A Few Additional Glimpses

This is the second post in which I’m sharing graduate learners’ reflections on their use of open web annotation in INTE 5320 Games and Learning (my first post is here). The previous post generated favorable attention from students and supporters alike:

However, it is entirely my shortcoming that in a rush to share I failed to articulate a deliberate – yet easily overlooked – rhetorical choice. Before highlighting a few additional perspectives, I’d like to comment upon my use of “glimpse.”

In the book Ignorance, the neurobiologist Stuart Firestein recalls a story about how a team of cognitive psychologists came to alter how they studied animal self-awareness. At first, this team of scientists defined a priori – that is, in advance, and by set criteria – one specific concept of animal consciousness. Only one particular expression by a given animal would count as evidence of self-awareness in the study. The scientists then created various experiments to prove self-awareness behavior. But the animals failed to produce the particular self-awareness behavior, time and time again. Eventually, the experimental design and the role of the scientists changed, as the team sought “to provide an opportunity for an individual creature to simply show us whether it acted consciously” (Firestein, 2012, p. 97). In other words, an environment was created whereby researchers could observe a range of animal behavior. More importantly, multiple forms of self-awareness could now be demonstrated – and demonstrated on the animals’ own terms. Perhaps not surprisingly, animals began to demonstrate their self-awareness.

Given the co-designed and playful approach to INTE 5320 Games and Learning this semester, Firestein’s story echoes as an apt analogy. Within the context of social reading afforded by Hypothesis, no a priori definition of acceptable annotation was established as a rigid given against which all contributions would be measured. Rather, a range of open annotation practices have been encouraged on learners’ own terms. And unlike a controlled experiment that evaluates a particular activity in an often sanitized setting, this course has sought to create the conditions for varied annotation practices to span multiple authentic settings – from selected readings to peer blogs, from news and popular media to affinity spaces. As I have noted before, such annotation is playful because it appropriates (con)texts – texts, contexts, and the hybrid in-between of social and academic practice.

Such playful – as well as emergent and contingent – activity is similar to what Firestein (2012) terms a “glimpse.” He defines glimpses as new types of knowledge that do not “stand still,” but rather are perceived peripherally or retrospectively. While glimpses may be difficult to predict, glimpses are important because they push against assumptions of what counts as knowledge. Here, then, are three more glimpses pushing the boundaries of design, pedagogy, and learning associated with open web annotation.

A glimpse from Lainie, her cautionary note about open and closed opportunities, safety, and a need for multiple discursive forms:

As for ILT5320’s use of open discussion through (mostly) Twitter and Hypothesis, I think it’s mostly added to our discussions, allowing us to connect with different people and get a better feel for what it’s like to have your work “out there.”  That being said, there have been times (I’m mostly thinking of the Gamergate section) where I think it’s made people cautious about having a real discussion with their classmates.  It’s not as safe an environment to talk about more sensitive issues as it might be if we were having conversations in more closed environments.  I think it would be worthwhile to consider something that’s like a “fireside chat” on occasion in order to give students the opportunity for some reflective conversation in a less open environment.

A glimpse from Brian, his dialectic of building and breaking ideas:

Interacting with my classmates via Hypothesis has made the strongest impact on my learning.  Our collegial nature has made an environment where it feels safe to push against each other’s’ ideas… Hypothesis makes it very convenient to have a very focused discussion about specific ideas in a text.  It enables us to build or break our ideas in a very constructivist manner.

And a glimpse from Robert, his appreciation for the playfulness that emerges from the margins:

I actually believe that being overly serious hinders one’s ability to produce that which is truly creative. For me, playfulness is a must, or else I revert to being anxious and a bit angry when I work. Hence, I appreciate the playfulness that I have experienced in this courses, as it precludes my reverting to my old anxious way of being. The play which surrounds the gameplay in the course transfers to the course in general and can often be found in the discussions which take place in the margins.

With only a month before this course concludes, I find myself increasingly attuned to emergent expressions of learning – and what those contingent yet consequential glimpses may mean for future course design and facilitation efforts. Similarly, I’m also concerned about creating – and sustaining over time – equitable opportunities for learners to demonstrate interests, insights, and opinions on their own terms. Open web annotation plays an important role – alongside related social practices afforded by blogs, Twitter, game play sessions, and affinity space interactions. Creating the conditions for (more) open pedagogy and student learning does not seamlessly translate into predictable, or conflict free, or cleanly defined outcomes. Lainie’s reflection about the benefits of a “less open environment,” Brian’s appreciation for the ability of open annotation to “break our ideas,” and the way in which Robert “appreciate[s] the playfulness that I have experienced” collectively attest to the complexities of learning as opened across settings, as opened to publics and conflicts, and as opened to ways of knowing that do not “stand still.” In this respect, a range of playful learning practices may be glimpsed when acknowledging participation that occurs within, from, and in reference to the margins.


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