Friday, 8 January 2016

#Phd journey and shifts in punk identity

Learning is a constant journey, a lifelong journey and that is a true fact when I look at my life. But what I did not realize, was that learning - and the internal/external growth that comes with it - can push identity shifts. My current identity shift, together with my recent  job quest, has led me to rethink who I am, and who I would like to be. If I get my PhD, then who am I?

For years I felt I was the one that "had no diploma" and yet (somewhat against the odds) was "doing stuff with innovative tech in difficult settings", so in my minds eye that was me. No more, no less. 
Practically, that meant that I was the one who you could give a tech challenge, which would evoke enthusiasm instantly: "hei Inge, I want to build a really, really low cost solution for setting up patient records with basic cell phones in sparsely connected areas, any thoughts?" or "how do we hack current MOOCs to use them in non-English speaking high school classrooms?" or "do you have ideas on how to build a MOOC for highly experienced tech people that can be used both internally and publicly while using varied pedagogical options for high-end learners?"... Ah, a challenge! Gimme just a minute......*brain excited and filled with joy of exploration* 

But, my identity was ... (elearning) punk. The others had the degree, I had the solution against the odds. That was who I was. But now this (if I get the degree) will be different. Getting a master three years ago, allowed me to still ignore having a degree. It simply did not dawn on me that I was 'formally certified'. Once I go across the Phd threshold... would that mean I would no longer be an elearning Punk? Will I have succumbed to the system? Which identities did I have? I was at times a truly bad secretary, a moody waitress. I was (and I hope I still am) an activist! I fought for LGBT marriage, for gender equality, for education for all, I was (and am) part of the informal, outsider feminist movement... but it was all DIY, at every stage I was punk... so, who am I becoming, who am I now? Where is my place on this new earth? This might sound funny, but honestly, when looking for a job I just freeze... I do not feel I can charge forward like some lunatic Donna Quichotta, battling all the usual suspects/job seekers by mowing them down with my lack of formal education, and most of all raw energy. Being punk made me fearless. Now I am formal... or am I? 

Two days ago, a twitter friend called me a MOOC ninja. I could honestly have kissed her with oodles of gratitude. Can I still be considered a ninja? When I talked to Stephen Downes at Online Educa Berlin a month ago, he said "now you will be higher qualified then me"... I fell into the abyss when he told me. Completely impossible. Stephen Downes is the one to have several honorary doctorates at the same time, I am just me. I felt as if the ground beneath me was about to devour me for being unreal. It really shook me to the bone, like I was betraying my (old?) self. And for weeks it haunted me, this illusive new me to be.  

So, yesterday I needed to get out of this idea, holding me back. Holding me back from getting my chapters written (no, I do not want to leave my punk status), and keeping me from energetic job hunting. I need to understand the new me, and add her to the identities I have had in the past. I somehow need to find a way to merge this new me with my old one's. 

At this point in time I have been around for 48 years. I have used learning at a distance since 1999, which gives me about 17 years on that field. So quite a bit of time, using technology for learning purposes (either for myself, or with others). The learning technology I have been working with was/is used in low resource settings (eg. Sub-Saharan Africa; rural Latin America) and high resource settings (eg. Northern Europe/America). It spans high school settings and continued professional development (medical field, train-the-trainer options). It spans corporate, academic and NGO's. Financially, budgets of on average 100.000 EUR/Y to get new, sustainable projects, with sustainability and scalability at their core). On a technological side, the learning solutions varied from developing tech solutions for wap-enabled basic phones to smartphones, to mobile MOOC for any type of device, and embracing major MOOC platforms like FutureLearn right now as well. I worked with diverse target audiences from all continents (no, not the antarctic) and I am lucky to be friends with many of the people I work/ed with. The last couple of years I have written articles (academic and corporate style), I have authored one book on MOOC (in the process of another more philosophical/sci-fi) and co-authored one (thank you David Hopkins), and set up MOOCs, eg. MobiMOOC (low-fi), MOOCs on the Internet of Things (high-fi), used by iMinds, one of the top 5 business incubation programs out there. 

Looking back I am quite surprised, it looks like quite a bit of work... so I cannot ignore that I do something. At least I can still have 'I do stuff' in my identity. Maybe that is enough. The fact that I will keep on doing stuff... just doing, not thinking first, but doing ... immediately. No matter what the boundaries look like, just go out there, and make it happen. Just like I did before, but soon with another piece of paper in my backpack. But I cannot ignore that piece of paper. I asked Ellen Wagner whether having a PhD makes a difference. She said very clearly "yes!" and added "when I am stuck in an important meeting with high power people, I just throw my title in and it shifts the balance in the discussion". So, okay, if it is a tool for her, it can be a useful tool for me as well. 

So this is what I came up with (up to now, any suggestions welcomed): I need to ignore the side of me that is scared about getting a degree, and realize it will not destroy the punk in me. I need to set a new, ridiculous goal. That always worked in the past. I need to embrace this new phd reality. Why not set out to become the Susan Sontag of eLearning? Or a futurist, but with a twist?Maybe a bit like Audrey Waters (but, admittedly I am more positive minded). And I need to find a job that will enable me to keep up online shares (looking at the cost that Stephen Downes and the Brain Pickings site have... I need to built in a safety net for punk online activities), as well as looking for a job that will be utterly inspiring due to its many challenges. 

Now, just find an institute, university, or someone that wants to hire me... a love-to-do-and-write-stuff punk with a phd in online education and lots of solution-finding experience.... where art thou ye mind-blowing new job?!