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HASTAC 2014 Panel: Cathy Davidson & Students

On April 24 at 12pm, Dr. Cathy Davidson, Kaysi Holman and five of her graduate students filed into the Sala Paracas at the Ministry of Culture to present their panel "Open Learning, Open Access and the Digital Divide." These authors of Fieldnotes (2013), presented their work in designing an open learning community and writing a collaborative book. 

The panel, was both traditional and experimental. After introductions by Dr. Cathy Davidson, Barry Peddycord III of NC State University discussed his experience with designing computer programs and the culture of hacking. He focused on the theory of The Cathedral and the Bazaar and talked about how the open-access culture lends to collaboration across difference and innovation. Elizabeth Pitts, also from NC State University, discussed how the panelist used open-access theory and applied it to classroom design through collaboration. Each student in Dr. Davidson's class, "21st Century Literacies" that took place during the Spring of 2013, brought a different expertise to the collaborative space. Pitts discussed how this diversity motivated students to take ownership of the class by sharing their unique perspectives and relying on each other to "fill in the gaps." Tina Davidson of Duke University, then described the mechanics of the open-classroom through her discussion of the digital divide. She not only spoke on the problem of inequality in access to information, but also discussed how student's in Dr. Davidson's class were able to hold a discussion on this topic, highlighting various opinions across disciplines.

After these more traditional papers, the panel shifted its format. Jennifer Stratton of Duke University discussed creative design and the way that design allows us to think about space differently. She asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine "open." She then asked the participants to share what they imagined with each other. Some people had thought of windows, other open fields. The point, as Jennifer stated, was that no one has the same idea of "open." In the same way, there is no one way to design the classroom for openness. 

Kaysi Holman of Duke University and Jade E. Davis of the University of North Carolina, continued this collaborative experiment by asking participants to divide into three groups. Panelists broke the "fourth wall" by joining participants in the large groups that formed circles in various places in the room. Each group was tasked with the same assignment: find the names of the other buildings that are part of the Ministry of Culture. There were however some stipulations. The first group was assigned with playing "telephone." The first person in the group was given the answer and had to pass it along until the message had reached the last person in the circle. The second group was given a tourist book and asked to find the information inside. The third group was allowed to use their devices and promptly took out their phones and computers. 

By the time that the first group finished going around the "telephone circle," the activity had ended and it was time to report the results. The book group went first. They said that they could not find the information anyway! The second group reported that what they "heard" through the telephone line was that "the information is not in the book." The third group said that even though they used their devices, they ended up talking to each other instead. It turned out that there was a representative from the Ministry of Culture in their group, and she knew the answers.

All of the participants in the room then discussed their reactions and experiences to this activity. The first group was frustrated that they could not communicate openingly. Much like a traditional classroom, information traveled in only one direction. The second group decided that since they did not have the book, they would invent the answers using their imagination. They began to talk with each other about what types of buildings they would like to have in the Ministry of Culture. Although their improvization did not produce the "correct" answer, it demonstrated the ways that people could collaborate innovatively even with a lack in resources. The third group talked about how they took advantage of the opportunity to talk with each other even though they had their devices. Attention was divided as people were on their phones and listening to the group's conversation at the same time. This group demonstrated the ways that people could collaborate even while using different tools. They also reported an important lesson; sometimes oral history and face-to-face communication is more effective than the digital.

As one of the only panels to mix formats, "Open Learning, Open Access and the Digital Divide" was well received. People stayed after to talk not just with panelists, but with each other on their experiences. Other participants later reported that the interactive activity not only stimulated new thoughts, but involved them in the process of panel design. Overall, the panel was a great success.

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