Estimated reading time: 10 minutes, 29 seconds

On Different Perspectives: White vs Blue

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes, 29 seconds

The whole white/gold vs blue/black dress controversy (which i first heard about during the last #moocmooc hangout has got me thinking about my personal response to the article Jenny and Frances recently published about rhizo14.

I don’t want to take a metaphor too far, but this dress thing seems so appropriate to the topic that I feel compelled to use it. And it’s interesting that Jenny and Frances use the terms light and shadow.

So the dress controversy shows that this same dress is seen by some people as white/gold and by others as blue/black (as a child i always wondered if we saw colors the same way, and i have recently been obsessed with understanding color blindeness). It is not like an optical illusion where changing your focus makes you see the other color. However, apparently some people (like me) see the white as if it is showing in blue light, so you sort of get a hint of the blueness, but still think it’s white. I also discovered yday while showing it to other people on my phone, that angling it away from me at arm’s length distance makes it easier for me to see it as more and more blue, so that it is almost the blue color. But the general thing is that when it is right in front of my eyes, i see it as white. And other people see it as blue. Absolutely.

I’m thinking along similar lines of Jenny & Frances’ paper. They are sharing a perspective of rhizo14 that some of us see as mostly white, but they are telling us that some others see it as blue. A few of us who see white can see hints of blue, but for the most part, see it as white. I tried to think if holding it at a distance and angling it away from me might help me see the blue better. I thought I could do it if I pretended they were talking about another MOOC… I’ll come back to this later.

I want to write out a constructive response to the paper, so I want to start out with my positionality:

1. I am not neutral about rhizo14 – I loved it, it has been my home on the web for over a year, with some of my closest friends and community. I love Dave very much, and I love these people very much

2. I am not neutral about Frances and Jenny. I value my relationship w Frances even though we disagree a lot. I learn a lot from her and from interacting with her. I particularly liked our interaction during fedwiki on Women’s Ways of Knowing, and I hope to try out a constructed knowing approach (albeit on my own rather than collectively for now) to writing this post – i.e. I will try to not be antagonistic. I am not close to Jenny, but her research influenced me before I ever tried a cMOOC, and I still believe in what I had learned from her writing long ago: cMOOCs are not for everyone – openness does not mean everyone can feel comfortable in them. I hope i am not misinterpreting her here.

3. I am not neutral about their research approach. Even though it is qualitative research, and they admit to its subjectivity, it feels to me as a reader to be disembodied and trying to seem objective. It is not my place to tell others how to do their research, and they both have far wider experience doing scholarly research than I do, so who am I to talk? But I can say that it felt disembodied and distanced to me. Simon Ensor writes a really good post critiquing this… And I love his post, but I also understand that when writing for a scholarly journal, you follow the guidelines and approach. I know how difficult it is to get published otherwise. I just experienced trying to fit non-traditional research into a 6,000 word article. It is torture.

What I Love About Their Paper

I use the word love because I mean it, and I am not attempting to give a scholarly view, although the points I am commending all have scholarly merit. I’m just not trying to put myself in the position of a scholarly critic, or I would publish this in a scholarly venue instead of my blog.

1. Seeking out participants who left the MOOC. This is both very thoughtful and must have been very difficult and time-consuming to do. I don’t know how many people have ever done this, but I think it’s a role model to consider on future social research of any kind, and I will take it to heart.

2. Opening up the questions of ethics in a cMOOC and the role of facilitators. It is an important discussion to open up and one worth discussing. I think the seeds in this article will influence many more researchers in future.

3. Clarity in describing rhizo14 course design

4. I know they are careful about their research ethics and have discussed them publicly before. I learn a lot from their writing about this. What I say below which is more critical is not a questioning of their ethics, it is genuine questioning to know, not meant to challenge their ethics, but to probe into their methodology or way the paper was written. I know there are a lot of restrictions on what can get written or published and that this paper is not the sum-total of their research.

How I Felt Reading Their Paper

I read the paper, knowing that Jenny and Frances had a different view of rhizo14 than some of us (us = people who are close to me personally in rhizo14, some of whom are writers in the collaborative autoethnography, some are friends outside it). The fact that Jenny & Frances saw something in rhizo14 that is different from what others of us saw does not mean what they saw is not valid or true, it is someone else’s reality. It is either a reality of someone else that they could see or have insight into, or their own, or a combination. Maybe the lens with which they see rhizo14. I don’t know.

What i mean is this: even though Jenny and Frances tell a story that recognizes that my (positive) experience of rhizo14 exists, they chose to emphasize the story that is less heard. That’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing, really. It does not erase my reality, which they recognize as being the majority, and if we ever get this collaborative autoethnography published and recognized as scholarly, that reality will have its place in scholarship. What they chose to emphasize is a different perspective that I believe probably EXISTS and thus deserves to be expressed. Just because I don’t see it clearly does not erase its reality or importance.

I don’t think there is any educational experience where every single person likes it or feels the same way about it. No surprises there. I also know in social phenomena that it happens quite often that we do things that hurt people but remain unaware, or when confronted with what we have done, we are baffled and it is difficult to understand. I bet feminism does that to many men; I bet White people feel baffled when confronted with subtle ways they are racist or colonial in their behavior.

There is a cyclical thing going on here as I read their paper and try to think about it metacognitively. Let me see if I can explain it clearly.

A. I hear language in their article that explains how people were really upset with the course, including the word “disturbing”, but I do not find anything in their article to explain what it is, exactly, that happened to make some people feel this way. While I know it is a minority, I still think the minority’s view matters. I am often a minority in some spaces and I wouldn’t want others to dismiss my view simply because I am not the majority. So let me admit: I am not denying that some people might have found rhizo14 disturbing. I am just asking for clarity because in their paper they do not explain what led to this feeling and their conclusion. It might be that they were told some things in confidence and cannot relay it publicly. Or it might be that they got anonymous survey responses and could not follow up with interviews.

B. As one who considers myself of the group of rhizo14ers that enjoyed the course, reading their paper made me feel incredibly guilty. I cannot speak for others, but I think many of us were shaken in the sense of “what did we do?”. There is a sense we got from the article that we all did something wrong and simply decided to ignore it, rather than we might have been unaware of it. It made us feel defensive. That is not to say that Jenny and Frances intended to attack us. I am simply describing how it made me respond. I did not participate in the early facebook discussions on their article because I felt it would drain my energy when I needed to focus on other important writing deadlines.

C. Facilitator ethics. I am unclear as to why the facilitator’s ethics are being tested in the particular case of rhizo14. I am left wondering, what it is, exactly, that Dave did or did not do that was unethical. But I found myself agreeing with the general idea of the need to discuss ethics in a cMOOC. If i distance myself from rhizo14 and Dave in particular (whom i consider a very caring and ethical person) i can get their point. Just not how it applies to Dave.

D. I am concerned about people who found rhizo14 disturbing, but also concerned that some may feel as if they are being accused of hurting others when they were either not intending to, or unaware of it, and had no chance to rectify it. I am sure I am one of those people who hurts others unintentionally. A lot. I know I personally did a lot of backchanneling at various times during the MOOC when I felt I could help with something either related to me or to others. I also got a lot of backchannel support when I needed it. Sometimes backchanneling was successful in the sense that someone remained in rhizo14 or stayed in touch with me afterwards on friendly terms; sometimes we agreed to disagree, but I think or hope I at least showed that I care about them as individuals. But I am sure that, as in many MOOCs, some people feel ignored. Even really popular people sometimes do something like write a blogpost they hope others will read and no one reads or responds and they feel slighted. Sometimes someone wants to participate in something another group is doing and they don’t feel welcomed in. It can’t be a nice feeling, but I don’t imagine it is disturbing, exactly.

But let me backtrack for a second, ok? There is something wrong with this picture. Imagine someone saying this:
“I am hurt that you are accusing me of hurting someone when I did nothing wrong”

Now think of a South African White person saying this with regards to a microaggression they did against a person of color.


So my question to Jenny and Frances is this: I am clueless as to what I did wrong or should have done differently. Is there something I should have done differently that would have resulted in no one getting hurt?

I can only think of 3 things I did that could count towards this:
A. The theory/practice debate – my intention was to avoid excluding people. I know from my experience in later MOOCs that it is important for ppl to feel it is ok to continue in a MOOC without reading things we find too complex. But I do realize some people left after this debate. I also know some people would have left if we hadn’t had it. It was calling out some people on their privilege, and as a minority in some ways (but not others) I felt compelled to do it

B. I openly express affection for some people and not others. Hey, you can’t love every single person you meet. At least I don’t publicly express dislike for anyone.

C. I’m loud.

Let me know if I missed something.

12 thoughts on “On Different Perspectives: White vs Blue

  1. I think your option C – being loud – is an interesting observation. It is something I worry about as a facilitator – but also as someone who is trying to encourage others to blog. I, like you, can be a prolific writer. This can overwhelm people – I have no clue how you manage to write so much! So, I need to be explicit in explaining that not everyone choses to write so frequently – and there are issues when you write so much. Have you tried not blogging for a few days? People get worried because they are so used to hearing from you. In the context of a cMOOC being loud can discourage those who are not so loud … those who are busy or those who feel they have nothing to say …

    I don’t think we should stop being loud. I think we should acknowledge early on that we are loud and we don’t expect others to be so loud .. but also, we need to ensure we are allowing space for others in the conversation .. which in a cMOOC everyone has the potential to have their own platform or space, but they might not be privileged enough with the knowledge needed to create/access that space. Which now has me wanting to see if there is a correlation between being discomforted in a cMOOC and technical abilities?

  2. It’s a comment I made in our CAE – that I worried about some of us being so loud we drowned the others out. I don’t think we can change, as Becky says – we just have to be up front and honest about who we are.

    Your (B) made me laugh!

  3. As some who has experienced exclusion and outright abandonment by people who should have acted better it irritates me to labeled as dominant or exclusive. Go ahead and tell me how you’d stand up to people who have dumped on me. I am NOT a bad person and don’t have bad intentions but first I couldn’t be respected because I was powerless. Then I worked really hard for respect and enjoyed a bit of it. Now I no longer take shit from people but boy do they have a lot of to pass around. It’s my right to take a course given freely, without restrictions and enjoy it and will not feel bad for people who excluded themselves. It took effort, persistence and sacrifice…

    Columbia College Class Day Keynote Speech
    By John R. MacArthur

    >>”Edward Said’s summary of your responsibilities and your rights:
    “The role of the intellectual is to ask questions, to disturb people, to stir up reflection, to provoke controversy and thought.… The role of the intellectual is never to justify power, to always be critical of power, whether it is the power of the weak or the power of the strong … the role of the intellectual is to challenge power by providing alternative models and, also as important, resources of hope.””<<

    1. I kept reading this Scott and it could apply to Dave in how he approached the course, to me in how i challenged D&G, and to Frances in the way she challenges dominant view. It could apply to us in doing CAE research or to Jenny and Frances for this paper.

      1. Maha, chose the Siad quote because it represents how I feel intellectually while my comment above it is emotional. I feel a right to be emotional because there are lots of things to learn from NOT walking away. Rhizo14 was one class among millions and I hold the right to have liked it and no obligation to apologize.
        What can we really do to “fix” something when we know nothing about what triggered the disappointment? This whole thing works two ways–what about my being hurt by what seems to me to be an attempt to pick the one course I’ve taken in my whole life that felt like it mattered and jump all over it?
        Who has the power here? What was said about Rhizo14 beyond a few unnamed people not liking it? That’s not a justified critique and applying words like “ethics” or “dominance” here is just overstatement.
        Are we learning anything from this beyond how easy it is to destroy something worthwhile?

  4. Ah Maha – what a lovely thoughtful post – and how neat to hang it on *that* picture!
    When I read the paper I felt hurt!
    I felt that all the good had been ignored – and there was a sort of relish to discussing and at length the issues.
    Moreover – there was no acknowledgement that the #rhizo14 group was a really friendly and supportive one. If anyone had called out for help – or said that they felt excluded – we would have reached right back.
    When someone did call us out on being academically boastful – we did reach out and try to bring that person back into the group…
    Yes – perhaps this requires a higher level of sophistication than I would expect to find, say, in my first year undergraduate studetns – and no – I try not to leave them suffering alone… but …

  5. This is a thoughtful reflection of your learning in action, of action, for action! You connect a current event, a puzzling conundrum of epic debate (in terms of the number of people engaging in the dialogue) to something that was puzzling you. Your writing tells a story of relationship in community and ends in self discovery – just as a classic novel does.

    As I read and reread, you bring forward and reveal how perspectives can change our view. By angling things differently or stepping back, alternate images become evident. It’s only by having these discussions that we can truly SEE the other side of things. It’s only through difficult discourse and debate that some element of truth is revealed. By uncovering what is seen or unseen, we take steps toward clarity. It may not be comfortable, but it is important.

    You say it so well! You may see it as being loud but it’s the quiet side that I hear! Thanks for helping others see the ‘blue and black’ of things!

  6. Thanks Maha for sharing your positionality and for telling us what you loved about our paper – I did enjoy reading your post. I engaged in the first two Facebook threads but left when I came to realise that I wasn’t achieving engagement and my presence was probably counterproductive, but I have very much enjoyed our respectful engagement of late and have learned much from it.
    Maha, you know for the reasons I shared with you privately why I can’t answer your question. Recently, in a comment on my blog, I identified “My communication philosophy online is along the lines of listen, respect others, be prepared to admit mistakes and be open to fresh starts.” I think that I should put it on my blog, pin it above my desk as I struggle to live up to it.

    For me what is very valuable about all this discussion, both here on your blog and elsewhere, is that it helps me to think about the implications for any future work and what questions we should be asking ourselves in the future.

  7. Maha, I have returned here to try to address some of the concerns that might have led to you asking me a question that I don’t feel able to answer because I am watching a conversation play out in the Facebook group where it seems to me that misunderstandings are being reinforced. Anyway back to your question. You asked “Is there something I should have done differently that would have resulted in no one getting hurt?” We can’t always know when we have unwittingly made a mistake and knowing about it relies on communication, preferably directly between affected parties. Here is an example of a mistake that I made and worked with another to try to put it right The misunderstanding stemmed from me lacking the context to understand a post that someone had made to the Facebook group. Interestingly, a different location from the Facebook group or my blog was chosen to reveal this and it was quite by chance that I discovered it.
    I understand your desire to know if you personally did or said something that might have hurt someone but I can’t even imagine how such personal and detailed information would appear in our data or why we would reveal that even if it did and our privacy agreement allowed it. I am pleased that we are having some productive engagement with ideas in the paper across the blogs and I hope that continues in weeks to come.
    The second part of your question refers to no-one getting hurt – in the last para of my long comment on Keith’s blog I explain some of my ideas about how ethical principles can be used even when they are potentially in conflict with each other. I hope that and my example above makes clear why I don’t think we can guarantee no hurt.
    I do hope that the first and any subsequent papers we have published can contribute to discussions on effective communication in learning online. I suspect that any group trying to reflect on a past experience would by looking at ‘tricky’ incidents would get much more traction out of thinking about how things might be different in future than trying to apportion blame.
    So back to the current FB group conversation that I am observing. It seems likely to me that many of the people engaging there think that I am claiming that I was attacked in recent discussion threads. I haven’t claimed that in my blog or any of the blog discussions in which I have engaged. I am not blaming any individual for that but I can tell you it seems unfair to me.
    A simple solution might seem to be for to me make this point in the Facebook group but I don’t think that would make any difference.

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