Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Through @VConnecting Glasses

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

I wonder if my perspective on our profession (loosely edtech, digped, open ed field) is tinted by a Vconnecting perspective. 

Today, at OERCamp17, while talking about VCONNECTING to folks in Hamburg, I mentioned how the majority of our team were people who were on the radical side of edtech, liberals politically and in our educational practices/philosophies. This automatically influences our conversations, right? (I am making a generalization here of course, but I think the ethos of vconnecting naturally appeals more to this kind of person rather than to  someone with a more conservative nature or philosophy or stance). 

So I’m thinking about myself as one who doesn’t go to many conferences (and the ones I had planned for this year are both on the very liberal/progressive edges – OER17 and Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute inshallah) but experiences them through vconnecting…. I’m wondering if I’m getting a skewed sense of what’s happening at those conferences. I’m not complaining about this. Just observing. 

If there wasn’t vconnecting, I would still get a skewed sense depending on whom I follow on Twitter and whose blogs I read. With vconnecting, though, there is an added layer:

Whom do we invite to be guests?

This is possibly one of our least transparent (because also constantly evolving and very personal in its execution) processes. 

When vconnecting started as et4buddy, i was basically inviting my own friends to chat with me. As we grew, and the focus became less on me, those choices changed, but for some time, I remained the main person inviting folks to be our guests. Then at some point I realized that and stopped being that person. I still help out occasionally when it’s an event I am fully invested in or if it’s someone I know and can email…but for the most part, the virtual and onsite buddies for an event make those decisions. 

How do we make those decisions? I don’t actually know the exact process each person goes through, but from conversations we have here and there, these are some of the criteria and things we do (which, again, is imperfect but evolving into something hopefully more inclusive of different views):

  1. Keynotes. For some events we go straight to keynotes, especially when we know them. Strangely, for others, we don’t focus much on keynotes. I think this relates to either accessibility of keynotes to our PLN, or that it’s a conference whose ethos we don’t necessarily agree with, so keynotes don’t appeal as much. I’m just guessing here
  2. Diversity/inclusivity. AlmoSt all of us try to make an effort to not reproduce white male panel types of sessions. It’s not really that hard to include women (so many great women in our field!) but a little more challenging to include people of color and international voices when the conference is North American. We also try to invite students, whenever we know they’re present at conferences. 
  3. Oldies but goodies. Then there are some people who have been on Vconnecting many times but who are such fun to have and we keep inviting them again. Occasionally, #2 takes priority and so some ppl let #3 slip. I’m probably the only one with this hangup (?) but I worry that ppl in #3 would get offended if we didn’t invite them
  4. Bring a Newbie. This is one of my fave things that happens occasionally but we hope to do more of. When someone (buddy or guest) invites someone along with them who is new. Sometimes it’s spontaneous (someone just passing by) or planned. Either way, it can be really cool
  5. Open Calls. This is probably the least successful, but we do it in big events anyway. Put out a call on Twitter for folks onsite to offer to be guests. We’re considering doing this more formally on our blog so it’s easier to find the link to the form later. The issue we’ve had in the past is that most people who respond to open calls are white men. Rarely women or POCs, so we often send out personal private invitations to them

I need to get some sleep but needed to write this one 

My point is, though, that these choices are not neutral, even when they aren’t always explicitly thought out or meant to advance a particular agenda (i don’t think they ever consciously are). But those choices influence the kinds of conversations we keep having and the perspective on a conference we get – which isn’t a problem for some homogeneous conferences… But most conferences are more heterogeneous. 

Question is: do we define inclusivity as creating space to listen to marginal voices, or “all” voices,  including loud ones whose politics we don’t necessarily subscribe to? Does getting someone on VC as a guest appear to be an endorsement of their perspective (it should not be and i hope it isn’t taken that way, but i can see how repeating the same people would inevitably SEEM that way).

Still thinking about this…

    2 Comments

    1. Thinking of @VConnecting as an artifact spun off of an uncertain future for education it’s natural there be lots of starts that may be best-guesses. It is an odd thing that academics involve themselves in pushing for change when it seems to us mortals that your assignment is to strictly report on the status quo while its stuck in place and time, and seemingly harmless. Of course, being most deeply exposed to what’s already going on may create a temptation to dabble in what’s not yet known?
      Try “progressive” over “radical.” Allows for trying things that might not work work.

    2. I’ll just tackle the last question – Does getting someone on VC as a guest appear to be an endorsement of their perspective? I think if we have someone on once or twice, then then answer is definitely no – but when a person is on several times – and we seek them out each time – then it certainly appears that way. That being said, in the spirit of dialogue, we don’t endorse much – only what is in our manifesto – that is what we endorse, and should endorse. I do think you need to write about the ‘radical hospitality’ that you practice, because it is an important part of what makes VC what it is …

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