Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Inevitable Exclusion – symbols, hashtags, and networked spaces

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Exclusion is not always intentional. Exclusion is not always a choice. But it is almost always inevitable.

Bear with me on what might be a rambling post. It’s almost 3 am. I need to take sips of water just before dawn so I can fast well (mind you, all the “cramming” of water means I don’t store it for all day -, but it feels like a responsibility to drink while awake during Ramadan non-fasting hours).

So I had about an hour’s sleep then got up to feed my husband and found myself catching the tail end of the #clmooc chat coz some people tagged me (I love you too Michael and gz). I was in the middle of some really important paper work but when I finished I guess something I’d tweeted caught on and I wanted to explain what I meant in more detail.

I was saying that it’s easy to say to participants “you don’t need to be anywhere specific or do anything specific to be part of this community/MOOC/course/etc”. It’s easy to say it. But the reality is, no matter how well-intentioned you are, no matter how hard you try, no matter how far you reach, how diverse the options are, it’s almost inevitable someone somewhere will not feel included, or not be able to include themselves. It’s actually OK. I just think we shouldn’t deny that. I also don’t think it’s always a bad thing.

Let me give a few examples here.

Every MOOC I’ve participated in actively is in English. That’s exclusion right there. That people who don’t speak English can’t participate. The English language is the biggest “inclusive-looking” thing because it’s everyone’s second language, but some people are online and they don’t speak it. Really. And some people speak it but are not as fluent, or are fluent but don’t understand cultural nuances and this can mess up a learning experience big time.

Another? Culture and timezones. Any synchronous event excludes a large chunk of people who are asleep or too busy at the time. And that’s OK. When EVER can you find a time that suits everyone, even on the same timezone it’s hard. My colleagues at work had an outing the other day at iftar time – a time almost everyone is free and going to eat anyway (then again, if you’re not Muslim or not fasting the timing doesn’t matter, so that’s another exclusion) and still two of us (including me) couldn’t make it.

Thinking about something like our Virtually Connecting project, the precursor to it, #et4buddy, was meant to be a deal between friends, a generous offer by Rebecca Hogue to let me into a conference I couldn’t go to (another exclusion, related to my being a mother in this part of the world that’s so far away and without support enough to go for many reasons). It was Rebecca’s way to “include me”. Many people at et4online participated to include me in the conference. Now we opened up the google hangouts on air and livestreamed them – asked if others wanted to join in, and allowed anyone on the web to watch. No, wait. Only people on TWITTER got to see the link. Most of the people who joined in were people who knew me or one of us. Up until now, almost all virtually connecting hangouts involve people who know one of us in some way. We have been working hard to include others and have had an average of about one “new” person join in, either virtually or on-site. It’s still an exclusive way to be inclusive. A hangout can only take so many people (10), onsite you can only have so many people on the other side and make it fun. But look – it’s more inclusive than what normally goes on in a conference where virtual participation is either passive (watching video) or text-based (Twitter). It’s something. But it’s not everything to everybody. And that’s OK. It’ll become more popular (we keep getting offers for onsite buddies) and it’ll expand (some conferences want to make it more official) and improve. But still – people with poor infrastructure won’t join. People who are camera shy won’t join. And it’s OK. Not everyone needs to enjoy the same thing.

So some people will feel they’re not deep enough into #clmooc coz they’re not on google+ and someone might say, “well, so join google+ then” but that discounts the reasons why people prefer to operate in certain spaces. So some people dislike google in general (I’m not one of them, though their policies on data are questionable and causing me a heartache with IRB these days) – other people have more understandable issues with facebook – and Twitter is… although I adore Twitter, I totally understand why other people are intimidated by it, uncomfortable or overwhelmed by it.

And so some people might feel not a part of clmooc because they don’t consider themselves creative or makers. Think about all the other MOOCs that are all text-based – don’t those exclude a whole chunk of other people who are more visual and creative? They’re not apologetic for being text-based because we’re used to education being like that. But it doesn’t need to be and we know it.

So it’s easy to say you don’t have to do everything in a MOOC to be part of it – some MOOCs offer different options to choose from, to help people find something they like. Some people will just think they’re supposed to do it all (poor them). More interestingly, though, is this: sometimes the “cool” people (and it’s really a perception more than anything) choose to all get together and do a particular “thing” and if you’re not into that particular “thing” you might feel excluded. They may have issued an open invitation, but you may have missed it, or didn’t realize you could join, or didn’t think you were talented enough, or didn’t know how to introduce yourself. Not everyone can do those things, you know… But it’s ok… as long as there are multiple opportunities, open invitations, eventually, someone will find something somewhere with some group. If they hang in there long enough.

You don’t always know, a priori, which “space” will be the “privileged” space for a MOOC. Last year #rhizo14 it was facebook, but this didn’t mean someone like Kevin Hodgson wasn’t prominent in it. But for example there were people I knew who weren’t on the facebook  group and I totally forgot they were in #rhizo14 coz I was so focused there. We can’t all focus everywhere, and many of us who were on facebook quickly recognized it as the place “to be”. This excludes everyone who wasn’t there. When we choose to comment on someone’s blog on facebook instead of on their actual blog… that’s something Frances Bell mentioned before and it’s an important point I will never forget… the facebook comment becomes transient and kind of private, whereas the one on the blog is more public and permanent… I think it’s ok to do either, but to recognize how this fragments conversations.

Same can be said of Twitter – if we engage with someone on Twitter regarding a course but don’t use the hashtag, we make it a private convo even though it happens in public. some people will feel comfortable butting in. Often this is fine but sometimes we can be unwelcoming to the new person. Or a new person might be interested but not know how to jump in. When we use a hashtag, we invite more people than the ones in the convo to join – but we also may be excluding ppl outside the hashtag or those who don’t know what it’s about… they may think it’s a semi-private thing. So if I tweet to Jeffrey and I use #clmooc – it invites strangers to both of us who are in #clmooc but might exclude people who know us both but are not in #clmooc and definitely seems to exclude people who neither know us nor know #clmooc

I need to go in a few mins, so let me go back to the idea of symbols. We don’t always use the same symbols to mean the same thing. Anyone who has looked at those international gestures things show that the same hand gesture can mean different things to different people. Acronyms. My medical family are always making me realize how acronyms in my context mean totally different things in their context. At work the past few weeks we had to remove acronyms that ended up with meaningful English words that we did NOT want to keep, like WELT (torture reference) and ALE (alcohol reference).

So… one more thing, then? Someone will come up with an idea in conversation with 1-2 people. They’ll decide to collaborate on something and invite others. They’ll either invite specific people (which would make those ppl feel welcome, btw) or  issue an “open” invitation. What’s “open”?

Open depends on:

  • Which spaces it is announced on – Twitter, facebook, g+, some or all of these? Different people will see it
  • When it is announced – if you announce it while I am asleep I might miss it
  • How it is announced – does it seem very open?
  • How quickly it is taken up – sometimes people will find something already busy and feel intimidated to join in; others might feel more comfortable with that
  • Who announces it – and how others perceive that person and their friendliness, etc.
  • What it is – so if it’s a poem some people will be comfy joining that; if it’s a video, other ppl will be interested in that
  • What it’s about – so if it’s a topic I know nothing or care nothing about, I won’t join. I know for example Terry did a beautiful thing, the collaborative Mother Em poem about the Charleston tragic events. I am following this news and feeling pain but recognizing I am too far from the context to be part of something like this in that way. I’m retweeting people but not expressing my own thoughts because, you know, who am I to do anything but listen? It’s not an exclusion that’s imposed by anyone other than myself because that’s the role I think I need to play in this context… if that makes sense

I really do need to go

But all this to say that… exclusion in real life and social media is inevitable. It’s not because facilitators of a space don’t try to be inclusive; it is not because participants are intentionally excluding others… it just is. Some people will speak out about ways it is glaring and can be overcome and that’s wonderful. Others will lurk. Others will leave. Others will say bad things about you behind your back. It’s inevitable. As Dave Cormier once said, every “us” is “not them”.

And that’s OK. As long as we’re not intentionally ostracizing people for no reason. As long as we’re doing our thing and trying to be open (and we don’t always have to be open; it’s OK to sometimes want to be with our friends!)

17 Comments

  1. Such a well written, well thought out explanation of the inclusion/exclusion situation. Thank you.

  2. Great thoughts, Maha, even given how quickly you wrote this while attending to family and faith things, all in the middle of the night!

    I do wonder if exclude or exclusion (exclusive?) are the best terms for what you are considering here. At least when I hear those terms, they are used when there is a (conscious) effort to keep the us from being mixed up with the them. I do not think those issues of power and status quo and separation are what you mean . . . though I am at a loss for what may be a more “objective” term that somehow does not carry the same negative baggage that comes when some people are kept out or away on purpose.

    • Ah i get what you mean. I didn’t mean it with that baggage of intentionality and power…i did mean it in terms of effect. But it is an important distinction

      • That is what I wondered about. Still wondering if there is another term that does not bring up the immediate baggage. For example, I am thinking about healthcare in the US, where there was a major court decision yesterday. Lots of terms that are used are filled with baggage that turns off conversations, and thus leads us to conscious exclusion of other (ideas). Not sure there can be a ground that speaks in a way that the issue is developed, but without using flash point terms that stop the very conversations that are so needed.

  3. Maha, on your last point about limit your own comments makes a lot of sense. What if we don’t have a comment, do we throw one out to stay in the conversation? Not in #clmooc because slowing down is something I need.
    It’s very brave and honest for you to hold your thoughts on the Charleston shootings. Sometimes we honor our humanity and concern for others by not speaking of them as if they were ours to comment on.

    • Ah i get what you mean. I didn’t mean it with that baggage of intentionality and power…i did mean it in terms of effect. But it is an important distinction

  4. Great post Maha. Can I add one more to your list of ways you can get excluded by no real fault of anyone’s? Someone misspells your twitter handle 🙂

    This Spring in my Philosophy of Ed Tech course (the one I was taking when I started #rhizo15) I was drawing a lot of comparisons from the intentional communities (hippie communes) that I visited with in my youth and the open online movements. They share a lot of the same problems (and benefits) but this idea about who is in and who is out is one of the problems. In both cases you have communities that want to be inclusive but also have strong personalities and ideas.

    What it comes down to at the end is that you are either on the bus or off the bus. The things leading up to that state or status should be shared though they are influenced by randomness of life itself. Sometimes they are not though sometimes they are fixed and political but honestly I’m not completely convinced that is necessarily a bad thing as long as it is clear that is what is going on.

    Okay now it is my turn to go to sleep.

  5. “Exclusion is not always intentional. Exclusion is not always a choice. But it is almost always inevitable.” because of all your reasons. And, as you say, as long as we’re trying to be open… and as long as we’re aware, we may see an exclusion and help with a solution. Life. We’re just glad we’re in it.

    • Think you are right Sheri about the importance of being aware. The medical people I’ve dealt with over the last year have made being ill the least of my problems. As a group they have no awareness of the judgmental way their system treats patients outside the actual encounters in their office. As busy and “important” professionals they simply refuse to make space in their minds for reflection on the patient experience. At one time it seemed this was a glitch in the system, or my bad luck. But after a few years of it I’m convinced exclusion is actually designed into the system to keep patient concerns from gumming up the efficient delivery of “care.” So the actual design is flawed and awareness is based on a false belief that people are satisfied because they are silenced into thinking this is all they will get.

  6. Jeffrey, good point about the baggage that comes with words. Words categorize and in medicine can distort reasoning. Reading the list of conditions I have the very last one is “Anxiety” which to many type A personality doctors = weak. As a result, my last heart failure was misdiagnosed right to the last second as some sort freak-out.

    Since I practice exclusion myself I think the plea to unconventionality should be replaced by something like the sloppy convenience of being inattentive. Or not caring to concern oneself over our behaviour to some people. I can’t give my attention to everyone so I disqualify people who have hurt me and treat them with indifference. It’s not a perfect system of course:-)

  7. Your brain works equally well when sleep and food deprived! Am I feeling excluded because I can’t do the same? Just joking but also thinking that it’s good to think out/write out thoughts about what might be exclusive and why but, as you say, you can only do your best. I think the writing out really helps (or reading, as in my case here) and what you’ve also outlined is the kind of nuanced behaviour that teachers should be aware of when creating an online course, or, as in my case, doing some online stuff eg. encouraging discussion in a student Facebook group or blog. And there’s no way you can really understand these nuances unless you take part yourself. I’m the only teacher in my school taking part in moocs (as far as I know) and right now I’m thinking if I should do some sort of presentation to staff to highlight the complexities in online learning which must be taught (ie practised) to prepare students for new ways of learning together. What’s stopping me is the suspicion that none of this will make sense unless teachers engage in eg moocs themselves. By being the only teacher in our school engaging in moocs have I dug an exclusive hole for myself? eg is it possible for me to communicate any of what I’m learning without alienating everyone because they won’t get it? Or will they? This is constantly playing out in my head.

    • Constantly having same struggle as v few ppl around me “get it”. The recent article about multiple cMOOCs i co-authored was meant to clarify for non-MOOCers. My boss says she enjoyed reading it and learned. Not sure how much of it made sense to her, though. The problem i think is we love this so much we probably sound like evangelizing and it’s a turnoff to others given how foreign the whole idea is. Yeah, alienating. But for colleagues of mine who have a disposition and digital literacy to enjoy this, i still try. I ask myself again if this is “for everyone” or just for some ppl. I think it takes a lot of stars to line up for this to work for someone. Disposition, digital literacy, hunger for lifelong learning and time management?

  8. Being provocative I’d say that teachers are generally poor learners. They simply pass on what they’ve heard and even that has to have been pre-approved by accepted experts. No speculation is allowed and critical thinking is confined to agreeing with the most pervasive explanation. They are banned from developing their own methods of validation and live in terror of being “wrong.” They are slaves to rules that they themselves never question. A teacher is expected to be reliable, trustworthy and consistent like a fire hydrant. Working with teachers building online courses they could never get past the fact that I learned my limited technology skills by trial and error. It got to be a barrier so I made up story about my qualifications and they were happy.

    I’m reading some things on what the 21st century learner (and leader) needs to know how to do it all sounds like the slogans on the posters in my dentist’s office.

    • Lol re slogans

      Not all teachers are as you describe… But i get how some may seem that way. I don’t think many truly are. In my experience, or my perception, anyway. I think most try to move beyond that and use their judgment to benefit students

  9. You’re right Maha. Just a theory I was developing called Vygotskian Causality Syndrome. The truth is the instructors were actually tired of being told what to do like they were trained seals. Almost any crazy reason for bringing tech into their practice could have at least started a conversation but starting with disrespect and do-it-or-else orders froze the whole process. If you can believe it, my “quality” as a trainer came from being non-judgmental and TOTALLY unconnected to the chain of command above us. Working with apprentices I know about tolerance for people in the act of learning and when to stand back and let them work it out themselves.

    Cool article:
    Getting Unstuck
    Bryan Goodwin
    http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jun15/vol72/num09/Getting-Unstuck.aspx
    Top-down leadership can get things started, but to keep improvement moving forward, schools need to work from the inside out.

    • I like that 😉 and have same experience of getting less resistance when not connected to authority. Which is why am struggling now coz there is some authority i need to exert and am uncomfortable with

  10. Just reading about the positive approach to challenge in psychology. People expect and even appreciate an opportunity to show themselves capable. It might have to do with our pleasure in participation making us feel like we belong. Who would we be if there were no expectations on us? As a small business owner I had to set standards and clear expectations and sometimes it felt harsh but almost always would take the time to talk it through. Some people I had to fire because they poisoned the work atmosphere by challenging everything. Our work was potentially dangerous and we relied on each other. And, someone needs to make decisions or things just stop happening.

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