abandon this common interest because of its frequent co-option, the contributions in this issue instead breathe some much-needed life into the concept of openness. Collectively, the six contributions to this issue critically consider openness as an educative pursuit that harnesses both digital media and pedagogical practices to foster more democratic modes of knowing and belonging.
Gregory T. Donovan and Suzanne Tamang
Issue 5 Co-Editors
We would like to thank each of our contributing authors, the 22 reviewers who participated in Issue 5’s open review process, our copyeditors, and our style and structure editors. We’d also like to thank the journal’s Managing Editor, Anne Donlon, as well as Kiersten Greene, Ben Miller, Renee McGarry, Leila Walker and all our colleagues on the Editorial Collective.
Dewey, John. 1927. The Public and Its Problems. Swallow Press/Ohio University Press. OCLC 952588.
Donovan, Gregory T. 2014. “Opening Proprietary Ecologies: Participatory Action Design Research with Young People.” In Methodological Challenges When Exploring Digital Learning Spaces in Education, edited by Greta Björk Gudmundsdottir and Kristn Beate Vasbø, 65-77. Sense. OCLC 884300588.
Fine, Michelle, María Elena Torre, Kathy Boudin, Iris Bowen, Judith Clark, Donna Hylton, Migdalia Martinez, Missy, Rosemarie A. Roberts, Pamela Smart, and Debora Upegui. 2003. “Participatory Action Research: Within and Beyond Bars.” In Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design, edited by Paul Camic, Jean E. Rhodes, and Lucy Yardley, 173-198. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. OCLC 50518932.
Haraway, Donna J. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. OCLC 21870286.
Latour, Bruno (2005). From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik – or how to make things public. In Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, 14-43. Cambridge: The MIT Press. OCLC 60245568.
McLuhan, Marshall. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: MIT Press. OCLC 305387.
Morozov, Evgeny. (2013). Open and Closed. New York Times, March 16, sec. Opinion. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/opinion/sunday/morozov-open-and-closed.html?_r=0
 See section 8 on property rights in Chrome’s terms of service. Retrieved 03 July 2014 from http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser/privacy/eula_text.html
 NYPD Stop, Question and Frisk Report Database. Retrieved 18 July 2014 from http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/analysis_and_planning/stop_question_and_frisk_report.shtml
About the Authors
Suzanne Tamang is a Postdoctoral Scholar and National Library of Medicine Fellow at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Her research focuses on the development and application of computational methods to derive actionable insights with the potential to improve health care quality. In addition to using large-scale data for intervention-oriented knowledge discovery, Suzanne seeks to “data-engender’” patient and caregiver advocates, and to broaden the definitions of health and value. Suzanne received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the City University of New York. She can be found online at suzannetamang.com or @suzanntee and reached via email@example.com.
Gregory T. Donovan is Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, a researcher at the Public Science Project, and a founder of the OpenCUNY Academic Medium. His research concerns the mutual shaping of people, place, and media entailed in contemporary urban development, and how to reorient such shaping towards more just ends. His dissertation, MyDigitalFootprint.ORG, was a participatory action design research (PADR) project that involved young New Yorkers’ in critically exploring and redesigning their everyday development within proprietary media ecologies. Gregory received a Ph.D. in Environmental Psychology from the City University of New York. He can be found online via gtdonovan.org or @gdonovan and reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.