Hack the Edu System – 6 Weeks after my Ignite Talk

tl;dr: I promised regular updates after my Ignite Talk at #2016DML and this is the first post that is meant to catch everyone up who is interested.

It has been six weeks since my Ignite Talk at the 2016 DML Conference. After the talk, many educators and practitioners reached out – not only from the conference site but also from elsewhere in the world. Some gave feedback directly as comments in the Google Doc (resulting in a slightly edited draft), some tweeted and some sent me email. I promised that I would try and keep everyone in the loop and so I will try and sum up what happened since #2016DML.

Conversations after #2016DML

During the conference, I agreed with Ahmed Kharuffa of the Open Lab at Newcastle University that we should talk some more to see if there are any overlappings between the many projects at the Open Lab and the ideas that I had been kicking around until then. We scheduled a Skype call and there might be one or two projects that I can learn from. On a different note: the more I hear and see from the Open Lab, the more impressed I am by the scale and depth of the work and the projects there. Ahmed and I will keep in touch to see how and when it will make sense to actively collaborate.

Also, Ariam Mogos, founder of The Nairobi Play Project, was interested in keeping the conversation going after #2016DML and I was very keen to see how the people at Nairobi Play facilitate the workshops they conduct. Ariam had some very practical tipps for workshops with younger refugees with regards to structure and guidance. We got to chat right before my first class with refugees at the University of Hamburg, so I didn’t have the chance to try out the Empathy Toy that she highly recommended to facilitate the beginning of a session. I have to admit that I was a bit shocked by the price tag of the different kits but I am pretty sure that there are some more modular substitutes out there somewhere (any hint is highly appreciated, I will try and do some googling myself some time). Apart from the very practical tipps Ariam had to offer, it was great to be reassured by someone more experienced that the ideas and hypotheses that “Hack the Edu System” is based on seem to point in the right direction.

Co-Facilitation of a Storytelling Project at the University of Hamburg

On November 1st, I joined a project within the class “Refugees welcome – aber wie?”, which is taught by Cornelia Springer at the University of Hamburg. Cornelia has managed to form a class around lectures, ‘field trips’ and project-based team work of students and refugees. The lectures are held by experts from various fields and their scope ranges from human rights to practical advice to questions around gender, race and society. Destinations of the field trips are public agencies, private initiatives, NGOs and local authorities. They all have in common that they try and find practical answers to the questions raised in the lectures. Students in the class also work on a project that they develop with or for refugees in Hamburg – some want to ensure basic mobility, others looks at housing in Hamburg or work with refugees who have suffered a loss of hearing.

One group of about 10 students and refugees want to work on (digital) storytelling and, together with Anna Heudorfer, I will be co-facilitating them in their efforts to blog, write short stories, poems or some documentary pieces (I am still hoping that one or two groups might pick cartoons, music or photography as a medium, but we are trying not to talk the participants into a certain format). With a couple of friends and colleagues, Anna started a project called “myvoice” – a blog aiming at making the often silenced voices of refugees heard. This relates to my initial ideas in many ways and I am curious to see how the project on digital storytelling turns out at the end of the semester. I would love to adapt a couple of #ds106 assignments. What struck me most so far, is the vast difference within the group with regards to the use of digital tools. One participant does not have an email address, others have experience in video and subtitle editing or with blogging and journalism. And while they have developed serious German language skills over the last months, not one of the participants is fluent in English. Some of them went to a university before they fled to Germany and this project might be a good entry point to the university, even though they will have to jump through some bureaucratic hoops to get there. Access to education and different perspectives on higher education might become topics of their work, but they are mostly interested in telling stories that exemplify differences and similarities between their home countries and Germany. For me, this is an interesting test and I am curious to see how we will collaborate to produce stories that resonate with them and maybe even a larger audience. For the most part, though, this is more about process than about output and the quality or depth will not be a measure of success here.

Update: When I wrote this post, I forgot to mention Code for Hamburg, a local chapter of Code for Germany. Code for Germany is a program supported by the Open Knowledge Foundation, the aim being to “promote developments developments in transparency, open data, and civic technology”. In June, at a very early stage of my thoughts on refugees and the German system of Higher Ed, I visited their Digital Refugee Lab where they provided a space for anyone to bring in their skills and knowledge in dealing with what so many falsely see as a ‘refugee crisis’. Since then, I have been visiting their regular Monday meetings, I have received feedback and, together, we are trying to come up with creative new ways to make refugees’ voices heard in their efforts to access Higher Ed. They also gave me a chance to present my ideas to larger audiences outside of the Higher Ed bubble, a great exercise that I can recommend to anyone inside the bubble. By now, we have not really figured out how to implement their civic hacking skills to help solve this problem, but who knows what ‘s to come.

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