Thanks to Maha Bali for inviting me to take part in a webinar conversation about connected learning and contexts. Maha is one of my first MOOC friends when I jumped in last year, and she is the most generous and wide-reaching person. It was great to meet everyone and chat about contexts in learning – just scratch the surface really – great to meet new people, and talk to people I’ve known from online networks face to face (so to speak) for the first time eg Maha, Simon and Tanya (who’s from Sydney). Together we represented many contexts across geographical, cultural, linguistic and professional borders.
Of course, all participants are part of connected learning networks which can be discovered through their links below:
Maha Bali (host) – Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning & Teaching at the American University in Cairo (AUC), located in Cairo, Egypt
Shyam Sharma (host) – Assistant Professor of writing and rhetoric at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY
Asao B. Inoue – Director of University Writing, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington-Tacoma
Tanya Lau – eLearning Instructional Designer from Sydney, Australia
Tania Sheko – Teacher Librarian at a 9-12 secondary boys’ school in Melbourne, Australia
Simon Ensor – English teacher at the Université Blaise Pascal Clermont Ferrand in France
Lenandlar Singh was unfortunately unable to attend. His list of conference papers indicate he would have been a fantastic addition to the conversation.
Shyam and Maha were hosting and did a great job despite technical issues and Maha’s daughter waking, and thanks to Liana for her excellent support as we all connected to the hangout. I know Terry Elliott was watching and tweeting and I know that others were too, asking questions in the #clmooc and #connectedlearning Twitter spaces.
The video and storify (summary of related tweets) is available on the Connected Learning website as well as additional links and resources shared by participants.
I discovered that one of our French teachers comes from where Simon is located – Clermont Ferrand. She is very excited about that and would like to make contact with him. We are thinking it would be fun to connect our students in way similar to the way he already does through CLAVIER.
Maha Bali’s excellent article entitledLiving the Unconference Life – a Form of Praxis? has me nodding and highlighting like a crazy woman. In fact I may as well jump straight into the disclaimer that I’ll be quoting her extensively in this post while I tease out some of my own experiences in unconference-like practices.
What are the differences between traditional conferences and less structured, more informal opportunities for professional development – unconferences?
What might we get from a traditional conference? Maha mentions “gaining visibility through presenting or discussing our work, receiving feedback, meeting people outside of conference sessions and jotting down contact details for further contact.” But, as she says, once the conference is over, that’s basically the end of it.
Whereas unconferences are “all about connectivism, and I’m going to suggest this lifestyle is a form of praxis.”
A form of praxis.
Maha said it, and I’ve also been more and more convinced about this, but more from me later.
Maha identifies some of the special things about unconferences:
the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the speakers you admire and would not normally get a chance to talk to
a chance for everyone to feel like they can contribute to everyone else’s learning
a chance for people to set their own agenda
a chance for people to take that agenda where they wish
break-down of the traditional conference hierarchy
a chance to encourage the agency of participants without the feeling they will be evaluated (in the same way as contributing by submitting a paper and running a session)
Maha mixes everything up. And why not if it improves learning experiences? She talks about the time she implemented an unconference in a formal workshop within a conference and in a faculty development event and observed the following:
the energy in the room soars
people feel they can share their learning in a relatively egalitarian atmosphere
everyone is learning from everyone else about topics they are interested in
people are creating their own agenda instead of following someone else’s
it’s high impact learning in a very short time frame
So what does it mean to live the unconference life? Maha identifies social media and connectivist MOOCs as central to this kind of life. The PLN (personal learning network) is another way of doing similar things – seeing what the people you are connected to are discussing, jumping into their hashtagged conversations, following conferences on Twitter, reading what they’ve shared about conferences in their blogs. This is the kind of learning which has, for years now, directed my learning and nourished my need to connect to people interested in ongoing conversations, and I am one of so many others. Unlike conferences, this kind of learning is continuous and through it we get to know people better over time. It gives us the opportunity to build our understanding of things with people, it exposes us to the diversity of their thoughts and expands our own knowledge.
I do attend local conferences and live events, I love getting out and seeing other schools and school libraries, and talking to people about what they do. But on a daily basis my PLN and unconferencing life feeds my personal and professional need to learn and keep learning from people. Like Maha has stated, so much of value feeds directly into my practice as a teacher librarian. It feeds, it stimulates, expands, challenges and keeps on doing these things daily. You might say I can’t live without it – couldn’t imagine living without it.
Is it just an internal thing? I don’t believe it is. Maha realises the same thing:
But I realized something. Praxis is about the thoughtful, reflective action that we take, not just the action. And I realized something really important: we take action every day in our lives. But it may not be thoughtful or reflective. And here’s what connectivist MOOCs and engaging with other educators on social media has done for me: it has made me constantly reflective. People often talk about social media as a form of information overload, as hyper alertness, as attention deficit, and it gets described as if it’s a superficial kind of engagement. This has not been my experience. When we engage with social media in thoughtful ways, when we interact with others with similar interests, and open our minds to engaging with each other’s ideas and practice deeply, we’re helping make our day-to-day action a form of praxis, because we are constantly reflecting on it with others.
I looked up praxis on Wikipedia for a quick summary:
I agree with Maha that this constant engagement and reflection makes us lifelong learners in the truest sense and that my life, too, has become one continuous and wonderful unconference.
I suppose that this kind of learning started with the creation of my blog, Brave New World, in May of 2008, and my leap onto Twitter even before November of 2009 (as stated in my Twitter profile) because I somehow managed to delete my entire Twitter account the first time around and had to start again from scratch. I don’t think I could list all the hashtags I’ve followed on Twitter, but some of the most important ones are associated with communities of people I want to keep learning from and with, for example, #vicpln (started by Judith Way for a specific course and still going strong as a local community hashtag), #austl, #tlchat (both library-related communities). More recently I’ve expanded my online networks to include people taking part in MOOCs such as #ccourses, #moocmooc and #rhizo15.
So my questions is:
How do I show this kind of learning and praxis to my colleagues, to the teachers at my school? It still feels like I’m living a secret life or at least that it’s the invisible alternative life. How do I show others – without being intrusive or condescending (this is great, I know what I’m talking about) that it’s easy to connect to people and events online and that this world is just as real as the external world of work? In fact, in many cases I know more about people I’m connected to online than I do of staff at my own school.
How do we change our behaviours in a system that doesn’t change?
Here’s the final version of the play (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Google doc version continues to evolve).
My THANK YOU: My original story, Mr X loses his battle for objectivity, has been stormed, hacked and now exists as an evolved creation belonging to those playing and learning in the rhizome (#rhizo15). It is no longer mine and that’s a fantastic thing, something I’m excited about. Thank you, everyone, for the experience – in particular to Kevin for putting together the audio files – but also to those contributing voices, to the voices in the chat comments for the evolving Google doc, to those on Twitter and other social media platforms, to the creative people designing promos, and anyone else I’ve forgotten. I know it sounds as if I’m accepting an Oscar (haha) but I really do want to thank all of you for the fun we’ve had together.
#Rhizoradio presents a radio play courtesy of the #rhizo15 community:
Ms Y1: Good afternoon. Please take a seat. Mr Arborescent will be with you shortly.
Me0: Thank you.
Inner Voice1: I take a seat and settle into the chair which is terribly uncomfortable. I am too large for the chair and always have been, but I’ve accepted it with the appropriate …
Ms Y2: So, Mr Arborescent will see you now. I assume you’ve brought your papers.
Me1: Er – papers?
Ms Y3: Yes, your CV, your references, your learning objectives.
Ms Y4:Never mind. Please go down the corridor. It’s the first red door after blue one…
Me3: Er – thank you.
Inner Voice2: I walk until I find the door. I knock twice.)
Me4: (mumbling to self, wandering hallways) How come there are so many doors here?
(knock on the door followed by sound of door squeaking open)
Mr Arborescent1: Come in, please. I would like to introduce you to Dr. Certain and Ms. KnowItAll
Inner Voice3: I enter the room. Mr Arborescent is sitting behind a large wooden desk, studying me. The two other committee members on either side of him.
Mr Arborescent2: Please, sit down.
Inner Voice4 My Thoughts (in my head)Narrator: I do.
Mr Arborescent3: So, you’re applying for the rest of your life, are you?
Ms. KnowItAll1: (interrupting) She IS.
Mr Arborescent4: You realise that you’re one of many millions of applicants – all wanting to keep learning for the rest of their lives, don’t you?
Me6: Yes. I understand. But you know, I myself am multiple…
Mr Arborescent5: (interrupts) Show me your learning objectives, please.
Me7: Well…I – um…
Dr. Certain1: This is outrageous!
Mr Arborescent6: (sighs) You do have learning objectives, don’t you? I hope you are not wasting my time.
Me8: N-not exactly.
Mr Arborescent7: Well how exactly do you intend to get through life without objectives? How will you know where you are going? How will you know when you get there? What data will you use?
Dr. Certain2: One cannot get through life without knowing where one is going. Where one is going is far more important than where one is. I certainly know where I’m going, where I came from, where my children will go.
Inner Voice5: Arborescent’s brow is seriously furrowed.
Me9: Actually – I don’t have objectives but –
Mr Arborescent8: You realise that we are talking about the rest of your life, don’t you? This is no laughing matter.
Me10: Well – if I could explain. I don’t, as you’ve said, have learning objectives for the rest of my life but what I do have is learning subjectives.
Inner Voice6: The room is silent. Uncomfortably silent.
Mr Arborescent9: I’m not sure what you’re playing at, but as I’ve already said, there are millions of people applying for this privilege. You’ve come here completely unprepared.
Me11: If I could just explain – I think you will understand that it’s possible to continue learning through life with learning subjectives in place of objectives.
Inner Voice7: Mr Arborescent lowered his thick rimmed glasses and peered intensely and unpleasantly at me.
Inner Voice8: I continued before he could speak.
Me12: You see, subjectives are a type of objective … only seen from a different perspective.
Mr Arborescent10: A different perspective! Please explain. (eye rolling) (to himself): Oh, you educators and your theories of learning …
Dr. Certain3: There is only one perspective: the RIGHT one!
Me13 (ignoring Dr. Certain): Well, with objectives you start from the end and work backwards whereas with subjectives you are free to move any which way and even simultaneously. Subjectives are based on learners’ needs, not dictated as in the objectives… There’s freedom in the journey.
Inner Voice9: Their looks of contempt did not deter me. In fact, they spurred me on. I realized, I had to make them understand.
Me14: You see, I’ve developed an allergy to things which support objectives. Things like preconceived ideas, data entered carefully into spreadsheets, dot points, meta-metrics, the narrow suffocating strangulation of finite theories, that sort of thing. I have an aversion to these things and I become so ill that I am unable to function.
Mr Arborescent11: I’m not sure our health insurance policy covers such sickness. The government plan only goes so far.
(Ms. KnowItAll adds over Arborescent: Oh, it won’t cover this, I can tell you!)
However, Go on… How would you measure, report your learning? Reveal your rubrics! What kind of standards are you following? Aversion is no justification…
Me15: Neither is measurement! We need to put learning at the center of our…er learning, not measurement and accountability you know. It’s my own learning here and i reserve the right to direct it however I see fit! It is my human right…
Dr. Certain4: Impossible! We will tell you what you need to know! Learning must be visible!
Inner Voice10: Arborescent’s eyes narrowed, and he started tapping a pencil on his desk. he seemed sort of annoyed at me.
Mr. Arborescent12: go on…
Inner Voice11: I swallowed.
Me16: (whispering in Egyptian Arabic: w ba3dein ba2aaa)
Me17: I need to approach life in a less organised, predetermined way. I need to include the way I feel, for example, in the way I understand life. I need to include questions and doubts in the way I make sense of things, I need mood changes and I also need to be able to synthesize seemingly illogical things into a new way of seeing. I need to follow – what I refer to as learning subjectives.
Mr Arborescent13 (all simultaneously): Preposterous! Absolutely preposterous. We need data! Not whimsy feelings! What is this? Some kind of therapy session?
Ms. KnowItAll2: She is completely unsuitable! No idea what she needs to learn.
Dr. Certain5: If we allow this, we invite chaos. Then where will we be? People learning anything?!! Outrageous! There are things everyone MUST know!
Inner Voice12: Their outbursts moved the large desk forward and Arborescent’s four generation family photos fell down with a crash.
Mr. Arborescent14: Now look what you’ve done!
Dr. Certain6: I saw this coming. Chaos, I tell you.
Me18: you do know that by accepting me, you are accepting multiples, right?
Mr. Arborescent15: Who said we were accepting you?
Ms. KnowItAll3: Certainly not I!
Me19: Although I appear as one person to you, I am a multiplicity. Because I am embracing my subjectivity, you will have access to all of the open aspects of my identity and influences beyond my person. Didn’t you notice the different voices, accents and languages used throughout this discussion?
MrA – What you are telling me is that you are rejecting MY good common sense and traditional values and insisting on this groundless faith in what can only be described as blasphemous nonsense. This is a NON-SENSE! Do you hear me?! You will not be able to go through lifelong learning clinging to these asinine beliefs. Get out! All of you!
Inner Voice13: There was only one thing to do. I wasted no time. In my mind I drew a cage around this dreadful man and his colleagues and locked them in. Tossed the key. Walked away. Their ranting and raving were repulsive. I transformed it into the sound of crashing waves and let it wash away from me, to become nothing in the infinite sea. I left them there in their salt water turbulence, thrashing at the iron bars. They were now but molluscs, doomed to forage in the mud amongst rhizomatic sea grasses for eternity. I had more important things to do. I had a subjective life to lead and I was quite willing and even pleased to not know exactly where I was going.
Inner Voice14: So I started talking to my multiple selves.
MeA: we don’t need them! We don’t need no certified learning! We don’t need no thought control! They don’t even get our weltanschauung. We will continue without them.
MeB: or interdependently! Let’s make our own organization. Our own rhizome. Divide & conquer!
MeC: and wait, to have impact, we need to challenge authority, to break down the institutional structures so more people can benefit from our idea of subjectives and so we can liberate them from these neoliberal chains. This is idtihad. That’s oppression in Arabic. It is zulm. Injustice in Arabic, though it has a much stronger connotation in Arabic.
MeD: i don’t know what you’re talking about, I just wanna have fun with my learning. Let’s write a song or write a play…
Me20: or we could just lead our subjective life, create our own space… We might need to wander a bit to find it.
MeB: exactly! I guess it can be a space not an organization… I don’t think we can convert him. He is too far gone … (sounds of ranting still in the background)
Me21: Learning is natural and intrinsic… Like a rhizome, like a phoenix.. Her defasında küllerimden doğarım… learning is actually rising from the ashes… I don’t need any objectives, I only need my subjectives to reborn and start a new cycle of learning…
MeC: and we need to think of ways of liberating the oppressor. We need to fight for other people’s rights… Subvert the system, cause a revolution, plant the seed, nurture the ideas, rewild ourselves without becoming the next oppressors!
MeF: yeah right, like that worked for Egypt…
MeB: Tell me why we wanted that job again?
MeC: I don’t even remember anymore. What a learning experience this has been!
MeG: Hey! You lot are so noisy! I am trying to sleep here! Jeesh. Haud yer wheesht!
MeH: (tentative hesitant self) 爸爸常说 忍一时风平浪静，退一步海阔天空. 怎么办?Should I try to negotiate in this potential zone of change? But these folks are resistant to any new ideas …
MeI: Ils refusent de comprendre! Les abandonner déjà!
Inner Voice15: And so from that moment it continued, with A caged and continuing to splutter in the sea, in a mind, I stood up, breathed deeply, and turned to leave those four walls and walk into the rest of my life. I moved out of the room, slammed the door behind and me and the company sign fell to the floor with a crash. I picked it up and read “Peachson Advanced Testing Systems” and tossed the sign into the trash can. I had better things to do with my life, anyway.
Me22: I did get that job, and I get it again and again every day. It’s only when I forget the contract I made with myself that day – the subjectives, and get mixed up with too many objectives – that I sometimes see Arborescence rear its head (still in the cage though – haha!). Fortunately I have some pretty good friends and co-learners who remind me that the book hasn’t been written yet; we just keep writing.
I write this post in the second week of MOOCMOOC which focuses on Chapter 1 of bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and two shortvideos from Anita Sarkeesian. As Jesse Stommel and Maha Bali write in their introductory post, bell hooks is writing about something more than just feminist or antiracist pedagogy. Maha and Jesse talk about the way that bell hooks is influenced by Buddhist philosophy, believing that the whole person of the teacher and of the student should be part of the pedagogical process.
Showing vulnerability to our students is not part of our professional conversations at school. It is something some teachers might do instinctively while others might find it confronting and even wrong. Maha and Jesse quote Danielle Paradis who wrote about this in“The Pleasures, the Perils, and the Pursuit of Pedagogical Intimacy,”: Learning is uncomfortable, and the trouble with letting someone teach you is that it leaves a mark — an impression.”
Since we’ve just started the new school year, I’m keeping these thoughts foremost in my mind when thinking about my teaching goals for the year, and generally in terms of how to prepare my attitude to my classes and library supervision. Teaching is easier to direct in terms of intimacy, acknowledging our responsibility to care for our students – and let’s face it, that’s easy to do with a new intake of students who are still well behaved and wide-eyed.
Library supervision is harder. Firstly, you don’t know all the students since there are too many of them. I’m really bad with names, and if I miss their name in the beginning of the year, I’m too embarrassed to ask later on. A non-teaching relationship with students is both easier and more difficult. Easier because we can be more casual with them and we have the opportunity to chat informally without the pressure of teaching content, but more difficult because I think it’s the teaching/learning relationship which develops the intimacy through caring for the development of the student, and in the visible transformation of students over time. We are also not supposed to be talking to students when they come to the library to study in their free periods, and that’s because we try to maintain a quiet study environment in one part of the library which we, as teacher librarians, supervise.
And: “teaching and learning ARE inevitably intimate.” Maha and Jesse talk about the importance of bringing our full selves to our teaching, and point out that teaching and learning are inevitably intimate.
I guess that means that we would let the overly professional persona fall away when teaching, but it doesn’t mean we act unprofessionally. If we keep the students as our focus and care about the students’ welfare, remembering that we leave an impression whatever we do, then we surely transfer our focus from conveying content to interacting with our students.
I’m not sure if I’ve understood bell hooks’ feeling of estrangement from education but I know that there have been school or school library environments which made me feel uncomfortable, repressed and unhappy. I didn’t feel I was teaching well or relating properly to students. It didn’t have as much to do with the students themselves as the tone that was set by the head of faculty/library or other library staff. If I didn’t feel comfortable with that tone, that approach to the students, I felt as if I had to squeeze everything out of me, and put on a thin facade, copying the external behaviour and speech of others in an attempt to emulate them. It didn’t work for me, and it didn’t work for the students. It made me feel bad.
On the other hand, when the attitude to students and approach to teaching is compatible with my own, then I’m happy to be vulnerable, to expose my imperfections, as well as my personality. You have to be comfortable within yourself to be willing to expose vulnerability. Some people might, by their nature, do this seemingly without effort, but for others it takes practice, reflection and time, while others still will not do this at all.
It took me a very long time to expose my vulnerability in my role as a priest’s wife in the Russian Orthodox Church. Possibly because I took on this role at the age of 26 – too young actually. And also because I was not ‘groomed’ for the role, and did not grow up in a particularly devout family – sure, we went to church but not every week. I was not educated in Orthodox dogma and no doubt had unformed ideas which needed time to mature. In a way, I interrupted that opportunity for growth because I suddenly had to take on a role that was associated with high ideals and pressure from the members of the church community. I ‘took on’ a persona but one which was dangerously superficial, ungrounded, and somehow managed to keep going in that way for many years. Having children only resulted in a more passionate stance on what I’d become because I felt it was my duty to educate them in the way I had perceived they ought to be educated – from the outside. Of course, eventually, the cracks start to show, and I was faced with a choice: to continue as I had been or decide to do it my way, true to myself. This took time, as you can imagine, because I had almost lost who I was, or at least, lost the confidence in my own instincts and understanding of things. Doing this meant I had to grow a thick skin so that I wouldn’t care about what people thought about me as much as I care about my own survival, and my honesty. Not going this way would have been destructive. I believe that you can’t have any kind of faith unless you stay true to yourself. Taking on something externally doesn’t work. Understanding it from the inside (of yourself) is the only way.
It’s the same with any relationship, and teaching must be intimate, surely, and must be vulnerable, if you are to connect honestly with students, if learning is more than a transmission of content knowledge. Obviously that doesn’t mean you expose every part of yourself which would be inappropriate, but it means that you don’t shut off who you are so that students see you relating to them honestly. And I think that’s the only way you get real satisfaction from teaching. A lot of this is unspoken in schools but you can tell when there is that kind of relationship between teachers and students.
So when I first started as a teacher librarian, having ‘forsaken’ the classroom (English, French and German), my library orientation was all about where the printers were, the cost of fines, how to use the library catalogue, how to use databases. It was so boring, I was bored and unhappy about it myself. I was following the procedure of others because I was inexperienced. In not showing my full self was really like not showing up at all. Presenting my authentic non-neutral self in the classroom has made me very happy.
Today was the first day we had students at school – just the Year 9s, all brand spanking new. In my ‘library orientation’ sessions I wanted to connect to my students first foremost, and convey information to them as the second priority. I was aware that they didn’t know each other on their first day and spent some time asking questions and encouraging responses to start that ball rolling. How could I possibly waste my first time with these young men talking about rules and regulations only? I wanted to make a much deeper impression than that. I wanted to challenge their perception of the library, talk about information (the fire hydrant), the dangerous ideas, freedom of speech and expression, respect for others and their ideas – but most of all I wanted to be myself and get to know them a little. I wanted to start the process of getting them to know each other in their classroom community. I definitely wanted them to challenge their perception of the library as being just a space with books and bookshelves – which was the standard answer when I asked them.
Perhaps, to not show up as our full selves to the act of learning is not to show up at all. This means placing our authentic non-neutral selves fully in the classroom — with all the risks and challenges that brings. (Maha and Jesse)
My focus today was not on the listing of rules or information buton engaging them with me and each other, to give them the chance to consider important questions before they were sucked up into the wave which would push them through the year at a pace that might not have time for reflection because they were intent on survival.
Here’s the slideshow I created which serves as a prompt for discussion with the students. Some slides resulted in long and deep discussions and others just covered some necessary facts. Of course every session was different depending on the dynamics of the group and the response I received from them.
It so happened that just minutes before my session, amidst the predictable technology failings and panic, I read Maha Bali’s post and was reminded about the aspect of vulnerability in critical pedagogy.
Now, I find a lot of difficulty talking to people without knowing anything about them.
Yes, and I imagine that students feel a lot better meeting a teacher who says a little about herself.
So since they don’t all know each other that well, I asked them to do a round of “Name+something no one here knows about you”
… so the person on my left, he felt really uncomfortable sharing something about himself. He said his name. I said, “and something about yourself?” and he was like “no”.
I became aware of vulnerable beginnings. I shared something about myself first. I told them I had 2 sons and that one of them was completing a Masters degree in Urban Planning and the other was doing third year Music – both at Melbourne Uni. Suddenly they see me as a parent. A little peek through the ‘teacher librarian’ exterior. I told them that, contrary to popular belief that librarians spent all their time reading fiction, I had not read much fiction in the last few years, that I felt like I wanted to learn and keep learning about things, and so I read information (non-fiction). Suddenly I’ve broken the librarian stereotype. It’s a start towards bell hooks’ holistic education, her ‘engaged pedagogy’.
Many of them shared things about each other, some being funny, and that’s all good. Their body language started to change. They were facing the front looking at me and the screen, and now they started turning to each other to exchange responses. The shift had begun. We talked about banned books, (burned books even), Charlie Hebdo, and many other things. I had added an extra slide to the end of my existing presentation.
I added Maha’s great questions: Why am I here, what are my goals, and what do I have to offer others here?
Photo source: http://gifopera.tumblr.com/
Thank you to Maha and Jesse for orchestrating this week’s #moocmooc goodness. So much more to learn – and now to read the Twitter chat retrospectively.
A tweet from Kevin Hodgson @dogtrax about a 15 second play (that day’s #dailyconnect for #ccourses (wow, that all looks a bit cryptic, maybe Freire would say exclusive?) made me think ‘why not? what’s 15 seconds’ and the example made it look like fun.
Kevin had introduced me to Notegraphy before and I liked the look of it and sharing options. Unashamedly I pulled a chunk out of Maha Bali’s post and pieced together a 15 second play using Maha’s quoted material from participants of yesterday’s #moocmooc chat about critical pedagogy and Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. If this isn’t making any sense to you, don’t worry. It’s just a 15 second play with quotes from real people. No more, no less.
I swear it was only minutes before Simon Ensor @sensor36 published a post with enough substance for a PhD – or at least a 3-part TV series. A cartoon program.
Then there was Tania suggesting in a tweet that tweeps such as @Bali_Maha, @dogtrax, @sensor63 et al in her PLN were ‘cartoon characters’ – if she had not met them F2F or should I say 3D?
So is that my friends what we are to one another – Cartoons – (on)line drawings?
Now Simon thinks in colour:
Like a canary to a black and white cat that was a red rag to a bull.
He also believes in getting straight down to (serious) business:
Existential questions 1) Are our online ‘friends’, ‘follows’ ‘followers’, akin to Loony Tunes?
2) Are our offline ‘friends’, ‘follows’, ‘followers’ not akin to Loony Tunes?
I will pause here before the ‘cartoon preamble’. Simon has muddied the waters (in my head) with his cartoon world/real world questions. I’m propelled back into my early childhood when I wished that my world was the cartoon world. We all knew it was much more fun. Cartoon worlds were more colourful, more exciting, funnier – and risk taking was never a problem because even if you ended up falling off a cliff and being squashed into a flat pancake upon landing, you would always, always be able to stretch yourself out and back into your normal body shape. And with a cool sound effect.
Simon is playing with my head. He should not tempt me into going down the rabbit hole into fantasy land. Mixing realities. Switching worlds.
So now, we’re up to Simon’s
I can quite accept that @dogtrax or should I say Mr Hodgson K. qualifies as an honorary cartoon character.
His lifetime achievement to cartooning in itself would merit such an accolade.
I am not sure that I am quite yet ready to take on the caricature mantle without a fight.
Simon, how can you resist the lure of the cartoon reality? You, whose prose is poetry, references labyrinthine, whose playfulness is akin to the Dadaists.
But, yes, I will play your game. I see it’s four rounds and then you’re out. Or so you think you are. You concede defeat and accept the cartoon character identity. You have chosen wisely. You have chosen the cartoon reality. No more ‘He he he’ as part of the Queen’s court which was as taken with Boy George’s superficial mask as the people who insisted they saw the king’s finery in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes‘.
The strange case of Culture Club.
I can boast quite openly that I once met Boy George F2F (3D) outside the Mud Club in central London, while driving a London cab.
Boy George was undoubtedly a larger than life character, dressed to the nines, painted in broad strokes, armed with an infectious laugh.
He was surrounded by acolytes, disciples, hangers-on, groupies, and various fawning clubbers, similarly attired.
They appeared to be infected with George’s laugh.
“Ho ho ho ho.” (George)
Micro-second later “He he he he.” (Queen’s court)
I am quite sure the boy George had more depth than this vignette. There was no apparent desire among the performers to go beyond the make-up.
Well done. You have not been fooled into thinking the pantomime of school is real – surely you must choose the cartoon world again. You will never again be able to be that teacher operating the Cambridge textbook franchise. You will never again be the teacher conducting the masked chorus who played out the lesson scenario to the last letter. Surely your cartoon avatar had already escaped down the rabbit hole or up the Magic Faraway Tree into magical lands.
Many of the my 3D colleagues are unknown to me, they remain line-drawings.
Yes, you are losing control here; worlds are colliding and changing places. Can you feel it? You admit to have a more lifelike exchange with unseen friends online than in your 3D pantomime life. You/we all speak the same Cartoon language.
And in Round Four you have a strong inkling that brings you closer to your unreality. Your blog is the Tardis, and you are all the Doctors.
You have one voice, you have another voice. (Some voices have trouble throwing off the old voices to take their place). Time and place matter not. Your voice, your identity do not reside in one body, are not located in the 3D world.
I sometimes feel that a distinct voice, that is evidenced in this Touches of Sense blog, has become a distinct character.
There are times when I feel distanced from it’s mannerisms, its annoying ways with words.
You are ready for the new Doctor.
There are times when I feel that I shall introduce a new character to stem its irritating flow.
Do not despair of your identity breakdown. In your last hours as a 3D entity of the pantomime world, you are having brief flashes of revelation.
I am reminded of Maha’s reflections on how she feels at times as catalogued as an ‘exotic’.
I am reminded of Susan’s reflections on her various incarnations.
I wonder if despite ourselves we become characters in others’ performances.
And there it is:
You are reborn. You throw off the skin and step out of the world you’ve been taught to accept as the real one.
OK Tania, I accept defeat. I am a caricature.
Do not think for a second that you are accepting defeat. On the contrary, you have returned home. You are where you belong, in the Cartoon World, the colourful world, the exciting and funny world.
This comic metaphor has become too complex for the cartoon @sensor63.
He accepts the mask.
He is one of the Connected Comic Characters.
He must live with it.
Oh the tragedy!
And it’s a genuine tragedy you now inhabit. Your comic tragedy has a speaker and a chorus and everyone is in costume. Everything is brightly coloured. You have many lives and you live your fantasy life. We are all there too – Maha, Kevin, Susan and the others. Me. In our cartoon world.
In the quantum learning space where interest is a key driver, how do we employ the same dynamics in our teaching? Or, how do we leverage the power of open? How do we maintain trust and a sense of security in open networks? How do we build our networks? What is social capital? How do we enable at-large learners to engage in our courses? Where should we teach our classes?
I started my pre-thinking by focusing on ‘trust’ as a general concept in my own understanding.
My reflections over the last week or so have been fuzzy, but now I think it’s time to attempt some kind of personal definition of trust in open networks, especially if I’m advocating these spaces to teachers.
Trust – we can talk about this from so many perspectives.
One of the difficulties of trusting in people you connect with online is the problem of not seeing them face to face, or not hearing what they have to say on a regular basis as we would with people we work with daily. I think we read visual clues about people without even thinking about it, even though some of our assumptions are not always based on scientific observation.
It’s also very difficult to read tone in text. You don’t always know for sure if people genuinely mean what they say, or if they are saying what you think they mean. This relates to people you know well in real life too. I go in and out of being sure that I know where people are coming from, especially online, and that’s part of the whole trust issue in open networks.
I usually stay away from self promoters while being aware that I may be coming across as one myself. I suppose I keep some sort of distance from people who don’t give back, that is, share things others have said without giving something themselves. This is not trust with a capital T: you don’t fear these people but you might not want them in your inner circle.
So, to state the obvious, to trust someone you have to know them to some degree. Trust is knowing someone well enough to make a judgement that they are someone you are willing to interact with.
Having said that, I ask a question: how do you know someone online?There is no simple answer, and I still don’t know. Maybe I rely on instinct?
Perhaps I warm to people who have similar interests? I’m in awe of people who have superior or expert knowledge, and so I trust them enough to learn from them. I think trust requires an openness, and a transparency, so that I can peek inside the person a little.
Who do I trust to be in my inner circle? (Haha, inner circle sounds very mystical and elitist). How can I trust that what they share is credible? Of course, it’s up to us to evaluate what others post online but I think that once you have a clear picture of their background and credentials, you can trust their shared knowledge. That’s why it’s important to provide a reference point for people in the form of a short biography, blog(s), Twitter handle, Google+ profile or similar.
So, turning the issue of trust around to me –
How can people trust that what I share with them is good quality and worth looking at?
This is a very important professional question for me: How can I build my trust as a teacher librarian who regularly shares online resources? Trust is at the core of everything that I do, and it’s been instrumental in the way I have developed my digital profile. I’ve made myself transparent online, which means interested people can check my bio, blogs, google+, twitter, etc.
My personal professional blog hopefully shows I’m serious about education. I’ve provided opportunities for people to contact me if they want dialogue through email and comments in many of my networks. When I share educational resources, I’m open to talk to teachers if they have any queries.
Why do we want to be trusted online? Some people might think it a strange question. They might think it’s nobody’s business but their own who they are even if they have an online profile. What if people want to be on Facebook, for example, so that they can see what their friends are up to but don’t want to reveal much of themselves?
I think that what you gain from a connected community will determine how much you get from it. To be accepted and considered a valuable participant requires trust, and then a continued demonstration that you can be trusted, for example, to behave respectfully, not to take over at the expense of community balance, to listen as well as contributing, to make an effort to contribute as well as taking from others.
It’s important to be yourself, to add value to the community, to share your unique perspective. If I’m hoping to be accepted as a valuable member of a community, people should be able to trust that I won’t be lazy and just piggy-back others. That is to say, it’s okay for me to retweet and share others’ stuff because I’m in awe of it or excited about it and want to share with others, but I also need to balance that out with my own contribution – and often that just means sharing my unique perspective on things.
From my observations, the best connected networks consist of people who are not afraid to be themselves, who push past the platitudes that sometimes make sameness in online communities undesirable or boring.
Yes, I admit, I’m guilty of being lazy sometimes, of sharing of others’ resources without the value added comments, and I will try to add value each time with my own perspective, by sharing Diigo annotations, adding my perspective to retweets (although word restriction!), doing the hard work of research and deeper reading to get to the deeper observations which add to the group’s understanding.
Some people might say, I don’t have anything to add that is unique, and to these people I would say:
Trust in yourself. You do have something to add that is unique, and this enables you to become someone real online. In my interaction with people through Connected Courses, I would say there are many people who exemplify this online. Maha Bali stands out for me through her open, encouraging and accepting online interaction, but there are also many others.
Lastly, I think that trust goes hand in hand with being interesting.
Everyone is interesting because there is something about all of us which is unique and which others may be interested in, but it’s important to bring that part of yourself out. I connect with people online who give a little extra detail about themselves because it enables me to picture them eg playing an instrument, cycling, getting worked up about something they care about. Sometimes photos are useful in providing a little window into ourselves. Howard Rheingold gives us many insights into his life and his interests through photos. Of course, it’s up to you how much you want to share about yourself beyond the educational context. I could trust someone online and interact for the purposes of educational exchange but they don’t become real for me until they paint a little more about themselves.
But that’s another thing to think about in another post.
So I’ve been using Diigo for quite a few years now – especially to save and annotate what I’ve found online and want to keep, and to be able to find it again later and share it easily.
What I haven’t done very much is use the annotation tool to share with others in a group. I’ve shared things with groups but – you know how it goes, you’re in and out of groups over the years, so you’re not really a part of the group in a meaningful or ongoing sense. I admit that I try to engage in too many things on too many platforms at the same time, and recently I’m feeling the loss of a network of people I connect with in a deep way.
Since joining Connected Courses, the excitement of finding so many interesting people thinking and writing openly in blogs and on Twitter has blown my mind a little, and I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know people in this way, saving their blogs to Feedly, following them on Twitter (#ccourses) while growing a larger network, and reading their blog posts about the why of teaching.
Okay, so that’s been said and I’ve added some annotations to the group for this post. And now I wait until I feel a tug on the line I’ve thrown out, bearing in mind that most participants live in a different time zone, and the interaction may not be in real time. But potentially, Diigo is another way to feel connected in sharing ideas about a post or article – apart from Twitter, of course.
So I’m thinking that it would be very cool if we could use Diigo for something meaningful at school. Although I’ve tried a couple of times to get teachers interested in Diigo, and nothing came of it, I might have another go following my renewed enthusiasm. And I’d also like to use Diigo for a class of students to analyse a text in small groups. That’s the kind of peer learning we need more of.
In the meantime, I thought I’d use my highlights and annotations as a way to populate this post, to share parts of Mimi Ito’s post and my thoughts as I’m reading. So what I’ve done is opened the Diigo annotations tab in my annotated version of the post, and copied the transcript of what I’ve highlighted and commented on. A pretty easy way to throw content into your blog post if you ask me. I think it should make sense – if you realise that I highlighted phrases and not whole sentences, and in some cases just words.
Here it is – my highlights of Maha Bali’s post about Mimi Ito’s post. This kind of reading and annotation practice is very rich even though it might seem complicated. To give a bit of background, Maha Bali is remarking on Mimi Ito’s statement that she finds reading books easier than wading through tweets and blogs. My annotated comments are in green. There are too many highlights to include all of them, so I’ll be selective. I’m going to add some thoughts as I go and these will be in red. You would probably have to read both posts for the following to make sense.
that she found reading books (quickly, i assume?) easier than wading through tweets and blogs; whereas I clearly did the tweets/blogs things quite comfortably but found reading books “too much”
I feel the same as Maha, easier to read and respond to blog posts than read a book on my own – with nobody to talk to and no way of sharing my thoughts. Claustrophobic.comment byTania Sheko
Anyway, it made me reflect on why I, someone who LOVES reading by all accounts, have a strong preference for reading blogs/tweets over books/academic articles in MOOCs. There are many reasons,
This is something I’ve been thinking about for ages but feeling like I’ve failed in that I’ve lost the enthusiasm for reading books, or maybe don’t have the focus stamina any more. Thanks for writing this out, Maha, I might do my own blog reflection.comment byTania Sheko
Mimi’s point that a connected learning experience “welcomes people with different dispositions and orientations to learning”,
I love this aspect of online learning – it often reveals surprising treasures from students who are too shy to have a voice in class.
In terms of learning: Is the MOOC about experiencing connecting? Or about reading about it?
the MOOC is about reflecting on connecting,
My first PhD supervisor was big on encouraging me to read diverse articles not single-authored books
It’s the diversity of the ‘chaotic’ stream of shared information and ideas in Connected Courses that excites me.
My second supervisor (who replaced the first) was big on me reading original works by e.g. Marx, Foucault, etc.
I also find reading translated works really difficult and find it a better investment of my time to first read more contemporary (or at least, more education-focused) interpretations of the “greats” works, before reading the original. It helps me read it better
Thanks so much for saying this! I always feel guilty when I don’t manage to read a challenging book list. What you do is a much more productive way of managing things.
I do not value the book-authors more than I value the blog-authors
can interact with them more regularly
more accessible, easier to read quickly
We should revise our separation of authoritative information especially as many authors are also bloggers.
2. Attention issues
Philosophical approach to reading
This is particularly funny because I keep not finding time to read the”attention literacies” part in Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart, as I get ‘distracted’ into reading different parts of it (i’ve probably read half the book already, just not in order).
And that’s why I voice these things in MOOCs, because I am pretty sure that courses about connection want ppl to feel they can participate.
So basically, I hope to engage with these readings “my way” (so not deeply with each entire book, unless it draws me in, but with parts of it)
hope that blog posts by other people & the hangout will fill me in second-hand (you see what I am doing here, don’t you?)
Very clever. I think this method wards away the guilts and also sustains engagement in the course. The alternative would be to give up and feel defeated if you couldn’t do everything.comment byTania Sheko
P.S. some ppl may say that w blog posts u have no guarantee of quality vs a book recommended by the facilitators. However, there are many ways to gauge a blog’s quality, incl knowing the person, seeing it retweeted often or with many comments – and it takes v little time to skim it to decide to read deeply;
I think that evaluating blog posts is an important skill, and definitely, with all the information online, some of it from experts who also publish in peer-reviewed journals, or books, that it is important to encourage students to discover what experts and professional people post online, and evaluate these as they would anything else.
lovely quotes from Mimi’s post:
Connected Courses is a veritable cornucopia of ways of participating with no central platform.
colliding through a loosely orchestrated cross-network remix, immersive theater where participants are all experiencing a different narrative.
hybrid network, more like a constellation that looks different based on where one stands and who one is.
a site of productive tension that is characteristic of connected learning.
I agree with Maha; these are exquisite quotes.
Connected learning is predicated on bringing together three spheres of learning that are most commonly disconnected in our lives:
opportunities for recognition.
That is, for us in Connected Courses:
our personal interests and expertise
reciprocity and fun in the social stream
Thanks Maha and Mimi for your insightful reflections. I’ve had fun thinking about things in this connected way, and hope to make headway into a more connected way of reflecting using Diigo groups.