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Searching for Student Voices at #OpenEd16

I’m currently on a plane headed back to Oklahoma from OpenEd16. OpenEd brought the end of my pause from social media and a rejuvenation thanks to fellow attendees. Over the two OpenEd’s I’ve attended, Vancouver and now Richmond, the community has brought out the best of me and I deeply appreciate that.

The last activity that I participated in at the conference was facilitating a student panel on March’s Indie EdTech gathering and Indie EdTech projects including BYU’s APIs, Georgetown’s HowToCollege, and the EdSurge Independent, all of which seek to increase student agency. As Erika Bullock has previous said about the Indie EdTech conversation:

The room was full of professors, administrators, undergrad and grad students, techies, activists, entrepreneurs, and the conversations we had were engaging and challenging because of the many voices contributing throughout the weekend.

One thing I deeply appreciated about OpenEd this year was the student experience being at the center of the keynotes. Gardner Campbell focused on learning, insight, awe, and wonder. Sara Goldrick-Rab spoke about how the costs for education are simply too high, our financial aid systems are too complex/not meeting needs leading students to work multiple jobs, drop classes, and often live without adequate housing and food.

Both keynotes struck me in very different ways. Gardner took me on a journey of thinking what is possible in learning through struggle and insight. Sara was frankly a gut punch. I left her talk feeling helpless. And then I started to look around only to realize that the very voices that I would hope we could see amplified through open education simply aren’t represented in our conversations.

I’ve spent the last few months occasionally working alongsisde–not above–students. The HowToCollege project brought me to Georgetown for a couple of weeks this summer where I worked with Erika Bullock. Andrew Rikard and I started (and stopped) producing a podcast. Both attended the IndieEdTech gathering last March.

As I was attending a session that was led by my colleagues John Stewart and Keegan Long-Wheeler on gamified faculty learning communities (GOBLIN), an interesting question was asked about how you could possibly develop games at the quality level of the video games “are students are used to playing and expect” without spending millions of dollars on graphics.

A couple of agreeing questions trickled in. And then from the back of the room Erika answered the question by saying that she had a class project where they created games out of pen and paper based off of film narratives as a class assignment.

My my, how far off we can get. Video games ONLY if we can make them with EA Sports-level graphics that can be viewed on a virtual reality headset. But this happens so often because so often we put words in the mouths of students. Students only want virtual reality right? Because native!

But I digress. Unfortunately, this was the first I had heard a student at least identify as a student and give a perspective.

In fact, when Erika first arrived, we were grabbing lunch and she looked at me and said “Are their any other undergraduates here at all?” My guess is there were but we didn’t give them enough space alongside are conversations about open pedagogy (teaching) and textbooks (which, let’s be honest, starts with faculty).

By the way, I’ve come to recognize these more by hearing colleagues like Andrew Rikard advocate for this. It’s worth too recognizing the way he has opened many people’s eyes, including mine, to student voice and #stuvoice.

How could we partner with students to begin to tackle the very clear problems that Sara laid out about higher education? Where are they at our conferences? Where is their voice in our conversation?

So I want to press the panic button immediately. Let’s design course materials (I really hate to call what she does a textbook) alongside our students like Robin DeRosa is doing. Let’s take all the data about our students that we are so preciously holding onto and put it in the public for students and others to build on top of like BYU is doing. Let’s give them spaces to house their own data and build digital identities like Domains of One’s Own. Let’s fund student-developed projects like the mentorship platform project Erika is leading. Let’s have students have cross-institutional discourse about higher education like Andrew Rikard is doing with the EdSurge Independent. Let’s submit proposals so that we can present alongside our students. I promise. It’s the most rewarding presentation you’ll ever give.

Last, let’s stop treating them like lower tied citizens of our community and let’s treat them like equals. Because they deserve it. Let’s recognize how we are minimizing their voice in our conversations. And then let’s fix it.

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