Online Learning and Safety from a Position of Privilege?

tl;dr: I listened to a podcast and it triggered a possibly flawed comparison to safety in open learning. And because I will be on my way to facilitate a workshop at #OER17, I thought I should share my thoughts in a short blog post.

I listened to a recently repeated episode from 2002 of This American Life, one of the podcasts I regularly listen to. The episode is called “Testosterone” and you can find it here. One part of this podcast contains an interview that producer Alex Blumberg conducts with a transgender man, Griffin Hansbury. They talk about perceptions of gender and sexuality and the unique point of view that Griffin Hansbury has with regards to gender stereotypes. As a small example, he claimed that now, that he is seen by other men as competition, other men tend to veer towards him regularly as if they were marking their territory on the streets. Some of them even body check him. Walking down the street as a man opened a small new world to him that most other men have always been aware of. 

Together with Kate and Markus, I will be facilitating a workshop on open online learning and safety at #OER17. I am a part of this workshop even though (or because) I realize that the idea of being safe online is completely different for me than for most others. I have never been harassed or threatened online, I have never been bullied or shamed and I know that this is a somewhat unique experience. Luckily, not all of my friends are white heterosexual males in their mid 30ies, so I am aware that my online experience differs vastly from what they expose themselves to when they learn or teach online, when they engage in discussions on social media. Some say that, in order to learn, you have to leave your own bubble of comfort, of safety and security. You need the right to be forgotten. You might have to make a blunt (and wrong) statement and doing so will help you learn a valuable lesson. Not being bullied or harassed for that kind of statement is a luxury that I have often had and people like me need to be aware that others don’t have this privilege.

For me and other white men, safety in open online learning is a completely different concept. My threat model is that of spyware or ransomware, sometimes of ownership and someone stealing my IP, it can be employability. My threat model can also be exposure of people I communicate with. My threat model, however, is not one of harassment, of abuse or of bullying and shaming – never happened to me and I am pretty sure that most others ‘like me’ would subscribe to this or a similar statement. I am very certain that this also influences my approaches to safety in online learning.

After the podcast episode, I was reminded of the provocation that Nishant Shah recorded for our workshop at #OEB16. I am am including it here as well:


Nishant speaks of four approaches to online safety and then adds a fifth one:

  1. Making Safe
  2. Keeping Safe
  3. Being Safe
  4. Safeguarding
  5. Feeling Safe: agency, negotiation, making learners (and teachers) stakeholders in the creation of their own safety.

I believe that many people ,myself included, listen to this and find themselves practicing one of the first four approaches. This does not have to be a bad thing, as Nishant says, these approaches can be part of a sensible way of dealing with safety and security in online learning. I think, though, that the fifth approach of ‘Feeling Safe’ hit home for many at the workshop at OEB16 in Berlin as well as online (at least that is the feedback I received from a couple of people).

For me, the workshop at #OER17 will be a space where we can try and figure this out together, we can try and work on the approach of ‘Feeling Safe”. We have 60 minutes and I am optimistic that we can work out ideas and approaches that we can then take and develop in our work, we can continue to work on this online. I look forward to seeing you in London!


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